Sunday, March 30, 2014

Photographs from the Student Protest in Taiwan

We are complicit in what’s become of 21st-century movements: protests, and even revolutions, are made with images.

It’s been a week since protesters of the now-called Sunflower Protest Movement who had occupied the Executive Yuan in Taipei were removed by the police, ending a nearly week-long demonstration against Taiwan’s signing of a trade pact with China. The pact, signed in July, will open up further trade in services between Taiwan and China, and critics say that it will hurt Taiwan’s local businesses and leave the country open to manipulations from China.

It probably didn’t help, with Russia’s “annex” of Crimea.

President Ma Ying-jeou and the ruling KMT have agreed to introduce a law that will monitor future trade agreements with China, but have refused to retract the signed trade pact as the protesters demand.

Here are some photographs from the protest in Taiwan over the weeks.


Protesters camping out. The banner overhead reads (partly?), “Dad, Mom, don’t worry.”

(Photo: AFP)


In the Executive Yuan, students pile chairs to build a temporary barrier

(Photo: Getty Images)


Fans block the stairway in the Executive Yuan

(Photo: Getty Images)


And – they’re in! A veritable Where’s Waldo – look at the yellow signs echoed in the sunflowers, the piled chairs, a fan saved from the stairs, the reporters working on their laptops along with conscientious trash collectors in the foreground, someone taking a nap?
(Photo: CNN)


Police remove protesters from the Executive Yuan and from the streets


Some of the images of police and protesters are disturbing

(Photo: AP)


Sunflowers have been used as a symbol by the protesters to shed “light” into the opaque government process.
The shirt worn by the man to the right translates to, “Our own country, we rescue ourselves.”
(Photo: Apple Daily)


Although students and protesters are no longer occupying Executive Yuan, there are still anti-trade pact rallies. This one, though, was a protest against that:asking for the protesters to clear and the government to return to normal working schedules.
The cardboard sign? “With trade agreement, Taiwan has hope. Everyone approves. With trade agreement, the country has a future.”
(Photo: AP)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Take a Look: Vintage 1920s Ads

Postmodern consumerism tells us, You are what you buy. Well, are we?


“Greetings, people of 2010”, a photo taken in 1910

One hundred years, or a century, could pass faster than we feel; but although 100 years is just a blink in our long history, there are certainly a lot of moments to value. (Before Hallmark even told us so.) Let’s see two products the world was being marketed – and/or what they were buying – in the 1920s.

1. Cigarettes


Lithographed cigarette advertisements pictured demurely sexy Chinese “belles


The French advertisements for cigarettes went full-out artistic and exotic


While American cigarette companies hired physicians and doctors – even Santa – to reassure on cigarette’s healthy-by-association goodness. Hello, Don Draper!

2. Make-up


Chinese ads seemed to emphasize the “Snow White” ideal – jet black hair, sleek eyebrows, rosy cheeks, and red lips: innocent, but knowing



Ads for L’Oreal and Vivaudou (the latter a slight cheat, it’s an American company founded by a Frenchman): Art Deco exuberant joie de vivre in one campaign, and seriously sensuous in another


Maybelline taps old – then, new – Hollywood glamour

Classic and elegant, these are the distinctive features that advertisements from the 1920s have shown. Some ideals of beauty never fade with time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is Another Cold War Brewing on the Horizon?

The Russian presence in Crimea seems to recall the Soviet Union’s post-World War II expansionism and the resulting era of global bipolarity, when the world seemingly fell under two divisive ideological banners. Although the communist regime has since collapsed and Russia no longer holds its status as the U.S.’s rival superpower, the current international situation strikingly parallels the historical atmosphere during the Cold War.


Cold War propaganda

A brief history crash course:

The Cold War world was largely divided into two sides: the United States and its allies on one side and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other. This division was responsible for shaping the domestic politics of many developing nations, as well as the direction of global progress.

China was a key player in this schism. As a communist power, its allegiance was given to the Soviet Union, its neighbor to the North. However, as the relationship between Mao and Stalin disintegrated, so did the alliance between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. This eventually resulted in the Sino-Soviet split in 1961.

