Top linkage

July 7, 2010

Excellent article by Lindsay Tanner on African refugees and Australia’s history of integrating refugees.  Like other migrant groups before them (Southern European, Balkans, Asian), I strongly believe they will inevitably become part of the rich multicultural fabric of Australia.  They might even integrate faster than others given their sporting prowess – the Socceroos in 5-7 years time might have some Liberian and Sudanese representation.

What part will African-Australians play in the Australian community in 50 years’ time?

That largely depends on what the rest of us do. We’ve managed to integrate numerous groups of increasingly different people from all over the world, with results of which we can all be proud. Is there any reason African-Australians should be any different?

The now-former ALP stalwart Phillip Adams, on why he quit the ALP

I don’t know Julia Gillard, but accept that she was coerced (or seduced) into her challenge. Yet I was uneasy with her cleverly calibrated victory speech. First of all, some victory. Second, she justified the coup by talking of a government losing its way. But it was HER way! As Deputy PM she had more than a casting vote in the Gang of Four. And at least one of the most calamitous decisions was hers. Rudd resisted, she insisted.

Rudd and I talked regularly. The last time we spoke he was urging me to resign from The Australian to protest its editorial line, advice I declined to accept. And we argued about his climate change strategy. I by no means agreed with other policies and tactics. But nothing would have persuaded me to support a move against the leader who’d defeated Howard, made that superb “sorry” speech and handled the GFC with such skill. The right to dismiss a PM belongs to the electorate at an election, not to a drunken governor-general or factional bullies drunk with power. Rudd goes, so I go too. Seems the lethal Latham was right.

Shanghai and Malaysia

July 7, 2010

(I started typing this post 1 month ago, but then the World Cup got in the way!)

Spent a great few days in Shanghai.

Last year, Shanghai traffic was horrendous because of all the Expo-related construction.  Getting from Pudong to Puxi was a nightmare and you would experience very long delays getting into the tunnels to cross the Huangpu.  But this time getting around was a breeze.  Apart from intermittent road cordons to allow foreign dignataries to speed by, Shanghai’s transport system was so efficient.

The new Hong Qiao airport is further out of town than the previous one, but is really easy to get around.  There is an express lane for people not having to pick up baggage from the carousel and there were plenty of taxis waiting.  The only confusing part is that the new Hong Qiao airport is called “Hong Qiao terminal 2”, while the older one is “Hong Qiao terminal 1”.  This would be fine, but for the fact that they are some distance apart.  I imagine some people might get mixed up and go to the wrong airport and possibly miss their flight.  Probably would’ve been better to give the new airport a different name.

Shanghai really impressed me.  The restaurants are great and better than Beijing.  The footpaths are properly built.  There is much more appreciation for the preservation of historical buildings.  Having said that, don’t be entirely seduced by this great city – beneath the stunning veneer of the Bund and the modern Lujiazui metropolis, service staff are still quite a few levels below Hong Kong and the “software” still needs some serious polishing.

Some quick comments on the Shanghai World Expo:

  • Queues – Getting inside the Expo was quite easy. But once inside queues are very very long for the most popular pavilions.  Apparently the Oz pavilion gets 20% of Expo traffic.
  • Worth going?  I wouldn’t make a special trip to Shanghai for it. Particularly if you’ve traveled quite a bit around the world because the pavilions are speed-dating stalls for each country.  It’s really quite boring if you’ve already been to that country.
  • Weirdest pavilion – Very easy, that would go to North Korea.  Inside they have a plaque proclaiming “Paradise for People”.  They also have a few TV’s showing what look to be 1980’s video footage of North Korean factories.

Indonesia was the best pavilion I went to – It was bloody impressive and they must have hired a really professional PR agency.  The pavilion was well-0rganised and you didn’t have to queue too long.  The displays were interesting and covered economics, culture, geography, nature and politics.  They reflected a country with increasing confidence in its place in the world.

