Recently in China Category

Last week as the earthquake struck Sichuan county we all watched and listened as the news was constantly updated. A friend of mine arrived in the area two days after the quake struck and kept a diary of their day-to-day actions - what they saw and how they felt. It is with kind permission that the author has allowed me to publish this diary here, along with the accompanying photographs.

Covering the Earthquake zone: Day 1, Sichuan Province, China

I saw my first dead body today. Figures it had to be of kids.

We were shooting at a county 60km away from the epicentre of the earthquake that hit Sichuan province, southwestern China.

Also had a building crumble towards us so we ran. But we're safe no worries.

The rescue effort in Hanwang county is into its fourth day. Parents and relatives are basically looking for their kids bodies to surface.
Miraculously a girl was rescued alive today. Unfortunately she will be amputated from the waist down. But considering the circumstances I think her parents and everyone are grateful.

The bodies weren't so disturbing, though the kids faces were beyond recognition. Some of the parents had to take two or three more looks under the sheets to make sure the body is in fact their child.

The most disturbing one was of a girl clutching a pen still. It happened so suddenly, she didn't even have time to react. The clock in the middle of town is stuck at 14:28, the time the earthquake hit.


The county is nearly deserted except for parts where there are rescue efforts going on. Some buildings are barely affected while places like the school we filmed today is a hallowed out mess.

The most haunting is the sound of parents wailing for their child when they recognize the body. Remember these people have only one child per family. And these kids were mostly of high school age, moving on to university next year. They're the hope of the family.

Thankfully I have not experienced any aftershocks in this area.

We're returning back to the hotel in the capital of Sichuan province every night. It's quite a stark contrast to be down in the dirt, inhaling rubble by day, and staying in a five star hotel the next.

Anyhow these are just a random collection of thoughts since my boss said I should talk about what I saw today.

I am feeling fine, but who knows if I'm repressing it.

Gotta wash off this debris off myself and grab a few hours of sleep. Another early start tomorrow.

Days 2&3 - Total devastation

Today I experienced what mass panic was and ran for my life in Beichuan county.

We were filming a rescue effort when I saw a group of rescue and aid workers, residents, everyone all running in our direction yelling "RUN!!!"

My cameraman ran towards me and said, "Run! It's a flood!"

We proceeded to run like hell, with rescue workers hollering that nobody should stop running.

To my understanding Xinhua news agency came out with a report around 12:50pm about fears of the rising water levels and cracks in the dam. But my boss says the water levels have a few more metres to go before it spills over.

Here I was expecting a wall of water going to wash over us like in the movies.

My first thought was: I should really get some medical insurance. Luckily my boss has told me tonight that I am indeed covered despite having not taken the hostile environment training course.

I did feel bad for the poor man still 6-7 metres down the rubble. We thought we'd stay there and film his rescue for the rest of the day. This father is not only alive after six days without water and food, but was UNHARMED. He happened to be under a stairwell which saved him. They were just feeding a string to him and dripping water down when there was mass panic. As he thought he was closer to being saved everyone left him. His 13-year-old daughter stayed with him though I'm told.

I don't blame anyone for being over cautious. After the complete destruction of this county after the earthquake, people are worried about more deaths. The county is reduced to rubble. In the old part of town 80 per cent of all the buildings are gone.

The site was extraordinary considering most of the bodies in obvious areas were removed. It was eerie and haunting on a different level than seeing dead bodies. I saw cars flattened like a tin can, bikes fallen into the cracks of the road, buildings fallen on top of buildings creating a mountain of rubble. You can't help but imagine the fear that must've ran through the place when the earthquake hit and the number of people who died in the most awful of ways.

This flood warning was a serious setback for the rescue effort continuing for those still found alive.

Yesterday we interviewed a 22-year-old still trapped in between slabs of concrete. His one leg appeared to be twisted and completely broken.
He was still very alert and chitchatting with his relatives, who were outside and took turns going in to see him.

I was outside the building and chatting with a fireman about the survivor. A young man in the army uniform passed by and was very excited to hear about a survivor. He said, "What's his condition? Just cut off his legs! Come on! We saved two people like that yesterday! What are you waiting for!?!?!"

As gruesome as it sounds, at this point in the rescue effort, life, at any cost is still worthwhile.

