Category Archives: Commentary

The Sorry State of Beliefs and Morals in China

I have never been a believer in any religion — but that’s because I’m happily neutral, religion-wise. Chez moi, I don’t approve of, oppose, support, or otherwise get involved with religion.

But I have this thing about people who start abusing a religion trying to make money. As of late I have been keeping my 101 kilometres away from two Starbucks in town: that at Tower III, World Trade Centre, and, beginning today, the one at Shin Kong Plaza. (The latter one is a riot: My wife and I nearly fell over when they started testing a new type of “outdoor sofa”, if we’re to put it this way.)

In Chinese, there’s a proverb that makes you look like you’ve done nothing bad — when you’re the thief yourself. The story goes that this guy was envious of his neighbour, so he nicked 300 taels of silver. Just to “make sure” the neighbour didn’t get suspicious, he erected a sign — “Under this plot of land there are no 300 taels of silver” (此地無銀三百兩).

That’s like the perfect give-away!

In both cases, we’ve seen shanzhai Buddhist monks wearing a standard grey dress with the Zen / Chan character at the back. The kind you see at temples for real believers. Guy comes with this kind of Buddhist ornament and starts peddling his wares.

There’s a city law in Beijing banning unauthorised business practices without a permit. This guy never got himself the permit. Either he is trying to sell us suspect commodities or he is offering suspect services (“May I read your palm? I think you’re rich!”, goes the one at the World Trade Centre).

The worst thing about the whole phenomenon is that fake monks trying to sell you shanzhai goods are the least of your worries. I’ve heard worse horror stories. There are people who go to temples during the day time, then head straight into the nightclubs by midnight, doing all kinds of horrible — and certainly unethical — stuff. These are “devout followers” by day, and “devout abusers” by night.

If Guo Meimei has ruined China’s Red Cross foundation, these sham monks are doing exactly the same to Buddhism. I don’t know what the religion exactly stands for, but I’m sure they can’t stand for evil. If China was trying to “save itself” via Buddhism, these sham monks are doing all they can to make Chinese view Buddhism the same way as they view the Chinese Red Cross. In a country where “alternative cults” are banned, religion is severely limited, and freedoms of conscience come with strings attached, the population is left to worshipping nothing — except for money.

When we get greedy — when 1.3 billion get greedy at the same time, all of a sudden — the end is that a nation of 5,000 years and counting will finally meet its makers. (It’ll also get the rest of the planet in a bit of a worry.)

Socialist indoctrination has not worked in China — there is a very visible and sizeable part of the population of people who have deep-seated doubts about what the 7 PM propaganda news show is trying to convince us “is the truth”. When religion and basic morals give way to nothing but money worship — that’s when we’re in real danger.

Entering A New Era of Computing

I think I was still a kid when:—

  • computers were reserved for teachers only;
  • only during computer class were students allowed to use them;
  • students used notebooks (the traditional variant) during class;
  • we looked upon those who brought a laptop into class to take notes on as probably someone even more “special” than maybe Kim Jeong-un (who apparently was educated in Switzerland; it doesn’t show, though, as his threat of nukes doesn’t look like a neutral solution!)

OK. I digress — I went a little off on “Li’l Kim”. But still, even in the early 2000s (remember, this is the 21st century!), we used computers in ways that you had to save a file on one computer. And there was just about no way to finish it off on a second without emailing it to you! (Emailing yourself sure sounds weird, but oh well…!)

But then we had this weird thing called MediaWiki (and also WordPress) appearing. Suddenly, you could write stuff, save it as a draft (or as the real thing), and edit it on another machine without anything out of the blue happening. Then we had Dropbox. And now, cloud services, including Apple’s iCloud. Suddenly, we take the ability to start things on one device and to finish it off on another device — snap, just like that — as granted!

On the one hand, our lives have never been as digitised as today. You see it all in 7 year olds on high speed trains in our part of the world, who get busy with Temple Run whilst cruising at 300+ km/h. You see it in Yours Truly, who finished one tad of this article in Room A, and then gets the other part done on the Metro, before assembling it in another place — with probably another device.

We are living in an era of a completely different computing paradigm. Not only has Twitter fragmented information delivered to us, but we are also fragmenting our works. Are what we’re coming out with of a higher quality? Probably not — it’s hard to do a chef d’oeuvre when your mind isn’t exactly in one centralised place at one fixed time. But maybe it is the case, after all — if you suddenly hit upon the ideal blog post whilst commuting on Line 6, you can now finish it off in the office.

For better or for worse, we as computer-ised (let’s face it) humans have changed the ways in which we think, thanks to both the computer and, in particular, the Internet. We don’t even need to look at how different we’ll be by the 22nd century (God save me if I can still be here for this). We’ll look at ourselves in yet again a different computing-related paradigm by the end of this decade alone.

About 10 years ago, I’d have thought a trip to Changsha, South China, by train, would take maybe two or three days. Now, you do that in just about 5-6 hours on a fast train. About a decade back, I thought the Internet was only here to send emails and to do basic web pages where you tooted your horn. I never thought the era of the Internet became that where we are online by default (instead of being offline). Is the future scary? It’s not going to be the same as the past, that’s a given. It’s scary if you see black — and otherwise if you see any other colour.

Especially if you’re an optimist.

