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One of the storylines before and during the Olympics was the architectural wonders sprouting out throughout the city. On nearly every other block, there was a construction project or billboards advertising a future project. But no one ever asked the question, Who’s going to rent/buy/fill all that space? Nearly six months after the Games, we have an answer: No one.

From the LA Times:

Beijing went through a building boom before the 2008 Summer Olympics that filled a staid communist capital with angular architectural feats that grace the covers of glossy design magazines.

Now, six months after the Games ended, the city continues to dazzle by night, with neon and floodlights dancing across the skyline. By day, though, it is obvious that many are “see-through” buildings, to use the term coined during the Texas real estate bust of the 1980s.

The Bird’s Nest, the linchpin of the Games, is empty — even though it costs $9 million a year to maintain. The mammoth concrete Olympic plaza is empty. High-end apartments and homes are empty because no one can afford them. As the article states, at some point the banks that financed all the projects will have to “pay the piper.” And when that time comes, how will that affect China’s investments abroad? More specifically, China’s investments in the U.S.?

As Hillary Clinton said during her trip to China, the U.S. still needs China’s investements. Although I am no economist or financial guru, it’s not hard to envision a precipitous fall in China’s markets this year or next. And I wonder if China can still keep financing American debt if that happens. Perhaps we’ll find out once the piper comes out to collect.


From the New York Times:

Chinese authorities have begun blocking access from mainland China to the Web site of The New York Times even while lifting some of the restrictions they had recently imposed on the Web sites of other media outlets.

I’m still getting comments on my posts from China from time to time. A recent one from Tony piqued my interest. One of the great things about a blog is that it promotes dialogue and it promotes transparency. I’ve never edited or deleted a critical comment (comments do have to be approved to ward off spammers).

Here’s what Tony had to say about my role as a reporter and the reluctance and reticence of many Chinese whom I wanted to interview.

“You could see the fear in their eyes — a look I’d never seen before — over talking to reporters. They would usually give us one last dirty look before hurriedly walking away.”

I’ll tell you what, the reason why these people don’t want to speak to foreign reporters is because western press will take every effort to negatively criticize every little aspect of China and demoralize their motherland. They aren’t “afraid” of talking to you reporters, they are disgusted.

Honestly, if I were that guy at the park I would have done the loudest spit and turn my back.

Well, that’s a comment that deserves a response. I understand why many Chinese are edgy and sensitive about media coverage, certainly after the unrest in Tibet and the critical coverage before and throughout the Olympics. It’s hard to be under that kind of microscope and scrutiny. And it’s easy to blame the media, it’s an easy target. But as a member of the media that Tony so despises, I feel compelled to defend it. Here’s what I e-mailed Tony the other day:

Hi Tony,

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and leave a comment. I think you’re wrong to criticize my reporting. If you knew me and my track record, I have always been the first to call out unbalanced and unfair coverage of China. I went out of the way to get the point of view of Chinese locals. I made it a point to interview as many regular folks as I possibly could. That they shunned me without even hearing what my questions were was disappointing.

Sure, some in the media have relied on shoddy or biased reporting when covering China and Asia in general. But to group everyone in one big “Western media conspiracy” is shortsighted and counterproductive. There are good journalists and journalism out there (I recommend you read anything by Peter Hessler). But their jobs are made difficult by a government that frowns upon free speech and the free dissemination of ideas. That is a fact you cannot dispute. What is sad and disheartening is the fear and disillusionment that many Chinese have about the so-called West and the press. What is worse: a free press with all its virtues and blemishes or a society that breeds (and at times has openly encouraged) antipathy and suspicion.

As a journalist I have to side with the right to free press. As a human being, I believe in basic human rights. I believe a free press is a basic human right. And I’m thankful we can have this discussion. Because if we were in China, we couldn’t have this discussion — WordPress has been banned there.

Again, thanks for commenting.


Finally finished Peter Hessler’s River Town. It only took three months. His other book, Oracle Bones, is also a fine read. Well, anything he writes (you can find him in the New Yorker) is good. He writes the way I could only dream about.

My time in China and Hong Kong is ending tomorrow. With the markets crumbling and the economy in the doldrums, there’s no better time to return to America, right?

I’ll be spending a couple days in San Francisco, where I can sit down and reflect on the past three months. Perhaps write something compelling and profound — or I could summarize my trip with this video of freshly butchered fish heads.

Yep, that’s my China trip in a nutshell.

My trip is drawing to a close. And what better end to my three-month journey than riding out a typhoon in Hong Kong. I’m hunkered down in my hostel (OK, it’s really not that bad outside) as Typhoon Hagupit moves toward the city and Southern China. Hagupit apparently means “to lash” in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines. Hagupit will stay on my good side if it doesn’t affect my flight on Thursday.

Two cell phone stores. Two salespeople. Two mics. A lot of noise.

Shenzhen is one of China’s most prosperous cities. It was one of the first to open up as millions flocked to the metropolis — kind of like California during the gold rush.

Obviously, not everything is rosy. The streets aren’t paved with gold and not everyone finds wealth. I witnessed two of the more depressing sights in Shenzhen.

While I was walking from the train station, I saw a grandmother scooping and eating rice out of a garbage can while she cradled her napping grandson.

And when I was touring a busy thoroughfare, there were beggars — young and old — everywhere. This one girl would “entertain” pedestrians by spinning round and round while she clung on to the revolving stand with her teeth. She would spin, spin, spin  — and stop. Rest for a minute or two. Then bite the cloth mouthpiece to spin, spin, spin again.

I stopped in Guangzhou last week for a couple days. Saw my relatives again, ate at my favorite Chinese fast-food joint, Kung Fu and attended … Oktoberfest.

Guangzhou Oktoberfest

Once I saw the advertisement for it, I knew I had to go. I had never been to an Oktoberfest, so I figured there was no better locale to experience my first than Guangzhou. For $30 or $40 bucks (I forgot how much admission was), you had unlimited food and beer. Chinese servers dressed in Bavarian dresses and guys forced to wear really, really tight overalls.  I expected a wild, debauched night.

Not so much.

Perhaps it was because it was a Wednesday, but the crowd was pretty subdued. The band tried to pump up the crowd to no avail. It wasn’t for the lack of trying or enthusiasm (they even yelled “ganbei!” to get the crowd to polish off their mugs of beer). Or clever games. Like the one they fooled 10 women in competing.

I’ve been trading IMs with the guitarist of Oliver, one of the bands I wrote about for Cool guy who enjoys all things rock.

He sent me the link to their MySpace page, which you can check out if you want. Here’s part of the description of the band from their site.

The band were formed in chaos, and they played in chaos. In fact, the band are used to dealing all the music-related matters in chaos.

Perhaps they should’ve called their band Chaos Theory?