Archive for April, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 – worth the wait?

April 29, 2010

Judging by what I have just read over on Shanghai Scrap, no goddamned way!

I can’t say I am much of a fan of World Expo’s, but I do like the thought of travelling some place exotic to visit one. I remember years ago when I was a young teen, everyone used to talk excitedly about all the wonderous things that would be on display in the World Expo held in Brisbane Australia. I recall things such as indoor snow, a working chairlift through certain European pavillions, and even a completely man-made beach, were high on the ‘must see’ lists.

The Shanghai expo however-  it just doesn’t appeal. While some of the buildings look weird and wonderful, the photos of the ridiculously massive lines just make me feel dead on the inside. What’s worse, while these 100,000 (of the expected 600,000 at peak) people are patiently waiting..they’re getting rained on!

What can possibly be inside those pavillions to make that titanic wait worthwhile? If you ask me – nothing. I’d rather visit any particular country, rather than seeing a moving version of travel brochure which effectively tells nothing about the country itself.
I suppose for the Chinese – particularly those who have never been out of the country (and likely never will get out) it’s a huge event. But for the jaded foreigner who can not look past the queues….pass.

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The Qinghai earthquake tragedy

April 22, 2010

Earthquakes can be a terrible thing – and thankfully do not occur in my part of the world – at least not  of a large magnitude. Over the past few years there have been several monstrous natural disasters affecting various parts of the planet, though despite the tragedy of one particularly nasty tsunami, earthquakes have easily been the most prominent.

From the 2008 Sichuan earthquake which claimed thousands upon thousands of lives, to the 2010 Haiti disaster, the most recent earthquake tore apart the high altitude region of Qinghai in eastern China. While the death toll is expected to rise from the current 2064, a further 175 people are still missing, and 12,000 others remain injured.

The problem with earthquakes is not simply the deaths caused by the initial violent upheavals – where people are crushed beneath buildings – but the aftermath. As thousands of people are suddenly homeless; often with little food, water or shelter, diseases and chaos run rampant. Of the 12,000 reported injured, how many of them now will fall prey to the effects of insufficient relief efforts or environmental conditions.

 The Qinghai region is cold and mountainous. Mostly devoid of large earth-moving equipment which is crucial for clearing away the post-quake rubble. With narrow winding roads leading into it, it’s no small feat responding to a problem of this size in any acceptable timeframe. Already, it was reported that several trucks carrying much needed relief supplies had overturned as they tried to get into the area. Others are reluctant to enter the city themselves; fearful of being mobbed by the thousands of cold, hungry and injured people needing assistance.

China called a nationwide 3 minutes of silence, where sporting events were cancelled, karaoke bars closed down – even online games, sports and tv shows were cancelled, all in honour of the lost. A nationwide television charity show raised 2.175 billion ($350 million Australian approx) which is solely to help the surviving quake victims.

One can only hope that anything and everything is being done to return the lives of the affected to some degree of order, though I can’t imagine how long it will take to actually move on.

Suddenly Chinese.

April 21, 2010

A British woman has supposedly suffered a severe migraine which has resulted in her developing a sudden…Chinese accent. Completely losing her English – and very distinctive western drawl, she has somehow developed the very distinctive ‘twang’ which is very distinctively Chinese.

 “I spoke to my stepdaughter on the phone from hospital and she didn’t recognise who I was. She said I sounded Chinese. Since then, I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I’m a hoax caller.”

 

Doctors believe she may be affected by Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) which to me – sounds absolutely ridiculous, but thanks to good old Wiki – apparently this is a known problem. Reportedly (and completely unconfirmed) there have been cases of Americans suddenly speaking like English – and even a Croatian girl who suddenly lost the ability to speak Croatian. I wonder if I get Courtney to bang me over the head tonight, if I can wake up in the morning suddenly fluent in Chinese – sure, it would take away the challenge of getting there, but maybe it’ll open a few doors as well 

1 vs 500

April 21, 2010

While the western world was barraged by the media circus that was the fall of Tiger Woods; from squeaky clean golf pro, to the king of the extra-marital affair, the eastern world was enjoying (or repulsed) by the tale of Wang Cheng – the lowly communist party official whose rise to power was nothing if not unique.

 In the central province of Anhui, Mr Wang was a low ranking party official in a country town. Not happy with his lot in life, he decided to plot out a network of people which he could harvest; swapping favours for hefty wads of cash. Before long, his salary had grown from the original 1,600 Yuan monthly, into the regions of 100,000 Yuan per year. The low ranking country official was now a medium weight city party member, with a degree of power now at his beck and call.

