A dark day for all of us

An American Tragedy

A dark day for all of us, sorry, minus the 50% of the USA who show how far ignorance can lead towards tragedy. And oh yes, probably the Russians are celebrating (and maybe China a little bit too).
The following article sounds much like an obituary:

An American Tragedy – By David Remnick – The New Yorker
9 November 2016

“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”

A break with the Obama legacy

Oh well, the GOP always hated President Obama. He was too intelligent. Reason why none of the intelligent candidates from the GOP made it anyway. Pity, there were some excellent ones.
The GOP finds all wrong with Obama, playing obstruction and refusing cooperation on anything, just to boycott. Then they blamed him for “not doing anything”.
Actually his record is pretty good, despite the obstructions.
Even looking closer at “Obamacare” the evaluation is pretty positive, despite the hoopla against it.

Democracy has reached a dead end

On the Democrats side, it is a pity Bernie Sanders did not make it. I liked the guy and many of our ideas match. The party also could not really find a better candidate than the controversial Hillary? Anyway she was the lesser evil.
It happened with Brexit, with the failed “democracy” in Thailand and in other countries, it is the victory of ignorance and demagogy.

Of course the big question is, how did this happen? It seems pretty clear the Trump camp was motivated against Hillary. But it was also rejection of the political establishment, a revolt by people who felt left behind and that nobody was addressing their problems. Income inequality, fear of the Muslim extremists, feeling of rising crime, invasion of migrants, and so on. Trump played skillfully on that while proposing unworkable solutions – but solutions that appeal to those who are unhappy with the political system. Trump predicted that all himself in People Magazine 1998.
It was a vote less for Trump than against the establishment.

President Obama had launched an excoriating attack on Trump, saying: “It’s bad being arrogant when you know what you’re talking about, but it’s really bad being arrogant when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Great observation and applies to a number of people. But 50% of the electorate cannot think rationally and is easily misled.


That all gives ample ammunition to countries as China to validate the failure of democracy.
As the vast majority agrees in China, the country is not ready for democracy, as it would bring chaos. So, no thanks.
China is going through a very difficult time. To protect the survival of the system, the government is eliminating as much foreign influence and “meddling”. Censorship on all levels has been increasing with ferocity. Now China can go ahead and do whatever it thinks is best for the country. And nobody has now any standing to criticize nor “interfere”.
Europe also has little leverage. They complain about China but ask for their money.
Now we have to see how things will go in Europe. Marine Le Pen is happy, a sign of further trouble.

So what now?

I close the chapter with looking at some representative cartoons and quotes, yeah some will say “we had the last laugh”.
Just to bury this all and leave it as such. Comments closed.
I really must start writing my next book. Bernie could like it.
And maybe better to ignore all American politics, to avoid a bad mood. Let them sort it out.
Maybe I should apply for membership to the Chinese Communist Party? Tough luck, I would not qualify.

The cultural gap in biking: China versus Europe

How many times was I told: “Gilbert, it’s a loss of face to go to an official meeting or a 5-star hotel on a bike. You are a boss, you cannot do this”.
So, why not? Many Chinese still have this attitude, brainwashed by their “loss-of-face” obsessions and the prestige to have a car. No thanks, we Europeans don’t think that way, leave the cars to the Americans with their automotive addiction. Now more and more European cities switch from cars to bikes and in many cities cars are the enemy – much like in my home town Ghent (Belgium). In several EU countries even ministers use a bike.
I also brought up this “loss of face” during my speech for the  Exclusive Dialogue with Vice Mayor of Beijing Ms. Cheng Hong.
Our Swedish friends showed the example in China Daily:
“Swedish Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport Gabriel Wikstrom (second from left), along with Swedish Ambassador to China Lars Freden (first left) and World Health Organization Representative Bernhard Schwartlander (right), ride bikes to a meeting at the WHO offices in Beijing to promote good health and environmental protection. More than 80% of Chinese adolescents do not get enough physical activity, a major risk factor in obesity and the development of chronic diseases.”

