Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sitting on the Street in Ho Chi Minh City

The next few days will be especially busy for me so I expect any posts will be light. Still, I have enough time for another scene from Vietnam.

food hawker sitting on a tiny stool on the street as a car passes by

The low stool, the advertisements for Oreo and HTC, the mix of patterns on the hawker's clothes, and the various vehicles all caused more than a few neurons in my brain to change their firing patterns. Feel free to ponder the photo and see what your own neurons do.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Zigong, Google Maps, Baidu Map, Bing Maps, and Taiwan

I shared the previous posts about a friendly lunch and a friendly family not only because Zigong, Sichuan province, was on my mind but also because I don't yet have a post ready to follow up my earlier comments about Google Reader. I'm not sure when I will finish it, but in the meantime there are two earlier posts which now seem convenient to "refresh" since they mention both Zigong and Google: "Google Maps and Baidu Map in China" and "Maps in (and of) China: Baidu, Bing, and Google". They are both comparisons of map services in China and were written almost two years ago. They were inspired by some findings in my research on youth in China and some claims in Western media that Baidu Map's hand-drawn 3-D view was a sign of how it had surpassed Google Maps. After providing some evidence highlighting the limitations of Baidu's 3-D view, I compared the two services in other regards. In the second post, I added Bing Maps China into the mix as well. I also included some views of Zigong to show who correctly depicted the existence (or non-existence) of a river and a street.

I would not have the exact same stories to tell if I again wrote about these three services. But some points would remain the same, including the extreme lack of detail on Baidu Map for regions outside of China. And related to that, there is one thing I will add. In the 2nd post I pointed out that in both Bing Maps China and Google Maps China:
... there is a dashed line around the South China Sea and around Taiwan to presumably make it clear they are parts of China. To say the least, these are both areas where any such claims China may make are under significant dispute. The dashed lines do not appear in Google Maps US and Bing Maps US.
Not surprisingly, those dashed lines also appear in Baidu Map. Now, here's the interesting part. Baidu Map has no details for city-level views of Taiwan--a heavily populated region. Zoom in to the city level and Taipei is not there at all. In fact, it's indistinguishable from Washington D.C. Bing Maps China at least offers a few very broad details at the city level*, although they would be rather limited in their usefulness. Only Google Maps China has rich city-level maps for Taiwan. An explanation for Baidu's lack of detail in Taiwan can't simply rest on a distinction between mainland China and the other areas administered / claimed by China, because Baidu Map has detailed city-level maps for both Hong Kong and Macau.

At least for now, I won't have the chance to research this further, so I'll just say again... "interesting".

*Yes, the results can be better for non-China-based versions of Bing Maps. That's another story, and I touched on related issues in the 2nd maps post.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Friendly Family in Zigong, Sichuan Province

A restaurant was of course not the only place I met some friendly people in Zigong, Sichuan province. For example, after enjoying the view from the top of a hill...

view of older homes and newer apartment buildings in Zigong, Sichuan Province

... I took a long walk which included some narrow paths...

a paved path

... and more examples of contrasting architectural styles.
roof of building with traditional Chinese architecture and more modern apartment buildings in the background

The most memorable moment of the walk was not these scenes, though, but instead meeting a family from one of the many homes I passed.

family of four standing outside their home

We chatted for a bit and the girls were excited to pose for their own photograph.

two Chinese girls posing for a photograph

It is another experience that feels far away from much of the current news about China. Immense challenges exist there, no doubt, but so do little girls with smiles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Friendly Lunch in Zigong, Sichuan Province

Today I needed to take a look at my photos from Zigong, Sichuan province, in southwestern China. Here is one of them:

10 people around a wooden table with benches.

I met this friendly group of people while enjoying lunch at a small restaurant I found during a wandering walk. They were eager to speak to me and as seen above were also happy to have their photo taken. If I ever tried to put together a collage of photos that sum up China to me, this one would fit right in.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Moment of Guitar from the Alhambra

