Cover image of 'Corruption in America'

Recent read; shop Amazon from this link (or the search widget below) and support this site.

Other fortboise logs
China 2003
Reading list
Monkey Cage
Monkey Cage
O'Reilly Ideas
Le Guin
World News from:
The Conversation
arab net
The Sydney Morning Herald
Axis of Logic
Baltic Times
Boise Guardian
Community Radio
Boise Weekly
Idaho Statesman
The Telegraph
The Guardian
Information Clearing House
People's Daily
China Daily
Al-Ahram Weekly
Der Spiegel
Hong Kong:
Asia Times online
The Times of India,
The Hindustan Times
The Jerusalem Post
The Daily Star
New Zealand:
New Zealand Herald
The Rocky Mountains:
HCN Goat
New West
Tunisia Live
Saudi Arabia:
Arab News
Sun Valley:
Idaho Mtn Express
The Moscow Times
RSS feed for this blog

Search: logo
Make my day via
My Amazon Wish List


29.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Whoop! Finished the trip journal, in the nick of time to avoid spilling over into December. There's still the video to edit, and more photos... But I rearranged the days' entries and put them in forward order on a standalone travelogue of our adventure in China, or you can continue at the last day's entry here in the blog. I'm going to thin out the trip entries in the blog in favor of the separate page, when I get to it...

Big pile of rain comin down today, snow above 4000' or so. It's about time the weather changed into fall. Keep thinking snow, we can use lots more.

NYT graphic, 'China Rising', showing Japan, China and S.Korea's exports over time

Statistical tidbits from NY Times stories: "China's exports have nearly quintupled in the last 10 years." Daniel Vasella, CEO of Novartis: "They've become the manufacturing center of the world. It's amazing. And I'm not sure if the United States and other countries will not end up regretting it."

DoCoMo and its customers reject more than 3/4ths of cellphone text messaging as spam. Viruses are next.

"(F)amilies typically buy a new (TV) set every three or four years... Americans are expected to buy 30 million televisions this year, at a rough average of $400 each." (Refrigeration, plumbing and television are the essential technologies in Chinese homes and apartments, too.)

Black Friday Permanent URL to this day's entry

I got sucked in by advertising, I wanted to go pick up a DVD player for $25. ($25!) We drove to R.C.Willey at the absurdly late hour of 9am, at which time the parking lot was overflowing, the store was overflowing and the checkout lines were threaded through multiple departments. #1, we didn't see any of those ultra-cheap players (they wouldn't bait and switch us, would they?!), and #2, I had a tennis date at 10, and I wasn't about to stand in line for 45 minutes or an hour or more. Shopping! On Black Friday! What the heck was I thinking?

The COBRA stuff from HP arrived, 2 weeks to the day after my termination. Good news on the life insurance front - a $50,000 bet on me checking out only costs $0.71 a month. I like those odds. The bad news was what it will cost to continue our big deductible medical plan, and we're shopping for alternatives.

Another incredible politico-military-marketing stunt by the Bush team, dropping POTUS into Baghdad for 2½ hours on Thanksgiving Day. You think the security for the friendly fire in London was tight! Holy cow. It makes for exciting television drama, rallying supporters at home as well as the troops in Iraq.

"He visited Iraq for the sake of the Americans, not the Iraqis. He didn't come to see how we are doing," Muzher Abd Hanush, 54, said in his Baghdad barbershop. "To come, say hello and leave -- what good does that do?" ( AP) The troops thought it was "an extremely admirable gesture," but I guess the Iraqis are interested in more than a gesture or "daring stunt." Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman said "we cannot consider Bush's arrival at Baghdad International Airport yesterday a visit to Iraq. He did not meet with ordinary Iraqis. Bush was only trying to boost the morale of his troops."

We can judge how meaningful the interaction with Iraqis was by W's own account: "I shook a lot of hands, saw a lot of kids, took a lot of pictures, served a lot of food and we moved on to see four members of the Governing Council -- the names are here. Talibani is the head of it right now, so he was the main spokesman. But Chalabi was there, as was Dr. Khuzaii, who had come to the Oval Office, I don't know if you all were in the pool that day, but she was there -- she was there with him, and one other fellow, and I had a good talk with them.

