Sunday, February 11, 2007

Free Mati

The day began as most do around here - with peanut butter pancakes. Naturally, I asked for a side of chocolate for dipping, along with the freshest glass of pineapple juice this side of Bhutan. Once I had my fill of paradise on a plate, I set off for my real goal of the day.

One of desires during this month-long trip was simply to get out and enjoy where I was. I didn't have to be going anywhere special, or honestly, anywhere at all, but instead just get going and let the road take me where it pleases. I wanted to get lost in China, and let the country reveal itself rather than I desperately searching for it.

To this end, I stopped at my now favorite bike shop, and popped for the ultra-fancy 20 yuan bike. Damn happy that I did. I immediately bolted for the hills.

I knew of a small dirt road running alongside Yulong River, a path that had beckoned for my exploring ever since my first tire fiasco. Winding between cliff faces, straddling a crisp, blue river, and full of absolute possibility, at least so I imagined. With a bright Yangshuo sun beating down on my now burning neck, I launched down the road, ready for a full day of adventure.

Of course, things are never as romantic as they may seem. Within two minutes I was off my bike, rolling up my pants as the baggy khakis were seriously ruining both my spirits and chain. Now I looked like a tourist...great. How am I supposed to discover China looking like this? Functionality over style I guess. I took off again, this time pumped and ready to roll. Chain catches a snag and I immediately find myself in some rather nasty bushes. Good start to the day of adventure.

This time I was off for real. The unassuming dirt path I had chosen had turned out to be a rather bustling tourist route, and I was quickly choking on dirt and smog from the countless buses of Chinese tourists, all heading for a relaxing "Bamboo!" boat ride down what was supposed to be my river. I pushed on though, just knowing that my luck would change. It did.

After thirty minutes of torturous rocks and screaming tourists, my path veered to the right. Suddenly, I found myself in pure, unadulterated silence. I was alone. Alone with the mountains, alone with the river, and of course, alone with some stray oxen. Alone enough.

I continued on, my path leading ever closer to the Yulong. I found yet another fork in the road. With the right taking me back to the mountain course, I darted left, straight for the river. Wrong choice. I found myself surrounded by mini buses, tour guides yelling "Bamboo! Bamboo!" and an utter dead end to my quest. Well, so it seemed. After five or so minutes of explaining that while the bamboo rafts are very nice, I'm simply not interested, a tout asked where I was headed. I knew of a bridge a ways up, appropriately named Yulong Bridge, and said that was my destination for the day. His arm shot up instantly, pointing straight to the river. "Na bian!" That way! The river didn't seem like the best choice for my bike, but as I inched forward, I discovered an incredible stone bridge running to the other side. Built flush to the water, the bridge was a solid S-curve, requiring the famous Bamboo! boats to stop and be lifted over. I pulled up, deciding to walk my bike over lest my poor riding skills get the best of me and really put on a show for the Chinese tourists. I creeped to the other destiny (as that was my goal for today).

The other side was absolutely what I hoped for. Immediately leading to wide open farm land, a small rocky path no wider than three feet took me between two large orange groves. Coming down the same path, a small farmer woman carrying a stick of hay bundles not much smaller than the oxen that kept me company earlier during my discovery of aloneness. She squeezed through first, and after a friendly Nin Hao, it was my turn. I walked through, smelling the sweetness of oranges and victory, sun shining overhead and a looming peak tipping its hat to me directly in front.

A walk through some vegetable patches, and I was back to riding, now finding the crag of a road not so bad. I road and road, zipping through small farm villages full of real people just living the real China life. While I know this is but a small bit of the country as it is now, it was a piece that I had been desperate to see. Rural China: the side that doesn't get the CNN Presents, or invoke the fear of US politicians. One town offered a decidedly Communist take on life as what appeared to be the entire population huddled around a public noodle bowl, chomping, joking, and watching the lost foreigner fly by on his Schwinn.

As all good things come to an end, I thought my point had as I pulled to a paved road leading through nearby Baisha town. What others had warned was a full day of hard riding had turned out to be a mere three-hour jaunt in the hinterland. Still, I kept on riding away from Yangshuo, too early to go home. I turned down a side road, led by a sign promising a bridge of some cursive Chinese character name. Turned out to be the Yulong I had been searching for.

But I was lost, exactly what I had wanted all day but now not enjoying it so much. I was headed down a well-paved road, but the growing emptiness left me a bit worried about where I was headed this time. In my panic, a young boy rolls by on a moped screaming "Hello!" Hardly anything knew as it happens every twenty seconds but this time I caught up to him to ask for directions. He said he will show me, and so I follow his puttering moped down the street and into yet another farming town. I hadn't known before, but this was is hometown, and Yulong Bridge was its star attraction.

We pulled up to the bridge. Beautiful of course, but honestly nothing all that special. Really old I guessed. Small and standard looking, it still represented more to me though than just a passing over water. I had reached my destination, my goal for the day, and a quest for something inexperienced that I so wanted long before my trip ever started. My day was done, dreams accomplished, and ready to get rolling once again.

There is always one thing though that can put an absolute halt to even the best laid plans - food. Yes, I was starving, and while the dried banana chips I picked up before I left were nice, I needed something more fulfilling. If there is one thing in China that can always be had, its food. But in a place like this, in the middle of nowhere, it's gonna cost you.

As I stood admiring the plain bridge, a small elderly woman approached asking if I was hungry. Fantastic, not only did I see a part of China completely foreign to me, now I was being invited into a small farm home to enjoy the local food. Not quite. Turns out the old broad was running a bit of a money racket here in nowhere. As the only restaurant for miles, and with a relatively important attraction in town, the restaurant was free to charge a hefty sum for their fresh Kung Pao Chicken. 65 yuan later, I had my chicken in the kitchen, plucked and deboned for my viewing pleasure. The guts are a bit of a turn-off, no matter what you pay.

While I sat and waited for my feast to arrive, my moped friend came by. It is important to note here that I absolutely could not understand a single word out of this kid's mouth, nor anyone's in the town for that matter. They spoke Yangshuo Hua, as they relayed to me through hand gestures and broken Mandarin. My new buddy's acting did get me up from the table though for what I could only guess was to be a stroll around town. His "walking fingers on palm" trick gave me the hint.

He led me through three or four old mud brick buildings, all of which were dark, damp, and completely uninhabitable. Communist slogans plastered a few plank walls, torn and battered by passing time. I stepped into the last house, a lone doorway directly ahead. He swung it open to reveal a room completely taken up by two small twin beds and a pair of NBA sandals. This was his room, and he had invited me in as his guest without ever needing to stop and ask for my name. There, in a dark room no taller than my heigth, it was humbling to see this kid's life. This was his part of the world, far different than what I ever knew, and he opened it to me without hesitation. He bent down and pulled to giant youzi grapefruits from under his bed. A gift for me, his guest.

I could barely say thanks, let alone honestly express my gratitude for what he had given me, before we were back off in to town. This time, a stop on top of the bridge. As we watched the scenery and boats passing underneath, he peeled a youzi for us. As we enjoyed the sweet fruit, his younger sister came up to meet us. A friendly Hello, but this time a slightly more normal pronunciation caught me off guard. She was studying English! While she was shy enough to be positively embarrassed by talking in my native tongue, her schooling had meant she also spoke Putonghua, or Standard Mandarin. At last, a person, albeit minimally, that I could understand!

Now as we ate the infamous 70 yuan chicken, a word kept coming up in conversation. Mati. My comprehension of the conversations during the lunch resembled something along the lines of: You________Mati_____? And that is how it went for a good hour, the girl's broken English and Mandarin training really playing a rather inconsequential role.

My excitement for the day was coming to an end, and with the sun creeping towards the peaks, I knew I needed to getting going back. Still, as we walked to my bike, Mati was everywhere in the now sister-less boy's talk. This mysterious Mati had me perplexed. Did he want me to meet his mother? Was it a duck? They were everywhere. Could Mati be the missing link, because this kid's passion for the word had me both excited and positively terrified? Not knowing anything else to say, I motioned that I needed to get going, and we began walking towards the edge of town.