As recently noted in an article about guitarist Valerie Hartzell by Mike Dunham in the Anchorage Daily News:
Fanfare Magazine called guitarist Valerie Hartzell "a master at creating moods." Classical Guitar magazine praised her "impeccable musicianship and technique." Top reviewers on Amazon have chimed in on her CD "Ex Tenebris Lux," B. Noelle Huling saying the performance is "absolutely breathtaking" and Luz Sirbenet saluting Hartzell as an "extraordinarily talented performer ... a classical guitarist of major importance."
And as written on her website, Valerie Hartzell:
...was a prizewinner at the Portland Guitar Competition, the ECU Competition and Festival, and the Appalachian Guitar Festival and Competition. She has won 1st prizes at the 10th International Guitar Competition “Simone Salmaso” in Italy and at the Concours de Guitare Classique Heitor Villa-Lobos in France. At the Peabody Conservatory, Valerie studied with Manuel Barrueco on scholarship earning her Bachelor’s Degree in 1997. She was awarded a Graduate Teaching Fellowship at Radford University and was placed as Adjunct Faculty while studying for her Master’s Degree in Music, receiving her performance degree in May of 1999.
The article and the website provide more details about Hartzell's life and music, including her mix of commitments which leave her regularly traveling between Alaska and Texas. But they both miss one key fact: for half a year she lived on the same dormitory floor as me at the Peabody Conservatory.

During my years at the conservatory, I often heard the sounds of musicians with their guitars in the school's practice rooms (also in the dorm rooms, dorm lounges, courtyard, cafeteria, hallways, stairwells, and elevators). Although I never studied classical guitar, my appreciation of it certainly grew. And I think most of the guitarists I knew would agree with Valerie on this point:
"One thing I hate is when people call the guitar a 'relaxing' instrument," Hartzell said. "It's so diverse. It can be Spanish and fiery, royal, dynamic, yet romantic and lyrical. It's such a chameleon."
In addition to the article, the Anchorage Daily News produced a video of Valerie performing the piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909). Valerie's performance is impressive not only for its display of technical prowess, but also for the unique expressive voice brought to the music. I share it here to bring more attention to a style of guitar music that is too often overlooked or mischaracterized and, of course, to "show off" my college friend Valerie.

Valerie Hartzell plays "Recuerdos de la Alhambra".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Still Weaving

In an earlier post, I wrote about what once provided me an incredible online experience, the "Recommend items" feature in Google Reader. Yesterday, in his post "Finale for now on Google's Self-Inflicted Trust Problem", James Fallows shared several opinions, including my own, about the potential fallout from Google shutting down its RSS reader service. I will soon follow up on what I wrote to Fallows, particularly about the claim that Google has hurt its reputation as the ultimate organizer of all the world's information.

I'm still working on that post, though, so in the meantime, here is a scene from a busy intersection today in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:

motorbikes crisscrossing each other at a busy intersection in Ho Chi Minh City

More later.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Calling the Country of Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong is a special administrative region in China, it has some characteristics, including its border with Shenzhen, that give it the flavor of an independent country. One way Hong Kong is country-like is that it has its own country code for international phone calls. Not only are the country codes different for Hong Kong and mainland China, but the rates for calling the two regions can differ as well. On a billboard in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I saw one example of how this can present a challenge:

billboard reading "6 cents to 11 countries" with images of flags from 10 countries and Hong Kong

I can't say with certainty why the sign is in English, but it is worth pointing out that it was located in the midst of areas where many foreigners can be found. And not only does Phnom Penh have a number of expats living there who may want to frequently make international calls, but in Cambodia it can be much cheaper for foreign visitors to buy a temporary SIM card than to use international roaming on their regular number. In fact, the company advertising on the billboard, Cellcard, had been recommended to me for this purpose.

Whatever the case, it is factually incorrect for the sign to describe Hong Kong as a country. But since only listing China would not indicate the rate to Hong Kong, it makes sense in this case to mention both Hong Kong and China. It's possible the sign's creators were unaware that Hong Kong is not a country. However, it's also possible they appreciated Hong Kong's status but decided that the concise statement "6 cents to 11 countries" was still preferable to any alternatives they considered. Sometimes simplicity trumps accuracy.

Instead of addressing what Hongkongers may have to say after seeing this sign, I'll answer another question that may now be on some readers' minds. Along with Austria, Australia, Brunei, India, Germany, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, and the UK, at the moment the cost for calling Taiwan is 15 cents per minute. I didn't see any signs for that though.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Faces on the Wall

What I saw on a wall bordering a sidewalk in Vietnam:

painting of a woman in a nón lá (leaf hat) on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City

colorful paintings of the faces of two women on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City

More faces from Ho Chi Minh City are on the way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Humanity Within a Typewriter

Composer Leroy Anderson has been described as "one of the great American masters of light orchestral music". Although I suppose I prefer "heavier" orchestral music, today I appreciated Anderson's piece "The Typewriter" as performed by Alfredo Anaya with the Voces para la Paz (Músicos Solidarios) orchestra.

In an article about Anderson on NPR, Pat Dowell wrote:
Anderson's "The Typewriter," a pops-concert staple composed in 1950, actually features a manual typewriter on the stage with the orchestra. In a 1970 interview, Anderson described how he made the typing sound a part of the music, not just an added effect.

