The Population Conundrum

It is China’s one child policy that is perhaps the mostly widely known of the communist party’s many political directives. It is a policy that produces an extreme reaction among foreign observers. There are libertarians and pro-lifers who view the population control strategy with moral abhorrence. Some environmentalists laud the idea as the only practical way to curb the danger of rampant population growth that would lead to massive environmental degradation and resource loss. These things are already a problem in China, thanks mainly to its aggressive economic expansionism, but would be worse without any control on the numbers of new children born.

There is a further political grievance with this policy – it is only applied selectively: Han Chinese in Tibet and other so called ‘autonomous regions’ are given license to have as many children as they want. This is leading to what the 14th Dalai Lamai has called ‘cultural genocide’ where local populations are becoming the minority in their own land.

What the mandarins of the Chinese communist party did not envision was the long term social consequences of the one child policy. It is a radical policy and it is beginning to have alarming consequences.

Population imbalance

The first is selective progeny. As with India and other Asian countries having a son is traditionally viewed as paramount to a family’s success. A first son must take over the family business. A first son must place offerings at the shrine of his ancestors. A first son carries forward a name and a cultural and genetic inheritance in a way that a daughter is perceived not to.

What this means is that women have been having multiple abortions until they conceive a boy. Today there are 119 boys for every 100 girls in China (  This is an imbalance that is going to get worse.

In terms of society it means that parents save more money than ever. They need to give their son every advantage possible such as college education and a car to attract a female partner. The bargaining position of parents with a daughter has never been stronger. They can demand large sums for their daughter’s hand. Independent Chinese women are now not shunned, but courted. It is empowering in some ways. In others, it is just a reminder of how traditional attitudes prevail – women are inferior and parents will do anything to get a grandchild. Communism was meant to free humanity of superstition and gender prejudice. The experiment, if it was ever really applied, has failed. Human nature with all its warts has prevailed.

For the economy it means a reduction of consumer growth. The Chinese have become ‘savers’ not ‘spenders’ – a grandchild is more important than a new car. Naturally, lack of rampant growth in consumer demand at home has to be made up for by looking for markets abroad. This is fine as long as the world economy is not ailing as it is now. Already we are seeing huge stock piles of raw resources piling up in China. Its massive manufacturing sector has created more supply than there is demand.

Ageing society

The other alarming social impact of the one child policy is a rapidly ageing society. China now has the fastest ageing population in the world. A widespread improvement in living standards accompanied by better medical facilities has increased life expectancy in China to levels approaching the developed world.

At present there are 6 workers to support 1 pensioner. The one child policy means that in 20 years time this ratio will drop to 2 workers to every pensioner ( That is a swift and paradigm changing scenario that will impact Chinese economics, politics and society. The Chinese economic miracle has been largely driven by a young workforce ready to travel great distances and work for small remuneration. In 20 years time such a workforce will not exist. Employees will have the upper hand and will be able to demand higher wages. This will corrode any competitive advantage China had in the world market place. India and Indonesia with an abundance of young and poor citizens will be well placed to become the ‘New China’.

The Chinese Communist Party has a major re-shuffle every 10 years. Now in 2012 it is about to have another. This is one of the most pressing problems to solve for the new technocrats at the helm. Luckily, the party ditched any real pretense to ideological integrity many years ago and so nearly all options are on the table. What they cannot afford to do is to aggravate the citizenry too much. If anything too calamitous happened to China even the brainwashed army might turn on its master. That is the ‘mandate from heaven’ factor.

At present the Chinese government has avoided excessive taxation and set up only a bare bones welfare state; very much following an example long set by the USA. The idea is that the state should not burden business with excessive red tape or tax demands. The lessons of capitalism have been studied just as Western technology was studied and then copied. In countries like Thailand it is simply not possible for the government to collect large tax revenues and institute a major welfare state undertaking. In contrast the Chinese communist party has the political might and the logistical resources to collect more tax if it chose to create better facilities for pensioners.

It is going against the grain of current economic thinking but higher taxes might be inevitable in China in the next 20 years. As for solving the problem of halting a society moving further into old age there are a number of suggestions on the table. We know these because Japan has been wrestling with the problem for the last 30 years.

Mass immigration

The Japanese pay lip service to this idea but covertly reject it as the Chinese will do. Both countries are obsessed with racial identity and cannot brook the notion of their population becoming watered down by ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’. Itinerant foreign workers that are regulated and made to leave are expedient but mass immigration policies are political suicide for the Chinese and Japanese polity. So much so that the Japanese are now even suggesting they can build millions of robots to look after the old rather than have millions of foreigners come in as carers.

