I've been given the honor of writing our last post of 2008 and have been thinking a lot of what to say and finding am image that best says it. Going through our large photo archive, I've found this shot, from the Paralympics Opening Ceremony and feel its the best choice (though our photo is pretty crappy, its the idea behind it).

More than any moment during the Olympics, it was this moment, Hou Bin pulling himself up to the roof of the Bird's Nest while sitting in his wheelchair, that for my money was the greatest athletic feat of 2008. It offers both the necessary pride and hope that was (and is) needed as 2008 comes to an end and we enter 2009.

Look at how China pulled itself up and prepared for the Olympics, hosting one of the greatest ever Summer Games. Look to the people of Sichuan as they try to pull themselves up from the ruble of the massive quake that struck on 5/12. As you face the current economic crisis, be brave and know that no matter what, you can always pull yourself up from it.

Pull yourself up. Hou Bin did it, we can all do it too. Look back at all the joy that 2008 brought, honor those who left us during the year, and plan on how we can all work to make 2009 an even better year.

My colleagues here aren't known for their optimism and are far more cynical (probably why I was chosen for this?), but a new year means a new start and is the time optimism is required. Look at that picture (or watch the video) and remember, you can do it, pull yourself up!

Why Are Chinese Lacking Style?

A few weeks ago a discussion was started by a friend (and popular blogger) regarding style in China. We here a lot of critical comments about Chinese (especially the men), some deserving, some not so. Even in white collar work settings in Beijing and Shanghai, you often see a lot of questionable choices among Chinese coworkers and it only gets worse when you go into 2nd, 3rd (and on) tier cities. So what's the problem?

1. "Style" in Communist China has only been around for 25 years. Before that, everyone was basically dressing the same way and touches of style that made you stand out were a negative. But look at the recently released Life photos or images from the pre-Communist era, those people had style and they were Chinese, there is definitely hope.

2. Asian business people in general tend to dress very badly.

3. "Style" is usually not cheap, especially without any second hand stores around the city. Guys in China have a lot of pressure on them, if they want to get married, they basically must be able to buy an apartment and often aren't from rich families or even the big city to begin with. The people around us and many that we know work insane hours and don't have much time for shopping. Even if they did, the majority of money is either saved or sent to their parents.

4. Nobody wants to stand out in the workplace for anything other than his work and when the boss(es) rarely wears a suit, its hard for his underlings to do so. The casual nature of the Chinese workplace makes it hard for someone who wants to be stylish to fit in with the overall office aesthetic. Even in the US or UK, if you go to a major international law firm or i-bank, the style is very conservative and a lot of people would fall short of "stylish", perhaps expectations are too high.

5. Street style is extremely diverse and relatively fashion forward here, because people who are in fields that allow them to wear street wear to work aren't usually faced with the limiting issues 3 and 4 mentioned above.

So be a little more gentle and encouraging towards Chinese style. And by the way, with the example many expats in China set, can you blame the Chinese?!? We're fighting the good fight, though, in our Thom and Tom suits, Churchs shoes, and oxford cloth button downs.

Stuff Laowai Like 3 - Great Wall (Simatai)

Which one is Badaling and which is Simatai?*

After a long hiatus, we're back on the laowai watching track, and what better to talk about than the Great Wall? The Great Wall is one of the wonders of the world, it is an absolutely amazing place to see that is a must for every visitor to Beijing. Laowai make it a point to visit the Wall, but in typical laowai fashion, just seeing the Wall isn't enough for them.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall is packed with tourists all times of the year, often including those "evil" groups of Chinese tourists in colored baseball hats. This is because Badaling is the closest part of the Wall to the city and the most accessible. Much of it has been rebuilt/renovated to make the climb a little easier and trams and rides make it even more touristy. You don't even need to be part of a tour, a city bus will take you from Dongzhimen to the foot of the wall in an under an hour for less than RMB20.链接
This is too easy for laowai, who deride Badaling (crowded, but still beautiful) as "inauthentic" and "boring" in comparison with the Simatai section in Miyun. To laowai, Simatai is the authentic and "genuine" Great Wall, all other sections are imposters. To get to Simatai, its an over 4 hour trip independently, but most laowai organize a tour through one of the many Nanluoguxiang hostels (as laowai love staying in hutongs). Further, they often do it as a hike from Jinshanling to Simatai, as laowai love to pretend to enjoy the outdoors. Plus, it gives them the chance to insult Beijing's air (as in "wow, it feels so good to see blue skies and breathe fresh air") making it an optimal choice.

