Wednesday, February 28, 2007


It appears that China has just successfully developed the first Cyborg - the dictionary lean towards a cyborg being part human but it simply defined from cybernetic and organism so I think this counts.

Behold, China has created the first cybernetic... pigeon.

According to this article in Danwei the hapless pigeon can be made to take of and fly round in circles by remote control.

Could this explain strange sightings in the turkey farms of Norfolk just before the H5N1 outbreak?

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I'll let the picture below explain the relevance of today's posting...

Happy Birthday to Me

Er, yes. Well - actually no - it's tomorrow but, never mind, that day has arrived.

Life begins (hopefully) or as YY puts it (dolefully)

As recently as 4 years ago, I had never been to Asia and didn't know a single word of Chinese (beyond Chicken Foo Young). The idea that I would becelebrating my 40th birthday in Hangzhou, married to YY, have an (almost) three month old baby and be running a Chinese company wasn't really where I saw myself going. Still - it's all good. Really, really good in fact.

I also (and the reason this post is a day early) never imagined that I would be spending my 40th birthday by getting up at 5am so I could catch an 8am flight to Hong Kong with the express purpose of spending the rest of the day studying Financial Accounting.

Funny the tangled webs we weave.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

CNY Fireworks

CNY Fireworks, originally uploaded by Ambling Sheep.

Just to give you a hint of the amount of rubbish generated by the Chinese New Year fireworks this is a shot I took last night (bathed in the light of the fireworks themselves at this was some time after midnight).

At a guess 250 people live in my apartment complex. 6.8 million people live in Hangzhou. The celebration goes on for 15 days.

Chinese New Year is bad for the environment. Discuss.


I don't normally watch a lot of CCTV-5, the home of sport on Chinese national TV, largely because of its tremendous focus on NBA basketball and the English Premier League and a corresponding lack of Rugby action.

Today, however, I got to watch something new and, er, different. Judose.

If I've got the rules right ( I was watching from a treadmill in the gym so I couldn't hear the commentary) the two combatants enter the field of battle at which point they inexplicably grab one of their feet with a hand and then hop into battle with their opponents. It appears that you lose if you let go of your foot, fall over, hop out of bounds or use your free hand to steady yourself by grabbing your opponent.

I'm sure it's probably quite difficult and very tiring but I couldn't quite see the point. It's not like wrestling or boxing which might simulate an actual fight. This, not so much ("I'm going to duff you up behind the bike sheds Kevin, just remember to keep hold of your own foot").

It would be interesting to see a Judose specialist enter the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I can see, for example, ju-jitsu expert taking on a boxer, but if you're relying on your opponent to hop on one foot, it may put you at quite a disadvantage if he doesn't.

It's probably worth waiting to see if it develops before they get too excited about the television coverage as it may just well go the way of kabaddi.

Friday, February 16, 2007

'Tis the Season

If Christmas is the Season to be Jolly, Chinese New Year is pretty much the season to be filled with unrepentant invective.

Chinese New Year is pretty much up there with Stinky Tofu and Bai Jiu as one of those things that Westerners cannot get their heads round. Even the mild mannered (by China blogging standards) Sinosplice is unable to avoid some steam-venting around this particular time of year.

Two years ago at CNY I was in my wife's home town in Gansu province enduring repeated shocks to the system as firework vendors hurled hand-grenade equivalent fireworks into the traffic as the means to advertise their wares (although typical small-time marketing practices that exist in China dictated that all street vendors were selling the same selection of fireworks as every other street vendor at the same prices). I also nearly because immobilised in the aging sofa of a relative (possibly a shu-shu - I got intoduced to so many shu-shus, ge-ges and at least one di-di that I immediately lost track) after being served the 9th full cooked meal of the day.

The high-point of new-year's day for me was watching the family playing with the baby (again, not entirely sure whose baby but definitely some relative). Over the course of half an hour the baby had been given to play with; a box of matches, a small spiky pendant, the screw cap off a bottle of spirits and, his favourite toy, an apple peeler. Fortunately none of these people are going to be anywhere near my baby this New Year so I can relax...

I was also told on New Year's Eve I would be treated to the best television that would be shown all year. Again, Sinosplice's definition covers this nicely:

The Chinese New Year craptacular (春节联欢晚会) is the mother of all Chinese craptaculars.

How true. Sadly, Chinese television is so monotonous, that there is a strong possibility that both of these statements are true. Chinese television does actually make American television appear to be a broad-brush, free from bias expression of a wide range of people's personal interests in comparison. I guess it's possible that people's personal interests in China only stretch as far as an interest in the life and times of former emperors, how badly the Japanese treated China and the state of the modern police force (with minority interests such as the 'cat stuck in a tumble-drier' din that is Beijing opera) being hived off onto their own channel.

