Archive for September, 2011

When I returned to Shanghai I had always been planning to spend my first small while living with my friend Du Jiachen in the small upstairs space of his apartment in the French Concession. It’s gorgeous, one of the few parts of town not either completely run down or covered in tawdry lights as if some leviathan, neon god from Joel Schumacher’s nightmares had bent down and sneezed all over the place. (Although I must admit I do find these lights appealing, even if gaudy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for pretty colors.)

I never originally intended to take him up on his offer to make that place my home, however. Even tempted by the idea of a cheap and ready apartment in the heart of my favorite neighborhood, I thought for certain I would find the lack of a (functional) kitchen and the need to leave the apartment in order to make my way to the public restroom too inconvenient to put up with. When I showed up at his front door a couple of nights after my arrival and he handed me the keys and left on a business trip into the North, however, the place began to grow on me immediately. Anybody thinking of joining me here in Shanghai should let me know ahead of time so I can get a guest-friendly place set up, but until such time I believe I’ve found my digs in the Pearl of the Orient. For a quick tour, follow the thumbnails from left to right. You can also just click the first one and follow along in a sort of slideshow format.

Well, there you have it, my lovely home for the time being. And the best part? I only have to pay 800CNY, (125USD), per month for the place. Now, for as small as it is and for the lack of kitchen/restroom I could actually find MUCH cheaper in Shanghai, but certainly not in this part of town. And quite frankly, if you’re not living in the French Concession then you might as well just die.

Well, okay, perhaps you could find justification to go on living. But there’s a good reason so many foreigners choose to live here. It is by far and away the most beautiful part of town. It’s also immediately adjacent to the primary clubbing district and several enormous commercial districts. Oh, and I live a few blocks away from JZClub, possibly the greatest jazz bar for the money in the entire world. How’s that for snoot factor?

Uh... I guess I've also been boning about in the park.

First allow me to apologize to my readers for taking a little bit longer than usual between posts. As I mentioned in the last entry I have recently moved shop back to Shanghai, and it’s taken me just a bit of time to get my act together enough to pay much attention to GMYS. Aside from the busy-work, errand-running, and mad, last-minute fundraising inherent in moving to the other side of the planet without having planned anything ahead of time, I should like to point out that China’s reputation as a strangler of the internet is not one that was simply given to the glorious nation. Nay, it is one earned with sweat and tears. Now, some of you may be saying to yourselves, “What’s this crook going on about? WordPress isn’t banned in China!” Well, you know what? When I’m Chancellor you’ll be the first to disappear. For now, I concede the point. However, my dependence on Google and Facebook are weaknesses here which have made my online escapades slow and frustrating ones. My internet time thus far has mostly been spent researching and selecting a VPN service, and waiting for gmail to load. SO, having taken care of these things as well as many of my various offline tasks, I return to service with a renewed vigor for blogging, an increased zest for life, a few stories up my sleeve, seven less pounds of bodyweight (FML), and my sincerest regrets at having failed to meet my goal of publishing a minimum one (1) post per week. I know I’m only two days over, but failure is failure, and failure is disappointing. And Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg does not like to be disappointed.

Second, my announcement for all subscribers. Oh yes, I have exciting news for you glorious handful, you chosen few, you. My friend Ezekiel and I are combining forces to create an outlet with more diverse content, greater swag, less respect for the Powers that Be, better formatting, and, dare I say it, a more charming layout than ever before: The Gristlehedge Underground Press! We’re keeping this rather close to the chest while the situation develops, but rest assured that I will inform all of you when the process is complete, and provide a link so that you can head on over and subscribe. I will also provide links, from that blog, to all of my entries here at GIVE ME YOUR SHOES so that you can easily access all of it’s fascinating content without having to keep tabs on what will soon be a dead blog. (Alas, it went before its time and will be remembered fondly, and its debts passed on to its estranged children).

I’m back in the saddle again

Posted: September 19, 2011 in Shanghai-ed!

What time is it? What day is it? I’m finally back in Shanghai and, having sorted out these sorts of things, I can figure out where I’m going to live and what I’m going to do for work. For those who need some catching up, I studied for a year at East China Normal University in Shanghai and I’ve just returned after a year spent concluding undergraduate studies in my hometown. A couple days ago I left home, early in the morning, and sat in a tube chasing the sun for 20 hours before arriving… home. Odd, but that was the feeling as I stepped out of the subway and into the Long Zhi Meng shopping center: one of returning at long last to a place that had been my home and the site of countless goings-on.

