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Running in the Rain has now moved to WordPress

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See ya ... at davestewart.wordpress.com

My last post on Livejournal

Well, it's been fun, but I have pulled up my tent stakes and moved over to WordPress. From here on, you can find me at http://davestewart.wordpress.com. Now is a good time to update your bookmarks or Google Reader or feedreader. If I find a way to modify FeedBurner, I'll redirect that one too.

Here's how the transition went:

  • The big questions I needed an answer to were: would the site be visible from China, and did I get sufficient value from a free account. I have too many associates in China now for me to have my personal blog blocked from there.

  • Although I am not wedded to a free service, I noticed that I got almost nothing I wanted from paying for one year of LiveJournal service. So why pay out of the box for something I don't plan to use?

  • (note that I realize that some people do get value out of a paid LJ account - more avatar pictures, more themes, no adverts - but I was trying to get more scripting control over my pages, and I didn't get this.)

  • WordPress got an extra vote in part because of strong community support. Here in Portland, there was recently #wordcampdx, which probably tipped me over the edge.

  • I am able to export my LiveJournal entries (without comments) and import them into the Wordpress blog. Nice, I moved over about a month of my last LiveJournal entries. I suppose I could do them all if I was inclined. (LiveJournal only appears to allow exporting one month at a time.)

  • Rather than use the Livejournal "friends" page, I subscribed to the pages I care about in Google Reader.


A riddle

I wave. I shimmy. I undulate.

I flex gently both up and down and side to side.

I float above the heads of the mean traffic and mess of the streets below. But sometimes I nearly touch the buildings next to me, allowing me to peek shamelessly through the windows of those buildings.

I stretch nearly eight miles from the center of Shanghai to the old international (and now domestic) airport in Hongqiao (Hong Chow).

What am I?

I am the Yan'An East-West Elevated Road in Shanghai.

My very first experience of Shanghai was being driven along this road by a hired car driver at night. My jetlagged senses were only reading this endless strip of light with 30 story sentental buildings crowding the entire length of the drive from downtown to Hongqiao.

Most of my 20 other trips to China have included some part of Yan'An. But this time, I decided to see it all from street level.

So, at 5:00AM on last Saturday morning, I ran the entire length from Hongqiao into Old Shanghai, then up the Huangpu (Wang Pu) river until things got too sketchy for me to continue.

This run painted the entire spectrum of modern urban life in China. From the swanky apartments on Hongqiao road where celebrities live and die, to the cramped barrio in Old Town. And everything in between.

There isn't much activity in Hongqiao at 5. But by the time I hit the barrio in Old Town, within the old city wall, things were very alive. I had run down a random alley, in the general direction of the Yu Yuan Garden, a major tourist spot, and didn't realize I would get caught in a dead-end slum. Mental snapshots include the place with a line of live ducks sitting all side-by-side, not caged, quacking quietly. And the guy mucking out something with brown liquid whose smell nearly made me throw up. Quickly now, out to the main street and Yu Yuan.

Along the way, I ran past the "Rendezvous Merry Hotel", which was actually sleek with marble and brass. With a name like that, I bet it's merry.

Much construction: a new Kerry Center (Shangri-La Hotel) and what I think is the site of the Shanghai Expo 2010. Past a statue of the expo's mascot, a blue Gumby clone, standing by the Wang Pu.

Finally, after running past a lone Hyatt sitting in a forlorn neighborhood which may one day be the new cruise ship dock, I turn and pick up a waiting taxi for the drive back to my hotel.

I spray hand sanitizer all over the soles of my running shoes, and wash out my running clothes in the hotel sink before breakfast.

When worlds collide

"You Americans don't save any money. Why?"

The question came over a dinner in Beijing, and it came in the context of differences between our respective countries.

My Chinese friend was seeing this lack of personal savings as a systemic cause of economic weakness in the US, dollar weakness, etc. "You may be right," I responded, "but let me tell you what we try to practice." And I proceeded to describe our family's practice of giving 10% of our gross to charity, saving 10% for retirement and 10% for general savings. Within this framework, we try to live within our means and pay off our credit cards each month, although admittedly we don't always succeed.

Now get this: the question had come in response to some joking from us Americans at the lack of openness of the Chinese government to criticism. For example, this blog is not visible to average people in China, because livejournal.com contents are blocked by the Great Firewall of China.

It makes me wonder - is this the most fundamental values mismatch between our peoples?

In China, wealth is highly valued. This comes primarily from a deep-seated drive to provide for the next generation. The best thing that a Chinese person can do is leave a name, a legacy for ones children. Saving money and passing it on to them is a key way to achieve this. Chinese will sacrifice all sense of personal freedom or openness to protect this basic value.