Encourage population growth

This is what the Japanese government is doing. They are giving lots of money out for those who have children. China already has 1.3 billion people; despite the one child policy China’s population is still a runaway train. To go back to the old ways of big families with lots of children is suicide for everyone in the country.

Japan doesn’t see this. They see it as a viable solution. Really it is just pushing the problem back a few generations: when the new baby boomers grow old the problem will be worse than before. Nobody seriously imagines China will follow this path.

Technological fix and outsourcing

The new economic ethos is to think beyond borders. Just because it is a problem in your country doesn’t mean it has to be regarded as a purely domestic problem. Just as the great potato famine of 1740 drove the Irish out of their homes so a lack of good facilities for old people will drive a lot of rich Chinese out of China. They will go to the Philippines, they will take long term villa rentals in Thong Nai Pan and other holiday destinations, they will move to Europe, and they will move to North America. Anywhere that is cheap and / or has good medical facilities. In effect, the Chinese will start to outsource their ageing population problem.

Chinese government policy has been heavily influenced by technocratic thinking over the last 20 years. They may well try some type of Japanese style crusade to bring in a technological fix to the problem. For a start shrinking numbers in the factories can be compensated for by robots. It is a front-ended investment but the RMB is strong and the country has massive reserves of cash.

The level of technology needed to solve the many problems of an ageing society in China has not been reached. Will the Chinese leadership preserve with reverse engineering or will it invest in Japanese technology? This would be a moot point if it were not for the fact that a technological fix is clearly not enough. The number of old people in the equation makes a technological solution unrealistic.

Do nothing

This is the real Asian solution. To please the masses the politicians claim to be tackling the problem –whether it is a democracy or an oligarchy. Really the political actions are cosmetic. They can see no solution. Better to leave the problem for the next generation of leaders.

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China and Carbon

The cost of a carbon based economy

China opens a new coal burning power plant every week. It has overtaken the USA as the single largest emitter of the green house carbon dioxide. William Chandler of the Energy Transition Research Institute has gone on record saying:

“The most important thing in the world for meeting carbon goals is what China does in its overall energy policy in the next 10 years.”

Just prior to the failed 2009 Climate Change Summit China promised to decrease its carbon emissions to at least 40% of 2005 levels, and at the same time switching 15% of energy generation to non-fossil fuels within the next 20 years.

Experts point out that China is behind schedule in this endeavor. Part of the problem at the 2009 Copenhagen summit was that China refused to have independent monitoring of its energy policy.

However, a new development has left America looking like the bad guys and China like the newly reformed eco-kid on the block. Authorities are going to roll out a pilot carbon emissions trading scheme by 2013 in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Hubei and Guangdong.  These 7 cities represent a combined population of 250 million people.

The pilot scheme if successful will lead to a nationwide carbon trading scheme by 2015. The scheme will be based on the already existing European model. Recently Quebec in Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia and California have all passed legislation to start carbon trading.

It is an audacious move that will see a wider Asia-Pacific carbon trading area that will be worth billions of dollars. The lure of such a big market will force the ever recalcitrant American central government to begin carbon trading. When the world’s number one and number two biggest carbon emitters start to properly count carbon emissions and trade in the right to pollute we will have a much better framework for dealing with the ever more pressing problem of global warming.

Despite the inherent deficiencies of a Chinese economy that is heavily carbon based that is also quickly consuming the world’s natural resources it is one that can be manipulated from the totalitarian strength of its government. The question will be how open and transparent will China’s carbon trading scheme be? Will companies be apt to fiddle the figures to reduce the extra costs of buying carbon quotas from other companies? The money involved in buying carbon will be huge and where huge money is corruption soon follows.

Another point to make is that the issue of moving to alternative sources of energy is connected to carbon emissions. It takes a large input of electricity to extract silicon from silica. This silicon is needed to make photovoltaic panels. China is the leading manufacturer of photovoltaic panels and the energy needed to makes these panels comes mostly from burning coal.

Despite life being based on carbon, it is tempting to see carbon as the enemy. In our efforts to fight global warming we are using more carbon to make solar panels, wind turbines etc. It can only be hoped that making a carbon based economy unattractive through policing and trading emission quotas has the desired effect. This hoped outcome is not an economy based on financial services. We have already seen the disaster in America and Europe that such a vision can produce. Of course we should not blame China in isolation -they are after all performing the role of being the factory for the world’s consumer goods.

