Thursday, July 31, 2008

Open contraversy

The opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics Games has still a week to go, but has already created media controversies.

This time, a South Korean TV network, SBS TV released video footage of rehearsals of the ceremony, violating the implicit consent of not leaking details by the media. Details of the opening ceremony was guarded as "state secret" by China, understandably to keep the stunts fresh. It was said that those who were invited to the rehearsal had signed on to the no-disclosure agreement.

This gave Chinese netizens new ammunition to get angry against South Korea. Public opinions in China towards South Korea have not been particularly warm and fuzzy since Koreans claimed rights to cultural heritage of many Chinese traditions. Many people have dubbed the Koreans "cultural thieves" and "men from Mars" since then, and the newest episode added new controversy to the fire. Even CCTV has showed discontent in its news program "One Plus One".

It's not clear whether SBS has "the right to report" or it has violated "professional ethnics", as many claimed.

[update: SBS TV formally apologized.]
PS: Travel channel is currently having a "China Week". The varieties of food on display are having me drooling.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Will capitalism save virginity?

To believers of market, market will find a solution to everything. Will it save virginity - in China?

China was traditionally a conservative country in sexuality. We've had the likes of Xi Mengqing in old novels like The Golden Lotus and anecdotal stories about gayish princes, but mostly it's hush hush. As the capitalism first arrived when China began its "open and reform" program, sex was also a vocal point of personal freedom as debated subject, so much so that also all Chinese famous novalists at the time all included sex, sometimes pervert sex as part of their depition. Mo Yan, autor of Big Breast and Wide Hips, Su Tong, Jia Ping'ao were all among them.

Then there came Shanghai Baby, a euphoria novel of sex adventures, from which the calling "beauty writer" was born. BTW, the author was relatively tame and far from "beauty" before she made a name, from what I knew of her. And there was Mu Zimei, a blogger famous for publishing details of her many sexual encounters, led the sex revolution to the pinnacle. That's why stories like disco bunny comes as no surprise to the Chinese.

Now, a new wave of chastity is quietly making waves. Surprisingly, one of the force in this new found chastity is the raw and unapologetic Chinese style capitalism. As this Danwei translation of a South China Weekend story tells, while some young women are not try about using their sexuality to their economic advantage, others now see keeping virginity before marriage as an advantage in the competitive marriage market. In economics jargon, the market has reached an equilibrium!

The question then is why virginity is cherished and being seen as an advantage. That's the question I pose to my friend, who is also a Chinese.

"That's because Chinese males are deeply insecure about their sexuality. Having a virgin without prior sexual experience as a wife helps them not being exposed sexually."

She is equally unapologetic.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008








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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Myth and Common Sense

It's fun to check your level of common sense, especially when it comes to China.

Let's first be entertained by a story straight out of the Jame Bond movie - if you so wish to think. An UK band gets their name right: Panic! at Disco. It's reported a Shanghainese disco bunny compromised an UK government official. A top aide to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was seduced by a hot woman he met in a Shanghai disco, who came back to his hotel room. In the morning, his (unencrypted) Blackberry was gone.

With my common sense, I see it no more than an extra curriculum activity by shrew "service provider". There is no ethnic code in Shanghai sex deal world that a women won't nick your cellphone or other valuables.

But it doesn't prevent UK officials to extend their James Bond pedigree and painted it as a honeytrap operation. "A senior official said yesterday that the incident had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap by Chinese intelligence", as Times UK reported. Maybe when you are an UK government official, your common sense is wired differently.

The same panic was shared by U.S. government officials. There were numerous report about their hysteria about Chinese cyper espionage. I will care not to list them, you can just google for it. Almost every official has had some sort of claim about his laptop being compromised during trips to China, the most famous being allegations that US Commerce secretary's laptop was hacked during a December trip to China.

The common sense here is that China's web space is ripe with all sorts of malware. If you plug your laptop into China's network unprotected, chances are your computer will come into contact with some sort of malware or spyware within minutes. That has happened to me before. Or if your computer is protected, the firewall will have a line that such such ip address tries to contact your computer without authorization. On the other hand, it would be extremely difficult for the Chinese government to pinpoint your laptop on the open net if you are mobile and gets online possibly from anywhere. But maybe senators and secretaries are not tech savvy enough to know?

