I’ve just returned to Hong Kong after two weeks of what I think is a very typical twenty-first century vacation where it was ostensibly supposed to be about unplugging and enjoying time with family and friends, but ended up being more of a hybrid of work and vacation with the boundaries never as clear cut as I would have liked.  My trip home also happened to coincide with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, which means I was able to catch bits of pieces of what was a very dark and angry four days, culminating in an acceptance speech by Donald Trump that perfectly embodied all of the hate, fear, pessimism, and anger with a dose of the ridiculousness that characterized not only the prior four days, but much of his campaign.  And yet coming back to Hong Kong, I am still happy to be an American.  There is always something about these trips that makes me appreciate where I come from in a way that I did not when I was younger and lived overseas.  While part of it may have to do with the abundant choice in America’s stores, there is also something about being home and recognizing I am a product of my home. Now being happy to be an American and proud of my country are two different things and after witnessing the debacle that was the RNC last week, my pride is being held back until the outcome of the presidential election in November.  There is a lot of hate and fear in the U.S., which is part of the same strain of hate and fear that propelled the “Leave” campaign in the Brexit vote and almost saw a right-wing nationalist get elected to the presidency in Austria.  Beyond these countries, fear and hate are mobilizing large parts of electorates in other European countries as we seem to be caught in a moment where openness, tolerance, and optimism are in short supply.  I understand that I am fortunate as someone who has been able to live and travel around the world and have benefitted from globalization in ways that large segments of the world population have not, but it also frightens me that those who are fearful of the future or angry about what is happening around them cannot take a step back and put things in perspective and realize that we are better off today in so many ways than we were yesterday.  I can’t pretend to know what it is like to have lost one’s job and struggle to find another one because there are no job opportunities available to them, whether its because they simply do not exist where they live or they do not have the requisite skills to get a new job.  I can’t pretend to understand a feeling of being trapped or in despair because I can’t pay my bills and am one medical emergency away from not being able to keep a roof over my head or food on my table.  Yet, the irony in all of this is that it’s me or more accurately, people like me who do not have a clue who are supposed to come up with the policies to help people facing untenable life situations.  One thing I can understand is the appeal of someone who seems to offer a quick fix or has no qualms scapegoating individuals and worse, entire groups of people.  It’s comforting to have someone give voice to the things you may be thinking and to attack those whom you perceive as partly responsible for your lot.  What I have been struggling with is how to connect with people who feel disconnected and angry with the way things have gone, but in a way that is constructive and positive versus destructive and negative.  Unfortunately, the Democrats have not done any better than the Republicans in figuring out how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.  What the Democrats have done for the most part is not degenerate into name calling and personal attacks, but have actually had debates on policy including the proper role of government in righting these wrongs.  It’s just hard to stomach policy debates when you’re worried about where your next paycheck in coming from or you feel threatened by all of the changes taking place by you.  It’s easier to hark back to another time when things seemed simpler and frankly better.  Even I do that sitting here thinking my life was so much easier when I was younger, but forgetting the angst that came along with adolescence.  I am not trying to pretend I can understand the anguish, hopelessness, or fear that seemingly large segments of the American population are feeling, but I can relate to the idea that we tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses because it’s known whereas the future is a giant unknown and these days tends to be tinged with darkness.  The challenge is to find a way to regain that optimism that makes Americans uniquely American.  If this post sounds at all jingoistic, I apologize because I am also deeply aware of my country’s flaws and will be the first to acknowledge them, but I also know that in spite of the whatever terrible thing may be happening in the U.S., whether its obstructionist government, a recession, buffoonery among our political class, or more common lately, a gun-related tragedy at every turn, we as a people tend to rise above and move forward.  What scares me now and something I feel more acutely being over 8000 miles from home, thus able to look at things with more perspective, is that we seem to be losing the ability to look and then move forward.  That inability to keep progressing is what may be the most worrisome thing about where we’re currently at as a country.  One side of our political spectrum has decided to capitalize on that inability and turn it into a rallying cry to govern.  The challenge for the other side is to figure out how to appeal to the desire in all of us to move forward and be even better tomorrow than we were the day before, regardless of party affiliation or personal circumstances.  If there ever was a time when we needed hope, it’s more so now than it seems to ever have been, whether it was 1860, 1932, or 2008.