In polluted and congested Beijing, biking is the solution to get somewhere on time and to unclog the traffic. Also, I can have my beer(s) and bike home. With a car, zero drinking, plus no parking etc. On the positive side, the city government is increasing the outlets for rental bikes and media such as The Beijinger promote it nicely, see also their explanation of Chinese terms.
Yes, biking is a hazard as Chinese respect nothing and traffic regulations are a joke. Traffic police does not exist so Chinese do whatever suits them. Cars and arrogant pedestrians occupy biking lanes, all while looking at their mobiles and/or smoking. One traffic rule seems to be that under no circumstances should a driver keep his eyes off the mobile.
Anyway, I always bike. Cold, hot, rain, snow, sunshine. I am happy to have found in a U.S. supermarket a great rain outfit. USA, the country of cars has this stuff, China no. Get that.
Of course I look like coming back from Ebola country but I could not care less. The set is super light and compact and I can put it over my shoes, trousers etc. And unlike the Chinese rubbish clothes, it does stop the water.
See the pics. With and without on 27 April. And my friends on WeChat showed massive support…
As for my little funny red bike, well, I have it nearly four years. Rather of poor quality I have persevered in repairing it, in the spirit of “Toxic Capitalism”. Many parts have been changed but I always return to the same bike shop on Dongdaqiao Lu where the more-than-retired staff serve me well and cheaply. Once they worked on it one hour and was billed … 25 RMB.

Embassy of Canada: a view on the Arctic

On 18 March I had the privilege to attend an interesting overview on what Canada is doing and planning for this enormous region, called the Arctic.
Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques invited us all you to a “Canada in Conversation event” featuring guest speaker, Dr. David Hik, Board of Directors Member, Canadian Polar Commission in conversation with
moderator, Dr. Yang Huigen, Director General of Polar Research Institute of China on “Canada’s Arctic Science in an International Context: Innovations for a Changing Arctic in the 21st Century”
The new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) Act is expected to come into force soon, making it the focal federal government organization for coordinating Arctic research in Canada. This will present on a number of opportunities to strengthen international cooperation in Arctic scientific research, and specific possibilities for enhancing Canada-China collaboration. Science, technology and relevant knowledge underpins all four pillars of Canada’s Northern Strategy – environmental protection, social and economic development, governance, and sovereignty. In addition, given the devolution of some federal responsibilities to local governments and various land claims obligations, the way in which Arctic research is conducted is changing, including greater involvement of Northern communities in decision-making. As China is strongly commitment to Arctic research, though a variety of ongoing university, laboratory and institute activities, the conversation will examine the structure and plans for facilitating international collaboration within the new CHARS and the possibility of implementing joint Canada-China research focused on changes in Arctic sea ice conditions, as well as
other areas of potential collaboration.
A networking reception followed the talk at the Official Residence.

