Thursday, October 07, 2010

Which Cost More?

Julie has always been like my own Barbie doll. All of that hair of hers has been a true joy to me. So now that she's in high school, the ante on hairstyling has been upped a bit. No longer will pony tails, pigtails, French braids, and simple buns do. At least not for special occasions, anyway.

So now it was time for her first homecoming dance. Julie informed me that not only were her expectations high for good hair, but also her classmates were expecting something unique. While not a hairdresser, I have had quite a lot of experience with these three-feet plus and so I started dreaming up some potential coiffure ideas.

Perhaps a French roll this time.

No way. Julie has much too much hair for that. When we gave it a try we decided that it might have been appropriate for the lead role in Star Trek but this dance was not themed!

Back to the drawing board.

How about a double French roll?

Well, we gave it a try and were pleasantly surprised at the look. But it was lacking something. It needed a boost. Perhaps some color.

And so now the answer to the mystery title...

Which cost more? The dress that Julie wore to her first homecoming dance or the spray of fresh harvest flowers in her hair?

If I'm asking, you must know it is a trick question.

One hint is that her beautiful purple taffeta bubble dress was bought in China, in particular at our number one favorite clothing market in the world.

The flowers were bought at our neighborhood grocery store (Giant). When Steve saw them ring up on the register he gave me quite a look...and a little hassle...until I told him they were on sale...from $13.99 down to $12.99. (I know what you're thinking...not much difference there, right?)

Oh yeah...the dress was 35 kuai. (That's 5 bucks to you and me!)

Now the $12.99 spent on flowers doesn't seem too bad, does it?


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Shoe Graveyard

So it is the homecoming dance at the Academy of the Holy Cross. The "Ladies of the Academy" (LOTA, as they call themselves) spend the time leading up to homecoming buying dresses and, of course, killer shoes that match.

Well, here is what happens to those shoes on the big night. The moment the LOTA enter into the gymnasium, after passing through the receiving line, they invariable reach down and pull their shoes off. And I can understand why. While these shoes may look awesome, they have to be incredibly uncomfortable to wear. I mean, these are some seriously high heels!

So what do you do with your shoes if you are a LOTA who is ready to start dancing in your bare feet? Find a place for them against the wall next to the gymnasium doors, where they can be picked up at the end of the evening (or any time you leave the gym, as shoes are required out in the hallway).

As one other chaperon dad put it to me..."That has to be thousands of dollars of shoes piled against the wall."


Monday, October 04, 2010

Thirty Years Of The One-Child Policy

As China marks thirty years of the one-child policy, here is an article that ran a few weeks ago in the Washington Post. Read all the way through for a glimpse into the institutional pathologies of a policy that creates such a horrible human toll, especially among the poorest of China's poor...

Release of Chinese activist brings security crackdown to village

By William Wan
Friday, September 10, 2010; A14

SHANGHAI - Controversy has returned to the village of Dongshigu, and with it, a security crackdown. The source of both: the release of Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer who drew worldwide attention to his rural neighbors' stories of forced sterilizations and late-term abortions by local authorities.

After a two-hour trial, Chen had spent the past four years and three months imprisoned in nearby Linyi city in Shandong province. His five fellow lawyers were prevented from attending the trial, either by being beaten up or detained the night before.

So the mood in the village was tense on Thursday as Chen was released and returned home. Dozens of plainclothes police officers, who arrived the day before, stood watch outside his house and at the entrances to the village, residents said. Chen's wife, who had talked to foreign reporters Wednesday night, suddenly could no longer be reached. The family's telephone and cellphone service had been cut, relatives explained.

"The plainclothes police brought him early this morning at 6 o'clock. Everyone saw it," said one of Chen's neighbors, who did not want her name used for fear of reprisals from the police camping out in the village.

Villagers said they are alternately thankful for Chen's work and fearful of being associated with him. Reporters from the Associated Press who tried to enter the village Thursday said men in plainclothes came running, scuffled with the reporters and pursued them at high speed as they left the area.

Local authorities did not return calls.

Chen emerged in 2005 as an improbable but charismatic leader against local authorities. A peasant who was blind from infancy, he had traveled to Beijing a decade earlier to complain about his family's taxes. He returned with a refund and admission to a university to study acupuncture - one of the few professions in China available to the blind. While in college, however, he audited law classes and learned enough to take action when neighbors began telling him stories of abuse by local officials carrying out China's population-control policies.

In 2005, a Washington Post reporter followed Chen as he prepared for a class-action lawsuit by recording several villagers' stories of strong-arm enforcement of China's one-child policy.

Many described government raids on their homes and being forced to undergo sterilization. Women who were illegally pregnant with a third or fourth child said family members were jailed and beaten until the women came out of hiding and agreed to a late-term abortion.

Such practices, experts say, were the result of desperation among local authorities to meet government birth limits and quotas, which can determine whether a local leader is promoted or dismissed.

Senior officials in China's central government at the time confirmed hearing complaints about abuses in Linyi that, if true, they considered illegal.

But months later, Chen was arrested on charges of destruction of property and causing others to disrupt traffic.

"It became a fight between the government's power and people's rights," said Li Heping, an activist lawyer who has worked on Chen's case. "He became a symbol of human rights consciousness in China."

Chen's arrest was one of the first in a wave of detentions and hard-line tactics against activist lawyers. Since then, the government has started using more subtle means, such as revoking the lawyers' licenses to practice. There are signs that the one-child policy is similarly in decline, with demographers warning that China might face a baby shortage in the future.

Although more rare now, forced sterilizations and abortions are still carried out as a means of birth control. In southern China in April, for example, officials in Puning City launched a campaign to sterilize almost 10,000 people, cracking down on parents violating the one-child policy.

It is unclear whether Chen will continue the work he began before his imprisonment. Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer who was supposed to defend Chen at his 2006 trial but was detained by police, said: "He did so much good for the villagers. I hope he will be able to adhere to those original principles and beliefs he had."

One family friend, who managed to reach Chen on Thursday morning, said prison has ruined his health. In jail, he was beaten by other inmates and had chronically severe diarrhea, she said. The friend, who requested anonymity for fear authorities would figure out how she managed to talk to Chen, said Chen cried when he was reunited with his family. One of his children, still a baby when he was arrested, is now attending school.

"He asked me to convey his thanks for all the friends who cared about him," Chen's friend said. "We didn't talk much about the future. He's trying to restart his life now. But I suspect prison has not changed his core beliefs. If there is any change, it will be a change of tactics."

Staff researchers Liu Liu and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.