Further reading
More about carbon
Cost of solar panels

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Chinese Reverse Engineering

It is no accident that China is stealing a march on the rest of the world in many manufacturing sectors. It is not just enough to have a cheap and plentiful supply of factory workers. Nor is it enough to have a currency that isn’t floated. There is a history that explains China’s growing world dominance in producing TVs, radios, engineering tools, home ware, factory machines, office supplies, electrical equipment and so on. A big part of this history is to do with reverse engineering.

The story goes back to the Sino-Soviet Alliance that started shortly after the end of World War Two. Stalin and Mao were initially on good relations and Russia was prepared to be China’s only friend in the world. During this time the Red Army relied on military equipment from Russia. In many sectors Russian technology was used to secure China as a viable state and continuing ally against the capitalist West.

By 1958 it became clear to the leaders of China that the Sino-Soviet Alliance was destined to soon fall apart. It was then that the leaders made the important decision to make every effort to ‘stand alone’. This meant copying Russian machine guns, rockets, fighter jets etc.

By the time the inevitable split between Russia and China occurred in 1960 Chinese engineers were already busy pursuing a policy of reverse engineering or guochanhua. Virtually from scratch engineers figured out methods for taking soviet technology apart and replicating it.

It was a long process, no doubt partly because the Cultural Revolution had destroyed the intelligentsia of the country. Historians studying military parade footage and other sources estimate that the Chinese army did not reach the 1960s levels of soviet military hardware until 1984. This capability included jet fighters and warships.

Now that Chinese engineers and scientists understood reverse engineering Deng Xiao Ping issued directives to import foreign goods to China such as machinery, electronics and other hi-tech products with the aim of copying them.

The rest really is history. In a very short time TVs, washing machines, tape recorders etc. were being made entirely in China without any foreign imports. Chinese factories helped by authorities that turned a blind eye to copyright issues and that actively promoted overseas trade soon started to take a huge market share in several areas of consumer products.

By the early 1990s China could make everything itself bar integrated circuits and engines for passenger carrying aircraft. Computers, helicopters, cars, solar panels, large generators were all well within China’s manufacturing capability.

The gap now between the West and China in terms of technology is very small. In certain fields they lag slightly behind, but in others they are leading the way. China is now the world leader in new engineering patents.

It is perhaps possible in the future that Chinese companies will innovate important new technologies that emerging economies like Indonesia will effectively ‘steal’ through reverse engineering. No doubt they will hypocritically complain about this and initiate legal proceedings.

For the time being the real challenge for the Chinese manufacturing economy that is progressing at a blistering pace thanks to guochanhua is to secure enough natural resources to keep going, and also to keep wages low and costs down.

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Rebranding China

Rebranding China

The People’s Republic of China has kept its name but the unelected government has been busy changing China’s image in the world. It doesn’t make economic sense to be regarded as a hard-line Communist country keen to demonstrate the fairness of a workers’ paradise, and keen to agitate a world revolution.

The cult of personality that surrounded Mao Tse Tung and to a lesser extent Deng Shao Ping has gone. Instead the leadership of the country changes hands every few years. Not democratically, of course, but the illusion of a popular choice and accountability is fostered by this policy. The leaders no longer wear utilitarian worker’s suits; rather they don smart suits and ties.

The ideologues controlling the policy of the country have been replaced by technocrats who are more focused on the bottom line than on following the dictates of Marxism, Stalinism or Maoism. Officially, there is very little mention of communism.

Now there is private ownership. Even foreigners can buy land in China. There is a stock market that is partly opened to the world. The currency is still artificially pegged but this is advantageous in keeping the Yuan cheap enough to keep the all-important exporting sector going.

Not only are the people of China allowed more freedom of movement within China but they are also issued passports. If you go to Khao Lak, Koh Samui, London, Tokyo, Los Angles, Rio de Janeiro and many other places in the world you might be surprised at how many Chinese tourists and business men you will see. While the rest of the world feels the pinch from the 2008 financial meltdown, China has been largely unaffected.

The 1 child policy is still in place, with notable exceptions for a few ethnic minorities and for Han Chinese colonizing Tibet. However, the official line has softened. The posters focus on the benefits of the small family rather than threatening fines, eviction etc. (See Guardian 27th Feb. 2012).

The poster boy of the revolution used to be Lei Feng. He was a soldier who tirelessly worked for the revolution, for the party and for his fellow comrades, Mao famously said, “Learn from Lei Feng.” The new images of Lei Feng show him with a floppy haircut looking far from the man of stone he used to be portrayed as.

