Friday 25 November 2011


See here.

Monday 21 November 2011

The 21st of November, 2001.

[This is one of those personal posts, so if that's not your bag, just watch the video below, it's got balloons and stuff in it]

Ten years ago today I took the first long-distance flight of my life. Having never left the UK except on brief holidays, I was setting out to spend a year (or more, but not much more) in Taiwan. My goal was to learn Chinese, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it, but I thought that knowing another language, and spending time in a totally different place, would make me a wholly more rounded person and be great fun to boot.

The plane was almost empty, perhaps the effect of the events of two months before, or more likely because it was the overnight flight, but I didn't get much sleep on the way. Peering out of the window high over Sichuan, I caught my very first glimpse of the red soil of China through a gap in the clouds.

Catching my connection in Hong Kong the next day, I then saw the green terraced hills of Taiwan appear all of a sudden beneath the right (starboard?) wing of the plane, and before I knew it I was stepping off the plane into what was then still called Chiang Kai Shek International Airport.

Since it was mostly spent in places thousands of miles away, with friends and acquaintances it is hard to imagine ever being reunited again - some of whom are now unfortunately beyond all reach, in towns and cities which fast-paced development has rendered quite different, many of the events of the intervening ten years now seem like they happened to someone else.

It is now a little hard to believe that I really once went to an aboriginal wedding with my good friend The Writing Baron and others, got merrily sloshed, and then all bundled off for a swim in a mountain lake. The night we staggered back from Kenny's after celebrating new year's eve there just in time to hear Big Ben ring in the new year eight time zones away now seems equally improbable. The deserted Nanjing city-centre during the SARS crisis, and the sudden rush of striking workers onto the street in Longhua, Shenzhen, both seem like things I might have once seen in a film rather than with my own eyes. Did I really cram myself into subway cars in Tokyo and Osaka in which it was literally impossible to move every morning for months on end? Was that really me at that Sakura party in the park next to Osaka castle? Or at that beach party on the Inland Sea? And what exactly am I now doing in Poland?

Ten years ago today I became an expat, and even though I spent roughly three years of the intervening time in the UK, I never really stopped being one. Despite the occasional periodic cycle of funk, I've enjoyed my years on (and off) the road. At some point I know I'm going to have to stop, but for the moment, the decision I made ten years ago still looks like a good one.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Another mind-bendingly bad policy on immigration

I don't have much to say about this proposed policy that would prevent British citizens bringing foreign-born spouses or children into the UK on family visas unless they are making over the median wage. Just that, for anyone familiar with people who have become married whilst overseas, and who then move home to find work, you're basically telling them that they cannot live with their spouses and children permanently in their own home country until they earn more than 50% of the British population.

These policies are usually suggested on the Goldilocks principle - a horribly excessive policy is suggested in order to get people to accept a less strict policy. Therefore it seems likely that if any such policy is implemented, it will set the bar somewhat lower.

However, even such a "just right" version of this policy would be a failure because the British government can no longer restrict immigration from mainland Europe. Such a policy would, anyway, only prevent people entering the country legally, without having any effect on illegal immigration.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Hidden Harmonies' Raventhorn: Let's have a Cultural Revolution

Here's Raventhorn on why the Cultural Revolution really wasn't all that bad:

[T]otally agree that CR created a “can do” mentality. Chiefly, CR was a literal “reset” on the Chinese socio-economic paradigm, and any good “reset” requires almost a complete shut down of the system, to get everyone back to the starting line, to get rid of all the negative baggages [sic] (and some of the good), so that people can rediscover and decide what are good and bad.

Hard “resets” (from revolutions) I think are necessary.

. . . .

If you are [r]ich and you deserve to be because you are smart and you work hard, then you can start all over again and get to the same place. (But I don’t think the [r]ich today are willing to do that).

A CR every now and then, answers that type of questions [sic]. (If some of the CR’s excessive abuses can be avoided, I would recommend it every 50 years or 2 generations)."

Since China's last Cultural Revolution started roughly 45 years ago, I guess Raventhorn thinks it's just about due one today.

Really, people criticise me for giving publicity to what goes on at Hidden Harmonies, but I believe the true insanity of many US-based Chinese nationalists deserves to be exposed. The idea that some people have that there is some equality in an argument between people who criticise corruption and advocate democracy, and those who blithely talk about burning whole cities, is a totally false one.

China Property Prices Fall

I don't have much commentary to add to this, except that it's big news.

If all the caveats added in the video about the lower level of leveraging are correct, then the doom-and-gloom predictions as to what might happen if house prices stop rising are unlikely to become true. My experience is that some borrowers at least have been able to get around rules requiring higher deposits through connections, and that rules may have been bent or broken. If this is so in a significant number of cases then we may be in for a rough ride - but it may not be so. It would certainly be good news for a lot of first-time-buyers if house prices were to fall.

Why Beijing may be the best friend Hong Kong democrats have right now

Amid the gloom-and-doom of yesterday's rout of Hong Kong's pan-democrats in the district council elections, and their grey prospects for next year's LegCo (Legislative Council) elections, Big Lychee sees a (thin) silver lining for the pan-dems:

"Back in the mid-90s, pro-democrats swept the board in elections for directly elected Legco seats, thanks to the first-past-the-post voting system. In order to give the less popular pro-Beijing DAB a better chance, the post-handover regime established a complex proportional representation system, which gives seats to losers as well as winners. The whole idea was to benefit parties too unpopular to get 50% of the vote. Ironic or what?"

Big Lychee thinks the pan-dems were let down by their obsession with full suffrage - an issue on which Beijing is not likely to ever bend for very obvious reasons - and their ceaseless in-fighting. He would like them to concentrate on Hong Kong's growing economic inequality.

Me, I'm not so sure. It's hard to see what unites well-off, compromise oriented ex-lawyers like Albert Ho with Trotskyites like Leung Kwok-hung other than demands for full suffrage. It is also hard to believe that the more establishment (or ex-establishment) members of the pan-dem camp would be very convincing as crusaders for equality.

That said, just as in Taiwan with the independence/unification issue, the very fact that suffrage is unacheivable makes it essentially a non-issue. Concentrating on suffrage at the expense of other matters leaves Hong Kong's pan-dems open to accusations of either ignoring or working against the interests of the average Hong-Konger - this has especially been the case in the right-of-abode dispute.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Note to Jimmy Wales: there has already been a Chinese Spring

From a talk recently given by the Wikipedia founder:

"There will be a Chinese spring exactly like like the Arab spring. It isn't a question of if, it is a question of when. I don't know if the Chinese people are going to overthrow this oppression this year or next year or ten years from now I only know that they will...... I hope the government there will realise what they have been doing is no longer sustainable and they will proceed now rather than later to open up access to information and will allow genuine democracy."

"There's a whole generation of bloggers, wikipedians and people on twitter people using social networks in China. They are there and they are becoming stronger, they will provide leadership when it's needed, there's no stopping them.The moment is right for them to demand their human rights"

Sure, no situation should be described as permanent, "this too will pass" and all that, but really, doesn't Jimmy Wales follow the news? First and most obviously, a media-savy revolution with youthful leaders and history on its side already happened in 1989. The results weren't pretty.

The overwhelming response to the almost non-existent "Jasmine Revolution" from earlier this year shows exactly what any such movement would face in the future, as does the crack-down on dissidents which has been ongoing since Charter 08 was launched. The Chinese Communist Party has shown no sign of weakening its resolve in dealing with disent, on the internet or elsewhere. This is still the party which would do what even Erich Honneker didn't dare do - smash demonstrations using military force.