Thursday, April 10, 2008

There are more questions than answers....

I’m writing this from the 19th floor of a riverside hotel in Guangzhou but may not get to read it for a while as my blog seems to be blocked.

That said, it seems to be about the only site to date that I can’t access, either here or in public cafes. Even in the McDonalds across the road, the kids munched their Big Macs whilst surfing, gratis, on the bank of computers provided. And the local channels seemed to cover the Paris flame fracas in some detail.

Tonight I watched a movie, well, a bit of it, which had Snoop Dog dubbed into guttural Korean. It was funny. Now another channel is offering an indepth, quite horrifying, documentary on gang violence in US prisons….the sort of thing we get pointed back at China. That was bleak.

Earlier we’d returned to a large restaurant along the Pearl River, wanting to experience again the chili chicken and such we’d had the night before. These things had not only disappeared from the printed menu, but the staff vehemently denied that any such menu had ever existed.

We have proof it did…



I don’t know, quite what to make of this country yet, I doubt I will from the tiny corner (albeit a city with some twelve million) I’m in for a week or so, but it certainly adds more questions than answers.

Yesterday we went a few Metro stops south we wandered through fabric warehouses that went for kilometre after kilometre. My friend, who is half Chinese told me not to talk to the Buddhist monks offering to read ones fortune as they can steal your good luck if they find it.

I then spent an hour or so in the magnificent Sun Yat Sen Memorial, where the Japanese surrendered in 1945 and I stood on the plinth that Mao stood on in 1966 apparently and gave a speech on the eve of the cultural revolution. And then I talked for an hour with a young man, who, in absolutely perfect English, talked of China past and present, of the way the world perceives the country and the way it perceives itself. He was remarkably frank, far more than we are led to be believed is allowed in this country. And when I asked about that he said he was surprised that anyone could question the debate at the every level. We Chinese like to talk a lot said he. We talk and argue about everything, we are not a compliant people. We are also a people who existed as a society for a thousand years before the west and will be here for thousand years after the decline of the west. We don’t understand why the west thinks that it has a right to tell us that we need to be like it and yet for the hundred years before the revolution the west caused great pain and damage to us. It was Mao that took us from that place to where we are now as one of the world’s great nations. That journey was not without pain but was necessary.

But you'd have to ask if the necessity would have been quite as obvious to those on the receiving end. That question went unanswered.


Later I walked into a park where groups of old folks were sitting around stridently discussing and arguing about something, whilst others played chess.

What impresses too is the way everything seems to work, and the smiles and charm so many seem to exude. And the infrastructure here dwarfs that found in both Australia, New Zealand and much of the Europe & the US. Coupled with free healthcare and education. I may sound hopelessly naïve but I don’t quite think everything is as black and white as we’re told. These people don’t, as we are led to believe in the west, look and feel oppressed and despite everything, yes I know the other side, like Indonesia I often find myself thinking that the west has a way of trying to quite arrogantly apply it’s values to parts of the world that don’t always want them. There is an immense pride in who and what they are, and what they’ve achieved, and it’s hard not to see the substance in that.

And I’ve not seen anywhere the disenfranchisement, poverty, homelessness and despair here that you see daily everywhere in New York or London in places like the dilapidated subway systems or the parks.

Maybe those who have fallen through the cracks here have been moved on in some unspeakable way…or maybe not..I don’t know. Or maybe the revolution simply has found a way to take care of these people in the same way every factory and school has a free hospital. I’m simply not seeing the level of urban misery of Manhattan or Kings Cross, and I'm taking trains to random stations and simply walking.

I find myself finding more questions than answers here and perhaps I'm just seeing a small corner of China that is out of step and unrepresentative of the rest of the nation but I'm scratching my head.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

a thousand people walking / everybody talking

There's a set of data that shows that file sharing is actually good for artists

So says Douglas Merrill, Google's former Chief of Information, who is now running EMI’s digital division.

Ahhhh…wow…haven’t a bunch of folks been saying that for years. It’s hardly a ground breaking revelation to many of us. Common sense tells us this…we don’t need research to tell us this surely. Artists are all about currency. Sure it’s a fine balancing act but the reason Michael Jackson and The Beatles and Elvis were so huge is simply because they existed beyond the record store. Their currency as artists, and as figures in popular culture, and thus their revenue earning ability, came from the fact that they had a momentum that was not subject to whatever ads the record label put in the magazines or however many copies they’d sold. They sold because of that popular momentum not the other way around.

And in a similar way, mass pickup and exposure via P2p implies a validity and a momentum in itself and to attempt to translate those downloads to lost sales is simply to miss the point.

Artists and their managers should be over the moon that their tracks are being shared and encouraging that.

I suggested to a label a year back that a band should give away 10,000 copies of their hottest track….hand it out at schools on a CD. If one in ten of those makes it onto an iPod or a Zen, it worked. And then launch the single on Limewire...complete with ‘new single out now’ advertising. This was a year before Radiohead. It met with blank uncomprehending stares.

Maybe, just maybe, one of the labels is finally getting it.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

And when I get home to you / and see the things that you do

ojak And so back to Jepara we go. To be honest I’d not really heard of the place until a year or so ago but here I am back there, and in some style too..staying at the town’s one and only luxury resort, The Palm Beach Villas. And by luxury, I mean the only one that doesn’t look like a hospital in Stalingrad inside.

The trip to Semerang was somewhat less eventful than last month’s jaunt, although I like the new range in Garuda childware. And here was I thinking that airlines provided these things free.


Indeed Malaysian Airlines make you suffer through a thoroughly nausea inducing video explaining how to apply these to your kiddies, ignoring the lesson learnt from the likes of Adam Air that if you go down in the sea you are, let’s be brutal, fucked.

bemoThe road north from Semerang to Jepara, via Demuk, had recovered a little since the flooding last month but the downside of that recovery was that the number of massively overloaded trucks and buses had seemingly doubled. But life seemed to have returned to normal…or as normal as central Java seems to our closeted kiwi eyes.

The resort was fine….I ordered Nasi Goreng with extra cabe for breakfast but was disturbed to find that, in this land where things like fruit grow and grow in such abundant quantities, we were given fruit juice made from something powered. And undrinkable instant coffee.

boyfishingWe’d also asked for two extra pillows to supplement the rock-like slabs provided. These were delivered with a smile.

But the next morning, when presented with the account we had two add-ons….one for the two pillows, and one for the coffee, which I was told was optional. All of this came as a surprise and I determined to write to the owner to complain about those and the orange sugary substance masquerading as a juice. With that in mind I took a business card and determined to write the owner a helpful (read: whinging, but we do have came back few times in months to come) email.

Fast forward two hours to a hotel back in Semerang where we were meeting a man from the motor trade (not really but I always boysliked that line), a long time expat, who enquired as to our hotel in Jepara. Palm Beach I said…oh, said he (eyebrows on the rise)…how was it there, tense? No said I…why?


Mr Xavier was driven from Yogyakarta to Jepara, where he shares a home with his Indonesian wife. The couple also run a luxury seven-room beachside getaway outside the city called the Palmbeach Resort Jepara

I guess I won’t be writing that email looking for service improvements at Palm Beach. They may have other things on their minds. We’re back there again in a few weeks.

I wonder who the landlord will be….

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