Two things I heard about China

Today, when I was riding a taxi, the driver was particularly chatty and he shared with me some of his experience when he was in the military service.

He was the personal driver for the regiment commander-in-chief. His complaints were that the commander were often late for his morning meetings, so he demanded his driver to be fast and furious on the road. The soldier also ran errands for the commander’s wife, accompanied her in shopping trips, carried bags, took the couple’s child to school and even wiped the ass for the kid. It must be a horrific experience for him and I told him I couldn’t imagine how I could survive if I were stuck in such a situation.

However, his days in the army were not completely miserable and hopeless. Using his privilege as the commander’s driver, he had many free meals and he ate mutton almost daily, free of charge. He also enjoyed venison confiscated  from poachers, who shared their game with the soldiers — if the hunters killed two deer, the soldiers took one, if the hunter had one deer, the soldiers still took one — and the poachers could leave with impunity. I guess any miserable period of life can be brightened by confiscating something from the even weaker class.

Now I am almost sure that I can survive the miserable life as the commander’s driver, if there is endless supply of mutton for me. Why do people stay miserable? Because it is such satisfactions which keep people going.

Another story is the news about milk. Mengniu milk, which sports a slogan “We work for the health of mankind as a dairy producer” on its web site, is found today manufacturing carcinogenic milk. What an irony!

Another trusted local diary producer, Changfu Milk, which boasts in its advertisement that it has never been involved in the milk scandals, is reported by the media to have the same problem. I used to trust Changfu, and my son drinks its milk every day. Now I think I can not trust any food manufacturers in China. They have blood on their lips.

Is China a strong country? I guess you already know the answer.


Overheated House Market in China

I wonder how long will this continue… Last Sunday I helped my relatives to buy two apartment suites in the peripheral area of Xiamen, and it was not an enjoyable shopping experience.

We went there at 7:30 a.m in the morning and only managed to meet the sales representative at about 11:00 am. In less than two minutes, we decided to buy two sets and rushed to the counter for the paperwork and deposit.
Everyone around me appeared eager to buy and the atmosphere was nothing short of feverishness. The media people came and there were two police cars in the scene. One of the security guards told me some people began to queue up from previous night.

There was a strange festivity in the air and everyone seemed to have a party. But the real winner is the real estate sharks.

I consider this is very abnormal and the real estate companies are making obscene amount of money out of the pocket of common wage earners. How long will this last? I am not sure, but so far the bubble is still growing, at least in Xiamen.

(photo shows people queuing up to buy the apartments)


My forecast of China’s economy in 2010

I am no economist, but I can make a few predictions of China’s economic situation in 2010. As a common consumer and wage earner, I see into my wallet and make the following economic forecast:

  1. House prices will NOT fall. The last thing the government wish to see is massive bank insolvency due to slump in real estate prices. It will try everything to save the cash cow while not inflate the market so much to burst the bubble. The house price will remain stable.
  2. The age of inflation has come. The cost of protecting the real estate market is steady rise of inflation rate. More money will be printed to make up for the staggering house prices, and consequently the cost of living will rise together with the price of commodities for livelihood.
  3. Hopefully, the printed money will flow more into the pockets of the grass people who are the engine of the economy. If left with shrinking savings and no reliable social safety network, the damaged engine will cause the economy to collapse.

So the key of all economic problems in China depends on one thing: if the mass population in the bottom of the social pyramid can restart the engine and keep it running.

I will see what happens next year.


A quick word about Uighur riot — who were killed?

The official report says 156 people were killed in the Sunday riot in Urumuqi. The question remains who were killed in the riot and why they were killed.

Most western media, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are very vague about the ethnic background of the victims. Irresponsible site like RFA reported that the victims were Chinese Uighur minorities. These media knows nothing about China and the relations between different ethnic groups. Many westerners can be misled by the biased reports of these media and might have the wrong impression that the rioters or so nicely called ‘demonstrators’ were the victims.

The truth is: the rioters are criminals and murderers who ruthlessly killed innocent local people — most of them are Han Chinese. Here is what Los Angles Times says:

Chinese authorities accuse Uighur rioters of going on a savage rampage Sunday in Urumqi in which civilians were pulled out of cars and shops, beaten and stabbed for no other reason that being Han, the ethnic majority in China.

I bet the western media know little about the underlying geopolitical and economic political causes of incidents like this.

I also want to correct a widespread misconception in Western mind. Chinese people consist of 56 ethnic groups, not just Han Chinese.

China Techie

Gmail and Google blocked in China?

Maybe it’s just me or some random glitches.

