February 23rd, 2014
A department of China’s Ministry of Education and China Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) have announced a list of over ten thousand “standard” or “regular” overseas schools so that Chinese people looking to study abroad can make sure they choose “proper” schools and not be fooled by diploma mills.
An aside: “diploma mill” in Chinese is “野鸡大学” – yějī dàxué – pheasant/unregistered and illegal/prostitute university.
The list of proper schools covers 44 countries, including the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Sina’s repost of the Beijing Times article says the purpose of the list is to protect Chinese students travelling to study overseas at their own expense. The article says three problems have appeared with the rise of such students in recent years: The appearance of poor quality private schools in certain countries, several of which have gone bust; the poor abilities of some of these students to study abroad, especially their inability to live independently, meaning they have a hard time adjusting after they leave China; and “black agents” – agencies getting up to all kinds of shenanigans, passing out fake information or not living up to their responsibilities.
The article also says there are two ways prospective students can get information about studying abroad: One is through the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education or the website of the CSCSE, the other is through the Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre, Chinese diplomatic missions abroad or through the diplomatic missions of foreign countries in China. The problem I have with that is that the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education I can not persuade to open in Firefox, Maxthon or on my phone, nor by Baiduing it. And a Baidu search for “Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre” (in Chinese, of course), is not overly helpful – the best results are for CSCSE. And the links at the bottom of the article to the four lists of schools deemed genuine? Well, they’re on that Ministry of Education website I can’t persuade to open.
Naturally, my first reaction is to try and see where New Zealand’s universities are on these lists – or, perhaps, if they’re on the lists. Trouble is, with websites that don’t open, I’ve had to poke around the CSCSE website. A lot of the information on that site is a tad out of date – especially the English version. But I did find this list. It has all eight universities, many (most? all? things have changed while I’ve been in China…) polytechs, Te Kura Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School (what is its status? I honestly don’t know. And why “Te Kura”, which Toi Whakaari does not seem to use?) and some of what were called Private Training Establishments (PTEs) last time I was in NZ for any extended period of time. But again, I’m not sure how up to date that list is, because it includes Tairawhiti Polytech, which apparently merged with EIT in 2011.
Curious, and perhaps a story to keep an eye on.
February 11th, 2014
My wife has suddenly turned into a bookworm – this is a most interesting development – and as part of this sudden transformation, she bought And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, giving it to me to read first. And read it I did. It’s one of those mesmerising books that you can’t put down until you’re in a zombie-like trance from a lack of sleep. It’s subtly seductive, gently wrapping its story around you until you feel an intimate part of it. The back cover quotes Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times thusly:
[Hosseini's] most assured and emotionally gripping story yet…]
Except it’s not a story, or at least, it’s not one story. It’s several stories of a diverse set of characters from and in Afghanistan, California, France, and Greece, some via Pakistan. Their stories intertwine to weave a beautiful tapestry. A terrible tapestry.
This isn’t really a story or stories so much as a description of all the myriad ways we hurt each other, especially those closest to us, whether through resentment at being overshadowed by a more beautiful, talented or extroverted sibling, cousin or parent, the shame of or disappointment in a child who doesn’t measure up to the parent’s wishes, the frustration and slowly building rage at constantly cleaning up and cleaning up after a melodramatic and self-absorbed family member bent on self destruction, impotent rage at poverty and the shame and self-loathing for the actions and situations it forces one into, the suffering and disappointment we cause others through our own inability to rise above our circumstances. It describes the pain inflicted on us not just by our own actions or inactions or those of our closest loved ones, but by the simple passage of time itself, the unfolding of life as it happens, events of which we, not even Vladimir Putin, have even the slightest semblance of control, pain inflicted by simple, cold, inevitability.