"We have two drummers," Anderson said. "A lot of people think we use stenographers, but they can't do it because they can't make their fingers move fast enough. So we have drummers because they can get wrist action."
The piece not only shows how technology can be applied in unexpected ways, but also how it can have hidden charms. As violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov said of Anderson's music, "The craftsmanship, the humor, the humanity!"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Non-Promotional Scenes from Changping Town in Dongguan, China

A little more than two years ago, I crossed the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and then boarded a high-speed train. After arriving in the neighboring city of Dongguan, a rickshaw driver brought me to a hotel. I quickly discovered that although I was at my desired hotel chain, it was not the location I had expected. This was partly due to me not knowing that the Dongguan Rail Station was more than 45 minutes away by taxi from the more central district I had planned to visit. Since it was already mid-afternoon, I decided to spend the night where I was in Dongguan's Changping Town and see what it had to offer.

I'm reminded of this experience because of a post by Kevin McGeary in The Nanfang about a new promotional video:
Dongguan has been given some pretty unpleasent labels over the years. These include “Sex capital,” “Dickensian Factory City,” and “Sparta of the East,” according to today’s Southern Metropolis Daily.

But the city is finally fighting back, and the PR drive has started with a 1-minute promotional film called “Hello Dongguan” that praises the city’s traditional culture, natural scenery and basketball, among other things.
And here is "Hello Dongguan" (see McGeary's post for The Nanfang's translation):

(note: If you are using an RSS reader and can't see the video, you should have better luck on the blog.)

Excited to visit Dongguan now? Well, although I would say Dongguan has its charms, the video certainly does not remind me of my own experiences there. Given the video's promotional nature, though, I can't say I was surprised by it.

I'd like to provide a different perspective on Dongguan, and in this post will share a series of photos from Changping Town. They represent what I saw during a long meandering walk one day in an area I had not planned to visit. The photos are presented in chronological order and capture scenes not often found in typical promotional videos or news stories about Dongguan's many factories. And together they highlight some of the contrasts which can be found even in just one of Dongguan's 32 districts & towns.

traditional older building isolated in the middle of an intersection
An older building standing in the middle of an intersection

As I was walking away from an urban area

countryside farms with tall urban buildings in the background
Looking back

dirt road
Looking forward

Three boys I met along the way

Eventually I headed back to the urban area where I was staying

A busier street

Crossing the street

Serving people's edacious and potatory needs

Outside a department store

man sitting on a sack while watching a TV at a store
Who needs a stool?

Waiting to use the ATM

A pedestrian shopping street

A large sign for the street: "The World of Women Footstreet"

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Partial Yet Telling Story: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Two days ago, March 16, was the 45th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. In commentary about the republishing of an important story in LIFE magazine, Ben Cosgrove revisited the horrific tragedy:
Two simple syllables, My Lai (pronounced “me lie”), are today a reminder of what America lost in the jungles of Vietnam: namely, any claim to moral high ground in a war often defined by those back home as a battle between right and wrong. For the Vietnamese, meanwhile, the March 1968 massacre in the tiny village of My Lai is just one among numerous instances of rape, torture and murder committed by troops — Americans, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and others — in the course of that long, divisive war...

On March 16, 1968, hundreds (various estimates range between 347 and 504) of elderly people, women, children and infants were murdered by more than 20 members of “Charlie” Company, United States’ 1st Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment. Some of the women were raped before being killed. After this mass slaughter, only one man, Second Lt. William Calley, was convicted of any crime. (He was found guilty in March 1971 of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians, but served just three-and-a-half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia.)
In another recent article deserving attention, David Taylor for BBC News reported on tapes revealing important context for some of the decisions made in the U.S. during the Vietnam War:
Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks... but said nothing.
Both of the articles were especially poignant for me not just because I'm in Vietnam at the moment, but also because they reminded me of a visit earlier this month to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum is undoubtedly a one-sided portrayal of the brutalities committed during the Vietnam War -- something reflected in the name of the museum's earliest incarnation, Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes. I am not going to wade into debates about whether all of the claims made there are accurate, whether certain displays are better described as history or propaganda, and whether some photos are unfairly not representative. Regardless of these issues, the museum effectively communicates at least some of the inhumanity and hypocrisy which occurred during Vietnam War. I also found it notable that several displays highlighted the opposition to the war found even within the U.S., and most of the English text did not contain the same style and degree of rhetoric I have often seen at similar museums in China.

