Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Vatican in new clash with China over church [Bloomberg/AP]

Vatican in new clash with China over church
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
The Associated Press
Source – Bloomberg, published December 18, 2010

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican accused China on Friday of spurning efforts for improved ties with the Holy See, condemning the government-backed church as violating religious freedom and human rights.

Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach to China has been answered by “unacceptable and hostile acts,” the Vatican said in an unusually strong statement that accused Beijing of unilaterally damaging “the climate of trust that had been established.”

The Vatican statement had been expected following last week’s election of senior members of China’s government-backed church that included a prelate unrecognized by the Vatican to head its bishop’s council. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: AP, Beijing Consensus, Bloomberg, China Trip 2010, Influence, International Relations, People, Population, Reform, Religion, Social

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 13: Towards a 文明 civil society


And here comes a cab speeding through. Do notice the green man circled in the background. Mind you these automobiles are coming from directly opposite, i.e. rushing through from a red light.

A country as vast as China is bound to have a fair share of good and bad. On many fronts, China have begun to lead the way in terms of economic management and green technology, but in terms of a civil society, there is one observable gap. Here is a focus on the that gap.

It may be a narrow measure, but my encounters at traffic crossings here have tended to be rather ‘challenging’. Automobiles usually refuse to give pedestrians right of way here even when the green man flashes. Buses are pretty obvious culprits, and so are taxis, all manner of cars, motorbikes and bicycles. It was not so bad in Shanghai, but here in Beijing, it is almost paralyzing as every instance of road-crossing is a minor dance with potential collision. I would say it on par with my earlier visit to second-tier city Shantou.

I may be used to largely pedestrian-respecting traffic conditions growing up in Singapore and in Australia, but having visited several third-world countries in South-East Asia I have learnt (and advised umpteenth times by my parents) to accept that local conditions are local conditions; and adaptability is the wiser thing to do. However, looking at the grand buildings and wide roads in Beijing, there was a huge cognitive dissonance when I almost got run over crossing the road a few times over the past few days.

Here comes a Volkswagen speeding through the pedestrian green light. How was I ever to be able to cross?

Here typically, pedestrians get horned at and pressured even when the green man is on in their favour; in the presence of traffic wardens. The bulk of the pedestrians do not seem to mind – but being a visitor, I did, initially. I would imagine most tourists would. Perhaps this is a third-world remnant of China’s progress and many will say that it has improved, but few Chinese argue back when this is mentioned to them – how civil can one be when car owners continue to harass and threaten to run pedestrians over at zebra and pedestrian crossings?

Locals argue in return stating there are simply too many pedestrians to let them all pass (Beijing City is chock-full of people at 16 million, almost as many as the entire  country of Australia), and I can see why – traffic here can be worse than compressed sardines in a tin. Nevertheless, the simple fact remains – driving in a way that potentially runs over pedestrians is far from civil. Here is some more photographic evidence taken early this morning.

A van this time prevents me from crossing safely. This was about 9.30am past peak hour. I will endeavour to get some peak hour photos for a better sense of how intense it gets.

A bigger van this time.

Despite it all, the Chinese have good civic mindedness on board public transport. Everyone on board a bus I took gave up their seats for the elderly.

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 12 – The former Summer Palace Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园

The study of the burning of the former Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Tuan 圆明园 is necessary in understanding the minds of the Chinese nationalistic intelligentsia and elite today. Five times the size of the Forbidden City and eight times the size of the Vatican, the burning of it is also highly regarded by the older populace as a symbol of foreign aggression in China during its century of humiliation in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some say the wounds run so deep it explains the Chinese entrenchment of wanting to do things its own way, and its continued treating of outsiders with suspicion. In 1860, China’s summer palace was robbed, sacked and burnt by Anglo-French allied forces during the second Opium War. It was ravaged and plundered again in 1900, this time by the Eight-Nation alliance (the U.S., Europe and Japan), this time leaving nothing behind.

French artist Victor Hugo once ‘criticized the destruction of Yuanmingyuan in his “Expedition de Chine (Expedition to China),” in which he likened the looting to “two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain.” (Dawanews, 18 October 2010) In a letter, he also lamented, “The French empire has pocketed half of this victory, and today with a kind of proprietorial naivety it displays the splendid bric-a-brac of the Summer Palace. I hope that a day will come when France, delivered and cleansed, will return this booty to despoiled China.” (UNESCO Courier, cited in BNET, n.d.) Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 10 – To the capital 北京 Beijing

View on the way to Beijing on the 28.1km Airport Express: 北京机场轨道交通线. Figured we would beat the traffic and take the train. At 25rmb it is 9rmb more than the bus and much cheaper than the taxi.

Encyclopædia Britannica describes Beijing as “one of the world’s great cities”. Translated as the ‘Northern Capital’, it is China’s political, cultural and educational center. Site of the Tiananmen Square (translated as Gate of Heavenly Peace) incident, it is not hard to see why any massive public gathering would be a sight to behold. The city was designed to display reverence to the ‘Son of Heaven’, and its roads are wide and vast and easy to navigate. All roads, lead to the Forbidden Palace. It does look rather opulent, at first glance.