"We were there for about maybe a little less than 30 minutes. I was able to assure them that we were going to stay the course and get the job done, but I also reminded them what I said publicly, that it's up to them to seize the moment, to have a government that recognizes all rights, the rights of the majority and the rights of the minority, to speak to the aspirations and hopes of the Iraqi people. I assured them that I believe in the future of Iraq, because I believe in the capacity of the people to govern -- as I said, govern wisely and justly. I meant what I said. I told them that privately. I told them I back Jerry Bremer a hundred percent. He's got my full confidence. He was sitting right there, as well. We had a nice visit."

It reminds me of when we saw Gorbachev at Stanford in the spring of 1990, by contrast. Those were simpler times, but the soon-to-be-former leader of the soon-to-be-former Evil Empire passed through a huge crowd in the Quad, in the open air and sunlight, spoke to a full house at MemAud.

We can presume that Hillary Clinton wasn't in on the top-top-secret plan for the Bush layover, and the timing of her visit to Baghdad with Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed was a coincidence. The Bush team probably squelched her publicity with its timing, but the juxtaposition adds to the entertainment back home.

Driving in Iran is more dangerous than a Gulf War: one casualty every 40 minutes, on average.

Thanksgiving Permanent URL to this day's entry

The holiday competition seems to have become who can get their store open first on the day after, the start of the Christmas shopping melee. Radio Shack thought they were being clever starting at 7am, still dark up in the north country. Target and Wal-mart scooped 'em with a 6am start, and Shopko really, really wanted to be first by going for 5am. One of the things that caught my eye in their ad was DVD players for $30. Thirty bucks! Makes me think of the Chinese hawkers selling watches (battery included) for the retail price of a watch battery. How can you make a DVD player for $30?! Maybe you can't, and it's a loss leader. But leveraged, low-cost engineering, and cheap labor all through the manufacturing chain are how you get close. Made in China.

25.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jeanette discovered a little symantic problem when she went to cash in her coupons good for "$2 off any grocery purchase of $2 or more" at Albertsons. It seems produce isn't "groceries." Neither are dairy products other than milk. Bakery isn't. Meat isn't. Canned foods between aisles 11 and 14 are what they mean by "groceries." Who knew?

Not to be outdone by KB Toys' Elite Force Aviator action figure, there's a new Man of Action series featuring George. W. Bush. The Karl Rove control chip accessory is sold separately.

We don't see much of each other... well, heck, I'll be honest, we've never met, but I'm not the only one out the door at HP: Compaq's former CFO, Jeff Clarke is outta there, along with the other leader of the integration effort, Webb McKinney, head of HR Susan Bowick, senior VP Mary McDowell, HP director of business continuity services John A. Jackson (to IBM), storage div. VP Mark Sorenson (to EMC) and of course the man with the most golden parachute of all, former Compaq CEO and now head of MCI/Worldcom, Michael Capellas.

24.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cory Farley says he got it under the heading "Things you have to believe to be a Republican today" and it starts with "Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery." Funny diatribe.

Can't understand that technician on the other end of the line? Dell hears you, and is pulling out of India where accents are too thick and scripting is too tight. Dell's spokesman, Jon Weisblatt, said the work would be moved to call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee according to CNN.

22.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The House put in some serious overtime last night, staying up late into this morning to pass the Medicare bill. The roll call started at 3am, but when the count wasn't in the bill's favor, somehow it kept going for another three hours, long enough for Idaho's Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter to cave in to partison pressure. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi noted that the Republicans won "Florida style." The Senate will take it up quickly, the important bipartisan goal being... to finish work for the year by Thanksgiving. Nice work if you can get it, eh? Most working people have a few hours they have to put in between November 27th and January 2nd.

Maybe this is an historic improvement to Medicare, or maybe it's the nose of an elephant on the way into the tent to trash the place. We'll start to find out in 2006, when the new plan kicks in. (So what was the hurry to get this bill passed, again?)

18.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Deep in the heart of Texas, MTBE manufacturers desperately want to be shielded from product liability lawsuits for the groundwater pollution disaster in process, and House majority leader Tom DeLay is leading the charge to give them what they want. "Transition assistance" would be nice, too, to help them get out of a dead-end business, and they tell us the sooner, the better.

William Rivers Pitt weighs memoranda from Jay Rockefeller and Ed Gillespie in The Other Memo Scandal: "The nature of these dueling memos exposes several deadly problems that face this nation today. One problem is a White House that lied its populace into an unnecessary war, and used September 11 deliberately to make the American people afraid. Another problem is a partisan Congress, exemplified by Senator Roberts, which shields the Bush administration from being called to account for any of this. Another problem is a mainstream news media whose coverage of these issues is wildly skewed in favor of the GOP."