Though any section of the Great Wall is sure to impress and amaze visitors and friends, if you want to become friends with a laowai, definitely propose a trip to Simatai.

*For those wondering, the first is Badaling and second is Simatai


2008 Olympics Retrospective: Beach Volleyball

While at first it seemed like beach volleyball would be largely ignored, despite the general love of volleyball among Chinese, it quickly became a very popular event, where even middle aged (and older) women let loose and followed the raucous MC, the DJ's strong backbeat, and the dancing girls who showed everyone how to do it. On the men's side, the Brazilians were dominant, while on the women's side, the amazing undefeated streak of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor was continued. The big story among Chinese, however, was the impressive performance of their women, who surprisingly took both silver and bronze in the competition, providing the new fans a lot to cheer about. Despite those who would claim these to be the "no fun" Olympics, everyone who set foot at the temporary Chaoyang Park venue was certain to have a great time.

Getting Harder to Get to China

Northwest Airlines recently requested the FAA to delay 2 of its direct routes to China that were supposed to begin in early 2009, adding its name to a long list that already includes a number of its competitors, all due to the economic crisis.

Northwest's request was to delay the startup dates for its 2 routes up to a year, the routes in question are Detroit-Shanghai and Seattle-Beijing. The other airlines have all been given deferments of these routes already, and these will affect the following:
American: Chicago-Beijing
US Airways: Philadelphia-Beijing
United: San Francisco-Guangzhou
Continental: Newark-Beijing, Newark-Shanghai
Delta: Atlanta-Shanghai

Some of these are deferments and others are changes from daily service to seasonal service. All of these are consequences of the current economic crisis and the desire of the airlines to save fuel costs (this is, of course, despite the fact fuel costs have largely fallen to the cheapest its been in years). Airline penny pinching has travelers frustrated as the planes have been downsized as much as is safely possible (now 777's doing international service) and cutbacks have been taking place (charging for alcohol).

So much for flying the friendly skies.


Friday Photo Thread: Happy Holidays

Things will be back to normal around here again soon...


Riding the Rails for Crazy Prices

File this under crazy (h/t to Zhongnanhai). A couple weeks back we blogged about the announcement of the new overnight high speed D trains connecting Beijing and Shanghai and speculated that the price would remain similar to what it is now (or only be raised slightly). Well, today the price list came out and we're shocked, shocked I tell you.

Our guess on the times of the train were almost right on (the trains will all leave slightly before 10 pm and arrive slightly before 8 am). The price? As we mentioned, the Z trains (11 hours, 30 minutes) and T trains (13 hours) currently charge RMB499 (lower) and RMB478 (upper) for soft sleeper tickets. The new trains, like the Z trains, will be all soft sleeper, but will charge RMB655 and RMB730.

What?!? RMB730? A difference of RMB75 for upper or lower sleeper?!? Wow! This is truly stupid and has already met with complaints from travelers. And if you want to go between Beijing and Hangzhou, its RMB820! Flights (pre-tax) between Beijing and Shanghai would currently run you RMB450 on qunar. It doesn't make sense that adding the D overnight train has taken this long, but for these prices, though at these prices, its doesn't make sense to take it.


Let's Talk About Sex, Bei--jing!

News out of Beijing today is that next year condom machines that are currently set up (or will be soon) in bars, restaurants, clubs, and public baths around the city will allow you to purchase condoms using your transport card (一卡通). Just one more reason to make sure you have your card with you at all times and promoting safe sex all over the city.


China's Lack of Biopics

Yesterday I referred to Mei Lanfang ("Forever Enthralled") as China's first non-Party biopic, at the very least, its certainly the first ever multimillion dollar major biopic movie. While there have been a number of biographical tv shows, they typically focus on Party members (popular subjects are Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai, Lei Feng, etc). Even now, two of the nightly tv shows on Chinese tv are a popular series about Bruce Lee (who many Chinese barely know anything about) and one about Liu Shaoqi.

Is it fair to talk about China's love of biographical shows about Party members? Aren't a large number of US biopics about politicians as well? If its not about politicians, its typically about actors/actresses or musicians who've lived the sex, drugs, rock n' roll lifestyle to the extreme and thus make interesting subjects. However, China didn't really have "celebrities" per se before 30 years ago and too many of the ones that do exist lead very boring lives (at least by comparison to US standards). Can you imagine a Yao Ming biopic? Or Gong Li?

