Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China 2005 Trip Narrative

This is the first ever chronological compilation of my blog posts about my March 2005 trip to China. For most people, this is probably way too much to read, but I have had requests from some readers to put it in this reader-friendly format, rather than the bottom-to-top way Blogger puts posts in order. This way, you'll be able to remember where you left off, if you're really that interested. The links are dated by the time I wrote them, but they're also chronological as far as the events recounted within the post.

This menu will be linked from the "China 2005" icon in the sidebar on the homepage and will always be accessible from there.

You'll notice, if you read all the way through, that the trip ends abruptly. There was plenty more where that came from, but it took me almost a year to get that far. On subsequent narratives I got a bit more concise and timely in my trip summaries.

I hope eventually to have a YouTube page with all my videos linked to these posts. Stay tuned for new developments as I'll be updating the other trip narratives soon, and enjoy reading up on Yunnan province, China.

  1. 3/3/05 – Freedom Fighting
  2. 4/7/05 – Gametime
  3. 4/21/05 – The First of Many Sunrises – Day 1
  4. 4/25/05 – Our Humble Abode
  5. 4/28/05 – An 8-Part Body
  6. 4/28/05 – Two by Two
  7. 8/9/05 – In Search of Three Circles
  8. 8/9/05 – We Are the Pavement
  9. 8/9/05 – Village 1 – Our Test Run
  10. 8/23/05 – Bus Station
  11. 8/23/05 – Linear Perspective
  12. 8/23/05 – Service Road
  13. 8/23/05 – Village 2
  14. 8/23/05 – Seeing the Future
  15. 8/23/05 – Bearing a Bamboo Burden
  16. 8/25/05 – The Kingdom Belongs to Such as These
  17. 8/25/05 – Kingdom Bearers
  18. 8/27/05 – The Next Generation
  19. 8/27/05 – Alley-oop: A VCD Drop Highlight Reel
  20. 8/27/05 – Deep Roots
  21. 9/8/05 – Perspectives of Pain
  22. 11/17/05 – Our Chariot
  23. 11/21/05 – Another Helping Hand
  24. 11/21/05 – The Colonel
  25. 11/28/05 – Blind Faith and Passes
  26. 11/28/05 – Movable Beds
  27. 11/28/05 – Crouching Driver, Whistling Steve
  28. 11/28/05 – Tired Sun
  29. 11/30/05 – Good Night
  30. 11/30/05 – Success
  31. 12/24/05 – The North Road
  32. 12/24/05 – Hat Trick
  33. 12/24/05 – Bamboo Storehouse
  34. 12/24/05 – Quick Change
  35. 12/24/05 – Uncharted Villages and Strange Prayers
  36. 12/24/05 – Temple Sideview
  37. 12/24/05 – Courtyard
  38. 12/24/05 –Breakfast with the Fangs – Part I
  39. 1/9/06 – Real China
  40. 1/9/06 – Breakfast with the Fangs – Part II
  41. 1/9/06 – Refuge
  42. 1/11/06 – Rubber Trees
  43. 1/27/06 – Home
  44. 1/27/06 – Harvesting Mud

Monday, March 24, 2008

Protesting the Press on the Tibet Riots

China's state news agency aimed to temper harsh foreign news coverage of Tibet with one of its strikingly childish journalistic rebuttals today. But Xinhua's response, though immature, raises a serious question: With so little known about the events in Tibet, have the foreign media been totally fair?

China has been under fire recently for its "crackdown" on the protests in Tibet and riots in other regions where there are significant Tibetan populations. From a variety of jumbled news reports, I've gathered that hundreds have been killed in the rioting, but sources can't agree on the death toll.

AFP reported today that the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, is saying 130 have been confirmed dead. Xinhua, China's official news agency, says 18 "innocent" Chinese were killed by protesters and has confirmed that more have died in neighboring Gansu province, but it hasn't acknowledged the Tibetan government's official count as accurate. No matter the disputes, news agencies have been singing one chorus in unison throughout the entire ordeal: any toll is impossible to independently verify.

That sentence seems to sum up the press's knowledge of the entire incident. The questions of Who killed whom? What provoked such vehement protests? And is this really a "crackdown" or just stern enforcement of the law? are largely going unanswered, even as the story remains a top fixture in every major newspaper.

The uncertainty is partly because China has restricted access to the province. All foreign reporters have been banned from visiting Tibet in another one of China's futile attempts to keep the press silent as the Olympics approach. The Chinese government hasn't caught onto the fact that most reporters in today's era of 24-hour news never stop writing. They keep on, but in doing so resort to speculation and sensationalism rather than hard facts.

