Death Toll Rises to 431 in Yangtze Ferry Disaster

china ferry, by jason pearce

YANGTZE RIVER, China - Almost a year after the Korea Sewol ferry incident, another fatal ship accident occurred in Asia — this time in China on the Yangtze River. The vessel was carrying over 400 passengers and capsized last Sunday with the death toll now reaching 431 people — leaving 11 bodies left to be found.

Unlike the Korean ferry incident, in which most passengers were high school students, the majority on board the ship in China were aged over 60-years old and traveling as tourists from Nanjing to Chongqing. The ship served as a retirement cruise for those aboard.

The cause of the sunken vessel is still being investigated, but it is reported that there were thunder storms and a tornado above the ship before if capsized.

The remains of the battered boat were lifted out of the water on Friday. A team of rescuers went through the remains in search of any more survivors and bodies. In the excavation process the rescuers discovered smeared mud hand-prints on the walls of the sunken vessel. Photographs have been released of the hand-prints and the remains of the ship showing the passenger’s horrifying struggle for life as the ferry sank.

The rescuers also increased the search area 1000km for possible survivors and bodies to be found that may have floated or swam away.

Because the ship flipped over and sank in remarkable time, out of all the people on board only 14 people were rescued. It made it harder for rescuers to find bodies because the ship was completely over turned. However, almost all of the bodies that were found were discovered still trapped inside of the ferry itself.

According to a Chinese cultural tradition, seven days is a fundamental time to grieve over the dead. As families receive more news concerning the incident, they come together and mourn with sadness deep in their hearts. Families of passengers continue to gather near the Yangtze River to mourn and to put their hearts at ease by lighting candles and crying out the names of their loved ones.

Contributing Journalist: @VictoriaCopeland

South Korea's Abysmal Record of Disability Rights Despite Economic Prosperity

 Salt works on the west coast, Jeollabuk-do Province, Korea, Photo by Bruce Stainsby

Salt works on the west coast, Jeollabuk-do Province, Korea, Photo by Bruce Stainsby

SINAN COUNTY, South Korea – Though South Korea’s record of human rights abuse is not as heinous as its neighbor North Korea, it still grapples with abuse of the weakest members of its society. Prior to the latest exposé, there have been several studies and reports on the targeting of poor women and runaways who are approached by brokers with offers of domestic work, only to find themselves forced to work in the commercial sex trade.

Recently, it was reported by a number of news outlets that salt farmers have been using disabled men to perform the arduous work in the salt farming industry. These men are treated inhumanly and most are physically abused by their ‘employers.’ These men work to produce an estimated "two-thirds of South Korea’s sea salt on more than 850 salt farms on dozens of islands in Sinan County, including Sinui island, where half the 2,200 residents work in the industry. (Source: National Post)

According to The U.S. National Library of Medicine, the “latest National Survey on Persons with Disabilities estimated 2,683,400 persons with disabilities in South Korea, of whom 58% were men and 42% were women. People with physical disability represent approximately 50% of the entire population with disability. Disability-related policies and services to improve the participation of persons with disabilities have been expanded in the last decades, guided by 5-yr plans.” (Source: Pubmed.gov)

In 2009, the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) published a report that stated that The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (‘NHRCK’) issued a number of “key decisions on protecting the rights of people with disabilities.” (Source: APF) Yet, 5-years later the issue of wage inequality and equal protection under the law is still problematic. Until the 2014 expose by the Associated Press (AP) the issue of enslavement of the disabled on salt farms, which had previously been reported on, had slipped quietly from the public’s eye.

Though South Koreans and the rest of the world were outraged by these abuses, like many atrocities that don’t directly affect us, these concerns became “those peoples’ problems,” and we assuaged our conscience with the belief that some organization has now intervened to correct the problem. However, as with many human rights abuses in the Asian manufacturing sector, we as beneficiaries turn a blind eye because of the affordability of the items that are produced. Many of us cannot afford to boycott low cost items sold by Walmart and other megastores because it has a direct impact on our budgets. But, these savings come at the cost of enslavement or barely subsistence level wages paid to the people who spend long, back-breaking days producing the products we use.

