Archive for the ‘Rapid Development’ Category
Busy days of post-graduate studies, travel, work and some expert husbanding of pregnant wife have meant there has been no time recently for any Notes From Xi’an. However, with our first child only weeks away my thoughts have turned to two very real concerns that are worth a quick reference: 1. Our child’s little lungs and 2. That it (we still don’t know if it is to be a boy or a girl) could very well soon be speaking better Chinese than me – which is seriously uncool! I never thought my competitive spirit – which has been eternally lacking in relation to my Chinese language studies – would be activated vis-a-vis my own child.
I have decided to tackle my still unborn child head-on. This means no more security blankets of teachers and textbooks, learning this language is now going to be mine to direct and conquer. I have, though, turned to Olle’s excellent “Essential Articles” over at ‘Hacking Chinese‘ to give my solo studies a bit of a boost and some perspective. His great articles have helped me find a sense of proportion between reality and ambition – plus a few sensible study tips to keep me going through the next phase of learning this ****** language. See the screenshot link below.
Secondly, while a few colleagues and I were measuring the daily air pollution levels on the way to work last week (we used the excellent ‘CN Air Quality‘ iphone app), Beijing’s pollution levels were kicking up an even greater storm. There is no need to go over the figures again here; suffice it to say that the maximum danger levels for both particulate matter 2.5 and 10 were comprehensively exceeded. To the right is a screenshot of a great infographic from Greenpeace (click through to the original) that looks at particulate matter and air pollution, and includes a few protective measures- thanks to Hamza for sending me the link. There is also this page from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which looks in more detail at the ranking bands that make up the air quality index. At the bottom of that page are clear band descriptors for each pollutant within the index, they include Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Ozone, Particles < 2.5µm (PM2.5) and Particles < 10µm (PM10). The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has this comprehensive and informative page on particulate matter that is may be worth checking out.
I am sure I will have plenty more to say on this at some point, especially as my ID studies have now turned to look at Urban Development and Poverty. “Poverty of what?” would be the question that springs to my mind. It seems we can almost pick our poverty these days. There is the traditional kind measured by assets, livelihoods, illness and debt, and there is the “got TV, got the internet, got a smart phone, got a shopping mall across the road, got a bowl of hot noodles in the microwave but can’t breath, can’t cross the road and can’t ride a bike for fear of fast cars and pollution” kind of poverty. And let’s not even think about poverty of time, education, culture, information, choice, rights, trust, security and community. To be continued, I am sure.
My favourite stat. from my studies so far: it took about 10, 000 years for there to be 1 Billion people on the planet (8000BC to 1960 AD) and only another 25 years to get to 2 Billion (1985), 26 years after that (at the end of 2011) the world population dashed passed 7 Billion.
10,000 years to get to 1 Billion, only 51 more years to reach 7 Billion!!
Oh, baby!! (in more ways than one)
Anyone not initiated into the ways of pollution in China, check out this slider by Michael Zhao over at The Atlantic!!! There is also this Note I added at the end of 2011, entitled Xi’an, The Xi’anese, And The Need On Days Like These To Hang Onto Our Joie De Vivre. Good luck out there!
This is just a brief Note that includes an extended extract from an article that I just read in The UK Guardian. The article was published in the wake of the recent disappearance, in Britain, of 5 year-old April Jones. Up until the time of writing April’s body had not been recovered, though a man has already been charged with her murder. The article resonated with me not only for the fact it relates to such a tragic story, nor simply because I am just a few months away from becoming a father myself, but particularly for the way the author, David Wilson (a professor of criminology), talked about “childhood”. He referred to childhood’s intrinsic value – where children play for playing’s sake – but also to its instrumental value in terms of child protection. David’s comments made me think about how, for so many Chinese children, this childhood space is restricted by heavy workloads and constant pressure.
David talks about how parental and societal pressures, like those so common here in China, inhibit young people’s ability “to determine for themselves how they would like that [childhood] space to be filled’. This prevents an environment from developing where children feel free enough and confident enough to be able to voice their views and concerns- which is instrumental in terms of children’s protection (not to mention the process of development into adulthood).
