Cyclist Adam Richards tries to keep his pants clean

It has been a while since I highlighted an Adam Richards of the world, but I couldn’t ignore this fashion triumph. An Adam Richards in Montana has apparently joined a campus trend of rolling up one pant leg to protect against bicycle chains:

Adam Richards, a communications studies graduate student, said that although he sports the bike leg when it’s warm, he uses a rafting strap to cinch his pants to prevent wind from drafting up his leg during the cold months.

“It works fine,” Richards said, adding that the cold may be too much with rolled up pant legs.

“Maybe I’m just a wuss,” he said.

Even with this alternate approach to keeping pant legs intact, Richard still admits that sometimes the strap isn’t enough.

“I’ve ruined a couple pairs of pants,” he said.

Two things:

  1. This article features something I have had to deal with all my life – people thinking my name is “Richard” instead of “Richards.” Either they think my first name is Richard, or they forget my last name ends in “s.” This is something I am sure all Adam Richardses of the world can agree on.
  2. I sometimes see people in Tokyo with the “bike leg”, but it’s generally unnecessary since most bikes here come with metal guards over the chains.

Africans in Guangzhou, Africans in Tokyo

This CNN report documents that much as in Japan, there is apparently a sizable number of Africans engaged in international trade and retailing in shops in Guanghzhou and some other areas of China. The report attributes the increase to increased trade ties between China and nations like Nigeria.

For a more detailed look at the situation of Africans in China, take a look at this translated article from Southern Metropolis Daily entitled “‘Chocolate City’ – Africans seek their dreams in China”:

In distant Africa, nearly 50 countries exploding with demand have opened their arms wide, and are rapidly digesting all of these consumer products not produced locally. Based on Chinese official statistics, during this period of China-Africa trade fever that started in 2003, the number of Africans headed to Guangzhou has been growing at annual rates of 30-40%.

About five years ago, Chinese petrolem companies and businessmen poured into Africa. This led many locals to feel that China was grabbing their resources and rice bowls (jobs). And yet from tractors to toothpaste, everything was “Made in China”; this stimulated many of them into looking in China’s direction. Many of Clem’s friends encouraged him, “Go to China! Nigeria’s using petroleum to trade for foreign currency, and the Chinese are buying it to build heaven!”

In September of 2007, Clem’s father, working at a Nigerian embassy in Europe, was able to arrange a Chinese visa for him. His friends were envious. More and more Africans are patiently lining up in front of Chinese embassies in Africa, fighting for visas permitted under a limited quota. A guy who received his visa at the same time as Clem had paid a fee to a visa application service nine months ago. When he finally received the visa he had been waiting for, the guy who had been muttering and cursing under his breath finally calmed down; he fiercely kissed his passport.

Many taxi drivers aren’t willing to take on “chocolate” customers. They don’t like the nose-irritating perfume, nor the constant bargaining on every trip. Some drivers will use excuses that “you’re too big, the car won’t fit you”, or “I don’t understand your foreign language”; but some don’t care, “driving anybody is just business.”

Based on official statistics, since 2003, the number of Africans in Guangzhou has been growing at 30-40% annually. Based on a report in the Guangzhou Daily, there might already be 100,000 in the community. They come from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia, and Mali. Amongst these, Africa’s most populous country Nigeria claims first place.

They primarily live in village-districts in the city of Guangdong (like Dongpu, Dengfeng Jie, Yongping Jie). They do their business in a few large-scale China-Africa commerce malls.

The stalls in these commerce malls don’t have much in terms of decoration; at most, there will be a black plastic model at the front door. Samples are piled up the ground, and hung up on the walls and placed in display cases. In one building, the warehouse and sales offices are one and the same. Stall owners pile their blue jeans on the walk-way itself. When it gets busy, you have to step over the piles of pants.

These centers have accumulated basically all of the world’s top brands — Dolce and Gabbana blue jeans, Adidas shoes, Gucci high-heels, Louis Vuitton purses, Chanel purses, Armani underwear. Their prices are ridiculous: Dolce and Gabbana jeans are 20 RMB (3 USD), Gucci high-heels and purse together for 100 RMB (15 USD)…

While picking through clothes, Cote claimed that he had many Chinese friends here. To prove his point, he walked up, and pats the store-owner on his head. Or, he playfully kicks at the store-owner’s leg. He’ll loudly greet them, “Friend, how are you recently?” His “friends” don’t respond. Some pull out a cell phone and intentionally ignore him. Others impatiently wave at him, and say in a combination of Chinese and English: “if you’re not buying anything, then go… quickly GO!”

