Working is part of the dream sometimes

For some folks, to be a writer is a dream. Specifically writing for a living, as opposed to manual labor, office work, or any other kind of work that’s not sitting down and writing a killer feature article or novel. But in the real world, sometimes dreams don’t come true. This writer nails it well about the reality and necessity of work. We can’t all be bestselling authors or bigname journalists, so there’s nothing wrong in writing and doing non-writing work to make a living. Your ideal vision of glory and success may never materialize, but you can work with what you get in life ie make the most of what you have. There’s another point, which is that work in itself is worthwhile even if it’s not glamorous. Whether you’re teaching English or sitting in front of a computer at a desk inside a cubicle or waiting tables, in addition to writing or blogging, don’t feel discouraged. Don’t give up your writing either.
I’d say it applies in part to me, though I’ve never really thought I could make a full-time career out of writing. While my main interest was always in journalism as opposed to writing a book, I’ve always known I don’t have the talent or aptitude to write and report as a career. However I’m not sad. I’m definitely grateful to have had my writing published at times and to have gotten paid for some of them, and to be involved in the media industry.

Speaking about feature stories, here’s one from Sports Illustrated about the late Bison Dele (Brian Williams), a former NBA player who left the league on his own terms but met a mysterious end. It’s a very good read (otherwise I wouldn’t be recommending it here, ha). I don’t even remember this player but at the end of it, it was a much more poignant and striking story than I expected. The article’s graphical design is impressive too, with accompanying images and captions popping up at relevant moments as you scroll down.

Africa · China · Sports

Guangzhou Evergrande gets hardfought draw, and HK and Nigeria links

The first leg of the Asian Champions League proved to be as good a match as I thought it’d be. Too bad I only got to see the last 15 minutes due to not being aware of the correct starting time. Guangzhou Evergrande fought it out with FC Seoul in Seoul for a 2-2 draw, so the return leg in Guangzhou will be vital. There was some gamesmanship from Seoul as Guangzhou coach Marcelo Lippi slammed the shabby treatment his club received in being forced to train at their hotel since proper facilities weren’t provided.

Here’re a couple of random interesting articles.
The first is about Boko Haram from National Geographic. Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamic force that has killed thousands of people in Northern Nigeria since 2009 and been fighting against the Nigerian state for years. It’s become so dire that even vigilante groups have been formed to combat them while some Nigerians are so spooked they can’t even bring themselves to say the group’s name. The article is a little more hardcore and intensive (in terms of geopolitics) than what one usually reads in National Geographic but it is a very good article if not a little chilling.

A HK SCMP columnist, whose column shares the same name as my blog coincidentally, gives out a sensible bashing two lawmakers who tried to blame Hong Kong’s housing shortage on mainlanders. This is an issue I’ve constantly ranted about so I’ll just keep it brief and suggest reading this guy’s article. Here’s the closing paragraph of the column:

Given our trouble, our default position is to blame mainlanders for trying to take up space in Hong Kong. But even if we scrap all permit quotas, it’s unclear what impact that might have on housing supply. But it would be against every humanitarian principle as most permits go to mainlanders seeking family reunion in Hong Kong.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that Fan and Mo are just exploiting populist resentments against mainlanders.

Another SCMP column calls for some sense in the “crusade” by some HKers against the Philippines regarding seeking an apology and compensation for the murder of several HK tourists in 2010 in Manila. HK lawmaker and former Secretary of Security Regina Ip slams the “madness” of the vehement anti-Manila HKers and gives a logical critiques of their sentiments and the futility of proposed punishment against the Philippines.

While I’m heartened by HK people like the above two writers, I worry that many HKers are becoming consumed by ignorance, arrogance and hate in their attitudes towards mainlanders or Filipinos, for example, and have chosen to use this hate as a sort of substitute for real action in confronting the root causes of local problems, a development which is similar to Taiwan which is filled with anti-foreigner feelings and prejudice as well.

China · Sports

Guangzhou Evergrande goes for Asian glory tonight

I know many people don’t care or know about Chinese football, but today is a big, big day. Guangzhou Evergrande will play the first leg of the finals of the Asian Champions League against FC Seoul tonight, the first time in 15 years that a Chinese team is in the finals. Evergrande (恆大) have already won the Chinese league this season, for the third time in a row. They reached the ACL finals in stunning manner, pounding Qatari and Japanese opposition by similar 6-1 and 8-1 aggregate scores. One can liken them to Bayern Munich in last year’s European Champions League. If you’re wondering if there’s anything special about Evergrande to have made them so formidable, it’s that they have three talented South Americans who just can’t stop scoring, a bunch of Chinese internationals, and are coached by Italian Marcello Lippi, who only won a World Cup in 2006 as manager of his country (in addition to the European Champions League and other honors). The first leg is in Seoul and the return leg will be in Guangzhou. i don’t regret coming to Beijing at all, but at least on that day I’ll wish I was in Guangzhou. I wrote about Evergrande and the ACL final earlier this week here. Here’s hoping for a good result tonight for Guangzhou. Hengda 恆大, jia you 加由!

