World’s Most Boring News Article

I think I have found what is arguably the world’s most boring news article.  It’s a product of the Xinhua News Agency, China’s official news outlet and mouthpiece of the Party.  The headline alone nearly put me to sleep: "China’s Top Officials Receive Lectures on Society’s Top Issues."  I love the phrase "received lectures."  As for the article itself, here’s a sampling:

  Seventy-seven scholars from 37 institutes and
universities have been invited to Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leaders’
compound in downtown Beijing, to give the lectures. The Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences provided the highest number of lecturers.

"These collective study meetings
show the central leadership values democratic decision making and
collective wisdom, which is of great importance to the progress of
China’s political democracy and civilization," the report quoted
several lecturers – including Li Lin from CASS and Zhao Shukai from the
Development Research Center of the State Council – as saying.

Wake me up when it’s over.

King of Masks

On Tuesday afternoon I went with a friend to the Changdian Temple Fair.  Temple fairs are a traditional feature of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  Now, rather than have them in the temples (which are far too small), certain city streets are blocked off  for the first five days of the new year, and are filled with vendors selling everything from pin-wheels (they seemed to be particularly popular this year) to roasted goats.  Think of your local county or state fair, and make it 10 times more crowded.  There you are.

Anyway, at the temple fair this year masks seemed to be all the rage.  Everywhere we turned someone had a goofy mask on.  Below are some of my favorites.


Sterility Hospital

As you can imagine, when I saw this billboard downtown, I did a double-take.  Sterility hospital?  A place where you go to get sterilized?  Is that what they’re really saying? If so, why does that man look so happy? And wait…isn’t that Steve Martin?  Even though I instinctively knew that it couldn’t mean what it sounded like it was meaning, there was something about the English that was making me think that (did that make any sense at all?).

My next step was to look at the Chinese characters in hopes of finding the source of what seemed to me a bad translation. In Chinese it says bu yun bu yu.  Bu yun and bu yu each mean “infertile.” And since infertile and sterile can be synonomous in this context, technically the translation is fine.  Yet it definitely makes a native English speaker puzzled. I guess its because we call clinics that treat infertility “Fertility (or Infertility) Clinics.”  We don’t call them “Sterility Clinics,” presumably because “to sterilize” as some sort of treatment has the opposite result of infertility treatment.

So this is really an advertisement for a hospital that treats infertility, that helps couples have babies.  And don’t you love the pitch–Steve Martin, from the movie Cheaper by the Dozen. I guess the message is “Come to our hospital and you too can have 12 children.”

Which seems very odd in a country that has a one-child policy!”  Perhaps if you can afford to go to the clinic you can afford to pay the fines.

Thanks to my friend BS for supplying the photo.

Stay Away from the Windows

I’m back in Beijing now, after a very quick trip to the US to attend a conference.  I flew to the east coast last Wednesday, just in time for the Valentine’s Day Storm that wreaked havoc on air travel.  I landed in Newark alright last Wednesday, but found that my onward flight to DC had been cancelled.  Continental put me up for the night, then sent me on my way the next morning.  No complaints there.  The flight back here today was great—we flew up and over the top, crossing the North Pole, then straight down over Russia and Mongolia.  All that on two engines!  Amazing.

I got home around 4:30 in the afternoon, and have been trying to keep myself awake until a decent time to go to bed.  Staying awake now is not a problem given that it sounds like a war zone outside.  The Lunar New Year holiday is in full swing here (yesterday was New Year’s Day), and fireworks are at the heart of the celebrations.  Last year the Beijing city government lifted the ban they’d imposed 12 years ago on setting off fireworks in the city limits.  The holiday had just become too boring.  Not so anymore.  Every street corner has its vendor selling fireworks, and there don’t seem to be any restrictions on when/where they can be shot off.  Actually, I ‘ve heard that they are not supposed to be shot off within the 5th Ring Road, but that is obviously either not the case or is simply being ignored by the authorities. 

As soon as night fell this evening, the fireworks began.  Literally.   Apparantly it’s even OK to shoot them off in the parking lot in front of 3 20-story apartment towers!  My first instinct was to go look, but when I started hearing fragments of the canisters hitting my windows I decided agains that idea. 

I’m quite sure this goes on for at least 12 days!  Oh joy!

Well, Happy New Year.  It’s the Year of the Pig.  My year….which means I’m either 12, 24, 36, or 48! 

Get in Line!