This is not a story or stories, this is a paean, a love song to life in all its glorious filth, a song which holds out the promise of a possibility of some small measure of redemption, though never the redemption we desire. A redemption perhaps best analogised by Hosseini in his description of the Pont Saint-Bénezet:
It’s a half bridge, really, as only four of its original arches remain. It ends midway across the river. Like it reached, tried to reunite with, the other side and fell short.
And that’s how it is for the most successful characters in this novel – without giving away too much (I hope), one fairy, blown away by the wind, returns too late to find what she craved for so long. A younger fairy discovers she was born too late for what she thought she desired. But together they find they can make some measure of redemption, no matter how incomplete, but something with a future.
The book has its imperfections, I hasten to add. I found the dialogue of the characters in Paris and Tinos a touch too American in flavour. And riding elephants in Kenya? I’ve never heard of African elephants being domesticated. Could Asian elephants have been taken to Kenya during colonial days? I suppose. But that was jarring. Perhaps I’m being obtuse and it was meant to be jarring, to highlight the superficiality of the character that made that claim. I don’t know, but it broke the spell woven by the book, if only, mercifully, for a split second.
But what’s so powerful is the style of narration. For all the brutality in the book – and given how much of it is set in Afghanistan, or how many of the characters are at most one step removed from Afghanistan, there’s plenty of scope for brutality – the brutality is purely domestic in nature and is described in such a calm, relaxed, matter of fact way that you won’t feel that superficial moral outrage you feel whenever you watch the news on TV or pick up a newspaper. What you feel is deeper, in your marrow, a warm, almost comforting ache, a horror most familiar.
I very much recommend this book, it is superbly structured and brilliantly written. But beware, those of a weepy persuasion will need a large supply of tissues as they read.
*As the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Books, New York, 2013.
February 8th, 2014
Further to Mr Pasden’s musings on first language acquisition in a bilingual child, and, just like him, basing this purely on observation of my own daughter (so extremely rigorously scientific, of course):
My daughter, not quite 3 years old, has been able to say complete sentences in Mandarin for quite some time now. “Oh sure”, you say, “really simple sentences.” Well, yes, but she had the infamous “把字句” down pat a long time ago, and that’s something that gives a lot of adult second language learners trouble. Well, to be fair, Chinese as a foreign language textbooks do tend to offer rather inadequate explanations of the 把字句, especially failing to answer the questions “When do you use it?” and “But, WHY?!” – hence the link to the wonderful Chinese Grammar Wiki. Anyways, moving on, as I was saying, my daughter has been saying complete sentences in Mandarin for a while now, but her English has been limited to single words or short phrases, often inserted into otherwise Mandarin sentences.
Now, I haven’t been particularly worried about this. She’s still little, there’s plenty of time for her to learn, she has plenty of English-language books and DVDs and I’m very strict about only speaking English to her, and besides, she’s in an overwhelmingly Mandarin language environment. She attends a normal Chinese kindergarten where she is surrounded my monolingual Chinese staff and pupils, and I am the only one who regularly speaks English to her. But her English will come with time.
But over the last few days she’s suddenly started coming out with complete English sentences. We were at Decathlon the other day, where we found her a wetsuit. We also showed her a boogieboard/body board, and she liked the look of that. Then she told me “I go swimming at the beach”. Just like that, unprompted. Later she was watching the Dora the Explorer episode Pablo’s Magic Flute, and she picked up her own flute (actually a 葫芦丝/húlúsī, and a toy plastic one at that) and started playing. I asked her, “Are you playing your flute?” and she replied, “Yes, I play the flute.” Still later, she told me, “I am pretty, I am ML*”
You’ll notice something in those sentences. Apart from ‘am’, there is a definite lack of conjugation of verbs. Well, that’s not something she has to worry about in Mandarin, of course, although she does hear me conjugate verbs all the time. Still, it’ll come. English grammar is more complex than the grammar of spoken Mandarin, so it’s to be expected that these niceties will take a little more time. At least she doesn’t have to worry about grammatical gender or the declension of nouns, and she’ll only have to get her head around a few ragged remnants of a case system hanging on in pronouns.
