October 2008

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Must reads

I tend to highlight the pieces I enjoy (and egocentrically think everyone else will) in the ‘6 Articles I’m reading’ feature, below-left. Once in a while, I stumble across something I feel deserves higher billing. Like these two posts from the indispensable Global Voices Online.

The first is the translated account of 40 parents of missing children all over China, who come to Beijing to petition for them. It’s the most moving thing I’ve read while in Beijing.

The second is the story of Chinese bloggers (again, self-told and translated) on the trail of Beijing’s hidden ‘Black Jails’. It’s a topic which has been floating around the blogosphere.

Both longish – by internet standards. Both worth it.

Beijing at work

To continue in a photographic vein, here are two pictures I took recently of Beijing workers. This coming week (like the last) I will be a study hermit, with little time for blogging…

Workers in Ritan Park. What kind of work they were doing precisely, I couldnt fathom. They were cutting the grass with miniature sycthes: possibly picking flowers? Or their boss is simply too cheap to spring for a lawnmower.

Workers in Ritan Park. I couldn't fathom what kind of work they were doing precisely. Cutting the grass with miniature sycthes: possibly picking flowers? Either that, or their boss is simply too cheap to spring for a lawnmower.

Construction workers eating baozi in the early morning.

Construction workers eating baozi and soup in the early morning.

Update: I’ve since asked a Chinese friend about the first pic. They were most likely planting fresh seed. And weeding while they went along. Seems obvious now.

Just kidding

Not really. Just a rather late upload of a photo I took from my flat of fireworks over the bird’s nest at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

But I live in hope that I had some of you for a moment there.

In its first six weeks of existence, 6 was blocked in China. It’s now accessible in the mainland, thanks to a new IP address (effusive thanks to my brother for his help).

There’s no definite answer to why the site fell on the wrong side of the ‘Great Firewall’. Certainly nothing to do with me or the site’s content. Most likely it was collateral damage from sharing the same IP as other potentially blocked website. The blogging software I use (WordPress) is also targeted in China – but 6 is hosted on a private server, not by WordPress, so this can’t have been it. New blogs are often blocked right off the bat in China: another possibility in a guessing game with no apparent rhyme or reason behind it.

All in all, the impression I got from weeks of head-scratching, conversations and attempts to unblock this site? There’s no crushing efficiency to the net nanny, just averagely paid men and women with buttons. Often covering their behinds with a guilty-until-proven-innocent philosophy. It’s a story of mouses and men.

Nor is it too difficult to slip through the cracks of the system, both in posting and reading content: just bloody inconvenient. I’ll testify to that, given my access woes and temperamental Cisco* client VPN (like a proxy, only better). Still, where there’s a will…

Rebecca MacKinnon wrote a post worth reading on how the firewall is just part of the larger censorship machine in China. Ironically, as I now try to refind it to give a link, I see it is blocked. So here is an excellent, if old, piece on the topic by James Fallows instead.

Written while locked out of my flat and reminded of how cut off you are without 24-7 internet access and RSS feeds


* Cisco, ironically, is the firm that provided the Chinese government with the technology to create the Great Firewall in the first place. I find it fitting that if they built this wall, they should provide me with the VPN to climb it.

Update: Back in the flat, back on the VPN. Here is the link to Rebecca MacKinnon’s post

Dream of sinofornication…

I went to Beijing’s MIDI music festival over the October festival: a miniature Glastonbury (tents and all), with angrier music and more meat-on-a-stick. The form of the event rung a familiar bell after English or American festivals – wide clean stages, a camera on a crane, sponsorship from HP. But the music was all China. And, in the words of a friend, ‘it rocked’.

At one moment in the night, I found myself listening to the tune of ‘Californication’, behind new rap lyrics in Mandarin. A fine song to nod your head to, and silently curse your terrible Chinese, ignorant as I was to what the rapper was talking about. So instead I thought: if the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s original was (among other things) about the cultural and lifestyle ‘pull’ California exerted on the rest of the world (‘dream of Californication’) at the end of the twentieth century (according to Californians…), then Beijing in the twenty-first is giving it a run for its money. This music at this festival – and the numbers of young foreigners coming to China for its modern not ancient culture – is testament to it.

The feel of the festival as a whole might have been imported from the West, but this song was a Chinese band making an American tune their own not aping it. It also reminded me that the phrase ‘across the pond’ is no longer about the US and Europe being the world’s two biggest players. There’s a new Pacific pond now.

I was too slow on the draw with my gadget to record the Californication cover, but I got the tune following it, which will give an impression of the festival. I’ll upload it as soon as I defang some teething problems with the internet connection in my flat.

Update: Here is the audio file: Midi