Thursday, September 28, 2006

Three Days Left

Well, there's only three days left in China, and I knew it would go by quickly, but we're about ready to head home. The primary reason for being here is work, and that's really all we've had time for the past few days. It's really cool to be able to walk to work each morning, and the streets of Shanghai are hustling and bustling at all times. Walking to and from work always coincides with a running of the street vendor gauntlet. Watches, bags, DVDs, jewelry, etc. Eric and I seem to have "Please ask me" written on our foreheads everywhere we go. It's become a bit of a sport for us to see how quickly we can dismiss them. Sometimes they walk with us for almost a block.

Friday is here though, and now we go into the extra days fortuned upon us by a lack of business class seats from Shanghai to America this weekend. We've been invited by our good friend Lee Jian for golf tomorrow at the Oriental Paris Golf Country Club, just outside the city. He's acquired some clubs from friends that we can use, and after, he's honored us by inviting us to his home for dinner. I am really looking forward to it.

These pictures show some of the good freinds we've met here in China. They've shown us only the best hospitality. The first one is taken on top of the Wuhan Brewery. From left to right, Lee Jian, who has essentially been our shepherd on this trip, Eric Michaelis, Candor Wang, Zhao "Gump" Gang, Qiao Shengjie, and Jie "Jarod" Li, who was the kind soul who took his day off to show us all around Wuhan last Sunday.

The second photo, taken in front of the brewery, is Zhi Gang's staff, left to right: Zhi Gang, myself, Ding "Kate" Nian, Eric, Zeng Hong, my good man Gump, and Jarod Li. You'll notice that some of the people have taken names that are easy to pronounce for English speakers. That is by their choice, and many young people coming out of school have done that. It really is nice because it helps a blundering fool like me to remember names easier.

On Sunday we will likely do some last minute shopping, because we really haven't done any of that yet, and then we'll be homeward bound.

BTW, here is a link to the exact location in Shanghai that we are currently lodged, in the Jin Jiang Hotel. The strip of green in the very middle of the image is the courtyard in front of the hotel. It's interesting to pan out from there to see that I am clearly on the other side of planet Earth.

This last picture is a view from the office they let us use for the past week in Shanghai. You can actually see the Ritz Carleton off in the distance, behind the Exposition Hall. If you look at the first picture I posted, my view from the room in the Ritz, maybe you can figure out where I took this picture from. The Jin Jiang is well out of frame on the right.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

East Coasting

Back in Shanghai now. We are not staying in the Ritz Carleton this time, because Formula 1 is coming to Shanghai this weekend, and everything is booked up tight for the weekend. We are staying in a very nice hotel though, called the Jin Jiang, and we are actually close enough to walk to work in the morning. The hotel is located on a very ritzy road called Mao Ming rd. It is lined with shops that make your wallet hurt just by looking in the windows. All big time designers I've never even heard of.

Since I haven't taken any great pictures since our tour of Wuhan, I'm going to use pictures of a cool wood cabin we saw in East Lake park in Wuhan. Check out the various types of mortise and tenon joints used in its construction. There's also some interesting splices and end joints that I don't know what to call. Pretty cool! I'm still on a mission to find some really good wooden boxes though. All I can find so far are the traditional lacquered type, with boring mitre joints. Nothing hand crafted. We'll probobly hit Taikang Road, an arts street, this weekend. Hopefully we will find something there.

Jonesy, I took some pictures of lunch today, but actually this meal was kind of westernized Chinese food, so it's not the best example, and the pictures are not great anyway. I wish I had taken some pics of the food in Wuhan. Most meals go like this: one or two plates are brought to the table. Everyone has a piece or two. More dishes come in, every one takes a piece or two... repeat until the table is completely covered with dishes of all kinds. And here, they don't just put on the feedbag and chow down until full, like in America. I have to make a concerted effort to eat a little, then pause to chat, then eat, then pause, etc.

