A Winter Morning in SF

[Saturday Morning]

I was waken up by a crashing thunder sounded as if landed right above our building. Our large bedroom window looked, for once, dark. The alarm clock indicated 10:13am.

I jumped out of bed. Thunder! A rarity in SF Bay Area. Walking onto our little balcony, the little glass enclosed space felt moist and warm. Reminded me of a tropical forest. Looking out from the forth story of our building atop a hill, i could only see tips of trees shook violently in the wind. I started seeing barely visible lighting, nothing like those dramatic zigzag across the entire sky spectacle in Arizona, just a flash of light in the ambient. Then five seconds later, thunder roared. Then sheet of water splashed against the glassed wall of the balcony like ocean waves against shore, The building started whistling in the gushing wind, a different tune of the whistle i remembered from Beijing’s winter, sounded less angry, more afraid.

soon, rain were blew in from the mashed wire net sat between the balcony’s ceiling and the glass wall. The ceiling and door frame started dripping. It felt more and more like a forest.

I was happy. So were my plants.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Gui and I talked about whether to see King Kong. We both agreed that we would probably go reluctantly, and it would purely because of Peter Jackson.

Even with that criteria, I still felt very unsure as i walked into the theatre with ZM last night. Yesterday morning one of his friends called and told him that she had enjoyed the movie. How was her taste like? I asked him, as we were ascending the stairs in the spacious Century 25 theatre. Pretty good! He tried to reassure me.

All that reluctance was so unnecessary.

I couldn’t believe how much i enjoyed the movie.

Peter Jackson has pushed computer animation to a brand new plateau, and he is still the master of story telling. He made me, someone who never cared for monsters and horror films, to care so much about this beast called King Kong. I was crying a river, too.

Peter Jackson knows how to show us what he loves and why. Watching it made me understand why he loved this story. Watching it made me love it as well.

Isn’t that what creativity is for? To share what you feel with the audience? And to hopefully help them to see through your eyes and to feel the same way as you do?

King Kong climbed up Empire State Building to show Ann the beauty of a sunrise. He died for it. Peter Jackson made this movie to show us the beauty of King Kong, Lucky for him, he didn’t have to die for it. Lucky for us, too. Can’t wait to see the next “Sunrise” that he would chose to show us.

One Billion Customers

Mr. McGregor is an excellent speaker.

In addition to the entertainment, he provided a Business man’s point of view of China: practical, no baggage, no ideology. He is so in awe with China’s rampant capitalism that he seemed a borderline worshipper.

He had many good story to tell and each attempted to illustrate a point. China being the giant it is, with the 1.2 billion population and rising, it is bound to be a good place where stories are created everyday, to everyone. It is a dramatic place. McGregor did a good job telling his share of the stories.

Many of his conclusions concur with my own observations during my recent trip back to China. But there are a few glaring blind point that he totally didn’t touch on. I will start with the items that I’m in agreement.

Government Structure:
I found it impressive that he understands that China is in essence a feudal society just like it has been in the past thousands of years. Communism was a historical accident. “Communist party” is the current Empirical court, Military/Judicial system reports to it. made up of a a few hundred elite families. Outside of it is the government.

In China, no one believes in communism, here he told an excellent story about the actor Gu Yue, who has been portraying Chairman Mao for many many years. I might come back and insert the story here if i have time.

He made an interesting choice of word here, when he said “China is an individualistic society, you take care of yourself, your family, your friends. that’s it.” I never thought to associate this “selfish-ness” with the word “Individualistic”. The maximum i would go would have been “self-sufficient”.

Because of this unfortunate trait of the society, “If there is ever a revolution in the near future in China, it would start in a hospital ward.” Here he illustrated the same point i had made about the deterioration of Chinese Healthcare system, it is basically non-existent. And the citizens sit on the lowest rank of the totem pole, the peasants, the unemployed, the remove villagers, are the ones to suffer the most.

Intellectual Property Right:
After reading “Guns, Germs and Steel” I started to take IPR problem in China more seriously. Without intellectual property protection, a society will never encourage its people to be creative, without creativity, China will forever stay in the “copy & paste” state, behind the West.

Here is what McGregor, the American, the Businessman has to say about that:
“IPR is eroding China’s support in the US Congress, the centric group on the Hill.” He said that when the pro-China business lobbying group goes to D.C. they will encounter the hostility from the extreme right and extreme left of the Capital Hill. But they had always been able to count on the support from a group of centric senators and congressmen. This group has been served as the voice of reason and the support for trade with China. Chinese violation of IPR is seriously hurting the businesses behind these centric group. That is going to, if it hasn’t already, eroded this solid support in the US government

West’s Wrong/Superior Attitude toward China:
Most of them still live in the past glory thinking the US is the leader in the world and they could tell others what to do.

