Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

China's Infrastructure Development 

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This is the subway map that was current when I moved to Beijing in January of 2004. The red line is Line 1. It goes right by Tiananmen Square. The pink line to the right (east) is the extension, apparently added later. The blue line is Line 2. Line 2 follows pretty closely the perimeter of the old city wall. The old city wall has mostly been torn down, but some of the gates remain, and where even the gates are gone, the names remain. So many of the the names of the stops on Line 2 are the names of the old city gate that once stood at that place ("men" means gate). In the summer of 2005 I stopped in Xi'an on my way back from Xinjiang. In Xi'an you can go up on top of the old city wall, rent a bicycle, and ride around the city on the old city wall. It took me an hour and a half. But as far as I know, Beijing is the only city in China where you can ride around the city underneath the old city wall. That's Line 2. The horseshoe is Line 13. Line 13 is an extension that was added later, so it is mostly an elevated train rather than a subway. It's part of the subway system, but I guess you could call it a subway up in the air. It was really important for me when I first came to China, because I was living and teaching at Beihang University, which is very near to Wudaokou on Line 13.

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This is the subway map of Beijing today. This is just one example of the massive infrastructure development that goes on all the time all over China. And it goes on at a very rapid pace. During those years, we would occasionally read an article in the China Daily about a street caving in or something. Oh, well. Fix it and go on. The government seemed in a mad rush to get the subway system modernized. On this map you can see Line 2 as the small circle in the center of the map. Line 1 runs east and west across the bottom section of that circle. And Line 13 is the yellow horseshoe which connects to Line 2 at Xizhimen and Dongzhimen. Everything else is new since 2004.

So who pays for all this development? Much of it comes from Americans shopping at Walmart. China has a huge trade imbalance with the United States. The numbers I hear now sound incredible--anywhere from 300 to 500 billion dollars. When I first came to China, the number I heard most was about 200 billion, I think. But that's still a trillion dollars every five years flowing into China. Every two years now, if you believe the current numbers. That is not the total amount of American dollars. It is the amount over and above what China has been paying to the US for American products imported by China. Now there is some argument about this, because the figures everybody uses do not reflect the fact that much of China's benefit from all this trade is as the manufacturer of other people's products. iPhones, for example, are assembled in China, so they are regarded, in their entirety, as Chinese exports to the US. But in fact, the guts of the phone comes from Japan. So a big chunk of America's trade imbalance with China is actually with Japan. But that aside, there is lots and lots of money flowing into this country from America. And, of course, many other countries. China has a largely export-driven economy. That has made China rich, but also vulnerable. China cannot consume what China produces, so China is very dependant on others helping with that consumption. But if the Americans every decide to get therapy for their addiction to consumption, China is in trouble. I don't see much danger of that, to be honest with you. Americans like stuff. But there are other things that could affect the level of American consumption. The Supreme Court just handed a great victory to manufacturers, by denying unions the power to force workers to pay union dues. American labor unions have priced the American worker out of the market. Now the unions will have less power, because they will have less money.

But back to infrastructure. Although I think China sometimes gets carried away with infrastructure, doing projects that are obviously designed to create jobs rather than build something that is really needed, it can't be denied that, as a developing country, China was far behind other countries in Asia. I should say "country," because I've only been to one other country in Asia, and that is the one I am referring to. Tokyo's light rail and subway system when was a child 60 years ago was more sophisticated than the system Beijing had when I moved here in 2004. So it was and is badly needed. But another benefit of this kind of infrastructure development is that it continues to provide jobs long after construction. And, of course, it continues to provide service even if the economy takes a downward turn. I remember when I moved to North Dakota during the oil boom of the early eighties. The extra money rolling in was enough to motivate the city to build a new library. I watched that building going up and stopped by several times to talk to the workers. I remember one time I stopped by to see how it was going, and I got into a conversation with one of the workers. He said, "I think it's a waste of money."

I remonstrated. The old library was badly in need of replacement. He said, "I've been here thirty years and I've never been in that library." He probably wasn't the only one who felt that way. But the new library got built, and when the bottom dropped out of the oil economy, that library continued to provide service for people like me during a time when the economy was such that it never would have gotten built if it had not already been there.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Coffee Anyone? 

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Melissa gave me this coffee maker when I was in the States last. It's basically a funnel with a bunch of holes in it. But the inside (which you cannot see) is lined with a very tightly woven mesh. Basically, it's a coffee maker with a built-in filter. I have another one that Anne Marie gave me when she came through one time, a plastic funnel with a hole in the bottom. It is a simpler device, because it is designed to be used with a paper filter. But the problem in China is that Chinese people do not drink coffee at home, so you cannot buy coffee filters in the supermarket. I have never seen them for sale in any store I have been in. One of my students offered to help me with my problem and finally found some Japanese one-cup coffee filters online. So I had to have her order some for me whenever I ran out. This thing doesn't need filters--the filter is built in. So techically it is a little more work, because you have to rinse it out each time. But in only takes a minute.