We're going to try to make it out to the Jin Mao Tower before the weekend - 1380 ft., and there is an observation deck at the top. There's also a lot of skyscraper construction going on in Pudong, the new part of Shanghai (where the Jin Mao is), where you can see welders unloading massive streams of sparks and molten steel from at least 60 stories up, and it bounces off the lower levels before disappearing. It's really spectacular and I know I won't be able to do it justice w/this camera, but I'll try.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wuhan Visted

Yesterday we finished our work in Wuhan, and so today we had an off day to go touring this vast city. The city is divided into three towns, Wuchang (phonetically "wu-chahn"), Hankou ("hahn-ko"), and Hanyang ("hahn-yahn"). The different parts are separated by the Yangtze and Hanjiang rivers. The brewery is in the Hanyang section, but we spent most of today in the biggest part, by far, Wuchang. We visited the East Lake, which takes up about 1/4 of Wuchang, and the Yellow Crane Tower. This picture is of the Chu Gate at East Lake park.

Besides seeing sights, we also got to ride the lake in a motor boat, and, after climbing about 20 flights of stairs to the top of a hill to the Chu Tower, no small feat, we got to ride little one-man wheeled sleds down a chute to the bottom. It was pretty fun! The chute was like a bobsled run, and you have a brake handle between your legs to pull in case you get going too fast. I did use it a couple times, but I think you could take the whole thing w/out using the brake. It's probobly not something you could do in America, due to liability concerns.

Yellow Crane Tower is one of China's most famous towers. The story goes that a man had a hotel that got no business until a man with a yellow crane showed up. The crane could do all sorts of tricks, and the hotel became a hit. When the man flew off on the crane a couple years later, the owner decided to build the tower in memorial. It's been rebuilt several times, each time getting bigger and more complex. It started out as only two stories, but has always been considered very tall in its time. It's actually a whole compound of grand, ancient buildings, which has been frequented by famous poets and artists throughout its history, who have been inspired by it.

In China, the official language is Mandarin (Pu-tong-wha), but every city has its own locution. I've learned a little bit of Wuhanese while I've been here. Specifically, "Shin-YAO-shee(uh)" means something like "get out of town!" or "that's crazy!" The people here have all been very friendly to us, and the food is amazing. Wuhan food is very spicy. Today I got to try a local treat which is spicy smoked duck neck. It's actually very tasty. All of the food here has been great, if you can take the heat. I'm becoming pretty handy with chopsticks. Last night I was able to pick out a glazed, hard-boiled egg yolk from a bowl. It took me a few seconds, but I did it without too much trouble. I was commended for the challenge, which is apparently not easy even for natives.

Tomorrow we finish up work in Wuhan, and then head back to Shanghai for a week. Back to the ultra-modern cosmopolis. Wuhan was awesome.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Welcome to Wuhan

Wuhan, in Hubei Province, is quite a bit different from Shanghai. Although we're not located at the city center, what I've read about Wuhan indicates a more developed city than what I'm seeing. From where we're staying, the city looks very much in transition, as you can see from this view from my hotel room.

Here you can see a lot of very nice infrastructure laying fallow in favor of new skyscrapers. Many of the sidewalks on the main roads are made of intricately laid granite, and there's planters in all the medians, but they are already falling to pieces. It seems like there has been a heavy infusion of money for infrastructure, but no local economy to keep it in repair.

It is interesting to see all the new steel and glass office buildings going up right next to what appear to be working class habitats.

While writing this, I've discovered that the Wikipedia website is blocked. I can't even access the cached Google pages. Interesting...

Here is a photo of the sidewalk about a block away from our hotel. You can see the very nice granite stones. The stores on this street range from about 400 sq. ft. to about 100. Some of the clothing shops are only big enough for about two or three people to stand in.

Eric and I are the only westerners in the entire city of Wuhan, from what I can tell, and everywhere we walk the locals are trying their best not to stare. It is an effort that is appreciated by me, because I find it even more difficult act normal, and blend in, when everyone on the street is staring at me. I decided to walk with a pronounced swagger, to convey a deliberately grounded disposition. Actually, it's the same good-ol' boy body language that I learned growing up in West Virginia, to keep people from seeing me as pretentious. It seems to work here as well. If you appear like you're not too good to slouch a little, people seem to relax.

The city is centered at the confluence of two rivers, and there are several small bodies of water throughout the city, which are worked into the cityscape. We're here for five days, so I'm going to make an effort to find a more developed downtown area, to see if it is really anything like what the website says.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stoppa! Stoppa!