As of June 24, around 9:30 pm, neither Google in English or Gmail could not be accessed by many Chinese users. Here are some reports by users in other provinces on a Baidu forum

I can visit the homepage of Goolge English using these two IP address:

But I can’t click further or search anything on it. It seems to take forever to load a page or the search results. What happened?

Some user even reported as early as 19th of June that there were warnings about the forthcoming blockage of Gmail. I thought it was a DNS resolution problem so I changed the DNS server addresses to those provided by OpenDNS, still no help. I also failed to connect using secured link address Gtalk seems to connect to the mail server alright and even check mail, and some pre-configured local mail clients are also supposed to work.

China Life

How I execute mosquitoes

How I execute mosquitoes? Electrocute them. I kill mosquitoes with such cruelty that will make Buddhists cringe. Frankly, I only launch wars against roaches, mosquitoes and flies, to list in an order of descending intensity of hatred.

The thing is, when I try to have some quiet time at night in front of the computer, armies of mosquitoes take advantage of the occasion and attack viciously to harvest my blood. They hide under the table or in the corners, and mostly target my legs and feet.

Turning on air-conditioning will usually quench their blood-thirst for a while, but didn’t do the trick this time. I also can’t bear the smell of the poisonous heaters with repellent tablets, so I decided to get a new weapon to defend myself.


This advanced weapon, or WMD, to borrow Mr. Bush’s catchphrase, looks just like a badminton racket, only heavier and bulkier. Once mosquitoes are caught on the net, the metal wires will spark and make a loud cracking noise, announcing the demise of a tiny insect vampire. But the drawback is I have to constantly distract myself from what I do to hunt them down.


The Shanzhai Phenomenon in China

Shanzhai (山寨) can be literally translated as “camp on a mountain”. It also carries overtones as an outlaws’ camp on the mountain. Anyone who have read one of the Four Classic novels — the Outlaws of the Marsh — will get an idea what an outlaw’s camp is like.

Because of the lawless and the underground meaning associated with Shanzhai, it is used to describe the China-made electronics with no brand names or fake trademarks.

The quality of these products is generally good, and the price fits the budget of the wage-earners — two factors that explain Shanzhai products’ ever-increasing popularity and competitive edge.

If you can’t afford to buy an Iphone, you can find a Shanzhai version Iphone, or Hiphone by another name, spending only a quarter of an real Iphone. There are also Shanzhai version for Nokia, Samsung and Sony-Ericsson cell phones. I personally own an Hiphone for a price about $150 dollars, and it does a decent job. Unlike Iphone, it doesn’t have WIFI and the system is not as snappy as Iphone, but it has good multimedia playback cababilities and it looks so close as an Iphone.

The word Shanzhai can also be used to describe anything that is non-official, underground, inexpensive with acceptable quality. For example, many Chinese dislike the extravagant, boisterous, cloying and politically correct Spring Festival Gala held annually by CCTV. In the meantime, the Shanzai version of the Spring Festival Gala, put together by a group of unknown performers with a low budget, becomes a great alternative.

So how to translate Shanzhai into English? I think the closest equivalent I can get in English is “poor man’s something”. You can have a poor man’s Ferrari, a poor man’s Iphone and a poor man’s tangy life.

China Featured

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

Some Oxford-educated English man claims in his blog that China should use an alphabetical writing system, and China’s failing to do so in history partly resulted in the high level of illiteracy. He goes like this

[China failed to invent stuff] Like an alphabet. Really, how hard is that? The Koreans managed to transform their character-based system into a very serviceable syllabic alphabet nearly 600 years ago. Amongst the reasons why China still hasn’t achieved a high level of literacy….

It is not the first time westerners point a finger at Chinese culture and claiming it backward, outdated or lacking creativity. Well, China has to ‘disappoint’ them for yet another time, because China will never use an alphabetical writing system. Koreans designed their square-shaped writing system, Vietnamese reverted from Chinese characters to French alphabets after being colonized and Japanese are using half-Chinese and half-syllables. But these examples do not mean that China, the inventor of its unique writing system, will follow suit just because an Oxford man can’t learn it.

The reason is very simple: Chinese writing system is part of Chinese culture, and it has been a very stable and mature writing system over the past 2,000 years. Its earliest appearances date back to 1,000 B.C. A remarkable treasure of cultural heritage has been preserved by this consistent writing system, and this is part of the reason that Chinese conquered the barbaric conquerors from the North. To claim that China should discard its unique writing system is tantamount to a cultural genocide, something western colonists excelled at. Just look at the whole American continent!

