Former Local Rulers


A student of mine saw the humor in the above, contrasting the harsh quote with an inspirational landscape.

Genghis Khan – and the Mongol Hordes! – once ruled over the city I live in… For understandable reasons, people here tend to overlook that chapter of history.

I came across an interesting 2 minute video.


Great Pedal Backward?

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I mentioned the bicycle epidemic and a student of mine found this article in Wired, with the photo of the bike graveyard above. Linked below.

As mentioned a few days ago, this low-cost public bike system could be a great idea, but there are indications here and there that the program is running amok.

There are excessive bikes in many places. Also, as shown above, these bikes are becoming disposable. I wonder what the “carbon footprint” is of manufacturing so many bikes whose lifespans get shorter and shorter. Here is a quote from the article:

“But no one anticipated so many lazy cyclists. Private companies started offering bikes riders didn’t have to return to one of the government’s 3,000 docking stations. People could simply drop the bikes wherever they liked. And so they did, leaving them almost anywhere. China News Service reports that in March this year, complaints from concerned citizens grew so numerous that the city began rounding them up… What happens next is anyone’s guess. Until someone figures that out, the bikes will just keep piling up.”

No kidding.

Again, this could be a great program with a little fine-tuning, and it keeps people fit besides.

But the program is beginning to remind me of the Great Leap Forward on a small scale, especially since that debacle is also associated with useless metal, as the result of people building backyard furnaces to turn iron into steel.

Meantime, one has to wonder if the road to the junkyard was paved with good intentions.


Too Much of a Good Thing

Usually, but not always, “anything worth doing is worth over-doing.”

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Chengdu has rightly encouraged the proliferation of public bicycles. These are accessed by scanning the bar code and paying virtually nothing per hour. But there is a deposit, ranging from 15 – 40 dollars equivalent, depending on the company. Apparently that is where these companies make their profit.

Ofo, Mobike and Blue Gogo are the main companies, with others coming up.

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If a bike is busted or has a flat tire, the customer can report it, and some bikes have self-reporting functions. They send out a distress signal and then, in the middle of the night, some van comes along and replaces the bike. All this will probably be done increasingly by robots.

When not overdone this all makes sense. People can rely less on cars, subways and buses, all of which get crowded.

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The problem is that the bikes are now becoming more than ubiquitious. It’s as if a plague of metallic locusts descended upon the city. Ironically, it is becoming more difficult in some areas to use these bicycles. There is little room to maneouver. Sometimes it is hard to park my regular bike, with the sidewalks so crowded.

On some streets, the bike-to-person ratio is rediculously imbalanced, beyond the point of economic rationality. So is the bike craze driven by super-subsidization? Ideological fervor? (Two wheels good, four wheels bad?) When I figure this out I will get back to you.

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Above, Mobike’s clever airless tires.

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My students and I out for… a bike ride.


Mainstreaming Klingon


What is really going on here? There are two developments that merit consideration.

First, there is an academic website called “Omniglot.” It provides an index and explanation of the world’s writing systems and languages. If you want to see what written Burmese looks like, you go there. Omniglot has been online for years.

Somewhere along the line, Omniglot added, to this otherwise factual and historical database (seemingly), the writing system of Klingon, the race of aliens in Star Trek.

Klingon alphabet

Why has Klingon been added to the world’s writing systems? I thought it was very odd years ago when I first noticed this.

Second, there is a serious learning website called “Duolingo.” It allows people to learn, online, the major languages of the world, such as Spanish. Arabic, Hindi, etc… Recently the site added Klingon. OK, now they have my attention. From the site:

About the course

“Klingon is the constructed language spoken by the fictional extraterrestrial Klingon species in the Star Trek universe. Created by Marc Okrand, the language itself is centered around spacecraft, warfare, and weaponry — but it also reflects the directness and sense of humor of the Klingon culture. For example, the closest word you can use to express “hello” is “nuqneH,” which actually means “What do you want?”. There are also plenty of insults, as it is considered an art form… The mastery of Klingon is extremely uncommon on Earth. Join the galactic elite and start learning this fascinating language. Estimated launch: 8/1/17″

So, what is going on here? What is with the special featuring of Klingon?

So, am I crazy to say?  To conclude? That Klingon is the language of an underworld. I’m not sure exactly who brought it here or why…



Here is a 3 minute video.

The Voyage


I finally got to finish the last few chapters of Paddy’s Lament by Thomas Gallagher.

These chapters describe the Irish emigration to the US, after the first part of the book focused on the “potato famine,” which was the natural outcome of a political economy favoring exports at all costs over any domestic consumption.

Hundreds of people were loaded onto the ships, crammed into the holds, provided with very little water or food. The conditions were very unsanitary.

History presents the entire episode as a tragedy that just kind of happened, but upon closer inspection – and to the author’s surprise – it was engineered every step of the way. The British government had dedicated itself to implementing a kind of pain and suffering campaign, and this was a forerunner to the eugenics campaigns of the 20th century.

The British ships loaded with Irish emigrants repeatedly sailed the voyage, about eight weeks long or so, and repeatedly lost 1/4 to 1/5 of their passengers to all kinds of diseases, including malnutrition. They could have corrected this but never did, sponsoring instead a kind of slow-motion campaign to exterminate the Irish. (The American shipping lines suffered nowhere near these losses).

