Smash ‘em up boys.

Chengdu City, located in the province of spicy province of Sichuan, recently became host to one of the biggest hands-on taxi demolition derbies the East coast of China has been privileged to witness yet. And it was a well-deserved bashing.

Tired of dealing with illegal, dangerous taxis and the complaining passengers who suffered from their services, the Municipal Committee of Communication in Chengdu took punishment to a new level, collecting 140 unlicensed passenger vehicles (including 73 knock-off taxicabs, and 67 illegal vehicle) into one parking lot and inviting nearly 50 taxi drivers to come in and smash the cars to pieces.

In recent years, Chengdu has seen a growing problem with illegal taxicabs in the city. Many drivers have complained that their license and cab numbers have been copied and used by other cars on the streets. One many at the demolition, Liu Yang, commented on his experience with a copy-cat driver, saying to a local reporter, “These wild cabs cheat people on purpose, they are our enemies.” When Liu’s license number was taken, he found himself ticketed several times for actions he did not commit, including dumping passengers on the side of the road. Then, just one month ago, a co-worker of Liu found the clone cab. Together with 30 other drivers, Liu went after the illegal cab and backed it into a corner, eventually forcing the driver to turn the car over to the Municipal Committee of Communications.

Officials at the Municipal Committee have commented in the past on the physical danger of these cars as well. It’s said that many of them are made from scrap parts that have been greatly worn down. Despite the fact that these cars may appear new-looking when on the streets, they pose a great threat to the traffic routes of Chengdu.

Drivers who were caught dealing in the industry of illegal taxicabs were forced to turn over their fake licenses and cars. However, many of them failed to come forward to accept punishment. This absence of responsibility, in turn, forced the Municipal Committee of Communications to take their own choice of action – hence the taxicab demolition.

As soon as the legitimate – and legitimately angry – taxidrivers arrived on the scene, a local officer announced, “Let’s do this”, and the men began smashing. Liu Yang, with the use of a metal rod, destroyed four cars alone by hand, laughing when looking at the ruined remains. The men ripped through the cars throughout the afternoon before letting a bulldozer come in to destroy the rest of the illegal taxicabs.

Many people see revenge as immature and unnecessary. I, however, applaud the taxidrivers in Chengdu, and prefer to see things through the eyes of Alfred Hitchcock when I think about a case like this…

Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”

(Thank you to this website for the picture – again, all credit goes to them, as I was not able to be in Chengdu to take my own picture, but wanted readers to get a good view of the demolition)

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Economic Lies

After writing up one of the last articles Mark and I had put together on the demolition of local hutongs and old neighborhoods in Beijing, I’ve kept my eye out to see how the rest of Beijing, as well as the international media has responded / reacted to the destruction of their historical homes. I should mention that it has only gotten worse. Each time we travel through the suburbs of Eastern Beijing, their is more and more rubble, and the buildings just keep getting higher. I only wish I had the language capabilities to talk to the people who are suffering from such demolitions. (This is in the works people)

The New York Times recently featured a front-page article on this issue which I found quite intriguing. Their writer focused on an area of Beijing on the far west side, by the name of Laogucheng, meaning ‘old ancient town’. From this article, and the variety of others I’ve read on this situation, it seems that Laogucheng is quickly becoming a tough and broken down area of the capital city, filled with graffiti and banners reinforcing the government’s demands for the people to leave their homes. Indeed, bulldozers lie in wait on the streets, biding their time until the residents have no choice but to get out. This is life in the big city.

The New York Times provides a more in-depth, academic look at the situtation that is plaguing the historic haunts of Beijing, one that everyone should know about when considering the ‘economic boom of China’…

“Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Resist”

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Privacy for My Privates, Please.

Today, a story of the Nanjing professor Ma Yaohai, who has been proclaimed on the front page of multiple English and/or international newspapers as ‘a swinger who has tested the morality of China’. Sounds dangerous.

Ma Yahohai is a 53 year old man who, on the outside, seems tolerable, if even generous (although to some, perhaps a bit pathetic). He is, on paper, a twice divorced computer science professor who claims dedication to his students and his dear mother, an elderly woman suffering from degenerative Alzheimer’s.

