Wednesday, March 16, 2005

AIDS & the Singapore Hypocrisy

Once again, the world is making fun of Singapore's obsession with gay bashing and our beloved Dr Balaji's maths.

Simon's World (, a comprehensive compilation of Asian blogs has a few lines with links to various sites with commentaries on the debate:

The contoversy over a Singapore minister's comments and the reporting of them in the Straits Times on gays and AIDS. A related look at the hypocrisy over family values. Adri naturally has plenty to say on this, including the taboo topics of AIDS and being gay in Singapore. Mr Brown adds a dash of ridicule to the claims and Mr Miyagi wonders if its a ploy by the Straits Times. Caleb, IZ and Lancerlord all also have takes.

Yawning Bread's What the Minister Said and What the Newspaper Said discusses the issue extensively and with verve.

On the famous Mr Brown commentary site:

[quote]Sadly, the total number of new cases for 2004 was 311. In 2003, the number of new cases was 242. This means there was a year-on-year increase of 28%. Currently 90% of these newly diagnosed patients are males, with 1/3 being gays. We had a low prevalence rate of HIV in the past, even in the gay community. We do not know the reasons for the sharp increase of HIV in the gay community.[/quote]
apparently, the number of hetrosexual males detected with hiv in 2004 was
311-242 * 2/3 * 0.9 = 93..
apparently 93 more hetrosexual males were detected with hiv, as compared to 20 more homosexual males. OMG! hetrosexuality causes aids!

Flava@SPF was a volunteer at last year's Nation party to give out safe sex kits...The police came and escorted the condoms out of the party...funny how the Aids spike is blamed on the Nation party isnt it? read her account here

On - The Fourth Annual "Just Shut Up" Awards, the write-up on Dr Balaji says:

The Southeast Asian country of Singapore is one of the world's most prosperous nations. Home to a little more than four million people, figures from the World Health Organization tell us that about 4,000 Singaporeans are living with HIV. Speaking publicly last November, Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan reported that HIV/AIDS cases were doubling every three to four years. Sadasivan blames gay men for the spread of HIV and claims nongovernmental agencies like Action for AIDS (AfA) are not doing enough to promote safer sexual practices. Naturally, he fails to acknowledge that gay sex is still illegal in many parts of Singapore (as are oral and anal sex) and that agencies like AfA are routinely prohibited from distributing brochures or condom packs that would lead to education and prevention. "We must recognize there are conservative people in Singapore and there's no need to say the only way to educate people is to try to do it in an in-your-face approach," Sadasivan protests. "To educate people, you don't have to be offensive," he rambled further until finally warning, "If we do not act, by 2010 we may have more than 15,000 HIV persons in Singapore." Does he have a plan, a strategy? Nope. His job would seem to be pointing fingers and declaring, "Sexual behavior is a private thing, it's something people don't want to talk about. It's not discussed in polite society."

Another site ( says:
I believe that the ‘conservative majority’ is really made up of the same people who make Geylang their favourite spot in Singapore. They are the ones who can condone prostitution, but not intimacy between two consenting adults of the same sex. They are the ones who also don’t mind going to Bangkok once or twice every year to see sex shows performed by people of the same sex on each other, drag shows, have sex with girls young enough to be their daughters (which is worse? i think paedophelia is)... that’s the ‘conservative majority’ for you, very hypocritical because after all, they need someone to blame and it better be those sexual deviants. I also think that the govt chooses to blame the gay community because pointing the finger at the ‘conservative majority’ (who I feel are mostly to blame considering statistics prove that HIV is more prevalent amongst straight males) will mean that singapore has a NATIONAL problem—something akin to the falling birth rate, casino, etc which in turn means that it will become a fully debated issue, no stones left unturned proportions. Plus, I guess it’s not something that can help win or break votes, unlike more bread and butter issues directly involving the cost of living, so what’s there to bother? I believe, this HIV problem is something they would want to sweep under the carpet until it festers and explodes in their faces and perhaps give them the ability to take all the credit when they solve the problem, as this is only what a developed country should do—solve problems using first world solutions.

