Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy New Year!

Everyone's complaining of the cold, but I love it. It's holiday weather.
Yesterday morning, we went out to buy flowers, fruits and candies for the home. We spent the day cooking, eating, laughing and playing with the newest addition to our family.
Last night, I put up red banners with four-character sayings on my front door. Roughly, they say "four seasons of peace and safety," "success from the East and the West," and "welcoming the spring with good fortune." (The New Year is also called the Spring Festival in Chinese).
I'll be visiting family and going to an ancestral village. So I'll be on a blogging holiday for a few days. I only have about a week before I return to full-time work and I want to spend every free moment with my loved ones before I get really busy again.
Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Dragon. May the New Year bring happiness and good health to you and your families.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wiki and LOLCats at risk?

Two days ago, Wikipedia went dark to protest proposed U.S. legislation that might block the good work that they do.
They are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate.
On the face of it, the proposed American laws seem to have good intentions -- to cut down on privacy and copyright infringement. 
On the other hand, there's concern that too much policing will constrain free speech and social media, and impact popular resources like Wikipedia, which I think we all use almost daily.
Backing the legislation are mostly corporations and the producers of movies and music. Nike -- a company that depends greatly on its brand name -- is for it.
Against the legislation are Internet giants like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, etc. I put Wikipedia in a separate category because it's a non-profit service supported by charitable donations and run by volunteers. Many times, people forget that.

The debate calls into question who owns what. Obviously, if I opened a Dongguan factory that produced fake Nike goods, and advertised it with a fake Nike website, that's a clear violation. But what if I just want to write about Nike on my blog and use their swish symbol? What if I link to another site that (without my knowledge) sells fake Nike goods? Given the inter-connected nature of the Internet, should you be held accountable for everything you link to?
Even if monitoring is doing in good faith -- will that add a layer of expense and delay that will slow down online chatter?
Joining Wikipedia in its protest were smaller sites like Reddit, Boing Boing, I Can Haz Cheezburger and some WordPress blogs. And since Joyceyland has been a rather serious place recently, let's lighten our morning with a little Hugo LOLCat. C'mon, U.S. Senate -- would you block something this cute?

Why SOPA isn't the Great Firewall
Evan Osnos at The New Yorker's China blog wrote about the reaction in a country that really has some serious blocks to free speech. I like Evan's blog because he scours Chinese sites to come up with gems of comments like this one:
“I’ve come up with a perfect solution: You can come to China to download all your pirated media, and we’ll go to America to discuss politically sensitive subjects.”
But, of course, SOPA isn't the Great Firewall. It's not even close. That's because America, for all its faults, is still one of the freest countries in the world for speech. SOPA's critics have called this a fight over the First Amendment, which protects the freedoms of speech, religion, press, peaceful assembly and the ability to petition the government for the redress of grievances. And I honestly don't think the proponents of these laws want to shut down free speech. 
In China, we often hear of the government talking about shutting down dangerous online activities, scams, porn, etc. -- but many people doubt whether those are really their main targets, or if it's political discourse they are actually after.
In the U.S., I think Nike just wants to look out after Nike -- the laws are not a thinly veiled attempt to keep people from criticizing President Obama or the Afghan war.
Plus, legislation in American (and Canada, and Europe, and democratic Asian countries like Japan) don't just magically pop up. They have to be proposed and publicized and debated. They have to be approved by elected officials. This is a longer, messier process, but it's a fairer one in the end.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia's protest encouraged 8 million people to look up  their congressional representatives. If anything, this whole exercise has encouraged many people to be involved in local government.
4.5 million people signed a Google petition against the proposals. 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets were sent in the first half-day of the protest on Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, some of those U.S. officials looked at the huge, negative reaction  -- from the people who elect them to office, pay their salaries, and decide whether they can keep their jobs a few years down the line -- and changed their minds.
“The Wikipedia blackout is over and the public has spoken,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement. “162 million of you saw our blackout page asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down the congressional switchboards, and you melted their servers. Your voice was loud and strong.”
I don't know if SOPA and PIPA will go through -- as someone outside the U.S., I feel a little helpless in this regard, as I can't contact my elected official about this. I hope they won't -- at least, not in a form that can constrict speech -- and I don't think they will.
I wonder if Chinese netizens will ever get the Great Firewall to "melt" in this same way.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't trust everything you read online

