Stephanie Karlik

Category: China News

Two Weeks in Europe: A Trumpian Nightmare Escape Story

trump(Image courtesy of Business Insider)

Helicopters circled overhead, the sound of their blades penetrating into my kitchen, sending me and my Siamese cat into a tailspin of terror. Protesters outside chanted in unison an indistinguishable cacophony of anti-Trump slogans, my heart rate skyrocketing as I considered whether to join them in the park, run in the other direction to the nearest bakery and stuff my face with a red velvet cupcake, or bury my head in my hands and sob. It was the day after the presidential election and I was still trying to process what the hell had just happened to me, my fellow Angelenos, Californians, and Americans. Could this really be true? Could reality TV star Donald Trump really be my new president? Could the xenophobic-racist-sexist-nasty-as-a-nacho-cheese-burp rhetoric that slipped out of his mouth really have just been given the stamp of approval by the nation?

The night before, as election results started rolling in, I found myself at my local Long Beach Farmers’ Market, buying organic greens and talking to my neighbors about potentially horrific outcomes. “Trump might win,” my bohemian-sings-in-a-folk-band-artist friend Monica said as we lounged under her Gypsies of Bohemia henna art tent.

“I think it could be ok,” I reassured her. “We’re only seeing the returns from the Bible Belt and the Midwest right now.” She went back to drawing henna designs, and I went home with my radical ayurvedic yogi girl friend Rosa to eat salmon and kale while we watched the rest of the returns roll in. With Pennsylvania hanging and set to determine the final outcome, we knew what was in store for us. “We’re doomed,” Rosa said.

“Yup,” I agreed. As Pennsylvania turned red on my MacBook screen in the next few moments, we tried to accept our fate, not without visceral lashings-out in sheer panic, however. “Oh no!” I cried. “I’m everything radical Trump supporters hate: I’m a woman. I’m Asian. I’m an artist. I’m… I’m… I’m yoga pants!” Referencing the intolerant posters of radical Trump ralliers in the lead-up to the election that literally denounced yoga pants, tears started rolling down my cheeks.

Rosa left my house that night on her bicycle, texting me when she got home. “You should go outside and get some fresh air,” she urged. “It helped clear my head a lot.” I would go outside for a walk to try to do just that, but it wouldn’t help much. The next several months passed by largely in a blur of shock, horror, denial, and fatigue at Trump and all the chaos he had stirred up in our nation and beyond.

Six months later, I found myself on an SAS flight to Stockholm, mostly to see my sexy Swedish boyfriend but also to attend a design conference in Amsterdam called “What Design Can Do,” a two-day event that aimed to bring together professionals in various design fields under the banner of global climate change action. On day one of the conference, designers, intellectuals, and experts of fields from law to finance to media came together to discuss this increasingly important issue.

In a workshop with IKEA’s head of design, we created ideas for democratic homes, where energy was regenerative and the pushing and pulling of drawers could fuel an LED plant grower-filled kitchen that produced fresh herbs and veggies. In a session on local food movements, Brazilian chef and restaurateur Rodrigo Oliveira discussed his restaurant’s inclination toward local Brazilian-sourced food highlighting the country’s unique topography, how that won him a Michelin star, and how other restaurants might look to recreate his model. In a session on corporations and finance, we discussed pension and investment funds, how they’re responsible for a significant portion of climate change, and how we as investors can make empowered financial decisions that are also attentive to the environment.

All in all, I was absolutely blown away at the level of discourse my European counterparts were bringing to the table throughout the conference. They seamlessly integrated intellectual dialogue on design and social matters in a way that was incredibly rare in America, where the design world tends to be more closely linked with commerce. My European colleagues were easily able to engage in cross-disciplinary interaction as academics, artists, activists, or all of the above. And perhaps most importantly, my European friends had what I believe to be the right perspective on President Trump, mocking him throughout the two-day event for his explicit denial that climate change is a real thing.

