Wandering China

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

#Chinese Migrant bus driver strike stuns #Singapore [The Australian/AAP]

The Australian: The first real strike in a quarter century involving 5% of critical transport services for an extremely population dense island-nation just over fifty years old, does seem to tell Singapore that leveraging on China’s rise may prove to be an increasingly delicate affair.

Contrary to opinion floating around, strikes are not illegal but rather, one must be extremely in the know and meet multiple conditions to pull one off.

This sure has angered many Chinese on the mainland and Singaporean Chinese too – it is a complex issue with a tremendous back story. It will however, surely do little positives for the projection of national image and public diplomacy between the only two independent Chinese-majority states with Chinese leadership at the helm in the world.

Indeed, Singapore has been a known transnational Chinese social sphere for the good part of three centuries. Sun Yat Sen organised his thoughts and finances in Singapore to trigger the Chinese revolution a century odd back – will this spawn a chapter between the Chinese of Singapore and China?

For more, check out Why Chinese drivers went on strike in Singapore at Xinhua, December 8, 2012. Also, for evidence the Chinese are keeping a pulse on their sojourning workforce and consequent international relations with the host country – see China hopes Singapore secure rights of arrested drivers: ministry at Xinhua on December 7, 2012. J

Just how these events unfolding will impact bilateral ties remains to be seen – more recently more workers went on strike at Singapore’s docks. More on that in a coming article.

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Migrant bus driver strike stuns Singapore
AAP Agency
Source – The Australian, published December 6, 2012

FOUR Chinese immigrant bus drivers accused of inciting Singapore’s first labour strike in 26 years have been granted bail in a case that highlighted growing social friction caused by an influx of foreign labour.

A fifth Chinese driver has already been sentenced to six weeks in prison even though prosecutors said he was not an instigator of the strike, which was called to demand equitable pay.

Walking off the job in protest is almost unheard of in Singapore, and the swift prosecution following the November 26-27 strike was a clear sign the government of this strictly-enforced country will not brook any disobedience from its work force. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Domestic Growth, Finance, Government & Policy, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Social, Soft Power, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Australian, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Transport, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wary of Future, Professionals Leave China in Record Numbers [New York Times]

Headlines and titles may inadvertently seem skewed as it frames thought. Like a mental snapshot, it can oversimplify or at its worst, misdirect (in the wider ecosystem of political rhetoric, this looks part of the inadvertent Sino-US leadership transitional exchange of shaping mind-share). I think if one reads on, this article can be taken rather positively.

The recent movement of these professional, educated Chinese across the world can further help build bridges where mass media glosses over. In others ways, it is not a bad thing it is an educated, professional group that carries Chinese thought extending outwards. Where most of all the previous batches who left largely by push factors or war, the case now is markedly different.

In Singapore’s case, the overarching narrative, its Chinese are largely descended from craftsmen and coolies. As Lee Kuan Yew once pointed out – in response to Deng’s question if China would ever succeed looking at how Singapore successful hybridization of central power with Confucian meritocracy at the forefront and free market capitalism with its socio-cultural tradeoffs.

Indeed, on closer examination, the numbers today who move due to socio-economic pull factors are still small in percentage terms. As reported by this article, even fewer (perhaps few would admit) regard political reasons as the chief factor.

Over millennia of movement the number of overseas Chinese number at 55million . That cumulative number makes it as large as most medium sized countries so they are not insignificant either. Change your lenses change your sight.

Perhaps looking at the bright side can be a decent point of view. I know a few Chinese aged between 19 and 35 now residing in Australia. We have been on camping trips far out in the bush carrying our own water without much fuss, Others I know, by competing against in futsal teams  in the local leagues, many others love dressing up for the Melbourne Cup day.

Some may find it hard to empathize the competition in China because they may not have set foot in China, or met the Chinese on the ground. 9 to 10 million compete for a spot in university a the college examinations each year. Those who don’t make the grade fight for very little. A 2 to 3000RMB monthly salary, hardly enough to cover rent for a decent sized rental home is norm for those striking out.

Have personally known a few bright hardworking of China’s digital natives who just couldn’t make the grade despite sometimes seemingly overboard preparations. Such is their reality. Many have integrated well here, Melbourne thrives with a former mayor who is Chinese, and many live just like the Aussies do adding to the multicultural social fabric down under.

