Friday, May 30, 2008

Third NBC post up

My third NBC blog post is up It's about going to the Bird's Nest National Stadium last weekend with the family. Here are some additional photos. Glad to get the kids in there. Check that one off the list.

The extra kid is Kerk Liew. He lives across the street and is in Jacob's class. the two are inseparable. They spend every possible minute together.

We actually did win

We collected our Beijing Band of the Yer ward last night at City Weekend's big awards gala. We also played two short acoustic sets. It was just Dave, Woodie and me -- how we started out 14 or 15 months ago. It sounded pretty thin, even though we were sure a lot better than we were then. We also played three original songs out of five.

The audience was basically all the owners and managers of every significant Beijing bar and restaurant. A few gave us their cards and said to contact them for gigs.

I am really quite astounded and very proud. I really can't believe we have pulled this off.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jacob fractured his arm

Jacob fractured his arm trying to dive into third base in a kickball games yesterday. He broke both of his forearm bones and had to be put under to have his bones reset and cast. He's doing okay and will be back in school tomorrow. I will try to get a picture. They ave him old fashioned, non waterproof plaster. Hopefully we can swap to something smaller and lighter next week. I'll try to get him to let me take apicture tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Last column

I just published a new column, nut here is the last one. I didn't really have any pictures up to using but here are a couple from our visit.

Choosing When to Be a Local
And When to Be an Outsider
May 9, 2008

Since arriving in China three years ago my family has been determined to explore as much of Asia as possible. Though it can be exhausting and expensive, we push on, conscious that our time here is limited.

My wife or I sometimes spend hours sequestered in a hotel corner pecking away at a laptop while the rest of the family sleeps or enjoys an adventure, but we always try to head for the airport or train station and set out for somewhere every time our kids have a break from school.

One of the differences in my travels since becoming an expat is I naturally find myself contemplating what it would be like to live in the places I am visiting, something that never occurred to me before.

So it was last week, when we made our first trip to Japan, traveling to Kyoto and Osaka, where we spent a day with Douglas Schafer, a childhood friend whom I hadn't seen in over 20 years. He has lived in Japan for 16 years, is married to a Japanese woman and is raising three kids there. He helped us get a handle on this fascinating place, which seems a world away from China. Spending time with him also brought home the contrast between a short-term expat like myself and someone who chooses to live abroad indefinitely, like Douglas.

I have never felt comfortable when readers or friends and relatives back home describe our decision to move to Beijing as brave, something I have heard many times. I think it was a no-brainer with relatively little risk involved. We had the opportunity to come to China for a limited amount of time, secure in the knowledge that "home" was waiting. I believe that long-term expats like Douglas have made the truly difficult and courageous decision to cast their lots in a foreign nation. He, however, rejects that notion.

"When I came to Japan I had no kids and very little to lose so I wasn't really making as big a decision as you did," he says. "I had not planned on being here this long. I also think it is very American to be so surprised that someone would move to another country to live and work -- which is exactly what America needs more people to do. Your decision was a big one for the kids, but most people look at the negative rather than the positive, while I view it as absolutely a good thing to have done."

As a lifer expat, with a long-term time horizon, Douglas has been able to watch a lot of changes take place in his adopted country. That's the kind of thing often missed by short-term expats like me, on a definitively timed assignment with solid plans to return home. Talking to Douglas, who has witnessed a good deal of Japan's advancement from developing to developed country, brought home that many of the stark differences between China and Japan, which can be lazily chalked up to differences in national character, may actually have more to do with phases of development.

China is still a place where you might see people strolling outside in pajamas in the middle of the day. When the weather's warm, men sit on the sidewalk playing cards or eating lunch with their shirts rolled up, exposing their sweaty bellies. In Japan, cab drivers dress formally, mostly sporting ties, white gloves and chauffer caps. The trains are modern and high speed.

