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Wednesday:  December 17, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Beijing (2)

Sunday
Dec192010

“Endure the Hardship of Hardships, Become the Man above Men” (Book Excerpt)

An excerpt from The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You (ISBN-10: 1452898049)

By Helen H. Wang

When I read the story of a young American woman selling her ova for $7,000 in order to pay off her credit cards, I kept thinking about young women I met in China. They earned about $100 a month, yet saved 80 percent of their incomes to help pay for their siblings’ education. I felt a huge disconnection. Although many people are worried that the middle class in the West is shrinking, Americans still enjoy immense privilege compared to the vast majority of people in the world. To many Chinese rural migrants, enduring hardship is their way of life.

On a hot summer day, I was roaming randomly down Jianguomen Avenue in Beijing. I found myself drawn to a place called Liang Zi Fitness. As soon as I stepped in the front door, six young ladies dressed in the traditional Qipao (pronounced chi-pao), a tradition one-piece body-hugging Chinese dress for women, gently bowed and greeted me, “Welcome, distinguished guest.” 

When I asked what Liang Zi Fitness was, one of the girls politely handed me a menu, which described different kinds of acupressure massages combined with Chinese herbal medicine treatments. Having been cheated in a massage salon before, I was suspicious. However, since I did not have any plans that night, I thought I might as well try it. My favorite massage in China is always the foot massage that is not easy to find in the United States. So, I ordered an “empress foot massage,” which cost about $25.

As I was escorted along the hallway, my eyes turned to the grand wall murals that illustrated Chinese ancient mythologies. “This massage place seems a little extravagant,” I thought to myself. It was huge: there were two floors with many individual rooms. Along the way, the staff, dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, would stop, bow, and greet me: “Welcome, distinguished guest.” “Good evening, distinguished guest.” 

I was led to a room with a flat panel TV and a couple of massage couches. Before I sat down, a fruit plate and tea were served. Shortly after, my masseur appeared. He introduced himself as “Technician Number 30.” He was about twenty years old, attentive and gentle-mannered. His dark skin tone suggested his rural origin (peasants in China usually have darker skin tone because they labor in the field under the sun; light skin tone is considered more desirable in China since it implies the privilege of city life). In our conversation, I learned that he was from Henan province, which is one of the poorest provinces in China and produces the largest number of migrant workers. 

He told me the company recruited him and put him through a strict training program. He earned about 3,000-4,000 yuan ($400-$550) per month as a massage technician, with free meals and lodging. The company used a performance-based point system to encourage good customer service and adroit massage skills. That means the more customers who come back to the same massage technician, the more points he or she will earn, and the higher the rate of pay. 

I was more than impressed by everything I had experienced so far—the tasteful interior design, the courteous staff, and the excellent service. “Who is the person who started this company?” I asked.

 “He was a poor boy from Henan province,” he said. “His family was so poor that he never tasted meat before he was ten years old. He started out selling barbecued food on the street when he was thirteen years old. He had done many things, including selling fish, trading clothes, and running a restaurant, before he opened his first foot massage business in Henan. It was 1997 and he was twenty-seven years old. Since then, the business has grown so quickly, and he has opened many branches and made it into a franchise business. Beijing has seven Liang Zi locations, and many want to join the franchise. Now he is rich. He has a big house and two cars.”

“What’s his name?” I asked. 

“His name is Zhu Guofan,” he said.

A young girl came in to pour tea in my cup. She wore light makeup, with her hair tied up tidily like a stewardess. Quietly, she retreated backwards as if facing an empress. Just as I was wondering how these young men and women became so well trained and who was responsible, my masseur said, “We have been through military training before we joined the company.”

 “Military training?” It was as if he had dropped a bomb, and I was immediately alarmed. Having heard so many news stories about hideous abuse to rural migrants, including physical assault and personal humiliation, I was full of sympathy. 

“Yes, the company came to our village and recruited us. Then we were all sent to a military compound for one month of military training.”

 “What did you do at the military training?”

 “We got up early in the morning for running and exercising. During the day, we took classes, learning about acupressure points in the human body, and also the company history, corporate culture, and team building.”

I was taken aback to hear such things at a foot massage salon. “Corporate culture and team building? Tell me, what is your corporate culture? And what is the team building?” 

