licking at air frenzied
grasping to ignite
a whisper of smoke
a smudge of ash
and a puddle
of melted me.
licking at air frenzied
grasping to ignite
a whisper of smoke
a smudge of ash
and a puddle
of melted me.
a drop of spring rain
tantalizingly closer and closer
until i reach out to touch
and you vanish
a mirage i dared to approach
forever with me
To some, I am a space traveler. I have visited other galaxies, lived on other planets, side by side with aliens. And I have returned, alive, to share stories of these strange worlds and the mysterious lifeforms that inhabit them.
Of course, in reality, these galaxies are merely continents, the planets simply nations, and the aliens nothing more than the humans who live there. Yet the portrayal of the developing world in popular opinion and the media would lead one to imagine that these places are separated from us not by a few hours in a Boeing 747, but a years-long journey in a rocket ship. These people, we are constantly reminded, are nothing like us. They are uncivilised, unintelligent, even dangerous, and, with few exceptions, doomed to wallow in their dystopian backwardness for all of eternity.
Yet, fundamentally, Jakarta and Delhi are little different than Tokyo or London. Rural Bangladesh is not too far removed from rural America. As citizens of the developed world, we may enjoy better health, better education, and a thousand channels of satellite television, but our struggles, our triumphs, and our dreams are the same, an omnipresent element of the human condition. We are more alike than we are different.
I firmly believe that it is impossible to spend any significant amount of time in the developing world and not reach this same conclusion.
This quick and easy rice dish combines three types of mushroom with carrot, tofu, and the delicate flavours of sake, mirin, and dashi. The recipe below serves two.
Three days, three countries, and four cities. Approximately 31 hours spent in airplanes, airports, and on trains. One black signal rainstorm. A grand total of six hours of sleep.
To many, this experience would be a hellish torture on par with any of the dastardly tactics devised by the interrogators at Guantánamo Bay. Yet, for me, the whirlwind journey I made from London to Tokyo to Hong Kong to Shenzhen and back to Tokyo was strangely empowering. I’ve always found that there’s a sort of freedom and clarity that comes from not being attached to anyplace, from knowing that, six hours from now, I’ll be in another city in another country speaking another language and the present will be like a distant, faded memory…. When I’m in such a constant state of motion, it’s as though my flight has never landed, and I’m still floating ten thousand meters above the earth, even if my feet are firmly planted on the ground.
At one point, with a few hours to spare before my return flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, I found the time to head to Ocean Park, a local HK version of Sea World or Disneyland. And it was while riding 越矿飞车 (Yuè kuàng fēi chē), staring out at the beautiful landscape of the South China Sea, that I realised the best way to describe the way I felt: it’s like that brief calm at the crest of the hill on a roller coaster, where everything seems clear for a single, brilliant, dreamlike moment. But you know that it can’t last. In an instant, you’ll be in free-fall, and reality will be rushing up to meet you.
Floating ten thousand metres above you
Sipping cocktails with the clouds
My memories of us fading quietly
Dissipating like the jet exhaust
With every passing moment:
Freedom. Happiness again.
In a September 17, 2009 editorial entitled “Economic Vandalism,” the Economist decried the Obama administration’s decision to implement harsh tariffs on tires imported from the People’s Republic of China as “bad politics, bad economics, [and] bad diplomacy.” It is hard not to agree with this assessment. At a time when the global economy is already faltering and the US desperately needs Chinese support on a wide range of key issues, it can hardly afford to alienate China with protectionist trade policies aimed primarily at generating domestic political capital.
The importers of the newly-tariffed Chinese tires will no doubt simply turn to other developing nations for their supply of inexpensive imports, and the United Steelworkers’ Union which originally petitioned the Obama administration to take action against the Chinese tires will have in essence gained nothing. Yet the trade dispute resulting from Obama’s decision to implement this tariff has potentially wide-reaching implications. Indeed, the fallout has already begun. After an outpouring of anti-American rhetoric from the Chinese internet community, the country’s commerce ministry announced that it would begin investigations aimed at implementing tariffs on imports of chicken and automotive products from the US. While China will barely notice the loss of a mere $1.3 billion of tire exports — a relatively miniscule 0.38% of its total exports to the US — the floundering American automotive industry cannot afford to lose a market of 1.33 billion consumers. GM, for instance, sells more cars in China than anyone but Volkswagen, and the retaliatory action by the Chinese government will further undermine GM’s already shaky financial state.
The impact of the brewing mini-trade war between the United States and China has the potential to reach far beyond the tire, chicken, and automotive industries. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, a rise in protectionist trade policies is widely credited with prolonging the recession and exacerbating its effects. With the world’s economy still on shaky footing, no country can afford to engage in self-serving protectionism. Furthermore, in capitulating to the protectionist demands of the steelworkers’ union, the Obama administration has set a dangerous precedent, inviting a flood of similar demands from other special interest groups. In addition, the United States, long the leading cheerleader of free trade and the global economy, has opened itself to accusations of engaging in hypocritical, politically-motivated policymaking. President Obama, who at one point specifically pledged to not engage in “self-defeating protectionism,” has now lost vital credibility in dealing with economic issues.
Moreover, the Obama administration desperately needs Chinese cooperation on a number of key policy issues. Its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and corresponding veto power means that China’s support is critical in addressing the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran. Likewise, PRC backing of any new international climate change legislation is essential. Finally, continued collaboration with China on economic issues, including yuan valuation and US treasury bonds, is also crucial.
