Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Pubic" enemy gets fair 'warming'

Yesterday afternoon I received this e-mail.

Subject: To warm you Monday, February 23, 2009 10:48 PM
From: "Wang Xie"
To: XXXXX (me)


This to notice you that your name has been flied with China Pubic Secreitry Bureau to watch for blog.


Presumably, it's from the same scrotum-breath troll featured previously. But I gotta hand it to him. The Chinglish is flawless, including "Michel" for Mitchell and "Pubic" for "Public." But as a pal more versed in China, blogging, trolls et al than I noted when I forwarded it to him for amusement and scrutiny replied: "(It's) a troll who's ... typing Chinglish one-handed because his "Pubic Security Bureau" is busy keeping his microdick locked down. Don't take it personally -- his email address suggests he does a lot of trolling of this type."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bombs Away, Dreambabies

It was one of those "only in China" moments. I had been invited by a senior editor for a Feb 8 Sunday afternoon and evening "New Year firecracker viewing" with his wife, 10-year old son and some of his pals who included two he described as a "China Supreme Court justice" and "head of the China Press Association" (I took the titles as loose translations, though who knows?) to Zhuo Zhuo, a small town about an hour outside of metropolitan Beijing.

After a lot of mao tai (Chinese rocket fuel) toasts and food with the deputy mayor and his entourage, we piled into various vehicles in a ramshackle caravan and police escort that lead through most of Zhuo Zhuo's blighted areas - a large aluminum factory that seems (or seemed, it appeared to be shut down, but possibly on hiatus) to be the town's main industry, to a large open field. It was pitch black as we pulled over to the side of the road and our hosts began unloading many crates of high octane fireworks.

I'm not really a pyrotechnic freak and after a month of near-Baghdad/Beirut combat night shellings in Beijing (the worst was to come with the New Year burning of the new CCTV hotel/convention annex) all in the name of "traditional Chinese New Year" fun, I had been getting weary (and growing deaf) amid the revelery. But as I watched and dodged the rockets and low-end mortar shells for awhile on the roadside perhaps it was the mao tai in me, but I got into the spirit and began pulling bricks of small ariel shells out of the boxes, tearing the wrappers off like a kid at Christmas and lighting multiple fuses.

I tossed one brick like a grenade into field, then quickly stumbled back as the shells went whistling horizontally at me and the others. One of our hosts pulled me aside and said something in Chinese. My editor translated: "Don't throw them! Stand them up!" Okay, okay. Sorry, sorry...

The fire fun continued however to the point that me and the man identified as the Supreme Court justice and I were good naturedly squabbling over the remaining brick o' explosives about 10-minutes later. I diplomatically surrendered it, handed him my lighter and mused briefly imagining tussling with the likes of John Roberts, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas or maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg over a remaining fistfull of M-80s in a vacant lot in a depressed Pennsylvania factory town on July 4 ... as his Chinese honor lit the fuse and the rockets screamed.

(Note to faithful readers, all 3.4 of you. It is with sincere regret that I've switched the comments to pre-approval mode. It grates on me as a supposed advocate of free speech and all that, but recent contributions by an anonymous troll or two have forced the change. I continue to accept constructive brickbats and corrections (Jaxxson, you reading this?) but nothing from malformed stalkers.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia

There are two older Chinese retired journalists working here temporarily as writing and reporting coaches, in addition to my rapidly aging American self. Pleasant, quiet gentlemen fluent in English and, until yesterday, both were otherwise a mystery to me.

The younger of the pair wandered into my office late in the afternoon and began chatting, asking me where I was from in the US and after about 8 minutes of me explaining where Colorado is and that, no, it's not near the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, he told me he'd had two journalistic highlights in his career. One was a month spent as a guest columnist at a small Washington state newspaper in the late 1980s where some curious residents asked him questions like "Do Chinese men still wear pig tails and women bind their feet?" He laughed. "I am still in contact with some of them now. Some have even visited me here and discovered there are no more pig tails and women have normal feet."

The other high (or low)light was a month spent in the Cambodian jungle in the '80s profiling Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I gaped. It was like meeting someone who'd hung out with Hitler ... or Mao.

"Pol Pot? You MET Pol Pot? A month in the jungle with POL POT?" He nodded and went on to say that his story had been killed by authorities upon his return as "too sensitive" as he'd also reported on the Killing Fields.

He descibed Pol Pot as "normal sounding, even pleasant" and grimaced a little before making mention of Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" phrase. I urged him to find his old piece or notes and write it again but he demurred, saying they had all been lost and then apologized saying he had to leave for another reporter training session.

One way ticket to China: $576.00

Taxi fare to work: 23 yuan

Working for the Communist Man: My soul

Meeting an unassuming elderly temporary coworker who spent a month with one of the 20th century's most notorious butchers: Priceless

Pol Pot image from

Monday, February 2, 2009

Old Brown Shoe

I've recently begun a new adventure as the first foreigner hired for a new State-owned English language paper in Beijing - something of a mixed blessing.

Its Chinese language version is somewhat nationalistic, some would say jingoistic,and the parent company and publication, People's Daily, makes Fox News look like National Public Radio when it comes to, er, flag waving. Nonetheless I've been assured my new Commie Overlords are serious about giving China Daily a run for its formulaic, stale and hidebound State money and realize the way to get some foreign readership and serous journalistic respect is not to always completely bend over and beg for more, sir.

I've also never worked for a start-up paper of any ilk and four days into it I'm certainly not regretting it. We've already had a little test of how much the proverbial editorial envelope might be pushed and so far, so good. Currently I'm helping train about 60 young, mostly green reporter candidates in the mysteries and vagaries of western journalism and one of the training exercises has been having them write stories on deadline based on what they can find in the Chinese language press and online western sites.

Two recent assignments included bong-sucking Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and an overview of Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao's recent visit to the UK, which ended on a somewhat undignified note with a protester at Cambridge heaving a shoe at Wen as he was giving a speech. Shades of Dubya, of course. I asked my Chinese editors if the shoe heaving had been mentioned in the Chinese media and my question was met with a throat clearing and an embarrassed half smile. Which is Chinese for "no, not really."

"George Bush gets two shoes thrown at him and it's all over the place here," I said, not believing that I was suddenly getting my latent red, white and blue pride up. "Fair play at least for these exercises, okay?"

They agreed and the next day brought two surprises. Chinese media had finally reported - albeit cautiously - the shoe throwing and my trainees had brought in mixed results with their reports. A few had led with it as western media had done and others had submitted stories that barely mentioned it at all, burying it at the end with a brief mention.

Later I discussed the whole affair with seven of them, with one young woman in particular who was still puzzled about the differences. Her report had erred on the side of near-omission but she was truly eager to know "which system is better." She said the Chinese government style was needed in order to stem any social unrest. I replied that things seemed to be leaning now towards adapting a more open approach and asked what harm had been done in reporting it. "There was no unrest. If anything Premiere Wen came out of it respectfully."

"Is it necessary to report it though?" she asked.

"It was all over your Internet also," I said. "People were angry. Chinese students at the talk in Cambridge had yelled 'Shame on you' at the protester. China would have looked silly not acknowleding that it happened. It's no secret. No State secret." She still looked slightly uncomfortable but agreed I had a point she hadn't considered.

I brought up the Dubya example again and mentioned an online game some Chinese netizens had created where players could rack up points throwing shoes at Bush. She and the others smiled. I did too remembering how I'd only scored a few points when trying it.

"No Prime Minister Wen online games, I know, and that's alright. But now the shoe is on the other foot," I said. "It's a Western saying."