I was worried at first that if I poured the water in too fast, the water would seep through the holes in the top and not touch the coffee, effectively diluting the solution. But that doesn't happen. It's really interesting. Something to do with capilary action, I guess--the mesh is so fine that the water doesn't seep through except where there are coffee grounds.

The next problem I had was how to make a stand for it. The one Anne Marie gave me sits on top of the cup, but this one has to be held in your hand. I didn't want to do that, so I took a plastic jug that had Australian oatmeal in it, and cut one side out. Happily, the mouth of the plastic jug exactly fits the funnel. You can see that when I cut the side out, I left a little lip on the bottom. This is so that if I pull the cup out a little early, the remaining coffee stays in the jug--it doesn't flow out all over the table.

I should caution you that this is not really designed for gourmet coffee. The other day I heated some milk to the boiling point and poured that in instead of water. I was trying to make a latte, but it didn't work that well. I got about half a cup, but the rest just stayed in the funnel. The inside mesh is so fine that milk doesn't really seep through it. So I can't recommend this for that sort of thing. Better to just make a cup of coffee and then pour some condensed milk in after it drips through. But for a basic cup of coffee, this thing is the cat's meow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Trump's Trade Wars 

It seems like one election is barely over before they're talking about the next one. This time it's a little different. Those who did not want Trump to win are not satisfied to console themselves with the hope that they can defeat him next time. They are determined to see him impeached. I think part of this is because America is becoming more and more divided. But I think maybe part of it also comes from the fact that some folks get "recall" and "impeachment" mixed up. I don't know how many states have recall provisions, but there is no recall provision for presidents. A recall is what you do when you and a prescribed number of other voters become disenchanted with your governor and decide that you want him to be "unelected." At the state level, you can do that. But there is no recall for presidents. There is only impeachment. To impeach a president, it is not enough to show that you have become disenchanted with the president and want him to leave office. You must prove that he is guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors," and these crimes must be acts of malfeasance committed while in power.

It's not going to happen. Trump will be around for the remainder of his four-year term. But then what? If you're interested, I'll tell you how it's going to go. When the average voters walk into the voting booth in the fall of 2020, if their financial condition is significantly better than four years earlier (Fall of 2016, in other words), they will vote for Trump. If their financial condition is about the same, they will vote for Trump if they voted for him last time. If their financial condition is a little worse, they will probably still vote for Trump if they are Republican. Otherwise, they will vote Democrat. If their financial condition is much worse, they will be inclined to vote for the other guy no matter who it is, and Trump will see a serious challenge from his own party.

So what's the prognosis? When the tax cut bill passed recently, the odds tipped in favor of Trump being reelected. Tax cuts tend to boost the economy. The two most significant in my lifetime were the tax cuts implemented by John F. Kennedy (a Democrat, but a fiscal conservative) and the Kemp-Roth tax cut implemented by Ronald Reagan. Bush Jr. also pushed through a tax cut with a sunset clause, and by the time it was getting ready to expire, letting it do so became tantamount to a tax increase. When Trump managed to get his tax cut through Congress with such a significant cut in corporate tax rates, he greatly increased his chances of being reelected.

But there is one thing about Trump that gives me pause. He has a protectionist streak that worries me a bit. I tend to be a free trader. Perhaps it's because of my background growing up as an expat in Japan. But I guess I just believe that the business should go to the one who produces the best product for the best price. No one should be surprised, though, by Trump's actions. They are consistent with what he has been saying for many years, as you can see in this video:

I remember during those days (late eighties) I was living in North Dakota. I was in a computer shop talking with the proprietor, and he was going on and on about how all the jobs where going to Japan. I had heard it all before, and I was weary of it, but I listened. He then asked me if I had children. I told him I had three daughters. He said, "What are you going to do if your daughters grow up and all the jobs are in Japan?

Obviously, he didn't know that I was born and raised in Japan. I said, "I'll tell them to go to Japan and get a job." He looked at me like the idea had never occurred to him.

It's a global marketplace, my friends. If you are just graduating from university or whatever career preparation you have elected, and are getting ready for your working life, there is at least a distinct possibility that the best job for you is not in the United States. So I have not been inclined to favor protectionist policies, and I am skeptical when Trump says that trade wars are good.

But let's look at it from his perspective for a minute. One example he gave was Mercedes Benz building a plant in Mexico. The obvious intent is to make cars to export to the US. So what's wrong with this? If Mexico can make a better car and sell it for a lower price, shouldn't they be allowed to? But these are not Mexican cars, they are German cars. But shouldn't a German company be allowed to build their cars where they can save the most money? German people may have something to say about it, but what business is it of ours? The problem is that they are obviously building the plant in Mexico so that they can make money selling cars to American customers without having to give jobs to American workers. That practice has just become accepted in today's world. But Trump doesn't like it.

By the way, a few days after my conversation with the proprietor of the computer shop, I saw him on the street in Williston. He was driving a Japanese sports car.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Teachers' Day 2016 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Jessup 

This was my second year to serve as an assistant coach for the CYU team for the Jessup International Moot Court Competition. Last year the national competition was at People's University in Beijing. This year, we were at the Kenneth Wang School of Law on the campus of Suchow University in Suzhou. Fortunately, the timing of the contest coincides with the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) schedule in China. The National Competition was held in February both last year and this year.

