Monday, August 30, 2010

Green jobs will go where all jobs go

The factories I saw in China were closer to being green than anything I've heard about in America. The workers lived within walking distance of their jobs and ate communal meals. Sunlight was used in place of electric lights, fans instead of air conditioning. Nothing was purchased unless it was absolutely necessary, there weren't even chairs, most people stood while they did their jobs. Cleaning was avoided, the architecture was simple and reusable.

If the factories I saw were hooked up to nuclear power plants (the Chinese are building them) and the plastics were replaced with something biodegradable or recycled (which will happen naturally as prices for those items come down) the factories would be greener than anything possible in America.

So how can we compete?

Right now our green jobs only exist because we subsidize them with money the government borrows. They aren't profitable. We don't even know if the technologies we've chosen to invest in will be the ones favored in the future. Meanwhile, the Chinese have an economy that can turn a profit, create jobs, and produce things people are willing to buy. We don't have that experience. If the green economy ever materializes, the Chinese will have no problem taking every job we've created away. They can do it cheaper and greener. They only have to take the jobs they already have and make them green, while we haven't even figured out how to make jobs, let alone green ones.

While we've borrowed money hoping to be prepared for tomorrow, the Chinese have been making money dealing with today's world, and developing the flexibility to deal with tomorrow's. America's "green jobs" are jobs for a future that may or may not come, and even if it does, probably wont want them.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Tampa Theatre Marquee

Today I went to the Tampa Theatre to see a one-time only showing of the newly restored 1927 movie Metropolis.

It's always great to see movies in this theater because inside it looks like this:

The stage with organ raised

It was considered a "movie palace" when it was built in 1926 and may have shown Metropolis on its original American tour.

Here's the trailer:

The movie had only ever been shown in its original length in Europe, after which it was shortened for world distribution. The cut parts were thought lost forever, but they recently found 25 extra minutes and what we saw was the result of their incorporation.

The Tampa Theatre is one of only twelve theaters in America to screen the movie. Our theater wasn't the first to screen it, but it was the first in North America to present the movie with the original score, played by organ, as it was originally shown in Europe.

I got there an hour and a half early and found a line:

Line for Metropolis

The movie sold out. (1400 people can be seated in the theater.)

This is one of the people who made the show such a success:

Dr. Steven Ball

He came from Michigan to play our Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, the 1920's version of surround-sound. He replaced an entire orchestra, even pushing buttons to control percussion instruments. Well, he almost replaced an entire orchestra. He did have to pound on the organ when someone on screen was pounding wood.

This is him at the organ's controls:

Dr. Steven Ball on the organ

While the movie was playing the organ's controls retracted part-way into the stage and the organist watched the movie along with the audience, making sure the sound stayed in sync with the action on screen.

The organ is a powerful instrument, they said there are ten tons of it hidden in the walls. When you saw machines moving on screen, the organ would have a sound effect for them and you could feel the sound in your body, like you were right in front of the machines. All the sound effects were incorporated into an orchestral score, and it was amazing to hear one man perform everything so well.

The movie itself was good. It had strong political messages often presented in Christian terms that weren't offensive (I say that as an atheist) and also seemed pertinent to our times.

It's a sci-fi movie where poor workers and elite thinkers live in separate communities. They don't understand each other, even though they need each other to survive, because they never intermingle. Kind of like America today.

The heroine is a community organizer working out of a church. She tries getting the two sides together, telling them they are all brothers. She literally brings a group of poor children to the rich community and says "Look, these are your brothers!"

Some of the political messages are easy to spot, because they are shown in bold text on screen (with exclamation points). In the movie, the heroine is mainly talking to the poor. She doesn't want the workers to be violent because the elites are their brothers, and someone is sure to come along soon to bring them together. In reality, she's talking to the movie audience, both the workers and the thinkers.

"Look, these are your brothers!"

Something to remember in the heat of American politics, because we all need each other and attacking each other will only destroy us.

I will leave you with that thought, and some shots of the theater's decorative details:

Theatre detail

Theatre detail

Theatre detail

Friday, August 27, 2010

Advertising = Art

I had a wonderful time walking around Xiamen. The city doesn't come alive until after dark. Many buildings are covered in garish advertisements and amazing light displays. But it's not unusual to see streets and alleys with no lights, even street lights. It might sound scary, but you feel safe because there are so many people. And even in dark alleys there might be vendors grilling food or people sitting in the street in front of their businesses.