I will share some photos of what I saw there and also share some thoughts about one display which particularly caught my attention. Like the museum itself, the following will not necessarily be a fully representative overview.

Poster with the English text, "'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' (The U.S. Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776).
First display in a room labeled "Aggression War Crimes"

man viewing war photos

next to a photo of victims of a napalm bomb English text reading "'My solution to the problem would be to tell them (the North Vietnamese) frankly that they've got to draw in their horns..., or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age'. Curtis Lemay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, U.S. Air Force Chief of staff, 25 November 1965)."
English caption to the photograph: "Little Phan Thi Kim Phuc burned by U.S. napalm bomb (Trang Bang, Tay Ninh Province in 1972)."

woman looking at war photos

woman looking at photos of children with deformities.
In an exhibit about the effects of chemical weapons such as agent orange

English caption: "Dan Jordan's family: he was officially acknowledged as an agent orange victim. His son has congenital deformations on his hands. Jordan and other veterans took the lead in the class action against chemical companies that settled with $180 million in 1983."

poster reading "'Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.' Rober S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'."
Smaller English text: "Robert S. McNamara, former U.S. Defense Secretary, confessed error in his memoirs 'In Retrospect -- The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'"

various medals with a plaque reading "To the people of a united Vietnam: I was wrong. I am sorry."
English caption: "These are some rewards to a U.S. Veteran for his service in Vietnam. The medals were offered to the War Remnants Museum on June 1, 1990 as protest against the Vietnam War. From William Brown, Sgt. 173rd Airborne Brigade, 503rd Infantry.

two young people being photographed in front of a U.S. tank
An outdoors exhibit area

At one moment during my visit to the museum I was reminded of a painting by Cambodian Vann Nath which I saw several years ago at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

drawing of man with a covered face tied down and having water poured on his face

Vann Nath was one of only seven prisoners who left the Khmer Rouge's S-21 "security prison" at Tuol Sleng alive. The above painting was amongst many others, all of which Van Nath drew to depict acts of torture committed at the prison. The act in the painting sure looked like water boarding -- a point not lost on a reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Dish.

And here is the photo I saw in Vietnam that caused me to think about Nath's painting:

man with a cloth covered face being held down by U.S. military members

The English caption for the photo:
"They decide on a water torture. A rag is placed over the man's face and water is poured on it, making breathing impossible". Members of the 1st Air cavalry use water torture on a prisoner 1968.
It was another chilling reminder of a torture method recently used by the U.S.

I'm glad I visited the War Remnants Museum. So much in the museum deserves consideration for what it says about America's past actions or about Vietnam today. Although the museum suggested to me that Vietnam has yet to fully come to terms with its own past, as an American I was most focused on what it indicated about my own country. In a later post, based on my own experiences I will partially address a related question I have been asked, often indirectly, by Americans who have not been to Vietnam: What are Vietnamese attitudes towards Americans today?

Finally, as I wrote this post at a small cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, a friendly Vietnamese waitress with whom I have had several pleasant conversations peered over my shoulder and looked at the above photo. After a few moments of silence, with a sadness in her voice she slowly said, "My country."

I glanced back at the photo and replied, "Mine too."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Even More Edacious and Potatory Post

Some readers may feel most of my posts including "edacious and potatory views" are missing a key detail: the food or drink that accompanied the view. I'm not sure if I have suitable photos for all of the examples. I'll leave sorting that out for another day (maybe). Instead, I will start afresh and share the view from where I had a late lunch today in Ho Chi Minh City:

view from a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

And here is what I ate and drank:

I hope this was sufficiently edacious and potatory.

And now for a few notes:

1. Not only was the previous post a chance to revisit some old scenes, but it proved to be a learning experience as well. I find it curious that the words "edacious" and "potatory" capture such seemingly common and useful concepts, yet neither were familiar to me (and I suspect to most readers) and I couldn't find any other suitable single-word options. My use of the word "edacious" is even considered "archaic". I would appreciate hearing any insights readers may have about these two wonderful words.

2. Readers who follow this blog through an RSS reader may have been puzzled by a post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia". While working on the previous post, Blogger provided a strange error message when I tried adding a location tag. After I recovered, I discovered the post had been prematurely published. I'll avoid getting into all the technical details, but when recovering from an accidental publishing, simply deleting a post doesn't necessarily remove it from RSS readers. I think this is something which could be better addressed by blogging platforms (and possibly RSS readers as well), but that's another issue. Anyways, the easiest thing for me to do was to "update" the post with an empty content area and then delete it from my blog.

