Gail in China Report #2

Greetings Finite Worlders! Gail is on her 1 month lecture tour of China. She’s unable to access WordPress from China, but does have access to email, so she’s sending me updates to publish here on OFW. This is the second of her Updates to me from China.  My Byline/About appears at the bottom here, but the China Travelogue articles are authored by her and all photos are from her. We will try to keep you updated as the trip progresses. -RE

I left on March 13, and it is now March 25, so I have been traveling or in China for 12 days now. 

The short course I have been teaching is approaching its end point. I have given seven two-hour lectures to my class. Tomorrow, I will finish the last of my lectures (for 1/2 hour or so), and give a test for the rest of the period. The test will be multiple choice and short answer. The big concern I have is whether the students will know enough English to do well on the exam. One of the faculty has written translations for parts of the test, but there is still quite a lot that is not translated.
My plans for the rest of my stay here are still being finalized. I will be flying to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia on Friday, and staying through the week-end. That is about a 1.5 hour flight north-west of Beijing. One of the graduate students is from there. That is a big coal producing region, and wind energy is also produced there. The graduate student’s father is involved with wind energy.
There is also a plan that I will visit Daqing oil field with two of the professors, since that is a location that the professors are familiar with, and where they have contacts. The second trip will probably take place the following week-end (and a bit before and after), because the professors have teaching commitments during the week. In between, plans are still being finalized. One plan being discussed is an internal seminar with faculty/ grad students here; another is to try to get together with a fairly high level official that I met when I was here in 2011. I am doing other things as well. I have been helping Prof. Jiangliang Wang with a paper evaluating unconventional gas in China. (I have been a co-author on two previous papers with him.) And I am talking to graduate students about their projects, with the idea of perhaps helping them.
Prof. Feng would like to help me get my ideas together in an easy-to follow form. My lectures here have been videotaped (with me standing next to the slides), with the idea of putting the videotapes up on line, probably on OurFiniteWorld. I also have PDFs of my talk that can be put up on line, perhaps with notes added.
As I indicated previously, I am being treated very well. On Saturday morning, three graduate students and I climbed a nearby mountain overlooking a reservoir. It was not very high, and there were stairs leading to the top, so it was not too difficult.


A few comments about life here:
There are a lot of people wearing clothing with American logos on them, or with writing in English on them. Some of the writing is simply an American brand name like Adidas. I haven’t noticed any clothing at all with Chinese characters on them. In one case, I noticed a Chinese brand (361 Degrees) on a some shoes, written in American lettering.
A lot of people know at least a little English, since English has been taught in the schools for quite a few years (10?). But many of the students are not very good at spoken English, because most of their training was with respect to written English and grammar. The students have received PDFs of my presentations, so have had a chance to read them, and look up words if needed, to try to understand what is being said. Students all seem to have English-Chinese dictionaries on their phones, so that they can figure out translations.
There is no cold water served here, except bottled water (probably because of potability issues, past or present). At every meal, soup of some form is provided, free of charge. This is sometimes eaten with a spoon, and sometimes drunk from the bowl. Hot soy milk is one common from of soup, especially for breakfast. There are several other kinds of soup, including egg drop soup and various forms of thin grain porridge. At restaurants, if a beverage is ordered, it is often hot water, served in a pot (like hot water for tea, but without the tea). The graduate student office keeps thermoses of hot water, to make tea. In fact, all of the offices on campus seem to keep thermoses of hot water. These are refilled by the dining hall.
The food is quite varied here, with more vegetables (and more kinds of vegetables) served here than in the United States. Fish tends to have a lot of bones in it; meat often has a lot of bones in it (or it is ground, and in a dumpling). I am willing to try quite a few things, so I haven’t had a problem with the food.
One thing I noticed is that the campus is not very handicapped accessible. I have seen a few buildings with ramps, but most of them have lots of steps. There are elevators, but they don’t necessarily stop at every floor. If you want to go to the fourth floor, you may have to go to the fifth floor and walk down a flight of stairs. Doorways may have bars at the bottom that a person has to step over. I asked about not seeing any students in wheelchairs on campus. I was told that the bus system wasn’t set up for handicapped people (and I doubt that the dorms are set up for handicapped people), so wheelchairs are few and far between.
The Great Firewall of China blocks a lot of websites–anything Google related, WordPress and Blogspot blogs, Facebook, Twitter, the Wall Street Journal, and I am sure a fair number of other sites. Our Finite World is available to read (but not edit) in China, but I have been having difficulty accessing it, apparently because of a weak WiFi system on campus. People who are accessing the Internet using an Ethernet cable are doing much better at connecting up with Our Finite World.
I commented earlier about the heat being turned off in the buildings on March 15. After being here a few days, I think that the reason for the cut-off has to do with the inflexibility of heat from radiators (probably hot water heat, using coal to heat the hot water). We in the United States in newer housing are used to systems where temperatures are easily regulated. But when the heat is either “off” or ” on” as it seems to be with radiator heat, the problem as the season heats up is that rooms quickly get too warm when the temperature outside rises. This is especially the case when there are a lot of people in a not very large room, with the sun shining in. Even with the heat off, there are times that someone opens a window to try to get the temperature down.
Smog levels have varied a lot. Today, the pollution level was high again, making it the third day out of the twelve since I arrived with a noticeably high smog level. I am feeling some effects in my sinuses. At this time of year, there are also some trees blooming, so my problem may really be a touch of hay fever.
I keep talking about diminishing returns in my talks. As I think about the differences between China and the United States, it strikes me that in many cases the difference has to do with diminishing returns. China has chosen the inexpensive way to do things, such as serving fish with lots of bones, not doing much to accommodate the handicapped, and using radiator heat put in buildings long ago. There is a more polished way of handling these issues, but the cost of making an upgrade may not be proportional to the benefit.

