How state of the art is state-of-the-art?

Collins Dictionary states “If you describe something as state-of-the-art, you mean that it is the best available because it has been made using the most modern techniques and technology”
(Source: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-thesaurus/state-of-the-art), which should at least in theory place companies with such infrastructure on a par if not ahead of their competition.  So why did 104 workers at Dawn Fresh Foods, an affiliate of  Q.K. Meats Group, Ireland’s largest privately owned agri-business, lose their permanent jobs yesterday?

The closure of a “state of the art” food production plant at a time when the Irish Government and related State agencies are pushing the line that food exports are our future with strategies in place to increase our current export reach from 36 million people to a staggering 50 million by 2020 just does not cut it.

Yes, the Dawn Fresh Foods (see http://www.irishtimes.com/business/sectors/agribusiness-and-food/over-100-jobs-to-go-as-tipperary-food-firm-closes-1.1483112) brand has likely been tarnished by the recent horse meat scandal, but if this is the real reason for the closure surely then a wholesale product re-branding would be more appropriate in light of the potential job losses.

A “state of the art” food processing facility doesn’t just close overnight without “The Minister” being made aware beforehand, and once again we have a Minister expressing shock at the news from his own constituency.

Not exactly a confidence booster for the future success of our food industry if our “state of the art” food production facilities are going out of business, unless of course this particular state-of-the-art has little in common with how things work in the real world.

Unlucky horseshoe
Unlucky horseshoe

China – Under The Hood: Tinder box – China’s long hot summer

It’s the height of summer here in Hangzhou and it’s extremely hot…. Like sizzling! However, the degree of how hot varies between what is official and what the common man and woman on the street knows and feels.

Official hot (government offices, factories, etc are mandated to close if the official temperature hits 40 degrees Celsius) versus unofficial hot: Mary, who runs the GoMax tea and fruit drink outlet near my apartment, insists her thermometer showed an outside temperature reading of 42 degrees Celsius, but officially it was still 37 degrees Celsius.

People like Mary are increasingly aware of the alternative perspective: The truth uniquely experienced and the massive amount of shared beliefs gleaned from micro-blogging websites such as Sina Weibo.   Worn out by the never-ending official pronouncements, a tinder box situation of growing antipathy towards the way Official China is being run and directed is palpable.

Today, China’s rising prices, ever increasing income disparities, a mode of governance that pursues rapid economic growth and infrastructue development above all else, unrelenting corruption scandals, and a lack of transparency and accountability are testing this populace like never before.

And the spark?

Translation: “The Derailed Country

You ask, why are they acting like a bunch of lunatics?

They think they’re the picture of restraint.

You ask, why can’t they tell black from white, fact from fiction?

They think they’re straight shooters, telling it like it is.

You ask, why are they running interference for murders?

They think they’ve thrown their friends under the bus. And they’re ashamed.

You ask, why all the cover-ups?

They think they’re letting it all hang out.

You ask, why are they so irretrievably corrupt?

They think they’re hardworking and plain-living.

You ask, why are they so infuriatingly arrogant?

They think they’re the picture of humility.

You feel like you’re the victim. So do they.

They think: “During the Qing Dynasty, no one had television. Now everyone has a television. Progress!”

They think: “We’re building you all this stuff, what do you care what happens in the process? Why should you care who it’s really for, so long as you get to use it? The train from Shanghai to Beijing used to take a whole day. Now you’re there in five hours (as long as there’s no lightning). Why aren’t you grateful? What’s with all the questions?

“Every now and then, there’s an accident. The top leaders all show how worried they are. We make someone available to answer journalists’ questions. First we say we’ll give the victims 170,000 kuai apiece. Then we say we’ll give them 500,000. We fire a buddy of ours. We’ve done all that, and you still want to nitpick? How could you all be so close-minded? You’re not thinking of the big picture! Why do you want us to apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong? It’s the price of development.

“Taking care of the bodies quickly is just the way we do things. The earlier we start signing things, the more we’ll have to pay out in the end. The later we sign, the smaller the damages. Our pals in the other departments—the ones who knock down all the houses—taught us that one. Burying the train car was a bonehead move, true, but the folks upstairs told us to do it. That’s how they think: if there’s something that could give you trouble, just bury it. Anyway, the real mistake was trying to dig such a huge hole in broad daylight. And not talking it over with the Propaganda Department beforehand. And not getting a handle on all the photographers at the site. We were busy, ok? If there’s anything we’ve learned from all this, it’s that when you need to bury something, make sure you think about how big it is, and make sure you keep the whole thing quiet. We underestimated all that.”