The myth is not limited in the James Bond world. Apparently it can be propagated in the bar world also. South China Morning Post reported a story that Beijing authorities are to ban Blacks (Chinese don't usually bother to call blacks "African _" because racial tension with blacks was a no issue historically with China) and Mongolians from bars During Olympics, based on one anonymous source. The stories was subsequently debunked, but still managed to catch some fire among some media and blogs.

My common sense tells me there is no way Chinese authority would pursuit such a policy during Olympics when a significant proportion of Olympic athletes are of African ethnic origin and are likely to frequent bars. Not to mention Beijing will be under the whole world's watch during the time. My common sense also tells me there's virtually no way to successfully tell Mongolian women from Chinese women from the looks. But apparently common senses of SCMP's reporter and quoting media's are very different and, should I say, unique.

Beijing was notorious for lax in enforcing the rules. And Western press often rightfully pointed it out. Now that in the wind of Olympics, China begins to enforce formerly lax enforced visa laws, Washington Post calls it China growing unfriendly to foreigners. And enforcing rules to shut down a foreigner owned club that lacks performance license catches the attention of the Time. Sure, it brings some inconvenience to some individuals, but my common sense tells me no matter what intentions are, a rule is a rule is a rule. Protest the rule if you must, but don't protest the enforcement of it as unfriendly. My common sense, as I know of China, also tells me that foreigners have long enjoyed super-national status in China, Chinese have long been very friendly to them. In fact, many foreigners working in China are doing so without proper visa or documents. They are staying on tourist visa but earning money in China. Oh, they are not doing hard labors as many Chinese do also. Where did the rule promoting western media go this time around? For visa, I believe average Chinese traveling to Europe or America have to jump through far more hoopla than foreigners to China. Just ask any random Chinese. In fact, there was an article on this blog of a rant by a famous Chinese sports reporter of American visa officials' attitudes. But these seem completely escape the media. The unfriendly article is particularly funny because it was frequently said of China as Xenophobia on those papers, yet the story turns out so many foreigners who are working in China illegally and live comfortable lives, including the lead-in story. But, somehow, the fault is still on China.

Of course, Chinese can probably do more. Beijing's People's University sent out students from its Sociology Department to observe people's public conduct and concluded that manners had greatly improved. For me personally, I wish Chinese have learned how to wait a line. I was in a double-line waiting for taxi dispatches in Beijing airport a couple years ago. A Beijing young man cursed out almost looked like wanting to start a fight because I was not taking advantage of the spaces in front of me in the parallel line, waiting instead patiently the man in front of me. To him, it slowed him down. Of course, he saw me as a Chinese. There's no telling what he would do if I was actually of different skin color. My guess is he would be less rude. That's a myth now, but also my common sense.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Murky Love Economics

The thing about life is that its unpredictable and doesn't subject to one single rule. I would always be aware of the "universal truth" unearthed. Many ideas are inspiring or illuminating. But more often than not, there's always qualifications, in small prints, that need to be noted.

Let's take a look at some of the main points of this very interesting and well written piece by Ben Stein: Lessons in Love, by Way of Economics.

In general, and with rare exceptions, the returns in love situations are roughly proportional to the amount of time and devotion invested. The amount of love you get from an investment in love is correlated, if only roughly, to the amount of yourself you invest in the relationship.
Oh what the statistical panacea. What about business failures? What about concept like sunk cost, stop-loss in economics?
High-quality bonds consistently yield more return than junk, and so it is with high-quality love.
The problem is, as we know in the investment world, junk/investment grades can be down or up graded, reversed in a whim, even with name brands. GM might look all mighty blue chip in a day, and slip to junk status to the next. Sometimes, even professional graders - read, Moody's etc - can't provide accurate grades in time, otherwise we won't have subprime crisis. How do you expect we to excel in love bonds in which most of us are amateurs? The negative situation rings more true:
the absolutely surest way to ruin your life is to have a relationship with someone with many serious problems, and to think that you can change this person.
Mr. Stein further urges us,
Research pays off.
Not necessary. Some qualifications are required. Too much research makes you a timid investor, and too much time in research doesn't necessary gives you competitive edge in a competitive market where everybody else does the same. And we all know researches don't earn best money in the finance world, they end up being hired by the more competitive personalities.

