In the early 2000s, my brother briefly worked as an executive for a Taiwanese-owned manufacturing company in China. It was a company of truly epic pro...moreIn the early 2000s, my brother briefly worked as an executive for a Taiwanese-owned manufacturing company in China. It was a company of truly epic proportions, employing hundreds of thousands in China and abroad, and manufacturing for virtually all the big names in consumer electronics sold all over the world. If you use an IPad or any other Apple product, it would have passed through one of its gargantuan production facilities. Its ‘campus’ in Longhua, an industrial suburb of Shenzhen, was practically a city unto itself with massive dormitories, shops, a sports center and a hospital. Security was tight, discipline militaristic, living condition Spartan and working hours extremely long. Assembly-line pay was miniscule by first world standards, but slightly above average for China. Worker suicides were not unknown*. Once in a blue moon, the big boss, a Taiwanese self-made billionaire who scoffed at business school grads, would drop by to preach the virtues of “hard work” and four hours of sleep a day to stadium-full of employees. On certain auspicious days, everyone had to line up to pay their respect to the Tu Di Gong, the Chinese earth god of wealth, eliciting muffled objections from the Taiwanese Christians and mainlanders brought up as atheists by the Communist state. The Taiwanese executives and managers spoke Taiwanese Hokkien among themselves, a language not understood by most of the mainlanders, and looked down on their workers, migrants from the rural interior who formed the backbone of the company’s operations.
After a while, my brother’s functional Mandarin became good enough to talk directly to the workers. He was impressed by their capacity for hard work and innate intelligence. Considering that these people were probably the first generation ever to leave the farm and were spottily educated in rural schools, it was a revelation to see how quickly they learned how the factory worked and to make hi-tech products according to complex instructions. After working hours, he wandered around the town, an industrial Wild West full of shops selling cheap and/or bootleg goods. You could walk into a hole-in-the-wall electronics shop and buy, say, a ‘Sony’ DVD player for a fraction of the official price. Or, if you liked the design of the Sony but preferred the specs of the Phillips --- mei wenti! No problem. They could assemble one for you. The more reputable shops got their wares from the factories that made these brands, so in a sense they were ‘genuine’ knock-offs. Everyone was ambitious, inured to working conditions that were unthinkable in developed countries, and had no respect whatsoever for intellectual property. The officials expected kickbacks, and practically anything was permissible for the right price. Currency manipulation aside, these attitudes seem to be the real cause behind China’s spectacular economic rise.
This book is a fascinating, occasionally voyeuristic, study of the lives of the assembly-line workers who fueled this rise, specifically a couple of factory girls in Dongguan, another industrial town not far from Shenzhen. Chang, a second-generation Chinese American, followed each of her subjects for years, chronicling their working and private lives, collecting information about their family history and even gaining access to their diaries. Daughters, who are less valued under the Confucian system, became the primary breadwinners of the family under the new values of industrialization (sons are often required to stay in the village to care for their ancestral farms and many factories prefer young women as they are considered more diligent and easier to manage). For the first time in history, unmarried, working-class women call the shots and they are ambitious enough to make the most of this opportunity. A sweatshop job is a stepping-stone to a white-collar job in the same factory. A receptionist with a talent for public speaking can become a successful recruiter for a MLM company. Farm girls who never graduated middle school could own export-oriented SMEs. There is a darker side to all of this, and Chang is never sentimental about her girls; she doesn’t shy away from writing about the sometimes-Machiavellian ethos they employed to get ahead, or about the bogus and criminal enterprises that proliferated to take advantage of ignorant migrant workers.
Between stories of the factory girls, Chang inserted her own family’s history of migration. It is decades and continents apart, for the Changs were an educated, upper middle class family that migrated to America after the Communist victory, but it serves as an interesting contrast to the experiences of today’s rural migrants.
*Long after my brother left the company, these tragic incidents became a PR disaster for the company (and Apple). In response to this problem, the management planned to replace troublesome human workers with automatons. (less)
Me: “Well, here’s the book I told you about, Molly, the one that will tell me everything there is to know about you.”
