Friday, October 30, 2009

Swine flu spread by spitting, health agency warns

The Health Protection Agency in Britain has warned footballers to stop their "disgusting" habit of spitting as it could lead to the spread of the A/H1N1 virus. A spokesman for the UK's Health Protection Agency was quoted as saying, "Spitting is disgusting at all times. It's unhygienic and unhealthy, particularly if you spit close to other people."

"Footballers, like the rest of us, wouldn't spit indoors so they shouldn't do it on the football pitch. If they are spitting near other people it could certainly increase the risk of passing on infections," the spokesman said, ''It's about setting examples for young people who idolize them."

The warning comes after several football teams were struck by the A/H1N1 virus commonly known as swine flu. The English Premier League football clubs Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers and French team Paris St. Germain were amongst the those affected.

The French football league sparked controversy last Sunday when it decided to postpone a match between PSG and Marseille because PSG players Ludovic Giuly and Mamadou Sakho and two members of the coaching team were diagnosed with the A/H1N1 virus on Saturday. But the French football league's president defended the action. "What would people have said if the match had gone ahead and the Marseille team had caught the virus? The medical commission gives us their professional opinion. We have to follow it as much as we can," said Frederic Thiriez.

Although widely reported the Health Protection Agency later tried to play down the spokesman's comments, saying he had been "misinterpreted." A spokeswoman later said that spitting was not a major cause of spreading swine flu infections. "Our general advice is that people who have swine flu should stay at home," Louise Brown said, "For people with flu, it is essential that they wash their hands if they have coughed or sneezed onto them in order to destroy the virus and help to stop infecting other people."

However other sporting associations have also advised players to refrain from spitting. Oshawa Minor Hockey president Bob Crystal says his organization has circulated an advisory from Hockey Canada, and one of their own along with an article from talk show host Dr. Oz, to help educate players, families and coaches on what they can be doing to prevent the spread of H1N1.

"(The advisories) have been all about the hand-washing and water bottles and stuff, things we already had in place," said Crystal. But an additional precaution has been added to the list by Oshawa Minor regards players and coaches spitting on the ice or on the bench. "The one thing that nobody seems to be mentioning, and it's pretty prevalent in hockey, is spitting," the president said. "We've asked our players and coaches and everybody else to focus on getting rid of the spitting. You watch the NHL and when (the cameras) zoom in on the bench the first thing a guys does is hock a loogie. So we talked to the health department and they told us it was one of the fastest ways to spread it because it is in your saliva. We've asked them to focus on that." Players have also been instructed not to share water bottles and to leave their gloves on during pre- or post-game handshakes.

Campaigns against public spitting and the disposal of sputum in households started in Britain and the U.S in the 1880s, driven by concerns about tuberculosis. Atypical pneumonia may also be spread through spitting. By the early 1700s, spitting had become seen as something which should be concealed in the West, and by 1859 many viewed the spitting on the floor or street as vulgar, especially in mixed company. Spittoons were used openly during the nineteenth century to provide an acceptable outlet for spitters. Spittoons became far less common after the influenza epidemic of 1918, and their use has since virtually disappeared, though each justice of the Supreme Court of the United States continues to be provided with a personal cuspidor.

In China and many other parts of Asia, spitting is very common. Chinese men in particular have the habit of making loud hawking sounds before spitting. People may even be seen to spit on the bus, and onto the floors of restaurants and public toilets. Handkerchiefs or tissues are not commonly used and people are often seen using their thumb and forefinger to press their nose on one side while blowing the contents from the other nostril onto the street.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beijing water's not even safe to shower in!

Now if you thought drinking the water in China was scary enough and that breathing the air was akin to smoking a pack of Marlboros [other brands of cigarette are available!], then that may be just the half of it. James Fallows writing in The Atlantic expressed his concerns about the air and how it might affect the health of long-term expats. As one doctor states, "Just using your eyes, you know this can't be good for anybody." There are clear days, and also days when the US Embassy's air monitoring station registers 'good' air quality. But generally the visibility is poor and air quality readings are measured between "Very Unhealthy" and "Hazardous".
Even drinking from bottled water may carry its own risks. Fallows describes his leaving a restaurant to see the restaurateur filling empty Evian bottles with a hose! The writer informs us that he spent several days in hospital on an IV drip of anti-biotics after that culinary tour. The advice is perhaps only to drink the beer or check the seal on bottles of water.
But then there is the water with which you wash and shower. Surely that couldn't pose a problem? Well according to Simon, a CEO of Illuminant Partners, an award-winning PR and strategic communications agency in China and Hong Kong, his wife recently became ill because of the water. And no, she hadn't drunk it. On his Twitter feed @illuminantceo, he state "My wife's been ill all weekend with a high fever and a bacterial infection. Doctor puts it down to Beijing water (showering/washing)!" Scary enough, but seemingly not such an isolated problem it seems.
Within an hour of his post Maggie Rauch, @maggierauch, posted a reply saying that bacteria purifiers exist for shower heads and under-sink use in China. The fact that such thinks existed was seeming confirmation that the problem existed.
Aside of bacterial contamination China's water may also contain heavy metals. In an article published by the China daily in 2005, Officials in Beijing admitted that a third of China's rural population, an estimated 360 million people, lack access to safe drinking water. In addition it was stated that more than 70% of China's rivers and lakes were polluted.
The most arsenic-contaminated regions are in India, Pakistan, and China, where soluble arsenic in ground waters is above the World Health Organization's (WHO) suggested maximum safe level of 10 parts per billion. According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It also may cause birth defects and reproductive problems.
Arsenic is absorbed by diffusion, or osmosis, and although it is more dangerous to ingest it can get into the body through the skin. In fact during the Victorian era, some women used a mixture of vinegar, chalk, and arsenic which was applied topically to whiten their skin. The use of arsenic was intended to prevent aging and creasing of the skin, but some arsenic was inevitably absorbed into the blood stream.
Beijing has insisted that tap water in the city is clean. In 2007 the Beijing municipal water authority said water in the capital had passed all 106 tests for contaminants as required by new national standards and said Beijing had become the first city in China to meet the required safety standards of potable water. "Beijing met the standards at the end of 2006," Yu Yaping, official with the water authority told the China Daily. "As industry insiders, we received the standards a long time ago. We immediately took action to improve the capital's drinking water quality," Yu said. Fan Kangping, director of the water quality center of Beijing Waterworks Group, said the city's water had been potable since 2003.
"The Ministry of Construction, as one of our administrative authorities, issued water quality regulations consisting of 101 standards many years ago," Fan said. Many Beijingers complained however that the water had a metallic taste and an unpleasant smell in the south part of the city. But Yu insisted this was a result of "secondary pollution" and said "Old tap water pipes are responsible for the bad taste."
The claim of clean water issuing from a Beijing tap is unlikely to convince many expats, least of all Simon's wife.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

