Thursday, May 29, 2008

Plastic Bags no More

Starting on June 1, 2008 (in 3 days), Shenzhen retailers will stop offering free plastic bags. As an effort to help the environment and reduce the reliance on plastic bags, Shenzhen - as well as other Chinese cities - are beginning to implement this new regulation.

As Shenzhen Daily states:

Retailers will be fined up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,429) for providing free plastic bags or selling plastic bags to customers at lower than cost from June 1, the city's pricing watchdog said Friday.
The ban has been instituted under a regulation drawn up by the Commerce Ministry to save energy and reduce white pollution.

Stores like Walmart, ABest and Carrefore have all promoted the use of clothbags. They have done promotions and free giveaways as well. Use of plastic bags will cost 0.50 to 1RMB.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shenzhen Democracy

For the past 30 years, Shenzhen has been the big Chinese experiment on capitalism. This Special Economic Zone started from a fishing village to become the most modern Chinese city. Not only is the economy in the forfront, but the rule of law, transportation and civil systems are among the best in China. There has even been talk about a Shenzhen - Hong Kong mega city in its future plans while the development of Shenzhen's airport has been mentioned in Kanye West's blog.

This big experiment seems to be ready to expand to politics as well. Reported in the Pakistan Observer, Shenzhen's steps Toward Democracy describes the future development of an“intraparty democracy.”

The Shenzhen local government published a draft of a document titled “Shenzhen Future Reforms” on its Web site for the public to comment upon . The draft summarizes tentative plans for political, administrative, economic and cultural reforms in Shenzhen and describes 19 key tasks, including the holding of mayoral elections in Shenzhen when “conditions allow.” Members of the regional National People’s Congress will be allowed to run directly in these elections.

By conducting China’s “intraparty democracy” experiment in Shenzhen, Chinese President Hu Jintao is paying homage to the legacy of Deng Xiaoping and signaling that if the test proves successful, intraparty democracy will spread to the rest of China.

The document is a result of the National People’s Congress in March, when “intraparty democracy” the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) version of “rule by consensus” was put in place as one of the key planks of Chinese President Hu Jintao”s legacy. The groundwork for the Shenzhen experiment originally was laid in March when Wang Yang, secretary of the CPC’s Guangdong Provincial Committee, visited Shenzhen and officially announced that the city would “set an example for the nation.” Such initiatives have been tried at the village level before but never in as large or as prominent a city as Shenzhen.

Long a showcase for new ideas from the center, Shenzhen was one of the original sites of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s groundbreaking economic, political and social reform programs and was home to China’s first special economic zone. By formally launching China’s intraparty democracy experiment in Shenzhen, Hu is paying direct homage to Deng’s legacy and signaling that if this test proves successful, intraparty democracy will spread to the rest of China. The province of Guangdong has never built the political power base that Shanghai has, so this latest spotlight on Shenzhen does not signal an impending central government “crackdown” on disobedient local officials.

Beijing wants to build some sense of accountability in the prevailing system and emphasize that the party and government are owned by the people.

I have been recently been considering leaving Shenzhen, but I might just have to stay a little bit longer to see these things happen firsthand, undercover.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

China's New Path

As a resident of Shenzhen, I've been able to see both the best and the worst of China - relative to change.

As many people already know, Shenzhen is a wonder of capitalism in China. It has grown out of nowhere in the past 20 years. It is the most modern Chinese city. It is a place with limitless opportunities and possibilities. It is a place where all of the able people from all over China and the world come to gather for commerce. It is a place of law and order - the best in China.

Shenzhen is also a lot of other things. It is one of the only places that has absolutely no culture within a country and civilization that has lasted more than 5000 years. It is a cut-throat world where money is first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. It is a place of questionable morals and the air quality is just as bad.

Shenzhen was famously created by Deng Xiaoping who famously announced that "to be rich is glorious." Ever since those famous words were uttered, China has transformed from a place focused on equality to that of money. It was a place where personal possessions and wealth were not the focus, but community was overriding. People helping people even though everyone had very little. It has emerged to a place where money and materialism is paramount while the community is just an afterthought. Now the discrepancy between the haves and have-nots is incredible.

In the past few years, this path of money has never been questioned on the grand scale. Although certain events have brought the Chinese people together (the spy plane incident, the japanese textbooks, the Olympics), everything was still on the same trajectory.

That was until 5/12/2008 at 2:28pm.

In the past few days - and during the mourning period - the only thing on TV has been coverage of the earthquake. Every single channel. All Bars have been closed. All KTVs have been closed. Even online games have been abandoned. It is a national mourning in every respect. During this time, people from every walk of life, from every region and province have come together to do what they can in support of the recovery efforts. If you can donate money, ok. Time and effort, good as well.

Candlelit visuals have been everywhere. The only real topic of conversation is the earthquake. Everything else is secondary. It is something that I've never seen, but so immensely proud of from my fellow countrymen.

During the events of 9/11, I was in my high school in New Jersey. In the past 7 years, those events have completely and utterly transformed American society. Whether it is political, environmental or social, so many things have been altered.

