By 2007, more web pages will be in Chinese than in any other language.    
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Friday, May 31, 2002


White is Purity, Futility and Death

Time Magazine Asia recently wrote profiles of Asian heroes , including a profile of A-Mei, (Music), a young female singer who was banned by the Chinese government when she sang at Taiwan's recent presidential inauguration. ""Tomorrow I want to sing red, the color of a cut when it first bleeds." she tells Time. "And after that, green, like wet grass."

Groove Asia has one of the smartest interfaces for describing the Asian pop world, including the Top 10 Songs by Category for Cantonese Songs , Mandarin Songs,Japanese Songs, Korean Songs and Asian-American Songs.

Perhaps it’s not useful for anything, but HKPOP Discussion Forums have a different category for each singer.

Liu Wen Zheng (music ) has some delightful carefree songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s. His singing style may be passé (viewing his picture reveals the era he comes from), but his songs are nostalgic and remind me of 1950's soft rock, Burt Bacharach or Neil Sedaka. It's music you're embarrassed to love.

A bit on technology. China has thrown its weight behind support for a new DVD standard not to mention a new standard for radiation on wireless telephones and its embrace of linux as the operating system for its government agencies. It’s interesting (but not surprising) that China exerts so much influence in the areas of DVD's, cellphones and computers when the market for all three of these items in China is currently so tiny.

Beijing Scene has a fascinating discussion of the symbolism of colors in Chinese culture. White (Bai) stands for purity but also futility and death. People regard themselves as "yanhuangzisun" ("descendants of the yellow emperor"). It traces back to emperor Pu Yi, who as a boy believed everything was yellow since he saw so much of it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002


Two Amazing Things

Yesterday I learned two amazing things about India and China.

First, although Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons and are frequently threatening one another, there is no "direct hotline" providing a direct telephone connection between the leaders. Perhaps that is not too terrible in this age of cell phones. During the Cold War between the US and the USSR, making an international telephone call was complicated and time-consuming. But now even Arafat can telephone the New York Times while under house arrest.

Second, I am rarely surprised by China's regulation of the Internet, but their May 16 regulations on cybercafes just seem ridiculous! According to the Gartner Group, all teenagers under 16 cannot visit a cybercafe unless accompanied by an adult. Also, no teenager under 16 can spend longer than three hours in a single session on the Internet in a cybercafe. Leaving aside the obvious political implications of this law, isn't the Chinese government's recent effort to encourage creative thinking in the schools hurt by limiting the ability of students to work on the web? Just look at the incidents of Chinese web developers and content creators who were arrested for using the Internet .


Boring Beauty, Interesting Ugliness

Manjula Padmanabhan is one of those silver-tongued Indian writers who can write about things ranging from the trivial to the profound with lovely grace. Her humorous essay on book reviewing tells the pitfalls of trying to complain to the book critic. “It doesn't matter what has been said in the review, how damaging, how unfair: an author who comes out with guns blazing in defence of his or her own work inevitably sounds like a brat insisting on applause for having scribbled on the bathroom mirror.”

Her essay on the folly of movies with live animals delivers a skewering analysis of animal films like ”Babe” and “101 Dalmations” and her critique of “Basic Instinct” is (unsurprisingly) not very flattering. Her piece on prana and computers describes the hidden forces that plague all human contraptions.

Two of her essays ponder the nature of beauty and ugliness arguing (perhaps facetiously) that ugliness is arbitrarily assigned and often a sign of individuality. The beautiful witch is rarely more interesting a character than the ugly witch, although humans find it hard to resist the charms of little creatures like pigeons or squirrels.

Bollywhat provides a good introduction to Indian film for Western audiences. Simple, small and well-written, the site gives you enough to get started. Its Bollywood FAQ section answers perennial questions like why don’t Hindi characters ever kiss? and What does it mean when people tug on their own ears? I enjoyed its introduction to Hindi music , which pretty much summarizes the basic facts about music directors, lyricists and playback singers. It also features interesting tales about the lives of Bollywood actors and how mob control of Bollywood pictures has led directors to treat Bollywood gangster characters with a “combination of sympathy and revulsion, one that will feel familiar to fans of Hollywood films by Martin Scorsese.” There is also a movie forum.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002


Rice Cooker News Service

Rice Cooker is probably the most informative English language site on Asia today. It contains links from all many major media sources, including Western media and English language media inside China. It includes links to book reviews, human rights reports and Chinese websites (my favorite, of course, is the official MacDonald's site of China).