In a bit of free-lance speechwriting for Evan Bayh, Pitt provides what we'd like to hear from the Democrats, instead of hand-wringing apologies for pursuing the truth a little too directly: "We have pages and pages of statements by administration officials that have turned out to be wildly false. There is plenty of evidence that the American people have been lied to in a process that has gotten a lot of good people killed. Why is the White House hiding? Why is Senator Roberts whitewashing this investigation? We apologize for nothing, and demand that this inquiry be widened to any and all areas that can bring us answers to these important questions."

17.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Near the end of the line at Narita, on the way home

Long (two) day's journey home: put our bags out, checked out, breakfasted, bused to the airport ahead of Monday's rush hour, shared our last stories from and with our national guide, had our last group instructions and deadlines (everyone on time -- ahead of time, finally -- at the crucial moment), cleared immigration, health checks (half of us lying about coughs and colds), airport tax, security and triple check of boarding pass, off to Narita on a triple-7 overwater. Brief bad moments when Suzanne followed a blue flag off into the crowd at a different entrance to the Beijing airport, and when Gale discovered his passport missing when he walked off the plane at Narita. (After insisting that it could not be anywhere on the plane, someone did find it there.)

Our 3-hour layover in Japan was a pleasant visit to the foreign first world, their state-of-the-art "happy rooms" more deserving of the name than anything we found in China. Spotless (and kept that way by a young female attendant), a spritz of foamy soap for the temperature-adjustable auto-faucets, a hand-dryer that actually dried hands. United's home in Terminal 1 is greatly improved since the first time I visited in 1996, still growing and full of jolly shops with souvenirs, rice cakes, sweet bean paste, Poky chocolate pretzel sticks, electronics, high fashion, duty free!

...concluded in the China travelogue.

16.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bruce Fenwick on the steepest stair in the restored Badaling section of the Great Wall, Nov. 2003

Mongolia delivered one more sunny, crisp fall day for our visit to the mountains outside Beijing and the Great Wall. A cloissoné factory was conveniently on our way, and we stopped for a slightly more authentic factory tour than most, followed by -- you guessed it -- a serious shopping opportunity. (There's also a Disneyland[-esque?] amusement park under construction along the way... where work has stopped due to a lack of funds, apparently.)

They did have a large area marked "Self Service," amazingly enough, but of course the best items were guarded by an army of neat, young clerks, eagerly following the buyer's eyes. It was a big shop, though, and we wandered unmolested into the far reaches, then slipped up the back stairs (under the big GO UPSTAIRS sign) to the furniture department and got halfway through before we were spotted. Our salesman's English was good, and we used him shamelessly to learn more about the wide range of their huge inventory, while the real buyers in our group focused on the designated craft downstairs.

Then up into the impressive, close-by limestone mountains, we got to the Badaling section of the Wall before noon, had the "special shop" among the rows of similar stalls pointed out, got our group photo with certificate of heroism taken (with orders for later pickup) and then were turned loose for 2+ hours of free time. The Fenwick boys & I made a beeline for the "more difficult" section, powered through the incessant buzz of hawkers to enjoy the day, views and experience as fully as possible. The amazing Louise kept up with no problem, but stopped at a steep, icy stretch that required wall assistance to get up, and a bit of excitement coming back down. We walked to the end of the restored section on the left, appreciated the continuing view of the unrestored part (and a few hardy hawkers far beyond the main tourist run). After taking my time coming back down, I tried the first pitch of the right side, which was more populated (being merely "difficult") and warmer, with a more southerly exposure. The enjoyment of everyone there was contagious for me. I provided some entertainment by skipping through the crowd down the steeper ramps....

...continued in the China travelogue.

15.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tai Chi at the Temple of Heaven park

SUNSHINE and blue sky! Thank you Mongolia for sending some clear (brisk!) weather down for our last two days in China. I'd resigned myself to seeing nothing but dun smog skies up north, and this was an unexpected treat. Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven and we happily joined the throng of locals who were out for a morning in the park. Ballroom dancing (to a boombox), a drum and flag corps of middle-aged women, singing, Chinese tennis, paddle ball, dominos, cards, musicians, sidewalk calligraphy and people watching people. We did the emperor's buildings, all the admission-required snippets that the regulars don't need (but lots of Chinese visitors do), mostly enjoyed being outside in the sun with lots of our fellow humans.