The writing system of Chinese, in all its uniqueness, perpetuated and preserved our culture. It is China itself in one sense.

The value of Chinese writing system aside, I am going to explain in simple words why Chinese are actually easier to learn than English and other major European languages:

  • Chinese grammar is an ideational grammar. It is very straightforward with an intense focus on ideas rather than grammatical forms which are commonplace in European languages. Translated literally, Chinese goes like this: I EAT-le THREE APPLE. No conjugation and no plural form. To express a past tense just add the universal “le” at the end of the verb. The plural form of APPLES is semantically redundant because the word THREE said it all. The economy of grammatical forms and the focus on ideas make Chinese simple to learn yet powerfully expressive, a hallmark best exemplified by Chinese poems.
  • Chinese uses symbols very efficiently, and knowing about 3,000 Chinese characters is more than enough to read extensively in modern China. Ideas rarely exhaust the combination of a few thousand everyday Chinese characters, and a learned person in China is not judged by how many characters he knows. To read extensively in English, one would learn about 20,000 words to say the least. A simple example is suffice to show the difference : In English you say January, February, March etc, but in Chinese you simply say Month 1, Month 2 … I have been learning English for over ten years and I still come across new words more often than not. While Americans have to take the GRE test to enter graduate schools, Chinese students are poring over English glossaries in order to pass the qualifying English test for a master’s program in Chinese Literature. What an irony.
  • Contrary to the widespread superstition that Chinese characters are difficult to write, writing a Chinese character is not difficult at all. Even a Gecko caveman can do it. Sounds too good to be true? Just install Microsoft Pinyin on your computer, change into Chinese language input method, and type “woaizhongwen” without the quotation marks. Do you see it? You have just written 我爱中文 which means I love Chinese language. Admittedly, it takes some training to write Chinese characters by hand, but it is not difficult for Chinese kids at all. It is in their blood, remember? Besides, fewer and fewer Chinese write by hand today because typing characters into a computer screen is so easy and fast.

Ignorance of a foreign culture is always pardonable, but passing judgment about a country’s writing system with quarter-knowledge passes for stupidity.


Interpreting the Grass-mud Horse

The sudden popularity of the phrase Cao Ni Ma (草泥马) or Grass-mud Horse in the Chinese cyberspace perplexed many non-Chinese speakers. If you can understand it, you will gain such penetrating insights into the cyber culture in China.

Here is the interpretation of this phrase. The Chinese characters for the three words “grass-mud horse” is used to describe an imagined breed of horse, and Chinese netizens conveniently map it to lamas.

What makes this non-existent creature — grass-mud horse — so hilarious is these words are homophones of the household Chinese F word, the so-called national curse word of China. The disguised F word are cleverly woven into ordinary-looking video clips and stories. These seemingly innocent programs about the “grass-mud horse”, with the repetition of the cloaked F word for effect, became an act of netizen disobedience and a droll case of the cyber culture.


Will China’s economy pick up in 2009?


Yes, everybody’s confidence seems to be boosted up by the sheer amount of 4 trillion yuan to be injected into China’s economy. Plus the investment from the local governments, the total boost package would probably amounts to 10 trillion yuan, some say.

Well, there has been no detailed and specific plans as to where the huge investment goes. Besides, massive construction projects, into which the money seem to flow, will not help too much with China’s economy.

Over the past decades, the whole China has become a construction site, and no other resources had been so sucked into an industry before. It certainly helped the GDP growth and fattened the wallet of bankers, real estate sharks and tax collectors. However, the whole economy was hijacked by the malignant, overwhelming expansion of the construction boom. Other industries are so dependent on the cement and steel industry or simply withered on the vine. Not even 4 trillion investment today will restore the ‘glory’ of the distorted economic development before the recession.

The right course for China is to transit from an exported oriented economy into a domestic consumer society. But the majority now has less savings and shrunk properties. In simple words: they have no money, and I do not see how the current investment arrangement would benefit them.

Singapore experienced similar recession in 1985, and they even reduced the telephone fees to lubricate the economy.

Here is a simple cure for China’s economy:

  • Invest in the areas that directly benefit the mass majority: more hospitals, more schools and more economic housing
  • Taxing the rich and cut taxes for the wage earners
  • Break the monopolies such as CCTV, China Telecom, national Power grids and suppliers
  • Reduce the administrative fees, license fees and surcharges. Many of the services for the public good are even more expensive than those in America — just drive on the highway in these two countries

I don’t see the staggering investment is heading in that direction, so I am pessimistic about the economy in this year.