The Arctic merits indeed a lot of attention for many reasons, due to Climate Change, Warming of the Planet, the melting of the ice cap, the impacts on fauna, flora, fishing, coastal lines, shipping and so on. China is very interested in the subjects and is looking forward to work with Canada on further research.
I had also the pleasure to hand over my book “Toxic Capitalism” to the ambassador. The book also mentions the issues affecting the arctic.
It had been quite some time since I visited the embassy. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and cordiality.
See here the biography of the main speakers:
Dr. David Hik
Dr. David Hik was appointed to the Canadian Polar Commission’s Board of Directors in November 2010, and reappointed in November 2013. He has conducted research in Northern Canada since 1984, and his interests are focused on the ecology of tundra ecosystems in Arctic and mountain environments, social-ecological resilience, and the interface between science and policy. Dr. Hik is currently a Professor at the University of Alberta, and also a visiting guest professor at Polar Research Institute of China. He recently completed a four-year term as President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) where he championed engagement of early career researchers, international partnerships, data management, and long-term planning for research coordination.
Dr. Hik currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Arctic Council’s ‘Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON)’ initiative; Chair of the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III); and Co-Chair of the International Polar Partnership Initiative (IPPI). Previously, he held the Canada Research Chair in Northern Ecology (2002-2012) and was Executive Director of the Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) Secretariat (2004-2009). He is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and was awarded the Society’s Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership and Science in 2013.
Dr. Yang Huigen
Huigen Yang is the Director General of the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC). Over his career, he has spent significant time carrying out Aurora observations at Syowa and Zhongshan Station in the Antarctic and Yellow River Station on Svalbard. During the 2007-08 International Polar Year (IPY), he acted as Chief Scientist of the IPY China Program. Dedicated to international cooperation, he is the Vice-President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), and the national representative and council member of both the Science Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) and International Council for Science (ICSU). Dr. Yang was the leader of the 25th Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition, 2008- 2009, during which the Kunlun Station at the top of Dome A was established. He also led the 5th Chinese National Arctic Research Expedition to traverse the Northeast Passage. He has built up intensive cooperation with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Norway, United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries in the area of polar sciences, logistics cooperation, and education and outreach. Dr. Yang obtained his PhD in the field of the space physics in Wu Han University and completed a Post-Doctorate at National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo.
(information all provided by the Embassy)

The Bookwork Literary Festival: I took part!

Now in its 9th year, the Festival has become not only a tradition, it also has become … huge. From 13 to 29 March some 120 authors from anywhere in the world attend the events in the three locations: Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou, all under the watchful eye of Peter who happens to be a Rotarian from the Chengdu club, see the pics when we first met at the upper deck of The Bookworm.
This year I attended the kickoff event on the evening of 13 March, for the talk “Celebrating Writers and Readers”. On the panel were: Chan Koonchung, Linda Jaivin, Sheng Keyi, Xu Xi and Lijia Zhang. A fully packed room. Followed by music and more drinks – one of our Rotaractors was at the piano…
For more on the Festival: http://bookwormfestival.com/

On Saturday 14 March I was fortunate to be at the following panel:
How does one reach beyond cliché to unearth the root causes of China’s environmental problems? Start by assembling a panel that rivals those you’d find at international summits: Ma Jun, possibly China’s preeminent environmentalist, selected by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in 2006; Dr. Husayn Anwar, with more than three decades of experience, who founded the first private environmental services firm in China in 1992; Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author of the thought-provoking book Toxic Capitalism; and Xizhou Zhou, honored by Forbes in 2011 as one of the “30 Under 30” young leaders in energy. Moderated by Jonathan Fenby, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the environment-focused Chinadialogue.net. This event was in English and Chinese (thanks to a super translation…).
See the announcement: http://bookwormfestival.com/events/2015bw14c/
The debate was interesting and lively and the room was fully packed… Then some say the environment issue is “passé”? It was clear most agree the water problems are underestimated, the air pollution is indeed serious, implementation of the environmental laws are still a major challenge and we as consumers have to change our attitudes.
It was an honor to have Ma Jun on the panel, he is featured in my book and he is probably the most famous pioneer in environmental issues here in China. I mostly commented on the well-know documentary “Under The Dome” by Chai Jing. Somehow my book already addressed all the same issues and much more. She came at the right time and adds to more awareness on the environmental problems. And she is a former CCTV host, a lady who spent a lot of money on the documentary and – did it all in Chinese. I can‘t compete with that!
Seems all my books in stock at The bookworm were sold out…

Where is The Forbidden City? Can’t see a thing! Pollution nightmare and what to expect

On 15 January, after leaving the Great Hall of the People I crossed Tiananmen
Square. Pollution was horrendous, one of the worst days in months: well over AQI 500. See the pictures.