In that sense, the government is partly to blame if indeed there is misinformation being circulated about Tibet. But I have to say that I agree with the government that Western media reports do seem to have a been a little biased thus far.

Even in their own reports, many media outlets have noted that Tibetans seem to have initiated the March 14 violence and stoked it with repeated attacks on Han Chinese cars, places of business and even people. Granted, these people were reacting to almost 60 years of oppression as a vassal of the Chinese, and it's understandable that they have some anger to release.

But sending in troops to quell an uprising seems to be understandable if protests turn violent, as long as those troops don't use excessive force. I seem to remember a certain Democratic convention in 1972 where police got a little nightstick practice on rioters that crossed the line. The first amendment guarantees the right to "peaceably" assemble, not to throw rocks and set things on fire. As the heroes of our Revolutionary War were, you have to be ready to endure the consequences if you undertake acts of violent rebellion.

There have been incidents of beatings and rumors of shots fired into crowds, but the real stories are still elusive, and firsthand reports are scarce. The journalist's job, even here in the land of the free, is not to overtly side with the oppressed group and condemn the government before the facts are in the open. It's to get the facts. China has plenty of human rights abuses to criticize without having to make things up.

And that's what bothers me about the whole situation. For one, we like to carry the banner of freedom in Tibet, but we turn a blind eye to other regions of the world where people are being oppressed more harshly. Tibet has become a trendy cause, the convenient human rights flag to wave. I think a top Chinese official was partly right when he said smugly today that some people treat the Dalai Lama as if he's a god.

It's not that I think Tibetan rights are less important than those of other groups; it's just that I don't think they're more important. Where are the calls for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Where is the outrage over continued oppression in Myanmar?

And within China, what about the people in the Northwest, the Uighurs, who have also seen their homeland overrun with Chinese immigrants? What about the Christians and Falun Gong practitioners and Buddhists that continue to experience discrimination daily?

And don't forget, regardless of Tibet's unique cultural brand, the Chinese see the Himalayan region as a part of their motherland. Call them crazy, but as Peter Hessler wrote in this article in 1999, the issue is not settled in their eyes, and they have some convenient historical methodology to justify their beliefs. They're developing their wild west, and it seems to me that the Tibetans and Uighurs (among others) are to China what the Native Americans were to the white man. As far as I can recall from history classes, we didn't wave the same banner of freedom for native peoples during those days.

All that is to say that we'd do well to look at the other side of our calls for freedom. We don't want to lose our ideals, but we don't want to sacrifice one (truth) for the sake of another.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ambassadors for Christ

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -1 Cor. 5:19-21

In my time as an international business reporter, I've had the chance to interview diplomats from all over the world. I've talked to the Malaysian, Korean, Swiss, Namibian, Slovenian, Chilean, Greek, Belarusian and Indian ambassadors to the U.S. as well as American ambassadors to China and Romania. I've also had the privilege in these nine short months to come into contact with a variety of consuls and honorary consuls. There are more than 50 in Atlanta.

What always impresses me is the breadth of diplomats' knowledge and their ability to achieve a consistency in relating whatever message flows down from their superiors. Their governments' agenda is paramount, and they do whatever they can to be knowledgeable on those points that their leaders deem relevant to the national interest.

After seeing firsthand the unwavering steadfastness diplomats display, Paul's use of the word "ambassador" to describe the Christian mission has come life. As an ambassador, an authoritative representative and a commissioned messenger of Christ, Paul says the boss has just one item on his agenda. For all the foreigners who may not understand his kingdom, this is God's transcendent theme: Be reconciled, brought back into relationship, with Me.

I've struggled to consistently disseminate that singular message, but by his grace, I have yet to be fired as God's diplomat. I pray that I will continue to allow him to make his appeal through me.

I know a guy...

...who knows the president of Taiwan.

Sometimes the connectivity that comes with my job amazes me. I wrote an article last year about my hometown of Columbus formalizing sister city relationship with Taichung City in Taiwan. I met the mayor of that city, Jason Hu, at a shabby little Chinese restaurant in Atlanta. Mr. Hu is a Cambridge-educated former foreign minister of Taiwan and a member of the Taiwan's Nationalist Party.

His party, called the Kuomintang, KMT, or Guomin Dang (using another romanization), took back the presidency of Taiwan in today's elections. Ma Ying-Jeou, a former mayor of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, ran on a platform of closer relations with China, a breath of fresh air for some citizens of Taiwan who were weary of current President Chen Shui-bian's tendency to rock the boat with China.

