Archive for March, 2007

Shedding Kunming’s Old Skin – What Lies Beneath?

Even some of the locals here in Kunming tell me that the city has changed so quickly that they can hardly recognize it from one day to the next. A French woman, living and working here now, told me that she came to Kunming about 15 years ago. When I asked about how the place has changed, she couldn’t even find words for it.

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Closer to the equator than Minnesota, I am experiencing a much earlier Spring than the late April thaws in North America that are so vivid and poetic in my memory. The trappings of Spring here in the South China highlands, however, admittedly rival any that I have seen. Click here for an article about the cherry trees of Kunming, now in full bloom.
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China and Harmony

The most celebrated program that has emerged from the meeting of the National People’s Committee, China’s lawmaking body, seems to be the Harmony Communique. The news broadcasting over CCTV 9, the single, state run English language television station here in Yunnan, China, has been on a virtual loop, repeating the same message about how the country is working towards a harmonious, socialist state. To foreign ears, it is easily seen as state sponsored rhetoric, with constant self-congratulation and relative lack of criticism. The instinctive urge to disregard the rhetoric altogether, however, should be resisted, for the actions behind the rhetoric has important and far reaching implications.

Chinese leaders have identified several situations in need of attention, not just present problems but ones that could grow to overshadow any positive developments that the country has seen. Some say that the economic and industrial development that has been so extraordinary in contemporary China has replaced an egalitarian society with one of massive disparities in terms of wealth and living standards. They also say that a once independent China has become dependent on outside sources of energy as well as the functioning of the global economy, not to mention the impossible to ignorable threat that development is posing to its own and the global environment.

Feature after feature talk about how important it is to develop the rural parts of china, to improve education and to improve the living standards of China’s agricultural workers. One report, about a small farm town in the Guangzhou province, interviewed a farmer that frequently went to use the internet at the wang ba, or web bar that had appeared in town due to recent economic development. The reporter points out that the presence of the internet does not necessarily mean that the lives of the farmers is better because there is a new internet café, but the story is highlighted as a success story, an indication that it is not only the urban Chinese that are benefiting from the extra-ordinary economic development in the country. The rhetoric coming out of the National Peoples’ Committee meeting in Beijing is full of talk about how development is being promoted in the countryside.

Interestingly, these reports on CCTV 9 are dispersed among special programs that highlight and almost romanticize the traditional ceremonies and lifestyles of different people throughout China. The clear irony that the development programs extolled in one program are often incompatible with, or at least mean dramatic changes to, the “traditional ways” of China is not recognized.

“This year’s work related to agriculture, rural areas, and farmers will focus on accelerating the development of modern agriculture and effectively promoting the building of a new socialist countryside,” Wen said. “We must focus on developing the rural economy and increasing rural incomes.”

Yunnan Cha

For a moment they hang in space, motionless, innate as a piece of dust floating through the dark vastness of the galaxy. Then, ever so slowly, the rigid tentacle of a leaf begins to slowly, laboriously extend itself, as if the jasmine flower has been curled up in the deepest slumber and is only now awaking. Soon the previously dry hard balls of Jasmine tea are in full bloom once again – the innate piece of space dust is now exploding in the creation of a whole solar system.

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International Women’s Day, March 8, 2007

International Women’s Day 2007

Like it has for nearly a decade, the University of Minnesota is playing host to the biggest celebration of International Women’s Day in the world. March 8 was named International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975, but it has been heralded by women struggling for equality and human rights for over a century.

Click on the picture to go to the Minnesota-based event


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Published: Notes from Spring Festival

A brief narrative about the Tet Festival, the lunar new year celebration in Vietnam, was recently published in the Asian American Press. “The new year celebration in Vietnam” was picked up by the St. Paul, MN based publication, which caters to the sizable Vietnamese, Laotian, and other South East Asian communities that have come to call the Twin Cities home. Click on the title to go to the story.
An aside, not only does this community add great diversity to Minneapolis and St. Paul, it also means that lucky U of MN students like myself are blessed with some of the greatest restaurants. The pho bo and bun bo that i have eaten for years on Nicollet Ave in S Minneapolis are, after living on the real deal for a couple of weeks, extremely well done.

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ANOTHER New Year??

It’s Sunday night, and apparently the 15th day of the new year, on the Chinese calendar. Once again, every little neighborhood in the city of Kunming seems to be lighting up with its own fireworks show, from the crackling pao to the spectacular airborn yan hua, the bursts of color and sound reflecting off the glass windows of the apartment buildings.

My housemates did their best to explain to me the significance of this date, which included forcing some sort of pasty concoction in front of me, expecting me to eat the goo with chopsticks… Unfortunately, I am still not entirely sure about the significance of this day. It seems to be another reason to make merry, however, and who turns that down? Streets were crowded tonight, and the nighttime food stalls with all their normal goodies and more were out in full force – the street was full of just about anything you could want, actually, from jewelry to electronics.

My class begins far too early tomorrow morning, but I think I’ll stay up a little longer and admire the light show.