Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 100 Days To Go

Just 100 days remain before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
On the 8th of the 8th, 2008 (at eight past eight, of course), the Games will begin and we'll know a lot more about the future of world affairs than we do today.
These three months are arguably the most important in the history of modern China's relationship with the world.
I visited the stadium this weekend and, although you can't get into it, the facilities and the areas surrounding it look amazing. But that's not what matters most.
China's handling of the inevitable protests from Tibetan separatists, agitation from Taiwan, and criticism from external human rights groups will be telling.
Is the Beijing government capable of allowing a controlled, non-violent protest in Tiananmen Square?
Will the authorities be comfortable with lifting media censorship (permanently)?
Can the Taiwan issue be solved diplomatically rather than with the threat of military intervention?
Will China be mature enough to ignore ill-informed insults and accept fair criticism?
Stay tuned - it's going to be interesting...

Beijing needs PR advice to compete with media savvy Dalai Lama

Headlines like 'Dalai Lama is spewing lies' do little to aid China's efforts to communicate with the world.
Today's China Daily has a lash at the Dalai Lama who Beijing accuses of presenting unquestioning the Western audiences with unsubstantiated claims about events in Tibet.
The article is spot on in highlighting the Dalai Lama's skill in delivering his message to the media. He is, it says, adept at rallying support behind his cause.
But the author fails to conclude that China should take a leaf out of the Dalai Lama's book when it come to public relations.
Like it or not, if you want to communicate through media channels, you have to play by their rules. If you are concerned with influencing Western minds, you need to understand their media.
Outsiders see a smiling old monk complaining of suppression by an angry authoritarian communist (a loaded term in the West) regime with a dubious history.
Intemperate rants about this nice old geezer 'spewing lies' or being 'a wolf' just strengthen the image of China as a bully and allows the violent rioters to be painted as heroes.
Beijing's anger needs to be focused on communicating effectively. They need an affable figurehead who speaks in terms that the target audience understands.
This will have to be matched with actions such as allowing freer access to foreign media covering Tibet. [The province reopens tomorrow, having been a no-go area for over a month.]

The full article is worth a look:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the general decency of ordinary Chinese people

Amid all the negativity doing the rounds online about Tibet, the Olympics and western media bias (some of which has found its way onto these pages), it seems fair to remind those who have never been here that Chinese people are fundamentally decent.
Maybe it's a pity that I feel it necessary to say so, but at every turn in China, there's somebody looking to make a good impression on foreigners. This concern for what outsiders think may partly explain the sensitive reaction to external criticism, but the upside is Chinese people desperately want to do you favours!
Today, I remarked that I'd had a bit of a headache when I woke up this morning. Within half an hour, I was presented with (a) a recipe for a simple herbal treatment (b) an invitation to go to a student's dorm to collect a special tea used for curing common ailments and (c) a bag of freshly bought ginger and an unopened bag of brown sugar - another headache remedy.
And it's not just in Beijing. In Qingdao, a local woman escorted us to our hotel - even though it was a mile out of her way - and then gave us her spare umbrella as a welcoming gesture. In Jinan, a young school student helped us navigate the chaotic transport depot, ensuring that we got on the right bus to Tai'an. He later emailed me to ask if everything worked out alright.
As I've said before, I don't believe the Olympics are truly apolitical, but when all the chatter subsides and the Games begin, the Chinese will be excellent hosts.

Last of the fake designer bags (and toothpaste)

Roll up, roll up for the last of the knock-off Louis Vuitton suitcases, D&G shades, Calvin Klein boxers. The glory days of fake Chinese goods is coming to an end. Or so they say...
China is stepping up efforts to curb intellectual copyright infringement, under pressure from big business to protect their brand names.
Last year, Chinese customs officials seized more than 333 million pirated items with a total value of $63 million.
The goods were found in the US, Uk, Japan, France, Greece, Germany, Holland and, of course, China. No mention of Ireland but officials from An Post have recently highlighted the large volume of fakes being sent through the post.
Slightly bizarrely, the item singled out for special mention in media reports is the 300,000 units of counterfeit toothpaste confiscated by customs in 2007. The paste was branded with Unilever logos but was churned out in a factory in central China.
Other items listed by officials include: clothing, footwear, headgear, toys, bags, electronics and auto parts.
No mention of DVDs - thank God.

Friday, April 25, 2008

China agrees to talks with "wolf in monk's robes"

The Beijing government is to meet with represent- atives of the Dalai Lama, CNN reports - although you can't believe anything those bastards say (see below).
China used the harshest language available to slag the smiling holy man following violence in Tibet. Amongst many, many other things, they referred to him as "a wolf in monk's robes" and accused him of masterminding the protests.
In a carefully worded statement, Beijing said they would accept repeated requests for talks, making it clear that it was the Dalai side who came to them.
And, just in case Tibetan separatists get the wrong impression, a Chinese official is quoted as saying it is hoped the Dalai Lama will make "credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks."
Note the last clause: is the implication that talks are conditional on the Dalai Lama admitting to plotting and sabotage?
I see three possible scenarios here:
a) China wants to appear open to talks but will set preconditions which force the Tibetan side to turn down the offer of dialogue.
b) China will bring the Dalai Lama to the table on his knees, making him denounce separatism and support the Olympics (both of which he has more or less done in the past). This would send militant young Tibetan rebels over the edge leading them to look for a new political figurehead and/or launch a new wave of violence which the Dalai Lama has said would be enough to make him quit. Either way, the Tibetans would be divided and conquered.
c) China and Tibet will reach a compromise which respects the will of all people in Tibet and addresses inequality between China's eastern and western provinces.