Mr. Hu and Mr. Ma were classmates at Cambridge and are great friends. Mr. Ma, also educated at Harvard, is a handsome, charismatic guy that was popular with the ladies, Mr. Hu told me. He also told me that Mr. Ma would be running for the presidency this year and that his election could catapult the KMT back to power the Democratic Progressive Party had taken in recent elections.

The KMT that stems from the Nationalist army that was forced off the Chinese mainland when the Communists won the civil war raging there in the late 1940s. Mao Zedong inaugurated the People's Republic of China in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, while the Nationalist army fled to the island, then called Formosa, to regroup.

That conflict still simmers across the Taiwan Strait. Almost 60 years later, it was a main issue in the Taiwan presidential elections, and I'm now just a few degrees away from the president. I'm still baffled at the opportunities journalism provides.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goin' Ghetto for a Burger

I had heard the rumors about Ann's Snack Shop, an unassuming little joint on Atlanta's Memorial Drive next to a liquor store and two doors down from a Checkers, a burger competitor whose fast-food fare literally doesn't stack up next to Ann's towering concoctions.

Word on the street was that Ann had been serving up America's best burger by herself for more than 30 years from her little stand, which can only seat nine customers simultaneously at the barstools in her small restaurant. And woe unto those who break Ann's strict rules about intrusion (or any of those posted on the wall above her kitchen). Ann's place is sitting room only, and she quickly shoos out anyone left standing up or milling about.

It wasn't until last year that Ann gained national recognition in a Wall Street Journal article for her culinary specialties, but plaques on her dingy walls proclaimed that she'd been at the top of the city of Atlanta's food chain in the burger category just about every year since AOL Citysearch and other sites began rating shops like hers.

But it wasn't the critical acclaim that drew me to Ann's. It was hunger, for adventure and for ground beef. I'd never heard of Ann's place until I drove by one day and saw a wooden sign out front painted with cursive letters that read, "Home of the World Famous Ghetto Burger." The picture on the sign, I found out, is pretty close to life-size. The Ghetto Burger is a veritable mountain of food: two handfuls of ground beef from a smashed onto a commercial grill, coated with melted cheese, laced with bacon and topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, chili, ketchup and mustard. For coleslaw aficionados, Ann offers the Hood Burger, which is basically a Ghetto Burger with some slaw on top. The Hood is actually a bit more expensive, and I guess the extra cost coupled with slaw's polarizing nature as a fixin' has kept the Hood from reaching the Ghetto's level of worldwide fame.

A co-worker and I traveled to Ann's twice. The first time we were left out in a sort of lean-to lobby area for awhile, waiting behind other eager customers who warned us not to try to enter before a seat came open. They also told us that Ann's old-school shop doesn't fool around with credit cards. Sadly, we settled for Checkers.

Our second try was marked with determination, which we would need along with a little dab of patience. We came armed with cash and blocked out an hour for lunch. We wound up needing two.

Nowhere in Ann's rules does it say, "Provide good or even adequate customer service." Maybe it's the product of being the lone ranger of burgers in her neighborhood, but Ann was too busy to worry about being courteous. Although we sat down immediately this time, we were at the bar for a half-hour before Ann acknowledged our presence. Another hour later, after enduring two soap operas on the blaring TV inside, we had two bags of steaming goodness to take back to the office.

The long wait was trying, especially since my breakfast had been small that morning. But I found that the long period of "burgatory" between entry and exit fostered conversation that produced bonds between the customers. The guy next to us had traveled from across town. Every time he came this way for work, he stopped at Ann's. With the long wait, I hoped he didn't get paid by the hour.

Hip hop mogul P. Diddy, Puff Daddy or Diddy, whatever his name is now, had come to Ann's while he was in Atlanta, this guy told us. Our new friend didn't get to see Puffy, but he heard that the star liked his Ghetto Burger.

I don't know of any more appropriate endorsement for something called with "ghetto" in its name, but another guy in the store offered his as well. He came all the way from the United Kingdom to sink his teeth into Ann's specialty, he said. As he thanked her, Ann nonchalantly took his cash and I think - just maybe - managed a small curl of the lips that bordered on a smile.

She took our payment in much the same way, with little outward expression of gratitude. Ann seems to think that seven-plus bucks is an appropriate price for a burger.

After downing the whole thing in one sitting, I'd have to agree.

