Monthly Archives: March 2007

Avian Flu Update

Health
Scientists Hope Vigilance Stymies Avian Flu Mutations
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Published: March 27, 2007
Scientists around the world are racing to study the ways in which H5N1 might mutate to spread easily among humans.
 
 
 
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American Moments

In my rambling entry on Primate Morality a few days ago, I talked about an "American Moment" when I got frustrated with Chinese drivers driving recklessly in an area close to my children’s school.  And, in this little rant on morality, I discussed the manufacture by Chinese counterfeiters of counterfeit antimalarial drugs.  For some, ethics seems as an obscure, intellectual pursuit unrelated to real life.  Not me.  I see morality echoed in almost every aspect of daily life, because every decision reflects values.  Such as the value one culture does or does not place on human life, or on individuality versus collectivism, or even fatalism versus self determination. 
 
Well, I have been witness this week to still more clashes in the culture department, and I found myself having another "American Moment" on the way to my children’s school again.  Once again, crossing the small residential street between my house and the school was too dangerous.  When we were 3/4 of the way across the street, a car sped around the curve and appeared to be heading exactly to the lane we were occupying, since the car was going so fast it couldn’t possibly have stayed in its own lane on the right side of the street.  Munchkin’s immediate impulse was to run, so I was glad I was holding her hand. 
 
In China, it is "normal" for pedestrians to walk through traffic like this.  The cars expect it and drive on either side of the pedestrian.  In fact, some pedestrians are so unconcerned about traffic that they don’t even look before stepping into the street.  Because of this unspoken expectation, in China, as in probably most of southeastern Asia, the most important thing is for a pedestrian to walk slowly and deliberately, so the car drivers can anticpate exactly where you will be.  My closest analogy traffic in China, for someone who hasn’t experienced it, might be a crowded roller or ice rink on a Saturday afternoon.  Everyone pretty much goes in the same direction, but there are no clear lanes and people mostly just flow around each other.  Here, it is expected that the traffic will flow, and the car of course would alter its course to avoid hitting us and think nothing of it.  The worst thing Munchkin could have done was to run, because by doing so she might have run into a path of a car that was altering its course to flow around her. 
 
On the other hand, the pedestrian is relying heavily on the driver not to make a mistake.  In China, approximately 100,000 people are killed on the roadways each year, with another 400,000 reported injuries.  Living here, in this culture, we are subject to the cultural norms that result in such carnage on the highways.  Which brings me round to my first paragraph:  what is the value of an individual, human life?  At risk of making sweeping, sophmoric proclomations, it seems to me that in China the collective need always trumps the individual, no matter what the human cost to the individual. 
 
I remember when my high school history class studied the Korean Conflict, we watched a film which showed scantily clad Chinese prisoners of war, freezing and suffering from frostbite in the fierce Korean winter.  The American commanders were shocked and appalled that the Chinese government would send soldiers out so poorly equipped, but they were also astounded that the waves of new soldiers were never-ending.  The thought expressed in the film was a hypothesis that there were so many people in China, they could afford such staggering losses.  I think McCarthy, McArthur, and Eisenhower got it all wrong and made huge mistakes as a result (just as George Bush gets it wrong today).  Nevertheless, there may be one grain of truth in what they were sensing:  the collective need trumped any individual interest and the Chinese generals would do whatever it took to meet the collective need.  Just as knowing and foolhardy as the scenes of Poles using horse drawn chariots to defend Poland against Hitler’s Panzer tanks.  The Poles weren’t stupid.  They knew they would be slaughtered.  But what else were they to do.  Similarly, the Chinese were clearly acting in accord with their values in sending hundreds of thousands of men to their certain death in the freezing blizzards of the Korean winter.  (That war reputedly resulted in the loss of about 600,000 Chinese lives.) 
 
In the USA, we place great emphasis on the individual and the value of each individual.  I have "my rights" and "my freedoms."  Not so, here.  And as for fatalism versus self determination?  Again, it’s very different.  We Americans are raised to think, however mistakenly, that each of us has an opportunity to "make a difference."  We think we have some say in our destiny.  Here, on the other hand, destiny is seen as largely written in the stars and unmoveable by individual action.  People are conditioned from birth not to question the "system."  Schools teach children to memorize facts and procedures, not how to question and challenge and be inquisitive. 
 
There’s a scene in the book The Monkey King, by Timothy Mo (see book list, this blog, for link), in which the uncle mentors his young nephew to think for himself and to ask challenging, probing questions.  He enourages the nephew to engage his teacher in discussion, and he thinks the teacher will be impressed with the knowledge and interest shown by the young pupil.  Instead of receiving applause from the teacher, the youngster returns home with his hands in bandages.  The teacher had been so upset with the youngster’s impertinence in asking questions that he had whacked his knuckles with a ruler.  Such is the fate of those who challenge the status quo in China.  Lawyers who dare to defend litigants in civil rights cases are jailed, beaten up by thugs, and their cars overturned.  Most people never rise to this level of "insubordination."  They just don’t realize things could be different.  In fact, most people never challenge the system far enough to rub up against the bars on the cage. 
 
Pedestrians crossing the street don’t question whether things could be different, they just accept it that they will have to deal with cars and trust the drivers to part and make a path for them.  The very fact that I would get upset about this just goes to show how very "American" I am in my embedded ways of thinking. 

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Movie Recommendation: Painted Veil

The other night we turned on our television to our one English language channel.  Yep, you heard that right.  There is exactly one channel on television where we can hear English spoken — Channel six from Hong Kong.  Generally speaking, there’s not too much that interests us on this channel.  We sometimes catch the Hong Kong News or yesterday’s David Letterman.  So, expecting nothing, we were delighted and surprised to be captivated by an actual, English language movie that was obviously shot on location in China.  With authentic scenery, period costumes, authentic dialogue in both English and Chinese (with English subtitles), we saw the clear marks of a joint American-Chinese production. 
 
Filmed on site, we immediately recognized the breathtaking topography as the magnificently beautiful area around the Li River in Guangxi Province.  The film is worth watching if for no other reason than the eye candy of this beautiful area of the world shot with loving cinemetography.   
 
The character development was also superb, with the film maker taking his time in an unhurried yet never tedious way to show the experience and development of each character.  The excellent pace of the movie lies in sharp contrast to the Chinese tendency to take things a bit too slow and to be a bit shallow in developing a caricature, or the American tendency to speed through time in a shallow and superficial way and to use casual sex as a symbol for "having a relationship." 
 
