Thursday, 18 April 2013

Time for a Change

It's tax time again!  And once again it's time for me to reflect on the incredible amount of money that I'm paying.  I could speak about robbery or theft.  After all, the money that I'm forced to pay should be buying some service: education for my children, the services of a police force, satisfactory roads to travel on, etc.  That certainly doesn't seem to be the case here, however, in particular if we're speaking about the services of a police force or an impartial and effective judicial system.  But I'm not going there, not going to touch that now.

The fact is that taxes usually can't be avoided, at least by simple folk like me.  If you don't pay them in one place, you're most likely going to have to pay them in another place.  But certainly one of my main goals is to get a major part of my income from foreign sources (from outside Lithuania).

With that goal in mind, I'd like to ask: Who'd like to hire me?  I've got 9 years of experience as a full-time English editor/proofreader.  Anybody need help in that field?  Academic articles, texts for websites, press releases, advertising: I've had experience in all those fields and more.  Contact me if you'd like to learn more about my qualifications or experience or if you'd like to get a quote for a job.  My email (or e-mail if you will) address is right there at the top of the page.

I'm also open to new working experiences.  I worked as an English teacher for 8 years in three different countries prior to becoming a full-time editor/proofreader.   And besides traveling extensively, I've lived in five different countries around the world.  Those opportunities, both professionally and in terms of becoming acquainted with life in various countries, have provided me with experiences that I'm sure would be useful in many areas.

If I were to dream, I'd dream about a job that put me in East Asia or at least would allow me to travel there from time to time.  I love that part of the world.  Or Sub-Saharan Africa.  It's also a dream of mine to spend some time living in that part of the world.

Anyone have any ideas, suggestions, or job offers?

Monday, 24 September 2012

10 Days in Chongqing

My wife and I recently had the good fortune of stumbling on some cheap Finnair tickets to Chongqing, China.  Finnair opened a new route to that city earlier this summer (the first European carrier to offer direct flights there from Europe), and we took advantage of a promotional offer to get two tickets for US$1120/EUR900, a price we decided we couldn't let pass by.  We were in Chongqing the last 10 days of July.

Living in Lithuania, I don't have easy access to English language guidebooks, so I did most of my research about travel destinations in and around the city via the internet.  There's not a lot of information out there, but I did find a few sites offering some useful tips, two of the most useful being and Livin' in the Chonx

Greater Chongqing (the entire municipal district) has a population of 32 million (which is expected to double in the next five years) and the urban area is home to 7-8 million.  Some might know it by its former name, Chungking.  It served as the capital of China for a good part of WWII (or as the Chinese say, the War of Resistance against Japan; aka the Second Sino-Japanese War). Although the city is now a special municipality within China, it was historically part of Sichuan/Szechuan Province.

Because of our extremely limited budget, very early on I decided that we wouldn't be taking any tours to see the Three Gorges (a 5-day[?] boat trip) or other attractions outside the city (for example the Dazu Rock Carvings).  But in fact, there was enough in Chongqing to keep us busy for pretty much the entire time we were there.  We actually didn't get to see all the sites we'd planned to see in the city, but that was more because we got a bit worn out and wanted to simply spend more time relaxing.

Accommodation seemed to be plentiful and cheap, but we settled on the Yangtze River Hostel because I thought the English-speaking staff would be a bonus.  A private room with en-suite toilet and shower there was no cheaper than a room at a 3-star hotel, but it was certainly no mistake to book there.  The staff was very friendly and helpful, the room was clean and suitable (though in definite need of a paint job and some minor repairs), and there were activities guests could take advantage of (such as a night out of try hotpot, Chinese food party [making and eating Chinese dumplings], and a trip to a temple on the highest mountain in Chongqing).  Don't just turn up expecting an empty room or bed, however!  I saw several travelers turned away because the hostel was fully booked.  I reserved a room by e-mail, though there is also some sort of online reservation system.  If you reserve by e-mail, I recommend checking back with them several times before arrival.  When we arrived, there appeared to be some sort of booking mix-up, and we had a bit of a scare when it appeared that there would be no vacancies.  In the end, we got a room, which as I said was satisfactory, but we didn't get the "deluxe" room that I wanted and had apparently reserved.  But despite that small problem, I can wholeheartedly recommend this hostel.  One can't underestimate the English-speaking staff there, two of whom, Annie and Monika, deserve special mention.  We found that few people in Chongqing speak English, and unless you speak at the very least some basic Mandarin Chinese, it's a problem to get around and find things.