The way it works is that teams are matched against each other in 90 minute rounds. Each team puts up three contestants for each round, but only two of them speak. The third is considered "of counsel." So for each round, there are two applicants and two respondants, and each team gets 45 minutes. They generally reserve one or two minutes for rebuttal. During their presentation of their pleadings, the judges on a three-judge panel will ask them questions, just as any panel of judges would do, whether in a court of appeals, the US Supreme Court, or the ICJ itself.

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The judges for the national competition are typically professionals from the legal community who volunteer to serve as judges for the contest. The case is not real, of course. It is a ficticioous case designed to give approximately equal arguments to both sides, and is outlined in detail in a document called the "compromis," which is usually influenced by current events in the arena of international law. So the compromis contains the "facts" of the ficticious case, and students are expected to apply existing law (such as previous decisions by the ICJ) in arguing their respective positions. This exercise gives them a chance to show their knowledge of the facts, as well as relevant law. This is an important exercise for young lawyers. Many years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I served on a jury in a moot court case at Willamette University Law School. The case in that moot court was a traffic case. I remember the law student playing the role of the prosecutor announced to everyone that he had been a police officer and launched into an impassioned defense of the law that had allegedly been violated. The judge looked at him and said, "Your entire line of argument is irrelevant The question before the court is not about whether this law is good or not. The question is whether or not the law has been violated by this person in this instance." So it's important for young lawyers to be aware of both the facts and the law.

Last year, the compromis told a story about secession, and was obviously based in the situation in Crimea. This year, the Compromis addresses cyber spying and was strongly influenced by Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. This year's compromis was written by Asaf Lubin, former intelligence analyst for the IDF. The video below includes includes a question from one of our students about how the compromis came to be written, and I liked Asaf Lubin's answer. I was also intrigued by what he said in his introduction about the presumption of lawlessness in the area of espionage. I agree with him, but I don't know how this issue can be resolved. Can anyone imagine a world where spying is a violation of international law, and every country signs off on it? Or can anyone imagine a world without espionage? Is there even such a thing as lawful espionage?

When the Americans realized they needed intelligence during World War II, they set up the OSS under Colonel (later General) William J. Donovan.

Later the OSS set up a "Research & Development" branch, with Stanley Lovell as its first director. In his 1963 memoirs, Lovell wrote that his goal was to "stimulate the Peck's Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist, and to say to him: 'Throw all your law-abiding concepts out the window. Here's a chance to raise merry hell.'" The OSS came up with some wild ideas. They had a plan to lace Adolf Hitler's food with female hormones so that he would develop a high voice and lose the respect of his officers.

The OSS was disbanded after World War II, and the CIA was eventually established to take it's place. Eisenhower is known as a "peaceful president," because he ended the Korean War and presided over an America that was uninvolved in military conflict for the remainder of his presidency. But the covert picture was quite differnt. Eisenhower used the CIA to remove foreign leaders that he didn't like--most notably Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran, which action created a hostility that has endured to the present day. To this day the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there.

Later in Eisenhower's presidency, the CIA developed plans to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba. This folly continued into Kennedy's administration, so it is evident that both Eisenhower and Kennedy wanted Castro dead. Most of their schemes were poorly conceived, and none succeeded. They actually convinced a New York City police officer to give Castro a cigar filled with enough TNT to blow his head off. Would have made an interesting headline (no pun intended), but apparently the cop was never able to get close to Castro.

In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff hatched a plan to have the CIA commit acts of terror against US citizens, which would be blamed on Cuba, and used to justify going to war against them. Fortunately Kennedy nixed that one.

More recently, the CIA has come under much controversy, because of the exponential increase in drone strikes under Obama. Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA relates a situation where he was at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a CIA officer who had been killed by a terrorist in Afghanistan. Suddenly he got a call saying that the CIA had the terrorist in the crosshairs of a drone. The only problem was that his family was with him. Panetta had to make a decision right then and there about what to do. In the end, he gave the green light, and the terrorist was killed, along with his wife and children. This decision was made by an appointed cabinet level official completely outside the chain of military command.

So I applaud Asaf Lubin for going after this issue, and wish him well. But I'm just not sure how optimistic I can be. Espionage of some kind seems inevitable in a sinful world. And how can it ever be made lawful? What country would agree to terms by which an enemy nation could legally spy on them? Lubin himself alludes to this in his own closing remarks at the end of the video, when he quotes from the The Secret Pilgrim, by John le Carre:

For as long as rogues become leaders, we shall spy. For as long as there are bullies and liars and madmen in the world, we shall spy. For as long as nations compete, and politicians deceive, and tyrants launch conquests, and consumers need resources, and the homeless look for land, and the hungry for food, and the rich for excess, your chosen profession [intelligence analysts] is perfectly secure, I can assure you.
Anyway, the video is a bit long, but parts of it are useful if you are interested in international law.

