Second Life

A brief note that “Keeping Faith,” my profile of Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai in the July/August 2007 issue of the Atlantic, has been translated into German and published in Stimmen der Zeit. It’s quite an honor. The original is available to subscribers on the Atlantic’s website, along with some extras.

Also, the current issue of Recycling International has published “Contaminated Exports … From Where?,” which originally appeared as a post on Shanghai Scrap. And just as it did in the comments section of this blog, the essay is generating heat in the international recycling community that reads RI (or so I am told). More on that soon

Phone Number of the Beast

A story from Friday’s China Daily:

Lucky phone number not all that lucky
(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-09-29 08:49

A businessman in Qingdao, Shandong Province, was almost driven mad after he paid more than 10,000 yuan ($1,316) for an “auspicious” phone number, which brought him endless troubles instead of luck and fortune as he had expected.

Last year, the man, surnamed Liu, bought the phone number “66-666-666” from one of his friends. (Many Chinese regard the number six as a sign that everything is going smoothly.) But since then, his life has become a nightmare, as he receives at least 100 calls a day from strangers. Some call to test whether the phone number really exists and some call asking to borrow money, believing “only rich people could offer to pay for such an auspicious number”.

Now Liu hopes he can get rid of the troubles by selling the number to someone else.
(Qingdao Daily) Continue reading

Three Gorges and a Whole Lotta Pestilence

Count me among those not celebrating Beijing’s late acknowledgment (as in, this week) that the Three Gorges Dam is an environmental and human catastrophe. According to today’s China Daily story:

Problems mentioned included disruption of the ecosystem, more frequent natural disasters, severe erosion and landslides, land shortages and ecological degradation.

Not bad for a project that hasn’t been completed yet. But as bad as that reads, there’s even more. As I reported in the July 2005 issue of Scientific American [subscriber only], the placid waters of the Three Gorges Dam are directly responsible for a spike in schistosomiasis infections around Poyang Lake (China’s largest). Though relatively unknown in the developed world (except among backpackers), schistosomiasis is one of the world’s most common and feared parasitic diseases (symptoms are initially fever, aches and pains. however, if left untreated, severe liver and other organ damage can occur). In 2005, when I reported the SciAm article, China had 850,000 total cases (likely, an under-count) and a researcher from the Shanghai-based China Institute for Parasitic Disease told me that it was “the most serious parasitic disease situation in China.” Continue reading

Beijing’s Bishop – One More Final Thought (for now)

Over the last several weeks I’ve sensed an eagerness on the part of the media and the faithful to label each and every feint and gesture between Beijing and the Vatican as having deep and lasting historical significance. To an extent, the recent ordinations in Guiyang and Beijing (both with papal and government approval) are important events suggesting a real shift in tone. But I think it’s important to remember that the two ordinations were just that – two ordinations. Publicly, at least, both Beijing and the Vatican claim that their approval was granted without any consultation with the other party (a diplomatic nicety and necessity that is almost certainly false – on both sides). And both sides have made efforts to downplay the importance of the Beijing ordination. For example, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s third-ranking official, and one of the Church’s most experienced Asia and (in particular) China hands described the Beijing ordination as:

“…without a doubt, a positive sign. Let’s hope it continues.”


I thought of this very brief quote after reading Jen Ambrose’s round-up of bishop-related news. Ambrose, based in Shenzhen, points out that Gan Junqiu, the Vatican and Chinese-government approved candidate for bishop of Guanzhou, has yet to be ordained, despite the fact that his elevation was – supposedly – decided earlier this year.

There is good reason to believe that Gan and other candidates will, soon, be ordained. Earlier this month, a high-ranking Patriotic Association official told China Daily that it is “speeding up the process of selection and ordination of young bishops to better serve millions of followers in the country.” Among the dioceses named in the article were Beijing, Guizhou (Guiyang) – and Guangzhou. Continue reading

The Most Magical Hotel in China

Say you’re sitting at home frustrated that China’s Net Nanny (or Great Firewall) has once again prevented you from receiving subscribed feeds to (some of) your favorite podcasts. Or you’re at work, hoping against hope that the Nanny will let you – just this once – see your “authority” ranking on technorati. Or, you’re at the local Motel 268 (I’m beyond 168 these days), feeling homesick and hoping to see that cute website maintained by your fair-trade-coffee-drinking park ranger friends that – for some inexplicable reason – the Net Nanny hates so much. Or, you (ahem) are in Beijing in desperate need to see the latest news on the Vatican-Beijing relationship – but the Nanny just won’t let it in.

What on Earth do you do?

Well, like many others, you could go through the trouble of downloading and installing some of that fancy software that gets you past the Nanny’s clutches. Or you could skip all of that trouble and check-in to the Sheraton Wuxi Hotel & Towers for a night of almost totally unencumbered (by gov’t firewalls) web surfing. True, the rooms start around RMB 888/night (without breakfast, even), and the broadband runs an additional RMB 50/night – but that’s a small price to pay for an evening of direct connections to feedburner. Continue reading

Hammer of the [Recycling] Gods

On Friday I was standing on a bridge south of Wuxi when a woman wielding this thing walked by:


I ran back to the car, grabbed my camera, and followed her down to the banks of the Grand Canal. I wasn’t sure that she wanted to be photographed, so I (very quietly) tried to take a picture without her notice. The one posted here is the second of two that I took before someone – a husband, perhaps? – yelled something that I didn’t understand, but probably could be translated as: “A foreigner is trying to take a photo of your rear-end.” She whipped around and glared at me; and, in that brief moment of eye contact, we both seemed to have a clear idea of what that nail-encrusted maraca could do to my face. Continue reading

Lanzhou’s Hydrogen Balloon Bombs

It took a few days for the news to make its way east, but now the world knows that approximately 100 people were injured when 1600 hydrogen-filled balloons exploded over a sports meet at the Lanzhou Electric Power School on September 17.

And that’s not even the most interesting part of the story:

The use of hydrogen in balloons violated regulations passed by the central government, said Yang Yucheng, an official in charge of policy and regulations with the provincial Meteorological Bureau. He said the handling and release of hydrogen-filled balloons required government permission. But the event organizers did not report their plan or check the balloons. The number of hydrogen-filled balloons at any event was also strictly limited to 1,000, said Yang, citing a circular jointly released by the State Council and China Meteorological Administration in July 2006. Continue reading