2013: Books


Like many a liberal arts graduate, I was voracious reader growing up who almost completely abandoned non-assigned reading for 4 years, an unfortunate development which spilled into the first couple years of working life.  Yet, with the work flexibility my job allows, and my self imposed Mon-Tues-Wed early bedtimes, I’ve found myself with the time to knock through more books this year than the past 4 combined.  I typically read for 30-60ish minutes before bed each night, and a couple hours per weekend day.  Not exactly prolific, but enough to get through over 20 books this year.

The ten best books I read in 2013:

10.  The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester-  Delightful story of an eccentric British scientist who became obsessed with the Chinese language, and the wormhole he followed this passion down.  Set during a very turbulent era of China’s history, it is a very accessible and readable account of an amazing life story.

9.  Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami-  A sweet book that ignited my Murakami binge this fall.  Doesn’t approach the weirdness and triumph of his other novels, but a good story and beautifully written.

8. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon–  Brad Stone- Roared through this one on my Kindle in just a few days.  As an Amazon Prime addict, this only reaffirmed my faith in the company and it’s leadership to forever pursue what is in my bank account’s best interest (at the expense of perhaps everything else in the retail ecosystem).

7.  Bright Lights, Big City, Jay Mcinerney-  Downloaded this on a whim (probably as a result of a “New York in the 1980s” Google adventure), and read it in one sitting on a weekend afternoon.  A kind of Catcher in the Rye for coked up yuppies, it is visceral, hysterical, and just about as fun as books get.

6.  Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us–  Michael Moss (OK I cheated- I listened to this on Audible).  Was, appropriately, my walking to and from gym listening for several weeks.  This book, along with Michael Pollen’s Twitter feed, had almost as much impact on my diet this year as the bagel shop down the street.

5.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera-  I read this one in January, and I am fighting to convince myself it’s not already time for a re-read.  A novel light on plot development and heavy on philosophical musings which really stuck with me.

4.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain-  I really like the comparisons to Catch-22 here.  This is a darkly funny and deeply subversive book which explores the chasm between the military and the country it serves.  The juxtaposition of the soldiers with the NFL players is unforgettable, and I can’t get the scenes with the Dallas Cowboys owner out of my head.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who has ever winced during a “salute the troops” moment during a televised sporting event (brought to you by Doritos!)

3.  Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, Bryan Burrough and John Helyar-   This one dominated my life for a a good month.  Amazingly well researched, and even with the minute by minute details of meetings and negotiations between hundreds of Wall St types, you never lose track of what is ultimately a thrilling jacked-up-capitalism narrative.  This was definitely the best business book I read all year, and by many accounts, one of the best of all time.

2.  A Wild Sheep Chase/Dance Dance Dance,  Haruki Murakami- Though Dancex3 is technically the sequel to Sheep Chase, these are two very distinct books which can be enjoyed independently (although I’d recommend going in order if you can).  Both are quasi-detective stories, one a search for a mythological sheep, the other for a lost girlfriend, with trademarked Murakami surrealism, ambiguity, and digressions.  Both have fairly weak character development, a meandering plot, and inconclusive endings.  Yet both were fantastic page turners, laugh out loud funny, and ultimately very relateable.  I read these were solid Murakami entry points, and now 5 books in, I’d say that is good advice.  I loved both of these equally, and can unequivocally recommend both to any internet strangers who stumble upon this blog.

1.  Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.  This novel is metaphorical, philosophical, dreamlike, with “a bewildering overflow of possible meanings“, yet completely and compulsively readable.  Although some thematic elements will be familiar to any Murakami reader, the plot is delightfully creative, and the alternating narrative structure keeps the pages turning with wonder and intrigue.  The characters are more developed, and often likable, than other Murakami I’ve read, and the plot, however bizarre and requiring a suspension of disbelief, is straightforward and gripping.

I digested the book for a few days after finishing before allowing myself to dive into internet reviews and discussion, having enjoyed online analysis of previous Murakami I had read.  Yet I can’t say any were particularly enlightening, or caused me to reevaluate my interpretations.  In fact, I think that is my favorite part of this book: no erudite interpretations are needed to fully enjoy this book.  Any other writer would probably leave me feeling unintelligent, angry, or apathetic by the end of such a metaphysical mind-bender.  Murakami’s writing makes me want to simultaneously turn the pages faster, and slow down to savor the beauty of his words.  I can’t wait to read more.

