Monthly Archives: September 2008

Melamine Tainted Milk in China: A Personal Issue For Me

29 September 2008

A bit more than two years ago, we met with some expat friends at our favorite restaurant for Yum Cha (Dim Sum) on a Saturday morning.  Two members of our party at the table were the heads of human rights enforcement for large, multinational corporations.  On a daily basis, these expats were in the trenches of enforcing Western human rights standards in an environment where those values were not shared.  Needless to say, we had lively and interesting discussion.*

But then, looking outside at the grey coat of smog that obscured an otherwise perfect view of the Pearl River, our conversation turned away from protective guards on heavy machinery, and on to another issue involving health, namely pollution. 

One of the expats reported, with a wry smile on her face, "Our company’s doctor informs me that [in his estimation] as long as I’m here less than five years, the health effects are reversible."  We all joked about it.  Reversible.  Yeah.  We knew it was hurting us.  I had developed asthma, as had my youngest child Munchkin.  But we expected it to be reversible when we returned to our home country.

We laughed, but we all put a lot of store in that word:  reversible.  Though we knew we were among the fortunate, it was a fact: we were lucky. We could and did expect to leave the fishbowl of cloudy water at some time. We were not facing irreversible threats to our physical integrity in an environment that was inescapable.  We had options.  Our primary, unspoken, cares were for the millions of Chinese citizens who will swim in that fishbowl all their lives, for whom five years is just one part of a long lifetime, in a country that has phenomenally high rates of cancer, asthma, and emphysema. 

Sure enough, I am now in the relatively unpolluted environment of my home country.  Though Munchkin and I still have asthma, my hope is that it will diminish over time.  My unspoken assumption has been, "I’m out of China now, the effects will be reversing themselves now too." 

But — shake up my fantasy a little — the Chinese melamine tainted milk story affects me more personally than I’d like to admit.  For, while we lived in China, my family and I all drank Chinese milk. 

Many of my friends only drank milk imported from Hong Kong or even from New Zealand.  Not us.  We went "native" to a higher degree than many expats.  I always purchased Chinese milk.  And we did it for four years.  My two, growing daughters drank Chinese milk every day. 

Though I knew on an intellectual level that food products could have contaminants, the food in China generally "seemed fine" to me.  Even though I heard that mothers who eat Chinese food test positive for DDT in their breast milk (theoretically impossible because there officially is no DDT in China), the vegetables and fruit in the Chinese markets is lovely.  Generally speaking, the produce in Chinese markets appears far superior to the somewhat stale looking food I now see in American grocery stores.  And gee, as long as we’re safe about germs — triple washing lettuce in bottled water for example — how bad can a little bit of pesticide residue be?  It didn’t kill the cow, after all?

And the milk didn’t seem tainted.  It tasted good and seemed fresh. I thought my worst risk was exposure to hormones or antibiotics that were fed to the cows producing the milk. I also admit, I succumbed to the irrational self-reassurance that, "everybody else in China seems to be drinking it, and so we’re all in the same boat and it doesn’t seem to be making them sick."

There was one time that I passed up a temptation, and I’m glad I did.  I complained about the price of our milk.  We purchased six eight ounce bottles of milk every day, which was delivered to our door by a "milkman".  The price had gone up to 8.5 RMB per 8 ounces (this translates to about $17 per gallon).  The milkman offered to sell me a much cheaper brand.  It was only 2.5 or 3 RMB per 8 oz.  We tried it, and it just didn’t taste right.  It seemed to taste watered down.  I didn’t trust it and so I switched back to the expensive brand.  (We just cut our consumption down to four eight ounce jars per day, which was enough for each child to have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, some milk in our coffee, and a bit left over for various other uses.)  

So, I hear the news about the melamine tainted milk, and I’ll tell you, there’s something a bit different about this one for me. 

At the time of my conversation over breakfast, I thought that any health effects from living in China were reversible and (hopefully) not so serious. 

Like, asthma.  Asthma comes on insidiously.  At first it’s just a cough, or it seems like one’s bronchitis hangs on a bit longer than it ought.  It feels like a chronic, low grade annoyance, and hey, it’s going to go away when I return to my home country, right?  Nothing permanent.  It’s also a risk that is plain as "day".  If I swim in air pollution every day, I shouldn’t be surprised to develop it.   Maybe this was pure rationalization on my part.  After all, when one is in a situation one has no control over, one tends to adjust mentally. 