 You see, Wang Cheng was a man with direction – though initially unbeknownst to his wife, this direction involved making as much money as possible through bribes….and his ultimate goal: sleeping with between 600 and 800 women… That’s right, not 2, or 5, or even 20, someway, somehow, his target market was 6-800, and one wonders, why if he was going to go to all that effort, why not try 1000?

So how exactly does a strapping businessman maintain such numerous, secret sexual conquests without his family actually finding out? Easy – he works later and later and later nights until such time as he’s rarely coming home – that’s not going to raise suspicion or anything is it?. Of course, he also writes it all down in a diary, where every gory detail of every scandalous female conquest is kept for the entire world to enjoy – particularly his wife.

 Unfortunately Wang Cheng has since been arrested and is expected to be jailed, as the Chinese government struggles to deal with rampant corruption in its ranks – particularly from within. While he fell well short of his original target, he did in fact manage to bed over 500 women – which is an achievement in itself.

So where does it end? While what this man has done is surely disgraceful and of course is not reflective of all Chinese citizens– who also then are these 500 women – willing to sleep with this turd of a man to advance their own careers? How does one stop corruption when seemingly most; if not all people, are willing to become involved in it themselves? Is this simply a direct result of an over-sized population, where lack of opportunity forces people to ‘think outside the square’?

While China is most definitely growing as a world power…outwardly…inwardly, I think they are nowhere near as close to claiming this responsbility as they would like. It’s one thing to be strong economically, but when your insides are torn apart by a lack of ethical value, you’re your own worst enemy. Corruption is a terrible thing. While a few people can really make a difference, if the many are corrupt, all that good work is for nothing.

In the name of Art

April 16, 2010

As part of the 5th Lianzhou International Photo Festival which opened last weekend in Lianzhou, Guangdong province, artist and TV presenter Ou Zhihang has toured the country, photographing himself performing naked, ‘Ou-style push-ups’ before various landmarks.

“I love my country, I also love my body. I contrast my tiny body with the ‘miracle of the world’ through the popular exercise – push-up.”

 

I have to admit, I am very fond of the often bizarre interpretations of art which come out of China, including the work of Liu Bolin, who paints his entire body to blend in to his surroundings – appearing almost transparent.

Beijing has an entire district named 798 dedicated to art, and is a must-see destination for anyone with even an inkling of interest in the creative world.

Outside the Potala Palace

The CCTV building - remember my article 'the towering inferno?' Note the burnt out husk on the left..that's it 🙂

The Forbidden City - I bet the guards would have been all over him like seagulls had they spotted him.

And of course no naked tour would be complete without visiting the Bird's Nest

China rocked by another earthquake.

April 15, 2010

Another earthquake has rocked western China, devastating the city of Yushu in Qinghai province. Situated on the Tibetan border, Yushu’s population of 80,000 consists mainly of Tibetan and Mongolian farmers. It was reported that something like 85 percent of the towns buildings have been destroyed, with rescuers forced to use nothing but their hands and muscles due to lack of heavy excavation equipment.

The death toll is sitting around the 590 mark with over 10,000 believed to be injured. Unfortunately both numbers are likely to rise exponentially, though it shouldn’t get anywhere near the disastrous death toll of the massive Sichuan earthquake several years prior.

The earthquake registered at 6.9 and will leave hundreds – if not thousands- stranded without shelter in the freezing cold conditions. The military have been dispatched to assist, but entry to and from the region has been made all the more difficult by road blockages.

There are two major factors that contribute to earthquake deaths in China. Firstly, with such large population density, any disaster of this nature is inevitably going to claim large numbers of lives. Considering how many people live in and around Chongqing, it was unsurprising to see just how many deaths occurred in that particular earthquake. With so many people living in one place, sadly it’s inevitable.

Secondly, the buildings are not remotely made to withstand such earthquakes. Many multi-story structures simply fold over like a deck of cards and already there have been reports of students trapped or crushed within their classrooms. I always think back to the classrooms I taught in; particularly on the fifth level, and how if an earthquake had hit Wuxi, the whole building would have simply fallen in on itself. With over fifty students per room, seventeen classrooms and a further two buildings containing exactly the same – you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand just how potentially bad that could be – and was, in Chongqing.

Student success!

April 14, 2010

A fourteen year old female student from Jiangsu province is set to walk into the Chinese history books as potentially the youngest ever person to be accepted into one of China’s top universities. Hong Xinge from Tian Yi Middle School was the youngest of ninety selected students from all over the country, to take part in a pilot program aimed at improving the countries notorious university entrance system. This story is of particular interest to me as Hong Xinge; or Cecilia as I knew her, was in fact one of my students – though as much as I would love to claim some hand in her success, I had nothing to do with it 🙂

The program is designed to allow star students such as Cecilia, to gain entry to the university via a well earned back-door. Particularly high achieving students may be nominated by a select group of school principles which will potentially allow them to skip the very difficult university entrance exams.

