Sunday, 6 December 2009

Paws for thought...


Call me Garfield, and you are toast...


With Christmas fast approaching I was stunned to see a question posted on a social media network that was essentially asking what sort of animal it would be appropriate to give as a gift.

“They are not toys,” said Mary Peng of the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS), “Giving someone a pet is the same as giving someone a baby.”

While they might look terribly cute as puppies or kittens, Mary says people should pause for thought, “You are taking on a heavy responsibility. You are responsible for a life.”




Who could possibly not love him?



Apart from the obvious expenses for food and toys, there can be some quite eye-popping vet bills when your pet gets ill – and they do. And then there’s the commitment in time. They do demand attention; they are a sponge for attention – they can’t get enough!

Tell us about it. Brian can be very persistent when he wants to play – which is pretty much all the time! Like right now, as I am writing this!

One of the core messages of a seminar on Saturday organized by the ICVS was if you are not ready to make these commitments: Don’t get a pet!

The seminar was primarily designed for people who are either operating or offering consulting services to animal shelters in China. However, there were reporters from a couple of the local newspapers among the participants, and hopefully they will help to spread the message.

“A staggering number of animals are abandoned every year,” Mary told us, “and it is getting worse.”

Nobody knows that better than Wang Liping who runs a shelter for dogs and cats in Tongzhou, in the east of Beijing.



Wang Liping and a puppy abandoned because he developed a skin disorder. He's now well on the way to recovery!



Shirley and I spent a few hours with Mrs. Wang at the shelter on Sunday. An incredibly warm and charming woman – she and her husband work from dawn to dusk and beyond, caring for a couple of hundred animals they’ve personally rescued from the streets of Beijing.

So to bring things up to date. Right now Shirley and I are working on a short video about the ICVS seminar, and then we’ll be producing “I Dog, I Cat” – or perhaps we’ll called it “Lulu’s Legacy” – hey, you’ll have to watch the video to get the story.

In the meantime…. (there is a meantime???) we’ll soon be publishing the still photographs from our project with children's development group CAI – the video will be out sometime in January.

And in a couple of weeks we’re visiting a cat sanctuary, Charlie’s Cats – but you can visit it now at http://www.charlyscats.org

From Shirley and myself, Brian the demanding dog, and Socks the socially challenged cat – have a great week!

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Friday, 4 December 2009

Ahmed's Story

After discussions with friend and colleague, Eva Manasieva, and Tom Rhodes from the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, we agreed that there was a story that needed to be told.

The following was posted on the Facebook site "Voice for Amanda Lindhout"


As the initiators of this Facebook page, Eva Manasieva and Chris Gelken feel the time to close it and move on is drawing near.

We are deeply indebted to the people who cared enough to add their names and post their prayers and wishes for a safe and speedy return to their families of Amanda and Nigel.

While the long journey back to anything like a normal life is likely to be difficult, we are confident that Amanda and Nigel will draw some measure of comfort in the knowledge that hardly a day of their 15-month captivity went by without someone visiting this page and leaving a message of encouragement, many of them complete strangers.

But before we switch off the lights on this page; this tribute to the kindness and humanity of so many; there is one person in particular that we’d like to thank.

His name or picture doesn’t appear among the list of Amanda’s “friends” on Voice for Amanda Lindhout. He left no words of encouragement or support. What he did was so much more.

We’ll call him Ahmed.

Ahmed is a video journalist based in Mogadishu, his war-ravaged hometown. Like almost every Mogadishu resident, Ahmed effectively risks his life every time he steps out of his home. As a journalist, the dangers are so much greater – and as a family man with a wife and children to support, he is always alert to the fact that he is there to record the story, not become part of it.

But it was without a second’s hesitation that Ahmed responded to a request by one of Amanda’s friends to make enquiries into the kidnapping. This request wasn’t made by or on behalf of a news organization looking for a story. Nor was it made on behalf of any government agency.
Within 24 hours of the abduction Ahmed already had some solid leads. He shared the information with Amanda’s friend who then – with Ahmed’s permission - passed the basic facts onto the relevant authorities in Canada and Australia.

Working through intermediaries, over a period of several days Ahmed made the first substantive contact with the kidnappers, and was able to begin passing messages from the group.

Throughout this time Ahmed was running considerable risks. He was threatened, and his family was threatened. He was questioned at gunpoint. His motives and affiliations were challenged. He recalled his makeshift home being surrounded by gunmen. One of his messages read, “I have descended into an ocean of darkness.”

He managed to convince the gunmen that his only interest was in the wellbeing of the hostages. In the name of humanity he begged for their release, or at least some proof that they were being held in a safe place and were not being harmed.

His efforts ultimately resulted in the first “proof of life” telephone contact between Nigel and an Australian hostage negotiator in Nairobi. In the darkness of a Mogadishu night about two weeks after the kidnapping, Ahmed coordinated a complicated international communication that for the first time put the Canadian and Australian negotiating team in direct contact with the group holding Amanda and Nigel.

Surrounded by masked men with guns, Ahmed handed over his telephones with the contacts of the negotiating team and the electronic record of his involvement. He had already achieved more than anyone could possibly have hoped for. He was scared for his life. He wanted to go home to his wife and children. He wanted out.

But for the time being, Ahmed was trapped. The gunmen made increasingly threatening demands for payment for giving him the proof of life. The negotiating teams, meanwhile, pressured him to maintain contact. At that time, the negotiators and their masters in Ottawa and Canberra insisted, Ahmed was their only reliable link on the ground in Mogadishu. It was crucial that he remained engaged.

