Friday, June 27, 2008

The Other Side of the Story

It has been a few weeks since I came back from China where I witnessed the national mourning of the Sichuan earthquake victims. It feels difficult to discuss that topic or comment on my blog about it because what I have read, heard and watched in China is so different from what I read and hear in New York. I am puzzled and wonder which side I shall take and believe and why there are so many differences between the Chinese and US reports.

As you can see in my previous postings, I have only written a few stories from what I had witnessed about the earthquake tragedy while I was in China. These were only some examples out of thousands of moving stories, but I didn’t see any of those reported in the US. In the US news reports, most of the coverage deals with what went wrong during the earthquake rescue. These articles focused on the numbers of deaths that were only estimated by the local governments, and not by actual counts, the school collapses, with it the failure of the local governments and all the angry parents that protested against the local governments (which I totally understand and support them too). There was also focus on how Chinese scientists did not adequately warn the government that an accident like this could happen and the faultiness of building structures in potential earthquake zones.

I realize that the US media is just reporting the reality of the news, but I wonder why only the tragic and angry stories are being published. This is not new to anyone, China itself and every other country in the world publishes a “one sided” news report. However, this is awful to me, because it means that people in either country can only hear a one-sided view. This allows me to understand how so many Americans whom I have met who have been to China tell me how much they love China and how surprised they are to see that China is so different from what they read, watched, or heard in the US. If people in either country only see one-sided stories, they will only have a one-sided view of the other country’s people and its life. But luckily, over 200 million Chinese now have internet access and many of them can read English, so they can read more Western news. Even though some websites are blocked, CNN, NY Times, Time, and more are not, so you can imagine what Chinese can read about the Western media. Now how about Westerners? How many of them can read Chinese websites such as Sina, Sohu, or a fashion magazine like Bazaar China? Can you imagine what special coverage about the Sichuan earthquake that Bazaar China has covered? Bazaar China has run a poignant series about the earthquake tragedy ranging in topics from shelters for the elderly, how families rebuild after the incident , the sadness of the parents for their children and the general pulling together of the human spirit. There are touching pictures that show children’s backpacks without their owners and military personnel aiding the wounded and carrying them out of the rubble on stretchers, not to mention the solidarity of the Chinese people during the moment of silence in Tiananmen Square or the celebrities like Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi gathering to aid the survivors. This is not propaganda, but another side of the human spirit of China that few Westerners see reflected in their media. Can you imagine Bazaar or any other fashion magazine publish such series in the west? I know many people here say China’s media is government’s propaganda, which I agree, but how about Western media? Here is one article I would like to share with you.

Having puzzled on this topic for a few weeks, I finally got excited to see that a few reports about China are subjective and really can help Westerners understand China from different perspectives. First, I saw “Youth and Restless in China,” a documentary film about 9 young Chinese people who come from different background and have different dilemmas, dreams, and hopes.

And NPR’s On the Media Goes to China has a great series about the media in China, which I will discuss further in upcoming blogs. In this series, you can really have a better understanding on how media works in China and if all things you read, heard, watched in the West really represent about China. (You can either read it or download it to listen to it, four stories and a blog).

So here is to hoping that people in both China and the West will have more opportunities to read, listen to, or watch such subjective media reports so we all can have a better understanding of each other!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

National College Entry Exam

I still remember when I took the National College Entry Exam in 1981. It was in the hot summer of July 7-9, when the dates had been set for all Chinese high school graduates across the country. All exams from 1979 to 2002 were taken during these three days. They were such important days for all Chinese high school graduates and their families that I don’t think we could ever forget it. So if you ask me when I took that exam, I can tell you without a second thought!

For anyone who has been to China, you know how hot it becomes in early July. Regardless of how hot it was, millions of graduates had to take the exams in sweltering class rooms that did not have fans, much less air conditioning! I cannot use a hand-fan either, because we had to focus on taking the exam. Of course, water was not allowed into the examination room either, so we couldn’t drink anything until the exam was over, one exam lasting 2-3 hours in the morning and another one in the afternoon, totaling 6 exams in 3 days! When it was over, what a relief it was for graduates and their families! Yet, the anxiety would continue because we didn’t know if and which university we could get into! I still remember that there were only 9% of graduates who could go to universities during my time, but now that number of Beijing graduates who attend university has risen to 73% in 2007.

Anyhow, every year people would complain how hot each July was and that such important exams really should not have been taken in such intolerable heat. Finally, in 2003, the government changed the examination date to June 6-9 which is so much cooler than in July. How lucky all these graduates are now, they are allowed to take the exams during cooler months and some classrooms even have electronic fans or air conditioners!

I just received an email from a Chinese teacher who shared these “creative answers” from this year's entry exam for the Chinese language. When I first looked at the questions, I thought they were too difficult for anyone who should fill out blanks. But then I realized that we all have learned these ancient poems and should have known the answers if we had prepared for the exam for so long! When you read some students’ answers you can see the difference from the past to now in how young Chinese students have become so creative and materialistic. They don’t seem to care about whatever answers they could have. Now I have to share this in Chinese because it will be hard to translate these “creative” and "fun" answers!

