14 September 2021

Film review: Horses of God (2012) by Nabil Ayouch, *****


Synopsis

In Horses of God, Nabil Ayouch tells the story of two young soccer-loving friends, Yachine and Nabil, growing up under the fierce protection of Yachine's older brother, Hamid.

But in the sprawling slums of Sidi Moumen, not even Hamid can defend them against the harshness and injustice of the life that surrounds them. Fed up with that life, Hamid throws a rock at a police car and earns himself two years in prison. When he returns, an eerie calm masks his newfound zealotry, and his fundamentalist friends seem to exercise a powerful influence.

Inspired by the real-life 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca, Ayouch's film is a thoughtful and affecting inquiry into how ordinary people come to do desperate, unfathomable things. A major achievement by one of North Africa's most important filmmakers, the film was hugely successful both at Cannes and in its native Morocco and has won acclaim from public and critics alike.


Review

An instructive movie to try and begin to understand, at least in part, how extremism can take root when other values and points of reference are missing. In this case this is the story of Moroccan kids who become terrorists but it could have happened in many other countries, including Europe. One also gets an insight into other real problems in a Moroccan muslim shantytown, with poverty, male chauvinism and petty crime.


22 August 2021

Film review: A Time to Kill (1996) by Joel Schumacher, ****


Synopsys


John Grisham's explosive novel is brought to the screen by Joel Schumacher. Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson) seeks violent revenge after his 10-year-old daughter is brutally assaulted. Lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) has to save him from Death Row, against mounting pressure from both the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement. Sandra Bullock stars as Brigance's student lawyer aide, while Kevin Spacey appears as the ruthless prosecutor, Rufus Buckley.


Review

A good movie to understand the deep roots of racism in the southern US. The obvious theme is racial prejudice at a jury trial where white jurors are expected to convict a black accused murderer, Carl Lee. 

The real surprise comes when Carl Lee chooses a white lawyer (Brigance) to defend him. And he chooses him not because Brigance is not racist, but because, despite all he says, Carl lee thinks in the end he really is: he defends blacks but does not make friends with them, their daughters don't play together. So, as a white man who does not mix with black, Brigance is more credible to a white jury!

07 August 2021

Film review: Emperor (2012) by Peter Webber, *****

Synopsys

Brigadier-General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is sent to Japan as a part of the occupation force. He is tasked with arresting Japanese war criminals, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

Before he departs, he privately orders his Japanese interpreter, Takahashi, to locate his Japanese girlfriend, Aya Shimada. 

After arresting Tojo, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur asks Fellers, whom he recognizes as a Japan expert, for advice about whether Emperor Hirohito can't be tried as a war criminal. Doing so could lead to a revolt, but the American people want the Emperor to stand trial for Japan's actions. MacArthur gives Fellers ten days to investigate the Emperor. When Takahashi informs Fellers that Aya's Tokyo apartment was bombed, he orders him to investigate her hometown, Shizuoka. 

MacArthur and Hirohito


Review

A well constructed historical drama, very close to actual events, interwoven with a love story that probably is not so realistic but serves the purpose of this film. The film does not answer the million-dollar question, was the Emperor responsible for the war? But it does help to understand he deserves some credit for Japan's decision to surrender and therefore end the war.

31 July 2021

Film review: Hairspray (2007) by Alan Shankman, *****


Synopsys

Musical comedy starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is an overweight teenager with all the right moves who is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show. 

Every day after school, she and her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) run home to watch the show and drool over the hot Link Larkin (Zac Efron), much to Tracy's mother Edna's (Travolta) dismay.

 After one of the stars of the show leaves, Corny Collins holds auditions to see who will be the next person on the Corny Collins show. With the help of her friend Seaweed (Elijah Kelly), Tracy makes it on the show, angering the evil dance queen Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and her mother Velma (Pfeiffer). Tracy then decides that it's not fair that the black kids can only dance on the Corny Collins Show once a month, and with the help of Seaweed, Link, Penny, Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), her father (Christopher Walken) and Edna, she decides to take action.


Review

A fun and instructive move about racism in America just as the Civil Rights movement was taking off and how it permeated daily life and culture, including music. In the end it is a feel-good movie about positive change. Funny to see John Travolta playing a woman!

28 July 2021

Film review: A Thousand Pieces of Gold, (1991) by Nancy kelly ****

Synopsys


Lalu (Rosalind Chao) is a young Chinese woman who is sold by her impoverished family and transported against her will to the American West in 1880. Upon her arrival in California, she meets Jim (Dennis Dun), a Chinese "wife trader" who sells her to Hong King (Michael Paul Chan), a successful Chinese merchant who lives in an Idaho mining town. The two set off on the long journey to Idaho and eventually strike up a friendship along the way.

When they finally arrive in the rough, isolated town, she is distraught to discover that she is not going to be Hong King's wife. Instead, she is to work in his saloon as his newest prostitute under a new name, "China Polly". She is further dismayed when Jim abruptly disappears, leaving her to fend for herself.