While at home economic reforms have been hailed as a form of liberalism, and the creation of a thriving middle class as a good thing, foreign policy has never been more aggressive. The Chinese are stepping up their actions in their claims for disputed waters with Japan and Korea. Recently Chinese fishing boats in a military fashion clashed with Korean coast guards resulting in one Korean official being bludgeoned to death. The Chinese have broken an agreement with Japan and started searching for oil on the very edge of their territorial waters.

The Beijing Olympics saw China exert the full extent of its political power to get people arrested all over Europe who protested China’s occupation of Tibet.

In Taiwan there is a large move away from the independence stance of Chen Shui Bian to the pro-China Ma Ying Jeou.

All over the developing world China are buying friends and natural resources. They are the only country with the funds to do so. America is weakened and distracted by two foolish wars that are simultaneously winding down in what looks like defeat. America needs China’s money as well, and has no stomach to sling mud at its new superpower rival. After all, China has rebranded itself and the old fear of communism just doesn’t seem to work when it comes to China. Besides, compared to North Korea, China seems like a model state.

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Chinese Culture in Thailand

There is a cultural connection between China and Thailand that stretches over many centuries. A large percent of Thais have Chinese ancestry. You can see Chinese characters, Chinese architecture and Chinese temples all over Thailand. Even the present royal dynasty, the Chakri Dynasty has connections to China. This does not mean, however, that there is any type of cultural clash in Thailand between the two influences. The Chinese-Thais are some of the most integrated and respected overseas Chinese communities in the world. Rather it is a case that Chinese culture has become part of Thai culture, enriching it and the people as a whole.

Chinese culture in ThailandChinese immigration to Thailand began as early as the Thirteenth Century. It began  mostly with traders from Fujian and Guangdong arriving in the then capital, Ayutthaya. The King at the time welcomed foreigners as a source of income for his kingdom. By the 1700s Burmese military might was growing and was threatening to over-run Thailand. The Qing Emperor of China sent armies to protect Thailand. These efforts ultimately failed but it had the result of greatly increasing the number of Chinese settling in Thailand. By 1910 720,000 Chinese had moved to Thailand. Today Chinese ancestry is claimed by 15% of Thais.

It is interesting to note that King Rama VI (1910-1925) who himself had Chinese ancestry cleverly realized the need to properly integrate the Chinese community into Thailand. He passed an edict that made all Chinese adopt Thai surnames. It also became compulsory to learn the Thai language at school. That is why today even though many people in Thailand can trace their ancestors back to China they do not speak Chinese or feel like foreigners in a foreign land. Famous Thais with Chinese roots include Rama V, Thailand’s most beloved former King and Thaksin Shinawatra.

Aspects of Chinese culture can be found all over Thailand and in many aspects of Thai life. When I first went to Bangkok I was shocked to find Chinese characters, Hanzi, on so many shop signs all over the city. In China town in Bangkok a few traders still speak the Teochew dialect. Ancestor worship is prevalent in Thailand. There are Chinese temples all over Thailand. The island of Koh Samui appears on Chinese maps dating back to 1687. Both Koh Phangan and Koh Samui retain many of the old Chinese wooden fishermen’s houses. Much of the food that tourists eat in Thailand is actually based on Chinese ideas of cuisine. It was only when a friend on the beautiful Koh Phangan beach of Thong Nai Pan introduced me to Thai cooking that I realized how different it was to the fare offered to tourists in restaurants.

Today Thailand and China have important trading links. They are both members of ASEAN. Thailand is a net exporter of food. South East Asia is the rice bowl of the world. It is also rich in timber and rubber. These are vital for the continued growth of China’s industrial base. At the same time while European and American tourism and investment in Thailand has slowed down due to the 2008 financial crash Chinese tourism to Thailand has increased. In places like Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Phangan the number of Chinese visitors is increasing year upon year.

The Thais are rightly proud of their independence and their culture. This culture includes Chinese culture and people of Chinese ancestry. It is very much a success story that shows how one culture can enrich another.

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The Importance of Sustainable Design

The pressing problems of our age are environmental ones. The environment underpins all our lives. If environmental conditions change rapidly then all our efforts are reduced to nothing. One of the major ideas to emerge from the environmental movement is sustainable design. In essence this is an attempt to create consumerism that does not alter the overall quantity of resources available to us. These resources include not only hardwood, fossil fuels, metal ores but also biodiversity, marine resources and clean soil.

