Random Musings

Like Lady Sov, we're gonna get random...

First, yesterday's post credited Shenzhen Undercover for the great entry on strange local sanitizing habits, but didn't include a link, so here is that great post.

For those who haven't read it yet, an American recently went through a 30 day trainee program at a Chinese barbershop and wrote about his experiences (I know for one reader or two it might be of even greater interest because it happens to be in Fuzhou). He deals with a lot of the reader comments and acknowledges that he really can't get a complete feel for how things are because of his outsider status and the temporary nature of his employment, but it does offer a lot of great insight. It also interested me because at times after having graduated or in between political jobs, I sometimes thought about saying fuck it and going to work at a friend's massage parlour in Tianjin and while they were willing to have me, I never actually went that far.

Now, I spend my days (and a lot of nights) working at a MCLF (I might explain that abbreviation later) o dealing with problems coworkers have with drafting English language documents. Therefore, it is extremely frustrating when at night, when I want to get away from work and have a drink and a Cuban on my balcony a la Denny Crane, my beautiful view of the city is ruined by a horrible, ugly red advertisement for TCL that includes the subscript "Reading Floweriness." It doesn't help that I have to see that annoying sign from my office window, too. Is this some kind of zen eastern thing? It seems more likely that, despite efforts to get rid of Chinglish cities like Beijing and Shanghai, its still alive and kicking here in Shenzhen. If I have to see that sign for the next 6 months, it will drive me to the point of insanity and, by then, I won't be legally culpable for whatever crime I commit...Don't even get me started on the Chinglish of "I'm proud to fly so high"...

I don't always like Sinocidal, but when they're on, they're really on, and this post on
the evil, devil in a Mao jacket Dashan is absolutely laugh out loud hilarious. While I am starting to fall for Canada, I must remember that while America has committed many wrongs and the evilness of Bush and the Iraq War, Canada's sin of releasing Dashan on the innocent Chinese populace might just be far worse. I have an idea, get Dashan to Guantanemo, beat the shit out of him, let the other detainees teach him Arabic (and let the Uighyrs beat the shit out of him, too), and send him to Iraq. That will solve the problems highlighted by sinocidal and will make the Iraqi people love all things American, right? Electronic dictionaries for everybody!

Damn. These. Ads!

A great article in Time about why Americans should accept amnesty. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but its one that we need to accept for many of the reasons highlighted in the article and more. So many of the arguments against it are just racist, overly protectionist, and/or based on a pre-globalization outlook on things. The article also goes to show that this isn't only the situation in cities, but even in small towns. There are very few Americans who go through their day without working alongside or receiving some kind of service from an illegal immigrant. The success of our economy, especially now, depends on them as so many industries would simply shut down. I'm a little disappointed in those connected to the restaurant business not stepping up and throwing down, this seems a perfect topic for Bourdain, so where the hell are you Tony (a million aplogoies if I've just missed the entry)?

Finally, an interesting article from the IHT/NYT on how women employees have effected the drinking culture in Korea. I was surprised that at the one night outing that took place at my MCLF there was a total lack of drinking. I'm not sure if its because many of them have experience in the US and/or UK or if its because the females so outnumber the men (on this occassion it was 8 to 4). While I know China's drinking culture isn't as extensive as Korea's, it is still relatively common here as an after work activity, but I've yet to encounter it at my workplace.

What is up with blogger? I can write entries, but lately I cannot view my own page (or anyone elses) other than through rss, is this a common thing in China, does it signal another potential full block or what?


Brief Musings on Life in Shenzhen

So I've been in Shenzhen now entering my fourth week (though this past weekend was only my first full weekend in town). I have seen almost none of the city beyond a small strip of Luohu probably less than a mile long and centered around Bao An Lu. I know of one mall (the oddly named Mixc) and the majority of restaurants I know are either inside that mall or within a block of my apartment. I want to explore some more, but on a stroll the other night, I found out why exploring has its flaws, as I happened upon what looked to be a small "red light" area where girls scantily dressed were looking outside boredly (fortunately I wasn't alone)...This past weekend I went to the shopping area on Hua Qiang Bei Rd, though I think that's still Luohu District, so I can still say that I've only left Luohu one time, to visit a friend of my cousin. I'd like to get to the bar street in Shekou, but am not going there alone and, in any case, right now its under water. So here goes, my impressions of this city, and while they may be rash judgments, its my blog and I'll stereotype if I want to. You have a problem with it? Leave a comment. Wait, seriously, leave a comment!

1. Rain: It rains here everyday. As mentioned above, I have been here for a bit more than 3 weeks, it has rained on 21 of my 23 days here. Typically the rain is a very large rain that ends after 15 minutes to a half hour, but IT RAINS EVERYDAY!

2. It. is. HOT. Okay, Beijing and Chicago are hot in the summer, everywhere is hot, doesn't anybody listen to Al Gore? But the heat here is unbelievable. And because the above point about all the rain, it is crazy humid. And because of this, the rain rarely cools things off, it just makes you hotter afterwords...

3. Shenzhen girls are EVIL. Granted, I've only met 2 and 1 is a coworker who is one of the sweetest people you could meet (perhaps her time abroad dulled her evilness). This is the ultimate in snap decisions, but I stand by it. So, for the record, Beijing girls lack warmth (不温柔), Sichuan girls have crazy tempers, and Shenzhen girls are evil.