With a population of 50.22 million, of which 632,000 are international residents, and the ubiquity with which salt is used in cooking and other processes, a great number of people are benefiting from the enslavement of disabled South Koreans who unfortunately find themselves caught up in this industry. AP and other news outlets published extensive interviews with people who were beaten, tortured, starved, and otherwise abused but knew there were no viable alternatives available to them.

Those who were brave enough to report the abuse by the salt farmers routinely discovered that their complaints were not taken seriously, and in fact, the legal system (police and courts) routinely disregarded or dismissed these allegations. When a plaintiff was successful in getting their case to court, most salt farmers were given a small fine which they quickly paid. This tacit approval of these human rights abuses only serves to reinforce the farmer’s heinous behavior, while demonstrating to the ‘salt farm slaves’ that their plight will go unchanged.

Thus, many of the enslaved disabled eventually returned to the salt farms and greater abuse because they were unable to support themselves otherwise. Salt farm owners refuted the claims of abuse and slavery with the assertion that able bodied people don’t want these jobs and if they didn’t provide employment to people with disabilities then these individuals would become a burden on society and would likely die from starvation. This argument is specious and self-serving, our outrage then complacency is deplorable, but the real culprit is the South Korean government.

Many reported on this story at the beginning of this month, and just as many have claimed that the government has investigated and brought the slavers to justice. The arrest of a few or the scapegoating of more does not address a systemic problem of the abuse of the disabled. South Korea must face the fact that it benefits from its position as a rising global economy and the political echelon would do well to remember that “...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped." ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
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Is Clean Water Technology a Solution for Africa?

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Sarah Joanne Jakubowski, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 21:25 p.m. DST, 30 June 2014

Chief Executive Officer of N&M Technologies, Head Office, South Africa

GHANA, Accra -- Earlier this month, Medwyn Jacobs, CEO of New and Master Technologies (N&M) once again presented at Annual Ghana National Health Environment and Safety (NAHES) Conference where he reintroduced N&M’s water harvesting machine that can take water out of the atmosphere and filter it into usable drinking water.

N&M Technologies is a proud South African registered and based company that was established in 1989 by the current CEO, Mr. Medwyn Jacobs. N&M's focus has always been to meet the challenges facing South Africa and Africa through new and innovative means, and addressing Africa's clean water problems is one of them.

Mr. Jacob's had hoped to convince NAHES participates in 2013 to adopt the clean water generating solution that his company offered; however, the lack of enthusiasm has Jacobs worried because a year later nothing has changed. Yet, the stakes are higher than ever since groundwater sources across Africa have been depleted and people on the Continent are running out of places to look for water.

"Your country has so much humidity," Jacobs said to conference attendees. "You will never be short of water." Even better, he promises to open factories in Ghana that produce the machine, creating jobs and keeping resources local. However, reception of the machine during this conference remained half-hearted.

The audience questioned the machines safety. Had it been tested in a variety of humidities? Perhaps it would act differently in different settings? They questioned its efficiency. Can you reuse the filter? What if somebody didn't follow directions, reused the filter and gets sick?

Those at the conference did choose to sample the water produced by the machine, raising their glasses in a toast to N&M and Ghana before ceremoniously drinking the pristine water; but at the end of the day, Jacobs was no closer to deploying his company's solution than in 2013.

Potable water is a grave problem in many countries with emerging economies. It is especially dire in Asia, Africa, and South America. According to the World Health Organization there are “780 million people don't have access to clean water, and 3.4 million die each year due to water-borne diseases.”

N&M’s machine could be one remedy to this problem, and the fact that Africans seem reticent to deploy this on a larger scale is problematic. The technology of water reclamation from the air is not new. There is an Israeli company called Water-Gen that has developed an Atmospheric Water-Generation Units using its "GENius" heat exchanger to chill air and condense water vapor.

Their solution has been deployed on a large scale and according to an April 2014 article by CNNco-CEO Arye Kohavi explained that "The clean air enters our GENius heat exchanger system where it is dehumidified; the water is removed from the air and collected in a collection tank inside the unit.

From there the water is passed through an extensive water filtration system which cleans it from possible chemical and microbiological contamination," he explains. "The clean purified water is stored in an internal water tank which is kept continuously preserved to keep it at high quality over time."