China left in the dark as U2 plays to the world

On Sunday night U2 streamed their concert from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California live to YouTube. As the site announced earlier this week, some 16 countries will be able to view the show live: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the US. But As the show got underway there was one country left almost entirely in the dark, China.

YouTube has been blocked in China since March this year. Even if it hadn't, Bono's words "I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside" would have probably been enough to censor him and the video hosting site.

But despite the blocks many Chinese and hundreds of expats are still jumping through hoops or using applications that circumvent the firewall to post messages on Twitter, the microblogging social network.

On Sunday a new site came into being which called on people to post messages. The Berlin Twitter Wall was set up to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and asked that people post messages to relay their thoughts twenty years on, or say which walls should also fall. It wasn't long before hundreds of comments from Chinese Internet users flooded the site with calls for the Great Firewall of China to be consigned to history.

On 12th June 1987 President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg gate in West Germany and called on the Soviets to open its borders. "We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" President Ronald Reagan said.

Within two years the wall had fallen. During a revolutionary wave that was sweeping across the Eastern Bloc, the East German government announced on 9th November, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Within days the wall was being broken up.

In November this year President Obama will step onto Chinese soil. Many so called netizens and expats in China have expressed the view that he might follow in the footsteps of Reagan and repeat the words, "Tear down this Wall!"

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, October 23, 2009

Was BNP on Question Time "shameful"?

On Thursday this week [October 22], Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, appeared on the BBC's flagship programme Question Time. His appearance has created controversy, incited protests and brought strong condemnation from both the left and right. Protesters stormed the gates of the BBC and newspapers scorned the decision of allowing the far-right politician to sit on the panel.

Britain's Daily Mail accused the BBC of "publicity-seeking naivety" while the Daily Express called the whole enterprise a "dangerous and shameful moment" for British democracy. The event was covered in many newspapers around the world too. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both covered the story in the US. In France the news made the pages of Le Figaro and L'Express, while several publications including Spiegel in Germany made significant mention of the BNP visit to the BBC.

But here in China there was no mention of this important political milestone. To many people, Griffin's views are indeed repugnant and reprehensible. But in a democracy everyone should have the freedom to express their views. tvnewswatch is currently in China where free expression is denied. Views and opinions are stifled and carefully controlled. And the possibility of a programme like Question Time is a dream unlikely to be realized anytime soon. Indeed it would be a nightmare for politicians or party leaders in China to be grilled in the way British politicians are on television and radio.

Voltaire is often incorrectly credited with writing, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." However the quotation is apocryphal. These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire's attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l'esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Nonetheless, it is a principle that should be adhered to.

By denying others their voice, however distasteful at times, benefits no-one other than those whose voices are silenced. They themselves may claim they are being silenced because they speak the truth. Such actions may also turn democracies like Britain into totalitarian states like China, Burma, and Iran where free thought and ideas are not only stifled but are often crushed with force. The BBC said that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, it must cover all political parties that have a national presence. While the BNP has no seats in Britain's Parliament, earlier this year the party won two seats in the European elections. The BNP may well revel in the publicity it has gained. But it is only through open debate that truth or lies will be revealed whether spoken by the likes of Griffin or indeed others. His performance on Thursday's programme confirmed what most already believed.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Twitter search rivalry begins

Twitter has signed deals which will allow rival companies Microsoft and Google to index searches of messages posted to the microblogging website. Microsoft's Bing has been the first to launch the service which enables users to trawl the Internet for tweets on any specific subject. Google meanwhile say their Twitter search service will start in the next few months. While some parts of Twitter already show up in search results they are generally individual accounts or messages that have been archived. Both deals will make feeds of all public Twitter streams available and searchable almost as soon as they posted.

The deal underscores the growing importance of real-time searching and is also likely to increase the rivalry between Microsoft and Google. Microsoft announced the deal with Twitter at the Web 2.0 conference currently under way in San Francisco. Soon after the Microsoft announcement, Google unveiled its deal with Twitter via its official blog, though this was inaccessible in China since Google uses its own blogger service to host official pages. Blogger and many other Google services remain blocked in China. Even those that are accessible remain unstable.

The site was unable to be loaded via a proxy many of which have also been axed by Chinese censors. But according to a third party source Marissa Meyer, Google's vice president of search products, said the inclusion of Twitter's up-to-the minute results would roll out "in the coming months".