To really get to the bottom of the differences between China and Japan it helps to start at the literal bottom -- the toilets. Though rapidly improving, China still has many shockingly unsanitary restrooms. I have smelled and seen things that will be with me forever. And even decent restrooms in nice places often lack soap. Japan, on the other hand, seems to have a fetish for bathroom cleanliness. The toilets do everything except pull your pants up and down, often featuring a wide array of bottom-cleaning water sprays.

A friend who recently moved back to the U.S. after a decade in China told me he always enjoyed visiting Japan, finding its orderliness "a perfect antidote to the craziness of China."

It didn't take long to understand what he meant; Japan seems to be structured where China is chaotic. While this made me feel like Japan was a great place to visit -- particularly as a break from China -- I also thought it would be a tough place to feel at home. People in Japan were largely friendly and welcoming, but often with an underlying rigidity that kept me worrying about my children's behavior, which always seems to teeter on the unruly. It's a feeling I often have in the U.S. but rarely in China, where people generally seem to be charmed by mischievous kids. I like China's informality and enjoy its chaos, which feeds a sense that anything is possible and is partially a natural byproduct of a society in transition.

As Douglas pointed out, most of the shrines and beautiful temples in Kyoto still have squatty toilets, which dominated Japan just a decade ago. "China is basically where Japan was 20 years ago," he said.

As we sat chatting in the living room of his home in the Osaka hills, his three kids and mine played downstairs. Thirty-five years after Douglas and I made mud pies in a Pittsburgh park, our children played Wii in an Osaka basement. It felt both totally natural and somewhat surreal.

As a foreigner in a fairly closed society and an entrepreneur in a culture that reveres the company man, Douglas is a double outsider -- but he actually views his status as an advantage.

"As a foreigner in Japan I have one benefit that the Japanese don't have and that is I get to choose when I want to be local and when I want to be the outsider," he says. "That means I can live the life I want without having to obey all the rules that someone like my wife has to. I think that a key to expats who want to make it long term here both in business and in day-to-day life is understanding when to be an American outsider, as we can never be 100% a part of the Japanese culture."

While Douglas has had to learn when to try to be an insider and when to revel in being an outsider, his kids will likely move with ease between the two different cultures. The three boys are truly third culture kids, growing up in Japan with a Japanese mother and an American father. His two younger sons attend Japanese schools, while the oldest, now 13, recently transferred to an international school, where he is studying in English. Many friends in China in similar situations make the same decision, ensuring that the child will be literate in Chinese (or Japanese) characters and also fluent in English.

Douglas's kids speak both languages as a mother tongue. They have both U.S. and Japanese passports and spend their summers attending summer camp with their American cousins. But they are not likely to move to their father's home country any time soon.

"It would be hard at this point to return to America," Douglas told me later, over a beautiful and lengthy dinner of endless, delicate dishes I never could have ordered myself; his wife Sayuki did a masterful job. "I have laid down a business, created strong friendships and have family roots that would be too hard to tear up and start over."
* * *

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. I received a tremendous amount of mail regarding my last column about some Beijing expats' efforts to assist Wang Ming Zhi, a migrant construction worker who was badly burned in an accident. This probably generated more responses from Chinese readers than any other single column.

Please let me know how I may send some money to assist Mr. Wang. I feel compelled to offer whatever assistance I am able to.

-- Bill Constantine

Many writers from all over the world wrote with the same question.

I am honored that so many people were touched enough to want to assist.

Those wishing to donate to the medical, living and educational expenses of the Wang Ming Zhi family can contact Lisa Rassi directly at

If you are in Beijing she is happy to meet you, and also introduce you to the Wang family if you are interested.
* * *

Your article about Wang Ming Zhi is very touching. I have seen some disabled person like Wang and have spared some money to them. I often participate in charities organized by my residential area to help disaster areas. I know that there are too many cases of aiding people in difficulty from past to present, home and abroad. Domestic media often cover cases like this. However, I still get moved by the story about the spirit of his family's persistence and the caring foreigners who helped them. That brings hope to this world and makes me understand the world better. So many people need to be helped, why don't we start with trivial things around us?

