How I learned to stop worrying and love SARS

Well, life has been a bit crazy here because of SARS. I got swept up in the panic myself and almost left Beijing last week. I was really afraid that China was going to become a disaster zone and that leaving later would be impossible. I changed my mind and decided to stay, and now I’m not so worried. For one, the medical facts about SARS don’t support the need for panic. For a while it was really hard to get good medical information about SARS, but this week I did find a good seven-page article about SARS from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Facts about SARS

Personally, about 3 or more weeks ago, when I first heard about SARS, I decided that I’d stop taking the bus and the subway. I still take taxis, though, for better or worse. But I haven’t been going out as much just to keep myself from public places. I stored up on food last week so that I could cook at home. Other people had the same idea because the shelves in the store were noticably emptier, but certainly not empty. Of course I don’t know what the stores are like right now because I haven’t been back this week.

Work has been a bit wierd. Visitors are barred from entering the building as well as from the student apartment building where I live. Staff come and spray my floor with a bleach solution every day. Thankfully it’s not vinegar like other places are using! Also, in the student apartment, we have to sign in every night, give our temperature, and state where we went that day. I’ve been tempted to write things like “whore house on 5th street” or “heroine detox center” just to see if anyone is paying attention. So far I’ve managed to only give serious answers though. The ironic thing is that while they are requiring this to prevent (or track) a possible spread of SARS among the students, we all use the same pen to sign in, so I think the whole thing is pretty useless. Maybe I should sneeze on the sign-in sheet, just for good measure.

My apologies to my family and friends who would like me to be home right now. Thanks for praying for my health and safety.

Antiwar China Speech

The Mad Philosopher gets political

During my year’s time in China, I’ve struggled with how to express myself politically while living in a country where it isn’t safe to do so. For example, people in China generally hate the American government. They talk about the U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003), but are quite isolated from the discussion and dissent going on around the world. Yes, there were anti-war protests in Hong Kong, but it would surprise me if the media in China reported this. Protests are illegal in the rest of China.

So I am left wondering how I can join and contribute to the discussion going on elsewhere in the world. Well, I listen to CJSR, a community-based radio station in Edmonton, the BBC news, and I read some of the independent media columnists on the Internet.

Here, I give the following two audio clips which were taken from the “Jay and Penny Show” on CJSR, and I encourage you to give them a listen as these are things you won’t hear elsewhere in the media.

The Worst President Ever (1.5 MB)

Howard Zinn on Just and Unjust Wars (3.4 MB)

China Python

Post Holiday Rest and Relaxation

Well, Lily and I had an excellent holiday. We visited family in NE China, wore lots of clothes to keep warm, ate really well, and enjoyed the fireworks and the stars. (In fact, back in Beijing, people are still setting off fireworks for the rest of the week.) It was a great experience for me to celebrate the Spring Festival in China. One fun moment was buying ice cream bars from a street vendor at -20°C! At that temperature, a cardboard box is all you need for refrigeration.

Since coming home to Beijing, I’ve rested lots, and been working at home for the week since the office is closed. (I need to make up for all the work I missed since I took my holiday earlier than everyone else.) But I got it all done and it’s Friday night. I’m looking forward to going out and watching the sunset and then maybe I’ll go out for pizza.

Also this week, for some reason, I’ve gone crazy playing and hacking around in Python. Maybe I missed my computer lots on my holiday. (I think so!) I wrote a command-line equivalent to the Unix cal(1) command which prints calendars like this for any month and/or year:

   February 2003
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
 2  3  4  5  6  7  8
 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28

It’s not that big of a deal though since Python has this as a built in module. But it needed a command-line interface, so now my windows box has a cal command. I’m also working with a full-text indexer to index all the textfiles (and email messages) on my computer to aid with searching for stuff I’ve archived long ago. I am also planning to write a simple equivalent to the GNU locate command, to just help find locations of files (not their contents) on my computer.

Of course, when I come up with something useful, I need to stick it on my webpage to share with the world. Fun, fun, fun!


Happy Spring Festival!

[image from]The New Moon on February 1 marks the beginning of the new year in the Chinese calendar. But to the Chinese, this is the start of their Spring Festival. Okay, so it’s not spring yet, but the Chinese are eager to forget winter and to welcome spring. Aren’t you?! (Those of you in northern climes, anyway.)

I will be celebrating the Spring Festival here in China, which I am very happy about. I’m not too sure what I will be experiencing, but already I’ve had two parties at work and I know I’m going to eat well for the rest of the holiday. Yum! Tomorrow I fly to Haerbin in northeast China to experience the holiday in Heilong Jiang Province. I hope to see the famous Ice Festival with the beautiful ice sculptures and ice lanterns.

If you can’t be in China for the Spring Festival, I hope you can check out the festivities in your own community. Any major city in Canada will be having stuff going on. Otherwise, spend an evening with Google! and see what the Spring Festival is all about.

Wishing you and your family much happiness in the new year.

China General

Books, and Fluoride for your soul

I’ve been home from China for the last three weeks over Christmas, visiting family and friends. I’m going back this Friday, so I’m doing the last of my errand running and such tomorrow. I sure bought a lot of books this trip. I hope they all fit in my suitcase. There is a definite lack of English books in China, especially on the things I like to read about. So I’ve made full use of mail-order web sites as well as the good old used book stores in my hometown. I’m sad to have learned Second Fiddle Books closed about three months after I left for China. I heard the owner, Chris, is no longer in the book business but has started a plumbing apprenticeship. Good luck, Chris! I hope to run into you some day.

I visited the dentist during my brief time here, and a conversation with my dental hygenist left a significant impression on me. It was weird. Having learned I was living in China, she expressed concern whether I would be getting fluorinated water over there. She then launched into a exposé on the importance of fluoride which bordered on fanaticism. It seemed strange enough that it triggered some fragments of pieces I’d heard about fluoride being unsafe. So, this morning I looked up fluoride on Google! and learned a bit more about the controversy. The preceding link will bring up sites on both sides of the fluoride debate. If you read too much, you may begin to question our faith in the agencies which are in place to protect the public’s health, or in the scientific societies (and journals) which are in place to protect the objectivity of science. You could call me paranoid, but maybe I haven’t been getting enough fluoride in my diet the last 9 months to keep me quiet about such things. 🙂 Cheers!