Tag Archives: China

Experience Overload Part 2: Hospital Regulars

We visited the hospital several times this week, checking up on the women who were of particular concern to Barbara. Their outcomes ran the gamut:

  • The woman with the seizures and infection had been doing better, but then her infection returned and she seemed to be retaining fluid at an undiminished rate. They had transferred her to a hospital in a city four hours away.
  • The woman who had had a cesarean after her labor stopped was much improved and, by our visit yesterday, had gone home with a healthy baby.
  • The woman with uterine cancer was gone from her bed, the sheets neatly folded. I assumed she had died, but was later told by a nurse that they had sent her home to die there – nothing more they could do for her at the hospital anyway, and they needed the bed.

For the record, I think this last outcome is probably a good thing. Just as a system in which hospital births are the norm for all women leads to lots of money being spent in achieving relatively poor outcomes, I think the same may be true of a system of hospitalized death.

In death, of course, unlike birth, the outcome is eventually the same for everyone. On the other hand, hospitalized birth and death have much in common: enormous potential for trauma; unnecessary and invasive procedures being performed, often without consent being given; massive quantities of money spent on these procedures; the transformation of a private, family affair into a sterile, clinical one. I’m still formulating my thoughts about this, and, in truth, have seen a dead body but have never actually seen someone die. Still, I think that establishing a system in which the beginning of life and the end of life generally occur out of the clutches of hospitals will be one in which more people have a good birth and a good death, instead of the undignified medical disasters so common now.

One of the nursing schools that I’m applying to has a minor in Palliative and End of Life Care; perhaps I’ll be their first midwifery student to take it up!

*****

One of the days we were at the hospital, Miriam (a foreign nurse friend of Barbara’s who has lived in the Valley for years) came by for a prenatal check up and ultrasound. The hospital staff were perfectly happy to lend Barbara a spare bed to perform the prenatal check up herself. Having seen Barbara do a few prenatal check ups, I knew that she would begin by asking a series of questions about Miriam’s general health and comfort, anything unusual during the pregnancy (Miriam has a number of children already, so she is very familiar with her pregnant body), and fetal movement. She then performs a Leopold maneuver, which is the process of manually palpating the woman’s belly to determine fetal position. Miriam said it would be fine if I wanted to palpate her belly as well – and judging from how exciting I thought this was, I can already tell what a geeky midwifery student I’m going to be.

Let me tell you: feeling the position of the fetus is not as easy as it looks. You think that if you palpate a pregnant woman’s belly you’ll be able to feel something concrete in there, but Miriam is around 7.5 months pregnant, so the fetus still has plenty of fluid around it. For the first few moments I couldn’t feel anything at all – just a dense orb of fluid, like a medicine ball. But then I felt a solid, unbroken line between her belly button and left flank – the fetal spine! – and followed it down to the head above the pubic bone. Her baby has been moving around a lot, but for now it’s in the perfect position for birth.

After using a Doppler fetal monitor to listen for the heartbeat (again, not as easy as it looks to get the fetal heart beat instead of the mother’s), we went with Miriam to another hospital building to get an ultrasound. I’ve only ever seen fetal ultrasounds done in China, so my experience is limited to what they do here, but so far I can’t tell a damn thing from looking at an ultrasound screen. It occurs to me that they may intentionally do them very quickly here, avoiding prolonged views of things you might recognize like the fetal torso, because ultrasound technicians are forbidden from revealing the baby’s sex. This is because one well-documented side effect of China’s “Family Planning Policy”, as it is known here, has been an exacerbation of the population’s lopsided male-female sex ratio, and a high prevalence of sex-selective abortion.

Supposedly, ultrasound technicians can lose their jobs if anyone finds out that they revealed the baby’s sex to the parents. However, I have also heard that bribing the technicians is common, and that technicians sometimes drop hints to eager parents – saying “Congratulations!” if it’s a boy but nothing if it’s a girl, for example. At the end of Miriam’s ultrasound, she and the technician exchanged a few words:

“It doesn’t matter to us what the sex is, since we’re definitely keeping the baby.”

“It may be a boy. We’re not allowed to give you any information because of the Family Planning Policy.”

Perhaps that was a hint, or perhaps they just say that to everyone.

