Tuesday, April 14, 2015

electric wave

last week i got an email from the school (shandong u, my employer) announcing yet another official 'scholarly conference,' and inviting papers for submission. the topic: 'the legacy and innovation of qilu culture.'  qilu is the province's nickname, taken from the names of two ancient kingdoms. rather than deleting the email right away, as i usually do when confronted with such officialistic hot air, i paused. could i find some way to plug my pet cause, tiny electric cars, at this conference?

i have researched traffic and how people negotiate the streets and sidewalks here. maybe i could find a plausible angle leading from that to my pet cause, and turn this propagandistic 'scholarly conference' into something interesting, even useful. . . my family and i have driven a little 3 wheeler for more than a year, logging almost 7000 kilometers so far. it is of crappy quality. the door hinges rusted to the point that a 3 year old pulled one of them off. but it is so handy, so practical, that i watch people here clog the narrow streets with SUVs with disbelief. they are chasing a 1950s American dream -- big cars, wide highways -- in the ever-more perilous, crowded, 21st century. and it just doesn't work well. sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, any empty space, is jammed with cars parked pell mell. and a minority of households own cars. these tiny cars are 1/3 the size, or less, of regular cars, yet can carry up to 6 people. and some of them -- not ours -- are solid quality.

the inspiration was an article on huffingtonpost last week which laid out the view of some american transportation experts that the future of city-center transportation is tiny electrical cars, someday driverless and not privately owned. apparently people will be able to 'call' one over, and tell it where to go, pay electronically somehow, and that is it. i thought: the city and provincial government are constantly threatening to 'do something' about the menace of these tiny cars, which are blamed for creating all sorts of problems. (a shortage of taxis makes these cars a sort of gypsy cab for the poor unemployed or retired, and they cluster near bus stations and such plaecs). but this nascent industry, which has shown impressive improvements in quality and function, could become a world leader away from the obsolete pomposity of the 1950s American dream.

so today while waiting for toby at his school, i typed away and completed almost 1500 characters. the target is 5000 or so. i will need someone to polish it, of course. my written chinese is 'rough' at best. but when i ranted on the topic in my urban anthropology class on monday (our topic was the development of the american suburbs in the 1950s), they got it! with a laugh. these little cars are ridiculous. and surely face-deflating. but they are fun and practical. you can park underneath a UPS van, practically.

so, while i doubt i will be lucky enough to present my paper to just the right official, or even anyone paying much attention, at the very least i may be able to meet some academics or officials interested in this issue. and know that i have done something to advance the electric wave.

if only i could find some time to research the topic more deeply . . . no. not going to happen. not with two small kids.

so it's settled: a paper presented at a windy, propagandistic conference on the eternal glories of confucian culture will have to do.

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