Moreover, to my surprise, the film actually seemed authentic to the experience of what it is like to find one’s self living in China.  A young couple already stressed in their own relationship, and isolated from each other, find themselves surrounded by an alien culture, with only one or two English speakers within easy travel distance, only the most rudimentary of support systems, and then challenged almost beyond measure by a cholera epidemic and the anti-British sentiment that eventually led to the end of Colonialism. 
 
Needless to say, the experience of moving to a remote area of rural China during the 1920’s was significantly more challenging than the experience of moving today to a modern Chinese city.   I don’t claim to compare the two experiences in any more than a superficial sense of "wow, I can relate."  Nevertheless, I could particularly relate to the bewilderment, the overwhelming nature of the experience, the challenges of overcoming cultural and communication barriers.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that the spouses eventually do rise above themselves, are successful, and do overcome these challenges.  But their experience in China results in overwhelming personal cost.  In a sense then, the film is both tragic and uplifting at the same time.  It is not a story for a person who seeks a one-dimensional view, and I definitely would not recommend it for children. 
 
The film is titled "The Painted Veil" and to my surprise, based on reviews I looked up on the internet, it appears to be a relatively new release.  The only explanation for its appearance on television must be that it was a joint Chinese – American production.  I suspect there would be no real market for it in China.  In the USA, it probably will only appear in art houses, and so it may only be available in your area on DVD.  Though screen would be better, I highly recommend it even if you can only find it on DVD. 
 

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Entries too Long

That entry on Primate Morality was a bit long!  It’s categorized under the topic of ethics, which is where I put my more academic musings for my own reference, really.  To skip only to blog topics you’re interested in (travel, daily life, etc) click on the topic index above. 

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Primate Morality

I’m attaching a link to an interesting NY Times article about primate morality.  Unfortunately, the author, in my estimation, displays a striking lack of education in the basics of evolutionary biology and primatology.  His choice of emotive language to compare primate displays of morality with human morality reveals his mindset that evolutionary biology is like a pyramid, with humans at the top of the "evolutionary scale" and other primates somewhere lower.  (E.g. "Biologists argue that . . .  [primate social] behaviors are the precursors of human morality.")  This type of thinking, popular in the early 20th Century, views evolution like a ladder with humans at the top.  This mistaken view is reflected in words like "missing link" and "evolutionary tree" and "precursors"  This is a gross and mistaken oversimplification of the science of evolutionary biology.  The paradigm of a "progression" leading to ever more sophisticated levels, with humans as the culmination of all creation, has long been debunked, abandoned by evolutionary biologists themselves.  
 
Nevertheless, the article does have merit, and I applaud its appearance.  It points to the fact that academia, within schools of ethics in the USA, is beginning to recognize the value of cross disciplinary studies.  According to this article, academia is beginning to glean some insight into the social origins and basis of ethics and morality from disciplines not traditionally taken into account by moral philosophers.  Namely, from the field of primatology.  (E.g. "These four kinds of behavior [observed in primates] — empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking — are the basis of sociality.") 
 
In an earlier Blog entry, I alluded to the potential fertility in the field of ethical theory of cross disciplinary input from sociology and primatology.  I mentioned that if I were ever to complete my philosophy degree, this is the area in which I would write my thesis or dissertation.  This article reveals a glimpse of what I was talking about.  Maybe I need to put the books cited in this article on my reading list for the coming year.  Hmm.  If I do that, will I have time to study Chinese? 
 
Chinese moral theory is very Confucian.  Soon after I arrived in China, a person told me I might be able to find work teaching law or English at a local university.  I replied that I would be more interested in teaching ethics.  Her response was, "Oh, we wouldn’t have any interest at all in that."  Such is the status of ethical study here.  I looked, and indeed though the local university did appear to have a department of philosophy, there didn’t appear to be any professors or students in it.  At first, I attributed that to a particular bias toward Greek philosophy on the part of Western schools of philosophy, which tend to ignore Asian philosophy.  (Since philosophy itself, after all, is modeled on a Greek method of rational discourse.)  My first opinion was that perhaps western schools of philosophy were to be blamed for ignoring Asian philosophy.  Yet, after two and a half years of living here, I have to say that my opinion has changed.  While it’s true that western schools of philosophy could surely benefit from exposure to non-Greek, non-rational based systems of thought and paradigms of viewing the world, I’m less impressed than ever with the general status of ethics or the state of morality here based on my "on the ground" experience. 
 
Just yesterday, in a very "on the ground" experience, I found myself having a very judgmental, very "American moment."  I was trying to cross the street with my seven year old child to walk her to school.  There wasn’t so much traffic.  But we couldn’t cross the road, because the cars were going so fast.  Let me explain, though.  The road we couldn’t cross was not a major highway.  It was a small side street which is less than two blocks long.  It only leads to two places: to one of two schools, or to the waterfront drive along the river.  Cars turning right onto the "scenic way" from the main road were taking the corner so fast that we couldn’t see them coming.  As they flew around the corner, they wouldn’t have been able to stop had we been crossing the street, even though we were nearly a full block down from the corner.  It would be an exaggeration to say that they were going 50 mph on a small, residential street, but it was still far too fast for conditions. 
 
I found myself very angry that they were driving so fast on a tiny street in a zone where there are two schools with young children walking to school.  I even flailed my arms and yelled at one of them, causing Munchkin some degree of embarassment.  Such an American thing to do.  She said something like, "Mom, don’t be so upset; you’re acting like an American."  To which I replied, loudly and in English (knowing that several Chinese bystanders would understand every word), "I’m upset because I’m American, and in America we drive more carefully where there are children around.  In America, we take care of each other.  There’s a reason people like to live in America." 
 
And then, after we crossed that road, we turned and walked one block down an even smaller road, just barely wide enough for two cars to pass, to get to the school.  When we got to the school, I saw that the Chinese security guards had allowed the Chinese drivers to park so close to the side of the road (where there is a fence) that the school children were forced to walk out in the middle of the street to walk the last 50 feet of the way to the school house. 
 
So I did another, very American thing.  I went up to the security guard who was enforcing the traffic "rules," and confronted him.  Chinese do this to each other, but only when it involves them personally and directly, not a mere happen stance where there is a possiblity of avoiding confrontation. I pointed to the three cars parked next to the fence, and said (in very terrible and broken Chinese), "This is very bad.  Not safe!  Cars here are parked too close! Children have no place to walk!"  This morning, whether by coincidence or not, I noticed that there was two good feet of space between the parallel parked cars and the fence, so we had no problem walking along the side of the road.  And, purely by coincidence, there wasn’t a single flying vehicle when we were trying to cross the street. 
 
