Monday, September 29, 2008

Beijing Smog Blog, An Update

"Like a giant kid who's been holding a fart in during a three week [now nine week] elevator ride, Beijing has apparently relaxed its many industrial sphincters and let a big one rip." -Imagethief

My brother Gene just returned from his first trip to Beijing. He arrived a few days after emergency measures to clean Beijing's air for the Olympics and Paralympics ended on Sept 21. The following, including three photos taken 1 day, 3 days, and 5 days after a rainstorm, is what he reports.

Beijing - America in a different (and hazier) font.
Beijing is pretty much America at this point. I'm sure smaller cities and especially cities in Western China are very much, not America, but Beijing is. It's a great city. Massive in size. Very much on-the-move. It's an exciting and busy place to be. The food is great and plentiful. The history is rich and long and apparently if you were in charge in Beijing ... you built another palace inside the Forbidden City. I think every castle of Europe could fit inside the Forbidden City. There is some great new architecture that's really impressive: from the bird's nest and the water cube to the CCTV building and more. I met with several people at different high-tech companies and they were all very helpful in aiding our understanding of doing business here, and they were all very excited to be part of this raging economy.

The following are the differences between Beijing and America as I see it.

Air quality: Indoor air quality with all the smoking is disgusting - ok, I'm a spoiled Californian who never has to experience indoor smoke at home. Outdoor air quality - well see the pictures attached. The first was taken the day after it rained. The rain scrubs all the particles out of the air. The second photo was taken two days later. Ouch. I went for a run today and I am wondering how many cigarette-equivalents I have just inhaled. I don't think I could live here because of the air.

Language - ok, that one is obvious.

Red. Ok, people, I know red is the big, important color in China, but seriously - explore the color palette a bit more.

Traffic. They are way more 'green' than Americans in that there are tons of people who bike or ride small mopeds which guys in America could never be seen riding. They drive their cars on the freeways like one would drive a bike - as though crashing into something is not likely to cause any damage. Therefore going backwards on the freeway, dropping off passengers in the middle of the freeway, or getting to a freeway exit and stopping at that mid-point between taking the exit and staying on the freeway are all completely normal.

Food. The waitresses will wait forever for you to give an order. In the US if you aren't ready to state your entire party's order back-to-back, they say "I'll give you a minute and come back". Chinese menus, of course, are gi-normous with about 150 different options. The waitresses are all too willing to hang out, answer questions, watch you rub your chin, turn the page, discuss with each other ... they are very patient. Of course there are a few things I've eaten here that would not be on a menu in America: bull bladder, pig trotter (foot), chicken feet, some kind of frog and marinated pig's ear. They were all good. The food here is awesome. Even 'fast food' in China can include vegetables. When's the last time you got broccoli at a fast food restaurant?

Pre-reported news: I was lucky enough to be here when the Chinese astronauts (Taikonauts) took off and did the space walk. There was much excitement about this at our office and we watched the space walk live through the internet. Prior to the astronauts even leaving the earth, however, the Xinhua news agency reported the mission a success, noting that they 'captured the target' 12 seconds ahead of plan, and even included dialogue that the astronauts said to each other. The Chinese team in my office said it's common to have stories that describe how things will be before they happen. Like America, the engineers I work with here are a bit cynical on the manned space mission. They said "Yeah, China wins bronze in space-walking" and they ridiculed how some Chinese official tried to convince people that there was some scientific reason to do the mission. Sounds similar to the debate in the U.S. whenever manned space programs are announced.

Mao: They say that people over 50 like Mao better than Deng and people under 50 like Deng better than Mao. Let's see, Mao killed more people than anyone else in history combined. Deng changed China to capitalism and brought more people out of poverty than anyone else in history combined. Well, I guess people over 50 in America have their odd bouts of nostalgia too.

I asked my guys here how they thought China would change the world in the next 20-50 years. guy said the world would change China more than the other way around. A few stressed that China loves peace and it would not be changing the world in the way America has been. One expressed that China might bring a lot of help to Africa where they have been investing heavily. I said I wished America would be influenced by Chinese art and culture and particularly that we could learn to be more patient and long-term in our planning, like the Chinese appear to be.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Pan Wenshi and the White-Headed Langurs

Rachel and I returned from the PRC to the People's Republic of Cambridge about a month ago, however, a story I reported over the summer just came out in today's New York Times.

It Takes Just One Village to Save a Species

Published: September 22, 2008

CHONGZUO, China — Long ago, in the poverty-stricken hills of southern China, a village banished its children to the forest to feed on wild fruits and leaves. Years later, when food stores improved, the children’s parents returned to the woods to reclaim their young.

To their surprise, their offspring had adapted to forest life remarkably well; the children’s white headdresses had dissolved into fur, tails grew from their spines and they refused to come home...Click here for full story copyright, New York Times.

Story Behind the Story

Perhaps China's greatest environmental success story to date, this was also a really fun piece to report. The Nongguan Nature Reserve with its mind bending karsts and tropical forests is absolutely amazing, and I got to experience it with Rachel who was able to join me for my visit.

I'd known of Pan's prior work with pandas for some time but hadn't heard what he'd been up to recently, until a good friend visited the reserve and told me I really ought to check it out. Thanks for the tip, Ollie!

Check out the following video I shot in the Chongzuo Eco-park and hear Pan tell how alpha males patch themselves up after bloody battles with other males.

Langur and landscape photos used with permission from Peking University Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Institute

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