Beijing has a big big challenge really to clean that up.
As I explained to the European Chamber, the Beijing Government is under severe pressure to solve the pollution problems. Targets to reduce PM2.5 have not been met and the Central Government is starting to pressure Beijing: solve it, otherwise you will get in BIG trouble (won’t say here what they actually meant by that…)
Both SCMP and China Daily reported on the issue. In short, the only way to solve the problem:
–       reduce the population now estimated (officially) at 21.52 million (my estimate is much higher);
–       make Beijing an expensive city to live in: expensive subway, expensive housing, no relaxation of home ownership;
–       reduce polluting traffic;
–       remove as much industry that requires a lot of manpower and is polluting;
–       close down 36 large markets including wholesale markets for clothing (near Beijing Zoo);
–       increase green and agricultural belts around the city;
–       in short make the city unwelcoming for migrants, industry and “others”.
For a taste, read this:
24 January 2015 – Beijing to limit population growth this year
There is more about that on China Daily.

Talking to European Chamber on Quality & Durability

On 5 November, one more seminar where I introduced the main message of my book “Toxic Capitalism”: the need to strive for Quality and Durability, so we can reduce the pressure on the environment by being better consumers, wasting less and using more efficiently resources such as raw materials and energy.
The event was organized by the European Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) and presented as “Event Series on Environment: Quality & the Environment – Quality & the Environment – The dilemma for China and the West”.
It took place in the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing
The introduction to the talk:
Despite the ongoing efforts of government and industry to embrace quality systems, market competition has historically forced many Chinese manufacturers to neglect quality to save costs. However, there are signs that the tide is turning, and improving the way that quality systems are implemented has become a top priority for the current Chinese leadership.
At this event Klaus Ziegler, owner of Beijing Quality Partnerships LLC and a renowned expert in the fields of standardization, quality and certification, will introduce some of the tools that are available in the market that improve quality through training and integrated quality measures. He will explain how these tools can be utilized in product design and production processes and how they are implemented in China.
The issue of manufacturing quality has a direct impact on the environment, and as consumers we play an important role in this. Today’s consumers are locked in a cycle of buying cheap goods and quickly disposing of them when they break or are superseded by superior products, and this places an enormous strain on the environment.
Although China has borne the brunt of criticism for producing cheap and inferior products that degrade the environment, there are plenty of examples of Western manufacturers that are equally culpable. Environmental issues are a global problem that we all have a responsibility to solve.
Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author of Toxic Capitalism, will provide insights on environmental issues linked to manufacturing and consumerism, and will explain how we can all play our part in improving the current situation.

I had suggested to share the presentation with Klaus as he is indeed an authority in quality and standards. He was so kind to give me some more time for my presentation – a little under 40 minutes.

The presentations were followed by Q&A (and some book sales!).

Beijing Environment and Sustainability Fair

The Third Beijing Environment and Sustainability Fair

The Third Beijing Environment and Sustainability Fair took place on 28 June 2014 from 10:00 to 17:00 at the Hilton Beijing Hotel (Liangma Qiao). The First Fair event was held on 15 June 2013 and was an overwhelming success. The Second Fair event was held on 9 November 2013 and was even better than the first one.
There is a growing demand for green products in China and new companies are regularly being formed in order to serve the ever growing need of this market. The Environment and Sustainability Fair is a perfect occasion to promote environmentally friendly values and products.
Entrance was free for everyone.
The event was organized and promoted through the FCGroup and its sponsors.

I decided to participate too, for the fun, selling my book “Toxic Capitalism” and to promote Rotaract. It was also a nice way to meet friends who came by for a chat.
See also:
A busy day as the same evening I went to the concert of Akon… Another great and different experience.

Beijing’s hidden village of garbage collectors is to be demolished

See the earlier post here on my visit to the village: “Exploring the recycling villages of Beijing with Radio France
Most of Beijing’s vast, but mostly ignored, army of waste collectors and recyclers live in the village of Dongxiaokou, once a small farming community in the northern suburbs of the Chinese capital, just outside the Fifth Ring Road. See here the location and a picture of China Daily.