I’ve been remiss in my writing and part of it has been due to setting up a new life in Hong Kong while working a full-time job, but some of it is also due to the fact that my mind has been on overload about the goings-on in the world, including the scary state of American presidential politics, China’s continued descent into the cult of Xi, and the general economic malaise that seems to be afflicting the globe.  Of course none of this things are really within my control to change, so you must be wondering why I am getting so worked up about all of this.  I think it’s precisely because there is nothing that I can do about the rise of Donald Trump, the mindless sycophants following Bernie Sanders and his call for “political revolution” whenever he’s asked a question on specifics, or China seemingly going backward in terms of openness and transparency as it tries to quell an increasingly restless population.

And yet here I am sitting in Hong Kong, which is technically a part of China and with each passing day, feeling that way based on the headlines of missing booksellers, dismissive treatment of Hong Kong officials up in Beijing, and a feeling of futility here that there is no real point in defying Beijing and it’s plans for the city.  Maybe it’s just a general feeling of hopelessness about the world.  When you think too much and tend towards overanalyzing while being extremely sensitive, it’s hard not to get caught up in all of these things.  As an American living so far from home, it would be easily to cut myself off from the spectacle that is this year’s election, but being far away I feel it more acutely because the distance filters all the noise and all that comes through is the nastiness and anger in its purist form.  I won’t go on and on about how frightening Donald Trump is because he is really not all that different from other new-fascist politicians rising all across the world, especially in Europe.  The U.S. is just behind on the curve, but now it looks like we’re quickly catching up.  I think there was this feeling that the American system and its electorate were created and evolved in such a way as to prevent the emergence of someone like Trump, but at the end of the day the U.S. is no different.  What I find disturbing is not that people are saying and doing the things that they are, but that we’re unable to have a real conversation about what it all means.  I read some commentators and they tend to think Trump is a good thing because he’s bringing these feelings and thoughts to the fore, but he’s either not equipped or willing to actually spark a dialogue about what this means for the U.S. and our future.  It’s that inability that scares me more than anything.  I know that there is a lot of hate and xenophobia in America, but until now it was not a strong enough sentiment to fuel a presidential candidate to the fore of either major party.  And who do we get?  Donald Trump, who more often than not seems like a politicized version of his Apprentice persona incapable of coherent and meaningful thoughts, but instead prone to inciting soundbites and rambling monologues that even the closest reader would be unable to follow.

And then we have Bernie Sanders, who is really the other side of the same political coin as Trump.  It just happens to be that his politics align more closely with my own, so he seems less threatening.  But if you listen to him, he has no real answers. Ask him how he’ll fight climate change or fund $1 trillion in infrastructure investments and his answer is always the same – political revolution.  It’s an insult to Americans that he won’t put forth substantive plans to accomplish his goals, but then again a number of Americans do not seem to care.  The young voters who flock to him who don’t know what it really means to live and are probably still dependents under their parents’ insurance policy thanks to Obamacare and those who make so much money that they don’t really care how much it costs to fund his plans.  Recently Bernie has been targeting white, working class voters in the Rust Belt with his tirades against free trade.  Trade is an easy target and often misunderstood.  And that in a nutshell is Bernie Sander’s approach to politics.  Take complex topics, boil them down to a pithy one-liner like “take down billionaires” or “dismantle campaign finance” or if all else fails, call for a political revolution and voters cheer him on.  At the end of the day, it’s no different than Donald Trump except Bernie seems less odious than Trump because of his seemingly friendly policies.  Yet throw in his misogynistic undertones embodied best by the toxic Bernie Bros and his dismissive attitude towards Hillary and you have your very own version of a demagogue on the left.