The survivor's relatives were all very calm and rational considering the circumstances. They didn't blame rescue workers for working too slow, nor were they impatient. Like the young rescue worker, they are just grateful to hear that he's alive. Of course at this point, the survivor has not been told that his mother died in the earthquake and so, still had good strength.

We ran into his doctor today and heard he was rescued at 20:00 last night, with a good chance of having BOTH legs healing!

Earlier in the day we climbed up a mountain of rubble. We heard the kindergarten was somewhere in there with parents still lining around trying to find their kids' bodies.

An aid worker told my colleague a very sad story about the kindergarten. When the earthquake happened the teacher tried to keep the kids calm by getting them to sing a song. As the building collapsed the singing petered out.

Among the wreckage I saw this one guy laying out photos he found. He sucked in his breath and said, "My god." His friend said, "I know, but it happened. What can you do?" None of the people who stood around
flipping through the pictures knew anyone in them. But they all cried silently.

Sichuan 32.jpg

Then there was a mother standing on top of what use to be her home. She kept yelling out her son's name. At first she sounded like she genuinely believed her son would respond. But much like the middle school in Hanwang county, I think parents and relatives are still looking, even if it's just the body. At least they know.

Filming that scene made me feel just how intrusive and exploitive the media is. We film, then leave. But what can we do?

People at the emergency shelter further south in Mianyang try to send out hope.

There is a tent sent up for people to register their missing loved ones.

Me: "How likely are these people going to find their loved ones?"

Volunteer: "You cannot give up hope. Many people just lost communication."

This elderly lady turned to me at the tent and asked me tearfully if I could help her find her 30-year-old son and her 3-year-old grandson. She came straight to the centre after the earthquake and hasn't been
in touch with them since.

People are holding up signs everywhere and hoping to talk to fellow villagers to see if they've seen or heard from their loved ones.

I know people say the rescue effort is winding down, but there are still places, in the mountain area, where rescue crews have yet to reach because the aftershocks made the roads inaccessible. I heard though that certain villages are still doing well enough but are running out of time without food and water.

The epicentre, Wenchuan, is still inaccessible to cars. Though my colleague, who took two days to get in on foot, assures me Beichuan, about 80km away from the epicentre, is by far the worst hit place. Likely because the county is surrounded by mountains on all four sides and the houses are built on the lowest level.

It's getting hotter by the day now and the stench of bodies is going to be a big concern. I often hear pieces of mountains rolling down of in the distance in Beichuan. I personally haven't felt much of the aftershocks.

As for the cracked dam, I wonder if the army is just going to let it wash out the county eventually. Looking at the damages I have no idea how long, and whether it's possible to even clean up that mess.

I want to thank everyone for caring about my safety. You have to believe me that we are the most taken care of. We always have water supplies and we get to stay in a five star hotel every night back in the city. And I am always careful.

My body is aching a bit from running so hard, and my throat is a bit sore from inhaling so much dust and debris (yes even with a face mask) but otherwise I am fine.

Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 4

No survivors were found alive by the time I left Beichuan county today at 16:00 local time. The chances are getting slimmer. All I saw were body bags being carried around.

We found a rescue effort where a father sat waiting to see if his son is still alive under a slab of concrete. It used to be a three story building. Now it stands only waist high.

He doesn't live in the county but arrived two days ago and had been continuously calling his son's mobile until it got through last night and was picked up. He heard breathing sounds and immediately notified rescue crews. They didn't start the digging until 11am today.

Two hours later they got a glimpse of the top floor of what use to be a motel. Inside were four bodies. Rescue crews gave up digging. There's no way anyone underneath would survive.

The father thinks his son is still on the first floor.

He speaks in Sichuanese to me, gesturing behind him, his son's unintended grave. I could only understand 70% of what he's saying, but I'm guessing he's complaining that the rescue crews didn't come fast enough. It still hasn't sunken in that it's now day 6 after the earthquake.

Just across the rescue site was a couple taking great pains to collect their belongings scattered on the street. They put everything in their store. They fidgeted with the lock for a long time, as if they'd return some day. My coworker told me he saw reports today that officials do not plan on rebuilding the county after the cleanup.