Or as he saw the pathway out, towards his home. He pulled me inside a doorway, leaving my bike lonely in the road. Inside, another tall, dark concrete room, devoid of anything save a small torn up couch complete with lounging Chinese woman. It was his mother, or so I presumed, and who had to be the mysterious Mati I had heard so much about. I was invited to sit, and took my place at the end of the couch. Two tattered pictures of official-looking men were plastered on the wooden wall beside me, overlooking the room with a stern, hardened gaze.

Now Mati as I knew her, she too spoke Yangshuo Hua, and was therefore left with out a clue. I did manage to get the first thing she said to me upon sitting down though:

"We here are very poor. You, your country is very rich. Everyone has money."

It hit me hard. I honestly had no idea what to say in response. So I sat there, a look of guilt across my semi-nodding face. Compared to her place in the world, this was the absolute truth. People don't know this life where I come from. I couldn't begin to relate to what her experiences had been in this town as they resembled nothing to mine back in New Mexico. As I think about that exact moment, even if she spoke English, I still don't know how I could have possibly responded. I was the rich foreign tourist, and for whatever conceptions she may have had toward me, I was still unquestioningly invited in to her home, as a guest, and as a friend.

And there I sat, Mati on my left, my young buddy on my right. We tried to speak about simple things I could understand. My age (young), my country (far), my school in China (famous). Soon though, a bright face joined the room that promised a small bit of help. The boy's sister had returned, and she too was anxious to try and speak with me, though sadly not in English. We continued to struggle in dialogue, but I did manage to get a glimpse of her English language textbooks. Amazingly complex, I would say some of the passages were easily from college-level reports. Yet while she could rattle off a passage with speed, poor pronunciation and fluidity gave me the impression that a rote style of memorization had been the only manner of instruction, and therefore left her with very little ability to talk. I knew her exact situation all too well.

And then she escaped again, this time in to a back room. Mati and I again exchanged glances of friendly nods and awkward silence. Suddenly and with a burst of hot steam, the sister flew back in the room, a giant bowl of piping hot something in hand. She struggled to set it down right in front of me.

"Mati!" she yelped with pride.

So this was Mati, not the woman that was my silent couch partner, but rather the steaming chestnut-like brown things on the floor. The boy darted for one, hands writhing in pain from the steam as he struggled to peel one open. He did, and promptly handed it to me. With now four pairs of eyes on me, a random elderly woman had strolled in, I took a chomp on the white fruit inside. Hot. Very, very hot. They giggled with satisfaction as I burnt my tongue.

It reminded me of a water chestnut, but I wasn't about to claim that the mysterious Mati was indeed one of my favorite ingredients in any Chinese dish. I had never seen a water chestnut in its natural form, just its delicious state inside a can from Whole Foods.

And so we sat, mostly quietly, tearing at the outer layer of the Mati with our finger nails, delighting in its piping hot interior. We made small talk with the little we shared between us, hands now covered in brown. They would laugh at me. Apparently I was a poor Mati eater. I struggled to peel one as they enjoyed five or six. Still, the boy would constantly hand his over so I would never be without something to chew on.

When it came time for me to leave, I did my best to express my gratitude for the invitation in to their home. It was more of an unspoken thank you as my smile and head-nodding had to do most of the work. When I was at the door, the young boy, who had led me from the streets of nowhere to his living room couch, stuffed some of the nuts into my backpack pocket. I rode off back to Yangshuo, back to my part of the world, this time with a load of free Mati to accompany me on the ride.


For the record, Mati is a water chestnut. I confirmed it a distance from town with the help of a dictionary.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Guilin Motorcycle

Sorry for this one Mom...

Every bone in my body ached. I had just spent the better half of my day enjoying what was the tail end of a 31-hour train ride from Chengdu to Liuzhou. I was hungry too. Two bowls of Kang Shifu noodles just don't seem to do the trick like Top Ramen does. I made my way out of the train station, dreary-eyed from the night of sleepless Chinese train riding. I needed to get to Guilin, where I could find an easy, and cheap, ride to nearby Yangshuo. I take one step out on the water-soaked pavement, and immediately am confronted by ten toats dying to take me there.

"50 kuai." Not unreasonable, but the car had better be nice. I agree to go, but before we are off, my man decides to look for an extra fare. No luck. In the ensuing confusion, I am completely lost as he begins chatting with the other driviers. "Shenme? Shenme! What did you say?" Apparently he now wants me to go to the bus station, at least I think that is what he's going for with his flailing hand motions. He points to a small three-wheel, open-air rickshaw, complete with what I can only assume is a motor. Sadly though, no driver. He tells me to jump in, and for 5 yuan, a quick jump to the bus station. No sooner than I am in, he is off. I'm praying he is looking for a driver.

Yes, yes he was. Liu Ming looked to be about 60 or so, though it can get hard to tell around her with more than one weather-beaten face about. He looked to be in solid form as I saw his head bouncing over the red roofs of the other rickshaws. Looks can be deceiving. He rounded the front wheel of my 'shaw, and to my surprise, something was missing. Like his leg.

Yes, Old Ming wasn't quite a full man, but he sure was jolly. And man could he drive. We were soon off, diving in and out of buses, an occasional tractor, and of course, pedestrians. Ming was strong. Ming was fast. And before I could wipe the silly grin off my face, we were there. I thanked my new friend and jumped on the bus. A 2-hour bus ride and I was in Guilin. By this time it was nearly 7:30 at night, and a thock blanket of black coated all the buildings, and most disappointingly, the unworldly peaks that dot Guangxi province's landscape.

A woman who tried to talk to me on the bus, and I emphasize tried, understood that I wanted to go to Yangshuo. Somewhere in the conversation, she said she would help me find a driver. And again, my second driver of the day was found. We'll call him Bill. Bill and I, backpacks in hand, make are way through the brightly neon-lit bus station to his vehicle. I'm greeted first by a loud cheer of "Waiguoren!" from the other drivers as we reach his parking spot. And there it was, shining like a green gem of hope in the pulsating purple and blue light. Bill's motorcycle.

He hands me a helmet.

I'm not sure if two people are supposed to ride this thing, but we did, oversized backpacks as well. We first are slow, dodging through a bustling Guilin night market. As is the theme today with transportation, I have another stupid grin on my face, and every diner in the place can see, grinning jokingly back. Their smiles have a distinctly different feel to them than mine, like they know something I don't. Soon though, we escape. Escape into the darkness.

The road from Guilin to Yangshuo is wide and dark. The southern climate has cast a thick haze over the land, and in the black of night, has made seeing anything past the single headlight impossible. We are going faster now. Maybe too fast. 80 kph is a good click on a motorcycle, especially one that saw its prime years during the Great Leap Forward. It shakes violently at every bump, my legs already numb from the vibration. I still can't stop smiling though.

My driver chirps at me. "Zhuyi Anquan!" Mind your safety! I think to myself, "Mind my safety? You mind my safety, you're driving this junk!" "Anquan Di Yi! Safety First! Ok Bill, whatever you say. I look down at the whizzing road, bad idea. All I can think of is a single hard bump sending me to certain doom. My helment, now floating effortlessly like a cloud on top of my head, fastened only by a loose thread under my chin, will be enough though. "Right, Bill?"

For all its touristy appeal, the area seems to be completely dead. Just the long road in front, lined with perfect rows of planted trees, their trunks now whitewashed for protection. Behind us, pure and utter darkness. A few yellow lines break into view as the lone light on our frontside shines the way forward. I was nowhere. No distinguishing features to guide my bearings, no people around to connect with. Just Bill and I. Positively and completely, nowhere.

Something though, was breaking through the black ahead. It was enormous, its figure subtly illuminated by the moon overhead. Fast too, as fast as my Great Leap motorcycle. But bigger, much bigger. And then it broke through. Guilin's karst peaks, one sitting lonely in the dark. Like a fallen god, it glowed in the darkness, now its only domain a small stretch of nowhere highway.