They think that, on the whole, it was a textbook rescue operation—well planned, promptly executed, and well managed. It’s a shame public opinion’s gotten a little out of hand, but they think, “That part’s not our responsibility. We don’t do public opinion.”

They’re thinking: “Look at the big picture: We had the Olympics, we canceled the agricultural tax, and you guys still won’t cut us a break. You’re always glomming on to these piddling little details. No can-do spirit. We could be more authoritarian than North Korea. We could make this place poorer than the Sudan. We could be more evil than the Khmer Rouge. Our army’s bigger than any of theirs, but we don’t do any of that. And not only are you not thankful, but you want us to apologize! As if we’ve done something wrong?”

Society has people of means, and those without. There’s people with power, and those that have none. And they all think they’re the victim. In a country where everyone’s the victim, where the classes have started to decouple from one another, where it’s every man for himself, in this huge country whose constituent parts slide forward on inertia alone—in this country, if there’s no further reform, even tiny decouplings make the derailings hard to put right.

The country’s not moving forward because a lot of them judge themselves as if Stalin and Mao were still alive. So they’ll always feel like the victim. They’ll always feel like they’re the enlightened ones, the impartial ones, the merciful ones, the humble ones, the put-upon ones. They think the technological drumbeat of historical progress is a dream of their own making.
The more you criticize him, the more he longs for autocracy. The more you gaomao him (piss him off), the more he misses Mao.

A friend in the state apparatus told me, “You’re all too greedy. Forty years ago, writers like you would’ve been shot. So you tell me, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

I said, “No, you’re all too greedy. Ninety years ago, that kind of thinking would have gotten you laughed out of the room. So you tell me: after all that, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

Source:

Attributed to China blogger Han Han and posted on Sina Weibo 27th July 2011 (it was subsequently deleted). 23 July 2011, two high-speed CRH ‘Harmony’ trains collided on a viaduct in the suburbs of Wenzhou, in southern Zhejiang province killing at least 40 people. Inept officials reacted to the accident by hurriedly finishing rescue operations and ordering the burial of the derailed cars. Result: Uproar.

http://chinageeks.org/2011/07/han-han-the-derailed-country/

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

China – Under The Hood: The Curious Incident Of The Dissolving Peach

No, I’m not being self-absorbed, and it’s not as if loads of locals around me are succumbing to nasty, mysterious illnesses (anyway the local tabloids always tone down the numbers). Nevertheless, of late in conversations with Hangzhouers I’ve noticed three questions coming up again and again in a tone verging on alarm.

-What are we eating?

-What are we drinking?

-and…. What the hell are we breathing?

-and I’ll toss in another issue…. How can one of the two peaches I bought in the local fruit shop last Sunday turn from unripe into a liquefied mush within 36 hours of purchase? That toxic peach dissolved right before my eyes!

[Anecdote:  A couple of weeks ago having enjoyed a second Kelloggs Nutri-Grain bar (courtesy of a Red-Cross parcel from my mother back home in Ireland, also filled with a critical supply of Barry’s Tea bags) I found myself checking out the nutritional label on the back of the wrapper. Clueless as to what I was reading, it suddenly dawned on me what I was reading wasn’t anything about food.  Why did I just eat a load of preservatives which are of zero benefit to my body? Why indeed..]

If you want to participate in a live laboratory in which the food – [and air-we-breath] – chain(s) are “unintentionally” (yeah right! the expressions of innocence on the faces of those perpetrators regularly showcased to the media are as fake as the vile products they have been caught tainting) exposed to poisonous industrial chemicals with the potential to totally wreck our bodily processes, then all roads lead to China.