While they scrambled to assemble their resources, the governments of Canada and Australia made various vacuous and what can only be described as misleading statements to Ahmed. Assurances, for example, that help was on the way. The “help” they were referring to was nothing more than extra officers being sent to Nairobi. Ahmed was always on his own, and he remains so.

As the weeks turned into months, the Nairobi-based negotiating team was able to manage affairs without Ahmed’s direct involvement. So Ahmed was effectively sidelined. His usefulness at an end, he was forgotten. Discarded.

But the gunmen haven’t forgotten Ahmed.

Ahmed is not seeking financial reward, despite the fact that his involvement actually cost him at least three to four thousand US dollars in direct expenses, not to mention lost earnings.

Ahmed is not seeking fame. In fact, he has been quite explicit – no photographs and his full name should not be revealed.

So what is he seeking?

Acknowledgement.

Acknowledgement not just for himself, but for all decent Somali citizens who have maintained their humanity and morality despite the awful conditions in which they live.

For strangers, he risked his life and the livelihood of his family. For people he never met and will likely never meet, he continues to live with the knowledge that he might still be a target.

In the reams of newsprint and the hours of broadcast coverage that have been dedicated to the self aggrandizing “heroic” efforts of the commercial hostage rescue team that finally secured the release of Amanda and Nigel, there has been little or no acknowledgement of the selfless efforts made by ordinary, decent Somali citizens like Ahmed.

People touched by decades of war and hardship, but not corrupted by it.

And that is a tragedy that simply must be corrected.

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Amanda and Nigel - Free and on their way home!

While absolutely delighted with the news that friend and former colleague Amanda Lindhout has been released from 15-months of captivity in Somalia, I would like to take a very brief moment to clarify some of the misconceptions regarding my role in the affair that have been creeping into the Canadian media – in particular the print media and transcript excerpts from radio and television interviews.

It is true, that in the first couple of months of the abduction I was quite engaged – through contacts with Somali journalist Ahmed Mohammed and with the Canadian and Australian authorities.

However, my part was quite minor. Essentially I was a messenger or perhaps even an international telephone operator – trying to keep the line of communications open between the negotiators in Nairobi and Ahmed who was on the ground in Mogadishu.

He was doing all the work, and at times the situation for Ahmed was extremely challenging. He took significant risks in his efforts to bring the hostage crisis to an early end – and he often felt isolated.

Any and all credit should go to him. A family man living in exceptionally trying circumstances; he was seeking no reward other than that of being a good human being.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Climate Couch Potatoes

After a busy month or so at our regular jobs, and weekends working on media projects for non-profits, my wife and I were overdue for a little quality time.

A movie, a bite to eat, and a beer or two.

We went to see ‘2012’ - and while the story line was interesting enough - albeit a bit predictable - the special effects were amazing. Well worth a few bucks for a couple of hours of escapism. In fact, highly recommended!

Of course the movie figured largely in our conversation over dinner. Where did the real science end and the science fiction begin? Hollywood always manages to throw in a few tantalizing tidbits of fact to spice up disaster movies like this. It gives the story that special element of mystery that has filmgoers rushing off to ‘Google’ the topic the second they get home.

We got to talking about time-lines, and despite the fact that the leading scientist in the story accurately predicted what was going to happen - he obviously had no prior knowledge of the now famous Mayan hieroglyphs that pointed to December 21, 2012 as being a significant date in the history of the world. Well, the end, in fact.

In his considered opinion there was still sufficient time to make necessary preparations for the final cataclysm. As a consequence of his miscalculation, the scale of the human disaster was much worse.

In contrast to the secrecy surrounding the impending apocalypse in the movie, scientists in the real world have been warning us for years about greenhouse gases and climate change. Changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, desertification, land degradation, disappearing species, and a loss of biodiversity, these are all consequences of a fossil fuel based industrial revolution, unsustainable consumerism and waste.

But the question everyone asks: “How much time do we have?” is usually answered with a cryptic, “We’re not sure exactly when the tipping point will be, but time is running out.”

I always hate that answer. It suggests there is still time to prevaricate and dither. Still time, perhaps, to negotiate who should be held responsible, and who should shoulder the burden of paying for change. Still time, basically, to do nothing substantive.

Frankly, the evidence suggests that time has already run out. For the millions of ‘climate refugees’ who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of climate change, the ‘time’ came and went years ago. For millions of other island and coastal dwellers, the clock is ticking - measured by the surf that is breaking ever closer to their homes and livelihoods.

According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, by 2010 there will be 50 million ‘environmentally displaced people’ worldwide.

But how can we get over this question of believing there is still ‘time’? How to explain it in simple terms that even a politician might understand? I like to think of it in terms of weight gain - and the dreadful pain and effort needed to take off those extra pounds!

Put it this way. A reasonably fit person with an existing exercise program can afford to eat that extra piece of pie; a little gain here or there isn’t going to make much difference. Getting back down to fighting weight won’t be any real problem.

But if they let their exercise regime slip, and put on a couple of pounds, or several - obviously the effort needed to shed the extra weight is going to be so much harder and take so much longer.

They way I look at things through this odd little analogy is that the Earth has now become dangerously overweight, and it has no cohesive or comprehensive training regime in place to begin losing those perilous pounds.