The system produces 250-800 liters (65-210 gallons) of potable water a day depending on temperature and humidity conditions and Kohavi says it uses two cents' worth of electricity to produce a liter of water.” (Source: CNN)

N&M often researches foreign ideas and technology to develop innovative solutions, and perhaps if the idea of large-scale water reclamation from the air is not readily adopted, Ghanians and other Africans may be open to another aspect of water generating systems like portable water purification systems.

These machines may be of great assistance to communities where the people are subject to the daily backbreaking tasks of carrying water for cooking, washing, and bathing over many miles in hostile conditions, often in contaminated, non-biodegradable containers, such as plastics that previously contained toxic liquids/materials.

“Water-Gen has developed a portable water purification system. It's a battery-operated water filtration unit called Spring. Spring is able to filter 180 liters (48 gallons) of water, and fits into a backpack -- enabling water filtration on the go. You can go to any lake, any place, any river, anything in the field, usually contaminated with industrial waste, or anything like that and actually filters it into the best drinking water that exists," says Kohavi.” (Source: CNN)

This is not to say that individuals in Africa can afford a single device, but perhaps in the near future, the South African company N&M could partner with a company like Water-Gen to increase market share in Africa. Through the economies of scale, such a partnership could potentially introduce life-saving alternatives to porting and drinking contaminated water. The most important aspect of this opportunity is that the solution to address this critical issue is available and now it is just a matter of scaling and adoption, and with this, perhaps N&M will receive a warmer reception at the 2015 NAHES conference.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @SJJakubowski

13-year-old Indian Girl Reaches the Top of Everest

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 10:04 a.m. DST, 14 June 2014

"Steel Bridges of Everest Base Camp Trek" Photo by: ilkerenderTIBET--A 13-year-old Indian girl wept after overcoming her fears. Her fears differ a bit from most young girls. This girl, Poorna Malavath, the daughter of poor Indian farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, cried tears of joy after successfully climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Her bravery and tenacity is incredible, especially since 16 Sherpa’s recently died in an avalanche, Everest’s deadliest ever, prompting the government to shut down the climbing season.

As the youngest female to climb Everest, she feels her victory is not only for herself but also for all young women, because “they tell us that we are nothing, that we can do nothing…but I know that I could do something, and I kept my eye on the goal, and now I made it.”

Though Nepal requires climbers to be at least 16 to scale the mountain, Malavath and her team of guides started from the northern side of Tibet, an area under control of China, which has no age restrictions. This side is considered significantly more difficult and dangerous, and in 2010 Jordan Romero, 13, of Big Bear, California became the youngest male to climb Everest, also from the Tibetan side. Before Malavath’s climb, the previous youngest woman to reach the top of Everest was Nepal’s Nima Chemji Sherpa, 16, in 2002.

She was sponsored by the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Educational Institution Society as part of its initiative to encourage underprivileged students in India. Most people in her hometown cannot read or write, and her town does not have internet or roads. Her parents are dalits, also known as “untouchable,” at the bottom of India’s caste system. Malavath attends a boarding school where she studies her native Telugu, Hindi, and English, and participates in track and field, volleyball, and kabaddi. Nine months ago she signed up for mountaineering training, a club where she would climb boulders and walls of an old fortress. Now she has reached the 29,029 foot top of the world’s highest peak after a 52-day expedition.

Though she had a few months of training, this expedition to Everest was her first mountain climb and along the way Malavath faced elevation sickness, temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and saw six dead bodies. A major challenge for Malavath was the packaged food she had to consume. “I did not like its smell or taste. I wanted to go home and eat my mother’s food,” she said. Despite being initially sent back to base camp for altitude sickness, she made it to the top before her 16-year-old friend, S. Anand Kumar.

India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi praised the duo on Twitter saying, “Was very happy to read this. Congrats to our youngsters. They make us truly proud.”

When she returns to school she will catch up on homework and she hopes to eventually join the police force, in homage to a retired policeman who introduced her and others at her school to mountaineering. When I finish my studies, I want to join the police because [of him]," she says. "It will be my thank-you to him for changing my life."

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

 

World Day Against Child Labor, 12 June 2014

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Sarah Joanne Jakubowski, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 22:25 p.m. DST, 11 June 2014

Group of breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma. Pittston, Pa, January 1911, Photo by The U.S. National Archives (Cropped)

World Day Against Child Labor, will be observed on 12 June 2014. It is the day to remember the millions of children throughout the world engaged in hard labor. These children sometimes work days spanning from 10 to 15 hours, which takes away their educational opportunities, their rights, and their dignity.

