Quartz – a new online news publication

I have for the past week or two been following the rollout of a brand new news publication called Quartz.  It is backed by the same company that publishes The Atlantic, and the small staff has an impressive journalistic pedigree.

The publication is targeted at and optimized for mobile phones, tablets, and readers first and foremost, rather than as an afterthought. The business model is radical, and by no means secure, as Jean-Louis Gassee points out in his delightful Monday Note blog. All of this is interesting to me intellectually as an observer of evolving media delivery models, but what has me excited is not the delivery method but the quality of the content.

This is some of the most consistently excellent writing I’ve seen in a long time.  The quality of analysis is on par with that of The Economist, but Quartz is not an attempt to imitate The Economist (if it were, I’d probably agree with their editorial position a bit more :-).  Their editorial positions are decidedly less guarded, but written from a position of confidence that feels like it emanates more from experience than ideological certitude.

Given the upcoming deployment, I have particularly been enjoying their series of articles on the impact of the world economic slowdown on China, as well as a recent piece on Bo Xilai, which I did not agree with but thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Have a look for yourselves, and let me know what you think

About our clients…

With our deployment only two weeks away, our team is starting to kick into high gear on research and preparation.  I thought this would be an opportune time to tell you a bit about our clients and the work we will be doing.

As I have written, there are a total of twelve of us on Team China 18, coming from nine different countries.  We will be working with a total of six clients during our four-week engagement.  The twelve of us have been divided into three sub-teams of four people each, each of which will be looking after two clients.

I am on Subteam 3, along with my colleagues Brett, Martin, and Renata.  Brett is a technical architect from the US; he works in IBM’s consulting business like I do.  Martin is a security specialist from Slovakia, and Renata is an attorney from Brazil.

The first of our two clients will be the Fanya Metals Exchange.  They are a brand new, started only a year ago with the intent of becoming a commodities exchange like those in Chicago or London.  As some of you know, most commodities futures and option contracts traded on an exchange are purely financial instruments.  But many of the buyers and sellers trading metals on Fanya’s exchange are miners or manufacturers, so a much higher percentage of their contracts are settled in specie — in other words, they are paid in the actual, physical metals that the contracts represent.

Fanya has done very well in its first year, and would like to continue expanding and become a regional player, trading not only across China but throughout southeast Asia, and they have asked for our advice on how best to go about that.  To provide this kind of insight, we will be putting together a case study on the business and marketing models of some of the world’s major commodities exchanges, and advising them on how best to emulate the success and growth patterns that some of these have enjoyed.

The other client is a financial clearing house for small and medium business called KMfex.  China does not have a well-established market for commercial credit, so most small businesses looking for a loan need to look for individual investors.  The goal of KMfex is to create a clearing house where businesses and investors can find one another.  Like Fanya, KMfex wants us to put together a case study of companies in other regions who have enjoyed success with a similar business model.

In a lot of ways KMfex reminds me of Lloyds of London in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  At that time, the only “corporations” in existence were shipping companies, and if you wanted to invest in their voyages, you had to make contact directly.  There was a coffee shop not far from the docks called Lloyds where a lot of the ship owners and captains would hang out, and wealthy individuals looking for ships to invest in would often go to Lloyd’s in order to find a suitable ship and voyage.  Over a period of several decades, what began as a coffee shop transformed into something entirely new: the world’s first true financial market.  KMfex is in a different country and services general businesses instead of shipping companies, and its distribution channels are online rather than at a coffee shop.  But in most of the important ways, they are very much like Lloyd’s was when it started: a clearing house that made it easier for companies and investors to find one another.  I expect that many of the successes and failures Lloyds has experienced over time, including the massive “Names” scandal of the 1980’s could end up being quite relevant in terms of advising them.

So there you have it: a brief synopsis of what I will be up to very soon.  In addition to working with these two clients, I expect to also be helping to advise and support the other subteams, just as I am sure we will be able to rely upon their expertise and support for our two clients.  There are also a couple of one-day events that the entire team will be participating in; I’ll tell you more about these as the time gets nearer.

It’s less than two weeks now until we take to the skies…

Food of Yunnan 4: Erkuai

Tonight’s post is from an article written in the China Daily by Yang Wanli, and discusses a traditional and very special way of making rice, unique to Yunnan, called 饵块– Erkuai, or soft pounded rice.

Yunnan province is famous for the wide variety of dishes and delicacies it offers. Perhaps the fact that it is home to more than two dozen ethnic groups has something to do with it. The variety and taste of and the ingredients used in dishes can differ from town to town and even village to village, except erkuai, a culinary specialty made of rice, which is omnipresent in the entire province. And while traditional methods of preparing food may be vanishing, a workshop in Kunming has kept alive the old art of making erkuai.  As a type of rice cake particular to Yunnan, erkuai literally translates into “ear piece”, a reference to one of its common shapes.

Erkuai has a history of 400 years. Although common in the entire province, it is said that the best erkuai is available in Guandu district of Yunnan’s capital of Kunming, where it is said to have originated. As the ancient center of Yunnan’s capital, Guandu is famous for its traditional way of making erkuai.  “Making erkuai was like a ceremony before Spring Festival when I was a kid,” says Pan Yunquan, a 67-year-old resident of Luofeng village in Guandu. “It used to be made only once a year.” Since Luofeng has the credit of making the most delicious erkuai in Guandu, the delicacy available there is the best of the best.

In days past, people would not make erkuai at home but at a public mill shared by residents from two or more villages, and hence the annual “ceremony”. The mill in Luofeng village had a great reputation in Kunming and even other border cities. “The mill used to be open from late December to the eve of Spring Festival. Workers were divided into two groups and had to work constantly because a lot of people waited for their turn to make erkuai,” Pan says. At times, the queue used to be hundreds of meters long. Eating erkuai during Spring Festival is a tradition in Yunnan, and in the old days even the poorest families followed it. People carried newly harvested rice in cloth bags and waited outside the mill sometimes for two days. Generally, a family made erkuai from 20 to 50 kg of rice every year.