In fact, the negative and pessimistic comments we are now hearing on an almost daily basis about the dismal - or virtually non-existent prospects for a breakthrough at the Copenhagen Climate Summit - suggest that with the pain and effort needed to begin the process, nobody has much enthusiasm to even look at the stair-master, let alone actually get on it.

And the weight will just keep piling up. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

So when do we reach the point where we are simply too fat to make a difference whatever we do? For the answer, don’t ask a scientist or a climate negotiator; ask any one of the 50 million environmentally displaced people.

Climate change and its impact on this and future generations isn't a Hollywood movie. Incredibly, however, it does sometimes seem that couch potatoes watching the latest weather disaster unfold on their television screens are treating the phenomenon as if it were just that – a movie.

And Copenhagen? It’s beginning to look like nothing more than a couch potato convention.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

God's Grace Garden




Despite the bitter cold, we had an amazing Sunday out at an organic farm about an hour’s drive southwest of Beijing.

God’s Grace Garden, or GGG, is one of the first totally organic farms in China. Established in 2001 by Terese Zhang, GGG covers 150mu (about 25 acres or 10 hectares) – and not an inch is wasted!

And not an ounce of artificial fertilizer or pesticide intrudes through the walled farm that is home to a dozen cows, numerous dogs, and countless geese, chickens and ducks.

Most conventional farms are mono-culture – devoted to just one crop. At GGG, the space between rows of fruit trees is alternatively sown with corn, winter wheat, peas, cabbage and any number of other crops.

Apart from avoiding the depletion of the soil’s natural properties, the variety of crops also confuses traditional pests!

Bothersome they may be at times, Terese has a certain respect for the insects and other bugs that conventional farmers attempt to eradicate with sometimes toxic levels of pesticide.

“They are nature’s messengers,” she says, “and here at God’s Grace Garden we open their letters and read them. We try to understand what they are telling us about the environment.”

The full interview with Terese will be posted soon on our audio & video page at Ridealist.



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Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Ridealist

After long thought, Shirley and I decided that our website needed a name. The simple and straightforward ‘www.gelken.com’ didn’t quite express the message of what we wanted to say or do.


We were discussing the journal entry from last week, 'Impossible is just a word' and the fact that idealists need a fair amount of realism if they are going to survive and be effective – and the word we were looking for just came.


Ridealist [raɪˈdiəlɪst] - an idealist with a realistic view of how to make positive things happen in this severely flawed and damaged world in which we live.


We then thought it deserved its own domain, so www.ridealist.com (and .org) was registered. Initially, at least, www.ridealist.com will simply be a mirror site for www.gelken.com, but we are working to develop both domains into separate entities.


The original www.gelken.com will eventually begin to look more like a more commercial website, designed specifically to attract paid commissions. Ridealist, on the other hand, will continue to promote our volunteer activities.


While Shirley and I have no intention of changing our approach to voluntary services, we have to be realistic. Ultimately, the cash for repair or replacement of camera and computer hardware, for example, has to come from somewhere. In short, while we advocate sustainability, we also have to practice it.


So, if you are a for-profit or commercial enterprise – www.gelken.com will be the site for you.


For non-profits and NGOs, reset your RSS feeds or favorites tab to www.ridealist.com – and let us help you find realistic media solutions!

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Saturday, 31 October 2009

Impossible is just a word

A personal exploration of realism vs. idealism

During a recent exchange of emails with the director of a highly effective, and very well respected child welfare NGO, I received the following sobering caution:

“As I’m sure you know, media can be complex when you are doing charity work. We try to keep a low profile and a very positive outlook because we are so grateful for the access we have. Our only goal is to help the kids. The few times we have done interviews for local television and newspapers we have seen an increase in the abandonment of babies, as parents who are desperate for help hope we will take care of them if they are orphaned. It’s really quite sad. I know some orphanages have even put a ban on stories about helping kids for that very reason.”

My wife and I sat long into the night arguing the merits and flaws of agencies choosing a low profile as opposed to stepping into the media spotlight. We were both moved and saddened on any number of issues related to the director’s comments on what is evidently an intractable problem.

On the one hand, of course, the publicity alerted some desperate parents to the possibility that there was perhaps one last chance to give their children a better shot at life. Clutching this opportunity, they made the heart-breaking decision to abandon their child into the care of strangers.

Before you judge those parents too harshly, consider the alternative. Many of the children that end up in orphanages suffer from what polite society describe as “special needs.” It might be a disfigurement or deformity, many of which are actually treatable, but the cost of surgery and rehabilitation is beyond the means of the poorest. So the children face a miserable life on the fringe of society. Wouldn’t you grasp at any straw, however painful it might be, to give your child a better life?

Those children were taken in by the agency. They were cared for and loved, and are now looking at the world through more optimistic eyes. The agency concerned should be rightfully proud of their work and contribution. They gave a child a new start, and the potential for a more fulfilling and productive life.

On the other hand, the publicity doubtless attracted some less than scrupulous parents or guardians and gave them the opportunity to get rid of what – for them at least – was a troublesome and potentially costly burden. All that being said, whatever the motive of the parent, the child concerned is now living in a clean, safe and positive environment. And isn’t that the whole point?

So did the publicity work? Was it a positive thing? The idealist would say yes, absolutely. The realist would be rather more cautious.

Sadly, given obvious financial constraints, there is only so much that any one agency can do without taking the risk of diminishing the level of care and attention they provide to the children they are already responsible for. Notwithstanding the realities of limited resources, turning away a child in need is an impossible decision for any care-worker.