Neither company has issued any statement on the cost of the deal which brings the two Internet giants to a party that is already in full swing. Real-time searching is already provided by companies such as OneRiot, Crowdeye and Collecta. In addition, firms such as FriendFeed offer real-time updates within groups of friends and colleagues.

However, FriendFeed has been blocked in China for several months, and while OneRiot, Crowdeye and Collecta were all accessible today [Thursday 22/10/09] it is far from certain how long that may be the case. Twitter has been blocked for several months though third party applications, or apps, have made it possible for users to tweet without the use of a proxy server. But in the last month China's censors have blocked many of these third party apps. It may only be a matter of time before real-time searching is also blocked.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beijing - 'no fatalities' in high winds

Sunday's high wind brought down more than just a few trees and a KFC sign in Wangfujing, but according to China News there were no fatalities as was previously speculated. The website said that a warning of high winds was given by Beijing's Municipal Meteorological Observatory midday Sunday and strong gusts were whipping through the city throughout the afternoon. In Wangfujing a sign crashed to the ground injuring three people according to the website.

However despite the weight and size of the sign no-one was killed. A KFC spokesperson said "one woman received a head injury, but a CT scan showed no brain injuries." The incident happened at around 16:30 local time in the popular shopping precinct well known to tourists for stalls selling fried locusts, scorpions and other delicacies.

To the north of the city winds also brought down roadside billboards at the Bird's Nest Northwest Plaza. An elderly person and a graduate student were injured and were taken to the nearby Ching Hospital, where they regained consciousness. No other incidents were reported by Chinese media, and the news was only reported on Chinese language sites. China News in Chinese

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, October 19, 2009

High winds blast Beijing

High winds swept through Beijing on Sunday, October 18th, and although not gale force it did bring some damage and more than a few injuries. Though nothing was reported by state news agency Xinhua, many citizen journalists and Twitter users provided much information as to the damage brought by the gusts which topped more than 70 km/h. One Twitter user posted a picture of the scene in Wangfujing when a sign crashed to the floor. According to the Twitter user Fish Sun, who goes by the name of @Papersushi, up to two people may have been injured when the KFC sign fell. "A KFC sign in Beijing's Wangfujing falls yesterday due to the high winds injuring someone. It was said someone was even killed, but no details and no reports and no confirmation" he states on his feed [昨天,北京王府井KFC的招牌砸伤人了。风太大了。传说有人被砸死,但实际情况不清楚,未见有新闻报道]. 

Simon, an expat living in Beijing, described the scene in Chaoyang Park as "amazing" with several mature trees ripped up. Across Beijing the high wind swept up the rubbish sending it into spirals like mini-tornadoes and making the crossing of roads a little more dangerous than usual as one avoided both flying objects as well as vehicles while doing one's best not to lose hats and scarves. By Monday morning the winds had subsided. The gusts had also taken the smog and cloud with it as Beijing once again was basking in the autumn sunshine with temperatures of around 18 degrees Celsius. The air too was categorized as "good" by the US Embassy's twitter feed @beijingair, which tweets daily air quality readings.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, October 16, 2009

Expats in China atwitter over Internet blocks

Expats in China have been all atwitter after a tightening of Internet restrictions this week, at least those who could still access the micro-blogging service were. On Monday afternoon a much used Twitter application twittergadget was blocked making access to the site more difficult for many foreigners living in China. Twitter has been blocked for several months but this week has seen a tightening of the noose. As the gadget which worked within iGoogle and GMail became inaccessible, many users migrated to other third party sites such as HootSuite. There are several others that still remain unblocked, but many were expressing their fear that it was only a matter of time before they too were targeted by Chinese censors.

But it wasn't just Twitter apps that have been hit. Python, a provider of a programming language, saw its download link blocked and the URL shortener also became a victim of the Great Firewall of China, often referred to on Twitter by the tag #GFW. It was all becoming too much for some. Steven Millward, a CNET Asia tech blogger, tweeted on his @sirsteven Twitterfeed that he was "definitely going to pay for VPN this week." However even some paid Virtual Private Networks have been hit in recent months, so paid or not there is no guaranteed route through the GFW. David of @randomwire also spoke of his consternation. "(This)debacle seriously makes me consider my future in China. Its gone from an annoyance to sever hindrance," he states

The lack of access was also conjuring up a dark sense of humour. Simon, who styles himself as the founder and top banana of Illuminant Partners, an award-winning PR and strategic communications agency in China and Hong Kong, suggested that "China no longer has internet. It has a LAN" on his @illuminantceo feed. It was a comment that was repeatedly tweeted throughout the day. The description was apt. According to Wikipedia "larger LANS [Local Area Network] contain a wide variety of network devices such as switches, firewalls, routers, load balancers, sensors...a LAN may have connections with other LANs via leased lines, services, or by tunneling across Internet using VPN technology".

One Chinese user who goes by the Twitter name @feng37 made a jibe at Qin Gang with his tweet "save what you're supposed to write and don't save what you're not supposed to write" after Google Docs became inaccessible for some users. The comment was a twist on a statement made by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in March after the blocking of YouTube. "The Internet in China is fully open and the Chinese Government manages the Internet according to the law. As for what you can and cannot watch, watch what you can watch, and don't watch what you cannot watch," Qin said.

