Something About Masks

A few days ago I needed a new pair of headphones. So I went to a mobile phone shop outside my compound. I had to wait while the proprietor went to his other shop to get what I wanted, leaving me alone with the shop lady and her son who was playing video games in the back. We struck up a conversation.

I learned she’s from Fujian and grew up speaking Minnan dialect and only learned Putonghua later in life. She’s afraid she doesn’t speak it well. Her son has a foreign teacher, also from America, but he doesn’t speak any Chinese. We bonded over both being outsiders in Shanghai.

The proprietor came back. As I paid and turned to leave, the woman called to me. I saw she was holding something. When I got a step closer I saw it was a face mask in a clear plastic baggie. She held it up carefully, encouraging me take it out. It was the last one in the baggie. “Take it, you can use it.”

At home I set it aside. I almost surely won’t use it unless I absolutely have to, but neither could I bring myself to toss it, not when so many people on are going without. Who would have thought that the world would come to a place where a simple face mask could be a gesture of friendship between strangers?

Continue reading

China’s Real Secret Weapon

A few weeks ago, a link went around to a Washington Post story with this alarming headline: “China’s Scary Lesson to the World: Censoring the Internet Works.” When I saw it I worried that someone had beaten me to the punch. I had been thinking of writing something along those lines. But then I read the story and was relieved knowing the Western media had gotten it wrong once again.

Continue reading

The End of City Weekend Beijing

Almost exactly one year ago we gathered here for the funeral for SmartBeijing. I certainly didn’t think only a year later it would be City Weekend’s turn. But that’s exactly what’s implied by this post which went around Monday. I started working for City Weekend Beijing in July 2006 and ran the entire editorial operation until October 2014 so this hits close to home. But this isn’t about rehashing the good times – you can go here for a bit of that – rather about trying to figure out what – if any – business model there is for expat media in China.

Continue reading

Tianjin Explosions in an Alternate Universe

August 12, a Wednesday, the nighttime quiet of Tianjin’s Binhai Special Economic Zone was shredded by a series of explosions. It quickly became a tragedy of national proportions. A lot of firefighters died, possibly because they themselves caused the blasts  using water to put out a fire. The South China Morning Post published this excellent article detailing China’s firefighting infrastructure in which the lowest level–the level most likely to be first response–is almost completely untrained and untested. We are two weeks out and now it’s just about the dead fish, right? Maybe not.

Continue reading

Something I Am Pissed Off About

I don’t get pissed off much by hypocrisy anymore, not nearly as much as I did when I was in high school. Having lived through two decades since then filled with plenty of it in work and life and love, I’ve come to see putting up with hypocrisy as a price you pay for being left in some semblance of peace. But sometimes I see stuff so egregious I get pissed off and want to write about it. That’s what happened a few couple weeks ago.

Continue reading

Coat Check China

A story went around last week about Swedish teenager Noak Jonsson, a student at the Western Academy of Beijing, and his saga with Chinese law after getting into a fight one night in Wudaokou. The Wall Street Journal related how he was put in jail for a month and then was run around for another 11 months by the Chinese legal system unable to leave China while waiting to see whether he would end up on trial. In the meantime his family moved back to Sweden and he lost his place in university and his life was in thrown into limbo. Spoiler: he got out in November 2014, he’s back in Sweden now and all is well.

The piece plays up the terrifying arbitrariness of the Chinese legal system. It dramatizes the ordeal this kid faced against a faceless bureaucracy. It tries to suggest that Noak’s fate could have gone the other way. A lot of people bellyached in the comments section about why the WSJ covered this story–a rich white kid–and none of the ones you vaguely hear about involving Africans. But what’s interesting to me is not that–it’s the coat check which kicked everything off. Let me explain.

Continue reading

Ed O’Bannon, Academic Publishing and Bad China Days

Anyone remember Ed O’Bannon? I do. Partially because he led the UCLA Bruins basketball team to a national championship in 1995, but more because of the video game College Hoops, where O’Bannon could throw down a thunderous left-handed tomahawk jam. You’d run him around a pick, dish him the ball, slash him into the lane, and O’Bannon would rise above and throw it down. I’d scream at my roommate: boo-ya! It worked almost every time in that clonky, cartridge-game kind of way.

Continue reading

Dennis Rodman and Asian Diplomacy

I was always partial to Dennis Rodman, ever since the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons days when he was known as The Worm and led the league in rebounding, technical fouls and weirdness. In his career, he won 5 NBA championships. He made it into the Hall of Fame. And then he dissolved into pop culture haze until last year when he surfaced in North Korea doing something that desperately needs to doing: de-regulating diplomacy.

Continue reading

Four Posts (I Did Not Write)

There are numerous articles I had intended to write during the last 10 months of radio silence which never got written. Here are just a few:

A Countryside Drama

Down in Moganshan, a place I have visited regularly for the last 4 years, a controversy has erupted centering around land-use rights, or I guess more accurately water use rights. One villager in Houwu–which is at the foot of the mountain and is a place where there is lots of tourism activity of late–has erected a fence around a small reservoir which is a favorite swimming spot. He has put up a sign advertising rental of mats and coolers. The only thing is, these rentals don’t seem to be optional. Nor does he seem to own the reservoir. He has also placed his elderly mother as sentinel at the gate cut in this fence and she is a hideous shrew. It has thrown into relief the challenges of local development. Who will be the haves and who will be the have-not-as-much?

Continue reading