Malaysia was the worst – Hate to say it, but it was terribly disappointing (what follows is a scathing rant).From the outside it looks nice, but inside it’s crap (perhaps an apt analogy of the current state of Malaysia?)

Malaysia is still stuck with its racial identity issues and this shows from its pavilion.  When you walk in you are straight away confronted by mannequins of each race – Malay, Chinese and Indian.  This contrasts with Indonesia, which was much more self-confident and didn’t see the need to explicitly convey its ethnic diversity – they simply had photos of different people standing next to each other smiling.

Malaysia’s crowd control was also terrible.  You had to queue 20mins, not because it was a very popular pavilion, but because of the internal design of the pavilion which didn’t allow the free movement of people inside.  Conversely, Indonesia designed a pavilion which allowed a constant and smooth flow of traffic.

But perhaps most importantly, Indonesia gets China while Malaysia doesn’t.  Malaysia is still obsessed about being “Asian” and this is reflected by its tourism marketing – “Malaysia, Truly Asia”.  When I meet with Malaysian companies, they always reminisce about the glory days in the late 90’s, prior to the Asian Financial Crisis when the Malaysian stock market was one of the largest markets in Asia.  But the reality is that China is today’s story (and the rest of the 21st century’s story), and China doesn’t give a f*ck about whether someone is “Asian” or whether certain countries qualify to be “Asian”.  China only cares about itself and the US.

Malaysia really needs to grasp the implications of the China story or it will be left behind.  Investors much prefer Indonesia, which is a massive commodity and domestic demand story.  This despite Malaysia appearing to be more investor-friendly – more English speakers, former British institutions and less terrorism risk vs Indonesia.

But one of the biggest factors that scares off investors is the NEP.  It’s hard to invest in a country which is experiencing a constant brain drain of talent to the West and Singapore.  Until the NEP is resolved, I’m afraid that Malaysia will likely continue to languish as a backwater, not only in Asia (where China, India and Indonesia are the story), but even in its South-East Asian backyard.  I would hate to see Malaysia perceived as being on the same level as the Philippines.

I know I’ve been kicking Malaysia a lot in this post, but I genuinely want to see progress.  It’s unfortunate then, that at an international expo in China which will receive millions of visitors, the Malaysian pavilion has spelling mistakes in English.  This is unacceptable and inexcusable for a country where the English language should be a strength.

Malaysia pavilion

He’s back.

This idiot unfortunately reflects the ‘uncouth’ side of China.  It should be noted that he’s not reflective of the Chinese population.  In fact, a large number called for his sacking and in the end he had to leave CCTV.

Unfortunately Chinese sports commentators still have a long way to go before they understand the notion of ‘balance’.  There is often an overly nationalistic edge to their  commentary and their intense passion can sometimes cloud their call.

At the same time, the Chinese populace is really good at keeping them in check.  At the recent Winter Olympics, a lot of Chinese criticised a female Chinese commentator (I think it was Yang Yang), for getting overly excited at the short-track speed skating.  Her shrill calls were highlighted by her excitedly repeating Zhou Yang’s name as she skated around the track (the eventual champion).  She would start off slowly – “Zhou Yang….Zhou Yang” and then quickly build up in a breathless, massive crescendo to “ZHOU YANG! ZHOU YANG!”, resulting in some Chinese saying she sounded like she was having an orgasm.

Regarding Huang Jianxing’s ad for this World Cup – Why the f*ck is he wearing what looks to be an American Indian costume for a World Cup to be held in South Africa?  And why is he smeared in brownish face paint? It smacks of cultural insensitivity.

Matildas hold nerve to clinch Asian Cup – The first time Australia has won an Asian title!  And done in monsoonal conditions in Chengdu.  Tied 1-1 with North Korea after extra-time.  Won 5-4 on penalties.  This is a great achievement.  They also qualify for the World Cup.

Meanwhile, some not so good results for a couple of Chinese women’s teams (who have historically been very competitive).

