Thursday, January 31, 2013

Get Out of China!!!

We are in Malaysia for our winter holiday.  At present, I can’t think of a nicer place on the planet to be.
We began our journey the usual way, the bus to Hong Kong.  It picks up its first passengers down by the waterfront about a 25 minute walk from our place.  It had rained most of the night, a rather Oregon like 55 degree, steady downpour, but stopped about an hour before we left the apartment.
I was glad.  The weather prior to the previous day had given us a   long spell of pleasant days, with daytime temperatures reaching the mid seventies.  One of the reasons I wanted to go to the tropics was to escape dismal winter weather.  Our previous couple of winters qualified well within those parameters, often with fog and winds from the northwest that made mock of the term “sub tropic”.  Leaving a balmy spring like clime to go swelter in the steamy jungle did not completely sit well with me.
Anyway, we left home around 7:30 am on a Sunday, which is a very pleasant time to be out, since most folks are still at home sleeping or breathing second hand smoke.  We did not even need to walk all the way, since an early taxi came by.  Was this to be a good omen?
The bus trip was uneventful, with a surprisingly small number of passengers on board.  I thought with the Chinese New Year would have resulted in a packed bus, but apparently massive exodus of people returning home to be with their families does not include Hong Kong residents working in Zhanjiang.
We stayed at a different hotel than usual, since our favorite hotel was engaged in some serious holiday price gouging.  The place we stayed in provided a slightly smaller room with a smaller bathroom for half the price of our other hotel.   Some Hong Kong accommodations have a different layout, with rooms scattered about a building on different floors, interspersed among offices and such.  This is one of those kinds of places.  No lobby, just an office up on the 15th floor.  To get to our room, you unlocked a door, and walked down a down a short hallway with 3 other rooms attached.  There were several of these pods scattered about, I think.
In Hong Kong space is at a premium, and there are many such places calling themselves hotels.  They are in a sense, I guess.  Sort of like a family is still a family even though its members are living all over the country.
The next morning we went to the travel agent to book our return bus tickets to Zhanjiang, and were told that there were no buses running the two days after our return flight to Hong Kong due to the fact that the buses would be busy hauling people back to Hong Kong.  Apparently the exodus for the holiday is more away from Hong Kong to stay with family, rather than to Hong Kong.  The only people going to Hong Kong must be tourists, which is why there is hotel price gouging.
I reserved two more nights at the cheapo “hotel”, and figured that our holiday would just have to involve some Hong Kong tourism.
We caught the bus to the airport and got to experience the joys of checking in at a budget airline.  The budget airline check in counters are in another terminal.  So we had a pleasant stroll through the massive Hong Kong airport to the boondocks check in counters.  We were greeted with two long lines going to two check in clerks.  Good thing we arrived two hours early.
I have never flown out of China or Hong Kong without having at least one large group or family ahead of us in line who have absolutely no clue as to what they are doing.  The have mass quantities of luggage, often what appears to be their entire household possessions, and there are always irregularities in their paperwork, either tickets or passports.  It takes what seems like 15 or 20 minutes to get them squared away, and you wonder if the flight may leave with most of its passengers still waiting for their boarding passes.  We had at least 2 groups of these types of travelers in front of the two lines.  Eventually they got sorted out, then things moved along OK.  We found out that our departure gate was in the main terminal, so we got to hike back, wondering if we would make it through departure customs and security.  Security didn’t take long at all since this is Hong Kong and they have an ample number of security stations and don’t require you to remove your shoes and keep invasive searches to a minimum.  Customs was quick and we hiked to one of the farthest departure gates.  We arrived just in time to queue up for boarding. 
Waiting for takeoff.  Smoggy day at the airport.
Our budget airline was Jetstar, and wasn’t too bad.  We had paid extra for our meal and drinks when we booked our flight, and it was OK airplane food.  The Airbus didn’t malfunction and we arrived in Singapore more or less on time.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Benign Neglect and Population Control

China’s One Child policy was first implemented in 1979 in order to slow down its booming population growth. An excellent summary of the law can be found here.  In spite of many hardships and human rights issues that have resulted in enforcing this law, it has succeeded in slowing the growth of the population here.
This is an overpopulated country.  I don’t think anyone who has been here can make a convincing argument that this place needs more people.  Besides taking an active effort in controlling the birthrate, I sometimes wonder if the government here also takes a somewhat passive role in  reducing the population, by allowing reckless and dangerous behaviors in its populace and institutions that cause more deaths than you might find in other countries.  
Here are some examples that come from China’s indifference regarding safety and its Laissez-faire attitude toward business.