There are inarguable benefits to publicity and a higher profile. Just as there are the obvious downsides. It’s a tricky dilemma. If an agency relies solely on word of mouth and targeted – but narrow – campaigns to raise funds, they are always going to be on the brink. Always faced with the unimaginable burden of turning children away. It’s impossible to argue with the simple economics of the situation.

If, on the other hand, they decide to mount a publicity campaign or agree to media coverage, there is the danger of being overwhelmed before the hoped for donations arrive – if they ever do. The unique challenge this presents to agency directors is beyond the imagination of most of us.

Consequently, many of the smaller or specialized child care agencies fly just beneath the radar, attracting as little attention as possible. On shoestring budgets they do the best they can, for as many as they can. But they live with a harsh reality. In many cases the children they reject have lost their last chance of a better life. A necessary cull, if you like, in order that the few the agency can help will survive and thrive.

When the realist meets the idealist the inevitable words of reason and comfort are, “You can only do what you can with the resources you have. You cannot take care of the whole world.”

But as our television screens and newspapers deliver a daily litany of financial scandals, inexcusable waste on a massive scale, criminal mismanagement of the world’s resources, petty politics and greed – it is apparent that the realist’s statement is simply a reflection of the world we live in – but isn’t strictly true in the sense that we are universally helpless and fundamentally incapable of caring for the world and everyone or everything in it.

So when told they cannot save the world, it should come as no surprise when the idealist will invariably reply with a defiant, “Why not?”




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Sunday, 25 October 2009

Contrasts - Journal w/e 24 October, 2009

Pictures and journal from our personal webpage.


This weekend we visited the Xi Wang Zhi Xing School (Star of Hope) as part of our ongoing project with CAI to record activities at schools for the children of migrant workers in Beijing.

Just 35 minutes by bus from the center of Beijing’s bustling commercial and entertainment district of Chaoyang, the dreary and rather squalid suburb of Dong Ba could not have more effectively demonstrated the contrast between the well-publicized face of China’s phenomenal growth – and those who are playing a desperate game of catch-up.



Late in the afternoon an older gentleman came up and interrupted our filming – expressing embarrassment at the piles of rotting and fetid rubbish piled along the streets. This exchange led to a lengthy discussion later in the day.


The question Shirley and I were debating was fairly simple: Since the old chap was aware enough to be embarrassed by the garbage, why didn’t he and his fellow villagers just clean it up?

While we didn’t come to any conclusive answer, we did agree that people - whatever their educational or social background might be - do let their standards slip when they lose hope. That is why programs such as the one being run by CAI are so important. They help to empower the youngsters – open the door to a world that some in their community perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to walk through.

In short, it gives them hope. And as usual the kids were bright, enthusiastic and full of energy. Well done, CAI!


Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to join a meeting organized by another local NGO, Magic Hospital (http://www.magichospital.org) and hear about their programs for the coming year. They have some exciting things planned and we are looking forward to the opportunity to help them promote and record their activities.

The meeting was hosted by Golden Bridges (http://www.goldenbridges.org). The mission statement of this Beijing-based NGO is to connect corporations and philanthropists to NGOs working on the frontlines. If you are seeking opportunities to make a contribution, you really should check out their webpage.

At the moment the plan is to spend most of next weekend editing the video before the final day of shooting in the first week of November... well, that's the plan!


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Monday, 19 October 2009

Journal for W/E 17 October - an inspiring week!



Saturday morning saw Shirley and I off to the Hong Li Primary School in the far north of Beijing to begin filming our feature on CAI/The Promise Foundation. CAI (or 才 in Chinese) means ‘talent’.




CAI’s mission statement is, “to target the underserved communities of migrant labourers in China. We work through arts and sports programs and character development activities.”

By an amazing stroke of good fortune the cold, overcast and windy weather of Friday had cleared and we were blessed with warm sunshine throughout the day. In contrast, Sunday has been absolutely freezing with a full gale blowing all day!




At their Hong Li project, CAI have partnered with young students from the Dulwich College International School in Beijing who have generously given up part of their weekend to work with young children. About a dozen Dulwich volunteers were on hand to give English, drama and music lessons, and lead the kids in outdoor activities – including basic basketball techniques.



We had the pleasure to conduct a brief interview with Dulwich student, Jorge Zarate, the team leader who recruited and organized the volunteers from the college.

He told us he was delighted with the way the program was going, “And I can’t wait for the weeks to come,” he said, “It will be fantastic!”



After witnessing the enthusiasm of the Dulwich volunteers and the warm reception they received from the children, we have no doubt it will be “fantastic.”

Over the coming three weeks Shirley and I will be filming and taking photographs at another two schools for the children of migrant workers on the outskirts of the capital.

Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to meet with some other quite unique and inspiring people during a panel discussion to mark ‘Vision 2020 – World Sight Day’.

In the Today on Beyond Beijing studio we welcomed – among others - a staff member and volunteer from The Beijing One Plus One Cultural Exchange Center.
We talked about the challenges facing the visually impaired here in China – and their remarkable achievements.

If you have some time to spare, you really should take a listen to the MP3 version on this link - http://media.iphone.cri.cn/magazine/today/2009/10/091015today1.mp3

Visit the group at http://www.oneplusone.org.cn

Another highlight of the week was dinner with Cyrille Jegu and He Si-tang from The Natural Step – an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to education, advisory work and research in sustainable development.
It was impossible not to be energized by their dedication and enthusiasm for creating a better, sustainable environment.