Me: “Yes, that’s a...moreMe: “Well, here’s the book I told you about, Molly, the one that will tell me everything there is to know about you.”
Me: “Yes, that’s a good girl! Let’s see, this book is written by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist specializing in animal research. She must be one smart lady. And she’s also a dog person! This should be interesting. Let’s loll on the sofa and read it.”
Molly: (jumps up and looks expectantly)
Me: “The title is a part of a joke: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Heh heh. Isn’t that funny?”
Molly: (jumps into lap and licks mouth)
Me: “Aww, stop it! I’m trying to read here. According to page 51, licking around my mouth is a manipulative behavior. You are stimulating me so that I’d vomit up some partially digested meat for you to eat. Gross. So please sit nicely and listen.”
Molly: (curls up with a sigh)
Me: “Do you know that you’re better than chimps in reading humans? They have this experiment in which dogs and chimps had to find hidden food items utilizing clues from humans. Some of the humans were made to wear blindfolds or buckets over their head, while others had unimpeded view of where the food was supposed to be hidden. Chimps begged from both kinds of humans, while dogs begged from those whose eyes were visible. See --- you’re smarter than our primate cousins!”
Me: “You’re right. Chimps are way overrated. How about this: a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water --- two Olympic-sized pools full. That’s your real-life super power, Krypto! That’s Superman’s dog, by the way. He flies around with this cute little cape --- ”
Me: “Nap time, eh? Hmm…more animal research: wolves, bees, deers, ticks. Actually, all I want to read about is dogs, dogs and dogs. Some of these researches are interesting in their own right and are useful as comparison, but others seem to be barely tangential. This writer can be very long-winded.”
Me: “An attention-getting bark, which is distinct from the rumble of a growl, or the ominous snarl (page 140). Do you know that your barks can be as loud as 130 decibels? That’s up there with thunderclaps and plane takeoffs. That's another super power! Why are you looking at me like that?”
Molly: (glances at the dining room, tail wagging)
Me: (looks at the clock). “It’s time for lunch! Your circadian rhythm tells you that. Okay, let’s eat.”
Molly: (snatches the book and runs away with it)
Me: “Hey stop that! I still have to find out why you Fox Terriers are such little rascals!”
1. Orang Saudi Arabia banyak yang masih hidup di zaman Jahilliyah.
2. Di Arab kalo summer panasnya kagak ketulu...moreHal-hal yang gue pelajari dari buku ini:
1. Orang Saudi Arabia banyak yang masih hidup di zaman Jahilliyah.
2. Di Arab kalo summer panasnya kagak ketulungan.
3. Cowo Arab banyak bulunya.
4. Kalo jadi TKI di Saudi harus siap diperkosa jiwa dan raga.
5. Di Arab banyak penampakan 'botol kecap'. Gede-gede lagi.
6. Kalo gak mau digarap majikan, TKW kalo tidur harus bawa palu dan arit. Emangnya TKI apa PKI?
7. Coffee Shop jaringan internasional belum tentu manajemen /karyawannya juga berkualitas internasional. Kalo udah habis akal, susu basi, tisu bekas dan paper cup bisa di 'daur ulang'. Jadi parno ngopi di cafe.
8. Kalo lo pelanggan yang reseh, Cappucino lo yang harganya limapuluh ribuan bisa diludahin atau dikencingin baristanya. Muffin lo diselipin upil. Makanya jangan reseh.
9. Kalo ada orang Arab marah2, elus2 aja jenggotnya.
10. Terjemahan Inggrisnya 'lelaki buaya darat' itu 'land crocodile man', tapi terjemahan Inggrisnya 'Dasar lo tukang berzinah! Moga2 buntung penis lo!' itu 'You're such a good man. May you and your family always be blessed.'