Kafka on the Shore

My 2013:  Reading.  Music.  Running.


How I Spent 2013 in New York

I moved to New York City on October 1st, 2012.  After living at home for a few months after a breathless 3 years in China, it was a welcome life change.  I had a good job lined up, some of my best friends were living within a three mile radius, and I was simply giddy at the opportunity to live in this amazing world city.

I’ve worked hard at my job, and am proud of the progress we’ve made launching, operating, and growing the business in just this one year.   It has been stressful and difficult working remotely (with a 12 hour time difference!), and we are still in the very nascent stages of what we are ultimately looking to build.

Personally, it has been perhaps an even more fulfilling year.  I’ve spent quality time with old friends, met new ones, patronized hundreds of restaurants and bars, covered vast areas of the city on foot, and am in a great relationship.  Yet as I thought about my year in retrospective, I realized I’ve had a renaissance of two old favorite hobbies, and the birth of a new one.

While I can’t call it the best year of my life (as I recall, 1993 was pretty great), this has been a very important year for me personally and professionally.  After some (albeit pretty minor) personal turmoil upon returning to America, I have a seemingly workable 2-5 year plan in place (spoilers herehere, and here) and the tools and drive to go forward.

This is how I spent my free time in New York in 2013: Reading.  Music.  Running.

Chinese Brands Not Trusted Abroad

China! Land of Contrasts!  (Cue pictures of migrant workers wearily hauling bags of cement on bleak construction site with glitzy high rises shooting up behind them).  Citing seemingly contradictory, irreconcilable statistics or facts when considering China is not breaking new ground (communist, authoritarian politics vs. entrepreneurial grassroots capitalism, gigantic investments in green technologies vs. hellish pollution and environmental degradation, push for an internationalized yuan vs. currency manipulation etc…), but, as the infallible James Fallows writes, “really absorbing them is one of the greatest challenges for the outside world in reckoning with China and its rise”.

When it comes to American perceptions of China, I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the confused feelings many in the US have then citing these two statistics back to back: 53% of Americans (falsely) name China as the world’s “top economic power”, yet  94% cannot name one single Chinese brand.  Despite lofty international expansion goals and lavish marketing, roughly the same number of people can identify a Chinese brand as currently approve of Congress.  Whether this is indicative of some sort of endemic “soft power fail” on behalf of Chinese business and political leaders, or we are simply in the embryonic stage of companies with huge addressable domestic markets turning their focus abroad…Congress.  Ouch.

China is well aware of this, and it is fascinating watching how individual companies, government leaders, and media outlets address this challenge.  With the recent acquisition of Smithfield by Chinese food conglomerate Shuanghui International, more attention than ever is being focused on the global ambitions of Chinese companies.  The marketing, branding, and public relations challenges Chinese companies are facing, and will continue to face, in the United States are daunting, and I’ll be very interested to watch (and get my hands dirty with) these business opportunities in the years and decades to come.

This is an excerpt from a piece which recently appeared in The Global Times (环球时报) on the severe lack of trust in Chinese brands abroad, and the importance in addressing this.

Original article http://world.huanqiu.com/regions/2013-06/4031557.html

My translation:

American Report:  Chinese Companies Not Highly Trusted Abroad

Edelman, a well known US public relations firm, recently released the “2013 Global Trust Barometer”.  According to this report, Chinese companies do not enjoy a high level of trust globally, ranking in the bottom third of the 17 countries surveyed.  Without considering the scientific basis of this survey, this should serve as a wake up call to Chinese companies.

A Chinese company’s image abroad does not just impact its own operations and profits, but is linked to the overall perception of other Chinese companies.  The behavior of thousands of Chinese companies abroad constitutes a very important component of the international community’s opinion of China.  In the eyes of many foreigners, their feelings towards Chinese companies is the most intuitive and direct element in their overall opinion of China.

