Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another Taste of Pollution in China

There are several notable recent stories about China's pollution. I don't think this is a topic that can grow old. In so many respects, pollution presents a major challenge for China. And some of its impact will be felt throughout the world. You might not be in Beijing, Shijiazhuang, or Changsha to taste the air, but here is a taste of the news:

1. Often the focus is on air pollution, but air is not the only issue. For example, soil pollution is an area of concern. How bad is soil pollution in China? Well, it's hard to say since as Tania Branigan reported in The Guardian:
China's leading environmental watchdog has refused to disclose the results of a major national soil pollution study on grounds of state secrecy, according to a lawyer who requested the report's disclosure...

Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei told the state-run Global Times newspaper that he had requested the findings of the five-year, 1bn yuan (£100m) study because he believed soil pollution could be a serious safety threat.

But the ministry of environmental protection told him it would only release some details because the full report was a state secret, he said...

"The environmental ministry has been releasing real-time information about air pollution even though the air in Beijing was so bad last month. In contrast, soil pollution is a 'state secret'. Does this suggest that the land is contaminated much worse than the air?"
Read the article here for more details about estimates of soil pollution in China and signs of growing public concern about pollution.

2. One man in China had a creative idea for how to draw attention to the pollution in a nearby creek: he challenged local officials to swim it. As Tom Phillips reported in The Telegraph, the man received more attention than he bargained for:
Mr Chen, a farmer who has spent the last decade fighting pollution, posted his challenge on the internet, hoping it would trigger government action.

Instead, his daughter says he was severely beaten by a gang of baton-wielding men at around 6am last Sunday.

"My father was alone at home," said 32-year-old Chen Xiufang. "Some 40 people turned up in plain clothes, some holding batons. The only thing they said was: "[You] used the internet, you always use the internet!"

"The whole thing lasted four or five hours until the police arrived. My father got hit in the head by six or seven people, with their fists. He is now feeling dizzy and sleeping all the time," she added, claiming the attack had been orchestrated by local officials.
Read more about Mr. Chen's plight here.

3. Fortunately, some government officials are responding to the concerns about pollution. In fact, officials came up with what I think is safe to call a "unexpected proposal": banning outdoor barbecues. As Minnie Chan and Li Jing reported in the South China Morning Post, at least some Chinese citizens are skeptical of the plan:
"Does anyone believe the smog will be easily controlled after a barbecue ban?" one internet user commended. "We are not fools like some leaders."

"What is [the Ministry of Environmental Protection] going to consider next?" another user asked. "Will they ban cooking, too? My family still uses a wood-burning stove."

Other online comments suggested that the ministry was targeting average citizens because it could not come up with pollution-reduction measures that were acceptable to the industries most responsible for pollution.
Read more about the barbecue ban proposal here.

4. Articles about "massive nitrogen pollution" in China, Beijing's air pollution yet again reaching levels "beyond index", and other variations on the pollution theme are out there as well.

And I expect more will be coming.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snacking on Spiders

During my visit to Cambodia several years ago, I was eager to try a variety of local dishes. However, there was some hesitation mixed in with my eagerness for one item I ate.

cooked tarantula spider, peanuts, and a glass of beer

As seen in the photo, a large glass of beer helped me prepare to eat a spider. It worked (a little), and I managed to eat everything except, as advised, the abdomen. The experience was most similar to eating a soft-shelled crab. In fact, I would have enjoyed it if I had not known I was eating a spider. But that fact was hard to ignore. Despite the repulsion I had to overcome, part of me was able to enjoy the spider's subtle and unique flavor.

At a more upscale restaurant in Phnom Penh I recently had the opportunity to try spiders again.

a gourmet dish of tarantula spiders

Several spiders were provided in the appetizer dish, but they were smaller than the previous spider. Most remarkable to me was that I didn't feel like I was overcoming any strong inhibitions this time. Although the dipping sauce was flavorful, the spiders had no distinct taste themselves--just crunchiness.

So based on my experiences, my advice is to try the larger spiders. Maybe they're tastier.

And if it's your first time, ordering a beer might not hurt.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mobile Phones for Sale in Nanchang, China

Just two scenes from a little more than a year ago of people selling mobile phones on the sidewalks of central Nanchang--the capital of China's Jiangxi province.

people selling mobile phones on the sidewalk

people selling mobile phones on the sidewalk

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Facebook Ice Cream Store in Cambodia

Last year I shared my "discovery" of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China (see here). Even though in addition to Android phones it sold non-Android phones, including the iPhone, I saw it as a sign of Android's growth in China. It was also reminiscent of the numerous "fake" Apple stores I have seen across China (see here).

