Archive for November, 2009

Mongolians successfully breach the Great Wall

November 27, 2009

In what would have made headlines 2000 years ago, it seems the Mongol’s have finally been able to push a hole through the wall built to keep them out. In a government funded survey of the Great Wall, it had been discovered that a 90 metre portion had been irreparably damaged by Mongolian gold prospectors.

The damaged section was built by the Qin Dynasty between 220BC and 206BC. Only a tiny segment of the Qin wall remains, which was a reinforced earth barrier unlike the stone structure built by the Ming Dynasty 12 centuries later.

Any damage caused to the wall can result in a 500,000 yuan fine, or 10 years in prison. For taking out 90 metres of it, I am inclined to think a few death penalties just might be on the agenda!

Another day, another Chinese mine disaster.

November 25, 2009

Bless me father for I have sinned, but please don’t let me come back as a Chinese miner. Yes there has been yet another mining related accident in China, this time in a mine near the city of Hegang in NorthEastern China. A gas blast has claimed the lives of 107 (so far) people, and the locals are not happy at all about it. It is the worst mining disaster since 123 people were killed in a mine in Southern Guangdong province when it flooded.

Thousands of people are reportedly killed each year in Chinese mines – and that’s only those lucky enough to be reported – it is possible the number of unreported deaths is expotentially larger again. While China continues to go through periods of massive resource-hungry growth, the emphasis put on obtaining those resources is heavy. If China is ever going to take its place in the world as a first world country power – if it ever wants to get up there on a level such as the United States, then things such as this simply must be brought to an end.

Bad milk

November 25, 2009

Remember that Chinese tainted milk scandal? Where companies had used the industrial chemical melamine was added to watered down milk to fool protein inspectors. Well the end result was a boost in profits, 300,000 sick children because of course, melamine is known to cause kidney stones and sometimes outright kidney failure. And now  two men, Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping; deemed responsible, have also been executed by the government on charges of endangering public health and selling toxic food.

I often think about these toxic food cases that come out of China and wonder whether they’re more concerned over the actual health problems they have caused in innocents, or embarrased over being caught out. Sure the Government steps in and executes where deemed appropriate, but is it for the right reasons? Somehow, when China is concerned, I have serious doubts.

Learn Chinese Everyday

November 24, 2009

Recently I stumbled across a website called simply, Learn Chinese Everyday. A completely free website run by a woman named Min Min, it provides one new Chinese character every 24 hours and a range of options associated with it. It firstly shows you the stroke order via a flash animation, proper pronunciation, it’s meaning, and possibly the best part – a range of sentences using the word in all its various forms.

While I have been slacking off in the language learning department lately, I have been trying to make an effort to visit this site at least once per day. For anyone learning Chinese, it’s definitely a great little resource – moreso considering it’s free!

I’ve added a link to the site over there ->, and of course, kudos to Min Min!

Playing with rogues

November 24, 2009

Last week, Barak Obama was doing the rounds in China, hoping to further cement ties with the world’s most populous nation. Every year, China’s influence and power in the world is growing, and this past year, which experienced a severe financial crisis, is no different. As China’s power increases, so does the United State’s need to either befriend them, or at least rein them in. Whether they like it or not – and I am willing to bet they dislike it greatly – China is a serious contender for no.1 power.

Obama met with President Hu Jintao to discuss a range of issues, some of those being to further isolate and/or pressure rogue countries such as Iran, Sudan and North Korea, who blatantly disregard nuclear restrictions placed upon them. Things were looking positive with China partly agreeing – or seeming to – with the key word floated around being ‘dialogue’.

So now, China’s Defence Minister, General Liang, a former veteran soldier of the Korean War has come out and renewed military ties with North Koreas capital, Pyongyang.

”No force on earth can break the unity of the armies and peoples of the two countries, and it will last forever,” he was quoted as saying, also mentioning that ties were “sealed in blood.”

In addition to this, China’s Security Chief also led a fresh delegate to Sudan – another problem country.

I get the feeling that China acts like this on purpose. Inwardly it would take great pleasure in annoying the United States, knowing full well that there’s little to nothing the USA can do about it.

As much as I enjoy following Chinese news and current affairs, I do not envy the foreign diplomats and politicians who must deal with this absolute handful of a country on a daily basis – it would be not unlike banging your head against the proverbial wall.

