November 25, 2009
Today is the first anniversary of our arrival in Beijing. It's amazing how quickly this year has gone. I'm already feeling a bit panicked about how little time there is left in our planned three year tour-of-duty here. As you've seen in this blog, we've had amazing adventures, learned a lot, and eaten much good food.
I don't know if we'll ever feel truly at home in such a different and really foreign place where we can't read the signs and are visibly not local, but we definitely know our way around and have a quite comfortable life. Most important, we've made good friends here and the boys are thriving at their amazing international school. (Oh, my job is great too...)
In some ways we've come full circle. I'm sitting in a hotel room tonight because we're in the middle of a move back to the same downtown apartment complex we stayed in temporarily when we first arrived in China last year. While our house and life in the suburbs had benefits (e.g. close to school), it was just too far away and inconvenient. A lot of the places we like are close to this new apartment, and the very good subway system is easily accessible. The kids even like the longer bus ride to school since they can mess around with their friends on the ride.
Anyway, while I miss Seattle a lot, I'm super glad virtually every day that we made this move. It's been a great adventure so far, and I'm sure the next year will be even better as we get to know this amazing place and people even more.
November 18, 2009
Here's a mail from the US Embassy to the Americans living in China about President Obama's visit. I think it's pretty cool that our government is doing so much to share the content of the visit and is reaching out to the American community in China. I only wish I received an invite for a beer with the President.
From: Labarge, Sandra A (Beijing) [mailto:LabargeSA@state.gov]
Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 12:39 PM
Subject: Shanghai Town Hall
Greetings from Embassy Beijing,
The White House has a travel blog dedicated to the President’s trip through Asia. You can follow the President’s trip, including live streaming of the town hall meeting with Chinese youth in Shanghai, on the blog. Please feel free to share this information with your friends and contacts. Below is an excerpt from the blog giving details of today’s Shanghai event:
Posted by Katie Stanton on November 15, 2009 at 06:29 AM EST
Ed. Note: Keep up with the President on our page dedicated to his trip through Asia.
Tomorrow, November 16, President Obama will have a town hall meeting with Chinese youth in Shanghai, China. Holding the event in Shanghai is symbolic as the Shanghai Communique was announced here and helped pave the way for normalization and the first 30 years of formal diplomatic relations.
At the meeting, the President will interact with young Chinese and discuss the relationship between our two countries in the years ahead. Attendees of the event will come from several Universities in the Shanghai area. During this event, the President will take questions from the live audience, as well as from the online Chinese community. The online community in China has been submitting questions on a variety of websites includingXinhuanet, Sohu and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing’s website.
The Town Hall will be livestreamed on Whitehouse.gov/live. You can also join us on the official White House page on Facebook or the Embassy's website to view and participate in a live discussion during the event.
The event is planned to start Monday at 12:45pm local time in Shanghai which means late Sunday night in Washington, DC at 11:45pm EST.
This blog post has been translated into Chinese:
November 17, 2009
President Obama is visiting China this week. It's a good opportunity for me as a news junkie to compare and contrast how the US and Chinese press cover the same story.
When the President arrived in Shanghai, he had a town hall meeting with students from Fudan University and Tongji University. The article from the China Daily emphasized Obama's support and curiosity about China.
"The main purpose of my trip is to deepen my understanding of China and its vision of the future..."
"We do not seek to impose any form of government on any other nation..."
"The rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations..."
The article in the New York Times covering the same meeting focused on the brief discussion about internet censorship in China and how Twitter is blocked.
"I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time...because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear."
The China Daily merely said "[Obama] noting access to information and political participation are universal rights" about the presumably same topic.
The Times also had two paragraphs about how the Q&A session was not broadcast live across China and how it was being carried by the White House website live. They also noted how the students were members of the Communist Youth League.
Interestingly, I don't think either story was unbiased or told a complete story. As expected, the China Daily had a very pro-China, on-message story; however the Times writer was clearly trying to emphasize the control the Chinese government has vs. just reporting on the meeting.
I guess as in all things in life, you need to get your information from multiple sources, note the point-of-view of the source, and then make your own judgments.