Child labor is defined as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous to children and that interferes with their schooling.

A special category referred to as the Worst Forms of Child Labor include children being separated from their families, being left to fend for themselves on the streets, being exposed to serious hazards, and being sexually exploited. This year, the global theme of the Day Against Child Labor is "Extend social protection, combat child labor."

Families who are poor, have unexpected economic downfall, sudden unemployment, or experience sudden injury of the main breadwinner of the family are more likely to turn to child labor to make ends meet. With better healthcare and unemployment benefits systems and more options and support for poorer families, the number of children in the workforce will decrease.

Progress is being made. International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates from year 2013 say that since year 2000, child laborers have declined be one third -- from 246 million to 168 million. This shows that efforts to reduce child labor are working, but also that there is a long way to go. The NPA vowed to eliminate child labor by 2015 -- at the current rate, this goal will not be met.

The situation in Africa is especially dire. One out of every five children in Africa is a child laborer. According to the ILO, the 58 million statistic has "come down, but only by a small amount."

A problem is availability of statistics -- there is no viable method currently in place to survey and record child labor in Africa. One goal of 2014 Child Labor Day is to better track child labor to study which methods currently in place are producing the most results.

Saving children from hard labor doesn`t just help the one child being saved -- it helps the economy of the entire country. When a child is working, he or she has no time for school. Without an education, the child has little chance of becoming a productive member of society. When hard and unfair labor robs a child of his potential, it is the world that suffers.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @SJJakubowski

The Ice Wall | Cordoning off Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima

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The nuclear meltdown in March 2011 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, for the company Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), following the devastating earth quakes and tsunamis continues to wreak havoc on the environment and the people living closest to the area.

As of 10 February 2014 30,000 people had evacuated the area and 15, 884 died due to the earthquake and tsunami.

A Japanese newspaper recently reported that about 90% of the plant’s workers fled following the nuclear breakdown, an account that differs from Tepco’s statement that the workers were told to temporarily stay away. A full cleanup of the area is expected to take decades.

In an effort to stem the flow of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean the construction of an ice wall began this week. Although this technology has been used on a smaller scale with the construction of tunnels and near ports, never has it been tried on a project this massive and complex.

Experts are skeptic, such as former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein, who told Kyodo News “No one has built a freeze wall this long for this period of time. Typically, you build a freeze wall for a few months.”

Klein urges TEPCO to seek the advice of experts in the US and Britain who have managed water and decontamination efforts at former military sites. Former British Atomic Energy Authority Chairwoman Barbara Judge also expressed doubts. Masashi Kamon, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University told Japan News “There is a mountain of challenges, such as possible corrosion of frozen pipes and costs of electricity. They should discuss measures that would combine other methods, such as one using clay.”

The ice wall, which will cost about half a billion dollars, will be created from the moisture in the ground which can be frozen. Holes will be dug every three feet for a mile and then pipes put in. Chilled saltwater will be run through the pipes as it freezes at a lower temperature than freshwater. Because of this the soil is easier to freeze, and thus an impermeable wall can be created. This method is chosen over other materials such as steel, because metal can degrade over time. The wall has an estimated seven-year lifetime, which would give TEPCO time to repair cracks in the turbine and reactor buildings and block the influx of groundwater.

This underground ice wall around the melted-down nuclear reactors is designed to stop hundreds of tons of radioactive groundwater from leaking into the ocean. Though the incident happened in 2011, this project is still necessary because the reactors still have hot nuclear fuel inside of them and workers have to put water into them to keep them cool. The reactors leak and because they are extremely radioactive, they can only be accessed by robots.

TEPCO said a robot sent to Unit 1 of the wrecked plant discovered a source of the water leaks. Until this leak can be plugged, water must be kept pumping out and filtered to remove radioactivity. As much as 1.5 metric tons of water leak from Unit 1 every hour or almost 10,000 gallons a day according to TEPCO estimates. A single exposure to the radioactive material could kill a person within a few weeks, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Besides the ice wall, wells have been dug and groundwater has been pumped out. This method only takes care of ¼ of the 400 tons going through the site. Holding tanks for groundwater from the area between the mountains and ocean are filling up fast.