I do understand that so much was lost during the Cultural Revolution.  Anything viewed as "old," "superstitious," "religious," or "bourgeoise" was eliminated.  The current generation of elders did not impart any underlying, rational basis for their moral or ethical systems to their children.  As a result, young people feel morally and culturally rootless.  It’s more than a symbolic loss.  During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard tore down the original temple in Ku Fu, the town where Confucious was born.  Experts have been unable to determine how to piece the interlocking wooden pieces back together; they are unable to replicate the ancient construction techniques using any modern technology. 
 
People here are looking for meaning, but the cultural heritage of where to find meaning in life has been torn down.  Parents never talked with their children about their values or why they hold the values that they do.  And because their parents generation was so deprived and lived so close to the line, the present generation of children were primed to focus on food and survival.  As they’ve become more wealthy, money has been pursued as an end in itself.  This is why, here, some people are searching so hard for meaning.  Because once they get money, they find it doesn’t satisfy their soul.  Their present life feels like a desert to them:  bereft of moral underpinnings, their lives feel as if they have no meaning and so they search. 
 
This discussion has led far from primatology.  Obviously, human morality is far removed from Chimpanzee morality.  My only point is that there is insight to be gained from biology.  As I’ve said before, the issue of "cultural relativity" is a major impediment to moral epistimology based only on rationalism.  My goal is to find a way around that barrier.  I think the foundation of biology that we all share as humans is the simplest, most obvious, straight line to irrefutable answers to the most basic of moral challenges. 
 
I once read that when Jimmy Carter was negotiating the Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel, as a mediator he struggled and struggled to bring them to agreement about even one single thing.  Finally, he had some inspiration.  They could agree that they both loved their mothers.  From there, they could agree that they desired to have safety for their mothers, and then for their children.  From that starting point, they could agree that things they could do to ensure safety would be a good thing.  For some reason, Carter’s description of this mediation process left a profound impression on me.  One thing that every human has in common is that we each have a mother.  Some mothers are better than others, but it’s a fact that there is, indeed, a biological basis and fundamental foundation for altruism.  And, as Chimpanzees and Macaques illustrate, there is utility in functioning as social groups.  From there, the rest is not only logic, but common sense. 
 
And now, a link to the article: 
___________________ 
 
Science
Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior
By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: March 20, 2007
Dr. Frans de Waal argues that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.
 

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Expat Friendships

The other day, Munchkin’s friend Laure knocked on our door.  I told her that Munchkin wasn’t home.   Laure replied that she wasn’t here to see Munchkin.  Rather, she wanted to see Munchkin’s daddy.  He wasn’t here either, but I asked Laure if I could help her. 
 
"No," she replied.  "I just wanted to know if he has built the machine yet?"   
 
"What machine?" I asked. 
 
"The machine to make us fly." 
 
"A machine to make you FLY?" I ask.   
 
"Yes.  We want to be able to fly.  Munchkin said her daddy is an engineer and that he can build any kind of machine we want.  We want him to build us a machine that will make us fly.  Munchkin said she would get him to build one.  I came to see if it was ready yet." 
 
"So, you want a machine that will make you go up in the air?"
 
"Yes, we really want one.  All the children want one — Michael and Tommy too."
 
"Well, he’s been very busy.  When he gets home from work, I’ll ask him if he’s had time to work on it yet." 
 
Laure and Munchkin were born on exactly the same day, and they played together all the time.  Communication was sometimes a challenge, since English was the third language Laure learned (after French and Chinese), but they somehow always worked through it.  It was a sad day when this delightful little girl moved on to her family’s next expat assignment in another country.  Bon Voyage, Laure! 
 
A couple of things I find unique about the expat community are (1) some particular personality characteristics that enable one to cope in an alien culture (mental flexibility, curiosity and extroversion, self confidence) are prevalent in expat communities, (2) friendships with people from many different languages, cultures, and points of view really do alter one’s way of thinking, (3) the fluidity of the community, which results in continual reshuffling of relationships, is sometimes painful, and (4) expat kids do not always share their parents’ enthusiasm for their parents’ lifestyle.  Most parents work hard to try and smooth things over for their children, to provide as much semblance of stability and normality as they can in an unsettled and sometimes bewildering world.  A world that, nevertheless, can be very enriching for the child in terms of life experience. 
 
On the other hand, as this story illustrates, some things remain the same no matter where we are.  I certainly didn’t want to dispel that wonderful notion that Munchkin’s dad was a superhero who could do anything!  And, after all, how many times in Laure’s life in the future, will she actually meet someone is truly capable of making any type of machine, even one that can make her fly?!!  Perhaps when she’s a grandmother, she’ll be remembering Munchkin’s promise and saying to herself, "if only my family had lived in China one more week. . . . "

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USA Geography

OK Class, It’s time for your U.S. Geography Test!

You must drag and drop all 48 states in the time
allotted to be promoted to the 4th grade.

Click the webpage below.. Ready.. Begin right away . .
.times a wastin’

Can you pass Third Grade? 

http://www.pibmug.com/files/map_test.swf

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The Price of Eggs In China

Yep, can you believe it, I’m gonna’ write about the price of eggs in China!  🙂 
 
I was shopping at the local market the other day, and I needed to buy eggs.  First of all, when you buy eggs here, you purchase from the egg seller.  Yes, there are eggs in supermarkets, and there are supermarkets.  In fact, Wal Mart recently purchased the chain store here "Trust Mart," where a lot of Chinese people shop not just for groceries but for cooking pots and cameras.  I could shop at Trust Mart, but I usually don’t.  One thing I enjoy about China is that I can catch a glimpse of life that’s not controlled by huge conglomerates that own everything.  I prefer to shop down in the local market, which most westerners call the "wet market."  Each neighborhood area of town has a wet market within walking distance.  I’ve read that these free markets were the first enterpreneurial ventures to emerge after the strict regulation of communism gave way to a more free market economy. 
 
In the wet market, you can buy any kind of meat or produce.  There are fruit stalls and vegetable stalls.  There’s a lady who sells all kinds of tofu products, another lady who sells all kinds of pickled vegetables, there’s the mushroom lady, the fishmonger, there’s the woman who specializes only in frozen fish, the pork seller, the beef seller, the place to purchase various kinds of cooked chicken, another booth that has a different kind of roasted meat (sometimes included roasted dog carcases).  You go to the various booths to purchase what is needed for that day’s consumption.  Each market usually also has booths where individual shopkeepers each specialize in other types of items:  one shop will sells various kinds of nuts, another booth will have sauces, another will sell grains both whole and milled, another will sell various kinds of dried peppers, another will have various kinds of dried fish, another will have dried herbs and "Chinese medicine." 
 
