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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
I was in third or fourth grade at the boarding school in northern Japan when I read in my Weekly Reader that Singapore and teamed up with Malaya and a couple other insignificant areas to form the new country of "Malaysia." The year was 1963. At the time I didn't think much about it--I just thought the new name sounded better than "Malaya." I was puzzled when Singapore pulled out of the deal a couple years later. But when I read Lee Kuan Yew's autobiography years ago, he told the story differently. He says in his book that he cried when the decision was made to push Singapore out. It has been some twelve years now since I read his memoirs, so I can't remember just how he put it, but at the time I thought it must be political posturing. That departure turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Singapore. They were not under the British and they were also not chained to Malaysia. Can you imagine Singapore today being saddled with Malaysia's woes? I don't know--maybe at the time he just couldn't see the future and feared that this would doom Singapore to being returned to colonial status or something.
During the Cold War years of the sixties, we always used to hear talk of "Communist infiltrators" trying to take over the world. Lee Kuan Yew turned the whole idea on its head. He infiltrated the Communist party of Singapore, used it to take over the country, and then eliminated the Communist Party. The CIA became nervous about his association with the Communists and talked to the British. The British either knew what Lee Kuan Yew was up to, or they just knew him better than the Americans did. Lee Kuan Yew was educated in Britain, and if I'm not mistaken, he practiced law there for a few years. Anyway, the Brits trusted him and told the CIA not to worry. But the CIA wouldn't leave it alone and stupidly tried to infiltrate the Singapore police. They got caught, and then offered Lee Kuan Yew a $3 million bribe to hush it up. He refused. When he recounted this story several years later, the CIA denied it. That was also stupid--given a choice between Lee Kuan Yew and the CIA, anyone with half a brain would believe Lee Kuan Yew. Here's his statement:
The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny. They are not dealing with Ngo Dinh Diem or Syngman Rhee. You do not buy and sell this Government.Lee Kuan Yew has not been without critics. He was compassionate, but he was also an autocratic leader. They used to call him "Hitler with a heart." He outlawed chewing gum, and there is lots of back and forth on how much dissent is really tolerated in Singapore. But he was always easy-going with religious people. He would say, "Pray to whatever God you believe in." Singapore has some of the largest churches in the world. It's interesting that China seems to see Singapore as a model for how they want to operate--a tight ship run by a benevolent dictator. But if that is their thinking, they have a long ways to go. Singapore is a much more open society than China. By a long shot. There is no GFW in Singapore, and as far as I know, you can buy foreign newspapers on Singapore without restriction. But I guess I would have to say that Singapore is not a happy place for trouble makers or protesters. And there have been some cases of foreign migrant workers being abused by corrupt employers. But it must also be said that Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore into a place where educated professionals from just about any background or culture who are willing to work and mind their own business can find a way to fit in. You don't meet professional anywhere who don't like Singapore, or at least value the experience of having worked there. To see what Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore, you really need to look at a map and see just how insignificant that little portion of the beach is from a natural perspective. That it should become a major international city-state is something that no one could have guessed just by looking at what the people of Singapore had to work with.
Lee Kuan Yew will go down in history as an extraordinary leader in a time of great change as the belated remnants of the nineteenth century colonial period moved toward independent statehood. Vietnam is an example of one that had much more rugged and tragic transition.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Monday, March 16, 2015
Sunday, March 01, 2015
The Jessup International Moot Court competition is held every year and involves almost 700 law schools worldwide. Last Fall, Professor Murase from Tokyo, had asked another American professor and myself to help coach the CYU team. Professor Murase has written a text on International law, and it has just been translated into Chinese by a member of the CYU faculty, so he had volunteered to help get develop the CYU team.
At the China competition in February, I felt that the CYU team did exceptionally well. But there were two matches where the opposing team was split--one contestant was exceptionally good and the other was quite below par. The judges apparently decided to base the score on the performance of the best player, so in those matches, the other team took the win. The result was that the CYU team came in 17th out of 40 teams nationwide. That is still a remarkable performance for such a small law school. In the past, no one has really expected the CYU team to accomplish much of anything. But I still feel they did much better than they were given credit for.
Anyway, Professor Murase and Dr. Chen from CYU have managed to arrange for the CYU team to do an exhibition match in Washington at the international competition, and the college has agreed to pay for their transportation, so this way they will get the opportunity I feel they really deserve to show what they can do.
This year's moot court case involves two fictitious countries and deals with the issue of secession. It is obviously based on the recent secession and annexation of Crimea. The final competition in Washington D.C. is actually held before the judges of the International Court of Justice. But here in Beijing the judges were international legal people who are working in Beijing in some legal capacity, or have been involved in previous Jessup competitions. Some of them are really quite good.
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Lijiang is known for the old city. There is nothing else there. The old city is on the United Nations register of historic places. But it's so touristed now. Really frustrating. But the youth hostel was very nice--a good place to work and study. I was there almost a week, because I wanted to take a side trip to Lugo Lake. I had a problem with reservations because there were lots of people there, and the hostel told me that their reservation system malfunctioned and they had more reservations than beds. On top of that, every day had intermittent torrential rains. I was beginning to get the picture. Fortunately, yesterday I met a guy who grew up in that area. He told me that the best time to go there was in the spring or fall. I had read something to that effect in the Lonely Planet. But he told me that the hiking trails were not very safe in the summer. I was glad for the info. I will be back. But not in the heat of the tourist season.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
When I got to Kanding, I called the Dongba hostel. They told me to turn left out of the bus stop and start walking. That didn't seem very helpful. But I was able to ask people as I was walking and I found the place. When I got there, they told me that they did not have any beds. That after I had called them several times and been told that they had plenty of beds. In fact, I had called them that morning from the bus to verify again that I was coming. The proprietor told me she would go out in the street with me and try to scrounge up something. I was not impressed. It was clear to me how they operated. They pretend to take reservations, but they do not honor them. They operate on first come, first served basis, which is their right. But the problem is, they don't tell you that honestly. They let you think you have a reservation, but if someone else comes first, they give your bed to them and then when you come they offer to help you find something. I really don't like to operate that way. Fortunately, there is a YHA hostel in Kanding, I had originally planned to go there, but the other one was recommended to me by some Chinese folks in Chengdu. Anyway, I went the Konka Hostel. They told me they did not have any dorm beds, but that I could sleep in a tent. I wasn't enthusiastic about squeezing into a small tend, but I also didn't want to sleep in the street. So I told them to show me the tent. To my surprise, it was a huge tent with ten beds in it. That would not be comfortable in Chengdu or Beijing because no air conditioning. But in the mountains, it is quite pleasant, because the air is cool at night.
I stayed in Kanding for two nights and left early Sunday morning for Daocheng. Another grueling, twelve-hour road trip. When we finally to Daocheng, I called the Yading YHA hostel, and they told me to wait for them. After a few minutes a couple of young people from the hostel showed up and led me to where it was. One of them insisted on carrying my heavy backpack. When I got there, I met some young people who wanted to go to an onsen. They had been asking everyone who came, because the deal was that if they had at least four people, the hot springs place would provide free pickup. I was exhausted. I really didn't feel like doing it. But I knew that if I did, I would come back and sleep like a baby. I'm really glad I went with them. Twenty-five RMB per person--thirty if you want a private hot tub. I paid the extra 5 kuai and got a private room. It wasn't quite like Japan. There was no washing area. I'm not sure what people here do. Do they just wash right in the tub? Or do they treat it like a swimming pool instead of a bath? I don't know. But in Japan it would be a mortal sin to wash right in the hot water, so I couldn't bring myself to do it. That's OK. I'm philosophical about that. I can take a shower any time. After we got out, they served us yak butter tea, which for me was exactly what the doctor ordered. A little salty, and very nourishing.
Yesterday, I rented an e-bike and took one of the volunteers from the youth hostel for a ride through the beautiful Tibetan countryside around Daocheng (although Daocheng is officially in Sichuan Province). Fortunately, the Tibetan kids we talked to spoke Mandarin, so we were able to communicate with them. But when one of their mothers came up, she just waved and said, "Bu dong. (I don't understand)."
Friday, July 25, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Jacky was so fascinated with our discussion that he pulled out his iPad and copied my sketch of the spectrum and then had me sign it. Zhou Tao is a computer science major, and seems quite able to function in either world. But some software people tend to be more intensely focussed on one particular skill area. And some simply don't know. I remember once talking to one of my networking students in Arizona who was very unhappy. I asked him a few questions and found out he had a Masters degree in material science. I asked him why he wasn't doing that. He told me that field wasn't very open at the moment. Then I asked him a few questions about the skills he already had, and found out he was a VB programmer. I said, "I don't think you belong at this university." He was surprised. I said, "Why don't you do application development?" He wasn't too sure about the field, so I explained to him that database application developers are involved with developing the front end of database. After talking for a few minutes, he said he would give it some thought. He went out and found a job nearby almost immediately and dropped out of school. I am not one to encourage students to drop out of school, but in his case, school was a waste of money. He already had marketable skills and he obviously didn't need the sheepskin. I used to run into him once in awhile after that. Every time he saw me he said, "You changed my life!" I didn't change his life. He changed his life. I just helped him to discover where he fit on the spectrum.
Friday, February 14, 2014
I had talked with a shop about a phone I was interested in, but I was puzzled because the price they were quoting me was quite significantly lower than what had been quoted by every other place I talked to. I went back to see them yesterday. They quoted a price of 3500 for the Galaxy Note III. I went to the shop of Eason's friend and he said there was no way a legitimate one could be purchased for that price. He said it must be fake. I went back downstairs, but I did not want to talk to the two guys running the shop I had been to before, because I was becoming more and more convinced that they were trying to cheat me. To avoid dealing with them, I turned and went down the escalator into the basement. I thought to go to the other end of the market and find another way up and out. When I stepped off the escalator in the basement, I noticed another cell phone shop. I looked briefly at the phones on display, and the proprietor asked me, "Can I help you with something?" I really hadn't planned to stop and talk, but I have been in Beijing for ten years, and this was the first time a merchant in the electronics market had addressed me in English. I was so taken aback that I couldn't help wondering what in the world he was doing here. I said, "Well, actually, I've been looking at the Galaxy Note III." What he said next blew me away.
"Do you want the fake one or the real one?" He was serious.
I said, There's a fake one?
"Yes." He showed it to me.
I said, "But it says "Samsung."
"Yes, I know, but it's fake. I'll show you how to tell."
Turns out the fake one sells for 1900 RMB. That was the price he quoted me. But later, he told me that most shop owners buy it for 1500 and sell for anything from that to 2000. That means that if the guys on the first floor were trying to sell me a fake one, they would be making a handsome profit.