March 2006

Let’s hear it for checks and balances!

Zeenews - , stating that the US should be called for its own human rights violations.

“As in previous years, the US State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions but kept silent on the violations of human rights in the United States,” said the document.

To help people realise the true features of this self-styled “Guardian of Human Rights,” it is necessary to probe into the human rights abuses in the US in 2005, it said.

The US State Department alleged yesterday that China increased its censorship of the internet and media critics in 2005 and that harassment and detention of those challenging the authorities grew.

The Chinese report alleged that the US government frequently commits “wanton slaughters of innocents in its war efforts and military operations in other countries,” citing published reports that the , mostly women and children. (link added)

In 2005, news of prisoners ‘abuse by the US forces again hit headlines, following their 2004 prisoners’ abuse scandal that stunned the world, it noted.

“They abused the Iraqi detainees systematically, including sleep deprivation, tying them to the wall, hitting them with baseball bats, denying their access to water and food, forcing them to listen to extremely loud music in completely dark places for days running, unleashing dogs to bite them for amusement and even scaring them by putting them in the same cage with lions.

“For years, the US government has ignored and concealed deliberately serious violations of human rights in its own country for fear of criticism,” charged the report.

This, in response to US allegations that China has increased its censorship of the internet and media critics in 2005 and that harassment and detention of those challenging the authorities has grown. Well, I can vouch for that. Life is not easy for those who speak out against the official party line. And it really sucks that I can’t read blogspot. They’ve somehow even outsmarted web proxies. Censorship is a drag. Alas, that’s the price of being here.

Approached globally, some tit for tat is refreshing upon the world scene. Kind of reminds me of when I was in Japan. There was a strong, young, muscular yokozuna, a grand master of sumo, named . He battled his way through the sheer mass of other, chubbier wrestlers, throwing them aside like so many Pillsbury dough boys. After a while he beat them up enough that the old yokozunas all retired to save their grace. He was the sole yokozuna! But, then Chiyonofuji just kept on kicking everyone’s ass and it got old. Not to say there weren’t some exciting matches, but competition is certainly more fair when there are several contenders.

Not that Chiyonofuji ever flaunted his power outside the ring. Which is where I suppose the analogy with the US ends. The US often behaves more like the bullies I used to hate on the kickball field, so confident that their natural leadership in sports gave them the right to rule everyone and everything else. And its true. The best of the best of these kickball thugs grew up to run the country.

So, with the US now increasingly checked by China, and the EU continuing to build up trade and cooperation with Chinese industry, not to mention Japan now emerging from its post-bubble funk, will we still see the US, or should I say the popularly elected cadre that is currently making decisions on behalf of the US, forced to cooperate more and dictate less? As an American, I can only hope so. Having spent the majority of my adult life beyond the borders, I actually do care what the rest of the world thinks. Perhaps, the US government is just a tad full of itself. If it wants to play on the world stage, it should learn to respect others.

Chinese leaders are firm in their resolve to mind their own affairs and leave others to mind their’s. There is plenty of room for both the US and China to cast allegations at each other. However, I believe they should each be judged by their deeds. While it is true that the Chinese government has a tight grip on the population, the US, with the recently right-eliminating “Patriot Act” re-ratified, tighter controls over the population in place, and the current atmosphere of “if you criticize a ‘war-time’ president, you’re commie scum” firmly entrenched, it’s plain to see that I see things in far less black and white than many of my compatriots.

Not to cast aspersions at either my land of allegiance, the United States, or my current home, . I love them both for what they aim to achieve - for the areas in which they can take the moral high ground. I see the intolerance and finger-pointing as areas for improvement - issues that humanity as a whole is working through. I do feel, though, that there is a lot of quite support for China’s stance in this world. Those at the helm would be wise to take notice. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

When I first got to Japan back in the eighties, I frequented Hong Kong for visa trips. Each trip brought new adventures, which serve as milestones in my life. was the hub to a whole new, somewhat nefarious lifestyle. I got my first dose of backpacking culture. I heard tales of lands afar, that I just had to visit. But, I had a life back in Japan that took priority.