During the Jessup competition, the presentations by the students are usually very serious and professional, but on the last afternoon of the preliminary rounds for the China national competition in Suzhou, there was an amusing moment when one of the contestants for the other team was presenting her argument, and she cited a case which, according to her, had been appealed all the way to the Ninth Circuit. She was obviously unaware that the presiding judge for that round (seated, center) is actually a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He smiled when she said that, but it went right by her, until the end of the round, when the judges introduced themselves. Judge O'Scannlain had to leave China early because of an emergency. He was a close friend of Antonin Scalia, and had to fly back to Washington for the funeral. But he stayed through the preliminaries, and judged many rounds. The Jessup could not exist without the kindness of people like Judge O'Scannlain.

The judge who asked some of the best questions, I thought, was a retired trial judge from Hawaii (seated, right). He had been a trial judge for 25 years and a trial lawyer before that for just about as long. I think he had also been a JAG officer in the military, so he had a lot of experience. But he really put those kids to the test. The judges asked pretty tough questions during the rounds, but they were quite conciliatory in their remarks at the end of the rounds, because they understand that these young people are learning.

The CYU team has an advantage, because they have the assistance of Professor Shinye Murase (standing, front and center, with me and the team members) from Sophia University. He has written an International Law text which has recently been translated into Chinese by a member of our faculty, and he has volunteered to help coach our team. But we also benefitted immensely from the tireless efforts of Dr. Chen from the law school (holding the stick for the super-selfie), the head coach of the CYU team. And the team members have gotten much good advice from Professor Bramwell Osula, a member of our faculty who used to teach at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Unfortunately, Bramwell was in the States giving a lecture or something, so he was not able to go to the national contest.

We have seen excellent progress from our team in the last two years. Last year they came in 17th out of 40 or 45 teams. This year they were eighth. Only the top five teams go to Washington for the International finals, so they were not be part of that, but they were invited to D.C. anyway as an exhibition team. Last year, in Washington, they won two and lost two. This year they cleaned house. They went up against teams from Egypt, Russia, Italy, and Bulgaria and won all four rounds.

Saturday, April 2, I got up at 2 o'clock in the morning to watch the final championship round livestreamed from Washington (There's a twelve hour time difference between Beijing and Washington). The final round was between an American team and a team from Argentina. The Americans were very good, but I thought the Argentines were better, and I was not suprised when the judges gave it to them. During the final round, Sir Christopher Greenwood was questioning one of the American contestants about interpretation of law, and he said, "Thou shalt not commit adultry" can be interepreted several ways but it cannot be interpreted as "Thou shalt not commit adultry, but in fact, adultry is quite alright." I wish he could give that admonition to the members of the American Supreme Court.

It's a little sad to watch the losing team stand by as the winning team gets the all the glory. You don't get to the finals without being very good. All of those contestants in the final round have the potential to be world class litigators. But I do have to say the Argentines deserved to win. They were quite impressive.

There is so much injustice in this world. So much that is not right. When we are reminded of this reality, it can either drive us to despair, or move us to work together to train young people to fight for justice for those who have no one to speak for them. The Jessup has become a very important part of that mission.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

That's China 

I went to the desk at the youth hostel last week to see about staying a few more nights because I didn't have a train ticket yet. They told me they were booked up, so I went to the Yunnan Normal University to see if they had a Foreign Experts Building. Fortunately, they did. I have stayed at the Foreign Experts Building in at Northwest Normal University several times, and found it to be very accommodating. This one is a little more old-fashioned. A few days ago, the hotel maid was very animated and talking really fast. She seemed to be upset about something, so I asked her to come to my room and show me. She showed me a stain on the cover sheet (In China, they use a bottom sheet and then a cover slip for the quilt). I didn't think it was that big a deal, but I had not noticed it before. If I had, I would have just taken a damp cloth and rubbed it out, so that is what I started to do. But the hotel maid would have none of it. She ripped the cover sheet off, handed me a bar of soap, and ordered me to go to the sink and wash it "properly." Of course, I dutifully obeyed. I should be more careful next time.

Interesting story. I think many Americans would be inclined to shrug their shoulders and say, "That's China." True, but also not true. It's true because it actually happened. But it's not true because that's only one part of China. I'll tell you another story to illustrate what I mean. I have stayed at the Foreign Experts Building on the campus of Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou several times. One time I was coming into Lanzhou, so I called Holly at the Foreign Experts Building and told her I would be coming. She welcomed me. When I got there, the place was packed to the gills. There was some kind of conference or something, and there was absolutely no room. Holly told me not to worry. She was very busy (of course), but she left someone else in charge of the place and insisted on walking me over to the International Students' dormitory where she had arranged for me to have a room. She told me to come the next day and they would have a place for me. That was a pretty important favor, because I didn't have anywhere else to stay. Kunming has lots of youth hostels, but Lanzhou doesn't have any.