So if Mei Lanfang was China's first major biopic, who will be the second? I think a decent biopic could be made about Wang Zhizhi, especially his battle to go to the NBA and then his years left in the cold as a "traitor". It would be made a lot better if he develops a drug habit or fades away into obscurity (or gets into another road rage incident). But my top candidate? Wang Fei!

It has everything! Cultural Revolution repression, a family's move from Beijing to Hong Kong, a difficult road to stardom, a sudden rise, an attempt to take over the mainland after HK success, her successful return to Beijing and falling in love with a Beijing boy, and finally her 2 horrible romantic betrayals before finally finding true love.

This would make a hell of a movie, I'm starting work on the script now, expect it out around 2020 or so...


The Dwindling Expat Package

A post worth reading (and you should take the survey too) on bizCult (hat tip to China Law Blog) about how the Chinese hills aren't exactly paved with gold. According to the blog, "the majority are 26-30 year old professionals from North America making US$10,000-$19,000 a year." I'm not surprised about the age group, but I'm highly surprised by the salary, though part of the problem might be the small sample size so far.

The problem is, the blog makes a MASSIVE assumption: that most expats in China can speak at least decent Chinese. This is also a big problem with the survey, as it doesn't inquire about the respondents Chinese fluency. Many expats are here teaching English who can't speak a lick of Chinese, and this probably accounts for a number of the lower salaries. I'm only taking a wild guess, but I believe that if you look at salaries of those who are fluent or have a high level of fluency to those who can't speak any (or very little) Chinese, the numbers would be fairly different. The survey also may be skewed because a lot of white collar expats who are making the big bucks work for bigtime foreign companies with very strict firewalls.

Chinese salaries for expats aren't as high as people think. Above the Law's Asian Chronicles recently mentioned that salaries in Biglaw on mainland China, which used to range from $35,00-60,000 a year now can go as low as $15,000. On purely anecdotal evidence, and I'm not one with a lot of expat friends, I would say that most 25-35 year old expats in professional jobs are making between RMB15,000-40,000/month (this is solely in Beijing and Shanghai). In these cities, I'd argue its hard to live comfortably, go out sometimes, and save a little on anything less than RMB15,000/month.

If you're an expat and you come to China looking for a job, you better have 2 out of the 3: a unique specialization, an idea, or excellent Chinese skills. As pointed out by bizCult, Chinese are speaking better English than before (and obviously speak better Chinese than you), are spending more times overseas than ever before, and are willing to work for less. That said, there are more foreigners taking jobs with Chinese companies (as pointed out by CLB), especially as Chinese companies take over more and more foreign ones, and Chinese companies are offering better wages than in the past (while maintaining their traditionally strong job security).

Just some random thoughts on a late afternoon in Beijing.

Movie Review: Mei Lanfang (or Chen's $15 Million Apology?)

Mei Lanfang (or its English name, "Forever Enthralled") hit Chinese theaters last week and has received a fairly positive response. It stars Li Ming (Mei Lanfang) and Zhang Ziyi (Meng Xiaodong), alongside Sun Honglei (Qu Rubai) and Chen Hong (Fu Zhifang) and is a look at Mei's life from his childhood, the beginning of his acting career, his romance, his trip abroad, the beginning (and end) of the Japanese occupation.

Mei Lanfang is by far the most famous Peking Opera star ever, known around he world for having played a variety of "Dan" female roles to perfection. The movie focuses on Mei's struggles rising up against a strict grandfather figure and later his tear between his wife and his desire for Meng. It also, correctly, shows his brave stand to refuse to perform, despite pressure and threats from the Japanese.

The movie is beautifully shot (often at Beihai Park) and well acted, especially Li Ming, who had a very difficult task. And while I'm not a fan of Zhang, I think she did a great job in her role and talked like a real Beijinger. While websites say it clocks in at 90 minutes, my feeling is that it was a little closer to 150 minutes and dragged on at times.

What's with the title? Chen's first great movie, Farewell My Concubine, that many feel was loosely based on Mei, was viewed negatively by Peking Opera aficionados and Mei's family due to its portrayal of the Dan actor as gay and his submission to the Japanese during the war.

If it was meant as an apology, this is an excellent one. While its a more accurate portrayal of Mei's life, I'd be curious as to truly how accurate it is. I'd recommend the movie, though with the caveat that it could be tightened up a bit.

