Archive for March, 2010

Stern Hu cops ten years in a Chinese prison.

March 30, 2010

In what has been a long and drawn out process, the verdict has been finally delivered to Stern Hu; the Australian Rio Tinto executive who was accused by the Chinese Government of accepting bribes and stealing state secrets. For his efforts; whether they were true or not, Mr Hu has been awarded ten years in a Shanghai prison in which I am sure is to be ten years of unabated enjoyment. His fellow Rio Tinto employees likewise scored sentences ranging from seven to fourteen years.

Stern Hu admitted to accepting bribes, though it is unclear to this particular reader whether or not he actually confessed to stealing state secrets. This whole ordeal has been critisised for its secrecy and it makes you wonder whether simply admitting to anything was outright better than potentially nastier punishments. In particular, it raises the question of whether or not it is in fact safe to work in China as a high level foreign businessman as it seems that foreign Governments can do little to weigh in, when Beijing has made up its mind on a particular matter.

One thing is for sure in that China is gaining momentum in the power stakes, as more and more countries such as Australia seem reluctant to want to tilt the boat when it comes to potentially risking their precious trading agreements. So what then if you become accused of something you didnt do, and your Government cant protect you? I for one consider that a scary thought.

Fingers and toes, fingers and toes.

March 24, 2010

A six year old Chinese boy from the town of Shenyang in North Eastern China is about to undergo surgery to remove a few unwanted body parts. The poor kid was born with sixteen toes and fifteen fingers (aiyee that’s thirty one in total!), which I have no doubt makes wrangling chopsticks an interesting, nightly adventure. Doctors are confident they can remove all the extra digits, though some are not completely formed, such as a finger which is protruding from the side of his hand.

On the bright side, he’s now the world record holder for most fingers and toes, previously held by a pair of Indian boys who had twelve fingers and thirteen toes respectively.

While I am sure having octopus style grappling ability would be fun for a while, the novelty would have to eventually wear off. I am curious to know if any of these three kids happen to live in the proximity of a factory – you know, the kind that secretly pump their pollution into the surrounding country-side and happen to cover the face of both countries.

The Shinjuku Incident

March 22, 2010

Recently I came to the conclusion that in order to enhance my Mandarin learning, I need to mix in a few other elements, such as regularly watching Chinese movies where Mandarin is the spoken language and listening to Chinese music. There are a ton of Chinese movies out there, but it seems that a lot of the better ones come out of Hong Kong – so are in Cantonese; which is effectively useless to me. While Cantonese has some similarity with Mandarin, it’s basically a completely different language altogether.

 I dropped down to the local Box Hill Xinhua bookshop and picked up a copy of a movie I had been wanting to see called The Shinjuku Incident (新宿事件). Starring Jackie Chan in a role quite removed from his normal action packed (and often comedic) acrobattery(tm).

In this role, Jackie plays either a tractor repairer or salesman named Steelhead, from a small snowy village in what I have to assume is Northern China. I am not actually sure why he was called Steelhead, or why he was a tractor ‘person’ as it really has no relevance in the movie. What we do learn early however, is that Jackie is courting a young girl by the name of Xiu Xiu who has for some reason gone to Japan to find an Auntie of hers.

Steelhead boards a ship full of illegal immigrants and heads for Japan, but the ship is wrecked and he’s forced to hoof it towards Shinjuku where he somehow finds his Chinese friend, Jie. Taking whatever work is available; from sorting rubbish in landfill to cleaning sewers, Steelhead slowly begins to get involved in all forms of petty crime that the Chinese immigrants are involved in – gradually making a name for himself; and a small wad of cash.

And that’s about as much as I am going to say about the plot as it only gets infinitely more confusing from this point. To cut a long story short – and yes the movie went on a little too long for my liking – he discovers that Xiu Xiu has married one of the local Yakuza bosses – who happens to also be conveniently charming and a loving family man, and after one thing leads to another and another and another and his friend Jie is conveniently beat up twice – the second time with somewhat nasty results – let’s just say the earlier charm of the movie is somewhat lost in what becomes just an excuse to have a big climactic battle.

I have to say, the plot was definitely fairly weak, but it was an entertaining movie. There were a few things that stood out to me about The Shinjuku Incident.

1. The relationships between the Chinese and the Japanese was something I had not really seen before in a modern film. The Japanese looked down on them, often referring to them as Chinese Pigs – whilst the Chinese basically had to endure it, dropping comments such as, “If he had the balls to come to Mainland China, I’d chop him up” etc etc. The Chinese and Japanese have a colourful history together with much cultural animosity. In this movie, I wondered whether this was born from this history, or just a general dislike of ‘migrants’ in general – which is a common theme no matter which country you’re in.

