The Turbulent Promotion Tour: Sadako Ogata

Sadako Ogata came to DC this week to promote her new book, The Turbulent Decade, which chronicles her stint as UN High Commissioner on Refugees from 1990-2000. I took Mrs. Adamu to see her give a talk at the Library of Congress. You can listen to her Mar 8 appearance on The Diane Rehm Show, a local NPR politics roundup. She also made appearances in New York.

The audience was, not surprisingly, mostly professional, Japanese women. Ogata is a hero(ine) to Japanese women because she was one of the first Japanese women to secure a major role in Japanese politics, born in an era when few women attended college. She’s been the subject of countless TV shows and books (Including “Sadako Ogata’s Way of Life“), causing a bit of a sensation because of her liberal politics (and pedigree), direct personality, and unapologetic professionalism and cosmopolitanism.

I couldn’t help but be a little surprised when I saw the diminuitive figure of the elderly Ogata. I was expecting someone larger than life judging from all the hype. She did have an aura about her that exuded confidence. She deserve it — not was she the first woman, the first Japanese, and the first academic UNHCR, she is also credited with changing refugee assistance from the traditional “set up camps when they get here” model to what we know today. Under Ogata, humanitarian aid came first, political solutions were the number one priority, and in general she refused to allow refugee assistance to become a “humanitarian figleaf” that masked a dire situation.

The talk itself ended up being a kind of disappointment, with Clark sounding off at any opportunity with lines from his 2004 presidential campaign (Inside info: He’s planning to run again). But some interesting points:

  • All refugee crises are inherently political. Today’s refugees are tomorrow’s soldiers, as was and is the case in Rwanda. This makes UNHCR’s job twice as difficult.
  • In Kosovo, the refugees became the weapons. “Ethnic cleansing” by definition means expelling people from their homes, creating large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people, the would-be refugees.
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    US Patents and Translation from Japanese

    Interesting post here from a translators mailing list that I subscribe to. I don’t have time to comment in detail, but very interesting in light of some of the current controversies over the appropriate scope of patent law.

    I talked to a US patent agent yesterday who told me that there
    are actually some people in the US pushing for abandonment of
    examination and turning the patent system to a registration-only
    system, like they have in France for example. The idea is that
    there is such a huge backlog and examiners usually don’t have the
    time or the resources to do a proper examination, so validity is
    questionable until a patent is contested in court anyway.

    I don’t think it will come to that anytime soon, but if it does, then
    the obvious consequence will be that all those Japanese companies
    will shift a lot of the money they spend for prosecution right now to
    translation, which would lead to an even greater demand for
    patent translation.

    Prehistoric Chinese Sex

    Xeni of Boingboing brings attention to this post about prehistoric Chinese sex toys on the excellent Danwei blog.

    Probably the best place that anyone could go to really learn about this topic is the Chinese Sex Culture Museum which I visited when I was in Shanghai in 2003.

    Looking up the museum on Google, I am surprised to see that it is being forced out of Shanghai, for the city of Tongli in neighboring Jiangxu province. According to this China Daily article, 70% of the museum’s visitors were foreigners, I would assume mostly people who found it through the ubiquitous Lonely Planet guide, as I had.

    The museum’s curator and owner Mr Liu Dalin was interviewed about the move by MSNBC:

    after years of struggling to keep his private museum afloat, Liu is packing up his collection of 3,700 erotic toys, icons and other sex paraphernalia and moving to the countryside.

    Liu, a retired Shanghai University professor and noted sociologist, says he was done in by a lack of official support.

    “Over the past 15 years we have had more than 100,000 visitors. None of them said it was bad. Not one. They all felt it was very respectful, and to be admired,” Liu said.

    “But some bureaucrats fear that the topic of sex is dangerous,” he said in an interview at his museum, in a nondescript office building far from popular tourism and shopping routes.

    I would agree. It was actually a very good museum, and a serious exploration of sex in ancient Chinese culture. Certainly the topic can turn into a bit of a freakshow, with large collections of items like prehistoric stone dildos, special beds used by Ming era prostitutes, erotic scroll paintings from centuries ago, foot-binding tools, and so on, but it was all presented in historical context, not as pornography.

    This People’s Daily report includes some more information on the museum’s move. Luckily, it seems that where the Shanghai city government forced him to open in a very out of the way area and censored the museum’s advertising, his new location will be very good for the museum.

    “I’ve wasted too much energy and time on the rental fees.” His sex museum will move to the canal town’s Lize Girl’s School, about 80 kilometers from Shanghai, and the Tongli government will cover the renovation fee of 2 million yuan. Admission will be 10 yuan to 15 yuan, about half of the current price, according to Liu. The profits will be shared by the professor and the Tongli government. The sex museum, much like conceiving a child, is largely due to fate.

    Here is the front gate of the museum’s former location in Shanghai. They asked not to take photos inside and I didn’t buy any merchandise in the gift shop (yes, they had some old stone dildos for sale-, probably not recommended for use) so I can’t show what the displays were like.

    Chinese Currency and the Black Market

    Note, this entry was written as a comment posted on this thread over at Coming Anarchy. It’s only tangentially related to the discussion on US Foreign Debt over there, but I thought it was good enough so I should post it here as well.