A couple of contrasting example from Mr. McGregor:
When Mr. Bush visited Beijing recently, he is basically went to meet his banker. China is now the largest financier for the US government. In a way, the US government officials are paid by the Chinese government.

Under this situation what did the US treasure Mr. Snow do when he visited SiChuan Province? He told the governor there that China should spend more, save less! “That’s not what my mom taught me!! ” Mr. McGregor laughed, “why didn’t he just tell them to eat more and exercise less?”

Because he spent the last 20 years in Taiwan and China. All of his kids grew up in China. Recently he has moved them back to the US to save expense cost and also to give them a chance to live in the US and to live a not-so-previleged life. After one week watching American TV, his son asked him, “Dad, what is 0 percent APR Financing?”

Now let’s look at a a few points that I want to counter Mr. Mcgregor.

Several times, Mr. Mcgregor stressed this point that China is an extremely entrepreneurial country, everyone is in it to make some quick money.

This fact alone shocked him the most because most people from the west would be when they saw a people who are more shrewed at business than the western businessman. But i want to emphasis here is the “quick” part. That alone could cause the collapse of this optimistic, fast-growing, rosy economic empire that Mr. McGregor and many other international businessmen in China have been painting.

Right now China’s banking system is a mess. It is not a market economy because of that. It is half controlled half free. Because China’s size, the free portion looked bigger than normal to most businessmen, and they started to take that and assume the rest of the economy will work the way it did in a mature western society.

One major concern for Chinese government is what to do when this rosy picture started to break apart. What if when all the bad loans the state run banks started to come back and hunt them? What if the Crash of US’s economy in 1929 happened in today’s China, what then?

Everyone is in it to make a quick buck. Very true. Because no one here believes or tries to build a sustainable economy.

Sometimes i admire the optimism of a business man. But they deserve the admiration because that’s how the wild wild west was built. So maybe they have a reason to be optimistic and gamble with all they have.

Risk-averse MBA graduates, or historians don’t make history. The gamblers, the optimists, the adventurers do. So for that, i must say, Salute! 🙂

At the end Mr. McGregor offered this option to the individual investors:
Don’t invest in China if you are a value investor.

That makes Mr. McGregor a cool-headed businessman, not yet a adventurer or gambler. I wonder maybe he is in it more for the fun rather than the money?

Freedom of Speech and Democracy:

Internet is more important to Chinese people than it is to the US users. WE are bombarded with all kinds of media. We have access to endless information sources. In China, Internet is their only way to get real information while the state controlled media is useless.

Don’t expect to see freedom of speech in China in my lifetime.

I think this maybe more of a wish rather than a predicament.
From business point of view, if the Chinese people started demanding Freedom of Speech, it is probably time for revolution rather than economy growth. That’s not what a Business man wanting to see.

My question will be if the Chinese economy one day evolves into a true market economy, what will that do to the political structure? If a true market economy could endanger Chinese political structure that has been in place for the past thousands of years, will the government let that happen? Where is the break to this gloomy loop? Is there a break?

Mr. McGregor’s opinion on Taiwan and HK:

Taiwan and China are extremely similar
Don’t like HK, messed it up by HongKongers themselves, lots of money, very little brain

My final take away question from the talk and all the information i’ve been consuming and digesting about China is this:

Is China the future of capitalism?

Paul Theroux “The Best Year of My Life”

In one of recent “The New Yorker”, I read a short fiction by Paul Theroux, it was called: The Best Year of My Life.

I started reading Paul Theroux when Gui introduced me to his “Riding the Iron Rooster.” Later “The Old Patagonian Express : By Train Through the Americas .” The chapter where he described his meeting with Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires was one of my favorite travel story by him.

But there is something cold/angry in him that i don’t like. A friend called it his “negativity.”

Do you know who was Theroux’s mentor? V.S. Naipaul, the nastiest old man you can find in any profession.
  I read Naipaul’s “An Area of Darkness” a long time ago—before he got the Nobel and boasted of his prowess and exclusive sexual relationship with prostitutes—and the bitter aftertaste stayed with me for weeks. Indians deserve Naipaul even less than Chinese deserve 高行健.
  Although the master and the pupil have since bitterly broken up, it seems that Theroux’s takeaway from Naipaul was a shared negativity. His tinted glasses register all and only ugliness of his life and ours, and he tirelessly harass us with the 2-D cinema verite of his pen. Have you read his travel writings on his railway rides in China and India? Well, Theroux did teach thousands of young expats of the “Lonely Planet” crowd or the Peace Corps missionaries how to see, how to think, and how to feel superior.
  But what a great pen……
-by 旧精魂

Last year i finished reading Dark Star Safari while traveling inTurkey. That was by far the best travel writing i’ve seen from Theroux. He mellowed up too. Age does help, doesn’t it?

I was never into his fiction, though. Just travel writings. This short story in the New Yorker explained many things for me about him. Knowing this made me want to forgive all his coldness i’ve seen through out the pages.

Poor Paul.