I did not intend this post to devolve into a commentary on the presidential election, but it’s been on my mind and it’s hard to think about China and the rest of the world when this spectacle is taking place in the U.S.  Even China is using our own election as a rationale for why democracy is dangerous and authoritarian rule is safer.  It’s also problematic when Trump seemingly supported the Chinese government’s use of brute force in Tiananmen in 1989.  So at the end of the day all of these events are interconnected and the idea of America being any sort of leader or guide for the rest of the world is fast becoming a fantasy.  I just hope in my heart of hearts that the American electorate smartens up and does something to rescue our country from the abyss instead of chasing the easy candidates who either stand for hate, isolationism, over-simplicity, or half-baked plans for the future.

I’m giving some solidarity with my snowbound friends and family on the East Coast of the US right now as they get hit with their first major snowstorm of the year.  While there isn’t any snow here in Shenzhen, it’s damn cold.  We’re experiencing a polar vortex of our own with temperatures hitting record lows.  It’s 45 degrees in Shenzhen and it feels even colder because most homes don’t have heat and even with heat, they are built without any real insulation since it’s normally warm and humid.  Add the humidity factor into it and it feels even colder because it’s that raw, wet cold that gets into your bones.  I am sitting here at . . . where else?  . . . Starbucks in the mall in my winter parka and wool beanie because someone had the bright idea to leave the front doors of the mall open even though it’s freezing outside.

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Freezing at the mall

Trying my best to type without gloves, but it’s not easy.

I’ve been meaning to write for the past couple of days, but the combination of work and Internet problems from being behind the Great Firewall have made it hard to sit down and do so.

You’ve probably noticed that the stock markets have had a wild week with most of the turbulence being traced back to the much-discussed slowdown of the Chinese economy.  The government reported it’s growth for 2015 of 6.9%, which while the envy of most other countries, was the slowest rate in 25 years.  It’s hard though to tie the gyrations of the market to just the slowdown of the Chinese economy.  That would completely leave out human nature and the irrational impulses of investors or perhaps the all the rational follow-the-herd mentality that often pervades markets.  A sell-off in one market is usually going to lead to a sell-off around the world, especially in this day and age when everything is so interconnected.  But I did not set out to turn this post into a lesson about markets, investing, or even the global macroeconomy.

China never ceases to amaze me in how screwed up and fascinating a place it can be, usually all in the same moment.  The five booksellers from Hong Kong are still missing, though two have kind of turned up.  One who was allegedly abducted from Thailand (and is a Swedish national) went on national television to confess to killing a young girl in a drunk driving incident in 2003 and the other, Lee Bo, who is a British national, is somewhere in Guangdong province, but no one knows exactly where or why.  It’s galling that nearly a month after Lee Bo went missing, we still do not know where he is. Worryingly, the Hong Kong government has asked the central government and Guangdong officials and all they could get out of them nearly three weeks after he went missing is that he is indeed on the mainland.  Chinese officials do not think that the HK government merits a detailed response and so the HK government and its people still remain in the dark about whether mainland law enforcement officials actually came down and abducted Lee Bo, as well as the other four missing men who are connected to this particular publishing house.  What’s more troubling is that the mainland allegedly took these men away because they did not like the content of the books these men were publishing, which tended to be gossipy take-downs of top mainland officials.  All of this adds up to some serious violations of “one country, two systems”, which was the policy that has undergirded the handover of HK from the British to the Chinese.  China has become more and more brazen about violating this policy and the Hong Kong people are truly powerless to stop it.  In the grander scheme of things, it unfortunately dovetails with a number of other moves on the mainland that reflect a central government still attempting to snuff out any sort of dissent.  From President Xi telling government officials that some questions should not be asked to the continued takedown of government officials on charges of corruption to the conducting off war exercises off the coast of Taiwan the other day, nearly a week after the election of Tsai Ing-wen, reflecting a Taiwanese electorate that increasingly sees itself as Taiwanese and not Chinese.  In one bizarre move last week, nearly 45,000 people, mostly from the mainland, criticized Tsai for her pro-independence stance.  It’s known the comments came from the mainland because they were using simplified Chinese characters versus Taiwan, which uses the traditional ones.  It’s bizarre because Facebook is still blocked on the mainland unless you have a VPN, so many suspect it was the work of government-enlisted individuals who were able to evade the Great Firewall to post on her page.  While some Taiwanese supporters pointed out this irony in reply comments, Tsai probably had the best post of all replying, “”The greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their right to be himself or herself.” (“這個國家偉大的地方就在於每一個人都有做自己的權利”)

Tsai FacebookPretty brilliant reply to what was probably a coordinated mainland response seeking to rattle her so soon after being elected.

