Posted on May 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 5 comments

Jet lag, even in its mildest form, is truly one of life’s eeriest and most irritating maladies. On this trip back to the US, arriving at 6pm in the US has mitigated its effects somewhat. I was able to eat dinner, catch up with my folks, unpack a little, and crash at a reasonable hour. Even still, the ‘JL’ refuses to die completely.

Roughly 27 hours passed between leaving my tidy Kunming apartment at sunrise and arriving back to my parents’ place in San Carlos, California. In that time, I managed to:
– get into a row with the girl at the Hainan Airlines ticket booth at the Kunming Airport for saying that my passport number didn’t match the number in her computer, only to realize that it wasn’t her fault and I was just cranky and needed to yell at someone
– meet a young American who was depressed to be leaving his gorgeous girlfriend and beautiful life in China behind for a more humdrum existence in New England
– offend a businessman on the trans-Pacific leg of the flight by saying I didn’t like Shanghai cuisine
– buy a copy of the 新京报, 南风窗, Financial Times, Economist, and Global Times and convince myself irrationally that I would read them all on the flight
– instead watch three films: Iron Man, featuring a suddenly buffed up and healthy Robert Downey Jr; Shine a Light, featuring the geriatric Rolling Stones, and the entertaining and excellent Bank Job featuring badass Jason Statham.
– watch an obese woman at the Seattle airport scream at a Chinese man to remove his shoes about three times, despite his obvious inability to understand English. I meekly pointed to his shoes in order to spare him some embarrassment.
– had a quick little lunch at the airport with my sister, which was fun
– got a kick out of the folksy Americanisms of the flight attendants on the domestic flight to San Francisco. ‘Just stow away those ole electronic devices…’


I spent yesterday in Berkeley and San Francisco with my mother, first looking at the campus and then having lunch. The impression that has struck me the most has been the prevalence of old buildings and the fact that little has changed in the past year and a half.

For a country famous for being so old, most buildings in China are actually new. The half-life of any new building in China seems to be a fraction of what it is elsewhere, as it often makes more sense to tear buildings down and re-build them than it is to build them to last in the first place.

In any case- more observations to come as I enjoy my holiday by the beautiful San Francisco Bay.…

California Dreaming

Posted on May 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

I’m heading back home to California on Wednesday for a three-week visit with friends and family. It has been awhile since I was last home- 16 months, in fact. For me, this is the longest period of time I have spent away from the Golden State in my life. That, in itself, is significant.

But what will make this trip doubly interesting is how things have changed during the period. In January 2008, there was a mild degree of pessimism about the health of the economy, but that was months before the pervasive sense of doom and gloom struck the world.

Then, the presidential primary season had just begun. Now, we have a new President who, while hardly flawless, represents a marked improvement over the departed President Bush.

On a more personal note, my friends in California are also hurtling toward their thirties, getting married, starting careers, hand-wringing, and generally doing what people our age do, regardless of where. Living in China makes things different but not that different.

I should have ample blogging time, particularly in the first few days as jet-lag will put me online at all sorts of weird hours.

More to come.…

Huntsman- Our Man in Beijing

Posted on May 17th, by matt_schiavenza in China and the US. 3 comments

President Obama has appointed Jon Huntsman, governor of Utah, as ambassador to China. This is interesting on several fronts, to wit:

1. Never in my memory has a governor, particularly one with a national reputation as has Huntsman, left the office for a diplomatic posting. Particularly for a president from the opposition party.

2. Huntsman earned his national reputation for supporting civil unions for same-sex couples and for supporting government action on climate change. This is unusual for any Republican, much less one who represents one of the most conservative states in the US. This willingness to offer reform has led David Plouffe, the architect of Obama’s presidential election victory, to deem Huntsman the most formidable potential challenger to Obama in 2012.

3. Huntsman seems well-qualified for the job. He speaks Mandarin as a result of a Mormon mission he did in Taiwan. He served as an ambassador under both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43.

4. By appointing a Republican to be the China ambassador, he sends a signal to US watchers here that constructive engagement with the Middle Kingdom is a bipartisan issue.

By all accounts, a masterstroke by Obama. It is a little puzzling, though, why Huntsman took the job. Being the governor of a state is far more prestigious than being an ambassador, and working for Obama probably excludes him from challenging the president at any time. Huntsman is apparently motivated by a sense of duty, though most politicians get where they are by worshiping their own career prospects, not the wishes of a president they didn’t support. …

General Tso Never Ate His Own Chicken

Posted on May 16th, by matt_schiavenza in China and World. 2 comments

Daniel Gross has a new business article up at Slate discussing the rise of KFC, Pizza Hut, and other Yum! Food brands in China. The article is OK on its merits- nothing really new to report- but what interests me is the article title: ‘General Tso, Meet Colonel Sanders’.

Quite clearly, the author of the article heading- presumably not Gross himself- is making a reference to the martial nature of the two items. However, he has made one mistake: there is no General Tso’s Chicken in China, as any American who has searched in vain for it here well knows.

Like chop suey, General Tso’s Chicken (called General’s Chicken elsewhere) is a purely laowai invention. While General Tso was a real person- according to the amusing Tso What?- his eponymous dish is about as Chinese as lutefisk.…


Posted on May 6th, by matt_schiavenza in Technology & Society. 3 comments

While I organize my photos of Banna, allow me a quick whine about MySpace. Over a year ago, I deleted my account because I was hardly using it anymore and besides, everyone I needed to interact with online was already connected to me through Facebook.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from MySpace notifying me what my ‘friends’ were up to. Evidently, they failed to delete my account properly and decided that, perhaps, after one year I might be persuaded to begin using their service again.

Needless to say, I was pretty peeved. I logged in and cancelled my account again, this time leaving a scathing note expressing my displeasure with their failure to adhere to my deletion request. Let’s hope this time they get the message.

I’m not a conspiratorial or paranoid fellow when it comes to technology, but more incidents like this might turn me into one.

Has anyone else had a similar experience?…


Posted on May 3rd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

This weekend I made my first visit to Xishuangbanna, Yunnan’s southernmost prefecture and the ancestral home of several of Yunnan’s ethnic minority groups. The occasion was my friend’s wedding to a native of Menghai, a tiny town to the west of Banna’s capital of Jinghong. In fact, the bride came from a village that comprised roughly 20 families, a lot of chickens, and the odd pig.

The experience was interesting, to say the least. Some photos and stories to follow.…