Traffic Accidents

Lots of people are killed in China each year in traffic accidents.  Most drivers are rank rookies with little training or practice, and their numbers are increasing every day.  Seatbelts, child car seats, and motorcycle helmets are seldom used.  Traffic laws are scoffed at and rarely enforced.  The result is vehicular carnage on a scale that only the Chinese are capable of.
It is believed that police under report the number of traffic deaths each year.  In 2007, for instance, police logged 81,649 deaths, compared to 221,135 listed on death certificates, according to a recent study.  Five years later we have more incompetent new drivers and more carnage. 
 Keep buying those cars and motorcycles, folks, and pay no attention to those red and green lights.  Those are just suggestions.


Air pollution was linked to at least 8,572 premature deaths across four major cities in 2012, according to a study by Peking University and Greenpeace published Dec. 18.
Something to keep in mind is that there are 640 major cities in China and air pollution exists in nearly all these places.  Can we assume that over 5 million people die prematurely from toxic air?
The pollution comes from everything from factories and vehicles to citizens burning garbage.
If the government was to make a real effort to clean the air, it would have a negative effect on this highly successful population reduction agent

Bad Water

Half of China’s population (nearly 700 million people) consumes drinking water contaminated with animal and human waste that exceeds the applicable maximum permissible levels, and while there has been an overall decline in mortality from infectious diseases, diarrheal diseases and viral hepatitis, both associated with fecal pollution of water, they are the leading infectious diseases in China.

As with any issue in China, the numbers on tobacco, cigarettes and smoking are daunting: More than a trillion cigarettes produced by the state tobacco monopoly; more than 300 million smokers, 740 million second-hand smokers, and, by 2020, some two million annual deaths related to smoking.
As many as 60% of men smoke, although only 3% of women say that they do.  One of the negative aspects of the One Child Law is the practice of selectively aborting female fetuses due to the preference of a male offspring.  Having most of the men and few of the women smoking is a positive move in helping to balance this gender inequity.
The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration both runs and regulates China National Tobacco Corp., the world’s biggest cigarette maker with a market share about the size of Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) and British American Tobacco Plc (BATS) combined. Tobacco tax generated 96 billion dollars in revenue in 2011.
There is not a lot of incentive for the government to trample on the rights of people who choose to smoke themselves to death. 

Work safety

Work-related accidents killed 75,500 people in China last year.  That’s over 200 workers a day.  Some “Workers’ Paradise”.

Bribery and cronyism results in corners being cut in construction, resulting in shoddy buildings and infrastructure. For example:
Six bridges have collapsed since July 2011.

This building fell over.

And thousands of crappy buildings, including schools collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake resulting in the deaths of thousands of people.

There are many other unsafe situations here, some of them due to carelessness of individuals, and some of it because evil people are making a quick buck by skirting safety practices.  There is lead in paint, Melamine in milk products, and excessive chemicals in food.
Libertarian Americans and others who believe that the government has no business trying to regulate what happens in peoples’ lives would love the way this government doesn’t regulate.
I doubt that these issues that cause the premature deaths of millions of Chinese every year are a deliberate effort by the government to thin the population down a bit, but it seems to be working anyway.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Construction Boom Noises

Click the pix for larger picture.