I guess it's not all rosy in the UK (this headline from the FT ("Crowded trains ‘to leave 130,000 standing’" actually refers to London's lack of train capacity not, as I thought to China at New Year) but I'm sure it's both quieter and tastier.

If anyone is thinking "What a great time they must be having with several days off for Chinese New Year" just bear in mind that the fireworks go off for 15 days straight, that there's a small baby in the house and that I found this on the kitchen floor the other day. Apparently it's been taken up to the roof of our building because it hadn't absorbed enough pollution. I fear that it will feature on the menu over the next couple of days (hopefully there will be some left over for my mother to enjoy when she comes over in April).

Er, Happy New Year

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Scale in China

If you ever forget the scale of any problems which might present them in China, CER reports that 97,260 officials were caught in a corruption probe in 2006 alone. Simply staggering - particularly if you have a quick think about just how many people didn't get caught!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Transliterations of Names

Translation of names between Chinese and other languages is always going to be a hit and miss affair. There are so many combinations of letters that simply cannot be accurately represented using Chinese characters, and that's just with English. Bring into the mix the fact that different languages that use the alphabet pronounce them differently and the Chinese translations can be as clear as mud (anyone know the Chinese for Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?)

Several things about transliteration leave me cold, however.

The first - you see it a lot in sports like volleyball (very popular on TV here) where people will wear shirts that say their name on the back in the form X.Y.Zhang. With Chinese characters, there is absolutely no concept of initials (in this sense) so why do it at all? OK, the team may have several Zhangs or Wangs but it makes no sense to Chinese people.

Second - use of Pinyin. No-one reads Pinyin. No-one publishes books in Pinyin. It's not a language it's a teaching aid. Signs in Pinyin always remind me an episode of the British TV show Challenge Anneka where the host, Anneka Rice ran into the grounds of a school for the blind and loudly shouted "Is there anyone here who speaks Braille".

So who, therefore, are signs in Pinyin intended before. Most Chinese people I know could not quickly read a sign that says "Xiao shan gui ji ji chang" (and wouldn't bother when the Chinese characters are just above it) and then most non-Chinese can't either - similarly road workers in Hangzhou are given high-visibility vests (amazing in itself) that proudly say "JIAOTONG" - presumably someone tells them what it says when they're first given them.

Finally - mixed names. I can understand that for most people here calling a certain footballer "Ronaldo" is much harder to remember/pronounce than 罗纳尔多 but who decided to translate AC Milan as "AC米兰"?

I think the CCP's Sprilitual Civilization Steering Committee has let these travesties slide...

Thursday, February 08, 2007


POUPA, originally uploaded by Pinto Moreira.

There are some spectacular bird photos out there on Flickr.

This has to be one of the best bird photos I've seen (certainly amongst those photos that don't have "All Rights Reserved".

Clearly there's more to this photography malarkey than just equipment and technique and, whatever it is, I'm believe that some people have it and I don't. Which is a shame. It's not even worth linking to my recent Hoopoe photo (taken in Jurong Bird Park in Singapore so I didn't even have to try very hard to find the thing!) because this one is simply several orders of magnitudes better.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In the deep midwinter

Francesca at West Lake, originally uploaded by Ambling Sheep.


Well, not quite. It was 25 degrees Celcius today. Thanks to a 4:30am start for an 8am meeting in Shanghai, I didn't feel at all guilty popping out for a walk round West Lake with YY and Frankie for the first time in the early afternoon to take advantage of the unseasonal weather.

Hopefully the fact that we've hardly had anything approaching a typical winter this year doesn't bode for a scorching summer and an extreme typhoon season as the year rolls on.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I've mentioned my fondness for hotpot on many occasions and particularly for Chuan Wei Guan (川味观) hotpot restaurant.

That's all changed now thanks to this expose (in Chinese) about a recent health inspection that uncovered that the used oil from the hotpots (delightfully "口水"油 or saliva oil) was being filtered and reused.

Apparently the local manager has appeared on the 1818 reality news show appealing to customers to come back because everything's OK, now. Apparently this isn't working at the moment though which, given that it's the incredibly busy Chinese New Year season coming up, will no doubt cost the silly, silly man a small fortune.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Like Rats to a Sticky Box

I pity the rat that comes into our office.

I should add a link that I was prompted by Reluctant Nomad's recent series of posts here, here and here about various vermin dispatching incidents.

Rats don't normally get a lot of sympathy from me... like most things that breathe or move, they are considered edible in some places here. I have to say that the idea of eating a rat doesn't seem too unpleasant, as long as one knows where the rat came from in the first place. Cage-farmed seems a lot more palatable than sewer-caught...