I'm hoping for (c) but betting on a bit of (a) followed by plenty of (b).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just 2% of Chinese believe foreign media - 86% reckon state media tells truth

A new opinion poll reveals just a tiny fraction of Chinese people trust non-Chinese media, while almost 60% registered a deep disliking for France.
The survey was taken in the wake of a month of bad international press for China, notably following unrest in Tibet and the chaotic Olympic Torch Relay.
Of the 905 people surveyed (an infinitesimal proportion of China's 1.3 billion), 2% said they had faith in foreign media, while 86% believe Chinese news sources.
The questions asked of respondents - and the timing of the survey - suggest some in China are as happy as anyone to stoke nationalist sentiment and wedge open a divide between east and west.
50% said what the words and deeds of the Dalai Lama "deepened their repugnance toward him". Not exactly neutral language.
Respondents said they are reacting to perceived negative sentiment towards China by starting petitions, holding protests, blogging and boycotting French goods.
France came in for further pummeling in the questionnaire.
Having been the second most popular country ("second to the Motherland") in 2003, France has fallen out of favour with 60% registering "a growing dislike for France". I don't suppose it's growing the longer this stuff stays in the news, is it?
State media speaks of 'simmering resentment' towards France following what it calls hostile gestures, including disruptions to the Olympic Torch Relay in Paris.
All the French really did was fail to control Tibetan protesters, and then fail to condemn them. And then failed to get really excited about the Olympics.
Protesting is a way of life in France. They can't stop people taking to the streets, regardless of whether they agree with their cause.
However, France isn't the only nation falling in popularity. Canada, Britain and Germany also dropped in the rating - no mention of Ireland though. We're still insignificant enough not to feature at all, despite the best efforts of Minister Gormley.
The survey is statistically meaningless but still made the top of the news in China. It's also full of contradictions which pass without mention in the press here.
For example, 90% oppose boycotts and protests held overseas. But 39% are boycotting French goods and 21% are taking part in spontaneous protests in public places.

In summary:
Chinese media - good
Foreign media - bad
Chinese boycotts - good
Foreign boycotts - bad
Chinese protests - good
Foreign protests - bad

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paris back in Beijing's bad books...

Just when France appeared to be weaseling its way out diplomatic trouble with China, they've gone and landed themselves in the merde again. Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Chinese athlete Jin Jing back to Paris to make amends for how she was treated during protests at the Olympic Torch Relay.
Today, the mayor of Paris decided to offer honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama. Sacre blue!
For a brief spell yesterday evening, plans to boycott French companies and hold protests outside Carrefour on May 1 were quite likely being reconsidered.
Now the Paris city council, led by Mayor Bertrand Delanoe's Socialists and the Green Party, have given China the two fingers - much to the despair of Sarkozy's chums in the conservative UMP which voted against the motion.
Beijing called this 'another grave provocation'.
However, the boycott of Carrefour is likely to hurt China as much as France, given that 99% of its employees here are Chinese and 95% of its products are made locally.
China has been harping on for weeks about how boycotts don't work. Perhaps that only applies to the Olympics...

Beijing lawyers sue CNN for a whopping Y100 (€9.02)

It's getting ugly out there, as Jack Cafferty would say.
Cafferty and CNN's innate ability to annoy China has already led to criticism, protests and executives from the US network being summoned to a meeting by the Beijing government.
Now, the fight is moving to the courts.
Lawyers upset by Cafferty's reference to 'the Chinese' as 'goons and thugs' say CNN has harmed the their reputation. 14 aggrieved legal eagles have now filed a lawsuit with the Chaoyang Court in Beijing.
Beijing Huanzhong & Partners, a Beijing-based law firm, demand that CNN and Cafferty cease what they termed 'harmful acts', issue a public apology and pay each of them 100 yuan (€9.02) in compensation for mental distress.
Presumably the level of distress wasn't too severe or they'd be asking for a full €10. Of course, they will claim that the low level of the compensation demanded proves this is a point of principle rather than cash.
A cynic might suggest the law firm will make a few quid from the court case just by getting their name spread across the newspapers for free.
Not to mention all the publicity generated online. (Damn it! I've fallen into their trap).
Of course, CNN are probably doing alright out of it on the publicity front too. Maybe they've set the whole thing up as a PR stunt...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nicolas Sarkozy, PR genius!

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is proving himself a master of the grand public relations gesture.
Sarkozy has apologised to Chinese athlete Jin Jing who was manhandled by pro-Tibet protesters during the Paris leg of the Olympic Torch Relay.
Jin Jing, who is wheelchair-bound, has become a national hero in China for the way in which she protected the flame.
The incident sparked outrage across China, not least because it received minimal coverage in western media.
France has been singled out for special mention by Chinese protesters following the incident. There was also considerable annoyance that Sarkozy - who had been feted in Beijing last November and went home with €30 billion worth of contracts for French companies - had failed to commit to attending the Olympic opening ceremony.
This led to burnings of Le Tricolore and plans to boycott French goods. A boycott and rally are currently planned outside branches of Carrefour on May 1.
Sarkozy invited Jin Jing back to Paris "to make up for the pain you have suffered"."I would like to express to you my shock at the way you were attacked in Paris on April 7 when you were holding the Olympic flame. You showed outstanding courage, which honors you, and your country," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in the letter.
"To make up for the pain you have suffered, I sincerely invite you to France in the near future as my friend and a friend of the French people."
"What happened in Paris has engendered a feeling of bitterness in your country. I want to assure you that the incidents that were brought about by a few people on that sad day don't reflect the feelings of my fellow countrymen for the Chinese people," the letter says.
"Bitter"? Isn't that the word that got Barack Obama into a world of trouble when he used it to describe the people of Pennsylvania?
Hopefully it'll work better for Nicolas.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Protesters to Cafferty: 'Do you eat with that mouth?'