There are a couple of egg ladies.  They have many types of eggs and all for different prices.  Some eggs are small and black with white speckles, some are duck eggs, some are bigger than chicken eggs but I can’t tell what they are, some are obviously pigeon or quail size eggs, some are pickled.  I don’t have language skill to ask what they all are; I’ve only ever purchased chicken eggs.  Chicken eggs are layed out in different trays with different prices.  They are sold by weight. 
 
The seller hands you a bowl to put your eggs in.  You go through the big stack of eggs and pick out exactly which ones you want.  To do this, you examine each one for cracks and candle it.  Do you know what "candling" is?  Having been raised around an egg farm, of course I know what it is.  Here’s how it’s done at the egg seller:  Around the perimeter of the egg counter, about waist high, there’s a plywood platform with egg-sized holes cut out every foot or so, with a light and a light switch at each hole.  You place each egg over the small hole and then turn on the bright light underneath it, so that you can see through the egg.  By examining the egg this way, you can tell whether there’s a chick inside or whether the egg appears to be discolored which would indicate that it is rotten.  After you have examined each of the eggs and decided which ones to purchase, you hand the basket to the egg lady.  She weighs it and tells you the price. 
 
Unless you know and trust a seller, it’s a wise thing to examine the scales to make sure the price quoted is based on actual weight and not inflated, especially if you are a stranger and there’s a chance they’ll think you’re a gullible foreigner!  In terms of being a gullible foreigner, just the other night I was at a market near the Garden Hotel where a lot of tourists gather.  I need to purchase half a loaf of bread, the going price for which is 3 RMB.  I pick up a loaf, ask the girl the price (speaking Mandarin).  She mumbles something that sounds like the English word "Ten."  It seemed to me, she was testing the waters to see if I would pay her 10 RMB for the half loaf of bread.  I hold up three fingers and ask her "Sam?" Which in Cantonese is "three."  By speaking Cantonese, I was deliberately letting her know that I’ve been in Canton for awhile and she can’t get by with that.  She nods okay, and I give her 3 RMB.  
 
Well, back to eggs. 
 
While I was shopping the other day, I noticed that large, brown eggs were the cheapest among the choices of the various kinds of eggs.  The most expensive eggs were the very small, white chicken eggs.  When I got home, I told this to Song Ying.  I told her that in the USA the large brown eggs are the most expensive, while the small white ones are the cheapest.  Song Ying thinks this is stupid.  She says that smaller eggs have the best flavor.  But also, she explained to me, the brown eggs come from the countryside.  She says that Guangzhou chickens lay white eggs.  People don’t know the quality or level of chemical contamination of what might come from the countryside, so they pay more for the assurance of getting eggs from what they assume is a local, reliable source. 
 
I don’t know the factual accuracy of whether local Guangzhou chickens really lay white eggs.  I don’t know if brown eggs might really be less reliable in terms of quality.  Because, in fact, the color of the eggs depends on the breed of the chicken rather than where its laid.  Moreover, it’s almost guaranteed that every large farm selling chicken eggs uses large amounts of hormones and antibiotics, no matter what breed of chicken is laying the eggs.  The eggs most likely to have least contamination, in fact, are those that come from small households where the chickens are fed some grain and yard scraps.  So, I do question the factual accuracy of Song Ying’s belief. 
 
But leave it to me to find even more of a philosophical slant my commentary on the price of eggs in China!  I’m talking about the greater causes and ramifications of Song Ying’s assumptions.  Why does she think that local eggs are the best eggs?  It’s because she knows more about local conditions.  Here, you can’t count on honesty or fair dealing in business relationships.  You can’t count on the eggs being clean and uncontaminated.  You can’t count on anything you can’t see, you can’t trust anyone who hasn’t proven themselves personally reliable to you. 
 
I’ll give some other examples that go beyond eggs.  There have been widely publicised examples of plagiarism and cheating in universities recently.  Some individuals were dealt with harshly, but a university professor recently told me that this attitude seems to be embedded into the whole system.  Students only want a diploma, and they think nothing of cheating to obtain it.  Professors routinely tolerate cheating by students.  Even a university seeking to raise its status will do the things it takes to look good on paper, but it’s all only on paper.  As a result, university diplomas don’t mean a whole lot.  We came to this discusson because we were talking about the juxtaposition of our western values as against the value system that we find ourselves functioning in.  One always faces the question, "Do I adhere to my cultural standards, or do I adhere to the standards of my host culture?"  In this case, the professor had surprised some students by refusing to tolerate the cheating and actually failing some of them. 
 
But, here’s an even worse example than eggs or university diplomas:  The N.Y. Times recently ran an article about counterfeit antimalarial drugs that are being marketed in third world countries.  (See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/20/science/20coun.html?ex=1330146000&en=55b6cac22aeb1bff&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink .)  The counterfeit drugs are manufactured in China.  Some of the counterfeits are so well copied as to even have hand-painted logos and difficult-to-reproduce insignias that were originally designed to prevent copying.  But here’s the most shocking thing from this news story:  some of the fake pills not only are ineffective against malaria, but they contain tylenol which suppresses some of the malaria fever symptoms, thus lulling the victim into a false sense that the malaria is getting better.  Because he thinks he’s getting better, the victim doesn’t catch on that the pill is fake, losing valuable time in treating a life threatening disease.  
 
A USA scientist was quoted as saying he would go so far as to call it manslaughter.  Actually, with my background in criminal law, I have no problem calling a spade a spade.  Murder is defined, in western law, as the unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought.  Okay, the unlawful is the counterfeit, the killing is the death, and then, there’s the component of "malice aforethought."  People don’t really understand this quite as well, but it’s a question of degree of forseeability.  If you do something that would forseeably result in the death of a person, then that is malice.  When these Chinese companies knowingly and purposely supply victims of a deadly illness with a fake drug, including ingredients to reduce symptoms for the express purpose of forstalling the victim from seeking life saving treatment.   It’s a clear cut case of murder. 
 
I’ve pointed before in some of my Blog entries to differences in cultural standards, attitudes, and values.  Westerners tend to take certain things for granted.  We take for granted that someone selling us a life saving drug won’t deliberately be pursuing a course of action that will, instead, forseeably lead to our death.  To make those Western type cultural assumptions in China is stupid.  There’s no particular concept of "win-win" solutions.  The goal is:  "what can I get."   
 
