Are there still rooms left for us?

This year the planet Earth reaches its landmark human population, 7 billion! And projected to be 8 billon in year 2030 and 9 billion in year 2050. Homo sapiens perhaps consist of the largest mammal population in the earth. The topic was highlighted by the January 2011 issue of National Geographic, which showed a tremendous acceleration of human population growth in the past millenium of the 20th century. The number of mega cities with population exceeding one million has increased from a mere 3 in 1800 (Beijing had 1.3 million then together with Tokyo and London) to a staggering 442 in year 2010 with Asia having most crowded cities. Population growth was in no doubt one of the central focuses of the media this year. Many media sources discussed the consequence and solutions to accomodate increasing number of humans. Building vertical cities become a future trend given that it’s after all a reality.

(Figure adopted from

With the advent of industrialization and advance of medicine, human life style morphed from nomadic and periodic migration to modern city dwelling. The former life style was at the mercy of mother nature and gradually phases out in most human society. The latter provides a long-term residence but in the meantime features more frequent and more damaging pattern of short-term human travelling for business and pleasure as well as trading transportations in air, land and ocean.

Aggravating the situation, consumption culture imposes much more stress on the environment. Mass consumption as a vehicle drives the global economy, labor market and international trading, and large-scale consumption is also a determinant for policy making, a pressure for foreign relations and a motivation for scientific and engineering research.

How much pressure the Earth can uptake for our consumption desires? Is there a tipping point that leads to a catastrophe?

housing bubble in china, and elsewhere

“安得广厦千万间,大庇天下寒士俱欢颜”, not for the modern Chinese. The country is falling without values, but people just cannot care less.

People love owning properties and are crazy about owning costly properties such as houses. A tent, a shelter, an adobe, an apartment, a mansion, and a skyscraper…, from ancient tribes to modern societies, each of these structures provides human a shield that separates us from the outside, the hostile however natural environment. It satisfies human’s basic sense of protection and security against the unpredictable and the uncertainties. Never mind that this is an irony that unpredictability and uncertainty have been driving human development ever since human beings came to their existence in this planet.

OK. Enough for the philosophical blah blah… Let’s look at the Chinese housing saga. I had a few friends who had bought apartments at early 2000. Obviously now, these friends of mine are considered a lucky group that gained handsomely in personal finance, thanks to the Chinese housing bubble in the recently past years. We saw empty residence towers in big metropolitans such as Beijing and Shanghai. Now houses are merchandises, goods, means of investment, but not for sheltering ordinary people from the hostile surroundings. Instead, everyday people are under pressur to endure unprecedented physical, financial and mental stresses only to acquire a humble place to support their families. Young people struggle to buy houses and hand over with their parents’s hard-saved cash to the real estate developers. Personal and social values follow in a twisted manner that reflects the substantiated impact by the housing bubble. An ownership of an apartment is required by a Shanghai mom to her future son-in-law so that she can feel relieved for her daughter (for what?). The most common talks at lunch and dinner tables are about buying, selling, and pricing of houses (topic that is equivalently hot is the stock market, which is also busting a bubble this year). Housing slangs including “fang nu”, “wo ju”, “luo hun” are now part of the pop culture.

(Image Bloomberg. People who made down payments on homes at a China Vanke Co. development protest in Shanghai outside the Vanke Shanghai Center, standing opposite a row of security guards. Caption from Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 2011)

Years of zealous growth in housing values evangelicated people to pursue real estate ownership as nearly as a religious endeavor. Recent real estate price drop due to the Chinese government  intervention has angered many fresh buyers who believed the only way for housing price to go is up. This is an old bubble in America, but in China it is going through a whole other uncharted water. See a report from Los Angeles Times for a recent account.

Beer with Obama

Want to have Bud Light with Obama? go get arrested, by a (white) police, in Cambridge, and you must be a (black) professor from Harvard.

The hotbed race issue in America went to White House these days.