And in a blink, it was gone again. Back up to its rightful place in the night sky. Something new was coming though. This time from behind. Lights illuminate the bike, and I know immediately this too is something big. A bus, doing at least 130, decides to test its steering by coming within mere inches of our tail, then darting violently to the left to pass. It next checks its brakes, slowing to a crawl directly in front, Bill now sweating with anger. The bus driver punches it, engulfing us in a cloud of black smog. The beast tears forward, again chancing its luck between two dump trucks. All I could think of were the Chinese tourists inside, oohing and awwing and the nowhere sights of a nowhere place on a nowhere road.

It was black again. We continued to tear down the road, ass numb from Soviet-era cushioning and engine drawl. Behind, still darkness. Forward, a thin beam of glowing light cutting the fog ahead. To the side though, orange. Little specks of orange begin dotting the roadside, a sort of glowing sideline for our path. Youzi. Everwhere. Youzis are large, grapefruit-like fruits that, while delicious, seem to also glow in the depth of night. A smell of citrus cuts the air, a pleasant disattraction from my bus smogged jacket.

Another fallen god looms ahead in the darkness. It has a few partners this time. A graveyard of collapsed deities, their immensity cuts ever so slightly through the black haze. Welcome to Yangshuo.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How to Become a Sichuan Legend

Or more appropriately, "How Chengdu Robbed My Tastebuds." But before I get to that, a quick run down of the rest of my day. I woke up early around 6:45 to catch a tour to the nearby Giant Panda Research Center. Man, those guys are cute! We left early in order to catch them during their feeding time, when they are most likely to be awake and not curled up under some tree. We first caught a glimpse of the larger Giant pandas before heading to the baby panda facility. Here, the worker/scientist brought out 7 babies just to pose for the gawking tourists (myself included). She propped them up on chairs and teeter-totters, and the Chinese tourists squealed with joy. I tried to contain myself by squealing on the inside...

The baby pandas were followed up by the panda foxes, or red pandas. Adorable of course, the little guys just darted around their grounds, stopping every once in a while to strike a pose for our cameras. While I was thoroughly content with what I had seen and ready to head back into Chengdu, the guides had one last surprise for us. Warning: Content Unsuitable for Minors to Follow. We were huddled into a small film room. As the lights dimmed and the screen began to glow, I knew we were in for something special... A 20-minute video on the intricacies of Artificial Panda Insemination. Oh yes, not just any video, perhaps the most graphic and gut-wrenching video I've ever seen. Trust me, if you ever get to Chengdu for the pandas, just skip this part.

Run by the hostel, the tour group was a young Belgian dude, a Canadian girl now teaching in Shanghai, and two couples from who knows where. The Belgian kid and I swapped some travel ideas, and I may be headed further south per his recommendations. The afternoon was spent with a visit to nearby Wenshu Temple, accompanied by Barney's pal Ye Ho Chen and some of her classmates. We just walked around the temple and the nearby market street, during which they explained alot about different Chinese religious practices (it was a Buddhist temple) and Chengdu-specific traditions. Her father also offered to help me out with some travel plans, and I will most likely take him up on the offer. Overall, it was a great time, and I will probably meet up with the family before my departure.

Now for the Interesting Part

I arrived back at my hostel around 6pm, desperately in need of some nourishment. I decided to catch a cab to a nearby shopping district, knowing that I could find something to dine on. As the fates would have it, no such luck, and I resigned myself to defeat, heading back to the hostel area. Now 9pm, I was desperate. Collapsing from starvation, I roamed aimlessly around the neighborhood. And there it was, my salvation. A Sichuan Hot Pot restaurant! A brief introduction to Hot Pot. Hot Pot dining consists of ordering several small dishes, whether it be meat, tofu, or veggies, all accompanied by a giant bowl of water set over an open flame directly on your table. You place each piece of food into the boiling water, give it a few minutes to cook, and then enjoy. Think fondue with water and chopsticks.

Immediately upon entering, every waiter and waitress stopped. A lone diner, already rare at hot pot as it is meant for a group, was already intriguing enough. A lone foreigner diner, now that was something. When I sat down, the host, not knowing I knew any Chinese, began acting out the different options. How do you act out cabbage? Yeah, he's got talent. After he realized I could understand, he promptly asked me the only question of importance in Sichuan:

La bu La?

Hot or not? Being a lover of Sichuan spice (the only real reason I came to Chengdu), of course I ordered hot. The man beamed with joy. Running of with gleaming eyes and a deep grin directed at every waitress in the house, his excitement had me worried. And for good reason. I had just ordered Mala Hot Pot. Now hot pot in all other parts of China, and Los Angeles for that matter, has two options. Normal boiling water, devoid of flavor, or a slightly spicier version in which a little pepper is dropped in. In Sichuan, not the case. Picture this: a giant metal bowl, filled with giant red peppers, hua jiao (a mouth-numbing peppercorn, special to Sichuan food), chili oil, and flaming hot water. Basically, a giant bowl of red. When brought to the table, the entire restaurant of 30 or so staff members stared on, giggling amongst themselves, waiting to see what the foreigner did next. And what did I do? I ate! To there utter astonishment, I enjoyed every bit of it, not even breaking a sweat. While I won't lie, it was the hottest thing I have ever eaten, I choked down what I could until my tongue was so thoroughly shot, no spice from then on could do any more damage. It was all made much worse by the fact that I had only ordered hot tea, not the regular beer, to accompany my meal.

Towards the end of the feast, a waitress came up to serve more tea. I took the opportunity to ask how to say "hua jiao," the little peppercorn thing. She on the other hand took the opportunity to ask if I thought the dish was spicy. Dangran! Of course! She then simply said I was "hen lihai," or formidable, a common compliment around here. Apparently, a small bowl of oil they had given me early on was meant to be used as a rinsing bowl to take off some of the peppers and spice. She said that everybody in the restaurant was amazed because I hadn't used it once. Not even the Sichuan people eat Mala hot pot without it. Little did she know, I simply didn't know what it was.

I capped off the meal with a vase of orange juice. Yes, a vase of OJ. Fresh-squeezed, I watched them do it. A victory juice if you will. And that is how I became a Sichuan Legend. Not for my mind, my strength, or my utter lack of self-restraint. But because of my spicy New Mexican heritage. Thank you red chile enchiladas for bridging the US-China gap.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Steamed Bun Revolution

Peter Winter, USC Center on Public Diplomacy
Wang Jian, China International Culture Exchange Center

Link to Original Article


In December 2005, famed Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige's latest work "The Promise" opened to tepid reviews from his fellow countrymen. With production costs exceeding $35 million, the film failed to capture the hearts of a traditionally accepting audience. While Chinese have come to expect sub-par films in the past, a more market-driven movie industry seemed to have promise, just not the Promise.

Such a film would expect to be lambasted in the international market, but within China, public criticism of ones personal work, especially that of a nationally celebrated director, is nearly unheard of. The rule is simple: donҒt rock the boat -- or more closely, the yacht -- of a prestigious public figure.

Thus, we have "The Bloody Case that Started from a Steamed Bun," or rather the case of the "The Case." When small-time blogger Hu Ge made a satirical net video ridiculing the mythical epic, he never expected the sudden national attention he received, or the legal repercussions of his little spoof.

Outraged by such "defamation of character," Chen decided to take personal action against Hu. "We have determined to sue and solve the problem completely," said Chen to the Xinhua Daily on February 14. "He has lost any sense of morality."

Chen further scorned Hu: "I think human beings could never be that cheeky." Yet the internet short continued to flood cyberspace, and soon a large public following came to Hus defense.

As the People's Daily reported on February 17, internet users criticized the internationally-acclaimed director as narrow-minded. Chen's ex-wife even chimed in: "He is too petty-minded to tolerate a little bun." Hu's widespread and web-based support eventually forced Chen to drop the lawsuit.