 

Beijing Transport - no longer amber-grey postcards with bicycles galore.

Beijing has a rather advanced transport system and one benefit citizens get for the socialist system is affordable public transport. 1 rmb (AUD0.15cents) is all it costs for a bus ride in Beijing, and that 1 rmb goes everywhere any anywhere. Senior citizens travel for free. Beyond that the trains and subway cost 2 rmb flat, and both buses and trains feature easy touch and go systems that Melbourne has been struggling to implement for years. I do not suppose it be easy to move 16 million people, but the experience taking buses were pleasant. The train rides on the other hand were an experience like sardines in a can, even in off-peak hours.

More updates to come!

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 9 – Hangzhou at the fore

West Lake - Getting around the lake the 'old school' way

I’ve never had warm orange juice before and in Hangzhou, that was what I got for breakfast at the hotel. I hear people here prefer their drinks (even if they were meant to be cold, for the rest of us) in winter. Cold orange juice. Hmm, it took a while to gain enough of a paradigm shift for me to finish the glass.

In any case, my experience at Hangzhou had shown me that authoritarianism comes in different doses for different parts of China. People may think that Beijing and Shanghai are at the forefront of China’s rise, but Hangzhou definitely leads the way in my books. Described as the most beautiful place on earth when Marco Polo visited China, Hangzhou possessed one of China’s outstanding natural beauties – West Lake. The city’s most famous products, silk and ‘long jin’ tea have held the imagination of both the Chinese and beyond since the Tang dynasty.

Sunset at West Lake

With property prices going at 15-20,000 rmb (a little less than AUD$4,000) per square metres as middle ranged, the city of China’s famed West Lake is the premium spot to be in China at the moment. A local gave me a shocking update, the latest top range housing cost 40,000 rmb (<AUD$7,500) per square metre. Rent on the other hand seems affordable, a visit to a real estate agent revaled that apartment rental ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 rmb (<AUD$400-$800) a month. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 8 – Over to Hangzhou

 

The queue for the CRH

To continue my journey in gaining first-hand knowledge about China, I took the high-speed train to Hangzhou after returning to Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport from Shantou. Interestingly named He Xie Hao 和諧號 (or Harmony) the China Railway Highspeed (CRH) 中国铁路高速 trains run up to 350km/h. Perfect timing as the rail line to Hangzhou was launched just yesterday making me the second batch of passengers! The trains being called ‘Harmony’ seems to be aligned with the game plan for Chinese public and people’s diplomacy, both internal and external, so the message is hitting home strongly on many fronts.

 

Getting up to top speed

The ride was as comfortable as the Eurostar I took close to a decade ago from the UK to France, and the ticket cost only 82 rmb or AUD$15. A definite upgrade in pricing class from the regional buses that cost a fraction of the price, the train was packed full of facilities it features kitchenettes serving snacks and six squatting toilets (Chinese style?) with baby change stations and viewing galleries front and back of the train. Snazzy rail magazines were also a feature and provided to all passengers and a comfortable recline of about  made for pleasant seating. There was also plenty of leg room in front. Proclaimed as the most advanced train system in China at the moment, it also had restroom faciltiies for the handicapped. It took about forty minutes to make the trip to Hangzhou.

 

Arriving in Hangzhou. All of 45min for the journey.

Hangzhou is an entirely different proposition to Shanghai, Suzhou and Chaozhou. I had arrived in the city located in Zhejiang province late at around ten, and as I made my way around hunting for dinner, there were plenty of options available. Even the hairdressers and nail shops were open at that time. Traffic was orderly and it was probably the anti-thesis to Shantou. Expensive European cars lined the streets and the only signs of two wheelers were Hangzhou’s extensive bicycle sharing system with 50,000 bikes, surpassing Paris’ Velib at 20,000. No signs of motorcycles running on petrol nor diesel. Electric motorcycles rule the roads here. More to come tomorrow, as it is a little late and I did not get a chance to see much. Hangzhou’s famed West Lake awaits.

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 7 – Ancestral home found

With just an address scribbled on a two decade-old envelope, I headed back to Chao An county with mum and dad to find the ancestral home. The paternal grandfather had been the only one in the family of four sons to leave Chaozhou (or the Chaoshan region) for Nanyang (Singapore as it was known to the Chinese then). With little education, he made a living selling fish before finding a niche as a middleman/trader. He passed on when my dad was still young so I never got to meet him, but we knew that he had a younger brother still living in the ancestral home in Chaozhou. We had not heard from him in many a year, but with that little sliver of a clue, we pressed forth.

Chao An county was a 30-minute drive from Shantou, both part of the Chaoshan region that inhabits the Chaozhou dialect group. As indicated in my previous entries, Shantou was an early benefactor of China’s opening up, and was granted SEZ status. The drive there was eye-opening. Pot holes weere everywhere. No one in four-wheelers wore seat-belts, no one on bicycles nor motorcycles wore helmets, and abandoned factories now nestled in overgrown foliage dotted the landscape. Even fewer vehicles had license plates. From what I saw, I discovered a newfound gratitude for the courage grand-dad had in charting new waters overseas, and I suppose, just like I have; extending his diasporic journey by another 7000kms down under to Australia. Perhaps, it is the family nature.