After we stopped to listen to (and I videotaped) one group of singers, accompanied by a man with a flute, he started Frère Jacques, and we joined in English and French while they sang Chinese. Then Auld Lang Syne, in English and Chinese, and cheery round of applause for all of us, from all of us. What a nice country. A pair playing paddle ball (solid paddles about the size of squash racquets, with a lightweight crochet-covered ball, the apparent object being an artful game of "catch") offered to give us a try, and some of our party discovered it was harder than it looked, but enjoyed the trying.

...continued in the China travelogue.

My 9 week "job search" period ended yesterday, and I officially fell off the rolls of HP employees. I'm a free man. Since I've been leaning into this jobless thing for 9 weeks now, it doesn't feel a whole lot different. Just that little *ding* of the timer running out.

14.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our bus ride out of Xi'an had a little excitement, as traffic jam was piled on top of thick fog. The driver pulled a U-turn on the "farewell highway," then diverted around a huge oversized load behind us by driving on the sidewalk for a while. Zhang paused his narrative to call ahead for rerouting advice, and assured us that, improbably, it was sunny at the airport and we wouldn't be fogged in. That's why the airport is a ways out of town, as it happens, up and out of the foggy bottom of the Yellow River.

...continued in the China travelogue.

Molly Ivins examines the shock, shock, that rightward pundits have discovered at the "unprecendented" hatred expressed toward our current president. The closest thing we have to this surprising phenomenon is... well... what happened with our last president. Short-term memory problem? Perhaps that comes as part of the conversion experience.

"By now, quite a few people who aren't even liberal are starting to say, 'Wha the hey?' We got no Osama, we got no Saddam, we got no weapons of mass destruction, the road map to peace in the Middle East is blown to hell, we're stuck in this country for $87 billion just for one year and no one knows how long we'll be there. And still poor Mr. Krauthammer is hard-put to conceive how anyone could conclude that George W. Bush is a poor excuse for a President."

13.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Terra Cotta army in Xi'an

Our local guide in Xi'an was the best we had -- good English, great humor, flexible and competent. At one point, he enumerated the major religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism (not really a religion, more of a philosophy). There's a new religion, he tells us, that everyone believes in: tourism.

There were still the obligatory shopping opportunities, the jade "factory" (this time it was one guy on a bench grinder in the hallway to the showroom) in the morning and another art "museum" at the big goose pagoda. After a quick tour of 3 or 4 unheated exhibit rooms with a few artifacts and buidling models, we got the identical brief introduction to Chinese watercolors that we'd had at the Chongqing zoo. Our two best shoppers decided to walk away from a negotiation, leaving the salesgirl on the verge of tears; she got permission from the manager to run after us and accept the lower price, two more deals better than nothing.

We Americans learn this wheeling & dealing pretty quickly. There isn't much we need and we know there are many, many souvenir opportunities to come. Our willingness to walk away is not feigned. The prices are mostly absurdly cheap, but we'er not satisfied now unless we've worked the price way down. In the "free markets," Jeanette has figured that the right price is 1/10th the initial offer. The government stores don't have that much room, but 50% less than whatever's listed is probably the most you need to pay.

...continued in the China travelogue.

12.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An adult panda at the Chongqing zoo

Sign at the Chongqing zoo, on a recent sculpture painted in rainbow colors:


...continued in the China travelogue.

The supporters of Judge Roy Moore, applauding him after a nine member panel voted unanimously to remove him as Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court apparently believe that religion should trump the law and our judicial system. Consider how well that's worked in Afghanistan, say, or Iran. Oh, but wait -- Moore's is a different, better religion than in those places, right?

When a high school senior can write a better opinion against your position that you can defend it, you know you're in trouble. (In ex-Judge Moore's defense, J.C. does appear to be an above-average high school senior.) Alabama's Tennessee neighbors cheerfully offer a suggestion for the next step: disbar him.

11.11.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Propaganda Window at the entrance to Fengdu's temples

Veteran's Day back home, it passed without special ceremony over here in China. They have a different view of what we call WWII; it was the war of Japanese aggression from the Chinese perspective, starting in 1937. They do have a positive memory of the American role, though; the "Flying Tigers" came to their aid against the Japanese. While we were in China, the discovery of an old crash site made the news, and gave reason to recall the heroism of the American volunteers.