Conciliatory Dalai Lama expounds on winds of change - Tibetan culture & Buddhism are part of Chinese Culture

This interview with Dalai Lama on the headlines of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post could have been a significant news event on world headlines. However, with the rise of China to near superpower status means that Tibet, for better or worse, has become a foregone game. The truth of this hypothesis is perhaps also the reason why the Dalai Lama has made such a great concession towards the Chinese.

This is not the only thing interesting in this SCMP report. The Dalai Lama spoke about Tibetan culture and Buddhism being an essential part of Chinese culture and how the Chinese Government may find Tibetan religion more appetizing and appealing than Western culture in the evolving new China. In this aspect, the Dalai Lama spoke like a Western CEO eyeing at the Chinese market, or rather, the Chinese spiritual market.


Conciliatory Dalai Lama expounds on winds of change (SCMP)

March 14, 2005

Money is not sufficient. China is seeking a new spirituality, he says
South China Morning Post

I met His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in a Tibetan monastery near Buddha's Bodhi tree in India,
where he had been leading prayers for world peace. In a private meeting, the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader expounded on the reasons for his olive-branch gesture to the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama greeted me at the entrance of his reception chamber, rather than waiting inside. He
seemed anxious to talk and keen to know about the latest infrastructure in Tibet , specifically
roads, and economic conditions. Having filmed many remote regions throughout Tibet, I was able to
present a clear picture of what I had seen.

He then spoke, clearly with compassion: "This is the message I wish to deliver to China. I am not
in favour of separation. Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of China. It is an autonomous
region of the People's Republic of China. Tibetan culture and Buddhism are part of Chinese
culture. Many young Chinese like Tibetan culture as a tradition of China."

I was taken aback. The Dalai Lama's clear reference to the Chinese government and Tibet being an
autonomous region of China was tantamount to recognition of the Chinese Communist Party's rule and
acceptance of Tibet's current status. I asked for clarification.

The Dalai Lama then explained his position. "As the material development of China moves forward we
gain materially, like the railway. If we were a separate country it would be very difficult and we
would not benefit," he said.

The Tibetan government-in-exile has many factions. Moderates seek a solution and accommodation
with Beijing, while radicals oppose compromise.

The Dalai Lama explained: "The Tibetan youth organisation criticises me as taking this approach
out of desperation."

He shook his head. "No, it comes out of a broader interest."

He pointed to Europe as an example of such interest. "In the European Union each [country] carries
self-interest but what is more important is common interest. It is more important than individual
sovereignty," he said. "Currency is the most potent symbol of individual sovereignty but they are
willing to give it up to dissolve into common interest.

"Tibet is underdeveloped and materially backwards. We want modernisation. So for our own interest,
we are willing to be part of the People's Republic of China, to have it govern and guarantee to
preserve our Tibetan culture, spirituality and our environment. But we can contribute to the
spiritual side of China," he said, indicating knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party's search
for new identity. "China will turn to its 5,000-year history of tradition, of which Tibet is a

"China seeks a new ideology. Marxism succeeded and worked for two decades. Then it became
confused. This is because class struggle fostered hatred. Our teaching is non-violence. Now, the
market ideology of capitalism fails to build meaningful society. Cultural heritage is easily
destroyed. The CCP feels now that people must have money and this will give the party credibility.
It must learn from the US and Europe that money alone does not fulfil human beings."

The Dalai Lama's words could have been those delivered by President Hu Jintao discussing the CCP's
crisis of ideology and the need to promote spirituality to balance China's newly embraced
materialism. Suddenly, I realised the gaps are really not so wide.

"China is an ancient nation," the spiritual leader spoke passionately. "Money is not sufficient.
China is seeking a new spirituality. Tibetan Buddhism is our own culture, one part of our own
culture." In saying "our own" I realised he was including himself within China.

