Friday, March 12, 2010

China and Africa

Back in Beijing I once met an Arabic-speaking woman who used to work in a foreign aid organization. "China helps Africa so it can get natural resources," she told me. "Westerners actually care."
My experiences in China make me think that's probably the case, but it's beside the point if China's methods are more effective. Western aid is supposed to be well though out, even scientific, with all the studies aid organizations carry out. But perhaps going in and just doing it is better. It's not like we really understand all the factors that go into making a poor country rich, much less have the ability to influence all of them. Perhaps we should just go in, ask people what they need most, and give it to them.
One of the problems with US foreign policy, I think, is that it depends on belief in our own good intentions. Good intentions don't matter if you're incompetent, however, or represented by someone who doesn't share those good intentions.


Since life in Taiwan is simply no where near as interesting (and frustrating) as life in China, I haven't had much to write about here. I just decided however to simply write about what's on my mind, which hopefully shouldn't take too much of my time.

Friday, May 23, 2008


A rare article on Taiwanese culture. (Technically it's Chinese, but since it doesn't exist in the mainland anymore it's really Taiwanese). They even have puppet TV shows, replete with sword fighting sequences and special effects (which are quite corny). I think I wanna apprentice...
It's a really cute museum, by the way.
The National History Museum had a big exhibition of puppets a month and a half ago... if anyone reading this is in Taipei it's worth checking out.

One Reason I Moved to Taipei

Nice to see Taipei's metro get its due.
Its only drawback is that it's a really small system- 67 stations, compared to 470 in New York. But even then it's so well designed that you can take it almost anywhere you'd want to go in Taipei. I'd even go so far as to say that it has character, if not as much as New York's. If they let musicians and breakdancers perform in the trains and stations maybe they'd catch up.
Beijing's subway, on the other hand, is miserable. Aside from being overcrowded, it's just poorly designed. The stations are deep and you have to walk through long tunnels to get to the platforms, transferring between lines takes forever. Stations are spaced so far apart you usually have to walk twenty minutes just to get to and from the stations. Trains are both short and narrow, and therefore overcrowded. There are few exits, and you often have to cross a highway once you get out. The result is that if you want to go less than 2 miles walking is often faster than the subway. Of course, coverage is so poor that you're usually going to have to take a bus to get where you're going anyway.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pigs in Taipei

Reuters recently had a short article on what might be Dadaocheng's quirkiest sight.

I've actually passed this guy before, near the intersection of Dihua St. and Minzu Rd. He looked very happy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mainland China Timeline

I was told that the order of what happened in my blog is not clear, so here’s a quick timeline to get things straight.

Before China-
Fall of ’05 to spring of ’06- taught Chinese at Exeter
June ’06- went to sister’s graduation in Scotland
July-August- taught Tae Kwon Do at day camp in New York

Traveling to Tibet-
September 17-22- went to Beijing, spent nearly a week there
Sept. 22-25- flew to Chengdu, spent a weekend
Sept. 25-29- Traveled west to Danba, and went to Jiaju, Suopo, Buke and Zhonglu with Li Tong
Sept. 30- Oct. 2- Went to Dangling with Li Tong, his wife and two others we met, Wen Yi and Liang Chao- trip was a debacle.
Oct. 3-5- Went farther west, to Garze, while the others went their separate ways. Spent a couple days in Garze.
Oct. 6-8- Went even farther west to Derge, on the Tibetan border. Met Thomas, a Frenchman working in Beijing, and an annoying Chinese couple on the bus. Went with them to Pelpung Monastery, in an isolated village near Derge.
Oct. 9-12- Went to Dzongsar on my own.
Oct. 13-15- Snuck into Tibet.
Oct. 16- Nov. 1- Hung around Lhasa. Was shown karmic tests at Ganden Monastery. Went to Nam Tso with random group of foreigners. Attempted to find a job in Lhasa.
Nov. 2-4- Went with Erica and Kirk to Reting (where Erica was attacked by a deer), Tidrum Nunnery and Drigum Til (where we saw Tibetans attack a Chinese truck driver).
Nov. 5-20- Hung around Lhasa with Kirk, Alex and Jon. Hunted for pot with Jon, and did prostration kora with all three. Went to nangma several times.
Nov. 21-23- Returned to Beijing by train; stayed in Xining for a night.

