Sunday, May 1, 2016

The most welcome news I've heard in months came yesterday, as Ma Lei was explaining to her family how she's planning not to follow the Chinese postpartum tradition.
For those who don't know, the Chinese "medical" "wisdom" includes one practice regarding childbirth that tops almost everything else in its repulsiveness. Traditionally, a new mother was not supposed to rise from her bed for an entire month. Getting out of bed might introduce "cold air" into her body, which is regarded by Chinese "medicine" as a main source of disease.
Most importantly, she was not to bathe. Bathing might make the mother too humid, or something like that.
Thank God, Ma Lei's doctor knows at least somewhat better than that. She explained to Ma Lei and other patients that obeying this custom means exposing the newborn baby to all manners of infectious agents which the baby isn't prepared to combat. (She didn't mention that it's just vile and repulsive to everyone forced to deal with the new mother during that month, which would have been my line of attack.)
So I was very glad that Ma Lei accepted the doctor's advice, and admonished her family not to expect her to follow their traditions in that regard.
But then in the same breath, Ma Lei informed us that she doesn't plan to wash her hair for that entire month. The reason for this is that, once she's washed her hair, she needs to blow it dry. But that might introduce air into her bones, and new mothers' bones are already "loose."
I didn't even fight that battle. I didn't bother to say that there's a reason we have skin, whose sole purpose is to keep "air" and other things out. If she wants to go a month without washing her scraggly hair, I'm okay with that. Just so she doesn't think she needs to spend the entire month in bed without a single shower.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How framing the question makes all the difference: US-Chinese relations

Someone on Quora posted a question which I felt compelled to answer at length. I thought the question itself rather bad, but answering it brought out some interesting aspects of the relationship between the US and China. Perhaps most importantly, it illustrated the way in which a poorly-framed question can almost automatically elicit shallow answers, in a form of begging the question.
Here was the question: 

And my answer:
The question is a rather oversimplified one, because neither the US nor China thinks of itself in those purely competitive terms. 
First of all, the phrase "as powerful as..." is extremely vague. "Powerful" can refer to military power, or economic prowess, or cultural influence over average people around the world, or diplomatic influence, and probably lots of other elements. Nor is it a simple equation in any one of those spheres: the US may have more military power overall than Vietnam, but who won the war there?
Secondly, the US and China are not enemies. We are adversaries, but that's not the same thing. 
During the Cold War, it was very important for the US and the USSR to compete with each other directly for power in every possible sphere. But the US and China are not existential threats to each other, and so they do not have to think of each other in those terms.
There is something common to both the US and China — a mixture of naïveté and maturity — that makes this kind of "who is more powerful" comparison rather alien to both national characters.
Both the US and China see themselves in rather insular terms. China is "The Middle Kingdom." The US is "A City on a Hill" and "The Land of the Free." Each is self-absorbed. Each tends to ignore the perspectives of the rest of the world. Each thinks its own position is self-evidently correct, and wonders why anyone could possibly disagree. This is their naiveté.
Note that this is very different from the way many other countries see themselves. Other countries may fight passionately, and sometimes militarily, but they don't see themselves as bathed in righteousness the way Americans and Chinese do. If you put one of their statesmen under some sort of truth serum and asked him, "If you were suddenly wearing the uniform of the other side, what would you do," they would tell you "I would fight just as vehemently for them." If you asked the same question of an American or a Chinese leader, they would literally be unable to answer the question. They cannot see that there is another side to any issue, even when there is.
Both the US and China primarily care about whatever it is that they see as being in their interest. They don't fundamentally care who is more "powerful." They care about getting their own way, about pursuing their own interests around the world, but that's different.
And here's where their naiveté becomes maturity: neither one of them is particularly absorbed in that schoolyard bullying about who could beat up whom. Unlike some other countries (Russia?), neither America nor China sees "power" as an end in itself. They're focused on their interests, and of course one has to have the means to pursue one's interests. But if America's interests — or what it believes are its interests — are not threatened by China, America doesn't care who is "more powerful." It's mostly the same for the Chinese.
(Caveat: the Chinese are somewhat more focused on "power," because of their cultural emphasis on "face" — and because of the past century and a half of humiliating powerlessness. But still, the Chinese are far more focused on achieving their specific interests, than on having more "power" than any particular country.)
The question of "power" really only arises because of the often very deep disagreements about what is in our interests. China is a dictatorship, while the US still (mostly) believes in basic rights. China believes its territorial claims are automatically valid, while the US has doubts. China is afraid that America's allies will form a kind of sea wall around it, cutting off maritime routes. China is a mercantilist country that seeks to protect domestic enterprises from overseas competition, while the US is still (mostly) committed to (mostly-)free trade. These disagreements give rise to conflicts, which make the issue of "my dad could beat up your dad" more relevant than it would have to be, given the basic cultures of the two countries.
Of course, there are elements within each country that are indeed focused on the one-on-one comparison. There are the nationalist citizens who seek to gain reflected glory from their country's power. And of course there are national-security professionals whose job it is to prepare for worst-case conflicts. The latter class in each country should, as the saying goes, "hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."
But in terms of the average person or the government in America — which is what this question asked about — they don't fundamentally care if China is "more powerful" than the United States. 
Nor, fundamentally, do the Chinese. They want to ensure that their lives are improving, first and foremost. They want to ensure that they never again endure the kind of national humiliation that they've endured in the past. But do they fundamentally care if America is "more powerful" than China? As long as America keeps its nose out of what they see as their own business, they really don't.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Two elevators out

