Toughest Fella I Ever Knew.

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Toughest fella I ever knew, Max Zeman, my grandfather, passed away this weekend just 9 weeks short of his 100th birthday. For somebody who witnessed the worst of what the 20th century had to offer, he managed to hold onto one of the world’s best, warmest laughs and a firm appreciation for the little things. I’m talking about 5 feet of steely will that survived Nazis, sniper bullets, military hospitals, infections, displaced person camps – and a half century of Minnesota Vikings disappointments.

Below, two brief passages from the eulogy I wrote for him. The first concerns the sniper bullet that disabled him outside of Dresden at the end of World War II, and then the aftermath, including the discovery that his family had perished in the Holocaust. The second concerns what mattered most to him. If you knew Max, you loved him. If you didn’t, you would have.  He’s going to be missed. Continue reading

Chinese want to leave China like Ecuadorians want to leave Ecuador.

Rich people are leaving China in droves. Just ask the South China Morning Post: “Exodus of the super-rich: half of China’s millionaires plan to leave country within five years.” Or the Wall Street Journal:  “Almost Half of Wealthy Chinese Want to Leave.” Or Bloomberg: “Almost Half of Rich Chinese Consider Move, Barclays Says.”

Seems convincing, no? Well, no, and I’ll do my best to show why by answering three simple questions.

First, how does Barclays know? The Barclays report, which I received this morning, is called “The Rise of the Global Citizen?” and is published as part of its Wealth Insights series (intended, presumably, to attract clients). For this edition, they interviewed 2000 high net word individuals “all of whom had more than $1.5 million in net worth,” and 200 with more than $15 million in net worth. They come from 17 countries, and 750 self-identify as entrepreneurs. Beyond that we know nothing, but I think it’s safe to assume – based on this information – that the sample taken was not representative of Chinese millionaires as a whole (the sample size would be too small). Rather, it’s representative of Chinese millionaires who don’t mind responding to surveys from investment bankers. Though I’d hate to generalize, in my experience wealth in China tends to be very discreet, and those who are willing to talk about it are unusual and typically have spent time abroad. Continue reading

Native advertising?

This morning while browsing the New York Times I came across this stunning full page Apple ad. Terrific collaboration on the part of two of America’s top lifestyle brands.

[and a nice explainer on native advertising, here at the Guardian]

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The Moon Shines Just as Bright

It’s Mid-Autumn Festival time aka Mooncake Festival here in the Chinese-speaking parts of Asia. When I lived in China, I mostly associated it with eating extremely heavy pastries (mooncakes ) and crowded restaurants. But of course there’s much more to it, as I was reminded in a conversation with a Malaysian Chinese acquaintance who grew up in Penang, a heavily Chinese part of Malaysia, in the 1960s. On the occasion of the festival, which occurs during the full moon, folks in her town would gather, eat a large meal and – in a tradition she recalls as ‘old fashioned’ – pray to the Moon Faerie.

Then this happened.

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Or, as she put it to me: “Who wants to pray to an American flag?”

Now, this wasn’t a statement of anti-Americanism (believe me). Or, as some of my more logically-minded friends might assume, an instance of reason triumphing over faith. It’s just that where once there was a Moon Faerie, now there was a flag. Or, as my acquaintance’s mother was said to have put it: “Why would I want to pray to an American flag?” The reaction, I’m told, was not sadness but anger. To my ears, at least, it sounded as if an uninvited dinner guest had crashed tradition.

I don’t want to take this too far. I’m told the old traditions in rural Penang were dying out anyway by the time Neil Armstrong put his flag in the lunar soil. Far from being a myth buster, that man on the moon was more of an irritant to a culture that was still trying to maintain itself against ever-approaching modernity. Of course, in the end, everyone adapted, the festival is still celebrated, and more likely than not, a few folks still point their eyes heavenward, to the Moon Faerie.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from Malaysia.