The following night, when Hong King tries to sell her virtue to the highest bidder, Lalu violently refuses to submit to her would-be suitors and successfully avoids becoming a prostitute, thanks in part to the intervention of a kind stranger, Charlie Bemis (Chris Cooper), who turns out to be Hong King's Caucasian partner. She placates a furious Hong King and convinces him to allow her to be his servant and saloon maid in order to repay the cost of her purchase. Hong King agrees to let her buy her freedom for the impossible sum of a thousand pieces of gold.

Polly, as Lalu comes to be known, endures great hardship. At one point, she is sexually assaulted by Hong King. However, she refuses to give up. She works hard and makes friends with the local townspeople. She also grows closer to Charlie, who begins to fall deeply in love with her. Meanwhile, Hong King is beset with financial problems and decides to sell Polly to the highest bidder. In a rare stroke of luck, Charlie wins her in a game of poker. She moves in with him but insists they remain platonic and keep separate quarters.

Jim comes back and wants her to be with him but he then leaves her again when he finds out that she is living with Charlie. The "white demons" begin to run out the Chinese people from their town so it will be a purely white town and the Chinese will stop getting all of the gold.

Polly works in many jobs and saves money to go back to China and her family, but ultimately ends up falling in love with Charlie. She marries him and lives the rest of her life with him in a different area so she will not be harassed by the white demons anymore. (Wikipedia)


Review

A brilliant film set up as a love story but in fact a telling history of racism in America. Right after the end of the Civil War, when blacks became free, it was the Chinese who were discriminated against in California, where many had come in search of fortune.

The film in itself is not the best structured one you will ever see, but it is a most interesting historical novel about a part of American history many forgot.

Read my other reviews of books about China here in this blog.

01 July 2021

Film review: The Butler (2013) by Lee Daniels, *****

Synopsys

Historical drama directed by Lee Daniels and starring Forest Whitaker. The film tells the story of Cecil Gaines (his real name was Eugene Allen)'s 34-year career working as head butler at the White House. 

Beginning his tenure under President Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Cecil would see another seven presidents come and go throughout his career and was present at the highest level of the state during some of the most tumultuous periods in the 20th century including the American Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. The ensemble cast includes John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman and Oprah Winfrey.

Review

An incredible story, though not completely a real one, about racism in America during the XX century. One African American boy, born a near slave in Virginia, rises to win the respect of successive presidents. He even lives long enough to see a black person become president for the first time. Much progress has been made, but it is not yet enough.

21 May 2021

Film review: The Help (2011) by Tate Taylor, *****

Synopsis

The #1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett comes to vivid life through the powerful performances of a phenomenal ensemble cast. Led by Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help is an inspirational, courageous and empowering story about very different, extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project — one that breaks society’s rules and puts them all at risk.

Filled with poignancy, humor and hope — and complete with compelling, never-before-seen bonus features — The Help is a timeless, universal and triumphant story about the ability to create change.

Review

We are taken by our hand into the southern USA in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was reaching its peak. Black helpers at home are treated little better than their slaves grandparents, but in their small way these ladies begin to change things.

Unfortunately the problem just won't go away, and there is still much racism in the southern US fifty years after Martin Luther King, even after a black American has been elected president. 

You an also buy the book.


18 May 2021

Film review: Wadjda (2012) by Reem Abdullah, *****


Synopsys

A rebellious Saudi Arabian girl hatches a plan to get her hands on the bicycle she craves in this coming-of-age story from first time director Haifaa Al-Mansour. 

Living within a conservative suburb of Riyadh, fun-loving eleven-year-old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) has her heart set on a green bicycle so that she can beat the boys in their neighbourhood races. 

But when her mother (Reem Abdullah) forbids it, anticipating a reaction from a society that disapproves of women riding bicycles, an enterprising Wadjda decides to raise the money herself by entering a local Qur'an-reading competition that offers a cash prize.



Review

A most interesting if limited peek into Saudi society and especially the position of women. It is pretty incredible the Saudi female director managed to complete filming on location, not everyone was happy with it... Not surprising as movie theaters were not allowed in Saudi Arabia, either, between 1983 and 2018. 

I knew women were not allowed to drive (they now are) but was shocked to learn they were not supposed to ride bicycles. Or touch the Koran when they have their period! 

In the end this movie is about how a little girl wants to have a happy life, she knows nothing about politics and only understand religion inasmuch as they have her memorize verses. A hopeful note of optimism for Saudi Arabia. 


03 May 2021

明日歌 The Song of Tomorrow, Chinese idiom - La canzone del domani, proverbio cinese


明日歌
Míng rì gē
The Song of Tomorrow
La Canzone del Domani


明日复明日,

Míng rì,fù míng rì

Tomorrow, again tomorrow

Domani, ancora domani

----------

明日何其多 

míng rì hé qí duō

there are so many tomorrows

ci sono tanti domani

----------

我生待明日

wǒ shēng dài míng ri

my life is waiting for tomorrow

la mia vita aspetta il domani

----------

万事成蹉跎。

wàn shì chéng cuō tuó。

everything is in vain.

e tutto è invano.