The advertising I saw at night in China makes me realize there is an art movement we in America barely know about. Strange to say, the art form is advertising, and in Xiamen I saw works that could rival anything by Michelangelo. We work so hard to keep our cities clean of billboards and signs, and what do we have? Boring architecture to look at. But in China every modern building is an art gallery, some with displays that change by the week.

View of one block

Club decoration

The end of an alley

This is all one building, note how the advertising (using Western models), is incorporated into the building's decoration:

Club decoration

Club decoration (close up)

This is the front of the building, many of these signs have motion:

One big sculpture of light:

More examples of common place decorations/advertisements:

Lobsters anyone?



Even places as mundane as pet hospitals and gynecological hospitals can light up a neighborhood:

Amity Gynecology Hospital

Pet Hospital

Update: I take my ideas on a walk, and they seem to have legs.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

China isn't Westernized

Pete Terranova: I'm still struck at the Westernization of their culture.
In China they tend to not say the word "Westernized", instead they talk about the "international" craze. They seem to want to emphasize how they have joined the world, rather than how they have been changed by it. And it does seem like a craze. I saw a brand of moon cakes, one of the most Chinese of things, being advertised with a tag-line like: "take a trip around the world", showing images of people in different national dresses eating them.

In the city where I was, no one was wearing anything that looked remotely like traditional dress, other than hostesses at fancy restaurants. There were a few workers who had a peasant look, but they really stood out:



During the Cultural Revolution Great Purge they destroyed much of their traditional culture. The government today is doing what it can to destroy what's left, removing old buildings and trying to standardize everything from the language they speak to the exercises they perform, or putting it safely behind glass in museums.

Obviously, having Western things like clothing has a connotation of wealth and status, so everyone wants them. Add to that the fact that the government embraces Westernization and it would be surprising to not see people and buildings which looked "Westernized", or in other words "completely normal".

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Working in China

Factory food

I had a tour of several Chinese factories. An area that has factories will be filled with identical five story buildings. Lots of the buildings will be empty, some of them may even have signs of people living in them (I saw a few clotheslines). What space is occupied by manufacturing will be simple and spartan, and run down. Big windows are used for light during the day, fans provide cooling, and nothing looks brand new.

It's gives them flexibility. If a business needs to expand, they can take over floors in nearby buildings. If they need to shrink, there isn't much to get rid of. Nothing there is permanent, I was told it is normal to have three different jobs in a year.

The vast majority of the workers I saw were young people, who are their mobile workforce. Most of them wore polo shirts with company logos, but a few wore shirts with brand names like Fendi or Polo. Lots of men had extravagant haircuts, kind of goth, a few people even had their hair bleached to a light brown color. Almost everyone was standing.

I used to look at plastic molded objects with a few parts and wonder what sort of machine was able to put them together. Well, I have seen where they come from, and there isn't any machine. It's mainly done by hand. People will stand together in a group making an object. Each person will have a part in the process. Some of them have simple machines, some of them manipulate the object somehow, some of them are doing the packaging. You give them a bunch of parts and they hand you the finished product, ready to appear on the shelf, inserts and all. They work as fast as the slowest person can go; only if a person is working at a machine making a part might they be stockpiling anything. And they all seemed pretty happy.

The picture you see at the top of the post is what is served in a factory cafeteria. (Everybody took more than I did.) I got to eat in the executive cafeteria, which has an air conditioner, but serves the same food as everyone else eats. We picked our plates, ceramic, chipped, and miss-matched, out of a pile, still wet from being washed. One day was rice, sweet corn with bits of broken pork bones, green beans, some sort of light stew, greens, and bitter-melon soup. The second time I ate there I had what you see in the picture.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

TV in China


I think I watched the ending of an episode of China's Next Top Model. All the contestants seemed bad (just like on America's Next Top Model). The woman they kicked off the show was as thin as a ballerina. Just before she left they had her stand on a scale. As she stood there, the refrain from "You're Beautiful" played. She cried when she saw she weighed 56.9kg, a clip was shown of a plumper, more confident, version of her in an earlier episode, and everyone hugged her and cried. It was pretty clear the show had broken her spirit and started her on the road to an eating disorder. Even the girl that "won" the episode had to undergo several minutes of criticism.

This show consisted of four people with laptops and a host. You watched the people play a game similar to hearts on a computer screen:


I saw an infomercial for "Sand" watches (obviously not a brand form an English speaking country). They looked very gold, had two certificates of authenticity, were coated with 0.03microns of 99.9% gold, and had "Au999" prominently displayed on their face:


I think there was a teeny tiny diamond on there, too. The announcer had a mustache that was obviously fake. (The watches cost 44 American dollars.)

