Thursday, April 26, 2007

Korean Drinking Games

Ryan and I went out last weekend with my classmates, who, aside from one other American and a Japanese guy, are uniformly Korean. This homeogeneity has been very interesting, not only from the perspective of being a minorority to a different majority in the classroom, but because I have had relatively little exposure to genuine Korean culture.

My first discovery has been that Korean food is terribly underrated and underexposed in America. The flavors are a great deal more subdued than Chinese food, which is good or bad depending on your perspective, but also involves a lot more pickled and fresh vegetables, and a lot less grease. Korean barbecue is particularly fun, grilling your own meats, wrapping them in lettuce with a little sauch and kimchee, and trying to wolf the whole thing down in one mouthful. I don't see why this type of dining isn't a hit in America - some Korean entreprenuer needs to get on this.

And while we have yet to set the China beer pong craze in motion, I've had a lot of fun playing drinking games popular with my Korean classmates. Soju, the Korean liqour, is particularly well suited for drinking games - it's served chilled, unlike sake, and has a pleasant taste and aftertaste, but is only 20% alcohol, so it won't take you out like playing games with normal strength liqour, which is for serious winos and dumbasses only. One simple game is called "three, six, nine", but no, it has nothing to do with the Ying Yang twins. You go around in a circle, each person counting one number starting with one, but you can't say three, six, or nine, and instead you clap. Thirteen, sixteen, and so on also get a clap (and no speech), but the thirties are where it gets interesting: every number in the thirties gets a clap, but thirty three, thirty six, and thirty nine get two. This part is the easiest to screw up on, particulary after a few rounds of the game, and it's always amusing when somone does, because any screw up means you drink. You can, of course, pull for your fellow players giving hardy-livered young men a chance to be chivalrous in front of the ladies.

Another game involves counting to the number of people playing the game minus one, but this time the counting is random. You shout out your number and raise your hands, but if you do it at the same time as someone else, shout the wrong number, or are the last one left (thereby giving you incentive to jump in), you drink.

Asian drinking games: simple, elegant, and brutally effective. They also seem to go well with the asian drinking style which usually involves drinking some form of liquor around a big table along with food. It's funny, most of the time I don't think of Asians as big drinkers, but they definitely are - I can't imagine it being acceptable to bring a bottle of booze to a western restaurant and start drinking cups of it with your meal, but that's totally cool here. And the level of rowdiness we've displayed at several Korean BBQ meals defintely would have gotten us 86'd from classy western establishments. Public drunkenness is also much less stigmatized here, and there doesn't seem to be much awareness of alcoholism as something other than a bad habit, which is almost certainly not a good thing.

I think this is probably related to our conception in the west of Asian men not being macho or manly. Aside from martial arts stars (who are often desexualized by association with religious or meditative themes), there's a decided lack of Asian men being portrayed as sex symbols or tough guys, though other minorities, particularly blacks and hispanics are regularly portrayed that way. In fact, I can't even think of an Asian male from the US who is a genuine movie star. Why is that?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Country Has No Spring

Rough Guide and Lonely Planet make a point of telling you that Spring is the best time to visit China (followed closely by the fall), but they neglect to tell you that spring lasts all of two weeks. At the beginning of this month there would be the occasional nice day, but several times I was wearing my jacket indoors during class. For the last week or so, I can't even wear my light spring jacket on the bike ride to class without starting to sweat. The sun is out in full force, and by noon it is quite warm.

This is unfortunate. I like a hot summer better than a freezing winter, but not a whole lot better - I long for the warm (not hot) sun and cool breezes of a New Hampshire (or Chicago) spring, but this is Beijing, the land of unforgiving whether.

The Chinese seem to pay little attention to matters meteorological. In February I was aghast at the men riding bikes with no hat, no gloves, and only a suit jacket (although they might have had long underwear). Today, the only change in their dress is that I'm pretty sure they've ditched the long underwear, if they ever had it at all. Maybe capitalism does make us weak, in which these guys won't be so tough for long.

Fortunately, we've been spared any of the dust storms which stuck regularly during march and april a few years back. I would sorta have liked to see just one, just for the experience, but I suppose I'll get over it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why Don't We Have This?

Here in China, many keys have 3 dimensions. Our apartment key, for example, is shaped lake a cross, or a t. Three of the four surfaces are cut to conform to the pins in the tumbler. I can only imagine that more surfaces means more complexity and greater difficulty in picking the lock. Perhaps it also makes the lock less vulnerable to bump keys. . .

At any rate, why is this something I've only seen in China? I can't imagine we lack the technology in America?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

They Love You Long Time - In Prison

Don't start an internet porn site in China, some dude just got life in prison for it.

Maybe the Bush administration can give them some pointers on how to police this sort of thing. Good luck to 'em I guess - seems about as likely as elliminating cockroaches.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pic Of The Day

The fantastically cool "bird's nest" stadium being built for the 2008 Olympic Games. It's right across the street from where I train Jiujitsu, which is in another olympic complex.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pic Of The Day

I love it that in China you can see someone laying bricks in a suit.

Olympics Move China On Darfur

According to the New York Times, Mia Farrow pressured Steven Spielberg (who's an artistic adviser for the 2008 games) to pressure China to do something about Darfur, and it's having some effect.

For all those who said China shouldn't get the games because of it's human rights violations, I would like to point out that without the games there would be little leverage to pressure China to do something. More broadly, I think this makes the point that engagement leads to more influence, while isolation leaves us with less ability to either change or predict and situations that may arise.

