Beijing Bookstore



In which I want to have my dumplings and eat them too

About two years ago I spent spring break at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and I started in theory as a way to chronicle the trip to a handful of friends, and let them know what I was eating. Since then, I have been writing about what I ate in other cities as well, and about movies, Italy, math, and even theory.

Tomorrow, I am going to Beijing to spend once more spring break over there, and to talk about dense subsets of pseudorandom sets and about integrality gaps for vertex cover.

Not that anybody has asked me, but I reject and denounce the lack of freedom of religion in Tibet (and elsewhere in China), the crackdown of the recent protests, and the way government media is covering the events (focusing only on the damage suffered by Han Chinese because of the riots). And since I am on the subject of denouncing and rejecting, I am going to add the “settlements” approach of diluting the Tibetan population with a heavy influx of Han Chinese, which will only make any future autonomy agreement more complicated, and the ethnic stereotyping (which, in the West, we prefer to call “racism,” unless it is directed at Muslims) which sees Tibetans as lazy people who live off welfare, and are still unhappy.

On the other hand, I approve and accept of the great vibe at the ITCS, with a number of very smart students interested in all aspects of theory, of Beijing, which is an awesome city that reminds me of Rome in a number of deep ways, of the food (of course), and of the feeling of witnessing historic change, because China will surely be very different in ten or twenty years.

So how does one reconcile these feelings? One doesn’t. Without meaning any moral equivalence, I also reject and denounce the war in Iraq, the torture, the rendition, and many other things that I have funded with the taxes I have paid in the past eight years; the taxes that I have chosen to pay by choosing to live here. And I reject and denounce many other things, which I indirectly enable, or of which I take advantage. (I may denounce and reject racism, even as I live with a number of privileges, such as driving around and not being stopped by the police, because I am white.) So maybe, as most people in San Francisco, I could become a vegan who buys only sustainably grown vegetables and fair trade products, and bikes around town on his way to anti-war protests. And, concluding my straw-man argument by offering a false choice, I instead prefer to try to be morally sound in a smaller scale, in my interaction with friends, neighbors, and colleagues, to try to cause as little direct harm to others as I can, and to enjoy the xiaolongbao.

You cannot stand under my umbrella, because they took it at the door

I hate it when things are forbidden for “security reason.” I just heard on the radio that umbrellas will be banned at Rihanna’s upcoming US concerts. Apparently that’s because during her European tour lots of people came with umbrellas to the concert, opened them when a certain song was played, and the risk of injury was believed to be too high.

The song in question, by the way, is actually good, not just danceable, as shown by this awesome acoustic cover.

(Youtube is replete with acoustic versions of dance songs; this version of Crank Dat manages to be sillier than the original, a feat that would seem impossible.)