This was the freshest breath of air I’d inhaled in about a year, from the venomous presidential campaign trail to the panic attack-inducing election night, on to the anxiety-filled inauguration period. Dutch, German, English, or Swedish, my pan-European colleagues were informed, cosmopolitan, awake, and aware, perhaps best evidenced in the seemingly simplest of interactions.

At the close of the conference, I attended a vegetarian dinner held at a Dutch modern restaurant by the beautiful Amsterdam canals. As I chomped on fresh asparagus, a sophisticated and striking young Dutch graphic designer, Loes, began chatting with me, our conversation quickly flowing into China territory. “I find it interesting that China wasn’t really mentioned at all at this conference,” Loes noted, pouring herself some more tempranillo, “especially since Europe is essentially becoming a museum piece.”

“I guess it is, isn’t it?” I agreed.

“We should really be engaging with them on the subject,” she added. As our conversation continued, Loes amused me, a long-time China watcher and anthropologist of the region, with her more-than-adequate knowledge on China and the country’s place in the grander geopolitical picture. This young woman, no official China expert of any sort but a graphic designer by profession, possessed just as much information on the subject of China as actual China specialists I’ve met in the field of international relations. Furthermore, that we could so smoothly slide into dialogue with one another in the interest of knowledge-sharing and truth-finding was refreshing. All too often in America, healthy debate fell off a cliff into a space of defensiveness, fiery opinion enforcement, and stonewalling. Elegant, attuned, refined, artistic, and intelligent, Loes was symbolic of the larger European scenario I encountered on my trip. While this points to class, education, and socioeconomic stratification differences between Europe and America, I couldn’t help but feel we Americans appeared selfish, bloated, ignorant, uninformed, and just flat out stupid from where I was standing. There with Loes, I felt we Americans were absolutely living up to our negative stereotypes.

As conversation with Loes wrapped up with the close of dinner, she and I made our way over to the restaurant’s dance floor. Chef Oliveira handed us a glass of Brazilian cachaca and with that, we drank, we laughed, and we danced the night away. I walked home along the Amsterdam canals in the early morning with a belly full of alcohol, a mind full of ideas, and a heart full of inspiration.

A week later, after a whirlwind tour through Berlin and its wicked street art scene, I boarded a flight back to L.A. My trip was over, but two weeks in Europe had changed me. Whether as a designer, an academic, or just as a human being, I’d been deeply moved by my European colleagues. They were having the conversations I wanted to have. They were thinking progressively, discussing rationally, and acting accordingly. I didn’t want to overgeneralize an entire continent of people. I didn’t want to make a select group of urban professionals I interacted with representative of a vast group of highly diverse people. But these were the conclusions I had to walk away with based on my individual experience of the region. As I sat on that airplane flying over the Atlantic, I determined that I wanted to bring this European spirit back with me to America, most especially all that I’d absorbed related to climate change. And it was feasible as a Californian. Putting on my headphones, I fell fast asleep on that comforting thought.

Ten hours later, as my plane landed at LAX, the bright California sun beaming through our oval windows, I turned my iPhone off airplane mode and scanned through Google for the news. “President Trump Leaves Paris Climate Agreement” the headlines screamed at me. Seriously?! I thought to myself. Like a bucket of ice cold water to the face, the message was clear: Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in enlightened Europe anymore.

Defeated, I rolled my suitcase out to my Uber, arrived home shortly after, and fell into a deep jet-lagged hibernation. Waking up a few days later, I did what any good red-blooded American should do after a meaningful experience: I went to Disneyland.

With yogi Rosa and dominatrix Diana at my side, we teacupped, we Splash Mountained, and we Peter Panned. In-between, we talked about Black Lives Matter, about California’s role as the renegade state in the Trump era, and about China’s effect on Los Angeles real estate prices. Conversation, while at once discouraging, was also encouraging. Why? Because it was happening. Just like it was happening in Europe, it was happening here among three California women. And so in that moment, I felt there was hope for the future. Trump’s negative influence would roll forward, but we women would continue to assert ourselves and our opinions. California would forge ahead in its defiance. Governor Jerry Brown would meet directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss climate change controls. And global designer-anthropologists like myself would do what we could to stay engaged with important social-political-environmental subjects while practicing our crafts.