So, what’s the price of eggs in China?  Between 1 – 5 RMB per half kilo, depending on what kind of egg you buy.  Or, maybe the price could be cancer at a later date.  Some people don’t buy hardly any local food.  I’m not in that category.  I figure, if it were that bad, it would have killed the chicken.  But, when there isn’t any effective regulation, no clear communication, no commitment to public disclosure of health hazards, there’s no way to know exactly what the risks are, plus I don’t even know what’s being reported in the newspapers!  Just remember:  Don’t make any value-based assumptions in cross cultural situations, because what you don’t know CAN hurt you.  In this case, I just hope it’s safe enough.  

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We’re the Fat People

Today, I’m writing about a taboo subject in the USA.  It’s a "three letter word" that no one says in polite company:  F-A-T   
 
Fatness in China doesn’t have all the emotional undertones that it takes on the USA.  In the USA, it is an insult to call someone fat.  It’s possible for that to be an insult in China, but more often it’s purely a statement of fact.  If someone says "Wow, you are so fat!"  It is more likely simply a statement of fact, as if they had said, "Wow, you have such brown eyes!"  Yes, there is certain vocabulary which can be used in a more insulting way.  But generally speaking, it’s a statement of fact.  And sometimes an expression of amazement to stare at something so unusual.  Here in China, especially in areas where there aren’t so many foreigners, we are regularly the object of stares, not only because of our light hair and eyes, our strange clothing, our tall height, but also because we are big and fat.
 
Here in China, I can spot an American in a crowd anywhere, because the Americans are almost all huge in comparison with average Chinese.  Europeans are tall, but they’re not fat like Americans.  Unfortunately, that most Americans seem fat is also one of the major impressions one upon stepping off the plane in the USA after having been gone for a year!  After being gone for a year, almost everyone in the USA looks fat!  One of our European friends who visited us in the USA was really impressed by the number of handicap parking spaces in the USA, but then he added, "And no wonder you need so many handicap spaces, because so many people are so fat that they can’t walk!"  Which is a true point.  Being fat has serious health consequences, no the least of which are those which result in joint ailments and disability.  One of the first things Dr. Kate Bruck, from Australia, told us in Guangzhou during a general health discussion was to beware of becoming too fat.  She then she rattled off a list of ailments directly linked to being too fat, such as diabetes, debilitating muskuloskeletal disorders, heart disease, and then a much longer additional litany of things than I’ve heard any American doctor mention.  Perhaps the American doctors don’t mention it as much because they can only step on so many toes.  I’m sure most of the advice falls on deaf ears, as it does mine. 
 
And believe me, I’m not saying anything to my American friends that shouldn’t be said to myself, as well!  I’m just as fat as every other American, more so than most.  But the difference is that here in China, my fatness sticks out like a sore thumb.  Another one of those things that being in a different culture, a different environment, will highlight because of the contrast.  My size is not normal, not ordinary, in Guangzhou.  No ordinary shops in Guangzhou carry my size clothing.  This has even led to what I think is one of my funny "China" stories. 
 
On the night before the airplane ride that brought us to live here, I stayed up all night packing.  We had pre-shipped about six boxes consisting of Christmas decorations, Christmas candy and stocking stuffers, some books, a few personal articles like pictures and lamps to make our house feel like home, and some toys for baby J.  Other than that, we were each taking just two suitcases.  But our house was a wreck, and my home "office" was the worst of it.  I stayed up all night throwing things in boxes that were labeled, "ship," "trash," "store," and "give away."  It was a nightmare!  Some kind friends were going to bail me out of my crisis by coming in after we were gone to put the boxes where they were supposed to go.  At about 5 AM, running completely out of time, I ran upstairs to my bedroom where I had laid out all my clothes to go in my suitcase, stuffed them in it, and ran out the door to go to the airport. 
 
I was relieved to find that we arrived in China with all our luggage intact.  I opened my suitcase to unpack into the hotel we plan to stay in for about two weeks.  No underwear.  Check the other suitcase.  None there.  Check everyone else’s suitcase.  Sure enough, I have left all my underwear laying on my bed at home in the USA.  The only underwear I have in China are the two pair that were packed in my carry-on bag.  So, I go to the Chinese store to buy some.  Even though in the USA I "only" wear Large, here in China I’m pretty sure the sizes run small, so I purchase XL.  I get home, open the package, and find something that’s the equivalent of about a USA size 6.  Hmm.  Holding them up, I announce, "Which one of my teenage daughters will this fit?!!"   I decide it would fit the smaller of the two.  I finally did manage to get some underwear in China.  Something like XXXXL size in a special shop.  Never mind the difficulty in getting there or having to have the translator explain to our driver what I needed and why.  Fortunately, it’s something we can laugh about in hindsight. 
 
But there’s another side to fat.  It means we’re rich.  Rich almost beyond measure, by some standards.  I remember one day a sermon "my own" Eric Skidmore delivered, and he recited a memorable quote.  He was talking of an exchange in Haiti between an American and a Hatian, in which the Hatian had mentioned how rich the American was.  The American replied that he had never felt particularly rich.  The Hatian then asked him, "Do you eat every day?"  The American replied, "Yes."  And the Hatian then responded, "Well, then, you are rich." 
 
One of my daughters has an Indian friend (I mean by that, a friend who is from India) who wears her chubbiness as a badge of honor.  It signals that she is not lacking for food; it means she is wealthy.  Chubbiness, in some parts of the world, is a sign of status and wealth.  As it is, too, in China.  For instance, one day a long time ago I mentioned to a Chinese person that I was overweight, and she replied, "No, you are STRONG."  Stoutness implies strength and an ability to weather adversity.  If I had to go without eating for a week, it might not be fun but I probably wouldn’t die from it.  Interesting that in the USA, rich people actually tend to be thinner, demographically.  I’ve read some hypothesis that this is because wealthy people aren’t raised to be so concerned about stuffing every available calorie into their mouths, as poor people are conditioned to do. 
 