There was a period drama:


And a cooking program:


Some guy in a pink shirt talks to people in chairs. The books behind him have titles like "STRUTS IN ACTION" and "Javaserver Pages", but measurements unrelated to computer programming appear on the screen, like ">150mg/dL", ">50cm", and something with "moles", so I have no idea what he was trying to teach (if he was teaching at all).


There were several American channels with Chinese subtitles. American news channels do not have Chinese subtitles, so if you don't know English you wont understand what is being said.

This seems to be a soap opera set in a rural area. the buildings look dilapidated but the people seem to be dressed in brand new clothing, right off the rack:



An old woman sings while young men dance synchronized hip-hop behind her. A large audience waves lights as she performs:


Chinese opera:


A Tide commercial:


Some sort of comedy with a nerd-type with big glasses and a group of attractive female co-stars:



They seemed to work in a clothing store and always had very strong emotions on their faces.

There is an Arabic channel, with subtitles in Arabic, Chinese, and English. This program had a black guy, an Asian guy, and an elderly white lady showing how to do Tai Chi:


There was also a Russian channel. I asked why the Chinese government had television channels in Arabic and Russian. I was told it was to send propaganda over the border.

There were some shows made by the Chinese government in English, so I could consume some of their propaganda. It was a lot of touristy/panda/"learning Chinese is fun" crap but I did enjoy the show "Crossover" which always seemed to end abruptly (right in the middle of conversations). I see the show is available on-line and even there the shows end the same way.

I caught the ending to the American movie "Carrie". What was weird was how they censored the ending. They had all the violence at the prom, but when the mother was killed they only showed a close-up of her face; all the Christian iconography was cut out. I think they were trying to cut out the Christianity, even though the ending isn't exactly material anyone would use for proselytizing. The censors had no idea what they were doing.

Anyway, TV there looked boring; drained of anything interesting or truly cultural.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things I thought in China

"Learning to say thanks and goodbye in Chinese will get you a lot of friendly laughs (they aren't too impressed if someone can say hello)."

"If you are ever offered tea, have it, because it will always be fantastic."

"I saw a truck loaded with geese (or possibly white ducks). There geese were alive and transported in groups of two or three, in bags of white netting. I could see the geese picking at the netting with their beaks"

"Entire neighborhoods are emptied, torn down, and replaced by new construction. Often the new construction lies empty, giving it the feeling of a ghost town. The neighborhoods which are being torn down are often surrounded by walls of billboards so they can't be seen by passing cars (or bikes, or buses)."

"I am struck by how many beautiful people there are here."

"As westerners we see empty, decaying buildings and think of an economic bubble. But is it a sign of a bubble in China? They seem to be tearing down and constructing buildings with lots of manual, but cheap, labor. Perhaps buildings here are disposable items, like our paper napkins or plastic forks."

"Someone in the street handed me two tiny cards. Inside were pictures of topless women. Either they were advertisements for a strip club or the gentleman was some sort of pervert."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Western food

The Western-style food in China is clearly tailored to Chinese tastes:

Papa Johns in China

No surprise since they're the ones who will be eating the vast majority of it.

This is what I got at an Italian restaurant:



It had fancy plates, a great atmosphere, it even served Pellegrino water; but the lasagna tasted exactly like Chef Boyardee.

It's not anything against the restaurant though, the Chinese seem to like their Western-style food to be heavy and dense. No vegetables, no fresh herbs, not even pickles. It's very unbalanced.

Their club sandwiches are three pieces of toast, meat, and a fried egg (they love fried eggs). If you're lucky, there's a shred of lettuce on it. And the bread they use is always sliced thin and strangely chewy.

The worst place to eat is:


Not that I'd recommend KFC in America.

In China, they focus on the chicken sandwich:


I've heard horror-stories about it, but mine wasn't all skin and gristle, so I lucked out. It did have much too much mayonnaise, and not good mayonnaise either.

There was also this stuff on the side:


I think it's sweet corn, carrots, and cucumber in even more mayonnaise.

The orange drink was good though. The Chinese are good with oranges.

These people made a good chicken sandwich:



I have no idea what they're called, because the Western letters on their logo are upside down and backwards. You can see a little statue of liberty on their place-mat so they're clearly trying to do something American. The fries were a little greasy, but I'd eat them if they were in America. Whatever the hell they're called.

The delivery boy was really excited to have a Western customer and came over, practicing his English on me. He was good, too, even doing a tomato/potato bit when he delivered the fries and ketchup.