For the U.S., this situation was ripe with strategic opportunity; thus, the U.S. began courting China’s favor, which would make a big difference in the international balance of power. As regional relationships developed, this balance transformed into one of tripolarity, as one could no longer count on China (and its UN Security Council seat) to side with the USSR.

How is this related to what’s going on in Ukraine?


When talking geopolitics, it always helps me to see a map. Where is Crimea? It’s south of Ukraine, that drop of land in the Black Sea.


In a busy “big picture” perspective

Once again, Russia and the U.S. are at odds, with international attention focused on how China will respond to this controversy. Some have argued that Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is a move to return Russia back to its Cold War glory. It also appears that the PRC is once again stuck in the middle.

In recent years, the relationship between China and Russia had been strengthening since their Cold War antagonisms. The two neighbors have often taken the same side on a range of diplomatic issues. Chinese President Xi Jinping had made a state visit to Moscow in 2013, while Russian President Vladimir Putin had put forth the idea of a special relationship between the two powers. Furthermore, trade relations have been booming. It seems that China would support Putin’s actions.

Yet, the Russian Federation’s invasion goes against the international codes of national sovereign and territorial integrity, an issue on which China has always held a strong stance. Supporting this expansionist action would go against China’s record of advocating national sovereignty. Not only that, but supporting Crimean separatism could fuel China’s own separatist movements.


Who is leading? It’s all perspective

Based on these factors, China’s decision on this issue could be highly indicative of the direction of its own political development. When China abstained from the UN Security Council vote on a Crimea resolution, it reflected the difficulty of their positioning. Some have taken this abstention as a marker of China’s condemnation of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Some have interpreted this as a show of support. Others claim that this action should be taken for its face value: that China wants to refrain from taking any side.

It seems that now, much like it was during the Cold War, the question of which side China is on is extremely relevant to the future of international politics. More than that, China’s concerns are also highly self-reflective.

It’s no secret that territorial disputes and separatism are issues that have plagued the Chinese government for a long time. Particularly in regard to Taiwan and Tibet, China could undoubtedly see its own territorial issues reflected in the current international controversy surrounding the Crimean separation from Ukraine.

What happens next could indicate to China how similar actions on its part toward its own troubled territories would play out. In this case, perhaps it is best for China to refrain from any clear position on this issue. Knowing that Russia would inevitably veto the UN resolution on Crimea, perhaps it was wise for China to abstain.

Ultimately, how the Crimean crisis plays out could possibly give us a snapshot of Chinese policies going forward, and the future of the global balance of power.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

One Picture = 1,000 Words? Here’s 5,000 (and change)!

There’s certainly a theme in this week’s saved-but-unused pictures. What do you think it is?


Betty Ford reading to schoolchildren – a veritable rainbow, minus The Asian, The Latino, and The Redhead


Civil rights movement


Racist gags with Seth MacFarlane’s Dads


Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth and the “racist” cake controversy. Seriously, how could anyone not realize that this photograph could be anything but a PR nightmare?


Lorde and boyfriend James Lowe

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Laowai Comics: What Happens When People Gossping About Me Think I Don’t Understand Them

What happens when the Chinese locals gossiping about me think that I don’t understand them…


That’s fair!

This week from our friend, Laowai Comics. Only in China – keep it crazy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Real Problem Behind Bitcoins

The news is aflame with stories of hacks, stolen bitcoin, exchanges defaulting, and shamed Bitcoin leadership, but it hasn’t touched on the major impact of bitcoin investments beyond the liquidity of the digital currency itself. The true problem of the currency resides with its legitimate purposes and who it’s making rich.

To understand this, context is needed behind the origins and the purpose behind bitcoin. The cryptographic currency, developed in 2009, was designed to be stored and used anonymously. This currency was originally “mined” using shared processing power and could be stored offline or on virtual exchanges. This meant that, early on, those with the greatest amount of processing power, or the tech savvy, could “mine” for the currency with their unused processing power.


A bitcoins mining rig
(via Gizmodo)

The currency mined or “earned” could then be traded for goods or services just as any other currency is used. In 2013, a smattering of small businesses and vendors began to accept bitcoin; Virgin Galactic even took them as payment for a commercial spaceflight into space. However, prior to 2013 (which was when we saw this surge of interest in bitcoin), what were the legitimate purposes for this currency? The most well-known of markets for the use of bitcoin has been the Silk Road, an online market that is the Amazon of the “hidden” internet.

