Osama Bin Laden and a Chinese Reaction

Watching the TV early yesterday morning, I observed a National reaction to the sudden and seemingly unexpected death of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces.  I never had any real hope that we would capture the terrorist, nor have I ever believed that it would accomplish anything; His death will only bring about an equivalent personality.  Despite my cynicism, his death has brought about a great stir in the international community, and apparently there has been a very mixed reaction with the Chinese masses.

I just read a blog post by Evan Osnos, The New Yorker’s staff writer for China.  It is an article very much worth reading, and it says a lot not only about Chinese feelings toward the United States, but even more about the Chinese and their feelings about themselves and their country.  Osnos makes good connections between the dulled feelings that the Chinese had toward 9/11 and the realities of their own painful past.  As he points out, the traditional religious inclinations of most Chinese make it difficult to understand the stance of a fanatic such as Bin Laden.  Were it not for the fact that he drove his masses with a religious backing, I think Bin Laden would have made a strong connection with the Chinese people.  I am not saying that it would have been a positive connection, but I see many parallels between his style of revolution and those revolutionaries that were revered in China during much of the Communist rise to power.

Perhaps the most important and best stated idea of the article can be found in the final paragraph, a small parable that has been moving through the Chinese Netizen community.  More than anything else in the article, this small passage sums up the feelings of distaste that are felt by many Chinese toward the government.  Very worth reading.

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Pictures from the Carnival Cruise and Key West

It’s not about China, true enough, but this is a site about my attempts to understand China, and that certainly cannot be done while I’m worn out-therefore a vacation was in order!  Here are some of the better pictures that came out while we were on the Carnival Imagination and during a short stint within Key West, Florida.  I think  its a bit funny that during our four days on the boat, I didn’t manage to get  a single picture of anything inside.  Then again, that might not be a bad thing.  This first picture is one of my favorites, taken from the aft-most deck on the boat at about 6am.  We had gotten up to watch the sun come up (something that I consider a must if you are on open water), but it was still a bit too early and very dark.  I didn’t think there was a chance that this picture would come out, in part because it was taken without a tripod in low light, and also because the humidity was so high that the lens kept trying to fog.  I think that the fog may have actually helped the shot, giving it an plastic look.  Shooting anything on the ship was very tricky, as the movement of the boat made it hard to get any sort of low-light shots without having them blur.  As such, a tripod may have been more of a problem.  I suggest clicking on each picture so you can really see it clearly, they are very large.

The sun came up pretty quickly after this shot was taken, and it became a little bit easier to get some good pictures.  Cloud cover was perfect, resulting in those really rich golds and pinks.  These shots are the best of the bunch, but even they do not come close to really capturing the scale or color.

The tugboat out in the distance is similar in size to a large yacht.  Gives you some perspective on the scale.

Our boat docked in a navy port near the southwest side of Key West.  It was pretty impressive to watch something so massive parallel park without the help of a tugboat.  As we were coming in closer to the dock, I got this picture of the port itself.  I think the boat in the distance is part of Royal Caribbean’s fleet.  While we were in Key West, I was told by our slightly loopy bus driver that Key West had over 450 boats dock at it’s port within a single year.  For an island that survives almost exclusively on visiting wallets, it was no surprise.  Key West, a tourist haven, has somehow embraced it’s predominantly foreign customer base, while still maintaining a feeling of exclusivity.

For one reason or another, I didn’t manage to take too many blog worth picture on the island itself, at least not pictures that really convey anything about Key West.  The picture directly below was taken slightly east of the Southernmost point in the United States.  Standing on the Cement Pier alongside me was a very local, very sun-aged individual with a piece of styrofoam, a blowtorch and a scraggly looking dog.  I watched as he set his stuff down, turned to the dog and began explaining to his companion that it was important for them to observe the rules this time, or that they wouldn’t be allowed to stay.

The Southernmost point was perhaps the dullest thing we saw.  There was a huge line of people waiting to get pictures of their family in front of the large marker, but we didn’t have the slightest interest in doing so.  The above picture was close enough for me, much quieter and free of any forced sensation of travel accomplishment.

I leave you with one last picture; a Church, with clouds rolling in just before it began to rain.


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Back Home

We finally made it back home yesterday afternoon, 30 hours after starting our trip in Miami.  This disaster of a travel day was the result of a variety of problems that just happened to occur at the perfectly bad time.  Major issue number one- a very large storm passing through the Miami region about and hour before our flight.  The storm resulted in the need to have all incoming flight either divert to other airstrips, or go into a rotating flight pattern to wait out the torrents of rain.  This would have been just fine, except that by the time this period had passed, the President, his family and Air Force One happened to be scheduled to land.  Apparently it is standard procedure not only to shut down all ground traffic for such an arrival, but to clear the regional airspace as well.  The result was simply a massive backup of planes waiting to depart and land.  Long and short, we missed our flight.

