Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Carrots in the color of Dutch Royal Family, House of Orange

Today I was reading an article on BBC news Scientists unveil 'supercarrot' saying that scientists in the US have created a genetically-engineered carrot that provides extra calcium. It was interesting until this line came into my eye:

The orange colour we know is the result of Dutch cultivation in the 17th Century, when patriotic growers turned a vegetable which was then purple into the colour of the national flag.

Isn't this amazing? I didn't know that carrot's orange color could also have anything to do with the Dutch.
Then I did a search online. It turned out that carrot has a quite a long history.

The noble carrot has long been known as an orange vegetable thanks to patriotic Dutch growers who bred the vegetable to make it less bitter than the yellow varieties, and then it was adopted it as the Royal vegetable in honour of the House of Orange. Carrots were originally purple or red, with a thin root. The species did not turn orange until the 1500's when Dutch agricultural scientists and growers used a mutant yellow carrot seed from North Africa to develop a carrot in the colour of the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal Family. In an attempt to "nationalize" the country's favourite vegetable they began experiments on improving the pale yellow versions by cross breeding them with red varieties. These varieties contain beta carotene to produce orange-coloured roots This was developed to become the dominant species across the world - wonderful, sweet orange.

It is such an interesting finding to me. I remember carrots in my hometown used to be more yellowish and taste a little different. Now we consume quite a lot of carrot to make carrot juice every day, thanks to our Korean friend's healthy diet advice. I didn't know that I was in the birthplace of the orange carrot.

Another interesting finding reading the history of carrots is about the baby carrots. I have been wondering why US have so many baby carrots that I had never seen when I was in China. It was actually manufactured baby carrots. The process was
invented in the late 1980's by Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, as a way of making use of carrots which are too twisted or knobbly for sale as full-size carrots. Yurosek was unhappy at having to discard as much as 400 tonnes of carrots a day because of their imperfections. He was able to find an industrial green bean cutter, which cut his carrots into 5 cm lengths, and by placing these lengths into an industrial potato peeler, he created the baby carrot. It turns out to be a great business success and today in the Disney World, burgers come two ways: either with fries or baby carrots. And 80% of carrots sales in US market are baby carrots, can you believe that?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tata Nano - safe to drive in developing countries

I happen to see this picture about the new released Tata nano. It was a little shocked to see "Plastic and adhesive replaces welding"... o.o., how can this pass the crash test for safety?

Then I did a little more research, and found out, this is only for the model sold in developing countries, in which people won't drive that fast to cause fatal crash. That explains. It is too cheap to believe: $2500. The good news is, it meets European emmission standars. Although the environmental activists protested for the pollution concern since this would allow a lot more Indians to own a car, to look at the bright side of the picture, it at least shows the manufacturer's respect on today's 'global warming' concern.

This reminds me the yellow taxi that had served many years in many cities in China in 1990s. I do not know which company produced it, we call it 'Mian di ()', or 'Huang Chong (yellow bug)'. We used to love it, since 10 yuan can take six persons go 10 kilometers. It was also big enough and convenient for moving. Just in Beijing, there were 100,000 of them for a period of time. I know the safety was a big issue for this car, people told me it was just like four wheels + an engine + a cardboard box on top.

Before the end of 1998, all these kind of taxi were removed from the Beijing's street. There were no more 1 yuan per km taxi any more on the streets. The main reason was pollution rather than safety. It is true that when driving speed is not high, the possibility of fatal auto crash is limited. Tata is wise in making a green car.

When Tata unveiled its nano and attracted the world's attention, it is my best wish to see that Chinese auto companies some day would also stand up proudly to show the world a total made in China model. It seems that most Chinese auto companies are copy cat, good at reverse engineering. Look at all these facts:

1. In 2003, Toyota Motor Corp. sued Hangzhou-based Geely Group Co. for copying the Japanese company's logo and slapping it on Geely models. Toyota lost the case.
2. Honda Motor Co. won a ruling that bars Chongqing Lifan Industrial from selling motorcycles under the "Hongda" brand.
3. Honda is also suing Shuanghuan Automobile Co., saying the Chinese company's Laibao SRV is a copy of the Honda CR-V sport-utility vehicle.
4. GM Daewoo filed suit in a Shanghai court alleging that Chery Automobile Co. stole its trade secrets to make the QQ.
... ...