    Saru: You said, “In order to keep the RMB pegged to the dollar, the Chinese central bank must intervene in the currency markets to counter upward or downward pressure on the RMB against the dollar.”

    It’s important to remember that the primary way that China controls the exchange value of the RMB, as compared to how other countries attempt to control their own currency, is by strictly regulating the export of RMB. You may remember how when we were in China and exchanged foreign currency for RMB we were issued a receipt? Upon leaving China again, without that receipt we would have been completely unable to sell back any excess RMB we had, and if we were carrying a large amount of Chinese currency, we would have gotten into serious trouble as customs. Chinese law only allows for the export of amount of currency that they consider to bepocket change, and they regulate this so carefully that even Chinese tourists going abroad are only licensed to exchange a fairly limited amount of funds.

    By keeping virtually all Renmenbi inside China the government manages to keep an independent market for their currency from developing. I’m sure you also remember the black market currency traders that we used in Urumqi? They are the direct result of China’s currency policy. Because RMB cannot be exported or traded by private citizens, Chinese businessmen (apparently especially in the Shenzhen area, according to what we were told) who want to invest abroad, or make large foreign purchases, may have to acquire foreign currency indirectly.

    For the others, I’ll tell the story briefly. When Saru and I (and Younghusband as well, but he didn’t actually make it on the bus to Almaty with us) were at the international bus station in Urumqi we were greeted outside the building, in a neighborhood where the signs were more likely to be writtein in a Cyrillic-script language than in the local Chinese or Arabic alphabet using Urumqi language, by a throng of dark coated men of dubious nationalities standing around the crowded parking lot fanning huge stacks of RMB in the open air. Seeing a pair of confused white boys, they immediately jumped into business mode and started offering to buy our US$ in a variety of incomprehensible languages. Although I didn’t have many dollars on me (having come from Japan, and already been in China for three weeks besides) I did exchange the little I had left, as did Saru. Since we were going to Kazakhstan later that day, I also asked around and found one fellow who had some Kazhak Tenge in his wallet and was grudginly willing to sell them to in exchange for more Chinese RMB.

    Later on we got an explanation from our Uyghur friend who had been helping us arrange our transportation. Black market currency traders like the ones we met operate throughout market areas along the Chinese borders, where foreign currency is more easily avaliable, and then buy US$ at a better exchange rate than the bank. It might seem like a money losing proposition, but then once they have accumulated a decent amount of money (about $1 million) they hire a courier to take it to the rich areas of Eastern China. The usual method is to pay a commericial airline pilot to carry the money with him as he makes his ordinary flight, in exchange for a sizable fee of about $5000. When the money reaches the East, it is bought by businessmen at far higher rates than the official market value, because as I mentioned before, this is only way for them to acquire large volumes of foreign currency without a difficult to obtain government license.

    As a footnote, when we got to Almaty I was astonished to see little currency trading stands all over the place, sometimes within only a couple of blocks of each other in the busier areas. Each one had a slightly different selection of advertised currencies, but they all took Dollars, Euros, and Rubels plus a few others. There were none that took Chinese RMB.

    Ruggedized laptop

    lappyMy friend Jon found the perfect laptop to power with my SolarRoll when I take off for no man’s land. It may only be a 1ghz Centrino and a paltry 800×600 screen resolution, but at 4 pounds (that’s about 2 kilos for you foreigners) and optional (as if I would turn it down!) integrated GSM/GPRS/CDMA/GPS/802.llb and a touch screen interface I can’t think of a machine I’d rather have with me on my desert expedition.
    Curzon, you’re gonna be making the big lawyer bucks soon enough, what do you say? We can publish a nice travel book afterwards-it’ll be just like one of the old time Brits you named yourself after. I’m ready to leave on almost immediate notice if anyone out there wants to fund my expedition. All details can be worked out when the time comes.


    The latest issue of Bruce Sterlings always fascinating Viridian mailing list pointed out this new product from Brunton
    solarroll The specs look excellent.

    SolarRoll 14
    MSRP: $399
    * 12″x57″ open
    * 17 oz
    * Max output: 14 watts (15.4 Volts / 900 mA)
    * Perfect for running satellite phones and charging laptops

    Now all I need is an Iridium satellite phone, a rugged sub-notebook computer and one of these and I can finally start doing some SERIOUS traveling. I just hope the radiation doesn’t interfere with my equipment.

    Wear a kimono and ride for free in Kyoto

    From the Japan Times:

    KYOTO (Kyodo) Kyoto will offer free subway and bus rides for anybody wearing a kimono over an 11-day period beginning Friday to promote the traditional attire and the local textile industry, city officials said.

    Free admission to some tourist attractions, including Nijo Castle, Kyoto Tower and some museums, will also be available for kimono wearers during the period, and a kimono fashion show and kimono flea market are planned.

    Free tickets for the transportation and tourist facilities will be available in subway stations, buses, hotels and elsewhere in the ancient capital.

    Rental kimono will be made available if people make advance reservations.

    For people who need to have their kimono readjusted, they can stop by 10 locations in the city, mainly at kimono shops and in the kimono sections of department stores.

    For more information, call the Kyoto Municipal Government’s Traditional Industry Department at (075) 222-3337.

    The Japan Times: March 8, 2005
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