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.


Another Benefit of China


China – Already been there, done that – in the Cultural Revolution

As reported in the Washington Post, campuses in the US are hotbeds of factionalism and political correctness. The US is going through its own version of that China went through in the late 1960s: a “Cultural Revolution” to force everyone to conform to some new standard.

Here is a quote:

“Academics and scholars must be mindful about using research done by only straight, white men, according to two scientists who argued that it oppresses diverse voices and bolsters the status of already privileged and established white male scholars.”

“Geographers Carrie Mott and Daniel Cockayne argued in a recent paper that doing so also perpetuates what they call “white heteromasculinism,” which they defined as a “system of oppression” that benefits only those who are “white, male, able-bodied, economically privileged, heterosexual, and cisgendered.” (Cisgendered describes people whose gender identity matches their birth sex.)”

I happened to be born in 1962 to a certain kind of parents. As a result, I am white, middle aged, American, and hetero. Should I apologize for something that I did not control? Should I stop doing any academic research, or editing the work of others, because of my standpoint?

I usually have less than a grand in my bank account. I have no real power over anyone, and even my kids, despite liking me, never heed my advice. I have been unemployed on and off in my life. Funny, I don’t feel like I belong to any patriarchy or power structure. But I would not be allowed into a campus safe space because I represent a system of oppression.

One nice thing about campuses in China is that they are absent of all this PC groupthink. People here just go to work to get ahead. Striding purposefully into the future. Fighting spirit.

True, there is less protest, and less freedom of speech, on Chinese campuses. But then again, except for a small portion of students grumbling about Internet restrictions, there are very few complaints about the overall system.

Another benefit is that, as I’ve mentioned before, there is less distance between the genders in China than in the West. This is the legacy of a particular kind of rice growing culture where everyone worked at once. The revolution also pretty much eliminated the old Confucian ideas about gender.

No campus is paradise. Every country has its issues, its particular workplace struggles. But at least in China, one does not have to deal with politically correct bullshit.

Street-Level Free Enterprise

An article in Zerohedge got me thinking:

Apart from the financial ups and downs, one of the tragedies of modern America has been the steady monopolization of the restaurant industry by the big chains, the fast-food franchises and even other kinds of operations such as Olive Garden (good food, but the menu is virtually the same from maine to California).

The operating principle in the US has been standardization and monopolization. A few Mom-and-Pops exist, and some small-time ethnic restaurants. But these are on the margins of the economy.

While there are challenging aspects to living in China, and a some things with which I do not agree, the overall picture is positive. The benefits are visible in everyday life, and the restaurant scene is varied. Most restaurants here are not chains. There are certain themes holding the experience together (hot pots, dishes, etc.), but each city and even each neighborhood has a lot of variation. McDonald’s and KFC have actually struggled in China.

Also, there is a lot of street food. People cart things around, cooking right from these platforms, or selling oven-baked potatoes and so on. There does not seem to be much licensing or regulation involved. The civilization or culture sets the standards. When people fall short of those standards, there are formal and informal ways to address it.

By contrast, anyone trying to sell potatoes in the US out of the back of their cars would be arrested. That’s not even debatable.

The general model of the Chinese economy actually makes more sense than the US model. In China there is small-scale free enterprise (freer than in any American sector). It is infinitely easier to open a restaurant or small business in Chengdu than it is in Chicago.

However, as one goes up the economy of scale, to involve vast industries such as energy, communications and so on, with tens of thousands of employees, then the state becomes increasingly involved as it should be (the only other alternative is to have oligarchic families run the show). Of course there is local and provincial corruption in China, with the ever present factor of human nature.

However, generally speaking, “the state” in China, along with its officials, are subject to, and live by, rather strict guidelines of ethical behavior – kind of a mix of Confucianism and China’s version of socialism, whose ideology centers on modernization, modernization, and modernization.

The new American model is to have very little economic space at the street level, where rules and regulations are written by larger economic players (in the proivate sector). Also, the American state has been subject to oligarchic and financial capture in the fullest sense of the word. The state is a mere appendage of Wall Street and the public-private partnership known as the military-industrial complex.

I think I’m being objective. If I had to bet which of the two countries would be enjoying greater prosperity in the year 2030, I’d guess it would be China. It is a safe bet.

Insult to Injury

There is something particularly odious about Trump’s travel ban, if placed into the context of the past few decades. Ideally, people applying for visas to the United States are accepted or rejected based upon their individual profiles.

But what makes the travel ban particularly heinous is that Afghanistan and Libya, two countries on the on-and-off ban, were invaded by the US and allies on the promise that they would become beacons of “freedom and democracy” and all that jazz.

The US has been in Afghanistan for a very long time, again with little to show for it. Enterprising young women had to fight tooth and nail – and receive tons of media attention – before they could attend a robotics conference.

Libya has been utterly destroyed and partitioned, with no effective government. No one is held accountable.

It’s as if the controllers had the memory erase device of the film Men in Black, but on a mass scale.

Meantime, the so-called leaders and governments or Afghanistan and Libya are feeding at the trough of American and international aid, taking their cut for allowing their countries to remain under de facto occupation, and now they look the other way as their own citizens are insulted by a blanket travel ban.

It is difficult to knonw who is the worst enemy of the ordinary person in Afghanistan and Libya: western governments and their puppet leaders? Or their own governments and their own puppet leaders?


Strange or Not Really

What I am about to describe could be chalked up to sheer coincidence – to some kind of inexplicable synchronicity. But it happens often and with increasing regularity at least to me.

Usually this happens on my Facebook feed or on Youtube’s list of recommended videos. Something will appear about a topic that I have been thinking about but never, ever searched online.

Let’s just make up an example to illustrate. Suppose I spent a few minutes, while walking to the convenience store, thinking about the Icelandic language. That Icelandic might be strange to learn. That it might be similar to Old English. That it might not be very useful after all, with virtually all Icelanders fluent in English. But I never did a search online, on any platform, regarding Icelandic.

Then in my Facebook feed there will appear something about learning Icelandic. Pretty weird. It’s worth running an experiment if you are inclined or curious.

This all could be a coincidence. Some people might attribute it to D-Wave computing. Other people might say that the usual above-and-beyond operatives, the telepathic stalkers, like to “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” from time to time, to let you know that they know what you know.

So those are the three explanations. What’s my theory? You can probably figure it out.

Summer I Retrospective

These are the better photos from Summer Session I. We begin Session II on Saturday.

We had a combination of American students and Chinese students (normally in US, now doing a study abroad in their own country, in Chengdu, where most have never been).

It’s a pretty cush job… The classes are chill and there are plenty of special events. Of course, issues arise, but still.

yoga festival (143) yoga festival (128)

yoga festival (53)

farewell (28)


sport day 1 (46)

sport day 1 (67)

calligraphy (35)



taichi (31)

yoga festival (91)


calligraphy (20)




Your Battery is Low


Apparently, this is a photograph of the Moon. Mainstream media had an explanation:

“The cold sea cooled the air above it, which affected a pocket of higher warmer air.”

“The rays pass through this inverted air and its bent and twisted into strange images – combining to create the ‘iceberg’ you can see in the snap.”

Or the controllers did not switch to “Power Saver” or to “Balanced” modes when the battery got low. They are just running the it on “High Performance” and hoping few people notice the glitches? Or that they can be explained away?

The Aztecs would have had their solution to keep the celestial bodies turning, to keep the vortex spinning: more human sacrifice, more bodies a’rollin down the pyramid steps, more human souls – shoveled like coal – into the cosmic furnace.