But I never planned to or consented to drink poison in my baby’s milk!   I never envisioned having to ask myself, "GEE, DO I NEED TO TAKE MY DAUGHTERS TO GET TESTED FOR KIDNEY STONES?" 


*  (Their stories supplied me with a treasure trove of what otherwise could be interesting case studies, except that I cannot repeat them because to do so might violate their privacy.)  


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Position of U.S. Presidential Candidates on China

28 September 2008

The Washington Post reported today that the two U.S. Presidential candidates had each outlined their positions on China in a publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in China.  (P.S. Have you registered or voted yet, U.S. Citizens? Blog entries earlier this month have links to voter registration pages.) 

I found the Am Cham articles HERE (click for link to Am Cham online magazine).  (Each candidate wrote a separate article so — guess what — this is primary source material!)

I confess, I haven’t yet read the articles.  The Post reports: "both vowed to press China on trade and to work with it on climate change if elected, and Obama said he would make shifting Beijing’s currency policies a priority." 

Click HERE for link to the Washington Post article.  In case the articles get pulled, I will reproduce them below.  Incidentally, the articles are also available in Chinese at the link above.  

A.  McCain’s Article

US-China Policy Under a McCain Administration

By Senator John McCain

The resurgence of Asia is one of the epochal events of our time. It is a renaissance that is not only transforming the face of this vast region, but throwing open new opportunities for billions of people on both sides of the Pacific—Americans and Asians alike—to build a safer, more prosperous and freer world.

Seizing these opportunities, however, will require strong American leadership and an unequivocal American commitment to Asia, whose fate is increasingly inseparable from our own. It requires internationalism rather than isolationism, and global trade rather than national protectionism. When our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region think of the future, they should expect more—not less—attention, investment and cooperation from the highest levels of the US government.

A central challenge will be getting America’s relationship with China right. China’s double-digit growth rates have brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, energized the economies of its neighbors and produced manifold new economic opportunities.  The US shares common interests with China that can form the basis of a strong partnership on issues of global concern, including climate change, trade and proliferation. But some of China’s economic practices, combined with its rapid military modernization, lack of political freedom and close relations with regimes like Sudan and Burma, tend to undermine the very international system on which its rise depends. The next American president must build on the areas of overlapping interest to forge a more durable US-China relationship. 

It must be a priority of the next American president to expand America’s economic relationships in Asia. Unfortunately, in what has become an all-too-predictable pattern, some American politicians—including the Democratic candidate for president—are preying on the fears stoked by Asia’s dynamism; rather than encouraging American innovation and entrepreneurship, they instead propose throwing up protectionist walls that will leave us all worse off. The United States has never won respect or created jobs by retreating from free trade, and we cannot start doing so now. 

We also must recognize, however, that while open trade with Asia is in America’s interest, globalization will not automatically benefit every American. That’s why we must remain committed to education, retraining and help for displaced workers, regardless of whether their job went away because of trade, technological innovation, or shifts in consumer spending patterns. For Americans who have lost a job, we need to expand opportunities for further education and training that can open new doors. We need to modernize our unemployment insurance system to reflect the reality of the 21st century economy: jobs that go away no longer come back when business rebounds. We need to help displaced workers make ends meet between jobs and move people quickly on to the next opportunity. 

China has obligations as well. Its commitment to open markets must include enforcement of international trade rules, protecting intellectual property, lowering manufacturing tariffs and fulfillment of its commitment to move to a market-determined currency. The next administration should be clear about where China needs to make progress, hold it to its commitments through enforcement at the World Trade Organization and enforce US trade and product safety laws. Doing so will help steer the process of China’s economic integration with the world to ensure that it is a fair, two-way street. And the US should continually expand opportunities as China develops, moving into retail ventures, environmental protection, health, education, financial and other services.

Beyond our economic relationship, the US shares other common interests with China that can form the basis of a strong partnership on issues of global concern.  In addressing the problem of climate change, for instance, Chinese cooperation will be essential. If we are going to establish meaningful environmental protocols, they must include the two nations—China and India—that have the potential to pollute the air faster, and in greater annual volume, than any nation ever in history.

The United States should continue to negotiate in good faith with China and other nations to enact the standards and controls that are in the interest of every nation—whatever their stage of economic development. America can take the lead in offering these developing nations low-carbon technologies that we will all need. Given the environmental challenges so evident in China today, pressing on with uncontrolled carbon emissions is in no one’s interest.