The Yangtze River Hostel is in Jiefangbei (East-Central Yuzhong), the part of Chongqing where two rivers (the Yangtze and Jialing) meet.  We explored this part of the city on foot, visiting the Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street, Chaotianmen, HongYaDong (all must-see attractions if you visit Chongqing), and quite a few shopping centers.  Chaotianmen is the place that boats take off on various tours.  We went there to look around one evening and ended up buying tickets from a guy for RMB80 a piece (not including meal) for a 2-hour tour of the two rivers.  We sat up on the top deck and thoroughly enjoyed the city lights and very interesting company of a couple of Ford employees (one from China and the other from the U.S.A.) who we met.  HongYaDong, a "recreation of old Chongqing" according to one source, was also very much worth the visit.  It's filled with shops selling souvenirs and food.  Arhat/Luohan Temple, a Ming-era temple located in this district, is another destination that shouldn't be missed.  Of particular interest are the 400 terracotta Arhat (one who has achieved enlightenment).  There's also plenty of shopping in this part of the city, from very fancy shopping centers/malls to very simple wholesale markets (worth a visit: Golden Ocean Market/金海洋市场, 24 Shanxi Rd.).  One thing we discovered early on is that because of the lack of foreign visitors here, the prices aren't often artificially inflated for tourists.  And therefore very few shopkeepers were willing to bargain.

We reached other parts of the city (with the exception of Ciqikou and Shapingba) by subway/underground/metro.  I was very impressed by this transport system.  It was spotlessly clean, it was never too crowded when we were traveling (though I've read that during rush hour it gets packed), the trains travel frequently (the longest we had to wait--after just missing one train--was 8 minutes), and it's a very convenient way to reach many parts of the city.  When we were there, one line was being lengthened on both ends, intermediate stations/stops were being added to lines, and a new line was under construction.  And I have to add that it's very easy to use.  All announcements on the trains are in both Mandarin Chinese and English and the automatic ticket machines also have English translations.  Just indicate your destination and number of tickets on the touchscreen and then pay.  And we found that there was always someone there to help people get their tickets.  Usually that person even knew basic English.  Bravo Chongqing Metro!

Another area of the city that we explored was Daping (Central Yuzhong).  There we visited a couple of parks, a couple of museums, and the Great Hall of the People.  Both Eling Park and Loquat (Pi Pa) Mountain Park are worth a visit.  It was unfortunate, however, that the latter was in the midst of reconstruction and some parts were closed to the public.  From Eling Park we attempted to enter Fo Tu Guan Park, but even though the parks are right next to each other we couldn't find any way to go from one to the other.  We ended up exiting Eling and walking down the road to find the entrance to Fo Tu Guan.  After walking for 15-20 minutes, we found an entrance, but because the park was full of heavy equipment and workers, we decided not to enter.  One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to the Three Gorges Museum.  It's really an amazing place.  It features a wide range of exhibits.  Although I didn't keep track of the time, I suppose that we were there about 3 hours.  And entrance is ... free!  Can't beat that.  Right across the square from the museum is the Great Hall of the People.  It's an impressive building and well worth photographing, but I can assure you that you shouldn't waste money on a ticket to see the inside of the building, that is unless you've got a thing for big auditoriums.  We also visited the Stillwell Museum in this part of the city.  For me, as someone interested in history, it was more or less a must-see destination.  I'm not disappointed that we visited, but I was saddened to see that quite a few of the photographs on display (besides the building itself, the photos are the main attraction) had been defaced or were quite faded.