(photo taken from Times Online. From the right: Obama, Crowley, Gates, Biden)

Here comes Jin’s 2009 resolutions

This 2008 is a bumpy ride. People emerged from a country-wide snow storm, rubbles of a ravaging earthquake in the Southwest and a lavishing Olympic party that cost Chinese people another 40 billion US dollars. Now, it comes the global recession of economy, which awaits for being fully unfolded in 2009.

I do not have a resolution for 2009 that has a grand purpose. A few points anyways

(1) hike a mountain (done the Huang Mountain 2008) in my lovely Sichuan and pay tribute to the perished in the earthquake
(2) be a better scientist
(3) be a better traveler
(4) do more writings to my blog

Horay, Here comes the 2009!

Howdy 2008! Jin’s New Year Resolutions

the new year is just around the corner, again. this is a busy and lonely new year holiday in a hectic city. i need to write this down before it actually inches into 2008.

1. hike another major mountain in this country (not necessarily Mt. Everest);

2. travel to another uncharted territory on this planet (not necessarily sub-sahara desert);

3. be more scientifically literate (forever going process);

4. do regular exercise, work out! no matter how polluted outside (i need a treadmill, asap);

5. be more friendly to the city of shanghai (it starts pissing people off)

6. whatever, be a cowboy? that’s too gay.

Howdy 2008!

jin (surfing in shanghai)

Lone Star & Texas

Every time listening to Norah Jones’ Lonestar, I remember driving on Texas highway at night. Texas is a lonestar state. You can even see a shiny lonestar on the mountain in El Paso, a border town to Mexico.

Lonestar, where are you out tonight?
This feeling I’m trying to fight
It’s dark and I think that I would give anything
For you to shine down on me

How far you are I just don’t know
The distance I’m willing to go
I pick up a stone that I cast to the sky
Hoping for some kind of sign

Leave No Trace

I am not certain how many people in this country heard of the Principles of Leave No Trace, such as the conventional ones being explained here, or the updated ones discussed here. Heavy development, as people jump onto the train of "prosperity and wealth" rush, has put a giant footprint on our daily living environment. I have no idea how long this is going to last before the nature acts back on us. In fact, this is already happenning and it’s taking tolls in a massive scale (see here and here for comprehensive accounts).
Humans love to creat legacies and leave marks, unfortunately often with no sensible rationals and in harmful ways to mother nature, and it backfires.
We used to be only capable of doing such damages with largely limited and local impacts. Now we are reaching out and engaging a globalized endeavor in a collaborative fashion. I have this IPod nano originally designed in California, with electronic components patented by Japan and Korea and made in Taiwan, assembled in China by a young lady (of course), distributed by a Hongkong dealer, retailed back into the USA for profitable end users, and technically-serviced by people in India. Call it a smaller planet, however, more vulnerable to hostile activities and easier to destroy. In particular for the part that is at the bottom of this hierarchical globalization order, such as this country.
But…, there always will be an end for every party. Within an evolutionary time scale of the Universe, human civilization is nothing but a snapshot. Like other things, without exception, it came into existence and will eventually phase out. Along the course of species evolution on earth, we individuals are merely a blink of eyes. We will be all dead in several decades if not sooner by this Shanghai air, water, food quality, and mannerless drivers. What will we be able to hand over to our children? A huge mess that we recklessly left behind. Some imaginary and predictive studies have tried to look deeper into the impact of human activities on the ecosystem of our planet (see here and here for earth without humans). I think this clearly indicates a lack of vision and courage to look beyond the horizon, beyond personal goodness and beyond immediate comforts, and repeated failures to address emerging issues with effective public policy makings. What can be a better testimony to this failure than living in a material-chasing and deeply-polluted city?
Why can’t we just clean the street here in Shanghai for all people using it (never mind the air, that is too much to ask)? A simple question but went unanswered, particularly given the fact that we can all clean our own rooms for ourselves.
Ok, go hike the mountains, but please, leave no trace.