Never before, China knocked out of World Cup – While Oz has been breaking out the bubbly, in the same Asian Cup on its home soil, China lost to Japan 2-0 in the 3rd place play-off.  It’s the first-time China has failed to qualify for the Women’s World Cup (first 3 places at Asian Cup qualify for the World Cup).  It was also the first time in 9 years that they did not make the Asian Cup final.

Table tennis: In a rare sporting victory for the island city-state, Singapore stopped China’s dominance at the Corbillon Cup in Moscow.   All good things come to an end.  The Chinese women’s team has won the Corbillon 8 times in a row, so it was just a matter of time before this remarkable run ended.  In reality, it was China’s “A” team vs China’s “B or C” team.  A lot of table-tennis players playing for other countries were born in China.

Spent Sunday arvo at the “Western Returned Scholars Association“.  WRSA is a government-affiliated organisation consisting of over 40,000 Chinese scholars and researchers who have studied abroad.

WRSA is housed in a lovely courtyard just footsteps away from Tiananmen Square.  You can’t help but feel that you’re right in the middle of the power game.

Beautiful garden next door to WRSA. Blackberry photo, hence poor quality.

Went with the Wife and Corean Audit to listen to a talk from Dr Yuyan Zhang, a Professor and Director of the Institute of Economics and Politics Studies from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.   CASS is China’s premier think-tank, so it’s one of the best places to find out what ideas are being debated in Zhongnanhai.

Dr Zhang spoke about China’s future growth and place in the world.  It was a very strategic talk, with some interesting and at times, controversial theories.  While much of what he said was not really new to me, quite a bit would be a little shocking to a Western ear.  It was a very confident view of China, which focussed on themes revolving around the “World vs China”.  It was certainly for a Chinese audience.

Note that there are many differing views in China and also within CASS.  Policy is keenly debated in China and especially in Beijing, where internationally-aware taxi drivers would give most politicians a run for their money (a taxi driver I chatted to yesterday knew the minutiae of the UK election). Like everywhere else in the world, policy is a constant battle between liberals and hard-liners.

Some highlights (the talk was in Chinese, so this is my translation.  Apologies for any dodgy translation errors):

– China’s economy currently contributes around 7% of global GDP.  This is roughly equivalent to what China contributed in 1900. Indicative of China’s long-term view of the world, Dr Zhang also mentioned that Western economists estimate China’s GDP in 1600 was around 40% of global GDP.  I’ve seen numbers anywhere from 25-40% from other sources.  In any case the key message is that China’s current rise is nothing new nor unusual, and the more nationalistic message is that China has historically been the strongest economy in the world.

– He made jokes how after hosting a successful Olympics, many Westerners were stunned, but still maintained China was a developing country.  He ridiculed this view.  This is important as in international negotiations, China maintains that it is still a “developing country”.  Obviously it’s a negotiation tactic, but the fact that Dr Zhang was willing to joke about this shows the confidence he has in China’s development.

He was very sceptical about climate change on both a scientific and political front.  He wasn’t convinced in the science, but most importantly, on the political front, he saw the whole climate change debate as a way for the West to restrict China’s rise, while at the same time stunting China’s development through foisting on additional responsibilities. He also said that German policymakers had told him they were pushing climate change really hard, not because they believe in the science, but because they want to crimp Russia’s ability to dictate energy politics in Europe, as Russia supplies a lot of gas to Euroland.  Whether his story about the Germans is true or not, it shows the high level of scepticism over climate change and the West’s intentions.  On the flip side, while his scepticism is worrying for the success of international climate change negotiations, China is investing a lot in renewable energy, because the government realises that the current coal-fired growth model is unsustainable.

On oil, he said that the US would like a relatively stable oil price.  If it’s too high, it will mean Iran and Russia will get up to mischief because their budgets become flush with oil revenues.  If it’s too low, it’ll benefit countries like China, who are quite dependent on oil for development.  Hence, from the US’ perspective, this is not ideal either.  I’ve also heard this view from energy strategists previously.

– Continuing his “World vs China” view, he argued that the current global structures and institutions are all structured to restrict China’s rise.  Typically, the rest of the world was largely treated as an entire entity, with little differentiation made.

– He floated a theory that I’ve never heard before about America’s invasion of Iraq: that it wasn’t about securing oil, but about securing water resources.  He said that Iraq has good water resources.  He also argued that from a strategic point of view, Iraq is the first domino for the US to achieve its goal of democratising the Middle East.

– He really stressed water and talked about China’s problems with scarce, polluted water resources.  He foresaw the potential for future conflict with India given the role the Himalayas play in water security.

– Emphasised the need for China to be successful at projecting its own soft power.  He said that China needed to become adept at “smart power” and that it’s no good having a lot of “hard power”, if you don’t have any soft power.

– China will need tonnes of resources to continue its development and will continue to pursue them.

– He argued that the next decade is extremely important for China.  He thinks that if China is able to maintain its current economic growth, by 2020 China will have “climbed the mountain” and will have attained a very strong position in geo-politics.

All in all, it was a fascinating talk.  It was a relatively hawkish view, but as I wrote above, there are many differing views within CASS.  It’s likely however, that the view of the West restricting China’s rise is shared not only within CASS, but amongst the wider Chinese populace.

Dr Zhang. The banner translates to "China's renaissance and future in the world" (Blackberry photo quality)

Finally, a quick note on the Raffles Hotel.  We had free vouchers for afternoon tea and conveniently, it was only 5 mins away from the talk.  Was a really great snack, particularly the scones and sandwiches.  They also give you a glass of champagne.  The decore of the room was in typical Raffles style and very colonial.  I felt like I was in a hill station and should have been wearing a safari suit – “Jolly good show old chap and all of that”.  I don’t know how much it normally costs, but I’d say it would be a little steep.  Was very nice, but I don’t think I’d go back if I had to pay (because it would be expensive).

Raffles Hotel afternoon tea - Jolly good show old chap!

From The Australian – “A furore has erupted over a new mini-series about the deadliest sniper at Gallipoli, a Chinese-Australian Billy Sing, who is played by a white.”

The director, Geoff Davis, has an absolute cop-out of a reason for whiting out Billy Sing.  He claims he was not able to find a 60 year-old Chinese actor to play his father.  What a load of BS!!  I’m sure there would have been tonnes of people who could have fit the part.  I mean, it’s not like we’re living in 1950’s Oz.  It would have been as simple as walking to Chinatown or picking up the phone and calling one of the Asian Associations.  I’m sure the associations would have gone out of their way to help tell this story.

For Billy Sing to be played by a Caucasian actor is deeply disappointing.  From the point-of-view of an Asian-Australian, ANZAC day sometimes doesn’t have the same resonance as it does for my Caucasian-Aussie brothers.  This is partly because ANZAC day has become a massive piss-up and a day for bogans to unleash some pseudo-nationalistic ugliness under the guise of the ANZAC legend (on this, we should also reflect on the coldly pragmatic British who stuffed up big time, which resulted in massive Aussie casualties).

It’s so important that Australia’s history is not just an exclusive one and that all stories are told.  I had never heard of Billy Sing prior to this article and for a lot of ethnics, it would be something to identify with and look up to (despite what you may think of his job as a sniper).

Bogans will say stupid stuff like “Oh, he doesn’t look Chinese anyway”, or “Well if he was played by a Chinese, then White people would feel pissed off.”  But this is completely ignorant of the viewpoint of Asian culture and identity.  From what I know, there are hardly any major Asians of note in Australia’s history.  Role models, particularly war heroes, are important because they help integration on both sides, breaking down so-called “legitimacy” barriers.  Billy Sing’s story is a powerful antidote to racists who claim that ethnic groups haven’t contributed to Australia’s prosperity and safety.

Some ethnic-Aussies feel excluded from Australia’s history because it’s always been told through the lense of the White man (and on this point, imagine how the Aboriginals feel!).  Portraying Billy Sing’s story accurately would be great for Australia’s history, as it would show that multiculturalism was alive and well back in the time of World War 1 and that cultural mixing was already successful.