"They [the CCP] find it easier to accept [Buddhism] rather than western religions like
Christianity. With Buddhism in the spiritual field we can help with internal values, while the
Chinese provide external values, and both will have mutual benefit. They will understand our
centuries-old culture is rich. They will then respect Tibetan culture more and understand what we
mean in our demand for meaningful autonomy."

The Dalai Lama apparently now sought only autonomy in guiding policies on religious and cultural
matters, not political, economic or diplomatic affairs, an official of the government-in-exile
later said.

I asked the Dalai Lama whether he was interested in visiting China. He replied: "It is in China's
interest ... As long as I am there I can make Tibetans calm. If I am not there, I do not know what
will come. The Chinese government should use common sense rationally, not look at things with
narrow perspective."

The Dalai Lama seemed disillusioned with developments in the west. He condemned unilateralist
"warfare, exploitation, science and technology used for killing, expanding imperialism and
colonialism and discrimination", but recognised the importance of democracy and the rule of law.

Laurence Brahm, filmmaker, author, lawyer-economist and Post columnist, is the only person known
to have met both the Dalai and the Panchen lamas. His independent neutral capacity has given him
unprecedented access to both sides.

Dalai's change of heart

1959-1979: Dalai Lama has no contact with Beijing.

1979-1980: He sends three fact-finding delegations to Tibet.

February 1983: Dalai Lama expresses a desire to visit Tibet. There is little progress. He begins
to speak out internationally on the issue.

September 21, 1987, in an address to US Congress Human Rights Caucus, he proposes: "Transformation
of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace ... Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future
status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples."

June 15, 1988, in a "Five-Point Peace Plan" submitted to the European Parliament: "The whole of
Tibet known as Cholka-Sum [including Qinghai and sections of Sichuan , Yunnan and Gansu provinces]
should become a self-governing democratic political entity ... The PRC could remain responsible
for Tibet's foreign policy. The government of Tibet should, however, develop and maintain
relations, through its own Foreign Affairs Bureau, in the fields of religion, commerce, education,
culture, tourism, science, sports and other non-political activities ... the government of Tibet
will have the right to decide on all affairs relating to Tibet and the Tibetans."

June 1993, in a letter to Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin : "If China wants Tibet to stay with
China, then it must create the necessary conditions for this."

October 23, 1996, in a speech to the European Parliament: "I am striving for a genuine
self-government for Tibet."

March 10, 1999, the 40th anniversary of 1959 uprising: "The root of the Tibetan issue lies in
Tibet's long, separate history, distinct and ancient culture and unique identity ... A just and
fair solution on the Tibet issue will enable me to give full assurance that I will use my moral
authority to persuade Tibetans not to seek separation."

July 2000, in Time magazine: "We don't want complete independence. Beijing can manage the economy
and foreign policy, but genuine Tibetan self-rule is the best way to preserve our culture."

October 2004, in Time interview: "So if we remain in China, we might get a greater benefit,
provided it respects our culture and beautiful environment and gives us some kind of guarantee."

December 2004, in Newsweek: "Time is running out. We need some sort of action to protect the
Tibetan culture and environment. For the foreseeable future our only possibility is within the
Chinese constitutional framework ... Many Tibetans - particularly the younger generation - want to
modernise Tibet. It would be difficult for Tibetans to achieve this alone. Within the PRC, it
would be much faster."

January 26, 2005, speaking to Laurence Brahm: "We are willing to be part of the People's Republic
of China, to have the PRC govern and guarantee to preserve our Tibetan culture, spirituality, and

Dalai Lama yields ground on Tibet self-rule (SCMP)

South China Morning Post
March 14, 2005

We will accept China's authority if it preserves our culture, he says

The Dalai Lama has extended an olive branch to Beijing in a bid to resolve the decades-old
political conflict over Tibetan independence.