I haven't noticed any similar Android or Apple stores during my brief time in Cambodia, but at a shopping center in Phnom Penh I did notice a store that prominently made use of the Facebook brand. Since Facebook is an online service, it may not be obvious how one could use their brand for a store. The answer is simple: you sell ice cream.

Facebook Ice Cream store in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The person holding the ice cream sure doesn't look like Mark Zuckerberg

Croatian designer Tomislav Zvonarić has already created a concept for a Facebook ice cream bar—Facecream (H/T Mashable). But I'm not aware of any Facebook Ice Cream stores other than the one I saw in Phnom Penh.

After stumbling upon the store, I felt compelled to go inside. A friendly ice cream server greeted me.

server at the Facebook Ice Cream store
I did not ask if she receives Facebook stocks as part of her compensation.

Excited to try some Facebook ice cream, I placed my order.

inside the Facebook Ice Cream store
Imagine the lights flickering between "Face" & "Ice" and "book" & "Cream" for a fuller experience.

No Facecream was available. Instead, they had a variety of common (for Cambodia) ice cream flavors, drinks, and some non-dessert food, including chicken wings and french fries. I chose the taro ice cream.

cup of taro ice cream with the writing "I choose the pink one cause I love pink!! Fashion Update"
Nothing like receiving a fashion update with your ice cream.

I'm not sure whether the ice cream had a Facebook flavor to it. I'll just say that the cookie sticks were my favorite part.

Facebook is available in the Khmer (Cambodian) language, but I was told the store does not have a Facebook page. That seems like a marketing blunder, although maybe they were concerned about receiving any attention from the folks at Facebook.

I have seen other signs of Facebook's presence in Cambodia (maybe more about that later). None of them were as striking as the Facebook Ice Cream store though. That's all for now, but I'll be sure to provide an update if I see any ice cream stores using the brands of Facebook's competitors.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Watching the Sparks Fly in Phnom Penh

Today in Phnom Penh, a scene at a market reminded me of a metal cutter I saw in Shenzhen. In the earlier post I wrote "safety precautions common elsewhere are not always practiced [in China]".

At least the welder [brazer?] I saw in Cambodia was wearing a form of eye protection.

little girl watching a metal cutter
At the Orussey Market in Phnom Penh

The sparks were denser and flew farther than what is seen in the above photo, but they were not reaching the young girl who stopped nearby. Even where I was standing farther away, though, their extreme brightness made them rather uncomfortable to watch.

And for those of you who attend to details, yes, that is Vietnamese writing on the umbrella. It is for Văn Dũng 1111 coffee.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A City Scene in Cambodia

View from the Sorya Shopping Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This is my way of saying that I am no longer in Kampot, Cambodia. At least one more Kampot-related post is on the way, but Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, will provide a change of pace from the recent rural scenes.

More (not just about Cambodia) soon...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shoe Shining in Hengyang, China

Although more from Cambodia and Malaysia is on the way, China themes will continue. For readers who crave another Chinese scene, here is a new one:

a shoe shining on a sidewalk in Hengyang and several people looking at me

In this case, I received a significant amount of attention from people nearby. I suppose it's not everyday someone photographs a shoe shining in Hengyang, Hunan province.

For more scenes from Hengyang see my earlier post here.

Not Fighting Hacking With Hacking

It seems "hackers from China" is a common news story these days, but a fascinating article on the The New York Times added more perspective and details based on a recent study:
An unusually detailed 60-page study, to be released Tuesday by Mandiant, an American computer security firm, tracks for the first time individual members of the most sophisticated of the Chinese hacking groups — known to many of its victims in the United States as “Comment Crew” or “Shanghai Group” — to the doorstep of the military unit’s headquarters. The firm was not able to place the hackers inside the 12-story building, but makes a case there is no other plausible explanation for why so many attacks come out of one comparatively small area.

“Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398,” said Kevin Mandia, the founder and chief executive of Mandiant, in an interview last week, “or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighborhood.”
The full article can be found in English here and in Chinese (simplified) here.

The AP reports on a possible response:
As public evidence mounts that the Chinese military is responsible for stealing massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is eyeing fines and other trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country guilty of cyberespionage.

According to officials familiar with the plans, the White House will lay out a new report Wednesday that suggests initial, more-aggressive steps the U.S. would take in response to what top authorities say has been an unrelenting campaign of cyberstealing linked to the Chinese government.
The full article can be found here.