In the developed world people spend 90% of their lives indoors. This is a shocking fact. It is also a fact that points to the need for a code of design for buildings that is environmentally friendly. Such a code has been developed by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED was set up the US Green Building Council. It identifies 5 areas by which to assess the ‘greenness’ of a building. These 5 metrics are also the keystones of green interior design. They are:

1)    CO2 Reduction
2)    Water conservation
3)    Husbandry of natural resources
4)    Energy efficiency
5)    Improved indoor air quality

Carbon Reduction

Only a few skeptics hold out against the overwhelming evidence that carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing because of (but not exclusively) human industry. This increase is causing climate change, increased species extinction rates and threatens to destroy the quality of life for future generations.

It is necessary to look at the carbon history of the materials used in construction: the carbon released in mining, in transport and in manufacture. Methods to reduce the carbon footprint of a building include recycling, using local materials and improving the energy efficiency of a building

Water Conservation

The world population has hit 7 billion. Fresh water makes up less than 1% of the total water on the planet. Already 66% of water use goes on agriculture. At present rates water demand will soon outstrip supply.

To reduce water consumption in a home it is imperative to instill better habits in people. It is also vital to install low flow showers and faucet aerators. It is also important to collect rain water.

Husbandry of Natural Resources

The world is not limitless. At the present rate of deforestation all the forests in the world will disappear in 40 years. Already fossil fuel supplies are running out and these shortages are leading energy companies to take more risks in extraction with the inevitable polluting catastrophes that result. The alternative of nuclear energy has perhaps the worst power to pollute and reduce biological life spans. A building construction must be sensitive to these problems. The solutions lie in using renewable resources such as bamboo, coconut, rattan and water hyacinth; and in using clean energy sources such as solar and wind that do not deplete natural resources.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency in the home helps to reduce bills, reduce pollution, reduce C02 emissions and conserve natural resources. Making homes and interiors as energy efficient as possible is an important project. In Northern Europe they have developed the Passive House that through superinsulation and careful design have reduced heating and cooling costs by 90%.

As well as improved insulation important aspects to energy efficiency is avoiding waste by using digital programmable thermostats, Energy Star approved devices and by getting rid of ‘stand by’ in home electronics that drains electricity for no appreciable reason. Using photovoltaic panels is another part of energy efficiency in the home; as are green roofs.

Improved Indoor Air Quality

Human health is just as important as environmental health. It is a saving ethos for the world when humanity fully understands the implications of this idea. Green interior design is very much about replacing materials that give off dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The discipline is also concerned with using flooring and window treatments that reduce the chances of causing allergic rhinitis attacks. There is a lot we can do to make our interiors healthy places to live.

It is very hard to overestimate the importance of sustainable design and green interior design. If we and our children are going to be happy and prosper in the future these are things we must address now. It is blatantly clear that we cannot shift responsibility to governmental leaders or ‘market forces’. The success of sustainable design will be through a grass roots movement that starts with the people, with the everyman.

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The China Study Advocates Alkaline Foods

A book titled The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health is an eye opener in terms of finding out more about nutrition and how we can enjoy a long and healthy life. The authors advocate a whole foods, plant based diet. It just so happens that many of these foods, indeed all fruits and vegetables can also be termed alkaline foods. When reading this book, I was struck by the simplicity of the message and it all seemed to make so much sense.

The China Study website says:

Even today, as the low-carb craze sweeps the nation, two-thirds of adults are still obese and children are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, typically an “adult” disease, at an alarming rate. If we’re eating healthier, why are Americans stricken with heart disease as much as we were 30 years ago?

This is a question that’s hard to answer if you’re a meat eater. Since reading this book, I’ve gone from being interested in health and thinking that lean meat and eggs were good for me to changing almost overnight to cutting out all meat, dairy and fish from my diet. You’d be surprised just how easy it can be. I’m now cooking for myself much more often rather than eating out, which in turn is saving me money too. The main reason I do it though is so that I know what’s going into the dishes that I’m making.

The China Study was an academic project undertaken and paid for by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the government of China. It started in the 1970s and lasted until the end of the 1980s. As the name suggests, it took place in China. In total the epidemiological study examined the diets, lifestyle and disease characteristics of populations in 65 rural Chinese counties. Then in 1991, the authors – led by T. Colin Campbell published their results which were subsequently turned into The China Study book.