One reason I decided to write about this, is that it it really is, indeed, a subject of every day conversation in my life in China.  My fatness highlights that I’m one of the rich people, one of the lucky people who can eat as much as I want.  One day, Song Ying and I were having a conversation about what clothing it was impossible for me to purchase in Guangzhou.  I said that, though she could purchase a particular item of clothing here, I could not because I was too fat.  Then I said in my limited Chinese vocabulary, "Americans are fat; Chinese aren’t so fat."  She agreed.  Then she said, "Americans are fat because they have money.  They can buy as much food as they want.  Chinese don’t have money, so they can’t buy so much food."  She expressly implied that if Chinese had ability to eat as much as they wanted, they would be fat, too.  See, many people want to be like Americans:  Fat, guzzling gas, using air conditioners.  Something to think about. 
 
In the Catholic religion, gluttony is one of the "seven deadly sins."  In a spiritual and aesthetic sense, in addition to the a physical one, what does this mean?  Gluttony is about discipline, and it carries over into all aspects of life.  As I write this, I can also count three electric lights on in the room I’m in, in addition to my computer sapping power from a coal-fired power plant.  In the USA, where almost everyone is rich, the contrast is not so strong.  But in the world, there is an extreme contrast between the rich and the poor.  They say that 5% of the world’s population uses up 95% of the world’s resources.  I suspect that balance is shifting a bit, as more countries develop and begin using a larger portion of the available resources.  This is already reflected in the worldwide distribution of steel and oil, among other things.  I feel so lucky to have been born rich, and I still do use my air conditioner.  Yet, I have increasing awareness of the need to conserve resources, to be mindful of sharing, and not to rely on any sense of entitlement for my good luck.  The contrast between my lifestyle, which I am loathe to give up, and the lifes of so many others highlights the truth of what Jesus said, that "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  How much would I be willing to give up, materially, to enter the Kingdom of God?  And I once participated in a Bible study, thanks to Randy McSpadden, asking the question, what exactly is meant by the term, "Kingdom of God"?  There seems to be some fairly strong indication that it’s a reference to justice in the here and now, not simply some pie in the sky after we die.   
 
And one thing that strikes me as distinguishing Christianity from other religions is that in every human — in every face on earth — we see the face of someone who is loved by God and valued simply for that reason.  We do have the parable of the Good Samaritan to guide our behavior, and we do have the exhortation to give our cloak to a person in need.  I read Bill Gates quoted in a fairly recent speech, concerning the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, in which he said that the death of each child is a tragedy.  Every child who dies, has a mother, father, brothers and sisters, a family who mourns that loss just as keenly as any child in the western world would be mourned.  In my value system, this is true.  I agree with Mr. Gates.  Unfortunately, I disagree with him that all lives are viewed the same, though I wish they were.  I think this value assessment stems directly from our common background as Christians.  The contrast becomes clear when one does, in fact, live in a culture where there is no cultural absorption of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Here in China, an unconscious victim of a massive stroke will not be treated at a hospital until the deposit has been paid, often in cash.  A friend of mine witnessed a child bleeding to death after being run over by a bus, because no bystanders were willing to intervene.  I am grateful that this mentality is alien to my culture and my religion.  When we Christians are challenged to defend the value of our religion, our concern for life — even the life of a stranger — is one thing we can point to as a valuable and distinguishing characteristic of our faith. 
 
I once read about a group from my church denomination who went to the Sudan.  They were provisioned with food and water, but one member of the group simply couldn’t eat his portion, confronted with the dire need of children who were truly starving there.  For the four days he was there, he gave away almost every bit of his food allotment.  I can understand this impulse.  So far, the greatest contrast for me, in terms of poverty, has been my visit to Cambodia, where tiny little children with legs like toothpicks and big tummies were smaller than J and then turned out to be several years older than her.  (And I shuddered to think that if I saw this kind of poverty in the relatively rich, touristy area of Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), what worse hunger there must be away from the tourist crowds.)  We don’t give money to beggars as a rule, for many reasons, but Cambodia was one of those places where it’s nice to have food in one’s knapsack for sharing.  When we first began traveling, I always carried some breakfast bars in my knapsack "just in case" I couldn’t find any suitable local food.  I have since abandoned the practice, because I’ve found that there is almost always suitable local food, but I’m not going to starve either, even if I miss a meal.  Our visit to Cambodia made me rethink that:  I wished I had breakfast bars in my knapsack so that I could give them to the little children begging for food from us.  That need is probably why our doctor from Guangzhou (who by the way is Jewish), left China and now practices in Phnom Phen.  (I don’t claim that charity is limited to Christianity, only that it is a key and distinguishing feature of our religion and which  stems from the value we place on each individual life.) 
 
I’m grateful that my life in Asia has exposed me to the true degree of contrast between the lives of rich Americans and the lives of others, who live lives much closer to the edge.  And also, it is actually wrong of me to use the term "rich" in anything other than a materialistic sense.  It is possible to have a very "rich" life, a richly woven tapestry of love and relationships and life experience, without being rich in a material sense.  (The overtly materialstic aspects of American culture are repulsive to many in the world, and for good reason.)  I’m still quite attached to my luxuries; but, as a result of having lived in Asia, I will never consider my air conditioning, my car, my food, my clothing, quite so casually.  I will always be a more frugal person.  For the sake of conservation itself I’ll walk more, take the bus, and turn my AC a few notches warmer.  Yes, I may still be fat.  I still get hungry, I love to eat, and I still love cheesecake.  But I do have a goal of being less fat.  One goal, in every aspect of my life, is to reduce the gluttony that an honest assessment of my own lifestyle implies.  
 ________________________
P.S.:  Interesting that this appeared in NY Times a few days after I wrote this Blog entry: 
 
Home & Garden
The Year Without Toilet Paper
By PENELOPE GREEN
Published: March 22, 2007
To reduce their impact on the environment, two New Yorkers give up what most take for granted. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/22/garden/22impact.html?ex=1332388800&en=a9d75e801a9e674d&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

 

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Hua Shan (Flower Mountain)

This blog entry is an explanation of the photo album by this name, on another page in my blog. 
 
The Mountain Hua Shan —  Flower Mountain — is one of the seven sacred mountains of China.  It is about a 120 kilometer (60 mile) drive (guesstimating) east of the ancient capital city of Xi’An.  The word Xi’An means "Western Peace."  I won’t pretend to be an expert on Chinese history.  Suffice it to say that Xi’an was the capital for many hundreds of years.  (This is the reason the Terra Cotta Warrior army is located at Xi’an:  it was the capital city and then burial ground for the emperor who united China into one kingdom, let’s just say roughly a couple of thousand years ago.)  We went to Hua Shan on the day after our visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors. 
 