In real life, however, he is something else entirely. It has just been made public that Ma has dirty laundry hidden deep inside the closet (just like most of us do). For over six years, he has been an active member of swingers clubs and group sex meetings, as well as trying his hand at partner swapping.

As an active member of online sexual communities in China, he is known as ‘Roaring Virile Fire’.

It’s been said that he has organized and engaged in more than 18 orgies, most in his 2 bedroom Nanjing apartment, where he lived with his mother (am unsure as to what his mother may have thought in these situations, and this is where it is difficult to find him anything but a bit strange).

This week, Ma was sent to jail for three and a half years, charged and sentenced with the crime of ‘crowd licentiousness’. Of course, he unquestionably plans to appeal to this seemingly hyped-up crime, claiming that his sexual life should be private, if it causes no disturbance to others around him.

In an interview given to the New York Times reporter Xiyun Yang, Ma was reported as having said, “Marriage is like water. You have to drink it. Swinging is like wine. Some people feel it’s delicious the first time they try it, so they keep drinking. Some people try it and think it tastes bad, so they never drink it again. It’s completely voluntary. No one is forcing you.” (See article here)

Ma, along with 21 other associated swingers, was charged under Criminal Law 301, a nearly 13 year old law based on the prevention of ‘hooliganism’ that has so far never been used by the judicial system in China. It is a clear example of the Communist party ruling by laws that are outdated and deemably unusable in the constantly changing era that now makes up modern China. 10 months ago, the police arrested Ma and five others in a hotel in Nanjing, detaining them until they provided a list of names of the swingers they were acquainted with. In the end, 22 people were charged with ‘crowd licentiousness’ – but Ma was the only one to plead not guilty.

The trial raises interesting and important questions regarding the right to sexual freedom, as well the right to limit an ordinary citizen’s privacy. Together, these issues have managed to simultaneously cast doubt on the Chinese government once again.

One of China’s most prominent sexologists, Lin Yinhe, (married to the popular contemporary erotic writer Wang Xiaobo, who comes highly recommended) stated to reporters that tens of thousands of Chinese couples now participate in swapping, through websites like “Happy Village”, which supposedly has 380,000 members. Ma himself, who suffered from multiple failed marriages, began meeting people to swing online in 2003, and four years later, set up his own website, called “Independent Travel For Husbands, Wives and Lovers”. By 2009, the site had nearly 200 members. Ma found that most of the people joining the community were white-collar workers, taxi drivers and salesclerks. There is a clear need for niche communities like this, despite the social prejudice that they may often feel the wrath of.

I have lived in cities across the world and seen the good and bad of people’s sexual morality. Montreal seems to hold it all, accepting most anything that a person chooses to do in their bedroom – their bed, their life. It is China, and in many ways, Asia, that I find to be the most conservative when it comes to public affection, and in a broader sense, sexuality in general.

Given the fact that Mark and I are involved in a multi-racial relationship, I know that people will stare at us no matter what. While relationships involving Caucasian males and Chinese females are becoming the common thing, it is still rare for one to see a Caucasian female holding the hand of a Chinese male. Nonetheless, I often feel awkward after sharing an intimate kiss with my loved one, not because of my skin color, but more so because I find myself wondering if others around me are feeling uncomfortable from such public displays of affection. Most older couples I see while walking around Beijing show little to no physical love when in public, making it hard to distinguish the status of their relationship. The generation of today’s mothers and fathers are not used to customs such as holding-hands, let alone kissing while others eyes may be drifting.

That being said, China is entering a new phase of existence, and with this comes the bearing of a new, progressive age of sexual thought and practice. At the moment, it’s being hid behind curtains – but they’re not that difficult to see through. Walking home from restaurants, I often stumble when passing by tiny rooms holding one woman, who is typically sewing away on a small piece of fabric. In the past, I thought these were some sort of small barbershops. Turns out, they are prostitution shops – holding just one or two prostitutes, waiting for their clientele. Chinese students, as well, are well-acquainted with pornography. And condoms are sold in the check-out line of most department stores.