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Kunming Fake Apple Stores Shut Down

The local authorities have reported their findings from the investigation they conducted into the fake Apple stores in Kunming, and a couple pieces of information have made it into the news.

The first is that they found five fake Apple stores in Kunming, not just three. I’m actually only surprised that it’s so few – the three that RP and I found were just the ones we happened to come across while walking home from dinner.

The second piece of information is that two of the five stores have been shut down – not for intellectual property rights violations, but because they didn’t have business licenses, the bare minimum necessary for a commercial retail operation.

What this means, of course, is that three of the five stores (coincidentally, the three that I put photos of on this blog) were issued valid business licenses by authorities who were, to give them serious benefit of the doubt, asleep at the wheel – and those stores continue to operate.

What this also means, I assume, is that by putting up that blog post, my husband and I are indirectly responsible for some number of people losing their jobs as employees of those stores. How do we feel about that? Terrible.

I want to explain again: when we photographed those stores and put up that blog post, it’s not because we found it shocking someone had ripped off Apple in China. I’ve been coming to China for almost eight years, and RP has been coming here for 10 years – we’re well aware of the prevalence of shanzhai goods and stores in this country. Even the street that the main fake Apple store is on has what we assume are numerous other ripoff stores – it has two shoddy Nike stores alone, and this is supposed to be the main upscale shopping street in the city.

We photographed these stores because they were such detailed and complete ripoffs that they almost rose to the level of artistry, if you look at them in the right frame of mind. And I put it on my blog because I thought that a few people outside my normal readership of, say, six people, might find it amusing too.

We’re not shills for Apple – we’re just appreciators of absurdity. And the idea that people might lose their jobs over a blog post seemed ridiculous. We hadn’t foreseen the fact that this story would sit perfectly at the intersection of Americans’ Applemania and Sinophobia and, as one article I read put it, “blow up the internet”.

This is not to say that I have no feelings about violations of IPR in China. I hold the prevailing Western opinion that a total disregard for IPR seriously hampers innovation. Given the extent to which IPR is ignored in a city like Kunming – and, I imagine, numerous other similar Chinese cities that you’ve never heard of, each containing millions of people – if I were a Chinese businesswoman, I would open a fake Apple store tomorrow. What’s the point of coming up with your own business idea if you can just lift an existing one wholesale that you know will be successful and won’t be shut down by the authorities?

I think it is a fair criticism that social injustice is being propagated by a system in which the workers who actually produce Apple’s products in China are unable to afford to purchase them. (Not that the Chinese people complaining on this blog about the price of Apple products are factory workers – let’s get real. You’re not labor activists, you just want Apple products as much as anyone, anywhere.) Indeed, an Apple product in China is likely to be more expensive than purchasing one in the US, or even Hong Kong. The reason for that, however, is because the Chinese government slaps a massive import tax on these and other such products, making it even less likely that people will be willing to buy the real thing and support enforcing IPR laws.

Shutting down these couple Apple stores in Kunming doesn’t represent a move to enforce IPR laws in China – they were shut down in a little show-trial move on the basis of having been so shady as to not even have business licenses. But if such stores were to be shut down en masse on that basis, despite the loss of retail jobs, I admit that I would support it. I think that supporting such a move represents the hope that China could be a thrilling country of innovators on a scale that the world has never before seen – and it certainly represents a blow to the insulting insinuation that shanzhai crap is China’s major cultural contribution to the planet.

If France can enforce smoking bans in bars, China can enforce IPR laws. Agreed?

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Are you listening, Steve Jobs?

UPDATE #2: Click here for updates on the fake Apple store, with video footage.

UPDATE #1: To address the main issue that people have been getting all bent out of shape about: the stores I photographed do not appear to be authorized Apple sellers. The list of resellers in Kunming that Apple’s website has published does not include the locations that I photographed. An employee at the main store photographed has confirmed that it is not an authorized reseller. Apple itself has confirmed that it is a fake.

I will not be publishing on this blog the addresses of the stores I photographed – if you live in China, you’ll understand why. Feel free to email me at birdabroadblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

*****

The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.

You probably read such things in the paper every day – but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over. I had the thought, only half-jokingly, that when we returned from a couple months abroad, we might not be able to recognize our apartment building. Or that it might not be there at all.