And that my friends is a bit of what went down this week that leaves me sitting here shaking my head wondering what’s next, but still insanely intrigued and fascinated by the things that happen in this country.  Stay tuned for more.

Some Changsha fun on 堕落街 (Degenerate Street)

Some Changsha fun on 堕落街 (Degenerate Street)

I’m sitting in the Fifth Tone here in Changsha, which is a cool coffee shop that is uncharacteristic for China and reminiscent of something you’d find in the States, good coffee and good baked goods.  The Fifth Tone’s wireless connection has made this post possible.

The wonders of the International Date Line mean that while most Americans were watching the election results on their televisions late into Tuesday night, I was eating tofu and steamed fish, among many other Hunanese delights while watching the election results on CCTV, China’s state-run television network during lunch on Wednesday afternoon. This coverage was of course supported by Blackberry updates from the New York Times and CNN, but it was surreal to be in the middle of China at this historic moment. All 22 of the fellows from the Yale-China Teaching Fellowship have gathered in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province for a week-long conference to talk about our teaching thus far and to see each other for the first time since Hong Kong this August. It was great to be with so many other Americans who were as eager as I was for the results, but it was frustrating to not be able to sit at my computer and hit F5 for the latest electoral count. But after lunch, we were able to then head back to our hotel rooms and watch both McCain and Obama’s speeches on YouTube. A small crowd had gathered around my computer as we watched McCain’s gracious concession speech (unfortunately the boos and hisses from the crowd were not as gracious) and Obama’s rousing and powerful victory speech, definitely one this will be remembered for a long time. Here I was in Changsha, downloading YouTube clips to be a part of this historic moment in American history. Even CCTV was uncharacteristically joyful at the prospect of a President Obama, which is a signal that almost instantaneously, America’s place in the world as a land of endless opportunity and hope was partially restored by this momentous occurrence. Even in the days leading up to the election, I either overheard Chinese people talking or was told directly how significant an Obama win would be for America and how it would create a long-lost respect for the country that has given the world so many other positive examples to learn from in its long history (and some not-so-positive ones). Congratulations to President-elect Obama and here’s the possibility of a renewed hope in America. It also means that I can return home proud of the choice my fellow citizens and I have made.

However, there is one thing that makes it difficult to be as overjoyed today as I wanted to be. Proposition 8, a move to add a constitutional amendment to the California constitution that would ban gay marriage, looks like it will be supported by a majority of the voters in that state. It is hard to feel good about a move that enshrines discrimination and animus in a state constitution. Some voters who supported Obama’s message of hope and change apparently felt that allowing gay people the right to get married is too much change, which just leaves me upset and disappointed when I want to be so happy that we have someone like Obama as our next president. It makes me wonder why other groups of people who may have been discriminated against and who understand the importance of fighting for civil rights and equality and who understand the shame and pain of being discriminated against, could vote overwhelmingly for this proposition. The struggle for equality is one that we all fight in the face of discrimination, regardless of whether the histories are shared or not. If we are being treated differently and negatively for something that is an intrinsic part of who we are, then we should all be fighting the same battle. What we should not be is territorial about our struggles and the civil rights movement, trying to claim it for our own. Fighting hatred and discrimination are not to be regarded as the fight of just one group, but of all groups who are the targets of such nasty and hateful beliefs. Proposition 8 and its possible passage by the people of California leave me a little less proud to be an American and mar this epic moment in our country’s history where we have been able to surmount our racial prejudices to elect the country’s first African-American president, but at the same time we can still vote to write prejudice into our laws.