-- Li Yi
* * *

Thanks for the help made by you and your team to Mr. Wang Ming Zhi. What you did makes this world better. You not only lead a better life but also make others live in a more quality and nice way. I think this transcends different backgrounds such as culture and region. Your kind behavior should be praised.

-- Rooney
* * *

Thanks for your help to Mr. Wang. There is no border to kindness and caring which has nothing to do with politics. You really touched me.

-- Zhang Zhiqiang
* * *

I am a Chinese student. It's my honor to mail the letter to you, a foreigner whose act moved my heart deeply. Recently I didn't do well in an English oral exam. After reading your moving column, I have the courage to meet the new challenge again. I believe that you have added something important to my life.

-- Xu Yue

Thank you all. I'm honored and touched by your kind words, but I just wrote the story. People like Justin Hansen and Lisa Rassi really have helped Mr. Wang and his family.

* * *

The latest article reminds me of a woman I see almost every morning, asking for help. I once gave her a dollar, but never stopped to find out more about her. The next time I see her, I will be sure to stop.

-- Theresa
* * *

Thank you very much for everything you have done for the poor beggar from Henan province and please forward my gratitude to everyone who has helped him. Your report shows the dark side of China's unbalanced development. Behind high-rise skyscrapers and world-class hotels there are indeed people who can not afford their children's education and even three meals a day. While some Chinese keep a blind eye to all these problems, you reached out your hands of help. Your story left me deeply moved and a big thanks to you all.

-- A Chinese reader of WSJ
* * *

After living a high-flying life in San Francisco and New York City, I recently decided to pursue my Masters degree in South Africa. In addition to studying philosophy, I am now volunteering with two organizations here in Cape Town that work with orphaned and street children.

You perfectly articulated what is often difficult to articulate: that the poverty here is both very "in your face" and yet quite removed; there is very little physical separation -- the shacks and wandering, lost children are constant reminders -- yet it is as if I live in a different world from them -- one that employs several security guards in my apartment building, etc.

You also highlighted that help here goes much further and is much more personal than in the US. In working with these children, I find that I am not just a supplement to what they already have -- I often fill the "caring adult" role that is simply missing in their lives. The only thing that I would have added to your column is that it can be difficult to find the balance between ignoring the poverty ("rolling up our windows") and trying to help without becoming too emotionally overwhelmed by the amount of need in developing countries.

-- Anonymous
* * *

Your story about Wang Ming Zhi shows that we are the most caring people in this world. Even as an expat one does not forget where one came from and how to help others in need. Thank you for bringing this story out and showing those in China that not all U.S. citizens are lazy individuals who don't care about anyone but themselves.

-- Chris Landauer
* * *

I also continued to receive some insightful feedback about my previous column, concerning the taxation of American citizens living abroad.

As a specialist in expatriate taxation, one interesting thing we have found in our practice is that it is sometimes not in an expatriate's best interest to claim the exclusion at all. We now analyze each return both with the exclusion and without (and using foreign tax credits only) to see which way results in lower taxes. This would only be applicable to someone who has income in the $200,000 range or higher, and is working in a high tax country. The mechanics of the exclusion at that level of income doesn't work to reduce tax as much as the foreign tax credit does, and foreign tax credits alone can be better. This can also be an advantage in that if you are claiming only foreign tax credits you don't need to be concerned about meeting the qualifying time tests for the exclusion.

-- Carol-Ann Simon
* * *

I'm a CPA in California, and I e-file all my expats. All I have to do is be sure the address syntax matches what the IRS and my software people want to see, and it goes right through. Contrary to what a letter writer said and you seconded, it definitely is possible to e-file expat U.S. citizens and green card holders.

-- Barbara J. Aue

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Holy SH%$ We Won!

In a rather Herculean upset, Woodie Alan has won the City Weekend Reader's Poll. Next Thursday we will go to a big event and collect our prize --whatever that may be -- as Beijing's Band of the Year, 2008. I am rather astounded.

Next Monday we are going into a studio and trying to record a few songs. and the week after that we have our first tour, to Xiamen and Shenzen in Southern China. It's all too funny.