Ok, if you think this is all too picky, I agree. However the gist of the stories is, that theory is better at rationalize than practice, and that economics is a science that cares about outcomes in aggregates and statistical results, but love is a very personal thing. While Economics can sweep exceptions as anomalies, personal pains can't.

In the end, we can at least agree that love, like many other aspects of life, needs to be "managed".

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Thursday, July 17, 2008







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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

KTV inside birds nest?

A look inside the Bird Nest, a passage to the VIP room.

If you think it looks somehow familiar in style, you are right. It looks like KTV, with generous use of gold color and metal in ornate material.

I'm left wondering if it is the designer catering to the Chinese sense of wealth and style, or Chinese asserting control of creativity.

In other news, I've struggled in Wii of Olympic games representing China. If it's any indication, Olympics is hard. The most difficult game for me? Trampoline, twisting accordingly in the midair. And the one I excelled? Baseball! Go figure.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Red Cliff, Panda, and Chinese Films

The newest buzz out of the Chinese film world is Red Cliff, a famous battle story out of The Three Kingdoms.

The general Chinese verdict seems to be "it's entertainment", also some of the entertaining attempts are so caricaturistic, borderlining absurdity. Amid the controversy and critiques, the film sells, amassing the top box-office receipt in China. Nowadays, China takes on a very American rule - controversy sells.

But sorry Chinese, I'm not sure your complaints are relevant. This picture, from the clips I've seen, isn't filmed with you as the key audiences, rather, it has the Western viewers in mind. Outside of the fact that John Woo has never been truly outstanding besides staging scenes and working the camera angles (see Mission: Impossible II), if you view the film from an angle of someone whose knowledge of The Three Kingdoms as heard passingly at best, you won't see all the absurdity and controversy. All you see are giant battling fields - reminiscent of Rome Army nevertheless, witty humorous retorts - if somewhat modern - between generals and warlords, caring and vulnerability, and love scenes - how can a Hollywood movie be complete without one? Look, it all makes perfect sense. It's just those of you who are too versed in the story and characters that are nitpicking.

Think of the last blockbuster, dreamwork's Kung Fu Panda. The sentiments were divided along the lines of resisting: how can Hollywood produce such crap about our beloved Panda? And alternatively, proudly embracing: it's really wonderful Hollywood can nail the Chinese cultural down so precisely in the film, with a by-line of why can't we make it? Although the latter thought makes very good point about education and creativity, the two views actually share the same psyche - that of lack of confidence. The glee over Hollywood's major production featuring Chinese stories and wits underlines the fact that most Chinese are still seeking being recognized and respected by the Western culture, despite the fact that Chinese cultural that's embodied in the film is actually quite shallow, nor is it ground-shattering. The film is actually very much hollywood, both in value - the underdog hero story, and production. We are not part of the world props up some of unduly praises of the film.

Back to Red Cliff, why doesn't a Chinese made film focus more on Chinese audiences then? You can just look at the numbers. Kung Fu Panda has earned $19.29 million in China between its June 21 opening and July 6, making it a box-office smash by Chinese standards. Comparatively, it earned more than $350 million world wide. So there is little wonder Red Cliff shifts its market focus elsewhere.

China has proved it can produce quite fine art films. It is no stranger in the international film festival circuit. China can produce some entertainment "big picture" also, when it really put money into it. What's mostly lacking is the in-between and blending of the two. Both the amount and variety are far more to be desired. It is on this ground that we can come to understand the paradox of Red Cliff, both of under criticism and hugely successful commercially - because good films are too few, and far in between.