China is currently in a critical moment of its rise.  China’s rise is very different from that of other nations throughout history, as it is a peaceful road towards power.  Thus, the importance of “flexible means” and “soft power” are naturally higher, and the image of the nation and its corporations abroad is increasingly perceptible.  Chinese companies, especially those aggressively seeking to expand abroad, have an “unshirkable responsibility” to be a window through which the world can observe China’s rise.  Through their actions,  these companies can assert a positive image of China, display the harmony and strength of Chinese culture, increase the acceptance of China by the international community, reduce resistance to China’s rise, and most importantly avoid “high costs” associated with China’s development.

In light of these considerations, problems and situations arising regarding Chinese companies abroad cannot be ignored, no matter how small.  If the problems Chinese companies abroad are facing do not find substantive solutions, they will face a bottleneck in expanding globally, or even initiate a domino effect by increasing difficulties for companies going abroad in the future.  With the deepening reality of China’s rise, this bottleneck could hinder the nation’s growth.

Improving the image of Chinese companies abroad requires the help and support of all levels in China, as well as increased efforts on behalf of these companies themselves to find a mutually complimenting balance between profit and image.  To realize the “great revival of the Chinese nation”, we must work together to improve the image of Chinese companies abroad.

Original Chinese:


美报告: 中国企业诚信可信度的全球排名不高







Witnessing Compassionate China in the“Weibo Era”

This is an interesting piece which appeared in the People’s Daily two days after the recent earthquake in Lushan, Sichuan on April 20.  I found the immediate government emphasis on “ethical social media usage” interesting, and can perhaps serve as a useful comparison to the week long media bonanza in the US after the Boston Marathon attack.  In the US, the feckless cable news coverage made Twitter the de facto platform for reliable information (if not seem almost calm and collected), where in China the tightly controlled CCTV coverage stood in contrast to lively debate, mostly about the legitimacy of charity donations and competence of the government response, on Weibo.  The circumstances of a natural disaster and a terrorist attack are obviously different, but both can lead to a useful national conversation about media consumption during tragedies.

Without further adieu, my translation…

Witnessing Compassionate China in the“Weibo Era”

All of China sprang into action.  Moments after the Lushan earthquake, the government took strong and effective initiatives, the media began broadcasting information, and countless ordinary citizens found their own ways to help.  With hundreds of millions already living online, internet communities are also undoubtedly a positive force and an important platform in times like these.

A Weibo message from the Chinese International Search and Rescue Team was forwarded over 460,000 times; an “Earthquake Rescue” Weixin account accumulated  100,000 followers and 150,000 messages in less than 1 day; internet search engines and web portals acted together to construct a “person finder” search engine for those searching for loved ones.  Although of course not everybody can be in Sichuan or Yanan, these online platforms allow users to express their sympathies, wishes, and suggestions, regardless of distance.  There are no isolated islands in the world of the internet.  In the “Weibo era”, everybody has a voice, all of our hearts are together, and “we are all there for Yanan”

After the Wenchuan earthquake five years ago, countless QQ users put a bright red heart in their personal signature, conveying a strong emotional message.  Blogs and message boards played important roles, allowing volunteers to organize.  Five years later, from social networking to Weibo and the sudden emergence of Weixin, the internet landscape has developed along with the country.  One noteworthy aspect is the spiritual heritage of China, another is the emerging power of Weibo and Weixin in allowing countless to participate in building a new rescue lifeline.

What is more important is the maturing of public internet practices over the course of successive incidents and events.  After the Lushan earthquake, with internet awash in self-awareness and reflection, a true spirit of civic duty was forming.  Before volunteers had even set out, there were people calling for those on the roads to yield to professional rescue teams; as journalists were on their way, there were already calls to be wary of “ethical social media use”.  When false information on people search appeared, it quickly became a target of public criticism, and the public notion of “not posting rumors, not believing rumors, not spreading rumors” gained strength.  Limited telephone calls, no senseless donations, no speculative hype, no sensationalism, internet users acted calm and rationally after the initial emotional response.  Is this not further proof of progress in Chinese society?

Not merely a platform for showing compassion, the internet can actually provide strong support.  In both rescue and reconstruction efforts, the power of self organization has proven indispensable.  Although there were traffic jams caused by people blindly rushing to disaster areas, internet-organized deliveries of instant noodles and mineral water essentially replaced professional rescue teams and helped raise funds urgently needed supplies.  Besides just mobilization efforts, the internet helps aggregate information and integrate resources, not to mention fostering nationalistic and patriotic sentiments, showcasing China’s strength.