30 April 2021

Graffiti Tunnel at Lower Marsh, Southbank, London







People come from all over the world to paint at Lower marsh, a quaint street in Lambeth where we are living for a couple of months. It takes hours and hours of work for a graffiti to come alive and they are gone a few hours late, usually the next day, perhaps in a week.

The tunnel is near Waterloo station, and it is officially sanctioned for graffiti. Every day dozens of street artists congregate and let their imagination loose through spray color cans. Hours of work go into each graffiti, only to be covered up the next day. Ephemeral art.

A young Slovakian (I know she is, I asked) lady sells fresh fruits just outside the gallery and only a few meters away from our apartment. Too bad she does not work on weekends when the graffiti painters are most active.

16 April 2021

Tampone e isolamento COVID-19 arrivando a Londra

Lifang ed io abbiamo bisogno di tornare a Londra, dove viviamo, dopo un'assenza di qualche mese. Il Regno Unito (anzi l'Inghilterra, visto che Scozia, Galles e Irlanda del Nord hanno ciascuno le sue regole) richiede un tampone eseguito nel paese di provenienza entro le 72 ore dal viaggio. Requisito abbastanza diffuso e comune tra tutti i paesi europei. Meno male: all'inizio il governo di sua maestà aveva deciso di percorrere la via dell'immunità di gregge, ben prima che arrivassero i vaccini, sarebbe stata un'ecatombe. Per fortuna gli hanno fatto cambiare idea. 

Dopo di che bisogna riempire un Passenger Locator Form, e così armati presentarsi al confine. Una meticolosa guardia lo controlla assieme a passaporto e carta di identità, tutto OK, ci ricorda che dovremo isolarci per dieci giorni e siamo a posto, ma prima di lasciarci passare chiede se abbiamo prenotato i test da fare una volta arrivati nel Regno Unito.

Infatti da qualche mese è necessario prenotare online 2 ulteriori test da fare a Londra, uno il secondo giorno dopo l'arrivo, ed uno l'ottavo giorno. Il decimo giorno, se entrambi i test sono negativi, si è liberi di uscire. Venendo dal Belgio, paese color "giallo" almeno non dobbiamo far quarantena in albergo a spese nostre, come invece tocca a quelli che vengono dai paesi "rossi". Fortunati quelli che arrivano dai paesi "verdi", come al semaforo, un test in arrivo e via liscio senza ulteriori complicazioni.

Il governo ha approvato una lunga serie di operatori sanitari per l'amministrazione dei test. Difficile raccapezzarsi, come si fa a scegliere? Cerco quello con il costo minore, ma se ne approfittano, sanno che lo devono fare tutti quelli che tornano dall'estero. E poi non tutti forniscono il servizio per posta, essenziale a meno di non esporsi al rischio uscendo da casa.

Alla fine scelgo: CONFIRM TESTING, che prenoto un paio di giorni prima del viaggio di rientro nel tunnel sotto la Manica. Ricevo un lungo messaggio, la procedura è complicata.

Marco, thank you for choosing Confirm Testing for your return to England Day 2 & Day 8 test kits. Here is more information about what happens next that we thought you'd find useful - please read below. What happens next?

As soon as you place an order for the Testing for International Arrivals home test kits, our automated system should send you the PDF that contains your booking confirmation number that you would need for the Passenger Locator Form (PLF). If you have not received this, please check your spam folder as some email servers tend to reject automated emails. In other cases, as happens sometimes, there could have been typos when you entered your email address so the system could not identify your the email address. If you have not received the PDF yet and have checked your spam, please email us at info@confirmtesting.com and we'll look into it straight away.

If you have made any errors when you entered the information on the form, not to worry, just email us with any amendments and we'll try to send you this as soon as possible

How are the kits dispatched?

Please note that the Day 2 and Day 8 kits will be sent separately. The Day 2 test is dispatched a day before the arrival date that you included on the information form when you placed the order. This is so that it arrives to your quarantine address on the day that you arrive in the country.

The Day 8 test is dispatched separately to the Day 2 test. This is because the Government has mandated that the kits be sent separately so that customers do not take the test before their Day 8. You are asked to only take the test on or after Day 8 of your quarantine. You will not be able to register your Day 8 barcode before your actual Day 8.

To help you calculate which is your Day 2 and which is your Day 8, always count your date of arrival into the UK as your Day 0 (Zero).
Registering your test kit:

It is VERY important that you register your test kit once you have received it. Without this, we will be unable to identify your sample at the lab and you will not receive your results.

The process is very easy - please follow the instructions that are included with your test kit. They will guide you to where you can register the barcode and the time that you performed the swab test.

Your unique barcode is shown on the outside of the test kit box and on the front cover of the instructions booklet included in the kit.

You should keep the instructions or take a photo of your barcode to avoid any possible problems.

It is absolutely imperative that you register your kit or you will not be able to receive results and could potentially face fines if the government does not see recorded results for you. This will result in a delay in you leaving home quarantine and you will be asked to pay for replacement tests.

Arrivo a casa, auto in garage e via dritto nell'appartamento. La direttrice del condominio, con la quale sono in  contatto Whatsapp da qualche giorno per coordinare il nostro rientro nel rispetto delle regole, mi intima con tono perentorio di andare direttamente dal garage all'appartamento.