For information on their program and what you can do to contribute to the quality of life for future generations, visit their website at - http://www.naturalstep.org/


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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Animal Welfare Legislation in China


With local media often overwhelmed with other social and environmental issues, the problem of animal welfare is one that is often overlooked.

That fact could not have been more obviously portrayed by the complete indifference of this young chap regarding the why, the where, and the how this beautiful pelt came into the hands of the street vendor.


The haggling went on for about 10 to 15 minutes. I was actually quite surprised that nobody seemed to be overly concerned that I was taking pictures. No sneaky long lens was needed - I was using a fixed focal length 35mm F1.8 - so I was almost on top of them!


The fact is, however you view the moral implications of their their transaction - it isn't illegal. I asked the Asia Representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for his opinion and this is what he had to say:

"In China, animal protection laws are essentially non-existent. Fighting awful situations like these is not usually possible from a legal standpoint because, for the most part, no laws are being broken. Even if the pelt you saw was a dog skin, it would likely still be legal to sell. I’m sure you’ve seen this footage: http://www.petaasiapacific.com/issues-nottowear-v-furfarm.asp, and it’s all completely legal"


I should warn you, the footage from PETA is foul and extremely disturbing.



But the deal was eventually closed - for between US$40 to US$50 - and this pelt was on its way to decorate a young man's apartment.

For more background visit www.gelken.com

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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Rebuttal to Marc Wadsworth / The-Latest.com


Marc Wadsworth, the editor of citizen journalism website The-Latest.com launched an unprecedented attack on myself in response to what he describes as my "vendetta" against him.

Background details of the issue can be found in the archives of my blog under the headline, "The-Latest.com / Marc Wadsworth / Gelken" - a headline I hoped would achieve a high position in search engine results. Apparently it was successful since it quickly came to the attention of Mr Wadsworth.

Wadsworth responded with the following article on his website:


He begins the article with the astonishing claim, "The comment piece laid bare his remarkable conversion from an open-minded liberal to a bigoted little Englander with views not dissimilar to those expressed by the nazi British National Party."

I am happy to make available to any responsible journalist/investigator the email exchanges with Mr Wadsworth where I explicitly explained that there had been no such conversion - in fact, as you can read from the original article submitted for publication, I used the word "alleged" conversion. In the edited version of the article and the introduction written by Mr Wadsworth any suggestion that this was an "alleged" conversion based entirely on the remarks of just one of my friends and former colleagues was conveniently left out.

I also made it abundantly clear that my articles had nothing to do with racial prejudice or any alleged "white backlash" - and I certainly did not want them linked with the election of BNP members to the European Parliament. All of this conveniently ignored by Mr Wadsworth.

Mr Wadsworth continues, "Previously Gelken had written a number of good articles from the Middle East for The-Latest, though at times our editors had to question his political bias which verged on the anti-Semitic. Also, because he is not a professional journalist, Gelken's copy had to be carefully fact-checked and sub-edited."

Being accused of political bias by somebody like Wadsworth is ironic in the extreme and is hardly worth the effort to respond. The accusation of anti-semitism, however, is a libelous distortion of the facts. Simply because I disagree with many of the policies of the Israeli government does not make me anti-semitic. Just as my opposition to many of the policies of the British government does not make me anti-British or anti-Anglo Saxon. That is just ridiculous.

In regard to the fact checking and sub editing. All of the articles I submitted for publication on The-Latest.com had previously been published on other news and information websites. The most comprehensive list of my articles can be found in the Ohmynews Archive. If anyone cares to take the time to make a comparison, you will quickly discover that Mr Wadsworth effectively "cut and pasted" and no fact checking or sub editing was done.

On the few occasions very early in our relationship where an over zealous junior editor at The-Latest did make changes, they were quickly changed back to the original when I pointed out that the edited versions simply did not work or did not reflect the reality of the situation. No "special privileges" as Mr Wadsworth claims, just my own scrupulous attention to detail and responsibility that anything that is published under my name is an accurate and objective reflection of the events I am describing.

Regarding the claim that I am not a professional journalist - well, you can argue semantics. Was I professional in my approach to the work or was I employed as a full time journalist. Since fully 100 percent of my income during the entire time I have had a relationship with The-Latest.com (and for a very long time previously) has been from employment as a journalist, editor or broadcaster, then I can justifiably claim I am a professional.

Whether you consider the content or my approach to the job as professional, then that isn't for me to say but for you to judge.

Another Wadsworth claim, "Gelken, who revels in picking fight (sic) with colleagues, fell out with his bosses at the TV station and fled from Tehran to Beijing with his Chinese wife. He then, with the benefit of his wife's translation skills, filed reviews of the Chinese press."

Do I really revel in picking fights with my colleagues? I would dearly love for Mr Wadsworth to come up with just one example. Have I had disagreements over editorial policy, over social, labour and other rights of my junior colleagues? Oh yes, many times. And I plan to continue having disagreements if I feel, for example, the basic essential labour rights of my colleagues are being abused.

Amnesty International apparently approve of my "picking fights" and saw fit to award me with a Certificate of Special Merit.

I didn't "flee" to Beijing. I live here. I own an apartment here, and have done so since long before The-Latest.com came onto the scene. And my wife did not in any way - translation or otherwise - contribute to any of the press briefings from China. All pure fiction dreamt up in the fertile mind of Mr Wadsworth.

On the question of fleeing.. if anyone is in the least interested, I have several photos from my leaving party in the office of PressTV. Hardly the sort of activity for someone who is fleeing, don't you think?