The blocks and accessibility or the world wide web was no better by Friday. Western sites currently blocked in China include YouTube, Blogger, Facebook, Typepad, Twitter, Wordpress, Flickr, Friendfeed, Tumblr, technorati, imageshack, Picasa web albums, Scribd, Dailymotion, Liveleak, Vimeo, and Twitpic. Even Chinese social networking sites are not immune with Digu, Zuosa, Fanfou and Jiwai all inaccessible. While the Melbourne film festival site became available by mid-October 2009 following the showing of a controversial Uighur film other sites that have angered authorities remain blocked including the BBC Chinese website, China Digital Times, WorldWeeklyNews, Epoch Times, Danwei,, Amnesty, RSF, Wikileaks and the Observatoire International des Crises website which was blocked in 2007 after suggesting China was inhibiting free trade and the flow of ideas.

"Internet filtering is not just a problem for political activists, it also affects those who do business with China," the press freedom organisation said following the ban on the French website. "How do you assess an investment opportunity if no reliable information about social tension, corruption or local trade unions is available? This case of censorship, affecting a very specialised site with solely French-language content, shows the government attaches as much importance to the censorship of economic data as political content...The free flow of information online is not only a human rights issue, it is essential to lasting economic growth and the creation of solid trade relations with other countries."

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, October 15, 2009

China: rude, dirty & annoying!

China may be growing to become the world's second largest economy, but living and working in this 'developing country' can be a nightmare. The country has many good things going for it. The food is delicious if you know where to eat, and it is a country steeped in history. But while a month long trip zipping from place to place may bring a little culture shock, and a few uncomfortable experiences, it is only after living here that one sees the real China.

The air

It's often said the grass isn't always greener on the other side, and with respect to China this is especially true. The first thing that hits you as you leave Beijing's modern international airport is the air. Today [15th October] the air is actually quite good. Blue skies hang over the city and the sun radiates a warm 22 degrees Celsius. Even the visibility is also excellent and the distant mountains can just be seen to the north of the capital.

But today is exceptional. Earlier this year the US Embassy set up its own air monitoring station atop its building in the east of Beijing and began to tweet its results via the micro-blogging site Twitter. The data disseminated by the US Embassy's twitterfeed @BeijingAir is in sharp contrast to that put out by China's official government body. According to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, on 24th June 2009, the official air quality reading of the city measured "moderate". The Air Pollution Index (API) showed a reading of 69, the level of pollutants of 10 microns (PM10) from noon to noon. But on the same day, the US Embassy data showed the fine particles with a median diameter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) was at 184, sufficient to classify the air quality as "unhealthy" based on US Environmental Protection Agency standards.

On some days the air quality has been described as 'Hazardous'. And it is noticeable. Buildings even a few hundred metres away disappear into the smog and cars occasionally resort to using headlights in the middle of the day. However, Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing's environment protection bureau, has dismissed the reading issued by the US Embassy. "Any attempts to question our figures with a single monitoring station are not authoritative enough," he said earlier this year.

China measures by a different standard than that used by the United States and set out by the World Health Organization. Readings of PM2.5 and PM10 particles give different results. In addition finer particles are more dangerous since they are less easily coughed up. Simon Hales of the Department of Public Health at University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, has warned that exposure to such concentrations could be very dangerous over the long term. "In healthy people, exposure to urban air pollution over a few hours or days is unlikely to have any noticeable health impact. However, the best indicator of health impacts is long term (annual average) exposure. Long term exposure causes increases in overall death rates which we can measure in epidemiological studies. Long term exposure to air pollution in many Asian cities, (with average levels of over 100 mcg/m3 PM10), probably causes health risks similar to those caused by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day."

Since June the air quality, as measured by the US Embassy has hit 'Hazardous' several times. Even in Los Angeles, well known for high pollution, the air quality only occasionally reaches a level considered to be 'Very Unhealthy'. Here in Beijing the air can be almost unbreathable! In fact according to the US government's website an AQI of between 301 & 500, or 'Hazardous', can cause significant aggravation of symptoms in susceptible persons as well as decreased exercise tolerance in healthy persons. Levels above 400 may even be life-threatening to ill and elderly persons.

The dirt

Despite armies of street cleaners China is incredibly dirty. Streets are often littered with discarded food, fruit, paper and other waste. Even in some supermarkets the grime seen on floors would shock most westerners. The most noticeable dirty habit of many Chinese people is spitting. Chinese men especially have the disgusting habit of making loud hawking sounds and spitting the contents of their actions on the road, pavement or wherever they happen to be. While it is mostly men, women too can be seen participating in this vulgar habit. Some people even spit on the bus, and onto the floors of restaurants and public toilets. Many Chinese people also seem to blow their noses in a most indiscreet and vulgar fashion. Handkerchiefs or tissues appear to be too much trouble. Instead people are often seen to use their thumb and forefinger to press their nose and loudly blow out the contents onto the street.

Restaurants also display a similar disregard to hygiene. It is not uncommon to see restaurant staff exit toilets without washing their hands. Food preparation surfaces as well as floors would shock any health inspector in the West. But here in China, cleanliness and hygiene, like common sense, are not all that common. The risks of eating out lessen if frequenting more expensive restaurants or outlets like the KFC or McDonalds, though the chance of food poisoning still exists. Even for those with a caste iron constitution it is advisable to take your own chopsticks.

In England, meat left unrefrigerated for 15 minutes is supposed to be thrown away as a food and safety measure. But in China it is not uncommon to see meat lying out on the counter and the vendor using bare hands to handle it. In summer, it often lies out in the sweltering heat all day. On streets people sell vegetables and fruit, sometimes just laid directly on the ground. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact these are the same streets upon which people spit and on which dogs defecate.