Guangzhou has the densest concentration of African businessmen in China. Areas and cities surrounding the area has thousands of factories that take tens of thousands of African orders, originating from Chocolate City, every day.

… On Yongping Street, many black illegal immigrants live together in homes that rent for 100-200 RMB per month. They come out only at night, either selling physical labor by offering to carry goods, or sell drugs and other illegal activities. According to police in the area, starting in November of 2007, they had searched out a group of Africans in the country illegally. They were sent to Yunnan and deported.

Africans in Tokyo

On the continental level, Africans make up the least significant group of foreigners in Japan, far outstripped by just about every other group that counts (Vietnam alone has more registered foreigners in Tokyo than the entire continent). According to a Mainichi article from 2006 Africans in the Tokyo area number in the “tens of thousands,” though this is far above the 2,987 registered foreigners of African nationality within Tokyo Prefecture (Excel). It is also far smaller than the “as many as 100,000” in Guangzhou – that would mean African residents make up 1.31% of Guanghzhou’s population vs. 0.16% of Tokyo’s (assuming that Mainichi is right and there are at least 20,000 African residents in the Tokyo area). I should also mention that they are apparently overwhelmingly male and in prime working years.

Many are apparently in the country under similar terms as in China – most come from Nigeria and Ghana, and they are in the country on work/business visa quotas, and sometimes as illegal overstayers. In addition, many are in the country on spouse visas, both genuine and fraudulent (or somewhere in between). Some teach English, while others operate or work for clothing stores, import shops, or restaurants. Their numbers extend beyond Tokyo – I have heard reports of African-run hip-hop clothing stores as far-flung as Shikoku.

While almost all of the African residents in both Japan and China surely make their livings legitimately, it is worth mentioning that Africans in Japan have been notably involved in counterfeiting, drug muling, money laundering, and other illicit activities, apparently in line with the situation in Guangzhou. These crimes may receive extra scrutiny because of how Africans stand out. Anecdotal reports indicate that the police generally view Africans with suspicion, and apparently when they are arrested they can expect little mercy from the Japanese justice system (though the reaction in Japan must certainly be tamer than the brazen racism seen in that piece on China).  

One key difference between the Sino-African and Japanese-African relationships is that while the Japanese interests have centered around resource investment projects (in his youth, Prime Minister Aso helped run a diamond mining operation in Sierra Leone) and meeting diplomatic goals (UN Security Council reform, whaling), China under Mao developed ideological ties with leaders in Africa as it sought to support socialist revolution abroad. These efforts included a priority student visa program for African students to study at Chinese universities. On an only tangentially related not, this was the historical background of some pretty scary 1988 protests in Nanjing:

On December 24, 1988 two male African students were entering their campus at Hehai University in Nanjing with two Chinese women. The occasion was a Christmas Eve party. A quarrel about correct identification between one of the Africans and a Chinese security guard, who had ordered the Africans to register their guests, led to a brawl between the African and Chinese students on the campus which lasted till the morning, leaving 13 students injured. 300 Chinese students, spurred by false rumors that a Chinese man had been killed by the Africans, broke into and set about destroying the Africans’ dormitories, shouting slogans such as “Kill the black devils!” After the police had dispersed the Chinese students, many Africans fled to the railway station in order to gain safety at various African embassies in Beijing. The authorities prevented the Africans from boarding the trains so as to question those involved in the brawl. Soon their numbers increased to 140, as other African and non-African foreign students, fearing violence, arrived at the station asking to be allowed to go to Beijing.

By this time, Chinese students from Hehai University had joined up with students from other Nanjing universities to make up a 3000 strong demonstration which called on government officials to prosecute the African students and reform the system which gave foreigners more rights than the Chinese. On the evening of 26 December, the marchers converged on the railway station while holding banners calling for human rights and political reform. Chinese police managed to isolate the non-Chinese students from the marchers and moved them to a military guest house outside Nanjing. The demonstrations were declared illegal, and riot police were brought in from surrounding provinces to pacify the demonstrations which lasted several more days.