China’s growing power and influence endow it with the obligation to behave as a responsible stakeholder in global politics. China could bolster its claim that it is "peacefully rising" by being more transparent about its significant military buildup and by working with the world to isolate pariah states. In addition, how a nation treats its citizens is a legitimate subject of international concern in today’s world. China has signed numerous international agreements that make its domestic behavior more than just a matter of national sovereignty. To be a responsible stakeholder in the modern international system, a government must also be responsible at home, in protecting the rights of its people.  

China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and I hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Our ties must be rooted in a broader regional and international order that provides the indispensible bedrock for the shared prosperity and stability we all desire. America itself must be a stakeholder in that system, and we must take seriously our responsibilities to contribute to it. It is in this spirit that America’s relations with China, and with the countries that comprise the region surrounding it, should proceed. 

John McCain is the senior US Senator from Arizona and the 2008 Republican nominee for US President.

B. Obama’s Article

US-China Relations Under an Obama Administration

By Barack Obama

In the coming years, the United States and China face challenges that require fresh thinking and a change from the US policy approach of the past eight years. How the US and China meet these challenges, and the extent to which we can find common ground, will be important both for our own countries and for others in Asia and beyond.

China has achieved extraordinary, sustained growth over the past three decades. Hundreds of millions of people in China live better now than most thought possible even two decades ago. 

But as China’s leaders acknowledge, China must make some basic adjustments if it is to continue sustained, shared economic growth. China must develop practices that are more environmentally sustainable and less energy intensive, that boost domestic consumption as an engine of growth, that enhance the social safety net, and that encourage indigenous technology innovation. Otherwise, the country’s future performance may fall well short of its potential.

The United States has the world’s largest and strongest economy, but we, too, must make serious adjustments in order to be competitive in the 21st century. We must end the fiscal irresponsibility of recent years that has led to record high deficits and a record low national savings rate. We must invest in infrastructure, education, health care, science and technology. And we must break our addiction to oil and launch a historic effort to transform our economy by investing in renewable technologies, energy efficiency and the next generation of clean vehicles. These initiatives will help lay the foundation for broad based, bottom-up economic growth that benefits all Americans and helps strengthen US-China relations as well. 

We know that America and China can accomplish much when we recognize our common interests. US and Chinese cooperation in the Six Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue over the past few years makes clear that we can work together constructively, bilaterally and with others, to reduce tensions on even extraordinarily sensitive issues.

More broadly, the United States supports and benefits from security and stability in Asia. We need to address the principal causes of regional tension. As I made clear in my congratulatory letter to Ma Ying-jeou on his inauguration, we support steps to build trust across the Taiwan Strait and improvements in relations between Beijing and Taipei, now more possible with good will by both sides than at any time since the mid-1990s.  Reduction of tensions between China and Japan is in the interests of those two countries, and of the United States. We seek the type of stability and well-being on the Korean peninsula that can only be brought about by the complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and normalization of relations between North Korea and all the participants in the Six Party Talks. And finally, and critically, we need a strong foundation for a long-term positive and constructive relationship with an emerging China.

I firmly believe that an active, sophisticated and nimble US diplomatic, economic and security presence in the region is critical to achieving these and related goals. Our alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand are the foundation of the US security presence in the region and contribute greatly to regional stability, threatening to no one. Along with the forward deployment of our military forces in the Western Pacific, they are a necessary but not sufficient basis for a sound strategy to strengthen regional security and stability. An Obama Administration will look for opportunities to work with China and others in the region to foster an environment where regional stability and prosperity flourish. 

Asia’s economic and security landscape is changing, and this requires special attention to understanding unfolding developments in the region. But America’s interests in the vitality and stability of the region are enduring.

With this in mind, I want to address some of the key issues that directly involve our two countries.

Trade and investment undergirds prosperity, and the US and China have one of the largest and most important bilateral economic relationships in the world. Our two nations are the first and third largest trading nations, and China has in recent years been America’s most rapidly growing major export market. 

I know that America and the world can benefit from trade with China, but only if China agrees to play by the rules and act as a positive force for balanced world growth. I want China’s economy to continue to grow, its domestic demand to expand and its vitality to contribute to regional and global prosperity. But China’s current growth is unbalanced, and in recent years domestic consumption has actually gone down as a percentage of GDP. To increase internal demand Beijing will have to improve substantially its social safety net and upgrade its financial services sector to bring its consumption in line with international norms.

Central to any rebalancing of our economic relationship with China must be change in its currency practices. Because it pegs its currency at an artificially low rate, China is running massive current account surpluses. This is not good for American firms and workers, not good for the world, and ultimately likely to produce inflation problems in China itself.