About Reverse Engineer

Reverse Engineer is Admin and Chief Cook & Bottlewasher on the Doomstead Diner Blog & Forum, and hosts the Collapse Cafe Video Discussions and Podcasts, and the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant spleen venting Collapse-tainment show. Fans of George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Rick Mercer tend to like the material, Academic folks, not so much.
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163 Responses to Gail in China Report #2

  1. edpell says:

    “The Days to Come” a movie that starts with the oil war in KSA. Good so far.

    • edpell says:

      Funny movie, it appears Germany will have the most orderly apocalypse, as told by this movie.

      • kulm says:

        Germany reached within a yard of becoming the world’s top dog on 1918 with not a drop of oil.

        if anything they will reimpose the brest litovsk treaty.

        • gerryhiles says:


          Oil was nowhere near as important in 1918 and, like Britain, Germany’s industrial rise was coal-based … but oil was becoming more important and a race was on to secure ME oil fields and Germany was competing, including with the proposed Baghdad railway … amongst a complex of causes for WW1.

          What I am saying is that your argument is invalid especially because, today, Germany is as much dependent on oil (and gas) as any other industrialized country. The base for industrialism – never mind the financial system – has changed a lot since 1918.

  2. Tolstoy's Degenerate Grandson says:

    I give you the most concise summary of the current situation we are facing.

    Pass this along to anyone who is in denial and ask them how to solve this:

    HOW HIGH OIL PRICES WILL PERMANENTLY CAP ECONOMIC GROWTH For most of the last century, cheap oil powered global economic growth. But in the last decade, the price of oil has quadrupled, and that shift will permanently shackle the growth potential of the world’s economies.

    BUT WE NEED HIGH OIL PRICES The marginal cost of the 50 largest oil and gas producers globally increased to US$92/bbl in 2011, an increase of 11% y-o-y and in-line with historical average CAGR growth.

  3. Latest Responses from Gail:

    To Saibot March 25, 2015 at 8:52 am

    You are right. Adidas is a Chinese brand. It is certainly widespread here. The writing on the products is always in English, even the name of the brand.

    To Chris Johnson March 28, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for your observations. Inner Mongolia was definitely very dry and windy, with temperatures that are reported to range from hot to cold. There is sand that will blow away, if there isn’t some kind of ground cover–the source of sand storms in Beijing, I believe.

    When I gave the students their final exam, one of the short answer questions I asked was about whether the world economy would be bigger or smaller in 2030 than 2015. The vast majority said it would be larger. Even if they sort of understood the situation we are in, the would say things like, “We are in the Stagflation period now, but the economy will continue to grow past 2030,” or “The developing economies including China will continue to grow between now and 2030, even as some Western countries reduce their growth.” There was a very strong optimism bias.

    To Rodster March 28, 2015 at 6:05 pm
    I came very close to saying exactly what you are saying in my lectures. A country has to be the low cost producers. China is increasingly not the low cost producer. That is not a good situation, with lots of debt outstanding.

    To Glenn Stehle March 29, 2015 at 8:13 am

    You are right. Safe havens are going to be difficult to find, as we hit limits of several kinds simultaneously, particularly financial limits.

    To richard March 28, 2015 at 7:59 am

    You are right. If economic growth comes from true investment, it is hard to justify adding debt to pay dividends and buy back stock.