Further down some residents are back to dig through the rubble for their belongings. One man found his photo album and his army badge. The ex-army soldier beams and holds up a mobile phone. "I found it! And it still works!" He's among the lucky ones. None of his family members died in the earthquake.

The town is almost empty except for rescue and aid workers. Even they are slowly pulling out.

An hour drive south to Mianyang Emergency Shelter shows a bustling place. Inside people have made beds on top of treadmills, hanging laundry off the bench press, and boxing rings have become a big comfy bed for dozens. There were weird giant sized posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other body builders hanging on the wall. The earthquake victims leaned against them, slurping instant noodles or eating congee.

The right side of the stadium grounds was a big queue. They were registering their kids into a temporary school that will be built shortly near the site. The NBC correspondent told me that this was very well coordinated and unseen during Hurricane Katrina.

So far the stadium is quite sanitary. It's been home to survivors for almost a week, and now houses over 10,000, most from the Beichuan area. Those with their kids running around can still manage a smile or two.

I saw one baby screaming at the top of his lungs and kicking his grandma. Perhaps he's traumatized from the events of the past week. She graciously tried to hold him upright for me to take a picture of him, but he wouldn't have it. He continued to cry.

Tomorrow is another day spent in Beichuan. We felt an aftershock today while filming the rescue but it was very small. We all ran away from buildings or anything that can topple over us. But it's kind of hard.
How does one go on day in and day out not trusting nature? Not trusting the roof over your head?

My coworker's friends live in Chengdu. A newlywed was home alone when the earthquake struck. Her first thought was: What's the most precious thing we've got? She ripped her 52" plasma screen off the wall and
proceeded to wrap it up with three blankets. Then she thought: "That freezer is really new and very good."

I don't know whether she managed to carry that stuff herself.

But now she and her husband take shifts sleeping. One sleeps until 3am and the other takes over into the morning. They have set two glass bottles one on top of the other. They figured if the earthquake was big enough they will wake up.

Not sure that will save them. But I can only imagine how horrible it must be to not feel safe in your own home.

I realize I'm very privileged. Today I was hiking back to the car when I let out a big sigh "Whew! Finally done work, now I can go home!" Just then I was passing by a couple of local residents. I felt so awful. These people don't have a place to call home and will likely either sleep on the floor or in a tent made of three plastic sheets in Mianyang.

My mother called me frantically this morning, telling me to get out. She said, "Why are you doing this? It's not like they pay you a lot. You don't need to prove anything!"

I really had no good answer for her. I had to ask myself long and hard why I wanted to be here. It's not for fame; I'm not even doing on-camera stuff. It's not for the adrenaline, because I can think of a million other things more exciting than running for my life from a possible flood. It's not because of some altruistic reason that I think I'm "serving the people" or that it gives me great satisfaction to tell people about their pain.

The only answer I can come up with is that this opportunity opened up for me to experience what people have to endure through natural disasters. And keep me humble.

I've heard horror stories about trying to get a flight out of Chengdu airport. Some people waited for 24 hours or more. Our driver then piped up: 'Yeah but you guys have money so it's no problem.'

And that cinched it for me right there. We do have the resources. I'm sure I'd get out faster if I got first class tickets. I can live in my cushy five star hotel every night, or get out of here anytime I want.

They can't.

Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 5

The mourning of the dead in Beichuan took place all over the county, just like the rest of the country at 14:28, the exact time the earthquake hit a week ago.

I went to the one that was held on the highest pile of rubble in the area, with only rescue workers from the army and media there.

About 10 minutes before the moment, the cameraman turned to me and asked, "Did you feel it?" I didn't, but it was an aftershock.

Shortly afterwards someone pointed to the mountain behind us. At the peak were clouds of dust kicking up. I looked long and hard and finally saw huge boulders rolling down the mountain.

I didn't know if it was going to be bad, but at that time, I felt pretty safe standing on top of the rubble. At least nothing can fall over me.

We never saw boulders reaching the bottom of the mountain. But it's enough of a reminder that Beichuan is still under threat.

14:28 rolled around and the soldiers all took off their hats and bowed in unison towards the Chinese flag, lowered at half mast. Car horns wailed for three minutes. It was touching.

Across the river, a rescue crew is still busy digging out a possible survivor. They do not stop during the moment.