Another highlight of our trip was our visit to Ciqikou (Porcelain Village).  It's an authentic old town (most of the buildings date from the Ming and Qing dynasties) where you can wander the streets and absorb a vibe quite unlike the rest of Chongqing.  Though a large portion is filled with shops selling souvenirs, local/traditional snacks, etc., if you wonder off the beaten path, you can run across all sorts of fascinating sights and sounds (and that's not to say that the main parts aren't worth seeing).  On one of the quieter side streets, we came across a tea shop where we ended up sitting and chatting with the owner about tea and life while enjoying several pots of tea.  The metro doesn't yet go all the way to Ciqikou, though we could see that one line was being expanded to there, but a taxi from the center of Chongqing was very inexpensive, only RMB 18.  On our way back, after dinner in the Three Gorges Square shopping district, we took an air-conditioned bus, only RMB 2!

One day we took the metro to Jiangbei (the northern part of the city) to the Guanyinqiao pedestrian street, which is a huge shopping area.  I liked the mix of upscale and more humble shopping areas.  If shopping is your thing, you can't go wrong visiting this area.  Not far from here is Hua Hui Park, which we didn't go to even though what I read leads me to think it would be a nice place to visit.

Our final destination was in Nan An (the southern part of the city).  There we, with a group of people from the hostel, climbed part of the way up Nan Shan (South Mountain) to a temple complex.  It was quite a trek for a sadly out-of-shape 46-year-old, but there is no doubt that it was worth it.  Of course there are easier ways to get up there (by taxi), but the climb gave me a sense of accomplishment, so it was good.  Tip: have lunch in the cafeteria of the complex.  Great vegetarian food.  It was probably the best meal we had in Chongqing.

Besides the places we saw and things we did, our trip to Chongqing was made memorable and pleasant by the many friendly, helpful and kind people me met along the way.  We had many positive interactions with the many people we met and not really any experiences that could be called negative.  Chongqing isn't a major tourist destination at this time (at least for non-Chinese), and that is both positive and negative.  There's no doubt that knowing at least a little Mandarin Chinese will help out a lot.  A great place to do that is  Thirty-one free lessons with sound files to help with pronunciation.  It's great for beginners or people who know a bit of Chinese and would like to brush up on it.

Many sites talking about travel in Chongqing stated that 2-3 days were enough time to "see the city".  I don't agree, even if your plans are to be fully occupied while you're there.  But then again I like to spend plenty of time exploring places on foot and observe the details that others might not consider very important.  In the final analysis, my wife and I both agreed that Chongqing is a city worth visiting.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Lovetones

About a month ago, my wife and I spent 10 days in Chongqing, China.  I plan to post something about that before too long.  Anyway, we stayed in the Yangtze River Hostel there, all in all a good experience, and I can recommend it to any travelers who would like a cheap place to stay while visiting the city.  The website of the hostel is

Most of the time music was playing in the restaurant/bar/lobby/lounge of the hostel.  Most of it was pleasant enough and surprisingly none of it grated on my ears, but one album attracted my attention, and I had to ask who the group was since I wasn't familiar with the music.  Turns out it was the Lovetones.  I hadn't heard of them before, but very simply they play the kind of music I like.  It seems that their style of music is mostly described as psychedelic rock.  If you're interested, they have an entry on Wikipedia here, a Myspace page here, and a Facebook page here (though I'm not sure whether this is something made by a fan or the band).  They can also be found on here.  They also have their own website,, but it isn't active at this time.  The best place to learn about their music may be here, on Soundcloud, where you can listen to all the songs on their latest release, a collected works album.  Some of my favorites are "Wintertime in Hollywood," "A New Low," "(I Gotta) Feel," and "Give It All I Can."  Another song worth listening to can be found here, on YouTube.  Provenance - Collected Works became my first ever purchase on the iTunes store.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Education reform, Finland, and the USA