  不过同胞们的口水大致是用错了情。据我的有限观察,赤壁的主要目的观众群本不是国内的大众。吴宇森虽然长处仅限于场面的展现和镜头的控制,却 也应本无意于为网络流行语丰富词汇。但如果你想象自己是一名西方对三国一无所知的观众,也许仅有的模糊印象也来自隐约的耳闻,那么这部影片就很容易被理解 和接受。你将看到的是宏大的战争场面,甚至很容易和印象中的罗马人的战场联系起来;看到幽默急智的大将谋事,虽然他们的对话有点现代感,但无伤大雅,也和 心理预设并不冲突;他们甚至有多面的柔情和脆弱;当然还有爱情场面,没有女色的好莱坞片还叫好莱坞片么?总之,这会让网上所有自作多情的“很强大”的评论 没有用武之地。无疑,赤壁是拍给西方观众看的。
  不如回过头来看看前段时间热门的功夫熊猫。极端的观点无非两种。鄙视之抵制之者有,捧上天欣喜欣慰者也不在少数。甚至听说有引发为什么中国不 能拍出功夫熊猫的感慨。这样的感慨虽然有健康的关于创作力和教育的讨论,但终究还是建立在对影片对中国文化“准确地把握”上。其实,两种态度都反映了一种 相同的心理状态--对文化的不自信。好莱坞大片用中国熊猫和对中国文化的结合运用是让某些人如或钦点的原因。我们终于被承认了,我们成了世界的一分子。而 其实功夫熊猫是再典型不过的好莱坞片,从underdog hero story到故事的叙述方式。其中中国文化只不过皮毛,早已进入西方的知识领域。
  现在回到赤壁,为什么中国拍的大片却不是以大陆观众作为主要假定观众创作呢?答案看看功夫熊猫的数字就行了。熊猫作为大热片,在中国的前两周 收入是$19.29百万。而相比较,它的全球收入是$320百万。赤壁,已经作了好莱坞人的吴拍的电影,把主要市场盯在国外就毫不奇怪了。
  中国已经证明自己能拍出好的艺术片来。国外大大小小的电影节中国艺术片拿过的奖也不少。中国也似乎证明了所谓“娱乐大片”能拍的马马虎虎-- 只要能投入足够多的钱,国外电影市场也能分很小的一小勺。中国缺少的,是这两者之间的,和把这两者结合起来的电影。以及相称的电影市场。目前的电影市场无 论在数量上还是种类质量上都乏善可陈。那么也就不难理解主要并不为中国观众所拍,“很娱乐”,很受争议的赤壁,票房走红也就很容易理解了--我们的可看的 电影从数量和质量上都太少了。]

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The seat-belt story

From inside JinMao Tower, a picture she took
Ask my friend who was recently back from China what was her most remembered impression about China. She told me it was the confusion of identities, sometimes people took her as an American, other times people took her as a Chinese.

She told of the seat-belt story that She was unexpectedly pinned down to be American. It was in Nanking. She fastened her seat-belt as soon as she got on a taxi without even thinking much. Little would she expect that it would trigger taxi drivers long talk about all things Chinese and American. As it turned out, she was the first passenger who fastened seat-belt that taxi driver ever carried, although the "fasten your seat-belt" sign was preen on the glove box. The taxi driver went on to have a full lecture on how Chinese were too smart for their own good and never respects little rules. (China has now the most moto accidents in the world.) When my friend indicated she was Chinese also, he insisted that She was American, not Chinese.

This reminds me of a story told on James Fallow's blog. Roughly, Bus drivers in China were hit by an extra cut on highway fees because highway fare collectors were not well paid, they in turn changed the route to detour on crappy roads and waited to take on extra passengers, to make their ends meet. It seemed nobody was seriously enforcing the existing rules and those practices are implicitly understood. And nobody was willing to face to his own responsibilities first. The result was very unefficeint outcomes and wasting of time. Most people who had taken long-distance small buses could tell the same experience.

So maybe small changes will come, since that taxi driver recognized fastening seat-belt as responsible thing to do, and even admirable in his eyes.

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残缺 完整



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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pictures of Austria

[Filing up my photos of Austria, I find most of them are palaces and churches, the usual postcard material. What surprisingly pleases me are pictures with people in them. The tranquility of abbey and boisterousness of square are better caught with human figures. Austrians, they really like the taste of icecream, they never work overtime, and they see themselves as more cultured than those soccer hooligan states. That's my general impression of them.]



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Some updates about this blog

Long overdue.

The comment setting is switched to "anyone" which means you can leave comments as "anonymous". However, you are encouraged to get an openID, which will make commenting easier and communication more fluid. If you have a google or Yahoo ID, you already have the openID, you just need to sign in to it. To require openID is to prevent Spam.