PS: Is this China's first non-Mao, non-Party related biopic?


Was it Just the Bad Economy?

The NFL has put a lot of money into China, ramping up its efforts for NFL China (its Chinese marketing wing) that have included ad buys on the Beijing and Shanghai subways as well as hip shopping areas in these cities, visits from players (and cheerleaders), and youth flag football leagues. The league had long been planning a preseason game in China that was met with a number of starts and stops and was finally "delayed for 2 years" in 2007. Much of the problem were venue issues as many of China's outdoor venues were being renovated (or built) in preparation for the Olympics. Now, its been suspended indefinitely, much of the blame is on the current economic downturn. The New England Patriots, who were to compete in the game back in 2007, had even opened offices in China and been involved in promoting football (mainly through their cheerleaders, who even attended a July 4th party at Club Mix in Beijing), though their office was recently shut down.

Previous NFL Commish Paul Tagliabue spent a lot of time attempting to expand the NFL overseas and really wanted a game in China, though his successor, Roger Goodell, has gone a long way at reeling in Tagliabue's efforts. After the failure of the Buffalo Bills game in Toronto, was the NFL afraid of a similar failure in China? Perhaps Goodell realized the reality is that no matter what he does, it will be extremely difficult to promote the game in China, and one game isn't going to change that.

That Toddling Town

Quick, pop quiz.
If I told you about a place where:
-the previous head of the government is currently in prison for racketeering and fraud

-there are protests in the main city's factories

-the government in the main city is regularly viewed as being hopelessly corrupt, its currently struggling in these difficult economic times, laying off workers and cutting back on city services

-the current head of the government is on his way to jail for corruption

-just yesterday a city sanitation employee who has worked for the city for 15 years (and been arrested 15 times previously) and who was bringing in $80,000 a year, was arrested again

Let me help you, the star NBA player recently was cut and required 10 stitches after "peeling an apple in bed".

Is anyone surprised that I'm talking about a state in the US? What the hell is wrong with Chicago (and Illinois)???

One wonders how long Blagojevich's arrest was planned and if it was delayed until after the election? One wonders what impact this will have on Chicago's Olympic bid. Further, the ultimate question is who is Senator Number 5?

Ass Backwards Into the Unknown

I've recently been given the opportunity to use a swath of farmland on the outskirts of the city. I'm a city kid and have virtually no experience on a farm, except for two bad youth memories, including killer summer as a "farm hand" in southern Illinois. While the idea is certainly attractive to me especially the image in my head of American gentleman farmers or British landed gentry, decked out in Barbour, Wellies, Filson, etc, yeah its about the clothes more than anything, the reality is that I have no idea what I'm doing and its probably going to be disastrous, but I'll keep you, dear readers, informed of what's going on, as hilarity is sure to ensue.

If I'm going to do it, I'm going all out and plan on doing things organically, which will also help to solve my food problem. Am I getting in over my head? Any suggestions?

A Brief Interlude

We've been away from blogging for a few days now, but hope to have some things up soon, during this interlude, let's play a game, Andrew Sullivan has a photo of the day each day and today's was taken in Beijing, anyone know what area of the city its from?


Who Are These Guys?

An interesting post from WSJ's China Journal on China's most influential 15 foreigners based on "their contributions to the country’s development over the past three decades." Don't worry, the hated Dashan was not among them, thank god, though if you read the list and ask yourself "who?" over and over, it's okay. Here's the list:

1. Robert A. Mundell (Columbia University professor, Nobel Prize winner, advisor to Bank of China)
2. Franklin Yang Chen-ning (physicist, Nobel Prize winner)
3. Lee Tsung-dao (physicist Nobel Pirze winner (shared with Yang))
4. John L. Thornton (director of global leadership at Qinghua)
5. Ian Fok Chun-wan (HK businessman, philanthropist)
6. Hein Verbruggen (IOC member)
7. I.M. Pei (architect)
8. Henk Bekedam (WHO's Chief Rep to China during SARS)
9. Werner Gerich (first foreign manager of Chinese company)
10. Sabriye Tenberken (blind German who started school for blind in Tibet)
11. Morihiko Hiramatsu (worked on agricultural programs in China)
12. Seiei Toyama (Japanese environmental expert)
13. Shoichi Hara (worked on rice cultivation in China)
14. Moris Topaz (Israeli surgeon who flew to Sichuan after the earthquake)
15. Edwin Maher (CCTV9 broadcaster)

Considering 3 members of the list were born in mainland China and one was born in Hong Kong, one wonders why the list didn't also include people like Wang Lee Hom and Chen Kaige (American citizens) and Gong Li, the controversial new Singaporean.