So if you saw a blank post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia", no worries. If you saw that post and it included some content, congratulations--you probably had an inside look at the early stages of a post's creation. Now please feel free to discard it at the nearest incinerator.


3. Returning to the word-usage theme, I can say with no small pride that I was recently offered compensation for a pun I wrote. Especially with the recent online debate about people being asked to write for free, I found it a most encouraging sign. I eagerly look forward to my next trip to Beijing so I can collect my beer from Anthony Tao. Maybe Señor Tao can offer me some tips on how to drink it while wearing a face mask. With his experience in Beijing, he should have a leg up on me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Edacious and Potatory Views

While pondering today's earlier post of my view from a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, I recalled taking photographs under similar conditions in China such as: where I relaxed with several glasses of green tea at Chuan Shipo Lake in Changsha, Hunan province; a restaurant in historic Xizhou, Yunnan province; a restaurant where I watched a donkey pulling a cart in Zhaotong, Yunnan province; where I enjoyed lunches in Sujiawei, Guangdong province, and Ganzhou, Jiangxi province; where I imbibed a bottle of British organic cider in Lamma Island, Hong Kong.

The previous links lead to a variety of views, and I wouldn't be surprised if I have posted other photos that fit this theme as well. Each in its own way feels special to me and prompts numerous related memories. I will avoid deeper reflection on what they mean to me. There may be some of that in coming months. Instead, I will share another photo from my recent travels outside of China:

second story view of a river and mountains in Kampot, Cambodia
The view from my seat at a restaurant in Kampot, Cambodia

That's all for today. Explore the above links for more scenes. It's time for me to have a late night meal and drink. Maybe my attention will be captured by yet another view.

A Second Floor View in Ho Chi Minh City

My view from a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City around 8 a.m. this morning.

busy street with cars and many motorbikes

The Vietnamese coffee was good too.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader Once Knew Me So Well

I first became acquainted with Google Reader after starting this blog. My motivation was simple: I wanted to be able to check that my posts were properly appearing. And while I was there, I decided to give it a try for broader purposes. Gradually, I used it more and more for some of the websites I follow. Although I felt something was lost in stripping away everything but content, it offered several conveniences.

I'm not surprised by the recent news that Google Reader will soon be no more. There are plenty of people with speculation about the reasons, interviews with its creators, and reviews of possible replacements. For my part, I will share one of the most remarkable online experiences I have ever had.

A feature in Google Reader that I explored early on was "Recommended items". It allows you to scroll through individual posts or articles from a variety of sources as chosen by Google. At first it was full of what I considered "fun" stuff that would appeal to a broad audience. But for a brief period of time, the selected pieces suited a variety of my specific interests. And much of it was material that would likely only appeal to select audiences, including some pieces of humor. I was in awe. So much so that in an email I described the recommendations to a friend as "spooky". How did Google do this? It seemed impossible it could have been done solely based on what I had read in Google Reader--those items represented just a small sliver of my interests. Perhaps an extrapolation to other interests was possible, but it seemed more likely that my search history or email had been accessed to help drive the recommendations (something I was not aware would be done). Even then, I had to be impressed by the algorithm's apparent effectiveness.

Then a curious change occurred. The performance seemed to degrade over time. Never again did the recommended items list provide the almost perfectly tailored selection of material as it once had. In fact, it didn't even come close. New pieces about what most interested me rarely appeared, and soon I found the feed inundated with Lifehacker stories and food recipes. Additionally, it began regularly recommending pieces from a few sources that I already followed in Google Reader--even pieces that I had already read.

I can imagine reasons for the decline in good recommendations. For example, maybe me not indicating which pieces I liked caused the service to assume I wasn't enjoying them. Or maybe there were concerns about the information being used to drive the recommendations. Or maybe the algorithm was changed. I can't be sure. But whatever the reason, the recommended items feature became useless for me.

Now with Google Reader's planned demise, I am tempted to make an analogy about a friend who knows you well, develops dementia, and then dies. But perhaps that's too morbid, so I won't. Instead, I will begin to figure out what I will do without Google Reader around. Some other service will likely have the opportunity to learn more about me. In return, my main hope is it provides me a better opportunity to learn more about the world. And if I am amazed again, that's all the better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pollution's Extensive Impact in China

As I wrote in an earlier post, China's pollution problems deserves the regular attention they receive. In that spirit, I will share a few pieces which together show there is no single way to measure pollution's full impact in China.