The latest installment in the battle between CNN and 1.3 billion people took place on Sunset Boulevard this weekend.
Shouting 'liar' and 'sack Cafferty', the Chinese community in Los Angeles demonstrated outside the offices of CNN as the furore continues over remarks by outspoken contributor Jack Cafferty last week.
Cafferty referred to the Chinese as 'goons' and 'thugs', leading Beijing to summon CNN executives to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.
The LA Times reports that CNN has continued to stress that Cafferty's comments were aimed at elements of the Beijing government rather than at the Chinese people, but that didn't seem to wash with those calling for his head.
Interestingly, the Times quotes a 39-year-old engineer as saying China is vastly different to the image being spun by CNN (who in my view were guilty of ignorance rather than bias).
The Chinese engineer said the last protest he attended was 19 years ago in Beijing - the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989!

Maoists surge to power promising to help the poor

It's April 2008 and Maoist rebels have just swept into govern- ment, backed by a jaded and desperate- ly poor population.
But today, for once, I'm not talking about China for it is Nepal where Maoists now find themselves with political power.
This is a little ironic coming, as it does, at a time when Mao's ideology fades into history in China. Mao's communist China is still run by his party, but its global outlook would be unrecognisable to the late Chairman.
He might turn in his grave (or mausoleum, as the case may be) if he saw the consumer culture that has gripped the 'peasants' who helped him to power.
But at lest he can look to Nepal as a nation where his name is associated with the future instead of the past.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The People's Republic of.....Clondalkin

Is there something going on in Dublin that nobody's telling me?
According to Google Analytics - which reports how many people viewed the blog and where these bored individuals live - Dublin appears to be disintegrating.
The map shows a large blob for Dublin but there are two smaller dots within the city which are singled out for special mention.
The first one appeared last week, telling me there had been five visits from Clondalkin. Has there been an uprising? Have the people of Clondalkin formed their own state within a state - like Monaco or The Vatican?
A second independent dot appeared yesterday: Dun Laoghaire. I always knew they had notions about themselves out that direction. I bet talk of autonomy from Dublin has been dominating the yacht clubs for years.
Of course, I know people in plenty of other large Dublin suburbs have logged on, but they are lumped in together under the 'Dublin' category.
Chinese readers (which are the second largest group, by the way) will be familiar with this type of separatist uprising given their experience of Tibet. Any advice?
Is it only a matter of time before there are people marching down O'Connell Street with giant placards:
"Free Clondalkin! Free Clondalkin!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

CNN executives summoned to Beijing after failure to aplogise

A worrying develop- ment: Beijing- based executives from CNN were called to a meeting at the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday in the wake of the ongoing debacle that has followed remarks by opinionated contributor Jack Cafferty.
Cafferty last week referred to the Chinese government as 'goons and thugs', which hasn't gone down terribly well here. See previous posts for more on how the Chinese media has reacted.
At this point I'd be quite concerned if I worked for CNN, especially if I were Chinese.
Whatever about forum members and bloggers (who are just people with nothing better than do but spout on about the topic du jour) it is a little concerning that the political establishment would summon a foreign news organisation to answer for its content.
Perhaps it's just as worrying that such a powerful news organisation felt they had to attend.
According to the government news agency, Xinhua, CNN were told to apologise for 'slander', although if they had indeed groveled that probably would have been mentioned in the official statement from Xinhua.
Journalists don't have the privilege to "rail against anybody or any government", the government said.
Really? I thought railing against governments - especially your own - was a basic function of journalism. My mistake.
This explains the absence of criticism on CCTV.
CNN had previously moved to clarify the issue with the usual line about the views of their contributors not representing the organisation yadda yadda. They also apologised to anyone who interpreted the comments as a slight on Chinese people.
Of course, CNN's statement didn't cut it in Beijing, with some continuing to accuse the network of racism.
A commentator at People's Daily said Cafferty's words reminded him of the US Chinese Exclusion Act which discriminated against labourers from China.
He must be very, very old. That Act was passed in 1882 (and was abolished in 1943).

Is Beijing ready for the Paralympic Games?

An exhausted-
looking labourer with a faint moustache stood leaning against a wall admiring his own handiwork.
He had just finished pouring cement into a cast built around steps up to a subway station on Beijing's west side. Now there is a handy ramp up what used to be a two-step climb to the station entrance.
He was, I presumed, beginning the process of making Beijing's subway system wheelchair accessible.
That was ten days ago. Since then, nothing has happened.
There are 66 steps from ground level to the door of the train - yes, I counted them.
It caused me to pause a moment and rack my brain in an effort to remember the last time I saw somebody in a wheelchair in China. I still can't think when it was and I've been here almost a year.
There are plenty of 'developed' cities with hopeless accessibility standards on the public transport system but Beijing deserves special attention because it will host the Paralympic Games after the Olympics this year.
Perhaps the paralympic athletes will be well looked after and might be spared the overcrowded buses and inaccessible subway.
But what about other people in wheelchairs? How do they get around Beijing and, more importantly - where on earth are they?!
[NB The pic to the right was not taken in Beijing]

China's new chart-topper: 'Don't be too CNN'

A new song and music video is spreading across the net like wildfire in China.
The title reflects growing outrage at what Chinese people see as a propaganda war waged by Western media.
This might seem a little rich given how tightly the media is controlled in China but we'll leave that for another day.
Today, let's just enjoy the patriotic new hit which (although it's in Chinese) apparently includes the lines:
"Why do you rack your brains in trying to turn black into white? Don't be too CNN. CNN solemnly swears that everything on it is the truth, but I've gradually discovered this is actually a deception."
The video features of riots in Lhasa and references to the disrupted Olympic Torch relay in Paris.
You can view it here or visit and search for it by name.