The exiled spiritual leader appears to have given up any demand for Tibetan self-governance and is
willing to accept Chinese rule so long as Tibet's culture, spirituality and environment are

In an interview published exclusively in the South China Morning Post today, the Dalai Lama
indicates he is relinquishing his half-a-century struggle for Tibet's sovereignty in order to
realise what he calls "broader interest" to allow his people to savour the success of China's
rapid economic growth and accomplishments.

"We want modernisation. So for our own interest, we are willing to be part of the People's
Republic of China, to have the PRC govern and guarantee to preserve our Tibetan culture,
spirituality and our environment," he said.

The Dalai Lama said that by dropping the sovereignty claim for Tibet, his people would be able to
benefit from China's economic achievements. This was in stark contrast to his previous stand, that
Tibet should be a self-governing domestic and political entity under a type of "one country, two
systems" arrangement.

"This is the message I wish to deliver to China," he said. "I am not in favour of separation.
Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of China. It is an autonomous region of the People's
Republic of China. Tibetan culture and Buddhism are part of Chinese culture."

The Dalai Lama's clear reference to the Chinese government, and Tibet being one of its autonomous
regions, was tantamount to recognition of the Chinese Communist Party's rule and acceptance of
Tibet's current status. His comments indicate he now seeks autonomy only on religious and cultural
matters and not political, economic or diplomatic affairs.

The 69-year-old spiritual leader expressed hope that Tibet could help develop China's "internal
values" in the spiritual field through Buddhism, while the central government could expand
"external values" through materialistic development such as economic and political governance. He
denied his apparent climbdown came out of desperation, and stressed that "it comes out of broader

He pointed to Europe as an example of such broader interest. "In the European Union, each
[country] carries self-interest but what is more important is common interest. It is more
important than individual sovereignty. Currency is the most potent symbol of individual
sovereignty, but they are willing to give it up to dissolve into the common interest."

However, the Dalai Lama's change of heart has raised concerns of a growing rift between the
moderates and the radicals within the government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala in northern India.

The Chinese government has insisted that the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959 after a failed uprising
against Beijing, must accept that Tibet is an integral part of China and abandon his sovereignty
fight. In recent years, the Dalai Lama has been increasingly accommodating in his political
maneuverings, pursuing a "middle way" that would ensure autonomy rather than independence and
leave China in control of Tibet's foreign policy.

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented interview with Post columnist Laurence Brahm, the
Beijing-recognised 11th Panchen Lama sent a message of harmony, calling on Tibetans overseas to
contribute to their homeland's economic development.

The teenage religious leader, who is rarely seen in public, said: "I wish Tibetan people here and
living abroad to love their country and home town, and put their efforts into economic development
to raise living standards and development in their homeland."

Both lamas were disillusioned with developments in the west, pointing out the limitations
materialism has in satisfying humanity, and the need for more spirituality.

The calls by both religious leaders could serve to create a rare window of opportunity for true
dialogue to take place and speed up negotiations to pave the way for the homecoming of exiled
Tibetans in the near future, analysts believe.


Panchen Lama sends subtle message (SCMP)

South China Morning Post
March 14, 2005

The 11th Panchen Lama divides his time between Beijing and his home at the Tashilumpo Monastery in
central-western Tibet , where he meditates for world peace every day.

Before meeting the Panchen Lama in a temple hall, his teacher Lama Tsering, who is more than 80
years old, grasped my hands and whispered: "This meeting is very important to us all because you
are the first foreigner to meet His Holiness. This is the first time."

I later learned this was also the first time the Panchen Lama had ever granted a filmed interview.
Even official Chinese media have not had this opportunity.

Apart from Tibetan (spoken with a strong Shigatse accent), the 14-year-old lama speaks Putonghua
and, to my surprise, perfect American-accented English. As we began filming the interview, in a
room lit with yak butter candles, the Panchen Lama on a dais attended by retainers, me sitting
below, I thought about a similar scene in the movie Seven Years in Tibet, depicting the teenage
Dalai Lama's first meeting with a foreigner.