Out of the 15, how many did you know? A pop quiz here at A Modern Lei Feng revealed even our smartest expert only knew 4 (naming 1, 6, 7, and 9). Many Chinese, when only presented the Chinese names, could only come up 3 or 4. So what SHOULD the list look like?

The (Non) Story About Tourism

A story that tourism in China was down by almost 2% started out on China Daily and has spread recently. Beijing's tourism in August (the Olympics) was down 7% from last year. The statistic was reached by looking into the number of foreigners staying overnight (I'm assuming in hotels) around China during the first 10 months of 2008. First, it would seem like the most logical and accurate way to calculate this would be to base it on number of tourist visas granted.

Why is this a non-story? Shouldn't China be worried about the tourism downturn? The answer is a resounding no. It would seem to make no sense why tourism was down in August, but it was a purposeful plan of the government. These Olympics were for the Chinese and while foreign tourism was down, I'm sure the number of domestic tourists was way up. The article confirms that overall, domestic tourism "remained strong". Further, Beijing's shops and restaurants hardly suffered during the Olympics, if the news and anecdotal stories are accurate. Plus, while the number of tourists were down, that doesn't include the number of athletes, journalists, and business executives that came to China for the Olympics and Paralympics, who, after the Games (or their events), were basically tourists.

While Chinese tourism may suffer a bit during 2009 due to the global financial meltdown, the reality is that 2008 wasn't as bad as some are reporting.


Shanghai Boys Behaving Badly

We recently recapped an incident in a latenight incident in Shanghai involving nominal national team soccer player Mao Jianqing, who got involved in a late night early morning dustup at a Shanghai restaurant. Now its thug behavior entering the realm of Chinese basketball, as Chinese national team member (captain?) and Shanghai Shark, Liu Wei, got into a post game scuffle with a foreign player on Yunnan and has been handed the heaviest punishment in CBA history. Liu (currently averaging just over 14 points per game) will be suspended for 10 games and fined RMB50,000 and his teammate Cai Liang (who Liu Wei was attempting to "defend") will also receive the same punishment. No word yet on what, if anything, the Yunnan player, Gabe Muoneke, will receive. Muoneke is currently leading the CBA in scoring with 36.7 points per game and had just dropped 38 on Shanghai in a 107-97 home win. Perhaps its more results related frustration, as Liu's Sharks have yet to win a game this year.

Here's a (crappy) video of what happened and a news report showing a little more of what started the tension, Liu Wei wrote a blog entry about his "most unhappy game", which can be found here (in Chinese).

For more on the CBA, check out this post from another blogger who recently attended a game. In other player news, while it isn't the Glove, one of Payton's former Seattle teammates, Vin Baker, is currently in China trying out for Shanghai. There's also this interesting story about some CBA players ages changing from last year's media guide to this year's guide, some by as much as 3 or 4 years. But before you start yelling conspiracy, this story was originally broke by Chinese media and has received wide coverage in China, the main reason for the changes is due to an updated registration system that is far more accurate.

Hopefully this will be the last incident of this kind for the CBA, which could run the risk of becoming like the farce that is Chinese soccer. Though, US athletes sure aren't doing well either, recently, with guys shooting themselves in the leg and getting suspended before the game even begins (what's so wrong about "sloppy seconds"?). Enjoy the game!

The Coolest Thing I've Seen (This Week)

A basketball that opens up and turns into Yao Ming (hat tip to Complex)? A freaking Yao Ming basketball transformer? Seriously?!? This should be the Christmas Spring Festival gift of the year! From the BBS where this was originally found, there was a lot of leis (雷) and shan zhais (山寨 "ghetto") being thrown around, but no information as to where you can get one of these.
Anyone out there seen this in Beijing or Shanghai? Know where to get one?

All Over the Map, But Coming Back To Focus

Sorry all, it's been sort of a crazy week or two and this blog has been all over the map with lots of non-China entries and some that weren't really up to the standards we'd like to think we've set for the blog. We've got a number of entries in the pipeline and will hopefully have them up in the next few days.