I predict that the earthquake of 5/12/2008 will have a comparable effect on China. Not only will government initiatives change, but the people will too. The people have been reminded of what it once was, a place where people cared about its fellow people. It has woken up from a period of rapid growth into something thats more wholly rounded and responsible for all in society. Not only will there be much more social activism but the compassion and empathy of the people will increase.

This is now the path of China. Not a path towards "democracy" (as the western media states) but towards a embrace for the communal-ness of its past.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Earthquake Memory

At 2:28pm local time, there was a 3 minute moment of silence nation-wide. While people were silent, city sirens, car horns and bells rang loud. It was a nice moment to reflect on the tragic earthquake that occurred just 1 week prior.

Before the silence, I received text messages from a lot of friends and family reminding me of the event. Everyone seemed to care a lot for it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Real Chinese Earthquake Story

吃苦。 "Eat Bitterness"

In China,
吃苦 is a enduring state of being for all Chinese. Whether its employees going the extra mile at work or kids spending hours on math homework - the ability to 吃苦 is something that everyone looks to have and is proud to have AS A CHINESE.

For the past few days, I have been adamant about watching the news. There has been 24/7 coverage on most of the major channels in China. There are stories of tragedy and heartache but also stories of charity and empathy.

As I recall, a group of 8 friends, all with cars got together, filled up their cars with supplies - water, food, medicine and drove 8 hours to deliver the aid. They have since stayed to help in any way possible.

There has been major movement online to donate money to the cause. Even my mom wanted me to donate 10,000rmb for her to the China Red Cross.

I have been consistently following the coverage in the New York Times and CNN as well. While many of the articles have been opinion-neutral, there are always glimpses of politicizing in the coverage. For example, any mention of the Chinese government's quick response to the disaster isn't followed with praise, but with a statement about political legitimacy.

From CNN's Soldiers Press Search for Quake Survivors:

Gareth Leather, an analyst for The Economist magazine, said the communist government was criticized for its response to the 2002 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"The government was very secretive about it, which in turn allowed the disease the spread across China and Asia a lot quicker than it otherwise would have done," Leather said. "This time they have been very open about it, which I think is maybe showing signs that lessons have been learned."

From NYT's A Rescue in China, Uncensored:

China’s Communist Party leaders are keenly aware that their approach to the earthquake will be closely watched at home and abroad. And after two bruising months of criticism from the West over its handling of Tibetan unrest, the government can ill afford another round of criticism as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August.

Dali Yang, the director of the East Asian Institute in Singapore, said the government might have come to the realization that openness and accountability could bolster its legitimacy and counter growing anger over corruption, rising inflation and the disparity between the urban rich and the rural poor.

Maybe the leaders do care. Maybe the people do care. Maybe the country is coming together, just as the US did after 9/11. Just maybe.

In the past few days, I have been quite proud to be Chinese. That pride has been perfectly reflected in the CNN article Earthquake Victims Eat Bitterness.

In Che Jia Va, survivors of the deadly earthquake that struck central China wait patiently for aid. They don't complain.

Among them is a woman with back injuries who cannot walk, and moans loudly. Soldiers eventually found the woman and took her away.

Sheets of plastic protected some of these victims from the rain that came down after the quake. But despite a lack of food, water, phone service and supplies, most of the victims were undemanding and uncomplaining -- some playing cards to pass the time -- confident they would be looked after.

We've had some of the nicest people help us out. There was a guy who had a packet of cookies and wanted to share them, because we were reporting the quake story.
A woman at a gas station, which has a $13 limit per purchase, let us buy $100 worth for our two SUVs. She just came up and helped. There actually were soldiers at the gas stations to ration it out.

That's the China I know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

China Earthquake.

In the past couple of days, I have received numerous questions from friends and family back in the US about the aftermath of the 7.8 earthquake in Sichuan province.

There has been constant 24-7 coverage of the earthquake and rescue effort on TV.

I have personally visited Sichuan province on 2 occasions. I have been to Chengdu, Chongqing as well as the Wulong Panda Preserve.

While some of Sichuan is flat, the entire area at the epicenter of the earthquake has a mountainous terrain where the only roads are 2 lanes that run on the sides of massive cliffs. These roads have been blocked by rock slides and broken pavement. This has stranded rescue workers.

Chengdu seems to have held up pretty well. Otherwise the death toll would be much greater. The government has mobilized tons of soldiers to help with the aid of survivors. Also good is the fact that Chengdu was center to a lot of new construction. Cranes, and heavy equipment from construction sites have been used as well.

This is crazy.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I'm Back

It has been exactly 6 months since my last post. Wow, long time.

I would like to first apologize to my readers(atleast I thought I had a few) for my absence. However, I do have an excuse. I started a business with a friend in Shenzhen. So instead of having the ample brain capacity to properly write a blog and worry about our business (constantly), I prioritized my commitments and made a decision.

Not that the business has been created and running with less time commitment, I now have enough time and mental energy to restart my blog.

Here, my goal is to focus on observations, (as I did before) as well as current events and running a small business in Shenzhen.