The expected date of completion for the wall is March 2015, and several months after that the freezing process will be completed. Operating costs and electric power needed to keep the ice wall frozen are expected to be enormous.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

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International Volunteers Series: Teaching English in Yanji, China

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 2:55 p.m. DST, 1 June 2014

Oliva Elswick

CHINA, Yanji -- For The first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with young volunteers around the globe, I spoke with Sarah Dickhut, an English teacher in Yanji, China. Dickhut graduated from Loras College in 2013 with degrees in Biological Research and Philosophy, and will attend law school at University of Iowa this coming fall, where she hopes to combine law and philosophy to advocate for and raise awareness about major issues in international human rights.

Dickhut teaches at Yanji International Technical Cooperation High School, a boarding school for about 200 students of Chinese and Korean descent. Situated among farmland and pastures, this school is a quaint relief from the bustling downtown just minutes down the road. With a population of half a million people, Yanji is considered a small town by Chinese standards. Situated on the border of North Korea and Russia, Yanji is a busy transportation and trade link between North Korea and China, and Yanji’s population is largely ethnic Korean.

What prepared you for the job of being an English teacher in China?

I’m currently working as a high school teacher in a technical school, which is a subject area which differs from my degrees, so I haven’t had a lot of job-specific preparation. However, I think service in general has helped a great deal in providing me with a “willing heart,” and frequent consultation with other ESL teachers has been very useful.

Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction you did in teaching English in China?

I don’t often have “defining moments” where the clouds break and a light from the heavens shines down to illuminate my path in life. My decision to volunteer rose from a gradual recognition of how much I have been given and a desire to give something back. #blessed

What were your thoughts about China before you arrived and how have they changed or stayed the same?

A few people vocally expressed (an unfounded) concern for my safety, which initially cast a little bit of a shadow over my excitement. So after that, I really tried to avoid preconceptions or assumptions about the country.

What is one common misconception people might have about China?

The most common misconception I’ve encountered about China is that it’s extremely dangerous. In reality, as long as you avoid trouble with the government, the threat from other citizens (mugging, murder, kidnapping) is extraordinarily low. The biggest concern is really pickpocketing.

What kind of reception have you been given in Yanji?

The teachers at our school have been very cordial; the most common way I’ve experienced hospitality is through a meal. It’s not uncommon for the English department, or for the whole school to go to dinner together.

How do students usually react to you when you first meet them?

Most students have never seen a foreigner before, so when I first meet a class it usually goes like this: I walk in the door, the students audibly gasp, I say hello, and there’s a few minutes of shyness before I get them talking in English.

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Published: 1 June 2014 (Page 2 of 3)

What is a typical workweek like for you?

I teach conversational English to three different grades of high school students, and based on the Chinese class schedule I have about two classes a day. The government provides a conversational English textbook, but as long as I cover the main topics and grammar patterns I have a lot of freedom to develop creative lessons. Some of the ones I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching include lessons on the psychology of personality, American slang, and a murder mystery game.

How does this compare to the workweek of other teachers in your school?

Because the Chinese educational system is completely controlled by the government, they control the curriculum, number of classes, and number of teachers. The government’s control over teaching jobs causes them to hire as many teachers as possible within one school. Consequently, each teacher has considerably fewer classes per day than the average American teacher—no more than four 40-minute lessons a day. This means that I’m doing approximately half of the work of the average Chinese teacher.

How is your school alike or different from other schools you’re familiar with?

Since our school is a technical school, the prevalent attitude among the teachers is that classes are not so much preparation for future education as they are to help students develop into better people. So there’s a lot more flexibility in grading and the rigor of classwork. Additionally, the school allows students quite a bit of free time; they have an hour and a half for lunch, and at least one free period every day. As I mentioned, the same relaxed attitude seems to apply to the teachers. There is less demand to prepare lesson plans in advance and most teachers have time for a nap every day.

Can you explain the educational system in the part of China you live?

Structurally, our school is designed and painted exactly the same as the other high schools in the area. This system of “equality” is carried out to such an extent that even the color of paint within the schools is exactly the same. Our school does differ, however, in that it is an international endeavor between China and Korea. Basically our school is funded by both Chinese and Korean parties, and there are both Chinese and Korean administrators. The purpose is to help expand job placement for students post-graduation—we send students throughout China and South Korea.

How is Yanji different from other places you’ve visited in China?

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some larger cities, like Shanghai. These populous international cities house a multitude of cultures, so it’s easier to feel at home.

What are the hardest parts about living in Yanji?

Although Yanji is a city of 500,00, by Chinese standards it’s the modern-day equivalent of a rural village. The result is that by living in this city we are cut off from virtually all aspects of western culture.

What is the most rewarding part about living in Yanji?

Total immersion in a new culture, and the lack of English in the city propels me to use Chinese and Korean more frequently.

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Published: 1 June 2014 (Page 3 of 3)

What is your best memory so far?

It’s actually difficult to choose a single best experience…but I think one that stands out in my mind is visiting the local ice festival. It’s similar to the ice festival in Harbin, where builders take immense quantities of ice and snow to build large structures like castles and slides. At night the giant snow-slides are lit up with colored lights. It’s a really beautiful sight.

Have you found that women are viewed differently than men in Yanji?

In my experience the Chinese state that intellectually women and men are equal, however they hold gender stereotypes for careers, physical ability, and child preference. In terms of careers, I have been told on several occasions that some professions (like engineers) are more suitable for men, and that teaching is the least honorable profession for men as it indicates a fastidiousness of character. Additionally, it’s assumed that in sports, all females are at a disadvantage, so activities are carefully structured to give female players an advantage. Finally, Chinese families still have a strong preference for male children, as the male will care for his parents later in life. When a female is married, she is expected to show preference for her in-laws over that of her own parents (i.e. on family holidays a couple is expected to spend the time with the male’s parents).

What have you discovered about China’s 1 child policy?

While the one-child policy is still enforced, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, ethic minorities (like the Chinese-Koreans in my area) are allowed to have additional children. As a result, because of the high percentage of ethic minorities in my region, I have less experience with the imbalance of genders seen in many other Chinese regions.

How much of a hand do you think the government has in the lives of ordinary citizens?

I guess I can answer that through the example of the typical teacher in my area. A teacher works for the government, and as such is guaranteed a job by the government. Usually upon graduation, the government will place teachers at specific schools, and may move them if deemed necessary. As the educational system is federally run, there is immense pressure for every teacher to be a member of the Communist party—in fact, it’s unofficially necessary for promotion and awards. However, if a teacher is not a member of the Party, they are still exposed to Communist ideals through their co-workers, and “training videos” which are thinly veiled propaganda discouraging religion and political activism. The average teacher likely has a phone and computer, however the government has access to all cellular data, and censors online information including websites such as facebook, twitter, tumblr, google, and virtually all blogs. Donations for natural disasters are derived from the paycheck and are compulsory. Salary and benefits are subject to change without discussion or ability to lobby. It seems the government does everything but assign a police officer to every citizen.

How does being so close to North Korea impact your city?

The proximity to North Korea means there are many North Korean refugees in the city. Additionally, there is a military base which is used for training and to arm the border. The city is also a hub for the transportation of goods into North Korea. All commerce is supposed to be controlled directly by the North Korean government, but as this infrastructure has been weakened significantly by economic hardships, North Koreans have built an extensive black market. Common exports from our city include food, clothing, and unfortunately, methamphetamine.

You spent time in Seoul, South Korea. How similar is Yanji to Korea?

Since there is a large Korean minority living in Yanji, there are tangible influences of both South and North Korean culture in my city. The most obvious is the language; Korean is an official language of the province and many people in Yanji speak Korean (albeit a different dialect). Additionally, there are a few South Korean chain restaurants throughout the city. In terms of pop culture, most residents of Yanji are well-versed in Korean dramas, and Korean pop music, or k-pop.

How does it feel to be an American living in China?

Eventually you just get used to being “strange.”

What is the most interesting thing you’ve observed or been a part of?

Something that I still haven’t adjusted to is other peoples’ reactions to my ethnicity. There are very few people of Caucasian ethnicity in Yanji, so my features can be surprising. People stare openly, sometimes stopping what they’re doing to get a better look at my face. Occasionally people will call out a series of non-related words in English to see if I’ll respond, or if I’m walking they might follow me a short distance to get a better look.

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @OCELswick