Tuesday, July 31, 2007

it is wednesday in china

I write from the future. Yes, it is August in China.

We have had a wonderful three days so far in Shanghai. Of course it is hot and muggy and I never have a clue where I am unless I am at the Bund (along the river) or Peoples Square. We've had some interesting discussions that also are leading to further contacts. Our schedule doesn't look full, maybe two interviews per day, but we do not have much down time. We end up talking longer than we expect, and getting from one district to another in a large city of 21+ million takes time. Tuesday we had a three-hour interview over lunch. Time just flew by and was rich -- both the discussion and the lunch.

My students are absolutely wonderful. Great attitudes, fun to be with, extremely responsible -- you don't get that combination very often in one person let alone three. I am truly blessed.

They have been very caring and feel it is their job to protect me. It is really kind of cute. XC, who is in the same hotel as me, would go out in the morning and buy food to bring back to my room so I wouldn't go hungry. Last evening (Tuesday) we were in a different district of the city and about to go our separate ways. The two young women were going to head over to a fancy shopping center, when XC stopped and declared they could not go because Dr. B would go hungry. They needed to take me somewhere. Otherwise, how would I be able to buy food or even go to a McDonald's?

I assured them that I appreciated their concern, that it is quite sweet of them, but although I do not speak Chinese, I am not completely helpless. I know how to go into a store and buy things. (Cash registers show the amount to pay.) I can handle McDonald's. (They have pictures to point to, as do other restaurants, and anyway I don't want to eat at McDonald's.) They went shopping and I did not go hungry.

Yesterday we were walking around one the large universities in Shanghai and went into a building to look at classrooms and things (it was also air conditioned). We exited an elevator and I took off walking with YW following me. (She is the most serious one in the group.) I got a little ahead of her then took off running, quickly circling back around to elevators, and came up behind her with the other two. She had this panicked look on her face, looking all around, terrified she had lost Dr. B. I just acted like I had always been with the others and wondered what she was concerned about. For an instant I think she doubted her sanity. Good thing she has a sense of humor.

Still, they are helpful to this absent-minded professor. They always watch to make sure I do not leave things behind, as I am wont to do.

I try to have them make most of the decisions and it is fun to see them grow in confidence as they do so. I do intervene to confirm what I see as their consensus, or if they get off track, or to divide up responsibilities so they don't duplicate or confuse matters. Given their language skills, they make almost all our arrangements. This forces them to do things they have never done, and wouldn't otherwise think they could do.

I suspect they are beginning to wonder why I am along on this trip.

The food has been great. I am even learning to like Chinese junk food. They have this beef-jerky-type thing, only spicier and made from pork. Yesterday during an interview in a coffee shop I had one scoop each of mango, green tea, and red bean ice cream served over chunks of watermelon. Some of the drinks we pick up for treats are tasty but I couldn't begin to describe them and still have you think I am sane for liking them.

I better try to get back to sleep for an hour or so.

Be blessed!
RB

Saturday, July 28, 2007

this post has been shanghai'd

If you wanted to fly from Chicago to Shanghai, which direction would you go?  I mean besides the obvious and necessary "up."  I would have thought west and my second choice, even though longer, would have been east.  The best answer?  North!  Unlike me, the airlines remember that the world is not flat.  The shortest route from Chicago is to fly north to Canada, skirting the edge of Hudson Bay, on up over the Arctic Ocean, just a few hundred miles from the north pole, and continue south across Siberia and on to China. 

If you have a globe, a fun thing to do is take a string and stretch it between two points.  Although this shows the shortest route, it is almost never the the straight line you'd find if you plotted a course on a flat map.  On one level I already know this but still I am a little surprised each time.

Why do most of us find this surprising?  It is because our conceptual map of the world is two dimensional.  We all know the world is round but our thinking, and often our resultant actions, are based on the images with which we have flooded our mind.  May I go so far has as to say our minds have been trained to misperceive the world?  No conspiracy theory here, it just that we have constantly exposed our eyes and our minds to distorted pictures of the world. In the case of maps, it is easy to correct our mistakes because it doesn't take much convincing us that the world is really round.