Then, as I was trudging through the snow on the way to pick her up from kindy yesterday afternoon, I got to idly wondering if she would be able to form English sentences by analogy to Chinese. I mean, could she be thinking, “I know these Mandarin words and can join them together this way to express this idea. I know these English words, could I join them together just like I do in Mandarin?” Well, of course she wouldn’t be thinking exactly as expressed in those words – still no conjugation of verbs, for starters. But could that process be going on in her mind?
Let me give a few examples to explain.
When she was 18 months old we told her she was only allowed her dummy (pacifier in American, 安抚奶嘴 in Mandarin, don’t know what other English dialects may call such a thing) when she was thinking. She looked at us thoughtfully and somewhat cunningly for a minute or two, climbed up on the bed, lay down, and told us she wanted to sleep. We gave her her dummy, sceptically, because she’d just not long gotten up, and she closed her eyes and happily sucked on it, opening her eyes just a crack to make sure we were fooled by her ruse. Even at that age she was able to understand perfectly a rule, a rule that she had been told clearly in both her languages, and quickly figure out a way to use that rule to get what she wanted. If that’s the kind of thinking she was capable of at 18 months, could she be analogising at almost double that age?
My wife isn’t quite as strict as me on the One Parent One Language rule. I don’t mind that, because although my daughter sees plenty of evidence of me being bilingual, she only ever hears my wife speak English when we Skype my family in New Zealand, and then only a little bit of English. My wife occasionally using a bit of English with my daughter means the wee one gets a bit more evidence that both her parents are equally bilingual. But also, this helps just a little bit more in balancing out the language equation. What’s interesting, though, is that my daughter will very often refuse to let my wife use the English word for things. My wife will say, “Umbrella”, and the wee one will insist, “不是umbrella，是雨伞，好不好!”, but then I’ll say “Umbrella” and the wee one will agree that the 雨伞 is an umbrella. So she is quite aware that English and Mandarin are two separate languages and that Mandarin is for speaking with Mummy, and English for speaking with Daddy.
But, of course, her English so far lags quite a bit behind her Mandarin, so she’ll usually just speak to me in Mandarin with a few English words thrown in.
Having said all that, I was quite interested this morning when, watching Pablo’s Magic Flute again, she wanted her flute, but we couldn’t find it. She said to me, “I 没有 flute!” Then she said, “妈妈, I 没有 flute”, correcting herself to say “Mummy, I 没有 flute”. Could it be that, watching an English-language DVD and talking first to me and second to her Mummy, she decided English was appropriate, but then, realising that not being able to conjugate verbs on her own yet and therefore not being able to form the negative of ‘have’, or ‘can’ (though I don’t know if she knows ‘find’ yet), she fell back on the Mandarin word she does know? At least that way she gets to complete her sentence.
Unrelated to sentence formation, but another aspect of English grammar the wee one has yet to grasp is singular/plural. She’ll often say “a socks” or “a shoes“, final s bolded to emphasise that it is clearly there in her speech, it’s not just a toddler twist of the tongue. Last night we were reading a poster with her – one of those character recognition posters with pictures of loosely unrelated things an a Chinese character and English (often Chinglish) word for each picture. There was a picture of a bunch of bananas and a picture of a banana (the poster was trying to express the concepts of ‘many’ and ‘few’), and when we pointed to the bunch she said “bananas”. When we pointed to the single banana she said “bananas” again. We went through “one banana, many bananas” a few times, emphasing the lack or presence of that final s, but I don’t think she realised the difference. Oh well, there’s time.
And one final bitlet of toddler cuteness: The wee one tends to pronounce ‘bananas’ as ‘bunanas’.
*She actually stated her name, I’m just continuing an old policy of loosely disguising names of real-world people who haven’t given express consent and aren’t in any articles online I’m discussing in the blogpost in question.