If you're interested in education or education reform (particularly in the USA), this article, "What the U.S. can't learn from Finland about ed reform", is well worth reading.  It's full of interesting facts and points out some of the fundamental weaknesses (in my opinion) in the US system of education.  It's my opinion that if the USA wants to remain relevant in coming years, there has to be a radical shift in ideology, from "education [being] mostly viewed as a private effort leading to individual good" to "education [being] viewed primarily as a public effort serving a public purpose".  It's my belief that can be done without losing any of the spirit of competition and individuality that makes the USA dynamic.  Whether it will be done looks unlikely however, especially in the current political climate, which is more reminiscent of children squabbling over toys in a sandbox than serious debate about how best to move the country forward.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Who Is Willing to Be Unplugged?

A reading suggestion: Unplugging Americans From The Matrix.  No, it's not an article about the internet.  It's an article that in one respect compares the United States and China and in another respect is critical of some of the things taking place in the USA now.  Actually the author, Paul Craig Roberts, is himself blogging about two articles written by Ron Unz.  The article is informative, well written and concise, but to get the full picture, you must absolutely read the two articles by Unz.  (Links to those articles can be found in Roberts' article.)

I highly recommend taking the time to read these articles.  They offer some serious food for thought.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Justice system in Lithuania strongly criticised

"It's difficult to say anything good about the justice system in Lithuania.  Its incompetence and inefficiency are shockingly obvious.  Most pre-trial investigations stop at the pre-trial stage because the prosecution is unable to collect enough evidence to pass the case on to court.  Courts often delay cases and adopt decisions that are difficult to understand and justify.  Higher courts don't pay enough attention to the work of lower courts."

Those are the words of Kestutis Girnius (PhD Phil., Harvard), a philosopher, journalist, and professor at the Institute of Political Science and International Relations of Vilnius University.  They appear here (in Lithuanian) in an article he wrote earlier this year about the inefficiency of the justice system in Lithuania.

More criticism of the justice system has recently been expressed by Prof Vytautas Landsbergis, EU parliamentarian.  As the leader of Sajudis, his actions helped contribute to Lithuania regaining its independence and the fall of the Soviet Union.

On the 22 August 2011 broadcast of the television programme Lietuva tiesiogiai (Lithuania Live), Prof Landsbergis called the justice system one of "the most painful areas in the nation" and said that citizens had grounds for their lack of trust in the justice system.  That programme has been posted on YouTube and can be found here (in Lithuanian; from 23:00 to 23:45).

On the 15 February 2012 broadcast of Lietuva tiesiogiai, Landbergis stated that the justice system not pursuing justice was one of the fundamental problems in Lithuania.  He added that it was obvious that the justice system was corrupt and biased and that it was becoming clear that the system was systematically working for its own benefit.  He said that a statement recently released by the council of judges that oversees the work of the court system (which declared that there was a campaign of slander being conducted against the courts of Lithuania and that the foundations of the constitution were being destroyed) was lacking self-criticism and that it was reminiscent of Soviet tactics that branded critics of the regime enemies of the people and enemies of the state.  This part of the interview, which is in two parts, can be found here (in Lithuanian, from 5:00 to the end). 

I'm sorry to say that my personal experiences, stories that I've heard, and stories that I've read have led me to also strongly doubt the justice system here (and that's putting it in very kind terms).  And that sort of brutally obvious failure by one branch of the government helps to explain why there exists such a culture of impunity here in every facet of life, from criminally reckless driving to shady "businessmen" using strong-arm tactics when dealing with average people and bribery when dealing with the government.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Situation at Snoras worse than suspected, bank to be liquidated

Of course Snoras, a Lithuanian bank taken over by the Lithuanian government on 16 November, has been in the news a lot recently.  I first wrote about this situation here: Fifth largest bank in Lithuania seized by government.  It turns out that the situation at the bank is much worse than the government first suspected.