These pictures are from a festival we played last Saturday. it was a lot of fun, about 15 bands and it raised a couple of thousand US dollars for earthquake relief. Unfortunately, we had to play an early slot because of other commitments.

Everything is fine but is has been intense

We're all doing fine and things are settling down at least a little. I am writing about life here since the quake in my column this week so I don't really want to go on too much.

We are in the third day of a three-day national period of mourning right now. All TV channels are off or showing news only. Movie theaters, music clubs and other entertainment venues are closed. Newspapers and websites are black and white only. All flag are at half mast -- and I never realized how many flags there were around Beijing until I saw them all at half mast. Three doors down from us the ambassador for Equatorial Guinea lives and it is actually their embassy as well. They have a giant flag and it is at half mast as well.

I went downtown Monday to observe three minutes of silence.. or more correctly of stillness. All across China, everyone was supposed to stop driving and walking and blow their horns. It was very moving, to see all traffic in Beijing stop still.

They have been doing a lot of fundraising at school, including having a "small change box" in the front of each campus, emphasizing that every little bit counts and I really was extremely proud when Anna ran to get her piggy bank and emptied the whole thing in.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two really great earthquake stories

Mei Fong traveled from Beijing home to Sichuan with some migrant workers seeking information on their 15-year-old daughter. It is here and very moving.

Shai Oster rapelled into the hard hit village of Beichuan and reports on what he saw.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Catching up...columns

I am two behind. This one has touched a lot of people and generated a lot of contributions. I wanted to get it up.

How Something Good Came
From Outside the Comfort Zone
April 25, 2008

It was almost two years ago when I first saw the disfigured man begging for money. He was at an intersection a few miles from my house and I was both horrified and transfixed by his severely burned appearance as I inched closer and saw that he was handing out a piece of paper to anyone who would roll down their window to accept it. I was ready to have a look, but the light changed, horns honked and I drove away.

About a week later, the scene repeated itself. This time I had money in hand but again I had to drive by. About 10 days later, I returned again, prepared to park and make sure I spoke with the man with the melted face. But he was gone.

I returned several times, but never saw him again. I wondered who he was, what had happened to him -- and where he'd gone. Months later I received an email forwarded by a friend from a friend of a friend. Other expats had been more persistent than me, learning the man's story and setting up a loose network to help him.

In our home countries there are plenty of people less fortunate than ourselves and opportunities to help out, but we often tend to live at a distance, both physical and cerebral, which isn't easily bridged. For example, our town of Maplewood, N.J. borders cities with high poverty rates and lots of problems, but there aren't people living in lean-tos in our backyard. Going overseas, however, we get knocked out of our comfort zone, and disparities can be particularly jarring in a developing country because of the rapid and arbitrary nature of growth and the lack of social safety net. Here in Beijing, there is huge contrast between the expat-dominated housing compounds in our neighborhood, filled with manicured lawns and spacious modern homes, and the surrounding local villages where families live in ragged unheated rooms. The man with the melted face proved to be a bridge between them.

It began in September 2006, with Justin Hansen, then a 16-year-old junior at the International School of Beijing. He had seen the man begging on the road near his apartment, seen people roll their windows up and avert their eyes. And he heard kids at school talking about the scary, freaky guy and the threats he posed.

Justin asked the man what happened and heard the tale of Wang Ming Zhi, a 43-year-old peasant farmer who had come to Beijing four years earlier to better himself and his family. He had been working in construction, making between 30 and 70 yuan (between $4 and $10) a day. His wife and three kids had been about 700 miles away, back in rural Henan province, continuing to farm wheat, corn, peanuts and sesame. In a good year the family made about $1 a day, and Mr. Wang had wanted more for them. "I want my children to make a job with their minds instead of their hands," he explains.