...continued in the China travelogue.

10.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Morning on the Yangtze at Shibaozhai, November 2003

We awake to our mooring at Shibaozhai, layer after layer of gray forming morning light. I was admiring the scene, thinking about black and white Chinese watercolor scenes and mentally framing a picture when a sampan motored across my view, carving a gentle vee in the smooth water of the big lake. Oh, how nice, but my camera's two decks down, in the cabin. After I fetched it, I realized that the cloud of diesel from the idling motor of the cruise boat parked in front of us was adding a brown cloud to the mix that was less than appealing. Trouble in paradise, what can I say?

Shibaozhai is the site of a Taoist temple built in the 1700s, perched on a squareish chunk of rock. One way up is a wooden pagoda leaning against the rock, comprising 9 floors, because it's good luck (or 11 or 12, if you actually count them). The other way up (or the way down if you follow the "A route") is not so dramatic, down the sloping backside, but still a fair number of stairs involved. When the lake reaches its final level, Shibaozhai will be an island, but with enhanced moorage and roadway connections planned to keep the tourist thing going.

...continued in the China travelogue.

Perhaps economic arguments will be more persuasive than human rights when it comes to prison reform: it's just getting too expensive to keep so many people locked up.

The US Supreme Court is going to consider whether prisoners at Guantánamo should have access to civilian courts to challenge their detention. Will they have the backbone to arrest the usurpation of Executive power? Their order hints that they'll consider the question of whether we're sovereign at Gitmo; the Administration says we aren't, because it serves their purpose, but also manages the armed forces, who make sure that we are.

9.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

There are actually four gorges in the Three Gorges of China's Yangtze river (Chang Jiang). Four's unlucky though (in Mandarin, it sounds like the word for "death"), so they call them Three Gorges....

...continued in the China travelogue.

Here's an awesome satellite photo, showing the stretch of the Yangtze that includes the two big dams, before the Three Gorges dam was closed, from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

The states aren't going to give up on the Clean Air Act, even though the Bush Administration is rolling over big time, retroactively dropping enforcement as it embarks on its Orwellian "Clear Skies" program. "Industry officials said new lawsuits would be counterproductive and delay air quality improvements." (Did they also say "just trust us"?) After seeing the profoundly polluted air in China this month, the positive legacy of the environmental movement in the US is worth a moment's acknowledgement. I'm guessing the global situation would be best served by anything we can do to help the Chinese solve their problem of reliance on high-sulfur coal and sub-standard infrastructure, and their inability to accept the need for economic dislocation to make improvements. The Chinese government is loathe to put anyone out of a job, even if unproductive workers provide no useful output. Easing up on our own demonstrably successful regulations seems like a terrible idea, but their very success is what prompts the idea; if the commons is too clean, there are costs to be avoided and money to be made by changing the rules.

8.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

3 of 9? fantastic animals sculpted in front of the Shanghai Museum

The morning of the 6th was our chance to visit the Shanghai museum, which lived up to the local guide's assessment of "world class." The less-than-2-hour allotment was tough for us, though - we typically spend at least twice that in a good museum when we travel. Traveling in a tour group is nothing if not about making compromises. Both Jeanette and I devoted ourselves to the 4th floor, galleries for "Chinese Minority" artifacts, jade, coins, furniture. Next time we can see the bronze stuff, sculpture, and ceramics. The portable audio players were a big addition to the experience, easy to understand and use, and providing enriching commentary for many of the exhibits, in clear English. (They don't seem to have forwarded any of that English to their museum website, unfortunately.) Travel China Guide has a helpful introduction and guide. Given the low lighting level, I didn't take any indoor stills, but have video to sort through. This outdoor shot is of some of the fantastic animal sculptures lined up out front.

...continued in the China travelogue.

7.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's really the 22d today, I'll just have to catch up three travel days in one now instead of only two. I spent most of the day going through my 200+ digital still photos from the trip, correcting gamma on the gloomy day shots, cropping, renaming, culling a few. Burned a CD with the originals I want to save, and then went through them all with an eye to what I'd show to friends on a Monday lunch date. I ended up with 194, which aren't going to fit into an hour, especially if I'm stumbling through captions auf Deutsch. (The Monday lunch is a "Plauderstunde," wherein we practice our German.)