The Beijing Spiritual Civilization Committee has launched yet another campaign to improve the manners of Beijingers in the run-up to the Olympics.  The target this time is "queue-jumping," which is an interesting term in itself, because it implies that there might be an actual queue to jump, something that is usually NOT the case.  This all-wise committee has now decided that the solution is to designate the 11th of every month Stand-Orderly-in-Line Day. Or, in Chinese pai-dui li-rang.  On that day, the neighborhood grannies ("Marxist Mamas") will be deputized, don their little red arm-bands and fan out to remind (cajole, harrangue) people to stand in line. They decided that the 11th was a good date, since the number 11 is like two individuals standing in line.   It might help people remember!

While the state media is hailing this as a move of unparalleled brilliance, Beijing "netizens" are not so impressed.  An on-line survey revealed that most people think the habit of queue-jumping is too ingrained.  It’s a sign of how much things have changed here–public opinion polling of government campaigns.

You can go here to read the Xinhua article, and see some photos of happy Beijingers standing in line (hint–the photos are staged!)

Wandering Around Suwanna-BOOM!

No, that’s not a word I’m trying to make up.  It’s my attempt at spelling out phonetically how to pronounce the name of Bangkok’s new international airport.  It’s spelling in English is: Suvarnabhumi.  How they went from that pronunciation (suwannaboom) to that spelling is beyond me, but never mind, it’s a fun word to say. 

I got to spend several hours yesterday at Suvarnabhumi (remember: suwannaBOOM) airport, as I was transiting from Chiang Mai on my way home to Beijing.  My travel companions and I arrived at 8AM, and our Beijing-bound flight was scheduled for 11.  Just enough time to hit the Burger King!  We hiked what seemed like miles and miles to our next flight, arriving at the gate about 40 minutes before departure, as we’d been instructed.  But the boarding time came and went and there we stood.  The Thai Airways staff eventually told us that there was a mechanical problem with the plane, so they were preparing a different aircraft for our flight.  It would be about an hour delay.  And they told us to go to a different gate down at the end of the concourse. 
Our second boarding time came and went, and we were told it would be another hour yet.  This time, though, they brought out free sandwiches and drinks, which prompted a stampede to the counter!  Finally, they told us the aircraft was ready, and we boarded the busses that would take us to said aircraft.  So now, here we are, 3 busses full of passengers.  But apparantly they didn’t make it clear to the bus drivers exactly where our aircraft was, so we spent about 10 minutes driving all over the flight aprons looking for our plane.   It was pretty comical.  Eventually the busses stopped in front of an aircraft that was actually parked at a gate on the other side of the terminal, and we climbed the stairs to the jetway to board the plane.  Exactly 3 hours late, we lifted off.

Bye-bye SuwannaBOOM.  See you next year!

Have You Gone Down Yet?

In traditional Chinese culture people used to greet one another with the phrase "have you eaten yet?"  It was a way of demonstrating to the other person that you cared about their physical well-being. And of course, since Chinese culture was also hyper-polite, the proper response was always "yes, I’ve eaten," no matter if you’d just gotten up from a 40-course banquet, or hadn’t had a meal in days.  To say "no, I haven’t eaten" would oblige the other person to then feed you, which is might not be something he truly wants to do.  In modern urban China, this phrase is rarely heard anymore.

But I’m in Thailand now, at a conference in a resort in the mountains above Chiang Mai.  There are 600 people here.  Over the course of the past 7 days, we have developed our own, slightly modified version of that traditional Chinese greeting.  It is "have you gone down yet?"  Some kind of microbe has attacked our merry band here, and easily 75% of the conference participants          have been hit with a 24-hour bout of, shall we say, gastro-intestinal distress (bacterial or viral; food-borne or air-borne, no one has been able to figure out.  Kneeling at the throne, I like to call it.   Each morning, as we gather for  our conference sessions, we are anxious to find out who’s still up and who went down in the night. Hence our greeting.

I managed to be one of the privileged few who escaped the ravages of this bug.  I chalk it up to my Pakistan-born-and-bred industrial-strength immune system.  Truth be told, there were not a few folks who wanted to see me go down, and thus each morning people would come up to me with an expectant grin and ask "have you gone down yet."  When I would say no, they’d harrumph and walk away!  No fair.

Well, to be honest with you I did stumble.  One day I ate two big plates of chicken curry, followed by a bag of M&M’s.  My stomach responded with the gastro-intestinal version of the "you have performed and illegal operation" computer message. I’ll leave it at that.

Time to pack my suitcase and move on to the next place:  Back to Chiang Mai city for 3 days. I’m beginning to feel like a drifter!