When I first moved to China, I met someone who was considering buying an apartment in a brand new high rise building with a beautiful view over the bay. She was disappointed, she said, because the only apartment she could afford was on the 30th floor, rather than the one on the 3rd floor which she’d wanted to buy.

I was flabbergasted at this. You’ve got a 30th floor apartment with a fantastic view over the water, and you’re disappointed that it’s not on the third floor where the view isn’t nearly as good? What are you thinking of? Her answer was: “What happens when the elevators break down?”

And again, I did a double-take. You’re buying a brand new luxury apartment. What is this “elevators break down” of which you speak?

Now I understand. This is China.

Granted, my apartment is not a luxury apartment, but it’s run by the kith and kin of people who run the luxury ones. None of them are to be trusted.

Tonight we were going out with the dogs, and the second elevator in our building, the one that has been working double-time while the other one was on a ten-week sabbatical, was not working. The light was blinking on the sixth floor. I knew that this did not bode well.

I told my wife, who as of tomorrow will be seven months pregnant, that she shouldn’t go down 15 floors with me, because we’re going to end up walking back up again. 

No worries, she said, in effect. Surely it’ll be fixed by the time we come home. I argued with her. But she wanted to walk, so she walked. Mama rules.

Normal people really don’t want to walk up or down a staircase anywhere in China. It’s disgusting.

China is a filthy place, in general. Everyone in China is a generation or two off a farm where they fertilized their fields by spreading their own “night soil” over them every morning, and that “night soil” was collected from the hole in the ground into which every family member spent their effluence. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise, and it’s really no fault of their own if they haven’t fully absorbed foreign standards of public hygiene. They didn’t have the luxury until quite recently, and the concept still hasn’t spread.

Even people who take good care of their interior space, once they walk out into the hallway will hawk and spit, drop their trash wherever they feel like it, and let their dogs pee. 

(On our way down, tonight, I actually had to correct a dog right in front of us who was lifting his leg every half a floor. His twenty-something owners sort of laughed, but they stopped letting him do it once I shouted loudly enough. It took two sharp corrections — and I’m not sure if I was correcting the dog, or the owners.) 

No one ever mops the floors or cleans the walls. 

Men whose wives won’t allow them to smoke inside the apartment, routinely smoke in stairwells. 

The stairwell is vile. It’s barely above a cesspit.

You really don’t want to climb down, and you especially don’t want to climb back up again,. Fifteen floors of a dark, dank, stinky stairway. I didn’t want my wife to do it, especially not with Roman in there.

So as we were standing out there in the hallway, before we'd made the decision to climb downstairs, Ma Lei said “You go home. I’ll walk the dogs.”