In the US, we primarily value freedom. We treat it as the most basic dogma that freedom is the most cherished and valuable commodity in life. We're willing to die for our freedom, even willing to sacrifice financial gain for freedom. We naturally assume everyone has the same value.

So it's not surprising that the Chinese would shake their heads and tut-tut our lack of savings while we do the same about their lack of freedom. It really comes down to what you value most.

Why China will never elect a president

Recently I have been conducting an informal poll amongst my friends and co-workers in China on their thoughts of American politics and their idea of who will win the US election in November.

But it has given me a fascinating insight into what the Chinese people think about government in general. Depressingly, it's now much clearer why a western-style democracy is not likely to come here soon, if ever.

And these are basically spiritual discussions as well. Political philosophy is in essence rooted in spiritual philosophy.

At the core of Chinese thinking is the Confucian idea that there is hierarchy in human relationships, or there will be chaos. So the parent is over the child, the boss over the worker. At the very top is the emperor.

If you are in the lower position (child or employee), you need to follow the directives of the person above you and obey. The person in the upper position needs to take care of those under them and provide for them.

At the top of this hierarchy sits the emperor, who would be the wisest and have the best character of anyone to be in that position.

Can you see why this is so different from our thinking in the West? The West believes that there is nobody "better" than anyone else, nobody is above the law. Children are supposed to honor their parents or boss or president, but are trained to show independent thought and action, to take initiative.

I'm truly amazed when the Chinese government will order something like a radical change in national holiday dates or driving schedules, and everyone obeys! According to one friend, the Chinese are accustomed to 5,000 years of strong government. If the government were not strong, then there would be chaos because people would "do their own thing" without control. In the US, we have a relatively weak government according to me friend. It works for us, because we trust people to do the right thing, and society functions well without a lot of external control.

Reread that last paragraph. This is why the people of China really don't want Western-style representative democracy at their core. Yes, the government needs to take care of them and maintain moral authority. But so long as they care for society, they can rule China forever.

There is another, economic values mismatch here as well. I'll talk about that in a future post.
Shanghai Oktoberfest

Last night I took my team for a thank-you offsite dinner. (At least, as many who were not on vacation or leave of some kind). I suggested we might want to go to the 11th annual Shanghai Oktoberfest, being held at my hotel, the Renaissance Shanghai Yangtze.

Shanghai Oktoberfest

German beer, German food, and an oompah band completed the experience.

Shanghai Oktoberfest

Shanghai Oktoberfest

The band was particularly fun. Here one of their members was playing the saw in a rendition of Edelweiss. The accordion player doubled on the electric guitar, so they also did a set of 70s hits like "YMCA" and "Sweet Home Alabama" to get people up and dancing.

Shanghai Oktoberfest

And dance they did - here a large group from Johnson Controls is standing on their benches and partying like it was 1999. They were helmed by a couple of white guys who were singing along with the traditional German drinking songs.

At another time, the chefs marched through the tent carrying a whole piggy, banging pans.

Shanghai Oktoberfest

Never having been to Oktoberfest in Munich, it seemed like they had a lot of traditional-seeming elements, plus the 70s music and the odd Chinese love song.

What was really funny is that my Shanghai team didn't really cut loose and dance a lot. I asked their manager later, and he said that they liked the event, but this was the kind of thing they did in college, and they are a bunch of old married men now. Hmph.
In my last trip to China in June 2008, I did my usual Beijing / Shanghai loop. I was surprised that in both of these cities, I was flying through brand spanking new airport terminals.

Shanghai Pudong airport

Shanghai Pudong International has basically doubled in size by adding a second terminal, which is essentially a duplicate of the original. Between the terminals is the station for the high-speed magnetic levitation (mag lev) train to the city.

What is hilarious about this to me is that this airport was brand new when I started coming to China in 2001, and at that time it was almost ghostly in how big the place was and how empty. I wouldn't say it was full by any stretch of the imagination, but now that it has doubled in size, it seems really sepulchral to me.

I also flew through the new Terminal 3 in Beijing. This place is a marvel, truly a totally humongous space, actually two major wings connected by a shuttle.

In June, my experience flying out of Terminal 3 was marred by my petite mal freak out because I didn't seem to have reservations on any flights. But this time, I had lots of time to cool my heels before the flight. So I used my United Premier Executive card to get into Air China's Business Class lounge.

The lounge sort of floats over the terminal in a balcony, with a view of the runway out of one window. Over the other side, you get a fantastic view of ... the security lines.

Business class lounge at Beijing Airport Terminal 3

That's right, sportsfans, the security lines. So you have the specter of these indolent frequent flyers who are sipping their free drinks and nibblies while watching people get their pat-downs by security.