While we're at it, make sure to stop by Chinalyst and vote for us! We're a bit back in the polls right now, but we believe we can make a come back. I don't mind losing to China Smack, which is a great blog that I really respect, as they do so much work translating interesting stories from the Chinese web for English speakers. However, we don't want to lose to the current leader, a blog that looks like it could win a China Blog award despite the fact the writer(s) seems to hate China.


A Losing Battle

While I'm not in favor of going as far as John Woo and authorizing torture (mainly because torture rarely produces quality information), I've always believed that the freedoms that Americans love, so much a part of the nation, are the same things that condemn them to never winning the war on terror. Terrorists are often willing to die for their cause and don't care about things like the Constitution, the same can't be said (at least one would hope not) about the US police and FBI.

Why am I bringing this up? All these thoughts occurred to me when reading the recent "No shit, Sherlock" article in the New York Times on hotel security in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. The article is your typical, lowered standards at the NYT bs. It referred to the "fact" that hotels are "becoming magnets" for terrorist attacks, though it only refers to the Islamabad attack last month and Mumbai's recent troubles. The thing that really got me was this part:
Worse, hotel executives and security experts say that little can be done to stop
extensively trained gunmen with military assault rifles and grenades who launch
attacks like the ones that left this city’s Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace &
Tower strewn with bodies.

Really? What makes hotels different than city streets, malls, train stations, stadiums, etc? The reality is that unless everywhere we go starts installing metal detectors, x-ray machines (and people trained to use them), and other security devices all over our cities, there is no way to stop these kind of terrorist attacks. Surveillance of suspected terrorists and other pre-attack measures are the best way to prevent these attacks. When attacks happen, a fast response from highly trained authorities is all that can be done.

It's sad, but if we don't want to live in a police state, there is little that can be done to completely prevent terrorism.

American Cool and British Corner Cutting

An interesting story out of the LA Times about American "heritage" clothing brands like Red Wing and Filson and how they are back in style again. These traditional styles and the new, hipster brands that are copying them are extremely popular, but not only in the US. Japan, for whatever reason, seems obsessed with American trends, from preppy traditions like Brooks Brothers and J. Press to classic workwear like Levi's (the Japanese obsession with classic American denim is unbelievable). I've been aware of the return to fashion of these brands, but it never struck me as a mainstream thing until I saw the Times article.

In another interesting fashion related story, its being reported that Saville Row designer Richard James used Mauritius laborers to do the dirty work, then having the suits sent back to the UK to be "finished" in England and allowing them to be labeled "Made in England." This is the dirty little secret of the fashion world. Despite clothing, shoes, and accessories that are labeled "Made in England" or "Made in Italy", the majority of the work is often done in a developing country, with China often being the favorite choice.

Should this matter? It depends on your outlook. Those in the yes column argue that they are being overcharged. While they understand paying a lot for English or Italian craftsmen who, because of wage laws and experience, must be paid more, if in reality the majority of the work was done by a 18 year old Chinese or African girl being paid peanuts, there is no justification for the high price. The other side who argue that it shouldn't matter claim that as long as the quality is in keeping with what one expects from the brand, then it shouldn't really matter to the consumer if 60% of the work was done elsewhere and the product was only "finished" in England or Italy.

What are your thoughts? Also, any US "heritage" brands that you love or would like to see brought back?

Happy Hockey Day

This is something that was started by Paul Kukla of Kukla's Korner to promote the game that unfortunately only some of us love to play and watch. We have three regular hockey players who are a part of this blog, one who grew up playing on the frozen ponds of Harbin, another who played more organized hockey from a young age in Southern California (of all places), and one from Northern Virginia who might have made it big if not for an injury.

For me, the game has always been something that I've shared with my dad and brothers, if not for hockey, we'd often have few things to talk about. We were lucky in that my father would often get NHL tickets and take us into Maryland to the old Capital Centre in Landover. At first, I was too young to go as there were only 4 tickets, but when my older brother went off to college, I was finally in the loop. I remember many a night watching guys like Rod Langway, Mike Gartner, and Mike Luet. There were lots of bad season, a few tragic losses (like the '87 playoffs defeat against the Isles), the Stanly Cup run in '98, and many very bad seasons after that, though now things are finally turning around with a new era of stars like Ovie, Semin, and Mike Green.

The Cap Centre is no more, replaced by the "Phonebooth" in Chinatown, and I'm a lot older and further away from northern Virginia, but I still try to catch parts of every Caps game online (thank god the NHL has kept their broadcasts free!), though it was hard getting excited during the playoffs last year for games that would sometimes start at 5 or 6 am.

