Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Quick Note About China Net

Well it seems like they are at it again!!!

As of yesterday, the incredibly popular site, YouTube, has been banned here in the PRC. This comes just over a year after it was last banned during the protests leading up to the Olympics. The statement from the government is: "China's internet is open enough, but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security".

This adds to the many popular sites that I am currently unable to access. Apparently the iTunes music store (which I don't use anyway) doesn't work over here, neither does Daily Motion (a competitor to YouTube), and any blogs on wordpress, as well as many other sites somehow related to the two naughty "T" words (T1bet and Ta1wan...if you didn't get it those 1s are supposed to be "i"s). Also, the Chinese version of Skype (called Tom-Skype) filters out the use of a certain four letter "f" word, and reportedly tracks any mention of certain "hot words".

Somehow though, blogger accounts (like this one), pirated music sites, and Chinese video sharing sites (like Youku and Tudou) work just fine.

Apparently one of my friends tried to make a status update on Facebook relating to YouTube not working and it was erased...I highly doubt that is a coincidence. While Facebook is not officially blocked, it can sometimes be "down" or slow for no apparent reason.

While I am not going to comment on the moral grounds for such decisions, I will say this. They sure are frustrating for people like me. I depend on the internet for contact with the outside world as best I can, but situations like this can be more than aggravating.

So if any of you out there my apologies if I haven't kept up-to-date with your blog, or watched the latest Diet Coke and Mentos video, hopefully you'll understand.

Safe Journeys,


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Suzhou: At Least We're Not Lagos

Followers of this blog will notice that I have not made any real comment about Suzhou since moving here. To be honest, I haven't felt fully qualified to comment on the city since I know that I haven't experienced enough of it in the past few months to make a fully informative comment, and frankly, I haven't been all that inspired to talk about Suzhou for a variety of reasons. However, today I finally found a bit of a Suzhouese muse.

The above title, is my new suggestion for motto of the fair town that I live in. Tourism ministry, it is all yours. This is coming from an article that I just saw in Business Week, which profiled the 20 worst places to work in the world, and good ol' Suzhou ranked 14th.

Just to give it a bit of context, the article researched 55 cities outside of Canada, the US, and Western Europe, omitting any obvious places like Baghdad, Kabul, or Khartoum. They took into account a variety of factors including "levels of pollution, disease, political violence, and availability of goods and services".

The worst offender as you would probably guess from my title was Lagos which is classed as a "Very High Risk Location" due to a lack of infrastructure, a high risk of violence, high pollution, disease, lack of medical facilities, and a low availability of goods and services.

However, I certainly was surprised to see Suzhou rank 13 spots lower as a "High Risk Location", the report classes pollution and a lack of culture and recreation facilities as "Major Problems", while levels of disease, sub-par medical and education facilities, and a low availability of goods and services as "Other Problems".

Suzhou was one of five Chinese cities (joining Guangzhou, Tianjin, Qingdao, and Shenzhen) and was ranked in the middle of the five. All of these cities faced similar problems, with "pollution" being a major problem for all of them.

So the obvious quesiton is, how accurate is the report?

To be honest, I don't really know, as I have only lived in one of the cities on the list, and I have only traveled to a handful of the others (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), however I feel that they have certainly hit some very good points about Suzhou.

While I am no scientist, I certainly feel that I can't accurately comment on the pollution level, however back in January I had to miss four days of work with a chest infection, which could certainly say something about the risk of diseases. However, I was given first class medical treatment at a local clinic, which is an antecdotal strike against the "Medical Facilities" concern.

Also, as someone who works in one of the "educational facilities", I certainly take a bit of offense to that one. There are a few western schools here (including mine) which seem to be every bit as good as are available in other major cities.

The major one to me though is the "culture and recreational facilities". To be honest, there is a part of me that wants to agree wholeheartedily, and a part of me that wants to flat our disagree. See Suzhou is dividied into three distinct areas, there is the Old Town, which has canals and old gardens, Suzhou Industrial Park, a newer area where I live, and Suzhou New Development, which is on the other side of the city and I do not know too much about to be honest.

The Old Town is simply a great place for culture. The gardens, vibrant shopping district, and museums can great for culture vultures. However, it can be quite the challenge to access the Old Town from other parts of the city, as traffic can be dreadful.

Suzhou Industrial Park is a much newer area, which by definition, makes it lower on culture. However, there are some new and exciting developments that increase the culture and recreation in the area. A few years ago the Suzhou Science & Culture Arts Centre (SSCAC) opened up, and it plays English movies, Chinese ballet and operas, and a variety of other concerts and events, including one that I talked about once before. Also, there is a new area of nice restaurants and classy cafes that is still being developed called Li Gong Di, that should up the culture in the surrounding area.

Also, and more importantly, is the development of a subway line that links the three regions of Suzhou together. It is scheduled to be open in 2010, and should go a long way to opening up the Old Town, and thus improving everyone's culture and recreational activities.

So while, I do find myself bored or unstimulated here on occasion, I think that there is help in the future. It seems to me that Suzhou, like so many other cities in China, just expanded far too fast in recent years and the developers did not take recreation into account. However, they seem to be trying to fix that, so I would expect they city to drop a bit if Business Week wants to do another survey based on this fact alone.

Who knows, we may even rank better than Kiev or Santo Domingo?

Now about tackling that pollution thing....

Safe Journeys,