This is China's new revolution. This sticky bun situation is the first manifestation of a new public unity now developing among China's citizens. Called "E-Gao," the term was imported from Taiwan and literally means "to fiercely criticize" in Mandarin. E-Gao was first used to slyly mock the politicians and ironic dealings of the Chen administration, but has been adopted by modern netizens to describe their own criticisms.

Netizens across the country are turning to weblogs, podcasts, and YouTube-style videos to get their voices heard, all with a sarcastic twist aimed at challenging some cultural taboo. From late Communist heroes to current hot issues, E-Gao webfiles continue to confront "forbidden" topics everyday. Average Chinese have for the first time criticized corruption, lagging education, public housing laws and even copyright infringement in a public arena.

Now the people are gathering to tackle that one "socially unacceptable" practice in China: government dissention. It has proved to be the starting point of a true grassroots movement. The purpose of grassroots culture is to bolster opposing views of the current political administration and elite culture. For China, these developments have proved next to impossible. Not since MaoҒs movement in the late 1940s has a true peoples movement been able to gather steam.

Now with the internet connecting people from the city to the countryside, Chinese citizens have finally found their voice. The internet is a free arena for these netizens to use their peculiar E-Gao methods to explore, criticize, condemn, or simply discuss underground or sensitive cultural topics. Different from the past, Chinese netizens are now unwilling to accept the things elite culture and government officials feed them. They put out their own opinions and evaluate and challenge traditional attitudes.

Exemplary of these changing attitudes is the E-Gao version of Mao Zedong's famous quote "Serve for the People," modified by the entertainment business to be "Serve for the Joy of the People." Conservative leaders see the quip as an attempt to blacken the Communist leaderҒs name, and definitely during the Cultural Revolution, such "arrogance" would be worthy of reeducation. But times have changed. Informatization and globalization have provided the Chinese netizen with a new method of challenging the system, with a healthy support team of millions of others now online.

The tide of netizens and E-Gao culture is now the characteristic of the online world in China, and demonstrates an entirely new level of social responsibility and participation taken on by a growing number of citizens. Through their imagination and creativity, these are the pioneers of a new age, and they are now shaping the future of an open society.

Even more astonishing, these pioneers are looking to their own history for inspiration. Written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, China's four great novels (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, All Men are Brothers, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Mansions) all confronted explosive cultural and political issues in their time. Fearing retribution from those in power, Ming and Qing authors used fairy tales and legends of previous dynasties to indirectly express their "subversive" messages. Now the E-Gao netizen looks to these authors and their stories to challenge their society. Such is the gift of ancient Chinese wisdom.

So score one for the people. China is changing, or at least its citizens are. The country has found a new way to challenge tradition and buck the status-quo. The internet has now become a point of national unification, a place where those seeking to change their country can gather and plan. Take it as the modern day Yan'an, where Communist forces planned their uprising. Perhaps this is a nation whose next great revolution is just a click away.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Stuck on the Holiest Mountain in China...

But no worries, I’m fine!

As you know, this past week was a national holiday in China, which meant it was time for some traveling. A group of us had planned to go north to Chengde, but a last minute decision sent us south to visit Tai Shan, one of the five Holy Peaks of China. Nearby is the hometown of Confucius himself, and nearly half of all Chinese myths relate back to this mountain, so it’s definitely a popular destination.

We started heading south last Monday, arriving in the port city of Tianjin that evening. An interesting place, the city was previously the primary Chinese port for several European countries, which resulted in nearly half the city looking identical to London, Berlin, even Rome. Yet judging by the peoples’ reactions toward foreigners, you’d never know it. My friend Clint (from Notre Dame) and I stand out among our group of 5, as we are both blonde hair, blue-eyed whiteys. In Tianjin, this meant a lot of staring. As we jumped on a train to head further south the next day, Clint and I fell back from our group as we rushed tried to rush through the ticket checkpoint. After we were through, we looked back toward the waiting area, and were immediately met by around 60 wide-eyed, mouth-dropped faces. This city is only an hour south of Beijing, so needless to say we were a bit amazed by the situation.

We landed later that night in Ji’nan, the capital city of Shandong province, where Tai Shan is located. Though this was not before yet another awesome experience. On the train, sitting beside my friend David (Univ. of Texas), was a young woman. But not just any I must say. This particular girl had decided to coat her entire face in pure white power (like a clown), intense blue eye shadow (like a hooker?), and wear tie-die stocking (again, like a clown). Better yet, she decided to get drunk on the train, which resulted in her throwing sausages, yes sausages, at Clint and other passengers. Luckily, before she had time to pull out her 3 dead fish, yes fish, a guy near us began screaming at her. He too had been hit by a sausage…

After a bus to Tai Shan, we grabbed a room at a fairly questionable hotel, though there wasn’t much choice as most are closed to foreigners. The only reason we got this one is because we could show our student IDs. After a lunch fit for Zeus himself (90 dumplings for 4!), we were ready to hit the mountain!

The mountain trail is roughly a 5-mile staircase that leads up almost 6000 ft, with tea shops and store fronts dotting the way every quarter-mile or so. We decided to catch a bus and gondola ride up to the halfway point and climb the rest. As we were ill-informed, the gondola actually took us to the top. At the summit, the views are absolutely incredible, though the entire mountain was shrouded in a fairly thick fog. A small town has sprung up at the top, complete with a 3-star hotel (which is impressive in China). We explored the area for the next few hours. The most notable aspect of the mountain is the multitude of ancient poems etched into the cliff sides. A few thousand years ago, a famous poet etched an idiom on the summit (see pictures), and ancient philosophers continued the trend. Though most of the originals are long gone, most have been re-etched and coated in a blazing red paint.

Now here it gets interesting. As the sun fell lower and the air grew colder, we knew it was about time to get down. As luck would have it, the gondola stopped running half an hour ago, along with the buses at midway point. What’s that mean? A final meal at the swanky hotel and a 4-hour hike to the bottom at night!!! Honestly, it was incredible. With only torch lights dotting the path, we hiked down the 5-mile staircase. Yet much to our surprise, we were the only ones going down!! Literally hundreds of people were making their way to the top to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. So we are not as daring as we thought. But hey, being trapped on top of China’s Holiest Peak at night, with nowhere to go but down, is a decent story (I’ll just leave out the “other people” part in future retellings).

And so I’m back safely. Classes start back up tomorrow, and the daily grind begins again. No more breaks for the semester, so I’m starting the long haul after only 3 weeks of class.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Microcosm of Misinformation

On the way back to Los Angeles from sunny Santa Barbara yesterday, our scheduled Amtrak Surfliner on its way North hit a passenger car, canceling all of the afternoon's trains from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The first available train, scheduled to arrive at 4:30 p.m., would be forced to absorb all of the previous trains' 300 passengers: the wine lovers, the bike punks, the backpackers, the Zoo-going families and the sun-burned college students.

Perhaps I was too sun-burnt myself or just too much of a nerd to take it all for what it was, a delay in my plans, but when things of this nature usually happen, I quickly switch into anthropologist-mode, observing the individual reactions to this communal inconvenience. I believe that what I found can be viewed as a microcosm of misinformation, one that, although on a small scale, reflects what is wrong with the America these days.

The first available Southbound train was scheduled to pull into Santa Barbara at 4:30 p.m. Hearing this, some passengers left to hit up the local bar before boarding, while others clung to the pavement as close to the tracks as possible. Even though 4:30 p.m. was a solid 45 minutes away, some people insisted on standing where they imagined the doors would be some 45 minutes later. These waiters defended their territory with fierceness, elbowing each other to stand in the space just behind the yellow line.

Others sprawled themselves in the grass with everything from the L.A. Times to Cosmopolitan to their clients' account information, crowding into the four square feet of shade at the far end of the platform. Still others cozied up to each other, making unlikely friends, showing each other their poorly planned tattoos from the weekend, or popping the cork on a bottle of that wine they brought down from the valley.