China · Sports · Taiwan

China finishes 5th in FIBA Asia tournament, and 2022 World Cup uncertainty

China’s men’s basketball team managed to finish fifth at the FIBA Asian Championships, which concluded Sunday. China defeated Qatar in the fifth-place game, but had earlier been beaten by Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) in the quarterfinals. Taiwan was very ecstatic over this victory, being the first ever over China in men’s basketball, but were quickly brought down to earth by losing to Iran in the semifinals and then trounced by archrival in everything South Korea in the third-place game. Taiwan had a good tournament in general, but their poor ending kind of mirrored their showing at the World Baseball Classic earlier this year, when they did well to advance to the knockout stage but lost their last three games. I don’t know if it’s a case of freezing in the big time or just not having the guts or ability to overcome tough foes. One of Taiwan’s best players in the FIBA tournament was a naturalized black American, who only got his Taiwanese citizenship last month. For China’s basketball team, who were the defending Asian champions but had a terrible showing at the 2012 Olympics, I really hope they don’t become like the men’s football team and go through a long period of futility. The top three teams in this tournament automatically qualify for next year’s international basketball championship, so China is out of that.

Moving on to football, the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar, might be in danger of moving to winter. It’s always been played in the summer, such as June and July, but due to Qatar’s hot summers, where temperatures can go up to 50 degrees Celsius, some FIFA officials are seriously considering changing the date to January, which would be good for the health of the players and fans. But if so, I think Qatar should not have been awarded the World Cup in the first place, and a new vote should be held. Qatar won the right to host the 2022 tournament over the likes of Australia, South Korea, and the US. On paper it was momentous because Qatar would be the first Middle Eastern and Islamic nation to host the World Cup, but in reality I think it was a farce. Qatar has little football or sporting heritage and their bid was full of superficial and unrealistic aspects such as air-conditioned stadiums which could supposedly even be dismantled and donated to poorer countries. It’s obvious oil wealth was a big reason they were successful, such as their hiring big names in football to lobby for them, but besides that, nothing really. Anyways, whenever and wherever the 2022 World Cup ends up being held, I just want China to be in it.

China · China travel · Sports · Travel

China’s basketball misery, and Hong Kong’s Tai O

It seems good results can never last these days when it comes to Chinese men’s teams. Fresh off of the football team’s surprisingly good performance at last month’s East Asian tournament, China’s basketball team was knocked out of the FIBA Asian championships by none other than Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). It’s a first for Taiwan, who reached the semis and will face Iran, while China goes back home in tears. China’s coach offered a vague message about hope, and I really hope China gets it act together for the next Olympics, as they will not be going to the next world championships. This follows on China’s dismal performance in the 2012 London Olympic Games, when they finished bottom of their group in the first round. Yi Jianlian, China’s best player and a former NBA first-round draft pick, was injured in the first round but came back for the second round and quarterfinal. In the Global Times article (the first link above), several Chinese expressed anger and shock at the basketball loss, which should be a good kick in the backside for the coaches, players, and the people who run the basketball program.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s unique Tai O fishing village faces a big challenge in trying to maintain its heritage while undergoing development. This village features stilt houses and is in an isolated area on Lantau Island, where the airport and the cable car are on. You can eat fresh seafood, buy salted seafood, walk around and enjoy the mangrove swamps and scenery, and even go on boat rides to see the Chinese white dolphin, which is actually pink. I went there back in 2008 and it was quite decent. There were some visitors, but it wasn’t overflowing and the village was quite old, even a bit shoddy, though it gives it some character. I’ve seen it referred to as “Venice in the East” but that’s a little fanciful. It’s definitely a unique and scenic place in Hong Kong, and another striking example of how Hong Kong is more than just skyscrapers and shopping.

On the trip to Tai O, we went on the boat ride twice before we actually spotted dolphins which was cool. I think more development would not be too bad, especially since while more people will want to come, they will still need to come by bus over the hills. I think one resident sums it up very well near the end “I think Tai O has lost part of its unique character with all the development going on. But that the price we pay to get a better life and to help this community to survive.”