In the early years of this century, the village ceased to be an agricultural center, becoming instead Beijing’s – and arguably North China’s – biggest space for the storage and recycling of electronic waste. It is now being demolished by the authorities.
All the hectic building in the past years created vast amounts of construction and industrial waste – metal, wood and plastic – which the villagers purchased in bulk and sold to the little recycling factories that are scattered all over neighboring Hebei province.
The recyclers also bought from waste-collectors who stationed themselves outside numerous gated residential neighborhoods to offer meager sums for items the locals either no longer wanted or had no use for – ranging from empty bottles and old newspapers to used furniture and household appliances, and, almost inevitably, air conditioners.
They cleaned and repaired the ones in relatively good condition and then sold them, directly and through middlemen, to people who were keen to buy secondhand stuff at a customer-friendly price. Items beyond salvage were only valuable as raw materials. They probably ended up in those recycling factories, some transported by the freight trains that had previously carried coal and vegetables from Hebei to Beijing.
At its peak, through the collection, trading and recycling of waste, Dongxiaokou provided livelihoods for nearly 30,000 people.
The demolition of the village risks returning these people to their pre-Dongxiaokou days, when they roamed the city and found temporary refuge in unlikely places. The removal might be right due the environmental problems the village caused, because of the dust and the pollution from burning some of the waste. But these people are indispensable indeed as long as the government is not able to produce a viable alternative.
It is impractical to relocate operations outside the city boundaries because the increased transport costs would make the recycling businesses economically unviable.
Compared with the burning and burial of waste, now a common practice in Beijing, recycling has the obvious advantage of creating less pollution and saving natural resources.
See the original article
China Daily “Saying goodbye to a life of grime”, dated 9 May 2014:

Exploring the recycling villages of Beijing with Radio France

In my book Toxic Capitalism I mention the vast recycling network in Beijing, some being officially sanctioned, some being done by rather mafia-like operations.
Radio France, after reading my book, invited me to explore together one of the major villages in the north of Beijing, well after the 4th ring road; the radio interview was done walking around and in the taxi on our way back. We went on a sunny Saturday afternoon, with Philippe of Radio France and Luca as our valuable guide and translator.
I was at first not that at ease as the people in those “garbage villages” do not like foreigners nosing around. We decided not to run around with cameras in hand, though Philippe shot some good pics with his mobile, I myself made one shot of the truck piled up with carton.
The village we visited is just immense and we walked around in just a part of it. Pretty impressive how the Chinese have built a small industry in recovering and recycling anything that comes to mind: plastics of all kids, styrofoam, water containers, fire extinguishers, office carpets, mattresses, aluminum, iron, steel, electronics, batteries, wood, paper, name it. All a bit messy and dusty and we were lucky it was not windy and not raining.

Thanks to Philippe for his pics. See the people dismantling the LED publicity panels, recovering plastics, metals, electronic circuits and all. I was also happy to see the recyclers are using a machine to mechanically remove the insulation from copper wires, and not burning them as it often happens.
Seems nothing gets “wasted”. We chatted with some of the workers who ended up being very friendly and we did not encounter any problem.
We were looking in particular to the batteries, a problem for the environment as the vast majority of batteries used in e-bikes and other equipment are still acid-lead type batteries. Some of the batteries still were filled with the liquid, others were dry, others were sealed.

Chinese officials promote pollution: more is better

Indeed, as I reported a couple of times in the past, local authorities, be it
government or police, enjoy it creating more pollution and are proud enough to show it in China Daily.

Caption of the picture in China Daily 12 March 2014: Police in Ningming, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, burn 1 metric ton of confiscated narcotics on Monday. The drugs, including heroin, were seized along the China-Vietnam border since the start of 2013. LI BIN / XINHUA
Fortunately some in the government are a bit more educated, a recent huge haul of counterfeit cigarettes was burned in a power plant.

When will they learn? And then Premier Li Keqiang calls for “war on pollution”.