China and the Superiority of Imported Goods

This is an advertisement on the back of a bus seat for a piping company. The last portion says “Made with 100% imported materials,” which is a somewhat embarrassing concession. Usually companies in the States are proud when their products are “Made in the USA.” Not so here. It is like saying, “We don’t use any of our cheap materials that are prone to problems or even scandals. None of that crappy stuff. All of our materials are 100 percent non-China.”

Charitable China

This picture was taken last month in Yunnan, a rural southwestern province in China. These people are victims of an earthquake and had recently been visited by a rich philanthropist and businessman. Many Chinese citizens were outraged by the audacity of a man to appear on camera and hand out wads of 100 yuan bills and claimed that he acted in extremely “poor taste”; others have countered that this is a necessary step in pushing charitable work forward in China. Whatever the case, the picture alone is astounding by Western standards, but because of it, a very interesting debate has been ignited.

Link to relevant article via China Daily.

Hong Kong Diaries: PART V

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak.

On Thursday, after spending part of the day in Aberdeen in awe of the amazing food, I took the tram up to Victoria Peak, which overlooks most of Hong Kong. The wait for the tram was excruciating, but the view was well worth it. The city is simply massive, and the combination of high risers and mountains is awesome. The peak experience is much more thrilling than being in a high building and looking down on the city. There is something about mountaintops that makes you feel transcendent, somehow closer to God. You are no longer a part of the city, but above it looking down. Perhaps that is why mountaintops are often symbolic of temples and in a few instances in the early Church even served the same functions as a temple. I decided to walk down the mountain, and came down through what is known as the mid-levels—a combination of stairwells and escalators that is the longest such combination in the world. Quite impressive.

The next day was foggy, and so I went to a nunnery and a garden during the day. Both belonged to a famous Buddhist temple there. The park was so immaculately clean that it made me dread coming back to the mainland; it is also full of interesting architecture and plants with every square inch being beautifully landscaped. I think that this is one of the more underrated experiences of Hong Kong. Saturday was one of the funnest days I have had. I went hiking with a friend. There were beautiful mountains, islands, beaches, and even cows.

These probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when people think of Hong Kong, but they are nonetheless there and actually quite remarkable. We made it back for a sushi dinner right before I went to the Hong Kong Cultural Center with Ya Ya and Trevor to see a famous Macedonian pianist and the HK Philharmonic Orchestra perform music from Rachmaninoff. The concert was so beautiful—the power of live music is so easily underestimated.

The Hong Kong Cultural Center is shown at night.

The morning before I left I had dim-sum with Ya Ya and her grandfather. It has been a couple of years since I have last had dim-sum, and I have missed it. It was a good ending to a wonderfully fun trip, and after six hours of ferries, taxies, trains, planes, escalators, and feet, I finally made it home.

Hong Kong Diaries: PART IV (Shenzhen)

To be fair, this entry really shouldn’t have a place under anything having the title “Hong Kong” in it, but I make some exceptions here. Although not much geographically speaking separates Shenzhen and Hong Kong, the two cities are worlds apart.

A sign along the border reading, "Long live the Communist People's Republic of China!"

Shenzhen lies in the fertile Pearl River Delta, in between Guangdong and Hong Kong. It is known for being the first area to be made a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by Mao Ze Dong’s successor, Deng Xiao Ping. In the late 70’s, it was just a collection of a few fishing towns. But since then it has been opened to economic reform, and over 10 million people call Shenzhen home. Because of its economic status, the majority of people are immigrants and thus don’t necessarily speak Cantonese, even though they belong to the province of Canton. I took a ferry to the mainland, because apparently it is a much more pleasant experience than crossing on land with the masses.

When I got there I went to check out a part of the border where people cross. There was a huge inspection type building with hundreds of flags posted on the outside. Just in case you forget you are in China, I suppose. I try to tell people that Hong Kong and the mainland are as different as they come, but it is hard to explain exactly why. Maybe this will help you understand; I was resting outside of a building, and a young mother walks by with her family. She stops a few yards in front of me, lets out a sound you only would expect from a lifelong member of the Russian mafia, and hawks a big loogie. Yup, this is definitely mainland. Welcome back.

Shenzhen is surprisingly quiet, with palm tree lined streets and an abundance of parks. It was a pleasant surprise, as I had figured it to be an industrial town that would be a nightmare to live in. That being said, there isn’t a whole lot for tourists besides some cheesy cultural fairs and amusement parks. My two days were spent mostly just walking the city and visiting the many parks.

Hong Kong Diaries: PART III

On Friday I went to the “Mandarin Ward” activity. I put it in quotations, because 90% of the time they speak Cantonese, start feeling guilty, and speak poor Mandarin for the other 10% of the time. It actually ended up being very fun. We had snacks and then broke off to play different games (Mah Jeung of course being one of them). It was in Sai Kung, which is considered by the city-dwellers to be rural. While there I often felt like I was in Mexico; the atmosphere is laid back, there is lots of concrete surrounded by jungle, and the buildings are somewhat run-down. Afterwards Trevor and I had the best pizza I have had since I left America.

That night was the fireworks show. I didn’t really know about it but just happened to walk out onto the street as it was starting. I had been huddled in a small Indian store trying to get on the internet. The streets were absolutely packed with people. The show itself was quite impressive.

Sai Kung, west of the New Territories in Hong Kong.

Saturday was an outdoor YSA activity that included members from all four stakes in Hong Kong. It was in the northern part of the New Territories and was very beautiful. It finally allowed me an opportunity to do some catching up with friends, and there were seven of us there who had served in the same mission in Toronto.

Don't blame me. It was the cheapest T-shirt I could find (and the one with the least embarrassing logo).

Hong Kong Diaries: PART II

“香港真係好幸福.”

Hong Kong is truly blessed. I seem to have heard that a lot lately, and it has been living up to its fame.

On Monday I explored a lot of the city, went to some Touristy areas, and ended up at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The city has recently poured $156 million into it and it is quite impressive. I didn’t know much about the history of Hong Kong, and so I am glad I went to kind of get an overview. They also had some very fascinating cultural exhibits.

On Tuesday I went to the temple here. Previously I had heard that it was actually a lot bigger than it looked in the pictures, so needless to say, I was a bit shocked when it turned out to be quite small. It is on a very small plot of land, every inch of which is covered in some kind of vegetation. There is a small waterfall near the entrance. It is a beautiful place, on the north end of Kowloon, with the mountains forming a natural backdrop. I talked to some younger people there and eventually made friends with three of them. They all three had recently returned from missions; two to Hong Kong and one to Oakland. They took me over to the mission home to show me around. While there, I ran into my second cousin on my mom’s side who is a missionary here. He had all the signs of an enthusiastic missionary with dreams of a very Chinese future. As such, he had plenty of questions about my doings in the mainland.

Afterwards my three friends and I went out to eat. I had a hard time making up my mind about what to order; not only deciding between Korean food, Singaporean food, or traditional Chinese food, but then deciding which of the many combinations of spices and rice/noodles/soup/beef/pork/chicken/lamb I would choose. At night I went to see the night skyline. I tried taking pictures of the skyline but gave up, because even the landscape function on my picture, which allows three simultaneous shots next to each other, could only capture about sixty percent of it. I really think that it puts every other skyline I have seen to shame, even New York City’s. It is simply massive.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I continued to do what I really love doing—exploring the city by foot. I went to Central—an older part of Hong Kong that has remained largely unchanged. The signs still look like they are from the sixties, and an odd, medicinal smell prevails. Which isn’t surprising, considering there is a Chinese medicine shop every twenty five yards.

As night drew near, I sat on the harbor and read my book. My idea of a vacation.

Hong Kong Diaries: PART I

I had a hard time sleeping the night before I came. I get nervous about everything working out. It seems that a lot of things have to fall together for everything to go smoothly; I had to wake up a little before five, catch a taxi to the train station where a bus leaves to go to the airport. You need to be early to make sure there is enough room on the bus. The airport in Nanjing is small but effective. The flight was a little over two hours.

When I got to the Hong Kong airport I bought an “octopus card,” a credit card that can be used for public transportation of any kind, shopping, and who knows what else. I found the subway stop I was looking for after an hour of riding. I went to a nearby 7/11, bought a phone card, and arranged to meet Trevor. We went back to his place and talked while I tried to fight off the headaches I often get from travel. That night we went downtown. China has four classical works of literature. One of them, Journey to the West, chronicles the journey of a monkey king as he fights evil. I went to a show about the monkey king at the Hong Kong Cultural Arts Center.

By night I realized I had eaten something awful and was in for a long night. And it was a very long night. Surprisingly, it was cold—one of the coldest nights I have had in a long time. I didn’t have any blankets and slept in all my clothes on a dirty and small couch. The morning brought reprieve from the cold only because I had stomach problems to worry about. Fortunately his bathroom was small enough to allow me to throw up in the sink at the same time as being stuck on the toilet.

I decided to go find a hostel or a hotel to get a good night’s rest. After some deliberation I checked into a hostel belonging to the famed Chungking Mansions. This place is like a concrete rabbit warren full of Indian shops, shady characters, and cheap hostels. Parts of the inside are quite clean, but the outside looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the 1960’s. An Indian took me to my room on the seventh floor. It is incredibly small, measuring just 8×4 feet. The whole thing has a peculiar smell to it. If you don’t know what Indians smell like, just imagine a person who leaked curry through every pore of their body. And not just any curry. Indian curry, of the strongest type. I think there is a restaurant above me. They wash the dishes every half an hour. They take about seven seconds per plate, average. The water dripping on the floor (my ceiling) drips about every 1.5 seconds. My room isn’t exactly soundproof.

But it is surprisingly relaxing. It is a single room for 100 HKD per night. You can’t ask for much more than that in Hong Kong. The hotel rooms are almost just as small at 10x the price. So my room gets the job done. I want to spend a lot of time out in the city anyways—after all I didn’t exactly come to Hong Kong to spend time in a hostel—but if my stomach keeps acting up I might be stuck here for awhile.

China’s “Ant Tribe”

A typical neighborhood in a Chinese city, in which graduates live four or five to a room.

There was an excellent article (link here) in the New York Times this week about the “ant tribe” in China—college graduates who find their value has depreciated over the last few years. They are finding it increasingly difficult to get a job among the mass of recent graduates.

“While some recent graduates find success, many are worn down by a gauntlet of challenges and disappointments. Living conditions can be Dickensian, and grueling six-day work weeks leave little time for anything else but sleeping, eating and doing the laundry.”

This, however, isn’t necessarily good work ethic. Companies are very poorly run, and though hours are long, production is often very low. Furthermore, dishonesty and corruption are prevalent. Often times, people buy diplomas off the street corner or just lie, which depreciates the value of a diploma even further.

Graduates move to the big cities in hopes of finding a job, but find that an overabundance of college graduates and a lack of what is called guanxi, or relationships, makes it hard to find any job and nearly impossible to find one that pays significantly more than a factory job. This quote by a recent graduate in Beijing, struggling to find work, seems to sum up the situation pretty well: “If you’re not the son of an official or you don’t come from money, life is going to be bitter.”

China is excellent at producing jobs for those who are content with blue collar jobs; however, those seeking white collar jobs with a degree are finding life increasingly difficult.