Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raising Money for Birth Control in Hong Kong

I previously described how a Hong Kong organization partnered with student volunteers in Zhuhai, Guangdong province to distribute educational information about HIV/AIDS. During my recent stay in Hong Kong I learned about another organization there that engages student volunteers. While walking in a shopping district I met this middle school student who was collecting donations for a birth control method:

female middle school student in Hong Kong with flyers and a donation box

Although she was promoting birth control, unlike the students in Zhuhai she was not giving out free condoms. There is a simple reason for that--the birth control is for Hong Kong's stray cats and dogs. The girl was volunteering for the Hong Kong Cat Refuge (HKCR), and in addition to collecting donations she was handing out this flyer:

front of a Hong Kong Cat Refuge flyer for Animal Birth Control

back of a Hong Kong Cat Refuge flyer for Animal Birth Control

If you cannot read the text in the above images (click for larger versions), the  "About" section of the HKCR website provides this self-description:
We are a registered charitable animal organisation aiming at rescuing animals through ABC (Animal Birth Control). Since there are hundreds of thousands of animals abandoned , put down by AFCD [The Government of Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department] and even tortured by people every year. It is believed that only ABC could help eliminate this problem block the breeding cycle and save millions of public finance as well as the principle of humane of "No Kill" could be achieved.
It describes their mission as:
1. Trap, neuter and rehome/ release stray cats and dogs
2. Help desex the cats and dogs that come into our care
3. Provide them with shelter and eventually a permanent home
4. Find a suitable and responsible family for the cats and dogs in our care
5. If needed, provide the cats and dogs with medical treatment by our ABC clinic
6. Educate the public of animal welfare, and the relationship between humans and animals
7. Educate and prevent animal cruelty
They are listed as a tax-exempt charitable institution by Hong Kong's Inland Revenue Department and it may be relevant that I saw the girl collecting donations on a Saturday--a Hong Kong government approved "Flag Day" for some forms of public fundraising (thanks to a Hong Kong friend for both of these points).

After reading the above pamphlets or the HKCR website, you will know what I know about them. I share this information because I am sympathetic to the HKCR's goals and the issue is certainly not limited to Hong Kong. I share my encounter with the young student because like the efforts I saw in Zhuhai it highlights how some young people in China are seeking ways to improve the world beyond their immediate environment.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Border and Metros in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Here was my view as I sat today in one of Hong Kong's many metro trains:

inside of subway car in Hong Kong
Near the beginning of the East Rail Line in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's East Rail Line is somewhat special since its split northern end has terminal stations at border crossings with Shenzhen. As I have mentioned before, Hong Kong's border with Shenzhen raises some interesting issues regarding the restrictions mainland Chinese can face when traveling within their own country.

Fortunately, I did not need to spend much time dealing with the immigration formalities. Also positive, I was surprised by the friendliness of the immigration officer on the mainland China side of the border. He seemed amused by my first name. I have no idea why, but I am happy to have brought him a little joy.

After crossing the border, I hopped right back onto the metro--but this time the Shenzhen metro:

inside of subway car in Shenzhen
Near the end of the Luobao Line in Shenzhen

I can report that Shenzhen still has the X-ray scanners sidelined. Maybe they feel they are not needed. Maybe the machines have not yet had their radiation safety certified. Whatever the reason, based on what  I saw today the security in Shenzhen's metro does not seem like the security in Shanghai's metro but is instead more similar to the security in Guangzhou's metro. And in case you are wondering, today no balloons or comment cards were involved in my metro experience (see the previous two links for context to that remark).

After the extensive metro trips I am now in a hotel across from Shenzhen's main airport. Tomorrow I will be elsewhere. Once I am there, as I work through other posts I will share some photos to see if anyone can figure out the location. One clue for now: I am reasonably sure I will not be taking any metro rides.

[notes: The East Rail Line is part of Hong Kong's MTR (Mass Transit Railway) and is mostly above ground. The Luobao Line is part of the Shenzhen Metro and is mostly underground. That one of the lines is almost entirely above ground led me to use the word "metro" instead of "subway" in this post to avoid potential confusion. However, based on their typical usage (at least in some places) I think either word would be OK.]