Rice is the only ingredient used in erkuai. Rice of the best quality is washed twice and then soaked in cold spring water for about an hour. After that, it is steamed twice. “Washing and steaming the rice twice makes erkuai whiter and softer,” Pan says. There are no strict rules for making erkuai, he says. It depends on experience. “Take steaming for example. Once water starts dripping from the hay-made pot cover, it is time to take the steamed rice out.”  Steamed rice is quickly put into a stone mortar and later pounded with a wooden pestle. But this is a special mortar and pestle, called mudui in Chinese in which the mortar is fixed into a hole dug in the ground so that its mouth is even with the floor level. The pestle is fixed to a huge horizontal wooden lever and needs four to six people to operate.

After the pounding, the rice becomes soft and gummy like plasticine, and is shaped on a wooden board. Erkuai is generally shaped like a mini pillow after the soft rice is kneaded to push the air bubbles out, and gives off a fragrant, appetizing aroma. Erkuai is loved by people in Yunnan not only for its simplicity, but also because it can be cooked in several ways. It can be cut into slices and served stir-fried with vegetables and málà (麻辣), a fiery mixture of dried red chilies, Sichuan pepper and salt.

It is popular as street food, too, grilled, barbecued and rolled around fried breadsticks with sweet or savory condiments added, resembling a Mexican burrito. The sweet types contain a sweet brown sauce and peanuts, while the savory types are mixed with preserved bean curd, bean sprouts and various other toppings. This method is particularly popular among Yunnan people and savored as a quick and delicious snack. Besides, erkuai can be also made into dessert with sweet fermented-rice and eggs. Many families use finely shredded erkuai and cook it like noodles.

The traditional method of making erkuai in Guandu was listed as an intangible cultural relic of Kunming in June 2005. In March 2010, authorities built a workshop in Guandu to demonstrate the tradition way of making erkuai, which disappeared about 30 years ago. An erkuai cake weighing 1 kg made in the workshop sells for double the average price of machine-made variety. A worker, surnamed Ding, says theirs is the only shop selling handmade erkuai in Kunming, and attracts many customers from across China and even aboard, especially during holidays. On May Day this year, the shop sold 480 cakes made out of 300 kg of rice. Pan says the workshop brings back memories for most senior residents. “Listening to the pounding of the pestle is like listening to music. The smell of rice is so sweet that it brings back memories of our childhood.”

Erkuai keeps fresh soaked in clean water for up two months, and it is said that fishermen used it to repair small cracks in their boats.

Sources

The description and background come from an article in the China Daily, as do all but one of the photos – the other comes from about.com.

Historical Kunming Part 5: Zhang Qian and the Opening of the Silk Road

We left our narrative of the history of Kunming and Yunnan province in 109 BC, when the Dian Kingdom was conquered by the armies of the Han Dynasty, and brought within the fold of Imperial China.  As one of the first orders of business after this conquest, the Han emperor ordered one of his most important generals, Tang Meng, to Yunnan.  His instructions were to extend the “Five Foot Way” – a famous trade road of the time, from Sichuan into Yunnan.

Han Dynasty, just after to the conquest of the Kingdom of Dian

There were many reasons for this instruction. Roads in China were first and foremost a means of efficient troop movement, even the Great Wall was far more useful as a way of transporting troops quickly over very rough terrain than it ever was as an actual physical barrier.  The Kingdom of Dian was newly conquered and could rebel at any time, so the ability to get troops there quickly was of paramount importance.  But another key reason was trade.  Not with the Dian Kingdom itself; the Han people considered the local residents to be crude barbarians. Hang Teng even named the Yunnan extension of the Five Foot Way the “Southwest Barbarian Way”.  The real value of Yunnan to the Han empire lay in its location; it was seen as a potential gateway to what was called at the time the “Sendhuk” valley.  Now it is called the Indus valley; the Han dynasty wanted to open a trade route with India.  But how did the Han rulers know about India, and why did they think it was important to establish trade routes there?

The answer lies not in the south of China but in the north.  The Han dynasty was plagued by a loose confederation of nomadic tribesmen whom they knew as the Xiongnu; several centuries later, Europe would encounter them and call them the Huns.  About 20 years earlier than the conquest of the Dian Kingdom, spies of the Han emperor Wudi (the same emperor whose death precipitated the Discourses on Salt and Iron referred to in history post 2) reported to Emperor Wu that King Chanyu of the Huns had recently killed the king of a tribe known as the Da Yuezhi, and had his skull made into a drinking goblet.  The Da Yuezhi tribe was previously unknown to the Han dynasty, but sensing an opportunity, the sent a detachment of about 100 troops to find this tribe and seek an alliance with them.  The officer appointed to lead this detachment was a mid-level noble named Zhang Qian.

Zhang Qian sets out on his embassy

The expedition did not meet with great success.  Zhang, his guide Ganfu (a captured Xiongnu prisoner of war), and their detachment of troops were captured by the Xiongnu and held as hostages against further Han incursions.  Zhang and his guide were held captive by the Zhiongnu for almost over ten years, during which he took a Xiongnu wife, who in turn bore him a son. But eventually, having gained the trust of the Xiongnu leader, Zhang was able to escape, and fled west across the Gobi desert with his guide wife, and son.  And ten years after his departure from China, he finally managed to make contact with the Da Yuezhi.  But though the Yuezhi welcomed Zhang and treated him with honor, they had no desire to enter into an alliance against the Xiongnu.  The Yuezhi felt that the distance between their home (which lies in what is now Tajikistan) and the Chinese Empire (whose military might was centered in their capital of Chang’an, which is now modern-day Xi’an) was too great for an alliance to be effective.  And the murder of their king notwithstanding, the Yuezhi were content to raise their flocks and make due against the occasional Xiongnu raid.

His mission unsuccessful, Zhang spent a further year in central Asia, documenting and establishing relations with different tribes and kingdoms in the area, and then set off for the return journey to China.  Anxious to avoid recapture, Zhang  and his party took a different route on their return, skirting the southern edge of the Tarim basin, where they had gone around the northern edge on their way out.  But this caution was to no avail, for Zhang and his party were once again captured by the Xiongnu.  This time however, Zhang was lucky in that he became a pawn in a civil war within the Xiongnu tribe, and was able to secure his freedom in less than a year, in exchange for bearing messages from one of the rival factions to the Han emperor.

Zhian Qian

Despite having failed to secure an alliance, Zhang was wildly popular in court upon his return, and prepared detailed reports on over 36 different tribes and nations he had intercourse with over the years of his journey.  And through all the places he had traveled there was a common thread: rich and exotic goods from a great civilization rumored to lie to the southeast, a kingdom known as the Sendhuk.  And having proven his capability, Zhang was sent out two more times to try and find this fabled kingdom, and the first of these original journeys went through Sichuan and the Dian Kingdom that is now Yunnan Province.