Mr. Wang had been in a basement room when a spark from a welder's torch fell and ignited the fumes of the waterproofing material he was applying, alighting his clothes and leaving him a molten mess. A fellow worker pulled him from the basement and an hour later an ambulance took him to the hospital. As a day laborer, he had no health or disability insurance. His employer put up money to have him admitted -- Chinese hospitals generally demand an advance -- but this was the end of their goodwill.

It was days before Chinese New Year and he should have been back home visiting his family. They were fearing the worst by the time he called after six days in the hospital. A doctor had removed a breathing tube and was holding a phone to his face. Mrs. Wang got on a bus to Beijing. After 43 days, the money supplied by his employer was depleted and he was to be released. The family's pleading won him one more day of hospital care.

Mr. Wang traveled back and forth between Henan and Beijing twice, in pain, finally staying here in hopes of getting more treatment and avoiding the humiliation he feels in his hometown, where he is mocked for having sought a better life. His fingers were fused together and he was unable to close his mouth even enough to avoid drooling. He dragged himself out to that intersection near my house, in the heart of Beijing's expat community, in the shadow of villa compounds and rising hotels, malls and convention centers.

This is where I saw him and, far more importantly, where Justin and later Craig Belnap saw him. The American Mr. Belnap asked him what he needed and was told: "Burn cream and clothes." He returned with a bag of clothes, and offered Mr. Wang a ride home, where he discovered a shabby single room with a bed made of plywood atop stacked bricks and holes in the wall covered with newspaper and magazine pages.

He listened to Mr. Wang's story as his wife wiped away the incessant drool from his chin. "The room was so full of love and affection," says Mr. Belnap. "I gave him my phone number and promised to help."

The Wangs put Mr. Belnap in touch with Justin and his mother, Chi Gao, a Taiwanese-born American citizen who had already begun to help, and they formed a loose confederation of expats assisting Mr. Wang. Mr. Hansen wrote an article about him in his school newspaper -- the first of five. He gave Mr. Wang copies, which he handed out to prospective donors. That eased people's fears, but only if they would roll down their windows. Many stepped on the gas and averted their own gaze and their children's.

Meanwhile, Mr. Belnap was reaching out to friends and starting to collect money. Given news that Mr. Wang's 14-year-old daughter had dropped out of school to work long days in a garment factory because the family could no longer pay her tuition, he raised enough money to get her back to the classroom. They now have enough money to pay her tuition of almost $1,000 per year through high school. Some donors have expressed interest in funding college education.

On Sept. 26, 2006, the U.S. Embassy issued a security alert about Mr. Wang, citing an "aggressive panhandler," and asking citizens to report his presence to the authorities. Apparently, this stemmed from uninvestigated reports. Around that time, local police gave him 1,000 yuan ($140) and told him to stay off the streets. This was a highly unusual action. Mr. Wang says that a local police chief felt sympathy and asked a large construction company (not the one that had employed Mr. Wang) to make the donation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hansen's mother had gotten her personal lawyer, a local Chinese, to file a pro bono lawsuit -- a small but growing field in China -- against Mr. Wang's employer. They eventually won a 60,000-yuan settlement, which got Mr. Wang out of debt and allowed him to have the first of several still-needed surgeries, separating his fingers some, and aligning his jaw so that he can chew better and drool less. His appearance is much improved -- which would be a surprise to anyone seeing him now for the first time. Sleep remains difficult, with continual pain from his tough, dry skin.

His two sons, ages 17 and 19, are now in Beijing working in a nearby grocery store. Mr. Wang is no longer as destitute but he is still barely able to work, because of both prospective employers' attitude toward his appearance and the harsh effect of sun on his skin. There is not a lot of sensitivity to disabled issues in China.

Mr. Belnap has relocated to Switzerland but remains in touch with Mr. Wang and other expats assisting him, all of whom have different motivations but the same goal.

"I am a Christian and the Bible repeatedly instructs us to love your neighbor as yourself but I have never had neighbors in need of so much help," says Lisa Rassi, an American who is providing part-time employment to Mrs. Wang, in hopes that she can one day be hired full time with experience working in a foreigner's home.