2. Beyond anime, it occurred to me that I don’t think i have really seen many films set in modern Japan…period. Beyond Lost in Translation, I really cant think of any. I really enjoyed the extremely different environment to say Hong Kong – which is a prominent part of many Asian movies. Sure there’s many glowing streets and neon’s, yet while they are similar, they are so extremely different at the same time.

3. The combination of Mandarin and Japanese was fantastic. Often various Japanese characters would speak a little Mandarin (their roles meant they knew a little), and I enjoyed the various discussions which constantly crossed back and forth between the different languages. As a language learner, it’s immensely satisfying to recognise various words as they are being said. While learning a language is immensely difficult, it can also be immensely satisfying.

4. The Yakuza element was also interesting enough to have me wanting to do a little further reading on them though while they started off quite  – I don’t know, mysterious or unique in their own way – by the end of the movie they were just your standard ‘mob of bad guys’. Perhaps that is all the Yakuza are, a mob of bad guys, but who knows – early on into the movie I was seeing a very Samurai’esque clan thing going on.

So there we have it. I would recommend The Shinjuku Incident to anyone with an interest in Asian cinema. The plot was somewhat weak and left various characters ‘endings’ completely unexplained. While full of overly convenient plot devices and running just a tad too long, it still was interesting for nothing other than that awesome randomness that seems to occur only in Asian movies – where you literally have no idea where it is going to end up.

Tigers going bye bye.

March 18, 2010

In the North Eastern Chinese city of Shenyang, a zoo has recently been closed due to ongoing financial problems which contributed to the deaths of thirteen endangered Siberian tigers. Two of these guys were shot last year after mauling a keeper (who survived) while a further eleven died only recently from malnutrition and neglect.

It has since been determined that the tigers may have in fact been harvested for their body parts and turned into’ tiger bone liquor,’ with large vats of the stuff supposedly coming from the zoo over the years. It’s no secret that many animals are used to create various Chinese medicines – a practice that has been going on for thousands of years. With liquors and tonics and extracts used to cure hundreds of different ailments, or increase things such as vitality, Chinese medicine is a famous part of Chinese culture. The only problem here is many of these medicines are created from the often rare or endangered animals; such as tigers.

There are supposedly as few as sixty wild tigers in China (and it surprises me that there are even that many), and it’s likely their days are numbered, with their names likely already on the list of some profiteering hunter.

It comes as no surprise that tiger related products will be in big demand this year – it of course being the Year of the Tiger.

I’m not going to call this the horny old woman story…

March 16, 2010

…but of course I couldn’t resist.

This mornings feel good story is about Zhang Ruifang of Henan province, who over the course of the last year has developed a six centimetre long horn, protruding from her forehead. Initially her family was not concerned by the smal protrusion, but it just kept growing and growing. Now there appears to be a second horn developing on the other side because I guess, when you look at it, you cant just have one horn now can you? 🙂

It has not yet been officially diagnosed, though a newspaper has labeled it as a cutaneous horn, which is effectively made of keratin; the type of protein that is found in fingernails. Supposedly, these cutaneous horns can be brought on from excessive exposure to sunlight and there is no cure other than to surgically remove them. Though even removing them does not guarantee they will not just grow back.

For the rest of us, I guess we can just be thankful we dont (yet) have them also!

If i hadn't seen multiple photos, I'd have said it was photoshopped...

China invaded by English

March 16, 2010

“The invasion of English words into the Chinese language must be stopped,” Huang Youyi, China’s most senior translator has claimed.
“If we do not pay attention and we do not take measures to stop Chinese mingling with English, Chinese will no longer be a pure language.”

I find this really interesting because it is largely true. China is steamrolling its way into the western world and English is playing an integral part of that journey. Not only has massive emphasis been placed upon learning our beloved (heh) language, but with so many foreign influences flooding into the country, what then happens to the culture?

For years, China has been tearing down heritage and replacing it with high rises. History has been largely forgotten in favour of progress, and more and more traditions are being pushed aside. The Chinese youth are becoming savvy to the activities of their western counterparts, with heavier emphasis on things such as independence and freedom becoming core underlying behaviours.

So what happens in the next fifty years when today’s younger generations; those who have been learning English from a very young age, become the ruling middle generation as such? Just how different will China become?

”’Some of our people think that using foreign words is a sign of being open-minded and international. ‘I do not think so. Instead, we should have confidence in our own language. You cannot expect others to respect you unless you respect yourself.”

Again, I agree with this statement – if China loses itself while trying to be the next United States, where then is their self-worth?

Of course, anyone who has been to China will understand it’s not actually as bad as it seems, and while the skyline is most definitely dominated by cranes and construction, it is still most definitely China. Scattered around the flashy new department stores, and sitting beneath the raised highways, the locals are still precisely that; local.