As President, I will use all the diplomatic avenues available to seek a change in China’s currency practices. I will also undertake more sustained and serious efforts to combat intellectual property piracy in China, and to address regulations that discriminate against foreign investments in major sectors and other unfair trading practices. And I will work with the Chinese government to establish a better system for both countries to monitor products produced for export and act when dangerous products are identified.

As President, I will take a vigorous, pragmatic approach to addressing these issues, utilizing our domestic trade remedy laws as well as the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism wherever appropriate. High-level dialogue among economic leaders in both countries is also important to achieving real progress. My approach to our economic relationship is positive and forward-looking: to remove obstructions to gaining the benefits of trade and thus to enable faster, and healthier, growth in both economies. 

Climate change is a truly common challenge and a long-term problem that must be addressed now. The United States has done too little on the issue, and I will work with the Congress and the private sector to change that. 

The United States and China have heavy, if different, responsibilities to meet this vital challenge. For too long, however, each has pointed a finger at the other’s attitudes as an excuse for not itself doing more. That must stop. 

The climate change challenge demands that the United States and China develop much higher levels of cooperation without delay. We are currently the world’s two largest consumers of oil and the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. As the world’s richest developed economy and largest and most dynamic developing country, our cooperation to reduce the threat of climate change can produce models, practices and technologies that will provide impetus to global efforts, including those to reach agreement on a post-Kyoto climate regime.

America and China have developed a mature, wide-ranging relationship over the past 30-plus years. Yet we still have to do serious work if we are to create the level of mutual trust necessary for long-term cooperation in a rapidly changing region. Each country has deep concerns about the long-term intentions of the other, and those concerns will not disappear of their own accord.

Cooperation on the key, enduring global challenges, such as climate change, can deepen understanding and enhance confidence.  We also need to deepen high-level dialogues on a sustained basis on economic, security and global political issues. Our militaries should increase not only the quantity of their contacts but the quality of their engagement. 

In the modern world, non-traditional security threats are looming increasingly large. These include the challenges of terrorism, proliferation, failed states, infectious diseases, humanitarian disasters and piracy on the high seas. The United States and China have developed some cooperation in each of these areas, but in some we continue to have real differences, about which we must be candid.  In particular, I look to China to work with us to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, to halt the genocide in Darfur and to help reverse the slide into anarchy in Zimbabwe. 

Greater progress in protecting the human rights of all its people and moving toward democracy and rule of law will better enable China to achieve its full potential as a nation, domestically and internationally. China’s own people will expect, indeed demand, this. Such change will not weaken China, as its leaders may fear, but will provide a firmer basis for long-term stability and prosperity. China cannot stand indefinitely apart from the global trend toward democratic government, rule of law and full exercise of human rights. Protection of the unique cultural and religious traditions of the Tibetan people is an integral part of such an agenda. 

Since the 1970s, America’s policy of engaging China has produced major benefits for both sides and for Asia overall. The US-China relationship has had its share of challenges, and new ones will inevitably emerge. Especially in a world of common security, where events in any corner of the globe can affect the entire planet, the world more than ever requires that every major country not only pursue its narrow interests but also accept its responsibility to pursue urgently needed solutions to these broader problems. My administration will seek to revitalize America and lead it to realize its full potential for constructive engagement in Asia and in the global arena. 

Barack Obama is the junior US Senator from Illinois and the 2008 Democratic nominee for US President.

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Calling U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

September 22, 2008

I just read a startling statistic about how few overseas Americans actually vote.  But, it’s not yet too late! 

Time is, indeed, running short.  But you do still have time to register and vote in the upcoming election!  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you were last in the U.S. 

Visit your nearest Consulate in person, or take advantage of the federal voting assistance program, which can be accessed at the following link:

For general information about overseas and absentee voting, visit

"There is a saying in free societies: you get the government you deserve. For democracy to succeed, citizens must be active, not passive, because they know that the success or failure of the government is their responsibility, and no one else’s." 

(quoted from Principles of Democracy:  Citizen Responsibilities, (U.S. Department of State, September 22, 2008)) 


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September 18, 2008

The U.S. Presidential election will occur on Tuesday, November 4, 2008.  The candidates are Barack Obama (with Joe Biden for Vice President) and John McCain (with Sarah Palin for Vice President).

This blog entry is intended to provide Americans living overseas a with a small nudge and a roadmap to learn how to vote absentee while they are living abroad. 