Are you kidding me? There was no way on earth I was going to let her risk having to carry those two heavy little creatures along with her pregnant belly up fifteen floors of filth. 

I wanted to send her back home, but that was a battle I couldn’t win. Mama wants to walk, Mama walks. The four of us walked downstairs together.

It was in fact a beautiful evening, and we had a lovely walk around the complex. When we’d finished one lap, we sat for a while on a nice little bench in front of our apartment building. Then we walked again for a little while.

When we returned to our building, “surely” the elevator had not been fixed. It was still blinking “6,” so we went back out and sat again for a while. 

It was actually very romantic, perhaps the more so because we were both looking at a giant climb ahead of us.

At some point, Ma Lei remembered that there’s a security office with cameras all over the complex (a thing she reminds me of every time I go to smack her butt or otherwise toy with her on the elevators). So she went in and knocked on the door, to see what the elevator cams had to say.

As Chinese always do when they are on the defensive, the security guy sounded aggressive, or borderline hostile. When you hear a Chinese low-level employee talk, it almost always sounds as though he’s fighting with someone. He wasn’t talking about anything that was actually his fault, but he was surely heading off anyone else blaming him for it. I believe they call it “deflecting.”

We knew it wasn't his fault. Ma Lei even said "I know it's not your fault," more than once. Yet he railed on about how it wasn't his fault. It must suck to be someone whose culture presupposes his guilt long before there's any evidence of it.

The message was that yes, the elevator is out of order. No, it’s not going to be fixed tonight. It will surely be fixed by tomorrow morning. 

In my American opinion, he could have conveyed the same message in a way that didn’t sound as though it were Ma Lei’s personal fault that the elevator was not working. But perhaps in China he’s just too used to people blaming him for what’s not his fault, so he’s got to deflect the blame.

Anyway, we’d gotten the message. We gave up and climbed the damned stairs.

On the fourth floor of our building, someone has abandoned a nasty old yellow-and-chrome couch that looks like a prop from the set if someone had made a Jetsons movie in the seventies. Ma Lei stopped for a break there, and the two dogs had probably reached the max of their climbing ability, so I scooped them up and trudged them up the other 11 floors while she rested. To my marginal credit, it was only when I reached the 13th floor that I lost my breath a little and had to take a quick break.

Ma Lei isn’t in terrible shape, herself, and sat there for not too many minutes.

She saw two twenty-something young men who’d bought a large mattress, struggling to haul it to the 10th floor. That would suck way worse than carrying two doglets or one fetus.

What motivated her to get moving was when she heard someone climbing the stairs below her, cursing even worse than I do at the incompetence of our building management, and threatening even worse horrors than my threat of hiring a lawyer. (Mine is toothless, anyway, since there is no functioning court system in this country.)

Ma Lei thought this woman must be talking to a friend on her cell phone, but no. Just as I am prone to do, she was cursing into space at the evils of Chinese management. It happened to be our pudgy, forty-something next-door neighbor, so Ma Lei got up and kept company with her on their way up the stairs.

We’ve been told that the long-errant elevator is going to be working within two days, and tonight we were told that its healthier brother will be back on the job tomorrow morning. I hope it’s true.

It just occurred to Ma Lei a moment ago, tomorrow morning is going to be interesting. It’s a Sunday, but there are plenty of people who have to go to work. Without a single elevator working, they’re going to be climbing down the stairs like ants down a tree trunk.


RG

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Resolutely smoking on the elevator

Smoking is very normal in China. Incredibly normal. For a country that aspires to be among the world leaders in every category, they're killing off their people with cigarettes produced by State-Owned Enterprises. There's no Obamacare, but there is government ownership of tobacco companies... can you see some poorly aligned interests here? Puff away on your government-sponsored cigarettes, but when you're dying of lung cancer, we've got actual bouncers in the hospital to throw your butt out onto the street when you can't pay your bill.

There have been some feeble attempts to cut down on smoking in public places, along the lines of foreign countries. In Beijing, for example, smoking in a restaurant is generally not allowed. Likewise, everywhere you go in China there are "no smoking" signs (in English and in Chinese) in such places as bathrooms, restaurants, and elevators. Outside Beijing, they are flagrantly ignored except when I'm around.

