Day By Day

Thursday, July 30, 2009

China Diary -- Part 50 The Buildings of Shanghai

My one regret in Shanghai was that we did not get a chance to visit the city's famous "Bund". Here's a panoramic picture I pulled off the internet.

Shanghai will be hosting the Expo 2010 World's Fair next year and there is major construction going on all over town. Because of the construction the Bund was closed to pedestrian traffic the night we were there and we had foregone a river trip, which had originally been scheduled, in order to spend an extra day in Hangzhou. I'm not complaining, it was a good tradeoff, especially since it allowed us to see "Impressions Westlake" but I definitely intend to check out the Bund at night sometime. I guess that means we will have to go back to China in a couple of years.

I would be remiss not to note the amazing skyline of this city. Shanghai is possibly the most dynamic urban environment in the world and it's buildings illustrate its global importance.

These are two famous structures. On the left is the Jin Mao [Golden Prosperity] Tower. Depending on how it is measured it is either the fifth or seventh tallest building in the world. To its right is the Shanghai World Financial Center, currently the tallest completed building in the world. In the original design for the building the opening near the top was circular, but the Chinese government objected because that would make it look too much like the Japanese national symbol of a rising sun. Yes, the Chinese still nurture deep grudges for atrocities committed by the Japanese forces in the 1930's and 40's and anti-Japanese sentiment is an important element of Chinese nationalist thought. Some of the more hopeful commentators I have read ascribe such feelings largely to the older generation that still remembers the horrors of the past, but that is not what I found. Several young Chinese men and women told me that they, too, nurse a deep and abiding hatred for all things Japanese.

And in the foreground of the picture is the Chinese national bird, the yellow [construction] crane;)

This is the Shimao International Plaza building, a little over a thousand feet high.

The building on the right is Tomorrow Square. It contains the Marriott Hotel. Looks like a good place to stay, right on the edge of People's Square, not far from my favorite museum. I'm not sure about the one on the left.

And this is the Bund Center, seen from People's Square. I could go on and on and on. There are literally hundreds of these towering structures spread throughout the vicinity. The biggest concentration in the Pudong district, which is as close as you get to a city center.

That means that there is a lot to see next time I'm in town, and someday I will be back.

Only Fools Buy "Organic"

I have some friends who will be very, very disappointed to hear this:

LONDON (Reuters) - Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

Read the whole thing here.

For several years now I have been consciously avoiding "organic" foods on the grounds that they are no better than less expensive conventionally grown products. The whole "organic" fad always seemed like nonsense on stilts to me, an extension of the silly Sixties quest for "authenticity". It is gratifying to have support for my position from impeccable scientific sources. But the Left's reception of science has always been highly situational and I don't expect this report to have much effect. The people who buy organic are really indulging themselves in a shallow form of snobbery. The emotional payoff of being able to feel morally superior to the common herd is what they are really after. Health considerations are at best a secondary concern.

China Diary -- Part 49 Shopping in Shanghai

After leaving the museum we embarked on a shopping odyssey that took us first to a Pearl store. Shanghai is very near the main production area for freshwater pearls and several stores specialize in them. The one we visited is reputed to be one of the best.

We had allocated only one hour for pearl shopping, so things got a bit hectic. Fortunately the store provided a room off to the side where the men could sit and commiserate while their wives and girlfriends had fun. Then it was off to Chenghuangmiao (Town God Temple) Handicrafts Market, an extensive warren of shop-filled arcades, streets and alleys centered on a Taoist temple.

Then a quick trip to one of the city's famous "knockoff markets". These are semi-legal operations that sell cheap knockoffs of brand goods. The authorities keep shutting them down, but when that happens the shops simply move to another area. The purpose of the trip was simply to buy cheap luggage in which we could transport our numerous earlier purchases. China's domestic air carriers impose luggage restrictions that are far less lenient than international carriers. Since Shanghai was our last stop before boarding a flight for America,it made sense to load up on luggage there.

Our final journey of the day was a trip to Shanghai's famous Nanjing Road for some high-end shopping. We got there in the early evening and soon the whole street was ablaze.

At last, our shopping lust sated, we returned to our hotel for a farewell dinner, then to our rooms to pack and prepare for our return to the United States.

Sowell on Obama

Tom Sowell has a nice piece on NRO about Obama and the illusion of post-racialism.
Many people hoped that the election of a black President of the United States would mark our entering a “post-racial” era, when we could finally put some ugly aspects of our history behind us.

That was quite understandable. But it takes two to tango. Those of us who want to see racism on its way out need to realize that others benefit greatly from crying racism. They benefit politically, financially, and socially.

Barack Obama has been allied with such people for decades. He found it expedient to appeal to a wider electorate as a post-racial candidate, just as he has found it expedient to say a lot of other popular things....

The racial-profiling issue is a great vote-getter. And if it polarizes the society, that is a price that politicians are willing to pay in order to get votes. Academics who run black-studies departments, as Prof. Henry Louis Gates does, likewise have a vested interest in racial paranoia.

For “community organizers” as well, racial resentments are a stock in trade. President Obama’s background as a community organizer has received far too little attention, though it should have been a high-alert warning that this was no post-racial figure.