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The best photo I took of the dolphins. Apologies for the poor quality; it was very hard to focus because of the dolphins’ and the boat’s movement, plus my eyes were actually on the dolphins.



China · Sports · Travel

China links galore- May 13

Chinese influence is spreading across the world, and contrary to what some say, it’s not all negative and in many cases, welcomed and perceived with a sense of optimism. In China’s Himalayan neighbor Nepal, more people are learning Chinese and China is becoming a more important neighbor, which the article tries to give a negative angle by highlighting that this worries India. In Uganda in East Africa, a former government minister runs a community library to help inform people about China, while speaking about the ways Chinese investment is helping her country, such as in the fishing and aquafarming industries.

It’s been five years since the massive 2008 earthquake in Sichuan (with a bad one having struck again just a few weeks ago), and this BBC feature shows just how destructive it was. It was one of the costliest earthquakes and forced the most people in history to be displaced.

This is a nice piece about two budding teen basketball giants, one from China, and one from India! It’d be easy to want to guess that this Chinese guy can be the next Yao Ming, but it’s premature and unfair to do that. Also, there’ve been other big Chinese ballers like Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian who’ve played in the NBA and had modest careers. Yao Ming was special and his solitary success among Chinese NBA players proves that size by itself is no guarantee. I wish this kid the best though he better bulk up, like his Indian counterpart.

Take a look and listen of the punk music scene in Beijing at the Guardian. A bunch of youngsters talk about why punk is so appealing, sounding similar to other youths around the world living with a lot of stress, angst and rebellion. Beijing is one of the main music scenes in China, and it’s encouraging to see different types of music growing there.

Moving from music to art, this article looks at how Chinese artists are trying to boost the visibility and creation of arts. There’s a big hunger for good art, no doubt, but modern Chinese art is still not very famous or popular. With time it’ll change and we’ll all know more modern Chinese painters, sculptors, dancers and so on.

One very famous Chinese artist who many of us do know, recently made a very reasonable personal appeal. Leave me alone, and just let me write, said Mo Yan. His views may disappoint some people, but he’s blunt and honest. He’s not pretending to be a savior of China, much less humanity, as he’s chosen to focus what he can influence, which is his writing.

Amazing pics and an even more amazing discovery. This is the remnants of a cityin a lake in Zhejiang province. It’s a fascinating sight, though it seems it was already known when it was flooded (the lake was artificially created from the construction of a dam). It seems a shame that more wasn’t done to preserve its ancient structures and artifacts when it was intact at that time.

Cantonese cuisine is widely known, but it’s not all just dim sum and fried rice, as this article about Guangzhou’s Lychee Bay illustrates. Yet even with a Cantonese heritage, I admit I don’t know about some of these foods but I’ll make sure to try some in future.

The 10 best Chinese cities for expats are headed by Shanghai, no surprise there. Beijing is number two and the rest are all major prosperous cities as well, though Tianjin is a bit of a surprise.

This historic Hangzhou scissors company has been in existence for over 350 years and is still going strong. I think my grandmother even owned a pair, with an all-iron frame, knife-shaped blades, and curved handles.

China · Sports

Go Dortmund, onwards to the final

It’s just past midnight and today is May 1, Labor Day, a holiday in Taiwan. Therefore I am reasonably confident I can wake up to watch the Champions League* second-leg semifinal (2.45 am Taiwan time) between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. Dortmund shocked Madrid 4-1 in the first leg last week and are favored to reach the final. I like watching football, but I’m not a big fan of any particular club. However, in the Champions League, I always back German clubs, including Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and Bayern Munich, who will play tomorrow’s second leg against Barcelona, themselves holding a 4-0 advantage. An all-German final is highly likely this year and I’ll certainly savor that. I hope I don’t jinx it by writing this post just hours before the game.

In the Asian Champions League**, China’s Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Guoan have qualified for the knockout stage already, while Guizhou Renhe just missed out. Jiangsu Sainty unfortunately will likely not make it after a 2-0 loss left them bottom of their four-team group with just one game to go, but they do have a slight chance if they win and the second and third placed teams in their group both lose.

*The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious football club tournament in Europe and the world. It consists of 32 of Europe’s best clubs competing in a tournament that starts with a group stage, then moves on into a home-and-away knockout stage. The final is a single game held in a predetermined stadium. The 32 clubs are the champions, runners-up, (and the third and forth-placed teams from the top nations) of their countries.

**Other continents like Asia, Africa, and North and Central America (and the Caribbean) have their versions of the Champions League as well. South America’s own is called the Copa Libertadores.