Our apartment building has seen a significant drop-off in smoking in the elevators since I moved in. I suspect it's the "waiguo" effect: people are on their best behavior when they know there's a foreigner in their midst who might — for example — blog about their behavior on Facebook and other foreign media.

Today, though, I saw something I'd never seen before, and wouldn't have believed possible.

You must understand, before reading the rest of this posting, that in China parenthood is a paramount value — perhaps THE paramount value. A woman who is not yet married is regarded as being in stasis. A young couple, as yet childless, is regarded as a target. "When are you having your baby?" Everyone, with or without any actual relationship to the couple, considers it her right to pry on their status. "When's the baby coming?"

A pregnant woman is like a saint. They'll give up their seat on the bus, they'll make room, they'll do whatever is necessary to accommodate Saint Mama. And if a married woman is NOT yet pregnant, she is regarded as a pariah. It is her duty to get pregnant immediately, and to take passionate care of that baby. That is her one and only job, as a woman.

So this morning, we got on the elevator to go walk the dogs, and on the fourteenth floor this young punk, twenty-something, thin, stylishly dressed and with a girly hairdo, got on the elevator puffing aggressively on a fag.

Ma Lei politely asked him "I'm sorry, I'm pregnant. Would you mind putting out your cigarette?" He made no response whatsoever, and in fact puffed once more.

I told her "I don't think he heard you," so she said it again: "I'm pregnant, is it okay for you to put out your cigarette?"

This time he actually responded: "No, it's not."

WHAT?!?!

Now I had to get involved. I pointed at the "No Smoking" sign and asked him: "Can you read Chinese? I'm foreign, and I know what that sign says." He made no response.

I asked him: "Are you a moron?" No response.

I asked him: "Are you Japanese?" Still no response.

So I finally just decided to give a lecture, because that's what I do. I'm a teacher, right? I told him: If you think other countries don't like China, you are the reason for it, you little chicken-egg.

One of Ma Lei's online friends told her not to worry about this kid, because he's clearly beneath a dog. Dogs understand human speech, but this little ben-dan (dumb egg) clearly does not.

I still can't get it out of my head, though. The nerve of this little twenty-something chopstick ignoring the law, ignoring a polite request, and ignoring his entire cultural history, is impossible for me to ignore.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Abortion choice

An online acquaintance of Ma Lei's told her one of the most horrible stories I've ever heard. She sprung this on me at dinner in a wonton soup restaurant on the ground floor of our apartment building, and it was all I could do to maintain my composure. I didn't entirely succeed.

Ma Lei was somewhat surprised by my emotiveness — but sometimes, the Chinese can be just stunningly blind to emotions.

The story came from another woman who has had to go to the fertility clinic for her pregnancy, so she and her husband hadn't just easily gotten hooked up with a little one: they'd worked hard for it, as Ma Lei and I can testify.

The woman is 6+ months pregnant, and she went in for her ultrasound test. The result was a nightmare.

Her son had a massive cleft palate — way more than any Chinese hospital is prepared to deal with.

I speak as a cleft-palate sufferer for whom my deformity has never amounted to much of an issue. 

But this woman's child was clearly seen to be missing not just some bone structure, but the entire left half of his nose and all the upper-palate structure that should have underlain it.

In America, perhaps this wouldn't have been such a horror story. American surgeons do incredible things.

My own dear, late Janusz Bardach — Soviet Gulag survivor and later University of Iowa surgeon — pioneered one of the many surgical techniques that allowed my upper lip to look relatively normal. And that was just one of the first among a long line of surgical developments in American treatment of midline cranial-development defects.

If you ask me, when I'm looking in my own mirror, I emerged from my own cleft palate and harelip as a stunningly handsome lady-charmer. :-) Apparently, my wife doesn't entirely disagree, since she's a very beautiful woman who somehow or other decided I was good enough. In my opinion, if I'm handsome enough to snag a woman that beautiful, I'm handsome enough.