One of the first people I spoke to was a sales representative in large electronics store who told me that China Mobile no longer had any presence in Long Zhi Meng, (I needed to get my phone up and running first thing). Upon leaving the store, I looked to the right and found the China Mobile stand. I smiled, sighed, and got ripped off by a rather unscrupulous and apathetic SIM card pusher with claws. Home again, home again, jiggity-jig!

In the days since, I’ve bounced from one friend’s home to the next. I’ve found 3 students, one of whom I met on the plane over here. I’m looking to join my Scot friend, Nik, in his work as a Kindergarten teacher. It will ensure that I’m not allowed to use the Chinese for which I’ve worked so hard, and is also probably one of the more comical jobs I could land over here. Since I’ve already landed 3 students my goal is but part-time work. I just need someone to handle my visa for me. I feel like if I show up after three months and tell them I’ve had so much fun vacationing in China that I want to take another three months they may suspect foul play…

More updates in a bit, and for those of you waiting for emails… It seems that in my absence the relationship between China and Google has only continued to deteriorate. It’s pretty much useless over here. I’m going to set up a Hotmail account in a bit and see if that works any better. In the meanwhile remain on the edge of your seats, where I’m sure you’ve been all this while.

…The net result is that complex and high-powered economic analysis within the profession co-exists with utter ignorance and gross fallacies dominating the public, the media, and various branches of government. Even scholars with Ph.D.s in other fields are often ill-informed or misinformed about economics, though that seldom deters them from having and voicing opinons on economic issues.

The above passage is from the preface of Basic Economics: A Citizens’s Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell. It is interesting to me because it echoes and confirms that concern which prompted me to schlep down to my public library and check the book out in the first place. Economic issues are at the heart of political debates dividing our nation today, and yet the layman, myself included, is generally uneducated in this field of study. As a Ron Paul supporter in a liberal college town, I find myself constantly engaged with Obama-supporting friends on issues of economic theory. After so many discussions came to ‘yeah huh – nuh uh’ conclusions, it occurred to me that my knowledge of these issues was fairly superficial. It occurred to me that I supported the hands-off approach of Austrian Economics only because it seemed intuitive to me, though I have no real education in the subject, and I suspected, perhaps unfairly, that my friends arrived at their conclusions with similar dearths of understanding.

But economics isn’t the only field which must be understood when discussing politics. Political issues are broad and complex, requiring that one understand their own political philosophy and also be familiar with current and past events. To be an informed voter and citizen is a formidable task! Getting through a big paper such as the New York Times requires hours of reading and reflecting, with incredibly valuable and telling bits of information often being hidden away in back page columns, and even after that work is has been put in one is still required to accept a second or third hand account. With media power so concentrated as it is today, the major outlets all controlled by a handful of powerful magnates, who can accept with blind faith all that one reads and hears? In theory the journalist is impartial, but corruption is inevitable in any human enterprise. One can push an agenda without telling an outright lie. Simply by selecting what news to publish and what context to provide one can use the truth to mislead. And, of course, one can always lie outright.

Even assuming that one has access to secondhand eyes and ears throughout the world providing them with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it would still be an enormous task just to gather so staggering an amount of information as is necessary to arrive at a general standpoint on a certain policy even without having to sift through and evaluate it. Even in very local elections, I’ll often show up prepared to vote (passionately) on one or two issues only to find myself confronted with a GRE’s-worth of questions and choices to make. After voting (passionately) on those one or two issues which attracted me to the ballot-box, I’ll make the best decisions I can on those choices about which I’m at least a little informed before going to to sheepishly scribble in the rest of the sections. On a standardized test I guess ‘C’, on a ballot I vote against incumbents. The strategy doesn’t work too well on standardized tests, and I’m fortunate that ballots aren’t scored.