The African population depicted in the video is clearly of a much different character from these earlier students. Reflecting the increasing resource investment of China itself, this group of Africans in China are strictly business-oriented (many never even attended college), apparently hoping to cash in on the Chinese economic boom.

Did Japanese watch their baseball team beating Korea on mobile “websites”?

UPDATE: Could have been “a special WBC page set up on the Asahi shimbun’s web site”. Thanks to commenter ST

In an otherwise vividly descriptive article on Japan’s World Baseball Classic victory, it seems like the Wall Street Journal reporters may have made a slight error (emphasis mine):

Even workers who couldn’t watch the game live on television kept an eye on the contest. In Tokyo, three Japanese businessmen who were waiting for the subway huddled together staring at a mobile phone screen, tracking every pitch from a Web site.

I am pretty sure they must have been watching “1seg,” a mobile TV signal that’s become fairly common in Japan over the past three years or so. Scenes of strangers watching mobile TV together have become somewhat common in Japan, a sort of modern-day version of businessmen stopping to watch the sample TVs at the Sakuraya in front of Shimbashi Station. During pivotal sports games (Asia Cup soccer, Red Sox in the World Series, etc.), people seem willing to share their mobile TVs with onlookers. Maybe they don’t have much choice unless they want to be a jerk and turn it off, but all the same it’s a new and somewhat rare expression of community with strangers in this city.

(DISCLAIMER: This is not an essentialist statement about Japanese culture! I found Washington DC to be full of similarly detached and unfriendly strangers, as perhaps it should be to a certain extent).

A hard bargain

In a 2ch thread reacting to news of a high-end speed-dating bar catering to older “marriage hunting” women and men (this year’s manufactured social phenomenon), commenters have excoriated a 39-year-old single female flight attendant (an apparent lookalike of former Takarazuka Revue actress Yuki Amami) for her quote, “I am no longer in a position to be choosy. My conditions are that [my future husband] does not smoke, can communicate, and makes at least 10 million yen per year.”

Such high standards reminded me of a recent episode of NPR’s This American Life, in which the hosts discussed just how limited dating options can be once you start getting choosy. I suggest you give it a listen, but suffice to say the prospects for Boston-area chemistry grad students were whittled down to the dozens, if I recall correctly.

So what about this woman’s scenario? Does she stand a chance? Let’s try whittling down the population of Tokyo until we find out how many men would pass muster:

  • Population of Tokyo: 12.79 million people (also see Stat Bureau)
  • Number male: 6.354 million (49.6%)
  • In Amami’s age bracket (25-49): 2.536 million (more generous than 2ch would allow for – see below)
  • College grads: 1,038,492 (assuming college grads are more likely to have communication skills than non-grads. The number was reached by estimating from the facts that 45.5% of high school students moved on to four-year universities in 2006, of which around 90% eventually get their degree (OECD Fact Sheet PDF))
  •  Salary of at least 10 million yen: 103,849 (10%: Though 7.5% of men in the private sector earned at least 10 million yen per year as of 2006 nationwide, I will be generous and say 10% given the age and education group’s above-average earnings and the probably higher wages of the Tokyo area) (PDF page 18)
  • Single: 51,924 (about half?)
  • Non-smokers: 31,414  (39.5% of Japanese men smoke)
  • Attractive to her: 6,282 (1 in 5? This assumes that even if she can’t be choosy, she will still remain superficial enough to avoid lazy eyes, missing teeth, limps, moth ball smell, etc.).

Then what if you divide by between 3 and 5 for other possible dealbreakers, such as religion, politics, sense of humor, blood type, and all that? Not exactly raining men! And this exercise doesn’t even address the issue of her age, which was the biggest bone of contention among the 2-channel posters (specifically, many found the entire premise farcical – a woman entering middle age is delusional enough to think well-off men would consider her marriage material, to the point that 10 million a year becomes the bare minimum, and she thinks they will show up at a speed-dating bar in Roppongi). 