Say what you will about Shanghai, they take jaywalking seriously. At every major crosswalk are at least two "Traffic Assistants" who are not afraid to use their referee whistles and booming voices of authority to weed out any would-be law breakers. I saw several people get vigorously dressed down today for trying to cross either outside of the crosswalk, or when there was no walking light. And with good reason, because the drivers here do not regard you as much more than a moving inconvenience that may or may not be driven around.

I was also witness to at least four occasions of drivers on the sidewalk. No, I'm not talking about the scooters, which are everywhere, I'm talking about actual cars... driving on the sidewalk. I was too busy getting out of the way to get any pictures.

Most pedestrians are quite disciplined. They will wait for the walk light even if the coast is clear. It's kind of wierd to see, considering the size and density of this city, but I guess the sidewalk sentinals have established their presence.

We had lunch at a local place where there was not much English spoken. The food was good, albeit difficult to order, since we had to communicate mostly by pointing at pictures, but it got a little embarrassing when I tried to write in a tip on the credit card slip. There was a "Tip" line on the receipt, but you'd think nobody has ever used it. There was quite a stir, and they ended up making a separate credit card charge for my tip. I still don't know exactly what the problem was, but I think some restaurants do tips, and some don't, and some expect 15% and some expect 3% or less. I was trying to leave 20%. Still not really clear on that

I was taking pictures outside the Shanghai Art Museum, and some people there decided that I was also an attraction, and asked if I would take some pictures with them. It was pretty funny. It's not like I am the only westerner in Shanghai, but I guess I just looked approachable. They got a kick out of it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Welcome to Shanghai

Yes, the flight was all it was hyped up to be. First class on an international flight is definately sweet. We were in the air for 14.5 hrs between Chicago and Shanghai. It felt more like being locked in your office, than being on an airplane.

I would include a shot of the poor coach cabin people from our balcony here, but I think there's some kind of Geneva Convention law against that. I'll just let the menu speak for itself...

  • To Start: Marinated cheese antipasto
  • Appetizer: Sliced Cher Siu Chicken & Drunken Shrimp w/seaweed salad
  • Salad: Sliced breast of duck and fresh seasonal greens w/zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, and yellow bell peppers
  • Warm bread basket
  • Entree: Cowboy beef filet [sic] w/red chilis, onions, and a corn been ragout
  • Dessert: Breyers Vanilla (I opted out on the numerous toppings), and assorted chocolates
A few hours later we were served Uno's pizza... then later it was Udon noodle soup w/assorted seafood dumplings.

The seats were spacious and reclined into beds. There are two built-in desks, and a built-in personal LCD screen for watching TV or movies, or the in-flight navigator screen. I was able to work on my laptop, watch the navigator screen, and still have room for my lush dinner spread.

We got out of the airport in Shanghai at around 2:30am US time, 3:30pm Shanghai time. Then a 45-minute close encounter with death in a new Audi A6, en route to the Ritz-Carleton. That driver was fearless. He didn't speak much English, but I distinctly heard him say "shit" at one point. We were like the walking dead after the ride, but had enough energy to cheese out and eat at the California Pizza kitchen in the hotel here. Yes, we're wusses. We did walk around town a little. We walked for several blocks on a sidewalk that was temporarily covered with thick wooden planks, that kept bouncing as people moved across them. I felt like I was getting my sea legs. It was slightly nauseating, but fun too. Here's the view from my room.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Hate All Extremists

Fundamentalists are fundamentally wrong.

And they're no fun, because they're totally mental.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On Ascetics and Pacifists

God bless ascetics and pacifists. They can see only through their ideals. If they could only face our problems instead of naively dismissing them as not their own, this world may yet survive. Technology is an inevitable consequence of thought, and those who seek to stall its progress are serving only decadence.

I too would love to live as a hermit. Let the world go about its business protecting property and erecting structures. I want no part in their war. Let expand their vast acreage of factories and refineries. I have no use for their systems at all. I have no use for their landfills or expressways. I don't want my name in the credits, or my words in the books. It is all a waste of time to me. Time that could be better spent seeking an honest man.

Let go their fossil fuels, and their sooty pillars. Let their devices of revenge and suffering be gone! I have no use for their protection. I have no use for man's meat or corn. I will eat from the forest floor, and the kelp from the sea. And when there is not enough to go around, let me starve. And when I am overrun by wolves, let the wolves take me.

