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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Jessup 

Just found out the other day that the CYU team has been invited to Washington D.C. for an exhibition match.

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

Dali 

Just got to Dali. I took the long, twelve-hour bus ride from Daocheng down to Zhongdian (which is now called Shangri La ) a week ago today. I had checked out several hostels on the youth hostel website, but one of them that I had passed up was recommended to me quite highly by one of the young travelers in Daocheng, so I decided to go there. The reason I had passed it up is because there was absolutely no detail information on the English version of the website (which is the one I use). Everything was blank. In fact, the place was run by a very nice Naxi lady. I told her that she should put in some information on the English site. She told me that they come from the countryside and none of them speak English. It was evident that they didn't know that much about hosteling, but they had actually built a very nice (albeit a bit rustic) hostel from what looked like it had been an old school or something. They had resources. When I called from the bus station, instead of telling me which bus to catch, she sent someone in an SUV to pick me up. If they ever get around to putting in some information on the English site, they are going to be very popular, becuase they are just about the nicest people you could hope to meet. They'll have to get some university student volunteers or something, because none of them speak English. But they were very friendly and accomodating. And they have a breakfast menu which includes a set group of items designed for Chinese people. I carry my own oatmeal, so I just ordered some special high country barley bread and a couple eggs. I only stayed there one night, because I wanted to get down to Lijiang for the weekend. She had some friends going down to Lijiang the next day, so I asked her what the bus fair was and offered to pay them that much. She quoted me a price of 70 kuai, and I didn't argue. When the two guys came to pick me up, they helped me carry my stuff to the car. The guy who was carrying my bag said, "Your bag is very heavy. I'm going to have to charge you 100." I put an end to that nonsense in a big hurry, and we were on our way."

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

Daocheng 

My last evening in Daocheng. I left Chengdu Friday, and got to Kanding after a grueling 12 hour bus trip. Some of the road wasn't that bad, but some of it was very, very bad. Some of the worst roads I have seen in my life. I remember those roads well from my childhood in Japan. But what added to the problem was the kind of traffic on those roads. Big trucks carrying heavy loads.

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

Western Sichuan Province -- The Tibetan Plateau 

Heading up into the mountains out of Chengdu. I flew to Chengdu from Beijing last Saturday. When I got the Dreams Travel youth hostel they told me that there had been torrential rains in the mountains, so I decided to delay my trip for a few days. It's very cold in the mountains. When it gets cold and wet and rainy, it can be quite unpleasant. Monday evening, I had dinner with Leander and his girlfriend. He goes by Joel now and his company is growing. Leander was one of the students who stayed in Beijing during Spring Festival when I first came to China ten years ago. Leander and his classmates were in the IC design class at the Software College. Most of them are now doing IC design, but Leander started his own company. A the next day, one of my English majors from the past school year sent me a message. He was on his way to Chengdu and he had seen my post on WeChat (everyone in China has WeChat). So he and his classmate took me to a local hotpot restaurant. You really need to do this when you come to Chengdu. The next day I had dinner with Mary and her classmate. Mary is a young traveler I met last summer in Manzhouli. She had seen my posts on WeChat and told me she was studying in Chengdu. I meet a lot of people in my travels, so I was not sure who she was, but I told her to meet me and we would have dinner. She brought her classmate along, and we wandered through the classic streets in Chengdu looking for street food. Turned out to be a rainy evening, but we made it work. We managed to find a shelter just big enough to protect us from the downpour, and I was eating the little bit of street food I had managed to buy. I was fine. I told them I didn't need to eat that much. I have been eating quite well this week, and it doesn't hurt to eat a little lightly after all of that. But Mary was worried about me so she went out into the rain and bought a biscuit for me so that I would not go hungry.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Code Monkeys and Network Junkies 

I got together with Jacky and Zhou Tao to talk about my phone problem. In the course of our conversation, I started talking with Zhou Tao about the question I often put to my students in Arizona when I was trying to help them decide which direction to go professionally. At UAT, the software engineering department tended to be bipolar. Students focussed on Network Engineering, or Software Engineering. So I would ask students, "What are you, a code monkey or a network junkie?" I would ask them to place themselves along a spectrum, and in the process, explain the difference, both in terms of courses required, and the work involved. Some students identified clearly with one or the other. I had networking students who hated programming. And I had programming students who were completely clueless and uninterested in network infrastructure. But I also had students who tended to move easily between the two areas.

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

Fake Phones 

Yesterday I went to Zhongguancun to get some more information re: the new phone I need to buy. My Huawei phone died for some reason a couple weeks ago just before I left the States to come back to China.

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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Paradise Lost 

I was sitting in the Bridge Cafe the other day reading Milton's Paradise Lost, when the guy sitting behind me came up and asked me what I was reading. He had noticed the web site I was looking at--a very well designed page by a professor at Dartmouth. He told me he had been a student of that professor. I told him I really appreciated the fact that this professor had taken so much trouble to put this together and then released it to the public.