The study has received high praise from both academic and mainstream sources. Jane E. Brody writes in the New York Times:

Eating a lot of protein, especially animal protein, is also linked to chronic disease. Americans consume a third more protein than the Chinese do, and 70 percent of American protein comes from animals, while only 7 percent of Chinese protein does. Those Chinese who eat the most protein, and especially the most animal protein, also have the highest rates of the ”diseases of affluence” like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Probably the most well known follower of the proposed whole foods, plant based diet is the former U.S. President, Bill Clinton. After he underwent heart surgery, he completely changed his diet in an effort to reduce the risk factors for future cardiac events. If it’s good enough for Clinton, don’t you think it deserves your full attention?

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Full Moon Party Guide

Full Moon PartyIf you are visiting China and you have a few days off that happen to fall on the night of the full moon then you should catch one of the many flights to Bangkok and transfer to Koh Samui. It is also possible from some Chinese cities to fly directly to the island of Koh Samui in the south of Thailand. From Koh Samui it is a short boat journey to Koh Phangan. The best boat to take is from Maenam that takes you directly to Haad Rin where the world’s biggest regular beach party occurs.

The Full Moon Party takes place on the larger of the two Haad Rin beaches. It is appropriately the sunrise beach; so after reveling all night the party goer is treated to the awesome spectacle of the sun rising over a tropical ocean.

Full Moon Accommodations

There are over 5,000 full moon party accommodations. However more than 20,000 people regularly attend the event. It is not necessary to stay in Haad Rin. Many people take the boat over from Koh Samui the night of the party and then take the boat back the next day. This is because it can be hard to find a room in Haad Rin if you don’t book in advance. Also all the hotels and resorts in Haad Rin put their prices up for the FMP period. They also enforce a minimum stay requirement of between 3 and 6 nights. If you have only a few days this is not practical – the solution is to stay on one of the other great beaches in Koh Phangan or as I said, stay on the more developed (but maybe less beautiful) neighboring island of Koh Samui.

If you do want to stay in Haad Rin then there are 3 major areas open to you. First is in Haad Rin town and near the sunrise beach. Only Palita Lodge is actually on the beachfront of the party beach because the space is devoted to bars. The other area is on the smaller (and less nice) sunset beach called Haad Rin Nai. It is a quieter option. The third option is on the beach just south of Haad Rin Nai called Haad Sarikantang. Here there are a couple of good mid-range options including Sarikantang Resort and Spa.

Advice for the Full Moon Party

On the night of the party there are a few precautions you should take to make sure you are safe and have a good time:

1)    Leave most of your money, your passport and other valuables in a safety box in your resort. You will only need about 2,000 Thai Baht to spend at the party. If you are staying in Haad Rin don’t leave your valuables in your room as break-ins are not unheard of.
2)    Wear something on your feet. Although the party is on a beach there is often broken glass hidden in the sand.
3)    Be careful when drinking ‘buckets’. They are sweet and strong – deceptively so. Try to re-hydrate between drinks.
4)    Don’t go swimming when you are drunk. At certain times of the year there is an undertow. Moreover, people use the sea as a toilet during the party.
5)    Don’t take drugs about the party. It is heavily policed and the consequences of being caught are not pleasant to say the least.
6)    Respect other people; and have a good time!

It is guaranteed that you will never experience anything quite like the Full Moon Party anywhere else in the world. It is a unique event and a great opportunity to make new friends and to let your hair down.

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Recycling in China

Chinese recyclingPeople in the Western developed world are often under the misapprehension that developing countries do not recycle. An article in the New York Times in December 2009 wrote:

‘Chinese public has shown little enthusiasm for recycling. As Mr. Zhong, the engineer at the Baoan incinerator, put it, “No one really cares”.’ (

This is only partly true. Chinese households are not interested in separating trash into different colored bins. In most municipalities such schemes do not exist. All rubbish is thrown in the same incinerator or buried in landfill sites. There is no money available or education given about local government recycling schemes.

That is not to say, however, that nothing is recycled in China. Indeed recycling is a job. It is economics that drives recycling in China and many other developing countries in the world. Anything that is of value that is thrown out is found and sold on by legions of people living on the proverbial ‘bread line’ (maybe ‘rice line’ is better) to get by. Aluminum tin cans are an excellent example of this.

Another good example is food waste. Millions of farmers in China collect food waste from restaurants and put it in spring balanced containers on the back of their bicycles to take back to their farms to use as fertilizer. In a situation where poverty is wide spread a lot of trash items have a value.

The richer a country gets the less value trash has. People are not desperate enough for money to collect aluminum cans. Instead people recycle out of a sense of civic duty or because it is the law.