Cerita para Indunisi di tanah Arab: kocak tapi nelangsa.(less)
Thanks for sending me this book: definitely a food for thought, although I don't necessarily agree with it 100%.
WARNING: This review is opinionated, political, long and probably somewhat naive because of my rudimentary understanding of international economics, CIA covert operations, and the effect of seductive blondes on susceptible males.
It took me quite a while to finish this book. I’m familiar with the gist of the argument, since I’ve read excerpts of it in the Indonesian media before. And I basically agree with the basic concept that Perkins proposes to the American government and businesses: stop being an imperial power and take unfair advantage of developing countries. But it reads like a bad airport novel, and so permeated with self-justifying victimhood that sometimes it’s difficult to take it in with a straight face. And what’s with the Jesus/New Age/Revolutionary War mumbo jumbo? Aside from the quality of the writing, I would like to comment on certain contentions made by the author, as follows.
1. There is a conspiracy between the US government, international banks and MNCs (“Corporatocracy”) to undermine developing countries by ensnaring them in odious debt.
It is no secret that a significant portion of the ruling elites in developing countries are corrupt, and that they occasionally collude with MNCs to plunder their own countries’ resources. In my former line of work, during the twilight years of the Suharto era in Indonesia, I happened to have the dubious honor of witnessing such deals first hand. There were grossly overpriced power plants (financed by a consortium of foreign lenders) that the state electricity company must buy power from --- at an astronomical rate compared to virtually anywhere in the rest of the world, not to mention a developing country such as ours. There were mining companies that, by the virtue of their inordinately powerful “Contract of Work” with the government (and vast sums paid to the military and politicians of all stripes) were able to act with impunity. There were construction companies that got jobs building the country’s infrastructure by giving free shares to members of the bureaucracy that had the power to award such contracts --- no need to enter into a tender, which would have been a sham anyway. Certain contracts were convoluted by design --- to obscure features that might raise certain issues in relation to the FCPA(1). Others involved paper companies that did nothing other than serving as cash conduits for various well-connected rent-seekers. The plain fact is that it was not possible for any company, MNCs or otherwise, to be involved in these kind of projects without giving some sort of kickback to the powers that be.
But was there a vast, shadowy Corporatocracy behind these activities? Did the NSA deliberately trained EHMs to push developing countries into accumulating odious debts that they wouldn’t be able to pay, thus putting such countries under the thumb of Pax Americana? Did sexy blondes seduce naïve young men with a bachelor’s degree in economics into EHM-hood?
I’m not an expert in international relations or economics, but it seems to me that such deals were a byproduct of a corrupt, authoritarian rule in a developing country with rich natural resources and exploitable market, rather than the end result of a conspiracy between the US government, international banks and MNCs. Sure, some of these MNCs bribed their way into the job: there really was no other way to do it if you wanted to get a piece of the pie. Even if your company came up with the lowest bid in the tender, or offered the best deal in the Production Sharing Agreement, you wouldn’t have gotten the contract if you didn’t provide kickbacks. But they also compete against each other, instead of conspiring with each other. Some of the CEOs of these companies were well connected, or even became US government officials themselves, who might have had a hand in pressuring developing countries’ governments to enter into agreements that benefit their companies. But again, is this not an effect of unfortunate, conflict-of-interest ridden concurrence rather than a deliberate, sustained US government program to undermine developing countries?
2. Economic development benefits only a few wealthy families in a developing country.
A power plant that causes the state electricity company to charge exorbitant rates to its consumers is nothing but an odious burden to the people. And so is a highway that is financed with crippling foreign debt. But infrastructure projects that are sustainably financed and built are vital to developing nations. And yes, economic development is desperately needed to feed their people, hundreds of millions of mostly uneducated, unskilled people who cannot depend on traditional livelihoods anymore. It is patronizing and unrealistic to say that people in developing nations should just remain in the backwater because economic development is inherently bad. Aside from certain indigenous people who are content to live traditional lives in their jungle abodes, the majority of people in developing countries want the same things that people in the First World do. We want reliable electricity supply at reasonable rates. We want modern transportation systems that enable us to move around with ease and safety. We want roads that are not potholed and turn into mud in the wet season. We want decent hospitals and schools. We want modern drainage systems that can properly rid of our cities of raw sewage and monsoon flooding. We want cars and computers and comfortable homes.