China fears West is waging 'cold war'

There's growing tension in China amid fears that the West is launching a new 'cold war' on Beijing.
Some bloggers are even speculating about intervention to 'free' Tibet.
It's all a little hysterical but there's no doubt that China feels like the world is against it.
The China Daily quotes a German newspapers column in which the author (a former German politician) claims the West has a history of lurching from cold war to hot war to cold war, as if there is an insatiable need for an enemy.
The latest target, it is suggested, is China.
My old favourite has a video showing some truly horrific scenes from the conflict in Iraq, while making the point that the invasion did nothing for democracy or freedom. Where next, they ask - Tibet?
It may sound paranoid to outsiders but the sense of being victims - the siege mentality - cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

China freaked with CNN - again

The Chinese are up in arms again over an alleged smear by CNN.
Not for the first time, Beijing feels the western media is being harsh and agressive with China.
You might recall reading here about the popular Chinese website '' which slates the American news network (and several other media outlets) for what China sees as anti-Beijing bias. I had been aware of the site for a while but a student showed it to me over the weekend, confirming that it had won a large and dedicated following.
This time, the cause of their ire is CNN presenter Jack Cafferty (pictured) who said: "The Chinese are basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they have been in the past 50 years."
He went on to slag off Chinese goods (or "junk", to use Cafferty's woyds), leading the China Daily newspaper to run an editorial blasting him as an amateur and claiming he is sickened by China's growing power.
The paper implied Cafferty - who is known for his opinionated and provocative style - was racist and that CNN is out of step with US ideals of respect for diversity.
The backlash in the Chinese blogosphere is well and truly on.
Although Cafferty himself has been a critic of the war, some Chinese are hitting back by suggesting that if it's "goons and thugs" you're looking for, the current White House is as good a place to start as any.
That's a tricky point to argue against!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

China snapping up chunks of oil giants

China's sovereign wealth fund has spent about £1 billion sterling on shares in oil giant GP, The Guardian reports.
Last month China - thanks to being overburdened with spare cash - splashed another £1 billion sterling on a stake in French oil firm Total.
Given that China was quick to point to the economic consequences of rubbing them up the wrong way during the minor diplomatic spat with Ireland this week, and the much bigger falling out with France, it'll be interesting to see how they use their newfound economic might.
The British government has already expressed mild unease over the idea of foreign countries controlling energy companies. As noted previously, China and the oil-rich middle eastern nations will soon own us all.
On a related note, I thought I'd include the graph above which shows who has oil - and who doesn't. It's skewed to represent the amount of oil each country has.
As you can see, Europe is bunched. China is relatively small given its actual size, which is probably why they are upping their control of oil in Africa and buying into international energy giants.

China is greatest nation on earth...

...when it comes to pollution the planet.
New estimates to be published next month say China is now the world's biggest polluter.
Using data from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, researchers in California reckon China has already overtaken the US in pumping more greenhouses gases into the atmosphere.
China's enormous Inner Mongolian province tops the league table for the region producing the most carbon dioxide, followed by Shanghai.
Tibet is bottom of the league which you can read as meaning it is the least well developed part of China or that its beautiful unspoilt plains are being preserved.
Interestingly, Beijing is the only area to record a significant decrease in air pollution.
The news comes as it was announced that construction work in Beijing, Shandong, Tianjin and other surrounding cities will grind to a halt in June, two months ahead of the Olympic Games.
Then it'll be full speed ahead again come September...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chinese community protest in Dublin

The Chinese community in Dublin took to the streets on Saturday in support of the Beijing Olympics.
Carrying Chinese and Irish flags, they gathered around the GPO in an effort to counterbalance what they see as an anti-Chinese bias in the West.
However, they are frustrated that the Irish media did not cover the event. You'd think the papers would enjoy a bit of conflict (of opinion), especially given that it looked like quite a large group. Perhaps they'll cover it in Monday's papers in light of John Gormley's remarks on Saturday night.
Full discussion on

[Thanks to the user 'Thirdfox' who posted the pic.]

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Panic-stricken Ahern is wrong - Gormley's Tibet remark was no 'slip of the tongue'

Oh dear. Claims by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern that his government colleague John Gormley's reference to Tibet as a country was 'a slip of the tongue' appear to be...what's the word...bullshit.
Environment Minister John Gormley told the Green Party conference on Saturday that Tibet was a country which had been suppressed and exploited, leading the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland to storm out. Now Ahern is scrambling to defuse the diplomatic row.
Whatever about sitting through a (very necessary) lecture on human rights, the Chinese flip the lid at suggestions that Tibet is anything other than one of its Provinces.
Dermot Ahern, pictured right, slapping Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the arse, said he had discussed Gormley's speech with him on Friday - presumably with a view to avoiding precisely this kind of embarrassment - and it had been agreed that the Green leader could urge the Reds to enter talks with the Dalai Lama.
However, the Greens kindly posted Gormley's speech on their website, revealing that the line which suggests that Tibet is a country was, in fact, part of the original text, rather than an off-the-cuff remark:
"Respect for human rights must extend to all cultures and countries. One country which has been exploited and suppressed and suffered for far too long is Tibet. We condemn unequivocally the flagrant human rights abuses by the Chinese government and call on the Chinese government to enter dialogue with the Dalai Lama."
Ahern bent over backwards not to upset the Chinese during an interview on Prime Time during the week and will be desperate to kiss and make up with the sensitive Chinese, lest Gormley's remarks damage diplomatic (read trade) relations.
Liu Biwei, the Chinese Ambassador stormed out of the Green Party meeting, pointedly saying he hoped the economic relationship between China and Ireland could go on.
Be afraid, be very afraid.