Best food or atmosphere?

November 23, 2009

There’s a restaurant in Box Hill that we go to on a regular basis called Hong Kong Best Food. It’s located on Carrington Road which is home to many Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. In particular there are several, very local Chinese, Sichuan restaurants which are simply superb for both Hot Pot or regular Sichuan food. In particular we like to eat the spicy Sichuan fried green beans, shredded potato and pork belly – all of which we first discovered in China and have since pined for – actually finding them locally was a win for the little people.

So getting back to Hong Kong Best Food, or HKBF as we affectionately refer to it. Here is a restaurant that is literally like stepping off a regular Australian street (well there is a distinct Chinese vibe to Carrington Road) and into a Hong Kong diner. Whilst I have not actually been to Hong Kong myself, I can imagine this would be an authentic experience. This is one restaurant that we distinctly do not go to for the food, we go here for the atmosphere.

Setup like a standard diner, there’s four flat screen LCD televisions (one in each corner of the ceiling) which play Chinese TV. On a good night, you’ll stumble into either Chinese period drama – China’s equivalent of Home & Away, or one of those kooky Asian gameshows. Decorated with photos of gaudy low quality photographs of Hong Kong and various other ornaments, it really captures a typical Asian eatery. The place is often filled to the brim with Chinese, where as a westerner, you’re back in minority again. In fact at one of the Sichuan restaurants, I even heard myself referred to as a laowai (foreigner), in my own country!

The meals in HKBF are cheap and diverse. Sweet and sour pork ribs sit beside spaghetti bolognaise, cheese friend rice and club sandwiches. The menu is in fact so ridiculously beyond any form of typical theme that it’s one of the best parts about going there. The food is cheap and well – of not a particularly good quality. Whilst I quite enjoy what I eat there, it’s definitely not something I would write home about. I enjoy ordering Chinese food with a side of French fries – they just don’t go together, but totally do at the same time.

Another highlight was the accidental discovery of Iced Green Apple Green tea. Here we basically have green cordial on ice yet made with either green or red tea. Think the potent sweetness of cordial on ice, with the distinctly tart undercurrent of tea – to me it’s just a completely winner combination. The Chinese love their milk and tea drinks and the drinks menu at HKBF is definitely full of options. There’s also free regular tea on offer to which the mostly inattentive waitresses will refill if you can catch their attention. There’s one thing about Chinese waitresses that’s always so consistent no matter where you go – they fluctuate from attentive to completely oblivious almost constantly.

If there’s one way to sum up HKBF it’s something that turned up in a local review. You’ll love long as you’re Asian and I couldn’t agree more. Unless you have some fond attachment to Asian culture such as myself, an Asian partner, or are in fact Asian, you’re not going to particularly enjoy HKBF. To me it’s like a brief time-out in another country. The fact that most local Australians would not go in there, or if they did, would completely turn their nose up at what’s on offer, is all the more reason for me to dine there.


Obamao visits China

November 17, 2009

US President, Barak Obama is set to visit China – much to the excitement of legions of adoring Chinese fans. Commencing his ‘tour’ in Shanghai, he’s then set to spend several days talking with government leaders in Beijing.

A China based CNN reported named Emily Chang was detained for several hours for possessing a t-shirt with a graphical representation of Obama appearing as everyones favourite dictator, Chairman Mao. China is rife with this kind of stuff, where it’s not uncommon to see t-shirts sporting comic style representations of people such as Saddam Hussein, Stalin and Osama Bin Laden. Regardless, Chinese officials were worried that such a t-shirt might offend the ever popular President – but much to his credit, I somehow doubt it.

Obama is reputedly amazingly popular with the Chinese youth, who are both passionate and patriotic for their country. Obama represents taking affirmative action and the promotion of peace, things that are important to the younger generations of Chinese. In my opinion, having Obama as a role-model is not a bad thing at all. It will be interesting to see how China changes as this current generation grows up and eventually takes power.

Australia gets set to launch bilingual schools

November 15, 2009

In what I believe is a fantastic initiative from the government, four schools in New South Wales have been set to launch a new bilingual program. Starting initially in kindergarten and grade one, with hopes to spread across all year levels, young students will be exposed to Mandarin Chinese at a very early age. It is believed that the earlier a child is exposed to another language, the greater chance they have of soaking it in and truly becoming bilingual.