A 67-year-old woman was found alive earlier this morning. They were hoping for one more miracle.

As we waited for the "moment" to happen, ie. see them pull out a survivor, a cameraman and I wandered off to the back part of town.

I've been back in this county for the last four days. Everyday the roads look different, boulders moved, rubble pushed aside. I'm unsure whether that car really rammed into that railing or whether it was pushed there to clear off the roads.

But this back end of town, looks about as eerie as the first day I went there.

Few residents are allowed in as of 8am today. The rescue workers say it's for their own safety. I find only a handful of them trying to collect their belongings.

One couple I ran into stood on the empty street staring at an apartment building. She points to the window with a curtain billowing in the wind. "I thought I was just going on a day trip for work and would come back that night, so I didn't even bother closing my window."

"Which floor do you live on?"

"The fourth."

I counted. "You mean the third."

"No, the bottom floor is crushed under, now the second floor is the
first floor."

None of her family died. But she lost her housecleaner and many friends.

"My initial thought was that my family was alive so I'm one of the luckier ones. But now coming back ... I'm not sure what to do."

She came back to collect some things. But it's not safe to enter. All she has left is her purse and the clothes she wore out of the house that day.

The stories of these residents don't stop here, but the life has certainly left Beichuan county.

Only a handful of residents and mostly people from the surrounding mountain areas are seen weaving between all the rescue workers who are tired and don't have much else to do other than body retrieval.

There's nothing "new" to report other than the rising body count. The international news is slowly moving back to the cyclone in Burma and to other news.

I'm heading back to Beijing tomorrow. I hear the airport is a nightmare so I'm prepared for extreme delay.

I don't feel like leaving because I know the stories aren't done. But such is the news lifecycle.

My colleague said he interviewed a father who dug with his bare hands at a school for his son yesterday. It took him 10 hours to save him.

He said, "My first thought was: It only took 10 hours? That's quick!"

Think that's a sign to get out before you get too jaded.

More charity groups are stepping in to offer contributions to the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan. One such is a Beijing-based group that's connected to the China Youth Care foundation. I received a letter this morning from one of the organizers:

Dear friends,

As you all know, the 7.9 magnitude tremor, which was focused in China's Sichuan Province, is estimated to have killed at least 14,800 people -- and that toll is expected to rise dramatically as rescue teams reach the most affected areas. In cities near the earthquake's epicenter, over 26,000 people are buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

0807_B82.jpgThus, the urgent help to earthquake-affected areas are badly needed. Though donations from home and abroad has been collected very effectively these days, I am sure that still some people may not have time to do it personally or still look for proper ways to help.

I and some friends are organizing an event to gather donations (cash is preferred) together and send it right away. We have one experienced person from China Youth Care Foundation who can guarantee the donations to use efficiently. Our charity dinner group has donated blankets for a Qinghai school successfully that this person coordinated.

We will have a banner showing our real care to those survivors, which you can express something on it too. We'll send it to the disaster region afterwards.

Please see details as below:
Sunday, 18th May
3pm onwards
Location -MEA Education Centre and Kultur Kafe in the Blue Castle Complex, Building F,S-116A / NO.3,West Dang Wang Road Chaoyang District / near Dawang Lu subway stop
Tel: 0108599 7735

Please pass this message on to your friends as well.

CNReviews offers an excellent list of other ways to donate. You can find the information here.

Also a reminder that the Bookworms in Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu are coordinating donation efforts. They are looking for tents, dried food, practical clothes, quilts and emergency blankets as well as money for water and medicine. You can find more information here. All donations should be dropped off before 4pm on SATURDAY in Beijing and Suzhou and 1pm SATURDAY in Chengdu.

BEIJING - As I'm sat at home writing this post in my comfortable dry apartment, in near silence - I, like many of you, feel desperately helpless. I've donated, I've told people how to donate on the radio and I've appealed to everyone I know back home to donate. And they are doing.

But, I cannot help thinking that I should be doing more. With the death toll likely to rise above 50,000 - I want to help with my hands. I want to help give water, distribute medicine, wipe away people's tears. And a part of me wants to grieve with the people here in China.

I'm not Chinese, but I live here. This is my home too right now.