Just a note to readers coming here from blog comments on other sites. For some reason, someone is posting stuff under my name. As you all know, anyone can use anyone else's tag or URL in an un-moderated blog. 
So take it with a grain of salt. If I have something to say, I will say it here on my own site -- which is the only place you have a 100% guarantee that it's actually me. 
Now that that bit of online silliness is taken care of... I'm off to bed!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A laisee / hongbau reminder

From The People's Daily website. Yes, I found something I liked on People's Daily -- this photo of an elderly street-cleaner playing with his grandchild.
A gweilo friend emailed and asked for advice on how to handle laisee. I told him he didn't have to worry much about it -- after all, he didn't have Chinese family, and that's where all your big laisee-giving goes. I advised him to just give a few envelopes with HK$20 to security guards and cleaning ladies.
And now I take that back. 
Most Hong Kong middle-class people give generously -- double packets of HK $100, $500 or more -- to their own families, who are also pretty well off.
Most professional Hong Kongers also get Chinese New Year bonuses -- usually a minimum of one month's salary, which is many, many times greater than what that Chinese streetcleaner will ever see.
Both Hong Kongers and rich Chinese visitors are busy splashing out on expensive meals, vacations and other luxuries. Looking at this photo makes me think that maybe -- once a year -- we should be a bit more giving than just tossing spare change at the people who clean for us, open doors for us, and keep us safe all year round. 
Witnessing the mad spending by madly affluent tourists (mostly mainland officials and state-linked businesspeople) makes me think that there should be more to this holiday than just line-ups outside Canton Road luxury shops done up with tacky red decorations.
Plus, who wants to get caught up in a Dolce & Gabbana protest?
Giving to charity is a long-time Christmas tradition. Maybe we should do the same on the Eve of the Year of the Dragon, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Moderating comments for now

When I comment on sites like The Peking Duck and The China Law Blog -- or occasionally, when Roland Soong at EastSouthWestNorth links back to me -- I sometimes get a few nasty comments from those who troll China-related blogs. This is no criticism of those three sites. (I know that Richard at Peking Duck  struggles with containing his very popular comments page, while the ever-wise Roland doesn't allow any comments at all.)
Generally, trolls don't bother with Joyceyland, since it's mostly a personal blog, not a political one. As I work in the news media, I will sometimes write about current events, and not without humor. (I mean, come on. If an American official was accused of poisoning a millionaire with cat stew, we'd make fun of him, too).
Anyway, this morning, I wake up to find a lovely comment on my Happy New Year post about my "half-white child," which I deleted. Apparently, I shouldn't be "showing her off." (Though, I presume, a Chinese child can be shown? What is this? The Antebellum South?) This was followed by other  nonsense about whites, half-races, Hong Kongers, overseas Chinese and -- I guess -- anyone who isn't a "pure Chinese," plus a bunch of stuff I'm not repeating here. A while back, I got a similarly disparaging comment about my "white husband." It was, of all things, on an apolitical post about Marc running the Hong Kong Marathon.
The comment was as outdated as someone telling a black woman with a white husband that she shouldn't show photos of her "mulatto" child. Apparently, the comment was copied from another blog. Who knows? I don't have time to go policing the whole Internet. 
But, for now, I'm going to be moderating comments. There are political bloggers who spend all day arguing with these folk, policing the comment boards, and trying to figure out whom to block, whom not to block, which trolls come back via proxies, etc. I can't bother. As a new mom preparing to go back to full-time work, I don't  have tons of free time. And I don't want upset and negativity taking up any extra space in my brain. This is a mostly positive, personal blog. The rules are clearly stated on the right.
I do still encourage comments -- and they are still open to everyone, including anonymous posters, some of whom are as funny, sweet and clever as my regular readers. It will just take a little more time for me to get to them.  And I still encourage people to disagree with me. I'm not always right, and I like hearing the other side of arguments. Why most of the "pro-China" crowd can't make their arguments without personal attacks,  I'll never understand. Many more people would listen to them if they could.
 I could just keep the personal stuff on my Facebook page. But I like writing about the curiosity that is Hong Kong life, and Blogger allows me the length to do that. I'm particularly happy when I get visitors from overseas who may or may not know about Asian culture. And I think people enjoy the lighter parts of my blogs. Who doesn't want a cute baby or kitty photo?
On the other hand, I'm not going to self-censor my opinions on the news, or stop reposting the work I do for the I.H.T. or New York Times. There's no reason to do so. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, including moms!
But I also have to respect that I blog openly -- and that the child's loving father, grandparents, uncles and aunts come to this site. They don't deserve to read nastiness about someone in their family. I just can't believe that, in the 21st century, I still have to write a post like this.
Here is a Chinese New Year tradition my family follows: Before the New Year, you clean house. You do this physically -- you scrub the floors, you throw out the unused crap from your closet, you make sure everything is  nice and tidy. But you also do so in less physical ways. You clean up your financial books and pay off debts or dues. You make peace with friends or family you may have been arguing for feuding with.
In the West, the New Year comes with resolutions -- promises for the future. The Chinese New Year is about starting with a clean slate. Really, those two ideas are not so different.
So let's say that I'm throwing out the trash -- the small minority of comments that add nothing to this site. They are going out the door, along with my old cardigan with a hole in it, the overflowing recycling bin and (hopefully) those extra few inches that somehow found themselves on my waist.
Here's to what I hope is another happy year of living and blogging.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