I’d never even heard of most of these chemicals by name. Sure I can hardly pronounce them:

  • Watermelons overdosing (exploding melons of mass destruction) on forchlorfenuron growth hormones (May 2011)

  • Sports and fruit drinks laced with “particularly damaging to a young male’s fertility” dioctyl phthalate (imported from Taiwan, June 2011)
  • The “high blood pressure” yielding heavy metal cadmium in rice (February 2011); toxic “kidney failure” conducive melamine in milk (ongoing?)
  • Arsenic in soy sauce (ongoing?)
  • Copper in coffee (imported from Japan, 2008)
  • Bleach in mushrooms (December 2010)
  • The detergent borax in pork (added to make it resemble beef, April 2011)
  • and a whole host of fruit and vegetables smeared in deltamethrin, a synthetic insecticide, and preservatives with extremely long names!

Sure it only seems like yesterday when my buddy Umberto, who being Italian takes his cooking very seriously, watched a pot of fresh tomatoes turn white in a boiling confusion of red artificial colouring (2006).

Here in Hangzhou, affectionately known as “The Pond”, on account of its scenic West Lake,  so far (and counting…)we have:

  • Lead in the air (a lot of it apparently, courtesy of the local battery manufacturing industry)
  • Phenol in the water (courtesy of a tanker driver whose load tipped into the water supply, June 2011)… anyway phenol only causes severe eye damage, and sure what’s 25 tons of the stuff?

Spare a thought for those Harbiners up north whose Songhua River water supply was  contaminated with at least 80 tons of the carcinogen Benzine (ok, so that was back  in 2005 –‘water under the bridge’…so the local officials will tell you, long-term cancer risks notwithstanding).  No doubt, these same faceless apparatchiks will point to Germany’s e-coli cucumbers and bean sprouts (last week), the UK’s Mad Cows (hmmm) and Ireland’s contaminated pig meat (2008) as symptomatic of a global problem not just a China problem   – I’ve noticed they don’t really like talking about the “far worse than governments are revealing to the public” Fukushima nucleur disaster.

The Good News

Yes there is. Multiple the uproar each food scandal outside China receives by 1,000 times and you’ll get a sense of the disgust local Chinese feel about the continuing government incompetence and cynical manipulation of consumers by devious producers. China’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ sensitive generation is becoming increasingly aware of potential hazards of almost everything they eat and drink. What they see all around them are poor public hygiene surveillance and low standards of food quality all of which are cultivated by official incompetence, slapdash law enforcement, corruption and a corner-cutting culture among some businesses. It’s common knowledge that corrupt manufacturers and growers still use bribery and corruption to escape scrutiny.

Which brings me back to the bad news – that peach.

Eat The Peach? Certainly Not!

The facts:

  • Sunday evening in the neighbourhood fruit store

A shop widely considered to trade in Hangzhou’s finest selection of fruits. A large store, open 24×7, all year round, I supposed its popularity was simply down to the fact you are given what you pay for: natural fruit, preservative and pesticide free, as in normal fruit, grown locally… generating visions of suppliers being meticulously selected by a resident ‘Man from Del Monte’, giving his nod of approval to the perfect pineapple or apple… Well not quite, clearly a figment of my imagination.

The shop has a large imported section, offering exotic fruits from all over the world to their bàofā hù (nouveau riche) patrons mad for anything deemed exotic, to know off their knowledge and sophistication.  In my mind best to avoid this part of the shop for the same reason I’d avoid purchasing any ‘fresh’ consumable products from outside China, knowing the length it took to get from source to shelf (Kiwi from New Zealand, Apples from the USA? Bananas from South America? Hmm, imported fruit just looks too perfect and do we really believe they’re all air-freighted in?).

So the local fruit section it is.

  • Discerning shoppers everywhere like pawing their fruit for ripeness and the masses here are no different

However, in a big fruit shop that can make for a lot of grubby paws feeling up the goods: ‘The greener the fruit, the less manhandled its likely to be; let it ripen at home’, so the prevailing wisdom goes.

Two curvy, still hard, peaches caught my attention. I reckoned after being stored at an average room temperature of about 22 Celsius they’d be perfect to eat in three days. Back in the apartment, I left them on the table in their open plastic bag and went about my business, as in business trip to another city.

36 hours later I noticed a damp blot on the table cloth under the plastic bag and lifted it up. Liquid is seeping right through the plastic bag, and while one of the peaches looks exactly like it did when purchased, the other has simply dissolved into a gooey toxic mush.