January 12th, 2014
Two paragraphs from Feng Xiaogang’s autobiography:
Coming to New Zealand, when the plane was landing, dawn had just broken, the land was silent, the sky was like photographic paper soaking in developing solution, gradually layer after layer of grey clouds appeared. As I left the airport, it was as if peppermint had been painted on the tip of my nose. I took a deep breath of clean air, cool all the way into my lungs. It had just rained for a night, cars were rolling through pooled water, Auckland looked like a beautiful person who had just cried walking in the wind. Here July is winter.
Leaving New Zealand, I reluctantly parted with this beautiful country. A friend made jiaozi for a farewell dinner, seven days together had been short but happy. A good flower doesn’t open often, one isn’t often in beautiful scenery, after we say goodbye tonight, what day will sir come again? This lyric describes how I felt. A country that had absolutely nothing to do with me, I hadn’t expected it to make me feel a certain attachment to it. On the plane back, my mind was constantly struggling, I asked myself countless times: When I’m old, where will I die?
Yes, that could be translated much better, especially the Teresa Teng lyrics – but in my defence, Feng Xiaogang didn’t remember the lyrics perfectly, anyway. And I’m not sure of his choice of lyrics, either – that song always sounded to me like a hostess in a club talking to a client, perhaps a frequent client, probably older and with a bit of money, encouraging him to run up a decent sized bill.
But the point is this: When she read that, my wife came bouncing into the room saying, “Wow, Feng Xiaogang really loves New Zealand!” and she made me read it.
And I’m thinking: So New Zealand is a beautiful place to go to to die? And what is this preoccupation with death? It reminds me in particular of his If you are the one/《非常勿扰》 films. In the first, he has Shu Qi’s character attempt suicide by jumping off a cliff in Hokkaido, and the second culminates in an assisted suicide, Sun Honglei’s terminally ill character jumping off a boat driven by his best friend, played by Ge You. So Mr Feng thinks of beautiful islands as places to go to die?
Maybe, or maybe my response is rather different from what he intended – after all, I’m not exactly his target audience. And like I said, my wife’s reaction to those two paragraphs was overwhelmingly positive. So I’m thinking, given how popular Feng Xiaogang is, that these two short paragraphs are a big advertisement for New Zealand.
The book, by the way is: 《不省心》，冯小刚著，长江文艺出版社，2013年9月。
January 12th, 2014
And once again, two things about this article:
1: Assuming that the photo is of the Neill Andrews who made the reported dickheadish racist statement on Facebook – and given the Herald’s preference for vaguely borderline irrelevant photos from Thinkstock, I’m not sure – then I’m curious as to why he’d get a tattoo that looks an awful lot like Japan’s World War 2 rising sun flag with the word 家族 (family, household, whanau, MDBG also says clan, pronounced jiāzú in Mandarin) in the middle? Oh well, at least it says something coherent, I mean, it could be a lot worse. But the flag that tattoo so resembles is associated with some rather horrific events, and I find it hard to reconcile with “family” or “whanau”.
2: Why is this guy being given any credit for expressing remorse or regret? Look how the Herald quotes him:
“I pretty much take the piss out of everything and everyone,”
“I make fun of stereotypes and topics that are taboo because it’s important that we do talk about these things,” he said.
“Yes, I am over the top in the way I do it at times, but it gets the issue and message out there. I certainly didn’t want to offend a whole race of human beings and for this I am extremely regretful.”
If you want to take the piss, you actually have to be funny, for starters. Secondly, precisely what issue and message did he want to get out there? If he was meaning to call attention to the evils of racism, then, judging by what they Herald quotes him as having posted to Facebook, he really needs to seriously rethink his communication strategy, because it reads a hell of a lot like he was actually encouraging racism. Thirdly, if you don’t want to offend entire races of human beings, don’t say or write things that offend entire races of human beings. It’s really not difficult. But far more importantly, this just reads like crocodile tears. He behaved, to put it very mildly, like a dick, then when he got called on his dickishness, he was all “Oh, woe is me! People are taking issue with my dickish behaviour!” If you load your apology up with “I was just taking the piss” and “I am over the top at times” then I see no reason to believe you are actually remorseful for your behaviour. Perhaps “It was a badly failed attempt at humour” would be better, but whatever, that’s not what he’s quoted as saying. What he’s quoted as saying reads like just as big a non-apology as a certain two former radio hosts made a couple of months ago.