CLICK HERE to go directly to the link from the State Department with information about how to vote from abroad.  2008 Absentee Voting Information for Americans Abroad

I think it is important that you know, if you are an American living overseas, that you are still entitled to vote in federal elections no matter how long you have lived overseas.  For purposes of federal elections, you are considered to be a resident of your last state of residence, even if you have moved and no longer own property in that state, even if you do not plan to move back to that state, and even if you do not pay tax there.

The web page linked above gives instructions for getting and sending in a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) for voter registration. 

The FPCA can be obtained at and printed from this link:  FPCA

As a general rule, the FPCA should be mailed so that it arrives at the Board of Registration 45 days in advance of the election in which you plan to vote.  FORTY FIVE DAYS!  That means that (ideally) your completed application needs to arrive just two days from now!  If the deadline has already passed by the time you read this, go ahead and send in that postcard anyway!  It may be that you could get registered, but even if you miss the deadline for this cycle you would be in it for the next.  (I note however that they do recommend re-filing every year.) 

If you have any questions, pop by or call your local Consulate.  Every Consulate has Voting Assistance Officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas.  During the last election, the Consular Officers in Guangzhou assisted me in sending in my FPCA.  They also collected absentee ballots and sent them in for us.  I found them very helpful and friendly.  The process was "hassle free"! 

Just one reminder.  When you go to visit your Consulate in person, be sure to take your passport with you, or you will not be able to be admitted to the American Citizens Services Unit.  Also, call ahead of time to ascertain the working hours.  In Guangzhou, the phone number for the Consulate is (area code 20) 8518-7651.  The American Citizens Services Unit is located at 5th floor, 2nd annex of Tianyu Garden, 136-142, Linhe Zhong Rd., Guangzhou, P. R. China 510133.   For those of you know  Guangzhou, this is one block before you get to Ikea, on the right hand side.  If you’re not sure how to get there, get the Consulate receptionist to tell one of your Chinese friends how to get there, and have your Chinese friend write the address on a paper that you can give the taxi driver. 

Now, GO! 

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Trivia Question

10 September 2008

(Too bad it’s not trivial.) 

My question:  To what country in the world does the following quote refer? 

"For a second day, one of the lawyers for the defendants was barred from entering the court. He had been vocal in demanding that the trial be conducted according to the law, which allows members of the media and public to attend the trial. Only state media have been allowed to attend. International observers are also banned.

“The trial is a farce,” said [x person], Political Prisoners Campaigner at [an organization], and daughter of [one of the persons on trial]. ‘They have committed no crimes, but the regime is scared of them and wants to keep them locked up forever. Why is the United Nations silent even though the Security Council called for the release of political prisoners?

The number of political prisoners in [the nation] has almost doubled in the past year, totalling 2,056." 

Okay, here’s the first big hint about where the country is located, if you haven’t guessed it yet.  There is speculation that Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is on hunger strike in the home where she has been confined for many years.  I would not be surprised if she were, indeed, on hunger strike, doing the small part she can muster to protest these sham proceedings.  For the persons on trial are members of the political party that elected her to office, resulting in her being placed in house arrest and virtual solitary confinement for 13 of the past 19 years. 

As the short sighted attention of the world is turned elsewhere, let’s continue to do what we can to keep the light shining on this spot in the world. 

Got the answer yet? 

The country is Myanmar, also known as Burma

Let your own leaders know that you haven’t forgotten

My own conviction that people of conscience must not forget Burma is bolstered by my own experience of another kind.  We can make a difference, if only by lending our solidarity and support, but even more our voice and our deeds. 

In another place, at a different time, a person found out that I was concerned about things happening there and that I CARED.  This person exclaimed, "Thank God for you!  I just knew that all these years God didn’t forget about us here in [x place]!"  It is through our caring that we let the oppressed know that they matter, that they are not forgotten. 

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Guantanamera: Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca

September 9, 2008

A Song Of Peace

I grew up in South Florida, in an environment heavily influenced by exiles from Cuba.  I attended a school where a lot of children spoke Spanish.   My mom paid a neighborhood teenager to tutor me in Spanish.  I didn’t learn a lot of Spanish from that teenager, but she I used to listen to a lot of Cuban language songs on the radio station, including the top 10 hit at that time, Guantanamera. I still have fond memories of listening to that song on the little console radio with my teenage mentor singing and dancing to it.   "Guantanamera, Guajira Guantamamera . . . . "  It was this song that I ran across this spring.  There are many versions on YouTube.  Here is one popular one that I will share with you:



(Click here for Sandpipers version of the song)


Remembering that I used to actually know the words, I decided to try and re-learn at least some of it, in honor of my Spanish speaking nephew, Jose Luis, who is now crossing cultures of his own.  As I did so, I used some internet resources to learn more about it and then to translate it from Spanish into both English and Chinese. I was surprised at what I learned. 