Has been fascinating watching the train wreck unfold.  My British friends are all up in arms and aghast.  But at the same time, retaining their uniquely Pommy view on life – Humorous, yet pessimistic and fatalistic: “Oh gawd, here we go again.”

  • Can’t believe all of those people were locked out from voting.
  • Can’t believe they hold an election on a weekday?
  • Can’t believe they open polling booths till 10pm?!
  • Can’t believe the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote, but only 57 seats, vs Labour getting 29% and 258 seats.
  • First past the post is a crap system.
  • Love the declaration ceremonies for each seat.
  • Love the UK tabloids.  The Sun has a great headline today – “Squatter, 59, holed up in No 10”

A Man aged 59 was squatting in a luxury home near the Houses of Parliament last night.  The squatter, named as a Mr Gordon Brown from Scotland, was refusing to budge from the Georgian townhouse in Downing Street, central London – denying entry to its rightful tenant.”

The UK debacle reinforces my belief that Oz has one of the best functioning political systems (and another area where Oz beats the Poms!)
  • Oz is one of the only countries in the world (and I think maybe the sole Western country) that has compulsory voting.  It’s a great system because it means the parties have to be much more centrist because they have to appeal to everyone, rather than appealing to extremes.  You don’t get the “half-pipe” that is US politics, where both sides appeal to the extremes, because it’s the extremes who have much more to lose if the opposing party gains power and hence are much more engaged in the voting process.
  • Oz holds elections on a Saturday.  This is total common sense.  But from some quick research, it looks like the UK, the US and the Philippines (next week) all hold elections during the week.  I guess this has evolved because voting is not compulsory and with an apparent apathetic population there hasn’t been a real need to pour lots of resources into voting logistics.  But as the UK farce has shown, people can be barred from the democratic process.  Very embarrassing for the UK and very embarrassing for democracy.
  • Oz has preferential voting. This arguably makes people more engaged in the process because they have to think about each party in order of preference.  Yes, it can result in more invalid votes from incorrectly filled out voting forms, but I would argue the preferential system enables a voter to express their political view more accurately.  If their 1st preference doesn’t get up, their vote will then support their 2nd, 3rd or 4th preference which means their vote isn’t knocked out just because their initial candidate is not popular.  This is a much better system than first past the post.
Anyway, will be interesting to see what happens.  Hopefully any deal incorporates some sort of reform to the UK’s political system, because it is clearly broken.

Just lived through the week where you go from freezing your arse off on Monday, to wearing t-shirts on Friday.  The seasons sure change quickly here.  Thankfully, the endless winter looks to be over and a clear mood shift was evident amongst Beijingers, with many taking the opportunity to dine al fresco for the first time this year.

The May Day holiday saw the opening of the Shanghai World Expo to much fanfare.  I’ll be dropping by Shanghai in a couple of weeks for “Meiyou Ren’s” wedding, so will pop into the expo.

I don’t have very high expectations though.  It sounds like an absolute dog’s breakfast.  Waiting times for the popular pavilions such as the US, Japan, Oz and Canada are 3-4 hours…without any toilets!  I think I’ll just stick to the Axis of Evil.  This is one of the only times when their lack of popularity will be an advantage.  So North Korea, Cuba and Iran are on my list.

The Belgium pavilion is apparently giving away 1 diamond a day in a lucky-draw, so they’ll be crossed off my list too.  Another 3-4 hour wait here no doubt.

As for the Chinese pavilion, no way to get in too – it’s the biggest one, so will be crazy popular.  Typical of their insecurity and in a clear case of ‘short man syndrome’, apparently the government mandated that none of the other pavilions could exceed the height of the Chinese one.

In other things, visited “Art Beijing” on the weekend.  Was a really diverse exhibition featuring many different types of art and sculpture and artists from all around the world (including the Israeli embassy).  Like the rest of China, the Chinese art scene is extremely dynamic and some artists become overnight mega-stars.  They can fetch very exe prices too.  Works from some of the most famous contemporary Chinese artists, like Yue Minjun, go for 7-figure prices.