Zhang never did find India, but he studiously wrote about every place he did make it to, and though not all of the political alliances he was dispatched to establish came to fruition, he is regarded in China in much the same light we in the west regard Marco Polo, as one of the first great travelers and travel writers.  And over the century following his death, China did succeed in establishing relations with these tribes and kingdoms of central Asia.  These trade agreements started the caravans flowing, and the routes they established formed the very Silk Road that Marco Polo would follow, all the way to Kunming, some 1300 years later.

Food of Yunnan 3: 乳饼 – Rubing Cheese

You don’t find a lot of dairy food in China. This is usually ascribed to the fact that many Chinese people are lactose intolerant, though there is some debate over whether this causes the lack of dairy in the diet or is caused by it.  There are also remarks upon the fact that dairy farming is a far less efficient use of land than growing rice or raising pork for meat.  But regardless of the cause, one thing you will almost never find anywhere in China is cheese.  The featured food in tonight’s post is the exception to that rule.

Rubing (乳饼 – rǔbǐng) is a cheese made by the local Bai and Sani minorities of Yunnan province, and is quite popular there.  It is a farmer cheese, which means that it is served fresh rather than aged, and is made from goats milk that has been soured with the extract of a local vine called 奶藤 (năiténg), or literally “milk cane”.

Rubing is similar to the Cypriot cheese called Halloumi in that it does not melt when heated.  And like Halloumi, Rubing is most commonly served fried.

Often is it served mixed with tomatoes and broccoli or other vegetables.

Sometimes it is just deep-fried and served with salty or sweet dipping sauces.

These are the most traditional ways of serving Rubing, but modern restaurants in the region have been experimenting with departures from the tradition.  Some serve it with a local cured ham called Xuanhua, while others are experimenting with chocolate or rose flavorings.

It is yet another local delight I will be keeping my eyes out in our coming visit.

Sources:

The photos and serving information come from gochengdoo.com

Information on the making of rubing comes from wisegeek.com

Historical Kunming Part 4: The Dawn of Kunming

Now that we have a rough framework of dynastic history upon which to hang our tale, we can now tell the story of the dawn of Kunming.

Yuanmou Man

Kunming sits at the northern tip of Lake Dian. Lake Dian has been a home to people as long as there have been people.  The fossil record includes lufang ramapithecus from 8 million years ago and yuanmou man from 1.7 million years ago, and archaeological finds show that modern man has been living there continuously for at least 30,000 years.  But Kunming itself has its origins in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

 

 

One of the main states that gave the Warring States Period its name was the kingdom of Chu.  Chu started as a fief of the Zhou dynasty, and was ruled by a viscount, who ruled from a city in what is now Henan Province.  In 977 the Zhou ruler died; the dynasty started neglecting it southern holdings, and Chu started growing more and more autonomous.  By 703 BC, the ruler of Chu was openly styling himself King, openly asserting an independence that was not contested.  Chu grew in size and power (as well as in corruption and bureaucracy) until, by the time the Zhou dynasty had completely dissolved, Chu was one of the leading states of China, and a contender for imperial aspirations.

Our story starts towards the end of the Warring States Period, about 70 years before the establishment of the Qin dynasty.  Chu was looking to expand, and the logical direction was south.  Qin, though not yet an imperial power, was already the most powerful state in China, lay just to the west.  Wei and Qi to the north less powerful as Chu, but either could weaken Chi enough to make it a target for Qin.  But even more than that, the south offered control of valuable trade routes with Burma and India.  So in 280 BC the king of Chu deployed an army led by a general named Zhuang Qiao with orders to conquer the territory that is now Yunnan province.

Seal from the Kingdom of Dian

Over the next ten years General Zhuang was able to fulfill his orders, and succeeded in placing most of the region under his control. But then something happened that changed the situation entirely: Chu was invaded by Qin.  The Qin armies marched across the south of Chu towards the coast; General Zhuang and his army were cut off from their capital.  But as far as we can tell, the general saw this not as a problem but an opportunity.  Zhuang declared that the territory he had conquered was now the Kingdom of Dian, and named himself as its King.  His army married and assimilated with the local tribes, and settled themselves on the land surrounding the lake.  And General Zhuang established his capital at what is now Kunming.

Belt ornament from the Dian Kingdom

This small independent kingdom survived for well over a century, outlasting the rise and fall of the Qin dynasty.  In 109 BC the great conqueror of the Han dynasty, Emperor Wu of Han (who also appears in the earlier post Historical Kunming 2: Discourses on Salt and Iron), conquered the neighboring states of Laoshan and Mimo, and the king of Dian decided to submit to Han voluntarily rather than be conquered.  This submission was rather more in name than substance though; Dian routinely raided Han trading missions.  And in 109 BC, after Dian massacred a Han trading party passing through with gifts intended for the far away nation of Bactria, Emperor Wu decided he had had enough.  He emptied the jails in his capital city of Chang’an (modern day Xi’an), declared amnesty for any fugitives who would turn themselves in, and formed these into an army that finally brought Dian into submission and joined it to the empire.

So there you have it, the story of how Kunming was founded, and came to be part of China.

Travel booked! #ibmcsc

I got word last night that our friends at Digital Opportunity Trust have confirmed the booking of my travel plans.  I arrive in Kunming on 12 October, fly from Kunming to Beijing on 10 November, and return home to the UK on 17 November.  The intervening months will fly by in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile on the home front, my wife was just accepted to graduate school, and in September will begin studying for her masters in psychology at the University of Derby.  She will begin her studies in late September, shortly before I head off.

What an amazing summer it has been.

 

 

China at the Olympics

It is 18:00 on Thursday 2 August as I write this. We are one week into the London Olympics.  My family and I have seen one of the three live events we have tickets for (beach volleyball), and watched a number of other ones on TV, all of which we have enjoyed.  So now I find myself looking at the medal tables…

  • My adopted country, the UK, is ranked fifth overall with 14 medals, 5 of which are gold.
  • My home country, the USA, which I proudly (and loudly) root for, is second place overall with 31 medals, 14 of them gold
  • And while they are not as crushingly dominant as they were as Beijing in 2008, China commands an unmistakable first place in the world rankings, with 18 gold medals and 32 medals overall

I look at this result and ask myself how I feel about it.