I realised that the Chinese rat got short shrift when I walked to our local cafe one day and passed a couple of fellows who had a rat in a cage and a pellet gun. Clearly the pellet gun was a feeble affair and repeated shootings probably served only to enrage, and possibly blind, the rat. A little while later and P, with whom I was dining shouted 'Oh my God!' followed slightly too late with 'Don't look now!' as I turned to see the caged rat as it was, having just been covered in an accelerant, set on fire.

So, probably a result of recent restaurant refurbishments in our building, we have a rat problem. I have heard one run the length of the office across the ceiling tiles and that was enough to get the exterminators in.

Now I understand that in an office it's not a great idea to use poison. In your back garden it's probably OK as the nearly-departed rat will probably disappear into a drain never to be seen again, but an office has lots of places to die and then it falls to your nose to find out where that is. One rat that seemed to get stuck behind a desk perished where he was and by the time the 'decomp' was evident, at least half of the rat had dissolved into the surrounding carpet.

So, if poisoning isn't the answer, apparently trapping is. Given the two choices I was aware of - humane (i.e. a baited cage that allows you to take the rat away live - presumably so you can incinerate it on the pavement outside) and deadly (i.e. large versions of the humble mousetrap) I was surprised to see that the pest controllers offered a third trap option - glue.

I'm slightly surprised, as I surf, to find Glue Traps available in the US and UK as I could only imagine that they work by sticking the rat to the glue and it then bleeds to death after it gnaws its own legs off. This seems contrary to the laws requiring humane treatment of, well, pretty much anything in those countries.

As much as I want the rats out of my office, I'm rather uncomfortable with the idea of them stuck in a box in the ceiling bleeding/starving to death. The swift blow of a spring-loaded trap seems a lot more reasonable when you look at the alternatives.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

In case one gets complacent

About the 'underdeveloped' legal system in China and how stupid things happen regularly and make the news, here are the latest winners of the long-running 'Stella Awards' from the Home of the Free.

The 2006 True Stella Awards

Issued 31 January 2007

(Click here to confirm these are legitimate.)

#5: Marcy Meckler. While shopping at a mall, Meckler stepped outside and was "attacked" by a squirrel that lived among the trees and bushes. And "while frantically attempting to escape from the squirrel and detach it from her leg, [Meckler] fell and suffered severe injuries," her resulting lawsuit says.
That's the mall's fault, the lawsuit claims, demanding in excess of $50,000, based on the mall's "failure to warn" her that squirrels live outside.

#4: Ron and Kristie Simmons. The couple's 4-year-old son, Justin, was killed in a tragic lawnmower accident in a licensed daycare facility, and the death was clearly the result of negligence by the daycare providers. The providers were clearly deserving of being sued, yet when the Simmons's discovered the daycare only had $100,000 in insurance, they dropped the case against them and instead sued the manufacturer of the 16-year-old lawn mower because the mower didn't have a safety device that 1) had not been invented at the time of the mower's manufacture, and 2) no safety agency had even suggested needed to be invented. A sympathetic jury still awarded the family $2 million.

#3: Robert Clymer. An FBI agent working a high-profile case in Las Vegas, Clymer allegedly created a disturbance, lost the magazine from his pistol, then crashed his pickup truck in a drunken stupor -- his blood-alcohol level was 0.306 percent, more than three times the legal limit for driving in Nevada.
He pled guilty to drunk driving because, his lawyer explained, "With public officials, we expect them to own up to their mistakes and correct them." Yet Clymer had the gall to sue the manufacturer of his pickup truck, and the dealer he bought it from, because he "somehow lost consciousness" and the truck "somehow produced a heavy smoke that filled the passenger cab." Yep: the drunk-driving accident wasn't his fault, but the truck's fault. Just the kind of guy you want carrying a gun in the name of the law.

#2: The specialty search engine says Google should be forced to include the KinderStart site in its listings, reveal how its "Page Rank" system works, and pay them lots of money because they're a competitor. They claim by not being ranked higher in Google, Google is somehow infringing KinderStart's Constitutional right to free speech. Even if by some stretch they were a competitor of Google, why in the world would they think it's Google's responsibility to help them succeed?
And if Google's "review" of their site is negative, wouldn't a government court order forcing them to change it infringe on Google's Constitutional right to free speech?

And the winner of the 2006 True Stella Award: Allen Ray Heckard. Even though Heckard is 3 inches shorter, 25 pounds lighter, and 8 years older than former basketball star Michael Jordan, the Portland, Oregon, man says he looks a lot like Jordan, and is often confused for him -- and thus he deserves
$52 million "for defamation and permanent injury" -- plus $364 million in "punitive damage for emotional pain and suffering", plus the SAME amount from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, for a grand total of $832 million. He dropped the suit after Nike's lawyers chatted with him, where they presumably explained how they'd counter-sue if he pressed on.

©2007 by Randy Cassingham, Reprinted with permission.