Tuesday, May 14, 2002


We are All Minorities

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian-born Western-schooled UN official, novelist and critic. He has written several well-received books, including an excellent introduction to India and several novels. His thoughts about his home country are rich with insights; in his description of when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended political freedoms, he writes “Most of the real victims of the Emergency were amongst the poorest classes, the ones who, I came to realise, most needed the protection of democracy.” He also wrote about the the humor of Indian leaders , India’s enduring legacy (“We are all minorities in India,” Tharoor writes), the popularity of British writer P.G. Wodehouse in India and an Indian politician’s decision to change the spelling of his name for astrological reasons. His commentaries on American culture are equally astute. In an essay on vegetarian diets in America , he writes, “I just don't want to bite into anything which in its natural living state might have bitten me back”. Other subjects include the New York subway, and the excesses in American litigation.

Meenakshi Shedde, a film critic for The Times of India (and author of the "Moulin Rouge" essay mentioned below) has written a delightful piece about buying a brassiere in Paris. She has also written about the business of Indian cinema multiplexes and even about Monsoon Wedding.

I promised I wouldn’t include political articles on this page, but I wanted to say that Frontline India has some of the meatiest analytical articles about world politics I’ve ever seen.

A person I met at a story told me about how Indian filmmakers would sometimes splice the special effects from Hollywood films and insert them into films with Bollywood actors. I don’t know if there is any truth to that story (I doubt it), but if there is, let me commend the Indian filmmakers for resourcefulness.

Don't get mad for mentioning this, but I heard the lovely pop songs by Vietnamese-American singer Minh Tuyet( Music ). More info about her and other singers is at Viet Singers. It's easy to forget how close Americans are already to Asian culture already. Often famous international stars fly into America unknown and unseen (the latest scandal about Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky and Eminem is more important, you see). I once read that Googoosh, the legendary Iranian singer who stopped singing for twenty years, had sung in my hometown Houston during her post-silence American tour. While working at Rice University in 1989, I just finished reading R.K. Narayan's beautiful Man Eater of Malgudi, and decided that this exotic writer was the best writer in English (an opinion I still have). I later heard he was teaching a class at UT-Austin! Small world indeed.

Saturday, May 11, 2002


Survivor TV, Chinese Style

Chinese-American journalist Julie Chao is one of the most perceptive observers of Chinese culture that I've seen. She's the "Thomas Friedman of China." Although she writes her fair share of stories about the vagaries of international politics, her best stories concern the lives of everyday citizens in China. She has written about the government's unsuccessful attempt to abolish cursing in Beijing sports stadiums and the arrival of a "Survivor" type of TV reality show in China. According to Chao's interview with the producer, the show was "fashioned... after Mao Zedong's legendary Long March of 1934-35, the turning point in the Communist rebels' battle against Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army. 'It's not entertainment,' (the show's producer) said. 'It's more of a spiritual experience. There's no prize. It will remind young people of the hardships of the Long March and of the revolution.' Her article about the craze for golfing among Chinese yuppies describes a four year university program in golf, where enrolling students take classes in Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, lawn care and basic accounting. The main requirement for admission is height, according to a professor of lawns. "The golfing environment is still a rather exclusive one," he says in the article. "If you're too short you might not fit too well."

Chao also writes about the litigation system in China where citizens reportedly win their cases a whopping 40% of the time and courts encourage the filing of lawsuits as a way to increase revenue from filing fees. Chao also describes her ordeal of going through Chinese customs, the laborious paperwork trail required and the arbitrary decisions of officials about what foreign books to allow inside the US. If she can have Spence's Search for Modern China delivered to her address in China via Amazon, she says, why does the custom official refuse to allow her to bring it through customs?

Articles about Chinese filmmakers: Chao's profile of Zhang Yang, the director of "Shower," and Dessen Howe's insightful review in the Washington Post about the fascinating-sounding film What Time is it There? by Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang. “If you can acclimate yourself to the pace of this movie," Dessen Howe writes, "some sort of transformation occurs…You’re the eyes of nature itself, watching with an almost spiritual clarity.

Sunday, May 05, 2002


The Fabulous Art of Book Collecting

Amitav Ghosh is one of India's foremost writers, and his excellent site showcases his writing very well. One of his most delightful essays is a tour-de-force description of his uncle’s distinguished collection of books and the story behind it. He also tells the story of the great 15th century Turkish/Afgan leader/writer/warrior, Zahiruddin Mohammad Babar, who seemed to have invented the art of autobiography (and vanity) before Cellini himself with his autobiographical "Babarnama." This fascinating biographical portrait describes Babar's journey through Uzbeckistan, Turkey, Afganistan and India to become one of the earliest Asian leaders to embrace tolerance between Hindi and Muslims.

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