I did suffer through a handful of relatively mild operations, years of braces, and a single experience when a bully rode his bike past me and said "Hey! Flat-nose!"

However, my first girlfriend's parents warned her that if she married me, our children would be "monsters." 

But other than that girlfriend, no one has ever held my mouth against me — and indeed, I credit much of my articulateness to the speech therapy I went through as a young cleft patient.

But China isn't America. It's not even the America of 1969, when my treatments began, and it's certainly not the America of today.

Even in America today, this baby's reconstruction would be on the extreme end of the current technology. It would be expensive and experimental, and it would require months of work. And then the results would be bad.

In China, it would probably be impossible. to fix a cleft this extreme. There are no hospitals doing this far-end work. (I almost said "cutting edge.") Even to get something done in China, anything at all, would be $20K or more — which they just don't have.

Now, suppose that they somehow managed to get the best work done for this child that's available in China. He will have a clearly deformed face, half a nose, and a gaping hole where the left-hand side of his nose should be.

How will he be treated in school?

Chinese teachers aren't schooled in sensitivity. They won't hesitate to tease him, abuse him, use him as a negative exemplar for other students. "You got that one wrong? You're almost as stupid as the kid with no nose." HAHA! Everyone laughs.

Suppose that the parents somehow or other manage to bring him up with a reasonable education, via private tutors who don't tease him mercilessly. Suppose he gets a good university degree in China. Now will he get a good job?

No. In China, a pretty face is part of one's qualifications for a good job, and an ugly face is grounds for denial from a good job. If you're SUPER-ugly, deformed of visage, then everyone you might have to work with will be made extremely uncomfortable. Hence, no one will want to hire you.

And in country in which there's already an imbalance between male and female, do you suppose that such a boy would ever get married and bring his parents a grandchild? Not on your life.

Ma Lei told me straight-up — with tears in my eyes, not so much in hers — that kid could never have a happy life in China. "It's not America," she said. "China is —" and then I think she said a word that means "hostile," or perhaps "inhospitable," but I don't exactly know. It definitely wasn't an endorsement of China.

Meanwhile, the woman made the very rational decision to have a late-term abortion. She made an appointment to go in the next morning and have her baby given a long needle that would put him painlessly to sleep. I cannot in any way, on any level, argue against her decision. I believe she made the exact right one, given the horrible circumstances of her life here in China.

But that whole night, the baby in her belly was acting the way any baby in his mother's belly will do. He swam around, he punched her, he kicked. He had no idea that his mother had decided to end his life.

Can you, for just one moment, imagine what it must have felt like for that woman to have had her fetus playing his fetile games inside her belly, feeling the connection with him that she must necessarily have felt — yet knowing that 10 hours later, she was going to nod her head to the doctor to inject the giant needle that would terminate his life?

Ma Lei's online acquaintances universally condemned the poor woman, as if she weren't already suffering enough. 

Ma Lei stamped her online foot — which I have the feeling bears a lot of weight, because Ma Lei is the kind of woman who makes people take notice of her opinions — and told them to shut the hell up. The others probably fell in line, because in my experience it's only a very few hearty souls who can withstand the wrath of Ma Lei. And in this case, it's not as though that woman had made a light and transient decision.

I appreciate, so deeply, the fact that Ma Lei stood up for this woman. I can't say one way or the other about this woman's decision. In a better China, I would say she should have the baby and let him duke it out with his detractors. But there isn't a better China, there's only this China, in which it's acceptable for teachers to


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The question of citizenship

Our little Monkey, Roman Karl Garmong, is due in July, which is approaching with frightening rapidity. One question which an American would seldom understand, a Chinese person would never understand, but foreigners who live in China do, is this: which citizenship will we give him?

To Chinese people, the choice between US and Chinese citizenship seems like a complete no-brainer. With half of China dreaming and scheming to move to America, why on earth would any couple choose to give their child Chinese citizenship over and above American?

To Americans, it's perhaps even more incomprehensible: why would one choose any citizenship other than 'Murcuhn? After all, isn't America about to build a Great Wall on the Mexican border to keep out the waves and waves of invading foreigners?! Doesn't everyone in the world long to breathe free in America? Why throw him in with the huddled masses, when he could be born American?