    To edpell March 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    How do you expect democracy to break out in Yemen if they have lost their oil exports? Look at my earlier graphs showing the peak and decline of Yemen’s oil supply. Water supplies are also depleted, and the population has grown. These issues are behind much of their problems.

    To VPK March 26, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Unfortunately, I cannot read Wall Street Journal articles here. in fact, with the level of internet connectivity, I am having trouble with other articles too. I will have to wait until I get back, or look at quotes people send me. I have been reading Tom Whipple’s daily news summary, so I get the first paragraph or so from a variety of new stories. Thanks the the many folks who have been sending me articles of interest!

    To Stefeun March 27, 2015 at 11:21 am
    I agree that all kinds of investment, including so-called renewables require massive investment of energy. The only way we “know” the energy payback of this investment is through long term models and calculations using fairly narrow boundaries regarding the amount of energy used. It is extremely easily for researchers to mislead themselves–not see that they are using “renewables” to ramp up demand for coal and natural gas. A payback, if it exists at all, will be after many years.

    To worldofhanuman March 27, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    The slowdown is not entirely obvious. Students are worried about job opportunities, but there are still a lot of construction cranes operating. On the other hand, when we drove to the Ordos, Inner Mongolia airport, we traveled on a beautiful four-lane highway for many miles, without seeing another vehicle. The Ordos airports was also quite empty, and there were many spaces intended for stores selling souvenirs that were not rented. Ordos is in an area where planners had thought that coal production would greatly increase traffic, but instead it has shrunk back from its high point. I will be seeing more information regarding the economy before I leave.

    To Bob Titley March 27, 2015 at 6:10 pm
    So far, the evidence seems to be that China is following the model of the West. Everyone reads the same journals. Young people are being taught English, even though it is very difficult for them. The change toward two-child families is following the West, to some extent.

    On the other hand, I met with people at an economic institute –I am not sure of the exact name. They seemed to be very interested in the lecture I gave there. They seemed to be interested in the possibility that old economic models would no longer work.

    To Stefeun March 28, 2015 at 5:11 am

    We definitely do have an unsolvable dilemma. Increasing illness, murder, and other harms helps the population problem. Not something nice to think about.

    • yt75 says:

      no Adidas is a German brand Gail 🙂 (and a very old one), and it was owned by Bernard Tapia (French) for quite some time until a few years ago

      • yt75 says:

        note : Tapie not Tapia(damned phone auto correct) , and this Tapie/Adidas story linked to a big money affair (C Lagarde also involved)

  4. Iceland is bit of an outcast by TPTB but somebody had to be first to jump the ship (or serve as the initiator if this is somehow planned global kick off event), for one thing it will create wider discussion and spread the basic information how money-debt is created from nothing inside the commerical bank system a key process, which still many people refuse to even look into and acknowledge.

    Seeking alternatives to fractional reserve system by rulling party in the western world, you say crazy?
    It seems we are getting near the phase shift, hopefully shouldn’t take more than next 1-2decades. The official pdf document is linked inside the Telegraph article as well..

    “Iceland’s government is considering a revolutionary monetary proposal – removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank.

    The proposal, which would be a turnaround in the history of modern finance, was part of a report written by a lawmaker from the ruling centrist Progress Party, Frosti Sigurjonsson, entitled “A better monetary system for Iceland”.

    “The findings will be an important contribution to the upcoming discussion, here and elsewhere, on money creation and monetary policy,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said. ”

    • edpell says:

      WorldOf, we do remember this is the system required in the U.S. constitution? Though lost in the 1913 coup.

    • kulm says:

      then it will be time for denmark to reannex Iceland.

      It was made independent by America on 1943 when Nazis occupied Denmark.

      72 years too late but Iceland will be returned to Denmark if the islanders act too uppity.

  5. Tolstoy's Degenerate Grandson says:

    This is what the beginning of collapsed economy looks like.

    Of course most will say ‘but that can never happen here’

    I bet you Yemenis said the same thing a few years ago.

    Of course it can.

    When the global economy collapses there will be no energy available. There will be little in the way of food or clean water available. There will be no jobs. Money will be worthless.

    Collapse will look far worse than this and it will be global. Don’t expect aid agencies to help. Don’t expect the police to protect you

    Man is a vicious beast. In the west the beast has been tamed because we have pillaged the rest of the world and kept the beast fed and for the most part sated.

    Take away the bone and we will be no different than the people of Yemen, or Libya, or Somalia or any other failed state. We will, each and every one of us, try to survive. By any means possible.