The Panchen Lama seemed both enthused and amused that I was travelling across western Tibet
filming locations described in the Shambhala Sutra. "Originally, the Shambhala concept came from
India where the first Buddha, Shakyamuni, was born," he said. "Many people thought of it as a
dimension. In Tibetan history, many famous Buddhist scholars, including my predecessors the first,
sixth and ninth Panchen Lamas, spoke and wrote about Shambhala, describing the location as a
harmonious place."

He then offered a word of both caution and advice: "It is hard to say if each person can reach
Shambhala. It depends on determination and study. If you think positively you can reach there."

Then, in metaphysical images, he explained: "In the Shambhala dimension, the king of Shambhala
must use positive energy to destroy evil caused by negative energy, so the environment can be
protected, people can live longer, Buddhist ideals will flourish, and there will be peace and
harmony among humanity."

The Panchen Lama then turned the interview around, asking me many questions ranging from religious
tolerance and intolerance in the west, to concerns about international events.

I could not imagine that he was only 14 years old. It felt as though I were speaking to a mature
adult, a potential religious and possible political leader, immensely concerned with international
current events. I asked him: "Your Holiness, given the situation today, how can the Shambhala
ideal be applied for peace on Earth? What should we do?"

He replied: "Firstly, use compassion to help others, even at your own loss. Then there will be
peace. If you are selfish and achieve for yourself at loss to others, then the world will have no

"In my own opinion, many countries spend much money to buy arms and weapons of mass destruction.
By doing so, these countries will gain power for their country, but it will bring harm to the
world. This expense is very large and tremendous. If these countries used this money to help the
less-developed countries and nationalities, if this money went to disabled people and students,
and to buy medical facilities and promote medical research then there would be peace. But by
spending the money on arms, it is a waste, like throwing money into a vast sea.

"I wish the world may enjoy peace and that people love and respect each other. May there be
tolerance among different religions and beliefs.

"Secondly, I wish Tibetan people here and living abroad love their country and home town, and put
their efforts into economic development to raise living standards and development in their

He then, almost as an afterthought, clasped his hands together in prayer, delivering his last
message: "In the end I will pray in English for the world. I pray for peace in the world. May
Buddha bless [all] human beings."

Leaving the Panchen Lama, I was struck by the teenage "living Buddha" who at 14 is consumed with
concern about world peace. He also astutely used the meeting to send a subtle message to overseas
Tibetans: put down past differences and strengthen Tibet's economy for its broader interest.
Moreover, he had given me the task to deliver this message; but to whom? I could think of only one

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What Iraq's checkpoints are like

What Iraq's checkpoints are like

| Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Editor's note: On Friday, an Italian intelligence officer was killed and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was wounded as their car approached a US military checkpoint in Baghdad. The US says the car was speeding, despite hand signals, flashing white lights, and warning shots from US forces. Ms. Sgrena says her car was not speeding and they did see any signals. This personal account, filed prior to the shooting, explains how confusing and risky checkpoints can be - from both sides.

It's a common occurrence in Iraq: A car speeds toward an American checkpoint or foot patrol. They fire warning shots; the car keeps coming. Soldiers then shoot at the car. Sometimes the on-comer is a foiled suicide attacker (see story), but other times, it's an unarmed family.

BACK HOME: Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena arrived in Rome Saturday, injured after US troops fired on her car.







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As an American journalist here, I have been through many checkpoints and have come close to being shot at several times myself. I look vaguely Middle Eastern, which perhaps makes my checkpoint experience a little closer to that of the typical Iraqi. Here's what it's like.

You're driving along and you see a couple of soldiers standing by the side of the road - but that's a pretty ubiquitous sight in Baghdad, so you don't think anything of it. Next thing you know, soldiers are screaming at you, pointing their rifles and swiveling tank guns in your direction, and you didn't even know it was a checkpoint.

