Lisa LANE

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food / travel

Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture

Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea was one of many products hard hit by the pandemic. But the internationally-beloved, tapioca-based drink isn't just any import any longer — it's an entire culture.

TAIPEI — In mid-April, a report entitled "Another Unlikely Pandemic Shortage: Boba Tea" appeared inThe New York Times. This rang alarm bells for fans of the great Taiwanese delicacy, also called bubble tea, milk tea or Zhenzhu Naicha in Mandarin Chinese. The bad news came just as the weather was warming up, the tensions brought about by COVID-19 were easing, and the food and beverage industry was hoping for a pick-up in business.

The global pandemic caused a major shortage in the supply chain of tapioca pearls, bubble tea's most important ingredient that sets it apart from other beverages. More than 90 % of tapioca starch comes from Taiwan, as the three partners of Boba Guys, a franchise chain, explained to their clients in an Instagram post.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

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Geopolitics

China: The Public's Right To Speak Up On Family Planning Policy

The CCP is not used to sharing the decision-making role with the public, but that may be exactly what all sides need to try to encourage more Chinese people to have babies.

-Analysis-

BEIJING — On May 31st, China announced its new so-called "three-child policy" that allows couples to have three children. The policy was announced just 20 days after the release of the results of the Seventh National Population Census. They show the country's trend of an aging population is worsening, with only 12 million new births recorded in 2020, the lowest since 1960. This isn't a coincidence.

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Geopolitics

Strait Talk: China Invading Taiwan Is Mostly Just A Matter Of Time

Though Beijing is not likely to launch any overt operation right away, experts predict it's most likely to try to force Taiwan's reunification between 2025 and 2030. This would almost certainly prompt a U.S. response.

-Analysis-

TAIPEI — There has been no shortage of recent warnings about China trying to take over Taiwan by force. The May 1 cover story of The Economist called Taiwan: "The most dangerous place on earth."

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iQ

Hosting Tokyo Olympics During COVID Is Like Gyokusai Suicide

With infections surging, and only 1% of the population fully vaccinated, many say that devoting so many resources to hosting the Summer Games is a recipe for disaster.

-Analysis-

TOKYO — A doctor friend of mine is a member of the Medical Services team for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but right now his attention if focused on New Delhi. "If the current situation continues, Japan will become like India," he told me last week. "We'll be totally unable to fight against the new Indian variant of Covid-19. When the medical system collapses as we fear, hosting the Olympics will be but a wishful dream."

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Sources

Abandoned Pets Crisis Amid Hong Kong's Emigration Wave

As a growing number of people pack up and leave the former British colony, the question arises: What to do about the family dog?

HONG KONG — Sesame, an 11-year-old poodle, has gone to the kennel twice now, and it's clear she didn't appreciate the experience. She came home both times with tummy trouble, throwing up and with a loss of appetite.

The animal's owner, Florence, organized the kennel visits as a kind of "training" experience, a way to prepare Sesame for an upcoming trip to Taiwan, where the family plans to emigrate. She'll have to travel alone in a plane's cargo hold. That, plus a quarantine upon arrival, will take at least seven days.

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Sources

China's 'One-Child' Generation Chooses Cats Over Babies

BEIJING — Menglin's boyfriend accompanied her to the clinic. It took less than 10 minutes for the doctor to place the contraceptive implant in Menglin's upper left arm. It's now very unlikely she'll get pregnant in the next three years. She is 31, a good age to give birth, but she is reluctant to start trying.

Young people with the same mindset as Menglin are a fast growing phenomenon. China started loosening its family planning policy in 2011 and lifted the one-child only control in 2016, but the country's fertility rate hasn't simultaneously gone up. In 2019, its total fertility rate was less than 1.52, the lowest since 1949. This is a number far lower than most developing countries. It's even lower than most developed countries.

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Coronavirus

Cheaters Gonna Cheat! The Student Ghostwriting Boom In China

What's an enterprising idea born out of lockdown? Get paid to take online courses for other people, as no teacher can actually see who is taking their course.

There was a one-week review period after Lei (not his real name) had a preliminary interview with an agency he is working for. During this week he received some English learning materials including specific requirements for text formats in European and American universities, grammar tutorial materials, and a free Grammarly (grammar correction tool) account.

The work Lei had applied for is to secretly take online courses, write homework and take exams for Chinese international students. "This is a market led by demand. Not only can you raise your English level, but you'll make pocket money too", encouraged a friend of Lei who had put him in contact with the service agency.

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Future

Biometric Risk: Why China Should Say No To 'Face Swiping'

Registering facial recognition data with a biometric authentication application is all the rage in China, but it comes with major privacy concerns.

-Analysis-

BEIJING — A friend of mine recently made a business trip to China's southeastern city of Shenzhen. Arriving at an office building, he was not allowed into the elevator until he had registered his facial recognition data with a biometric authentication application. This action is called "face swiping" in China.

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Geopolitics

In Singapore, Facebook Offers No Refuge For Freedom Of Speech

The city-state's leadership has never tolerated too much political dissent; and now when it comes in the Facebook variety, officials are using the courts to silence critics.

SINGAPORE — About two years ago, Leong Sze Hian, a sixty-five-year-old financial advisor in Singapore, did what countless others do every day: He shared an article on his Facebook page.

What he didn't know, was that by doing so he'd soon find himself in a protracted legal battle with none other than the city-state's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who chose to sue Mr. Leong for defamation.

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food / travel

Understanding China's Huge Appetite For Binge-Eating Shows

Authorities have decided to start cracking down on popular web programs featuring pretty vloggers with seemingly limitless stomachs. But are they really such a bad influence?

BEIJING — They're mostly women — young, pretty and slim. But their popularity has everything to do with their stomachs, and what they're willing and able to stuff into them.

Eating shows made by vloggers are all the rage in China. Some of these stars are known as "big stomach kings," and in addition to uploading videos of themselves eating huge amounts of food, they also sell goods through their live streaming platforms. One young woman, known as Daweixian, has nearly 40 million fans and earns 600,000 yuan (nearly $80,000) per video on adverts.

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Sources

The Party's Over: Exodus Pangs Of Hong Kong Elite

HONG KONG — Ten old college classmates had rented a room in a five-star hotel. There was plenty of laughing and joking and memories, but a sad feeling somehow lingered. The reunion was really a farewell party.

In two weeks' time, Apple and her family of three will move to London. Tianxin and her husband are planning to leave Hong Kong also, for either Britain or Taiwan.

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