As it turns out, my fears were baseless – our scrappy little home remains. The neighborhood, however, has definitely kicked it up a notch or seven. Starbucks has opened not one, but THREE branches (that I encountered) within a 10 minute walk of one another. An H&M has opened across from our apartment building. These are the kinds of major Western brands that were previously only represented in Kunming by fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. Our neighborhood has quickly become the swanky shopping center of the city.

So when we strolled down a street a few blocks from our house a couple weeks ago, I was only sort of surprised to see this new place, one that any American of my generation can probably recognize instantaneously:

It’s an Apple store!

Or is it?

RP and I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.

We proceeded to place a bet on whether or not this was a genuine Apple store or just the best ripoff we had ever seen – and to be sporting, I bet that it was real.

I know, you guys are laughing: an Apple store in Kunming? No one who doesn’t know me personally has ever heard of Kunming before. Kunming is the end of the Earth. It’s all true – but seriously, China warps your mind into believing that anything is possible, if you stay here long enough. When we went back to this store 5 days later and couldn’t find it, having overshot by two blocks, I seriously thought that it had simply been torn down and replaced with a bank in the mean time – hey, it’s China. That could happen.

You have already guessed the punchline, of course: this was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly.

Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.

The name tags around the necks of the friendly salespeople didn’t actually have names on them – just an Apple logo and the anonymous designation “Staff”. And of course, Apple’s own website will tell you that they only have a few stores in Beijing and Shanghai, opened only recently; Apple famously opens new stores painstakingly, presumably to assure impeccable standards and lots of customer demand.

Is this store a copy of one of those in Beijing? A copy of a copy in another Chinese city? A copy of a copy of a copy?! While you’re pondering that, bear in mind: this is a near-perfect ripoff of a store selling products that were almost unknown when we first came to China. My white MacBook was likely to draw only blank stares or furrowed brows as I sat gnashing my teeth trying in vain to get a piece of Chinese software to run on it.

Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company – when really they’re just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.

Clearly, they had also been told that above all, they must protect the brand. As I took these photos I was quickly accosted by two salespeople inside, and three plain clothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs – that it wasn’t allowed. And why wasn’t it allowed? Because their boss told them so.

I…may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures.

And the best part? A ten minute walk around the corner revealed not one, but TWO more rip-off Apple stores.

Some store managers may have dozed off briefly during certain parts of the lecture on How to Completely Ignore Intellectual Property Rights:

Anyone from Apple want to come down to Kunming and break open a can of IPR whoop-ass?

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Out of Asia – Part I: New Zealand

Let’s face it: my life is bound up with Asia. Between my birth and first few years spent in Singapore, my years spent living in China, and all of my travel in South and Southeast Asia (I’ve now been to every SE Asian country except Brunei), I will have spent more than a quarter of my life in Asia by the time RP and I make our real exit from China next spring.

So I think it’s understandable that Asia and I need a little time away from each other sometimes. Often I haven’t been able to pinpoint this as the exact source of my weariness, but then when we landed in New Zealand for our honeymoon it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my chest; I breathed easily for the first time in what seemed like months. And when I flew into Beirut a couple weeks ago, sailing over the snow-covered peaks of the Mount Lebanon range and descending towards the sparkling embrace of the Mediterranean, all I could think was Oh yes – the rest of the world. I remember you.

The different cultural reference points, staple ingredients, language families, religions – the impression these things make is immediate and profound. The Chinese sphere of cultural influence is wide and deep; you can get on a plane and travels for many hours in several directions, and still be within it.

Because China is such a deeply foreign place to live as an American, and because I have lived here for a little while, it can be tempting to think that I know about “the world”. That’s not the case, of course – I know about China. And a few other places in Asia. But there is so much more to see, so much that I don’t understand, so many peoples of whom I know almost nothing.

(Case in point: it took most of the flight from Kunming to Dubai, en route to Lebanon, to put my finger on where the 35 boisterous and brightly dressed women with Central Asian features who refused to sit down on my flight were from. Not Arabic speaking, and able to speak only broken Mandarin…anyone know? They were Uighur, of course.)