Our city, like much of China, is experiencing a construction boom.  Buildings, mostly apartments, are going up by the dozens all over the city.  I have been able to experience first hand a modest sized construction project right outside my back balcony.  My balcony is accessed from my bedroom, which when we first moved in, provided a peaceful place where I could enjoy some peaceful minutes in the morning, listening to the birds sing in the trees around the seldom used navy condos next door. 
Last spring I awoke one morning at 6 am, not to my alarm, but to the alarming sound of some kind of slow, rhythmic pounding.  I discovered the two story buildings that formed a kind of barrier to the street were being demolished. A tin wall cordoned off the project, and the buildings that housed cheap office furniture shops, and a two woman hair salon came down, rather quickly I thought.
We left for the summer, and the contractor apparently did too, because when we returned, nothing had happened.  However, the project began anew within a couple of days of our return.  During the fall and into this winter a nine story building has been erected.  It’s your basic concrete, rebar and brick structure that is the mainstay of all Chinese cities.  It proceeded at about a story a week. First, there was lots of pounding and sawing as forms were put together.  Then external scaffolding and netting to keep anything from falling too far from outside the building and beaning someone not involved in the construction.  Two elderly construction elevators were erected as the building slowly rose to 9 stories.  These ancient lifts rattle, squeak, and make a marvelous grinding noise whenever they are in operation.  
This is a noisy project.  There is pounding and machinery.  What is especially endearing is the fact that they often work around the clock.  Sometimes it’s just a couple of guys, but they use the lifts and tend to move a lot of material during what would normally be a time for sleeping.
The finish work has been going on now for about 6 weeks.  The netting obscures the work being done, but I’m sure that fine finish work is happening. Wiring, plumbing, windows, doors, and mass quantities of tile are being installed which requires constant use of the ancient lift.  Either that, or someone just enjoys riding in it.
At 6 am the work day begins.  The lift squeaks and grinds into motion.  Then someone begins the fine finish work of pounding on a large, hollow steel object with a sledge hammer. Grinders grind, tile saws cut, and the day begins.  Work is finished sometime around 10 pm.  Unlike the rest of Guangdong province, there is no 3 to 4 hour lunch with a nap. It’s one hour and back to work.  Taking a nap these days is a challenge.
This project should end sometime in the next couple of months, I think. I hope.  I pray.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Teaching English in Guangdong province has challenges that are unique to China.  Most of the people here speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin as their first language.  This is a very tonal language that lacks consonants at the end of its words.  As a result, most of the people who speak English here fail to add the consonants to the end of their English words.  They just aren't used to closing their mouths at the end of a word.  Time becomes "tine".  Sometime is "suntine"  Have is "haa". Handsome is "hanson".  Stop is "stah".  I am is aiyah.  You get the idea.
Too many of the English teachers have this speech impediment and they in turn pass it on to their students.  Our head Chinese English teacher has this trait, and the lessons she imparts to our students are rife with these errors.  She has taught the kids a song that uses the melody of the "Happy Wanderer".  I don't know the lyrics, but when the kids sing it, it goes something like this:

I ha a buh uh noh nuh ah.
Puh ma na dah uh wah.
Aaa hey no wah,
Ah hi oh dee,
I luh ih oh ah nee.
la la la
la la la
la la la
la la la ha ha ha ha ha
la la la
la la la
I luh ih oh ah nee!!

In my opinion, it's the single biggest pronunciation problem in this province.  There are people who are fairly fluent in vocabulary and grammar, but are nigh impossible to understand when they open their mouths.  It's not quite English, it's more of a Guanglish.  I've gotten good at understanding it, and can speak it pretty well, although I don't have a lot of need to, since these same folks understand my speech just fine.

I Love my Neighbor

Matthew 22:39 ...And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Last summer, while we were in the US, a new neighbor moved in upstairs.  Although I have never seen this neighbor, I hear her.  In fact I hear her loud and clear.  The reason I can hear her loud and clear is that she is always yelling.  I never hear anyone yelling back, so I can only assume that she is either yelling on the phone, or at her kid.  The kid's room is right above mine, so I enjoy some wonderful one way Chinese drama filtered through concrete.
There does not seem to be a man around.  If there is, he is silent while she hollers.  I imagine that Dad has long since skedaddled.  I don't think any phone conversation with him lasts too long.  It's too easy to hang up when the yelling starts
The kid is pretty silent.  He/she is pretty much cowed.  
I love this neighbor, and I've named her Xiao Ting, which is pronounced shouting, and which means little listen. It may not be a grammatically correct use of the two words, but she does not appear to use her two ears nearly as much as she does her one mouth.