Other areas of our lives, the distorted picture is the only one we have.  What seems natural to us is actually quite twisted.  We flood our minds with pornography and romance novels.  (Yes, I endeavor to write a gender neutral blog!)  We also bombard our minds with tv and movies and especially advertising.  We have distorted images of the opposite sex, what is desirable, love and marriage, and a host of other things that lead to relational problems and hurts.  Another example: the victim of emotional abuse who grows up thinking everyone is lying, imagining and imputing negative motivations, unable to accept acceptance.  (Tragically, the victim of abuse very often grows up to become the emotional abuser.)

I could go on and on.  The sad thing is that we are comfortable acting on our twisted perceptions.  It seems unnatural to operate with a truer picture of the world and the godly thing to do often does not seem right.  We fool ourselves in to doing "what is right for me" or dismissing correction by saying "I have to be true to myself " or "I've got to be me."  That is why the Word tells us in Ephesians 4:23 to renew our minds.  That is why we are to surround ourselves with godly people (not just believers).  The process is ongoing and not at all obvious.  It usually needs training and other people to help us.

Actually, this post is just expanding on Ephesians 4:17-23.  Check it out and see if I'm wrong.

. . . I do go on.  Sorry. It is the jet lag talking.  After about five hours of sleep in two days complemented by a shift in twelve time zones, I'm likely to write anything.

It is now Sunday morning in Shanghai.  What I was starting to write about was my arrival in Shanghai. No problems; more pleasant than expected flight; no lost luggage.  When we stepped outside the airport, it was like a sauna, very high 90's and extremely humid.  Our hotel is not a 3-star as advertised, but still is more than nice enough and still a bargain by Shanghai standards.  I have a small room with a double bed,  private bath, ac, tv, and in-room internet broadband.

A mother of one of our students took us out to eat last night and we had real Chinese food.  After dinner we did a little site seeing since XC (one of our Chinese students) had never been to Shanghai.  We went to the Bund, the old financial center along the river.  There is a broad walkway overlooking the river and the skyline of Pudong, the new financial district across the river.  Except for NYC, Shanghai's skyline is more beautiful and more impressive than any in the US.

Be blessed!
RB

Thursday, July 26, 2007

packed

Everything is packed. It was quite easy with room and weight to spare. About twenty pounds is books and papers that won't be coming back so I think I'll only need one checked bag on the return trip.

My oldest gave me DVDs with all the episodes of Red Dwarf and my mother-in-law gave me some CD's of Bill Johnson (Redding, California) preaching/teaching. What a blessing! Anyway, I won't be bored during my down time.

I'll try to post via email from China. I should be able to post even though blogger itself is blocked. I also have other ways around the commie censors (wink, wink, nod, nod).

Time for a shower and bed.

Be blessed!
RB

getting ready for china

Yesterday I had some extra time freed up so it become my designated "running around getting stuff" day. So I thought today would consist merely of leisurely packing. Nope. Except for a relatively quick trip to the office, I have spent the entire day so far at my computer. I have been stuck working on financial records, emails, and other busy work. I probably have a couple of more hours of busy work before packing.

Packing for me is usually easy. A couple a years ago I bought a very large wheeled suitcase so on a long trip like this, I could just put everything in it and not have to worry about multiple bags, where to put stuff, etc. It was a brilliant idea.

That is, it was until the airlines reduced their luggage weight limits. Now I usually have an extra light-weight duffel bag inside in the roller in case I get called for too much weight. For tomorrow I will have to pack carefully, usually nothing except clothes in the large case, with an extra travel bag for books, papers and other heavy things. The little extra bag will end up weighing almost as much as the big one!