Where I come from we don't have earthquakes or snow-storms of the magnitude that we have seen here. We just don't. And for me to be on the radio every-night delivering news about the rising casualty list - is hard.

Whilst on the show I'm signed into my messaging client - so that should anything go wrong, or need amending, my superiors can contact me swiftly and silently. For the past couple of evenings one of my Chinese friends on my contact list has been asking me the same question, 'Why is our nation's flag at Tiannanmen Square not at half-mast?'.

It's a good question.


According to Wikipedia:

Flying the flag at half-mast is a symbol of respect, mourning and distress. The flag is lowered to allow the invisible flag of death to fly on top of the mast, thus signifying death's presence, power and prominence.

The flag certainly would have been lowered in many other countries, as you can see from the Wikipedia article - so why not here? And I really am not criticising, I just want to understand why.

As I was looking around for more information I came across this entry on Danwei where novelist Han Han says:

'It seems that the flag is never lowered for civilian matters, no matter how big. I've basically never seen a flag at half-mast. One time at school the flag was raised to half mast where one of the pulleys got stuck, but that was a half-mast raising, not a half-mast lowering.'

Just how big a civilian matter does it need to be? There is no doubt that a flag flying at half-mast is hugely symbolic, wherever in the world you happen to be. Anyone who happens to glance will know what it means - it means that the nation is mourning. It would in no way show weakness, or a lack of strength - rather, in my eyes it would show solidarity at this tragic time.

UPDATE - At 14:28 on the 19th of May 2008, 3 minutes of silence will be observed across China. Additionally, the National Flag will be flown at half-mast for the period of the 19th-21st.

Picture 3.pngMore on the efforts being made to help the earthquake victims in Sichuan.

First on the tech front, Baidu, Tencent, and China Mobile have released a series of earthquake-related services. Pacific Epoch offers the hard facts:

Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) changed its homepage logo on May 13 in honor of earthquake survivors. The gray logo is centered on a red cross and the date of the disaster. Clicking on the logo takes users to earthquake information on Baidu's finance channel. Baidu has donated RMB 2 million to the relief effort. According to a report, the word "earthquake" was searched 27.1 million times on Baidu by May 13, while "Wenchuan" was searched 4.95 million times and "Sichuan Earthquake" was searched 3.82 million times.

Tencent (0700.HK) released a special version of its instant messaging (IM) software QQ2008 Beta1 on Wednesday to allow QQ users to pay tribute to those affected by the Wenchuan County earthquake. The new version adds functions for yellow memorial ribbon and lit candle icons to be inserted in QQ signature blocks.

China Mobile (NYSE: CHL, 941.HK) partnered with the Red Cross Society of China to release an SMS donation platform on Tuesday, reports Sohu. Using the platform, China Mobile subscribers can send donations in increments of RMB 1-2 to earthquake victims. The donations will be deducted from users' mobile fee accounts.

But how do you actually going about making a donation via SMS? China Mobile's website says

China Mobile customers can make donations by sending SMSs with the numbers "1" or "2" in the body of the message to 1069999301; you can contribute 1 or 2RMB to the disaster-hit areas and make repeated donations.

The donation service is legitimate and I'd strongly encourage making a contribution. A little goes a long way. The money is deducted from your mobile bill.

There are also other domestic companies pitching in. Again from Pacific Epoch:

Alibaba's consumer-to-consumer (C2C) site opened an online store to donate product proceeds to earthquake victims on May 14, reports Hexun. Approximately 3,000 Taobao sellers with 30,000 goods have signed up on the platform to donate 50 percent of their sales to the rescue effort, according to the report. More than 2,300 of the goods are already sold out, said the report.

Alibaba's online advertising exchange platform Alimama has purchased 400,000 advertisement spaces across 100,000 websites to place public service announcements for Sichuan earthquake donations, reports Hexun. Alimama is also asking its ad sellers to donate one day of advertising revenue to earthquake victims. By Wednesday afternoon, Internet users had used Alibaba-owned platforms to donate RMB 4 million to the cause.

Alibaba provides a page in English here.

In the blogsphere, Ryan from Lost Laowai has developed an icon that links to the Red Cross Society of China's donation site. Zhongnanhai will feature the badge. Please post it on your blog. Or better yet: click on the link and donate to the Red Cross.