It's fun to go through photos in detail, to recover information from the shadows of high-contrast scenes, and to make snapshots a little more interesting, but I'm not sure it's that much fun... I abandoned shooting on film more than 3 years ago, but I haven't forgotten its positive attributes. You shoot rolls of film, you turn them in, pay some money a day or two later and you have a big pile of beautiful prints, maybe two of each. You share them with friends and family, and then you put them away somewhere, and someday pull them out to enjoy again. It just doesn't occupy that much of your life, the way digital seems to be occupying mine.

On the China trip, I shot a frame with an old Canon A-1 (?) that our leader brought, and it was a pleasure to get real photons through the lens in the (comparatively) big viewfinder, quickly tweak it into focus and trip the shutter with a satisfying "clack." Our old Canon AE-1 has been shelved for a mechanical looseness in the winding mechanism, $100+ minimum to get started on the repair, is it worth it? For what I paid for either of the digital cameras I bought in the last 3 years, we could buy a way nice SLR, or repair the AE-1, or both. The instant gratification, the lack of chemicals and paper for culls (and web-only display), the ability to make good shots better with a digital editor, all those things are still attractive. But for a two-week vacation and a couple hundred snapshots, there's a lot to be said for shooting on film.

Since I'm taking a day off the travelogue, I may as well catch up on some of my timeless blogbits, too. The Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune reports on John Travolta's aviation lifestyle. The flying foamers are all wild about it.

Garrison Keillor, on this mess we've got ourselves into (written back in April, but still on the mark, 7 months later): "The conservative intellectuals who did the think-tank work on our new preemptive strategy have made a brilliant case for it, that reads well in the pages of political journals and sounds brave and good on the Sunday morning talk shows, and now a few tired old liberals must try to express the old conservative objections: the world is not an abstract construct and as much as you try to reassure the Muslim world that this is not a religious war, it is one if they think it is. Everyone knows that 9/11 was a religious attack, and the crusade in Iraq is our response to it. A religious war is the worst kind, a war impossible to win and very difficult to extricate ourselves from."

Comparing Office2003 to previous versions from an independent reviewer. New or improved features include:

Product implantation
"Each user will have a microscopic magnetic implant inserted into their skulls to prevent unauthorized copying of Office 2003 programs. Your company doesn't want to be liable for piracy. Trust us on this one."

Improved proprietary formats
Keep information private by making sure no other program from any other manufacturer can open your documents.

Better Obfuscated XML
New XML format for documents is even more confusing for greater pseudo-openness.

New advertising category: a send-up website for "SkyHigh Airlines," with subtle alternate links sprinkled in to send you off to Alaska Airlines' site. It's good for a few laughs even if you don't need help getting to Alaska Air.

6.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Supporting cast in a temple at the shrine of the Jade Buddha, Shanghai

Not so many of the religious sites and relics survived the advent of Communism in China, and the so-called Cultural Revolution. One whose centerpieces did survive is the temple of the Jade Buddhas in Shanghai, and it was heartening to see plenty of maintenance going on during our visit: stone work, plumbing, painting. Some of the big guardian statues, like the ones we'd seen in Japan, at Nikko National Park, were dusty and dim under roofs, but how could you keep it all clean, after all? The milky pale jade Buddha at the moment of enlightenment is clean, and cozy behind glass at a discreet distance from the nearest tourist. No photos! unlike most of what we saw in the country.

Our local guide had explained "big vehicle" and "small vehicle" Buddhism on the way over, the former with room for everybody and happy to proseltyze, the latter suited for the monastic, inner life of a dedicated few. The temple is "big vehicle," all the way. The pious were mixed in with we gentiles, praying for long life, or good fortune, perhaps, non-attachment and a happy death. (Or would that be an indifferent death?)

...continued in the China travelogue.

5.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We are fat, bare-skinned mammals at a mosquito feed, the hawkers gathering around the opening maw of tour buses to proffer post card sets, fans, 2-for-$5 copywatches. Survival Chinese starts with bu yao, "don't want," which you will repeat many, many times. Avoiding eye contact and staying in motion helps a little, but the purported Chinese aversion to physical contact does not apply to hawkers going after white tourists. Some of it borders on assault, but returning the favor didn't seem like a good strategy in a country where the police may not speak your language unless perhaps a sufficient "monetary incentive" is produced. The same thing that works for Idaho mosquitoes works here - keep moving, wave them away, and sprinkle bu yao liberally.