If it's confusing for me - and I'm an American - what is it like for Iraqis who don't speak English?

In situations like this, I've often had Iraqi drivers who step on the gas. It's a natural reaction: Angry soldiers are screaming at you in a language you don't understand, and you think they're saying "get out of here," and you're terrified to boot, so you try to drive your way out.

'Stop or you will be shot'

Another problem is that the US troops tend to have two-stage checkpoints. First there's a knot of Iraqi security forces standing by a sign that says, in Arabic and English, "Stop or you will be shot." Most of the time, the Iraqis will casually wave you through.

Your driver, who slowed down for the checkpoint, will accelerate to resume his normal speed. What he doesn't realize is that there's another, American checkpoint several hundred yards past the Iraqi checkpoint, and he's speeding toward it. Sometimes, he may even think that being waved through the first checkpoint means he's exempt from the second one (especially if he's not familiar with American checkpoint routines).

I remember one terrifying day when my Iraqi driver did just that. We got to a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops. Chatting and smoking, they waved us through without a glance.

Relieved, he stomped down on the gas pedal, and we zoomed up to about 50 miles per hour before I saw the second checkpoint up ahead. I screamed at him to stop, my translator screamed, and the American soldiers up ahead looked as if they were getting ready to start shooting.

After I got my driver to slow down and we cleared the second checkpoint, I made him stop the car. My voice shaking with fear, I explained to him that once he sees a checkpoint, whether it's behind him or ahead of him, he should drive as slowly as possible for at least five minutes.

He turned to me, his face twisted with the anguish of making me understand: "But Mrs. Annia," he said, "if you go slow, they notice you!"

Under Saddam, idling was risky

This feeling is a holdover from the days of Saddam, when driving slowly past a government building or installation was considered suspicious behavior. Get caught idling past the wrong palaces or ministry, and you might never be seen again.

I remember parking outside a ministry with an Iraqi driver, waiting to pick up a friend. After sitting and staring at the building for about half an hour, waiting for our friend to emerge, the driver shook his head.

"If you even looked at this building before, you'd get arrested," he said, his voice full of disbelief. Before, he would speed past this building, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead, careful not to even turn his head. After 35 years of this, Iraqis still speed up when they're driving past government buildings - which, since the Americans took over a lot of them, tend be to exactly where the checkpoints are.

Fear of insurgents and kidnappers are another reason for accelerating, and in that scenario, speeding up and getting away could save your life. Many Iraqis know somebody who's been shot at on the road, and a lot of people survived only because they stepped on the gas.

This fear comes into play at checkpoints because US troops are often accompanied by a cordon of Iraqi security forces - and a lot of the assassinations and kidnappings have been carried out by Iraqi security forces or people dressed in their uniforms. Often the Iraqi security forces are the first troops visible at checkpoints. If they are angry-looking and you hear shots being fired, it becomes easier to misread the situation and put the pedal to the metal.

A couple of times soldiers have told me at checkpoints that they had just shot somebody. They're not supposed to talk about it, but they do. I think the soldiers really needed to talk about it. They were traumatized by the experience.

Traumatic for soldiers, too

This is not what they wanted - really not what they wanted - and the whole checkpoint experience is confusing and terrifying for them as well as for the Iraqis. Many of them have probably seen people get killed or injured, including friends of theirs. You can imagine what it's like for them, wondering whether each car that approaches is a normal Iraqi family or a suicide bomber.

The essential problem with checkpoints is that the Americans don't know if the Iraqis are "friendlies" or not, and the Iraqis don't know what the Americans want them to do.

I always wished that the American commanders who set up these checkpoints could drive through themselves, in a civilian car, so they could see what the experience was like for civilians. But it wouldn't be the same: They already know what an American checkpoint is, and how to act at one - which many Iraqis don't.