I'll refrain from commenting on the hacking incidents other than to say they don't sound good and China is not the only country connected to large scale cyberstealing. But the U.S. not "fighting fire with fire" and instead responding with other measures to deter hacking has inspired me to share a personal experience.

While living in a college dormitory many years ago, I became the owner of a new top-of-line computer. I think it had more than 100 MB of hard drive space. Many of my friends thought I would never be able to fill it up. Ah, the good old days...

It was not long before I discovered signs someone had inappropriately accessed my computer and caused some minor mischief. I could not fully control access to my shared dorm room, so I added a layer of security to my computer. But I soon discovered that someone had found their way through it. I then had a suspect in mind since there was only one person living in my section of the dorm who had both the skills and the mindset to do it. When I saw him next, I asked him to stop. Although he did not explicitly admit to it, his response left me all the more sure he was the culprit.

Not having faith my request would have the desired effect, I added yet another layer of security to my computer. However, it was not long before I discovered it too had been "cracked". I then researched other possible security measures and came to a disturbing conclusion: even I could imagine a way through the best security I discovered. Securing my computer seemed impossible, and I had no desire to engage in a hacking battle.

Clearly, it was time to "think outside of the box".

In this case, what first came to mind as a nonconstructive immediate response provided the seed for a possible solution. I walked down the hall and into the room of the suspect. I explained to him that I was not aware of any security for my computer that could stop him from accessing it. And in a tone that left no doubt about my seriousness I added, "If you ever touch my computer again, I'm taking a hammer to yours."

He looked stunned. I walked out.

I'm not saying this provides the blueprint for the best response, or even a feasible one, in all cases. But in this case...

I had no more problems.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Scenes From a Bike Ride North of Kampot, Cambodia

A few days after my long walk in the Cambodian countryside south of Kampot, I headed in the opposite direction but this time on bike. Again, some of what I saw and a few of the people I met:

Small lake at the Chinese built dam

Most of the roads I saw that day were paved.

The girl excitedly removed her hat for the photo, and the woman displayed what they are farming.

Watching TV at the restaurant

More specifically, watching an infomercial for a broom (I think the "Super Sweeper")

When I stopped to buy some bottled water, the girl in the center was in charge of the small shop.

The man was eager to speak with me. Unfortunately I don't speak Khmer (Cambodian).

More people watching TV

Other bike riders

A small stream

Monday, February 18, 2013

Palm Wine and Sea Creatures in Kampot

As I was returning to Kampot town from a recent walk through the Cambodian countryside, I saw a place deserving further investigation.

palm wine shop in Kampot, Cambodia

What had caught my attention were the large bottles of "home-brewed" palm wine--a unique-tasting alcoholic drink a mototaxi driver introduced me to several years ago in Kampong Chhnang. Of course I ordered a glass.

jugs of palm wine

After the drink was poured, they encouraged me to have something to eat with it. After all, they had a delectable treat.

basket of edible sea creatures

What were they? At first I had no clue, and nobody knew the English word for its name. But I found out it was a sea creature of some sort. I think.

So I had one with my drink.

palm wine and cooked sea creature

Based on its texture and what I had previously seen at a local market, I wondered if it was a large sea mollusk that acquires a flower-like shape after being cooked. But I'm not sure, and a quick online search hasn't helped me out. I'd appreciate hearing from any readers who may recognize this culinary delight.

Whatever it was, I enjoyed it with a spicy dipping sauce. After finishing it and the palm wine, I met a few of the other people there.

Cambodians enjoying food and drinks

three young men enjoying palm wine

And was guided out to the back where they suggested photographing the view.

view of Cambodian countryside outside the town of Kampot

I am very glad I visited this provider of fine palm wine, and it was one of the highlights of a long walk. Maybe someday I'll know for sure what I ate. Later, I'll share something I ate in Cambodia that proved to be much more of a challenge because I knew exactly what it was.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Walk in Kampot's Fish Isle

In the next few posts I will share some of my experiences exploring the countryside of Kampot town--the capital of Kampot province in southern Cambodia. This post covers a walk I took south of Kampot in an area known as "Fish Isle". The photos include a variety of buildings, passersby, people I met, a dog, and some salt fields. I have much to say, but for now I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

house on stilts over water

girl riding a bike on a dirt road

house on stilts

three people riding a motorbike on a dirt road

girls wearing hijabs riding bicycles

workers at a salt field in Kampot


a building in the salt fields

girl and boy riding bikes

adults holding little children to pose

girl holding young child

two people riding a motorbike on a dirt road next to a palm tree

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On the Phone in Kampot, Cambodia

Based on the two earlier sets of photos (here and here), nobody was able to guess my current location. I can't say I am shocked. I was not familiar with Kampot before first traveling to Cambodia three years ago. Based on a recommendation I had planned to visit Kampot then, but difficulty in finding a room during New Year's caused me to head elsewhere. Fortunately, this time I was able to find a room without problem.