In this article (in Lithuanian), Vitas Vasiliauskas, the head of the Lithuanian national bank (Lietuvos Bankas), says that it was thought that Snoras had the flu but it turns out that it has cancer.  Fewer assets and more irregularities were found than the government had been expecting.

In this article (in Lithuanian), Vasiliauskas states that the Lithuanian government suspects that the heads of Snoras were trying to increase the authorised capital of Snoras by using customers' deposits.

This article (in Lithuanian) reports that both Vladimir Antonov (who controlled 68.1% of Snoras) and his father were employees of Snoras, as well as both sitting on the Snoras board of supervisors.  Vladimir Antonov was hired as an administrative consultant and was making LTL 58,500 (EUR 16,685 / USD 22,110) a month after taxes for this "work".  Antonov's father was making LTL 14,700 (EUR 4,256 / USD 5,677) a month after taxes.  (This doesn't include the money he was making for being on the board of supervisors.)  I wonder whether he has even stepped foot in Lithuania.  The article also says that the members of the board of supervisors were making an average of LTL 51,500 per month (EUR 14,911 / USD 19,887).  Raimondas Baranauskas, president and owner of 25.31% of Snoras made LTL 58,500 (EUR 16,938 / USD 22,590) per month after taxes.  That doesn't include the amount he got for sitting on the board of directors of the company.  The members of the board of directors were pulling in an average of LTL 40,100 (EUR 11,611 / USD 15,485) a month for sitting on the board.  To put this in perspective, the average Lithuanian makes somewhere around LTL 2,000 a month (EUR 579 / USD 774).

Latvijas Krajbanka, a bank in Latvia controlled by Snoras, has also been seized by the Latvian government because of financial irregularities.  This article (in Lithuanian) states that the bank's current administrator, Janis Brazovskis, discovered what had happened to LAT 100 million (EUR 143 million / USD 190.8 million) that disappeared from the bank.  Brazovskis said that the money had been used for two purposes: to raise the authorized capital of the bank and to finance a personal project of Vladimir Antonov--his plans to purchase the automaker Saab.  Mortgage bonds were used to move the money out of the country.  Brazovskis stated that this was "a crime, indeed several crimes".

In this article (in Lithuanian), Edward Lucas, who is the International Editor of The Economist, says that the activities of Snoras should have been carefully looked into much earlier and that the former Lithuanian government and Lietuvos Bankas share the blame for their lack of action.  According to Lucas, it had been known for many years that the bank was run by suspicious people and was engaging in suspicious activities.  (I wonder how many Lithuanian officials profited from their silence?)  He also states that the Lithuanian authorities acted improperly by not earlier sharing information with the Latvian authorities concerning their suspicions about Snoras.

On a good note, at least Vladimir Antonov and Raimondas Baranauskas have been arrested.  They were seized in the UK and are currently out on bail.

After looking over the situation at Snoras, the Lithuania government has decided to liquidate it.  Earlier there was talk of trying to preserve the bank, but the situation appeared hopeless.  In this article, Andrius Kubilius, the prime minister of Lithuania, stated that the scope of financial crimes at Snoras had never before been encountered by the government.  He added that Snoras could hardly be called a real bank; rather it was a massive financial scheme reminiscent of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.  Still, few actual details of the fraud that took place at the bank have been released by the government.

In a related (but minor) note, a Mercedes-Benz driven by Sigita Baranauskiene, the wife of Raimondas Baranauskas, was seized by the government as she tried to drive to Riga, Latvia.  As this article reports, her reaction to this was to tell a journalist that she wanted to "like that Norwegian Breivik [who in a murderous bombing and shooting rampage killed almost 80 persons this past summer] pick up a machine gun and kill" the people involved in the downfall of her husband's evil empire.  Nice woman.  I like her humility after it became common knowledge that she and her husband have been living the good life on the deposits of the people putting money in their bank.  Yeah, just gotta love it.