Littering is another apparently accepted habit. A recent visit to the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing revealed how many were just unable to comprehend the use of a litter-bin. The vast courtyard leading up to the entrance of the Forbidden City was strewn with tissues, sunflower seed husks, apple cores, banana peel, orange peel, discarded corn cobs, plastic bottles and bags. My Chinese wife, who has lived in Britain many years, was also shocked at the scene which resembled not so much an ancient monument to China's past than a garbage dump.

Many Chinese get very defensive when their country is criticised. Patriotism is strong and there are often people seen wearing "I love China" T-shirts. But it appears they don't love their country enough to use a trash can or to refrain from painting the streets with their saliva.

If you've managed to survive the food prepared in unhygienic conditions and made it past crowds of spitting individuals, you will at some time need to use a public toilet. You will wish you never had. Chinese toilets are arguably the dirtiest and smelliest in the world. Even festival toilets are no match for what you'll meet in a Chinese lavatory. There are cultural differences that can and should be tolerated, and there are just plain disgusting habits that hark back to an era of primitiveness when mankind still walked on all fours. China has squat toilets and Western style toilets. The squat toilets are traditional and are a cultural difference. But the toilet habits of many Chinese are not. They are extraordinarily dirty. Sometimes one might think even a dog has cleaner toilet habits than many of them.

A toilet in the Chinese countryside is a harrowing experience and one you will unfortunately remember for the rest of your life. The smell from a Chinese toilet can permeate the air for some considerable distance. It is a stench that on entering may send one into retreat. What may greet you is a row of rectangular holes in the ground all strewn with lumps of stale faeces and used toilet paper. There are no doors on the stalls, sometimes, even no partitions between the holes. But it isn't just the toilets in the country that are filthy. Even toilets in big cities can be particularly unsavoury. It is not uncommon to enter a cubicle to find the previous occupant has not flushed. Perhaps such bad toilet habits are learnt whilst very young. Children can sometimes be seen urinating on the street. Many Chinese children have never worn a diaper or nappy. Instead, they have a big slit that, when they stoop down, opens and allows them to urinate or otherwise. In the last few months I have witnessed mothers allowing their young children to urinate on station platforms, streets in the heart of Qianmen and at tourist attractions, including the entrance to a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing.


Rudeness and impoliteness are very common. No where is this better manifested than in the behaviour of many Chinese when it comes to queues. They either do not understand the concept of a queue, or they do understand but are too rude and selfish to respect queues. Whether at supermarket check-out counters, ATMs and train station ticket offices, there are always a few who will go straight to the front of the line and push you out of the way so they can be served first. At bus stops the crush seen as dozen of people attempt top force their way through the narrow door is like something seen at a cattle-market. Bag-straps snap, glasses are knocked from faces, mobile phones go flying and there is the occasional physical injury. Despite there being no room on the bus people still attempt to board sometimes becoming trapped in the powerful doors. Heads, arms and legs are often trapped in their vice-like jaws. On subway stations the sensible concept of allowing passengers to leave the train before attempting to board seems not to have crossed the minds of most Chinese.

The same display of disregard for others can be seen daily on the roads as cars and taxis manoeuvre for space. The blasting of horns is almost constant, even where it is obvious that no progress will be made from such actions. Greetings of "good day" and "good bye" are almost non-existent, unless one initiates. Even a "thank you" is rare.

Chinese people apparently care very much about losing their face. But such obsession in putting on a facade backfires. The government insists there is little or no promiscuity and actively bans websites it deems to be pornographic. Indeed its flawed Green Dam project was to weed out such sites. But while it talks about immoral western standards, its own streets are festooned with the same immorality. There are massage parlours with red lights, freely available pornographic magazines and a walk around the back-streets of Beijing will reveal countless adult shops openly displaying sex aids.

It can all be summed up as hypocrisy. The government claims its 'punishment' of Google was to stop the dissemination of pornographic images, yet its Chinese rival Baidu is left unaffected and sex shops remain untouched. The Chinese government, rather than acknowledging a problem, prefers to hide it so as "not to lose face". One could argue that the blocking of so many websites is about keeping down dissent and protests. But it is as much about not wanting to reveal the truth about what really exists in China.


This all leads to how annoying it can be living in China. Chinese people may or may not know what really goes on in China, or elsewhere. Indeed they may not even care. Despite government worries over the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary, few people look back with any real concern. Most are far more focused on making money. Even when it comes to the Internet, the restrictions affect very few Chinese. Most use the Internet for chatting to friends using Microsoft Messenger of the Chinese equivalent QQ. Online games are also popular with "Happy Farm" being one notable example [more about that in another post]. However, while they all happily play in their virtual worlds of stealing sheep and discussing how much they earn and when they're going to have a baby through Instant Messages, many expats are sat cursing at computer keyboards.

Using the Internet in China is at best slow, at worst a complete nightmare. If you're a newsjunky, journalist, or techhead it is intolerable. Virtually all the western social networks have been blocked for months, and it doesn't seem like it will get any better. Google services are particularly affected. Google Docs has been hit with outages and will not open in secure mode [https]. Google Sites, Picasa Web, Blogger and YouTube, all owned by Google, are completely inaccessible. Other blocked sites include Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and Scribd. Even news websites have been affected especially around National Day, as China celebrated 60 years since the founding of the Peoples' Republic.

Clicking a Google news link often leads to an error page and it all makes using the Internet extremely frustrating. As such one plays a continual game of cat and mouse trying to jump over or through the Great Firewall of China. Software that did work now no longer works and new versions fail after only a few days. For those just wishing to post messages or pictures on Facebook, Blogger and Twitter, there are email alternatives, but for most users it is the free use of the net that is required. Here, in the Peoples' Republic of China, that is not possible.