In respect of the legal issue, "We knew he didn't have a leg to stand on so we opted for a dignified silence. Gelken soon retreated, pathetically claiming that the vagueness of the law and cost had put him off."

How totally ignoring my emails requesting that the article be removed can be interpreted as a "dignified silence" is beyond my comprehension. Wadsworth and his deputies did not once reply to any of my emails or attempt to engage in discourse to resolve the issue.

However, on this point again I am willing to open my email records to any responsible journalist/investigator. In discussions with the law firm David Price and UK based media organizations it was made very clear that while Wadsworth had committed libel, the laws regarding purely internet based news and information websites are vague and unclear - and are, for example, not handled by the Press Complaints Commission.

The law firm was willing to take the case but the costs were staggering. While they were confident we had a solid case, they were not so confident that Wadsworth would be in a position to pay any costs or damages.

I feel no shame in admitting that I could not afford their fees. Many people find themselves in the same position. Being on a tight budget, especially in these economic times is not something to be ashamed of, and it certainly is not - as Wadsworth suggests, "pathetic."

Would I consider accepting contributions to cover the cost of taking Mr Wadsworth to court? Yes, absolutely.

I even toyed with the amusing idea of contacting the BNP to suggest that since I have allegedly become one of them, they might be interested in protecting one of their own. But after giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that they'd probably be more inclined to pay Wadsworth's legal expenses.

If, as Wadsworth asserts, there has been a white-backlash, then it has more to do with his brand of journalism and political activism than it has with the policies of the BNP. Wadsworth probably drives more recruits into the ranks of the BNP than any of their own campaigns. It wouldn't surprise me to discover that he was actually on their payroll.

I have sent this link to Mr Wadsworth. I pasted a link to his article - unedited - on my website and FaceBook - I have nothing to be ashamed of.

I wonder if he will do me the same courtesy.





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Saturday, 26 September 2009

The original article as submitted

Reverse culture shock

by Chris Gelken

The first in a series of personal articles tracking my alleged metamorphosis from a liberal with socialist tendencies; to a conservative nationalist with a hint of xenophobia.

It had been 23 years since I had set foot in my homeland. Twenty-three years that had seen me circle the globe a couple of times, cross the Equator more times than I can remember, and visit more than 40 countries and territories. But never once in that time did my nomadic path take me back to Britain. Great Britain. England. My home.

After expressing surprise at the length of time I had been away, the inevitable question people asked was, “Don’t you miss it?”

“Yes, of course.” A pause. “Well, not so much that you’d really notice.”

The truth was, in some ways I had actually forgotten what there was to miss. I was soon going to be reminded, but in a completely unexpected and unpleasant way.

It wasn’t that I didn’t expect to experience some changes. I had frequently been away from Britain before this 23-year absence. There was the Army, followed by various freelance gigs in Europe. A year and a half in New Zealand, followed by brief visits to Mexico, and the United States. But at some point, and for various lengths of time, I’d always find my way home.

Thinking about it now, though, 23 years would seem rather odd to most people.

Britain was comfortable. It wasn’t a daily live by your wits challenge. No language barrier, no culture gap, and plenty of familiar comfort food. Lose your job? Pick up the dole. Get sick? Go to the doctor; no concerns about medical insurance. No money, nowhere to live? Head down to Social Security, they’ll fix you up.

Nothing grand, you understand, all pretty subsistence level and basic for the most part. But in Britain; no one goes hungry or without a roof over their head.

But I digress. That’s part of the story for another day.

The immigration officer at Heathrow’s Terminal Three met me with smile and a cheerful, “Hello, how was your flight?”

There was a perceptible accent there. Perhaps it was from somewhere in England’s midland counties. I couldn’t immediately place it. But it was immeasurably pleasant to be finally asked for my documents in an accent of English that I could identify with. I was finally home.

There was another, and at the time, totally unremarkable aspect to my homecoming. I say “unremarkable” because that is exactly how it was. Of course I noticed, I am conditioned to “notice” things. That’s my job. But the only reaction I remember feeling was a spontaneous comparison to a previous encounter at an immigration counter a few years earlier.

I mention it only because it has - or at least may have in the perception of some readers - a bearing on what happens later. And the person I have allegedly become.

The last time, as I remembered, that I had come face-to-face with an immigration official wearing a traditional Muslim hejab was at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. And the reception there had been a rather unwelcoming demand, delivered in a tone that was obviously used to giving orders, and of being obeyed. “Passport!” Significantly, there was no “Please.”

My return to Britain wasn’t really a planned affair. A few weeks previously I’d received the devastating news that one of my brothers was seriously ill. It was terminal, and time was short.

My wife and I made the necessary arrangements and flew back to Britain from our home in Beijing. We’d hoped to spend a few weeks with my brother and his family, but as things turned out, we were about half a day too late.

Another story for another day.

Fast-forward two weeks, to the evening before my wife and I headed back to China. Catching up with old friends and former colleagues in London’s West End. That too didn’t turn out quite as I’d expected.

Clutching my lapel and dragging my face close enough to smell the beer and cigarettes on his breath, a friend hissed, “You’ve changed! You’re no bloody socialist or f***** liberal. You know what you are don’t you?”

“No,” I said, surprised at the vehemence in his voice, “but I am sure you are going to tell me.”

He let go of my jacket with enough emphasis to make it feel like a push. “I don’t know you anymore.”