You see, the first story is true--I didn't make it up. That's China. But the second story is also true, and that's also China. And I have had many more experiences like the second story than like the first. Many more. A couple days ago, I was at a bus stop trying to figure out which bus to take. I was frustrated, because in Beijing they have an arrow showing which way the bus is going, so you can easily see whether you are going the right direction, or if you need to cross the street and take a bus in the other direction. In Kunming, no arrows. There was a young lady standing there, and I asked her if she knew which way I should be going to get to the stop I was headed for. She asked me for my ultimate destination and then told me that there was no bus going there from this stop. She insisted on walking me to another bus stop where I could get a connection. She showed me a short-cut along the railroad tracks for about 150 meters. She walked boldly down the middle of the tracks, stepping gingerly from one tie to the next and I walked along the side. As we were walking, she continued to lecture me about how the bus system worked. When we got to the bus stop, she explained how the sign indicates which direction the bus is going, using characters instead of an arrow. It was all very simple, and as soon as she pointed out the characters to me (开往), I saw it, but I would not have noticed it without her help. A bus stopped. As soon as the door opened, she stepped forward abruptly and gave me a brief lecture on the ticketing system. She explained how to tell what the fair was (they have regular busses and air conditioned busses) and the different ways of paying, and she made the driver wait until she was through with her lesson. When she had assured herself that I was situated, she told me she had to go and she left. Just like that. That's unusual? No, that's China. I have had so many experiences like this in the years I have been traveling in China.

There's another thing about a blog post like this that can be very misleading. This blog is written in English, so I have related these conversations as if they took place in English. In fact, none of them did. None of the encounters I have told you about would have been possible if I had not taken the trouble to learn a little Putonghua. I don't know...the last young lady who showed me the bus system looked to be in her twenties--it's possible she spoke a little English. I didn't ask her, because I did not want to give any idea that English language proficiency was a prerequisite for being able to help me. That would have been self-defeating. As a general rule, if young people feel comfortable with English, they will answer you in English even if you start the conversation in Chinese. She did not, so it's a pretty safe bet she perhaps did not feel comfortable with English, although most young people have better language ability than they give themselves credit for. But basically, if you want to travel by yourself in Western China, you need to learn Chinese. I was lucky, because when I first came to Beijing I lived very near Wudaokou, which has many small language schools for studying Mandarin. There are expensive ones, but also cheap ones. It was 12 kuai an hour when I signed up for two hours a day during the first year I was in China. In 2009-2010 I did it again, and the price had gone up to 30 kuai for an hour-and-a-half. That's cheap. That's China. I don't take classes anymore, because I'm too busy and I don't live near the language schools now. But I developed a twenty-minute listening and reading exercise that I go through every day. I also have some other study projects--chiefly the one I set up with friends from church to study the Japanese and Chinese Bibles. I try to work away at that a few nights a week. But I do the listening exercises every day. The reason I am so picky about listening is because even if your grasp of a given language is not strong, it's amazing what you can get by with if you basically understand what people are saying to you. And speaking naturally follows listening. Young people in China are very self-conscious about their speaking ability. They always tell me that they can read and understand better than they can speak. So what often happens is that they neglect listening and focus on speaking. They want to get their speaking level up to their listening level. Big mistake. Your listening ability will always be greater than your speaking ability. The most affective approach is to forget about speaking and focus on listening. If you get your listening comprehension up, your speaking ability will be right behind. Young people always want to focus on speaking. That may be a good short-term approach, but it is not a good long-term approach.

But I digress. I got off on that language tangent because language is the chief reason some foreigners have a negative view of China. Foreigners who never learn Chinese and spend all their time in Beijing do avoid some unpleasant experiences. But they also miss out on a lot of extraordinary human kindness such as I have received from ordinary people all over this country. That's China.

Monday, August 03, 2015


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This is pretty good stuff, you guys. Probably a good thing I don't live in this town. Dali has a lot of expat hangouts. In that respect, Dali is a lot easier to live with than Lijiang. This one is called "Hello Dali." It's run by an American lady who grew up in China. The main problem with Dali this year is that there was some Chinese movie in the past year that featured Dali. So swarms of tourists are flooding through Old Town. Most of them do not stop. They come riding through in trams and look around--just doing the tourist thing so they can say they've been here. But there are plenty of others, too. If you know the town well enough, you can find the places on side streets that do not have too many tourists. But it really does get tiring trying to avoid them. Dali is scenic, but a bit overwhelming because of all the tourists. Not like Lijiang, but getting that way. The other problem with Dali, is that the government has all but completely taken over the key tourist areas. Er Hai Lake used to be a place where you could get a ride on a little village boat or something. No more. And there is no real individual hiking on the mountain. You have to follow a tourist path, and it is not cheap. I met a mountain man from England who told me about a different route so I may try it sometime. But this place does not really lend itself to "hiking up in the hills" the way I like to do. Still, it is pretty, and the air is beautiful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Kunming. I flew in last Friday. So good to get out of the summer heat of Beijing. I like Beijing, actually. I would say it is probably the nicest city I have ever lived in. The autumn in Beijing is beautiful. Southerners complain about winter, but I actually like the winter in Beijing. Maybe that's because I have lived in northern climes most of my life. But I think it's also because in Beijing, every building has hot water heat. So once you get inside, it's actually quite comfortable. But summers in Beijing are not pleasant. The key word is "sultry." Hot, muggy, and polluted. I guess Nojiri spoiled me as a child. We would go to the mountains in the Japanese alps to get away from the summer heat. So summer is supposed to be for going to the mountains.