And you know what?  Despite all the accusations, the recriminations, and the other assorted moaning and wailing, I find that my reactions to all of the above are almost entirely positive.

Let’s talk about China first.  I have read the accusations about Ye Shiwen, and find them baseless and small-minded.  Nobody leveled such accusations about Michael Phelps’ astonishing superiority of mens’ swimming in 2008.  This is nothing more than thinly veiled xenophobia.

The fact is that China deserves its place at the top of the rankings.  Start with the world’s largest population.  Add to this a personal work ethic that no other nation in the world comes close to matching.  And layer on top of this the huge investment that China makes in its athletes, with over 3,000 dedicated athletic training centers around the country.  This investment, this dedication, this passion for excellence has paid off.

Let’s look at the UK next, fifth in the rankings overall.  If you ask most British people how they feel about this result, you will hear a lot about opportunities missed, but the reality is  an admirable result.  Let’s look at the numbers: the UK is 6th in a ranking of countries by GDP, 22nd by population, and 80th by size.  Their performance far outstrips countries that ought to be beating them handily.  I attribute this to their excellent education system (both public and private) and to a strong sporting culture. Recall that the Brits were key drivers in the resurrection of the Olympics in the first place (interestingly, their medal ranking in the first modern Olympics in 1896 was the same as it is today: fifth).  And finally, hats off to the UK for a fabulous opening ceremony.  The Olympic rings, forged and hammered out of molten steel, is an indelible image that will burn in my mind forever.

And finally, what about the US?  If you read the editorial page of the newspaper in any major city, you will find a host of discontent that we have fallen behind China in the overall medal results.  But I see a very different message

  • China has four times as many people as the US
  • Despite having a GDP one third the size of the US, China outspends the US on the development of its athletes by at least two to one
  • An aspiring athlete in the US must find a way to pay for their education, coaching, and development; all but the proven top echelons need to stay in full-time employment while training.  An aspiring athlete in China belongs to a program that fully supports and caters to all their needs, removing anything but training from their list of worries.

And yet, despite all of China’s inherent advantages, the US manages to stay in very close competition with China.  This is nothing short of amazing, and makes me very proud to be American.  Why do we continue to do so well?   This is a great question.  I have some ideas, but want to think about it and read some more before I venture an opinion.

Meanwhile, tomorrow will be a big day at the Olympics:

  • Wujdan Shahrkhani, one of the first two women that Saudi Arabia has ever sent to the Olympics, will be competing in women’s judo.  I wish her every success.
  • My favorite beach volleyball team, Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, whom I have supported since Athens in 2004, enters the elimination rounds. They won all three matches in the preliminary rounds, but in the last match they lost one of their sets — the first time that has ever happened.  Do they have a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in them?  Soon we shall see.
  • And finally, our amazing football team plays against New Zealand in the quarter-finals.  I’ve got tickets for the semi-finals, which means that if the Americans win tomorrow, we get the thrill of going to one of football’s greatest shrines, Old Trafford, to cheer our team to victory!

These then are my thoughts on the Olympics so far.  I salute the Chinese team and congratulate them on their victory so far.  But stay focused, China, and keep striving for excellence.  We are close behind and do not give up easily :-)

Sources and more information

  • As usual, most of my facts and figures come from Wikipedia.  The usual disclaimers from using a publicly editable data source apply.
  • The gold medal image comes from the Guardian; the picture of Ye Shiwen and the US football team comes from the Telegraph. Both are British newspapers
  • Finally, I want to recommend an excellent article, also in the Guardian.  Written by a British swimming coach who was hired by China to come be a coach within their swimming program, it gives a very insightful inside view into China’s investment in athletic excellence.  You can find it here:
    Chinese athletes at these Olympics train harder than anyone in the world

Historical Kunming Part 3: Chinese dynasties

So…  my intent for this week’s post on the history of Kunming was to talk about the dawn of Kunming: the start of its transformation from one of a group of Bronze Age villages on the shores of Lake Dian into a genuine city, the capital of a rebel general cut off from his homeland.

But as I got deeper and deeper into this story, it became more and more clear that I was telling a story with no anchors, cast adrift in a series of names and places, kingdoms and dynasties, that would mean nothing to someone who had not already studied at least some Chinese history.   So before I tell the story of the dawn of Kunming, I would like to give you the basic framework by which the Chinese themselves account their history: the tale of dynasties.

But before simply listing them out, it is worth asking: what exactly makes a dynasty anyway.  Unlike periods of British or Egyptian history (amongst others) that use the same term, a Chinese dynasty does not imply rule by a single family of rulers.  Instead, it is related to a uniquely Chinese concept:  天命  (Tiānmìng), referred to in English as The Mandate of Heaven.  So what exactly is The Mandate of Heaven?  How does it work?

When we are taught western history, we learn that the medieval basis for royal legitimacy was founded on a notion called the Divine Right of Kings.  This asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm.  Over time, and influenced by the downfall of a number of tyrants in bloody civil wars, a new basis for legitimacy emerged in the west: the consent of the governed. (Most notably espoused by John Locke in his Two Treatises of Government).

The Mandate of Heaven is far older than either of the western bases for political legitimacy, and incorporates elements of both.  Similar to the Divine Right of Kings, the Mandate of Heaven asserts that heaven (天 – Tiān) blesses the authority of a just ruler, and gives to him the authority to govern.     But in other ways, the Mandate of Heaven more closely resembles Locke: If a ruler becomes despotic or tyrannical, Heaven withdraws its mandate and that ruler is overthrown.  Therefore, the successful overthrow of a ruler is viewed as an indication that the ruler has lost the Mandate of Heaven, and provides a ready (if post-hoc) justification for people to rise up against a ruler who treats his subjects poorly.

A Chinese dynasty, then, is a period of time in which the Mandate of Heaven was successfully held by a single group, clan, or in two cases, foreign powers.  I have made below a list of the generally acknowledged ones, with one key disclaimer:  The changeover from one dynasty to another was never a planned, orderly thing, and usually happened over a period of several years or even decades.  Thus, you are guaranteed to find disagreement about almost every one of the dates I give here. I make no claim that the ones I give here are authoritative or even a prevailing view, but they do give a good basic idea of when these things happened.

