Friday 22 August 2008

Goodbye Taipei

I came across this fascinating article written by a GI in the closing days of the US military's prescence on Taiwan via a link from the Taiwan Defence Command blog. Any long time China expat will have come across one of the old timers from the days of Taipei's 'Combat Zone', before Chen Shui Bian came in as mayor and closed down the seedy bars that served the R&R needs of half the US military in Asia. This piece, containing attitudes an opinions common at the time and with which I am not entirely in agreement, goes a long way towards debunking that talk, but it also has a lot in it which will be familiar to any man who has spent a while in Taiwan. Here's a snippet:

Outside the compound, In the side streets between the Napoleon Club and the East Gate, were the bars and massage parlors - here you found the action, as far as Taipei had any action. The memories were made here, stories that will be told 30 years from now. An Oriental bar district is a strange and complicated place, where all things can happen and frequently do, at the same time. It was the playground for single GIs.

The clubs had the same names you see everywhere: Playboy, Playgirl, Penthouse, the Green Door, Rosie's. The same clubs could be found in Saigon, Hong Kong and along Phatpong Road in Bangkok. Occasionally one will disappear and another pop up in its place - same building, same furniture, but a different name. This is said to be because the police weren't properly bribed.

At three in the afternoon Fletcher and I, in search of a drink, sometimes poked our heads into these dens. Then the clubs were shadowy and empty, with maybe a few exhausted girls sleeping in the booths. They looked like people. But at night they put on their war paint and slinky dresses to become the mysterious beauties of the East - a process much aided by Western imagination. Really they were tired, neurotic girls.

It was fun to walk the district at night, except that Fletcher always sang "Old McDonald" at the top of his voice. Airmen prowled everywhere. The neon glowed and its too bright reds and blues reflected from the dresses of girls who stood in front to lure you Inside. Inside, the decor was air-conditioned Howard Johnson's, with plastic mahogany tables and vinyl upholstery, but sometimes you saw amusing things. Like a visiting senator trying to persuade a lovely young thing how important he was. You also realized quickly that the girls didn't like their work, and usually didn't much like you.

It's also interesting to see some recognisable types from my own time in Taiwan:

Then there was the Taipei of the... well, hippies isn't the right word exactly, because they weren't dirty, didn't use drugs, and didn't think they were three shades brighter than Einstein. But they had beards and faded jeans and lived in the tangled warrens of working class houses near Roosevelt and Ho Ping Roads, downtown.

A Screwy lot. There was an ex-Peace Corps fellow from the Punjab, a tiny Japanese mathematician seeing the world, a crazy Belgian intellectual who spoke Japanese because he had forgotten his native French after five years in Japan, and freelance reporters waiting for the next war. They all spoke Chinese and lived In $20-a-month rooms the size of closets.

Their Taipei was a world of soup stalls, open sewers, nights spent on the rooftops when the heat was too bad, and the landlord's children bringing their friends to see the crazy foreign devils. These curiosities often ate a 3O-cent meal in foodstalls where chow was displayed on pans and tough little workmen wolfed it down. There was fried egg and bean curd cooked a dozen ways, bean sprouts, small rubbery squid like gray vitamin pills, and a few we never did figure out.

They lived by teaching English to bargirls, not a job you'd tell your mother about. At night they squatted on the floor, because they had no chairs and probably no table, and drank Hung Low Joe. It means Red Dew Liquor, an unspeakable rice wine. You come to like it. Then they'd go out singing drunk, speaking six languages, and wander among fruit stalls and short-time hotels no tourist has ever seen. Sometimes, late on a rainy night, you saw them sitting In the island of light around a noodle stand on a deserted street, tossing down Hung Low Joe and chatting with the noodleman.

Read the whole thing if you've got time.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Hua Guofeng

Hua Guofeng, the man who succeeded Mao Zedong as leader of China, carrying on the policies of 'the great helmsman', died today at the age of 87. He was removed from power in 1980 to make way for the great reformer, Deng Xiaoping.

The Times report can be found here.

Thoughts? Will there be a state funeral? Will credit be given to his reforms in allowing foreign loans and sending officials on fact-finding missions to the west? What will be the response of the leadership?


If, as appears likely in light of today's news, Russia recognises Abkhazia as an independent nation - will the Chinese recognise it as well? I'm guessing not, but it's certainly something worth watching.