Where does that leave us today? Bitcoin, once valued around US$30 in 2011 (or pennies in 2009) has jumped to US$630. Investors will leap at an investment like that, and many have. Considering the limited legitimate purposes for the currency, investors should question who are the major holders of bitcoin. That’s an answer no one knows since the currency is anonymous. Yet, looking at bitcoin’s largest known market (the Silk Road) and the processing power needed to “mine” the currency, it stands to reason the ones who hold the most currency are the ones who got in early and who trade services and goods for bitcoin (as true with any currency).

The problem is that the largest marketplace for bitcoin is also a marketplace for drugs, guns, child pornography, and other dubious activities. Another problem is that those who could’ve mined the currency earliest (beyond individuals) were spammers and hackers who developed botnets to mine copious amounts.

So what has the greed of our market done? The unknowing public’s speculation into bitcoin has increased the holdings of these drug runners, gun smugglers, pornographers, human traffickers, and potential criminals by 20-fold, if not more.

Op-Ed Disclaimer: The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of The Wang Post.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lessons from East Asian Education Systems

Imagine being told by your teacher that you should take birth control.

My friend from Beijing told me this happened at her school. Her teacher recommended that female students who really worried about impending exams should skip their period by taking birth control. Nothing would stop students from doing their best.

Stories like these hide behind the well-known success of East Asian education systems. Nations around the world often look to the region to find ways for improving their own systems.

The latest Program in International Student Assessment, which assesses reading, mathematics, science and problem solving in 15-year-olds, suggests that this may be a good idea. The assessment, carried out by OECD, found that the top seven scores were from Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau, and Japan.


Students attend class at the Jing’an Education College Affiliated School in Shanghai

The recipe of East Asia’s success is setting high standards for all schools and giving them the means to achieve them, the OECD’s head of education Andreas Schleicher told Reuters.

Others are concerned that the impressive performances by students in the region are actually due to intense pressure and extreme measures.

Andrew Kipnis, an anthropologist who wrote a book on the intense desire for education in China, told the BBC that parents borrow from relatives, put off building a new house or even forgo buying healthcare in order to spend money on private education.

In their article, “True Lessons of East Asian Education”, Drs. Young-oak Kim and Jung-kyu Kim argue that East Asia has a lot to learn from the American education system. They criticize the East Asian focus on rote memorization, its top-down instructional style, competitive college entrance exams and the deindividualization of students.

The OECD, though, found that East Asian students were increasingly more creative in extrapolating from previous knowledge – skills that are usually associated with Western school systems.

Nevertheless, East Asian systems still have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to expanding student potential past test taking.

I remember a friend from Wenzhou telling me that her teacher did not understand why she spent so much time playing ultimate Frisbee. She was on a team with many foreigners and loved that she could practice her English, exercise, and have fun, all at the same time. But, no matter how much she tried to explain this, she was told to stop wasting time and to get back to her books so she could pass her exams.


“Asian Dad” gets it

Keeping kids from having fun or choosing to spend on tutors instead of healthcare are probably not the East Asian practices that the West should be emulating.

Instead, it should take a look at East Asia’s belief that all can achieve. In the region it is hard work, rather than inherited talent, that is seen as the key to success. Resources are allocated equitably so that the most talented teachers are put in the most challenging classrooms. This way all students, regardless of background, are given the opportunity to work hard and succeed.

So, while it’s unlikely that the West will start handing out birth control to female students any time soon in order for them to maximize their studying time, maybe it should examine whether it is handing out other important education resources in a way that will maximize student potential.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Picture = 1,000 Words? Here’s 1,000 – and Boy, What Words They Could Be!

In my week of looking for images for The Wang Post, I come across some strange things. This was saved as “The Atlantic – Naked Chinese”. It is, I think, a CCTV image of a naked Asian male running across a traffic lane carrying a sex doll. I could backtrack and look for the source of the article it accompanied, but what would be the fun in that?