Here's the other fun thing about Chinese security lines: almost nobody makes it through the metal detector without a pat-down. You get one chance, and then it's patty cakes! (I've actually managed to escape this now for most flights, we'll see if it continues).

I couldn't believe the poor planning! Or, perhaps it was intentional. After all, this way they give the passengers live entertainment.

I was too embarrassed myself to watch...

Pretending to be an Olympian

Yesterday I discovered that my Beijing hotel, the Shangri-La, is within 1 mile of the

Beijing 2008 Olympics course. So this morning when I was looking for a route to run, I
thought "what could be cooler"?

So I ran the course along Zhonguancun Road north from the Vollyball venue! Some things
I noticed:

  • Running at 4:00AM in Beijing is a nearly perfect time to run. Hardly any cars on
    the road anywhere. So for some parts of the course, I was able to run right down the
    middle of the three-lane road without fear of being hit.

  • I passed a misting station, still set up. I noticed these on TV, a "beat the heat"
    strategy. I was surprised that these were still hooked up to barrels of water and a
    pump. Maybe because of the Paralympics. (Unguarded, these wouldn't last 5 minutes in
    New York City).

  • Anywhere along the route where there was a patch of grass, there were erected cheery
    bits of temporary decoration. I saw two types: One was a 15 foot tall banner with
    silouetted runners. The other was a string of 5 monolyths, painted in the colors of the
    Olympic rings. These would repeat periodically along the course wherever there was a
    grassy place in front of a building.

  • All construction sites along the route were sheilded from the street with a wall and
    identical "Beijing 2008" dressing. Remember, construction work was halted city-wide to
    curtail air polution during the games. Now, every site supported an exactly identical
    banner outside of the sites.
  • Above decorations all seem temporary, like they will disappear in some collector's
    attic once the paralympics are done. This is because monolyths and banners were mounted
    on 2 by 4s or other temporary foundation.

  • Of course, as with all major streets and expressways, the flowers are in bloom and
    all of the landscaping is brightly spiffed up, with street cleaners hard at work at
    4AM. It's like a city-wide Disneyland treatment!

Too much fun - I could imagine the screaming crowds but still run only an 8 minute pace!

Today in China

Greetings from Beijing, in the month after the 2008 Olympics!

  • LensCrafters seems really huge here. I am accustomed to scads of American brands here like Coke, McDonalds, Nike, Pizza Hut and Subway. But LensCrafters? The signs are very basic black and white, so I thought it was a rip off. But I have run into maybe 5 or 6 already this trip.

  • The sky was blue when I landed on Monday. Driving restrictions are relaxed on September 20, so I suspect the air quality will return to Beijing normal soon.

  • Main roadways have been dressed very nicely for the Games. You see "Beijing 2008" on a number of highway signs to indicate location of a venue. Drove by the ping pong venue yesterday, it still seems in use for the Paralympics.

  • I have not been able to run up to the Summer Palace from my hotel like I did last trip because I am only doing early morning runs when it is still dark, and I don't trust a largely unlit and isolated river path without views to the street when it is dark. OK, call me a weenie! But, comments aside, I may run this morning on part of the route for the Olympic Marathon... might be cool if I can dodge the cars!

  • The General Manager of my hotel is George Wee. (It says so right here on the letter I have from him). Makes me thing he is not very tall.

  • People here ask me: What do you think of the financial crisis in the US? Do you think our business will be affected? Um... how can it not have an effect?

  • One of my staff here is a total digital photography nut, so it's been fun to geek out with him on lenses, focal lengths, camera technology, etc. But others of my team here raise tortoises, play tennis, play video games...

Any questions you want me to ask the people of Beijing?
  • I'm running an informal poll
  • Sep. 12th, 2008

    I just hit a personal milestone on my work blog. Two years to the day of posting there. 100 blog posts, about one per week.

    It's kind of fun to think about some of the changes over the past two years:

    • My friend Matt Singley was still in Oregon, and I can remember chatting with him about my work blog over drinks at Coffee People in Beaverton. Now Matt is in LA and Coffee People is only at the Portland Airport.

    • I was in a different job when I started the work blog. My work is now totally different but really enjoyable still. I'm a very fortunate person.

    • Back then, I could still read Laura's blog. No longer!

    • Having discovered Google Reader, it's a lot easier for me to follow a ton of blogs in record time. I'm a more efficient reader now.

    • I really hate writing blog entries. The user interfaces available for writing a blog really are terrible. I think I would love to just write some HTML in a text file and just mail it to a blog system. I'm sure that this must be possible with some blog systems, but not the ones I use daily.


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