With this in mind, it is quite disconcerting to contemplate the number of times I have heard young people here in China refer to how their hobbies, their school and university subjects, their actual choice of university and their jobs have been chosen by their parents. As well as the frequency with which I have listened to more explicit, first-hand accounts of people’s childhoods being affected by physical and emotional abuse. The lack of space for self-determination in China and the effect this can have on a person’s ability to develop a sense of self-worth, and the confidence to speak out about their cares and concerns, is – given its relevance to child protection, let alone the process of simply growing-up – concerning.
During my time in China, I have been fortunate to have spent a good amount of time around young Chinese kids. And I can safely say that they are a joy to be around, exuding such a wonderful spirit of innocence and fun- even when faced with so much work and pressure. But, it is sadly true that we do not always see in the classroom and playground what is under the surface, especially as these children get older. This is particularly worrying in China when early warning signs, if visible, are quite often not picked up on.
Mark Kitto wrote a challenging piece in Prospect Magazine recently that highlighted a few realities about life in China today. Not least was the issue bound up in the title of his article: “You’ll Never Be Chinese”.
Now, Mark, as he explains, was never trying to don the cap and gown, or learn to spit in places that really should never be spat in. What he did want to do, however, was build and live a life in China with his family, and live it “normally”. This seemed to mean to him a life where wealth and status, and the “Great China” narrative didn’t infect all forms of social interaction, all business opportunities, and all educational institutions. It also meant a life lived with the laws of the land applying equally to all, no matter their background.
Mark’s discussion does not, though, simply orientate around his own personal experiences but attempts to outline a few worries he has about Chinese society generally. His views are particularly noteworthy given that his love affair with China – nearly 25 years in the making – has, in his own words, now died. You can read his article to get a much clearer and more nuanced sense of his experiences and where he is coming from.
I will briefly note a couple of my own thoughts on Mark’s basic premise: that one will never be Chinese.
First, it seems to me that the sooner one acknowledges to oneself this reality the better. No matter how long we foreigners stay in China, we will always be perceived – by a majority – as coming from outside and treated as a visitor. If we can assimilate this fact it into an “it is what it is” worldview, then we should be able to go on with a “normal” life, quite happily. In this way, we will be more equipped to bear the ubiquitous reminders of the fact that we are “not from around here” without high levels of surprise or frustration, disappointment or anger.
I remember quite early on in my time in Xi’an becoming very conscious of having this feeling: that no matter how long I lived here, how much I did here, or how well I spoke Chinese, I would always be the alien, the “not from around here” guy, even if I felt happily at home. And, that feeling hasn’t changed. It may turn out that one day I have a more subtle appreciation of ancient Chinese philosophy than some, use chopsticks with the dexterity and precision that many can only dream of, and I may even be able to speak Putonghua better than a fair few; but it won’t matter. I will always be to many the “where do you come from, how long have you lived here, wow, you can use kuaizi” guy, who can be easily disparaged with a quick laowai quip.
This is just a re-post of a Note I wrote in 2010 – now, more as a note-to-self than anything else. It relates to global eco-economic concerns and remedies, issues that I have begun dwelling on a bit more again recently. Especially after reading a couple of George Monbiot’s recent articles in The Guardian. But also, in no small degree, due to the fact my mind is beginning to turn towards October, when I start an MSc in International Development. Here, are a couple of links to the two Monbiot pieces: After Rio, We Know. Governments Have Given Up On The Planet / We Were Wrong About Peak Oil. There’s Enough To Fry Us All
While writing the piece below, I was particularly interested in the potential relationship – that Jonathan Watts highlights – between a Daoist perspective and the reattaching of the economy and the environment. As Watts notes: “Clearly Western values haven’t stopped the west from screwing up the environment. So its worth looking to China’s philosophical and cultural roots.”
*I will also add a quick link to a Sinica Podcast, where the panel discuss the China environment site: China Dialogue. Jeremy Goldkorn, of Danwei, is joined in the studio by Isabel Hilton, the founder of China Dialogue, and Jonathan Watts himself.
I am presently on a Notes From Xi’an sabbatical, although, it is an unplanned one and I have no idea how long it is going to last. Over the last couple of months, I have found myself enjoying a pretty-much Internet free lifestyle, this, coupled with a recent lack of desire on my part to comment on life – whether one here or elsewhere – offers the reasons why there is a distinct lack of new Notes finding their way here. The few that are already up will hopefully still be of some use to some (see the archive section). If nothing else, I will in due course write the piece on Chen Guangcheng that I promised below. In the meantime, and with the help of my old mate Chris, I will just add a few pictures to help keep us on the straight and narrow. They are taken from Chris’s “Rebuilding A Nation” set.