In realtà dovremmo passare dalla concierge perché i nostri "fob", gli apriporta magnetici per entrare nel condominio, sono scaduti e devono essere riattivati. Ma non ci è concesso neanche di entrare nella concierge, quindi dobbiamo provvedere telefonando al portiere e chiedere se per favore ci apre il cancello del garage e poi il portone per salire dal garage in appartamento. Un po’ complicato ma funziona tutto perfettamente.

Per fortuna a Londra è facilissimo avere la consegna della spesa a domicilio, i supermercati fanno a gara. Noi preferiamo Ocado, un supermercato che opera SOLO online, niente negozi, buoni prodotti e consegne precise ad un orario concordato. La concierge fa entrare i riders nel palazzo e loro ci lasciano la spesa davanti alla porta di casa.

Anche per la consegna pacchi tutto funziona bene, i nostri portieri gentilmente li ricevono e ce li portano davanti alla porta di casa. 

Un po’ assillanti quelli del National Health Service che ci assillano tutti i giorni telefonando e chiedendo sempre la stessa cosa: Nome, cognome, data di nascita, eventuali sintomi, se siamo a casa in questo momento, se siamo usciti da casa nel corso della giornata, se abbiamo avuto ospiti (non siamo autorizzati a farlo durante l'isolamento, of course). Questo per 10 giorni!

Amministrarsi il test da soli non è piacevole, bisogna infilarsi un bastoncino con un tampone di cotone nel naso e girarlo sei volte, poi infilarsi lo stesso bastoncino (che schifo!) in bocca e rigirarlo in fondo alla gola. Infilare tutto in una provetta di plastica e inviarlo per posta al laboratorio. La Royal Mail ha persino istituito nuovi turni di raccolta alle cassette della posta, persino la domenica, per portare le provette al laboratori. Il sistema tutto sommato funziona.

Finalmente il giorno n. 9 arriva per email la conferma, siamo entrambi negativi, domani si esce! Mi hanno già mandato un SMS invitandomi alla prima dose di vaccino, sarà Astra Zeneca, ci vado dopodomani, poi la seconda sarà forse a giugno. Speriamo bene.

Dopo di che siamo liberi, esco in strada a "riveder le stelle", una passeggiata lungo il fiume la sera a respirare aria fresca, ci voleva!

04 April 2021

Book review: The Shell Money of the Slave Trade (1986) by Jan Hogendorn and Marion Johnson, *****


Synopsys

This study examines the role of cowrie-shell money in West African trade, particularly the slave trade. The shells were carried from the Maldives to the Mediterranean by Arab traders for further transport across the Sahara, and to Europe by competing Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French traders for onward transport to the West African coast. In Africa, they served to purchase the slaves exported to the New World, as well as other less sinister exports. Over a large part of West Africa, they became the regular market currency but were severely devalued by the importation of thousands of tons of the cheaper Zanzibar cowries. Colonial governments disliked cowries because of the inflation and encouraged their replacement by low-value coins. They disappeared almost totally, to re-appear during the depression of the 1930s, and have been found occasionally in the markets of remote frontier districts, avoiding exchange and currency control problems.

Review 

 A most thoroughly researched book on a peculiar aspect of monetary economics in Africa and South Asia for several centuries. We learn how the Maldives played a central role in this system that could be considered an aspect of embryonic globalization ante-litteram. We learn how the shells were collected, with strenuous labor-intensive efforts, then stored underground until putrefaction had gotten rid of the mollusk, and finally shipped to Malé for export. Of course, the latter was a royal prerogative for centuries!

See my other reviews of books on the Maldives here in this blog.


 

02 April 2021

A conversation about China

- Hi I am from Indochina. I'd like to think what you think of China.

- Hi I'm from Europe, I'd be interested in your views too, wanna start? 

- China has traded with Indochina for thousands of years. Several times over those centuries, it was the world’s most powerful empire. Never once they sent troops to take our land. Admiral Zhenghe came to Malacca five times, in gigantic fleets, and a flagship eight times the size of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, Santa Maria. He could have seized Malacca easily, but he did not. 

- True he did not, but not because he was an especially nice guy, it was not his order from the emperor. He was to explore. Many Chinese emperors did not want much contact with the outside world. They wanted isolation.

- In 1511, the Portuguese came. In 1642, the Dutch came. In the 18th century, the British came. We were colonized by each, one after another. When China wanted spices from India, it traded with the Indians. When they wanted gems, they traded with the Persians. They didn’t take lands. 

- True they didn't invade India or Persia but they did at various times invade parts of Siberia (later lost to Russia), Korea, Vietnam, Turkish central Asia, and of course Tibet. The last two they are still holding on to. 

- The only time China expanded beyond its current borders was during the Yuan dynasty, when Genghis and his descendants Ogedei Khan, Guyuk Khan & Kublai Khan conquered China, Mid Asia and Eastern Europe. But Yuan Dynasty, although being based in China, was actually a part of the Mongol Empire. 