No country is perfect but China can, at times, be downright horrible. Soon after arriving another Brit told me that after a few weeks he just wanted to "go and punch somebody or something", such was his frustration. He's lasted nearly two years and says that while sometimes your days will be great at other times you'll wake up and end up crying in your cornflakes. It's not quite become that bad, but one year here will be more than enough.

There are some Chinese who are immaculately clean and who are very polite and honest. But sadly they appear to be a minority. For a country that is to become perhaps the second largest economy and with it bring greater influence to the world, this is indeed worrying. One hopes that the West might wake up and see what it is importing. The lead tainted toys, melamine adulterated milk and exploding tyres are only the half of it. If they export their dirty habits, double standards in business practice and tighter censorship controls we will all have something to worry about.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, October 12, 2009

London's Evening Standard free after 182 years

The London Evening Standard is to be handed out free later today [Monday 12th October] after 182 years as a paid-for regional newspaper. The move comes after years of stiff competition with free London papers such as the Associated Newspapers' Metro and London Lite, owned by the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard said in a statement last Friday that it would stop charging from October 12th and hopes its circulation will double to more than 600,000 from its current 250,000 daily sales. Its 50 pence cover price has put off many consumers who have opted for the free alternatives. The Evening Standard has struggled since the launch in 2006 of thelondonpaper and London Lite.

But even the free news market is not without its victims. thelondonpaper, which was published by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's media empire, closed last month. The decision to hand out copies for free has angered the hundreds of newspaper vendors across the capital who see their trade disappearing, as well as a way of life. Many rely on the selling of the paper to make a living. One newspaper seller expressed his sadness at the decision to the BBC's World Service. James Taylor described the job as "brilliant" saying he sold some 400 to 500 copies a day. "I'm gutted after all these years," he said. "At the end of day there's gonna be no vendors on London's streets. It's part of London's heritage and that's gonna go."

The Evening Standard's move comes shortly after Rupert Murdoch raised questions of free news media. The media mogul wants more paid-for news content and has criticised the culture that has built around the Internet where aggregation sites such as Google and Yahoo make news content available for free. "There should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time," Murdoch said at the World Media Summit in Beijing last week.

However, many have labelled Murdoch as being unrealistic given the vast number of news outlets. Murdoch and AP's Tom Curley have criticised the likes of Google for aggregating their content. However, they could very easily withdraw from Google's indexing. The Internet search giant makes it possible for any site owner to opt-out of its trawling of the net with just a few keystrokes. All they have to do is go to the website's robot.txt file and type: User-agent: Googlebot, Disallow:/ . Of course by doing so News Corp and AP would kill much of their readership at a stroke given that most visitors to their sites come via Internet searches.

News outlets, more than at any time before, rely on advertising to keep going. No longer can they simply rely on sales. While an elite few may pay for content, this old format is dwindling fast.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Murdoch: China's "digital door" must be opened

On Friday Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon whose media empire stretches around the globe from Australia to the United States, called on China allow a more open media sector. He was not alone in expressing such views, though the tone of the criticism was subtle. In particular Rupert Murdoch appealed to the Chinese government to open the door for its Internet companies to operate commercially. "China will naturally make its own rules and proceed at its own pace," he said, "But it has an important national interest in working to drive this digital revolution instead of simply reacting to it."

David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters, also called for "openness, transparency and accountability" in the media as a "precondition to a truly healthy, stable and successful system". "All involved need to help the media help society by accepting that while openness, transparency and accountability may lead to momentary discomfort and sometimes embarrassment, they are ultimately worthwhile," he said.

The gathering of some 300 media executives at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing follows a period that has seen the government impose its strictest media and Internet censorship in years. Since March the authorities have blocked the information flow through social media by an almost constant blockage of YouTube, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter and some Chinese equivalents. Even tools regularly used by journalists to share ideas have been blocked. Scribd, where documents may be shared online, is blocked, and recently the https version of Google Docs has been blocked, giving rise to suspicions that the censors are attempting to spy on user content.

Murdoch made a subtle reference to the restrictions towards the end of his address saying that China needed to be less hostile to criticism. "As China emerges, it will be the subject of more criticism, in the true sense of the word. The people in this hall will sometimes be doing the critiquing," Murdoch said. "My personal advice is not to take it personally. It is now beyond pass to observe that the digital world is borderless, but I think we are yet to properly appreciate how borderless our planet can and should be."

Much of the media mogul's critique was reserved for those that thrive of news content without paying for it. "There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an Internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet," he said. Murdoch has been a strong advocate of charging for online content. News Corp. already owns the newspaper industry's most successful Internet subscription model in The Wall Street Journal, with more than 1 million customers who pay for online access.

"Too often the conventional media response to the Internet has been inchoate," Murdoch said, "There should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time."

His comments were echoed by Associated Press chief executive Tom Curley. "We content creators have been too slow to react to the free exploitation of news by third parties without input or permission," Curley told the World Media Summit's assembled delegates. "Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers," Curley said. "We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content."

He also criticised content aggregators, such as search engines and bloggers, who he said were directing audiences and revenue away from content creators. "We will no longer tolerate the disconnect between people who devote themselves, at great human and economic cost, to gathering news of public interest and those who profit from it without supporting it," Curley said.

Such blatant plagiarism was at the heart of Murdoch's critique. "The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph," he warned.