Irish Minister upsets Chinese Ambassador

The Chinese Ambassador to Ireland has stormed out of the Green Party conference in Dundalk after an Irish government minister appeared to suggest that Tibet was a country.
It's not yet clear whether this was an accidental slip of the tongue or a deliberate political affront.
Mr Liu Biwei had been invited to attend and participate in the weekend conference but walked out last night during a speech by Irish Green Party Leader and Environment Minister, John Gormley.
Gormley was speaking about human rights and urged China to engage with the Dalai Lama to prevent further unrest.
According to RTE, he added that one country which has been exploited and suppressed and suffered for far too long is Tibet.
Needless to say, the Chinese representative took this as a snub and emphasized that 200 countries have recognised Tibet as Chinese territory.
I'm pretty sure that Ireland's official position is that Tibet is part of China, so Gormley shouldn't expect a warm reception from his government colleague Dermot Ahern at the Dept of Foreign Affairs who will have to clean up the mess.
In an ominous and thinly veiled threat that the fallout from the perceived snub would be a strain on business relations between China and Ireland, Liu Biwei said:
'I hope our relations with Ireland, including economic relations, can go on.'
No doubt there'll be a groveling apology by Monday morning.

Getting a suit tailor-made in Beijing

It was tricky to find out where the best place is to get a suit made in Beijing so, now that I've cracked it, let me share. (Thanks to Martin & Chengcheng for pointing me in the right direction)
I just had a suit made for 750 Yuan (~€68) in the Ya Show market on Gong ti bei lu near Workers Stadium. I also snapped up a couple of shirts for 80 Yuan a piece.
Ya Shi Tailor Shop can be found by turning right when you come off the escalator on the third floor.
There's plenty of price haggling to be done and, naturally, some material is more expensive than others but it's certainly reasonable to expect to part with less than 1,000 Yuan.
They say you can get a suit within 24 hours, but it took three visits (measuring, fitting, collection) before I strolled out with suit in hand.
'Sunny' is a real pro and I meant it when I said I'll be back for another one in a few months.

Hello Wiki, my old friend...

Thank you International Olympic Committee.
China has unblocked the English language version of Wikipedia following pressure from the IOC to ease internet censorship.
China had previously agreed to relax its heavy-handy censorship when it was awarded the Olympic Games but it had failed to do so until now.
Wikipedia, along with BBC News, Blogspot, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and many others, were blacklisted. However, Wiki is now available in China, as is BBC.
Now I need never do proper research on anything again. What a relief.
Fear not though, it's still impossible to read up on things like the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989. And Wikipedia pages about Tibet are, naturally, off limits.
Still, it's progress. Hopefully they won't decided to reverse the decision at the end of August once the Olympic torch is passed to London.

Haiti Prime Minister ousted in food crisis

The Prime Minister of Haiti has become the first political casualty of the growing food crisis.
Jacques Edouard Alexis was voted out today as unrest spread across Haiti, which saw a UN solider killed.
The IMF is warning that the current global food shortage, and the accompanying price surges, could set back development by seven years.
Meanwhile, the BBC has a handy Q&A explainer on why world food prices are soaring.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Olympic tickets selling for $2,000

Politicians toying with the idea of boycotting the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games should think twice before calling to cancel.
Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel have already said they won't be at the opening night extravaganza, but if they had any sense they'd have politely accepted their tickets, flogged them on e-bay and made up a lame last-minute excuse. 'Ich bin washing my hair.'
Olympic tickets are offered online for $1,999 plus postage right now and such insanity will surely be heightened as the eighth of the eight, zero eight approaches.
While it's fun to laugh at eejits willing to part with such sickening sums, it makes me worry that as the camera pans across the crowd in the Bird's Nest stadium next August there won't be many Chinese faces.
The Chinese government ran a lottery system whereby some affordable tickets were allocated to locals, but anyone hoping to pick one up on the street can forget about it.
$2,000 is 14,000 Yuan - which is well in excess of the average Beijinger's salary.
The security guy who mans the security desk at my apartment building for 84 hours is paid 800 Yuan per month.
I can't wait to see his face when I give him the tickets...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

'Get anything nice in the shops?'

'Hello dear, did you buy anything interesting while you were out?'
'I did actually? I snapped up an overpriced non-yet-built apartment from a bloke who stopped me in the street.'
'Oh, lovely. Anything else? Did you remember to pick up some milk?'
'No. Forgot. But I did put a deposit on some unused out-of-town warehouse space which a salesmen told me was a great opportunity.'

Does this ever happen? I suppose it must.
I was stopped by lethargic salesmen on three separate occasions today while walking down Gongti lu near Workers Stadium in Beijing.
Two of them had brochures; one had a laminated copy of the artist's impression of a new development in the Chaoyang district.
I happen to know the location he's flogging and I happen to know that it's a hole in the ground.
So I decided against making the biggest purchase of my life, partly because I hadn't got the cash on me and partly because I'm not clinically insane.