- I'm glad you brought up Mongolia. Here either you argue Mongolians are really Chinese, then "China" invaded central Asia and eastern Europe. Or you argue Mongolians are not Chinese, then China is now occupying half the country, which explains why the other half (the independent Republic of Mongolia, called in China "outer Mongolia") is always staunchly pro Russian, whether it's the Soviet Union or capitalist Russia. They want Russian protection against a potential Chinese threat. You can't have your Mongolian cake and eat it too! 

You also forget that The Chinese empire under the Mongols tried to conquer Japan, but failed because their fleet was destroyed by typhoons, the "kamikaze" or divine winds. That saved Japan, but China did try to invade, a couple of times actually.

And now China is slowly occupying the South China Sea on no internationally recognized legal basis. 

- Then came the "Century of Humiliation". Britain smuggled opium into China to dope the population, a strategy to turn the trade deficit around after the British could not find enough silver to pay the Qing Dynasty in their tea and porcelain trades. After the opium warehouses were burned down and ports were closed by the Chinese in ordered to curb opium, the British started the Opium War I, which China lost. Hong Kong was forced to be surrendered to the British in a peace talk (Nanjing Treaty in 1842). The British owned 90% of the opium market in China, during that time, Queen Victoria was the world’s biggest drug baron. The remaining 10% was owned by American merchants from Boston. Many of Boston’s institutions were built with profit from opium. 

- I agree with you on this point completely. The British conquest of Hong Kong and its opium trade was disgraceful and ought to be remembered as such. 

- Eighteen years after the Nanjing Treaty, in 1860, the West started getting really really greedy. The British expected the Qing government: 1. To open the borders of China to allow goods coming in and out freely, and tax-free. 2. To make opium legal in China.

Insane requests, the Qing government said no. The British and French, started Opium War II with China, which again, China lost. The Anglo-French military threatened to burn down the Imperial Palace, the Qing government was forced to pay with ports, free business zones, 300,000 kilograms of silver, and Kowloon was taken. Since then, China’s resources flowed out freely through these business zones and ports. In the subsequent amendment to the treaties, Chinese people were sold overseas to serve as labor. 

- Sadly this is true as well, shame on the French as well as on the British. 

- In 1900, China suffered attacks by the 8-National Alliance(Japan, Russia, Britain, France, USA, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary). Innocent Chinese civilians in Peking (Beijing now) were murdered, buildings were destroyed & women were raped. The Imperial Palace was raided, and treasures ended up in museums like the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. 

- Again I agree and am ashamed my country was part of this shameful attack. 

- In the late 1930s China was occupied by the Japanese. Millions of Chinese died during the occupation. 300,000 Chinese died in Nanjing Massacre alone. 

- Japan's horrific occupation is well known and should be remembered as such. The Nanjing massacre too, though the numbers you mention are probably too high. One sad problem is that Mao and Chiang were too busy fighting each other instead of joining forces against Japan. 

- Mao brought China together again from the shambles. There were peace and unity for some time. But Mao’s later reign saw sufferings and deaths from famine and power struggles. 

- Be serious: yes Mao won the civil war, but then he brought unprecedented misery to China. More innocent people died at his hand than did in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags combined. Mao destroyed the economy, the cultural revolution destroyed more of the country's cultural heritage than all foreign invasions. Luckily Chiang, for all his crimes and corruption, took Some 7000 crates of artifacts to Taiwan, now preserved in a museum in Taipei. 

- Then came Deng Xiaoping and his famous “black-cat and white-cat” story. His preference for pragmatism over ideology has transformed China. This thinking allowed China to evolve all the time to adapt to the actual needs in the country, instead of rigidly bound to ideologies. It also signified the death of Communism in actual practice in China. The current Socialism + Meritocracy + Market Economy model fits the Chinese like gloves, and it propels the rise of China.

- There is no socialism in China except for one-party rule. Education is not free nor is housing or health care. As for meritocracy, yes there are many opportunities for capable people to emerge, but still, China is very corrupted, ask any Chinese in private (they won't say it in public or post it online). 

- Singapore has a similar model and has been arguably more successful than Hong Kong because Hong Kong is the gateway to China, was riding on the economic boom in China, while Singapore had no one to gain from.

- To compare Hong Kong and Singapore is difficult, too many differences. Both have been successful, but Singapore has been free for half a century, Hong Kong was never free: not under the British, not under China. 

A comparison of China and Singapore is even more of a far-fetched proposition. There is minimal corruption in Singapore and much more meritocracy. Hong Kong was successful because of its market economy and free trade, both of which are now in question. 

- In just 30 years, the CCP has moved 800 million people out of poverty. The rate of growth is unprecedented in human history. They have built the biggest mobile network, by far the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, and they have become a behemoth in infrastructure.

- Indeed, when China jettisoned socialism in all but name and embraced capitalism the economy predictably took off. 

- They made a fishing village called Shenzhen into the world’s second-largest technological center after the Silicon Valley. They are growing into a technological powerhouse. It has the most elaborate e-commerce and cashless payment system in the world. They have launched exploration to Mars. 

- Indeed huge progress in all of this, though Shenzhen was more than a fishing village, and I am not sure about the second-in-the-world, still, it is now an amazing XXI century city. 