Returning to "Normal" Operations

As I mentioned before, I ran into some computer-related challenges that kept me from posting here. Long story short (it could be a rather long story indeed), I now possess a new laptop computer.

During the next few days I plan to work through some posts relating to Zhuhai and Macao while also touching on some newer items. For today, here is the scene I saw this afternoon from a building in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong:

Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong

It provides a bit of a contrast to the earlier city scene of Zhuhai.

More soon...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Technical Difficulties

Two days ago, after putting my laptop into "sleep" mode it decided it did not want to wake up no matter what I tried. Since then, I have taken a ferry from Zhuhai to Hong Kong and my computer is now under expert examination.

In the meantime, I will continue to have very limited Internet access so posting will be sparse at best. Please be assured, more is on way. Hopefully, I will soon have a rejuvenated or a new laptop and life can return to normal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A View of Gongbei, Zhuhai

More soon relating to my recent experiences in Macau and what I discovered after a random bus ride to Nanping, Zhuhai. Also, a variety of other topics are in the works. For today, I will just share a photo of view I came across during a short hike on a hill in Zhuhai. Why was I there? Well, I was walking down a street and saw a curious set of steps--was not sure where they went. That was good enough for me. And I was rewarded with a view of the Gongbei area of Zhuhai that led to a few moments of reflection.

View of Gongbei, Zhuhai, China from a hill

Monday, April 9, 2012

Increasing HIV and AIDS Awareness in Zhuhai, China

HIV/AIDS is a serious problem in China receiving a growing amount of attention. As summarized in an overview by the international HIV and AIDS charity AVERT:
There are currently an estimated 740,000 people living with HIV in China. During 2009 around 26,000 people died from AIDS. These numbers must be considered in the context of China's extremely large population which is estimated at around 1.3 billion. Although China’s HIV epidemic remains one of low prevalence overall (0.1% among adults), there are pockets of high infection among specific sub-populations and the danger of the epidemic spreading further into the general population persists. This became particularly evident in 2009 when China reported that AIDS had become the country’s leading cause of death among infectious diseases for the first time ever, surpassing both tuberculosis and rabies.
Unfortunately, as reported late last year by Michael Martina for Reuters (related photoblog post):
The number of new HIV/AIDS cases in China is soaring, state media said on Wednesday, citing health officials, with rates of infections among college students and older men rising. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued figures showing 48,000 new cases in China in 2011, the official Xinhua news agency said. Nearly 82 percent of those new cases were transmitted through sexual intercourse, Xinhua said, up from 11.6 percent between 1985 and 2005. "The distribution of HIV/AIDS cases in our country is now wider and more scattered than ever, posing great difficulties for prevention and control efforts," Wu Zunyou, the director of the Center, said according to Xinhua.
Despite growing efforts to combat the problem in China, AVERT notes that challenges remain:
International public health experts, including UNAIDS and the WHO, have commended the Chinese government for its recently implemented HIV prevention and treatment programmes. Although it cannot be denied that there has been an encouraging turn around in policy towards HIV/AIDS in China, there are still a number of political problems that are hampering the response to the epidemic. China’s continuing restrictions on civil society, free expression and free association mean that HIV-related NGOs and AIDS activists face repression and harassment from the Chinese authorities.

Although senior Chinese officials have shown an increased tolerance of non governmental AIDS organisations in recent years, local officials often hold more repressive views. Authorities in wealthy coastal provinces tend to be more lenient and supportive of the efforts of AIDS activists, whereas inland, rural areas are reported to be more oppressive of public discussion of AIDS. The old Chinese saying tiangao diyuan (“Heaven is high, and the emperor is far away”) is apt here. Local authorities in remote regions do not always implement AIDS policies made by the central government.100 Human Rights Watch have reported numerous examples of harassment and surveillance of AIDS activists and support groups, including the detainment of prominent AIDS and human rights campaigners, such as Hu Jia.
By chance, I recently had the opportunity to witness one of the organized volunteer efforts to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in China. A few weekends ago while I was walking in a shopping district in Zhuhai, Guangdong province two high school girls handed me this pamphlet:

HIV/AIDS education pamphlet handed out in Zhuhai, China

HIV/AIDS education pamphlet handed out in Zhuhai, China
Both sides of an HIV/AIDS awareness pamphlet

They also gave me two packets of tissues:

HIV/AIDS education tissue pack handed out in Zhuhai, China

The tissues had a bit of a surprise inside:

Inside of HIV/AIDS tissues handed out in Zhuhai, China including a condom and directions for use
Condom and directions for proper use

I was not the only one receiving such gifts. In fact, there were a number of volunteers in the area passing out these items to passersby.

six HIV and AIDS awareness volunteers in Zhuhai, China
The very friendly volunteers I met in Zhuhai

They were working with the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation which collaborates with a variety of groups in China such as:

  • Beijing Home of Red Ribbon
  • Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of Gansu Province
  • Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of Shenyang, Liaoning Province
  • Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
  • Education Bureau of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
  • Health Bureau of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
  • HIV/AIDS Working Committee of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
  • Catholic Social Service Centre of Liaoning Diocese
  • Training Centre of AIDS Prevention and Cure of Hubei Province
  • Catholic Social Service Centre of Chifeng Diocese
  • Shenyang Firebug Workshop

In a country were organized activities to raise awareness of societal issues are not a common sight in public spaces, it was particularly inspiring to meet the above volunteers and see them in action. It is worth noting that the Chinese government is actively trying to promote increased condom use -- even testing iPhone apps to give away free condoms.

I share my experience here to help raise further awareness on the above issues and to shine a light on some of the people attempting to make a positive difference. For more about HIV/AIDS in China and some of the groups attempting to improve the situation see the various links in this post (also more information and references on Wikipedia here).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Macau's Gambling World

Given my recent explorations of Macau, it seems particularly appropriate to share the new article "The God of Gamblers - Why Las Vegas is moving to Macau" by Evan Osnos in The New Yorker. It provides an eye-opening account of Macau's gambling world -- a world that has caught the attention of several American (or at least previously American) companies and has in many ways surpassed Las Vegas:
In 2006, Steve Wynn, who led a revival of Las Vegas in the nineteen-nineties, opened a casino in Macau; he makes more than two-thirds of his global profits there. He is learning to speak Chinese, and he talks about moving his corporate headquarters to Macau. “We’re really a Chinese company now, not an American company,” he has said. Macau has become especially attractive to American corporations in the last few years. In Nevada, after tourism sank in 2008, gaming revenue plunged by nearly twenty per cent in two years, the largest decline in the state’s history. It later improved, but Nevada still has the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country. Gary Loveman, the chairman of Caesars Entertainment, was one of the few casino bosses who passed up a chance to build in Macau. “Big mistake,” he said later. “I was wrong, I was really wrong.”
Although the everyday lives of most people in China remain far from Macau's opulent casinos, the gambling scene touches on some important issues in China. For example, Osnos writes about the Chinese government's reluctance to crack down too much on Macau's gambling-related corruption:
Some officials in Beijing are keen to maintain the enclave’s economic success, because it shows the breakaway island of Taiwan the potential benefits of a return to the motherland. Moreover, Macau is a place where China’s new millionaires can indulge in the gains of their prosperity, which is one of the rewards guaranteed by the unwritten bargain between Chinese leaders and their people for a generation: Don’t concern yourself with the state’s inner workings, and the state will not overly concern itself with yours.
I have observed thousands gamble at the world's largest casino in the Venetian Macau, passed the numerous stores selling luxury items in the City of Dreams, and over the years seen vast empty lots turn into billion dollar complexes. But I have spent most of my relatively brief time in Macau exploring its other sides. So instead of commenting further, I will simply recommend reading the article by Osnos and share just a few photos of places in Macau where plenty of gambling can be found.