The students will initially be taught Chinese for an hour and a half per day, and along with English, will also coincide with other subjects such as history and art. The project is estimated at costing around $2.25 million dollars, and in my opinion, is a great step forward.

Too few Australians are fluent in a second language. If you look at your average European, they can know anything from 2+ additional languages. I guess it’s the result of living on the other side of the planet from approximately everywhere else, but it really is no excuse. Australians are one of the most traveled cultures out there, and having access to a second language would be nothing short of beneficial.

I myself have been struggling to learn Mandarin. Grammatically it is a simple language with far fewer actual words and a vastly more simplistic structure, though the tonal nature and almost inverted* (*compared to English) sentence structure makes it incredibly hard to understand. I have a real desire and interest to become fluent in Mandarin, but whether that actually happens or not is yet to be seen – made all the more difficult that over here I feel silly using even basic Chinese in Chinese run restaurants for fear of looking stupid. At least in China it was used out of necessity – which makes me think that you truly do need to live in a country for a certain amount of time to really master its language.

While I studied French for over 3 years in school, I can barely remember any of it, and it was started in my later student years. I would have liked nothing more than to have been exposed to another language from such an early age that the whole process didn’t feel so difficult to initiate as it now does. Though a French friend of a friend we were recently speaking to at a party got me thinking when he said that anyone has the capacity to learn another language, they just need to commit themselves – himself being a speaker of a good handful of languages themselves.

I often look at Chinese toddlers as they prattle away in Mandarin and think, hell, if that little kid can speak it, how can I not learn at least that much?!

And in completely unrelated news, Microsoft wields the Xbox banhammer.

November 12, 2009

In other news, I may or may not be affected by Microsoft’s recent ban fest which has resulted in upwards of 600,000 consoles in the US and Canada alone. In fact the bannings for modified consoles have been reported worldwide, with *cough* Australian’s also affected.

Microsoft claims that all bannings were justified and banned consoles were proven to have breached the EULA. Offering no reasoning as to the specifics (thus preventing those with modded consoles from working out a way around the issue), the number of banned consoles could even be as high as 1,000,000. Considering there’s some 20 million xbox consoles out there, that’s approximately 3 percent of the Xbox Live online community.

It makes me wonder whether this is legitimately an effort to prevent piracy, or encourage re-purchasing of new xbox consoles, driving up sales. One also wonders if competitors such as the PS3 will suddenly see a surge in online sales.

While console piracy is nothing new, it amuses me to think back to the sale of consoles and games in China, where practically 100% of them were modified. I am not aware of an Xbox live type service in China, and doubt one would ever make it there, as well – the Chinese just plain and simple wouldnt pay for such a service.

We now return you to your regular viewing…

Not for all the smog in China

November 12, 2009

If there’s one thing China is well known for these days, it’s smog. As a direct result of almost inconcievable progress, the entire country is constantly submerged beneath a blanket of foul chemical mist. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a place in the country devoid of it, with even neighbours such as Japan complaining about being affected by it.

Whilst in China, I had the pleasure of exploring quite a few different parts of what is an absolutely massive country, though I don’t think we ever got away from the smog. There were certainly cities where it was better than others, such as Kunming in the south, and then the smaller, much higher places such as Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian(Shangri-la) – the latter of those being right up in the mountains. Yet even in the mountainouse Zhongdian, I still always wondered if that beautiful mist was in fact mist, or smog.

The following link is eye-opening. To look at the level of black matter on the face mask shown after a mere four hours outdoors in Beijing….well just imagine that stuff lining your lungs. Whilst we were living in Wuxi, Courtney had an almost constant cough, and both of us had sore throats on a very regular basis.

China is a beautiful country, full of amazing culture and super friendly people. Its pollution however, is beyond bad, and I can only seeing it get much much worse before it begins to improve.

Those going there be warned – you are potentially risking your health breathing this stuff in. I used to think – heh, I quit smoking over five years ago, and now while I am here, my lungs are probably worse off than then. And to think, China has more smokers than anywhere else in the world. Double whammy anyone?

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