This newly emerged Weibo era has also exposed shortcomings.  Fraudulent information was interspersed with factual while belligerent sentiments simmered.  A relief organization, just recently recovering from a deep crisis of confidence, encountered fierce resistance from internet users after posting information on relief efforts.  In the face of this disaster different voices are indeed needed, but in such extreme circumstances, radical or prejudiced notions have no place.  All emphasis should be on disaster relief.

The rescue efforts have yet to be completed, and the even more difficult task of rebuilding has yet to begin.  As the passionate moral sentiments stirred up return to normal, a steady perseverance is even more necessary.  The “Weibo era” is a testament to human compassion.  In the charity donations, emotional support, and reconstruction process, this love is ever more apparent, and a positive force in the progress of Chinese society.

Original Chinese









China Shouldn’t Tolerate the US’s Presumptuous and Fabricated Hacking Accusations

This is an editorial piece recently published in The Global Times (环球时报) responding to US allegations of government-sponsored Chinese hackers attacking various US businesses.  Yes, the Global Times is a hyper nationalistic, war mongering publication (essentially “China’s Fox News“) and this may be a predictable knee jerk response to US allegations, but still…yikes.

My translation:  

China Shouldn’t Tolerate the US’s Presumptuous and Fabricated Hacking Accusations

Ridiculous accusations have been festering recently concerning the so called “organized hacking and theft of American government and corporate secrets” by Chinese organizations.  On February 20th, The Associated Press reported the Obama administrations was considering diplomatic or trade repercussions in response.  America is walking a very fine line, leaving the Chinese people at a loss deciphering Washington’s true intentions.

With the vast majority of internet servers located in America, in one sense, the internet is already controlled and monitored by the US.  America is home to the world’s greatest numbers of hackers, and it just so happens the best of the best are employed by The Pentagon.  Suddenly, the US is claiming it’s internet isn’t safe, and they are helpless in the face of Chinese attacks.  Are they trying to fool a child?

It is publicly acknowledged the US has launched cyber attacks on other countries.  As the so called “global rule makers”, the US is very callous in this regard.  Hackers first appeared in the US, and have cooperated with the US government in various capacities.  The government is thus implicit in the spreading of hacker methods and principles across the globe.

We don’t believe the Chinese government is not prepared for cyber attacks, but we firmly believe China would not preemptively take such radical actions.  To claim China ignores the principles of the internet, trampling on international governing rules, is to tell a ridiculous story to the Chinese people.  (much more literary in the original Chinese…suggestions?)

Based on this judgement, America’s frenzied and malicious accusations of Chinese hackers is merely an arbitrary exercise demonstrating America’s arrogant internet hegemony.

We highly suspect America is fabricating these Chinese hacker reports to increase public support for cyber warfare.  We even suspect America is preparing a public or semi public cyber attack, using this incident as an excuse.

It is obvious America is using these quarrels as a cheap tool of foreign policy to suppress China.  As they say, two birds, one stone.

In internet related disputes in the past, China has been too polite towards the US, indulging the arrogance of Washington.  Since America will not reciprocate China’s moderation, China should abandon it’s genial approach and unconditionally oppose the Americans.

China must calmly collect detailed evidence and verification, frankly publicize America’s attempts at internet attacks, and punish proven aggressors.  To date, relying solely on its own evidence, America has sanctioned several companies and individuals.  China rarely does this, and this unfair practice should be brought to an end.

China needs to continue closely monitoring the activities and trends of US cyber warfare capabilities.  If the US’s purpose of fabricating these hacking scandals is to increase cyber warfare preparedness, China needs to quickly respond in kind.

China does not fear the cacophony of US public opinion, and is not afraid of any actions the US government can take.  We have had enough of US rhetoric.  If the US is looking to pick a fight, we will laugh and continue on.

The fact that stories from this “Mandiant” Company and several so called “victims of Chinese hacking” can disturb US-China relations just shows how immature the bilateral relationship is. China has no duty towards Americans who spit towards us.

Original Chinese:














Japanese Government Clarifies Abe’s Comments: American Media Reports Inaccurate

Translation assignment for my translators workshop class.  Surprised how many “politically sensitive” topics we are being assigned lately.