Ma Yahohai’s case, then, is the public announcement that sexuality has come to China to stay. And as long as it’s private, it should not be anyone’s business. As Lin Yinhe so accurately said in one report, while partner-swapping may not be socially and morally acceptable, “Just violating social convention isn’t violating the law. As long as activities don’t harm anyone else, one has a right to participate in them.” It is one more lit straw that is forcing those in charge to come face to face with the fact that one day, things will eventually have to change in China.

…Either that, or life will begin to take place in prison…

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The Unknown Anguish of an Adult

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been at home. I’ve spent my time talking up China, telling people that my life there is enjoyable – but of course difficult. Most importantly, I’ve had to remind people that (as long as I remain quiet) I am safe and taken care of. It’s important to let people find other things to worry about than their loved ones.

Nonetheless, it’s been difficult to tame their panic recently, given the streak of violent attacks that have taken place in kindergartens across the Eastern provinces of China. They come more and more frequently, with more and more deaths and my parents continue to reinforce loudly that I need to practice using common sense (and perhaps my until now unknown kung-fu techniques) as soon as I return to teaching.

That’s not the point. Rather, I’m trying to wrap my head around this aggression, in violent form, that is ending the lives of children who deserve nothing but to live and learn. I can’t make heads or tails of it, but it seems that although most people may feel this way, the large majority of citizens are trying to dig their way out of confusion into understanding.

I will, at some point, write down my views on the entire…mess (as I see it) that has come out of this. But for now, I leave you with the words of Han Han, a 27 year old singer, rally driver, writer — but most importantly, blogger. His articles reflect a kind of humanism that needs to be promoted and pushed in this world — and particularly in China, and I find that his comments on the recent sweep of kindergarten (copycat) killers holds the most on-point observations I’ve seen as of yet.

“Wretched children, it is you who are poisoned by milk powder, harmed by vaccines, crushed by earthquakes, and burnt in fires. Even if there’s a problem with rules in the adult world, you are the ones adults stab in retaliation. I truly hope it is as the Taizhou government says, and you’re all just injured and no one has died. We elders have failed in our duties. I hope that when you grow up, you will not only protect your own children but build a society that protects everyone’s children.”

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Gao Zhisheng

A very interesting article on the return of Gao Zhisheng, a once prominent human rights lawyer and a dissenter against the Chinese government, who has given it all up for his family:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/08/world/asia/08dissident.html?ref=global-home

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Dried Up Days

The Southwestern province of Yunnan hasn’t seen a drop of rain since the commence of the New Year (on both the Western and Eastern calendars). Hit by both a dry autumn and an unexpectedly warm winter, the entire area is now in the throes of a deadly drought, one so bad that some have resorted to eating grass as a desperate means of acquiring water. National media now seems to blame it on the old phenomenon of ‘El Nino’. Pictures on the news show apocalyptic images, with dry cracks running deep along the dirty lawns, parks and villages that make up this naturally battered landscape.

Stories flood in to news agencies across the country of internationally unknown cities like Qixingcun, whose citizens can only dream of bottled water and baths. It is called the worst of the century, leaving people to fear the future as the despairingly trek  the two or more kilometers to find one of the few remaining sources of water in their area.

The Chinese government has reported that more than 60 million people have been affected. 11 million livestock as well are short on water. To the foreign eye, this may seem shocking, sad, but yet ultimately irrelevant to their everyday lives. To the men and women of Yunnan, this is the bread and butter of the average household. The echo of the drought is bouncing off  more walls with each passing dry day. Hydroelectric resources are drying up as well, leaving citizens isolated in the dark. Left with no options, families have resorted to drinking dirty groundwater that is loaded with bacteria, causing preventable illnesses to spread amongst the province. These are avoidable consequences that have been forced upon the people in the wake of a lack of government aid.

It is a cold, dark nightmare these people face, as they watch their social, personal, familial, and even agricultural environments crumble one by one, with nothing they can do but wait (and maybe even pray) for rain.

Please note that the accompanying photo was taken from an article in the China Daily newspaper, as I have not been able to visit Yunnan and take photos for myself. Thank you to the photographer. Please see the accompanying news article for more information here.