Thomas Gallagher reached that conclusion, although he stated it more elegantly. Speaking of the typical Irish “Paddy,” Gallagher wrote: “… he will forever, with his battered high hat, ragged swallow-tailed coat, dangling knee breeches, and bare feet, haunt not only Irish memory but also the halls and chambers of Westminster Palace, where Parliament tried for so long, without success, to do him in.”

I was just at a British Consulate event, and their delegation from Chongqing came to Chengdu for a shindig at a fancy arthouse. Music was played. Speeches were made. Wine and hors d’ouevers were served.

Don’t get me wrong, the individuals there were decent people, through and through, seemingly. My grandfather said “the veneer of civilization is very thin.” Indeed, and what passes for the highest civilization may in fact be the lowest, in that the British Empire’s record of calamity is of world-historical proportions. Legendary.

Scratch away at the shiny gloss of Britain’s globalization ethos, and you will discover, underneath, raw brutality.










Also Odd


“Only the American man is crazy,” says my lady friend here in China, where we are watching a Chinese variery show with a dozen foreigners at the table, speaking perfect Chinese.

The foreigners – especially Americans I guess (we have a reputation to uphold) – are encouraged to do some pretty wild things, mostly acting like the unpredictable barbarians we are, confirming China’s view of foreigners. The guy above chowed down on meat with his hands, no fork or chopsticks, revealing our Neanderthal DNA.

I guess it’s all amusing. But I’m a little surprised Justin Bieber got banned from China considering the foreigners on TV.

More strangely, a lot of the foreign men wear rather heavy make-up. My friend notices. I’m not sure what is up with that.

There are hundreds of millions of Chinese with little of no contact with foreigners (depending on their location). Their only real knowledge of us comes from these freaky shows.

I’m visiting this lady in a town two hours from Chengdu, so… no wonder people do a double take of me on the street. It’s not every day they see a foreigner.

Actually it is indeed everyday they see foreigners – but just the zany ones on TV.

Very Strange

The unusual image of this floating city? was taken in China by multiple people, and posted to a channel called That is Impossible. 5 minutes.

Not Adding Up


As reported in the Guardian:

“South Korea investigating ‘abduction’ of North Korean defector and TV star”

It is possible that this North Korean woman, Jeon Hye-sung, simply got terribly homesick, missed her parents, and decided to return to North Korea.

“Local media reported that South Korean intelligence authorities were investigating how the woman, known as Lim Ji-hyun in her previous television appearances, re-entered North Korea.

Jeon, aged in her mid-20s, could have been the target of a North Korea abduction, the conservative South Korean politician Cheong Yang-seog said. He suspected Jeon might have disappeared in April when she travelled to China for “shopping and business” on a South Korean passport.

“If it was a ‘voluntary abduction’, one would normally take care of her assets and property, but [Jeon] left them behind,” Cheong said…”

Here, Jeon might have actually made the decision to return to North Korea once she was in China – which would explain her leaving all her assets and belongings behind in South Korea.

Also, perhaps she speculated that, if she had liquidated her assets, then perhaps the South Korean government would have suspected her of planning to return to North Korea. She may have imagined, rightly or wrongly, that the South Korean government would have acted to prevent that.

Leaving Seoul to shop in Beijing? I don’t think so. It’s the other way around.

One scenario that does not seem plausible is one of “forced” abduction. China has too much control over China to allow for any North Koreans to kidnap a person, say in Beijing, and take the to North Korea. This is not possible.

Nor is it really possible for North Koreans to enter China and strong arm, or pressure, a person to exit with them via airport security. And Jeon held a South Korean passport. Chinese immigration officials at any airport or land border would have insisted on seeing her visa for North Korea.

An even more improbable scenario was advanced by a South Korean newspaper, the Korea TImes, speculating “that she may have been abducted on the China-North Korean border while trying to help her relatives escape.” That is not going to happen on the world’s most heavily defended border, where there is usually a 3-kilometer buffer zone.

So, either Jeon got homesick and decided to return to North Korea – or the same above-government cult (that pulled off a similar caper a few months ago) arranged for another charade. Dramatic tension. Sub-plots. Media fodder. Mind control.

Homesickness or theater, take your pick.



Executive Coach in China


Tristan Francis worked at Morgan Stanley for five years and is spending the summer in Chengdu as an executive coach – before he goes to Harvard for an MBA in the fall. One could say he is an “insider,” although he is considerate and never forgets his tough neighborhood in New York.

He gave us several group sessions and some intensive one-on-one sessions, in order for us to maximize our potential. Obviously there are some things that work at Morgan Stanley and in the US that do not work here, and he knows that.

The upside to working in China is that there is a lot of team spirit in the workplace. Teams often perform better than loose collections of individuals, depending on the task.

The downside to working in China is that there is a lot of team spirit in the workplace.

The intense team spirit means that there are no real boundaries between work and life. People are expected to do pretty much anything and everything after hours and on weekends, if it will help the company. Americans sometimes resist this.

The Chinese workplace has teams. Yet the hierarchies are sharper and more pronounced, above the teams. It is difficult to challenge superiors in China, or to even offer mild constructive criticism, as this is seen as insubordination or subversion.

In general, overall, I think the plusses still outweigh the minuses. Also, I think Tristan’s effect was positive, and I’ve already noticed a few improvements.