And we cannot get any of these without economic development --- or foreign loans. Why not, if the terms are acceptable and the interest rate reasonable?
Xenophobia and isolation from the global economy is not the answer. My parents’ generation remembers the economic desperation of the Sukarno (“Go to hell with your aid!”) era, when Indonesia quitted the UN and went to war with its “imperialist puppet” neighbor Malaysia. My Venezuelan friend couldn’t find milk and other daily necessities because of Chavez’s misguided populist economic policies. All sort of things go wrong in developing countries and not all of these are caused by the Corporatocracy.
So I think the answer is to plug in into the prevailing economic system, negotiate an acceptable term for such participation and if possible, beat the West at its own game. China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan did. If there was a conspiracy to subjugate foreign countries through debt, isn’t it incredibly ironic that the US’ external debt now stands at 97% of its GDP, while Indonesia’s is now merely 28% of its GDP (2)?.
3. Islamist terrorism is caused by American imperialism and economic exploitation by the corporatocracy.
The Islamists surely have plenty of grievances arising from the current situation in the Middle East. But like Christian fundamentalists in the West, the Islamists are also motivated by identity politics and religious chauvinism. In many cases, their violence is not aimed toward the West, but toward those whom they consider to be kaffir or infidels. This designation applies to non-Muslims as well as Muslims who do not share their ideology. Hence the church/temple bombings, killings of people that belong to minority Islamic sects, attacks on the police and other government officials, and the imposition of sharia-based laws on the general population.
This is garden variety fanaticism, not an anti-imperialist movement.
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. There is hardly such a thing as a French waiter in Paris: the waiters are all Italian and Ge...moreWhat I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. There is hardly such a thing as a French waiter in Paris: the waiters are all Italian and German. They just pretend to be French to be able to affect that certain hauteur and charge you exorbitant prices for that mediocre Boeuf Bourgignon.
2. Some of them are spies. Waitering is a common profession for a spy to adopt. It is also a popular profession among AWOL ex-soldiers and wannabe snobs.
3. Real scullery maids do “curse like a scullion” (hey, that’s a Hamlet quotation!). No doubt Shakespeare had watched a real-life Elizabethan scullion at work.
4. Men cooks are preferred to women, not because of any superiority in technique, but for their punctuality in delivering orders. The only woman cook featured in the book has nervous breakdowns at exactly 12 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm every day, although it must be noted that they are caused by circumstances that are beyond her control.
5. A French cook will spit in the soup --- that is, if he is not going to drink it himself. He is an artist, but his art is not cleanliness. To a certain extent he is even dirty because he is an artist, for food, to look smart, needs dirty treatment.
6. A steak will not be handled with a fork: the cook will just pick it up in his fingers and slap it down, run his thumb round the dish and lick it to taste the gravy. He will further press it lovingly with his fat, pink fingers, every one of which he has licked a hundred times that morning. When he is satisfied, he takes a cloth and wipes his fingerprints from the dish, and hands it to the waiter.
7. And the waiter, of course, will dip HIS fingers into the gravy --- his nasty, greasy fingers which he is forever running through his briliantined hair.
8. The scullery is the filthiest part of all: it is nothing unusual for a waiter to wash his face in the water in which clean crockery is rinsing.
9. The Plongeur is the lowest kitchen worker in a French restaurant who deals with the dirtiest, sweatiest work available. However, he is allowed two liters of wine a day, because otherwise, he will steal three. Everyone seems to work faster when partially drunk anyway.