The Wynn Macau and behind it the MGM Macau (the tri-colored building)

The Grand Lisboa

The City of Dreams (including the Hard Rock Hotel, the Crown Towers Hotel, and the Grand Hyatt Macau) to the left
and the Venetian Macau to the right

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interpreting Informally Collected Online Comments: The Value of Informed Opinions

The online comments written by Chinese readers of news sites and users of social networking services such as Sina Weibo provide a readily available source for gauging viewpoints on a variety of issues. Although the practice of using online comments in this way is not specific to China, in a country where there are greater challenges faced in judging public sentiment online comments can be especially attractive. However, there are a variety of possible pitfalls in interpreting and presenting online comments, and they vary depending on one's goals in using them. Exploring the full extent is beyond the scope of what I could cover in a single post. For now, I will discuss two examples that highlight how knowledgeable people can potentially provide valuable insights in interpreting online comments, even if they are not likely collected in a rigorously methodical manner.

In the first example, several months ago in his blog on The New Yorker Evan Osnos discussed the different viewpoints of the Chinese government and the Chinese people regarding Russian Prime Minister (and now President-elect) Vladimir Putin:
And at the grassroots? Feelings toward Putin and his people is, well, less welcoming. “Take the party back, take dictatorship back and take Leninism back,” a commentator calling himself “Headmaster II” posted to the Russian Embassy’s Chinese feed the other day. Another added: “Russia is shameless. Putin is manipulating the elections.”

There are thousands of these kinds of messages stacked up, the BBC monitoring service discovered, and it’s safe to assume this was not the reaction that the Russian Embassy in Beijing had in mind when it debuted on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, earlier this month with the message: “Hello everyone! This is the Russian Embassy in China!… All are welcome to follow us!” People did not miss the opportunity: “I don’t like Russia. First of all, it robbed us of our territories. (Just google ‘border skirmishes’) Secondly, it massacred my compatriots. Thirdly, its disastrous influence continues to this day!” the journalist Chen Baocheng wrote on Weibo.

What are we to make of this? If the Chinese online public were on the couch, its shrink might suggest it is projecting.
Notably, Osnos does not simply present the comments and discuss their surface meaning but instead suggests that they represent deeper attitudes regarding Chinese politics.

In the second example, just over a month ago U.S. President Barack Obama's Google Plus page was overwhelmed with Chinese comments during a period when Google Plus was unblocked in mainland China. Stephanie Ho on Voice of America shared Jeffrey Goldkorn's interpretation of the comments:
"Whether they were calling on the United States to liberate the Chinese Internet or calling on Obama to stop being an imperialist, the tone was overwhelmingly humorous," Goldkorn said. "So I don't think anyone should take this as an indicator of U.S.-Chinese relations, or I don't think one should read too much into this. I think for lots of people participating, this was fun, just a game."

He adds that this kind of humor has its roots in Chinese culture.

"You know there is this idea in China that has been adapted for the Internet of 'weiguan,' of standing around and looking at something interesting, and this seems to me like a very weiguan behavior, where people probably spread virally that 'Hey, you can comment on Obama's page,' and people went to have a look, and they left comments."

Goldkorn adds that many Chinese would visit President Obama's webpage simply because it is such a novelty to leave comments for a well-known top leader, because they do not have the same opportunities in their own country. But he warns that these comments do not accurately represent public opinion throughout the country.

"It shows you one aspect of public opinion as held by very high-tech savvy Internet users, most of whom are in their 20s or 30s," he said. "To read it as what all people in China are thinking, it would be wrong."
Like Osnos, Goldkorn suggests that there is a different meaning in the comments than may appear to some. But in this case, Goldkorn believes the comments are more representative of people having fun than of any deeply held political views.

Both cases involve online comments left (presumably) by Chinese directed toward foreign governments and their representatives. However, Osnos and Goldkorn interpret the motivations for the comments very differently. Given that these are examples of two different events with two different sets of comments, it could be that both interpretations are correct. It could also be that Osnos and Goldkorn would reach identical interpretations for the same set of comments. What I most want to emphasize, though, is that I doubt many casual observers not familiar with China would have on their own discerned these potential interpretations. Regardless of whether they are ultimately correct, both Osnos and Goldkorn have a familiarity with China that enables them to provide valuable insights and perspectives.