For more information on the Ghetto Burger and some good photos of the actual burgers, check out The Blissful Glutton's thorough blog post or check out the YouTube video below from Atlanta's ABC affiliate. Sadly, my one-track focus on the burgers caused me to forget my camera that day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tibet, Chinese Law and My Blog

The Internet is a place where ideas float around like dust particles: hanging in the air, waiting to be inhaled and breathed out somewhere else.

I sometimes track which pages on the Internet are exhaling my content to their audiences. Recently, I noticed that a China Law Blog made reference by link to a book review I wrote on Peter Hessler's River Town, a fascinating journey about Mr. Hessler's two years teaching English in a small city called Fuling on the Yangtze River, near the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing (home to 31 million people).

Interestingly, this site was referencing Mr. Hessler for what he wrote about Tibet nearly a decade ago, using one of his articles to give insight into how the Chinese view the Tibet situation. I thought this article and the link to my blog were particularly timely, considering the nasty circumstances on the ground in Tibet and the fact that I, pondering the importance of investigating China from a variety of perspectives, recently finished reading a book from more than 10 years ago and was preparing to write a review about it.

The China Law Blog refers to the importance of reading about the groundswells of a situation and researching what was written on a subject long before it occurs. Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, heard the rumblings of the continued Tibet conflict (and others) in China Wakes, last published in 1995. The husband-and-wife team of New York Times reporters is particularly qualified to make prognostications about the state of repression in China, as their reporting of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 landed them a Pulitzer Prize.

For insightful reporting from around the world, check out Kristof's blog: On the Ground. Just reading his bio will get your blood pumping (especially if you're an aspiring journalist with an international bent).

A Changing Blogscape

If you're coming to the blog for the first time in awhile, you'll probably notice that some things are different. I've added the graphic at the top to stave off the blackness that ruled the homepage before. And that header also doubles as a link that will take you back to the homepage from any post page.

I've also added buttons at the right side of the page that will soon have a chronological listing of posts from the three trips that I blogged extensively about. This will allow me to recycle some of my earlier content and will give readers the opportunity to check out in an orderly fashion some older stuff they might've missed. I'll be working on these pages throughout the week, and they should be functional by next weekend.

Also, I've moved the subscribe form closer to the top of the page, "above the fold," as it were, so you can see it more clearly. If you want fresh updates from this site, type in your email.

I realize that a lot of my content is pretty personal, so I wanted to organize the site so the few people that visit can find their way around better. I thought about switching to Wordpress because it makes it easier to separate pages, but there are a lot of features I like about Blogger, and I figured it would be more of an adventure to learn how to do more with html and CSS code than to cop out by starting afresh. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a changing blogscape that will attract more readers and give a better experience to those who visit from time to time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


If her name tag had more room, it wouldn't have said Farzana. It would have said, "I'm not just a random photo girl behind a Walgreens counter."

After snapping a digital passport photo of me, she took the camera back and started to print out the 2x2 square of paper that would identify me on my visa application for China. The last time I had this done, it was a significantly less technical process that took only long enough for the chemicals in the Polaroids to perform the magically blurry fusion that ends up capturing a memory.

But it took longer than expected, and as Farzana centered my cheesy face in the photo software, we somehow struck up a conversation.

Before my job at GlobalAtlanta as an international business reporter and our move to Decatur, asking someone's nationality would have been an anomaly for me. Now, it's the norm. It's not that I'm a workaholic always looking for story ideas. I'm just interested in the mixture of cultures into the U.S. and how that trickles down to my little street.

Bangladesh was her answer, and it more intrigued than surprised me. Bangladesh, which is enclosed on three sides by a long tentacle of land owned by India, is the seventh most populous nation on Earth. But it doesn't have the space that should come with such a huge chunk of humanity. Imagine cramming half the U.S. population into an area slightly smaller than Iowa, and that's the crowded life Farzana endured before emigrating to the U.S. She estimates that about 20,000 of her countrymen live in Georgia, although the density is probably a bit lighter than back home.

Back home, Farzana was educated. She speaks Hindi and Bengali, and she has only been learning English for the two months since she came here. She'd traveled to Pakistan, Nepal, India and Thailand. She was a lawyer. What need did she have for English? Did I mention she was educated back in Bangladesh?

Apparently, the state of Georgia didn't think she was educated enough. Her law degrees aren't equally valid here, so she's currently saving up her wages from Walgreen's so that she can eventually go back to school at Georgia State University and get a law degree that will enable her to practice here. She's thinking immigration law, something she can relate too that isn't too broad.

Until she reaches that goal, it might seem that she's just a photo girl behind a Walgreen's counter. The more people I meet, the more I realize there's a story behind every name tag.