I have no use for industry of any sort. I will wrap leaves around my waist and build a hut to stay dry. I'm done! Let go all my possessions! If I need something, God will provide it.

But hasn't God already provided what you now possess?

Bah! Let go my notions of success and morality. I have no need of formal education. I have no need of preconceptions.

But isn't it your mind which has invented those preconceptions after being trained by experience?

Bah! A man's mind plays tricks on him.

But your mind is what makes you a human being. If you can't trust your own experience, then you must believe mankind itself is an abomination.

Bah! It is.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Discrimination in American Elections

Elections remain the one true legalized form of discrimination in America. They have always been a means of exclusion for those who control the rules. Voting laws, including those contained in the U.S. Constitution, have historically been rife with exclusionary measures, and measures meant to give certain populations of voters advantages.

The most obvious problem with American elections today is that Election Day is not a federal holiday. This is a simple means of discriminating against many working-class Americans who cannot find time to either get to the polls, or wait in line for the opportunity to vote. In St. Louis, and other U.S. municipalities, many voters who managed to make it to the polls in the 2000 elections were turned away when the voting hours ended. In some cases, hours were extended so that people who made it to the lines were able to vote, but then lawsuits were filed by other persons to dismiss those ballots. St. Louis City has since made special efforts to make sure every registered voter lucky enough to make it to their polling place gets to vote, but it will always be an issue as long as voters have to negotiate their own time for the effort.

Making Election Day a national holiday fixes most of the discriminatory problems with America's electoral system, so why hasn't it happened yet?

Other problems with our electoral system:
  • No need for ID to vote
    • Many municipalities do not require identification to vote. This is an opportunity for corruption. There's really very little excuse for a citizen not to be able to acquire some form of government-approved ID. This could be viewed as a complication of the voter registration process.
  • Registration can be difficult, and most often must take place in advance of the election
  • Voting boards are frequently unprepared for major voter turnouts, resulting in lawsuits and discouragement for legitimate voters.
  • Elections often take place with little or no notice.
  • Gerrymandering
    • Redefining electoral districts is a double-edged sword. It's been a problem since our nation's birth.
  • Direct vs. Indirect voting
    • Did you know the Senate used to be an indirect vote, like the Presidency? Is it time to abolish the electoral college? Do you really trust the average citizen's ability to choose a good leader? If not, you share the same mentality as our nation's founders, as well as those officials who keep stonewalling any effort to make Election Day a federal holiday.
  • Moving polls to locations inconvenient for some population
  • No federal standards for ballots or voting machines
  • Electronic voting machine vulnerabilities
    • Did you know that many municipalities allow clerks to take home voting machines at night? Did you know that Diebold makes most of the voting machines that governments purchase, and that they are constantly found to have vulnerabilities that make it easy for a person with some level of compentency in electronics to rig elections without detection!?
  • Campaign financing
    • Serious candidates should probobly be given equal opportunity to express their views, and mobilizing large groups of voters can be an extremely costly endeavor. Some sort of media coverage should be available to candidates, and parity should be sought wherever possible in campaign spending, while still allowing for competitive advantages to those candidates who are willing to work harder for attention.
  • Lack of media coverage
    • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch does a good job of providing their Voter's Guide for every election, and political television does poorly with the average viewer. It is a challenge to educate voters on the issues at hand, and the various aspects of each candidate's views and personality.
  • Two-party dominance
    • I and most of my friends have either registered independent or don't vote at all, because we don't want to align ourselves with these self-serving, corporate-sponsored, uninspiring imbiciles that call themselves Democrats and Republicans. It's time for a new party...
    • Fusion voting is a strategy for creating third parties.
Election laws are interesting because they allow for institutionalized discrimination. In this modern world we live in, it's difficult to understand why there are so many major hurdles for some citizens to overcome in order to make an informed vote. It's always been this way, and it's always been wrong.

The American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund is a promising start to remedying many of these issues.
Theres a bill currently in committee in the U.S. House of Representatives to make Election Day a federal holiday. The Democracy Day Act of 2005. Let's hope it passes:

Blog Archive