Some new information:
India has 8 per cent of the world’s vehicle fatalities and less than 1 per cent of its cars, with more than 90,000 people killed on the country’s roads every year. Introducing a million Nanos into the mix may bring more – and unwelcome – headlines.

What I would like to see, is Tata can somehow invest on public transportation. When people are densely populated, it really make more sense to take buses or trains than drive your own cars. Who can push this to happen in both China and India?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From "Lost in Beijng" seeing a nation in lost

Just in the beginning of the new year, China announced that it banned the movie "Lost in Beijing". The uncut movie is available online for download. We did it and watched it today. (sorry to the producers, but the ban really created our curiosity to take a look.)

It is said to be a brothel film in BBC news, since most foot
massage parlor in China more or less hide some kind of sex trade behind the scene. The story is about a young married migrant lady named Apple, works in the foot massage. Her husband, An Kun, is a spiderman who cleans the high-rise buildings' glass walls every day. Once one of Apple's friends hurt her customer because that guy attempted to offend her in the foot massage process, she got fired. Apple accompanied her to eat and got drunk. She returned to the parlor drunk and slept. The boss of the parlor raped her. In a dramatic twist,, her husband was cleaning the building outside and saw her being raped.

The rest of the story tells how these two couples, Apple and her husband An Kun, and the owner of the Parlor Lin and his wife, respond to this issue. Apple wanted to keep her job and Lin wanted to fire her. So she threatened Lin that she would report him sexual harassment if he fire her. This way, she kept her job.

Her husband, An Kun, although mad, his first reaction was asking for money, 20,000 yuan other wise going to the court. When he failed to meet with Lin, he went to Lin's wife. She suggested him that she knew her husband could do but there is no way he could win the lawsuit. An Kun slept with her, symbolically giving Lin back a ‘green hat’ which means infidelity in China. Soon, Apple was found to be pregnant. Lin wanted a baby and thought it was his. An Kun thus asked for more money. Lin's wife also signed a contract with Lin that if they divorce she would get half of his property. The baby was born, An Kun got the money at the cost of his own baby. Lin was happy being a 'father', while his wife felt the risk of a breaking relationship. An Kun finally kidnapped his own son, and Apple and Lin's wife both left Lin. The last scene of the movie, the two men were pushing an engine-failed Benz in the busy street of Beijing, painfully.

The story is nothing new, in my understanding of today's China. Things like this happen all over China, in the fast growing economy. People feel this is a development sign. I am extremely sad about it. Right close to the end of 2007, the Beijing TV news reporter jumped on the stage in a public media event to report his husband's infidelity in front of the media, while her husband was right there side by side on the stage. The unfaithful relationship is so common that people are more and more tolerant. Our neighbor in my hometown helped their son to take care of their grandson till the boy was five years old, and found out their son was not the grandson's real father... what a crazy world! What is going on, and what went wrong?

'Morally corrupt' is the exact word in describing today's China. When money is above all ethics, and money can buy everything in the society, there is nothing called moral any more. I do not believe all couples in China are unfaithful to each other and would divorce for their self interest. But the tolerance of the society is such a sad phenomenon, it is totally corrupt. I remember divorce used to be a taboo twenty years ago. People will be left alone if there was a divorce case. But now, they are everywhere. They are among my friends, my relatives, and my colleagues. They are so close in your life that you sometimes feel hard to breathe.

I think most Chinese would agree with me that an ideal relationship is permanent. So my friends, and whoever read the blog, please, try your best to achieve permanence in your relationship. I remember a Master card commercial, saying :"There are things in the world that money can not buy. For the rest of it, master card." Money is not everything in your life. There is no unsolvable problems in your relationship if you have seriously thought and are committed. Marry a person you love, not for money. If a family can not stay harmony, how can a country do?