January 10th, 2014
Two things irritate me about this article.
1: So what if the Brits want to whitewash the ANZACs out of their World War 1 centenary? We really need to drop the post-colonial chip off our shoulder. It doesn’t matter what they do, we still know we and the other colonials saved their sorry pommie arses from ignominious defeat three times (Boer War and both World Wars) before they finally resigned themselves to being America’s lapdog.
2: Dear NZ Herald: “media” is plural, so that sentence should read “Australian media report” – note the lack of a 3rd person singular ‘s’ at the end of the verb. But more importantly, who wrote this?:
Australian media reports the “Anzac whitewash” is driven by a bid to win political and economic favour in multicultural Britain.
“It’s basically to remind Britons the First World War wasn’t just soldiers from here fighting in France and Belgium but involved people from Lagos, Kingston and the Punjab,” a government insider told News Corp. “There has been no mention of old Commonwealth allies like Australia or New Zealand but more interest in celebrating the role from new Commonwealth countries. I think it’s fair to say Commonwealth ties are being frayed a little on this one.”
What utter nonsense! Why? Well, Lagos clearly refers to Nigeria and Punjab to India, and I’m going to assume that Kingston refers to Jamaica. Jamaica came under English rule in 1655. The British East India Company began trading with India in 1617, and the Raj began in 1858. British influence in what is now Nigeria seems to have begun with the 1807 abolition of slavery, but Nigeria didn’t become a proper colony until 1900. New Zealand was colonised with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Australia’s colonisation began with the arrival of the First Fleet and the construction of the penal colony that became Sydney in 1788. Nigeria gained its independence in 1960; Jamaica in 1962; and India in 1947. Australia and New Zealand? Well, the Statute of Westminster was passed in 1931, but not adopted by Australia until 1942 and New Zealand until 1947. The Australia Act of 1986 ended whatever constitutional ties may have remained between Australia and the UK and effectively ended the right to appeal to the Privy Council. New Zealand passed a similar law, the Constitution Act in 1986, but did not abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council until 2003 So, actually, I’m not sure when either Australia or New Zealand can be said to have gained independence from the UK. Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand are Commonwealth Realms, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. India became a republic on independence, and Nigeria in 1963. And how is it that “soldiers from here” is somehow magically more inclusive of ANZACs than of Nigerians, Jamaicans and Indians? Australia and New Zealand are much further away from “from here” than those other three countries.
Alright, so I’m relying on Wikipedia for my fact-checking here, but my point is this: I can’t see how Australia and New Zealand can be called “old Commonwealth” and Nigeria, Jamaica and India “new Commonwealth”. That’s just absurd. What I can see is that perhaps this mysterious Australian media writer might mean by “old” and “new” Commonwealth, especially considering that not-especially-subtle hint that the British authorities are trying to include normally excluded minorities, is that Australia and New Zealand are “predominantly white Commonwealth”, while Nigeria, Jamaica and India are “predominantly something other than white Commonwealth”. And that disgusts me far more than the possibility, however vague, of an “ANZAC whitewash”.
December 11th, 2013
Over at Public Address it’s Word of the Year time. All the nominations for WOTY are fair enough, but there’s one that I want but that doesn’t fit there, and I don’t know of any more appropriate place running a WOTY competition. So I’ll run my own. And I’ll win it, because there won’t be any other nominations accepted.