In Beijing-
Nov. 23- Dec. 15- Hung out in Beijing. Lily took me to a guqin factory and guqin classes, then introduced me to her friend Ziqin, who offered to help me get a business visa. Got bad offer to teach English as nurse’s school.
late December- Forced to Hong Kong for new visa, spend a week there then spend a week and a half in Taiwan, seeing Angie and Rika. On train to HK met Steve, an anti-Communist Party reporter from Fujian.
Early January- Went back to the mainland via Hong Kong after New Year’s. On train back to Beijing met Noriko, a Japanese student in Hong Kong.
January- Back in Beijing, hang out with Noriko for a few days before resuming job hunt. Get a job offer from Ziqin. Move into Lily’s room, start getting tutored by Ye Bingxuan, a PhD student.
February- Applied for work visa, attended conference with Ziqin, celebrated Chinese New Year.
March- Got ripped off by landlord after moving to Ziqin’s apartment at the beginning of the month. Things went bad with Ziqin, and I finally quit at month’s end.
Early April- Traveled to Mt. Everest with parents.
Late April- mid May- Glasses hunt (they were lost in 1st trip to Lhasa.) Went to village near Beijing in late April, then to rock festival in early May.
late May- Restarted job and apartment hunt after getting glasses and taking a quick trip to the old imperial summer villa in Chengde. Found seemingly good apartment and seemingly good job, teaching Chinese to elementary school kids in the morning and Korean high school kids in the afternoon.
Early June- Found that the Koreans are impossible to teach and that I am the 7th or 8th teacher there, and then quit. However, the morning job goes well, even though I felt the agent I had gone through was misleading about the salary.
June- Find out that I am being underpaid, and after boss first promises to pay more then forgets his promise I quit once the semester is finished.
July- Start working for fellow alumni’s English school, which goes well. Move into new apartment, which does not go well. Decide to move out of Beijing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A long absence

Just making sure my blog doesn't go under... I will start updating on of these days...
After half a year of Beijing, I got sick of the hassles and decided to move to Taipei, which will happen probably next month. I have a lot of misadventures to catch up on =P

Friday, June 29, 2007

Not breaking visa laws

Going back to December last year…

My main problem after getting back to Beijing wasn’t getting a job, but getting a visa. I was on a tourist visa that would expire in mid-December. I had enough money to survive in Beijing for a while. But there were other (quasi-legal) ways to get visas.
The best way, I thought, would be to get a Chinese company to write me an invitation letter for a business visa. All I needed for a 6-month visa was a stamped letter, so it seemed easy. I wouldn’t legally be able to earn money but if I freelanced as an English tutor and got paid in cash no one would notice. The catch was that I didn’t know anyone who could write me a letter.
However, Lily had a friend who owned her own company, who she said would certainly help me. I didn’t want to impose on someone I didn’t know, so I didn’t follow up. I didn’t realize it, but that offer began a chain of events that turned my life in China into a tragicomedy that is only just ending.

A week later Lily’s friend had a dinner party, and Lily wanted me to go. I agreed to go even though I’m never comfortable at Chinese dinner parties. Chinese people can never get over my non-Chineseness, watch my every move and note every faux pas. For my part I have to tell them what I think of China and the US without offending them or saying something they disagree with. An American girl I met once put it this way: “I bet Chinese people are very normal when they’re with each other. But when they meet a foreigner they lose their sense of logic and go crazy.” Finally, men always drink baijiu (“clear liquor”), a gasoline-like alcohol that the Chinese love.
Lily’s friend, named Zhang Ziqin, owned a small logistics company. It would have been perfect except she had no idea how to write an invitation letter. If I was going to play with visa laws I didn’t want to do it with someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but I agreed to meet Ziqin at Beijing’s visa office to see if we could figure it out. Ziqin was eager to help, because she wanted me to help her study English.
However, things looked harder and harder at the visa office. First the visa officers said Ziqin needed to apply with the local labor bureau to get the stamp for the letter. Then they told us Americans had to leave China to get change visas. I had no way of telling if that was really the law- Chinese visa officers sometimes like making things difficult for foreigners.
I decided to back out when Ziqin wanted me to fill out an application form on which I would have had to make up an American employer for myself. If I was going to lie on an official form I wanted to know what I was doing.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tian'anmen and Ma Lik