Kunming. Same elevation as Denver, same latitude as Honolulu. That unusual combination makes for cool, mild summers. Last year I flew to Chengdu and waited a few days until the rain stopped in the mountains before I headed up to the Tibetan Plateau. I eventually worked my way down to Kunming, and then returned to Beijing from there. This year I flew directly to Kunming instead of Chengdu. Chengdu is actually closer to the Tibetan Plateau, but the problem with Chengdu is that it is a very hot city, so it's not really a reprieve from Beijing. The advantage of flying to Kunming is that you are in cool country as soon as you get off the plane.

As I landed in Kunming, I was reminded of the first time I visited this city fourteen years ago. It was my first trip ot China. We did a project up in the mountains on the first bend of the Yangtze River. The difference between flying into that little frontier airport fourteen years ago, and the monstrosity they have now is almost impossible to describe. China has a lot of money, and they are pouring it into infrastructure.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Salary Gender Gap 

Seen a couple posts lately addressing the income disparity between men and women. I have no reason to doubt the statistics. But they are misleading, because they seldom distinguish between individual incomes and average incomes. Those are two separate issues, but they are often treated as one issue. The problem is not with the data, but with how the data is applied. Even if there is complete equality with respect to individual incomes, there will tend to be a disparity between average incomes, because income is based, at least in part, on years of service, and women tend to spend fewer years (on the average) in the work force than men.

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During the time that I lived in America, I was an elementary teacher for a number of years. In my profession, there was complete equality between men and women with respect to individual incomes. We were paid according to a matrix negotiated by collective bargaining. An individual man and an individual woman with exactly the same education and exactly the same years of experience had exactly the same salary. Yet even back then there was considerable discussion about how to address the disparity between men and women with respect to average incomes. Women often spend several years out of the work force during their childbearing years, and this affects the averages for all women. One idea being discussed was to give women credit on the matrix for the years they spent at home raising their children. But do you know who objected to that most strongly? Not men. No, it was the women who had stayed in the work force and paid for daycare all those years.

So, to the question: What should be done to narrow the gap between average salaries for men and women?

Answer: Nothing. It's an unworthy goal. The reason it's an unworthy goal is because the only way to accomplish it would be to force women to be in the work force for exactly the same number of years as men. But would anyone want to live in such a world? The other day I was listening to Elizabeth Elliot on BBN Radio talking about her mother. I found myself asking, "Is there still room in today's world for this kind of mother?" If the answer to that question is still "yes," then we have to accept the fact that average incomes for men are going to be higher than those for women. You see, the ideal society is not a society where all women are forced into the work place away from their children. The ideal society is a society where a woman who wants to work can have any job she wants and can expect to be paid exactly the same as any man who has the same education and experience as she does, but also where a woman who prefers to stay home with her children is free to do so. There is no way that average incomes for men and women would be the same in such a world. The math just isn't there. So the problem with the gender gap is not that it is too wide, but that it is too narrow. In an ideal society the gap would be considerably wider, since I'm sure we can all agree that if every woman who would prefer to stay home with her children could afford to do so, there would be even fewer women in the work force than there are now, and thus, women would have fewer average years of experience than men.

But what about turning it around? How about a world where men and women took turns staying home with the children? Would this work? I think it could perhaps be done to a larger extent than it is now, but men will never stay home as much as women. Unweaned children are not easy to care for. Once they are weaned, it is easy. But there is that period of time before they're weaned when it is really tough. It's hard to explain the frustration of holding my precious little one, and she is crying her little heart out and sucking on my shirt pocket and I don't know how to tell her that I'm really not trying to starve her to death, I just don't have anything to give. As I said, once they are weaned it's a whole different ball game. Weaned kids are easy to please. Perhaps I am saying this partly as a matter of comparison--I was an elementary school teacher, so I took care of kids for a living, and it's easier to take care of your own kids than to take care of someone else's. Anyway, I fully understand that not everyone is into working with kids, I'm just saying that I think anyone who has will tell you that it is much easier to care for young children after they get to the point where you can feed them manually, or they can feed themselves. But before they are weaned, it's really frustrating.

China and America are basically the same--both parents work. Japan is different. In Japan, women are expected to leave the work force at about 25 years of age and get married. A women over 25 who applies for a job is almost viewed with suspicion. I was talking with a woman from Beijing who is married to a Japanese man. She said she went to apply for a job once, and the boss asked her, "Does your husband allow you to work?" No boss in America would ask a question like that if he valued his life. In China, it probably would not occur to him to ask. So China and the US are basically the same in that regard, but with one important difference: In China, there is a built-in cultural expectation that grandparents should care for their grandchildren. This is starting to change now, but I still see a lot of children with their grandmothers. So women usually can expect that the little one will be raised by the grandmother (usually the father's mother). I have tested this assumption many times.

Every year I ask students, "How many of you want to get a job when you graduate?" In a class of 25 students, usually about 20 of them will be women. When I was teaching database in the Software College at Beihang University it was the opposite, but I am teaching at an arts school now. At first they don't get what I am driving at, but then I ask, "How many of you would prefer to marry a rich man so that you don't have to work?" No takers.