Tuesday night I used Chinese travel sites to find a nice three-star hotel in central Shanghai. The travel site where I made my reservation even had the name and address of the hotel in Chinese script to print out and give to a taxi driver. The websites had excellent English versions, even better than most US travel sites. Using the sites was very easy except for trying to find where the possible hotels were located. However, the pop-up maps showing locations were entirely in Chinese.

The hotel is quite inexpensive for Shanghai but probably the most expensive and nicest we will use during our trip ($21/room/night). We are traveling a very tight budget.

If you think I am fiscally conservative (i.e, cheap) you should meet the students: two Chinese woman and a Nepalese guy. They each not only know more about China than I do, each is also much smarter than me. My only edge is I still know a lot more about economics. Initially, I'll also have the intimidation factor that goes with being a professor, but I'll lose that. Familiarity eventually wears away any sense of awe.

They are great kids and I am really blessed to be traveling with them. I put 80 to 90 percent of the preparation/organization/logistical work on them and they are doing great. Two are in China now and the other will be traveling on the Chicago-Shanghai leg with me tomorrow (Friday).

I do not look forward to 24-hours of travel from home to hotel, especially the 14 1/2 flight from Chicago. I do not look forward to the weather. (As I write this, it is in the middle of the night in Shanghai, the temp is 86 but the humidity makes it feel like 99.) However, I expect to have a good time. I expect to learn a lot. I also expect to enjoy watching the students learn, to apply and expand their understanding of economics.

Be blessed!
RB

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

cn & iq & add ons

I have added some gadgets in the right-hand column.  First, is a feature where someone can automatically receive daily updates of this blog by email.

Due to some inadvertent changes, if you subscribed to a news feed you may need to subscribe again.  Sorry.

Under the heading International  Time & Temp  (you may have to hit page down once or twice) there are clocks for IQ and CN as well as weather forecasts.  Why IQ?  I know an LT there and this might cause someone to remember him, especially with highs over 110 degrees daily and the lows sometimes get below 100. 

As mentioned in my March 23rd post, I'll be traveling to CN with three students for three weeks visiting four cities (Shanghai, Fuzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu). Since I'm leaving for CN on Friday, I also have the Shanghai weather forecast posted.  The CN time is easy if you are on EDT since it is 12 hours ahead -- just change a.m. to p.m. and p.m. to a.m. That is, 8 p.m. in NY is 8 a.m. the next morning in CN. 

If you check out the Shanghai weather you won't envy my traveling there.

The Chicago to Shanghai leg of my trip takes 27 1/2 hours on the clock but the return trip only 40 minutes.

So this week is being spent running around and trying to prepare for my departure and absence from NNY.

Monday, July 23, 2007

the five stupidest fatwas

The editors at ForeignPolicy.com came up with a list of the world's stupidest Islamic legal rulings. They are amusing, except for the fourth, which is quite tragic. Click HERE to see the list and explanations.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

the great firewall of china

Many of you know that China censors the internet. Many sites are banned by the Great Firewall of China including many blogs (e.g., xanga and blogger).

You can test web sites in real time on the tool below. Just click the dot for Beijing or Shanghai (Hong Kong does not censor very much) and then enter the sites address or url. Go ahead, play around with it and see what they ban.



SLU's website and my personal website are allowed but not my blogs.

Doesn't it make you bloggers out there feel a little special being banned by government censors in the People's Republic of China?

It just shows you that those godless commies are afraid of us!

Be blessed.
RB

a new blogger and new pics

There is a new blogger in town: http://www.xanga.com/nymrsb

[Her Xanga lock should now be disabled.]

Pics upload #4 is the last for awhile. Pics from June until this past Monday are available HERE.

Be blessed!
RB

Saturday, July 21, 2007

harry potter ending

If you want to know the ending to the latest and supposedly last Harry Potter book, just go here. From this link, you can also read about the hacker who claimed to have posted the book's ending earlier this week.

Just trying to save the non-Potter fans a little time and trouble.