  • And the upshot of this morbid tale about defiled peaches?

Yesterday, still incredulous, I recounted the story to the wife of Umberto, who, Umberto often complains, is overly preoccupied by a fear of preservatives, toxic chemicals, phony foods, and corrupt practices. Mother of three, Wu Bei wasn’t in the least bit surprised offering me the following prudent advice the next time I go fruit hunting in China:

“.. pick the fruit that’s looks somewhat chewed  and scarred by insects, because if  it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for you…. The most flawless delicious looking fruit is the most dangerous of all”.

A slightly more resigned Umberto quips that perhaps the best rule of thumb is to keep changing your poisons.

Seeing is believing…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fast forward to March 2013

– Rivers of blood: the dead pigs rotting in China’s water supply

“Shanghai’s drinking water is under threat after 16,000 diseased pig carcasses are found in tributaries of the Huangpu river…” Source / read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/29/dead-pigs-china-water-supply?guni=Article:in%20body%20link

The reason why 16,000 pigs ended up in the Huangpu River was never fully explained by the authorities.

Fast forward to April 2013

– Bottled water scandal highlights food safety challenges

“The quality “..criteria Zhejiang’s Nongfu Spring uses are looser than national tap water standards in terms of the amount of arsenic and cadmium allowed in its products…. Nongfu Spring uses criteria that were set by the government of east China’s Zhejiang Province in 2005. National standards were upgraded in 2007…. Nongfu Spring was the only drinking water company to participate in drafting the Zhejiang provincial standards….. enterprises are only allowed to adopt local standards in exceptional cases when there are no relevant national standards….Nongfu Spring’s products do not meet the requirements for such an exception… China has formulated nearly 5,000 compulsory food safety criteria due to its excessive number of government departments….”

” Source / read more: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-04/12/c_132304484.htm

Fast forward to May 2013

– Forget mutton: in China, it’s rat, fox and mink dressed as lamb

Sold in thinly sliced rolls for consumption in hotpots  the “…”lamb” was mixed with rat, fox and mink with additives including gelatin. The meat was sold to farmers’ markets in the two cities…” Source / read more: http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130505000018&cid=1103

Fast forward to October 2013

– China’s Gutter Oil Scandal: 1/10 Of China’s Cooking Oil May Be Recycled From Garbage

“… In our current society everybody tries to swindle everybody else there’s nothing we can do about it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kne4PL5uH7c

….. and this food scandal concerning the cat meat trade…

“.. selling cat meat to butchers who then repackaged it and sold it as rabbit…” Source / read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10417032/Chinese-police-find-slaughterhouse-selling-cat-meat.html

China – Under The Hood: Exposing a quack doctor in Hangzhou

Ever seen the film “Catch Me If You Can“? Stars Leonardo de Caprio, in this apparently true story in which he impersonates a school reporter, a pilot, a doctor, and then a lawyer and fools everyone.  Eventually he gets caught.

Doctor Theodore M, M.D. PhD’, presented himself as “one of the foremost western psychologists residing in China“, with an assortment of qualifications, degrees (which would require substantial academic writing and journal submissions), and experience that covered many different facets of the medical profession. Having satisfied themselves Doctor Theodore M was a highly qualified medical professional local Chinese resident and ex-pats living in Hangzhou with real medical needs flocked to consult with him on various ailments. All had confidence in his abilities not only to treat, but they also took solace in the professional advice that a medical practitioner of his stature would undoubtedly provide.

Early in February, a Chinese girl received an email from the Doctor, which was in effect an unsolicited sexual proposition. The email contained his mobile number. The girl in question demanded an apology. After repeated requests and with no apology forthcoming she posted a warning about Doctor Theodore M on the Hangzhou Expat Forum.  In a state of denial, believing that the best defence is offence the Doctor accused her of defamation of character.

It just so happened that prior to reading the girl’s post on the Forum I was reading a news article in which HR recruitment experts were commenting that employers will always do an online search for “extra” details about potential job candidates — the point being make sure that information about yourself, especially your background, which you post online is true because someone somewhere is going to Google you [or if you are in 2013 China “human flesh search you”!]