While this is a rough guess and the general bias toward richer and more educated people in Tokyo would no doubt push the number somewhat higher (and she is lucky to be in Tokyo and not comparatively tiny Boston), it is still kind of sobering to see how closely this woman’s search for love (or at least stability) in Tokyo resembles the quest to find the missing Dragonballs.

Women flee Japan, as the men evolve into a different species

Of course, the female population could simply be falling more or less in line with the overall population, but let’s not let that get in the way of an anonymous ministry official’s speculation (thank you Kyodo and Nikkei):

Population Of Women In Japan Sees 1st Decline On Record
TOKYO (Kyodo)–The number of females in Japan fell for the first time on record as of October last year, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Monday.

The female population was estimated to be 65.44 million as of Oct. 1, down 20,000 from a year earlier to mark the first decrease since 1950, when comparable data were first recorded.

”More Japanese women are going abroad for extended periods, and this is thought to be one of the reasons,” a ministry official said.

This might be a good time to tell you that I very much enjoyed attending Patrick Macias’ lecture on otaku culture held a couple weeks ago at Temple University Japan. You can listen to it in full on his website. The lecture is a broad overview of the development of Japan’s otaku culture and the American obsession with it. Within, he notes:

  • Densha Otoko, the dubiously true story of an 2-Channeler otaku who falls in love with a normal woman, follows the storyline of an “interracial romance,” and
  • The ubiquity of erotic elements in anime and gaming indicate that otaku are leaving normal female companionship behind, in a phenomenon he compares to the “post-humans” of sci-fi anime such as the Gundam series.

It’s an interesting listen!

Witnessing the Wreckage at Narita

Yesterday morning, a Fedex plane crashed and burned in Narita airport in the airport’s first fatal accident since opening in 1978. You can see commentary-less footage from the BBC (which cannot be embedded) at this link.

I flew into Narita yesterday early afternoon just hours after the crash, and noted a bumpy landing — the plane shifted left and right after touching down — and the pilot then told us the news. We were lucky that we were in a Boeing 777, as larger planes had been unable to land because the runway was out of service. We saw the morbid wreckage as we moved towards the arrival gate, and I took a picture of the plane from the terminal.


Congressional Research Service on Japanese political turmoil, circa September 2008

I have been very excited to discover the website Open CRS, an unofficial repository of Congressional Research Service reports. Normally, the reports are only available to Congress members and their aides, but a surprising number of them do see the light of day. This site could serve as a helpful source until Joe Lieberman’s initiative to open up the CRS becomes law.

For a taste of what the CRS has to offer, here is a report (PDF) on the state of Japanese politics around the time when former PM Fukuda stepped down:

Factors Behind Japan’s Political Paralysis

A number of factors impeded Fukuda’s ability to govern and will challenge
whomever the LDP chooses as his successor.
Parliamentary Gridlock. In July 2007, the DPJ won a majority in nationwide
elections for the Upper House of the Diet. As a result, for the first time in Japanese
history, Japan’s two parliamentary chambers are controlled by different parties. Shortly
after the DPJ’s victory, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe resigned, leading the LDP to
select Fukuda as premier. Concerned by Ozawa’s threats to veto major legislation,
Fukuda attempted to form a “Grand Coalition” with the DPJ. After the talks broke down,
the DPJ adopted an aggressive policy of using its control of the Upper House to block or
delay several of the Fukuda government’s legislative initiatives.
The LDP’s Increased Dependence on Coalition Partners. For more than
a decade, the LDP generally has not been able to secure independent majorities in both
Diet chambers, forcing it to rely upon coalitions with smaller parties. Since 1999, the
LDP has formed a governing coalition with the New Komeito party, a pacifist-leaning
party with strong ties to the Buddhist Soka Gakkai religious group. Komeito’s clout in
the coalition has increased over time, for at least two reasons. First, the LDP is reliant
upon Komeito to obtain the 2/3 majority in the Lower House to override the DPJ-led
vetoes in the Upper House. Second, LDP candidates in many electoral districts have
become reliant upon support from Soka Gakkai followers.4 Although traditionally the
LDP has dominated the coalition, during the summer of 2008, New Komeito became
more assertive, for instance by resisting Fukuda’s push to renew the authorization to
provide fuel to coalition forces in Afghanistan (see later section for details).
The LDP’s Weakened Decision-Making Structure. Former Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi significantly weakened the LDP’s old, opaque system, in which the
leaders of the party’s internal factions made major budgetary, policy, and personnel
decisions (including deciding who would serve as prime minister). This system, although
widely criticized as lacking transparency, helped the LDP to overcome significant internal
divisions over policy. While he was breaking the faction-based system, Koizumi used his
personal popularity and aggressiveness to enforce party discipline. However, his
successors, Abe and Fukuda, often were unable to duplicate this feat. As a result,
decision-making became increasingly difficult on contentious matters, such as the battles between the LDP’s economic reformers and those favoring a return to the status quo of
channeling government funds toward key interest groups.5
The DPJ’s Discipline. The DPJ was formed in 1998 as a merger of four smaller
parties and was later joined by a fifth grouping. The amalgamated nature of the DPJ has
led to considerable internal contradictions, primarily between the party’s
hawkish/conservative and passivist/liberal wings. In particular, the issues of deploying
Japanese troops abroad and revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese
constitution have generated considerable internal debate in the DPJ. As a result, for much
of its history, the DPJ has a reputation of not being able to formulate coherent alternative
policies to the LDP. Additionally, battles between various party leaders have weakened
the party. Since winning the Upper House, however, the party has appeared much more
unified, at least on the strategy of using its veto power to try to force the LDP to hold
early elections. This discipline is remarkable considering that, privately and publicly,
many DPJ members chafe at Ozawa’s top-down leadership style. If the DPJ does worse
than expected in the next election, it is likely that he will be forced to step down.


Philippine Travelogue: Legazpi

March 17, 2009

Despite having our plans of riding the ill-named “Bikol Express” Southrail train from Manila to Legazpi “derailed“, Joosje and I manage to get there by night bus from Manila. We arrive about 9.30AM, exhausted as all hell, catch a tricycle to the Legazpi Tourist Inn (which was the only hotel I have ever been to in the world where they let you stay for two nights and don’ t even ask to see money until you checkout.) It’s raining.

We wander towards the docks, realize you can’t get far down in that direction due to concrete walls and construction barriers, and then instead head into “Victory Village”, which looks from the outside to be a small fish market area on the other side of the concrete wall, through an archway. It turns out to be a 6000 person Barangay (Filipino word for village or neighborhood, which was chosen to replace the Spanish-era word “barrio”). We chat with many people, all very friendly, as we wander through the narrow streets-if you can evven call such narrow pedestrian-only alleys streets, and then a woman tells us we can climb the hill behind the village to get a view of the city and huge volcano (Mt Mayon) beyond. The rain has stopped, and the sun is out. A 12 year old girl, an 18 year old girl, her dog Pipi, and two boys who unusually don’t seem to know any English at all take us slipping and sliding up the hill for an amazing view and after taking it in we slip and slide back down, through what seems to be a mix of mud from the earlier rain and caribou shit, back down to the village. To get onto the path up to the lookout point you have to slip through a barb-wired fence, which is little physical obstical but would probably keep out most un-invited visitors due to appearances.

After we get back down, the woman who had pointed out the way up the hill waves us over to talk. She first introduces herself, Julie T. Bahoy, and then asks if we want to go see the docks and construction site behind the barriers we had balked at earlier. The Barangay runs parallel to the docks area, entirely cut off from it by a tall concrete wall which is prettied up on the dock-facing side but ugly, bare concrete on the village side, aside from the market entrance we had taken, another opening in the middle, and one gate into the construction area and fishing docks. Julie tells us that the construction is for a major tourist destination and resort project known as The Embarcadero. (The project and name both seem inspired by San Francisco’s Embarcadero.) The Embercadero construction has made it more difficult for the villagers to reach their fishing piers, which can only be reached by traversing the construction site itself. Only village residents are supposed to be allowed out to the fishing pier, but Julie says that if anyone asks she will just tell them that she wants to show her friends the fishing boats and not The Embarcadero. In fact, none of the guards or construction workers are very interested, but Julie seems to ejoy the thought of getting away with something.

