Thursday, January 14, 2010

You Go Google!

I applaud Google for taking a stand against censorship and intellectual property rights in China in light of the recent security breach at Google and 34 other Silicon Valley companies. Censorship by the Chinese government and a cyberattack on the g-mail accounts of human rights activists pushed Google to act. Personally, as an American citizen, I never really thought much about censorship and security on-line when I logged into Google. I had no idea that the Chinese government had placed restrictions on content that could be pulled up on Google’s search engines at its Chinese mainland site: Now I’m not so naive.
However, that has all changed now as—at the time of this writing—Google is operating freely and without any restriction on content in China. Within minutes of the information firewall imposed by the Chinese government going down, citizens of China were able to download previously hidden information and images on Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. How long will this freedom of information last in China? Not long I predict. 
In addition to stopping censorship on its search engines, Google is considering pulling out of China completely.  Will Google, and other American companies with Chinese interests, continue to sit back and let Communist China dictate restrictions on how an American company should operate? Doesn’t America stand for Freedom? That should apply to Internet freedom as well. 
I am hoping that change is possible and the lure of revenue will not draw Google back in. Censorship and cyberattacks are just plain wrong. Unfortunately, the Chinese citizens are the losers in this game. If Google stays the course and leaves China, the current free and open Google search engines vanish. If Google backs down and continues to censor information, the Chinese government will gain yet another victory and place further restrictions and limits on Internet searches in mainland China.
Google is blazing a path here. Western companies operating in China have long bent their own morals and rules to accommodate those of Communist China. Google stood up and said “NO!” 
There are some who will say it’s okay to change the operating rules for the Chinese government, and we should just work out some sort of a deal with China. This has undoubtably been going on for a long time already. But is it really possible to negotiate with an unyielding Communist government? Just ask those who witnessed, died in, or survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which the Chinese government has continuously attempted to cover up. 
Freedom of information or censorship? Which would you choose?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Japanese Favorites

Yes, I realize this has nothing to do with surviving suburbia. It falls under escaping suburbia. My recent, and really quite unexpected, travels to Japan over the past few years have yielded a few favorite encounters from a culture I never thought I’d explore and experience. Here is my short list of discoveries:
  •  Zen gardens and Shinto shrines in the middle of Tokyo.
  •  Old ladies in kimonos with their hair dyed pink, purple, or blue tottering around on their wedges.
  •  The heated and musical Japanese toilets.
  •  Little bows.
  •  Eating the closest duplication of my Grandmother’s homemade raised sugar doughnuts at the New Otani Hotel. How did they get her recipe?
  •  Japanese maples dripping leaves into ponds filled with Koi.
  •  The beauty and serenity of Kyoto.
  •  The crazy music and bells and whistles that play in the subways when the doors of a train are closing.
  •  Vending machines selling cans of hot coffee and tea on all of the street corners.
  •  Feeling like a blonde goddess in high heels and a bright pink coat as I towered over the masses of Japanese clad in neutral black and khaki.
  •  Spotting Mt. Fuji from my hotel window on the morning of my departure from Japan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tips For Air Travel with Kids

What do you do when faced with an 11 hour flight to the other side of the world? This is daunting enough for an adult but add a couple of kids into the mix and things get a bit chaotic. Having recently completed such a trip across the Pacific from Minnesota to Japan with my sister and her two small children, I can say that we all survived very well. But advance planning is key!
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years traveling with my kids as well as on my most recent trip with my young niece and nephew:
  •  Arrive extra early at the airport. This is especially true in light of the attempted bombing of that Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day. Expect longer than usual lines and delays going through security.
  •  Find some good (and somewhat healthy) kid food before you board the plane. I’ve found it’s always best to feed the kids before getting on the plane. The kids meals on flights are sometimes nasty and they will usually just pick at an adult meal. If McDonalds is your only choice, do it.
  •  Let them run around. Probably a no-brainer bit of advice. Let them ride the escalators, run around a corner of the gate area, climb the stairs. Anything to get that energy out. A quick visit to the restroom is also a good distraction.
  •  Bring another change of clothing. Not only in case your luggage gets lost. My kids would end up soiling themselves before we even boarded the plane. Packing  a clean and dry outfit beats sitting in soggy pants all the way to Toronto.
  •  Distract them. Once on board and into their seats, pull out something for them to do. Depending on their age of course. To help their ears during take-off: For little ones, suckers or Life-Savers candies work great for take-off. Bottles or nukies for the babies. My rule of thumb is once you are up in the air, distract them until they fall asleep, which they usually will. iPods and portable DVD players are necessary devices, especially for those long international flights.
  •  Have extra distractions once those batteries die out. It never fails. 7 or 8 hours into a flight the charge dies on the iPod and computer. No more music or movies. Now what? This happened on my last trip. My niece and I toured the plane many times. We delved into the many snacks that we had brought along. We pulled out the sticker books and as a last resort, we read the same three Sesame Street books continuously for an hour. Elmo never bores a 14-month old! Thank goodness sleep prevailed again and saved me from another hour of Elmo!
  •  Bribery. I’m totally guilty of this tactic. If all else fails . . . a special treat once they get onto the ground is always enticing and may even stop the whining and fit-throwing!

I can say we all arrived in Japan with minimal fussing and mess. No complaints, only compliments from our fellow passengers. Good luck on your next journey with your gang!
Stretching out after her flight from Tokyo