Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sorry, China!

Found this on AOL News, reported by the Huffington Post

“Stop! Stop!” says China. “It is illegal to publish air pollution readings!”

LLLLLOOOOLLLLLLLL! Sorry, China, those days are past. Too many ways the information can get out and verified.

(Clarifies translated comment from ministry spokesman)

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING, June 5 (Reuters) – A senior Chinese official demanded on Tuesday that foreign embassies stop issuing air pollution readings, saying it was against the law and diplomatic conventions, in pointed criticism of a closely watched U.S. embassy index.

The level of air pollution in China’s heaving capital varies, depending on the wind, but a cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols often blankets the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end.

Many residents dismiss the common official readings of “slight” pollution in Beijing as grossly under-stated.

The U.S. embassy has installed a monitoring point on its roof which releases hourly air-quality data via a widely followed Twitter feed. The U.S. consulates in Shanghai and the southern city of Guangzhou provide a similar service.

While China tightened air pollution monitoring standards in January, the official reading and the U.S. embassy reading can often be far apart.

Chinese experts have criticised the single U.S. embassy monitoring point as “unscientific”.

Deputy Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing went a step further, saying such readings were illegal and should stop, though he did not directly name the United States.

“According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations … foreign diplomats are required to respect and follow local laws and cannot interfere in internal affairs,” Wu told a news conference.

“China’s air quality monitoring and information release involve the public interest and are up to the government. Foreign consulates in China taking it on themselves to monitor air quality and release the information online not only goes against the spirit of the Vienna Convention … it also contravenes relevant environmental protection rules.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin called on foreign diplomatic missions to respect China’s laws and regulations and to stop issuing the readings, “especially over the Internet”.

“If the foreign embassies want to collect this kind of information for their own staff and diplomats, I think it’s up to them,” Liu told reporters. “They can’t release this information to the outside world.”

The U.S. embassy acknowledges on its website (http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn) that its equipment cannot be relied upon for general monitoring, saying “citywide analysis cannot be done … on data from a lone machine”.

Despite his criticism, Wu acknowledged that China’s air quality and overall environmental situation remained precarious, with more than one tenth of monitored rivers rated severely polluted, for example.

“What needs saving is the country’s air quality, not the government’s face,” Zhou Rong, an energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said in emailed comments. “The environmental authorities must stop finger pointing and start taking actions that really address the issue.” (Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

And this also from the Huffington Post:

A mushroom-like cloud was spotted over Beijing earlier this week, closely resembling the explosion of an atomic bomb, reports China Daily.

Now, footage of the mysterious cloud has been released on YouTube. One shows raw video of the haze taken from what appears to be a high-rise building, while another video is an edited version documenting the haze on June 14.

The yellow and green haze led Chinese authorities to advise residents to stay inside Monday, according to Agence France-Presse.

While rumors swarmed online about the cause of the unusual cloud, Chinese police arrested two internet users who said the pollution had been triggered by a chlorine leak at a chemical plant or an explosion at a steel refinery, notes The Economic Observer.

Meanwhile, government authorities told the Xinhua news agency straw burning was the cause and denied there had been any industrial accidents.

Air pollution is increasingly becoming a major problem in China, and the government is often accused of downplaying the severity of the problem in metropolitan areas.

Earlier this month, China demanded the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to stop publishing air pollution readings, saying it was against diplomatic conventions and the law.

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June 17, 2012 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Communication, Community, Cultural, Environment, Living Conditions | Leave a comment

Lusaka, and the Taj Pamodzi

The first two times we stayed in Lusaka, we stayed at the Holiday Inn, or was it the Hilton? I can’t remember, all I remember is that it was very basic, and I don’t think it is there anymore. The first time we stayed there, it was alright, not great, but alright. It had a free shuttle to and from the airport, and a good dining room. Our first time, we had also arrived without luggage, and needed to pick up some things, quickly, to get us through until our luggage arrived.

The hotel recommended a taxi driver who drove us to two locations, the ShopRite and the Arcades. We found what we needed, basics, pants, socks, sweaters – it was winter, and it was cold. We had read the warnings about Lusaka, the high crime rate, the violent crime, so we didn’t venture far, and returned to our hotel when we were finished. I still have the sweater/sweatshirt I bought then, it was made in Cambodia and I still use it when we go to the bush.