10. A bum’s life, whether in Paris or London, is a real BUMMER.
George Orwell went slumming in Paris and London, and the result is probably one of the best-written accounts of the bumming life ever penned. However, don’t read it if you are sensitive to pungent, unsparing descriptions of filthy kitchens, foul body odors, bug-infested beds and other unsavory aspects of a life gone to the dogs. (less)
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. We are essentially naked apes, albeit an extremely sophisticated ones, who are descended fro...moreWhat I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. We are essentially naked apes, albeit an extremely sophisticated ones, who are descended from other, more ‘primitive’ apes. But everyone has known this for a fact since the 19th century, don’t they? Unless you are home-schooled by strict Creationist parents, that is.
2. Creationists (and those who believe in Intelligent Design Theory) base their position on Argument from Personal Incredulity.
3. Way back before apes, naked or otherwise, our ancestors were rodent-like mammals (ever wonder why some people are described as looking ‘ratty’?), and before that they were lizard-like reptiles (hence the ‘reptilian gaze’ of certain human psychopaths).
4. Even before that, they were lobed-finned fish. Our arms and legs are modified lobed fins. You CAN’T eat fish and call yourself a vegan.
5. Creationists are DUMB.
6. Douglas Adams is COOL.
7. But ultimately, we are nothing but highly evolved BACTERIA.
8. THE BACTERIAL MANIFESTO. Yes, you bipedal apes, you stump-tailed tree shrews, you desiccated lobe-fins, you vertebrated worms, you Hoxed-up sponges, you newcomers on the block, you eukaryotes, you barely distinguishable congregations of monotonously narrow parish, you are little more than fancy froth on the surface of bacterial life. Why the very cells that build you are themselves colonies of bacteria, replaying the same old tricks we bacteria discovered a billion years ago. We were here before you arrived, and we shall be here after you are gone.
9. Think about THAT, you bacteria fodder.
10. We are the only species who invented the tax (and also the welfare state). Actually the fact that we invented the welfare state and other charitable institutions presents a challenge to Darwinism, but this book is not the place to go into that.
What I learned from this book (in no particular order)
1. Phosphor was accidentally discovered when a scientist tried to turn human urine into gold. Th...moreWhat I learned from this book (in no particular order)
1. Phosphor was accidentally discovered when a scientist tried to turn human urine into gold. The similarity in color seemed to have been a factor in his conviction that this was possible. Like, duh. I’m no scientist, but shouldn’t it be obvious enough?
2. “In the early 1800s there arose in England a fashion for inhaling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, after it was discovered that its use ‘ was attended by a highly pleasurable thrilling’. For the next half- century it would be the drug of choice for young people.” How groovy is that?
3. If you are an average-sized adult, you contain within you enough potential energy to explode with the force of THIRTY very large hydrogen bombs. Assuming, that is, that you KNOW how to actually do this and REALLY want to make a point. Talk about a monstrous temper tantrum.
4. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that some of our atoms probably belonged to Shakespeare, Genghis Khan or any other historical figure. But no, you are NOT Elvis or Marilyn Monroe; it takes quite a while for their atoms to get recycled.
5. When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at the height of a hundredth millions of a centimeter. Throw away those yoga mats, your ARE already levitating without knowing it.
6. The atomic particles that we now know as Quarks were almost named Partons, after you know who. The image of Ms. Parton with her, uh, cosmic mammaries bouncing around the atomic nuclei is VERY unsettling.Thankfully, that scientist guy changed his mind.
7. The indigestible parts of a giant squid, in particular their beaks, accumulate in sperm whales’ stomachs into ambergris, which is used as a fixative in perfumes. The next time you spray on Chanel No. 5, you’re dowsing yourself in the distillate of unseen sea monsters. * Note to self: must throw away sea monster perfume collection*
8. The ‘maidenhair’ in maidenhair moss does NOT refer to the hair on the maiden’s head.
this is a fascinating, accessible book on the history of the natural sciences, covering topics as diverse as cosmology, quantum physics, paleontology, chemistry and other subjects that have bedeviled a science dolt like me through high school and beyond. Yes, it’s true, I failed BOTH chemistry and physics in high school. I can't judge how accurate Mr. Bryson represents the sciences in this book, but it surely beats being bogged down in A Brief History of Time and their ilk.
