Beijing safer than most U.S. places — apparently

A common question I get asked by friends and family back home is, “How safe do you feel in China?”

Compared to the U.S., I feel very safe. I can walk down just about any alley in Beijing at 4 a.m. without the fear of being mugged. China prohibits gun ownership by ordinary citizens, and even small weapons are hard to find.

For example, a few months ago, I went to a French sporting goods outlet to buy hiking gear for a trip to southwestern China’s Yunnan province. I asked a sales clerk whether they carried pocket knives, and she gave me a strange look. Continue reading

North Korea’s Kim: Too sexy to be true?

The death of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il last December set off a period of mourning unlike anything I had ever seen.

The footage broadcast by the country’s state-run media showed tens of thousands of people in the capital Pyongyang, weeping and buckling over in grief. Women fainted, and even grown men sobbed uncontrollably. A New Year editorial published by the North’s leading newspapers called Kim’s death “the greatest loss our nation had suffered in its 5,000-year-long history and the bitterest grief our Party and people had experienced … The tears our service personnel and people shed with greatest sorrow were tears of the unity, unaffected and crystal-clear, and tears of their firm determination to follow the Party to the end of the earth.”

A few days after Kim’s death, I met with my Chinese teacher Cathy for our twice-a-week language lesson. Cathy is in her mid-40s and has lived in Beijing her entire life. Some days we choose a topic to discuss, and on this day we decided to talk about international news.

“What do you think about Kim Jong-il’s death?” I asked. Continue reading