A little over ten years ago, I worked on Microsoft Bookshelf, an CD-ROM reference product that had a dictionary, thesaurus, book of quotations, concise encyclopedia, chronology, atlas, and almanac. (Later on we added other stuff like an internet directory and ZIP code directory.)
One of the fun projects each year was to select the new words to add to the dictionary; at the time, it was stuff like assault rifle and ebola. Unfortunately, we stopped making that product after Internet pretty much made in unnecessary. (It was still a cool product -- the first CD-ROM title from Microsoft.)
However, dictionaries still need add new words each year to reflect changes in the language. This year, the people at the New Oxford American Dictionary announced that unfriend was the word of 2009.
unfriend: To remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook.
Other terms they're adding to the dictionary next year include netbook, hashtag, death panel, funemployed, tramp stamp, and teabagger. There were also a slew of new Obama related terms such as Obamanomics.
I think the new words are a very interesting view of our times.
For more, check out the Oxford University Press blog post.
November 14, 2009
When I first encountered the amazing art photos of Liu Bolin (刘勃麟) hanging at a resort outside of Beijing, I did a double-take, not sure what I was seeing. I spent quite a bit of time studying the pictures and marveling at the attention Mr. Liu paid to getting the details right. (I especially like the first photo below.)
See more of his amazing art on his site: http://www.liubolinart.com/
Here's a video of how he makes these cool shots.
November 10, 2009
We had about six inches of fluffy snow last night in Beijing. Unlike Seattle, Beijing didn't shut down, although the commute was definitely slower this morning. Beijing definitely looks nicer under a cover of white.
November 8, 2009
China is an amazing place in so many ways. One concept I'm especially fascinated with is shanzhai products. Translated directly, this means "mountain village" products, but they're really knockoffs of famous brands. There are shanzhai cars (ones that look like BMW X5s, etc.), shanzhai restaurants (Starbucks or McDonalds copies, etc.) and so on. There are even shanzhai celebrity performances where celebrity imitators will come perform for people who can't afford the real person. People have started using the term to refer to community generated content too (e.g. fan-videos, etc.)
This is a bit different that outright counterfeits (like crap liquor poured into Hennessy cognac bottles); these products don't claim to be the original. They are usually much less expensive but can be very good copies, with even more features than the original.
My favorite category of shanzhai products are the iPhone knockoffs. Products like the HiPhone (or CiPhone as shown here) physically look and feel great -- very close to the original. The software even looks like iPhone software (almost exactly, down to the Highway 280 icon on the maps, even though that has no meaning in China). The one I played with a year ago was just a titch thicker than a real iPhone, but unless you compared them side-by-side, you wouldn't have known it.
The software itself was much slower and clunkier than Apple's, once again reaffirming that the hard part is software. And, of course, it doesn't actually run Apple's OS, so the iPhone App Store apps don't run on it, negating much of the appeal of an iPhone.
Still, the prices are cheap (starting at around USD$70 on my friend's website, lightinthebox.com). What's more, these phones have unique features like dual SIM support, different colors (want a pink iPhone?), different form factors (I saw a HiPhone Nano -- even Apple hasn't shipped one), and even a HiPhone running Windows Mobile 6.1!
While I'm obviously disappointed there's so much copying of valuable IP here, I can't help but be impressed by how quickly and frankly well in some cases the companies here are making shanzhai products. I hope this energy will be applied to more creative endeavors someday.
More on Shanzhai:
November 6, 2009
Today we have pretty much the worst air quality possible; here's the view from my office window. The AQI scale only goes to 500; the average for the day is 500. (Bellevue, WA's AQI today is 10, by comparison.)
You can really visibly see the difference between the various scores:
Source: US Embassy AQI Twitter Feed.
November 5, 2009
* Prior Oyster Award Winner ** Multiple prior Oyster Awards
The past winners have been fantastic with oysters (which should be great this time of year), so run, don't walk, to try these out. (Or you can always drink whisky with oysters for an out-of-this-world experience.)
November 4, 2009
This is a little odd. Wonder if it's real?
November 1, 2009