    Get ready to go back into the jungle. Are you ready for this?

    Via Al Jazeera:

    UN rights chief has said that Yemen is “on the verge of total collapse” as Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb Houthi positions.

    “The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Tuesday.

    “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse”.

    Aid groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding with air and sea blockades making it impossible to send desperately needed assistance as casualties mount.

    The UN children’s fund said that at least 62 children had been killed and 30 injured during the fighting over the past week…

    But the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said it does not intend to kill civilians even though the Houthis had moved fighters into villages.

    “Collateral damage can happen… but I confirm to you that the coalition takes all care,” said Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri.

    On Tuesday, air strikes targeted two Houthi-held camps and Guard soldiers in the southern town of Daleh, a Guard airbase in the southwestern city of Taez and the Houthi stronghold of Dhammar, south of Sanaa.

    On the ground, deadly clashes have broken out between the rebels and tribes, militiamen and residents who oppose their power grab, the AFP news agency reported.

    Yemeni military officials said Houthi rebels have taken up positions overlooking the strategic Gulf of Aden, raising the risk they could threaten the global shipping route with heavy weapons, the AP news agency reported.

    • Sorry, that’s not comparable in the same time-space.
      Yes, the west/north will get more sclerotic, less wealthy and healthy, more dangerous, relatively soon. However and for one thing, there is also tremendous path dependancy and intertia from the centuries of pre/industrial age, which will be utilized for several decades and centuries during the descent, the knowledge, materials, all will be cannibalized step by step. I’m not counting punctuation events like uprisings, revolutions and wars along the way. But that’s not the ultimate stage of collapse.

      On the other hand Yemen did not have much of that to begin with.

      • edpell says:

        Yes. Gail is fond of the Leonardo Sticks. When it comes to Yemen they are more like a small pile of sticks flat on the ground disconnected from the big dome. No one will miss them when they are gone. Yes, lack of small oil export from Yemen is a straw added to the back of the first world but only a small straw.

      • Tolstoy's Degenerate Grandson says:

        I do not agree with that.

        Think back to Lehman 2008. If the central banks did not step in to back the global financial system the world would have been ‘Yemen’ in literally a few weeks. In fact the world would have been far worse than Yemen because the global economy and civilization would have collapsed.

        And there would be no putting Humpty back together again.

        When the next iteration of this hits, central banks will be powerless.

        When you live in a globalized world, and a key pillar snaps, the sticks most definitely do fall down very very quickly:

    • edpell says:

      KSA kills a few hundred civilians and everyone bitches, the U.S. kills hundreds of thousands of civilians and no one says boo. I see the U.S. navy is helping with the killing by naval bombardment. America spreading Sunni Islam of the Hanbali school.

  6. Daniel Hood says:

    Hi all, both Egypt and now Israel have joined AIIB

    Seems Rome is coming apart at the seems quicker than imagined.

    • Daniel Hood says:

      Happy Spring, Passover, Easter if that’s your thing!

    • edpell says:

      Egypt has no spare capital and they are no in Asia. Why are they joining? Just to thumb nose at U.S.?

    • Creedon says:

      As peakers, we seem to have one purpose, which is to spread depressing news that no one wants to hear. For China and Asia to emerge as a world power to replace U.S. hegemony would require them to make a lot of headway against the headwinds of thermodynamics. World energy will continue to decrease and so will world economic activity. It is very obvious really, the list of failed states continues to grow, Ukraine, Greece, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, Libya. How soon will it be till it includes all of Europe. China attempting to replicate U.S. hegemony is highly questionable at best. The real future is one no one wants to face and to put it mildly is quite depressing. The need is for people to face a deindustrialized future. The people have spoken; we will not do that.

  7. Tolstoy's Degenerate Grandson says:

    Re-reading an old post and I think Gail needs to tip her hat and receive a standing ovation for this rather prescient analysis:

  8. kulm says:

    All the richer chinese cannot stand china themselves so they have second homes (and often second or more families) in usa and canada.

    virtually who is somebody in china has a kid (and more or not the only kid) studying in north America.

    • Please don’t mix up emigration/relocation/pirate retreat on purpose with a mere and natural strategy of diversification. Very simply all the ~200K of world billionairs are diversified across contintents, asset classes, and even passports etc. It’s how the world works, no surprise there.

      Sorry, the very top elite offspring is not studying ONLY in the US (perhaps with the exception of some special medical fields), they usually have wide spectrum of schooling behind them including world’s top institutions inside CH, FR, DE ..

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