I've also been experimenting with the "sphere related content". Sphere is a new search engine said to be content based and intelligent. It gives you links to related blogs and article. More things to read if you find something you are interested. So far, I find it works ad hoc, unless it's a hot topic, and not working at all for Chinese language posts.

This blog, as a blogspot site, is currently available in China. But there is no telling if and when the accessibility will be interrupted by the government, with "the great firewalls of China", although many big companies especially foreign one do not subject to this restriction. It's mostly a nuance, since you can always go around it with a proxy. And if you use firefox (btw, isn't firefox3 lightening quick?), you can always get a proxy add-on.

Also, you can use the translator on the right column. But always be aware the peril of machine translation.

Lastly, for some amusement, the top google keyword to reach this blog is actually for image search - hooters. And I can tell you it was from all over the world. Who would have thunk it?

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008







寂寞与温暖 苍茫与生机,
喜欢王维,喜欢他的沉静 洁净 悲悯




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Monday, July 7, 2008

Here comes communists

Poster on the picture left says "No service for communist bandits", and the board across the top the of the shop on the right says, "President Chiang, Communist Bandits have landed". Chiang Kai Shek was the leader of Nationalists who lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan sixty years ago.

We all know about the historical direct flights between Mainland China and Taiwan by now, and how local community leaders and businesses are doing what they can to accommodate, and to attract more mainland tourists.

But these pictures are much more interesting. Besides the amusement value - calling mainland tourist "communist bandits", a term used by then-in-power nationalist government - it's also much more encouraging than the official propaganda.

The official happy-all-round picture that's painted surely doesn't represent the whole truth. Besides, most of about-face work is done to attract businesses, and has little value in evaluating where the cross straight sentiment is going. Those posters, however, shows some Taiwanese still regard the mainland as the renegade force, just as mainland see Taiwan as a renegade island. Although the second poster is suspicious of marketing motive.

If there is still quarrel, there is still family. It's when disagreement becomes polite smily faces that two sides go their seperate ways.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Summer Delicious

This "Naked Among Watermelons" picture recently on exhibition in MOMA is created by Israeli artist Sigalit Landau in 2005.

Of course, Sigalit Laudau wouldn't know watermelon had Viagra effect, according to recent studies.

Freaky coincidence.

I'm wondering when "Have you taken your watermelon" becomes a new catchphrase.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th

Good things about summer are always nice weather, live music, and outdoor sports, and being 4th of July today, it's also fireworks, big and small, above the lake and from backyards.

What defines America, a nation of short historical roots and composed mostly of immigrants and their offsprings? It's fist and foremost the ideas that are found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some argue this national identity is weakening. Certainly not, judging by the amount of fireworks I hear. Compared to other years, traffic is unusually light. Maybe the hovering gas price does have effect. But the celebratory mood is still there.

I find the following quote quite on point:

America is a way of life ..abundance of land; large families, and assertive children; the importance of religion; an astonishing array of voluntary associations; and a hard-working population that was meritocratic, materialistic, competitive, and on the move.

On a related note, this reminds me of hot abated topic of what defines Chinese. IMO Chinese, being a people of deep historical roots and long civilization, doesn't define themselves depend on the possession of the red passport. What constitutes the cornerstone of my Chinese identity is the understanding of Chinese history, culture, and above all language, which one can't really master without good understanding of Chinese history. Chinese language is so distinctively different from other language system that there's no substitute to appreciate it's beauty. By the time you learn to recite and appreciate the poems of Tang Dynasty, you are inevitably wired to be Chinese. It was said that 80% of what you learn is useless. For a Chinese, it's probably 95% - who else do I talk to about the intricacies of Three Kingdom and my vast knowledge about those two thousand years outside of the Chinese circle? It's far easier to talk about Socrates than Zhangzi outside China. No wonder the old Chinese dynastic empires called anyone who were versed in Chinese culture "Chinese", and anyone else "barbarian". Chinese language and culture, which holds key to Chinese way of thinking, and understanding of closeness (or you can say crowded) of people and family ties are what defines Chineseness for me.

Happy fourth.

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