To be clear, I believe one should be healthily skeptical of broader claims based on online comments in any country. In many cases the comments for an article or a post are not collected in any rigorous manner (or at the very least any such method is not described so that it can be evaluated) to ensure that they are meaningfully representative. And even if they are representative, at best they typically can only be said to represent "online users who are willing to comment publicly about topic X on service Y". That may be interesting, but it is sometimes not the claim being made. In the above examples, Goldkorn is careful to note that public opinion of Internet users cannot be taken as representative of "all people in China", and Osnos limits his comments to the "Chinese online public". Also, I am not sure that Goldkorn would strongly claim the select comments are necessarily representative of Chinese Internet users or that Osnos would disagree that his quotes may truly represent the "Chinese online public who are willing to comment about Putin on Sina Weibo".

Additionally, I do not mean to suggest that those who are not familiar with China have no role in interpreting online comments. In fact, "outside" perspectives can be invaluable when developed and applied constructively. However, people interpreting on their own the translations of a set of comments from an unfamiliar culture that have been selected in an unclear manner seems to open the door for immense misunderstanding.

There is a certain degree of trust placed on people such as Osnos and Goldkorn, and they have each in their own way sought to earn that trust. In my eyes they are not making any formal research claims in the above cases but instead drawing upon their previous knowledge about China to provide thoughtful analysis regarding a set of collected online comments -- including the judgement as to whether they are meaningfully representative. In their proper context they can add value as part of an ongoing exploration to better understand China.

Monday, April 2, 2012

When is a Fake Apple Store Fake?

[UPDATE at end]

Reader Justaguy left the following comment on my post about the large number of "fake" Apple stores in China: "More of the Same: "Fake" Apple Stores in Zhuhai, China":
How are these fake Apple stores? In order to be fake, they'd have to be presenting themselves as real Apple Stores - are they? Chinese stores use brands in their signs in ways that US stores do not. Whenever I've spoken to someone in a store with such a sign, they've never made any pretense to be in any way affiliated with Apple or whatever brand they have on their sign. They put it there to advertise what they're selling. While that might be an illegal use of a trademark (I'm no expert in Chinese IPR law, so I have no idea), or use of Apple's logo in a way that Apple doesn't approve of, its very different than a store misleadingly presenting itself as a real Apple store.
I considered these issues while writing the earlier posts and appreciate the opportunity to address them. Indeed, stores can apply the "Apple spirit" to a variety of degrees. At what stage does a store deserve being labeled as a "fake Apple store"? For example, take this store in Zhuhai with a very large Apple logo on its storefront:

The store is dedicated to Apple products:

store in Zhuhai, China selling Apple products

checkout counter of store in Zhuhai selling Apple products

And its business card prominently describes itself as "Apple" and the store name "创实数码连锁" (it also appears to go by the name "Choicy"):

business card with the Apple logo, the word Apple, the store's Chinese name, and a website address

Additionally, the store currently promotes itself with a remarkably familiar-looking website at (catch it while you can (added note: for comparison, Apple's official Chinese website is here)):

screenshot of a webpage in Chinese that looks almost identical to the official Apple chinese website
The copyright is brilliant.

While I doubt the employees think they are working for Apple, I would not be surprised if they believe the store is authorized to sell Apple products (especially since their shirt sleeves said "Authorized Reseller"). As far as I know it is not.

So, is it fair to call this a "fake Apple store"?

My short answer is that I think it is fair but I really do not care what you call it. I think what matters is that there appear to be many examples of Apple's products being sold without authorization and of Apples logos being used improperly. As in many cases, there can be fuzziness in what deserves to be labeled as "fake". Hence, I have often used quotations marks around the word when I used it. Furthermore, one can distinguish between "Apple store" and "Apple Store". I have tried to be careful in my use of those terms. In my usage (and the usage of many others I have seen) the former simply refers to a store selling Apple products while the latter refers to the copyrighted stores officially run by Apple which can use Apple patented store designs such as the glass staircase. Although none of the stores I have shared are as grand as the notorious store in Kunming described by BirdAbroad, it seems reasonable (especially for convenience) to call the offending stores "'fake' Apple stores". In most (if not all) cases though, I would refrain from labeling them "fake Apple Stores".

