Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Chinese are coming

One recent sunny and warm afternoon, my friend Ben and I were wandering around Lucerne, a quintessential Swiss town.

The old churches and houses, the cobbled streets, the cafes around the piazzas – everything just seemed picture-perfect as Lucerne exuded its quaint charm.

All of sudden, like a blaring siren – that familiar sound hit our eardrums!

You know, it was that throat-clearing, pre-spitting noise that you get used to on the crowded streets of China.

Before we could react, this middle-aged portly man emerged from a Chinese restaurant on the corner – along with a large delegation of visitors chatting loudly in Mandarin.

The Chinese man began letting out his phlegm right in the middle of the piazza.

One, two, three, four, five.

When all was (relatively) quiet again, he caught up with his fellow delegates – all flocking into the big shop selling the most exclusive Swiss watches just down the street.

Tofu with Swiss characteristics

Btw I will never ever pay 25 Swiss Francs (that's 20 U.S. dollars, folks) for a plate of braised tofu with soy sauce.

Chinese people sometimes joke about "going to buy a block of tofu and killing myself by slamming my head on it" (买块豆腐撞死). Well if you happen to become suicidal in Switzerland, that would be one expensive endeavor!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tanks in Bangkok and democracy in Hong Kong

I chatted with a Thai friend online today. He’s a news anchor in Bangkok at a TV network that used to have close ties with the ousted prime minister.

“They still let us do our newscasts,” he said of the military authorities. “But we need to be more careful now.”

That’s quite an understatement, especially since he went on to say, “There are soldiers in the newsroom.”

With that, a vibrant – albeit young and struggling – democracy in Southeast Asia has turned to just another authoritarian or totalitarian regime in the region.

“Now our news is just like yours,” my friend added, taking a shot at my employer, a media outlet based in a fellow ASEAN country known for its abundance of wealth and lack of freedoms.

So he's got a good point. Sadly, while my ordeal is almost over, his has just begun.

I realize how unpopular Thaksin was with Thai urbanites and southern Muslims. But instead of voting him out, many people appear satisfied to see ambitious generals topple a divisive but legitimately elected leader – even if it means the curtailing of civil liberties in the process.

“We will just have to wait and see,” my Thai friend concluded, disagreeing with the army’s action but feeling resigned to the current situation.

And then there were those pictures splashed across Hong Kong newspapers – showing local tourists happily posing with soldiers in front of tanks on the streets of Bangkok.

Many among those tourists must have repeatedly told pollsters that they want universal suffrage in Hong Kong now – since that has been the wish of the majority in the city for some time.

It’s rather ironic that they cheer for the loss of democracy abroad while demanding it back home. Maybe Beijing is right after all – some Hong Kongers are “too simple, sometimes naïve.”

Saturday, September 23, 2006

About time!

So I finally bit the bullet and decided to set up a real blog here. I gave it almost the identical title as my experimental, semi-secret blog elsewhere. Hopefully this dragon will have something fiery to post when he is more awake (yes, it really is 4 a.m. on a Saturday).