When an announcement came that the train would be delayed once more until 6:30 p.m., reactions were varied, though all shades of annoyance. One woman told her whining sons that only God knew when the train would come, while others mumbled that not even God knew when Amtrak would get itself together. The waiters stayed put, content to know that even if it meant two hours of discomfort without the blessing of God, they would be the first ones on.

Word of the delay spread quickly, inefficiently and inaccurately, like a lot of the breaking news the American press covers. By the time it reached me, out on the grassy knoll, the train was coming at 7:30 p.m. at the earliest, and only for business class passengers.

Some skeptics ambled over to the Amtrak ticket window to wait to hear the official prognosis themselves. Even if it meant an hour or more in a stand-still line, some people had to hear it from the station's mock government. The official view, although also wrong by about 45 minutes, was solace even for the most relaxed of people, although they then cursed out the stationmaster. “I’d just trying to help,” she would repeat, as the complaintants were brought before her one by one.

On the other hand, God’s people preferred to have no earthly interference in when their train would come. No matter who you looked to, trusting your neighbors was so five hours ago.

At 6:30 p.m., another announcement boomed over the veritable refugee camp, declaring that everyone's ticket was no longer valid, that all passengers would have to stand in line to receive a boarding pass. The delicate bonds of friendship disintegrated as people pushed to the front of the line, throwing handbags, toddlers, dogs and even wheelchair-bound spouses ahead of them. Elbowing and shoving, no one seemed to realize that no matter when you got your boarding pass, the train wasn't here yet. My mind flashed to Social Security, circa 20 years from now.

At the back of the line, people strained to see what was going on. What did the boarding pass look like? Could we make ones for ourselves? Others despaired, Katrina-style: "Where is Amtrak for us now?" Still others defended their right to cut in front of everyone--"I am _______," (“______” could be whatever advantageous minority group you were part of: single mother, disabled, old, obese, hypertensive, ugly etc.).

One middle aged man, after receiving his boarding pass, voluntarily joined the back of the line once more to give the news to those still waiting. "They only have about 50 boarding passes," he said authoritatively, his bad teeth showing through his knowing glee, "Once they run out, you'll all be stuck here. No one without one of those 50 passes will get on the train."

Unsurprisingly, a mass panic ensued. The line to ask the stationmaster the same question swelled to another 100 people, and a cluster of passengers gathered around the man, asking him frantically how many passes he thought were left now, and did it matter if they had children/dogs/disabilities/AARP discounts etc.? Notably, not one of these inquirers bothered to ask how he knew this.

The panic reached its height, and the stationmaster was forced to stop issuing boarding passes (delaying the process further) to address the crowd's concern. "We have unlimited boarding passes for all of those carrying tickets," she said. "There is no danger of running out of boarding passes."

“That’s what she wants you to think,” someone yelled. “We’re never going to get out of here!” someone else offered. The anxiety tripled as news of people stealing each other’s boarding passes, (a la the Superdome) spread to the back of the line.

The man shrank back into the shadows, but not before justifying his claim with a "I was just trying to help. I hope that’s true."

As another hour passed and darkness fell, the camp once again settled down. Books came out, and snacks, and some small-scale sharing occurred. Peace had come to the boarding- pass-owners and boarding pass-less alike.

We heard the train before we saw it. Parents who had let their children play toward the end of the platform grabbed everything they owned and pushed to the yellow line. The waiters, who had by now stood in their spots for 5 hours, were flung this way and that as everyone else elbowed their way onto a train that was already at half-capacity from the Goleta station stop. It no longer mattered who you were or what you had, you threw yourself into the car and you pushed your new friends aside. When everyone was seated, the train pulled away, leaving no one standing, boarding-pass-less, at the station. All seemed quiet, peaceful even, as Santa Barbara melted into the horizon. Until someone said, “I’m just trying to help—but did you think of getting your refund yet? I heard its only for the first 50 people in business class.” The answer, from all 600 passengers, was deafening.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Slice of Wisdom for Midterm Voters

"Amateurs should not be discredited or discounted. After all, Noah was an amateur ark builder, but the designer of the Titanic was a pro."
-John Dreher,
Department of Philosophy,
University of Southern California

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ned or Joe, Why Everyone Won Connecticut's Primary

To war or not to war? That appeared to be the Democratic Party's question, at least in the August 8 Connecticut primary between incumbent Joseph Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont.

One week later, the celebratory confetti finished falling in Greenwich, and the Republican phone calls are more infrequent in New Haven. CNN's anchors have already gone to work tempering some of the more outrageous, passionate and wild coverage they broadcast last week, including Lou Dobbs' lambast of a Republican campaigner who didn't fully endorse Connecticut's Republican candidate over Joe.

Vacuums in hand, Democrats can now go to work inspecting the confetti carpet of their party more closely; and discover that confetti it is. Today's Democratic party has as many flecks of different views as it did in the pre-Civil Rights era. But, contrary to my gut reaction, I don't believe that is a bad thing.

The two party system has simplified complicated issues to the point that in order to be anti-war, you also have to be pro-choice; in order to be pro-stem cell research, you also have to be pro-Social Security. While these couplings may apply to most, they don't apply to some, and the two party polarity doesn't serve the people as it should. I applaud Joe Lieberman for taking a stand on the Iraq War that didn't toe the party line. I also applaud the people of Connecticut for refusing to buy it.

Whether you are for or against the Iraq War, it must be acknowledged that it has cost America billions of dollars and thousands of young lives. The apathy that surrounds most primary elections, and most elections in general, is unacceptable at any time. Yet it is especially unacceptable during war time, when your choice of candidate could mean the difference between Barnard and Baghdad for your neighbor's kid, or the difference between diplomacy and disaster for your entire country. In short, the Iraq War became the central focus of Connecticut's primary race between two otherwise similar candidates, and we all couldn't be happier.

Connecticut became a shining example of how increased awareness of the fiscal and physical cost of war by American citizens. Whether you voted for Joe or Ned, everyone won Connecticut's primary because everyone suddenly cared. Passionate, informed citizens ultimately brought peace to Vietnam, and we could do the same in Iraq if we chose. Voting for someone who feels the same way you do about the Iraq War isn't partisan politics, its voting with your conscience.

Connecticut's primary stood out as a time for individual candidates to define themselves and their values by more than just their affiliation, and for individual citizens to do the same. The Iraq War is the most important issue facing our nation right now, and the more people who care enough to campaign, run, vote and stay informed on either side, the better.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Foreign Policy & Instincts

I recently received the following essay by email. It seems that it has been circulating throughout much of the country, hopping from one family to the next. I wrote this response article because I am greatly distressed by the thoughts and ideas it puts forward, with hardly any justification or evidence. Dr. Chong’s experience should be commended, and his contributions to the nation’s military have made our country a better place. Yet I simply cannot agree with the rather brutal and overstated conclusions that his essay puts forward. I hope that all readers consider both sides of the argument, taking from it as they see fit. Political discussion should be exactly that, a dialogue in which both sides can consider new information, and evolve their positions through a more mutual exchange. LISTEN to all sides, holding no predispositions, and then make your judgments.

Before delving into the article, a pre-reading about instincts and politics, a dangerous mix when confronting terrorism:

Blue is my writing, Black is not.

This WAR is for REAL!
Dr. Vernon Chong, Major General, USAF, Retired

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
To get out of a difficulty, one usually must go through it. Our country is
now facing the most serious threat to its existence, as we know it, that we
have faced in your lifetime and mine (which includes WWII).

The deadly seriousness is greatly compounded by the fact that there are very
few of us who think we can possibly lose this war and even fewer who
realize what losing really means.

First, let's examine a few basics:

1. When did the threat to us start?

Many will say September 11, 2001.
The answer as far as the United States is concerned is 1979, 22 years prior
to September 2001, with the following attacks on us:

* Iran Embassy Hostages, 1979;
* Beirut, Lebanon Embassy 1983;
* Beirut, Lebanon Marine Barracks 1983;
* Lockerbie, Scotland Pan-Am flight to New York 1988;
* First New York World Trade Center attack 1993;
* Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Khobar Towers Military complex 1996;
* Nairobi, Kenya US Embassy 1998;
* Dares Salaam, Tanzania US Embassy 1998;
* Aden, Yemen USS Cole 2000;
* New York World Trade Center 2001;
* Pentagon 2001.