This is what you get for eating cats

Ugh. This was not the first news story I wanted to read this morning over my breakfast cereal.
Police have detained a local official in Guangdong province in connection with the sudden death of Long Liyuan on 23 December.
The official, Huang Guang, is suspected of adding a toxic plant to the stew at a restaurant where they were eating.
A police statement said the two were involved in a dispute after Mr Huang allegedly embezzled money from Mr Long.
Mr Huang, an agriculture official in Bajia, took Mr Long, who ran a forestry company, to visit a piece of woodland on 23 December, said the statement.
Afterwards, the two went to a local restaurant to share a local delicacy, slow-boiled cat-meat stew. A friend of Mr Long's was also present.
Mr Huang is alleged to have added the plant Gelsemium elegans to the cat-meat dish.
Local media say Mr Long was taken to hospital after feeling dizzy and sick, and later suffered a cardiac arrest.
However the other two diners survived.
Police initially detained the owner of the restaurant on suspicion of serving unsanitary food, AP news agency said.
However Mr Long's family did not believe it was a simple case of food poisoning and pressed police to investigate further as well as offering a $16,000 reward for information, the agency said.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

And on a happier new year's note...

Top, in my "breastfeeding chair" in the early days, when I was exhausted feeding my underweight infant every two or three hours, 24 hours a day. Looking back, I can't believe how scrawny she was.  Bottom, a much plumper, healthier Baby Chloe hangs out with her  big brother Hugo the Cat, who looks like he's seriously coveting the bouncy chair and teddy bear.
2011 was an awful year in news, but a wonderful one for us personally. 
I found out I was pregnant on Christmas Day 2010 -- a result that was confirmed at the ob-gyn's office right around New Year. 
Most of 2011 was taken up by my pregnancy, which was not easy at times.
Now we have our beautiful, funny, smiley darling to bring us into the new year.
All the best to you and your families.

* I should not have to say this, but please don't re-use photos from this blog, particularly not personal ones of my family. I heard of someone else who had their kid's picture re-used for a paid advertisement without her consent!

Top 10 news stories of 2011

What a terrible year in the news.
In March, when the tsunami hit Japan, I was having an online conversation with someone in the art world in Tokyo. "I'm sorry I have to go," she wrote, with the almost insane politeness of the Japanese people. "The floor is shaking."
"My god, run! Don't bother checking your email!" I wrote back.
This was happening as all of us in the newsroom gathered around the TV to watch those horrible, killer waves crashing over towns and villages.
Sometimes the news seems so far away -- distant wars and distant famines affecting distant people. And sometimes it's so close, it's scary.
In September, our fellow Hong Kong blogger, Daisann at Real Travel Hong Kong, was among the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.
Two months later, Ehab Hamdi, my dear friend from Oxford and a gentlemanly professor, was out there on the streets of Egypt, fighting the good fight for his country.  He sent me this Facebook message: "support me, i really need it, the situation is very critical, pray 4 us, im on the square since 3 days, they may cut the internet, pray 4 us..."