Walking unsteadily back toward the bar he said over his shoulder, “You’re a bloody raging nationalist with a chip on your shoulder. You should be careful.”

In times gone by we had sat long into the night sharing a bottle and resolving all the world’s ills. Sure, we’d often differ, but never significantly enough to resort to hostility or name-calling.

I was different. I won’t deny it. Circumstances had seen to that. But I hadn’t changed in myself, not fundamentally. At that moment I just didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling, what I was going through. I was in shock.

Culture shock. Or more accurately, reverse culture shock.

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Sunday, 20 September 2009

Today on Beyond Beijing

We had a terrific week on Today on Beyond Beijing - with the highlights being a panel discussion on 'Broken America' with Rob Kall and Kevin Zeese, and 'Netizens' with internet gurus Jay and Ronda Hauben.


Wherever you are in the world, you can listen live on www.AM880.net

Some great shows coming up this week.. so tune in!

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

www.gelken.com has changed..

Our personal website - www.gelken.com - has undergone something of a facelift and now reflects more accurately our recent activities and ambitions in an up to date and better laid out fashion than blogger.. and it also has Chinese language translations for some of the pages!


It is still a work in progress since we have mountains of video and huge archives of photographs that need to be sorted and loaded. We are also working on a "friends and links" page - so if you are working in the fields of child care/education for the underprivileged, the environment, sustainability, biodiversity, animal welfare or care for the elderly and would like to be linked, then please drop us a line.

Chris and Shirley



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The-Latest.com / Marc Wadsworth / Gelken

Odd sort of headline I agree.. but I am playing with Search Engine Optimization.


This post is designed with two main purposes. Firstly, to counter a libelous article that appeared earlier this year in The-Latest.com under my byline.

The published story is a corruption of a piece I filed with The Latest.

Secondly, this post should serve as a cautionary note to anyone who files stories to internet based news websites - especially those based in the United Kingdom. You have little or no rights over the final editing of your copy, and if you are writing under a byline your reputation could be at risk at the hands of unscrupulous editors with an agenda.

After email negotiations with the website editor, Marc Wadsworth, I agreed to write a series of articles on reverse culture shock - very personal pieces that recorded my impressions regarding my first visit back to the United Kingdom in some 23-years.

After sending in the first article, I received an email from Marc Wadsworth with his 'edited' version. It was a complete corruption and distortion of my original.

I expressly told him I fundamentally disagreed with the changes he had made - including the very misleading headline, the insertion of unauthorized and heavily edited "quotes"; the use of a photograph of my wife, and the 'confession' that I had become a raging, right-wing nationalist.

Wadsworth responded with the bald statement that my original article did not fit the "theme" of his website, and if I was unhappy with the changes I could take my work elsewhere.

I told him I was extremely unhappy, and would indeed be taking it elsewhere. In addition I made it perfectly clear I wanted nothing more to do with The Latest.

He published anyway. He didn't inform me of his action, and I only found out by accident when I was subsequently questioned about the article.

Wadsworth's unethical and unprofessional conduct is beyond breathtaking.

Repeated emails petitioning him to remove this and my other articles from his website have been ignored.

I sought legal advice. The lawyers told me that while Wadsworth's editing was libelous, the laws regulating the internet in the UK are vague and ambiguous. They cheerfully told me they would be happy to write a letter to Wadsworth expressing my concerns - at a cost of almost GBP 700 - about $1,200 at the exchange rate at the time.

Wadsworth would face no penalty if he ignored the letter. The lawyers also said that to follow up on the case would cost me a trifling $500 per hour of their time, with a minimum of two-hours per 'session' of advice or filing for possible court action.

In many ways, I imagine that Marc Wadsworth would consider this blog post as libelous. Well I am happy to make a deal. Take that scurrilous story off your website, and I will take you off mine.






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Monday, 31 August 2009

Kubuqi Desert / Future Forest and the Great Green Wall



The video "Taming the Yellow Dragon - A billion trees in the desert" will be screened during the COP9 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification later this month in Buenos Aires.



Drifting sands in the Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia, PRC


Hiking over dunes, Kubuqi Desert


Drifting sands, Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia, PRC


Trees planted by Korea-based Future Forest in the Kubuqi Desert, forming part of what will eventually become the Great Green Wall


Liu Gou He, Kubuqi Desert


Yellow River, Inner Mongolia, PRC


Tree saplings planted in frames by Korea-based Future Forest in the Kubuqi Desert as part of their Great Green Wall project.


Tree saplings planted by Korea-based Future Forest in the Kubuqi Desert - early days for the Great Green Wall


Liu Gou He, Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia, PRC


Wild ponies grazing, Liu Gou He, Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia, PRC

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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Future Forest - The Great Green Wall - Kubuqi Desert


The dramatic beauty of deserts has inspired generations of poets, painters, and adventurers. But their relentless growth – the process of desertification – now poses one of the greatest environmental and ecological threats to sustainable development - not only to China, but also to the whole North East Asian region.


video


If the above video does not load, you can find it on YouTube.

For the full story, click on the following links. The text is the same, but the pictures are different!




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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Where does the time go?

On the one hand, it seems like just yesterday that we returned to China after two weeks in Britain. On the other, it seems like decades ago.


Between on-air shifts at CRI, laying the groundwork for a soon to be launched news magazine show, freelance editing and writing... is there time for anything else? 

Yes. After being off the web for about two months, I hope to begin filing China This Week again in the near future. I am also hoping to interest a UK publication in running a series based on what I can only describe as "reverse culture shock" - my first visit home after 23 years overseas. 