But there are certainly some news organisations who blatantly plagiarise news content. Anyone who has worked at Xinhua will know how it is common practice to lift stories directly from news websites and via news aggregators like Google and Yahoo, editing them and reposting them with only a reference at the bottom saying 'Agencies'. Such practice is dubious and may even contravene copyright, an issue brought up by Kyodo news agency's head Satoshi Ishikawa. Three principles of reliable reporting should be established and protected in the face of new media. "First is to secure access to news sources. Second is to protect the rights of content providers or the authors. And third is to ensure that consumers of the news have access to what they want," Ishikawa said.

Google seem unrattled by the criticism fired across thir bows. Eric Schmidt spoke recently on the subject saying,""I think in this case Google is a proxy for the Internet as a whole. So the people would make the same statements about the Internet as they do about Google. Substitute the Internet for Google and you get that idea. And because we play such a central role in information, we've become somewhat used to being blamed for everything. In some cases people don't understand that we're a conduit to other people doing things. They think Google did it when in fact somebody else did it and made it available." And as regards the comments by AP's Tom Curley, Schmidt was also rather dismissive. "I was rather humored by the public criticisms because, there was all this criticism, we have a deal with The Associated Press that's in place today. So, and surely they're aware of this," Schmidt said.

One industry analyst, who preferred not to be named, told the Independent newspaper, "If anything, the newspapers should be paying Google and the rest of them for carrying the index of the stories in the first place." Some have also suggested that his pay-per-read approach and his anti-Google aggregation vendetta may backfire. Murdoch's papers may be removed from Google and News Corporation's content may retreat behind their paid-for content models. But Google is unlikely to lose any sleep. Murdoch may however lose his share of some 300 million clicks, and see web traffic plummet.

With a rise of citizen journalism, and with countless free-to-air and free-to-Internet news sources from the likes of the BBC, CNN and al-Jazeera, Murdoch's plan may fall dead in the water. While his and others' comments are laudable, media has changed dramatically since the advent of the Internet. Newspapers have had 15 years to adapt to the new online world, and still haven't. In the meantime most Internet users are used to free news on the web, albeit paid for by advertising or sponsorship.

As for encouraging China to open up its digital borders, Murdoch may also make little headway. China is quite used to doing things its own way. It may soon be the second largest economy on the planet and with that too comes a "responsibility" Murdoch claimed. "China will ultimately decide its own fate, but unless the digital door is opened, opportunities will be lost and potential will not be realized." In this he may be right, but there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. And the media in China is a prime example. Whether or not it sees a problem or criticism, it is rarely reported.

China is hosting this media summit, and there is plenty of online content on the Xinhua website. But there is no reference to the criticism of China's failing to open up. Murdoch's comments were reduced to only four lines, mostly taken out of context and without reference to problems media companies face in China. Running under the headline "News Corporation chairman praises China's openness to foreign media", Xinhua quoted Murdoch as saying, "China has never been more accessible" and that there had "never been a better time to be a news reporter in China." Xinhua also referred to Murdoch's comments on China's fast development. "I know as well as everybody that this country is changing real time with enormous speed," Murdoch was quoted as saying. None of these comments came from his long address at the summit itself, which was mostly ignored, but instead during an opening ceremony of the Dow Jones Beijing Grand Office.

For Beijing the World Media Summit is about prestige, but for foreign observers it is little more than a propaganda exercise. For all the hot air and rhetoric little will change and most western media organisations have paid little attention to the story at all.

Friday, October 09, 2009

New al-Qaeda threat to China

Al Qaeda has called for a holy war against China in response to what it describes as the Chinese government's oppression of the Uighurs, the ethnic minority group who live primarily in the northwest region of Xinjiang. Speaking in a video posted on an Islamist website Abu Yahya al-Libi said the Uighur population would need to use a jihad to free themselves from the "tyranny" of the Chinese government.

"There is no way to remove injustice and oppression without a true return to their (Uighur) religion and … serious preparation for jihad in the path of God the Almighty and to carry weapons in the face of those (Chinese) invaders," al-Libi said. "It is a duty for Muslims today to stand by their wounded and oppressed brothers in East Turkistan … and support them with all they can."

China has cracked down on any dissent in the autonomous region following deadly riots earlier this year. At least 197 killed, said by Chinese authorities to be mostly Han Chinese. Internet and phone lines to the region were cut and access remains restricted. The ethnic tension has also precipitated a series of syringe attacks. Rumours have also created further unrest in areas inhabited by Uighur minorities.

Last month a blast at a Uighur restaurant in north-west Beijing created concern given the recent troubles in Xinjiang. Officials quickly dismissed the cause as being a "gas-explosion" though there is some speculation from a number of Beijing residents that the blast may have been triggered by a bomb. One Twitter user, who uploaded a picture soon after the explosion leveled the building, said she had been given "reliable information" that the blast was the result of a bomb. Maggie Rauch, an American living in Beijing had alerted the world to the blast hours before the official news agency Xinhua had made any mention of the incident. Her posting of the photograph on Twitpic also alerted authorities to the site which was blocked within minutes. The site has since become available.

If indeed the explosion was caused by a bomb it poses a question. Who planted it? There could be two possibilities. One, that it was a revenge attack targeting the Uighur community. Or two it was a device that was being prepared and that detonated prematurely. Both suggestions are of course entirely speculation. But if the later were true it would fit with continued assertions by Chinese authorities that a threat from Islamic terroism exists.