So with no further ado, here for your reference is a mildly annotated list of the main Chinese dynasties.  As the purpose of this timeline is to give context rather than comprehensive taxonomy, there are other smaller dynasties between these that I have omitted.

Dynasty

Started

Ended

Notes
Xia

2070 BC

1600 BC

Since its beginnings predate the establishment of written history in China, the Xia dynasty’s origins can only be speculated at from archaeological findings, and from Shang dynasty records.
Shang

1600 BC

1029 BC

Began when Cheng Tang overthrew the last Xia ruler, Jie, at the Battle of Mingtao.
Zhou

1029 BC

476 BC

Divided into Eastern and Western dynasties, the traditional form of Chinese writing first appeared during this period.
Warring States Period

475 BC

221 BC

A period of civil war, in which no one group held the Mandate of Heaven.  The famous military treatise by General Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, was written during this period.
Qin

221 BC

206 BC

Despite being short (only 2 rulers), the Qin dynasty had a profound impact on Chinese history.  The Qin is the first Imperial dynasty; its founder Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of China, and also started the building of the Great Wall.
Han

206 BC

220

Considered to be a golden age of Chinese civilization.  The main ethnic majority in China still call themselves Han, and the Chinese written language is still called Han Characters.
Six Dynasties Period

220

589

Another period of civil war between dynasties. The great Chinese literary classic, The Three Kingdoms, was written about this period.  Due to the pervasive influence of this Ming-era romantic novel, there are many books, movies, poems, and other works of art set during this period.
Sui

581

618

Like the Qin dynasty, Sui rule was ruthless and tyrannical, and in similar fashion it quickly lost the Mandate of Heaven.
Tang

618

907

Another golden age of culture and learning.  The system of imperial examinations for government positions, largely in place to this day, was established at this time.
Song

960

1279

This period was marked by significant advances in both gunpowder and rice cultivation, but not enough so to withstand the invading Mongols.
Yuan (Mongolian)

1279

1368

China was conquered by Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan. But despite their military prowess, the Mongolians were largely assimilated by Chinese culture and civilization.  Marco Polo’s sojourn in China happens during this time.
Ming

1368

1644

Chu Yuan-chang removed the Mongols from the throne, undertook great infrastructure projects, and started projecting Chinese power abroad.  The Great Wall reached its current form, and the Treasure Fleet made contact with European colonial powers.
Qing (Manchurian)

1644

1912

Ming generals invite the Manchurians into China to help end a civil war; after doing so, they take China for themselves and rule for almost 300 years.  But as with the Mongols, the Manchurians quickly assimilated Chinese culture, and the basic form of local  government and civil service was as in earlier dynasties.
Republic of China

1912

1949

Though not a monarchy, the Republic is held by many to be a dynasty in that it enjoyed the Mandate of Heaven for longer that either the Qin or Sui dynasties.
People’s Republic of China

1949

Present

As with many dynasties before it, the Republic collapsed through corruption and misrule, and the Mandate of Heaven passed to its current holders, the Chinese Communist Party.

Sources: Most of this comes from memory; the dates are from Wikipedia.

Food of Yunnan 2: 宜良烤鴨 – Yiliang Roast Duck

Under the old British Colonial system for spelling Chinese words with roman characters, called the Wade-Giles system, the capital of China,  北京  (literally “northern capital”) was called Peking.  In 1958 the Chinese government published their own official romanization scheme, called Pinyin.  In Pinyin,  北京  romanizes to Beijing, and after the US normalized relations with China in 1979, Pinyin became the international standard and English publications around the world started calling the Chinese capital Beijing instead of Peking.

But though the capital is now referred to universally as Beijing, the old usage of Peking still survives in a few places.  One is in the name of China’s top university, which is still referred to as Peking University – don’t ask why; a good friend of the family got her degree there and even she doesn’t know.  Another such linguistic remnant is that culinary marvel: Peking Duck.  Most of you will at some point have eaten or at least heard of it: a whole duck, slow-roasted for over 24 hours in a special oven through a special and involved process (see the Wikipedia article), served with thin pancakes, green onions, and hoisin sauce.

Peking duck has been around a long time – the first known mention of it was in a cookbook published in the year 1330.  And in 1901, during the closing years of the Qing dynasty, a Yunnanese restauranteur named Zhang Wen went to Beijing to study cookery there, most notably the art of preparing Peking Duck.  When he returned to his home town of Yiliang, he opened a restaurant called Zhibin Garden at the local train station.  But restauranteur Zhang was not content to merely reproduce the Beijing Duck of the capital; he wanted to localize it and make it something unique to the region.

Zhang used a mud oven instead of a brick oven, honey instead of malt syrup for the glaze, and most distinctively pine branches and needles instead of the Gaoliang hardwood normally used for Peking duck.  The end result is now called Yiliang Duck and has become a Yunnanese speciality.  One I certainly intend to try when we arrive.

Sources:

History of Yiliang Duck: China Daily and welcomechinese.com
Photos: Yunnan Tourism Administration and the Ming’s Footprints travel blog

 

Meeting the team!

Well, the project has become that much more real.  This week, I got the chance to meet the other members of my China deployment team, otherwise known as Team China 18, for the first time.  It was strange — from everything I heard and read about the IBM Corporate Service Corps, I went into this teleconference already expecting everyone to be articulate, passionate, and as excited about this endeavor as I am.  But knowing it and feeling it first hand, even over the phone, are entirely different, and I have to say I was really impressed by the people I will soon be working with.

As our first group assignment, we had put together slide pack to introduce ourselves, both to our prospective clients and to one another.  To share this slide pack with you, I have created a permanent page on the blog — see About Team China 18 in the menu bar above.  Head on over and meet the team!  You’ll be hearing a lot more about them, and with any luck you may be hearing from them directly, in the weeks and months to come.

A hint of what lies ahead… #teamchina18

Yesterday we received the first indication of what challenges lie ahead.  Digital Opportunity Trust, our NGO facilitator, sent us the following little tidbit of information

The following table presents several options for continued high impact CSC program opportunities in China building on the past successful CSC Program implementations of DOT with IBM in China during 2009 – 2011. The final scope of work will be decided upon discussion with local partners and stakeholders.