Designer and thinker Bruce Mau said at the close of the “What Design Can Do” conference that “We cannot afford the luxury of cynicism.” No truer words were spoken in regards to the critical importance of dialogue and action in our times. Stonewalling gets us nowhere; healthy communication gets us everywhere. Sorry, America, but there’s no red velvet cupcake in the the world to ease our pain. Our only hope is to openly discuss, pull ourselves up by our cowboy bootstraps, and go to work.

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China’s “Leftover” Men and Women: Over 30% Masturbate through the Pressure

A recent report by China’s Sohu News highlights the pressures faced by China’s single demographic referred to as “leftovers.”

Made up of men and women between the ages of 30 and 39 and unmarried, China is now seeing a drastic increase in the leftover segment of the population.

The number of estimated leftover men in China is about 12 million individuals, while an estimated 5.8 million leftover women inhabit the nation with a population of 1.35 billion.

Concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, and other tier one cities, leftover women tend to have higher levels of education and higher salaries, with about 48% possessing a master’s degree or higher and 36% earning over 15000 yuan monthly ($2450 U.S.). Many leftover women express that they expect future male partners to have adequate financial resources before getting married. Thirty-seven percent acknowledge that salary is a significant consideration in their partner search.

On the leftover men’s side, most can be found in China’s more populated areas of Guangxi, Guangdong, and Jiangxi. About half do not own property or a car and have lower incomes than leftover women.  Thirty percent make less than 2000 yuan monthly ($3265 U.S.) and 16% have no income at all. Nevertheless, a significant portion of China’s leftover men are highly educated with about 37% percent possessing master’s degrees or higher. While salary tends to be of greater concern to leftover women, physical appearance is high on the priority list for leftover men. Over half admit that a woman’s physical appearance is a major factor in their partner search.

The outcomes of such high numbers of unmarried working people in China include complaints about the opposite sex, many leftover men claiming that women are too independent while leftover women speak of a lack of self-confidence among the men.

Additionally, about 75% of all leftovers suffer from high stress levels citing loneliness and unhappiness in their lives.

This has been connected to poor lifestyle habits, many leftovers admitting to staying up all night restless, suffering from lack of sleep and insomnia, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and bingeing late night.

But perhaps most interesting is how these singles in the city resolve their sexual urges.  About 17.6% of leftovers have a steady sexual partner and 21.6% abstain for extended periods, but the highest percentage, about 31.4% admit to masturbating to alleviate sexual pressure.

While such a situation is mirrored in urban areas all over the world, the prospects for such leftover men and women in China may not be too encouraging. In an environment of traditionally high societal pressure to get married and produce offspring for the continuation of bloodlines, China’s leftovers are expected to grow to an estimated 30 million individuals by 2020. This comes as a result of uneven gender distribution from China’s one-child policy and steady population growth in the world’s most populous country.

Some of China’s leftover set have accordingly come to embrace their leftover status, asserting that they have no desires for marriage or children in the future.

Chinese Journalists Lose Critical Voice and Global Credibility

A critical attitude is one of the most important characteristics of a journalist.

But in order to enhance ideological unity, Chinese President Xi Jinping recently called on all Chinese government officials to combat “rumor spreaders” in the country and to win the battle for “public opinion,” cracking down on online dissenters and their critical attitudes towards the state.

Accordingly, the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department announced that the nation will require its 307,000 reporters, producers, and editors to sit through at least two days of Marxism classes.

Chinese journalists initially reacted with a kind of silenced apathy, one investigative reporter for the Southern Weekly stating that he was “speechless” in response to the new requirement.

But beyond losing a voice in Chinese society with Xi Jinping’s announcement, Chinese reporters now face the loss of journalistic credibility internationally and are slowly speaking out about it anonymously.