The Chinese response to Obama’s actions was justified. China did not, so to speak, fire the first shot. The United States, especially with its role in leading the world into recession, no longer possesses the ability to unilaterally take economic action against other nations without facing reprisals — nor should it. China’s domestic economy is growing rapidly, reducing its reliance on exports to the US and placing it in a position to be able to call out hypocritical and counterproductive American policies. For once, the tables have been turned: the United States now has far more to lose than China.
China court sentences drunk driver to death. This rather shocking headline graced an AP story posted yesterday to MSNBC.com, implying that the Chinese justice system was now in the habit of executing citizens for what, in the United States, is generally a misdemeanor offense. Many who saw this headline likely read no further: it simply further confirmed what they already had been told countless times by the media about the Chinese government’s widespread abuse of its citizens.
However, the article itself tells a very different story than this sensationalist and misleading headline. It reveals that the 30-year-old man was, in fact, not condemned to death for the simple act of driving while intoxicated:
He was reportedly drunk and speeding in the capital of Sichuan province last year when he struck four other cars. Four people were killed and another person was seriously injured. He was also driving without a license.
Indeed, the man was sentenced to death for what amounts to murdering four other drivers and seriously injuring a fifth, an offense which, under any judicial system, would result in far more than a slap on the wrist. May I suggest a more accurate headline? Drunk driver kills four, is sentenced to death.
Not content with just a misleading headline, however, the article’s author proceeds to give us a lesson in lying with statistics.
China imposes capital punishment more than any other country. Amnesty International says China put at least 1,718 people to death last year. The actual figure is believed to be higher.
This widely quoted figure fails to take into account that China also has the world’s largest population, currently sitting at 1.33 billion — more than four times the number of citizens in the US. A more accurate statistic would be the number of executions per capita, which can also be calculated from the data provided by Amnesty International. NationMaster has done so, providing us with some significantly different results.
When population is taken into account, the country with the most heavy-handed use of the death penalty is not China, but rather the Bahamas, closely followed by Singapore. Indeed, thirteen nations use the death penalty more frequently than China, which places 14th on the list of executions per capita. The United States ranks 20th, sentencing its citizens to death more than 175 other countries. Why does the American media rarely highlight this fact, or condemn the Bahamas and Singapore?
While the PRC government, like any other, certainly has plenty to answer for, this type of deliberately misleading journalism serves as little more than propaganda, reinforcing popular inaccuracies and distorting reality. Americans are incensed when we catch wind of this type of biased reporting taking place in other countries, yet turn a blind eye to blatant offenses occurring in our own press. The next time, before we complain about irresponsible, misleading reporting, we should look in the mirror.
Murasaki Shikibu’s famous Tale of Genji (源氏物語) is unarguably a famous piece of classical literature. It is frequently called “the world’s first novel” (though this is a matter of some debate), and is generally considered to be a literary masterpiece. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there is no shortage of various persons and groups seeking to somehow benefit from Murasaki’s fame.
One of the best-known of these is the Buddhist temple Ishiyama-dera (石山寺), located just outside of Kyoto along the shores of Lake Biwa. According to the temple, Murasaki wrote Genji while spending time at the temple, in the room now known as the “Genji Room” (源氏の間). The monks have been asserting this as fact for hundreds of years. The following excerpt, translated by my classical Japanese professor Jamie Newhard, is from theIshiyamadera Engi (石山寺縁起), originally published in 1327:
Murasaki Shikibu … secluded herself at this temple for seven days. Looking out into the distance over the lake, she cleared her mind, and various scenes floated up in her heart and obstructed her vision. Since she was not prepared with paper, in her heart she asked the Buddha enshrined here for the paper of a copy of the Prajnaparamita Sutra that was placed in the hall, and wrote down the unexpected scenes continuously. … The place where the tale was written is called the Genji Room, and it is said that this place is unchanged.
Today, the temple’s website continues to put forth essentially the same assertions. Recently, for the 1000th anniversary of Murasaki’s tale, the temple installed a cartoonish wooden cutout Genji (seen above) outside its main gates and placed a robotic Murasaki Shikibu inside the Genji Room.
Despite its ancient origins, however, the tale associating Genji with Ishiyama-dera appears to have little basis in fact. Most scholars agree that little of none of the tale was likely written at Ishiyama-dera; the majority of Genjiwas most likely written while Murasaki was at court in Kyoto itself.
When thinking about Ise (伊勢) and Japan’s Shima Peninsula (志摩半島), famous Shinto shrines, married rocks, and Mikimoto Pearls come readily to mind. Miniature SeaWorld-style theme parks do not. Yet, Futami Sea Paradise (二見シーパラダイス) is one of the area’s most interesting attractions.
What makes the park especially unique is the freedom given to both visitors and aquatic life forms: this is SeaWorld without the glass and fences (or the roller coasters). Walruses and seals mingle with humans freely, albeit under the watchful eye of park staff. Dolphins play catch with children from an open pool. As part of a sea lion show, the animals are led directly into and through the crowd.
And the occasional “lucky” visitor will even be kissed by a walrus.
My first thoughts upon visiting the park involved liability, lawyers, and lawsuits. These were wild animals! They could hurt someone! Think of the children! But as I walked around wide-eyed and slack-jawed, witnessing the happy interactions between Japanese families and the park’s resident marine mammals, I quickly became convinced that this was simply one more example of the amazing experiences that Americans were being deprived of because of our society’s paranoid and overly litigious nature.