Here’s my word of the year:
And its standard English translation: Haze
Alright, so that’s two words, but it’s my competition, and I told you I’d make sure I’ll win it. But whatever, here’s why:
Back in January, when the air looked, smelled, tasted, and felt like it had been piped directly in from Hell’s chimney (and no, I don’t mean the Hell I’ve been to, that’s a nice place, at least in the summer), and the snow looked like it had been dusted with salt, pepper, and heavy fuel oil, I was taking a course in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. All my classmates were Chinese – well, I found out later one was Singaporean Chinese, but still, I was the only non-Chinese in the room for the whole course. I had a habit of getting up ridiculously early, making some doujiang to get me through the trip up to the Bei Da East Gate, then get some breakfast and a copy of the Beijing News from the stands up there, before heading up to the classroom. One day I was staring at yet another full-page spread on the smog crisis wondering what the second character in “雾霾” was, a character I couldn’t find in my dictionary. One of my classmates, another member of a fairly tight group of five of us who sat at the front and worked pretty solidly together, asked what that character was. Another said, yeah, I was wondering about that too. My reply was, well, if you don’t know how should I know? I was quite bemused that they’d ask me this because Chinese is a language I started learning at 23 years of age, whereas they’d all started learning Chinese by the time they were 23 months old. But another member of this group piped up and said, oh, that’s mái, it means like this dirty stuff floating in the air.
Then, of course, the question turned to how to say 雾霾 in English, so I taught them the word “smog”, explaining that just as 雾霾 is a combination of perfectly ordinary fog (雾/wù) with dirty stuff hanging in the air, “smog” is a combination of “smoke” and “fog”.
And since then, of course, 霾 has been all over the place, on Weibo, in newspapers, on TV. There’s a new system of smog alerts, with set procedures for responding to each level of alert. Basically, it seems to me that January was the point when China finally decided, right, that’s enough, we have to clean this place up. And I think that’s a pretty sweet silver lining to what was a really foul cloud.
But that brings me to the standard translation: Haze. I don’t get it. It just doesn’t seem to fit. To me, haze could be natural or artificial. It could be clean, caused by just a light mist or salt spray in coastal areas on a windy day (can you tell I’m from Wellington?), or it could be dirty, caused by fires or industry. Haze just doesn’t seem to cut it. Every Chinese-Chinese dictionary I’ve checked makes it clear that 霾 is dirty stuff hanging in the air. The possibility of a natural source is left open – and fair enough when you’re living somewhere as dry and dusty as northern or western China. But it’s clearly dirty stuff. “Smog” may be a bit too harsh a translation, referring as it does to pollution caused artificially by burning things like fossil fuels combined with natural phenomena, but “haze”, to me, just doesn’t cut it. And besides, every time I see or here 霾, it is referring to what is undeniably smog.
So there you go, there’s my Word of the Year: 霾 and haze.
November 23rd, 2013
Alright, so have a read of this. It’s a fine argument, isn’t it? Trouble is, it’s bollocks. Why?
It all started with the Roast Busters, then the treatment meted out to a friend of one of their victims by two radio hosts with…
…a record, shall we say.
And the response to those two shock jocks.
And then the response to that response.
And then Edgeler weighs in in the article linked above, and continues in the comment thread.
Now, I’m certainly not going to rehash the whole Roast Busters saga. Among many reasons why not, one thing the world does not need is yet another privileged white bloke spouting on about rape culture – but more on that later.
Nope, Edgeler has got me a bit riled up. See, reading his essay left me thinking “That’s all well and good, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with your argument, now what is it?… ”
November 12th, 2013
So New Zealand’s Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce is in China for a visit. And once again, I find more information about this in the Chinese media than the NZ media. A quick Google NZ news search turns up not very much. Newstalk ZB continues to write radio-style. Topnews gives a little more. Stuff, well, noticed, at least. Scoop has the official press release – and oh, look, could that Sohu article be simply a translation of the press release? It looks awfully similar. Alright, the stats quoted a fairly impressive, but there’s one point that has me wondering:
Mr Joyce will also open the Shenzhen Hi-Tech Fair, China’s largest hi-tech event, where eight New Zealand companies will be exhibiting.