1. Despite it being the focus of many reports, pollution doesn't only have negative health consequences. For example, Xinhua reported that one famous Chinese director believes pollution is affecting his creative process.
"Cornered by the terrible weather, I have nowhere to go," said Chen Kaige, a frontrunner of Chinese cinema's "fifth generation" and a newly elected member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). "I am unable to focus on my artistic creation."

"I was born and bred in Beijing. I know what the weather was like in the old days," said 61-year-old Chen, describing the current air pollution as "weird," "appalling" and "unbelievable."
Read the article here for more about Chen's hope to "raise more awareness on environmental pollution".

2. However real the problem may be, unfocused movie directors would not likely be considered by many to be one of China's bigger concerns. Large numbers of protests are another story though. In Bloomberg, Xin Zhou and Peter Hirschberg reported how some Chinese government officials are paying attention to a shift in what is motivating "mass incidents":
Pollution has replaced land disputes as the main cause of social unrest in China, a retired Communist Party official said, as delegates to the country’s legislature lamented environmental degradation.

China now sees 30,000 to 50,000 so-called mass incidents every year, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said yesterday. Increased use of mobile phones and the Internet has allowed protesters to show their anger more effectively, he said.

“The major reason for mass incidents is the environment, and everyone cares about it now,” Chen told reporters at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political and Consultative Conference, where he’s a member. “If you want to build a plant, and if the plant may cause cancer, how can people remain calm?”
Read the article here for more about the pollution-related protesting.

3. There's another issue related to pollution that can quickly catch the attention of many people: money. Meena Thiruvengadam in The Financialist looked at the economic impact of China's smog:
Various studies have estimated the economic impact of China’s pollution, and several sources suggest that illness, premature death and lost productivity could be costing the country upwards of $100 billion a year.

The World Bank estimated that illnesses and premature deaths linked to China’s pollution cost it about $100 billion – the equivalent of 3 percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product – in 2009 alone. A separate study by Greenpeace and Peking University estimates particulate pollution cost four major cities more than $1 billion and caused more than 8,000 premature deaths last year.
Read the article here for more about projected long-term financial costs of pollution in China.

4. Thiruvengadam also pointed out that China's pollution is making it more challenging for companies to convince workers to move there. On a related note, one recent example highlights how the environment is causing some people already living in China to consider whether they should stay there. After 13 years in China, Dutch entrepreneur Marc van der Chijs recently left for greener pasteurs, or at least bluer skies:
Our main criteria for a new home were based on a different lifestyle for the family: a place with more nature around us, with a better air quality and where I would not have to work 24/7 anymore...

I will miss China. I will miss the fast-paced business life, the amazing clubs and restaurants in Shanghai, and the luxury of having staff at home to help you with everything. What I won’t miss is the air pollution (which was the #1 reason for us to leave), the traffic jams and the slow, restricted Internet. Every country has its advantages and disadvantages, and although the balance has shifted a bit recently the advantages of living in China have always outweighed the downsides for me. If it was purely for business reasons I would likely stay, but I have a family with 2 young kids now and I also need to think of them.
Read the full post here for more about a family's move from China to Canada.

5. And bringing the topic back to public health, some possibly relevant context for why Marc van der Chijs mentioned his kids can be found in a policy paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics: "Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children":
Children and infants are among the most susceptible to many of the air pollutants. In addition to associations between air pollution and respiratory symptoms, asthma exacerbations, and asthma hospitalizations, recent studies have found links between air pollution and preterm birth, infant mortality, deficits in lung growth, and possibly, development of asthma.
Read the paper here for much, much more.

The Chinese government is most unlikely to be swayed by a single foreigner's departure or Chinese director's complaints. But stifled creative output, citizens protesting, economic losses, foreigners avoiding or leaving China, and health problems for the young are all parts of an immense challenge facing China. Its response, or lack of response, will have numerous consequences. Already, the consequences of pollution are being felt in many ways.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Slicing Up People: A Coffin on a Motorbike in Phnom Penh

In part to provide another taste of life in Cambodia's capital, I recently shared some scenes of various items being carried on small motorized vehicles. However, a bit of "life" is not all that can be found in such scenes. One day as I walked Phnom Penh's streets, something passed by that I had never seen before.

motorbike carrying a coffin on the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Not intended for flight

I'm not familiar with coffin delivery services in Phnom Penh, but I find it easy to believe what I saw was not the first instance of a person transporting a coffin on a motorbike there. This method of coffin delivery is not unique to Phnom Penh. Similar examples from elsewhere were easy to find online, including a pedal-powered vehicle in Vietnam (this image) and motorbikes in Uganda and the Philippines. And I would not be shocked to see something like this in China. However, I suspect that a coffin being delivered in the manner seen above would be much less likely to occur in some other countries such as the U.S.