I’ve been coming to China for the past seven and a half years, and while I’m not done with this place – we’re not planning on moving back to the States until next year – I am ready for a little diversity. Next up, later this summer: Russia, by way of Berlin. Oh yes! I’m talkin St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, my friends.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, a photo catch-up. First, the greatest honeymoon in history (biased, whatever): Kunming –> Singapore –> New Zealand –> Melbourne –> Kunming.

It’s already taken me FOUR DAYS to try to put up this post, so enough gabbing…Each pic below links to the full gallery of photos we took in that place.

There’s no way to fly straight from Kunming to New Zealand, so we stopped over in Singapore:

Here’s the apartment building I lived in when I was a baby…

Then on to Christchurch (after the September 2010 earthquake that disturbed people severely and damaged buildings, but before the mid-February 2011 earthquake that killed over 160 people and destroyed buildings. A tragedy for this lovely place…).

Then a bus to the city of Dunedin, and the Otago Peninsula, where we biked, rode horses, and saw the most beautiful animals – yellow-eyed penguins, sea lions, albatrosses – all living in the wild.

Another bus brought us to Te Anau, to the epic Fiordlands of the south island and an unforgettable four days walking the Milford Track.

A bus to Queenstown, home of the world’s most picturesque airport, where we took a staggeringly beautiful flight to the Auckland, on the north island. (It was on this flight that I actually got upset with how stunning the world looks from that vantage point, so close to the Arctic Circle, the Pacific stretching out toward the horizon. It was almost heartbreaking.)

A ferry to Waiheke Island, nearby Auckland, with its rolling green hills, beaches and vineyards – where I learned to love white wine.

And an early flight to Melbourne, where we were lucky to spend a day before heading back to Kunming. (I know – no one’s told you how cool Melbourne is. Trust me when I say that it’s hipster central.)

Best trip ever.

A zisn Peysakh, everybody!

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Pen and Paper

Recently, the government has stepped up its efforts in internet censorship over here, and that’s why I haven’t been posting. It takes forever to get this page to open, when it works at all, and then things are all malfunctioning…don’t even get me started on trying to post photos.

I’ve started keeping a diary – a real live pen and paper affair. It’s mundane, but I think I’ve downplayed too much the importance of recording the mundane. March has passed, and it’s been freezing cold and grey. We crowd our feet around our little space heater and wear our long johns every day.

I’m going to try to keep posting here – change is afoot! I’m leaving for Lebanon on Saturday, for a work-related conference. I’m staring down the end of my time at this job, which will mark two years in China (where did that time go?). I’m barely keeping up, having not posted anything here about the staggeringly awesome trip that was our honeymoon. New Zealand is paradise – did you know that? 100% paradise. I can’t remember when I’ve been so happy.

It’s already taken me an hour to put this up, what with the internet crappiness, so here is a minor teaser photo, from the Port Hills of Christchurch, of a New Yorker in New Zealand:

Here’s hoping I hope I can post more soon.

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Equal Opportunity Excoriation Available

It has been pointed out to me by certain people to whom I am married that my criticism of China is getting a little…immoderate. That the way I criticize China makes it seem as if I am ignoring the exact same flaws in other countries and societies. I’ll agree that my criticism sometimes gets out of hand, or is simply petty – I have been overly cranky recently, and taking it out on “China” because it’s easy to do. Sometimes it makes me feel better, but often it just makes me crankier, and makes me more likely to act like an idiot for no reason. (Example: Almost laying down my life in front of an illegally turning city bus while shouting PEDESTRIANS FIRST! just to prove a point doesn’t really change the enforcement of traffic laws in Kunming.)

On the other hand, I criticize China because I’m submersed in China at the moment, and because many aspects of life here are highly deserving of criticism. Does this mean that the US isn’t deserving of criticism? Not at all – but I’m not taking random shots at one to be a facile booster of the other. (Unlike some people, coughTomFriedmanyouidiotcough.) And in fact, there are a great many of exactly the same aspects of Chinese and American society that deserve criticism – tremendous income inequality, environmental degradation, citizens’ xenophobia and narrow-mindedness, racism – I could go on.

That said, my absolutely least favorite excuse of people who defend harmful government policies or action/inaction is that the criticizer has no right to criticize, because other countries are or were just as bad. These conversations are exceedingly tiresome:

American: Wow, I can’t believe the government of Fascistan just killed hundreds of indigenous people in the south!