Today I will just share a single photo. During one of my long walks into Kampot's countryside, I noticed a little girl engrossed with a toy phone at a small openair store. I pretended to answer her "call" on my mobile.

little girl sitting amongst toys for sale at a small shop

I think it is safe to say I provided an unexpected moment in her day.

More scenes from that walk, elsewhere in Kampot, and also Phnom Penh are on the way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Two More Scenes Not In Malaysia

Not surprisingly, there were fewer guesses than the previous time for the most recent edition of "where am I?".

One reader's guess, "Java", especially caught my attention because I nearly ended up there for the Chinese New Year's holiday. The winner for the most creative / entertaining guess so far goes to Pete. He asked "Are you golfing at Pebble Beach?" and submitted a link to the photo here to support his claim. However, if that's the same tree then apparently there's been a recent one kilometer change in the sea level. Plus, there are no golf courses nearby.

Since nobody has yet correctly guessed the location, I will share two more photos. They both include some clues.

tourists near some rocks and a statue

salt fields

Again, any guesses? This will be the last chance as I am eager to share some more substantial posts.

One more clue: Java is quite a bit closer than Pebble Beach.

UPDATE: Answer here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Two Scenes Not In Malaysia

As I mentioned before, I am now not in Malaysia.

Time for an old game. Here are two clues for where I am spending part of this year's Chinese New Year's holiday week:

tree and an old church in the background

mountains, tropical trees, and a river with a setting sun

Any guesses?

The last time I tried this, the first person to identify the location was a reader in Zoetermeer, Netherlands. I think the above photos present a trickier case, unless you have happened to visit here before. So I'll add one more small clue. The church in the first photo is no longer a place for religious services.

Tomorrow as I recover from a little too much sun (I was better prepared for the mosquitos), I hope to reply to some recent comments from readers. More soon.

UPDATE: More scenes here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

One More Train Ride in Malaysia

driverless train at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

A few days ago I had the opportunity to look out the front window of another driverless train in Kuala Lumpur. This one traveled between terminals at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Not surprisingly, not long after the ride I boarded an airplane. But I have no photos like the ones from Xiamen and Hong Kong.

Although I am no longer in Malaysia, there is still more I plan to share about what I saw, experienced, and learned in a country full of diversity. But posts about my new location are also on the way...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Choice and Fashion of a Hijab

During my time in Malaysia, it was common to see females wearing a hijab--a headscarf worn by many, but not all, Muslim women. I often marveled at the apparent quality of fabric and the variety of colors & patterns on the hijabs.

One day in Melaka, I met these four young women from Indonesia who were traveling together:

four young women from Indonesia

Two of them are Muslim. Two are Catholic. Of the two Muslims, only one wore a hijab. In a discussion, the Muslim traveler who was not wearing a hijab said that wearing one is a "choice" for Muslim women in Indonesia. She also said that some females will wear the hijab only for reasons of fashion. For them, the hijab is simply another accessory in their attire, and they are not wearing it for a religious purpose.

Her comments were particularly striking to me because on two earlier occasions Western women traveling in Malaysia commented to me about the many hijabs they were seeing. Both women thought it was oppressive for Muslim women to be expected to cover themselves more than men.

In each case I replied by asking, "Do you feel oppressed when men are able to walk around topless and you are expected to cover your breasts?" The first woman considered my question for a while. She never replied. The second woman said it is different since in both Muslim and Western cultures women are expected to cover their breasts. I asked why that had anything to do with whether it is oppressive. She had no reply.

There is so much to explore in the topics raised by these discussions. But for now, I will just add that I wish I could have introduced the two Western women to the travelers from Indonesia. I suspect with some appropriate nudges another fascinating discussion would occur.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Power of Crepe is Power of Love"

Sometimes I have so many thoughts about a particular scene I wonder if it may be best to simply share it and say nothing at all.

cafe with pink seats / heart tables and a sign on the wall saying "Power of Crepe is Power of Love"

But in case you're considering the sign at the above Crepe Signature cafe in a Melaka mall, here is some insight about its meaning from Crepe Signature:
Our slogan is: “Power of Crepe is power of Love”. Our hope that every customer can enjoy crepes with happiness, love and warmth of a family.
I'll add that, as far as I can tell, their slogan is rather unique.

Just another scene from Malaysia. And I'll leave it at that.