This is the case after I spend more time than I can afford already trying to research current issues and events. How many people actually spend any time on such activities at all? Even in my liberal college town, many of my friends have no interest in politics whatsoever, believing themselves powerless and at the mercy of a bi-partisan block of statesmen all pushing the same policy and agenda. I can certainly sympathize. After all, one’s vote is such a meager method of enforcing one’s will. Thoreau himself decried it as …only expressing to men feebly your desire that [the right] should prevail,’ and that when you have a real choice between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As so many of my friends point out, the only options are a republican or a democrat, and that’s hardly a choice at all. In 2008, convinced that Ron Paul had no chance of winning, I voted for Obama because I appreciated his running a clean campaign and because I thought the democrats would be more progressive on social issues. In terms of real, fundamental policy differences, though, he and McCain were nearly identical. Both candidates would have kept us at war. Both candidates would have bailed out the bankers and private interests. Both candidates would have blanched at touching a bloated military budget or (god forbid) acknowledging that we can no longer afford our entitlement programs. The list goes on. Now, this frustration has led to my increased resolve to support a third party candidate such as Ron Paul, despite resistance from the machine such as the virtual media blackout he’s received. But can this be fought? Is there any point? I have no money, I have no power. I have a desire to learn and think and change a failing system, but I haven’t the means to do so. Can I blame my friends for their apathy?

When I studied in China, I asked many Chinese about their views on the fascism and social control exhibited by their government. Some Chinese, especially the well educated and/or scholars, were suffocated by it. I heard more than one Chinese say that Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s revolution was incomplete, that real political liberalization would come with bloodshed. Many Chinese, though, pointed out that China had been led with such a system for thousands of years. A farmer told me that he was not a statesman, didn’t understand politics or economics, and so had no right to exert his influence on the leadership. Let the politicians handle the politics, he told me, and I’ll farm. It makes sense, but the lesson to be taken from it is not democracy’s inferiority. Democracy is dangerous, in a way, but only when the people living in that democracy allow it to become dangerous by becoming dangerous themselves. After all, it is mob rule, and elections popularity contests. The obvious appeal is that in a democracy one enjoys the freedom to hold power over their representatives, holding them accountable for their actions and theoretically ensuring that the authority to govern is derived directly from the consent of the governed. The drawback is that this freedom, as with all freedom, comes with responsibility. A Chinese citizen needn’t concern him/herself with such matters as politics and current events. They are free to live their lives blissfully unaware of those things. An American citizen, on the other hand, has by virtue of citizenship an influence on the policies of the United States. Should the population of the democratic state become apathetic and ignorant, their leaders will continue to do whatever they must to appease that apathetic and ignorant population. The goal of a leader in a democratic society is not to enact intelligent and effective public policy, but to be liked by enough people to ensure his/her political future.

Now we have reached a point where the nation is divided nearly down the middle, along strict party lines. The debate has become democrat vs republican rather than policy vs policy or ideology vs ideology. Presidential debates are little more than glib exchanges of tired talking points, 30 sec soundbites delivered in lieu of more expansive and less easily digested explanations of political philosophy or policy details. Whatever complaint one has against the United States government, our nation’s faults are ultimately the result of the United States populace. Just as a business will only do that which it believes will be profitable, so will our leaders only do what they believe is politically expedient. Where is the incentive to push alternative public policy rather than selling oneself to the two-party system when these third party candidates are largely marginalized and ignored, and what’s the point of defiance? My main man Dr Paul has stuck to his guns through three decades of service, and though he’s miraculously managed to retain the support of his constituents, he’s been and will continue to be pushed to the sidelines in the presidential elections, shunned by a mainstream media spouting self-fulfilling prophecies of his inevitable failure, when they choose to mention him at all. Can it really be that so many are aware of and believe in the mainstream policy pushed by both of the two parties? If so, how is such a rift drawn between them, that so many people are so passionate about how ‘crazy’ or ‘extremist’ their opponents are?

I propose that to educate oneself, to see past cheap scare tactics and chicanery and really understand the issues, proposed actions, and consequences of those proposed actions is quite an undertaking. I propose that too many Americans have, to this point, not been up to that undertaking. Too many of us are distracted by our daily struggles and entertainments, by fear of losing that ‘American Dream’ lifestyle which we have somehow come to believe is our right, and by a national debate framed by partisan finger-pointing rather than rational discussion of different policies. I have heard my friends berate others for failing to vote, saying that the right to vote is one which must be exercised to avoid betraying one’s own freedom. To cast a vote, however, should not be the be-all-end-all for the American citizen. It is easy to cast a vote. The more difficult task is to cast an informed one, and until the American citizen is willing to rise to that challenge we’d be better off choosing to abstain, or giving up that right entirely to a government whose role has switched from one of a protector of the rights of the citizens to determine their own futures to that of a parent guarding and minding its irresponsible children.