In monetary terms, they automatically make six times the amount due to the strong Aussie dollar with far less working hours with plenty of time for family and other pursuits. Many of them make efficient workers who get things done so promptly it is hard for work to keep up. This is not representative across the board of course. For every one that excels there potentially is another who just wants to get by. But I digress.

In return as well, for those who work with or live in communities with Aussies, they become a real life conduit for Aussies to understand China in its own terms too. Its cuisine has proven immensely popular here with all 8 major branches of Chinese cooking represented those from all corners of China proving extremely popular – right down to Sichuan hotpot, a regular in winter for many. It then moves onto the locally adapted local favorite the dim sim (does not exist in real Chinese culinary palates I think), to the classy Beijing Hutong themed Xiao long bao restaurants.

I meet many of them at vineyards, organic farms, strawberry farms and fishing spots. About half happily drive the Aussie-made Holden because it feels right to drive a locally made car in Australia. Just the tip of the iceberg. I think it is a great thing. Overseas Chinese who mingle well with host environments naturally make vehicles of the wider Chinese culture and national identity. It also shows like that others, there are those who seek out a balanced life too where work doesn’t dominate all their headspace.

More importantly, they help others see we can all get along, share other ideals and worldviews. Interestingly too, in the field of diasporic identities, that overseas Chinese end up being all too aware of their own Chineseness is common across most other diaporic groups too – from the Greeks and Italians I know here – they celebrate their identity with zeal and vigour.

Not all assimilate or adapt of course. It would oversimplify to say all enjoy life here. Many of them feel the pace of life is a little too slow. I have also known a fair few who can’t wait to return, but do so at least, with a broadened outlook and first hand experience of another way of living.

They return with a first hand glimpse of a rather liberal, western society where the channels to exercise one’s right to voice, its deferences shows other paradigms exist successfully elsewhere. When they enter the work force, they are valued for their more globalised outlook, with a practical experience of using English in school and at work, the culture, history, norms and processes. And this is celebrated in the mass media there in game shows – this comes with Chinese subtitles only.

And 非你莫属 is just one of many state funded shows out there. It features distinctly American style sports commentary and a debate that involves mentors, employers, the host and the job seeker. They reserve the right to say no at the end of their final round offers, and negotiate outside the show. And its the wide range of jobseekers on offer, from the clerk to driver, to partner or director raking in six figure RMB a month.

Cultural capital has been identified as a pillar industry and the production values are apparent, it has taken care to weed out what was deemed low culture reality tv and today the focus on more productive shows like this is ramping up. This employment-seeking show emphasises the need for more internationally minded employees in their midst. This episode talks about it is unavoidable now China has risen that it needs an upgrade in a globalised mindset. It actively advertises for Haigui 海归; pinyin: hǎiguī on foreign television. A fair few of them seem genuinely proud in returning to contribute.

This is highly recommended and it gives a glimpse of how the Chinese are democratising on their own terms, in their unique own way. The adaptations from American and European game shows are obvious at the onset, but their process are far more intricate and involve far more depth of discourse) that see many returning candidates have the right to take questions, present competently, then proceed into the final rounds where they exercise the right to eliminate and haggle salary with interested employers.

As a student of media, it is important to discern the agenda setting potential of media. Although the political economy of the mass media no longer dominate the spectrum of messages as they used to, transnational media corporations remain nevertheless powerful.

As such, we consume, at best, selected, well-informed, well intended, rationalized textual and visual constructions of the macro, but never of the real thing until all five senses are fed. Even then, sometimes the right messages don’t go right through. A lover’s tiff for example, where misreading of body language triggers a chain of cascading misunderstandings is one most can relate with. The primacy of first hand experience is equally,  important to get a full picture – to try to make the best of the information available, to more accurately inform opinion.

The movement is not all one way. With economies stagnant in the West and job opportunities limited, the number of students returning to China was up 40 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year. The government has also established high-profile programs to lure back Chinese scientists and academics by temporarily offering various perks and privileges. Professor Cao from Nottingham, however, says these programs have achieved less than advertised.

