Monday, February 28, 2011

Forget it. It's New Zealand Town.

There were several times in New Zealand where I felt like I was literally in an episode of "Flight of the Conchords." The first was shortly after arrival, when, after sleeping a few hours in the Christchurch airport I went into town and got on a bus that took me across the south island to Te Anau (tee-AHnoo). Throughout the trip, the bus driver took it upon himself to give us a running commentary on the places we passed, but these places weren't interesting at all. As we were leaving Christchurch: "and this intersection used to be a bit tricky, but Councilman Gary," as if we all knew Gary, "got it turned into a roundabout last year." Or, as we drove through Timaru: "The Timaru candle factory closed down a while back, but primary school students still come through here quite often to see the old works, and learn how candles are made..." And this was not a tour bus, mind you, but New Zealand's equivalent of Greyhound.

The bus driving scene starts at 2:38, but this is all pretty funny

In many ways, New Zealand is the opposite of China. If China at the forefront of what is happening in the world, New Zealand feels like edge of the world. Australians like to think of New Zealand as a backwater, and to a certain extent they're right; I mean, this is a place that didn't get color television until 1973. The local newspapers are all a bit simple, and many places marked on the map are little more than a smattering of houses between the road and the "bush."

New Zealand's chief attraction

But none of that really matters, because New Zealand is the most ridiculously scenic place in the world, and it's all packed into two easily navigable islands. In this sense, it reminded me of a much, much larger version of Taiwan, just more expensive and everybody speaks English. If you like the outdoors, it's like a playground. There are well maintained trails and backcountry huts everywhere. You could, and many people do, spend months rather than the three weeks I spent there. It's all so easy and fun that it lead to pretty much the only problem I had with the place: it's crawling with tourists, and besides the reception at your hostel or the people working the Department of Conservation visitor centers, I actually met very few Kiwis until later in the trip, when I figured out how to get away from the crowds.

Another of New Zealand's damn flightless birds

Part of the problem on this account was that I spent most of my time doing, and getting to and from, three different "Great Walks," which are a set of very well maintained trekking trails. As the premier hiking trails, they get all the tourist traffic, and need to be booked in advance. I did the Kepler, Routeburn and Abel Tasman Tracks, and all were pretty damn amazing.

Atop the Kepler Track

Camping on the Routeburn Track

From my campsite on the Abel Tasman Track

Once you get off these main tracks, however, the trails become a bit rougher, but equally scenic. On one of these trails, I had to wade through a bog then climb a small stream bed straight up the side of a mountain, guided only by little orange arrows nailed to trees. Once I just stopped trying to keep my feet dry, it went fine.

I can see the trail, can you?

On my last day in New Zealand, I took a train down the east coast of the south island, from Picton, where the ferry leaves to the North Island, back to Christchurch. And I finally met all the people who travel around New Zealand without doing any of the hiking, climbing or surfing; in other words, all of the Americans and even more Germans. I guess it would be a pretty nice place to visit like that, but you'd still be missing out. The cities have little to offer compared to the backcountry.

Being happy in New Zealand

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

HSCCWRT Podcast Episode 3: Goodbye, Cruel World!

Eight months in production and one month in editing, the wait is finally over! We are pleased to bring you the newest episode of the How to Succeed in Communist China podcast!

Wherein: Durrell and Ben hit the Beijing gay nightclub scene; Durrell describes his favorite merkins; we deface the American flag; Ben leaves China; and Durrell gets deported for putting melamine in cheap popsicles. Or does he? Listen to the show to find out!

Episode 3:
Podcast feed:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Beijing Air, Less Filling or Taste Great?

So using data from the US Embassy's twitter feed and this New England Journal of Medicine article on air pollution, which I completely did not understand, I have tried to do an analysis of whether the Beijing air is killing me or is just packed full of flavor. According to the journal article prolonged exposure to air pollution is not good for you and they tried to quantify how much it takes off your life. Like I said, I didn't completely understand the conclusion they made so I am going to complete distort everything they wrote to make my point. So based on this section (which was towards the end of the article so assumed it was something like a conclusion):

Improvements in life expectancy during the 1980s and 1990s were associated with reductions in fine-particulate pollution across the study areas, even after adjustment for various socioeconomic, demographic, and proxy variables for prevalence of smoking that are associated with health through a range of mechanisms. Indirect calculations point to an approximate loss of 0.7 to 1.6 years of life expectancy that can be attributed to long-term exposure to fine-particulate matter at a concentration of 10 μg per cubic meter, with the use of life tables from the Netherlands and the United States and risk estimates from the prospective cohort studies. In the present analysis, a decrease of 10 μg per cubic meter in the fine-particulate concentration was associated with an estimated increase in life expectancy of approximately 0.61±0.20 year — an estimate that is nearly as large as these indirect estimates."


I have decide that one year will be considered a prolonged period of air pollution exposure (you are thinking but where does it say that, nowhere, I decided myself) and I will use the numbers 0.7 and l.6 to average the amount of life that I lose per 10 μg per cubic meter increase of air pollution, and I will use 0.61 to calculate the life I gain by a 10 μg per cubic meter decrease of air pollution. Here is a link to the google document where I did the calculations.


After several days of trying to figure out how to gather the data and then put it in a format that I could use in excel, I have concluded, based on the tab named "Daily Avg. Midnight", that I have lost 18.18 hours of life, while living in Beijing from 8/1/2010 to 2/6/2011. I have assumed of course that there is a linear relationship in terms of the amount of life I gain and lose per every cubic meter of air pollution over 10 μg, which is probably not true, but it is also probably close enough (reasoning based on nothing at all). Why did I choose to use the "Daily Avg. Midnight data," one it seemed the easiest to use at the time and two it is the most dramatic, the other tabs don't say I am dying enough, so I don't believe them, and I am pretty sure that all that flavor country in the Beijing air has some harmful effects.


I wish I had a longer time series of data, so if you work at the US embassy or know how to extract more data from the twitter feed, please send me the data. I would like to know if I have taken more years off my life than that. I assume probably.


On a rosier note I was right about Egypt being censored.



Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Title IX

So far our blog has only been from a male perspective. In the past, the sole requirements to post on this blog was that you had to go to Middlebury, speak Chinese, plan to be in China or be in China and be born with an outie instead of an innie (and I am not talking belly buttons). Later with new Clark, we expanded who could post by tossing out the Middlebury and speak Chinese requirements and allowing bloggers to post based on shared blood lines, because having a sibling who went to Middlebury and can speak Chinese is almost the same as having gone and being able to speak Chinese yourself. The second to last requirement has mostly been ignored; however, the last requirement we have held scared (for obvious reasons, such as girls have cooties). But since, I am the last one standing in China, because Golze is off on a walk about with a koala , Clark Classic only blogs from the US, and no one knows what happened to New Clark, I have decided to allow another person blog with us, but only if the two founders of this blog agree and the blog readers agree. So I am going to allow everyone to vote on whether Joy should be allowed to post with us. I know what you are thinking, but wait, she has an innie. I know but title IX says we have to let at least some of the bloggers have innies. So as a result, I leave it to you the readers and the two founders to decided if Joy's perspective is needed.