I don’t think it is right to tell Chinese people what they should think about their own government, and I don’t think the US should try to lecture China. However, I see nothing wrong with writing my opinion, especially when I read something both stupid and infuriating.
According to the New York Times, Ma Lik, the leader of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing party, stated that the Tian’anmen Square Massacre was invented by the Western media, and that Hong Kongers were unpatriotic for being taken in and therefore didn’t deserve to have full democracy. The fact that people can deny events that took place only 18 years ago and were recorded on camera and had thousands of witnesses is a testament to the ability of humans to believe what they want to believe regardless of evidence. The Chinese Communist Party likes to remind people that they should “seek truth from facts,” but as incidents like this make clear anyone who has to say that truth should come from facts is probably peddling a lie.
I feel sorry from Hong Kongers who are as Chinese as anyone but are stuck in a country whose government insists that true Chinese people must believe whatever they say and submit to them unquestioningly. Ma Lik’s statements demonstrate how hopeless democracy is in China- “you may vote when your minds are controlled by us.”

On a side note, I think this shows why Taiwanese are wary of the Mainland.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Tujia

The first day I met Lily I asked her if she liked Beijing.
“No,” she said. “People here are dishonest- they tell you one thing when they think another. Beijing has too many Hans, and I don’t like Hans.” Hans are ethnic Chinese, as opposed to minority groups like Tibetans, Mongolians and Koreans. I had assumed that Lily was a Han herself, like most Chinese people.
“I’m half Tujia and half Miao,” she explained. (Miao are known as Hmong in the US.) “My hometown is in Hubei.” She showed me some slides that another Tujia took, of their village and of people in traditional Tujia clothing.
“My friend took these to preserve Tujia culture, because it is disappearing,” Lily said. “Everyone just wants to make money like the Hans, so they leave the villages and abandon Tujia customs. No one can speak Tujiaese anymore.”
“Do you want to go back?” I asked.
“No, there’s nothing to go back to,” Lily said. “Our village is going to be submerged when they finish the Yangtze River Dam. A lot of people are angry because they didn’t give us enough money, and they forced us to move to higher ground that isn’t good for farming. Also, the concrete houses they built for us are terrible compared to our own traditional houses.”
“It would be much better if we could have our own country,” she said. “Actually, all minorities in China want their own country. But no one can say it.”
Lily told me a little about growing up in her village. Her maternal grandfather was a shaman, so she had special status when she was little. But her mother died young, and she didn’t like her Miao father, who like many Tujia had given up his culture. The Miao were once bitter enemies of the Chinese, but by now they have nearly totally assimilated.

Lily’s politics were not as straightforward as they seemed. Later she told me what she thought of China’s government.
“They have messed up China,” she said. “There’s too much corruption and inequality.” This is a common opinion these days. I don’t like the Chinese system, but I this government is the most realistic and enlightened China has ever had.
“It’s not that I’m not patriotic,” she went on. “I love China, and I’d defend it if it was attacked.” I wasn’t expecting that from someone who didn’t like Hans and thought her ethnic group should be independent.
“China was much better in the ‘70’s,” Lily said. “Everyone was poor, but there was no crime and you could trust people. My parents didn’t have to worry if I went out alone. Now they’d be afraid that I’d get kidnapped.”
I feel very uncomfortable when people praise ‘70’s China. The Cultural Revolution lasted until ’76, and the persecution, cynicism and the breakdown of society that it caused is very different from the idealized view that younger people like Lily and the shopkeeper in Lhasa have. People aren’t taught how bad the Cultural Revolution was, so they assume it was better than the ultracaptialist present. On the other hand, perhaps the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, when the Cultural Revolution was over but the reforms hadn’t yet fully begun, really were an idyllic if poor time. At least, if you lived in rural Hubei or Tibet.