inside thoughts on China and beyond

Monitoring Mystery

A few days ago my daughter and I were researching options for her study in Holland, freely surfing away over the world wide web from our small and cozy little cabin deep in the endless wild Dutch forest, when we came across the following remark of an anthropology student in Utrecht: “China is a large and mysterious country”. Now that gave us a good laugh! He surely hadn’t done a thorough study or had slept through the lectures and obviously had missed the last developments in China or he is one of those bookworm nerds that never leaves queen or country. Not to mention what all this tells us about his lecturer or at least the university’s marketing head. China is large, sure, but mysterious?

He may not know about yesterday’s shooting of Tibetans by the Sichuan police or about Phuntsong, a young Tibetan Buddhist monk who died after setting himself ablaze not to long ago, but he must have been aware of the self-burning of at least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans that went before him? But now that the Confucius Institute is cooperating with many universities, let’s not talk about that…

But first things first: I forgot to mention it in my previous blog: I wasn’t able to add any blogs for the last 3 months or so. Of course you already knew this because you visit my blog each day before doing anything else. It’s the start of your day, a strong cup of coffee, for all 4000 or so of you. 4000? Yes, and not only do I know how many of you visit my blog; I even know where you live, when you’re on my blog (John, does your boss know you’re ‘blogging’ in his time?) and what you like most. According to the WordPress whizz kids, I’ve had trainloads of visitors. That’s how they visualize the number of visitors to my blog: a London subway train. First I thought they must have known my affection for The City, but truth is, my posts are always with delay, which immediately explain the comparison. With similar simplicity, the attention rate of a massif blog that is on its way down is expressed in Titanics (or, if they are really as up to date as they claim to be, in Costa Concordias); fast crashers are Shanghai speed trains and solid and stable growers expressed in Chinese cities.

But we all know how it is: when the train hasn’t come on time several times in a row, we’re taking the car. So, if you’re reading this you’re obviously a die-hard and well, it is rewarded…. A bit late, but here I’m back again.

I’m not sure why, but in September China decided to block my blog again -talking about mystery. Not just mine of course; that would be too much honor and I’m sure I’m not that famous. But I’m getting a bit tired of this cat-and-mouse game so I really prefer not to talk about it anymore; just read this earlier blog (click here) of mine. And yes, I’ve tried a VPN but after 2 weeks that too was blocked. You wonder why. Rumor has it that many (even U.S. based) VPN providers are secretly in Chinese control. So now we have the Free Tibet movement freely paying China’s secret service to monitor all inharmonious online activity that is assumed not to be monitored.  Now that’s mysterious!

I always thought that monitoring is just one of those typical China things. You know; communism and all that down-to-earth de-mystifying class struggle mania. Well, I was wrong.  For example, while I drove from Utrecht to Amsterdam, I was amazed to find more cameras and speed trackers hanging over my car than tar under it. And don’t you think for a moment that big brother isn’t watching you once you’re out of your car. With the personalized public transport card -which, very conveniently, aren’t sold anywhere near bus or train stations; my wife was told that she could buy it in Amsterdam central station, but no word on how she was supposed to get there – as I was saying, with these personalized cards, BB knows where you are -even when you don’t! And that’s not all: your local supermarket’s discount card is keeping track of every ounce of calorie, drip of alcohol, pack of candy and stick of cigarette you buy, “to provide you with better service”. One of which, I’m sure, and there is nothing you need to do for it, how thoughtfully convenient!- is that your health insurance will be automatically adjusted to “fit your profile and future needs”.

Did I earlier on say ‘wild forest’ in Holland?? You probably thought I was joking, but I’m not: it’s funny that in a small country as Holland you can walk in the forests for hours -even get lost!- while in big-big China (about 300 times the size of Holland) you’re happy if you can spot 3 trees together. Looking out of the chalet’s window I can see more wildlife than you’ll ever get to see in China even after many days of tracking, unless crammed in small cages of old men in early-bird parks. They sing to each other, man and bird and after long practice, the man chirps and the bird speaks. But here, robins, tomtits, great tits, blackbirds and woodpeckers are hopping from branch to branch or glued to a tree trunk in front of the window, sometimes chased away by a hungry squirrel.

Not much of this is left in China. After Mao ordered all the birds to be killed during the ‘Kill a sparrow’ campaign (Xiāomiè què Yùndòng) in the early 1960s, as one of his bright ideas to further the revolution of the proletariat and rid China of all undermining subversive and bourgeois elements, China’s present day industrial revolution is finishing it off quite nicely. Not a sparrow will ever be seen among the newly erected villas and shopping malls, let alone something as mythical as the phoenix. Desolate places now have 8 lane highways bringing packs of tourists across extravagantly lighted bridges.  Old monasteries and towns are refurbished in Disneyland-like entertainment parks, complete with entrance fees, fairy tale short-skirt waitresses, dusty Christmas trees and it all wrapped in a thick layer of souvenir shops. And of course a Starbucks with free WIFI, so you can Google the permitted sites and learn more about mysterious China.

Anyway, to all of you on my train, monitored or not, I wish you a pleasant and eventful 2012.

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