Here also is a link to Danwei‘s “Model Workers 2012“, a useful list of “websites, blogs and online sources of information about China”. A pretty comprehensive list, even if it does suffer from one glaring omission. * Coincidently, Danwei has also just included a selection of Chris’s images.
And I’ll just add a quick “God Bless” for good measure.
This is going to be one of those more personal Notes From Xi’an, as during the May holiday I was back in my wife’s village for a few days and, over and above it being our first year wedding anniversary, it was a particularly pleasant and significant trip. When we were back at Ling’s home just before Spring Festival it became very clear to me that Ling’s parents, having supported both her and her younger brother through college and university, had not benefited from the “luxury” of having a child working out in one of the Southern cities sending money home: a reality for many female siblings coming from the countryside. Not to mention the actual money her parents would have saved if they hadn’t put Ling (the daughter) through University.
What was clear was that the re-development of the Chinese village – which has gone on in the last 5-10 years and which has meant the turning of small and simple family homes into gleaming white-tiled, two-storey rural homesteads – had passed Ling’s parents by. As we were leaving last time, I turned to look back at the village nestled in amongst the fields and recognized just how conspicuous the recent changes visible in other parts of the village were by their absence in Ling’s home. It did seem like it was time to get the family around the kitchen table and to discuss what the next move might be.
When we came back over the ridge to the village this time, Ling initially could not even locate her childhood home. A second floor had been built, a new roof with new beams and new tiles was in place, there were newly tiled exterior walls and interior floors, as well as gleaming new windows running the length of the upper rooms, and – for the first time – an inside bathroom and toilet. I even got to help drill out the concrete in the front yard that would allow pipes to be laid, which in turn would supply running water to the house for the first time. We were all there gathered together in the kitchen when the first stream of water came through. Happy days, indeed.
When it comes to traveling, and when you have traveled a reasonable amount, there is something to be said for first impressions of places. They are often the ones that stay with you and they do, quite often, get right to it in terms of getting a true sense of somewhere. So, with that excuse for making sweeping generalizations about Chongqing out the way, I will get on with offering my own take on the city.
The first thing that struck me when arriving in Chongqing was how it reminded me of Kolkata in Northern India, a city I passed through on my way to China. I had reached Kolkata by train before taking a rusted ferry across the murky waters of the Hooghly River; I still remember, as we edged across the silty current, beginning to make out the buildings on the opposite bank through the fog. I also recall the air and the vista full of the distress and poverty that Kolkata has become famous for around the world. Here, in Chongqing, we got off a train, got into a taxi and traversed the Jialing River by road bridge, the same kind of murky river waters below us and the incomprehensible growth of tower blocks rising before us. They climbed from the river’s edge all the way up the sub-tropical hillsides that make up this Chongqing basin, and spread along the river as far as we could see.
I had heard about aspects of Chongqing before coming here and it was immediately apparent that those pre-conceived ideas were not far from the mark. Chongqing is an epic city, an atmospheric metropolis, with hints of South-East Asian islands poking out from in between the realities of any other Chinese mega city. But, here it is on a scale that actually feels exciting. It suddenly seemed so suited to Bo Xilai’s governing style that had become so famous in these parts. It was the perfect setting – with Chongqing’s sub-tropical humidity and poisonous pollution hanging in the air – for the subsequent scandal involving him, his wife, his chief of police and an English businessman. It suddenly felt like: “Only in Chongqing.”
It was not, however, just the polluted urban riverscape that took my mind so clearly back to the streets of Kolkata; it was also the luan-ness and the very obvious everyman nature of Chongqing. Luan in Chinese means something close to chaotic and disordered, carrying with it a sense of indiscriminateness and arbitrariness, and that is how this city can feel. Chongqing is a fantastical concoction of 30 (+)-storey buildings standing on once-lush green plots of land that are only just wide enough for a building’s foundations. Hundreds of apartment buildings, offices and hotels rise at every level around you; the footings of one building planted beside the 10th floor of another, the roof of one shabby apartment block just a short jump, if you are that way inclined, from the entrance to another. In between all this construction are steep ancient stairways and ramshackle street-level, tarpaulin-draped hutted communities, which weave old and new lives together. While, bound up in all this – and in the humidity-ridden, rain-soaked and river-induced moldy dampness that grows upon all the walls and street – is the other noticeable aspect of Chongqing that reminded me of Kolkata, and that is the poverty.