According to a reporter for China’s Sina News, the Berliner Zeitung in Germany claims that “professional conduct standards for Chinese journalists will now be more blurred,” and China’s new “ideological requirement” will force journalists to abandon their critical duties.

The Berliner Zeitung goes on to say, “In comparison to publications from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Chinese media today is vibrant and diverse. Before, from content to language and layout, practically all Chinese newspapers were the same. Now, however, China has over 2000 newspaper outlets and around 9500 magazine publishers covering topics from astronomy to local construction projects and garden design. Even topics related to homosexuality and domestic violence were common and critical attitudes were the norm.”

But as a result of the new policy announcement, the Berliner Zeitung fears that Chinese journalists will not only feel pressured to hold their tongues on matters related to religion, Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. The German news source expresses concern that Chinese journalists will not be at liberty to speak critically about much at all.

According to an anonymous Chinese online journalist, “Most journalists who were looking for journalistic freedom have left China’s newspaper industry or aligned themselves with the Chinese government’s wishes.”

And while ideological unity reform plays out in China, more reporters being forced into anonymity or out of the journalistic field, credibility abroad for China’s content creators drops.

Chinese reporters are further muffled and silenced.

Foreign reporters further lose sense of what’s actually happening on the ground in China.

And the Party is the new editorial department.

New Silk Road Advances New Great Game

Speaking on September 7th in Astana, Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping sketched out a plan for a “Silk Road” economic belt between China and Central Asia, marking the first time that Beijing has officially proposed such an ambitious economic tie.

In a trip to Central Asia that included visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgzystan among appearances at the G20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summits, Xi made strong moves to further develop the New Silk Road amidst a turbulent global economic climate.

Xi was quoted as saying that the new economic belt “boasts a three-billion population and a market that is unparalleled both in scale and potential.” In fact, trade between China and the major five Central Asian countries has expanded from $460 million in 1992 to an impressive $46 billion in 2012 due in large part to the growing trade ties between the regions in recent years.

But with the Chinese economy now slowing down after three decades of rapid expansion, Chinese leaders aim to develop central and western areas in the country further. This includes the Xinjiang region bordering several Central Asian states.

Xinjiang’s stability is still threatened by a number of security concerns including ethnic tensions, Uighur uprisings, and violent separatist attempts. Xinjiang Ribao reports that “Xinjiang’s stability has a bearing on the stability of the whole country and Xinjiang’s development has a bearing on the development of the whole country.”

With this in mind, Chinese leaders are pushing for the New Silk Road as a means to strengthen Xinjiang economically while enhancing ties with Central Asia, making the national economy less export-dependent and more consumption-driven.

Xi expressed his desire for the New Silk Road to be as extensive as the original Silk Road, an 11,000 kilometer-long series of trade routes reaching from China to the Mediterranean Sea during the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BC.

The term “New Silk Road” began to be circulated by international policymakers, journalists, and scholars in the 1990s, when China adopted a “going out” strategy to build pipelines and trade routes in the Central Asian region in order to satisfy its mounting energy needs. In turn, Chinese policymakers have co-opted this term and used this narrative to fortify historical sentiments in the region while bolstering trade.

But China’s aggressive “look west” New Silk Road development policy may not be so warmly welcomed by other powers looking to have influence in Central Asia, namely Russia and the U.S.

Though China has labeled the SCO, created in 1996 and with Russia as a member, an “all-win situation,” fostering “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and seeking common development,” in an atmosphere of “non-alliance, non-confrontation and not being directed against any third party,” Russian and American policymakers still look at the regional powerhouse with a skeptical eye.

In fact, the complicated triangular relationship between the U.S., China, and Russia in competition for control of Central Eurasia is part of the larger “New Great Game,” what analysts describe as playing out between the U.S., UK and other NATO countries against Russia, China, and other SCO countries for “influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.”

Who the real allies and adversaries in the New Great Game are is still up in the air, however.

China and Russia formally acknowledged their mutual interest in the Central Asian region with the creation of the SCO in 1996, but it was seen as a deliberate move against the U.S. and its economic interests.