Be blessed!
RB

science v. atheism

Is atheism is incompatible with science? You usually don’t hear this question in the popular press. The fundamental premise of atheism is that God does not exist. This is an untestable hypothesis. You can not do a real world test of God’s existence unless God makes his manifest presence known to all. I doubt this will happen until the Judgement Day.

It takes far too, too much of a blind leap of faith to be an honest, I-believe-in-science, rational atheist. The basis for atheism is inherently unscientific. How can you believe in something that, while conceptually possible, is quite impossible to prove and still be "scientific." It is much easier, in that it requires much, much less faith, to believe in a God who makes Himself real to you.

Atheism is making a bit of a comeback at least in terms of book publishing. In a critique of the “new atheism” in The Wall Street Journal (“The New New Atheism” by Peter Berkowitz, Monday 16 July 2007, p. A13) noted that four recent champions of godlessness have sold nearly a million copies of their books altogether. This is a lot of sales for this type of book.

I found the Berkowitz critique persuasive and it has gotten a lot of play in various blogs. On an atheist’s blog, someone commented, “Are these guys trying to make atheists look stupid?” Believe me, I feel her pain.

Science is incredibly useful but isn’t always able to clarify or settle all disputes over every aspect of reality. That’s OK. God can reveal Himself if and when He wants to really settle the issue of His existence. In fact, I know He will if you honestly ask Him.

Be blessed!
RB

Friday, July 20, 2007

pics upload #3

One album a day. Pics from May, mostly of our youngest son's prom, are available HERE.

Be blessed!
RB

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

pics upload #2

I'm a little behind, but I finally uploaded pics from my father-in-law's 80th birthday in early May. They are available HERE.

Be blessed!
RB

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

pics upload #1

I'm a little behind, but I just uploaded pics of the family together around Easter and other shots from March and April 2007. They are available HERE.

Be blessed!
RB

Sunday, July 1, 2007

where is the world’s best performing stock market?

Zimbabwe, of course. This country in southeast Africa has a booming stock market, up 595 per cent this year and up about 12,000 per cent over the past twelve months. I know, you’re thinking there must be a catch. What about inflation? Well, Zimbabwe also has the world’s highest inflation rate. In April of this year the annual inflation rate was 3,714 per cent.

Do the math. The stock market grew more than three times faster than inflation. Take inflation out and the returns were still over 8,000 per cent. Zimbabwe still has the best performing stock market in the world.

Is it the economy? Incomes and output per person in Zimbabwe have fallen for eight consecutive years. Incomes and output are half of what they were in 2000. The consensus is that the country’s economy is imploding.

Robert Mugabe, president since independence has got the printing presses going, pumping out massive amounts of the Zimbabwe dollar.
As you can see, it is a very lovely, nicely designed currency. It is just not worth much. A few days ago you would have needed three thousand of these 500ZW$ bills to buy a single US$.

What would you do if you had a pile of the newly minted currency? If you hold on to the cash, it will soon be worth much less. Each month the ZW$ loses two-thirds of its purchasing power. There is not much left to buy because production is imploding. It takes too much time to buy property or whatever large physical assets are left. (Ever closed on a house?)

What can you buy quickly? That’s right: stocks of Zimbabwean corporations. Outside of the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe has (had?) the most developed financial system in Africa, actually quite decent for a developing country. So buying shares of stock can be done quickly and easily.

What we have in the Zimbabwean stock market is a very unusual bubble. The excess money supply flows very quickly into the stock market, driving up prices.

Is it time to sell stock before the bubble bursts? (Assuming you had Zimbabwean stocks.) Think about it. If you got out of the market, what would you do with the ZW$’s?

If you regularly read this blog, you know I am an advocate of indexed mutual funds for various types of stocks, bonds and property. It is pretty dull though. Of course, another down side is missing special and interesting investment opportunities that come along like the Zimbabwean stock market.

I’ll get over it. I'll take dull.

Be blessed!
RB