As the diorama in the photo album illustrates, Hua Shan rises to somewhere about 6,400 feet above sea level (the diorama expresses this in meters).  Like so many mountains in China, it seems almost to rise up all by itself straight up out of a dry plateau, thrusting towering walls of white granite out of the dry earth.  The summit is one long ridge, a couple of miles long, with small peaks at either end of this summit.  Each peak has a small monastery.  Literally, as one walks along the top of Hua Shan, one travels about half a mile with a cliff falling down on the right, and a cliff falling down on the left, with a walkway along the center that is about ten feet wide.  There are steps paved into the granite, as well as chain railing to hold onto.  In fact, the mountain has been used for so long, by so many people, that there are steps carved into the side of the mountain almost all the way up, 6,000 feet of them or so, from the bottom to the top.  When you see traditional Chinese paintings of the rugged mountain with the tiny little man, far down on the low side of the mountain, walking along steps carved into the side of an incredibly steep mountain, that is a real depiction of what it really looks like, not some fantasized imagining. 
 
Nowadays, there is a Swiss-made cable car that makes a round trip up the first half or two thirds of the way up the mountain.  The cable car ride costs about 120 RMB and cuts about six hours off the time it would otherwise take to hike up the mountain.  But some people can’t afford the cable car, and some simply prefer to make the trek without benefit of the cable car.  We drove from Xi’an and then took the cable car up most of the way up the mountain.  The cable car drops you off about 400 feet below the lower of the two ridges.  The first monastery is reached fairly quickly, at the first of these two peaks.  I don’t really think it sees much use as a monastery anymore.  A monk still lives there, but the commercial aspect is irresistible and the place is now, in fact, controlled by the government rather than any religious organization.   Once you reach the first summit, it is a relatively moderate hike up to the ridge and then across to the western, and more dramatic, summit. 
 

My imagination soared at Hua Shan, not just because of the beauty of this majestic mountain and the spectacular scenery, but also wondering and imagining about who it was who had carved those steps into the side of the mountain and how long ago it had been done.  Yes, there are steps carved out of the granite, winding all the way up the majestic beauty.  Some of the steps no doubt are recent; but others are ancient.  For how many years has this mountain been the object of pilgrimage?  In ancient times, the Emperor of China used to journey every spring to the top of Flower Mountain.  From there, he would make offerings of grains to the harvest gods.  As I looked from the cable car down to the steps far below, with people walking up them pace by pace, I tried to imagine what it would have looked like as the Emperor and his glorious entourage slowly made their way to the summit.  Were the steps carved to make way for the Emperor?  Did he walk himself, or was he carried by porters and sedan chair?  Or, were the steps carved by monks or religious pilgrims? 

 
There are still religious pilgrims, as well as sightseers.  You can spend the night at the top, in one of the hostel-like accommodations at the monasteries.  But, if quiet and solitude is part of your idea of a monastic religious experience, forget that notion at Hua Shan!  As in most of China, there are a lot of people, most of them talking very loudly and oblivious to the amount of noise they create.  We were there on a weekday during the "off" season, and there were still a lot of people.  Additionally, among the sightseers, I was amazed to see women dressed in heels and skirts hiking their way right up the steps.  (One wonders, what were they thinking?  Would the spike heels even last the day?)  Another striking thing about Hua Shan was the toilet at the first monastery.  Because, it consisted of a hole in the floor, built over a dropoff of a couple thousand feet or so.  Well, that’s a simplification, but let’s say it was definitely the most memorable toilet I’ve visited in China both for filth and for drama.  No, I didn’t take a picture of it, because it was so gross, but in hindsight perhaps I should have, because the sight of that dropoff really does stick in my mind!  I remember wondering what kind of reinforcement the building had, whether it was safe or not, and thinking well everyone else is using it.  (That was before I learned about the guy who got blown off the side of Mt. Everest Base Camp while doing his business one night.) 
 
Well, back to more appetizing subjects.  Once we got just past the first monastery, we stopped for lunch.  We had purchased peanut butter, jelly, and some other things to make lunch with, and drinks.  As we ate, a steady stream of porters passed us, carrying things up the mountain — supplies they were bringing apparently for a hotel that was being constructed at the summit.  We had leftovers, and we shared our surplus with some of these men, who had been curiously eyeing our Western food.  During the ensuing conversation, we learned that the journey took them all day, carrying large packs on their backs.  Once they were at the top, they would re-load with things to carry back down and make the return journey by nightfall.  For their day’s work of lugging stuff up and down the mountain, from the base to the top, they were paid 70 RMB.  About $10 U.S.  Most of them were carrying bundles and baskets that were strapped on their backs.  The man with the most impressive (and memorable for me) load was a man who was carrying what looked like a pack of aluminum strips that were about ten feet long, extending well over his head.  I wasn’t quite sure how he would possibly manage such a load, and indeed he did seem to have a groaningly hard time picking himself up to move along, following his snack of peanut butter and jelly with us. 
 
I mentioned the steep drop off on either side of the path on Hua Shan.  This drop off was, in fact, the reason I did not journey to the top of the mountain.  About an hour after we finished our lunch, we had hiked up a good ways, part of that some stairs that seemed to go straight up the side of the steep mountain face.  Then, we got to a relatively flat walkway traversing the summit of the ridge, with the steep drop off on either side.  About the same time, a hard wind blew in, with some rain.  The wind from this minor, short lived gale was gusty, dramatic, and frightening.  As a bit of rain was falling, the stone path began to feel very slippery.  Though we were holding tight to six year old Munchkin (who was herself being very cautious), and though there were solidly fastened chain guard rails to hold onto, I became worried about slipping, and Munchkin became afraid that she might be blown off the mountain.  The two of us were happy to turn around and wait near the cable car entrance.    Just so that Sarah wouldn’t have to carry it, I took Sarah’s backpack with us to wait.  Jim also felt a bit uncomfortable, so he went back down with Munchkin and me to wait in a sitting area near the first monastary.  After the two of us were alone with Munchkin, we found it a bit amusing that passers-by all assumed Jim was Munchkin’s father, and began asking his permission to take her picture. 
 
We’ve noted before that Munchkin is the object of quite a bit of attention because of her light hair and light eyes.  The word for a child who looks like Munchkin translates as "foreign doll."  Munchkin consented to sit to have her picture made with one, particularly friendly lady from Thailand.  But then, someone else saw it, and the idea spread like wildfire.  We should have charged money, because she would have been rich from the photo shoots.  After about forty people took her picture, it seemed, their tour group from Thailand finally passed and we were relieved to be alone again at our resting spot.  And then, about five minutes later, the next tour group came along, with another request to have a picture made with the cute western child.  To say that Munchkin was ungracious was an understatement.  She was downright rude. 
 