Run Forrest anonymous naked Chinese man, run!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cute Little Girl Ignores “Stranger Danger” for Cookies, Ice Cream, and Swimming

A Korean mom films herself teaching her super adorable daughter Ye Bin about what to say and do if a stranger offered her cookies and ice cream and to take her swimming. (Ye Bin shouts, “Yes!” to all of the above. We get it; we’re pretty excited about cookies, ice cream, and swimming, too.) If you’re a parent and trying to educate your young daughter about life lessons, it may not be the best to condition her to these questions with a cup of snacks in her hands.

Laowai Comics: Bad Pickup Lines

Pickup lines that may not work. Click to enlarge.


This week from our friend, Laowai Comics. Only in China – keep it crazy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Repealing Affirmative Action in California: Discrimination or Diversity?

If there’s any particular issue of contention among the Asian-American community lately, it’s the issue of the return of affirmative action.

California’s Senate Constitutional Amendment No.5 (SCA-5) seeks to remove the provisions of California Proposition 209 and allow state universities to consider race, gender, color, ethnicity, and national origin as factors in the admission process. When the amendment passed in the California Senate on January 30, it reignited this highly controversial topic, particularly among the Asian-American community. This is a highly simplified breakdown of the chief arguments:

  • Supporters of the bill, led by its author, State Senator Edward Hernandez, believe that SCA-5 would allow the percentages of Latino, African American, and Native American students in California public universities to grow. He stated that these numbers had significantly declined following implementation of Proposition 209 and that the removal of the relevant provisions would promote diversity within the California public university system.

  • Critics of the bill argue that it is a form of discrimination and advocates preferential treatment for certain racial groups. It logically follows that this preference comes at the expense of other groups, perhaps contributing to racial tensions in California. They also argue that Senator Hernandez’s data supporting a post-Proposition 209 decline in diversity was skewed and contradicts public records, which conversely demonstrate an increase in minority populations among the University of California (UC) system.


A colorblind system?

Historically speaking, the Asian-American community has typically been relatively politically passive. On February 28, however, opposition to the bill incensed more than 500 Chinese-Americans to gather in protest before the office building of State Assemblymember Ed Chau in Sacramento, urging him to vote against SCA-5 in the State Assembly. Opponents called the bill “Skin Color Act 5”, citing significantly higher admissions criteria for Asian-Americans than their counterparts.


Asian-Americans protest affirmative action

(Photo: AALDEF)

Asian-Americans constitute less than 5% of the U.S. population, significantly less than the percentages of African Americans and Latinos. Despite their minority status, race-based admissions programs would actually work against the Asian community because of disproportionately high test scores and general scholarship. In California, the population is larger, with 14.9% of the population being of Asian origins. In admissions, however, Asians constitute 36%. The implementation of a “quota”, so to speak, would decrease the current Asian presence in the UCs and other public schools. It’s because of this process that many Asian-Americans feel that they are being unfairly penalized for their high rates of success.

It is a dialogue driven by fear. Many of the protestors are afraid of the impact SCA-5 would have on them and their children’s prospects at entering the highly competitive UCs. Fear easily converts to anger, which resulted in political activism. Currently, the petition against SCA-5 has gathered more than 100,000 supporters within 3 weeks.

The broader issue here is the issue of “positive discrimination”, or “reverse racism”, as some call it, which, for many, have become synonymous with affirmative action. The current discourse on affirmative actions ranges from dismissive to apoplectic. This is the debate that I plan to address in the near future, though delving into such a controversial topic requires careful diligence.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Migrating East: The Growing Expatriate Population in China

Because our breadwinner is an international businessman, my family has moved countries many times. Most people think our migratory patters are odd; when looked alongside global trends, though, they make sense.

Ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, when Eastern Europe began to welcome Western investment, my family and I moved to the Czech Republic. When the business world started buzzing about the growth of the Brazilian economic power, we’d already been living there for a year. When we arrived in China, though, we were late to the party.

The international community in Shanghai was nothing like what we’d encountered before. We saw Westerners, or waiguoren, almost everywhere we looked. (It was definitely still China, and things like squatty potties reminded us of it.) When we arrived in 2010, we were only five new members in an ex-pat community of more than 1,000; by 2013, the number had reached 173,000 people.

Foreigners living in China, at least according to HSBC, tend to love it. In its 2013 survey of over 7,000 global expatriates, China was found to be the best overall destination. Highlights included that those living in China were the only ones to report to enjoy a more active social life than in their previous country. Almost 75% of respondents with children considered China safer for them than other countries.