China · Sports

Quick update on German and Chinese football

Football (soccer for you North Americans) is my favorite sport and this past week was a treat in the European Champions League. When it comes to club leagues, I am not a real fan of any club, but I support German teams in the Champions League, which is a yearly tournament featuring the champions, and the second, third, and (for some nations) fourth best teams of most European nations. In the first leg of the semifinals last week, German teams Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund battered Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid 4-0, and 4-1 respectively. An all-German final seems likely and I’d be very pleased. The second legs are this Tuesday and Wednesday so most likely, I’ll be waking up in the early morning to watch one of them (May 1, Labor Day, is a holiday here).

I also follow China’s football league, which has been getting some attention in recent seasons. One of the main reasons is the big money that’s being put into some of the clubs, many of which are owned by property magnates who seem to be emulating their counterparts in Europe, specifically those oil sheikhs and Russian and American billionaires who own Premier League clubs. As a result, several big-name players have moved to China in the last 2 seasons, including former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, ex-Barcelona star Seydou Keita, and others like Yakubu,Nicolas Anelka and some South American stars. German magazine Der Spiegel has an article on the Chinese football league, focusing on Lucas Barrios, one of the biggest names. Barrios moved to Guangzhou Evergrande from the German Bundesliga’s Borussia Dortmund last season at the peak of his career at 27, unlike Drogba and Keita who are getting on in years. The Paraguayan striker played in the 2010 World Cup for his country. Unfortunately his career at Evergrande hasn’t been so smooth and Barrios seems to be regretting coming to China. He still has a soft spot for his former club. However it’s not actually stated why he doesn’t like it at Guangzhou, except that he’s unhappy, and the article specifically says he doesn’t even mention Guangzhou. In this case, Barrios should have nobody but himself to blame, because he’s highly paid, and living comfortably.

The article gives a good overview of the major investment put into the football league, especially in Evergrande, whose coach Marcello Lippi led Italy to their 2006 World Cup. The major concern is whether this investment is sustainable and can be maintained in the future. The article also says David Beckham got US$2 million to become an ambassador for China’s football league, which saw Beckham visit China recently for a few days to make some public appearances. Beckham didn’t say he got any money so it’s notable the article states he got so much.

In the Asian Champions League, Guangzhou Evergrande is the only Chinese team to qualify for the knockout stage already, while Beijing Guoan and Guizhou Renhe still have a chance. Jiangsu Sainty unfortunately will likely not make it after a 2-0 loss left them bottom of their group with just one game to go. Asian Champions League action continues this week with the final matches of the group stage.

China · Sports

Random links – China, Taiwan, renting, dinosaurs

Home ownership has been something that has perplexed me for a while. Since I was in university, I’ve looked at the astronomic prices of homes (then in Toronto and now in Taipei and Hong Kong) and wondered why more people didn’t rent. I know the supposed benefits of owning your own place- the secure feeling of owning your own home which then forms a big part of your assets, as an investment, and as something you can pass on to your children. Yet costwise it seems sometimes it doesn’t make sense. No matter how good a location or the potential surge in values, there’s no reason why you should buy a home that would cost you several decades to pay off. In America, more people also seem to be embracing renting, a sentiment which I strongly agree with. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to own a home, but at a reasonable cost. Besides, change is a bigger aspect of our lives than our parents or grandparents, with moves and job changes and long-term travel more common now.

This recent development in China was a slight surprise to me, but the reason for it isn’t surprising. Expats are being forced to turn away from Beijing and Shanghai to lesser metropolises like Chengdu and Hangzhou, due to more Chinese returning from overseas. More and more Chinese going abroad to study  and picking up Western skills, knowledge and savvy, and many will of course want to return home. As such, it’s not going to be so easy for expats to make it in China, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a role for them. They, and myself as well, will just have to try harder and be open to new opportunities in other cities.

In golf, there’s more good news on Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang, as he made the cut to move into the final round. Guan made history by being the youngest person to play in a golf major, and he made further history by being the youngest to make the cut. His age- 14. Guan is from Guangzhou and has already played and won tournaments with adult competitors. Good luck to another Chinese succeeding in sport (though golf is not actually a real sport).

Here’re a few more interesting links on China and Taiwan from earlier this week and which I posted on my China blog Random China.

Chinese tourists are swarming the world and for some, it’s a big concern. The article is subtitled “The good, the bad and the backlash”, which gives a good idea of what it’s about. Not surprisingly it mentions Hong Kong, where some of the worst anti-mainland bias can be found, especially against mainland tourists. 83 million Chinese traveled overseas in 2012, becoming the top spending tourists in the world and overtaking Americans and Germans. This is good because it means more Chinese have the means to travel and are able to spend well. This is a positive development and I just hope the numbers will continue to increase. Of course, there are adverse effects from the big numbers and cultural differences and unfortunately, bad behavior from a significant minority. The article does a good job to examine this last issue with several Chinese quoted saying that many Chinese do not condone rude behavior and are indeed aware and ashamed when fellow countrymen act badly abroad.