In our wedding, the broom circled seven rounds around the groom. I finally found out what the meanings of those, so I pasted below:

Let us take the first steps to provide for our household
a nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious
to healthy living. Let us take the second step to develop physical,
mental and spiritual powers. Let us take the third step,
to increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use.
Let us take the fourth step to acquire knowledge,
happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust.
Let us take the fifth step, so that we be blessed with strong,
virtuous and heroic children. Let us take the sixth step,
for self-restraint and longevity. Finally, let us take the
seventh step and be true companions and remain lifelong
partners by this wedlock."

"We have taken the Seven Steps. You have become mine forever.
Yes, we have become partners. I have become yours. Hereafter,
I cannot live without you.
Do not live without me. Let us share the joys.
We are word and meaning, united.
You are thought and I am sound. May the night be honey-sweet for us;
may the morning be honey-sweet for us;
may the earth be honey-sweet for us and the heavens
be honey-sweet for us. May the plants be honey-sweet for us;
may the sun be all honey for us;
may the cows yield us honey-sweet milk.
As the heavens are stable, as the earth is stable,
as the mountains are stable, as the whole universe is stable,
so may our unions be permanently settled."

PS: The picture is from "the Kiss" by Gustav Klimt, the famous Austrian painter.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Our best Dutch commercial of the Year 2007

I finally found this on Youtube. It is our most loved Dutch TV commercials of last year. It is about two mobile companies: Orang and T-mobile merge together. The video is sweet and meaningful. Here is the lyric:

I can see wonder
around every turn.
Eyes open wider
live wires that burn.
Shadows and light
soul shining bright.
turning the night into day
the roads that we take
descisions we make
all of it going our way
live wires

The music is very nice, and it is specially written for this commercial called "Guide me home".

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New year and firecrackers

We spent our first new year in the Netherlands, quietly and peacefully. I was wondering where have all our neighbors in the street gone. It seems that most of the households lights were off. Other than one day, the 31 of December, the sound of firecrackers woke us up in the early morning until after midnight in the new year. I was woken up by a round of loud crackers and checked up the time, it was 3am in the new year.

Then I got to know, the legal time to play fireworks in the Netherlands is from 10am on Dec.31, to 2am on Jan.1st. It was a gloomy day on the 31st. Many kids were gathered on the street playing fireworks. They have to enjoy the whole time span that was legal to play, rather than waiting until the night falls. Around the midnight, it was a fireworks show! We stayed in our balcony for a while, the whole town was in the smoke and smell of firecrackers.

Some interesting data relating to the fireworks in the new year celebration:
1. Hundreds of people were fined by police for having played fireworks out of the legal time period;
2. The auto insurance company would have to pay four million euros for the cars damaged by firecrackers during the new year.
3. This year, shops all over have stored 9,500 tons of fireworks, and sold for around 60 million euro.

On the new year day, we went out for a walk, at the same time inspecting the battle field remains of the previous night's firecrackers. I have passed the age of playing fireworks. Although I enjoy the splendid scene in the sky, it also reminds me the busy emergency rooms in the hospitals because of the screaming emergency trucks passing by. It reminds me of the firework factory disaster in 2000 in the Dutch town of Enschede, in which in a split second almost 400 houses were reduced to their foundations and another 1,000 damaged.

Why do people know that it is dangerous but still playing with it? In the toy industry in the past year, so many recall of toys made in China due to problems that might have potential risk, such as the lead paint. But why is fireworks not banned fully with so much apparent damage? Isn't it burning the money for a second of loud sound or shining in the sky?

In China, people always think that a new year without firecrackers doesn't feel like a new year. In the history, the new year - nian - is an evil. People play firecrackers to scare him away. How were firecrackers able to survive but some other new year rituals dying without any complain? Chinese cities have banned firecrackers for several years, but it seems to be loosening the control in recent years. I would really hope that there would be some great toys coming into the market for the celebration of the new year, with light and sound, to replace fireworks.