Mar 29, 2006

An exercise in parsing Chinese clothing

What exactly does it say on the back of this girl's jacket? I've pondered it for days. As best as I can tell, it says either "Go TH ING", "Gothing", or "Go Thing". Let's analyze the potential of each case.


  • ING is a Dutch insurance conglomerate. "TH" usually means "Thailand". This could be a promotional jacket in support of ING Funds Thailand, similar to saying something like "Let's go Raiders!"


  • As a verb, "gothing" could mean to be a "goth poseur", that is, someone dressing like a goth who clearly is not. Maybe the girl is making a political statement against goth fashion.
  • "Gothing" is also a surname. This jacket could come from a fashion designer that prefers to use three lines to spell out his brand name.

"Go Thing"

  • "Go thing" could be a combination of the phrases "you go girl" and "miss thang", a new ultra-hip way of telling a female friend, "You're better than everyone else, and you've done the right thing." This phrase would be especially clever because it's contradictory. "You go girl" is used in a positive, encouraging sense, while "miss thang" is a negative description of someone.
  • In the simplest case, "go thing" could just mean "a thing that goes", however nonsensical that sounds.

As one final possibility, I concede that it could be a case of someone having randomly arranged letters on a piece of clothing for aesthetic value. But how often does that happen in China?

Mar 26, 2006

U.S. nuclear primacy

One of the local Beijing newspapers caught my attention the other day. On the front page it showed a photo of a B-2 stealth bomber refueling in mid-flight. The article is in the Global Times (环球时报, 2006年3月24日) and the headline was "Can America destroy all of Russia's long range nuclear forces in one hit? Russia's fierce counterattack." (美国能一次性摧毁俄所有远程核力量?俄猛烈反击 ) The article is in response to the essay "The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy" in Foreign Affairs. The Chinese newspaper article includes Russia's counterarguments to the essay, and also omits the criticisms of the vulnerability of the Chinese nuclear program. In the interest of preserving Chinese national pride and the people's good vibes (为了保持中国人民的爱国感与和谐), the more pertinent quotes from the Foreign Affairs essay were left out of the Global Times article. These include:
" U.S. nuclear primacy grows, China's leaders may act more cautiously on issues such as Taiwan, realizing that their vulnerable nuclear forces will not deter U.S. intervention -- and that Chinese nuclear threats could invite a U.S. strike on Beijing's arsenal."

"China's nuclear arsenal is even more vulnerable to a U.S. attack. A U.S. first strike could succeed whether it was launched as a surprise or in the midst of a crisis during a Chinese alert."

"China's medium-range bomber force is similarly unimpressive: the bombers are obsolete and vulnerable to attack."

"...China's entire intercontinental nuclear arsenal consists of 18 stationary single-warhead ICBMs. These are not ready to launch on warning: their warheads are kept in storage and the missiles themselves are unfueled. (China's ICBMs use liquid fuel, which corrodes the missiles after 24 hours. Fueling them is estimated to take two hours.)"

"Given the history of China's slow-motion nuclear modernization, it is doubtful that a Chinese second-strike force will materialize anytime soon. The United States has a first-strike capability against China today and should be able to maintain it for a decade or more."
Maybe the Global Times reporter didn't read the whole essay so he never saw those points. I would find it very interesting to see how the Chinese would respond to each of the criticisms in the essay. The Global Times reporter should have mentioned whether or not the military weaknesses were depicted accurately and how they are being addressed.

Mar 25, 2006

Imposter fruit

Counterfeit merchandise abounds in China. Rip-off designer apparel, fake booze, and even coffee shop logo infringement, they've done it all. In the interest of consumer awareness, I feel it's my duty to point out one type of fraud that's not quite as obvious. It's the fruit equivalent of the fake Louis Vuitton handbag, otherwise known as the Chinese grapefruit or pomelo.

At first glance, the pomelo's size and color aren't much different from an authentic grapefruit. However, upon slicing it, you'll discover a bunch of nasty seeds and semi-sweet, gristly pulp. It's like an oversized, defective orange. Compare this to the authentic item, the Florida ruby grapefruit, which is fresh and juicy, with a delicate tangy-sweet flavor, leaving you craving more.

Some expats living in China write about buying counterfeit "Sunkist" brand fruit, which is harmless enough. In that case, you're still getting what you paid for, an orange or whatever, although it may not be from the country you had though. What I'm talking about here is outright deception. You're not getting what you think you bought.

And if you're wondering, the prices for one piece of fruit in Beijing:
Chinese grapefruit / pomelo: 2 RMB ($US 0.25)
Imported Florida grapefruit: 8 RMB ($US 1.00)
Imported Taiwan grapefruit: 12 RMB ($US 1.49)

Mar 17, 2006

On my way to becoming a "China consultant"

These days, so-called "China experts" are a dime-a-dozen. They're writing books and they've all got an opinion on how to do business here. Forget the books and pricey seminars. If you're thinking of expanding your business operations to China, you can learn a great deal from photos like the one below that I took of workers cleaning my office building's glass atrium. For example:
  • If you have eight employees, you can count on two of them to be spectacular workers and do extraordinary work, while the other six lounge around and “supervise”. I still can't think of a good way to translate into Chinese the question, "Are you workin' hard or hardly workin'?"
  • You can easily find someone to do dangerous work, such as risk their lives cleaning a glass roof, for a pittance.
  • There are no worrisome OSHA-like regulations to worry about when doing business in China. The man perched like a gargoyle at the top step of the 6-foot stepladder in the upper left is a case in point.
  • Leave me a comment if you think of something else.