Many people who read Austen’s letters feel that something is missing; surely the author of Pride and Prejudice and other novels famous for their adroi...moreMany people who read Austen’s letters feel that something is missing; surely the author of Pride and Prejudice and other novels famous for their adroit writing could have produced better letters! There are instances where her sarcastic wit and humor shines through, as when she wryly described a dinner party guest as being ‘at once both expensively and nakedly dressed’, but to get at them we must wade through pages of fabric prices, travel logistics and seemingly random gossipy tidbits about people, some of them so obscure as to be of interest only to biographers or historians of the period. Many of her letters, especially those written to her sister Cassandra, were also written in an elliptical, disjointed style that make them difficult to follow. R.W. Chapman, the prominent Austen scholar, speculated that the ‘deficiencies’ of her extant correspondences must have been caused by Cassandra’s destruction of the bulk of Austen’s letters in her possession. Everything interesting or piquant must have been censored in the name of the privacy that Austen so highly prized. Others argued that the letters’ opaqueness were deliberate, a part of a defense mechanism for a poor spinster dependent on the generosity of wealthier relatives. I have no idea which theory is more valid, but I must admit that reading through her letters could be a slog at times.
My perseverance was rewarded by several amusing letters, mostly from the period after her books were successfully published: one to an errant publisher in which she adopted an alias that enabled her to sign the letter M.A.D, another in which she self-deprecatingly (but not without a certain mocking irony) declined the royal librarian’s suggestion that she should write a historical romance about the Prince Regent’s ancestors, and still another in which she visited a portrait exhibition to look for the likenesses of Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy (she found Mrs. Bingley, but not Mrs. Darcy, whose husband, Austen speculated, ‘prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye’).
Some critics have argued that Austen’s fiction is too narrow in scope as it hardly acknowledges the Napoleonic wars and other historical events at that time, but her letters indicate how au courant she was with the wars and even certain colonial affairs. She maintained an active correspondence with her brothers in the Royal Navy and must have received many firsthand reports. If there are hardly any references to contemporary events in her fiction, it must have been deliberate on her part.
We can feel her growing confidence as a writer and a mature woman in her later letters, in which she revealed herself as an affectionate aunt who dispensed literary and romantic advices to her nieces. Her last letters, written as her fatal illness progressed, are a moving testament to her determination to not surrender to physical or mental infirmity.
The most interesting thing that I learn from this book is about how recent the science of plate tectonics is. Most of the major theories relating to i...moreThe most interesting thing that I learn from this book is about how recent the science of plate tectonics is. Most of the major theories relating to it were only established in the 1960's. There is an astounding 100-year gap between it and the much more controversial theory of evolution. The history of the development of the theory of plate tectonics is fascinating, although some of the scientific/ technical details could be rather tedious to read for someone who is not of a scientific bent like me.
Only two chapters are entirely devoted to the actual explosion and its aftermath, the rest being filled with various discussions about the development of plate tectonics theory, the colonial history of Indonesia, Alfred Russell Wallace and his contribution to the theory of evolution, the spread of 'radical' Islam, and even the author's reminiscence of his days as a geology student at Oxford. Some of these are supportive of the main topic, while others, like the bits about Wallace and Oxford, are interesting in their own rights, but perhaps only tangentially related to the main subject.
The author seems to argue for a connection between the massive 1883 explosion and its catasthropic aftermath with the rise of anti-Dutch rebellions inspired by 'radical' Islam in Indonesia, a connection which I find to be tenuous at best. There is no doubt that the explosion caused massive hardship among the native population, but they had been suffering under the forced cultivation system instituted by the colonial regime for a half-century before that. Armed resistance against the Dutch, some of them inspired by Islam, had been occuring all over the archipelago long before the first rumblings of Krakatoa.