The problem with the economic incentive driving recycling is that some items cannot be easily turned into a profit. This is especially true of plastic bags. These just get buried, burned or wind up clogging up water ways.

Upcycling is when an item is recycled in such a way as to make something of higher value: for example, making a laptop case out of an old wetsuit. In Thailand poor artisans make model tuk tuks for the tourists out of old cans – this is trash turned into art. In economic terms upcycling is much better than recycling.

This is the challenge for China’s current model of recycling – it must find ways to allow its citizens to use unwanted materials to upcycle. A good example of this is reclaimed hardwood flooring. China is rich in many natural resources, but not in valuable hardwood. Desertification is a serious problem in the north of China because of a lack of trees to hold the soil in place.

One excellent way to address this problem is to encourage the collection of unwanted hardwood. It is straight forward to collect hardwood from old mines, broken fencing, old barns, building waste, ripped out floors, old barrels and a million other sources and kiln dry the hardwood and then cut into reclaimed hardwood flooring planks.

The benefits to the environment of reclaimed hardwood flooring are obvious. For the home owner, reclaimed hardwood flooring has a rich patina from age and also is more dimensionally stable than new hardwood flooring.

It is such imaginative re-purposing of materials that China needs to study from America and Europe. It is also recycling that requires the input of resources that only government or business can provide, not the poor. This is where China is failing in its bid to be greener about its waste disposal.

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Coconuts in China

Hainan Coconut PalmsChina is not famous for its coconuts. You would be forgiven if you thought that China didn’t actually produce coconuts, but the country does. According to in 2009 China sold 109,406 coconuts. The coconut cannot grow in an area that has a cold winter as frost kills the plant. Thus it is only in the tropical parts of China that coconuts can be found.

The main area for coconut cultivation in China is Hainan Island. The principal areas of the island that are given up to growing coconuts are Wenchang County and Ya County. This is an area that stretches for several hundreds of kilometers along the coast of the tropical island. The poet Su Dong Po in the Song Dynasty lived on Hainan and admired both the view of coconut palms and also the taste of coconut milk.

The Chinese have been extracting oil from coconuts, drinking its juice and making objects from coconut shells for centuries. The musical instruments yehu and banhu are made from dried coconut shell halves.

Although China has very little tropical territory the coconut is a resource worth nurturing and protecting. The coconut palm is classified as a renewable resource because it takes only 7 years to start producing drupes. One coconut palm can yield over 100 coconuts a year. The coconut palm is fruitful for over 75 years. Senile palms can be cut down and its timber used to make coconut flooring, thatching for roofs and many other useful items.

Young coconuts have coconut water that contains more electrolytes than any sports drink. Coconut water also helps to detoxify the digestive tract and balance the PH of the body. It can also be used for emergency blood transfusions as coconut water is an exact match with human blood plasma.

Coconut milk is rich in protein, calcium, iron, selenium and other minerals and vitamins. It is delicious in food and can be used as a lactose free alternative to cow’s milk. It is interesting to note that lactose intolerance is very common in China.

In a similar way, coconut flour is high in protein and fiber but low in carbohydrates and is an excellent substitute for wheat flour for those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

Coconut oil health benefits are also myriad. It is composed of medium chain fatty acids that are readily metabolized by the body and turned into energy. It is healthy oil that is good for people who seek to lose weight. Also coconut oil contains lauric acid that is an antimicrobial agent that protects the body from viral and other infections. In tropical countries coconut oil is a vital source of medicine.

As the Chinese diet changes with the middle class habits of purchasing and consuming diverging from traditional patterns it is inevitable that heart disease, obesity and diabetes are sure to follow. One effective and totally natural way to combat this future problem is to promote the use of coconut food products.

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Haad Rin Delights

Haad Rin is the name of the main tourist town on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. It is also the name of the place where the famous Full Moon Party is held every month come rain or shine (only the sun nearly always shines in Koh Phangan). It is small town full of the delights of life that is perfect for outgoing people who love both going out and relaxing on a tropical beach.

History of Haad Rin

Haad Rin up until the late 1980s was a virtually unheard of little town on an equally obscure Thai island. Tourism didn’t make it to the Samui Archipelago until 1972 and of those first backpackers to make it to Thailand’s southern islands only a handful made it to Koh Phangan.

That all changed in 1987 when a party was held on the beautiful sunrise beach of Haad Rin Nok. It was for a friend and just happened to be the night of the bright full moon. Legend has it the party was a great success and thus was born the FMP – the Full Moon Party.