CCTV calls the election for Obama

CCTV calls the election for Obama

Old Dog, New Tricks

October 12, 2008

I normally do not think of myself as an old dog, but when my three colleagues here in GZ range in age from 22 to 23, it’s hard not think of myself as older in ways other than the mere number.  I’m coming up on my 30th, which I go from being indifferent to excited about (it’s on the 30th of this monthfor any who are curious) and it’s also hard not to begin the process of taking stock of my 20s, putting some memories and experiences away, and thinking about what I’ve learned during the past decade.  This decade is far different than the decade of adolescence because of the level of responsibility I felt forced to take on during these years.  I actually made decisions and I have had to live with the consequences of those decisions.  Just a quick recap for those not in the know – I started out my post-college years in Hong Kong, spent two years there in investment banking, came back to the States and hung out in New York for a year to work through coming out, went to law school in Chicago at Northwestern for a year, transferred back to New York and graduated from Columbia, then worked for two years at Debevoise, and now I am in teaching at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and staring down the close of a decade.  I think it’s been kind of a whirlwind, but I was not ready to settle into New York before getting back to China.

With that said, it’s hard not to get somewhat sentimental and introspective about things like a 30th birthday and all the things that have preceded it.  I’m not going to get into specifics because I am not even sure I can remember all the things that have crossed my mind, but I have been prone to many moments of zoning out and being reminded of something completely random that I may not have thought about in years.  Then there are other things that I have been thinking about quite a bit because they elude easy answers.  I think when you are away from home, whether it’s 150 miles or 8000 miles, it’s hard not to let the mind wander in between all that distance.  I find that these thoughts most often hit me when I am sitting on a long bus ride, walking the streets alone, or even in the middle of a workout when I hear a song that reminds me of someone or something.  I also do not think any of us are immune from these thoughts, some are just better than other at suppressing them.   So the moral of this story is that living away from home unleashes the mind to explore things more freely and perhaps too deeply than would be the case if I were still at home.

Last week marked another week of teaching down and another week of being told by at least one of my students how handsome I was.  This time it was in my GZ Constitution seminar and I had just concluded a lively and interesting class on separation of powers and checks and balances, while introducing the Bill of Rights and the Reconstruction Amendments.  After one girl came up and asked the definitions of “bailout” and “suicide bomber”, another one of my students was waiting right behind her and proceeded to tell me I had much long and curly eyelashes, “very beautiful”.  Then she asked if some of her friends could just come and sit in my class to watch me because they thought I was “so handsome”.  I told her that the class already had too many students and we could not have anymore in the classroom.  She countered that they would just sit quietly in the back and watch me, but not speak.  I thought that was a little creepy and I told her that the room was not big enough for more students, even if they did not participate.  She would not be defeated and tried asking if they could just come at the beginning to see me.  I told her no.  I thought this ended this discussion until I got an email from her reiterating how handsome and charming I was and asking if she could give my email address to her friends.  I still have not responded to this email because I am unsure as to what to say.  I thought that my students are only this way because I am male and American, but another friend of mine who taught here last year said that even their relationships with their Chinese professors are more casual than what we are used to back in the States.  While this was interesting to hear, the things they say to me and the other foreign teachers must come from their view of foreigners and what they deem to be acceptable to say to those who may come from a more open society.  I wish I knew the answer or knew a way to get at the answer.  I am still thinking about it and perhaps as I build relationships with my students, I can ask them.  I am just astounded by some of the things that come out of their mouths.

Speaking of what comes out of our mouths, my Mandarin seems to be improving in fits and starts.  I think I just need to be patient, but I am trying to use it more and of course when I speak, I sound like I am dyslexic because I invert words and sometimes I am completely misunderstood or I engage in this dialogue with someone where we repeat the same thing back and forth a few times because they want to make sure my tones are correct.  The tones are really hard, especially because I am pretty much tone deaf.  Rather than rely on inflections and emphasis, Mandarin has four tones to convey meaning.  The tone of the sound indicates what is meant by using that sound and if you mess up the tones, people cannot understand you or can only understand you if you can either write out the characters or are willing to repeat yourself ad nauseam.  My tones need work because I have a hard time remembering the correct tones, but also because the second and third tones sound so similar to me.  My tutor is going to give me a refresher course on tones tomorrow.