 “Working hard and making progress every day, helping each other and working together to succeed, striving for excellent performance, and providing superior customer service,” he said, as if reciting a poem.

“Who paid for all this?”

“The company.”

Suddenly, everything made sense to me. China’s abundant labor source comes with a cost. Imagine how hard it is to train a large pool of rural people with no job skills. Some entrepreneurs like Zhu Guofan took on the task on their own. In addition to training, the company provides lodging and meals, which saves a lot of trouble for these newcomers as they settle into the cities. No wonder the staff was so warm and professional. No wonder this technician knew the company history by heart. No wonder the tea in my cup never got cold.

 “This Zhu Guofan,” I said, still in shock. “He was so poor and didn’t have much education, right? How did he know about the franchising business and corporate culture?”

 “When the business grew so fast, he realized he needed more knowledge in order to keep up with his business. So he enrolled in an eMBA program (an executive MBA program provided for midcareer entrepreneurs). He took a year off to study management.” 

Technician Number 30 continued, “During Chinese New Year, if we do not go back home, the company throws a big party, and the boss gives each of us a red envelope (it is a Chinese tradition to give New Year’s money in a red envelope). The employees here are very happy. Some top performers move up to become managers. They make about 10,000 to 20,000 yuan ($1,470 to $2,940) a month.”

“Is that what you plan to do—become a manager?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said. Then he added, “Well, in a few years, I may start my own business. Zhu Guofan encourages us to start our own businesses. He said he would help us. There are many opportunities.” 

 “Is it hard for you, leaving home and working in a big city like Beijing?” I was still probing for some sign of dissatisfaction or bitterness.

He looked at me, with a sparkle in his eyes, and said, “Only if you endure the hardship of hardships will you become the man above men” (a well-known Chinese saying).

I left Liang Zi Fitness late in the night. The lights on Jianguomen Avenue were flickering and shimmering through foggy air, like an abstract painting against dark sky. They were like the sparks I saw in the eyes of Massage Technician Number 30. With those sparks, any adversity or affliction is another stepping-stone to a better life. I have no doubt my masseur will be another Yi Fan, and he will be part of the middle class of tomorrow. 

(Helen Wang is the author of The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You. Available on Amazon and http://TheChineseDreamBook.com)

Wednesday
Jun162010

(EXCLUSIVE) Hugely Outnumbered, North Koreans Bring Own "Fans" to World Cup

(HN, June 16, 2010) -- During the surprisingly durable performance by the North Koreans against Brazil yesterday evening, official broadcasters zoomed in on a group of male fans clad in red outfits, waving the flags of the Hermit Kingdom and banging small bricks together.North Korean fans take cues from a leader at the match in Johannesburg. Credit: Sienna Reynaga

Jarring in a sea of yellow in the packed Ellis Park Stadium were a group of 40 men, appearing to be between the ages of 40-60. Identically dressed with red hats, scarves, brick clappers, flags and sweaters they were there to cheer on the team that has mystified World Cup watchers for the months approaching the games.

In the Tuesday night game, North Korea did not disappoint and ended the 90 minutes only down 2-1 against the World Cup favorite Brazil. It was the first time the team was seen in public as all of their practices have taken place behind closed doors.

Apparently meticulously screened by officials in Pyongyang, the North Korean fans appeared to hardly interact. The red jackets were led by two crowd leaders who prompted them to cheer, chant and clap the bricks together at the appropriate times. The performance was reminiscent of the crowds of trained Chinese fans that were bussed into the Bird’s Nest Stadium during the 2009 Beijing Summer Olympics.

A Korean translator was on hand to handle the throngs of reporters who flocked to the group.  As reporters from Russia to Brazil attempted to ask members of the group questions, it was quickly apparent they did not speak English (or at least were instructed to pretend not to). The translator asked two members of the group select questions about their trip, but refused to ask anything political.

The fan group looked unphazed by the almost zoo-like treatment they received from those attempting to take pictures with them, trying to talk to them, taping them and just plain staring.

When asked if they had plans to follow the North Korean team around the country (they play next on Monday in Cape Town against Portugal) a positive nod was the response.

- Reporting and photos by HUMNEWS in Johannesburg