From Egypt -- a beautiful shot from Italian photographer Filippo Monteforte for Agence France-Presse / Getty Images, taken from The New York Times.

Here are the top-10 news stories of the year, according to three sources -- CNN, Al Jazerra and Xinhua -- representing America, the Middle East and China. It's interesting to see what three different sets of news editors found significant, or not.

CNN's Top Ten
1. The Arab Spring and the killing of Gadaffi
2. Japan's triple disasters -- earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown
3. Natural disasters in the U.S.
4. Osama bin Laden killed
5. Afghan War turns 10 years old -- not a happy birthday
6. European economic crisis
7. Occupy Wall Street
8. Republicans gear up for 2012
9. Norway terrorist attacks
10. U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords is shot
CNN also has a special mention for men behaving badly: Charlie Sheen, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the aptly, if unfortunately, named Anthony Weiner, a local New York politician now known to the world as "that guy who kept Tweeting half-naked pictures of himself."

Al Jazeera's Top Ten was my favorite, with an excellently illustrated online package. 
1. The Arab Awakening
2. Japan's triple disasters
3. U.S. kills Bin Laden
4. Devastating famine in Horn of Africa
5. Europe's year of austerity
6. Occupy Wall Street
7. Birth of South Sudan
8. UK riots: London burns
9. Palestine Papers: The secret negotiations
10. US troops leave Iraq
Kim Jong Il's death gets a special mention at the end.

I have to admit that I was  skeptical of Al Jazeera when it first opened. The Middle East is not exactly known for its free press, and many of us expected either a shoddy product, a minor player in world media, or something like pro-Arab state propaganda.
Boy, were we wrong. In a few years, they have created a network of top correspondents, doing high-quality, hard-hitting, critical reporting -- offering a welcome alternative to the usual U.S.- or Euro-dominated world media.

Finally, here's Xinhua's list
1. "Strong turbulence" in the Arab world. 

2. China becomes world's 2nd largest economy, eclipsing Japan. 
3. Economic crises in Europe and America
4. Japan's disasters 
5. Bin Laden killed
6. South Sudan declares independence
7. Drought in Horn of Africa
8. Global population exceeds 7 billion
9. Iranian nuclear crisis worsens
10. DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il dies 

Ha! I love "strong turbulence." Makes me think of what happens when you're going on vacation and your plastic cup of wine goes flying off your airline serving tray.
Xinhua really has to work on its web site optimization. If you Google "Xinhua 2011 top news" the first link that comes up is to Business Ghana. But at least its international top 10 didn't sound like a piece of state propaganda. The same can't be said for its Top Ten Chinese News Events. 
For me, the biggest Chinese story was the relentless harassment of Ai Weiwei, which ended with that bizarre capture at Beijing airport, followed by months of secret detention, international condemnation, and what most people presume to be a made-up tax fraud case. Whatever you think of Ai, this was a bigdeal.
And, later in the year, the giant protests in Guangdong Province. And don't forget the ever-simmering maritime dispute between China and its Asian neighbors.
But nope. According to the state media, this is the most interesting thing that happened in China all year.
"The State Council, or China's Cabinet, in an executive meeting on January 26 introduced a policy package urging enhanced efforts to ensure the healthy development of the property sector....." ZZzzzzzzzzz.
You know what's strange? Not one of these lists includes the death of Steve Jobs, whose innovations are used by people all over the world.
We can say good-bye, and good riddance, to the bad guys: Muammar el-Qaddafi, Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong-Il. Let's hope for the sake of their countrypeople that those leaders are replaced by kinder, saner, souls. 
Let's hope that the Afghan War doesn't go on for another 10 years.
Let's hope that who-ever it is in charge of Western financial systems -- whether in New York or Brussels -- gets their act together.
Let's hope that Japan continues to crawl out of the physical and economic wreckage wrought by natural disaster.
Here's the to end of a difficult 2011, and best wishes for a better, healthier, happier 2012.