But the question indeed is a real one, and here's why:

First, the legal background: while the US accepts dual citizenship (Ted Cruz can tell you about that), China does not. At birth, we must declare the Monkey's citizenship. If he's Chinese, he gets his papers immediately; if he's American, we have to dash to the US Consulate in Shenyang to get his passport within a certain number of days. Either way, it's a decision to be made immediately after his birth.

Once the choice is made, there's a huge difference in his future options. The US is rather flexible; China is not.

If we choose US citizenship, that's final: he can, as far as I know, never get Chinese citizenship. He will always be a foreigner in China.

He could get all the same visas available to any other foreigner: he could come on vacation with a tourist visa; he could get a residency permit if he someday got a job in China; he could get a three-year spousal visa if, like his father, he one day decided to marry a Chinese woman. (I recommend it.)

But he would always be a foreigner, and subject to the same restrictions as other foreigners in China. He could never own a home here, he would face very high barriers to starting a business here, he would have to register his every movement with the government, he couldn't stay in hotels that are restricted to Chinese-only, etc.

He would also always be regarded as foreign, even if he stayed in China and became a businessman. He would never have the same guanxi, relationships/connections, as someone with a Chinese passport. He would never be 100% accepted. If you think it's hard in America for a Northerner to move to Alabama and do business, in China it's a thousand times worse.

If, on the other hand, we choose Chinese citizenship, the US is more accommodating. With one American-citizen parent, he could always apply for, and get, US citizenship. His passport would be issued within a day.

There are some minor restrictions on it, the most important of which being that he must actually live in the US for a number of years before he turns 18. (I believe that number is two, but I could be mistaken.) So we would make sure to send him to boarding school in the US, just like so many other Chinese-born students. Once that restriction is met, he could — for the rest of his life — walk into any US embassy or consulate, anywhere in the world, and immediately claim US citizenship.

He would then be a Naturalized, not a Natural-Born citizen, which puts one and only one restriction on him: he could never run for President of the United States.

In my opinion this is a feature, not a bug.

The current prevailing wisdom seems to be that, if we declare him to be a US citizen from birth, he could one day be tempted to become one of those creeps running for President — just like Ted Cruz. I'd just as soon foreclose that option right from the start.

American parents love to tell their kids: "if you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal you want. You could even be President, if you work hard enough."

I'm kind of inclined to tell my little Roman Karl: "If you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal that's worth achieving. If you work hard enough, you could be the next Steve Jobs." But if you want to become President, you  need to drop it.

So you can perhaps see why it's an open question, not the done-deal that it might immediately have seemed. If there are any advantages to Chinese citizenship, then we should give it serious consideration.

Now, there's one giant disadvantage to Chinese citizenship: Chinese citizens have no recognized individual rights. Of course they have the same Natural Rights as every other man on earth, but their government systematically refuses to recognize those rights. They may have more permissions within this country than foreigners do, but a permission can be withdrawn — sometimes savagely — at any moment.

Another disadvantage to Chinese citizenship involves travel to other countries. The US passport is among the most widely-recognized in the world; the Chinese, among the least.

If he one day wants to travel to Russia, he'd be better off Chinese than American. Ditto, in the unlikely event he wants to move to North Korea to take a lucrative job there. (Hehe.) But pretty much anywhere else in the world, it's far better to present a US passport than a Chinese one.

However, there are some benefits to Chinese citizenship.

One is the "social services" he would get in China.

I regard this one as a minimal consideration, because a) there aren't very many social services in China — which is to the benefit of China, imo. And b) I don't believe in social services, so on a moral level I'd rather we/he pay his own way through life than rely upon them. But we have to consider the practicalities, especially with my low-paying job.

The most important thing is education. If we're still in China when he enters school, it's a whole lot more expensive to enroll a foreign citizen in a Chinese school than to enroll a Chinese citizen. (By the way, as I understand it the Chinese public schools in fact charge tuition — but the tuition is far higher for a foreign citizen.)

