Kevin Rudd 18th Friendliest Person on Twitter

SPOILER ALERT: This post has nothing to do with China, or anything of any global significance. Unless you think the meaning of the universe is globally significant. OK, there’s no discussion of the meaning of the universe either…

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On a very regular basis, I think of trivial questions that I would love to know the answer to. On a less regular basis, I expend some little time and energy actually looking for an answer to those questions. On the odd occasion, I find an answer that is interesting enough to make a mental note of or actually tell someone about.

Recently I was wondering, who has the most followers on Twitter?

As with many trivial questions, the Internet provides encyclopaedic and hotly contested fora in which one can browse ad nauseam for skerricks of intelligible prose that seem vaguely plausible and maybe, just maybe, weren’t written by a sweat-sticky middle-aged man with corn kernels in his beard hitting ‘Refresh’, with the single-mindedness of a South Korean gamer, on ‘Yahoo! Answers’ at 2:30am.

Indeed, Yahoo! Answers seems at once to be an information-sharing website for the trivially inclined and an e-stage for a richly charactered absurdist black comedy in which each user plays his or her connected but ultimately deeply isolating role. Allow me to illustrate with some questions posted to the website today in the space of sixty seconds:

Teddy: “I need a hardshell case for my Fender Malibu CE. Help?”
TMD: “What do you think about Indian people?”
Kyle: “What is your favourite medium action fishing rod and reel combo?”
Rebecca: “Does Justin Bieber have Facebook?”
Beth: “Why do I keep getting a blister around my conch piercing?”
The Stereotype: “Why are there a lot of short people in mythology?”
Stella: “Is my face oval, long, or oblong?”
Juan: “Is it gay if I check out guys?”
Jill: “Pisces male and Libra female?”
Rihanna: “I need new friends!! Please help?”

My heart is rent into pieces by Rihanna’s desperation. I am shattered by Kyle’s plea for companionship from the lonely depths of technical expertise. I am on my knees with wonderment as Stella self-referentially draws our attention to the ever-evolving connection of signifier and signified, prompting us to ask ourselves, “What is oval?”, “What is long?”, What is oblong?”. I am gobsmacked as The Stereotype forces us to examine our own views of reality, furrow our brows and ask, “Can a construction of allegory, nay, let us be frank, a fictional character, be short or tall? In what units does one measure the stature of the gods?”. I am genuinely unsure of why Beth has pierced her mollusc shell and what metaphorical depths she is plumbing in her lament…

…Where was I? Oh, yes, who has the most followers on Twitter?

Thankfully, I didn’t need to spend any time being addled by the profound ramifications of ‘Yahoo! Answers’ to answer this question. Someone conveniently made a whole website or two to cater to my musings.

To do away with my initial inquiry so as to free the mind for more revelations yet to come, it turns out that the super-mega-star Lady Gaga holds top spot on the followers leaderboard, her every twiccup being immediately transmitted to no less than 9,436,152 Twitter users. In bieberish pursuit comes none other than Justin himself, only 520,000 followers behind and out-tweeting Lady Gaga each and every day. Taking out third and fourth in a near tie is the two-piece cultural tour de force of 21st-century America, Barack and Britney. After which, it’s all American celebs for the rest of the top 10: Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Ashton Kutcher, Ellen DeGeneres, Taylor Swift, and Oprah Winfrey. We could say a number of deep and insightful things about this top 10 but you can do that for yourself I’m sure.

What really grabbed me is that Australia’s very own Kevin Rudd has staked his own claim to Twitter fame. It’s not how many followers he has (though on that count the Foreign Minister chalks up a respectable 392nd place), nor the fact that he remains (correct me if I’m wrong) the most followed Australian tweeter (yes, even more listeners than Hugh Jackman), but that he actually follows the 18th most people amongst all of Twitter’s millions of users. Ear ever straining to the voices of the Australian public, @KRuddMP follows a hefty 268,050 other users. Wow. What a dude.

Not really sure of how to conclude yet another piece of public-interest analytical gold here at The China Line, I would simply like to note that the incorrect pronunciation of the term utmost as upmost has really been getting on my nerves of late. I feel a public awareness campaign is long overdue.

***It should be noted that while Kevie has more followers than Hugh Jackman by a good 200,000 or so, Jackman finds it unnecessary to follow any more than 31 people himself. He’s just that badass***

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Waiter, There’s a Condom in my Soup

So, I’m a vegetarian. And this is my first time coming to China as a vegetarian (I was still putting away large quantities of meat when I was last here in 2008). I had thought that it might be tricky and it certainly does involve a fair bit of navigation around sprinklings of surprise mince and a whole lot of egg-eating.

(I had a unique experience just days ago where I ordered a serving of ‘cabbage buns’ (báicài bāozi 白菜包子) only to find that the second of four buns was in fact full of minced pork. Meat roulette ensued.)

However, any wavering in my convictions is met with a convenient little reality check every time I read yet another story on what seem to be all too common food scandals and abuses of illegal toxic additives. Unfortunately, the scale and severity of some of these scandals are just about enough to put one off eating anything in any Chinese restaurant ever again.

For those that can’t remember the last time they genuinely worried about the quality and safety of what they were eating when they sat down in a restaurant, here’s a little refresher on what’s gone down in China in 2011 alone:

Affected Food: Steamed buns
Source: Shanghai
Company: Shanghai Shenglu Food Co.
Illegal Additives: Sodium cyclamate (sweetener), potassium sorbate (preservative)
Other Offences: Relabelling old buns, using yellow dye to create ‘corn buns’
Repercussions: 5 managers arrested, products recalled
Human Toll: Unknown

Affected Food: Pork products
Source: Jiyuan, Henan
Company: Jiyuan Shuanghui Food Co.
Illegal Additives: Clenbuterol (growth drug)
Repercussions: 30+ provincial officials suspended, sacked or arrested, company managers detained, products recalled
Animal Toll: At least 200 pigs needlessly slaughtered and buried
Human Toll: Unknown

Affected Food: Milk products
Source: Gansu, Qinghai
Company: Numerous
Illegal Additives: Melamine, cyanuric acid (increase protein content in tandem)
Repercussions: 96 new arrests, 426 dairy farm temporary closures
Human Toll: <10 infant deaths since 2008, >300,000 infants hospitalised since 2008

Affected Food: Cooking oil
Source: Nationwide
Company: Underground network
Illegal Additives: None
Other Offences: Waste oil fished out of sewerage systems, filtered, divided and re-sold to restaurants for consumption, containing aflatoxin (carcinogen 100 times more toxic than white arsenic)
Repercussions: General ‘crackdown’, no details yet

Human Toll: Unknown, 1 in 10 restaurant meals contaminated
Affected Food: Green beans
Source: Sanya, Hainan
Company: Unknown
Illegal Additives: Isocarbophos (pesticide)
Repercussions: Unknown
Human Toll:Unknown

Photo: AFP/GETTY

These are just some of the scandals that have already shattered consumer confidence in China this year. Of particular noteworthiness is the so-called swill-oil scandal, brought to national attention by China Youth Daily and since widely debated, and of particular gag-inducing foulness is this photo that spread rapidly on the internet (don’t click if the title of this post offends you).

One wonders just how many lives will be irreversibly affected before effective government regulation, consumer outrage, and a critical press combine to limit the damage.

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