It was also the first restaurant to give me a receipt. In China, I was told, restaurants don't like giving receipts, so they can cheat on their taxes. The better restaurants seemed to be required to have scratch-off lottery tickets on their receipts, so customers wouldn't forget to ask for them.

I didn't go into, but saw some Pizza Huts, that looked upscale. It was shocking how upscale they looked; some had specially designed, circular architecture.

Burger King in China is pretty much like Burger King in America, except it's burgers actually taste like beef, and their french fries are like McDonald's french fries. Also, they serve beer:


Much better than a regular burger joint in America!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Piano Island


Off the coast of Xiamen, the city I stayed in, is a little island called Piano Island. It's not really called Piano Island, that's just what they tell foreigners. In China it isn't unusual to tell foreign tourists and natives completely different things.

The tourist story is that the island used to be the home of European consulates, and since so many Europeans were concentrated there, it had the highest rate of piano ownership in China. Supposedly, the sound of pianos was often heard floating from the island. You do hear classical music there today, but it's coming out of speakers they have hidden all over the place, and none of it is piano music.

Not that there were a lot of foreign tourists to tell this story to. This guy held his camera out to us:


We thought he wanted help taking a picture of him and his girlfriend. It turns out she wanted to be in a picture with my coworker.

What the island is about for the Chinese is the person depicted by this giant statue:

Giant statue

Apparently he defeated the Dutch on Taiwan, which was "always part of China" according to signs in the nearby museum. The island is a big anti-imperialist site for the Chinese and a very patriotic spot. Not the sort of thing they brag about to foreign tourists.

Everybody was taking pictures or having their pictures taken:


It was hard to travel in some places, because you were constantly letting pictures be taken.

Many of the old mansions now look like this:

One of the old homes

An old mansion.

Mansions which aren't too dilapidated have been turned into restaurants or have stalls selling things in front of them:



In the less affluent areas it seems like every house has a store on the ground floor, selling things to tourists. It's cheap crap you can buy somewhere else for less, and our Chinese friends were happy we didn't buy anything.

The island had Western restaurants like KFC, McDonald's, and Dairy Queen, but also many traditional ones, some which let you select your fish before it was cooked for you:

Fresh fish

We also saw fish drying in many places:

Drying fish

No cars are allowed on the island. The architecture is traditional and there's just no room for them:

A side street

A side street

I loved looking in the side streets and catching glimpses of how people lived (I doubt these people play pianos):

Where people live

Where people live

Don't be shocked by clotheslines:


Even in the city it wasn't unusual to see clotheslines in almost every balcony.

I loved the street vendors:

Street vendors



In China they are some of the greatest people to see; full of entrepreneurial spirit.

Several times a band of marchers in some sort of para-military garb came by:


They were high school or college students performing their mandatory military training.

We saw Christian churches on the island:

A church

A Catholic church

They seem well kept, but also well locked.

If you pay a fee they let you see some of the less commercial parts of the island which, because it's a small mountain, are also the higher parts of the island. Some of it is gardens meant for the public:

Potted plants

But other parts are clearly where people live:


Basketball hoops.

There was a Buddhist temple, actively being used:

A statue

Temple over-view

Dragon detail

As you make your way further up the mountain, you can see carvings in the rocks, painted red:


I have no idea what this says.

Some of it is very steep. It had a nice view though. The very top was a small fort used to defend against foreigners:

Steep climb

The very top


At this point a Chinese friend joined us and we went to the former German consulate to drink beer and discuss politics (the best part of the trip).

We toured a piano museum, where all the fabled pianos have ended up, and saw some of the coast:

Zig-zag bridge.

Rocky beach

View of Xiamen.

One thing I noticed was how Chinese people dealt with garbage. If there was no can around they would throw it on the ground, but they would all do it in the same spot:


I realized this would make it easier to clean up. Even their garbage had this spontaneous order to it. That's not to say there was a lot of garbage on the island. People came up to us to take our empty drink bottles. I'm pretty sure they were paid to do so.

The island was also great for people watching:


Man with child

We saw a lot of men carrying children. And it wasn't raining. Men and women use umbrellas when it's sunny outside because they don't want to be tanned. Strangely, many of our Chinese friends wanted to take us to the beach, where I suppose we would have desperately tried to not let sunlight fall on us.

We got off the island the same way we got on it, by boat. You can either take a massively crowded ferry or a private boat:

A mini-lighthouse


The private boat seems like it would be more fun, but it bounces!