But the Big Kahuna — the #1 reason to worry about US citizenship, imo — is the ridiculous US tax system.

The United States is the only country I know of that claims the right to tax the income of its citizens, no matter where that income is earned and no matter whether it had anything to do with America itself.

Suppose, for example, I were to open a business in China, providing — let's say — educational services to Chinese students. Suppose I were to become unusually successful at that business, such that I made a million dollars at it. Now, this business has no connection to the US government: it falls entirely under the jurisdiction of Chinese law, the money circulates 100% inside China, and it impinges not one iota on the United States economy. I'm not even using a US bank. It's all China, all the way. Nevertheless, the US government would tax me just as if I'd made my money inside the United States.

This is, to me, crackpot, nut-job crazy. It is despicable. It is a gross violation of the original American idea that government exists as the servant of the people. If the person has left town, and the government is in no way serving him, then by what right does it demand his money? Only on the premise that the individual is the servant of his government. We once fought a Revolution against that notion, but we've brought it right back in again.

It is among a large and growing category of US government rules widely regarded overseas as — this is their term — "economic imperialism." And they're right: that's exactly what it is. It's the US government's way of taking over the world, not by force of arms, but by force of tax law and banking restrictions and controls on currency exchange.

If one happens to be financially successful, that US passport can be a very heavy burden, indeed.

Now I, personally, am in little danger of falling afoul of this problem. The first $80K of income is exempt from this confiscation, and I'm nowhere near that rate of pay. But I would love to think that my son will be. And given that much of the world — including the People's Republic of China — has massively lower income tax rates than the United States — that puts my son at a huge financial disadvantage.

Hence, as a purely rational calculation, I actually lean toward declaring him Chinese at birth.

On the other hand, there is the symbolism of it. Both among the Chinese themselves, and among other people of the world, it is symbolically better to be carrying an American passport in your back pocket than to be carrying a Chinese one.

It will be easier for us to bring him to America to visit his American family, if his passport is American. It might be somewhat easier for him to get into those US boarding schools and universities, if they don't have to treat him as a foreign student. (I'm not certain about that part.)

There's also a kind of bet on the future.

30 years ago, I'd never have considered Chinese citizenship for my child, no matter where he or she was born. But in the past 15 years or so, my country has lost much of its luster, while China has gained. Where will the economic opportunities be in the future? That is very much in question, right now.

I have dim hopes for the United States. We've lurched massively toward statism, and the inevitable closing down of thought and opportunity which that entails.

On the other hand, the Chinese government hasn't just lurched, it has willfully adopted statism as the policy of its future. For a nation with, supposedly, 5000 years of history, it's been acting with a glaring lack of historical awareness.

So in an age of uncertainty, perhaps the best bet is to opt for Chinese citizenship at birth.

I'm not sure I could do it, and I'm not sure my wife would allow me to do it. But that actually is the way I lean right at this moment.

Charged by a a Bull

Last Sunday was a first in my many years as a driver: my car was charged by a bull! He'd broken free of his tether at the house next to my in-laws'. When I rounded the corner from their long, narrow driveway he was standing in the middle of the lane. He didn't like our car one little bit.
They live on a very narrow road filled with obstacles — clearly not designed for vehicular traffic — and I it's not easy to reverse while (to paraphrase Tom Lehrer) staring down a half-ton of angry pot roast. I did my best to get our of his way, but he came at me very fast.
Luckily, he veered to the left just as he was about to hit the hood of my car. He was eyeing me with an ornery look, as if weighing the possibility of smashing in my side window to get to me, when I slammed it in gear and gunned it.
If he had gored the hood of my car, he'd have done some serious damage. It would have been the fitting end to a perfectly miserable day. We hadn't planned to go out to the farm today, but Ma Lei's mother had an attack of dementia and needed us to take her an urgent supply of medicine. It was sheer luck that I didn't have anything urgent to do today. I don't know what drug she's on, but it seems to control her symptoms. By the time of our encounter with the bull, she was lucid again. 
Next time, maybe we'll hire a delivery guy!

Incidentally, I will eventually post the dash cam video on YouTube, with the link here.