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What Does San Diego Have Against Recycling, Free Enterprise, and the American Way?

For more than a decade, Gary Ries of Mission Hills, California, has spent his spare time earning money by picking recyclable cans and bottles from trash cans owned by the city of San Diego. Under most definitions, this is laudable entrepreneurship and everyone wins: Ries makes a few extra bucks, San Diego trucks a few less pounds of trash to the landfill, and, well, recycling!

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However, according to a report by ABC 10 in San Diego, the city of San Diego doesn’t quite see it that way: “The city of San Diego says that once an item enters a trash can on city property, it becomes property of the city.”

So, rather than laud Ries – or, better yet, just leave him the @#$% alone – the city of San Diego has decided to make him miserable. Last weekend, they twice issued $150 citations against him. And if he doesn’t stop recycling the city’s landfill-bound cans and bottles? The police officer who harassed him the first time around will “arrest him, take him to jail and have his bail set at $5,000.”

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But it gets worse. San Diego isn’t merely concerned that Ries is stealing their garbage. They’re worried about liability if “someone gets hurt digging through the trash,” as well as identity theft (ie, the city is protecting people who might leave bank statements in San Diego’s beach-side garbage cans). Or, in the words of Jose Ysea, spokesman for the city of San Diego Environmental Services Department: “it’s more to protect the residents and the community at large.” Continue reading

So long, Shanghai, I’ve entered the Relocation Department.

As of today, I have relocated to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s a new home (for me, at least), and a new adventure. But I’d be lying to say that I won’t miss Shanghai, my home of 12 years. In fact, let me just come out and write it: I’ll miss Shanghai, my home of 12 years. It’s been a privilege to live here, and I’ve tried to enjoy everything that this fantastic city has to offer. That noted, you can’t truly be in Shanghai unless you know how much of Shanghai you’re missing. With utmost humility, I must admit that I missed a whole lot … and thus, I’ll need to visit.

Why the relocation? The reasons are many. As a writer, I’m ready to see and write about the world from a different geographic perch. Malaysia has much to recommend it, including – and critically – deep personal ties.

For readers of my work, I can still be found at Bloomberg View, and I’ll continue writing about Asia on a regular basis. At the same time, I’ll be branching out into some different topics that interest me, including science, space, and sports (readers of my View columns have already seen hints of the shift). For my longtime scrap/junk/waste readers, no fears: I’ll continue on the beat. In fact, I’ve booked some features with Scrap and Recycling International for later this year.

As for Shanghai Scrap – I’m just not sure. But this, I know: it won’t suddenly become Kuala Lumpur Scrap.

Finally, I’m in the early stages of a new book project. Not ready to say much about it yet except that it’ll be very, very trashy.

Oh, unsolicited advice for expats new and old: skip the Bali and Thai vacations, and spend some time on holiday in China, especially out west.

So that’s that. Thanks again, Shanghai. It’s been a pleasure, and I hope to see you soon.

Junkyard Planet, in translation. Vice. Reviews.

It’s been more than two months since my last update, but that’s not to suggest that nothing is happening on Junkyard Planet. Where to start?

Over the last couple of years, some of the best and most interesting journalism related to the global scrap industry has come out of Vice, and thus I was really pleased to sit down with them in November for an interview regarding Junkyard Planet. That interview turned into an opportunity to work with them on a segment on scrap metal theft, and the globalization of the metal trade for HBO. So, in January, on very short notice, I flew out to North Carolina and met up with a Vice crew for a shoot with my friend Johnson Zeng, scrap trader extraordinaire (readers of Junkyard Planet will know him well). It’s hosted by David Choe – and I’m in it, too, in the second half. HBO subscribers can see the segment on demand, here. A teaser for the full episode (which first aired on March 28) is here:

Next up – and belatedly – the traditional Chinese language translation of Junkyard Planet was released in Taiwan by China Times Publishing on February 24. Continue reading