We passed through Chóngqìng for a few days last week on the way to a friend’s wedding in Fúlíng, and enjoyed the experience. When I get some time I will finish a Note I started writing while we were there, as Chóngqìng is quite a city and worth spending a bit of time dwelling on. I will also add a separate Note with photographs that I took of the Dàzú Rock Carvings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site hidden in the hills west of Chóngqìng, as it is a spot I am very glad we ended up making it out to (specifically Mount Baoding and the work by monk Zhao Zhifeng). First, however, I will include a few pictures that I took one unexpectedly beautiful evening (Chóngqìng style) from up on the Huáng Huá Yuán Bridge: looking first west along the Jīalíng River, and then east towards Cháotiānmén – the point where the Jīalíng River meets the Yángzǐ River (Cháng Jiāng). With all that I have heard about Chóngqìng (heat, humidity, migration, pollution etc) I can’t believe evenings like this come around too often, but whether they do or not I certainly felt lucky to be up on the bridge that night watching a pretty special sunset over a quite incredible city.
I wrote a Note in December that pointed the way towards the some time concoction of slightly more random Notes. This is one such time. Picture wise, I will begin with Jinghao Lu’s Blogspot site, China – Africa Relations In My Eyes: Perspective From A Chinese (don’t forget blogspot sites still need a proxy or vpn in China). Jing has translated an article that was first published by NetEase (网易) in 2011, and which included an interesting set of Chinese in Africa centred images. The article, along with Jing’s own contributions, discusses the situation for Chinese workers in Africa today. It also looks at the impact of this wave of immigration on the African communities themselves; particularly, the effect on employment opportunities and the local people’s feelings towards their new neighbours.
The second image incorporates a link to a classic short video from Wimp.com. It comes unambiguously titled: ‘China, China‘. It is a short film that amusingly symbolizes the ubiquity of China in our lives today. It is worth a couple of minutes watching time. It certainly brought a smile to my face. There is also a link here to the You Tube version of the video, c/o Ryan Mclaughlin over at The Hao Hao Report, as the wimp.com one can load quite slowly.
The third image, of a Tibetan nun, comes from Sascha Matuszak’s thought evoking piece: ‘Tibet: A World Apart’, over at Roger Presents. It is a longish piece – so be prepared – but worth the read. Sascha offers a thoughtful and somewhat prescient conclusion. That is certainly not to say, however, – as Sascha well knows – that such foresight, realism, hope, or whatever it is, will actually come to pass. A couple of points that were made in the comments section stimulated some interesting discussion and offered further food for thought.
Christmas is coming and the geese and turkey that have gotten fat are sadly feeling a little apprehensive, while I am just feeling a bit ambivalent about this yuletide time of year. But, while preparations for this festive season have been passing me by there have been a few other things to keep an eye on.
The EU has entered into a period of disintegration or rejuvenation – depending on whom you are talking to – leaving debt issues still unresolved and the whole continent on the verge of collapse or at the point of renewal. In the US, the Occupy Wall Street movement managed to highlight that only 1% of the population owns half of all financial assets and investments. At the same time the movement’s actions shone a light on the growing number of worker collectives being established in America. In China, the townsfolk of Wukan have taken a significant step by cooperating to oppose the land grabs and private developments being pursued on their lands.
The town-wide cooperation in Wukan was fuelled by the fact a member of the community mysteriously died while in custody. At the point of writing the town was free of all government officials, while there was a military blockade to stop anything going in or coming out of the town. Only time will tell how this particular situation will be resolved, but these are issues that go deeper than what form of political organization or monetary system we have. Whether we look at these land rights confrontations in China; disgust about Wall Street bonuses in the US; or concerns about runaway debts in mainland Europe, there is an underlying constant. And that is that our governments are, on the one hand, unable to guarantee what many of us have gotten used to, and on the other, unable to guarantee what many have been looking forward to getting used to, and that is economic stability and opportunity based on a system of profit and growth.