Even though I know of no formal research to back up my beliefs about coffin delivery services, they are at least symbolic of how some behaviors or practices can be found in many, but not all, regions across the world. This in turn suggests how categorizing people, whether for academic or business purposes, is sometimes not as simple as cutting up regions on the globe based on their proximity. For example, some of what can be found in Cambodia might be found in Uganda but not in far closer Japan and Singapore.

It's often not easy to define the appropriate groupings for the task at hand, but doing so can be crucial in the pursuit of not only better understanding people, but also better discovering, designing, and, yes, delivering solutions which address people's wants and needs.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

If You Believe in Jesus You Will Be Rich in Qinghai, China

Last year I shared scenes of nature around Qinghai Lake, scenes of urban growth in Xining, scenes of daily life in Xining, and scenes of religion at the Tibetan Kumbum Monastery -- all from Qinghai province in northwestern China. It's a region of rich ethnic diversity including Tibetan, Muslim Hui, and Han people.

During my time in Qinghai, I had several conversations with young Tibetans. Sometimes they shared their views about the Chinese government. They were never positive, and in a later post I will say more about what they said and what they wrote. But now I want to recommend the article "Good Lord: In China, Christian Fundamentalists Target Tibetans" in Time by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore. She reports on Christian Fundamentalists attempts to convert Tibetans in Qinghai:
Much of the informal English instruction in Xining is run by missionaries as are the majority of the foreign cafés. They translate the Bible into Tibetan, distribute flash drives containing their beliefs and rework Tibetan folk songs with Christian lyrics. Some help run orphanages. Targeting the young is key. When a South Korean missionary asked Tenzin which Tibetans needed help, he suggested the elderly. According to Tenzin, the Korean replied: “Not old people — [we want] children.”

Aggressive tactics persist, however. In a quiet Tibetan town three hours drive from Xining, one local describes seeing a missionary throw coins into the air. “This comes from Jesus,” he declared to the astonished crowd. The same Tibetan remembers with an incredulous laugh being told that Christianity brings cash. “All Buddhist countries are poor,” the missionary said. “If you believe in Jesus, you will be rich.”
Based on my own social networking feeds, it appears the article can stir up a variety of people outside of China, including both those who consider themselves religious and those who do not. In some cases, people seem pulled between between being happy to see more signs of religious freedom in China and being disturbed by the tactics used by the missionaries. For example:
As much as I respect freedom of religion, I can't help but draw parallels between the fundamentalists' conversion tactics and corporations' marketing strategies. "Targeting the young is key" <<--- the last time I saw that sentence was in a description of McDonald's strategy to get kids hooked on Big Macs. Just saying.

and " “All Buddhist countries are poor,” the missionary said. “If you believe in Jesus, you will be rich.” " Are they SERIOUS?! Offensiveness aside, have they forgotten their own teachings, like: "Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have" ? It sounds to me like they've completely lost sight of Jesus' original intent, and are deploying whatever appalling tactics they can to get people to convert.
Whatever you think about the tactics, it may seem odd that the Chinese government, which officially considers missionary work to be illegal, has not interfered with the efforts. Sebag-Montefiore shares the thoughts of Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University, as to why this may be the case:
Barnett believes the reason for the government’s tolerant attitude is twofold. First, American missionaries, often funded by their churches, provide a valuable service teaching English for scant pay. Second, by targeting Tibetan Buddhism, missionaries might just help the government erode this integral part of Tibetan identity. Keeping a lid on restive Tibet, which China invaded in 1949–50, is paramount. Under Chinese rule, self-immolations by Tibetans protesting religious and political subjugation have become common in recent years. Tibetan-language schools have been closed down, nomads resettled in towns and cities, and monasteries subject to close police surveillance. Images of the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, are banned.

“There is a certain underlying commonality of purpose between the evangelizers and the new modernizing Chinese state. It’s just convenient for them to use each other,” explains Barnett. “[Today missionaries] have greater opportunities coming in on the coattails of the Communist Party.”
It is yet another example of the sometimes pragmatic approach taken by the Chinese government to achieve its goals.

Again, I recommend reading the full article. It presents a side of China that doesn't receive as much attention as others, but it touches on a variety of important issues, including how some Tibetans feel their identity is being threatened by multiple groups.

Views from the Bitexco Financial Tower

I realize people who follow me on Twitter may have noticed me recently commenting about being in a city definitely not in Cambodia, the subject of numerous recent posts here. To avoid any confusion, I'll provide an update on my location.