Fascistanian: The US government killed millions of American Indians in its quest to settle the continent! And the Australians did it too!

American: Are you saying that a genocide in the US is a good excuse for the brutal Fascitanian oppression of indigenous people here?!

Fascistanian: FOREIGNER! You can never understand our ways!

I’m not totally lacking in relativism, but my point is that governments and societies often engage in behavior that I find objectively stupid, corrupt, and harmful – China, the US, wherever. Actually, particularly China and the US.

So when we move back to the States I promise to start up a new blog – BirdAtHome, or whatever – and go to town on American stupidity and the totalitarian tendencies of the US government. But for now, we live here. So China gets it.

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Nobody Puts China in a Corner!

As this is my first Christmas in China (last year I went back to NYC), I was all prepared to deal with it by mostly ignoring it. Since people here mostly wouldn’t be celebrating it, I assumed, this wouldn’t be that difficult.

Ahahahahaha!

It turns out that, with the building of new shopping malls, comes Christmas – even to places where almost nobody knows what Christmas is. The number of new malls and fancy stores that have opened in my neighborhood in the past year is staggering, and means that instead of one instance of Christmas unicorns, this year every shop had pasted up in its windows snowflake decals and cutouts of Santa’s rosy visage.

Santa at the local drug store

Fake Christmas trees are ubiquitous.

Perturbed by this sudden outpouring of holiday cheer, I took to asking random people what they thought Christmas is. The answer I got was mostly, “I have no idea.”

Do you know who that fat guy with the white beard is?

Do you know who Jesus is?

Do you know why your shop manager is making you wear an ungainly red suit and jaunty little hat this week?

You can probably guess what the answer to these questions was.

It turns out that the fancy malls with international brands had got wind that what you do at this time of year is put up styrofoam snowmen in your stores and offer big discounts, and that this increases your business. Then, of course, all of the smaller shops wanted in on the game – so they did the same thing. And enough people here have seen American movies featuring Christmas that they know it’s some international, or at least Western, thing to do – so of course they want to participate.

In case you should think this is a weird, Christmas-specific phenomenon, think again. Why did every company in China have World Cup-themed ad campaigns over the summer, despite the fact that Chinese people don’t really like soccer and China wasn’t even in the World Cup? Because it was a big deal internationally, and China doesn’t like to be left out. Why was the Olympics the most massive event in post-1980’s Chinese history? Because hosting the Olympics means that your country has been recognized by the international community as being worthy of positive attention. Why is the Chinese government particularly mad about this year’s Nobel peace prize? Because the government freakin’ LOVES the Nobel prizes – international recognition of the highest order! Except when it doesn’t make you look so good.

So of course, with something as internationally massive as Christmas, being left out of the fun simply won’t do – even if none of your citizens have any clue what it’s all about, to the extent that signs saying Merry Christmas 2011! are all over the city, because people assume that it must be some sort of new year’s event.

In fairness, it seems as if a few local traditions have begun springing up around Christmas that I simply wasn’t aware of. For example, apparently in the past couple of years it has become tradition to sell very wet and messy cans of Silly String on the streets of Kunming in the couple days before Christmas. Then, on Christmas Eve, massive crowds gather in the streets and public squares around the center of the city (where I live) wearing Santa hats, and spray each other, and random foreign passersby, with the noxious stuff. I think it’s meant to resemble snow (not that it ever snows here).

Or anyway, this is what I found out after I had barricaded myself inside my apartment last night and looked at the local news. But did I know this when I was walking home after dinner? No. And so when a few jerky valet parking guys at a local karaoke bar started spraying me and RP with Silly String, did I accept it as just a bit of local fun? Uh, no.

Instead, I started beating them physically around the shoulders with my gloves, shouting WHAT! THE! FUCK!

(Not my most glorious moment, I admit. But I’m trying to be honest here.)

Anyway. You can probably tell that I’m pretty peeved about Christmas in Kunming. I hate the ignorant and superficial appropriation of other cultural groups’ traditions, and that is unfortunately what mainstream Han Chinese culture seems to specialize in. The only thing that’s saved me from intractable Scrooge-iness is having stayed up until 2:30am last night watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” – it really does make everything better.

So Merry Christmas from me to you! And China wishes you a Merry Christmas too, even if it’s not sure why.

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