Most of the time, the Chinese are genuinely friendly and warm, and these people were no exception.  Some foreigners get angry and yell when people try to dote on their children, but we can almost always see that the friendliness is genuine and we try to respond kindly, even when we do not consent to the kissing or whatever.  At the time, as Munchkin was being so hostile to such friendly people, I was just a bit sad that I lacked the language skill to explain that she had just sat through having her picture made with about 40 different people to explain her fussiness.  All I could do was say, "Bu keyi," which means "don’t agree."  While continuing to wait, we helped Munchkin escape the advancing crowds by going to the browse the monastery, where we got a small snack and bought some postcards.  They seemed to be doing a big business selling hot food as well, but it looked very unappetizing.  We then killed a bit more time, waiting for our group, by finally consenting to purchase from one of the souvenir hawkers a medal for Munchkin that says in Chinese, "I climbed to the top of Hua Shan" on one side and has her name and the date inscribed on the other side.  It was a good purchase; she loves it and keeps it in her jewelry box. 
 
But after waiting a few hours, about 4 PM the mountain began to feel rather cold and windy, as well as boring.  Jim and I decided to take the cable car back down to the bottom of the mountain, where there was a village full of tourist shops that we could at least meander through to kill our boredom.  There was a brief moment of "too much" excitement in one of the shops when one of the shopkeepers absconded with Munchkin, with mommy and Jim chasing after in protest.  Often a shopkeeper will think Munchkin is so cute that they just want to hold her, dote on her and give her a toy.  It became apparent that this particular shopkeeper had a different motive — she hoped to convince Munchkin that she couldn’t live without a particular a toy and thereby forcing mommy to fork over cash to pay for the toy.  A sternly upset mommy regained possession of her child (or maybe even Jim did it, I can’t remember) and firmly refused to play along with this manipulation, even though Munchkin did, indeed, beg for us to buy the toy the shopkeeper had so "kindly" offered to her as if it were a gift. 
 
About an hour later, still waiting at the base of the mountain, we got a distressed phone call.  I had Sarah’s backpack, and inside her backpack was the ticket to prove she had purchased a cable car ride.  Without that ticket, she wouldn’t be allowed back on the cable car.  We tried to convince the personnel to allow us to show them her lift ticket at the bottom, so they could verify that she had purchased a ticket, so they could let her on the car.  They refused.  We tried to convince them to allow us to put the backpack on another car and carry it to the top, so she could get the ticket out of the backpack herself, produce it for the man at the top to see it with his own eyeballs.  This was also refused.  
 
Now, exactly what do they think?  We have a group of ten people.  Do they think that one of them walked while the other nine all rode the cable car?  One of my more rational, Chinese, friends replied in answer to this question, "Of course!" 
 
The refusal to work with us on how to prove Sarah had purchased a ticket typifies a very Chinese response to a problem.  From our perspective, there was no effort to work together to find a solution for a problem that deviated from the norm:  no creativity, no innovative ideas, no flexibility, and low level employees have no authority to do anything outside of what has been prearranged.  I even once read a case study in a book, of a building where the clerk had been ordered not to turn the water on unless the boss had given approval.  The building burned down because the clerk couldn’t get in touch with the boss to get approval for the fire department to turn the water on.  But, this is one thing to hear about, and maybe of chuckle about, something different to experience!  In China, rules are rules.  There is no questioning them, no matter how outrageous, unreasonable, or arbitrary they may seem under the circumstances.  And once some authority has set a rule, it cannot be easily challenged.  In an earlier Blog entry I wrote about a city which ordered the destruction of 50,000 dogs in response to an outbreak of rabies among four dogs.  Proof of actual inoculation against rabies was not a means of exempting one’s family pet from the death warrant.  There were simply no exceptions to the rules, no matter how reasonable.  But, this was only our first year in China, and we had yet to learn this lesson. 
 
At the bottom of the slope, an English speaking, Chinese tour guide saw my distress and asked if he could help.  I told him our situation.  With no hesitation whatsoever he replied, "Of course she’ll have to buy another ticket."  What was so obvious to him, with his Chinese sensibility, was not so obvious to us.  To us it seemed obvious that she had purchased a ticket, that her mother had the (unused) ticket at the bottom which could be easily verified, and that there were many ways to see that proof and verify the ticket purchase.  All the while, as we pondered and argued and discussed, completely empty cable cars made their round trips up and down the mountain.  In terms of incremental cost to the cable car company of enabling Sarah to travel back down the mountain with her group, regardless of whether she had proof of a ticket, there was zero cost to them.  Empty cable car passing by, another empty cable car passing by, while one of us waited at the top and the other at the bottom.  Nevertheless, it took another half hour before we could get it through our thick, American skulls that there was NO OTHER SOLUTION than to purchase another, full price, round trip ticket. 
 
Not to mention the insult that the personnel were laughing as David finally capitulated and forked over the additional hundred RMB (or whatever it was).  Later, we supposed among ourselves, cynically, that it was also part of the inside method to extract more money from foreigners since, I believe, we paid about 30% more for our lift tickets than Chinese even though this widespread practice of charging more to foreigners was theoretically outlawed as part of the conditions for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.  My lasting thought in response to this encounter was, and remains, "China customer service is clearly not ready for the 2008 Olympics!"   I assure you, there are going to be a lot of shocked and irate visitors to China next year.  (Beginning with their first encounter with Beijing taxi drivers, who are notoriously corrupt.) 
 
In spite of our "customer service" experience, which one can only write up to TIC ("this is China") our trip up Hua Shan was one of the highlights of our 2005 journey through the country.  That evening we returned, exhausted, to Xi’an.  David and Maggie and I went out to the delightful Muslim quarter of the city (Xi’an is the terminus of the ancient silk road, and there is an ancient Mosque and vibrant Muslim culture).  The three of us spent less than $5 U.S. total for large bowls of home made soup noodles and street snacks for supper, while the teens enjoyed an evening of pizza at a bona fide Pizza Hut for roughly ten times the cost. 
 
My sense of peacefulness and repose at the end of the day was disturbed only by the photos I later saw of the teens in our group perched so near the edges of the precipice of this mountain for their photo shoots!  Yes, they’re great pictures, but every year people do die from falling off of Hua Shan.  In fact, since the time of our trip, the mountain has been closed to unaccompanied teenagers just for this reason.  Fortunately, in our case, "all’s well that ends well," and they have some great photos to prove it! 

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