China's 'War on Terrrrrr'

Hmmm....could the arrest of dozens of 'terrorists' in China's Muslim Xinjiang province be a preemptive strike by Beijing?
China's other separatist headache has been simmering away in the background while international attention has focused on Tibet.
The Uygur people in the northwestern region bordering Tibet have complained for years that the War on Terror has provided cover for the Chinese authorities to intern supposed troublemakers without trial.
They reckon today's swoop is a simple case of police rounding up anyone who might entertain notions of competing with Tibet for the spotlight as the Olympics approach.
As illustrated by George Leader-of-the-Free-World Bush, preventing terrorism can provide an excellent excuse for doing whatever the hell you like without regard for due process.
Thirty-five people were arrested today in Xinjiang suspected of plotting to kidnap athletes at the Olympics.
This could be true. But does would it not seem like an audacious and improbable plan?
Let the jury remain out on this one for the time being.
Or, at the very least, let there be a jury.

Are Western media soft on Tibetan protesters?

I'm really enjoying the website 'anti-'.
If you haven't had the pleasure, it's a site run by outraged Chinese mediawatchers who scour Western news outlets for examples of what they see as anti-Chinese bias.
Incidentally, CNN may feel a little hard done by to have been singled out for special mention given that several American and European media are criticized by the group.
In the wake of the mayhem that has engulfed the first three legs of the Olympic Torch Relay, has published photos which they say were deliberately ignored by the self-censoring Western media. The pictures show a 'well-functioning' male protester wrestling with a young, wheelchair-bound female athlete.
Lest we think there were no official photographers on hand to capture the moment, the website provides amateur pics of two snappers photographing police as they pin the protester to the ground.
I've been telling myself for a while that the Western media are simply more aggressive and sensationalist than Chinese viewers are used to. They tend to find the most dramatic and negative images available, which has been misinterpreted by some as anti-Chinese bias.
But if I'm right, why wasn't the fairly distasteful image above more widely published?
Is there a tendency to give carte blanche to Tibetan separatists because their human rights have been trampled upon?
I certainly don't agree with everything on '' but they serve a useful purpose. The Chinese are not the only ones who ought to reflect on their media coverage.
Everyone's biased. Except me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Food riots spreading across the globe

As the price of staple foods like rice and wheat soars out of reach of millions of people, violent protests have erupted in dozens of cities.
In Haiti (pictured), four people have been killed in rioting which threatens the country's fragile political stability. UN peacekeepers are struggling to restore calm but with food prices up 40% since last summer, people living on less than $2 a day have grown desperate.
There have also been demonstrations in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia and Indonesia.
The World Food Programme is running out of food and money, while the World Bank says the prices of all staple foods are up around 80% in three years. Eighty percent.
Despite all of this, coverage in Western media has been relatively thin.
The same goes for Chinese media, although they must be fearful that Asian countries could soon find themselves on that list of food riot hot spots.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

News media, with Chinese characteristics

I logged on to CCTV and the China Daily websites ready to scoff at how they glossed over the protests at the Olympic Torch Relay in Paris yesterday.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find they had covered the demonstrations, the arrests and the fact that the torch had to be bundled onto a bus to escape protesters. They condemned the protest, of course, but they covered it.
On the China Daily site, they also published over a dozen readers' comments - which were a fair mix of opinion on the issue.
They may not have portrayed the full extent of the chaos as reported on French TV (which said the relay had effectively been 'canceled') but it seemed a reasonable account from a Chinese perspective.
The media here in Beijing played up the counter-protests by Chinese nationals who supported the torch-bearers. These groups were portrayed as having been very much a small, fringe gathering by western outlets.
I'm not making the mistake of thinking that the truth lies exactly half-way between what the Chinese and French media say, but it's worth noting that the issue was covered, albeit with a natural Chinese tilt.
Am I setting the bar too low?

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's going to be a long 122 days

This isn't going very well, is it?
Not even police on rollerblades could prevent the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay being disrupted by protesters today.
Despite a huge police presence, the torch had to be extinguished three times for safety reasons, and at one point was put on a bus to protect it from a crowd of demonstrators.
On top of that, Reporters Without Borders were promising something 'spectacular' to mark the protest, the socialist Mayor of Paris was to unfurl a banner in support of human rights and two national newspapers in France lashed out at what they dubbed the 'flame of discord'.
Is that how it's going to be for the next 122 days until the Games begin?
And then what? Another two weeks of intense protests?
It seems certain that the San Francisco leg of the relay and, surely, the Tibetan part of the route will be met with similar disruption.
From a Chinese perspective, providing their opponents with a stage to rally support and gather momentum is unwise.
The protests will have reached fever pitch by August if this pattern continues. The only way to defuse tensions is to revise the route and make conciliatory noises about dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
Meanwhile, the protests will continue.
Next up: The Battle of Buenos Aires on Friday.

Olympic sponsors walking a tight-rope

Thanks to the anonymous poster who commented that a boycott of Olympic sponsors would help put pressure on China to improve human rights.
Interesting thought, but an article in AdAgeChina suggest it might be futile because sponsors will prioritise developing the Chinese market over upsetting activists in the West:
"Inside the mainland, nationalism is running high and multinationals need China's growing economy to offset a looming U.S. recession."
Still, companies are amoral and pressure can work. But the lure of 1.3 billion potential customers might prove too much to sway the likes of Coke and McDonald's who have been meeting with activist groups but playing it safe when it comes to passing on protesters' concerns to Beijing.
Bare in mind that sponsors have forked out millions to be associated with the Games, so they want to be seen to appease human rights protesters without unduly upsetting the hosts or, worse still, tarnishing the Olympics.

Time to reroute the relay?