While my Mandarin is slowly improving, I still have moments of Linguistic Impotence.  Speaking Chinese is hard for me for two reasons: 1) the thoughts in my head are far more complex than what i can say in Chinese, so I get frustrated and feel like I cannot express myself, and 2) I sound like a really slow third-grader, so it’s hard to convey to people I am speaking to anything about my personality, except that I am a foreigner trying to speak Chinese.  I appear cute at best, pitiful at worst or somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  Rather than being able to talk about the election back home, I can ask people what they did last weekend and what they want to do next weekend.  Seriously high-brow conversation.

Speaking of the election, I am supposed to be getting my absentee ballot via FedEx from the Monmouth County clerk’s office sometime this week, so my fingers are crossed that it works out.  And if it was not clear from my last post, I am officially on record as supporting Barack Obama.  I could never, even if mentally deranged, support John McCain and his increasingly desperate and clueless bid for the presidency.  Many of you know that I was a strong Hillary supporter during the primary season, but after watching the debates and reading the papers, Barack has certainly come a long way as a candidate and I believe at this point in American history, he is the best choice to take America in a new direction, both at home and around the world.

So as my 30th approaches, I’ve definitely got a lot on my mind, but not too much to not leave you with this sign posted in the bathroom stall at my gym.

Sign in Bathroom Stall at Gym

Sign in Bathroom Stall at Gym

Democracy Thwarted

October 9, 2008

The absentee ballot that I applied for back in early August still has not arrived here in China.  My mother, who does a lot of my bidding, has been following up with the Monmouth County clerk’s office to see if they have sent it out and the best they could tell her was that they received my application, but they do not know if it went out.  How could they not know if the ballot was sent?  Don’t they keep track of those sorts of things to ensure that voter fraud does not occur?  Anyway, given the historic nature of this election I am trying to find alternate ways to make my vote count.  The US government, through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), allows US citizens living overseas to fill in a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot if you do not receive your real absentee ballot at least two weeks before the election.  The incompetence of the Monmouth County clerk’s office aside, I tried accessing the FVAP website from my apartment here in GZ.  Guess what?  It’s blocked by the Chinese government.  How do I know this?  I logged into my VPN and tried accessing the site and voila!  I was able to read how to fill out my ballot according the New Jersey’s rules and download the necessary forms.  So while the Monmouth County clerk’s office may be incompetent in preventing me from voting, the Chinese censors are direct and to the point by making it damn near impossible.   Thank g-d I have my mom to deal with the county clerk, but I’m not sure even she could take on the Chinese censors.

National Day, which has turned into National Week for me, has been a much needed and appreciated chance to take stock of the nearly two months I have been in Asia and to get around the region to see some friends.  National Day or 国庆节 is like our July 4th and commemorates the founding of the PRC on October 1, 1949.  The week-long holiday is referred to as Golden Week.  As part of my own Golden Week festivities, I am now down in Hong Kong visiting my friend LiLi, who I knew back in New York, and my friend Tracy, who used to work with me at Salomon in Hong Kong and is now living in Taibei.  Coming back to Hong Kong is always so trippy for me because of the two years that I lived here, so many things about the city do not even phase me.  For example, LiLi lives in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island in a typical Chinese building with an elevator and the pairs of shoes in the hallway, the smell of burning incense in the hallway, and the completely dysfunctional kitchen do not even phase me because I am used to them in a way that I was not the first time I ever came here.  It’s also been an odd week because I have sandwiched Guangzhou with two cities that could not be less Guangzhou-like.  HongKong and Shanghai, in their respective ways, are both far more developed and polished in ways that GZ is not.  I went on and on about this in my blog posts from Shanghai, so I will not repeat myself, but it’s so hard not to notice the minute you cross the border from Shenzhen and enter Hong Kong at Lo Wu.  Yup, this time I took the less expensive option and hopped an hour train from GZ East train station to Shenzhen, then walked a bit to the border crossing and hopped on the MTR in Hong Kong.  It’s pretty easy, just a bit of a pain to switch trains and walk across the border.  But suffice it to say that being here in HongKong makes me realize that it really is not like the rest of China and it’s hard to imagine the rest of the country catching up in the near future, even Shanghai with all its ambition and desire to get ahead.  I mean, there is still an element of tackiness in Shanghai that does not quite exist here.  In Shanghai, they still light up all of the elevated highways (高架路) with blue neon, something you would not find in Hong Kong (though to be fair, during Christmas, they decorate all of the buildings on the harbor with funny cartoon characters, snowflakes, and other decorations that someone felt would be appropriate for Christmas).  Hong Kong is just a step above the mainland in terms of feeling cosmopolitan and attempting to fuse foreigners and locals together into some sort of melting pot that has the potential to be reminiscent of a place like New York.  I was having dinner with my friend Michael the other night and we were talking about Shanghai and Hong Kong, in addition to other cities that we would rank as world-class and in addition to my two criteria I blogged about, he mentioned the ability of different nationalities to work side by side with one another as a sign that a city is truly cosmopolitan.  On that metric, Hong Kong is definitely further along than Shanghai and it is something that London and New York really excel at. 