4. There is a strange habit of "sanitizing" your chopsticks with your tea that, having traveled to at least half of China's provinces, I've never encountered anywhere else. The process goes like this: you are poured a cup of tea and a bowl (or pitcher) is placed in the middle of the table, you swirl your chopsticks in the tea, pour the tea into your bowl and swirl you spoon in it, then for further protection, when you pour it into the communal bowl, you pour it over the middle of the chopsticks, where the tea may not have touched. Then the waitress comes, pours you a new cup of tea, and takes the bowl away. I am a little frustrated that I was beaten to this topic by Shenzhen Undercover, especially considering he's been here a long time and just decided to post on it this week! As far as I remember, I never encountered this in Guangzhou, either (though I have come across it in the smaller "cities" around Shenzhen). Does anybody know how long this has been going on? My spot hypothesis is that this is a further precaution taken in the post-SARS world, but perhaps people have been swirling their chopsticks in their tea long before anyone had ever heard of SARS.

5. It is really HOT! (psst! It rains a lot, too!)

6. People are extremely generous to beggars here. On multiple occassions, I've seen people slipping beggars RMB5-10, something I've never encountered anywhere else in China.

7. It seems counterintuitive considering the above, but I don't see disabled people here. I also have yet to see the blind massage parlours that are so ubiquitous in any other city in China, large or small (replaced by high end massage places that may or may not employ blind people). Especially considering point 6, this seems a bit strange.Yet along those lines, the very few times I've seen disabled people, they are getting around by themselves, an unusual thing in China.

8. Despite this being a city "without culture" and so focused on money, unlike in Shanghai, people here are actually pretty nice (with the exception of point 3). Perhaps its proximity to Hong Kong, but I have yet to see much of the lack of manners that exists in other cities (and the outright meanness of Shanghai). Hopefully this can be chalked up to real kindness among Shenzhen people and not just due to my limited experiences in this city.


It's the Environment, Stupid!

In a very strange coincidence, when I arrived home after posting yesterday's entry, Happy GIlmore was on tv. I am still dealing with the hell that is Topway, their customer (dis)service has helped me to understand a bit why lao taitai's drop any sense of "face" or reserve and want to bitch them out in public. Every time I've contacted them or gone by their offices, the requirements change just a bit. Still no internet at home, still coming to you live from Starbucks.

As a converted Democrat who comes from a home with an extremely environmentally concious mother and having watched (and believing) An Inconvenient Truth, I try to do what I can to protect the environment. In the US, military generals have deemed the environment to be a major issues of national security (the thing Americans are most concerned about). In China, many feel the environment is the greatest threat to continued economic success (the thing Chinese are most concerned about). Yet while the US, at least on a local level, have a number of programs in place to protect the environment, mostly in the form of recycling, China is severely lacking in this respect. My building has garbage cans on each floor, but no recycling bins anywhere. As far as I know, if I want to recycle my plastic bottles instead of just throwing them in the trash, I must bring them with me on my daily walk to work and wait until I come across a recycling bin on the street, in the meantime looking like one of the street people who spend their days collecting plastic bottles out of trash bins for money.

When I first arrived in Shenzhen, a big news story was made of Hong Kong's new law which would place something like a HKD$0.50 tax on customers at large grocery stores who require plastic bags instead of using more environmentally friendly bags. In the US those environmentally friendly bags are common at places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, but still haven't gained wide use. Then again, in the US paper bags are often preferred to the plastic bags that you receive here. This measure by the HK government will hopefully work to force people to choose environmentally friendly bags over plastic bags and will be a step in the right direction for environmental protection. Just this morning, the news was reporting that Carrefour stores in Beijing are now pushing usage of an environmentally friendly bag instead of the more common plastic bags. As of my most recent to my local Carrefour in Shenzhen, this measure hasn't reached the south yet.

I'm not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination and my credentials when it comes to the environment are lacking at best, however even I was blown away by the number of plastic bags (or other recyclable goods) I receive on a daily basis here in Shenzhen. Whenever you buy anything, even if its just a bottle or two of beer and some snacks, the person behind the counter is reaching for plastic bags, and not just one, buy a bottle of beer and some snacks and walk away with at least 3 plastic bags. This is only my 3rd week in the city and I've already amassed a very large collection of plastic bags.

So many platitudes are made about how big a problem the environment in China could be and how important protection of it is. Yet today on tv, one of the heads of Greenpeace China was attacking the US as the number 1 problem in global environmental protection and at the same time praising China for advances it has made in this area. I'm one of the many that feels Bush's pulling out of Kyoto was a disgrace and that hopefully we can get a Democrat in the White House who will turn the US into a global leader on this issue. However, while the US hasn't done enough globally, China hasn't done anything and, beyond that, as discussed above, many cities and states in the US have very good local programs in place. I guess I was a bit surprised that such a radical organization as Greenpeace would be toeing the party line, but I probably shouldn't be.

China needs to stop talking about the environment as such a big national issue (or maybe it needs to talk more about it) and start recognizing that there are little things they can do on a local level to help the environment. Simple solutions exist and can be put in place like getting rid of plastic bags and single use wooden chopsticks as well as implementing more widespread recylcing programs. Such simple measures are only a start, but actually putting them in place would be enough to make a major difference. I don't think this is necessarily an area of danger, citizens can speak up and push the government and not worry too much, but its going to take enough concerned citizens coming forward and placing demands on their local government or even just deciding to do things on their own (private citizen actions is how many of the programs came to be in the US) instead of waiting for the government to decide its going to implement such programs. Let's hope enough citizens begin to stand up and take action.

As always, I invite any comments. Especially if anyone is aware of recycling programs in China (and in particular in Shenzhen).