Cecilia was in ‘Class 1’, one of two classes full of the best performing students in her particular year level. She often sat at the front of class and throughout my English classes, hung on my every word. Early into my stay in China, she hand-wrote me a letter which one day before class, I found waiting for me on my teaching podium. I was instantly endeared to her. Since then, I have always kept an eye on the Tian Yi website and have noticed her showing up in photos from time to time – the winner of various competitions – from English ability to even some fruit platter decoration challenge run by the school.

Cecilia’s English ability was impressive and she would always ask me grammatical questions that had me; a supposed native speaker, running for the dictionary. I remember one day in class, when I was playing Hang-man on the board, I allowed her to host a round of it. She chose a word that to this day, I still have no idea what it means – nor can I remember it for that matter!

I was so happy;  and completely unsurprised, to come across this news story, and hope that even in some tiny way, I contributed to her success!

Sit, stand and smile…now roll-over?

April 8, 2010

The Air Hostess for Guangzhou Asian Games competition has kicked off in southern China with the aim of recruiting over 1000 new flight attendants. China Daily reports that it is the largest scale aviation industry recruitment drive ever seen in China, and supposedly attracted over 10,000 girls from all over the country.

Finding a quality job in China is no easy task – well unless you want a terribly low paid factory job which is actually in abundance right now. The younger generations; often coming from the new middle classes, are more interested in obtaining good quality jobs (hell, aren’t we all?) – the only problem is insane competition.

The airline industry has always had a degree of exoticness associated with it – I mean, whenever you see a band of pilots and hostesses checking in for their flight, they always look classy right? While it’s true, they always present well, I highly doubt that anyone in the western world is forced to go through some of the ridiculous routines that the Chinese deem appropriate in selecting ‘the right person.’

I remember seeing lots of this prior to the Beijing Olympics, where lines and lines of models were forced to smile for hours on end, standing perfectly still – the key word being perfect. It would seem in order to become a hostess, one must possess similar traits.

Smiling practice - employing the ancient pen in mouth technique for that perfect smile!

 

One must stand straight or one has no business being here!

 

Precision sitting - next up - Dinner tray juggling

Makin’ the people McHappy

April 1, 2010

McDonalds these days is almost as common in China as historic pagodas and pavilions. In fact, if you’re walking around the average city, you’ll likely see more of the iconic golden arches than those beautiful angled roof’s so synonymous with the great far eastern country.

The other thing you’ll note should you go inside these McDonalds (which you will, as they are a guaranteed toilet option for the unfamiliar) is that they are always flat out busy. Myself, I am not what I would call a fan of McDonalds, but I don’t mind the odd burger here and there. In China the busy restaurants became a convenient way to eat anything that was not Chinese. While I will happily eat my weight in dumplings, and enjoy a huge range of delicious Chinese food – when you are forced to eat nothing but – the hamburger and pizza options become vastly more attractive.

One thing that always amused me about the Chinese in McDonalds was that they didn’t seem too fond of actually eating hamburgers. More often they would be sitting there wolfing down fries and ice-cream; that’s right, ice-cream. The Chinese seem somewhat obsessed with the stuff – and unlike us western folk, often eat it before their main meal – or at the same time. I don’t know about you, but for me, ice-cream strictly comes after the whatever I am eating at any given time.

So that all being said – McDonalds is booming in China, seeing growth at a rate of 10 percent annually, as opposed to 2-3 percent in the USA. The Chinese love these foreign restaurants – perhaps more for the fact it’s a western icon than the actual food. McDonalds know it too – so much so that they are opening a Hamburger university in Shanghai – yeah you read it right, a Hamburger university…

Named Hamburger U, it’s actually the seventh of its kind in the world and surprisingly, will not teach you how to actually make hamburgers but aims to improve one’s business knowledge and know-how.  McDonalds aims to have more than 5,000 graduates over the next five years – likely to feed back into the massive country-wide food domination where some 1,100 restaurants alreadyemploy approximately 20,000 staff.

Ultimately, McDonalds is looking for ways to encourage staff to stay working for them longer – where all that investment in staff development begins to pay for itself. In Australia at least, a large number of people have worked in McDonalds in their teen years – and that’s about where it ends. I can’t personally think of anyone who worked there long term as an adult – and if they did, would they really admit it?

The Chinese are a different story – young, impressionable and somewhat enthusiastic. To them it is likely considered a good job simply because it is a foreign owned company – aka opportunity. Who knows, maybe in 10-20 years from now, they too will snub their noses at these bright new career directions trumpeted to them from that scary looking clown – who also happens to feature as a large new statue outside Hamburger U.


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