Is there a way to do checkpoints right? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it seems that the checkpoint experience perfectly encapsulates the contradictions and miseries and misunderstandings of everyone's common experience - both Iraqis and Americans - in Iraq.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

China's middle class gives skiing a try

China's middle class gives skiing a try 

MIYUN, China (AP) -- They avoid the dangerous runs and crowd the bunny slopes, edging their way downhill as they enjoy something that didn't exist in China a decade ago: the ski holiday.

"Chinese families like to do things together but I didn't want to go shopping again," said Zhang Fanyun, a schoolteacher watching his daughter and son-in-law ski. "Skiing is a new, fresh thing."

Each weekend, thousands crowd Nanshan Ski Village, built outside Beijing to serve newly prosperous city dwellers who have taken to the pricey sport in recent years.

Instead of hot chocolate, the ski lodge serves green tea and broiled pork. In the parking lot, a vendor sells a good, greasy meal of egg-filled crepes with scallions and hot sauce.

"Ten years ago, only 500 people in China could ski and they were all professional athletes," said Lu Jian, an Oxford-trained economist who founded Nanshan after being inspired by a visit to the U.S. ski haven of Vail, Colorado. "This year, 5 million Chinese people will visit ski resorts. You can say this represents the new China."

There are now more than 200 ski resorts in the country, up from none a decade ago.

Lu opened the first in 1995 in Heilongjiang province in the far northeast. But while frigid Heilongjiang has the snow, Beijing has the money, so he opened Nanshan in 2001, with machines to provide the snow that nature often won't.

"I felt that China lacked this sort of facility," he said. "So I read a lot of books on how to build a ski facility."

The resort is an eye-catching oasis of white amid the parched brown hills.

Zhang, the schoolteacher, had come with his wife from their hometown in central China to visit their daughter and her husband, both professionals in Beijing.

"I don't dare ski myself, because I'm afraid I'd fall," said Zhang, whose job this day was to hold all the family cameras and keep track of locker keys.

"While the children ski, my wife and I will ride in the chairlift and enjoy the fresh air and scenery. This is something we can all do together."

A four-hour lift ticket plus equipment rental at Nanshan costs $24 -- more than a week's wages for the average urban worker and pricey even for the engineers, stockbrokers and other professionals on the slope.

Since few in this country own ski clothes, the resort rents parkas along with poles and skis. As a result, nearly everyone wears matching purple -- an echo of the decades when the masses all wore the same drab green Mao jacket and cloth cap.

And, since this is chain-smoking China, men make their way down the slopes with cigarettes clenched in their mouths.

The skiers may lack in skill, but not enthusiasm.

"My son is good at ice skating, so I figured he could do this as well," said Huang Chun, who also brought his nephew. "The boys were very excited, but they refused to take lessons. I said we should research the situation, and they said, no, they wanted to ski right away."

His nephew, 11-year-old Zhao Conglong, had little time for small talk.

"I did fall the first time, but not after that," he bragged. "It's fun, satisfying and stimulating," he said, before hurtling down the kiddie slope in search of his cousin.

Lu, the founder, made his money in the early 1990s trading commodities futures in Chicago for a Chinese state company.

He said he sensed that as his homeland's economy grew, it would follow the example of neighboring South Korea and skiing would take off. But his biggest boon came when China switched from a six-day week to a five-day week in 1995.

"All of a sudden, everyone had a two-day weekend," he said. "Two days off! With nothing to do!"

Like many Chinese entrepreneurs, Lu raised capital from relatives and friends, who in his case included other Chinese who studied in Britain at Oxford or Cambridge.

He's also a Communist Party member, which in China brings influence that can help a small businessman.

Nanshan cost $6 million to build and has not broken even yet, though Lu said it is making money.

And he has big plans. He envisions opening motels and time-share villas for when people start taking extended ski vacations instead of just buying two- or four-hour passes.

"My goal," he said, "is to create another Vail."


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Friday, March 04, 2005

Turkmen leader closes hospitals

Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 10:50 GMT

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Turkmen leader closes hospitals

By Monica Whitlock
BBC correspondent in Ashgabat

President Niyazov is known for giving eccentric orders

Reports from Turkmenistan say President Niyazov has ordered the closure of all the hospitals in the country except those in the capital, Ashgabat.