高考創意答案 看一组语文试卷中的填空题吧—

1,_____,为伊消得人憔悴 同学答:宽衣解带终不悔 (正解为“衣带渐宽终不悔”)

2,问渠哪得清如许,_____ 同学答:心中自有清泉在 (正解为“唯有源头活水来”,咱还是和水粘了点边)

3,何当共剪西窗烛,_____ 同学答:夫妻对坐到天明 (正解为“却话巴山夜雨时”) 4,蚍蜉撼大树,_____ 同学答:一动也不动 (正解为“可笑不自量”,一动也不动,赫赫,很符合事实阿)

5,君子成人之美,_____ 同学答:小人夺人所爱

6,穷则独善其身,_____ 同学答:富则妻妾成群  (正解:达则兼济天下)

7,_____,天下谁人不识君 同学答:只要貌似萨达姆

8,后宫佳丽三千人,_____ 同学答:铁棒也会磨成针 ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ (正解为“三千宠爱在一身”)

9,身有彩凤双飞翼,_____ 同学答:拔毛凤凰不如鸡 还有个同学答:夫妻双双把家还 (正解为“心有灵犀一点通”)

10,东边日出西边雨,_____ 同学答:床头打架床尾合 还有个同学答:上错花轿嫁对郎 11,_____,糟糠之妻不下堂 同学答:结发之夫不上床

12,但愿人长久,_____ 同学答:一颗永流传 (正解为“千里共婵娟”)

13,西塞山前白鹭飞,_____ 同学答:东村河边爬乌龟

14,我劝天公重抖擞,_____ 同学答:天公对我吼三吼 (正解为“不拘一格降人才”,龚自珍)

15,天生我才必有用,_____ 同学答:关键时刻显神通 又有同学答:老鼠儿子会打洞 16,天若有情天亦老,_____ 同学答:人不风流枉少年! (正解为“月若无恨月长圆”李贺《金铜仙人辞汉歌》)

17,洛阳亲友如相问,_____ 同学答:请你不要告诉他 (正解为“一片冰心在玉壶”) 18,期末考试出对联,上联是:英雄宝刀未老 初三同学对下联为:老娘丰韵尤存

19,良药苦口利于病,_____ 同学答:不吃才是大傻瓜 人生自古谁无死,_____ 同学答:只是死的有先后

20,床前明月光,_____ 同学答:李白睡得香

21,管中窥豹,_____ 同学答:吓我一跳 (正解为“可见一斑”)

22,_____,飞入寻常百姓家 同学答:康佳彩霸电视机

23,葡萄美酒夜光杯,_____ 同学答:金钱美人一大堆

24,_____,路上行人欲断魂 初一学生的杰作:半夜三更鬼敲门

25,老吾老以及人之老,_____ 同学答:妻吾妻以及人之妻 (那个同学特别具有奉献精神)



Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beijing in Olympic Time

Only this April when I went back to Beijing did I begin to wonder if it’s really a good idea to be there during the Olympics. I used to be so proud that the Olympics would be held in Beijing and encouraged everyone to visit and experience the exciting atmosphere, even if they weren't going to the Games. I tried to get tickets from both the US and China official ticket agents, but didn't have any luck with that. I didn’t win any lotteries either (yes, it is a lottery process) after I requested the maximum numbers of tickets allowed. But never mind, I still wanted to be in Beijing to witness this life experience!

Then in April, I stood in a two-hour line to apply for a visa in the Chinese Consulate in New York. I was shocked to see the visa office more packed than I’ve seen it in a decade. Very few applicants in front of me got a visa. I heard the clerk tell them that they were missing this or that document. I had never heard such requests before and wondered why China changed its visa policy. In the past, you could obtain a visa without any specific documents, only just by filling out a form. Now, as a tourist, visa applicants must submit the CONFIRMED roundtrip air ticket and paid hotel reservations (a simple reservation is not acceptable). If I visit my family there, I must have them write an official invitation. For business visas, applicants must submit an official original invitation from a Chinese company with the original seal. No fax or email invitation is allowed!

In Beijing, my suppliers told me to make sure all goods were purchased by the end of June. Otherwise, I’d have to wait until September (too late for our Christmas season), because no trucks will be allowed in the city from mid-July to the end of August except those with special licenses for this period. Publishers in Beijing are rushing to print books that are usually done in July and August by the end of June instead, so they can distribute them nationwide in time for the semester starting in September!

For ordinary citizens, if your car's license plates have an odd number, you can drive only on dates with odd numbers, and vice-versa for the even numbers. It might be good for air quality, but it creates enormous inconveniences for people who depend on driving for their day to day activities! The government has also starting knocking on everyone's doors to check IDs. Every resident must have a Beijing ID, and migrant workers must have official permits to work in Beijing. If you can’t show these documents, you have to leave Beijing, no exceptions, and this includes all westerners. Some westerners who have lived in Beijing for a long time must leave because of visa issues. Read this New York Times article to learn more about what’s happening to these westerners.