Although I was having an incredible experience in Cambodia, it was time to move on. So after about 7 hours on a bus and marveling at the immigration processes at an international border, I found myself here:

view of Bitexco Financial Tower

Later I went to the top of the tall building on the left side--the Bitexco Financial Tower. Looking back at the traffic circle where I was earlier standing, I saw this:

view from Bitexco financial tower

And since I went all the way up there, here is some of what I saw walking around the inside of the building in a clockwise direction:

view from Bitexco financial tower

view from Bitexco financial tower

view from Bitexco financial tower

view from Bitexco financial tower

For those who can't identify the location, I will spare you the suspense. I am now in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In smany ways, it is quite a contrast from Phnom Penh. And the above views might contrast with what many foreigners first picture when they think about Vietnam.

And now a brief word about my plans for future posts. I have a backlog of things I want to share about Malaysia and Cambodia. And posts about Vietnam are planned too. But as some recent posts may suggest, I have been pining to return to some China-related topics. In short, upcoming posts may jump around a bit.

No more views from tall buildings for a while though.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jailbreaking Your iPhone in Cambodia

Have you arrived in Cambodia from the U.S.? Are you interested in unlocking your iPhone so you can use other mobile service providers? If so, near the Russian Market, a popular tourist destination in Phnom Penh, there are people ready help.

outdoor desk with signs in English offering jailbreaking services for iPhone iOS 6 and iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 with AT&T

The all-English signs and mention of AT&T, a major provider of mobile phone services for people based in the U.S., especially caught my attention. The small operation serves as an intriguing example of how some in Cambodia are seeking to profit by providing services that may be desired by foreigners.

And I'll leave it at that.


Actually, I won't leave it at that. Not long after I finished this post, I saw some related news on Wired:
The President Barack Obama administration said Monday that it made “common sense” for Americans to legally have the power to unlock their mobile phones, so they could use them on a compatible carrier of choice without fear of being sued or facing criminal penalties.
This raises some questions about the above business's future. It could be an interesting issue to explore. And I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chinese Ministry Worried About Android's Dominance

Two years ago in the post "Google's Problems in China: Perceptions of a Chinese Internet User in Guiyang", I shared the thoughts of a young Chinese woman to provide another perspective on Google's claim that difficulties in using Gmail in China were due to a government blockage. She didn't believe Google's apparent problems with the Chinese government could be solely attributed to its stance on censorship, as many thought at the time, but that instead they were primarily the result of Google "taking the profits" of domestic companies.

Since then, one bright spot for Google in China has been the immense popularity of the Android mobile operating system. As reported by Reuters, the Chinese government has taken notice:
Google Inc has too much control over China's smartphone industry via its Android mobile operating system and has discriminated against some local firms, the technology ministry said in a white paper...

Analysts said the white paper, which lauded Chinese companies such as Baidu Inc, Alibaba Group and Huawei Technologies for creating their own systems, could be a signal to the industry that regulations against Android are on the horizon.
The article notes that Android has played a valuable role in the growth of China smartphone vendors. Due to this and Google's earlier challenges, it's easy to see irony in Google now being charged with discrimination in China.

But is the white paper a surprise? In a tweet about the article, Beijing-based investor/advisor/writer Bill Bishop wrote "Haha you knew this was coming."

I suspect the young woman in Guizhou would agree.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Small Motorized Vehicles Carrying and Pulling in Phnom Penh

Once more, to provide a small taste of life in urban Cambodia and a contrast to the scenes from Cambodia's countryside south and north of Kampot town, I will share some scenes of people riding vehicles in central Phnom Penh. Earlier posts included motorbikes and pedal-powered vehicles. This post will return to the motorized vehicle theme but with an added twist: something is being pulled--such as the cabin of a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) or a mobile food stall--or something is being carried in addition to any riders. Background sights include the Supreme Court building in the first photo and a construction site for a new complex with a shopping area, condominiums, office space, and a hotel.

This will be last post with a large number of photos in this series. However, I have some related photos to single out later.

ma driving a tuk-tuk past the Cambodian Supreme Court building in Phnom Penh

tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh

motorbikes at a crowded interestion in Phnom Penh

man with child driving a motorbike with a mobile drink cart in Phnom Penh

people carrying boxes while riding motorbikes in Phnom Penh

motorbike with cart trailer

man carrying a large bag on a motorbike

two men carrying large containers on a motorized tricycle cart

tuk-tuk driving by a construction site in Phnom Penh

man riding motorbike with mobile drink cart

man driving tuk-tuk filled with goods

two motorbike pulling filled carts in Phnom Penh