Following the September 11th terrorist attacks and American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the SCO was forced to take a back seat to the American agenda.

Simultaneously, rising concerns about Chinese hegemony has caused many Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, to reconsider China’s potential dominance across the Asian continent.

In 2004, Professor Stephen Blank of the Strategic Studies Institute stated, “President Vladimir Putin has expressed displeasure recently with the ministry’s performance, carrying out a personnel reshuffle and warning that Russia’s dominant role in the Commonwealth of Independent States is endangered. Not only is the West encroaching on Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, China is also making substantial economic inroads, especially in Central Asia.”

While Putin’s public comments following the SCO summit of 2013 were outwardly positive, observers wonder if Moscow’s privately planning its next regional chess move, viewing China as more of an adversary than an ally.

As for U.S. interest, among various regional concerns for the global superpower are those of securing oil resources alongside China’s similarly voracious oil appetite.

Beginning in 1993, China became a net importer of oil. By 1995, it was reported that the country was using about 400,000 barrels a day. By 2010, its consumption was at about 3.6 million barrels a day. And by 2012, that number had reached 10.3 million, making China the number two consumer of oil behind the United States.

The U.S., on no shortage of occasions, has made its discomfort with China’s ascending geopolitical position known, however, it’s not just China that the U.S. is trying to outbid in the developing Central Asian region but Russia, as well.

Hillary Clinton, when serving as U.S. Secretary of State, had laid out the U.S. “New Silk Road Initiative” saying, “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan’s and India’s growing energy needs and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.”

Yet the U.S., currently mindful of unnecessary government spending, has essentially backed away from these initiatives.

While the U.S. cautiously considers its position in the Central Asian steppe and Russia goes through the motions of cooperation with China, it’s clear that President Xi’s New Silk Road push in Kazakhstan is a big step in China’s march to economic development and regional stability.

How the New Great Game continues to play out in the future, and who’s bluffing whom has yet to be seen.

Chinese Netizens Comment on 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The news that Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Olympic games set the world abuzz with excitement, but it’s the proposed budget for the event that has Chinese netizens buzzing with bitterness towards their own government.

Japan’s planned budget of about $3.3 billion dollars is less than ten percent of the approximate $40 billion dollars spent on Beijing’s 2008 summer games.

The budget announcement triggered lively discussion among Chinese citizens online through forums like Weibo and Renmin Net. Some netizens cited that corruption among government officials in Japan wasn’t as rampant as China’s and as a result, Japanese officials spent national funds more cautiously. Other commenters noted that Chinese officials spent carelessly because the money to fund the 2008 Olympics was not their own, rather, came from the sweat and blood of Chinese commoners.

While it’s widely believed that criticism of the Chinese government by Chinese citizens, online or offline, is strictly forbidden, statements against the Chinese government are frequently made on Weibo, a site that’s been called China’s Twitter. Nevertheless, comment threads and discussions deemed to be the most inflammatory are oftentimes deleted by the government in an effort to keep national order.

(Source: Sina)

Chinese Woman Has Bad Trip

(photo courtesy of Global Post)

September 6, 2013 18:50 EST

Bystanders looked on in horror as a Chinese woman stood atop a bridge railing in Chongqing on the evening of September 5th, screaming that she had “passed into the Tang Dynasty.”

While she called out to the “emperor,” an alarmed bystander called local police. After arriving at the scene, the police successfully coaxed the woman into stepping down from the railing. Addressing police officers as “your majesty,” the woman was brought to the local police station for questioning, where she continued to speak incoherently about the Tang emperor.

It was later revealed that the woman had consumed a considerable amount of methamphetamines prior to the incident and was experiencing the hallucinatory effects of the drug. The Chongqing Dazu police department is keeping the woman in detention while they investigate the source of the illegal substance.

While the amount of time it took for bystanders to call for help at the scene is unknown, that the woman in question came out unscathed is notable. Foreign observers have long criticized Chinese citizens’ failure to call for help for others in emergency situations.

(Source: Sina)