And while today’s youth might be swapping messages on mobile QQ, wearing Nikes and slurping down a Starbucks Mocca frappucino, in many ways, they are still largely innocent to the outside world.

So will this English invasion change China? Will Mandarin; the world’s most spoken language, be changed forever? Time will tell.

We will link you

March 10, 2010

China is reputedly in negotiations with 17 different countries to build a high speed rail network. In what is expected to take ten years, China would suddenly be linked to places such as India and Europe by a system of trains that could travel up to 320 km/hour. Passengers would be able to jump on board a train in England and arrive in Beijing two days later! Now that is cool – and likely preferable to the extreme discomfort of flying. Sure, flying might shave off some hours, but does anyone other than first class actually feel comfortable in those cramped seats?

We travelled around China in sleeper trains that went nowhere near that speed and while I still found it almost impossible to sleep on them; as they noisily rattled their way across the countryside, give me a pillow and an actual bed any-day to an airline seat. And another thing – whilst we didnt sleep on one, we used these faster trains extensively and despite their extra speed, to ride in one is absolutely smooth as silk. I would bet that sleeping in one would be that much easier.

 Here’s hoping the next step is to build some massive underwater train connection to Australia, as I sure as hell would like to re-include Shanghai on my regular visitation list again.

Just your friendly neighbourhood laowai.

March 9, 2010

It’s always amusing when you are referred to as a foreigner in your own country – let alone in your own town. If there is one thing any observant westerner will notice when travelling in China is the term ‘laowai’ being used in reference to…well you. ‘Laowai’ means foreigner, or more specifically, ‘foreign friend.’ It can be both positive and negative depending on the context where in one situation it might be used just to simply point out that there is a white skinned, big nosed foreigner right there beside us who has no idea (supposedly) that he’s being called a foreigner. Then there are those who would use it to refer to us in a negative, stereotypical light – usually from the older generations who have been indoctrinated to think that way.

No matter the reason, practically all Chinese assume that we whities cannot understand what they are saying. I suppose that is justified considering most of us cant, but even with a small amount of Chinese language study, you will (or should) come across this term – particularly if travelling in China. And if you didn’t know the term and will be soon travelling around China – enjoy – you will hear it a lot.

The other thing we heard almost as much as ‘laowai’ was being referred to as ‘mei guo ren’ – or Americans. To the Chinese, if you’re white, you’re probably American – but that’s a different story.

 So the other day I was with Courtney, eating in a local restaurant we have discovered recently called Secret Noodle, where along come three middle-aged Chinese men and plonk themselves down on the table opposite us. The first of these immediately peels off his shirt, sitting there in his white singlet because it was quite warm – in what was a very typical Chinese thing to do. In China, you cant walk more than fifty metres without either spotting a man in a singlet, or better yet – a singlet rolled up to reveal a big round belly.

So they sit down, start passing around the menus, and I hear not once, but twice, them referring to us as ‘laowai’s’…except this is not China, this is Box Hill, Victoria, Australia – and I happen to be Australian! This is not the first time I have been called a ‘laowai’ in Box Hill, and to be honest, it cracks me up. If you know anything about Box Hill, it’s that there is a huge Chinese population living there; so much so that when you wander around town, you are clearly in the minority. If you squint, you could actually be in China – and thankfully that carries over to the delicious food choices available there.

 While I suppose he could have been referring to the restaurant itself – as it is quite local and popular with the Chinese and potentially doesn’t see as many foreign – i mean, Australian, customers as some others – it could also be (and i suspect) that to the Chinese, no matter who or where you are, if you are not Chinese, you are automatically a foreigner.

China was not called the Middle Kingdom on a whim – the Chinese really believed they were the centre of the world. Is it true then, that a little of that mentality has carried through to even the current generations? It would seem so.

This just in: Fireworks can hurt you!

March 1, 2010

Ok you’ll need to be seated for this one…

In a village in Guangdong province, a fireworks related blast has killed 19 people and injured a further 50. That’s right, a fireworks related blast…I know, I know, it’s hard to comprehend. Right – I shouldn’t make fun of something like this – and in reality I’m not, but these stories continue to amaze me. Will these people never learn?

The ‘blast’ occurred outside a block of apartments, and judging by various images floating around, burned most of them. Some people were so badly burned that police had to do DNA tests to actually identify them. A farmer who lives 200 metres away said the force of the explosion actually put cracks through his walls and floor.

So that then raises the question, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY DOING!?! Did all the locals pool their fireworks stores together into one big pile then set them alight, in what would surely be the ultimate celebration? I wouldn’t be surprised…

You know the old saying…another day another firework related death. China will never change.

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