Anyway, I had some time to burn today, as one does when it is seriously freezing outside, and as I re-read the posts on the topic raised by the girl something just didn’t seem right. As we say back home, I smelt a rat. This guy’s mode of offence wasn’t very becoming of a medical practitioner of repute, especially a psychologist.

And so began the Google search. Soon Google was throwing up lots of disturbing information about the Doc M… He claimed to have 15 college degrees (including 3 PhDs), he was Reiki Master/Healer, a member of the US Marine’s elite Delta Force, a stuntman, a bounty hunter, a former police officer, and an actor. Google search threw up a huge amount of information about this Superman going back 15 years.

About those degrees:

  • AS Degrees in Arts & Sciences – York & Gaston Technical Colleges
  • BS- Healthcare Services; Alameda University
  • BS-Psychology and Master of Arts- Counselling – Alameda University
  • Masters of Science-Psychology and Masters of Science-General Medicine – Medical University of South Carolina
  • D. in Medicine – Medical University of South Carolina
  • D. in Psychiatry – Medical University of South Carolina
  • D. in Philosophy – UC Berkeley

He had purchased all the degrees certificates online. Alameda University in particular has a reputation for selling any type of degree at a price. Further research confirmed that the Doctor Theodore M wasn’t registered with any reputable medical school / authority in the USA, especially the American Medical Association.

Out of the blue Hangzhou had its very own version of Catch Me If You Can starring Theodore M. The man was nothing more than a con-artist with a very big ego (conmen usually are).

A quack doctor exposed: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck!
A quack doctor exposed: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck!

How his scam worked

1.       Buy the degree online

2.       Reside in a developing country with second and third tier cities crying out for the ‘professional wisdom of expert Westerners’, and where nobody can hardly speak  English, let alone read and write it

3.       Have you online purchased degree notarised by the nearest US Consulate (in this case the US Consulate in Shanghai)

4.       Use the officially notarised documents to attain a license to practice as a medical physician

5.       Use your charm

6.       After you have the license you could easily apply for a job in needy hospitals, the notarised documents being proof that  medical qualifications / degree are bona-fide

Doc M‘s approach opened doors to Hangzhou’s leading hospitals, and before long hewas even advertising his services as “a licensed and certified China organizer for organ Transplants for Foreigners“, a minefield controversial subject in China last year given evidence that the body parts of executed prisoners were being used in transplants (a trade that Chinese authorities have since outlawed, which doesn’t necessarily  mean that the organ donation trade will stop in China any time such is the huge domestic demand for organ transplants).  Moreover, most alarmingly, as a licensed physician Doc M was also able to prescribe any type of prescription medication, including anti-depressants and sedatives, which are considered very dangerous medications if not administered by a real professional doctor.

So Doc M was abusing a position of trust that had the potential not only to seriously undermine the credibility of bona fide foreign doctors practising in China, but also the legitimacy of all foreign professionals working in Hangzhou.

Soon other women started coming forward accusing the Theodore M of molestation and worse.  After reading his online dating profiles, and hearing and reading his victims first-hand accounts, it was clear that his deception was deception of the highest order, bearing all the hallmarks of a sex predator, who according to several definitions is a person:

“who is or was seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically predatory manner”. (Source: Google it…)

“Doctor” Theodore M was exposed as a quack. The US Consulate in Shanghai and others were informed and he is no longer practicing in Hangzhou, let alone China: Caught!

Resume of a Quack Doctor (as posted online):

“RESUME

FILM EXPERIENCE

Shake Rattle & Roll – Townsperson

Carrie 2 – Paramedic

The Patriot (starring Mel Gibson) – Militia Fighter

MODELING EXPERIENCE

Millie Lewis – Runway Model

TELEVISION COMMERCIAL EXPERIENCE

Two Local Commercials Principal and Voice Over (both)

SPECIAL SKILLS/INTERESTS

Martial Arts, Stunt Fighting, Sword Fighting, Some Singing Ability, Archer, White Water Rafting, Repelling, Expert Marksman, Hiking/Camping, Former Police Officer, Private Detective, Bounty Hunter, Photographer, Paramedic, USMC – Force Recon, Wrestler, Clinical Hypnotherapist/Counselor, Meditation Instructor, Reiki Master/Healer and versed in Buddhism, B.S. in Health Care And Much More.”

At the very least, now we know what the B.S. in Health Care really means.