Supporting Local Industrial Cluster Development Helping local Hi-Tech industry cluster in guiding local private economy, especially SMEs engaged in ICT, service outsourcing, bio-tech and modern processing/manufacturing to move toward a good and healthy development Local Hi-Tech Industrial Parks
SMEs Transformation and Innovation Helping local government in building a smarter strategy in upgrading competitiveness and international business cooperation. Using IT technology in creating a worldwide network Local commercial bureau
Supporting Local NGO/Industrial Ass. Development Supporting Youth/Women  entrepreneurs development Youth League/Woman entrepreneurs association, etc.
Community Service Interacting with rural schools by involving IBM China’s ODC programs Education Organization, selecting 1-2 rural high schools

Many of you reading this are not familiar with what I do on a day-to-day basis, and might well read this and and think to yourself, “That doesn’t actually tell me anything about what he will actually be doing!”.

Some of you, however, have a deep working knowledge of my profession, in many cases greater than my own, while others of you will be colleagues who actually work with me on a day-to-day basis.  You will greet the above table with a knowing smile, and say to yourself, “That doesn’t actually tell me anything about what he will actually be doing!”.

Rest assured, this lack of specificity is not lost on me.  I’m certain this is because the DOT are still working with the targeted organizations to finalize the scope of our engagement, and are probably just now figuring out the team assignments.  In truth it makes sense for them to wait until these tasks are complete to share such details with us.

But that doesn’t make the waiting any easier :-)

First conference call with our team members is Thursday; am really looking forward to meeting them.

 

Ashima, a folktale from the Yi people of Yunnan

The Stone Forest, Yunnan Province

In the heart of the Stone Forest, a remarkable limestone formation about 60 kilometers from Kunming, is a very special stone called the Ashima stone.  Legend has it that this stone was once a beautiful woman named Ashima, which literally translates as “more precious than gold”.  How did she become a stone in the Stone Forest?

Ashima

China’s first color movie

There is a long epic poem that tells the story.  It is hundreds of years old, but was first written down in 1813. The legend of Ashima figures into local marriage customs, and was the subject of the first color movie made in China, in 1964.  The best English synopsis I was able to find comes from the University of San Francisco; it reads as follows:

 

 

Once upon a time, a girl was born in a poor Yi family. Yi people were one of 56 of the nationalities in China. The parents hoped the girl would be as beautiful as flowers and as shiny as gold. They named her Ashima.

When Ashima grew up, she was very beautiful. Many young Chinese men were attracted by her singing and dancing. But Ashima was in love with Ahei, who was a brave and wise young man. They were engaged to each other at one of the torch festivals for Yi people.

One day, when Ashima was on the market, she met the son (Azhi) of the village leader. Azhi thought Ashima was very pretty. He wanted Ashima to marry him instead of Ahei. Azhi was very rich, and Ahei was very poor. Still, Ashima loved only Ahei and wanted to marry him.

When the fall came, Ahei had to leave the village to work in the field. When he was gone, Azhi kidnapped Ashima and forced her to marry him. Ashima cried and insisted she loved only Ahei. This made Azhi very angry. He whipped Ashima until her whole body hurt. Still, Ashima believed Ahei would come to rescue her.

When Ahei heard about Ashima’s kidnapping, he rode his horse home without delay. When he got to Azhi’s door, Azhi would not let him in to see Ashima. Then, Azhi proposed a song contest with Ahei. The contest lasted for three days and three nights. Ahei won the contest, and Azhi had to open the door for him.

After the contest, Azhi asked Ahei to stay overnight in his house. He promised to let Azhi leave the next morning and take Ashima with him. However, it was a trick. During the night, Azhi unleashed three tigers to kill Ahei. But Ahei was ready for the attack, and killed the three tigers with three arrows. The next morning, when Azhi found all the dead tigers, he allowed Ashima and Ahei to leave together.

But Azhi did not give up. He wanted to kill Ashima since he could not keep her. When Ashima and Ahei were playing by a river, Azhi used his power to flood the river. Ashima was drowned. Ahei could not find her. He kept calling Ashima’s name, but he heard only his echo.

Ashima was turned into the river stones. Later, whenever Ahei missed Ashima, he would face the stones and call out Ashima’s name and talk to her. He always heard the echo of a response. In this way, Ahei lived with his beloved Ashima forever.

I am very much looking forward to visiting Ashima when we go to Kunming.  Who knows; maybe she will talk to us.

Photos from Wikipedia and china.org.cn

The Kunming Wolfdog

One of the group activities for Team China 18 this month is putting together an introduction pack for DOT to use in introducing our team to the communities we will be working with.  Each of us are supposed to provide a mix of professional and personal details about our lives that will help people to know us better.

In these slides, several of my colleagues have indicated a fondness for dogs; this got me wondering if there were any notable breeds of dog from Kunming.  And sure enough there is one.   So Brett and Renata, I give to you the Kunming Wolfdog.

The Kunming Wolfdog

The breed was started in the 1950’s in response to the need for a common standard of dog for China’s military and police corps.  In 1988 it was recognized internationally as a distinct breed.  The main antecedents are German Shepherds and a group of wolf-dog crossbreeds developed in Beijing, but there were also a number of house dogs of indistinct breed in the initial breeding pool; detailed pedigrees were not kept.

Physically, they strongly resemble German Shepherds, but their wolf heritage is evident in the taller rear haunches and in how they carry their tail.  They are a very active breed, and require significant exercise every day to stay healthy and happy.  The breeding guides all say that they require at least one long walk every day.

They are primarily working dogs and seldom kept as pets, though this may be changing over time.  But even though they are mainly working dogs, the breed is quite popular.  There is an annual dog show in Kunming every October that features the breed.  The 2011 show was held on October 15, so it is not impossible that we will be there at the right time.

The 2011 Kunming Dog Show

So there you have it.  The Kunming Wolfdog.  I shall keep my eyes posted during my visit for a glimpse of this very handsome looking hound.

Food of Yunnan 1: 过桥米线 – Crossing The Bridge Rice Noodles (guòqiáo mĭxiàn)

Amongst his observations of Yunnan and Kunming, Marco Polo noted that the people there were particularly fond of raw meat.  Like most people, I tend to associate raw fish with Japanese sushi and raw beef with Italian carpaccio or east European steak tartare.  Uncooked meat is frequently brought to the table in China, but only to be cooked there by the diners themselves; not once in all my visits to China have I encountered a dish in which meat is eaten raw.