I have heard horror stories from Atlanta.  Holding the dubious title of the busiest airport in the world, it comes as no surprise that so many people have had problems getting in and out of the place without delay.  We had already missed our flight, and in this case it had nothing to do with the folks in the Atlanta airport.  In fact, it really couldn’t be blamed on anything but bad weather and perhaps a presidential entourage.  The problems came from the fact that we had intended to fly back into a small airport north of New York City. Finding ourselves at the Delta customer service counter, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen.

The service agent laughed when she opened our updated itinerary on her computer.  “Four connections”, she said.  It appeared that we would be making stops at every airport in the midwest.  I laughed, and then said a firm hell no.  After much ado, some haggling over compensation for what was sure to be a vision-quest of a trip home, and a drawn out attempt at trying to arrange for a limo service, we left the counter with $400 in Delta travel vouchers and next day tickets to LaGuardia Airport, 2 hours away from where we had left our car.

I have more pictures and stories to come, which I will probably write up tomorrow.  Until then, make sure you always book with Delta, lest your trip be free of adventure.

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The good news is that the president managed to land safely in Miami. The bad news is that he did so shortly before our plane was meant to take off. For those of you that haven’t experienced such a thing, apparently they require the airport to ground all traffic, and as such we have now missed our flight and will be sleeping in a sketchy Atlanta motel. A good story is sure to come, but not before we catch our 7am flight.

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Miami Airport

I’m sitting in the Miami airport while writting this, and using prepaid wifi. We just got back from our cruise through the western carribean, and now have several hours to wait until we can board our flight to Atlanta. The cruise was a nice break from the chill of the mountains, and though we may have had great weather the whole time, it seems that the south got rocked once more by massive storms.

I have many great pictures and stories from the trip and wil try and get some of those posted by the end of Monday. It’s right back to work tomorrow, and I’m dreading our return to weather in the 50s

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I’m heading out on a cruise to Florida and the Caribbean.  Not exactly China related, but hopefully I’ll have some good pictures and a story or two once I’m back.  Until then-

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China, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg seems to be falling prey to the mindset that Tim Clissold describes in his ‘Mr. China’, the mindset in which one is completely taken with the prospect of conquering the whole of the Chinese market.  In the case of Zuckerberg, the market consists of everyone who can be called an internet user, a category of people 420 million strong and not slowing down anytime soon.  Sure, it would be foolish not to consider the Chinese market; social media, if presented correctly, will flourish in an explosive manner.  I am not concerned by the prospect of Facebook in China.  It is Mark Zuckerberg with whom I find distaste.

I found this article while looking through a Google news feed.  It is the first time that I have read direct quotes from Zuckerberg in regard to his Facebook-China plans, but it left an immediate bad taste in my mouth.  He says that he has been spending time learning the (Chinese) language with the hope of understanding more about the culture and its people, and wonders ‘How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?”

Connect the whole world stands out as an extremely powerful statement.  Has Zuckerberg become an Evangelist?  Is he bringing digital salvation to the social-network-less heathens?  I was only able to read this passage with the sense that it was not so much a question as it was a statement and mission.  It would be wrong of him to stop his work without serving everyone.

But I shall depart momentarily from this cynical line.  Zuckerberg is, at his base, just as much a business person as everyone else.  Facebook is his business, and business is as business does.  In reality, Facebook brings this blog no small amount of traffic.  I question whether or not Facebook is really meant for China.  Beyond the great restrictions set forth by the sensors, I would not be surprised to find that the Facebook platform as it currently stands may not be compatible with with the Chinese masses.  The new version, a Chinese version, would have to be such a departure from the version that I use that I question whether or not it would really be Facebook, or just a distant likeness.  The level of compliance that Zuckerberg would have to cede to the Chinese government would be huge, to the point where he would not have very much say in the inner workings of his digital child.  I can only wonder what his deeper interests are within the Chinese market, as these are what will truly shape his attempt at conquest.

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I have been playing with the idea of creating a weekly Borrowed Culture podcast.  I have no experience with such things, nor do I know if it is actually in line with the format of this site, but most of all, I don’t know what in the world I would talk about.  Keep you eyes out, perhaps it will happen, perhaps it will not.