Mar 15, 2006

Gordon Chang on North Korea and China

I heard Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and Nuclear Showdown : North Korea Takes On the World, speak at the Bookworm in Beijing. His talk focused on the North Korean nuclear problem, China's role in it, as well as his predictions about the Chinese regime.

Fearlessly criticising them in their own backyard
This week, Howard Stern went on the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS and ripped apart that network's own chairman. It seemed fitting that the following day I listen to Gordon Chang critiquing the Chinese government while in that very country's capital city. Given that Chang was speaking in Beijing, I had initially thought he would omit his criticisms of the Chinese government, but he seemed totally unrestrained. My take on that is that the Chinese government imposes almost no restrictions on foreigners interacting with other foreigners. As long as you're not "corrupting" Chinese citizens or disrupting "social harmony", they'll give a lot of leeway. As an example, take the gang of African drug dealers rampant in Sanlitun, a popular expat bar area in Beijing. The local police turn a blind eye, and no doubt accept some bribes, because the drugs are being sold to the teenage children of diplomats and other foreigners in Beijing. The day the drug dealers start targeting Chinese youths, the police would surely execute a few of them and incarcerate or deport the rest. The situation is the same for political talks given in China. If Gordon Chang gave the same talk through an interpreter to a Chinese audience at Beijing University, he would have been deported that very day.

Chang's prepared speech was well-delivered, and at times seemed a bit extreme, but it made things more entertaining. Chang doesn't come across as a Michael Moore crazy-eyed liberal nor as a Bill O'Reilly Christian conservative. His political leanings weren't a big part of his talk, and it made him seem a more credible speaker.

The speech
The major interesting points that Chang made during his speech were:

  • Modernization, which of course China is now experiencing at full-throttle, is the greatest enemy of the one-party state, hence Chang's pridiction of the downfall of the current Chinese regime.
  • Chang's first book was published in 2001, and at that time he estimated the CCP's downfall would occur within 10 years. By his estimation that will still occur prior to 2011.
  • Chang predicts that Chinese revolt and the dissolution of the current regime will occur after the 2008 Olympics due to Chinese citizens' unified desire to not draw undue attention while under the spotlight of the international media.
  • The current situation in China mirrors that preceding the French Revolution, and the result is predicted to be the same.
  • China aided Pakistan's nuclear weapons program to keep their most populous and geographically closest enemy, India, at bay. Pakistan subsequently transferred nuclear weapons technology to North Korea and continues to provide assistance.
  • America has a relatively low percentage of the world's population, a disproportionately high percentage of the world's GDP, and an even higher percentage of the world's nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons on the US submarine fleet alone constitutes the world's third largest nuclear power. As the world economy becomes more evenly distributed, over the long term American GDP will fall in line with its population percentage. At this point, international pressure will no longer allow America to maintain its disproportionate number of nuclear weapons. America has enough nuclear power to destroy all humanity on earth 17 times over. Reducing the American nuclear arsenal as a sign of good faith and as an example to other nuclear nations may encourage other nations to reduce stockpiles while not significantly impact US national security.
  • The current system of America and a few other nations acting as the world's police force is necessary. Equalization of power is sure to result in the situations preceding the first and second world wars.

At the conclusion of Chang's talk, there was an open question and answer period. Most people were interested in the North Korean issue, with a few questions related to his predictions about China.

The Bookworm
As a bookstore and lending library, the Bookworm seems a bit overrated. It's billed as a book lover's oasis, but the selection is quite small. Some backpacker hostels have twice the selection. In the photo above, there is a tall bookshelf behind the woman to the left of Gordon Chang. The Bookworm's inventory apparently consists of no more than 15 to 20 of those shelves.

Mar 4, 2006

Beijing driving test questions

There were some sample questions from the Beijing traffic bureau driving test in a local expat magazine. Take a look through it and you'll see why it's a good idea to study before you take the computer-based test. At the traffic bureau you can choose from several different languages, of course, but the major problem is inconsistency and poor English translations. See how well you score¹

Note at the bottom of the sample test they indicate that you can have a couple agencies help you with obtaining the license and "save you a lot of administrative hassle for a mere RMB 800" (US $100). As I mention to anyone that asks me about getting a license here, that price is another example of the shameless exploitation of the western man in China. The true cost of the entire process, as it was when I went through it myself, should be around RMB 120 (US $15), which breaks down to 60 RMB for the test registration and around 60 RMB or so for a quick eye exam at almost any Beijing hospital.

Above: most drivers would think the sign above indicates that there is a tunnel ahead, but in China it indicates a "hump-shaped bridge".

¹ Link set up to use because due to the referrer URL being sent, the page redirects to different one. This is the original link.