Koi in a pool at the Yuyuan garden in Shanghai

The zig-zag bridge at the entrance to the Yuyuan garden is said to keep the evil spirits at bay, but the ¥15 admission price to the garden itself is what actually does the trick. One enters a space where contemplation can actually be contemplated, in between the tour guides explaining selected highlights and waving their colored flags to herd their tourist groups from one viewpoint to the next. After our comfortably-paced tour from the local guide, we used our 45 minutes of free time to wander back through, shooting video and visiting the art gallery where paintings (prints?) of various sizes for various budgets by local (?) artists were for sale. They were cheerfully advertised by a more respectable tout, a cheerful old man with good English, keenly attuned to what caught the visitor's eye, and ready to share more information. "This is 480, but if you like it, the price could be 180" for one that is 8x10"-ish instead of 2 by 3 feet, in other words. This attentiveness and accommodation was novel at the moment, but it was a pattern we learned to expect from clerks everywhere we went; the least interest in something produces an immediate response and the start of price negotiation.

...continued in the China travelogue.

4.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

By 04:10, we've slept as much as we can, and get up to review schedules, maps, write in journals, peek outside. Traffic is quiet, an occasional bus or taxi, a pedestrian, a bicyclist in the dark....

...continued in the China travelogue.

3.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

East Shanghai skyline, with the Jin Mao tower

Part of flying across the Pacific Ocean to Asia is the great leap forward across the International Dateline. One date disappears -- poof! -- somewhere in the middle of a long, long day. The good news is that you get two of the same date on the way back; the bad news is you'll spend most of the bonus on airplanes and departure lounges. Our lounging on the outbound leg was minimized by a big hop from SFO to Shanghai.

I sat next to a Chinese woman with a persistent cough, hoping I wasn't going to catch something from her, but glad that I wasn't obsessing about it being SARS the way I might have if the trip had been on the original, April schedule. One of the movies was Finding Nemo, which seemed somehow well-suited to an airplane venue.

The entry card for foreign travellers asks your main reason for coming to China (one only):

Employment Settle down
Visiting friends or relatives
Outing/in leisure Study
Return Home Others

...continued in the China travelogue.

2.Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

First, some catch-up on non-travel related items. I get the daily NYT email update, but with more than two weeks unread in my inbox, I'm further than their 7-day window of free articles. It's still good for reviewing the top headlines (from the NY Times' POV of course), and searching Google for title words can often find a republished copy.

Common Dreams has this story by David Johnston and Eric Lichtblau, for example, Critical Study Minus Criticism of Justice Dept., about an internal report on the Justice Department's diversity efforts that was so heavily redacted that half the pages and the summary were blacked out. It was the good old Memory Hole that provided the public service of removing the blackout, apparently done by an incompetent JD clerk. In the Well, Duh section of the article, this: "some Justice Department lawyers said the editing of the report had overshadowed the purpose of the study." Stacey Plaskett Duffy, senior counsel to the deputy attorney general, doesn't quite get the nature of the problem when she notes that "we didn't have to let people know we were doing this," but at least that's more direct than the spokesman who announced that the report was "deliberative and predecisional."

"The activity in this back channel, detailed in interviews and in documents obtained by The New York Times, appears to show an increasingly frantic Iraqi regime trying to find room to maneuver as the enemy closes in. It also provides a rare glimpse into a subterranean world of international networking."

But the last-minute attempt by Iraqis to avoid war was a collect call that the US did not accept. Imagine how many lives and how much destruction might have been avoided if an alternative to waging war had really been considered.

I'll bet this anti-virus initiative works: bounties for turning in perps with $5 million initial funding. You know these twits have to be bragging to someone about their "accomplishments," and we suppose the company of virus writers is as untrustworthy as the company of thieves.

Nov.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Regular readers will note a shocking hiatus here for more than two weeks. We're back live, after going offline for a 16-day junket to China: Shanghai, Wuhan, the Three Gorges, Chongqinq, Xi'an, Beijing, the Great Wall. It was an incredible journey, as you might imagine. I'm in the momentary giddiness before jet lag sets in, feeling 9am-ish at 6pm, plus or minus a day and two nights' sleep. I'm thinking I'll try to get some of the travelogue highlights blogged out, probably point to some more illustrated pages, when things get caught up. (December?!) When you see a blog entry with a date close to what's current, you'll know I'm closing in on it. Stay tuned!


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Friday, 05-Dec-2003 18:04:46 MST