Archive for September, 2010

The first suspected HIV/AIDS cases in China can be traced back to Yunnan Province in the 1980s.  Located in south central China, Yunnan is the province with the greatest number of suspected HIV/AIDS patients in the country. The disease has spread predominately through intravenous drug use, encouraged by its proximity to the “Golden Triangle” – the border region between Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar that accounts for much of the world’s heroin production. In addition, as with other regions in China, low awareness of healthcare issues among the rural population and the limited use of contraceptives even among commercial sex workers, has created a ripe environment for the spread of the disease.

Yunnan Ministers, in their effort to combat HIV/AIDS, have actually welcomed international nonprofit groups and have received support from Australia, the United States and various European Nations. In 2005, former President Clinton visited Yunnan healthcare facilities (documented by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes) where he made headlines by publicly embracing HIV/AIDS patients. Following this visit, China’s attitude toward HIV/AIDS improved, as both premier Wen Jiabao and president Hu Jingtao have made concerted public efforts to discourage social stigma against patients with HIV/AIDS.

The Clinton Foundation’s efforts in Yunnan over the last 5 years have helped to establish healthcare and educational settings that address HIV/AIDS. This includes formal clinical training and support centers, lab testing centers,  education centers and the development of medication procurement strategies.  While the Clinton Foundation is currently winding down its programs in Yunnan, foreign donors will continue to provide critical resources for this hot zone going forward.

From a technical and strategic support perspective, the Clinton Foundation’s 2011 focus will shift to Xingjiang, a remote province in western China who’s capacity to address this epidemic continues to be terribly limited.


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Mooncakes and Lost Weekends

Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations have begun in China. Practically, from my standpoint, this means 2 notable things: I will eat a LOT of Mooncake and I will work on weekends to make up for “lost” holiday time.

Originally used to celebrate the Moon Goddess of Immortality, the Mid-Autumn “Mooncake,” is now more glorified for its role in the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty (TMongol Dynasty) by the Ming Dynasty in the 1400s.

The Han people of that time resented the Mongol rule of the Yuan Dynasty and revolutionaries, led by Chu Yuan-chang, plotted to usurp the throne. Chu needed to find a way of uniting the people to revolt on the same day without letting the Mongol rulers learn of the plan. Chu’s close advisor, Liu Po-wen, finally came up with a brilliant idea. A rumor was spread that a plague was ravaging the land and that only by eating a special mooncake distributed by the revolutionaries could the disaster be prevented. The mooncakes were then distributed only to the Han people, who found, upon cutting the cakes open, the message “Revolt on the fifteenth of the eighth moon.” Thus informed, the people rose together on the designated day to overthrow the Yuan, and since that time mooncakes have become an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Mid-Autumn holiday is celebrated with the typical holiday activities of eating, resting, traveling and according to my coworker “getting plastic surgery.”


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This weekend I escaped the hustle and bustle of Beijing for a short trip to a sea side city called Qingdao. Qingdao is 1 hour flying time south of Beijing and located along the East China Sea. It is known for its large accessible beaches, incredible mountain visas, a relaxed life style, and of course, it’s world famous Qingdao Beer which one can find in many US grocery stores.

Qingdao is also probably one of China’s most multicultural cities. In the last 100 years, in addition to being a center of Chinese economic development, Qingdao has been strategically occupied by both the Germans and Japanese, served as the headquarters of the Western Pacific US Naval Fleet during World War II, and has attracted Korean tourists and permanent residents due to its close proximity to Seoul (~1.5 hours by plane). The city feels architecturally European, culturally East Asian, linguistically Qingdao-Mandarin, and economically international.


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A Flying Pigeon

As a means of avoiding the hectic Beijing traffic, I recently purchased a bicycle. Branded the “Flying Pigeon,” my bicycle is an iconic Chinese 1-speeder designed entirely for utility rather than leisure or sport. The bicycle has a clunky all-steel frame with a rear rack, a newly installed front basket, a rusty side stand and a built-in lock for easy parking.

China has nothing short of a love affair with bicycles. They are cheap, convenient and easily maintained by the plethora of street repairmen scattered across major cities. Many of the roads in Beijing are designed with four carriageways including one in each direction specifically for vehicles with “less-than-four” wheels – though realistically you see people biking anywhere there is flat ground. Parking for bicycles is generally free, and crosswalk signs often display the silhouette of a bicycle rather than that of a person. The government estimates that a half-billion bikes are in use throughout China, and that production in China captures 2/3 of the global market share.

Getting my Bike Fixed Up

Biking around on a Flying Pigeon supposedly is like driving around a Ford Model T. The patriarch of all Chinese bikes, the Flying Pigeon is a bicycle brand that dates back to the rise of Chinese Communist Party power in the 1940s. Chinese history likes to say that the Flying Pigeon was at one point, the single most popular mechanized vehicle on the planet and that Deng Xiaoping, the post-Mao Zedong leader responsible for China’s free market economic reforms, defined prosperity as “a Flying Pigeon in every household.”

In recent years, the increasing number of wealthy individuals in China has prompted many traditional cyclists to upgrade to electric scooters, motorbikes or even passenger cars. But for the time being, the bicycle continues to be the king of the road, and the Flying Pigeon will always be remembered as its original flag bearer. I’ve seen at least a few locals cast a curious glance or flash a grin at the sight of my bike as if nostalgically reminded of decades past. Despite the rapid evolution of China’s culture and economy, the antiquated but effective design of this road warrior has helped it withstand the test of time and indeed has even been officially recognized as a “national key trademark brand under protection,” enshrining the brand forever into Chinese history.

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Chinese Food is Cheap

Chinese food might be the most universally affordable food. My dinner this evening consisted of 10 dumplings, 10 small baozi (bun filled with meats and vegetables), wonton soup and a tea for a total of 10 RMB or approximately $1.50 USD. Even 10 RMB is relatively affordable by average Chinese standards, and certainly by most Western standards. Based on what I’ve seen from my co-workers and other locals, it appears that the average middle class Chinese does not hesitate to eat out on a daily basis. In fact, some have readily admitted to me that they don’t cook at home because freshly made supermarket, cafeteria, restaurant, or night market / street food is just as cheap and often times, better tasting. I’ve also been told that I should be able to eat a full meal for much less than 10 RMB, meaning either I eat too much  or I’m not “local” enough to find the real bargains…both very plausible theories.

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