Yesterday's skirmishes in London during the Olympic torch relay should spark concerns over proposals to take the torch through Europe, the US and Tibet.
Protests were much larger and more aggressive than predicted by London police and Sunday's route was changed several times to avoid trouble.
At one point a protester broke through security lines and attempted to wrestle the torch from children's TV presenter Konnie Huq. Later, two men tried to put out the flame using a fire extinguisher.
In the US, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has called on the public to make their feelings known when the torch comes to town. This amounts to encouraging (presumably peaceful) public protests.
Rather than have images of police wrestling protesters to the ground dominate the Games before they've even begun, surely it's worth revising the route now.
China can't march to 10 Downing Street, where the Olympic relay received the implicit endorsement of Gordon Brown, and then complain that others are attempting to politicize a sporting event.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

'China politicising Olympics with torch relay'

Simon Jenkins has some fascinating insights in his Sunday Times column today.
His comments on the London leg of the Olympic torch relay fit neatly into the line of argument I was attempting in today's earlier post.
In recounting the history of the torch relay, Jenkins reveals that it is the Chinese government (rather than scheming Western media types) that is seeking to turn its $30 billion Olympic investment into political capital.
First up, the global torch-carrying event is being staged by China rather than the International Olympic Committee.
And, reckons Jenkins, the route, which includes a highly-charged stop in Tibet, is no more than antagonistic triumphalism. Janey.
The idea of a relay from Greece to the host nation was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympiad in a bid to link Germany with southern Aryans. It was resurrected by organisers of the Sydney Games in 2000 who devised a tour of Asia as a symbol of Australia's ties to the Asia-Pacific region.
Jenkins is considerably harder than I would be on the whole concept of the Olympic Games, but traces the history of the modern games back to the 19th century, suggesting that the Olympics were always political.
The original column is available here:

Why pretend the Olympics are not political?

Jacques Rogge and the IOC are continuing to insist that the Olympic Games is an entirely apolitical event and we should all ignore human rights issues in China.
They suggest sport and politics are non-overlapping magesteria (to borrow from Stephen Jay Gould, whose NOMA theory cordoned religion and science off into separate compartments).
Claiming that the Olympics can be hosted in a political vacuum is disingenuous in the extreme.
The Olympics are most certainly political. Indeed, this was part of the thinking behind awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing in the first place.
The idea was that the attention of the world would be a catalyst for social change in China.
And in many ways, it's working - although not always in the ways intended. On the downside, we've seen claims that Beijing is rounding up social activists so as to keep dissent off the streets this summer.
But in the plus column, the global attention given to events in Tibet and Darfur might have been significantly less focused if China was not preparing for the Games.
It remains the hope that Beijing - which cares deeply about what outsiders think - will respond to the pressure by modernizing its society at a speed that keeps pace with its economic progress.
Foreigners complained of pollution, spitting, queue-skipping and language barriers, so Beijing is doing its level best to address these (with mixed degrees of success, it must be said).
If pressure to exercise restraint in Tibet, ease censorship and tolerate free speech are met with positive moves by the Chinese government, then the great Olympic gamble will have paid off.
But regardless of the eventual outcome, let's not pretend that the Olympic Games were awarded without one eye on politics.
Or that international sporting events take place in a parallel universe where politics is not an issue.

Well, that didn't really work...

Yesterday's lame attempt to boost traffic through the site by mentioning as many of Google's top searches as possible was in vain.
The Google Analytics report shows no significant difference comparing yesterday with last Saturday. In fact, the number of visitors was slightly down.
So, there's apparently no point in me checking the current top internet search terms and lobbing them into the blog to attract readers.
Should I be happy about this? There's great freedom in having no readers.
By the way, anybody interested in Charlton Heston, Grease Lightning lyrics, Christopher Walken or the UCLA cheerleaders? Just wondering.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A desperate bid for ratings

I installed Google Analytics on the blog last week so I could pore over juicy data about how many people visit the page, where they come from etc.
The trouble is that once you become interested in this stuff, you're a slave to the audience.
And the audience, it turns out, is pretty small. Readers from China, Ireland, England, France, India, Greece, Australia and Japan have perused these pages, but they've done so in alarmingly low numbers.
So, I'm selling out (at least for a day) and writing about what people apparently want to read - according to stats from Google and elsewhere.
The top searches at present include Beyonce Knowles and her alleged wedding to rapper Jay-Z, the Skybus bankruptcy filing, Michael McDowell (the Nascar driver, not the former Tanaiste), Barry Beach, Jessica Lange, Clinton, Obama, McCain and, eh, pizza.
I'll also throw in a few classics: Paris Hilton, Iraq, sex, stocks, porn, Premiership, xxx, Hannah Montana and Youtube.
Now, if that doesn't send the graph soaring in a northerly direction, I'll be back to writing about life in China on Monday.
Of course, if it works, this site will become dedicated to sex, politics, sport and celebrity gossip.

Friday, April 4, 2008

They're watering down the yogurt again

It's an outrage. The yogurt I so enjoy pouring on my oats in the morning has suddenly become milkier.
This happens from time to time: somebody in the yog factory decides to double their profits by halving the viscosity of what should be thick, creamy produce. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Let us march on Tiananmen in the name of viscous yogurts. Who's with me?

I said "Who's with me?".
Anybody? Anyone at all?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

'I will turn South Korea into ashes' - Kim Jong-il

Oh crap. Looks like trouble's a-brewin' along the 38th parallel.
Crazy old Kim Jong-il (pictured) is threatening military action which would renew the Korean War.
It seems that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the Robin Hood politician pictured on this blog a couple of days ago holding flowers and looking benevolent, has upset North Korea.
He has refused to apologise for remarks by one of his generals who suggested South Korean would attack Kim Jong-il and co. if they suspected that the North were likely to launch atomic bombs in their direction.
North Korean - which the Chinese media refer to by its hilarious full title: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea - has branded the South Korean President a 'traitor'.
Can you really call the Head of State of another country a traitor?
The handy thing is that if fighting breaks out, there'll be no need to declare war.
A formal peace treaty was never signed between the Koreas so, technically, they've been at war since 1950.