- The Chinese are living a good life and China has become one of the safest countries in the world. The level of patriotism in the country has reached an unprecedented height.

- Sadly not all Chinese have a good life, far from it, much the countryside is still poor, inequalities are huge and many workers have no holidays, no pension plan, no insurance, in other words: no rights. 

- For all of the achievements, the West has nothing good to say about it. China suffers from intense anti-China propaganda from the West. Western Media used the keyword “Communist” to instill fear and hatred towards China. Everything China does is negatively reported. 

- Obviously, there are different views about China in the west, this is the nature of democracies. Many, like me, admire China's achievements and think we can all learn from them, but that does not hide its faults and shortcomings. 

- Westerners claimed China used slave labor in making iPhones. The truth was, Apple was the most profitable company in the world, it took most of the profit, leaving some to Foxconn (a Taiwanese company) and little for the workers. 

- Indeed it is not difficult to find many western companies which profited from China's labor laws, which give little protection to workers. That western companies make money in China does not make these laws good. I believe things are changing, as Chinese workers claim more rights, the way their colleagues in the west did decades ago.

They claimed China was inhuman with the one-child policy. At the same time, they accused China of polluting the earth with its huge population. The fact is the Chinese consume just 30% of energy per capita compared to the US. 

- The one-child policy was Deng Xiaoping's overreacting response to Mao's push to have as many children as possible. Both policies were wrong. Now China has a demographic time bomb waiting to go off as not enough young people will be there to support an aging population.

- Western countries claim China underwent ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang. The fact is China has a policy that prioritizes ethnic minorities. For a long time, the ethnic minorities were allowed to have two children and the majority Han only allowed one. The minorities are allowed a lower score for university intakes. 

- True indeed that minorities have enjoyed some privileges for a long time, but again that does not mean they are not repressing the Xingjian culture. Some in the West claim it is genocide, which it is not, but it is still a massive form of human rights violation.

- There are 39,000 mosques in China, and 2100 in the US. China has about 3 times more mosques per Muslim than the US. 

- I don't know where you got that number. The point is that in China all religions must submit to the central government, which is why the Vatican still does not recognize Beijing. China argues that its minorities are Chinese and is working to sinify them. 

- When terrorist attacks happened in Xinjiang, China had two choices: 1. Re-educate the Uighur extremists before they turned terrorists. 2. Let them be, after they launch attacks and killed innocent people, bomb their homes. China chose 1 to solve problem from the root and not to do killing. How the US solve terrorism? Fire missiles from battleships, drop bombs from the sky. 

- I agree the American response to Islamic fundamentalism has long been flawed and has failed. But China is trying to erase Turkic culture, not just Islamic extremism. 

- During the pandemic, when China took extreme measures to lock down the people, they were accused of being inhuman. When China recovered swiftly because of the extreme measures, they were accused of lying about the actual numbers. When China’s cases became so low that they could provide medical support to other countries, they were accused of politically motivated. 

- China initially denied there was a virus and repressed whistle-blowing doctors who flagged the problem back in late 2019. Time was lost and the problem got worse before they started doing something about it. 

- Western Media always have reasons to bash China. 

-I agree with you, it is always easier to blame others for one own mistakes. 

- Just like any country, there are irresponsible individuals from China who do bad and dirty things, but the China government overall has done very well. But I hear this comment over and over by people from the West: I like Chinese people, but the CCP is evil. What they really want is the Chinese to change the government, because the current one is too good. 

Fortunately, China is not a multi-party democratic country, otherwise, the opposition party in China will be supported by notorious NGOs (Non-Government Organization) of the USA, like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), to topple the ruling party. The US and the British couldn’t crack Mainland China, so they work in Hong Kong. Of all the ex-British colonial countries, only the Hong Kongers were offered BNOs by the British. 

 Indeed it is hypocritical of the British to offer BNO just to Hong Kong, but any county is free to offer its citizenship to whoever they want. 

Because the UK would like the Hong Kongers to think they are British citizens, not Chinese. A divide-and-conquer strategy, which they often used in Color Revolutions around the world. 

They resort to low dirty tricks like detaining Huawei’s CFO & banning Huawei. They raised a silly trade war which benefits no one. Trade deficit always exist between a developing and a developed country. USA is like a luxury car seller who asks a farmer: why am I always buying your vegetables and you haven’t bought any of my cars? 

-I agree China is beating the old capitalist world at its own game though there are serious issues with intellectual property theft, cheating on licences, fakes etc. On the other hand I sympathize with China when it is requesting technology transfer from investors. Too many times in the past western multinationals made money in the developing world by localizing only cheap labor-intensive activities there while keeping all the high-tech for themselves.

When the Chinese were making socks for the world 30 years ago, the world let it be. But when the Chinese started to make high technology products, like Huawei and DJI, it caused red-alert. Because when Western and Japanese products are equal to Chinese in technologies, they could never match the Chinese in prices. First-world countries want China to continue in making socks. Instead of stepping up themselves, they want to pull China down. 