Finally, regarding Justaguy's comment "Chinese stores use brands in their signs in ways that US stores do not." I will simply say that many clothing stores, banks, restaurants, etc. use storefront signs in a manner consistent with what is found in many other countries. I could cite numerous examples, but perhaps two are particularly pertinent. First, here is an authorized store in Zhuhai for Meizu, a Chinese brand of mobile phones:

Meizu store in Zhuhai China

Second, here is the only store in Zhuhai listed as authorized on Apple's website:

authorized Apple retailer Garyin in China

Although I would agree that many mobile phone stores use brands in their signs in a manner that U.S. stores would not, many businesses in China do indeed place a proper identification for the store on the storefront sign. That being said, I would be interested to see the results of a carefully designed research study examining how "fake" signs are perceived by Chinese consumers.

But that is another story.

Added note: Yes, the title of this post was deliberate and I realize it could invite a variety of constructive comments. Feel free to send them if you simply desire to add to my amusement.

UPDATE: For more about "fake" Apple stores in China see: "More 'Fake' Apple Stores In China: Does Apple Care?"

Or tired of seeing "fake" stores? Then maybe the Chinese mobile phone with an apple logo in this post will interest you: "Insights and Headaches for Apple: The iPncne in China".

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Existential Threat Posed to U.S. by Chinese Tiger Mothers' Continued Relentless Training of Children

Last year Amy Chua wrote an article claiming Chinese applied superior "Tiger Mother" child-raising skills which in part succeeded by subjecting children to a variety of intense pressures while leaving them little time for the fun that is part of many American childhoods. From China, I was able to share a critical investigative report that further verified Chua's claims and opened the eyes of many to the deeper ramifications. As I wrote in a guest blog post for James Fallows on The Atlantic:
... today I saw the practices described by Chua apparently being applied by Chinese parents in Yulin, Guangxi. What I witnessed seemed to indicate something far more alarming than I could have ever imagined and may have been foreshadowed by Amy Chua when she wrote that her methods once caused her house to become "a war zone."

At potential risk to myself, I collected photographic evidence suggesting that in addition to possibly not being permitted opportunities for fun activities such as play dates or computer games, Chinese children are being trained for nothing less than what some people in the US seem to think is right around the corner--a Chinese attack on the United States of America.
For the evidence I shared see: "Will Amy Chua's 'Tiger Mother' Methods Create a New World Order?".

Since that time, I fear many Americans have once again become complacent. However, my investigations have continued. Fortunately with only minimal harm caused to myself, I recently completed observations in Zhuhai, Guangdong that I will share below. Hopefully, this irrefutable evidence will prompt immediate and lasting action. Please be warned, the following images show training exercises for a potentially gruesome and fierce war. They may not be suitable for all viewers and could cause severe anxiety.

Of course, Chinese mothers wisely understand that any invasion will require overpowering attacks from the sky:

Woman and child on jet amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
Relentless training in jets

Child on a helicopter amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
Observe her glee as she imagines shooting down helpless victims on American soil.

Two children on parachute amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
So well trained, they can mock me while parachuting.

Attacks on both of America's coasts are also inevitable:

Boy on water shooting amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
Even America's defenses of bears, sharks, and walking fish will be no match.

Bumper boats and a pirate ship amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
Pirate ship or amphibious vehicles -- choose your poison.

Parked boats with fake guns at a park in Zhuhai, China
Gun boats refueling while more artillery is delivered.

After the initial air and sea attacks the final ground invasion will be crushing:

Child on kiddy-car amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
As he drove by he screamed "NO MERCY!" at me in the local Cantonese dialect.

Girl on railed amusement park ride with fake guns in Zhuhai, China
Training to take over U.S. rail lines regardless of any dinosaur defenses
(fortunately, those are practice laser guns and only caused me minor flesh wounds)

Three children climbing an inflatable climbing pylon at an amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
No wall will be a barrier.