For more information, click on the donation badge below.

China Quake Donation

In between the site being up and down in a kind of ongoing ping-pong game - I managed to grab a screen grab. And here it is.

Picture 1.png

It may seem an obscure point to 'attack' - but one thing is for sure, it's certainly drawing attention.

Tomorrow marks a very interesting time politically for one of China's most important regional partners. Australian President Kevin Rudd will arrive here tomorrow to meet with his Chinese counterparts, the last leg of his first major international tour. Rudd and Hu.jpg And while the western media here is going to be focused on Rudd's thoughts on the torch relay and the situation in Tibet and the Chinese media is going to be focused on Rudd's support for the Olympics in China and his reiteration of support for the 'one-China policy,' one of the key challenges for the new Prime Minister, which is highly likely to go untalked about, is going to be the unsexy, but highly critical issue of Chinese investment in his country's resource sector.

I suspect that politically speaking, Mr. Rudd finds himself in a somewhat precarious situation when it comes to China right now thanks to natural resources. As most people are quite likely aware, Mr. Rudd - though new on the international political stage - is considered to be an old China hand. Given that he was a former diplomat here in China and speaks fluent Mandarin, there was quite a bit of buzz in China surrounding his election. As such, I suspect many people inside and out of government here in China are expecting Mr. Rudd to be somewhat pan-sympathetic to China's concerns on both a political and business front. And while he'll undoubtedly put on an impressive display in front of the cameras, say the right things and wow the Chinese media with his ability to take questions in Mandarin, behind the scenes is going to be a different story.

One must not forget that first and foremost, Mr. Rudd is an Australian politician that has to put both his country's interests, and his supporter's interests, ahead of what the Chinese government may be expecting of him. Though Mr. Rudd is considered somewhat on the right-side of the spectrum when it comes to his political leanings within his own party, Mr. Rudd was elected as the leader of a party which has strong union support within Australia, and is generally left-of-center. As such, if he wants to maintain his core support in Australia through his term in office, he's going to have to be cognizant of their concerns. And, undoubtedly, one of the issues concerning the union movement in Australia has to be China's recent moves toward acquiring more interests in Australian-based resource firms.

Mining.jpg The most recent example is Chinalco's February move to acquire a 9-percent stake in mining giant Rio Tinto. While 9-perecent might not seem like much, Chinalco has been making rumblings about acquiring more stake in the company. Perhaps this is why Australia's Resource Minister was quoted earlier this week as saying that his government had a responsibility "to maximize returns for Australia as a nation."

Everyone knows that China is sucking up energy and natural resources faster than an Auzzie can go through a jar of Vegemite. But if Beijing is expecting Mr. Rudd to open the flood gates when it comes to plucking his country's natural resources because he knows China, it may be in for a bit of a rude awakening.

China Women Curling.jpgThis could well be the sign that the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse are saddling up and getting ready to ride! Well, that might be a bit dramatic. But still, I have to say that I'm rather taken aback by China's latest foray onto the world sporting stage. China took silver this weekend at the Women's World Curling Championships in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. Though the Chinese squad was defeated by Canada 7-4 in the final on Sunday, the Chinese team actually entered into the finals as the top seed, having defeated Canada twice in round robin action. This raises the obvious question: Huh???

I've lived here in China for over 2 1/2 years, and have never once seen a curling rink. Now granted, I've never been to any of the northeastern provinces that might cater to this sport, which is dominated - on the global stage - by Canada, Scotland (the country of origin of said sport) and the Nordic countries, but I'm guessing trying to find a sheet of ice to roll some rocks is about as easy as finding an advocate for western-style democracy on the Politburo. Perhaps this is why the Chinese national women's curling team lives and trains in Canada 8 months out of the year. And it's with this point in mind that I have wonder about the fairness of China's sports development program.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking anything away from the Chinese women's curling squad. Having been a competitive curler myself as a youngster, I can confidently say that it's a sport that requires a surprising amount of finesse and strategy, and is not that easy to master. People can curl all their lives and never come close to achieving any kind of notoriety in the sport. You really have to have a knack for the sport to do well at it. That said, the old adage of "practice makes perfect," does fit into the equation. Unlike the Canadian women's team that defeated the Chinese in Sunday's final, who all maintain full-time jobs and practice during their off hours, the Chinese squad receives enough funding to practice 10 hours a day, everyday, for nearly 8 months out of the year. As far as I am aware, no other international curling team is afforded that luxury. And, of course, the Chinese government's sports funding goes well beyond curling. Every year, millions upon millions of dollars are sunk into Chinese athletes to allow them to train full time to compete on the international level. China's support for its amateur athletes is unprecedented, and in some ways, quite laudable. Support for amateur sports on a global level is rather limp, and really should be a lot better. But that said, I would say that China's sports development program is coming very close to becoming like a pushy mother who forces her daughter into a beauty pageant to live out the glory she never achieved, and will stop at nothing to ensure that. A prime example of what I mean is Yao Ming.