The first thing you notice is the smell. A unique clash of strong scents, insense, spice and musk. Hmmmm, I smell Indian food! Plus thrown in a bit of grime. There was a certain dinginess to the place but it was relatively clean. Stalls all around where you can buy cheap clothes, electronics, bags… touristy kind of things. The real action took place upstairs, but you had to ride the world’s slowest elevator. This place could get pretty full, so lines could get long. That is, if there was a line. Sometimes, there was more like a mob. Imagine standing in line, waiting for the world’s slowest elevator to labor up and down14 floors, sweat dripping from the sweltering heat of the mid-afternoon. It can try your patience. Once you get on, you see these quaint buttons that light up faintly through the cutaway numbers and bell that dings on each floor. Pretty hi tech for whatever generation produced it.

The hostles upstairs were not bad. I generally got a small single room but on one occasion had to settle for a bunk. Once on the upper floors, there were travel agents that served as message hub and networking center. It was always infinitely cheaper to buy my ticket there than in Japan. For there more daring, you could also hear news of milk run opportunities, where you could go to Korean with a bunch of watches and come back with shoes or something and make $200 out of the deal. The rooms were small but not ridiculous (like the one I just stayed in) and often had decent airconditioning. I eventually learned it’s wise to test the airconditioner first.

This time, it was eleven years since my last visit, which was the last of a long chain. There was drastic change everywhere, tall building having sprouted all over, even in the New Terriotories. is largely unchanged. If anything, the Indian element is more embedded than ever. The crowd has changed though. It somehow seems to have gotten much seedier, though there were plenty of straitlaced travelers about. I’m glad I don’t have to stay there any more! Though, if I were to arrive here now in my twenties, I’m sure I would have. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

Rainy Hong Kong skyline just as I saw it

I just spent a couple of days in Hong Kong. Wow! I had a wonderful time!

Hong Kong has a special place in my heart. I used to travel to Hong Kong on visa trips from Japan before I managed to get a permanaent visa sponsor, so for I while I was going there every few months from Tokyo. I used Hong Kong as a hub to go to Thailand and even the US. I nearly always stayed at Chung King Mansions in a youth hostel or small hotel room. It was certainly shoestring traveling but it was good enough for me and had a certain character. That was how I first got on the backpacker curcuit, which I would eventually explore in detail upon my 30th birthday when I left Japan for good. Ironically, I met Salomae during my round the world sojourn and ended up taking a couple more visa trips from Taiwan.

One thing I always enjoyed about Hong Kong was it’s amazing skyline. Every time I came back I was treated to a new really cool looking skyscraper. I was amazed with the when I first saw it. Back in 1987, I visited Bank of America (I have no idea why I needed to go there but the trip remains vivid in my mind) and it was housed in the coolest building I’d ever seen. It was black and had bulding windows poking out. That building is now hidden behind the towers that have grown around it. The tallest now dwarves it.

Kowloon has changed a lot too. Chung King Mansions is in Tsim Tsa Choi on Kowloon, so I know it well. When I last visited in 1996 when I was living in Taiwan and Salomae and her sister Evah were burgeoning pop stars, all of these fancy shopping malls had showed up where the old pier used to be and some of the buildings had been replaced with newer versions of themselves. Now, it is fully developed. In fact, Hong Kong is fully developed, in the sense of “developed country.” I doubt they’ll ever be done putting up the coolest buidlings in the world though. I was amazed to see skysrapers in Kowloon. I stayed in Mongkok this time, a few stops from Tsim Tsa Choi, and stayed nearby a building that would put any going up in Beijing to shame, the . I’ve been watching the buildings go up in Beiijing, but it will be 20 years at least to get where Hong Kong is now. And by that time, Hong Kong will still be twenty years ahead!

(c) Sherman Sham Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark