No Matter Where We Are, We’re All Looking at the Same Moon . . . Unless It’s Made in China


The Saying

Who said, “No matter where you are you will always be looking at the same moon as I am”?

Romance writer Nicholas Sparks in Dear John? Nope. Immigrant mouse Fievel Mousekewitz in An American Tale? Nope again, though I’ve seen both credited. “Anonymous” is the best source I’ve found (though I’m open to any well-documented suggestions).

My searching, though, did turn up an interesting passage from African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth, in her Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave. The words aren’t exactly the same, but the sentiment is there—regardless of how far apart people are, they can still feel connected when they share the sight of the moon overhead.

In her autobiography, dictated to Olive Gilbert, Truth (born Isabella Baumfree) tells about her mother’s lessons for her and her younger brother. Mau-mau, as her daughter called her, had “some ten or twelve children” in all, but the older ones had been sold and taken away from her. Though Mau-mau Bett, the daughter of slaves from Guinea, spoke Low Dutch, Truth presents her words translated into English:

‘My children, there is a God, who hears and sees you.’ ‘A God, mau-mau! Where does he live?’ asked the children. ‘He lives in the sky,’ she replied; ‘and when you are beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of him, and he will always hear and help you.’ She taught them to kneel and say the Lord’s prayer. She entreated them to refrain from lying and stealing, and to strive to obey their masters.

At times, a groan would escape her, and she would break out in the language of the Psalmist—‘Oh Lord, how long?’ ‘Oh Lord, how long?’ And in reply to Isabella’s question—‘What ails you, mau-mau?’ her only answer was, ‘Oh, a good deal ails me’—‘Enough ails me.’ Then again, she would point them to the stars, and say, in her peculiar language, ‘Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other.

Thus, in her humble way, did she endeavor to show them their Heavenly Father, as the only being who could protect them in their serious condition; at the same time, she would strengthen and brighten the chain of family affection, which she trusted extended itself sufficiently to connect the widely scattered members of her precious flock.

It’s an idea that crosses continents, languages, and cultures. It’s lasted hundreds of years and very well should last forever. Many miles. One moon. What could possibly disrupt that mathematical simplicity?

Maybe some extra moons?

The Variation

According to China Daily, scientists in China have plans to put an artificial moon in place above the city of Chengdu by the year 2020. Covered with a reflective coating, the satellite would be able to reflect sunlight onto the earth’s surface at night in the same way that the real moon does. But the made-in-China moon would be eight times brighter, says Wu Chunfeng, head of the Tian Fu New Area Science Society. Other improvements over the natural moon are that it’s location and brightness could be controlled and it could be turned off if needed.

If successful, the moon over Chengdu would provide lighting one-fifth as bright as regular streetlights, and could save $174 million per year in electricity costs. If the first, experimental, moon is successful, says Wu, the plan is to launch three more in 2022, with those three being “the real deal with great civic and commercial potential.”

If you think it sounds like a bad idea—or maybe too good to be true—you can join the skeptics in the following video:

But don’t count the Chinese out just yet. They already have some experience in creating less-than-celestial bodies. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, China has built two islands, one circular, like the sun, and the other in the shape of a crescent moon. Located in Sun Moon Bay in the waters off Hainan, the two pieces of land cover approximately one square kilometer (about a third of a mile). The moon island was begun by private developers in 2015 (go to the Bloomberg article for a photo), but China has since banned such commercial projects because of environmental damage.

China has more credentials on the sun-building front as well. In 2006 (back to China Daily again for details), scientists in China brought its “artificial sun,” the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), online. EAST is a tokamak magnetic fusion reactor located in Heifei that last year reached a record 100 million degrees Celsius (over 180,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s over six times hotter than the sun up in the sky.

And finally, in January, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. BBC reports that one of the purposes of the Chang’e-4’s mission is to gain “insights into the internal structure and history of the Moon.” Sounds as if that knowledge could come in handy for building a new one.

The Music

But until China’s lunar creativity comes to fruition, Mau-mau Bett’s words will still hold true. And the belief they represent will continue to be the stuff of longings, of comfort, and of song:

(Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828, with a Portrait, Olive Gilbert, ed., 1850; Zhang Zhihao, “Man-Made Moon to Shed Light on Chengdu in 2020,” China Daily, October 19, 2018; Sim Chi Yin, “Dubai Has Palm Islands, but China Has a Sun, Moon, and Flower,” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 4, 2019; Cao Zinan, “China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ Achieves Major Breakthrough,” China Daily, November 13, 2018; Paul Rincon, “What Does China Want to Do on the Moon’s Far Side?BBC, January 4, 2019)

[photo: “Moon,” by Milos Golubovic, used under a Creative Commons license]


China: Making Its Case with Pop-aganda


The verdict is in. Yesterday, an international tribunal in the Hague sided with the Philippines, ruling that China cannot lay claim to most of the South China Sea. As expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping is dismissing the decision out of hand, stating that China has no intentions of complying.

How can the most populous nation on earth ignore the Permanent Court of Arbitration? That’s easy. It’s because China is taking its case to another court . . . the court of public opinion. And what better way to sway the jury than through viral videos (or at least videos that they’d like to go viral)?

Exhibit A: In June, China released the video below to win hearts and minds around the globe. It’s title is the rhetorical question “Who Is Stirring Up Trouble in the South China Sea?” My favorite lines are

Do you want to buy the most fashionable clothes or electronic devices with the state-of-the-art technology? You’d better pray for the peace and safety of the ocean.

And then there are these words from the mouth of Uncle Sam:

@#¥······! @#%!

From the next two videos, we can see that the apparent target demographic is young, hip, cool, and English speaking . . . kind of like you and me. And the spokespeople are international students in Beijing and a cartoon band that looks like a modern version of the gang from Scooby Doo singing on top of the Mystery Machine.

I can laugh, but then again, they got me to watch a video about China’s five-year economic plan!

[photo: “Courtroom One Gavel,” by Joe Gratz, public domain]

Watching “The Dialogue”: A Cultural Bumper-Car Ride

15946836_a846e28a57_zCulture Shock.

“It’s like you’re driving in a car,” says one of the students in The Dialogue, “and the gas and the brakes switch.”

The Dialogue is German director Arnd Wächter’s feature documentary that follows eight college students traveling to Hong Kong and southwest China. As they interact with the world around them and interact with each other, they explore cultural differences and the way we communicate about those differences.

The students make up a rather diverse group: males, females, Americans seeing China for the first time, Chinese returning home, whites, an African American, and an Asian raised in the US . . . and their viewpoints are varied as well.

I got to watch The Dialogue at a screening held at the San Diego NAFSA conference in May. It was a great conference, and seeing the documentary and taking part in the discussion with Wachter afterward was a highlight for me.

My experience watching the film was—to borrow the student’s words—like driving in a car. But for me it was a bumper car. At several times throughout the documentary, I would identify with one of the students, but then something would happen to change my view: I look like him, but I don’t agree with what he just said. I agree with her, but then she went too far. I share her background, but what he said makes more sense. I identify with him, but I don’t think he’d identify with me.

My point of view kept bouncing from person to person, even country to country. It was jarring, but enjoyable. Thus the bumper-car ride. I liked the way it challenged me to think beyond stereotypes and easy answers. And that, getting viewers to think, is what Wachter’s Crossing Border Films and Michigan State University had in mind when they made the film. It’s what would make The Dialogue a great tool for cross-cultural training exercises.

The key to the documentary is the frank conversations that the students have on camera. And the key to these conversations is the work of facilitator Ana Rhodes Castro. She led the students through behind-the-scenes activities and debriefings that encouraged them to express their true feelings and talk about root issues. The result is on-camera interactions that get straight to the point and reveal topics and opinions that are normally skirted in everyday life.

Particularly interesting are discussions of how individual personalities, non-verbal communication, surroundings, and language affect how we offer and receive viewpoints. How often does the way people present themselves affect how we judge what they say? How do our expectations for non-verbal cues differ from culture to culture? Does the fact that the film’s discussions take place in China give the Chinese a disadvantage? And does using English as the mode of communication give an advantage to the native speakers?

There’s a partner education site at National Geographic that addresses these issues using clips from The Dialogue. The site also includes questions for discussion and additional resources for use in the classroom.

The Dialogue, along with two other Wachter productions, is part of a trilogy of cross-cultural films. The others are Crossing Borders, which follows the same model as The Dialogue, but this time with four Moroccan and four American students traveling to Morocco, and American Textures, which listens in on the discussions of six young Americans—Latino, Caucasian, and African-American—as they travel to three cities in the southeast United States and talk about race, class, and culture.

[photo: “Bumper Cars,” by Bill Frazzetto, used under a Creative Commons license]

Film on Joplin Tornado Named Best Foreign Language Documentary in Beijing


On May 22, 2011, the southwest Missouri city of Joplin made news reports around the globe when it was hit by an F5 tornado. Before moving to Taiwan, Joplin was our home for 5 years, and it became our home again when we moved back to the States one month after the storm.

On that day a coworker told us we should go to the Weather Channel’s Internet site, and we got our first look at the devastation from a distraught Mike Bettes, a Weather Channel storm chaser who arrived 10 minutes after the tornado had cut a 13-mile long, up to 3/4-mile-wide path through the city. Then we scanned CNN and several other national online news outlets. It was difficult to make sense of all the reports, largely because we were trying to convince ourselves that it couldn’t have been as bad as they reporters were saying. But while there were some inaccuracies in the initial reporting—due to the chaos and difficulties in communication—in the end, most of it was just as bad, or worse, than what we had heard. In a city of 50,000, 161 people had died, and 7,500 homes had been destroyed or damaged.

Our oldest son was back in Joplin, attending college, and we were able to get ahold of him fairly quickly by phone. At one point I might have said he was unaffected by the tornado, but we soon learned that everyone in Joplin, and in nearby communities, was affected somehow.

After we returned, we saw the immensity of the damage, but we know that that did not compare to living through it. We heard so many stories of loss, of hurt, of survival, of fear, of hope, of comfort. So many stories.

Documentary Wins Award on Other Side of the World

One of the groups telling the stories was The Joplin Globe, the city’s newspaper. Even though The Globe lost one of its staff and the homes of 25% of their employees were destroyed, they kept reporting. Their story is told in a documentary, Deadline in Disaster, produced by Orr Street Productions.

The film aired on Missouri PBS stations last year and won a 2013 Emmy in the Cultural Documentary Feature category, presented by the MidAmerica Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

But that’s not the only academy that’s taken notice. Last month, the third China Academy Awards of Documentary Film (CAADF) honored Deadline in Disaster as its choice for best foreign language film. The award ceremony, held on December 29, was organized by the China Documentary Research Center and hosted by the Communication University of China.

Beth Pike and Stephen Hudnell, directed and edited the film. Pike told  The Globe that she decided to contact CAADF after the documentary was praised by two employees of China Radio International. The two, Danna Ao, a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism, and Yinan Yan, saw it when it was screened at a Missouri Press Association conference they attended.

“They were very moved by the resiliency of the Globe staff and the people of Joplin,” Pike told the newspaper. “They could relate since China has had its share of earthquakes, with many deaths and injuries.”

Facts about the 5/22/11 Joplin tornado

  • 161 people killed
  • 4,000 residential dwellings destroyed
  • 3,500 residential dwellings damaged
  • 9,200 people displaced (estimated)
  • almost 3 million cubic yards of residential debris generated
  • 553 businesses destroyed or severely damaged
  • $2,017,564,600 in losses incurred (as of October 31, 2012)
  • 176,869 volunteers registered (as of April 30, 2013)
  • 1,146,083 hours of volunteer work recorded

(“‘Deadline in Disaster’ Wins China Academy Award for Foreign Language Film,” The Joplin Globe, December 30, 2013; “Fact Sheet–City of Joplin, May 22, 2011 EF-5 Tornado,” City of Joplin, Missouri, July 1, 2013)

[photo: “2011 Joplin Tornado,” by Ozarks Red Cross, used under a Creative Commons license]

Dialogue of Cultures: Free International Films Online for Next 9 Days

8315397336_2a1fd9706a_mThis year, the Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival is being held online. That means you don’t have to travel to someplace like Tokyo or New York to watch the entries, since all are available for online viewing at from November 1-14—for free.

According to the festival site at MUBI, the event is “dedicated to the worldwide phenomenon of people in search of their identity in the era of mass migration and globalisation. Its goal is to jumpstart a dialogue between cultures through the universal language of cinema.”

The 23 films, from 14 countries, are in the running for the Audience Award Grand Prix, which carries an award of $5,000.  Vote for your favorites by clicking their “Become a Fan” buttons.

An example of the global diversity represented in the entries is Old Is the New, a film from Switzerland about a Chinese tourism worker who visits a Greek-speaking region of southern Italy.

The festival is also calling for submissions for its short-film competition. Entries must be no longer than seven minutes, and the deadline for submitting a film is February 1, 2014. The winner of the competition will receive $3,000.

[photo: “Old Theater Seats,” by Joey Lax-Salinas, used under a Creative Commons license]

In Someone Else’s Shoes: Two Adoptees Search for Who They Were and Who They Could Have Been

Deann Borshay Liem shows the shoes that she wore that were meant for someone else.
Deann Borshay Liem shows the shoes—from her adoptive parents—that were meant for another girl in her orphanage.

These are the stories of two Asian girls, adopted by families in North America.

One of the girls is now a teenager. One is in her 50s. Both are the subjects of documentaries.

Both look back and wonder “What if?”

The Invisible Red Thread

Li Bao was born in 1995 and abandoned on the steps of a hospital, a victim of China’s one-child policy. Six months later, she was adopted by a Canadian couple, who renamed her Vivian.

As a fifteen-year-old, Vivian traveled back to China. She wanted to see what her life would have been like if she had been adopted by a Chinese family, instead of one in Canada.

Chronicled in the one-hour documentary, The Invisible Red Thread (2012), her visit includes a trip to the orphanage where she once lived and her time spent with Shumin Zhu, a fourteen-year-old who was also adopted as an infant, but by a family in rural China. The two learn about each other’s lives and see in each other a life that she could have lived.

The Invisible Red Threadis available on DVD from Picture This Productions.

The Matter of Cha Jung Hee

Cha Jung Hee was 8 years old when she came to the US, adopted by Arnold and Alveen Borshay in California. But 40 years later, she found out that she wasn’t really Cha Jung Hee. Instead, the actual Cha Jung Hee was a girl whom the Borshays had supported through a charity and then decided to adopt. But when her father appeared at the orphanage and took her away, the social worker there gave her identity to another girl—who came to America and became Deann Borshay. In time, she forgot that the name on her birth certificate and passport wasn’t hers, and then, in time, she remembered.

Now a filmmaker, Deann Borshay Liem has completed two documentaries on her life. The first is First Person Plural (2000), in which Borshay Liem and her adoptive parents travel to Korea to meet her family there—a family that the Borshays had been told didn’t exist.

The second is The Matter of Cha Jung Hee, (2010, available at New Day Films) which focuses on another trip back to Korea in search of the real Cha Jung Hee, the woman who, as a girl, had written letters to the Borshays and whom the Borshays had planned to adopt.

In an interview with PBS’s POV, Borshay Liem talks about the too-large shoes that she wore when she arrived in the US. They were bought by her new family to fit the traced footprints of Cha Jung Hee:

[The shoes] represent how any of us might have had a different life. What are the possibilities of living someone else’s life or walking in someone else’s shoes?

Borshay Liem is now working on a new documentary, Geographies of Kinship, telling the stories of Korean adoptees around the world—in Sweden, France and the US, including a woman whose father was an African-American fighting in the Korean War.

(“Interview: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee,” POV, PBS)

[photo courtesy of MU Films]

8 Maps and Globes That Will Change Your Perspective of the World

8280671002_19c064bddf_nLast week, out of the blue, my 7-year-old son said, “Guess what?”

(He doesn’t really want me to guess. When I try, I’m always wrong.)

“Guess what? The earth doesn’t have an upside down.”

Of course, he’s right. But you wouldn’t know it if you look at our maps and globes. Isn’t north up and south down? How else would you explain Upstate New York, Manhatten’s Upper East Side,  Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia’s location “down under”?

And, of course, north is better than south, since up is better than down, right? According to a 2011 study, that seems to be the perception in the US. The results, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, show that 72.5% of participants in the study would rather live in the northern half of a hypothetical city, because, they assumed, that’s where the more affluent people live. And when the map was flipped, with south at the top, participants no longer saw the northern half as better, since it was now on the bottom.

Also, side to side, we all know where the center is. It’s Europe. So Saudi Arabia is in the Middle East and Japan is in the Far East. Just look at any map, and you’ll see it’s so.

Well, not any map, just most of them . . . at least in the West. But the West doesn’t make up the whole world, or even most of the world.

When I was in Taiwan I saw a wall map centered on Asia. It makes sense, since the Mandarin word for China is Zhongguo, meaning “Middle Kingdom.” That map opened my eyes to seeing the world in a different way.

So here are five maps to help us all see our global neighborhood differently. Each is available for purchase online, though some are quite pricey. Display these and listen to the conversations begin.

  1. Upside-Down Maps

    These are more than just regular maps flipped bottom to top. What makes them special is that all the names and notes are printed right-side up on north-down images of the countries. Get them from Maps.comODT Maps, and Metsker Maps.

  2. Center-Shifted Maps

    These two Pacific-centered maps (physical and political) from put the Western Hemisphere on the right. And their Asia/Europe-centered map even has the gall to split North America in two.

  3. Azimuthal Maps

    An azimuthal map puts you at the center, showing the world spreading out from that center in all directions. This means that distances can be measured from you—the center point—to anywhere on the globe using a straight line (unlike with traditional rectangular maps). It also means that the farther away from the center, the more distortion there is. (This map is truly egocentric). ODT Maps offers a USA-centered and an Africa-centered map, as well as custom-made maps centered on any city in the world.

  4. Imaginary-Underground Maps

    Contemporary artist Chris Gray has produced a creative collection of maps showing an imaginary global system of subway lines. Versions include Asiocentric, Eurocentric, and Antipocentric (Asia-centered and upside-down).

  5. Earth at Night Maps

    These cool maps are actually compilations of nighttime photos taken from space and show clusters of light from cities around the globe. Two renditions, with different results, are at National Geographic and PosterRevolution.

  6. City Lights Globe

    This globe puts the “earth at night” map on a sphere. It’s an automatically rotating daytime globe that, when the lights dim, illuminates the cities of the world. Available at Innovatoys. Waypoint Geographic’s Earth by Day and Night, at World Wide Globes, is a similar globe that lights up when turned on.

  7. Replica Globes

    Authentic Models has a line of reproductions that mimic famous and beautiful globes from years gone by. The physical world hasn’t changed, but the borders and place names certainly have. Each of these globes, available at, is a lesson in history. Replica globes show us the world the way it used to be seen.

  8. Upside-Down Globe

    I was sure that someone would have made one of these, but alas, I couldn’t find one. Too bad. The closest thing I could come up with is the inflatable Astronaut View Globe from Jet Creations—available at Ultimate Globes. It is, as the name suggests, what the world looks like from space. Since there’s no printing on this globe, you could easily turn it south side up, which is actually the way NASA’s famous “Blue Marble” photo was originally taken (as shown here).

Maybe I’ll have to get somebody to make an upside-down custom-made globe for me. Maybe Mr. Bellerby, of Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, can give me a hand. (Update: see An Upside Down Globe: The Wait Is Over, Now the Waiting Begins)

(My favorite quotation from this video is “The whole way of making anything using a sphere as its base, as its centerpiece, is fraught with different problems and issues because you’re multiplying every error by pi.”)

All this has got me thinking: What else do we in the North and West take for granted? For instance, in my post Les Images de France 5, the creators of the TV idents describe their images this way: “Everything travels from left to right,” and “this is of course about moving forward.” Why is rightward movement usually associated with progress? Is this because we read from left to right? If so, then is it the same in cultures that read right to left, such as in Arabic-speaking countries? Or is progress, for them, a right-to-left thing?

It’s got me thinking.

Bonus Map #9: The Atlas of True Names
This set of maps, from German cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Pest, renames places with their original literal meaning. See my later post for a full description.

(Sanette Tanaka, “Study Points to Bias toward a City’s North Side,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2013)

[photos: “World Grunge Map,” by Nicolas Raymond, used under a Creative Commons license; “The Blue Marble from Apollo 17, courtesy of NASA]