Not quite. ’79 may have been the first blatant act of terrorism, but it was hardly the starting point. The statement here makes it sound like the US Embassy was simply attacked with absolutely no provocation or reason.

Taken directly from the Jimmy Carter Library Online:

“Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, began his reign in 1941, succeeding his father, Reza Khan, to the throne. In a 1953 power struggle with his prime minister, the Shah gained American support to prevent nationalization of Iran's oil industry. In return for assuring the U.S. a steady supply of oil, the Shah received economic and military aid from eight American presidents.”

“Early in the 1960s, the Shah announced social and economic reforms but refused to grant broad political freedom. Iranian nationalists condemned his U.S. supported regime and his "westernizing" of Iran. During rioting in 1963, the Shah cracked down, suppressing his opposition. Among those arrested and exiled was a popular religious nationalist and bitter foe of the United States, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.”

“Between 1963 and 1979, the Shah spent billions of oil dollars on military weapons. The real price of military strength was the loss of popular support. Unable to sustain economic progress and unwilling to expand democratic freedoms, the Shah's regime collapsed in revolution. On January 16, 1979, the Shah fled Iran, never to return.”

“The exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran in February 1979 and whipped popular discontent into rabid anti-Americanism. When the Shah came to America for cancer treatment in October, the Ayatollah incited Iranian militants to attack the U.S. On November 4, the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and its employees taken captive. The hostage crisis had begun.”

I’m definitely not saying the hostage event was justified. No person could. But you do have to take into consideration the opposition’s perspective. Here they are being completely suppressed politically by a US-supported regime, with the US supplying long-term military aid simply to maintain a steady supply of oil. With the Shah catering only to the acquisition of military weapons, and overlooking his popular support and economic progress, opposition would be the first thing to brew. Even if the US had very little to do with the Shah’s policies or behavior, of course it is going bring condemnation if the US looks even the slightest behind it all.

(Note that during the period from 1981 to 2001 there were 7,581 terrorist
attacks worldwide).

2. Why were we attacked?

Envy of our position, our success, and our freedoms. The attacks happened
during the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and
Bush 2. We cannot fault either the Republicans or Democrats as there were
no provocations by any of the presidents or their immediate predecessors,
Presidents Ford or Carter.

No provocations by any President? Are you kidding? We tangled our way into Middle Eastern affairs throughout this century. It is completely acceptable to involve ourselves in the affairs of other countries, especially if our actions are for the benefit of all involved. But it is just not plausible to take a side in conflict and not bring some opposition into the mix. A brief list (note that I am not say each one is worthy of the backlash the US is now receiving, rather that they are all pieces of a growing wealth of issues). These are only thoughts on events I know a bit about, there are far more that others can claim as major turning points.

  1. Continued support of Israel – With most Muslim nations’ governments believing it should be “wiped from the face of the Earth,” how can our support for the country not bring opposition? I fully believe that Israel has every right to exist, and that our initial support was well warranted and honorable. But you must see the simple fact that if we support something other people don’t like, they probably won’t like us.
    1. This goes even further with current events. Israel is acting completely belligerent toward Lebanon at the moment. Yes, they have every right to defend themselves, but does the kidnapping of one soldier warrant the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians? Now I won’t speak about Israel’s reasons for their actions, because I do not know enough about it (which is OK to say at times people), but if the country is holding thousands of Lebanese citizens, be them soldiers, Hezbollah, whoever, and they act this disproportionately when 1 of theirs is taken, and you have the US, the world Hegemon, right behind them the whole time, yeah, that’s going to make some people angry.
  2. Israeli Nukes – The US overlooks that they are clearly breaking the Non-Proliferation Treaty, yet brings the world down on Iran for nuclear programs. How can anybody see this as fair? Oh, because if they are our allies, it’s alright.
  3. Iran-Contra Affair – Has playing both sides ever really worked or been beneficial? Yes it can, if we are serving as mediators in conflict, not as weapons suppliers to only continue the battle.
  4. Iraq, Both Times – I think the US did some fine work in the first Gulf War, accomplished our mission fast and without meandering. But it did indeed set a standard. We sell Hussein weapons, he acts out, and we bomb Hussein. The second time, we have an administration blatantly alter intelligence (which is well documented, this is not my opinion), and go in to take Hussein completely out with force. I’m not going to even comment on the problems with Iraq, because others have done so plenty, but to think that we can go across the world, and basically try to make a colony of the US, and not invite resentment or backlash, all the while based on a false pretense, would be quite the misjudgment.

I think there are plenty of times when a forceful response is appropriate, and I would be the last to say that there aren’t times when it is completely necessary to get our nation’s hands dirty. Was the atomic bomb necessary to end WWII? I completely understand the argument for its use. But to expect that our actions won’t be met with repercussions is outlandish.

3. Who were the attackers?
In each case, the attacks on the US were carried out by Muslims.

4. What is the Muslim population of the World?

There is no way that you could write this, and believe that you didn’t just call all Muslims terrorists.

5. Isn't the Muslim Religion peaceful?

Hopefully, but that is really not material. There is no doubt that the
predominately Christian population of Germany was peaceful, but under the
dictatorial leadership of Hitler (who was also Christian), that made no
difference. You either went along with the administration or you were
eliminated. There were 5 to 6 million Christians killed by the Nazis for
political reasons (including 7,000 Polish priests).

And with this comment, he just said that it doesn’t matter what religion it is, all have the ability to kill.

Thus, almost the same number of Christians were killed by the Nazis, as the
six million holocaust Jews who were killed by them, and we seldom heard of
anything other than the Jewish atrocities. Although Hitler kept the world
focused on the Jews, he had no hesitancy about killing anyone who got in his
way of exterminating the Jews or of taking over the world - German,
Christian or any others.

Same with the Muslim terrorists. They focus the world on the US, but kill
all in the way -- their own people or the Spanish, French or anyone else.
The point here is that just like the peaceful Germans were of no protection
to anyone from the Nazis, no matter how many peaceful Muslims there may be,
they are no protection for us from the terrorist Muslim leaders and what
they are fanatically bent on doing -- by their own pronouncements -- killing
all of us "infidels." I don't blame the peaceful Muslims. What would you
do if the choice was shut up or die?

You actually think that they focus all attention on the US? Every country in the world, save a few rare Middle Eastern ones, absolutely condemned 9/11. But you are right, Muslim terrorists do have a nasty tendency to bring out the US’s hypocrisies. But that’s the best part, they are teaching us what to change. Some of their “suggestions” are definitely insane, and never should we simply cater to their desires, but it does offer an opportunity to rectify our misdoings. Fathom that, your biggest enemy telling you exactly where your weaknesses are? Imagine the power you could wield with that sort of information…

6. So who are we at war with?

There is no way we can honestly respond that it is anyone other than the
Muslim terrorists. Trying to be politically correct and avoid verbalizing
this conclusion can well be fatal. There is no way to win if you don't
clearly recognize and articulate who you are fighting.

You are right, can’t deny that. But what about the homebrew terrorists? Something turned the English bus bomber away from his country, and it definitely wasn’t a flick of the switch.

So with that background, now to the two major questions:

1. Can we lose this war?

2. What does losing really mean?

If we are to win, we must clearly answer these two pivotal questions:

We can definitely lose this war, and as anomalous as it may sound, the major
reason we can lose is that so many of us simply do not fathom the answer to
the second question - What does losing mean?

It would appear that a great many of us think that losing the war means
hanging our heads, bringing the troops home and going on about our business,
like post-Vietnam. This is as far from the truth as one can get.

What losing really means is:

We would no longer be the premier country in the world. The attacks will
not subside, but rather will steadily increase. Remember, they want us
dead, not just quiet. If they had just wanted us quiet, they would not have
produced an increasing series of attacks against us, over the past 18 years.
The plan was, clearly, for terrorists to attack us until we were neutered
and submissive to them.

I’ll roll with this for a bit, yet he forgot to make any conclusions. Who would be that premier country then? From the writing, it definitely makes it sound like he thinks the Middle Eastern extremists will be the new world power. If anybody thinks that this is even a possibility in the near future, I hope that you will reconsider the current world economic & military situation. Not the most important, as terrorist attacks prove the world’s largest army is still vulnerable, but it does mean something regarding the “premier” status (as he put it) of the world’s countries.


1. USA - $ 12,360,000,000,000

2. Entire EU - $ 12,180,000,000,000

3. China - $ 8,859,000,000,000

4. Japan - $ 4,018,000,000,000

20. Iran - $ 560,700,000,000

27. Pakistan - $ 393,400,000,000

67. Syria - $ 72,330,000,000

107. Lebanon - $ 23,690,000,000

Military Expenditures

1. USA - $ 518,100,000,000

2. China - $ 81,470,000,000

3. France - $ 45,000,000,000

25. Iran - $ 4,300,000,000

26. Pakistan - $ 4,253,000,000

57. Syria - $ 858,000,000

71. Lebanon - $ 540,600,000

I want to make very clear that this is meant solely as financial indicators of a state’s hard power. To me, most important is our country’s soft power, which has been so incredibly degraded in the past five years by our willingness to only fight and not consider the views of others, that this is what we should be considering as our downfall. Bring back public diplomacy? I should think so.

We would, of course, have no future support from other nations, for fear of
reprisals and for the reason that they would see; we are impotent and cannot
help them.

I’m afraid that is not from people attacking us, it is from our attacks on other people. International support is already faltering, and definitely not because of 9/11, but because of our response to 9/11.

They will pick off the other non-Muslim nations, one at a time. It will be
increasingly easier for them. They already hold Spain hostage. It doesn't
matter whether it was right or wrong for Spain to withdraw its troops from
Iraq. Spain did it because the Muslim terrorists bombed their train and
told them to withdraw the troops. Anything else they want Spain to do will
be done. Spain is finished.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Spain didn’t pullout because of those attacks alone. Oh wait, I broke my own rule regarding pure instincts and foreign policy. Then here are some news reports:

The next will probably be France. Our one hope on France is that they might
see the light and realize that if we don't win, they are finished too, in
that they can't resist the Muslim terrorists without us. However, it may
already be too late for France. France is already 20% Muslim and fading

How is this not interpreted as saying “France is 20% terrorist and falling fast!” How many Muslims come to France seeking freedom and human rights? Further, the recent spat of violence can mostly be chalked up to some rather oppressive practices by the French government:,,1172382,00.html

If we lose the war, our production, income, exports and way of life will all
vanish as we know it. After losing, who would trade or deal with us if they
were threatened by the Muslims. If we can't stop the Muslim terrorists, how
could anyone else?

Gross overstatement. The idea that the US economy will simply cease to exist is a bit over the top. More importantly, if our economy just stopped, so would everybody else’s. Who buys all those cars from Japan, all the clothing from China? Who owns the major global companies, more importantly, who do they serve? Hardly any country could afford to cut business relations with the US without serious domestic economic repercussions.

The radical Muslims fully know what is riding on this war, and therefore are
completely committed to winning, at any cost. We better know it too and be
likewise committed to winning at any cost.

Why do I go on at such lengths about the results of losing? Simple. Until
we recognize the costs of losing, we cannot unite and really put 100% of our
thoughts and efforts into winning. And it is going to take that 100% effort
to win.

There is absolutely nothing to disagree with here. He is fully right that when we understand what is at stake, we can all work collectively to solve it. COLLECTIVELY. He said it himself. Work together and succeed, go alone and stumble.

So I say, US unilateralism is the greatest cause for current international resentment, so he is right. Waging a lonely War on Terror doesn’t work, so why did we think it was right in Iraq?

So, how can we lose the war?

Again, the answer is simple. We can lose the war by "imploding." That is,
defeating ourselves by refusing to recognize the enemy and their purpose,
and really digging in and lending full support to the war effort. If we are
united, there is no way that we can lose. If we continue to be divided,
there is no way that we can win!

You are talking about a divided America, which isn’t the problem. We have 125,000+ troops there, fighting there hardest, even though more people want the troops home than to be there:

But as he has been arguing the entire time, terrorism is a global problem. That is why we can’t be doing this alone. We need the support of other countries, and therefore should be understanding of the views of the world.

Let me give you a few examples of how we simply don't comprehend the life
and death seriousness of this situation.

President Bush selects Norman Mineta as Secretary of Transportation.
Although all of the terrorist attacks were committed by Muslim men between
17 and 40 years of age, Secretary Mineta refuses to allow profiling. Does
that sound like we are taking this thing seriously? This is war! For the
duration, we are going to have to give up some of the civil rights we have
become accustomed to. We had better be prepared to lose some of our civil
rights temporarily or we will most certainly lose all of them permanently.

Racial Profiling didn’t stop just because Norman Mineta didn’t like it. If you are saying that it doesn’t go on, that would be a drastic mistake. I would also be cautious about saying the US government, especially the Dept. of Transportation, is not taking terrorism seriously. Flown on a plane lately? Visited customs? Noticed that since 2001 there is a new agency dedicated solely to Homeland Security? How much money does each major city in the US get from the Federal Government every year? The country, it would seem, takes the threat of terrorism pretty seriously.

And don't worry that it is a slippery slope. We gave up plenty of civil
rights during WWII, and immediately restored them after the victory and in
fact added many more since then.

Do I blame President Bush or President Clinton before him?

No, I blame us for blithely assuming we can maintain all of our Political
Correctness, and all of our civil rights during this conflict and have a
clean, lawful, honorable war. None of those words apply to war. Get them
out of your head.

This is exactly the reason we should be mindful of our “cleanliness” in foreign policy. Re-read this statement, he just said that we need not be honorable, we must only win. Might makes right, correct? As noted earlier, “tweaking” intelligence on Iraq, I’m going to say is pretty shameful. I don’t want my people fighting because I had to fabricate information just to get them there.

If we had been cleaner before, we wouldn’t have to be dirtier now. As I noted above, I do believe a country has to fight at times. Stopping terrorism should be our goal, and that is truly a noble pursuit. But there must be justification! 9/11 was justification to up our terrorism-fighting efforts, and it is very important that we did. The government has already announced several foiled terror plots, and we are all safer for their efforts. But creating a false connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq just doesn’t count. It must be a just war, and that means basing it on a solid, truthful foundation. Deposing a brutal totalitarian such as Hussein is truly dignified, but playing as dirty as he does makes us equals.

He said up above that “they envy our position, our success, and our freedoms. If they abhor our freedom, why should we obligingly hand it over to them? Is that not their goal?

Some have gone so far in their criticism of the war and/or the
Administration that it almost seems they would literally like to see us
lose. I hasten to add that this isn't because they are disloyal. It is
because they just don't recognize what losing means. Nevertheless, that
conduct gives the impression to the enemy that we are divided and weakening.
It concerns our friends, and it does great damage to our cause.

You are right, there are people in the US that would like to see us lose. I am not one of those people. But the reason many feel this way is because they know we should have learned our lesson. America has always prided itself on fighting justly and for the greater good of the world’s people. Yet can we truly say we are doing that now? 9/11 tested our resolve and our fundamental beliefs as a free and open society. Yet is fighting a “dirty, unlawful, and dishonorable war,” exactly what he condoned in the paragraphs above, upholding these values?

Of more recent vintage, the uproar fueled by the politicians and media
regarding the treatment of some prisoners of war, perhaps exemplifies best
what I am saying. We have recently had an issue, involving the treatment of
a few Muslim prisoners of war, by a small group of our military police.
These are the type prisoners who just a few months ago were throwing their
own people off buildings, cutting off their hands, cutting out their tongues
and otherwise murdering their own people just for disagreeing with Saddam

And therefore we should do the same?