And of course for visitors, hotel rooms will be the most difficult to get. Either hotels are already overbooked or those that are left are too expensive. Read this New York Times article about this topic. Here is another article about the empty Beijing hotels because Westerners aren't getting visas. I know that many Beijing citizens are renting out their apartments for the Olympic spectaculars and they are charging 1000RMB ($142.00) per night for a one-room apartment! See some sample apartments here.

So now you may understand why I’m not sure if it’s a good time to be in Beijing during the Olympics. Nevertheless, I will be there and I will give you reliable updates on the Beijing scene during that exciting time. For those of you going to Beijing, I really am sure you’ll have lots of fun there. And don’t forget to grab Cityweekend and Timeout Beijing at your hotels or restaurants; they give you the best advice (sorry, much better than any guide books) on everything you need to live in or visit Beijing.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Beijing and Dust

I am disturbed by the New York Times article about Beijing’s dust problem. It is true that Beijing used to "blow sand" in the springtime, but this spring I was there in April and May and didn't witness any “sand” as mentioned in one of my other blog postings.

When I saw the photo with this article, my first reaction was who would dare to come to Beijing if they saw this photo? However, this photo didn’t mention the date it was taken, which makes me wonder if it was from previous years when the weather was worse. In the past, Beijing has had this kind of weather for just a few days a year--never more than 10--and it happens only in spring, never in summer! This weather doesn't appear in summertime, so the Olympics should be safe from sand storms!

The author also said dust “seeps and creeps and glides and slides across the floor, under the door and all around the walls” in his apartment and that “it’s like living in a beach house.” I wonder why he lives there if the dust problem is unbearable. Beijing does have dust, but not so much it merits the critique of a “beach house.” If Beijing is so dusty and unpleasant to live in, how can 15 million people live there, including more than 100,000 westerners? Some of my American friends have lived in Beijing for more than 20 years; how could they possibly survive if their living rooms are “sandy beaches?” When I left Beijing for the US this past April, I ran into an American high school principal at the airport who had just visited China with his family. He and his wife told me what a wonderful time they had and how much they love China and Beijing in particular. I've met many school administrators across the United States who, upon their return from Beijing, have told everyone they love Beijing and want to go back. If the air in Beijing is so bad, why would they want to do that?

To be fair, in Beijing, I do have to wipe my tables once a day and mop the floors every 2 or 3 days; otherwise, you see dust everywhere. Here are two pictures I took in Beijing, one during spring and the other during summer 2007. Are these like the ones you see with the New York Times article?

Is all this dust coming from factories around Beijing and the increasing number of cars on the street? Read this blog to understand where all this dust actually comes from. I really hope someone can offer better solutions than closing down factories, banning trucks from the city, or driving cars only on even or odd days in July and August in Beijing!

In short, I hope you don't pass up a fabulous time in Beijing because of what you saw in this New York Times article. It is dusty there, but it is not as described!


Friday, June 20, 2008

My Stylish Olympics

Can Olympic clothes be fashionable? Most people certainly don't associate fashion and the Olympics! I remember when I first told a friend that ChinaSprout was the official licensee for the Beijing Olympic products. She said, “That’s great! But I am not interested in any sporty fashions.” Wow, that wasn't what I had in mind when I worked so hard to get that license! I am a person who isn't typically interested in athletic wear, but the Beijing Olympic products this year are so unique they defy traditional sports wear.

The range of Beijing Olympics products is exceptional this year! I would say more than 80% of products in all categories aren't sports-related, but have more to do with Chinese culture. Check out these accessories, home décor, toys, and stationery.

Have you ever seen such Olympic products during any other Olympic games? This is truly a first. Beijing 2008 Olympic products focus on Chinese culture, a theme illustrated in every item. Look at this T-shirt, decorated with sports pictograms that look like Chinese calligraphy. And this shirt is printed with Chinese peonies.

Few people associate the Olympics with jewelry, but these accessories are unique and elegant with Chinese elements that coordinate easily with any outfit.

And these thermoses and mugs are designed with mascots that children and adults alike love.

The mascot for the Paralympics is so cute that some children sleep with it! I didn’t carry this mascot until one woman told me how much her daughter loved the Paralympic mascot, but not the Olympic mascots. She bought one in Beijjing for her daughter and now all her cousins want it, too.

For all these reasons, ChinaSprout is the only official licensee in the US that imports these products from China. Of course, to promote the Olympic spirit and Chinese culture, we became part of CCTV’s exciting program “My Stylish Olympics.” I was honored to be invited to Beijing in May to attend the opening ceremony. You can see the photos and watch the video below! Here is a short film broadcast on CCTV. Enjoy!