I learned that the song Guantanamera is a folk song with many versions and many verses.  Not all verses are played or sung by all artists.  Many verses of the song are based on the poem Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca by Jose Marti.  Marti was a nationalist hero who fought for the freedom of Cuba during the Revolution.  Though he himself was communist, his main emphasis was on liberating Cuba from colonial rule and securing self determination for her people.  As such, he is revered by both sides (the winners and the losers) in the Cuban civil war.  (This reminds me a bit of the hero General Aung San of Myanmar, the revolutionary hero whose legacy is claimed by both democracy advocates and the military commanders who control the country.)  Much like Whitman’s poem "I hear America Singing, the poem Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca is very long.  It has many more verses than are sung.  If my translation sparks your interest, I hope you will do some of your own research into the poem and the life of Jose Marti. 

Guantanamera strikes me as a song for peace.  When we really think about it, peace is not just an absence of conflict.  Every life will have conflict in it.  All of us must interact almost daily with others whose values or decision are not the same as our own.  Every one of us faces decisions about how to respond to conflict.  Our primary goal is to become reconciled with one another, whenever possible. Indeed, to achieve peace, we must also become reconciled within ourselves!  The song Guantanamera, as does Marti’s poem, outlines very simply how to make the first steps toward peace. 

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, at times, the path toward peace begins with a commitment to view the OTHER as a being worthy of respect and a commitment to work for peace unilaterally, even if the Other fails to do so.   There is no hope for peace unless we individually commit to respect others, to respect ourselves, and to ourselves be open to the idea of reconciliation both internally and externally.  Thus, I think almost every religion instructs us to turn the other cheek in the face of aggression. 

In this poem, we cultivate a white rose.  Because even when reconciliation with another is impossible, we must still become reconciled to and within ourselves.  We must know that we have done all we, individually, can do to make things right.  What must we do?  We must choose not to respond in kind to violence.  Someone must always make the first, unilateral step.  Someone must cultivate a white rose.  When we cultivate a rose, even for those who would spite and revile us, we become workers in the garden of peace. 

I dedicate this translation to all those among you who work for peace in your own lives and in the context of where you live.  

Thank you very much to my friend Carmen for checking the Chinese for me. 

Each verse is first in Espanol, then in Ingles, and then in 中文:

(Chorus and Intro)

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Guantanamera means a song of Guantanamo

Guantanamo is a town on the Eastern coast of Cuba

Guajira is slang for a peasant from the countryside





(First verse)

Yo soy un hombre sincero

De donde crecen las palmas

Yo soy un hombre sincero

De donde crecen las palmas

Y antes de morirme quiero

Echar mis versos del alma

I am a sincere man

from where the palm trees grow

I am a simple man

from the land of palm trees.

And before I die,

I want to pour out these verses that flow from my soul








[Repeat the Chorus]

(2nd verse)

Mi verso es de un verde claro

Y de un carmin encendido

Mi verso es de un verde claro

Y de un carmin encendido

Mi verso es un ciervo herido

Que busca en el monte amparo

My verses are brilliant green

And also fiery crimson

My poems are clear green

And also flaming carmine

My poems are like a wounded fawn

seeking refuge in the forested mountains







[Repeat the Chorus]

(third verse)

Cultivo la rosa blanca

En junio como en enero

Qultivo la rosa blanca

En junio como en enero

Para el amigo sincero

Que me da su mano franca

I cultivate a white rose

In June and in January

I cultivate a white rose

In June and in January

For my true friend

who lends me his steady hand


我耕种白色 玫瑰花


我耕种白色 玫瑰花



[Repeat the Chorus]

(Fourth verse)

Y para el cruel que me arranca

El corazon con que vivo

Y para el cruel que me arranca

El corazon con que vivo

Cardo ni ortiga cultivo

Cultivo la rosa Blanca

And for the cruel one who would

Break my heart

And for the cruel one who would

Pluck out my living heart

I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles

I cultivate a white rose







[Repeat the Chorus]

(Fifth verse)

Con los pobres de la tierra

Quiero yo mi suerte echar

Con los pobres de la tierra

Quiero yo mi suerte echar

El arroyo de la sierra

Me complace mas que el mar

With the poor people of this earth

I cast my lot

With the poor people of this earth

I throw my fate, for

The brooks of the mountains

please me more than the sea




我一起安置我的命运, 因为



[repeat the Chorus]

Ha, you read this far, so now it’s your turn to try the karaoke version!