I just finished reading about the VP debate between Biden and Palin and it seems that she did better than people expected, which means that the bar was set so low after her series of Couric interviews that there was nowhere else to go but up.  I don’t care how well she may have performed, her general lack of knowledge still frightens me and I do not know how Americans can bring themselves to vote for a McCain-Palin ticket after eight years of misguided Republican governing from the White House.  For just the sheer change in party, Americans should really consider giving Democrats a chance to sit in the White House because the GOP has done nothing but lead us deeper down a dark hole.  It’s nice to see Obama finally open up some sort of lead in the polls, but he should really be leading by double-digits because McCain and his cohorts have done so little to inspire any sort of confidence in their ability to govern effectively.  The Maverick that was so pesent in 2000 is no longer.  Look closely at the man and forget about the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam or that at one point in time he actually had the balls to defy his own party.  Those things happened in the past and what we have today is a McCain who is shamelessly pandering to a religious conservative party base that has no actual concern for foreign policy or the economy, but really only cares about who gets abortions, who gets married, and whether creationism is given its fair due in our schools.  America is kind of like Wile E. Coyote heading off that cliff and I don’t think McCain and the GOP that exists today is capable of keeping us from falling down.  Unfortunately, the polls do not tell the whole story about why Obama cannot open a wider lead because in our PC culture, no pollster is going to ask whether you would vote for an black presidential candidate and no voter is actually going to respond with candor that race matters a lot to them, to the point that they would incompetence over the color of a candidate’s skin.  It’s unfortunate that people cannot see past their own prejudices to actually make a good decision for our country.  And I love some people’s logic, those people who still think Obama is Muslim because his middle name is Hussein, but in the same breath will talk about his pastor and how he associated himself with such a man.  Now how is it that he can be Muslim, but also have a pastor?  Last time I checked, there were no pastors preaching at my local mosque. 

This blog has not veered into political territory, but with the election so close and my mother telling me this morning that Monmouth County, New Jersey screwed up my absentee ballot to the point that I may not get it in time to vote even though I filled out an application in early August, I feel that it is imperative that I weigh in with my limited knowledge and strong opinions.  Apparently the county board of elections told my mom that they did receive my application, but that they could not find my ballot to actually send to me.  Don’t ask me how that works, all I know is that it is incredibly frustrating that I did my part, but the government cannot ensure that I actually get to exercise my vote.  What’s also weird about this election and the general economic crisis is that living in China means that I read the news on the Internet and I cannot get any sense of the feeling on the ground at home, so I live in this vacuum where these things mean nothing to everyone else around me, save for a few Americans and other interested foreigners that I get to speak to.  Though the general disbelief that McCain could pick someone like Palin seems to be a global feeling from what I have been hearing, so that is somewhat of a relief.  I just hope enough Americans come around to feeling that way and put Obama in the White House.

And if you have some time and want a good laugh, check out Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin during her Couric interview, http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/couric-palin-open/704042/.  Had me cracking up and is so spot on.