After looking around the pier area we walk back into the village and have a seat at a small shop  run by her mother. She gives us bottles of generic brand cola and some chocolate snack-cake thing and tells us about herself. The fishing village within Legazpi cityis her home town, and she is educated in a nearby college, with a major in business management. After graduation she was unable to actually work in that field, instead getting a clerical job in a law office, which she did for many years before switching to her current job managing a small office in the city. It does not pay particularly well, and she has some side jobs trading various goods, sometimes involving networking with her sister in Manila, particularly apaca fiber products for export. She might be able to find a better job with higher pay, but says that the company she works at would fail without her, and she does not want to be responsible for putting the others out of work. Yet, she also does not demand higher pay. Her father is a retired machinist for the electrical utility, draws a small pension, and continues to do some machining work from a home shop.

Although much of her time is of course occupied by her dayjob, Julie’s real vocation has been her work on the Barangay Council, where she is the youngets of its seven members. She was first elected as the youth representative at the age of 18 and is now nearing the end of her third, and term-limited final, term. She has always ran, and been elected, as an independent and refrained from the bribe and gift exchanges ubiquitous in local Philippine politics, facts that she is very proud of. She even uses her small honorarium as a council member for purchasing things needed by the village, such as lights, instead of keeping it as a payment. Approaching the end of her final term she is wrestling with the decision of whether or not to try and run for council chairperson, as some are urging her to do, but is reluctant to do so out  of concern that it may be difficult to do so without engaging in the standard corrupt politicking and that it would occupy even more of the time she needs to make money for her family, a conundrum traditionally solved by engaging in the corruption which she so abhors.

Still, she is considering giving it a shot so that she can work for the barangay. And the barangay needs help, fenced in and under threat due to the Embarcadero project. 95% of the village population survives in one way or another from the fising trade, with only about 1 in 20  engaged in external occupations in the city. Naturally, anything that obstructs their access to the sea is a serious threat. While some villagers have temporary work during the construction phase, few of them have enough education to apply for the permanent jobs that will be created upon its completion. There is a free public elementary school inside the village, and like all of the schools I have seen in The Philippines so far it is pleasant and well maintained (the newspapers reported this past week that the Department  of Education was rated least corrupt governmeent department in a public opinion survey) but higher education requires travel outside into the city, which few of the fishing families have the hard currency for.

There are rumors that the project is partially owned by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (always referred to as GMA here), widely considered to be corrupt (one recent survey pegged her as even more corrupt than the late Ferdinand Marcos, which while highly unlikely at least gives a sense of the level of discontent) or at least one of her friends. The wall was constructed without permission of or consultation with the barangay or any of its residents, and unsurprisingly cut across some private land. According to Julie, the Bahoy family house’s lot extends a full 25 meters past the wall, and they have a lawsuit pending over the theft of their land. She says that the developers have offfered to settle for the fairly hefty sum of 20 million pesos (around USD $500,000), but they have documents showing clear title to the land and are not interested in settling. Such a settlement offer implies that they have a strong case, and she even hopes to have the wall itself removed. Unfortunately, many of the other residents lack proper documentation and are even legally considered to be squatting in their own homes, and have no hope of filing a similar lawsuit. Such carelessness in basic legal matters is an obvious result of under-education, but fishing has not historically been an occupation with a great need for men of letters. And with the fishing at risk, they have little or nothing to fall back on. More of the children stay in school than their elders, but probably still not enough. In the face of this situation, I expect that Julie will find herself unable to not run for barangay council president, and will sleep even less.

(As will all entries in this series, this will be reposted with photos added some time after my return to Japan.)

Another reason to visit Pyongyang

Authentic Nork pizza.

In the late 1990s Kim brought a team of Italian pizza chefs to North Korea to instruct his army officers how to make pizza, a luxury which is now being offered to a tiny elite able to afford such luxuries in a country that cannot feed many of its 24 million inhabitants.

Despite the food shortages high-quality Italian wheat, flour, butter and cheese are being imported to ensure the perfect pizza is created every time.

“Our people should be also allowed to enjoy the world-famous food,” the manager of the Pyongyang eatery quoted Kim as saying, according to the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper.

(Hat tip to Marginal Revolution)