Is the eating of raw meant something unique to Yunnan then?  Or have people simply outgrown their taste for it?  It has been over 700 years, after all.

Armed with curiosity, I resolved that I would spend the next part of my life dedicated to a deep, thorough, and comprehensive study of Yunnanese cuisine.  In other words, I googled around for about half an hour looking at some web pages. And while I didn’t find any dishes that resembled those described by Marco Polo, I did find many delightful things to share with you.

So without further ado, I give to you that most iconic of Yunnanese delights, Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles, or 过桥米线 (guòqiáo mĭxiàn).

Most people seem to agree that the recipe for Crossing The Bridge Rice Noodles is somewhere between one and two hundred years old.  There is not nearly so much agreement on how it got its name, I found the most fully realized telling of the most common story on a food adventure blog published by a couple in Vancouver called Chowtimes, which I have reproduced below.  They in turn appear to have gotten it from a sign posted on the side of a food stall in Yunnan itself.  Like many Chinese translations the prose is quirky, and calls out the many grammatical differences between their language and ours.  But unlike many Chinese translations, I find that this passage loses none of its ability to communicate a sense of wonder and delight…

Cross Bridge Rice Noodle is a special dish of Yunnan. It is originated during the Qianlong period, nearly 200 years ago. There is a popular legend regarding its origins.

It is said that a scholar in Mengzi, who was preparing for the Imperial examination, went to an island in the Na Lake everyday to study. His wife went across the bride to the island to bring his meal to him. Owing to the long distance, he had to eat the meal cold everyday.

Accidentally, his wife discovered that a greasy chicken soup is not easy to get cold. What’s more, fresh ingredients, such as seasonal vegetable, fresh meat and so on, can become edible by putting them into this kind of boiled soup.

From then on, the scholar could have a delicious and hot meal everyday. Because his wife went across the bridge everyday, the rice noodle made this way was named as Cross Bridge Rice Noodle.

By now, the Cross Bridge Rice Noodle has a distinct development. The most important factor in this noodle is the soup. It was made with natural hen, pig bone and ham. It needs to be boiled for over 6 hours until the soup become savory and the oil from these are distilled.

The next thing worth mentioning is the ingredients. There are two kinds of rice noodles. The proper kind is the slim one, which is good at keeping the flavour of the valuable soup. The ingredients can be divided into two categories: vegetable and meat. The vegetable used are dependent on what is in season. The meat is focus on slice. The thinner the better, so the slice meat is one of the characteristics of the Cross Bridge Noodle.

Last but not least, the process of eating is special. The right orders are as follows: firstly, put the meat slice in the soup, then the vegetable, the last one rice noodle. Minutes later, a hot colorful and delicious Cross-Bridge Rice Noodle is ready.

So there, in authentic Chinese English, is the story of Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles.  As you can see in the above photo, the final dish is built at the table by the diners themselves.  That is probably the thing I enjoy most about Chinese food in general; more than any other cuisine I know of, the eating of Chinese food is designed to be a social activity, shared with family, friends, and colleagues.  I cannot wait to come to Kunming and try it with my team.

Historical Kunming Part 1: Kunming and Yunnan as seen through the eyes of Marco Polo

Most places in the world are steeped in history, and that history often defines the culture of its inhabitants.  Nowhere is this more true than China, and the canonical history of civilization that we receive as  westerners is almost completely silent about one of civilization’s most dominant cultures, a heritage that far outdates ours in enlightenment and sophistication.  Every western traveler to China I have ever spoken with (myself included) is at some point daunted by a sense of how much of the story we have missed.

To ensure that my team and I miss slightly less of the story this time, I will be trying to learn a little of the history of Kunming, and of Yunnan province.  And as an interloping westerner, it seems fitting that I start with the story of the most famous interloping westerner of all, Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant who in 1272 at age 17, went with his father and uncle on what was supposed to be a 2-3 year trade mission to China.  He ended up serving in the court of Kublai Khan, and stayed in the Mongol dynasty for almost 20 years.  His eventual return was badly timed; he arrived in the midst of a civil war in 1292 and was imprisoned for a further seven years.  His loss was our gain; having nothing better to do, he narrated the story of his travels to a fellow prisoner, a French romance author named Rustichello.  Upon their release in 1299, Rustichello published those narratives, and while the original manuscript is lost, various translations of the original survive to this day.

In Renaissance Italy it was considered right and proper to boast of one’s accomplishments; failing to do so was interpreted as a sign of weakness and subservience.  And while Marco Polo himself is portrayed to be a man of utter pragmatism, Rustichello was a romance writer by trade and unabashedly used the tools of his trade to their greatest effect when telling the tale of Marco’s travels.  For both of these reasons, the truth of some of the stories in this book must be taken with a healthy degree of skepticism. There can be no doubt that Marco and his father and uncle did go the places they claimed to have gone; their accounts of these places and the events that took place during their visit rings true with contemporary Chinese accounts of the same events.  On the other hand, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the central role in these events or the high position in the Mongol court that Marco assigns to himself.  In fact there is almost no mention of Polo’s twenty-year sojourn at all in Chinese historical records, only the scantiest hints of indirect evidence.  Certainly a foreigner so highly placed as Polo claimed to be would not have escaped the notice of otherwise inexorable Chinese scholars.

Where Polo’s account really shines though, is in his descriptions of the places and people he visits.  Unlike his biographer Rustichello, there is not the slightest flight of fancy in his worldview.  He notices those things that a merchant would deem important.  What items of value a region produces. Which roads are safe.  The abundance (or lack) of grain or livestock.  The quality of their horses.  Their religion and system of government.   And above all, health and temperament of the people.

So here then with equal mix of fascination and skepticism, is Polo’s account of Yunnan and Kunming, as he encountered them in around in the year 1282 AD.

On the farther side of the river Brius  lies Kara-jang, a province of such size and wealth that it contains no less than seven kingdoms (Kara-jang was the Turkish name for Yunnan, and Brius for the Kin-sha-kiang, one of the sources of the Yangtze).  It lies towards the west; its king is the Great Khan’s son, whose name is Essen-Temur, a very great king and rich and powerful.  He rules his land well and justly, for he is a wise and upright man.

