Posts Tagged 'China'

JSC’s brush with blogging fame

Our faithful readers will be happy to know that when there’s not a smorgasbord of vague topics engaging our talents of producing excessive word counts, we at JSC sometimes spend our time hobnobbing with the international blogging elite. On Monday night, along with a co-worker and Beijing’s uncontested cupcake queen, I met for drinks with Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias and Brad Plumer, who are on a journalist trip through China. Aside from some great anecdotes that stem from the words “journalist” and “China” popping up in the same sentence, it was fun to hear their views on the country and argue a few of our own (my co-worker and I represent two-thirds of the shadowy “ex-pats who run a small company trying to spread Western educational techniques” mentioned in Ezra’s post).

Now that you’re sufficiently disarmed and dazzled by my lifestyle, there’s a cool lesson from this. I arranged the meeting by sending a message to Ezra through the Washington Post website, telling him that there were some entrepreneurs in Beijing who would love to meet up and chat about China. Now, in a well-functioning world, there would be someone more important than me to get in touch with him. Whatever your opinion about blogging, these guys represent an important slice of public debate in the United States. If you’re a China scholar, or some kind of official willing to meet off record, or even an American Chamber of Commerce official, don’t you try to pull these guys off to the side for a few hours? Anyone? Bueller?

This is an example of an important school of philosophy, which goes by the name of “people in important positions are not on top of their own business”-ism (another fun example was a story a friend told me about how last week during Hillary’s visit to China, she was doing a speech and some totally unrelated guy got up on stage while she was standing for a photograph, ran up, shook her hand, said some words, and walked off, without anything happening. Secret Service? Bueller?). Anyway, if you live in a country that someone important is visiting, try to shoot them an e-mail. There’s a good chance they’re holed up in a fancy hotel looking for an excuse to get out.

English, do you speak it?

That title was just so I can throw this classic out here. Best use of 6.5 minutes ever.

Back to the topic at hand. If you travel a fair amount, you notice a wide range of English ability around the world. Some countries are a breeze to get around in with just English, while in others you’re stuck pointing a lot and learning the tricks of the mime trade. I’m amazed that there isn’t some more universal standard to measure this, and that every guidebook ever written sticks to saying something to the tune of “English is growing in popularity among young people” to summarize the state of English in every country, but I digress.  What I’m most interested in is what causes this variation.

Continue reading ‘English, do you speak it?’

Things I don’t understand, part XLVI

I don’t understand how you can be guilty of receiving bribes *and* of stealing commercial secrets. Someone paid these guys millions of dollars for the privilege of also giving them information that could help them negotiate against China’s steel mills? There’s got to be a whole lot more to this story.

Wasting money is only for the rich

There’s something really maddening about seeing governments of poor nations waste money on stupid shit. I don’t like to lay down rules for what other people do with their money. But governments of poor nations seem like valid targets of my ire, since they ought to conform with the developmental aspirations of their people. So with that said, here’s a list of three pretty egregious wastes of money by governments of poor nations.

  1. First up, North Korea. It’s well-known that the ruling Kim family and their cronies skim, steal, borrow, counterfeit, and beg money out of the system only to be wasted on pizza parlors, giant private movie collections, and other white elephants. But did anyone notice that DPRK had a speed skater at the winter Olympics in Vancouver? That means they have a Zamboni and a an in-door ice rink somewhere in the North, with a whole program devoted to churning out speed skaters, only to lose to their richer cousins in the South every single time.
  2. Next has to be the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which apparently has a cute, amateur space program. No, seriously. Click on the link to check out the video footage. Meanwhile, the DRC’s per capita income has declined every year since 2004 by some measures.
  3. For lack of a clear third example, I’m going to have to go with Ecuador. A couple years ago I was doing some research in the country and at the time the national and provincial governments were planning to build a large international airport in Tena, a tiny town in the Amazon jungle mainly known for white water rafting trips and ecotourism. The government officials were selling the town as a natural location, a potential transportation hub for the entire Pacific rim of South Africa. Lots of money had already been allocated just to buy the land and break ground. Locals asked why a town of barely over 10,000 with major problems in sanitation and potable water needed a big, modern international airport, and the best answer the government could come up with was … crickets. It was purely a vanity project. And there are hundreds more like it across large swaths of Latin America.

Wasting money is a rich person’s game. That’s why Vancouver can have a $1 billion debt overhang from the Olympics and still be a functioning city — and not lose much international respect. That’s why Bill Gates can have a $125 million house and still be thought of as a nice man (The Gates Foundation helps).  Now, if Kinshasa ever pulled that kind of gimick, there’d be an outcry. But for some reason it’s not as normal to criticize the smaller vanity programs of poor governments that ought to know better.

* I’m sure I left out some great examples, so feel free to chime in in the comments with your own suggestions.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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