What does a community organizer do? What he does not do is organize a community. What he organizes are the resentments and paranoia within a community, directing those feelings against other communities, from whom either benefits or revenge are to be gotten, using whatever rhetoric or tactics will accomplish that purpose.

To think that someone who has spent years promoting grievance and polarization was going to bring us all together as president is a triumph of wishful thinking over reality.
Read the whole thing here. [emphasis mine]


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

China Diary -- Part 48 The Shanghai Museum

The next day we headed out for the Shanghai Museum of Ancient Chinese Art. This, for me was one of the highpoints of the trip.

Here are a couple of shots of the building's interior. The exhibition halls are located around this central atrium. This world-class museum houses extensive collections of Chinese paintings, calligraphy, coins, bronzes, jades, ceramics, and furniture. I was fascinated. If only I could spend the whole day there, and the next, and the next..., but we were on a schedule.

I was prowling through the coin gallery when I heard coming from the courtyard a familiar song. Somebody..., well a lot of somebodies, was singing the old folk song, "Shenandoah". I hurried out, looked down, and saw an impromptu concert taking place below. It was the University of Delaware Chorale, on tour in China. For me it was a magic moment. Even the guards who had flocked to the central courtyard at the first sound of singing seemed to be entranced. All too soon the songs were over and everyone returned to the exhibits.

I still had a lot left to see when time was up and we had to reassemble to head out for our next destination -- a pearl emporium. But as I left, I vowed to myself someday I will be back.

Commerce in Antiquity

A subject of immense importance, but one seldom considered by popular historians, is trade. It is far more interesting to talk about kings and conquerors, or courtesans and palace intrigue, or (for the ideologically blindered) social structures, race relations, and class conflicts. But commercial relations and those who conducted them were an essential element of human development.

I am pleased to note this article, by Karl Moore and David C. Lewis, on "Business Models in Antiquity", excerpted from a larger work, "The Beginnings of Globalization". In it the authors briefly sketch the emergence of a vast trading network in the middle-to-late Bronze Age [roughly the second millenium BC]. This network was anchored in the Middle East and its western branch extended across the Mediterranean and North Africa as far as Spain, and perhaps up to Britain and the Baltic. The eastern branch [not discussed in the article] extended to India and Southeast Asia. They note the existence of a specialized class of merchants, its relationship to governments, the international power conditions that made such extensive trade possible as well as the internal and international legislation that supported it.

A second article [here] traces the path of commercial development in China where a more managed, collectivist model prevailed. These articles are, to my mind, deeply flawed by a relentless present-mindedness and barely serve as a general introduction to an important subject, but even so brief a treatment is welcome.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

China Diary -- Part 47 Shanghai

Back on the road again we headed for Shanghai, our last stop in China. We had to hurry to get there because we were running a bit behind schedule.

That's the Shanghai Summit Shopping City building. When they say "shopping city" they aren't fooling.

Shanghai is a city of enormous contrasts. On our way in we saw everywhere evidence of its dynamism. Huge towering ultramodern structures stretched toward the sky and off to the horizon.

This picture, however, shows another side of the city -- a canal bustling with industrial activity and just on the other side from the new structures, squalid slums as bad as seen anywhere.

Sometimes the slums run right smack up against the new structures.

On we went heading for our destination, first dinner, then the world famous Shanghai Circus where we saw an amazing acrobatic show. I would place the quality of the performance about at the level of Cirque du Soleil.

Here's the exterior of the Circus City building.

And the interior.

We were banned from taking pictures of the performance, but you can get some idea of what we saw from this video of the "Incredible Acrobats of China" on tour in America. We saw many of these acts as well as others, including a "cage of death" in which eight, count 'em, eight motorcyclists circled simultaneously.

At last we headed off to our hotel for rest up for the next day which promised to be one long, grueling shopping opportunity. I looked forward with apprehension -- "She Who Must Not Be Named", with excitement.

Frum vs the Apocalyptics

David Frum has some good advice for conservatives. Quit whining! Remember that there has been an enormous expansion of liberty during our lifetimes, both at home and abroad. Quit predicting an imminent descent into "tyranny" or despotism. Our fundamental liberties are not in peril and the initiatives advanced by Obama are both an extension of programs formerly promoted by Republicans and generally popular with the American people. And quit being so damn emotional about everything. To counter the Democrats' ill-advised policies, you have to offer rational alternatives, not just apocalayptic predictions of impending doom.

Read it here, here, and here.

I usually diasgree with Frum, but on this point he is right. Levin, Limbaugh and the like are going way over the top on this loss of freedom thing.

Iowahawk on Gates

Dave Burge does it again:

When I first learned of the arrest of my colleague Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates after he stood up to the fascist jackboots of a declasse, ill-educated Cambridge police officer, I was of course angered -- but scarcely shocked. L'Affaire Gates simply aired, in public, the dirty 100-thread-count table linen of an American culture where Harvard faculty assholes still face a daily struggle against profiling, abuse, and insolence.

It will come as no surprise that Skip's arrest was the talk of the Douchebag Room at the Harvard Faculty Club last Friday. I and a group of colleagues had assembled for our weekly lunch; I opted for their competently-prepared Ahi Tuna Tartare and an amusing glass of '05 Hospices de Beaune Premier Cru Cuvee Cyrot-Chaudron. I had noticed that the Franz Fanon Memorial Booth -- Skip's long-reserved lunch spot -- was uncharacteristically empty, and asked our waiter Sergio for an explanation.

"Professor Skeep, he no is come today," said Sergio. "I tink he is in the jail."

Our table exchanged knowing glances, for we knew immediately that Skip was only the latest victim of a system that singles out the Harvard faculty asshole for stigmatization and unequal justice. It is a system that all of us knew too well, and provided an opportunity for an open conversation about our shared experiences as Harvard faculty assholes in America while waiting for Sergio to bring the dessert cart.

One after one came the cascade of stark stories: the rolled eyes of our department secretaries. The Spanish language mockery of our office janitors. The foul gestures of drunken strap-hanging Red Sox lumpenproles aboard the MBTA. The frequent police stops on the highway to Cape Ann and Martha's Vineyard for "Volvoing While Asshole." And then there are the insulting media stereotypes, where we are routinely caricatured as pompous, effete, self-important, irrelevant elitists. All, I might add, by a motley collection of lowbrow inferiors, few of whom have ever published in a peer-reviewed journal. Let alone edit one.

Read the whole thing here.

China Diary -- Part 46 Tea Time

After leaving West Lake we headed out toward yet another shopping opportunity, the Mei Jia Wu Tea Culture Village. The village is famous for its Longjing [Dragon Well] green tea, reputed to be the best in China.

The village and surrounding countryside are as beautiful as I have seen anywhere and I wished we could stay there for a few days, just relaxing, taking in the sights, eating the local cuisine [very highly rated] and sipping the best tea in China. But we were on a schedule and there was much to do before night fell.

We trooped into a conference room where we were presented with a lecture [actually a sales pitch] on tea, how it is raised, harvested, prepared, etc. by the daughter of the plantation owner. It was quite good, informative and persuasive enough that "She Who Must Not Be Named" loaded up with a year's supply of "emperor grade" tea.

Here's the lady herself. She hasn't quite finished her demonstration and, if you note, the wallets are already open.

After the lecture I left the main group and walked my camera around the estate taking pictures for about half an hour. Then we reassembled, got on our buses, and headed off to our next destination, Shanghai.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Craig Ferguson on Youth Culture

I don't know who this guy is, but he's certainly a Scot and seems to know what he's talking about.

HT Jonah Goldberg

Sunday, July 26, 2009

China Diary -- Part 45 West Lake

The next morning our destination was the Leifeng Pagoda [Thunder Mountain Pagoda] on Sunset Hill overlooking West Lake. If you read the summary of "Legend of White Snake" in the previous post, you know that, according to tradition, this is where White Snake was entombed and where the climactic battle between the monks and demons took place. The original pagoda was constructed more than a thousand years ago, but it collapsed in 1924 and was rebuilt just a few years ago. On display there is some of the original brickwork [where people toss coins hoping it brings them luck] and displays illustrating the legend of White Snake, but the real attraction is the magnificent view from the top of the tower of West Lake, reputed to be the most beautiful location in China.

After viewing the lake from above we, and seemingly half the population of the city, took a stroll along the lakeshore.

Here's a bit of what we saw.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

China Diary -- Part 44 A Night in Hangzhou

Then we were back on the road, heading for Hangzhou. There was no time to stop for lunch so we had take-out. A restaurant in Suzhou had prepared what they imagined Americans would want to eat. Here is their idea of a "hamburger".

That's right -- a sweet roll wrapped around a pork sausage. Not good! Once we got to Hangzhou we made up for it with an elaborate meal at our hotel, then it was off to West Lake to see a show.

And what a show it was!!! But first, a picture of the ceiling of the hotel lobby. Not that it's important, but I think it's a neat shot.

The show we saw was a modern rendition of the famous Chinese folk tale -- "The Legend of White Snake". Here's a synopsis of the plot as performed in Chinese Opera. "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I were already familiar with the story, having seen it performed by a traveling opera troupe, but many in the party must have been mightily confused. It didn't matter because the performance we saw was less a story than a visual spectacle titled "Impression West Lake", and rather than a straightforward storyline it assumed that the audience already knew the story and presented magnificent visual and dance representations of crucial points in the narrative. It was conceived and directed by Zhang Yimou, who also directed the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, and it is much the same sort of spectacle as was broadcast worldwide then.

Here is a promotional video demonstrating some of the things we saw that evening. The music is performed by Zhang Liang-ying, who I was told was a winner of the Chinese version of "American Idol".

And here are some pictures I took of the performance. I was experimenting with various settings and didn't have a tripod, so the images are not as crisp as they might have been. Still, I like them.

Wow!!!! For many of us this was the highpoint of the entire tour. It certainly was memorable. All too soon the show was over and we trundled, tired but happy, back to the buses for a trip to our hotel.