More broadly still, the Olympics are about world cooperation and piece, and if we exclude large and important countries like China (or the USSR in 1980, or, for that matter, Nazi Germany in 1938)we turn it into something else. The Olympics aren't supposed to create a perfect world - they are about putting aside fights to participate in sports. And without holding the Olympics in Germany in 1938, Jesse Owens wouldn't have made nearly as big an impact. It's called the Olympic GAMES - let's not turn it into some sort of western democracy and human rights club.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Thoughts On the One Child Policy

I was surprised to see that this week's text in our conversation class covered the one child policy. Westerners generally think that any controversial topic in China is basically off limits - but that hasn't borne out. We've had texts on poverty, the cultural revolution, and now the one child policy. Granted, we're not digging deep or conducting new research into who was responsible for what (and I imagine there would be some limits placed on that), but we are talking about it.

In the west we tend to think of the one child policy as a terrible infringment on human rights, and in a way, it is - it fundamentally restricts the freedom of reproduction. But if you want to argue that births shouldn't be restricted (at least in a cost/benefits context) you have to be prepared to say that the additional population growth wouldn't be as bad as the policy. We also have to remember that in addition to the horrible crowding and inadequacy of many services (university education, which is ridiculously exclusive, comes to mind), China doesn't have tons of arable land to begin with, and what it has it is losing to water scarcity and soil erosion.

There's even a somewhat liberal side to the policy - minority peoples are exempted. The Uighur family that runs a local restaurant has at least 4 kids.

And as far as forced abortions go, my thinking has come to this - if you're going to have the policy you should enforce it, otherwise get rid of it. How to do that then? Well, you can fine the person or impose other economic penalties, which is generally what they do. Besides being inegalitarian and allowing the rich to do what they want, this just doesn't have enough of an effect - people in the countryside continue to have more than one child and thhe fines don't seem to have an effect. What about putting the parents in jail? Not only do you have to deal with the costs of imprisoning these people and loss of workers and tax revenue, but you have to see to their other children. The only alternative is forced abortion, which seems better to me than imprisoning parents or impoverishing the children through draconian fines. Besides, isn't one of the main problems with forced abortion that you make their reproductive choices for someone, which is what you're already doing by instituting a reproductive policy?

The main problem with the policy seems to be that it doesn't work. China's population is increasing and has never decreased. In fact, it would really be a problem if everyone did follow it - each generation would be less than half the size of the last. Can we say workforce and social security problems?

There's also problems with the fact that in the cities the policy is enforcable and enforced quite rigidly, while in the countryside it is openly flouted. You have a situation in which the most educated and best of people (who are best able to provide for children) are not even reaching half a replacement birth rate, while the country-folk are far surpassing it. The 'eugenic' flavor of this argument troubles me, but then again it's based on education and environment - not the idea that poor, minority, or retarded people are genetically flawed.

In the end, I think China would have more success with a less rigid policy, even if it was much less effective. The fact that people are used to flouting laws here is a big problem - it effects everything from taxes to traffic to corruption. When governments institute unenforcable laws (think of the war on drugs), every other law is undermined in some small way. What needs to happen is a change in the culture (the love of huge families, and especially the preference for boys), and that takes lots of time. I think it would be useful to approach it like we approach public health problems - use incentives to get people to change their behavior with the idea that it's in their own interest.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Pic Of The Day

A random field of toilets in WuDaoKo, a university district teeming with bars, students, and Korean restaurants (Korean barbecue is DELICIOUS)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Please Leave The Elevator On

Appropo of my last post, I'd like to grumble about the elevator situation in my building.

I don't mind that even though looking at our hallway you would think we live in a tenemant (I chalk it up to different priorities) yet we still have elevator attendants to press the buttons for us. Hey, they're students, and they need some extra cash.

But we have two elevators, and only one is ever operational, because there's only one attendant at a time.

And why, dear god, do the elevators both have to be shut off after midnight? Some of us have been out, and are drunk, and wouldn't like to walk up seven (thank god I'm not on the 20th floor) flights of stairs.

I'm glad people are interested in saving energy, but c'mon, I'll pay extra for this. Please? We could even make up for the lost energy by turning off some of those garish neon lights over the roadway.

Banking In China

God knows I have had my share of problems with banks in America, like when Chase gave me an inactivity charge that sent my account negative on an account they insisted was free , and then added overdraft charges, but I would love to be dealing with any major (or minor) American bank for my time in Beijing.

Most of your banking and the utility purchases (which are done through the banks) have to be done in person. No mailing checks, no online banking, not even a electronic kiosk in the bank - no, you get a number and you wait. I've just returned from trying to pay my internet fee and buy more electricity, but when I got there I encountered at least 40 people waiting in chairs, got a number 201 (now calling 51), and didn't see a single number called in the five minutes I stayed.

Now I understand why China wants to keep around lots of meaningless service jobs. Unemployment is a political sore spot in the west, let alone in a country where thirty years ago people were told not to care that they didn't have cars or television because they had an "iron rice bowl" that could not be broken. But the costs of slow banking include not only all the tasks done by hand (and the mounds of useless paper generated) that could almost certainly by done much cheaper online or by a machine, but the 50 people waiting, probably for at least an hour each, on a Monday morning at 10:30. Those people aren't at work, they might have driven or taken public transportation to get here, and I'm sure they hate waiting as much as I do. They may not be obvious, but all these things have costs.

Foreign banks have recently won the right to do business in China, thanks to its membership in the WTO. I dearly hope that they bring some semblance of international banking standards and force these decrepit organizations to adapt or perish.