And just a few years ago these same type prisoners chemically killed 400,000
of their own people for the same reason. They are also the same type of
enemy fighters, who recently were burning Americans, and dragging their
charred corpses through the streets of Iraq. And still more recently, the
same type of enemy that was and is providing videos to all news sources
internationally, of the beheading of American prisoners they held.

He noted, “We have recently had an issue, involving the treatment of
a few Muslim prisoners of war, by a small group of our military police,” taking care to note that such acts were by a small group. Yet he just characterized all Iraqis as people who drag the “charred corpses” of Americans through the streets of Iraq. That my good sir, is not the majority, and our greatest fallacy is thinking that. I have a good friend that goes to school with me. She’s Iraqi. She has a full ride to my university. I strongly doubt she has any such intentions. The Iraqi citizens running helpless through the streets you see on the news every night are running because such things scare them, not because they want to take part in it.

Compare this with some of our press and politicians, who for several days
have thought and talked about nothing else but the "humiliating" of some
Muslim prisoners -- not burning them, not dragging their charred corpses
through the streets, not beheading them, but "humiliating" them.

Can this be for real?

Yes, of course it is real. Why? Because our country values the fair treatment of all people, recognizing that each person has the right to live a normal, peaceful life. If we want to be a superior society, we have to act like a superior society. We cannot just whine that because they do it, we should to.

The politicians and pundits have even talked of impeachment of the Secretary
of Defense. If this doesn't show the complete lack of comprehension and
understanding of the seriousness of the enemy we are fighting, the life and
death struggle we are in and the disastrous results of losing this war,
nothing can.

I think it shows more that an increasing number of people understand that our conduct in war should be above that of our enemies. He is right, we are fighting a war on terrorists, and that means people will get hurt. That is a sad fact, but very necessary. I fully understand this. Privacy will be violated at times, boundaries will be overstepped. But how can we hardly expect to progress as a nation if we keep going back and forth, taking away civil liberties, then giving them back, taking away, and giving back.

America was once the beacon of hope for countless citizens of the world. When we brought relief to Allies, we were heroes. When we opened our doors to immigrants around the globe, we were saviors. When brothers from the South cross our borders seeking a better life, we give them opportunity, and they in turn are a boon to our nation’s economy. We can again be that city upon the hill, but only if we are willing to stand up there.

To bring our country to a virtual political standstill over this prisoner
issue makes us look like Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burned -- totally
oblivious to what is going on in the real world. Neither we, nor any other
country, can survive this internal strife. Again I say, this does not mean
that some of our politicians or media people are disloyal. It simply means
that they are absolutely oblivious to the magnitude, of the situation we are
in and into which the Muslim terrorists have been pushing us, for many

Remember, the Muslim terrorists stated goal is to kill all infidels! That
translates into ALL non-Muslims -- not just in the United States, but
throughout the world. We are the last bastion of defense.

Bin Laden also recently said that the US and al-Qaeda could come to an agreement for peace if we undertook some rather overwhelming social changes. While I would never, ever say his declarations are correct, or should be considered as worthwhile, I invite you to simply read his recent “Letter to the American People.”,11581,845725,00.html

For one moment, let your disgust with the man slip away, and read what he says, just for one second. Then let your anger come back, it is yours do what you will with. But hopefully, just maybe, you will come away with a better understanding of al-Qaeda’s true feelings. Because who is being the ignorant party in the conflict we don’t even care to understand our opponents position?

As Sun Tzu said:

“And so in the military---

Knowing the other and knowing oneself,

In one hundred battles no danger.

Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,

One victory for one loss.

Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,

In every battle certain defeat.

A side note, Sun Tzu also said “One Hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Subduing the other’s military without battle is the most skillful.” Perhaps we should heed the advice of the ancients and make a triumphant return to diplomacy.

We have been criticized for many years as being 'arrogant.' That charge is
valid in at least one respect. We are arrogant in that we believe that we
are so good, powerful and smart, that we can win the hearts and minds of all
those who attack us, and that with both hands tied behind our back, we can
defeat anything bad in the world! We can't!

The charge is valid in another respect. How often do we listen? How many people in the US read Bin Laden’s letter?

Again, I’m not saying Bin Laden’s advice is worth considering, far from it. But should we know all angles? It simply serves to better our position, and make ours all the more worth fighting for.

If we don't recognize this, our nation as we know it will not survive, and
no other free country in the world will survive if we are defeated.

And finally, name any Muslim countries throughout the world that allow
freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of the
press, equal rights for anyone -- let alone everyone, equal status or any
status for women, or that have been productive in one single way that
contributes to the good of the world.

Well, he did say Spain has already fallen to Muslims, and France is just about there. Also, how many non-Muslim countries don’t provide many of these freedoms? I know one. Try the most populated country in the world.

This has been a long way of saying that we must be united on this war or we
will be equated in the history books to the self-inflicted fall of the Roman
. If, that is, the Muslim leaders will allow history books to be
written or read.

See earlier comments about world powers. Many people seem to think China is the next world power. I fully respect and am impressed by Chinese culture and people. I mean come on, it’s my major in school. But they don’t allow many of the freedoms we hold so dear in the US. They are doing pretty well economically and the military is growing every day. Yet why is no one worried that their influence will overtake our liberties? I certainly do not think this is a possibility, but it would seem much more likely than us all succumbing to radical Islam.

If we don't win this war right now, keep a close eye on how the Muslims take
over France in the next 5 years or less. They will continue to increase the
Muslim population of France and continue to encroach little by little, on
the established French traditions. The French will be fighting among
themselves, over what should or should not be done, which will continue to
weaken them and keep them from any united resolve.
Doesn't that sound eerily familiar?

Democracies don't have their freedoms taken away from them by some external
military force. Instead, they give their freedoms away, politically correct
piece by politically correct piece.

He just said that we should give them away at our own free will in order to fight a dishonorable war.

And they are giving those freedoms away to those who have shown, worldwide
that they abhor freedom and will not apply it to you or even to themselves,
once they are in power.

But we should apply it to ourselves.

They have universally shown that when they have taken over, they then start
brutally killing each other over who will be the few who control the masses.
Will we ever stop hearing from the politically correct, about the "peaceful

I need examples here. Maybe I am being arrogant, or just under-educated. So please tell me exactly where this has happened. And as he said, it’s universal, so there shouldn’t be even one contradiction.

OH Wait! I already found one! Turkey.

As the CIA World Factbook says, 99.8% Muslim. Oh no, and it’s a Republican Parliamentary Democracy.

I close on a hopeful note, by repeating what I said above. If we are
united, there is no way that we can lose. I hope now, after the election,
the factions in our country will begin to focus on the critical situation we
are in, and will unite to save our country It is your future we are talking
about! Do whatever you can to preserve it.

After reading the above, we all must do this not only for ourselves, but our
children, our grandchildren, our country and the world.
Whether Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal and that include the
Politicians and media of our country and the free world!

Please forward this to any you feel may want, or NEED to read it. Our
"leaders" in Congress ought to read it, too. There are those that find
fault with our country, but it is obvious to anyone who truly thinks through
this, that we must UNITE!

UNITE!! But Unite with the rest of the world too! What I urge above all is discussion, not criticism, but honest to goodness discussion. If you disagree, tell me PLEASE! Because when we convey ideas and new thoughts, we all learn. I ask that you always consider every angle to the utmost possibility and be open to changing your opinion. If someone can prove my thoughts wrong, I am happy to hear it and I will evolve my statements. That is what is most important in politics, and what is so severely lacking. Why can’t anyone ever change their position? Maybe they learned something new, maybe they became more intelligent. Partisanship hurts everyone, think for yourself from all the facts you can acquire. And before you question others, understand their positions as well as you know your own. Listen to others; I say that such a step alone could solve much of our problems.