I was in the library of my former university some time ago, when I discovered a copy of Samuel Johnson''s Lives of the Poets, and becamse interested in the section on Milton. But before really getting into it, I decided that perhaps I ought to spend some time actually reading Milton. It's hard to believe that my sixtieth birthday is right around the corner, but I have never read Paradise Lost. So I set myself to the task, and thus I found this web site. Actually, the reason I was interested in reading Samuel Johnson''s classic in the first place, is because I had started reading Boswell''s classic biography of Johnson several years ago and decided that it would be more meaningful if I had actually read something by Johnson before I began the biography. So I'm reading Milton so that I can read Johnson so that I can read Boswell.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Just returned from a week and a half in Arizona. I left Seattle Saturday evening for an all night flight to Beijing. But of course, by the time I got to Beijing, it was late Sunday evening. That happens for a couple reasons. When you fly west at just below the speed of sound, you are basically "chasing" the sun. The sun "travels" at about 1000 miles per hour (24 hours in a day, 25,000 miles around the world). You are flying at about 600 miles per hour. So you are chasing the sun, but never quite catching it. But it will lengthen your day considerably if it is morning when you start. And it will lengthen your evening quite a bit if you are entering into night when you leave. I left Seattle at about 6pm and got to Beijing Just before midnight. So the period of time between 6pm and midnight was lengthen to about 12 hours (the duration of the flight). But the problem is, since we crossed the International Date Line, It was Sunday evening when I landed, not Saturday evening.

I noticed several changes during the time I was in America. Credit card purchases seem dangerously easy in today's America. Not sure what the amount is--I think it's about $25--but purchases under that amount do not require a signature, and they don't ask for your ID. So if you lose your credit card in when you're in America, you really seriously need to contact your bank immediately. I'm a foreigner, and foreigners are technically not allowed to have Chinese credit cards--I got one because the Software College needed me to order some software--so I have a very small limit--five hundred dollars, I think. So it would not be catastrophic in my case, but still, five hundred dollars is five hundred dollars.

Another thing I noticed was the number of businesses that were empty. Big signs saying FOR LEASE. It really was quite striking. Must be lots of people out of work. A couple nights before I left, I took a ciy bus back to Mesa from Tempe. When I got to Dobson Road, the driver told me to stay on the bus when everybody else was getting off, because he knew I was actually headed for Longmore, and he had to drive forward to turn around. He dropped me off at Pennington. I went into a little gas station. I noticed a display case that had a lot of doughnuts in it. I walked away from it. I didn't really need that doughnut. But something brought me back. I was sorta glancing at it, more out of boredom than anything else, when a lady came up to me. "Here you go, " she said. I looked at her. She placed a bunch of coins in my hand. "Here's some money to get that doughnut." Very nice lady. Do I look like a hobo? That's the difference between China and America. In China, people say to me, "Are you an artist?" Truth be told I think I'm more of hobo than an artist. I've never drawn better than stick figures, but I have slept on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doublespeak 

Went to Think in China last night. The professor began his lecture by saying that China is a socialist country. During the question and answer period, I queried him about this. I told him that socialism is a word that has a meaning. That meaning is "public ownership of the means of production."

He said, "When I say socialist, I mean a country that is led by the communist party. So if the party's approach to socialism changes, we simply change the definition."

Click for larger image.
So what he seemed to be saying was that socialism was whatever the Party said it was. There is a lot of truth to this. In China, it is not politically correct to spout Marxist philosophy. But it is also not politically correct to publicly admit that we no longer believe what Marx taught. Whatever system is adopted in China, we MUST call it socialism.

A few minutes later, the professor said, "China is a socialist country and America is a capitalist country." What does he mean by that? If I take what he said at face value, I would have to conclude that he was saying, "China is led by the Communist Party and the U.S. is not led by the Communist Party. But that's a meaningless statement. It sounds like what he was actually doing was sliding into the traditional statement that China is a socialist country as opposed to America, which is a capitalist country. That doesn't work. To juxtapose China's system vis-a-vis America's system implies an objective standard against which to measure both of them. But he had just got done saying that there was no objective definition. Socialism is whatever the Party says it is. You can't have it both ways. But in China, they seem determined to have it both ways, and this creates confusion. This morning, I opened up the China Daily and saw the following headline:

"Let the market play its own role"
Under that was the subtitle:
"State Council's latest move reduces intervention and facilitates business"
Does that sound like Marxism to you? You see, this is the problem with the way this whole issue is being implemented in China. The good professor says that socialism means leadership by the Communist Party. But if you say that, then sliding into old statements about China being socialist as compared to America being capitalist is not really honest. In fact, China is moving away from socialism, and America is moving toward socialism. But don't tell anybody.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Harbin 

Finally got a brainstorm. I have had a terrible time trying to get a sleeper ticket back to Beijing. Getting a train ticket is not that hard, but I am just not interested in sitting for almost 40 hours in a crowed train car. It's just too much. But I found a cheap flight ticket to Harbin. It is quite easy to get a ticket on the high speed Japanese train from Harbin to Beijing. Fortunately, Harbin has a new youth hostel near the old Russian Street. The old Russian street is the street with all the old businesses from the period when the Russian Jews came to Harbin and built this tiny village into a prosperous city. I won't go into too much detail, because I dealt with it at length during my visit here during Spring Festival in January and February of 2009. But just let me say that if you ever have a chance to spend a few days in Harbin, you should not only visit the old Russian street. You should also visit the "new" synagogue (the term "new" is relative--both synagogues are almost a hundred years old) and see the hundreds and hundreds of pictures from that amazing slice of history. The story of the Harbin Jews is a partial sequel to the film "Fiddler on the Roof." That film is a novel, of course, but it is quite true to the period. The end of the movie shows them leaving their little Russian village to go to America. In actual fact, many of the Russian Jews who were harassed by the Czar did not go to America. They went to China. Harbin China. At one time, the mayor of Harbin was from Moscow. Harbin never actually became a part of Russia, because it was in China. But in a sense, it really was part of Russia. Maybe you could say a Russian island in China. Or a Russian Hong Kong.

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