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Wary of Future, Professionals Leave China in Record Numbers
by Ian Johnson
Source – New York Times, published October 31, 2012

Lee Yangang and his wife, Wang Lu, emigrated to Sydney, Australia, from Beijing last year, saying they felt insecure in China. Source – New York Times, 2012

BEIJING — At 30, Chen Kuo had what many Chinese dream of: her own apartment and a well-paying job at a multinational corporation. But in mid-October, Ms. Chen boarded a midnight flight for Australia to begin a new life with no sure prospects.

Like hundreds of thousands of Chinese who leave each year, she was driven by an overriding sense that she could do better outside China. Despite China’s tremendous economic successes in recent years, she was lured by Australia’s healthier environment, robust social services and the freedom to start a family in a country that guarantees religious freedoms.

“It’s very stressful in China — sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company,” Ms. Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. “And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad. It is more free in Australia.” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Back to China, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Lifestyle, Mapping Feelings, Media, New York Times, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, Trade, Yuan, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sinking our teeth into China [The Age] #Australia #China

Depending on how you are informed, Australia’s two-track/two-speed economy has been widely reported to have stalled for the moment as China decides to moderate growth and distribute its wealth – a middle class boom could just be the result Australia looks out for. In 2011, Mining and mining related services made up about 20% of its $1.3 trillion GDP and helped fuel the Australian dollar’s rise (Check out official data here at the Australian Bureau of Statistics) and wider socio-economic growth. While it has been a huge catalyst for growth in the past decade, there are opportunities for Australia elsewhere that have less to do with digging up finite sources, allowing for a more synergistic friendship based on the exchange of ideas and culture.

Casino mogul Packer to a business audience – ”The biggest opportunity is China… In 2000, China had about 10 million overseas trips a year. In 2010, that was up to 50 million overseas trips a year. And in 2020, it’s forecast to be 100 million overseas trips a year. And Chinese tourism is changing the world.”

And in human movement alone, it has changed Australia to a degree visible in all the capitals – beyond the tourists, you will find at least one if not more Chinese-speaking sales staff in the luxury stores. Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders in 2010 despite having less of them here than the Americans.

Here is an interesting read on how the future of the 106 year-old Australian movie industry could lie in a multibillion-dollar Chinese market. In the wider context by producing cultural capital for the Chinese, this could grow into a useful muscle in Australian public diplomacy toolbox to build bridges where others make walls. This will be in a space where first, sees the third largest box office in the world, and second – a foreign films quota that only recently increased from 20 to 34 a year. Of course, Chinese funding would suggest some manner of Chinese intervention through script and production and a 25% cap of takings that the film can take out of the country , but as this article finds out – so far to no major detriment to the overarching artistic narrative.

Naturally enough, that meant it had to be submitted to the Chinese censors for approval – at script stage. The shark having no views on the desirability or otherwise of democracy, there were no problems there. Karl Quinn, 2012

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Sinking our teeth into China
by Karl Quinn
Source – The Age, published October 25, 2012

Australian actor Xavier Samuel in Bait. Photo: Ben Timony Source – The Age, 2012

The future for Australian movies may well lie in the multibillion-dollar Chinese market.

IN LESS than two weeks, the shark-in-a-shop film Bait has become the most successful Australian movie ever released in China. Like the sharks themselves, nobody saw it coming, but the success of the 3D horror-comedy points to the potential rewards that await Australian filmmakers in the world’s fastest-growing movie market.

The number of cinema screens in China has exploded from just 1500 in 2002 to more than 10,000 today. New screens are being added at the rate of more than eight a day. In 2011, the Chinese box office grew by 35 per cent to $2 billion, making it the third largest market in the world, behind only the US and Japan (Australia was ranked ninth). Some analysts predict China’s box office could top $3 billion this year, an astonishing 50 per cent increase year-on-year.

It is in that context that Bait’s success demands some serious attention. Is it a freak of nature, a random and unpredictable hit, never to be repeated? Or is it perhaps a pointer, a sign that the great white hope of the Australian film industry just might lie in China? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Media, Modernisation, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, , , , , , , , , ,

China’s new leader right man for times: Kevin Rudd [The Age]

The Age: In an address to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association in Sydney titled China under Xi Jinping: A New Strategic Roadmap for China-US relations) on October 6, former PM, FM but still MP Kevin Rudd (twitter account here) endorses a new, realist, phase of Sino-US relations with Xi Jinping and  Obama (alluding to an Obama victory come November) at the helm.

‘What happens in Sino-US relations during President Obama’s second presidential term … and Xi Jinping’s first presidential term will very much determine the future peace, stability and prosperity of the Asian hemisphere through until mid-century…” Kevin Rudd

He also couches Australia’s foreign policy posturing as a kind of creative middle-power diplomacy to stay on top of its great and powerful friends dilemma.

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China’s new leader right man for times: Rudd
by John Garnaut
Source – The Age, published October 6, 2012

CHINA’S incoming leader, Xi Jinping, is ”the man for the times” who will transform the Chinese economy and reach a new security accommodation with US President Barack Obama, says former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd, departing from the normal diplomatic discretion of politicians, speculated that Mr Xi had the ”vast experience” and ”inquiring mind” to tackle the economic and global security challenges that would shape the world order for decades to come, after he takes charge of the Communist Party next month.

He also presented a wish list of Chinese internal changes, top-level intensive bilateral exchanges with the US, downsized Chinese foreign policy goals and even a bilateral five-year strategic road map that would reduce the likelihood of catastrophic conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, New Leadership, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., , , , ,

How to prepare for a China crash [The Age]

The Age (readership est. 600k, established 1854 in Victoria, Australia, owned by Fairfax Media): China Bears preparing for the Chinese slowdown by remixing investment baskets.

It was forseen that continued double digit growth on the back of three decades was not sustainable. In any case, lest is forgetten, the mantra for this running five-year plan isn’t to get quick rich anymore, readjusting China’s sights for the longer term. And that means those wishing to make money from China’s return as a global leader need to make informed adjustments too.

In November last year we published a boldly titled special report, The Coming China Crash. It made the argument that Chinese growth was being driven by investment rather than consumption and that the situation bore a striking resemblance to that of Japan in the late 1980s. And we all know how that ended. Nathan Bell

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How to prepare for a China crash
by Nathan Bell
Source – The Age, published September 24, 2012

For years, China was the flavour of the month. So popular were its attractions that the Rudd government had enough time to stitch together a new mining tax and the Gillard government to unstitch it. Yes, it’s been that long.

When faced with economic difficulties, the United States could first rely on Alan Greenspan to make money cheaper, and then on Ben Bernanke to make it free.

Australia had its very own “put” based on China. No matter what went wrong in Gondwanaland, the industrialisation of the world’s most populous nation would dig us out of a hole by paying us to dig more holes on its behalf. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, Infrastructure, Media, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Soft Power, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, , , , , , , ,

Mining fears of Chinese invasion [The Age]

This problem is not new. On one hand the knee jerk reaction might be – this feels like a relic of the White Australia policy redux decades after its final dismantling in 1973.

But look at it another way. Perhaps China simply hasn’t figured out how to arrive on one’s shores without looking like it’s going to plant a flag and declare permanent settlement with the narrative of communism and collectivism ringing loud in receiving countries.

From antiquity to now, this is what is continuing to do – populating (assimilating?) places with its own culture, people and way of doing business. The ubiquity of Chinatowns is one case in point. Of course a relic of that was the perceived Yellow peril of the 19th century.

Economic xenophobia or as Australian foreign minister Bob Carr puts it… ‘dangerously dumb‘ rhetoric coming from Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott? Yes, Australia has reason to be particularly sensitive because of some close calls in the last few years. That said, perhaps this is the point the Australian opposition is missing out on at the moment – that despite its socio-economic capitalist intents, it remains structurally at the core, all about central power. Technically, everything belongs to the state. So it is a matter of ascertaining and hedging and leveraging against just how much of the state’s interests are in play.

In a global village where its participants share economic and resource interdependence across time/space, black and white lines views of Chinese SOEs need updating.

Simply – is there another way to do big business with China outside of their SOE arms? Yes, but hardly. Though just about half of non-agricultural GDP is owned and controlled by the state, 92/116 of Sino-Australian deals in the past six years were with SOEs. By 2010, SOEs held 2.66 trillion yuan in assets outside mainland China, a 50 per cent jump from the previous year.