English Translation:

Japanese Government Clarifies Abe’s Comments: American Media Reports Inaccurate

American media reports of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s comments on China from February 22 are false and misleading, according to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Jian YiWei in Tokyo.

Responding to a question from a Xinhua News Agency reporter, Jin YiWei said the Chinese government has requested the Japanese government to clarify Abe’s comments. In reply, Japan claimed The Washington Post did not accurately quote Abe, causing this misunderstanding.

Jin YiWei expressed that Japan views Sino-Japanese relations as one of the most important bilateral relationships, and that Japan seeks to establish a more proactive, strategic mutually beneficial relationship, a view Abe has repeatedly emphasized.
Previous to this Washington Post report, Abe had claimed that the need for conflict with Japan and other Asian neighbors is “deeply ingrained” in China in order to consolidate political support for the Communist Party. Japan will thus seek to hinder China’s attempts to “plunder territory” in its neighboring countries.

On February 21st Hong Lei, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed shock at the content of these reports, claiming the international community would not accept Japan’s leaders openly manipulating and inciting antagonism between neighboring countries. China is committed to developing a strategic mutually beneficial relationship, but will not watch idly as Japan makes moves to interfere in China’s domestic territory, interpretation of history, and foreign affairs. China requests Japan to immediately clarify this situation, and take appropriate measures to rectify.

Original Chinese:







Chinese New Year’s Worldwide Economic Impact

After meeting the Director of the Department of Foreign Languages at NYU recently, I was invited to audit a professional translation workshop class as part of the M.S. in Translation at NYU SCPS.  In the past few years of handling various translation projects in my work, I’ve just figured the best way I could become a better translator was simply study more Chinese.  I had assumed that as I learned more characters and increased my reading speed and fluidity, I’d just naturally become better at translating into English.  It is still true that the occasional unfamiliar character or archaic dense text will slow me down, but through this class I’ve been thinking a lot more about the mechanics and theory behind translation.  The professor emphasizes that as a translator, you are a vessel, capturing and expressing the original author’s voice in a different language, without adding your own individual linguistic or tonal flourishes.  There is indeed naturally a level of creative flexibility in your output, but if you stray too far from the source text, you aren’t doing your job as a translator.  This is a bit frustrating to me, as I am often tempted to let my creative juices run and selectively embellish specific points or slightly massage an argument.  It’s been a fun class so far and I’m really looking forward to more this semester.

This short article was assigned as homework this week.  There are a few spots in the English I’m still not happy with, but I’m hesitant to edit and stray too far from the source text.  Any suggestions welcome.


Chinese New Year’s Worldwide Economic Impact

Chinese New Year may not be an official US holiday, but with the growing influence of Asian cultures in the US, an increasing number of Americans are celebrating. The Chinese New Year is having real effects on business operations and global trade.

According to a report in USA Today, millions of Asian-Americans celebrate the holiday, and a staggering 250 million in China leave their jobs to return home and visit family. These work disruptions bring losses from Latin America to Africa and the Middle East, as well as challenges to American companies.

During the Chinese New Year period, stores from Macy’s and the Container Store will be forced to make adjustments to their product purchasing pipeline. According to statistics from the US Dept. of Commerce, the US trade deficit with China shrinks during the Chinese New Year period. Since 2007, the trade deficit with China has always been at its lowest in the 1st quarter.

China’s trade surplus with the US was $20 billion in January, falling to $15.2 billion in February during the Chinese New Year. To put this in context, the largest sporting event in the US, the Super Bowl, leads to roughly $820 million lost in productivity, far short of the New Year.

Although Asians constitute a small proportion of the US population, they have high income and education levels, and are a fast growing population demographic. With the increasing cultural influence of Asians and Asian Americans, America’s recognition and understanding of Chinese New Year is growing in tandem.

Original Text:

陸放春節 全球經濟跟著過年



春節期間,梅西百貨公司和Container Store等美國公司將被迫調整供貨管道。美國商務部的統計顯示,春節期間是美國減少對中國貿易逆差的最佳時期,美國第一季對中國的貿易逆差,2007年以來一直為全年最低。



This is where my writing occasionally goes