After leaving the river, the traveller continues westwards for five days, through a country with numerous cities and towns which breeds excellent horses.  The people live by rearing animals and tilling the soil.  They speak a language of their own, which is very difficult to understand.  At the end of the five days one reaches the capital of the kingdom, which is called Yachi (Kunming), a large and splendid city.  Here there are traders and craftsmen in plenty.  The inhabitants are of several sorts: there are some who worship Mahomet (this is how Polo refers to Moslems), idolaters (Buddhists), and a few Nestorian Christians.  Both wheat and rice are plentiful; but wheat bread is not eaten here because in this province it is unwholesome.  The natives eat rice, and also make it into a drink with spices, which is very fine and clear and makes a man drunk like wine.

For money they use white cowries, the sea-shells that we use to make necklaces for dogs:  80 cowries are equivalent to 1 saggio of silver, which is worth 2 Venetian groats, and 8 saggi of fine silver may be taken to equal 1 of fine gold.  They also have brine wells, from which they make salt that is used for food by all the inhabitants of the country.  And I assure you that the king derives great profit from this salt.  The men here do not mind if one touches another’s wife, so long as it is with her consent.

Before leaving this kingdom let me tell you something which I had forgotten.  There is a lake here, some 100 miles in circumference, in which there is a vast quantity of fish, the best in the world.  They are of great size and of all kinds.  The natives eat flesh raw — poultry, mutton, beef, and buffalo meat  The poorer sort go to the shambles and take the raw liver as soon as it is drawn from the beasts; they then chop it small, put it in garlic sauce, and eat it there and then.  And they do likewise with every other kind of flesh.  The gentry also eat their meat raw; but they have it minced very small, put in garlic sauce flavored with spices and then eat it as readily as we eat cooked meat.

Let me tell you further that this province produces a sturdy breed of horses, which are exported when young for sale in India.  And you must know that it is the custom to remove two or three joints of the tail-bone, so that the horse cannot flick the rider with its tail or swish it when galloping; for it is reckoned unsightly for a horse to gallop with swishing tail. The horsemen here ride with long stirrups after the French fashion. Long, that is, in contrast to the short stirrups favored by the Tartars and most other races who go in for archery, since they use their stirrups for standing upright when they shoot.

So there it is,  an excerpt from the first notes of Kunming made by a western visitor to China.  To go deeper into Kunming’s history, we need to do what we as historians should have done from the start: listen to the Chinese themselves.  Next week, I shall attempt to do just so.

Meet the Digital Opportunity Trust

The job of facilitating the deployment of the IBM Corporate Service Corps each year is a daunting one.  Apart from the selection process, which I’ve already described, there are other major undertakings required to pull this off, such as

  • Training.  Many of the CSC participants do not have extensive world travel experience.  And while most of us have done some volunteer work on our own, community support is quite different from global development work.  So prior to our deployment we need to be trained and briefed on what to expect, how to behave, and on what will be asked of us.
  • Logistics.  Moving hundreds of people around the globe to a precise schedule is a non-trivial task.  Securing housing and living arrangements, dealing with visas and cross-country reporting and compliance rules are likewise significant tasks.
  • Local facilitation.  Once we arrive, we will be largely reliant on local support and knowledge for our day-to-day existence, for such basics as where to eat, laundry, medical care as needed, and also cultural guidance on the best way to engage with the people we are helping.
  • Most important of all, we are dependent on local service expertise to contact and build bridges with the communities and organizations we will be helping.

To help will all of these tasks, IBM works with a small number of NGO’s (non-government organizations) who specialize in programs like this.  The Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), is one of the main NGO’s that IBM works with, and will be the facilitator for Team China 18’s deployment in Kunming.  To help ensure that I am successful in working with them, I went and did a little research on DOT.  Here are some of the things I found out…

  • DOT is based in Canada and was launched in 2002.
  • They are a major player. In addition to working with IBM, they help a number of other major enterprises with programs very similar to the Corporate Service Corps.  Some of their other clients include Cisco, Mastercard, and USAID.  They also work with Americorps, a domestic service organization in the USA, modeled on the Peace Corps.
  • As well as China, DOT have programs running in Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, UAE, and Turkey.
  • Facilitating corporate service is only part of what DOT does.  Their main operation is working with recent university graduates and providing the same sort of training, facilitation and logistical support to enable those students to serve internships in which they teach IT, business, and entrepreneurship skills to communities around  the world.

This is a very well-thought-out business model; I’m really impressed.  By using the revenue they earn from their corporate clients to fund internships and teaching programs, they are effectively taking the investments that IBM and similar companies are making in their own employees, and leveraging those investments across a far greater community of both teachers and students.

By combining their efforts this way, both programs are able to reach and positively impact the lives of far more people than either would do on its own.  Businesses need to evolve at an ever more rapid pace to stay competitive.  In the same fashion, service organizations need to evolve as the needs of the of the communities they support change and intensify.  This kind of integrated program design is exactly what we need.

I am really looking forward to meeting Frank, Marianne, Leslie, and the rest of the DOT China team.

Kunming!

I received the following email today…

Congratulations!!! You’ve been assigned to the China 18 Team with an expected departure date of October 12, 2012.

The in-country portion of your CSC experience will run through November 10, 2012 and you will be based in Kunming. Additional details around your assignment location and CSC client will be developed as you process through the pre work phase in the twelve weeks preceding departure. Given your departure time your team will begin pre work ~ July 20, 2012.

Please confirm your acceptance of this assignment by Monday, July 9, 2012. You will need to discuss and receive approval from your manager to be away from your regular job from October 12 – November 10, 2012.

To accept or decline this assignment pleasereply directly to me.

If you have to decline this assignment for business or personal reasons we will do our best to assign you will most likely your assignment would be in 2013. However, the team assignment process is very detailed and it is not as simple as moving you around. We balance teams based on skills, tenure, gender, geographic preference and home country.

Once we have confirmed all this team’s participants, we will communicate with the full team about next steps to get started on pre work.

I have not been to China since I did a project in Beijing for the better part of 2006.  I knew that China was one of the places that CSC worked, but could not have expected that of all the locales I would get this one.

Kunming is in the south, in Yunnan province, nestled near the borders of Vietnam and Myanmar.  Yunnan is reputed to be fantastically beautiful; the amazing Stone Forest is there.

Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that it is better to deliver bad news all at once, but good news should be delivered in small portions over time to prolong the effect.  Seems to be working on me :-)

I will start researching Kunming and share what I discover.  Talk to you soon.