Perhaps most pragmatically,

”Australia was built on foreign capital; now foreign capital is just coming from a different time zone than in the past … [but] the concept is exactly the same.”  ANZ Bank chief executive Mike Smit

To see how Australia process these cases of state owned investments/foreign investments, check out FIRB, the Foreign Investment Review Board

For more check out An Analysis of State‐owned Enterprises and State Capitalism in China (U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 2011)

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Mining fears of Chinese invasion.
By Philip Wen
Source – The Age, published August 25, 2012

‘They’re trying to preserve China’s growth, not conquer Australia.’ Photo: Reuters

TONY Abbott was at his pugilistic best as he worked through a tight schedule of meetings on his visit to Beijing last month.

Shaking hands with Chinese dignitaries with the iron-grip confidence of a man who believes he should be the next prime minister, his eyes bulged and veins popped with the adrenalin of meeting senior officials who will set the course of arguably Australia’s most important trade and diplomatic relationship.

His Chinese counterparts were well briefed on our opinion polls; a more senior than usual line-up of party officials and ministers were summoned to have an audience with the opposition leader. When it came to his keynote speech at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, Abbott had already raised eyebrows by noting that for all of China’s recent economic strides, its people ”still can’t choose their government”. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Soft Power, Stern Hu - Rio Tinto, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , , ,

Tom Hyland: Grow up, Australia [The Age]

Tom Hyland, international editor at the Sunday Age examines Australia’s scenarios in navigating the challenges of the prospective Asian century and the Washington Consensus.  The idea of the centre of economic activity shifting towards the Asia-Pacific forms just one part of the overarching picture.

”While Asia is an economic powerhouse, in terms of politics it’s almost like 19th century Europe… You have interstate disputes, people are still thinking in balance of power terms, there are unresolved conflicts all over the region, from the subcontinent, all over the South China Sea … between China and India, and on the Korean Peninsula… For all those reasons – and the possibility of deep ecological problems which have global consequences, like pandemics – the region is not only a source of security and prosperity, it’s also a source of deep tension and insecurity.” Amitabh Mattoo, former adviser to the Indian government, head of the Australia India Institute.

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Grow up, Australia
By Tom Hyland
If this nation is to play a leading role in the Asian Century, we need to show our neighbours that we are committed, fair-minded and independent.
Source – The Age, published August 12, 2012

THERE are two conflicting visions of the Asian Century and Australia’s role in it. When Julia Gillard looks out she sees new cities where prosperous middle-class Asians live in modern apartments each built with six tonnes of steel made from nine tonnes of Australian iron ore and four tonnes of Australian coal.

They eat food imported from Australian farms, and drink premium Australian wine. They go to Australia for holidays and the world’s best medical services. Their kids are educated here. Our economy booms, peace endures and – in the unlikely event that it doesn’t – our old American friends are always there.

Let’s call this the golden age scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Communications, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Politics, Resources, Soft Power, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, U.S., , , , , , , ,

Four vital things Australian commentators don’t understand about China’s economy [The Conversation.edu.au]

Conversation.edu.au is an Australian web 2.0 portal that features independent analysis and commentary from academics and researchers.

This article idenitifies gaps in the Sino-Australia macroeconomic dialogue to help understand China using broader lens, instead of just the impetus of short run cycle. Is China’s charm offensive working well enough to present reward for outsiders to want to understand them on their terms?

In the comments section there was no shortage of flavour.

From the orientation of Australian advisors, commentators, financial gurus and media – … Australia and our future is linked to China and Asia, yet all the commentary is Wall St and London ‘cut and paste’. No wonder Australians think we are in a recession similar to the US and UK, when we are have an economy the envy of the developed world.
Carol Daly

to

The Chinese cat doesn’t just catch mice, it encourages conditions for their breeding. This is a fundamental difference between our own “hunter gather economics” and their more planned ones.
Peter Davies

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Four vital things Australian commentators don’t understand about China’s economy
James Laurenson
Source – The Conversation.edu.au, published July 17, 2012

Last week I attended the 24th Annual Conference of the Chinese Economics Society of Australia (CESA), a network of mostly Australian academics with research expertise in the Chinese economy.

At this conference I was struck by the difference between what most of those present thought were the key issues relating to China’s economy, and the topics that are most regularly discussed by the financial market economists and business commentators in the mainstream press.

For example, that week, the mainstream media had been preoccupied with real GDP growth in China slowing to its lowest level since the GFC and interest rate cuts. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Government & Policy, History, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , ,

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