What is this fair and which eight companies are exhibiting?! This could be really interesting, perhaps even something to break the old “NZ as China’s dairy farm” mould. Well, here’s the China High Tech Fair, or in Chinese if you prefer. The search function doesn’t seem to work very well, and I can’t even see a search button on the front page of the Chinese version, I guess I could sift through the content of the links (pdfs!) on this page, though. Ah, this document (pdf!) lists Power by Proxi, NZ Natural Harvest Ltd, POLSOL International Ltd and Wellington Drive Technologies Ltd (but do they count? Well, HR at least is based in NZ and the state applicants must have the right to work in NZ…) on page 2. Four out of eight, and none of them making milk powder, cutting down trees, or edumacating. I’m not sure where the other four are, but this pdf, for example, has 24 pages of exhibitors, and it’s getting too close to lunch time, sorry.
August 19th, 2013
It’s Westland Milk Products’ turn, it would seem. But it also seems that Westland is handling this better than Fonterra has handled its food safety crises. It was while following links on a completely different, but equally worrying topic that I stumbled across this piece in the National Business Review:
New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries has revoked export certificates for four consignments of lactoferrin made by Westland Milk Products after unacceptable levels of nitrates were found in two batches.
Westland itself says in a media statement dated 19 August 2013 (and I guess the content of that link is likely to change over time):
Chief Executive Rod Quin said Westland had reported to the Ministry of Primary Industries that two batches of lactoferrin (totalling 390kg) showed nitrate levels of 610 and 2198 parts per million respectively. The New Zealand maximum limit for nitrates is 150 parts per million. The product was initially not identified as non-compliant during Westland’s routine testing regime prior to export. All of the 390kg of non-complying lactoferrin was sent to China.
“We immediately initiated a process to find and quarantine all of the product and it has been put on hold,” Quin said.
Westland also put a hold on all of its lactoferrin in its own warehouse and commenced re-testing all individual batches. All other lactoferrin product tested to date has returned results well below the New Zealand nitrates limit. No other Westland products were affected.
“Our investigation is underway to establish the root cause and we have implemented corrective actions,” Quin said, “so we can ensure this does not happen again.”
Which strikes me as being the right way to go about things – immediately notify the authorities and quarantine the affected product, test everything, figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Compare that with Fonterra’s apparent habit of long delays and drip-feeding of information.
According to information on the AQSIQ website, China’s Wandashan [Wondersun? Can't make that link open, though] Dairy Co. Ltd. is taking the main responsibility for food safety after an unusual nitrate content was found in lactoferrin produced by New Zealand’s Westland company.
AQSIQ has already been in touch with New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries over this to verify the situation of the affected products. AQSIQ has already required the relevant inspection and quarantine bodies to seal the affected products. At the same time it has decided to temporarily halt imports of lactoferrin produced by Westland and requires all lactoferrin from New Zealand and Westland’s other dairy products to supply nitrate testing reports at the time of import.
AQSIQ requests the New Zealand government to completely examine the management systems and products of manufacturers shipping to China in order to guarantee safety.
So, Wandashan was the Chinese customer and AQSIQ is not happy with the safety of New Zealand food products.
But I have two questions:
- Dates! When was the lactoferrin in question produced? Just how quickly did Westland respond to this issue?
- Was Wandashan really the only Chinese company to buy the affected lactoferrin? Because both the Herald and NBR report that some of it was exported directly to China, while some was sold first to Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co. before being exported to China.
It certainly seems Westland is handling this issue better than Fonterra handled the DCD and botulism incidents, but without any dates to go by, how can we know?