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Breaking Down Beijing

 

Walking through a neighborhood of East Beijing that is on the fast path towards modernization, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s a good thing or not. Mark walked carefully between the bricks, picking out points where he used to live and eat that have since been demolished. It’s hard for him to even assemble a map of the past. As he photographs the crumbled remains of the houses, a chubby teenage boy stumbles up behind him. “Hey shushu! (Uncle) Take photographs over there! There are more things to photograph over there!” He gestures wildly at a halfway demolished building on the opposite side of the lot.

The boy goes on to tell his story, of how he had once lived on that lot. The government had recently torn down all of the old houses in favor of high-rise apartment buildings that will bring more money and greater status to the neighborhood.

This is a forward step for the capital, a backwards leap for the communist at heart.

The boy returns to the wide expanse of rubble and brick each day after class, though he hesitated to digress into what it is he actually intends to achieve by incorporating such visitations into his daily routine. When Mark inquired as to whether the government had given his family money to move — compensation for being thrown out of their home, it seemed that luck had been in his favor. The boy’s family had been given compensation, though he again held back on expressing exactly how much they had recieved.

Other buildings in the area don’t seem to share the same good fortune as the young boy. One after another, storefronts are littered with graffiti that screams of built-up personal and communal frustration with the local government. Black ink burns the passing eye with handwritten slogans speaking out against the demolition of the community housing: “We will protect the shops with our lives!”, “If there is no compensation, it will be blood for blood!” The material goods and restaurant tables which once cluttered the window displays have been replaced with funeral wreathes. The sympathetic tributes satirically mark the death of the community, though on closer inspection, one can almost smell the suffocating desire within many to put an end to the local government that is to blame for this public ruination.

How can these people be blamed or looked down upon for their anger? In a country that routinely pushes people out of their homes in an effort to ‘modernize’, it seems there is little those people can actually do about it

It’s important to refer back to the building of the Three Gorges Dam for a moment when considering the issue of community demolition in China. The Three Gorges Dam began project planning in the early 1990′s. Spanning the length of the Yangtze River across the central province of Hubei, the dam currently holds 26 generators. By 2011, it will hold 32 generators and will be able to distribute 22,500 MW of electricity across China. In its entirety, the project has cost the Chinese government 180 billion RMB — though that’s pleasing to the political ear, as it was once expected to cost 203.9 billion RMB.

With it’s infrastructure completion in 2006, the damn is now the largest electricity generating plant in the world. That comes at a social cost, however. The Three Gorges Dam has created a massive reservoir that measures around 375 miles long, and sunk at the bottom of this reservoir lies nearly 1300 cultural relics that could not be saved. Along with these artifacts, it has been estimated that around 1.4 million local citizens have been displaced, forced to move to higher ground in order to avoid the flooding of their homes. 13 major cities, 140 smaller towns, and 1352 small villages were submerged by the Three Gorges project. Government compensation, in the sum of 10 billion RMB (40% of the total of the entire project), was unequally provided. Indeed, some families were able to receive close to $4000 USD from the government, and this money provided them new houses, even new city lives. On the other hand, many migrant workers who held no residency permits, and those citizens who were unable to obtain work units were exempt from receiving such compensation. (Further information on the Three Gorges Project

In 1998, 2 million people were displaced by local governments throughout Beijing, as the communist capital bulldozed homes to make room for athletic facilities and grandiose parks. These people were left voiceless in the streets. (See Amnesty International’s 2009 report) This, of course, does not separate China from the rest of the world. The Olympic Games are tied up with a legacy of bringing countries to their knees, forcing them to commit absurd, oppressive acts in order to make their cities look cleaner, richer, happier than they really are. But it is one more example of how common the practice of displacement has become in this country.

These are angry times, and it seems that the former residents of these now crumbled and broken down houses have nothing left to lose (unless they get caught). Shout out, but not too loud. Make your voice heard, and then hide in the alley so that the government doesn’t catch you. If nothing else, make it be known that you will give all you got to get something back for the ultimately unnecessary destruction of your home.

It’s hard to argue with them when there’s nothing but rubble as far as the eye can see….

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