Click on image for the karaoke!  Enjoy! 

When I ran across this song and did the translation, it was back in March of 2008. 

At that time, there were news stories being aired about protesters
setting fire to shops, about tanks turning on the protesters, about
more protesters in the world protesting all of this.  The saddest thing
about the violence — both on the part of the protesters as well as the
response to it — was that this whole issue was raised in an area of
the world known for its special religion and spirituality, a place one
would think would be devoted to principles of nonviolence. 

was plenty of blame to be spread.  As I alluded in my blog at the time,
the term "cultural genocide" is an apt description of what spurred the
protesters to anger.  Though paying lip service to celebration of minority diversity, the government in fact has a strategy of almost forcefully incorporating minority groups into the mainstream of ordinary Chinese life.  They marginalize minorities economically by forcing the relocation of all but a token few,
the token few of whom are turned into tourist attractions.  The rest
are mainstreamed by being forcefully moved into "modern" housing,
educated in the language of the majority rather than in the language of
their ethnic group, and by having their population diluted by
immigrants from the non-minority population groups.  In the high
plateau T place, this process has been followed especially vigorously. 

Children are prohibited from studying in their native
language, ancient nomadic ways of life are discouraged, and Han Chinese
are given special incentives to relocate to remote western regions. 
The population pressure is such that these incentives aren’t really needed.  A case in point is the explosion of the industry of cashmere goats.  Traditionally grazed in a cold and inhospitable climate, their cashmere fur was rare and expensive.  With the opening of the high plateau to "development," more and more Han Chinese have encroached into that area to raise goats and sell the cashmere, cashing in on the trade.  As a result, the lands are heavily overgrazed, resulting in desertification, and cashmere prices worldwide have plummeted due to the glut of supply. 

The opening of the railway into Lhasa has only served to accelerate this through
the process of tourism.  Though I haven’t been there, I’ve read that one cause of anger is that Han Chinese immigrants (widely regarded in all of Asia as being very keen businessmen) have displaced locals as the
primary merchants thriving off the tourist trade in trinkets, souvenirs, and hotels.   But, while resentment over this displacement can
understandably give rise to anger, ought it feed into violence? 

In the
high elevation location that was on my mind, as a case in point, the spark of violence
merely acted as an incendiary to justify police actions and then even
more violent reprisals against those who were expressing their

It was a sad time for many.  At a time of
preparation for the Olympics — with its calls for and hype about greater
openness, China’s big coming-out party — journalists were expelled from any areas in western China
where there were high percentages of native Tibetans, because of the
potential for unrest.   Tourists, with their pesky questions and
cameras,  were no longer permitted in those places, either.  Everyone (Chinese and foreigner alike)
was notified on short notice that their flights or trains had been
canceled.  Cell phone service, which most people in China rely on for
communication, was completely shut down to affected areas.  It was through (unverified) word of mouth
that I heard monks in that place were setting themselves on fire. Only the natives, speaking among themselves, knew of these things.  I heard from a friend of a friend.  

Out of the
view of publicity, it wasn’t just that the rest of the world never saw
it.  Even most Chinese, relying on the state approved media for their
understanding of the world around them, were fed and believed the
official story.  The official version of events was that the violence was an unjustified action by malcontents
who were not properly grateful for the handout and aid that had been
doled to them by the central government.  After all, before China took
over things, those people were poor.  It was during this time that I learned the average life expectancy in that place has
doubled in the last fifty years.  (While this is probably true, isn’t that statistic a bit less dramatic when one considers that life expectancy has doubled in most nations when they get access to antibiotics and health care, including a significant increase in life expectancy among the majority population as well?) 

In the media, the general population was reminded
over and over that the high plateau place had been an integral part of
China for almost 1,000 years, the sporadic and unfriendly nature of
that occupation and the independence of the last couple hundred years
of history notwithstanding.  Television news footage interspersed this
type of footage with film footage somehow linking the exiled former
leader (always reviled in the media and in books published on the
subject) with film footage of the CIA training his ranks of
insurgents.  (Hmm.  I wonder how this might relate to anything else in
history, as the film footage looks strangely similar to other footage
showing U.S. aid to the resistance movement during the Japanese
Occupation.  Hmm.  I wonder where and when that film footage was
taken?  And how does it relate to our support of other movements in the
world where population groups have sought a voice for their own freedom
and democracy?)  