Dinosaurs were found in Yunnan province recently. Actually, these were fossilized dinosaur embryos that were estimated to be 190 million years old! The fossils might even contain tissue remains which could be extracted for research. That’s pretty amazing to think that organic matter could have survived so long.

I was initially surprised when I first saw the headline of this article, but after some thought, not so much. Basically, Taiwanese don’t read much, much less so than people in countries like France, Russia, Japan, and mainland China. This worries the government so much that the ministry of culture has come up with a plan to help local publishers. The Atlantic Monthly article describes the decline in reading and, and mentions this is contrasted by Taiwan’s many bookstores, highlighted by the very well-known Eslite, an elegant local version of Borders (US) or Chapters (Canada). The main conclusions are that Taiwanese mainly buy Western bestsellers or self-help books, reading isn’t very popular, and that the local literary scene is not in good shape.
I do have local friends and acquaintances who read, and Western books are indeed popular. I can’t confirm the article’s assertion that nobody reads (the title is definitely a very hyperbolic one). Many people do read newspapers, magazines, and manga (Japanese comics). However, I’d say I don’t find it surprising that locals don’t read much books on average, since I feel that many young people, or even middle-aged people, don’t seem curious about or want to know more about the world. Since most available books are written by non-Taiwanese and about the world, I’d think this doesn’t help to make books very appealing. Couple that with the fact that the local media is not very professional and focuses more on gossip and scandal than hard news, making for a less informed population, and that there’re many forms of entertainment and leisure to distract Taiwanese, and it’s not hard to see that reading, especially serious literature and nonfiction, may be seriously declining. As the writer says, many people in libraries here are either studying or browsing magazines or newspapers, or making out (I can’t say I’ve seen this), while Eslite is popular but it’s mostly a hangout spot (to be honest, I do see many people reading whenever I’m there).

China · Sports · Travel

Assorted China links

Xi Jinping was officially confirmed last week as China’s president, and with that, here’re some photos of Xi in his early days, no doubt carefully selected but still worth a look. There’s a few photos of him as a young university student and with his family. I must say, he’s got some big smiles in most of them, which suggest he might truly be jollier and down-to-earth than other Chinese leaders such as his immediate predecessor.

BBC has a decent article about China’s departing leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the ex-Premier. What did they do, it asks. On the surface, this might seem easy to say as the two didn’t exactly oversee any spectacular achievements. But they did oversee a growing economy that saw GDP per capita grow more than fourfold and weathered the 2008 financial crisis, a spectacular 2008 Beijing Olympics, and significant strides in ties with Taiwan. No doubt, there were some negatives as well, such as growing socioeconomic inequality and a reduction in personal freedoms. I do agree with the article’s conclusion- it is still too early to draw a conclusion as the results of their rule will be seen in the following years.

I’ve been steadily following MMA (mixed martial arts) for several years, mainly UFC because it’s by far the biggest league, and it’s cool to see it growing in popularity in North America, Europe, and East Asia. The Economist has a short piece about MMA in China. MMA has been surging in popularity for some time in the US, Canada and Europe, not to mention it used to be big in Japan, and there’s hope that it’ll grow in China too. China has had one fighter fight in the UFC, Zhang Tiequan, who unfortunately is on a three-fight losing streak. The Economist piece reports about a big MMA event in Inner Mongolia, where one of the champions won 1 million yuan, a significant amount of cash for a young sport in China. Yet one consequence of MMA’s popularity is the decrease in interest in traditional martial arts, specifically kung fu, claims the Economist article. The piece doesn’t go into much detail about this claim so it’s not for certain. The Global Times also has a good article about the obstacles in China facing growing MMA , with Zhang being interviewed in the article as well. Besides domestic promotions, Chinese MMA fighters also fight in Asian such as Legend FC and One FC.

For these youngsters in the famous Shaolin Temple in Henan province, kung fu is still definitely big.

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Burma used to be considered one of China’s allies. Diplomatically shunned and isolated by the West, Burma could usually rely on China as a steadfast economic and political partner. Now, with Burma’s opening up and the resurgence of ties to the world, it seems China is not considered such a good friend anymore. Apparently, this was a big shock to China, claims a Burmese official in this Atlantic piece.