Speaking of Fonterra, it’s not out of the woods yet. Here’s yet another article announcing the shattering of the New Zealand myth, an article that states:
If only domestic brands learn from past lessons winning back the market is not the dream talk of a fool
Now them’s fighting words! But there’s much stronger to come. It says that since the Fonterra botulism incident, the previously worshipped New Zealand milk powder has tumbled from its altar and that imported milk powder has lost its halo. This article sets up two “watersheds” or “divides”. I think “divide” is the image it’s looking for, as in a mountain range either side of which the water flows in opposite directions. The first divide is 2008′s Sanlu melamine milk scandal, which destroyed any trust Chinese consumers had in the domestic dairy industry and sent everybody scurrying for imported infant formula. The second divide is this month’s Fonterra botulism scandal which has caused people to rethink their views on Western brands – especially considering most of China’s imported dairy produce comes from New Zealand and Fonterra is by far the biggest supplier. After reminding us that this is by no means Fonterra’s food safety incident by mentioning Fonterra’s 43% stake in Sanlu (but, oddly, not mentioning the DCD scandal earlier this year) and that Fonterra and several other foreign companies have recently been done for price fixing, the article goes on to compare the prices of imported infant formula with domestic brands. Apparently over 10 imported brands are charging more than 500 yuan (but it gives us no unit), while one Yili brand goes for 156 yuan per 900 gram can. And some imported brands cost twice as much in China as overseas. And then:
For a long time domestic milk powder brands have suffered a serious “crisis of faith” among domestic consumers, while foreign dairy companies have used a high price strategy to increase their profits, sparing no efforts to creat a kind of “the higher the price the safer” concept of consumption.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Fonterra or another foreign dairy company, they all grabbed a tight hold on the psyche of Chinese consumers, unceasingly amplifying consumers’ feeling of crisis, and the prices of foreign milk powder also rose with Chinese consumers’ demand.
Now that is quite an accusation. Foreign companies have been deliberately stoking people’s fears in order to increase their profits? Well, ads for infant formula do tend to play on parental anxieties, showing how their formula, through an alphabet soup of pseudo-science, guarantees that babies fed that particular formula will grow up healthier, stronger and smarter than everybody else. And anybody buying their powder from Fonterra has played up the “clean, green, 100% pure New Zealand” thing. “Has played” because Fonterra has given that image a hell of a beating this year.
Then, having lamented the inability of domestic dairy companies to capitalise on foreign food safety scandals, the article states:
In reality, imported milk powder is processed in factories in China. According to AC Nielsen’s statistics, milk powder importers use the dry blending method to produce their formula and account for around 70% of sales in the China market. And of the products of the few milk powder importers dominating the China market, over 90% is produced using the dry blending method in factories in China. Only a tiny amount is imported in original packaging.
A milk powder industry insider said, “It’s generally acknowledged that dry blending produces an uneven mix, while milk powder produced through wet blending meets the standards for high quality infant formula, with a more even balance of nutrition, and it’s fresher.”
Compared with “Western milk powder”, domestic milk powder like Mengniu, Firmus, Yili and Wandashan have established their own milk suppliers and use the wet blending method.
The article also accuses foreign milk companies of hooking their customers while they’re still pregnant, quoting one Ms Qiu, who is expecting herself, as saying that at the classes for expectant mothers that doctors promote:
they all give out gifts of imported milk powder samples.
Now, somehow I don’t think it’s only the foreign companies that do this, and I’ve certainly heard of much dodgier methods of bringing in new customers, like buying the contact details of expectant mothers from the hospitals – heh, my own wife did get the occasional out-of-the-blue phone call from infant formula companies. But I’ve never before heard of only foreign companies employing dodgy methods like this.
Now, lunch is calling, and apart from the final section of the article being devoted to Mengniu, that’s all that grabs me from this piece. All I can say is it reads like another salvo in the fight to swing Chinese parents away from imported formula and back to domestic brands. And all those pixels devoted to Mengniu…