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China Boom

I was looking at the China Boom website recently.  This site, one that I mentioned a long time ago, is a project of the Asia Society, and contains a huge stockpile of videos with experts explaining why they feel China has had such a quick and widespread economic expansion.  The movies are mostly short and to the point, but in some cases the translations are a bit too simplified for my liking.  The movies are arranged by time frame, starting with the period just following the death of Mao, moving all the way up to modern day.  The ideas are presented by a wide array of individual, including many professors, executives, economists and writers of every capacity.  I really enjoy the site from this aspect, as there is such a diverse range of ideas presented that you have a bit more ability to make some deductions of your own. The site doesn’t seem to make any attempt at summarizing the group of ideas, but instead presents them as a raw mass of thought.  I strongly suggest checking it out, but don’t spend too much time looking for a good place to start.  There are so many clips to choose from that it can be a bit overwhelming to try and create order amongst them.  Then again, I think that might be part of the point.  Happy watching!

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Creating a Global iPhone

A major question that comes up for any traveler is that of communication.  For some, it is a need to stay in touch with those they love.  Others have business needs that require constant connectivity.  While email works just fine for most things, nothing is quite as good as having your own phone.  A few post back, I had spoken about buying a used iPhone (ebay, $175) with the hopes of turning it into an unlocked, travel ready global phone.  The phone arrived today and it is in one piece and works.  Step number one accomplished, so lets all take a moment to celebrate this small victory.  Used electronics are always a gamble.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “well my carrier says that they provide service in (enter country name)”.  This is frequently the case, but there are a few things that you should consider before heading in this direction.  While going with your existing plan is probably the easier of the two options, I guarantee that you will pay out the ears for this method.  Using your home service abroad can cost anywhere between one and four dollars a minute.  Maintaining a relationship just got a whole lot more expensive.  But fear not, long distance romantics!  There is good news!

What your cell phone company doesn’t want you to know, especially if you are American, is that you don’t always need to rely on them to use your phone abroad.  If you are a little bit adventurous and just a little bit tech savy, you can save yourself a bunch of money.  In this case, I will be looking at the iphone and explaining the process by which you can turn it into a great world ready device.

Step number one, as mentioned above, is to find yourself a used iPhone.  I suggest looking on ebay, but be careful that you buy one from someone with a good reputation.  Phones are delicate things, and defects are not uncommon with used items.  You will notice that searching for an iPhone brings forth a common usage of the words ‘unlocked’ and ‘Jailbroken’.  For this project, I purchased a phone that had neither of these options applied, simply because I don’t trust electronics that have been tampered with by someone else.  Instead, I have chosen to perform these manipulations on my own.  You can do this as well!

Unlocking your iPhone is brilliant as it will allow you to use any SIM card that you would like.  Because most countries use wireless networks that rely on prepaid SIM Cards, this means that if you are only traveling to a country for a week, you can have your own cell phone without committing to a year of service.  Instead, you simply buy a SIM card with a low balance, plug it in to your phone and boom, ready to go.  No contracts, no outrageous international surcharge.

But this only works with an unlocked phone, so in addition to buying a used phone, we must also purchase a software package that will help you to unlock the phone on your own.  I used and recommend this website and their product.

While I won’t go into detail about the actual procedure for unlocking your phone (the site will help you with this), I will say that the directions were well written, and everything worked as it should.  If you can read directions carefully and avoid the temptation to skip ahead, you can manage this on your own.  The whole process took about an hour, and cannot be rushed.  As the program runs through stages, you will see the iPhone displaying loading screens, and flashing on and off.

The unlock and Jailbreak were succesful, but because I do not live in an area that has service, I haven’t been able to properly test everything just yet.  Another post to come.  The next step, however, is to pop out the SIM card tray that sits on the top of the phone.  Make sure that your phone is off.  Of all the steps you will take, this is the one with the highest probability of damaging your phone, so take your time!  Insert a straightened paper clip into the small hole that sits just to the right of the headphone jack.  Doing this should pop open the SIM card tray, allowing you to insert your own card.  This is the process you will follow after purchasing a card in a different country.  Cards are made to fit this slot in only one direction, so take a moment to see which way it goes.  Once you have it sitting flush, slide the tray back in until is is flush with the outside of the phone.  If it doesn’t want to go back in, I don’t suggest using force.  Unless you want to buy a new phone, that is.

Now this step I haven’t tried just yet, so you are on your own, but you should now be able to turn your phone back on.  It will then proceed to scan for service and authenticate your card.  Like I said, haven’t made it to this step yet, but this is the overall idea behind an unlocked phone.  Good luck!

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