China to Tibetan radio: We're jammin'

China is jammin', but not in a way that Bob "We're Jammin'" Marley might approve of.
The authorities are jamming signals of the Voice of Tibet radio station by beaming music, drumming and noise. The jamming also affects those trying to listen in India, Nepal and Europe. Since when is China allowed decide what Europeans can listen to?
The station has irked Beijing by its coverage of recent unrest in Tibet. As usual the Chinese government has made no comment either confirming or denying that it is deliberately interfering with broadcast signals.
Voice of Tibet claims to offer unbiased information for people in the region - although China's state TV channel also claims a monopoly on impartiality.
Sometimes I think I'm the only impartial source of information about Tibet and all the rest...

China accused of 'wave of repression'

This human rights malarkey refuses to go away.
Amnesty International has accused China of engaging in a 'wave of repression' ahead of the Olympic Games. Amnesty's website - just like those of Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders - is blocked in China, but the story has received widespread coverage in the ('biased') western media.
The charge is the Beijing is locking up troublemakers in a bid to guarantee a smooth Olympics. Naturally this is dismissed by the authorities here.
The latest high profile case to hit the headlines is that of human rights activist Hu Jia, the 34-year-old who has been sent down for three-and-a-half years for 'inciting subversion of state power and the socialist system'.
US diplomats in Beijing and journalists across China have called for his immediate release. He was, it is suggested, something of a clearing house for information which he routinely passed on to media organisations and embassies.
Mr Hu has campaigned for the environment, religious freedom and for the rights of people with HIV and Aids. What a bastard!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fianna Fail TD suggests Ireland had 117% unemployment rate until Bertie saved us

Found it!
Great news, unless you're Michael Kennedy, TD: I found the clip (mentioned below) where Kennedy, an elected member of the Irish parliament for Dublin North, praised the contribution of Bertie Ahern - who is currently working his notice as Taoiseach - to the Irish economy.
Predictably, Fianna Failers will be out trying to get their version of history on the record, while the Opposition are trying to narrow Ahern's achievements to the Good Friday Agreement.
For the record, unemployment in 1997 was around 170,000 or 10% - not 2,000,000 as Deputy Kennedy suggests. Note that Kennedy's estimate would have meant we had 117% unemployment, which, admittedly, would have been quite bad.
Here's the full quote:
"The fact that we have 2 million people employed now where when he came into office I think we had two million people on the dole. That is a phenomenal record and this country owes him a fantastic debt."

Irish politician makes shocking revelation

Well, there's only one story today for anybody with even a passing interest in Irish politics.
And it's that we have an elected member of parliament that would be at risk of being outsmarted by primary school students in his own constituency were he allowed to speak in public more often.
Commenting on the resignation of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (pictured delivering a hanging basket to a confused Texan), North Dublin TD, Mr Michael Kennedy hailed the contribution of Ahern to the Irish economy.
To paraphrase, he noted that Ireland had about 2 million people in employment these days but there were, like, 2 million people on the dole when Bertie Ahern came to power.
Allowing for pensioners, children and students, that would have meant the entire adult population was on social welfare during the 1990s - or the era of the Celtic Tiger as it's popularly known.
I was watching this live on and am desperately trying to locate a recording. However, when you search RTE's (generally excellent) site, not a single result is returned for "Michael Kennedy". Wonder why that is?
I don't suppose Fianna Fail hide him away 364 days a year lest he say anything silly? Today was a day when the usually slick government PR machine was thrown into disarray by Ahern's shock resignation. But that's probably a good time to allow backbenchers speak their brilliant minds - when nobody's listening.
Anyway, hopefully Deputy Kennedy will challenge Cowen for the top job so more amusing illustrations of his genius can be broadcast live to the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

IOC urges China to unblock internet - for a fortnight

The International Olympic Committee has waded into the debate over China's censorship of the internet.
In the wake of some fairly heavy-handed control of media during unrest in Tibet, the IOC is demanding that China allow free access to the net for journalists during the Olympic Games.
[Ironically, I read this on the BBC News website which was unblocked here in Beijing last month.]
Would it be too much to ask for the authorities to loosen up for a little longer than the 16 or 17 days of the Games?
But the Chinese authorities are way ahead of the IOC on this one, if The Atlantic Monthly is to be believed. It reports that Beijing has instructed internet service providers to tweak the Great Firewall which blocks politically sensitive online material.
The plan is to loosen things up in areas where journalists, athletes and foreign officials will be staying for the month of August. Then it's back to business as usual once the expats have packed up and gone home.
So overseas reporters will hardly notice internet censorship during their short time here, and long-suffering Beijing residents will hardly notice that things have been temporarily relaxed. Perfect.

6 billion people to start Atkins Diet

The price of wheat is up 25%. Rice is up 30%. And it was announced today that the production of corn grain in the US will fall by 8% this year.
So, bread, pizza, pasta and rice dishes are set to become pricier and limited corn supply will put the squeeze on all kinds of foods including tomato ketchup and sweetened fizzy drinks.
We're headed for a global diet - like the carb free regime that made a fortune for Dr Robert Atkins.
But it gets worse. Corn and soy are also used to feed dairy cows and egg-laying hens, as well as to fatten chickens and cattle.
It might not even be possible to eat the high-fat, high-protein diet Dr Atkins championed. Although, he was obese and sickly when he died so that might be a blessing.
Still, if the global financial recession means belt tightening all round, we might need to make an extra hole in our belts to match our soon-to-be-shrinking waistlines...