The recent movement by the US against China has a very important background. When Libya, Iran, and China decided to ditch the US dollar in oil trades, Gaddafi was killed by the US, Iran was being sanctioned by the US, and now it’s China’s turn. The US has been printing money out of nothing. The only reason why the US Dollar is still widely accepted is that it’s the only currency with which oil is allowed to be traded with. Without the petrol-dollar status, the US dollars will sink, and America will fall. China will soon use a gold-backed crypto-currency, the alarm in the White House go off like mad.

- China is playing this game as I understand it it is the largest holder of USD bonds in the world. Gold-backed cryptocurrency is a joke. But they could make the Renminbi convertible, it would be a strong currency, but the government in Beijing would lose control which is likely not acceptable.  Also, China is developing electronic money, not cryptocurrency, just e-Renminbi, this is a good model for others.

China’s achievement has been by hard work. Not by raiding other countries. 

- I would agree with you and admire post-Mao China a lot because of this.

I have deep sympathy for China for all the suffering, but now I feel happy for them. China is not rising, they are going back to where they belong. Good luck China.

- Yes China was a world leader several times in the past and it looks poised to become one again soon. Indeed good luck to China, it's going to need it. And the world needs a strong stable China integrated into the world economy.

06 February 2021

Recensione: Fantasmi: Dispacci dalla Cambogia, di Tiziano Terzani (2008) ****

Sinossi

La Cambogia è stato uno dei grandi amori di Tiziano Terzani. La storia di questo piccolo regno, che custodisce al suo interno i misteriosi templi di Angkor, divenne per lui emblematica della storia dei paesi dell'Asia travolti nel corso del XX secolo dai giochi delle grandi potenze (USA, Cina, URSS). Terzani visitò più volte il Paese tra il 1972 e il 1994, divenne amico del suo re e nemico indignato degli assassini khmer rossi, per denunciare infine come ipocrita e immorale anche l'operato di pace da parte delle Nazioni Unite. 

Il libro, fondato sui reportage di Terzani dalla Cambogia, contiene anche il racconto scritto in prima persona della sua cattura da parte di combattenti ragazzini, dell'attimo in cui si salvò la vita con una risata - come amava raccontare - e circa cinquanta fotografie originali, scattate spesso da lui stesso.


Recensione

Terzani ci racconta gli orrori della Cambogia dei Khmer Rossi. In realtà ci racconta dei racconti che ha ascoltato, perché in quel periodo lui, come tutti i corrispondenti stranieri, in Cambogia non poteva entrarci.

Ciononostante il libro è una miniera d'oro di informazioni, e le riflessioni che Terzani ci propone molti anni dopo la fine del regime lo sono ancora di più.

Unica pecca, che ricorre negli scritti di Terzani sull'Indocina, è il persistente atteggiamento anti-americano e anti-modernità. Lui riconosce, con grande onestà intellettuale, di essersi sbagliato sui Khmer Rossi, ma negli anni settanta sembrava cercare sempre un motivo per dubitare delle denunce che urlavano gli scampati. Mentre ogni occasione è buona per accusare gli americani, che pure di colpe ne hanno avute tante, o anche i giapponesi, per il loro imperialismo economico.

Poi si rammarica che anonimi palazzi abbiano preso il posto delle catapecchie, ma non pensa che anche ai cambogiani possano servire acqua corrente e elettricità. Insomma una testimonianza appassionata e consigliata, ma viziata da un pregiudizio ideologico di fondo.

01 February 2021

Il test COVID-19 arrivando in Belgio

Mia moglie ed io abbiamo in programma di tornare in Belgio il 25 gennaio. Arriviamo dall'Italia, considerata zona "rossa" (ad alto rischio) e quindi le autorità belghe richiedono un tampone COVID-19, che deve essere del tipo "molecolare", considerato più affidabile. Ce ne sono di diversi tipi, non so bene quale sia la differenza ma so che per questo ci vuole più tempo ad avere l'esito (2-3 giorni) mentre per quello "rapido" basta un quarto d'ora circa. Il problema è che la Brusselsairlines esige un test che sia stato fatto non più di tre giorni prima del volo, e c'è una domenica di mezzo. Catch-22, scacco matto.

Alla fine decidiamo di fare un semplice test rapido in Italia, privatamente e a pagamento. Trenta euro a testa e passa la paura al centro Romanomedica di Cittadella, in Veneto. Risultato in pochi minuti: siamo negativi, possiamo partire. Almeno speriamo.

Ultima formalità dobbiamo riempire online il modulo chiamato "Passenger Locator Form", PLF: indirizzo, numero di telefono, email ecc. per essere rintracciabili dalle autorità in caso di necessità. Mi pare una buona idea.

In aeroporto a Venezia, all'accettazione, l'impiegata mi chiede se abbiamo fatto il test. Le faccio vedere il risultato e via, tutto a posto, per ora. Il Belgio ha strane regole, diverse a seconda che il viaggiatore sia residente (bisogna fare un test in arrivo ed uno dopo una settimana) oppure visitatore del paese (basta un test dopo una settimana di quarantena). Dunque un residente potrebbe fare due test nello stesso giorno, uno la mattina prima di volare ed uno all'arrivo all'aeroporto di Bruxelles. Per fortuna non siamo residente.