Like Mr. Belnap, Mrs. Rassi was touched by the way she was welcomed into the Wangs' humble home and their gratefulness for any help offered.

"I have never known what it is like to live in hunger or face the elements in a home without the comforts of heat or air conditioning," she says. "I never want to forget what I have seen. I have also always tried to teach my children not to look away or be judgmental of those in need and this is was an opportunity for me to practice just that."

"I could also do the same thing back home in Peoria (Illinois) and I hope I will, but such an intense need never crossed my path before," she said. "Also, if we assist the less fortunate there, we are so separated from it. Here the assistance is very personal and tangible and you can make a huge difference with so little."

Mrs. Rassi says she feels honored to have been able to help, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Belnap from his new home in Geneva.

"It sounds like a cliché, but I got more out of this than he did," he says. "Mr. Wang is a very kind man with a very nice family who is simply of victim of gaps in the China system. And yet, he plugs along."

Mr. Wang still has plenty of needs. When I visited him, he was out of burn cream and said his skin was particularly itchy. I'll be using my payment from this column to do my little part. I'm meeting Mrs. Rassi at a Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy soon to buy tubes of burn cream. It feels like the least I can do.
* * *

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Read comments by readers on my last column about paying U.S. taxes while living abroad.

I hope your provocative article on the double taxation issue raised a lot of awareness. I am retired in South America, and many of the issues hit home. Adding insult to injury, were you aware that expats with foreign addresses cannot e-file? So aside from the actual tax burden, the process itself is made needlessly more difficult.

-- Mark

I am aware of this quirk, yes, and should have mentioned it.
* * *

I work at public accounting where my service comes as part of the corporate package when an assignee is sent out of the country. I've been working for four months and I deal with foreign taxes, credits, exclusions every day and I still make mistakes! It will take four to six years to draft a perfect return and tax equalization for a junior accountant like me; I wonder how other expats fill out their forms correctly??

-- Daisy
* * *

While working in Hong Kong, my employer required us to use an accounting firm to complete our tax returns so that tax equalization benefits could be determined. The firm told Hong Kong tax authorities that since I was paid through the U.S. parent, I should not pay Hong Kong taxes and they told the U.S. tax authorities that I should be eligible for foreign income tax exclusion. Predictably, the tax authorities figured this out. The penalties were paid by my employer, but I fear that the long line of revised returns will cause problems for years to come.

Many expats are left in a very difficult position related to taxes, having to sign off on returns with few methods to check the accounting firms' work.

-- Three Time Expat

The complications of filing form abroad are absurd. I have the exact same frustrations about not being able to follow my returns or anticipate what I will owe.
* * *

Sen. Grassley's claim that raising taxes on expats was done as a matter of fairness is comically misguided. I believe he made that statement knowing quite well how unfair the situation is. But he also knows that we expats are many miles away, that our views and protests wouldn't be easily heard back in America, and that, even if we did have a voice, he and his comrades would be able to convince their constituents that all expats are fabulously wealthy and, therefore, shouldn't be complaining anyway.

Your column is great and this article in particular gives me hope that things will get better and that the efforts to organize and unify the U.S. expatriate voice will be successful. I've seen the good that Americans living overseas have done in shaping -- for the better -- foreign perceptions of our wonderful country. In fact, I believe it will become ever more important for America to have a large group of "ambassadors" working throughout the world as we continue to move towards greater global integration. Eliminating taxes on Americans abroad will be a big step in the right direction.

-- Scott
* * *

I'm somewhat shocked to listen to American citizens abroad moaning about paying U.S. taxes. Reading this nonsense about not living here and not getting anything for their tax dollar is quite amusing. I don't live abroad. Tell me what benefit I get. I just pay, pay and pay more. You're no different than any other middle class or better U.S. citizen living within U.S. borders. The only real benefit I get from the government is using public roads and local services. Roads are largely supported by state taxes, tolls, fuel taxes, etc. My local services are supported by real-estate taxes. I live in a state that pays more into the federal government that it gets back. Again I say... what does anyone really get?

And let's not forget your citizenship makes your economic opportunity in these countries possible. Like those us living in the northeast U.S., we pay more taxes, more for housing etc. We live with more people, crime, cost etc. Why? for opportunity. That's the toll. Your opportunity toll is taxes while living abroad.

How much do white collar Chinese employees make working for U.S. companies at Chinese facilities? I'm sure they're not getting to the $87,500 tax threshold of U.S. expats living abroad.

You can always come back home and pay 100% of the tax like the rest of us. The other option is drop your U.S. citizenship and become a citizen of somewhere else. Somehow I doubt the life-time tax package of European expats is equal to U.S. citizens. Our nation's taxes are much lower than most Western countries. A European expat may pay no taxes to home while serving abroad. But when they return home they are paying through the teeth for life.

-- Mike

You weren't the only one to express this general feeling. I am not particularly comfortable cast in the role of antitax advocate, but I am a pragmatist and whatever your overall feeling about tax equity, I don't think anyone would wish for the U.S. to have tax policy that hinders international competitiveness or encourages multinational companies to hire non Americans over Americans. And it's rather simplistic to say if we don't like current tax law, we can renounce our citizenship. Is there anything more American than speaking up when you feel you are being wronged?
* * *

I myself am from India living in the U.S. Before moving here, I lived in Canada! Your comment "The United States of America is the only large Western nation that demands that its residents living full-time overseas pay federal taxes on income earned abroad" does not sound right.

Canadians living abroad are classified as "tax residents" and "non-tax residents." While non-tax residents are not taxed on their world-wide income, tax residents are subject to both provincial and federal taxes. In order to be a non-tax resident, one has to sever all ties to Canada. This means they should not: have a bank account, credit card, memberships in clubs, associations, churches, etc., own property, possess Canadian driver's license, Canadian health insurance, nor have any dependents living in Canada.

These conditions make it pretty difficult for people who are either posted to foreign locations by their companies or who voluntarily chose to spend a period of their life abroad unless they basically cut loose from Canada. For many Canadians who want to maintain their credit ratings and auto insurance histories, this could be a big challenge.

In view of this the Canadian advantage is only for those who wish to permanently leave Canada for another country. The only concession they have is their ability to retain their Canadian citizenship. In my opinion, this is actually worse than the U.S. tax requirements for temporary expats.

-- Sam Bodapaty

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Second NBC post up

My second NBC blog pot is up. Read it here.

Pictures of Sichuan and earthquake thoughts

I've been saying for a few days that when all is said and done the casualty counts from the earthquake are going to be just mind-numbing and that is starting to come to pass. The government is now hinting at 50.000.

As some of you with whom I have been emailing know, I have been saying this for a while. The area is just so remote. I am posting these pictures from our trip last year as a reminder of the area's beauty, ruggedness and remoteness -- and also of the type of people who are up there buried. It is just heartbreaking to think about.

If you haven't been reading the WSJ coverage, you should be. Obviously, I'm biased beyond bias, but they have been doing a great, great job.

To put it in perspective, check ou this line from an AP story: Forty-four counties and districts in Sichuan were severely hit, with about half of the 20 million people living there directly affected.That is as many people as live in all of Australia. I believe that the population of Sichuan is about 80-million -- about the same as Germany.

This is the lede of a story on the front page of today's WSJ. B has been workin arund the clock and I am really proud of the work they are doing.

Rescue Effort Overwhelms China
Help Has Hard Time
Reaching Victims
In Remote Towns

May 15, 2008; Page A1

BEICHUAN, China --
A man dangled upside down in a crevice, his left leg pinned under a car-size boulder amid the toppled buildings and giant stones that have covered this town since Monday's epic earthquake.

He was alive and rescue workers knew he was there, yet he dangled. There were so many other victims, the workers said, and not enough heavy equipment.

"I feel like I'm already dead," the man said in Wednesday's gathering darkness. All that could be seen of him was his gray pants leg and a black-and-white sneaker.