I try to sweeten the pot a little. "How about if he buys a car for you?" Nope.

"How about if he hires a maid so that you don't have to do any housework?" Maybe.

"His mother will be your servant." That might get a hand or two.

In the main, though, women expect (and want) to have a career. I'm sure part of the reason is that I teach college freshmen. They are focussed on school right now, so the idea of throwing it all away after all they went through to get here is not going to be appealing. I suspect the answers would be different if I asked the same question down the road a few years.

This year, I tried a completely different approach. I said, "If you had a really good job, how would you feel if your husband stayed home and cared for the children, and then you could support him?" They spat that one out without chewing it.

"If he is my husband, then of course he should provide for our family! He's a man!" Another young lady stood to her feet. "I cannot accept this. I do not want to marry a small white face!"

When young ladies in China talk about their own careers, they sound like feminists. But they're not, really. They expect men to be men. I was asking the question seriously, because I had read about a couple here in Beijing who chose to try that approach. She had a very good job and made a lot more money that he did, so they decided that he would be a house-husband and stay home with the children. She said it was hard for her to come home from work after a long day and see the children all running to their dad to talk about what they had done in school or something. He was the mom. Come to think of it, if I remember correctly, this was a Chinese American couple who had come back to China to work. Perhaps this would not be accepted in ordinary Chinese culture. Would I do this myself? Well, I would not want to do it for a lifetime, but I think for two or three years I could accept it. Kids only have one childhood, and if you have to make a few sacrifices to make it a secure one, I think you should be willing to do that. But I think we can all agree that in most societies, the predominant stay-at-home parent will be the mother. For how long? It's hard to nail it down to an exact time period, but we'll say eighteen months. Most children would be able to be weaned by eighteen months. So multiply eighteen months by the number of children and you have the minimum amount of time that a mother would need to be out of the work force to provide for unweaned children. But that's just the minimum. Many women will elect to stay home until their children are in school. But even after they start school, some mothers will feel that it is better to be more or less available. How many grade school kids do you know who wouldn't rather come home to a mother if they had a choice between that and an empty house?

Even good kids get themselves into trouble when they lack supervision. I remember years ago, I was walking across an open field in North Dakota and I saw a neighbor kid standing by a pole. It was in the dead of winter--maybe 10 below zero. I couldn't figure out what she was doing there. But I could hear her crying. As I came near, I saw what had happened. Walking by the pole she just couldn't resist the temptation to stick out her tongue and touch the pole with it. Of course, her tongue immediately froze to the pole and she was a prisoner. I said, "Hold still." I took my fingernail and scraped her tongue away from the pole. She lost a little skin off the tip of her tongue, but other than that she was none the worse for wear. Kids need parents.

Some people seem to have the idea that professional women are not capable of being stay-at-home moms. But that's not necessarily true. Perhaps we can agree that they have a harder time making that decision, but once they have made it, they are often very competent homemakers. They are educated, intelligent, often well organized and often have well-developed people-management skills. So if they can figure it out financially, not a few of them will be inclined to extend that eighteen months a few years. In fact, many professional women who originally intended to return to the work force after a few years, end up becoming entrapraneurs in order to give themselves greater flexibility. So they will experiment with a variety of options and spend many more years out of the work force than they originally intended. Is this a bad thing? Maybe in some cases, but I would think that most women who have done it would tell you that the benefits gained were well worth the cost of putting family first. But that cost does include spending significantly less time (on the average) in the work force than men, and thus, having a significantly lower salary.

Of course we believe that a man and woman who do the same job should be paid the same. But to advocate a society where average salaries for men and women are exactly the same is to long for a world too horrible to contemplate. May it never be.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Restraint of Christianity in China, Part 1: The Bible Problem 

During the last year or so, there has been a spate of actions by the government that seems to suggest a new pressure on the church in China. I was going to call this "Repression of Christianty in China," but in deference to the Italian journalist's point about how dumplings are cooked, I decided to call it, "Restraint of Christianity in China." The story centers around the destruction of churches and crosses in the city of Wenzhou in the summer of 2014. But that incident or series of incidents was preceded by a severe restriction in the publication of Bibles, so I am going to divide this into two segments, the first dealing with the Bible problem, and the second addressing the situation in Wenzhou.

The Bible Problem. A year or so ago, I took a student to the bookstore in the Three-Self Church I attend to help her buy a Bible. They said they didn't have any. I didn't need one myself, but I was curious, so I went back every week and got the same answer. I should note that the particular type of Bible I was checking on was the bilingual version (pictured), because that is the one students prefer. Most students tell me that the English is easier to understand than the Chinese. In fact, the old Chinese Union Version was (and still is) an extraordinary literary accomplishment, put together and modified during a span of close to one hundred years, ending in 1919 or 1920. But it's basically a late Qing Dynasty work, so the language is archaic. But for Chinese students who read English, the bilingual version is really an ideal combination, because they can read the English, which is more comfortable for them, but they also have access to the Chinese Union Version, which is more scholarly, and sometimes more accurate than the English, because the CUV is not translated from English. It is translated directly from Greek and Hebrew to Chinese more literally than some English versions, and sometimes more accurately.