However, while these interviewed were glad about the additional benefits to their quality of life, it wasn’t usually a better social life or children’s safety that foreigners sought when they moved to the Middle Kingdom. Many companies send employees to the “Wild East” to open ground on new markets and opportunities. In Shanghai, an arena that seemed to be incredibly important was the car industry: it wasn’t a coincidence if the first three Americans you met who worked in Shanghai were all from Michigan.

In the last twenty-some years, the city has developed at a jaw-dropping speed.


Twenty years in Shanghai

From the omnipresent Starbucks to the newly opened Old Navy to Western-style restaurants like Element Fresh, it’s clear that the West is dominating this trend. There’s even a movie based on it: Shanghai Calling (2012), with its “strangers-in-a-strange-land” premise about an ambitious American attorney assigned to Shanghai. It may not be as funny to some, but I’d recommend watching it to learn a bit about Shanghai, China, and Western investment.

Either that, or hop on a plane and see it for yourself.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Picture = 1,000 Words? Here’s 6,000 (and Change)

We’re all cheated an hour in the U.S. this weekend (daylight savings), so a few quick words – we have to make the most of our time! – what random, interesting stuff do you come across in your internet meanderings?

Here’s my response in no other order except for chronology, as a result of my search for images for TWP.


Shanghai, 1930s


War propaganda poster, 1940s


Old vs. new – or is there really a difference?


The “clean-up” of China’s images for the Beijing Olympics


From The Sartorialist

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Laowai Comics: Hey! Yo? Bye!

Who doesn’t love stupid puns?


This week from our friend, Laowai Comics. Only in China – keep it crazy!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who’s Got the Best School Uniforms in Asia?

What’s in a school uniform? (And, if you clicked on this story because the main image showed EXO-K[orea]‘s six members – all well out of high school – still dressed in school uniforms for a photo shoot, you kinda understand the appeal of the school uniform in popular Asian, and non-Asian, imaginations.)


Visiting, you’ll see groups of students wearing school uniforms. Some may have graduated, actually; there was once an on-street interview asking those who’d left school why they still wore their uniforms, with the popular answer, “Because the uniform is still our favorite piece of clothing.” It’s a bit of a fashion symbol.

The reality:


Some super cool boys who go to the same hairstylist


Some super cool girls – the “sailor” look is typical of Japanese school uniforms

The not-so-reality:


Mutton dressed up as lambs – I mean, “street style”

South Korea

The Korean uniform is another one that’s steeped in pop culture: the girls usually wear white shirts and plaid, pleated skirts, while boys wear white shirts and trousers. Indeed, the uniforms show energy and some fashion.

The reality:


Some Korean students

The not-so-reality:


SNSD/Girls’ Generation in a world of their own


The cast of To the Beautiful You, a K-drama set in high school


Schools in Thailand have strict dress codes: all students from primary schools to universities are required to wear uniforms every day. While primary schools’ uniforms are usually in bright colors, older students follow the white top (blouse, shirt) and black bottom (skirt, trousers) look. In 2013, Thai university uniforms were voted the “sexiest” among Asian uniforms by a poll conducted by Japanese media.

The reality:


A middle school in Thailand

The not-so-reality?:


A form of university-regulated uniforms


Malaysia is a Muslim country, so the students have very strict dress code. The girls’ skirts must be below the knee, and the sleeves long enough to cover elbows.

The reality:


Modesty in pinafores


The ao dai is a traditional Vietnamese costume with hundreds’ of years of history. A search online has many visitors talking about this beautiful scene: girls in white ao dai, riding a bicycle or walking and talking to friends. Clean, fresh, and all-purpose. Besides, selecting traditional wear as school uniforms is a brilliant idea: it provides a way for the younger generation to learn and be proud of their ethnic identity and culture.

The reality:


Two students ride a bike to school

The not-so-reality?:


Couldn’t tell if this was a photo shoot; the ao dai are missing the school’s emblem over the chest


School uniforms in China are basically sportswear, designed for activities, with a clear lack of fashion. Most Chinese uniforms that aren’t exercise outfits follow the Japanese/Korea styles, with blazer, shirt, and skirt/trousers.

The reality:


Exercise those young minds!


A step above the “sporty” look