Back in the ‘jing

April 26, 2010

Back in Beijing and it’s farking cold.  Can’t believe that it’s almost May and it’s still around 4 degrees!  Walking home today I had to endure arctic winds.

The unseasonably cold weather in Beijing, combined with the earthquakes this year are starting to freak the locals out. They keep talking about the movie 2012 and the end of the world.

Other things:

– Surprisingly bloody hard to find Australian beer in supermarkets here.  Budweiser, Becks, Heineken and Stella are everywhere and you can buy them in bulk.  But Oz beer is extremely rare.  You can do the bulk orders via Elders, but good luck trying to find Oz beer at supermarkets, even the foreign-friendly ones.

Scary article about privacy in today’s inter-linked world.

Affordable Art China: Checked out this exhibition on Saturday.  Chinese art is one of the many massive bubbles in the economy at the moment.  As shown by this chart on the “Affordable Art” website, art is not necessarily bought because it looks good here.  “Affordable” meant no work was priced at more than RMB 10k.

The Chinese art bubble

Sydney the supermodel

March 21, 2010

Back in Sydney for a short trip.

After enduring 5 months of harshly cold winter in Beijing (it snowed twice last week and it’s bloody March!  It first snowed in November), being back in Sydney in summer is bliss.  It is such a beautiful city.

With beaches like this, it’s not hard to see why Australia tops the world for raising expat kids.

Bogey Hole, Bronte Beach - Sydney bliss

Aussies don’t realise how damn lucky we’ve got it.  Apart from the incredible environment that we live in and the fresh food we eat, the economy avoided recession during the global financial crisis due to quick government action.  In fact, the economy appears to be booming.  There is a lot of building activity and shops and restaurants are busy.

The unemployment rate is only in the 5% range, whereas it’s closer to 10% in the US, 8% in the UK and double-digits in Spain.  But because relatively less people didn’t lose their jobs and the economy didn’t collapse, the GFC was just a blip for most people – they didn’t feel real pain.

So perversely, it seems that people don’t really realise how well the Federal Government steered the Oz economy through the darkest days of the GFC.  Come election time, the Government really needs to run hard on their economic management and sell this story, because it is really quite remarkable that Oz has emerged from the GFC in relatively strong shape.   

The main negative for me is Sydney’s transport.  It is an absolute travesty and disgrace that it takes 40-45mins on a bus to get from Kingsford to the CBD.  I’ve been catching the bus from Kingsford for over 10 years and the number of people waiting at the bus stop has swelled immensely.  The horrendous and grossly incompetent State Government has not invested in the required infrastructure to cope with strong population growth.

Every morning, the bus stop resembles an open-outcry trading floor.  There is a mass of people who try to anticipate where the bus will stop, because if you’re not quick, you will miss out. 

So you have to employ your own “bus catching strategy”.  You can go for the high risk / high return route of committing early to where you think the bus will stop, in which case you will be one of the first on the bus.  But the risk is that the bus overshoots and you get trampled by the masses.

Or you can try and be “flexible and nimble” and hang around the edges of the crowd.  This enables you to out-flank everyone if the bus pulls up short or overshoots.

Being the contrarian and standing away from the crowd can also be quite effective.  You get some anonymity as people may not watch you.  This is good when 2 buses come at one time – you will generally be the first one on the 2nd bus.

You can also create anxiety by making sharp dummy runs out of the crowd.  Some suckers may follow you and lose their place in the crowd.  But this isn’t really an effective bus-catching strategy.  It’s just for those who are bored and who want to torment newcomers by playing games.

In any case, the main point is this: this laughing stock of a State Government has got to go.  These clowns have done absolutely nothing to solve the state’s transport issues.  Sydney is the greatest city in the world, but it could be so much better.  I really really really really hope that the NSW people finally get a state government that is competent.