At the same time all this was actually
going on in that place and in western China close to that place,
protesters across the world were showing up wherever the Olympic torch
ran.  At one point protesters attacked a handicapped girl in Paris, France, who was bearing the torch for the Olympics as it made its way through France. 
The escalated counter-reaction was swift.  I heard very soon after this about an entire tour group of French
visitors who were denied visas in Macau, even though they showed their
complete, booked tourist itinerary.  These current events were
inescapable from the public psyche and very much on my mind as I listened to this song and mulled over its meaning. 

Join me, won’t you, in cultivating the white rose? 


Filed under Ethics

Mid Autumn Festival

September 7, 2008

One of my favorite times of year is coming up soon.  It’s the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival.  The Mid Autumn festival is held on the Fifteenth Day of the Eighth Lunar Month of the Chinese traditional calendar.  This year, the date falls on the night of September 14th, 2008.  On that night, the full moon is supposed to make its roundest and brightest appearance of the year. 

The appearance of the largest and brightest moon of the year marks the time to celebrate the harvest as well as a time to remember and be thankful for the the idea of completeness and abundance of our lives.  Naturally, therefore, it’s a time to celebrate this in the fullness of our family circle. 

The American tradition closest in flavor to the celebration of the mid Autumn festival is our Thanksgiving (which we celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November).  In China, families gather for a meal and for something like a family reunion, just as Americans do for Thanksgiving.  But in China, the celebration is held outside, whenever possible, so that the light of the moon may be enjoyed.   Families make a point of eating outside under the moonlight or strolling outside, taking time to enjoy each others’ company in the light of the abundant, full moon. 

At this time, people also decorate with red lanterns.  In China, red is a color of joy and celebration.  Some people make ornate and decorated lanterns, and children carry lanterns.  The lanterns are not always red.  There are many ornate lanterns of many different designs.  Also, for safety reason, the traditional lanterns with candles inside have (at least in Guangzhou) given way to lanterns that are lit by small battery operated lights inside.  All the children have them.  The children delight in being allowed on this night to stay up past their bedtime to go outside and show off their lanterns, dancing and prancing around in the moonlight with other children.

So, it’s also called the lantern festival. 


One year, a little girl who lived near us did, indeed, have a lantern lit by a candle inside.  She got so excited from playing with her lantern that she swung it a little too hard, starting a small fire on the grass in our housing compound! 

Our apartment compound was always beautifully decorated and lit up at mid Autumn festival.  I think I shall miss it!  The trees were always strung on their branches with green lights, with hundreds of small, red lanterns hanging from the trees.  The archways of the walks had been hung with large red lanterns.  I’m sorry to say that I failed to take any photographs of this lovely sight, but I have some other photos of the lantern decorations that were shot a few times here or there. 

In Guangzhou, there is a special exhibit of lanterns at a park.  Here is a link to an article about it, though I regret that I have no idea where the "Culture Park" is located.  Click here for link

People also make and eat special "Moon Cakes" during mid Autumn festival.  The Chinese name for these is yue bing (月饼).  Yue is the word for moon, and bing is a shortened version of the word for cake.  (For a photo click here .)  They are made from white flour and sugar with only very little leavening.  They are round, molded into in the shape of a full moon (of course), and they have treats in the middle.  The treat in the center might be an egg yolk, a piece of sweetened lotus paste, sweet bean paste, some nuts, some jelly, or any number of other things that could also be salty or very flavorful.  The moon cakes were so rich that I could usually only eat a half of one. 

These moon cakes can be quite fancy (and expensive).  The molds for the moon cakes have Chinese characters on them for things like "happiness" or "fortune," and the cakes are exchanged as gifts.   To be honest, most of them were not to my taste.  I found the cakes generally to be a bit sweet, the cake part a bit dry, and also the flavors of the inside treats perhaps more suited to a Chinese palate than a western one.  My Chinese friends understood this.  They told me that most Westerners don’t like them. 

On this year’s September 15th, the night of the fullest Autumn moon, I encourage you to hang a red lantern in your house or on your porch, have some friends or family over to visit, eat a special round shaped dessert, stroll under the light of the moon, and think about the fullness of all of our many blessings! 


Filed under Holidays