The second time we were there, we were on the same floor with all the soccer teams (football if you are not American) in Zambia, a floor full of 11 – 18 year old males. It was very noisy, and they all hung out in the halls the way traveling kids do, so we had to negotiate through them to get to our room. It wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat.

We had seen the Taj Pamodzi, it was nearby, so when we were meeting up with our son and his wife we reserved there. The hotel is nice enough, the rooms are basic, but the hotel is quiet and clean, and the best we can tell, about as good as it gets in Lusaka. (We can see a new Radisson being built near the shopping center The Arcades, so it might be a good bet to try in the future.)

The room we stayed in this time was almost identical. We had arranged for a transfer; the driver was waiting for us. That’s good. On the way to the hotel, we were NOT stopped this time by armed thugs wanting a donation. That is great. There were still a lot of people on the streets vending, but they were not aggressive.

When we arrived at the hotel, check in was smooth and we arranged to meet up for dinner. I snoozed a little, AdventureMan explored, then he, too, snoozed a little. There was a magnificent sunset.

We met our companions for dinner and had a great time, service was superb and the food was pretty good.

We got a good night’s sleep. The next day we spotted a large mosque nearby, but we couldn’t hear the call to prayer. In the morning’s paper there is a large article about churches in Zambia, and that Zambia has been declared “a Christian nation.” I wonder how well religious tolerance is working out here. When we have visited Zambia before, we have been so impressed with the culture of mutual respect they cultivate, this nation of multiple tribal affiliations and languages. Is that mutual respect and tolerance stretched to include religious respect and tolerance?

Here is the view from our room:

One of the very cool things we noticed is that there has definitely been an upgrade in the electrical system; they now have hairdryers that work AND this great receptacle system so that just about anyone can plug in their electronic device that needs charging:

I don’t know if all the rooms are like this, but one very odd feature is that as you walk into the room, you are a step higher than the rest of the room. The bathroom is on this upper level, and then you step down into the bedroom. We didn’t have a problem with it, but if you are jet lagging, and up in the middle of the night, and disoriented and sleepy, you could forget that step and take a tumble.

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Crime, ExPat Life, Hotels, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Shopping, Sunsets, Travel, Zambia | | Leave a comment

The Westcliff, Johannesburg, A Haven

“It’s dark, we might as well have chosen a hotel near the airport,” I thought to myself.

Early in the planning stages for the trip, we discovered, due to airline connections, we would have to spend a night in Johannesburg and a night in Lusaka en route to the bush. We looked at several websites, and narrowed it down to three on TripAdvisor, then we all decided on the Westcliff. It just looked like a nice place, with a view of Johannesburg. But . . . it’s dark. It’s dark, we can’t see a thing, and it’s about a half hour from the airport.

But to be met at the airport after a 15 hour flight is very nice, to have all our bags taken care of, to have people to take us to the hotel . . . and then to arrive, and to discover it is a really, REALLY nice hotel. It used to be townhouses, our concierge tells us, but they turned them into a hotel, so it is a series of buildings, not one. They tell us they have upgraded us and put us at the top of the hill, but we have no idea what that means. They load us up on a golf cart and tell us our bags will follow, and zip us up a winding narrow road to the top, and then up to our rooms.

We are next door to one another, but our rooms are totally different. We have a large bedroom and living room – and a balcony. They have a separate bedroom, and a longer, narrow room, but a bathroom to die for. Well, both bathrooms are heaven. The whole suite is a little bit of heaven. The fifteen hour flight is behind us, and the Westcliff is our reward. It is heaven.

And while it is dark, there IS a lovely view:

We know we need to eat, and we all want to get to bed. We don’t want to go sit in the restaurant, no matter how lovely, and the room service menu sounds so inviting . . . Three of us order the Salmon Nicoise, and AdventureMan orders tomato soup and the Cheese Plate. While we are waiting – a very short time – we open the bottles of complimentary wine left for us. The food arrives, quickly, and still hot, and we enjoy every bite before falling into bed.

We don’t have to get up until seven, but we have another flight to catch, heading up to Lusaka. We can hear the lion roaring, next door in the Johannesburg Zoo, welcoming in the new day. We get up in time to grab some coffee, and watch the sun rise over Johannesburg from the balcony:

This is room 108, at the top of the hill, and one of the loveliest rooms we have ever stayed in. We would really love to stay there again, our next layover in Johannesburg. 🙂

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Hotels, sunrise series, Travel | , , | Leave a comment