Anyway, it was clearly not available anymore, and I was very concerned about why not. I talked to three of the pastors--all three of them denied knowing anything about it. I know that seems extraordinary, but this is China. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. Finally I got the report, and, not surprisingly, it did not come from China, it came from Mission Network News.

Listen to the report, and draw your own conclusions, but here is what I think is happening:

In China, all Bibles are printed at Amity Press in Nanjing. Bibles are not allowed to have ISBN numbers, and sale of Bibles in public bookstores is strictly forbidden. I did see a couple black market Bibles in a bookstore once, but this is very rare. Basically, if you want to buy a Bible in China, you need to go to a Three-Self Church bookstore, or buy one on the street for a ghastly price. But having said that, there has not been a quota limit on purchase of Bibles by Church people in churches. So church people who wanted a Bible could usually get one (unless, as I said, there was a black market operation going on). What it comes down to is that the Party has resigned itself to the fact that there are going to be Christians in China, and that the Church is not going to go away. So they allow Bibles to be sold in Church bookstores to Church people, but not to the general public. What I think happened is that the Communist Party, in its periodic examination of the number of Bibles that were going out, discovered that somebody was going to a church or churches and buying up huge numbers of Bibles for the purpose of distributing them to people outside the church--that is, members of the general public who are not church goers and would not otherwise be inclined to come in contact with the Bible. So the Party decided to compensate for this by shutting down the production of Bibles for a period of time. This shows that they still have a few things to learn about economics--limiting supply does not diminish demand. Quite the opposite. But it also shows that they view the growth of Christianity with suspicion and concern.

Some people (myself included) might be inclined, at first, to see this as religious repression, but when I mentioned the issue to the Italian reporter, he just shrugged, "Rice, noodles, dumplings. Think about how they're cooked. They all involve water, but it's different." I have to admit he is right. The government is not trying to shut down Christianity. They are just adding some cold water to the mix to keep it from boiling over. Printing of Bibles has been restored now, and you can buy Bibles again, although I understand there is a quota of two Bibles per person. [Note that I am speaking about people in the cities. It is not always so easy in the countryside, as the report from Mission Network News indicates.]

So the most significant fact about the Bible problem is that it is not that significant. The Party's decision to (artificially) reduce supply has almost certainly increased demand, so it is likely that there will be more Bibles in China than there would have been if they had just left the matter alone. In today's China, anyone with a smart phone can have a Bible in minutes. I don't have an iPhone, but I know with an Android phone you can Blue Tooth the .apk file from one phone to another very easily. There is no restriction on how many times a file like that can be duplicated, and, of course, no way that any government entity can track how many eBibles are being distributed. So Bibles are here to stay. It's not like it used to be... but that brings up a question: How did it used to be?

Let's talk about that. The Communist Party is very much opposed to foreign control of religion, and when they first came to power, the Bible was viewed as a foreign book and religion viewed as the "opium of the people," to quote Karl Marx (das Opium des Volkes). So there was much government opposition to the Bible, and they were not easy to find. But there were attempts to bring them in from outside, the most notable being the the massive smuggling operation called, "Project Pearl," where a missionary by the name of Brother David smuggled a million bibles into China. I first read about Project Pearl in the classic book about Bible smuggling by Brother Andrew. I next read about it in Jesus in Beijing just before I moved to China. In that book, David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine says that the CIA was flying overhead and was astounded by what they saw. I have often wondered if it was in fact the CIA that tipped off the Chinese that a massive smuggling operation was going on right under their noses. Clearly the CIA could not have known that it was Bibles, not drugs that were being smuggled. At any rate, the police did show up, but they were too late, and the incident became a profound embarrassment to the Chinese government. You shouldn't be able to smuggle a million of anything into a country. I believe it was this embarrassment that eventually led to the establishment of Amity Press, which has printed millions of Bibles for the Christians of China since that incident.

The Bible is a revolutionary book. Empires have risen and fallen on the truth in its pages. Horace Greely said,

It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a bible-reading people. The principles of the bible are the groundwork of human freedom.
Bible-reading people are hard to manipulate. They tend to be independent thinkers. So it is understandable that governments inclined toward controling the thinking of the people would want to keep those people from reading the Bible. But this recent attempt by the powers that be in China is not likely to work, because people tend to want what is forbidden. They would be smarter to try the American approach: let people have all the Bibles they want until they get tired of them. In America, the Bible has sold more copies than any other book for so long that it no longer even appears on best-seller lists. Americans buy the Bible in every size and shape, but rarely to they actually sit down and read it. In China, if a Christian has a Bible, he or she is much more likely to read it. Christians in China ask me probing questions about the Bible. So I am not worried. The long term effect of this pruning is going to be good for China.

By the way, the reason my Bible looks so rugged is not because I read it all the time. In fact, I do most of my daily Bible reading on my smart phone these days. But in the early morning, I like to go sit by the lake and have my devotions. Clumsy as I am, my Bible fell in the lake the other day. I fished it out right away, but the pages are a little crinkly.

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