Arriviamo all'aeroporto di Bruxelles e via dritti a casa in auto-isolamento. Il giorno dopo ci chiamano dal centro COVID19 della città per chiederci se stiamo bene, se abbiamo sintomi. No, tutto a posto. Molto gentili parlano perfettamente inglese oltre ovviamente al francese e fiammingo. Ci consiglia di prenotare un appuntamento per fare il nuovo test richiesto alla fine della settimana di auto-isolamento richiesta.

Dopo qualche giorno ci arriva, via SMS, un codice di 16 caratteri che servirà per poter effettuare il test gratuitamente. Provo a prendere un appuntamento ad uno dei centri deputati ad effettuare il test ma non è possibile senza il "Numero Nazionale", che hanno tutti i residenti in Belgio. Noi non siamo residenti e quindi non lo abbiamo. Chiamo il centro COVID e chiedo lumi. Mi dicono di usare il Numero Nazionale, dando per scontato che io lo abbia.

"Scusi ma noi non siamo residenti, quindi non abbiamo il Numero Nazionale, però ci hanno chiesto di fare il test e ci hanno mandato questo codice a 16 cifre che dovrebbe bastare. Che facciamo?" 

Mi dice di provare a telefonare ad un centro test, ma non tutti hanno il telefono, sono centri temporanei spesso messi su in una tenda nel mezzo di un parcheggio. Non c'è problema, basta andare senza appuntamento, ci sono centri "drive-in" vicino a casa nostra, basta presentarsi ed aspettare il proprio turno.

Ne trovo uno a Tervuren, 8 minuti di auto. Finita la quarantena, una bella mattina grigia ma non piovosa, andiamo. Non c'è fila, siamo i primi, che fortuna! Il gentile infermiere mi chiede il codice a 16 cifre e il Numero Nazionale. Ho il primo naturalmente, ma non il secondo. 

"Eh no, senza numero nazionale niente test", mi dice scuotendo la testa.

"Scusi ma noi non siamo residenti, quindi non abbiamo il Numero Nazionale, però ci hanno chiesto di fare il test e ci hanno mandato questo codice a 16 cifre che dovrebbe bastare. Che facciamo?"

"Eh be’ non lo so, dovete chiedere al vostro medico di famiglia."

"Scusi tanto ma noi non siamo residenti, non abbiamo un medico di famiglia. Come del resto non lo hanno le migliaia di persone che arrivano ogni giorno in Belgio e non sono residenti. Come avete fatto in tutti questi mesi?"

"Ah allora non lo so, in effetti abbiamo avuto dei problemi, aspetti che chiamo il mio direttore."

Segue telefonata in fiammingo che sfortunatamente non ho potuto seguire.

"Ecco dovete chiamare il dottor Jan Walraet, è lui che si occupa di casi come il vostro a Tervuren. Questo è il numero di telefono." E mi alluga un pezzo di carta.

Sposto la macchina per far passare quelli dietro di noi, intanto si è formata una bella fila di auto che aspettano il turno.

Chiamo il dottor Walraet. Molto gentile, parla prima in fiammingo ma poi in perfetto francese (e inglese con mia moglie). Mi chiede se ho un Numero Nazionale.

"Scusi ma noi non siamo residenti, quindi non abbiamo il Numero Nazionale, però ci hanno chiesto di fare il test e ci hanno mandato questo codice a 16 cifre che dovrebbe bastare. Che facciamo?"

Allora mi chiede nome, cognome e indirizzo e  poi ...sorpresa: io HO UN NUMERO NAZIONALE! Non sapevo di averlo. Forse da quando lavoravo alla NATO, ma son passati quasi 20 anni e non me lo avevamo mai comunicato. Bene, con questo Numero Nazionale il dottore mi dà un nuovo codice a 16 cifre con cui posso fare il test. 

E mia moglie? Lei certamente non ha il numero nazionale. Il dottore, indomito, inserisce i dati di mia moglie in un computer ma gli si blocca tutto. Fa ripartire il computer e dopo cinque minuti mi dice che il sistema non riconosce l'indirizzo che gli ho fornito. 

"Dottore ma è lo stesso indirizzo che ha usato per generare il mio codice 3 minuti fa"

"Si lo so non capisco, ho provato due volte ma mi dice ’indirizzo sconosciuto’ strano!"

"Infatti mi pare strano quindi che facciamo?"

"Sua moglie non può fare il test."

"Ma mia moglie DEVE fare il test."

"Ma io non so che altro provare, chieda al centro COVID."

Torniamo dall'infermiere, che intanto ha smaltito la fila di auto che si era creata dietro di noi. Il simpatico sanitario mi dice che abbiamo due possibilità: andare in aeroporto e fare il test privatamente, a pagamento. Oppure andare a casa e lasciar perdere.

Il risultato del mio test è negativo. Mia moglie era negativa una settimana fa ed è stata sempre con me, non abbiamo incontrato nessun altro in Belgio. 

Cosa avranno deciso di fare i nostri eroi?

*****

Passa un'altra settimana, tutto a posto, siamo sani!