Thursday, May 22, 2008

Of Torches and the Police State

Before I even arrived in China, I knew that the official rule was for foreigners to carry their papers at all times. But I chose instead to keep them safely at home, in fear that a crafty pickpocket would walk away with my passport instead of my wallet - a much worse outcome. Even so, not once was I asked for my passport, which makes it easy to forget that I'm living in the largest police state in history. That changed today.

I got up early to walk my girlfriend to the subway station, and as soon as we got outside, I knew something was up. There were four or five police, and as soon as they saw me, they started walking towards me. They asked to see my passport, and I said it was in my room. I was told, "According to Rule XX, foreigners are required to carry their passports at all times." I said fine and turned around to head back upstairs. I was annoyed, but I had the foresight to grab my residence permit as well.

When I got back outside, I started to head out of my complex, since they were busy with another white guy, but one of the cops spotted me and did the Asian upside down "come over here" wave. I went over, showed them my passport, and they asked where my paper was showing that I had registered with the police department. I showed them my residence permit, they read it, and said, "We are going to copy some information." I asked them why, since my residence permit indicates that address. They conveniently ignored me while one of them said something about me in Chinese that I didn't understand. Then they thanked me for my cooperation, and let me go on my way.

I'm told by coworkers that this extra "security" is probably because of the upcoming torch relay in Shanghai tomorrow and Saturday. But regardless, now I understand how it feels to be racially profiled, and it sucks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Earthquakes and Nationalism Disasters

The earthquake in Sichuan region was truly tragic. Tens of thousands died, tens of thousands are will probably never be recovered, and what the news doesn't report is that the worst-hit areas were already extremely impoverished. The cities stood up comparatively well, but the cheap, poorly built structures (especially the schools) in the surrounding areas completely flattened. 

But perhaps the more sinister side of this 天灾 is its exploitation in the name of nationalism. Nearly every TV channel has been running 24-hour coverage of the earthquake, but you can't watch for more than a minute without seeing footage of the Prime Minister shouting nationalistic slogans or people holding hands singing Communist-era nationalistic songs. You never hear about the international aid. 

In fact, there are text messages and emails circulating around the Chinese community listing all the foreign companies that purportedly haven't donated any money to help the earthquake. They're the typical targets - Walmart, McDonald's, Louis Vuitton, Carrefour, and others. A quick Google search finds that with the exception of Louis Vuitton (who I couldn't find a donation for), the others joined quickly in the aid efforts. I hate McDonald's as much as the next American concerned about our country's health, but give credit where credit's due. 

You can argue that nationalism in America increased in a similar way after 9/11 (and irrational nationalism at that - Freedom Fries, anyone?), but here it's all so manufactured by the state that it can't help but leave a bad taste in your mouth. China has so much to offer, but accepting others help and then pretending it never happened isn't going to help anything.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Eating in China

Figured I'd write another quick post while my tests are building/running.

I've been trying to eat like the Chinese diet while I've been in China, and it's really remarkably different than what I'm used to. For one thing, I'm trying my best to avoid processed food. Lots of vegetables, lots of Chinese food. The main thing I've been trying though is to be vigilant of internal cues to stop eating instead of external cues. Internal being "I'm full", external being "the TV show just ended" or "my plate is empty". Combining internal cues with the Okinawan ”八分目” rule (eat till 80% full) means consciously stopping to eat before you're full, even if there's lots of food left. As a result, I've been hungrier, but at the same time don't need to eat as much to feel full. The other night I had half a sandwich for dinner (I know, not Chinese) and was fine. Anyway, I'm an engineer and I like to experiment, so it'll be interesting to see if keeping this up has any positive effects on my health. Surprisingly, I haven't really lost any weight.

Food economics in China

I bought food at a supermarket in China for the first time yesterday. Granted, I probably went to one of the most expensive supermarkets, at a Japanese department store near Jing An Temple, but it's really interesting to see food economics working essentially as they "should" for health. The lower down the food chain, the cheaper the food. For example, a whole bag of this reddish/green spinach-like vegetable cost 5 yuan (less than $1). But 6oz of beef cost about 50. "Organic" (the meaning of this word is questionable here) tomatoes cost about 12-15 yuan for three large tomatoes, which I'd consider pretty cheap, and "bottom-feeder" fish are cheaper than top-feeders like salmon, tuna, etc. Even outside the supermarket, you can see some of the effects. KFC is considered an upper-middle class luxury food, and one chicken sandwich there costs the same as a good meal for two or three people at a mid-range local Chinese restaurant.

Maybe this is why there are way fewer overweight people here compared to America.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Chinese Vista, a.k.a. Getting ripped off ain't so bad

I recently tried to add a wireless connection on a friend's Chinese laptop running Vista. I couldn't switch the interface language, so I decided to Google how to do it and attempt to follow the pictures. But for some reason, I just couldn't find the "Network and Sharing Center" that it was talking about. I found something that looked like XP's Control Panel, but couldn't understand enough of the Chinese to setup the connection. I had only used Vista for about 30 seconds total prior to then, and I found it awfully odd that it looked so much like XP, but with better icons. So like a good engineer, I rebooted. The first screen that came up was the Windows XP loading splash screen. Hmm, odd. Right after that, the Vista splash screen came up. It logged in, and the background and icons are Vista-fied.

Chinese "Vista" is XP with a Vista skin. Sometimes getting ripped off ain't so bad. =)