The order, announced by a government spokesman, is part of the president's radical health care policies.

Thousands of medical workers have already been sacked under the plan.

Civil rights activists have accused the president of sacrificing public services in favour of vast projects that glorify his regime.

President Niyazov apparently took the decision to close the hospitals at a meeting with local officials on Monday.

"Why do we need such hospitals?" he said. "If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat."

For the Turkmens, it means the end of a nationwide health service already on its knees.

There are few able doctors and little medicine in rural Turkmen hospitals, and last year President Niyazov sacked 15,000 medical workers, replacing them with army conscripts. However the local hospital was the only place for sick people to go - especially those without the funds to travel to Ashgabat for treatment.

The foreign community will be horrified by the decision.

President Niyazov is well known for his idiosyncratic orders, but it is extraordinary for a head of state to take such a step.

At the same time, the president has also ordered the closure of rural libraries, saying they are pointless because village Turkmens do not read.

Criticism of the president is not allowed in Turkmenistan, but civil rights activists abroad say he has destroyed social services while spending millions of dollars of public money on grand projects, such as gold statues of the leader and a vast marble and gold mosque, one of the biggest in Asia.




Thursday, March 03, 2005

Apartheid in China?

This is an interesting statistical analysis done by a Westerner on China's own statistics on ethnic minorities, and appears to prove that the minorities are doing badly in the system.  Are there any analytical problems here, or is it straight forward proving of facts? 
The new apartheid

With much fanfare China has just released a white paper on "Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China." This has been accompanied by the full state media press:

1. China "endeavors (sic) to protect, foster ethnic minorities' tradional cultures", including this: The Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur, Korean and Yi languages have coded character sets and national standards for fonts and keyboard. Software in the Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur and Korean languages canbe run in the Windows system. Microsoft as a developmental yardstick.
2. "Ethnic autonomous regions account for 64% of China's territory". The 64% of land covered is largely desert or mountains (map here), such as Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet.
3. "Regional autonomy system benefits all ethinc groups in China".

The 55 ethnic minorities comprise 8% of China's population, the other 92% being Han Chinese. The GDP of the autonomous areas is 1,038 billion yuan, giving a per-capita income of 1,895 yuan, according to the report. This compares to a national per capita GDP of US$1,000 or approximately 8,280 yuan*. That's right, these people earn around 1/4 of the national average. What about health? From the white paper:

The life expectancy of 13 ethnic minorities is higher than the national average, which is 71.40 years, and those of seven of them are higher than the average of the Han people, which is 73.34 years.
That means 47 ethnic groups have a lower life expectancy compared to the Han. If my maths serves me correctly, these numbers imply the average life expectancy of the 55 minorities is 49.09 years**. The report concedes and influenced by historical, geographical and other conditions, the economic and social development level of western China, where the populations of ethnic minorities are more concentrated, is still low compared with the more developed eastern areas. "Some remote areas, in particular, are still pretty backward."

It pledges that the Chinese government will adhere to the scientific concept of human-oriented, all-round, coordinated, sustainable development, further explore and strengthen specific forms of implementation of the system of regional ethnic autonomy, continuously strengthen the material basis for implementation of the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and promote the all-round economic and social development of ethnic minorities and their areas.

South Africa tried a similar system. They called them homelands.

* Don't start on PPP - it's not relevant here.

** My maths for someone to check:

Total life exp. = 71.4 years
Han life exp. = 73.34 years
Han % of popl'n = 92%

So assume China's population is 100 people.

Han: 73.34 * 92 = 6747.28 Han people years
Total: 71.40 * 100 = 7140 total people years

Balance: 7140 - 6747.28 = 392.72 minority people years
Ethnic % of population = 8

Ethnic life exp = 392.72 / 8 = 49.09