Sunday 10 August 2008

The shape of things to come . . . .

I read an interesting opinion piece in the Washington post written by Anne Applebaum yesterday, money quote:

For the best possible illustration of why Islamic terrorism may one day be considered the least of our problems, look no farther than the BBC's split-screen coverage of yesterday's Olympic opening ceremonies. On one side, fireworks sparkled, and thousands of exotically dressed Chinese dancers bent their bodies into the shape of doves, the cosmos and more. On the other side, gray Russian tanks were shown rolling into South Ossetia, a rebel province of Georgia. The effect was striking: Two of the world's rising powers were strutting their stuff.

Quite. In the one case, we have the rising superpower, which for the time being at least is sticking to its rule of 'not claiming leadership' and of not interfering in other countries affairs, in the other we have the Russian bear slapping down on a rebellious neighbour. The tone of the Russian news reports on channels like Russia Today was striking, with the one-word title "Genocide" being displayed at the bottom of the screen in all their reporting on the conflict. The content of the reports was also remarkable, with interviews with refugees who claimed to have been attacked by men wearing 'US emblems' and reports of the bodies of black soldiers being found touted as 'proof' of US involvement in some of the Russian media. I hardly need to say how unlikely actual direct US involvement is at this stage, but the idea .

We also have examples of how ill-equipped our leaders are to deal with this new world we are entering into - see Lord Owen (he of the Vance-Owen plan) and his comments today in an interview with the BBC where he said that Georgian membership of NATO should be put off as Georgia was geographically 'not contiguous with NATO'. Georgia, of course, shares a border more than 130 miles long with Turkey, a NATO country. Something makes me think that we are all going to have to learn a bit more about where Georgia's borders are.

US moves to end patent outsourcing?

A friend of mine sent me (and the rest of my former colleagues) an email saying this:

. . . you guys are all effectively going to be blocked from working on US-originated inventions, at least without getting special permission from the U.S. Dept of Commerce or U.S. Dept. of State.

Now, this is not related to any new laws, but to the blocking of the export of technology of US origin under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), by which the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has delegated its authority to the USPTO over what technology may or may not be exported. Here's the regulation:

(v) Patent and Trademark Office
(PTO). Regulations administered by
PTO provide for the export to a foreign
country of unclassified technology in
the form of a patent application or an
amendment, modification, or supplement
thereto or division thereof (37
CFR part 5). BIS has delegated authority
under the Export Administration
Act to the PTO to approve exports and
reexports of such technology which is
subject to the EAR. Exports and reexports
of such technology not approved
under PTO regulations must comply
with the EAR.

And if that wasn't clear enough, here's what the USPTO said in an official notice:

The USPTO has become aware that a number of law firms or service provider companies located in foreign countries are sending solicitations to U.S. registered patent practitioners offering their services in connection with the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States. Applicants and registered patent practitioners are reminded that the export of subject matter abroad pursuant to a license from the USPTO, such as a foreign filing license, is limited to purposes related to the filing of foreign patent applications. Applicants who are considering exporting subject matter abroad for the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States should contact the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the Department of Commerce for the appropriate clearances.

My (completely un-expert and not to be taken as legal advice)take on this? Patent outsourcing is an industry already worth more than 2 billion USD a year, so it's not going to just disappear overnight. My guess is that this will discourage further outsourcing, but that the outsourcing that is already going on will continue. Too much money has already been invested for it not to. Likewise, so many patents have been filed through outsourcing that it would be grotesque for it to be used as a bar on patentability.

Friday 8 August 2008

China controls weather, predicts future . . .

This post had me chuckling:

Then, at 6.15am, before anything had even happened, we were handed a press release (distributed by the Propaganda Department of Badaling Special Zone Administrative Center.)

"At 6:30 on the morning of August 7th, the Olympic torch motorcade arrived at Badaling Great Wall scenic area. The Great Wall was covered in a holiday-like atmosphere with flags and sounds of gongs everywhere."

The press release went on...

"After the torch-bearer get to the top of the fourth watchtower in the north side and waved the torch at the crowd, 2008 pigeons flew up into the sky, and 2008 balloons were released [...] All the colour-bearers and volunteers were waving their flags and cheering for the completion of the torch relay."

It was slightly curious to read about all of this in the past tense when it hadn't even taken place.