Ideally, a digitised one.

So — Is It “Beijing South” Railway Station or “Beijingnan”?

New railway standards published last year now mean that the railway station in southern Beijing south of the main station, which in Chinese is known as 北京南站 (Pinyin: Beijingnan Zhan) is to be known as the rather odd-sounding “Beijingnan” Railway Station instead of the standardised “Beijing South” Railway Station. That’s a little bit like renaming the Zürich Main Station as the Zürich “Zong” (Zong 总 means “main” in Chinese) station for Chinese, or to use transliterated German for Chinese readers — 苏黎世豪普特站 (Sulishi Haopute Zhan in Pinyin, which simply means Zurich “Haupt” station — it doesn’t tell you it really is the main station!). Worse is a Big Apple application: imagine calling Grand Central Station “Zhongyang” Station! (“Zhongyang” in Chinese means “central”.)

However, before you torment the railways in a fit of fury and utter confusion, consider the pros and cons:—


  • Apparently, this would make it easier for taxi drivers and locals not familiar in English to show you where the stations are.
  • Train direction signage uses mainly Pinyin (but then again, they were mainly designed in the 20th century — HSR signage on trains still use English; intercity trains to Tianjin say “Beijing South – Tian Jin”, albeit the extra blank in Tianjin).
  • Train tickets use Pinyin (but note here that they used to use English, certainly for HSR, especially before the Pinyin standards came out).
  • Language neutrality: Beijing’s south station is Peking-Südbahnhof in German, Pékin Gare de Sud in Franglais French, and so on. Now if everyone just said Bahnhof / Gare Beijingnan, that’d make it supposedly easier.

But then again that’s not all sides of the story told…

(as in why Pinyin doesn’t work out great)

  • First, this goes against a comparatively new (edition 2010) railway signage standard book published by the former Rail Ministry, which mandated the use of English instead of Pinyin for direction indicators (South, North instead of Nan, Bei).
  • Second, expats I’ve talked to say that the point that locals not knowing South (in English) is a moot point — if they don’t speak English, and you speak Chinese, then the name issue won’t be an issue anyway (you couldn’t talk to them in the same lingo in the first place!).
  • Foreigners in China and overseas also point to the fact that as they are still using the English words for Railway Station, that they’d might want to use the English for the cardinal direction of the station anyway.
  • Obviously, sticking in Nan (Pinyin Chinese) in an English description is suspect Chinglish. (But dissecting the Chinese name of the city, too, would be Chinglish!) Also, you now have a case of mixing parts of words that don’t belong in the language you’re using.
  • Academics based in Beijing point out that this only goes to do international travellers in China a disservice — train regulars in China also agree, saying that if Beijing South was to be used, people would at least look at the station “the right way” on a map, where as Beijingnan would simply leave them confused.
  • I’ve seen ticket sales staff at Beijing South telling international travellers that trains to Guangzhou leave from Beijing West, not Beijingxi Railway Station. They’ve got to get used to a standard that doesn’t sound right.
  • Think also about the massive changes required in the city metro signage. Line 9’s station at Beijing West Railway Station, for example, doesn’t say Beijingxi Railway Station! How about giving that money to kids that need it the most? (Corrupt officials might also eye after that bit of cash — for a potential secret purchase of Mao Tai! But I kind of digress.)
  • Finally, something has to be said about that massive amount of money that has to be wasted in replacing signage bit-by-bit in China. That’s not really a sustainable way of feeding into GDP growth that lasts!

I’d like to hear from you what you think should be the best translation — Beijing South or Beijingnan — and the best way to do this is if you emailed me (or tweeted me on Twitter, giving your reason). Later I plan to do a much more detailed bit research in this — but because it will involve giving some personal information I have to get the secure form working first!

I look forward to the day when I arrive at the Baoding HSR seeing signs that welcome me to the Baoding East Railway Station, instead of the present-day make-believe “Baodingdong” Railway Station.

“We Live in Interesting Times”

They say that when you’re handed a Chinese fortune cookie with these words — that you’ve got — let’s just say — quite a surprise coming up!

(And probably, more often than not, it might not be what you’d want to be after.)

But yes, we do live in interesting times, and chez moi, it’s not all that bad. As of late I have been optimising China’s railway English. It’s been a funny ride — 17 of 18 China’s rail bureaus so far have adopted the new standard, and I’ve done it all through Weibo, which is Twitter with Chinese characteristics (censors obviously included, but also included are much more localised elements — such as an extra 140 characters for retweets).

The microblogs have changed the way we talk to each other. When I meet station staff in Taiyuan, that would have been the first time we caught up in the real world. And we knew each other “just” from Weibo! Around maybe just a few years back, this would have simply been impossible.

There’s a very personal reason why I got myself a PhD in communications — especially social media — because I’ve been tweeting like mad on Twitter (these years, though, I’ve been much more quiet there — probably to indoctrinate the crew on Weibo, ha ha!). It is indeed quite a ride. I’ll be posting a bit more about new media here on this blog. I’m also consolidating my Mac and tech involvements into one in the future. So whilst there might no longer be a Beijing Mac group, there’ll be something else technically related.

A tech commentary blog for sure.

The newest iPhones too. I’ve been using an iPhone 5 for a fair bit. Somehow, I can’t seem to let go of that thing…