Yao Ming.jpg

According to former Newsweek journalist and author Brook Larmer, who wrote the book Operation Yao Ming, the basketball phenom from Shanghai was the product of a Chinese sports breeding program which paired his 6-foot-9 inch father with his 6-foot-2 inch mother in a somewhat creepy eugenics experiment to create the ultimate basketballer. Larmer's book also claims that Yao was essentially forced to play basketball, even though he hated it.

It's examples like these that make me wonder whether or not China is going too far to create a sense of national pride through sport. And, to be fair, I don't know if there's a right answer. Is China not playing fair when it comes to its athletes? Or is China setting a higher benchmark that other countries should be trying to attain if they want to compete with this country when it comes to athletics? I leave it to the masses to debate. The one thing I do know is that it's nice to see Canada come up against some new competition on the curling sheet! And kudos to the Chinese women's team for putting on an exemplary performance. From all reports, the Chinese women were the stars of the show in Canada this past week and carried themselves (minus one slightly controversial incident, which was highly overblown in my mind) well in what is a somewhat cliquey curling community.

The Beijing municipal authorities may well be acting in the interests of public health (or rather the millions of visitors that will be coming to Beijing before, during and after the Olympic games) by implementing 'smoking restrictions' -- but it seems that another health time-bomb could just be around the corner. And it's one that China knows, and loves all too well.

Amongst the cacophony of noises that contribute to the soundscape that living in a city brings -- there is one thing that is ultimately clear -- cellphones are everywhere in China. From the teenage schoolchildren blaring out the latest pop music as their ring-tone, to the old folks walking along shouting into their handsets in the Beijing hutongs, everyone it seems, has one.

In February alone of this year according to some reports, China's cellphone users grew by a record 9.36 million -- bringing in the total number of cellphone users in China to an estimated 565 million.

While this figure may well see cellphone manufacturers rubbing their hands together with glee as the number of users rise exponentially, it seems that a top neurosurgeon has an entirely different viewpoint. And one that has some startling possibilities.

Brain expert warns of huge rise in tumours and calls on industry to take immediate steps to reduce radiation

Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.'

It draws on growing evidence - exclusively reported in the IoS (Independent On Sunday) in October - that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

This report is not without it's detractors though; unsurprisingly from the Mobile Operators Association.

Late last week, the Mobile Operators Association dismissed Khurana's study as "a selective discussion of scientific literature by one individual". It believes he "does not present a balanced analysis" of the published science, and "reaches opposite conclusions to the WHO and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews".

For many of us, a cellphone is something that we cannot do without -- and messaging at the dinner table is not an uncommon sight here in China. One thing is clear though, cellphones here in China are not going to go away anytime soon, nor are the number of users likely to decline -- with or without this report.

You can read the full article here.

Beijing is facing a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario right now in southern Africa, and one that threatens to bring more heat on a central Chinese government already struggling to paint a positive image of itself in the midst of international criticism over the situation in Tibet. At issue is the election in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Flag.jpg

As it stands now, the people of Zimbabwe are waiting to find out whether President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF will maintain its 28 year hold on power, or whether the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will take over. Governments the world over are watching this situation quite closely, and none more than Zimbabwe's largest investor, China. But rather than having any sort of concern over losing investment in Zimbabwe, the central government is most likely concerned about what a Mugabe win will do when it comes to public relations on the international stage.