The cab driver summed it up rather pointedly to describe the backwardness of the place. Twenty years ago it was beautiful here, twenty years later it never moved forward, in fact it regressed. The anecdotal word out on the street was that rampant corruption had forced many of the industries and corporations out (mostly started by returning diasporic Teochews), tired of paying excessive dues to local government who were not indigenous Teochew in the first place. Now, if only China’s 52 unacceptable practices were in place then. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China Day 6: Back to the Tidal Prefecture – Chaozhou

I have returned to the Chaoshan region in Guangdong Province, the linguistic and cultural home of my ancestors in south-eastern China. Roughly translated as ‘Tidal City’, Chaozhou prefecture is the destination and it has strong roots to the sea and quite naturally, fishing. Tomorrow I will make my way back to where my long line of people hail from – Chao An 潮安 county in the prefecture, a mountain region almost literally known as ‘Peace in the presence of tides(note to WC reader luenlin: thank you for enlightening me; for I had only grasped part of the meaning myself and saw it as ‘Facing Peace’) in Mandarin.

The Teochews (broadly a Han-Chinese dialect group) of Chaoshan are the biggest diasporic group in the world. Locally, there are only 2.5 million Teochews in Chaozhou prefecture, and about 4.5 in Shantou City with a total of 10 million who speak the dialect across the various cities of Chaoshan. So, we are a very small portion of China’s 1.4 billion people. However, we take up half of the entire overseas Chinese diaspora which is estimated to range from 40-45 million people. There are more than 22 million Teochews overseas. A famous Teochew is Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing who is a major benefactor to the local Shantou Unversity. Closer to home, Singapore’s foreign minister George Yeo is a prominent Teochew too.

The overseas Teochews are known to be fiercely entrepreneurial making up a significant proportion of the net worth of all overseas Chinese (of the total estimated USD$1 trillion). It is little known but pertinent to understand that one perspective is that Chinatowns around the world were started by the Teochew diaspora, and were named to reflect how the Teochews see themselves (‘Tang Ren’ Jie [Street] – literally street of the Tang People, we identify more with the Tang dynasty than the rest of the Han ‘ethnicity’). Famous for being middle-men, I suppose I take after this trait in some ways. My intentions however are to build bridges of a different kind. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China Day 5: The Ancient Waterway City of Zhou Zhuang

Today I got to see another aspect of China – the ancient waterway city of Zhou Zhuang some thirty kilometres from Suzhou. The home of Kunqu Opera, Zhou Zhuang also featured a unique delicacy – a local fish best described as an ‘angry one’ that looked exactly like the poisonous puffer fish. Through this fish, the clash of civilization between capitalism and culture met, one of these 5 cm long fish cost 38 yuan, which worked out to be about AUD$6. For a point of comparison, a large value meal at MacDonald’s would set one back 25 yuan.

Visually, the ‘Number One water town of China’ was breathtaking and right out of the movies. Barring the immense numbers of domestic tourists (A guide indicated at least 80,000 tourists that day, and about 2.5 million a year), and the hordes of tourist traps, I could imagine it having a profound contemplative vibe back in the day, sipping tea whilst boatmen row their gondolas past. Described as the Venice of the Orient, my initial thoughts were to say it is overstated and unnecessary to describe it based on a system of difference. I digress.

The key takeaway for me was simple – and it took me a while to realize. Everyone in China (and the world for that matter) is trying to make a living in a way they know best (or by circumstance), from the inummberable young tour guides to the humble boatmen to the comb makers, I was also exposed to the affluent Chinese happily splashing the cash, many a times hearing the phrase, “You think I can’t afford this?” Whatever it is, they are all learning fast how to make ‘lots’ of money, from the villager to the sharp-suited financial hawks. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China Day 4: Amidst the ‘touristy’ stuff; 5 observations on Shanghai thus far.

Today was spent indulging with some ‘touristy’ activity from shopping to sightseeing, and that meant more time to observe how everyday visitors and people in Shanghai behaved. As it meant a little break from the strenuous note taking and documentation, I had some time to reflect on some of the interesting and engaging facets I have come across in this first leg to get a feel of China’s financial centre.

Beijing is also on the agenda to get a sense of how the central government operates, and so is Suzhou, Hangzhou and Chaozhou for a broader understanding of the China story. I acknowledge just shorts visits to the eastern coastal cities deprives me of a wider view of a China as wide as its peripheries, but that is for another visit.

1.) Gracious Lavatory-User Nation: It starts from hygiene with broader awareness of the people we may not get to meet. So, to facilitate this social change through toilet signs, I spied plenty of stickers around Shanghai toilets ’empowering’ the Chinese to become more cultural through improved shared toilet-usage manners.  My apologies if this comes across as un-sanitized. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

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