Over the years the party increased in size and with it the fortunes of Haad Rin changed. The once sleepy and hippy enclave started upgrading accommodation and many new bars, restaurants and guest houses started appearing in the small town.

Haad Rin and the Full Moon Party

Haad Rin Today

Despite the commercialization of Haad Rin it is still a small place that can be negotiated on foot. It is a place with amenities and facilities for tourism but not one with an ultra modern feel or one that charges so much as to be prohibitively expensive. Although Haad Rin hotels charge peak rates during the FMP you can still find a room for under $50 a night.

The great thing about Haad Rin is that it is a friendly place. There are plenty of bars in the town and on the main beach where like-minded travelers and revelers get to met each other and swap stories. There are lots of fun events around the full moon party period including Muay Thai fights and a foam party to get people in the mood.

And of course the following day what better way to cure a sore head than a delicious fruit shake and a swim in the clear warm water of the Gulf of Thailand?

Below is a YouTube video of the Drop in Bar Foam Party that happens 2 days before the FMP.

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Natural Resources in China

White flag dolphin

White flag dolphin

‘Natural resources’ is a phrase that covers a wide variety of things. It is possible to talk about water resources, climatic resources, biological resources, forestry resources and mineral resources. Anything of value for humanity that comes from the natural world could be classified as ‘natural resources’. It is possible to take a deeper philosophical position and state that people and their ideas and the products of their imagination are from a natural source (we are animals after all) and thus should also be classified as ‘natural resources’. However, you wish to define the term, China is without doubt rich in natural resources.

The first thing to note about China’s is its vast size. China has 122,400 km2 of farmland. The agriculture centers of China are north China, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the Szechuan Basin and the Pearl River Delta. These areas grow a variety of foods including rice, wheat and corn. Marine products include shrimps and fish from the 67,500 km2 area of fresh water lakes in China.

In terms of water, China has the sixth largest reserves of fresh water – 2.8 trillion m3 China has the potential to be the world leader in hydroelectric power. Considering the environmental damage the Three Gorges Dam has caused it is a good thing China has not managed to maximize its hydroelectric power output.

China has found deposits of 135 of the known 150 minerals in the world. China leads the world in deposits of tungsten, antimony, titanium, vanadium, zinc, rare earth, magnesite, pyrite, fluorite, barite, plaster stone and graphite.

China’s biological resources are also impressive: it is home to 32,800 higher plant varieties and 104,000 animal varieties. These include the rare giant panda, the golden monkey, the Yangtze alligator, white-flag dolphin, the metasequoia and the dove tree that are found nowhere else in the world.

20 types of minerals have been found in China’s territorial waters. These include petroleum, natural gas, iron, copper, phosphorite and glauconite. Although China has extensive coal fields and has started taking oil from the Beibu Gulf in the South China Sea, supplying the energy needs of its rapidly expanding economy is one of the greatest challenges of China’s technocrats. It is interesting to note that China leads the world in solar panel production (Japan foolishly missed a trick) and central government orders have done a lot to enforce more solar energy production in the country.

Considering China’s abundance of natural resources it is vital to note that the manufacturing basis of the country is continually eating away at these resources: minerals do not ‘grow’ back. There is a limit to how many ‘consumer’ items China can make cheaply to sell to the world. At the same time these factories are using up (and polluting) vital water resources. Chinese officials basically scuppered the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference because it would not let independent observers monitor China’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Playing politics between superpowers has jeopardized the most important global effort to ensure climatic resources are preserved for future generations. Not only China, but the entire world has to understand that the economy must come second in importance to the environment – without the environment, without clean air, stable weather cycles, clean water there can be no economic prosperity.

On this same topic, China is the center of the bamboo economy. China is the biggest cultivator of bamboo. It is mostly moso bamboo from the Guangzhou Province. Although China is relatively poor in hardwood trees it is rich in bamboo – the world’s fastest growing natural resource. Bamboo can be used to make strand woven bamboo flooring, bamboo kitchen utensils, bamboo blinds and bamboo furniture. Bamboo charcoal has many uses and bamboo vinegar is an important natural remedy.

The rest of the world cannot disengage with China because of its stubborn refusal to play along with international cooperative efforts. China is rich in the vital resource of bamboo; the rest of the world needs this bamboo and bamboo know-how. China needs the West’s experience with environmental oversight. The whole world needs China and America to stop trying to gain one up on each other economically and work together to preserve the world’s natural resources.

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