China quickly mobilized one of the largest relief operations in its modern history after the magnitude-7.9 earthquake rocked southwestern China, but, as a trek into one of the worst-hit areas showed, even that effort was falling short for many victims of the vast devastation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Woodie Alan nominated--VOTE FOR US!

We were nominated for Beijing Band of the Year in the Reader's Poll of City Weekend, the leading English language publication in Beijing.

You can vote from anywhere, so for God's sake, click here and VOTE FOR US and tell your friends to do the same.

When you get to this homepage, just click on the Vote ad button and go to town.

You will have to click through the survey. The first entire page is restaurants and the second is Nightlife. I believe that we are number 9 on the second page. The other five nominated bands are Chinese alternative bands with guys in their early 20s , CD deals, buzz, etc. It's an honor to be nominated and would be nutty to win. Let's go Bad News Bears.

We are fine

Thanks to everyone who has written following the earthquake. We are fine. The epicenter was far, far away from us in Sichuan, quite near the Wolong Panda breeding Center which we visited with B's family last year. I do believe that the crazy mountain road we drove, which I wrote about last year, was in the same county where this was centered. No one knows yet but casualties look to be in the 3-5,000 range, though you probably know that, as it seems to be being widely covered in the U.S. It is, of course, upsetting.

I didn't even feel it on the street downtown but in big buildings it was pretty crazy. Becky called me saying the whole building was swaying (they're on 22 floor) and that they were watching cranes on top of construction sites looking tippy.

Ding ayi was at our house and she said she didn't notice anything and didn't know anything was going on until her son called her. But the kids' school just a couple miles away was evacuated and they said they saw but didn't feel it, watching water coolers shake and lights and desks rattle.

A friend in another compound, a bit closer to the school but not right there said it was very noticeable. I don't how to explain all that but as cousin Danny might say, I report, you decide.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More Japan photos

All from Kyoto.

B&A on the Philosopher's Walk.. really nice canal
stroll past temples.

Gardens. There must be more master gardeners
per capita in Kyoto than anywhere in the world.

Geishas or women in geisha outfits roaming around
the old town of Kyoto. I don't know what exactly
they were doing.

They have these things in front of all the temples.
Purification I guess. Kids loved them.

Women all over the temples in trad. dress...
just to take pictures I think.

These cool and wild things at the temples.. apparently
on a full moon night this looks like ocean waves lapping up against
Mt. Fuji.

Amen, brother

Cousin Danny Cohen spotted this story on the AP wires and remembered Fat Al's love for PBR. I love everything about this story but the way Bill Bramanti's daughter refers to him as "Bill Bramanti" is the best.

SOUTH CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) -- Bill Bramanti will love Pabst Blue Ribbon eternally, and he's got the custom-made beer-can casket to prove it.

"I actually fit, because I got in here," said Bramanti of South Chicago Heights.

The 67-year-old Glenwood village administrator doesn't plan on needing it anytime soon, though. He threw a party Saturday for friends and filled his silver coffin -- designed in Pabst's colors of red, white and blue -- with ice and his favorite brew.

"Why put such a great novelty piece up on a shelf in storage when you could use it only the way Bill Bramanti would use it?" said Bramanti's daughter, Cathy Bramanti, 42.

Bramanti ordered the casket from Panozzo Bros. Funeral Home in Chicago Heights, and Scott Sign Co. of Chicago Heights designed the beer can.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Back from Japan

We had a great four days in Kyoto and Osaka. I'm not going to get too into writing about it right now. More later.. but these photos are from our first night in Kyoto. we stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

We slept on the floor on futons and enjoyed an incredible multi course trad Japanese meal. These places ave a rep for being very uptight and formal, but we found a family friendly one. they even ordered the kids a pizza rather than insisting on charging us $100/per for them to not eat this great spread. The meal was one little course after another, all delicate and delicious and served in beautiful pottery.

Thursday, May 01, 2008 Olympics blog up

We are in Kyoto. We had a great day here.. I will post some pics and tales soon.

But my first blog post for is live. They'll be coming every other week now.