Last year China claimed it had cracked a terror plot to kidnap athletes, journalists and tourists at the Beijing Olympics. Police had seized nearly 10kg of explosives and "jihadist" literature during raids in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, the reports in July claimed. In another incident a 19-year-old woman confessed to attempting to hijack and crash a Chinese passenger plane. The aircraft had to be diverted in March last year after a suspicious liquid was found on board, Xinhua reported. The state news agency said the woman confessed to a "terrorist" attempt on the March 7 flight to Beijing from Urumqi.

The latest message from al-Qaeda is the latest in a series of such threats. Last year a little known Islamic organisation claimed responsibility for two bomb blasts in Kunming, Yunnan province. Soon after the attacks, described as "deliberate" by Chinese officials, the Turkistan Islamic Party released a video claiming success in their "Holy War (or Jihad) in Yunnan province". And in July this year Al-Qaeda's Algerian-based offshoot, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a call for "reprisals" for the ethnic crackdown.

AQIM pledged to target the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria as well as Chinese projects and workers across northwest Africa, said the London-based international consultancy Stirling Assynt. Justin Crump, head of terrorism and country risk with Stirling Assynt, speaking at the time, said, "Although AQIM appears to be the first arm of Al-Qaeda to officially state they will target Chinese interests, others are likely to follow".

Abu Yahya al-Libi's latest threat may or may not draw support from the Uighurs themselves but it will unnerve Chinese authorities who have interests around the globe especially in vulnerable locations like Africa.

Obsequiousness at China's media summit

Satoshi Ishikawa, head of Japan's Kyodo news agency, must have sat uncomfortably in the Great Hall of the People on Friday as he listened to Chinese president Hu Jintao claim China would continue to respect foreign news organisations. President Hu's announcement came less than a month after several Japanese reporters were kicked and punched in their Beijing hotel room by security officials for filming National Day parade rehearsals. No public apology has been made following the assault and damage to equipment including two laptops belonging to the Kyodo news agency. Reporters often complain they are regularly detained and sometimes have been assaulted by both uniformed and plain-clothed police. Even during the Olympics when China said it would open up to the world's media, an ITN journalist was arrested and a photographer was assaulted by police.

Journalists attempting to cover the earthquake in Sichuan province and the aftermath of riots in Xinjiang have been attacked, arrested or had their equipment smashed. The CPJ [the Committee to Protect Journalists] has logged countless such incidents. Their website was inaccessible within China on Friday. On 4th September several journalists from Hong Kong were tackled by armed police in Urumqi in Xinjiang province. Running to escape tear gas fired into the crowd, they were beaten and held face down on the ground for 15 to 20 minutes. The reporters were taken to a police station where they were detained for several hours but similar incidents almost all involving Hong Kong journalists, continued for several days.

Last year a reporter and photographer from two Japanese news organizations were detained and beaten by paramilitary police as they were covering an attack on police in northwest China's Xinjiang. Masami Kawakita, a photographer of the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper's Tokyo headquarters, and Shinji Katsuta, a reporter of Nippon Television Network Corp.'s China General Bureau, both suffered light injuries.

Following the attack on employees working for Kyodo news this year, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China strongly condemned the assault and called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify, in writing, any rules it had regarding coverage of the National Day events. No such clarification was forthcoming.

In today's address president Hu emphasised the important role the media had in informing the world about China. "We will continue to make government affairs public, enhance information distribution, safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign news organizations and reporters, and facilitate foreign media coverage of China in accordance with China's laws and regulations," Hu told the World Media Summit at the Great Hall of the People.

"All media organizations should be dedicated to the lofty cause of pushing forward peace and development," Hu said. So long as the media only reports what China wants reporting. Xinhua, the state run news organisation, made no mention of problems encountered by foreign media organisations. Even Kyodo's Satoshi Ishikawa shyed away from controversy when addressing the World Media Summit.

"We believe the media have a social responsibility to promote world peace by sharing news and information about everyday events and by furthering mutual understanding in a way that goes beyond the limits of countries and regions," Ishikawa said. Such obsequiousness from so many sycophantic media organisations is unlikely to effect any change for the lowly reporter, cameraman  or photographer whose job it is to gather the news. Harsher words need to be aired to make a difference on the ground.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

National Day brings blue skies, sun & smiles

Hundreds of ordinary Beijingers flocked onto the streets to watch the fly-by of Chinese military jets during Thursday's National Day celebrations. While most people stayed at home to watch festivities on television, sunshine and blue skies brought out many excited residents who patiently waited two hours for the short air show. 

Shortly before midday a Chinese KJ-2000 AWACS aircraft tailed by several jets each streaming coloured smoke soared across the brilliant blue skies as excited Beijingers took photographs and waved flags. Several waves of aircraft took part including H-6 bomber aircraft, Chengdu J10 jets and WZ9 attack helicopters. 

The airshow finished within a few minutes, but the joy of having witnessed something of China's celebration live could be seen in the countless smiles across people's faces. With the show over, the streets soon emptied once again as people returned home. Tonight many may well venture out to see several planned fireworks displays.

As for the main parade, which was shown on television to an audience of millions, it proceeded as planned and seemingly without a hitch. Chinese president Hu Jintao watched as military vehicles and dozens of floats rolled through Tiananmen Square surrounded by a dazzling display of colour. It culminated in a parade of school children who released thousands of red balloons into the sky.

It was a sky that was incredibly blue with only a few white clouds, a strong contrast to the polluted skies seen in recent days. Even the US Embassy's air monitoring station in Beijing registered good air quality with an AQI of less than 50 for most of the day. The clean air, sunshine and a refreshing breeze put a smile on many people's faces as China celebrated its 60th birthday. 
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China