We have also made a few changes to www.gelken.com - drop by and take a look. 


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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Returning soon

China This Week will resume again in a few days. 

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

China This Week, February 27

Minimum Wage In China

A suggestion by a local lawmaker in southern China’s economic powerhouse province of Guangdong to scrap the minimum wage scheme has generated howls of protest.


To help reduce the impact of the global economic slowdown on manufacturing enterprises in the region, he floated the idea of cancelling the hard won minimum wage system for blue-collar workers. 

The nationally available Worker’s Daily quickly condemned the idea, and warned the public to be on the alert for any possible violations of their rights under the guise of measures designed to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis.



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Thursday, 19 February 2009

China This Week, February 18

A weekly digest of some eye-catching stories in the Chinese media


Internet Addiction a Disease

A leading medical expert in China has reiterated his claim that Internet addiction is a psychological disease, defending a position that has triggered widespread debate.


Tao Ran, who was responsible for drafting the Internet Disorder Diagnostic Manual, was quoted in The China Daily as saying that defining Internet addiction as a mental disorder did not discriminate against young people who are addicted to online games and surfing the net.

The study and its conclusions have raised fears that addicts could avoid liability for criminal acts if their addiction is defined as a mental disorder. 



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Monday, 9 February 2009

China This Week, February 10

Chinese Government on Rural Development

In their first joint document of the year, the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China outlined special measures to help stabilize agricultural production and promote rural incomes. 

The frankly worded document highlighted the many problems faced by China's rural communities and agricultural sector, and imparted a genuine sense of crisis.


The Beijing News applauded what they described as "the swift policy response to an increasingly important issue that has been worsened by the ongoing global financial crisis and the resulting economic difficulties in China."



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Saturday, 31 January 2009

China This Week, Jan. 30

A weekly look at some eye-catching editorials in the Chinese media

Judicial Reform


In one of China's most high-profile and closely followed criminal trials in recent memory, 21 people were convicted for their part in the tainted-milk scandal that left six babies dead and a further 300,000 sickened.

The handing down of death sentences for some, and lengthy prison terms for others, was considered indicative of the seriousness with which the court viewed the case.

But an editorial in the popular Caijing Magazine says the earnest desire to administer justice has not been duplicated in the handling of civil actions being launched by parents of the victims.

Read more on Ohmynews International.

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Beijing's Tricycles of Terror!! - Video

Around Beijing subway stations, especially those near the end of the line, you'll find these odd looking motor-tricycles ferrying people to-and-fro.

Absolutely, yes, they are performing a public service to Beijing commuters.

But the kamikaze style of driving also makes them a public menace.



video


Filmed and edited on the Nokia N95 - USB'd into the Mac and uploaded. The final part of the process was simply for convenience. It is possible, of course, to use the phone's web browser to make the upload.

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Friday, 30 January 2009

Chinese New Year Fireworks

Back in 1993 the Beijing municipal government imposed a total ban on the purchase and use of fireworks inside the city.

As you may be aware, fireworks - especially firecrackers - are an essential part of Lunar New Year celebrations across Asia - and the ban was obviously very unpopular.

In the past few years the government has been relaxing the ban, and 2009 was no exception.

At for several hours on Sunday 25th January, the normally tranquil atmosphere of Beijing was shattered with sporadic bursts of firecrackers and flash-bomb explosions.

By late evening the tempo had settled into a steady, earsplitting roar.. but at midnight..


video


Five days later and every evening the skies again light up and the window panes vibrate to the shockwaves of percussion blasts...

It has been an amazing, spectacular week...

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Saturday, 24 January 2009

China This Week, Jan. 23

A weekly digest of eye-catching editorials in the Chinese media.

GDP: Not the Whole Picture

China's National Bureau of Statistics recently revised the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for 2007 to 13 percent, an increase of 1.1 percent over the earlier published figure.

The news made headlines, not least because it meant that China had overtaken Germany as the world's third largest economy.

Amid the celebrations, however, the Shandong-based Qilu Evening News published an editorial saying GDP alone is not an all-inclusive indicator of a country's economic health and overall wellbeing.

It said compared to Germany and other economic powers, China is still developing in terms of per capita GDP, green GDP and social welfare.

For the full story, go to Ohmynews International.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Israel Accused of Gaza War Crimes

Gaza offensive: "A crime against humanity." 


Outrage and Impotence as Gaza Burned

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon expressed his "outrage" and the President of the General Assembly, Miquel d'Escoto Brockmann, accused Israel of violating international law. 

"Gaza is ablaze," he told the UN General Assembly, "it has been turned into a burning hell."

The UN's Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Professor Richard Falk, characterized the Israel offensive as containing "severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law."

For the complete article go to Ohmynews International. 

This article has also be reproduced on a number of other news and information websites - some with the authorization of the author, some without. 

Any editorial changes to the content of the article were made without consultation with the author.



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Thursday, 15 January 2009

China This Week, Jan 15

A weekly digest of eye-catching editorials in the Chinese media


In the US they call them "earmarks" or "pork barrel projects" -- here in China they are described as "image projects" and Chinese newspaper editors say the public has had enough.

An article in The Guangzhou Daily said the obsession of provincial officials to construct what they describe as "monuments to their achievements" needs to come to an end.

The paper says too many of these projects have been criticized for their poor design and inability to serve the alleged function for which they were designed. 

Read more on Ohmynews International. 





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