In the lead up to the British handover of Zimbabwe back to its people in 1980, two Marxist factions within the country warred with one another for ultimate supremacy. The then-Soviet Union backed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), while China put its support behind Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). China bet on the right horse, with Mugabe's ZANU sweeping into power in the 1980 elections. From that point on, the Chinese government has been one of Mr. Mugabe's strongest supporters, and continues to heap aide and investment into his country, despite numerous sanctions levied against the Zimbabwean government over alleged human rights abuses. As such, these elections in Zimbabwe this weekend couldn't have come at a worse time for China.

Many observers believe that Mr. Mugabe will not release his grip on power, even if the polls show that the MDC has won victory. Thumbnail image for Mugabe voting.jpg And, given previous election controversy in Zimbabwe, even if Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF does win, it's highly likely that the results of the vote will be condemned by the majority of the international community, given consistent allegations of vote rigging. Hence the bad PR situation Beijing finds itself in.

If Mr. Mugabe is declared the winner, Beijing will be obligated to sanctify the election results and continue to throw its support behind Mr. Mugabe's government, which will fly in the face of the vast majority of the international community, and will give more fuel for those who would use China's actions as a reason to boycott the Olympics. If Mr. Mugabe loses, but still maintains power, Beijing will be called to the carpet to justify allowing Chinese companies to continue to do business in a country with an illegitimate government.

Tsvangirai voting.jpg The best case scenario for Beijing is the election and safe transition of power to Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC. Whether or not that will happen is anyone's guess over the coming hours and days. If it does, the CPC might lose an ideological partner, but will avoid giving more political ammunition for the anti-China ideologues around the world.

With all the turmoil and controversy that's been brewing in China's southwestern regions as of late, I find it somewhat ironic that this week has seen a self-motivated decision of an autocratic leadership to endow its people with the right to choose. And right next door, no less. I direct your attention to Bhutan.


This country is really an enigma, and is simply unknown to the vast majority of the world, given its size, location and policies toward tourism. Flag_of_Bhutan.png Known to its people as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, and often described as the last Shangri-La, Bhutan this week became a democracy. After just over 100 years of Royal rule, the people of Bhutan voted on Monday in parliamentary elections for the first time ever.

Bhutan is really an interesting story, and one that could call into question the CPC's theory about 'liberating a backwards people.' For those who aren't familiar with Bhutan, allow me to give you a somewhat brief synopsis of the country.

The Bhutanese people share a common ancestry with the Tibetans and the Nepalese. bhutan_young monk.jpg Some archaeological evidence suggests that the region might have been settled around 4,000 years ago, but no one is really sure. Bhutan wasn't even really a country until the early 1600's when a Tibetan lama unified a collection of tribal states under one law. And in 1907 Bhutan became an absolute monarchy. From all accounts, the Bhutanese people were quite happy to be ruled by the monarchy. But despite this, the monarchy decided in 2005 to bring in a new constitution, and the vote by the people this week officially sealed Bhutan as the world's newest democracy.

Bhutan's whole mandate is happiness. In fact, this is a country that has developed a system to measure happiness. It's even got a term: Gross National Happiness. Though it's pretty difficult to define, it is a system that Bhutan uses to measure quality of life. Because Bhutan is made up predominantly of Buddhists and some Hindus, there is a very strong spiritual base. As such, back in 1972 the then-king decided that instead of focusing on economic development, his country would try to grow under a more holistic approach, something that flies in the face of the break-neck economic growth mandate Bhutan's giant neighbor to the north has undertaken. Still, Bhutan's economy is growing quite quickly. In 2006, Bhutan's Gross Domestic Product grew by 14 percent, thanks to the sale of Hydro electric power to India. And a survey done to calculate the Gross National Happiness in 2005 showed that 45 percent of Bhutanese were 'very happy,' 52 percent were just 'happy' and 3 percent were 'unhappy.' It's with this in mind that I consider the 'liberation' of Tibet by China.

Nobody came into Bhutan and messed with it. Nobody tried to 'help' it develop. The world left Bhutan alone. As a result, the some 700,000 people of Bhutan are now determining their own political future and - according to the GNH stats from that country - seem to be doing just fine.

What's done is done. No one can change what has happened with Tibet. But given what is happening next door in Bhutan, I can't help but wonder what things would be like if the Chinese government didn't decide to 'help' in Tibet some 50 odd years ago.

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