Even the trainers could only laugh at my helplessness as I tried to comprehend what I was observing:

Young worker standing in front of a helicopter amusement park ride in Zhuhai, China
She dreamed of visiting the U.S. someday -- presumably to lay claim to a small city.

After leaving the training grounds, I walked around in a daze feeling heartbroken that the children were subjected to such soul-crushing training. But even as I tried to find some solace and make sense of it all, no kid would let me forget what I could soon expect:

Young child in a stroller holding an orange and play gun in Zhuhai, China

I can only hope it is not too late.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Long Trip for Milk: Barriers, Trust, and Truth in China

During my visit to the top of Guia Hill in Macau I met someone new:

man with Macau scene in background

We met while we were both exploring historic Guia Fort. He lives in mainland China and was visiting Macau for the day. One topic he mentioned during our wide-ranging chat was the Internet censorship enabled by China's Great Firewall (which does not operate in Macau). He said it does not affect him as much as some of his friends since he works at a Taiwanese company which uses a VPN to securely (and freely) access the Internet. Regardless of his own situation, he believes the Great Firewall is unfortunate and should not exist.

In addition to the Great Firewall, there is another barrier in China that bothers him -- the borders between mainland China and China's special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

Pass book for Chinese to enter Hong Kong or Macau
Pass (通行证) required for mainland Chinese to enter Macau or Hong Kong

Despite possessing the passport-like pass mainland Chinese need to enter Macau, for each visit he must apply for a new visa-like permit to be placed in it. As with China's Great Firewall, he wants the border removed and believes it is not fair to mainland Chinese.

What most caught my attention was what brought him to Macau. Although he enjoyed seeing the sights, his primary goal was purchasing the customs maximum two cans of New Zealand baby formula. Like cigarettes and diapers, baby formula is a common product brought to mainland China by those coming from Macau. Due to past milk scandals his cousin with an infant does not trust the milk products produced in China. Approximately every two months he plans to take a more than hour-long bus ride from the city where he lives to the Macau border, pass through two immigration channels, purchase baby formula, pass through immigration again, and take another long bus ride back home -- all in one day.

I asked him why he did not save himself the trip and purchase the New Zealand baby formula through a source closer to his home. He said his family would not be able to trust its origin due to the vast numbers of fake products found in mainland China. When I asked him why fake products were such a problem he replied, "The Chinese government often lies to the people. So, the people..." He did not finish the sentence and simply looked away with an expression I am hesitant to interpret. I will just say that it did not at all appear to be positive.

He may not agree with some of China's policies. He may be wary of China's milk. He may not trust all of what he hears from China's government. But despite his frustrations, his story does suggest signs of positive recent changes in China. He was doubtful he would have as easily obtained a permit to visit Macau only 10 years ago. And I am not sure whether 10 year ago he would have as openly expressed himself or he would have given permission to publicly share his thoughts with his photo included.

Regardless, he feels conditions still need to improve for himself and others in China. And sometimes he is willing to take a long journey to help it happen.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Guia Hill in Macau, China

Similar to Jingshan Park in Zhuhai there is an easy way to the top of Guia Hill in Macau:

cable car to top of Guia Hill in Macao

And also similar is that I decided to take the stairs to the top. There I met a couple of birds:

parrot at Guia Hill in Macau

pigeon at top of Guia Hill in Macau

I also saw an interesting bug:

red bug on Guia Hill in Macau

And while enjoying some unique views of Macau:

view of Macau from Guia Hill

view of Macau from Guia Hill

I confirmed that playing with bubbles is not only enjoyable for children:

Two young woman playing with bubbles and another photographing them

But the top of the hill is most famous as the site for the historical Guia Fort which includes this chapel built in 1622 and lighthouse built in 1865 -- both periods during Portugal's long control of Macau:

Chapel and lighthouse at Guia Fort in Macau

Although I very much enjoyed all of the above, it is something else about my visit to Guia Hill that most stands out in my mind. I will share it in the next post.