My father and one of my brothers are still in the DC area, still attending games and for me, despite the distance, hockey, especially the Caps, is still a common topic of conversation for us. It's something I wish I can pass along to my kid, perhaps not the love of Caps hockey, but just hockey in general (though it wasn't the Caps, the NHL has come to Japan).

No matter how long its been since we last talked, no matter how strained things are, I know I can call or email my siblings and start talking hockey and it will be just like old times, breaking down the barriers that we sometimes put up when mad or frustrated. That is truly why sports, and specifically hockey, are great and why I love hockey.


CSRC Protest and Crackdown

So I'm not sure how long this video will be up (or at least accessible) on youtube, but I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been more talk in the blogosphere about it. Protests regarding listed companies that were approved despite not meeting the requirements to be listed (and thus causing great losses to these laobaixing investors took place the other day outside of the China Securities Regulatory Commission in Beijing and were dealt with harshly, as the police stepped in and arrested everyone. Yes, things have improved in a lot of ways, but this is a reminder that often its still just business as usual. One wonders if we're bound to see similar scenes as the economy continues going down the drain.

Chinese Athletes Behaving Badly

Okay, granted its not Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg (mofo literally shot himself in the leg!), but Chinese athletes often find themselves running foul of the law. Last month it was Olympic medalist and now officially ping pong's bad ass, Wang Hao, outside a KTV spot in Beijing. Now, it's a few Shanghainese (Shanghainese bad asses?!?) soccer and basketball players, most notably, Mao Jianqing, who along with his teammate Liu Yintao and CBA player Xu Yong beat the crap out of some guy in a Shanghai bar. Mao now faces up to 7 days in jail and a RMB500 fine.

Mao appeared to be a rising star after his performance in the 2007 Asia Cup, though he has yet to show the same promise for the national team since and was only managed 2 goals for Shenhua this season.

Perhaps he was just angry that Shenhua only came up with a draw against Zhejiang, thus handing the CSL league title to Shandong the day before.


Yet Another Example of Chinese Retro Chic

While few at A Modern Lei Feng are big fans of Shanghai (a bit of an understatement), we must admit they have some classic old brands like Forever bikes, Warrior shoes, and Seagull cameras. To me, the design of a Forever bike is still as beautiful as it was back in the day, definitely retro cool, though the one I have sure isn't the smoothest of rides.

Well , Shanghaiist recently pointed us to a new collaboration with another classic brand, Shanghai watches. I'm certainly a big fan of a few of the designs, though the "Shanghai" on the dial is more than a little annoying to me. Not sure about the prices, though they'll be offered at major Paris and NYC boutiques, so don't expect a bargain.

So why is it that Shanghai has so many great traditional brands? Why are Beijing's brands centered around alcohol (Yanjing and Red Star Erguotou)? What other classic Chinese brands deserve revival?

Vote Early, Vote Often

Chinalyst once again started is annual competition for the best China blogs on the net. As always, I advocate the Chicago way of voting early and often for this blog, which is once again in the General blog category (competition is sure to be tough). Go here to vote for me, I want to say I appreciate all your votes. While you're there, consider voting for other great blogs like Beijing Boyce, China Law Blog, Silicon Hutong, and any of the other fine blogs in my blogroll.

Sunday Photo Thread: Food

I hope all Americans had a happy Thanksgiving, we're taking this time to celebrate food as well...


7 Deaths...

The sudden announcement of the death of Yang Jia, the Beijinger who entered a Shanghai police station armed with a knife, killed 6 officers, and injured 4 others, brought about a storm of online thoughts. The story of Yang is far more complicated than just the facts, it includes having been arrested a few times and roughed up by the police despite his claims of innocence. It shocked many around China, though surprisingly many supported him or, at the very least, could sympathize with him.

I am not surprised by the reaction of working class Chinese, migrant laborers, and others who deal with being looked down on and mistreated by the police and others in power on a regular basis. However, when I saw this passionate entry by the popular middle class, white collar blogger, Wang Jianshuo, who almost never writes anything remotely "political", it did make me do a double take.

It doesn't matter what class you are or what your background is, it seems, abuses of power are just too common in China and people recognize the frustration that must have took over Yang, even if they don't agree with the end result. It is never okay to kill 6 people, but all the facts behind Yang's case (check out Black and White Cat below for more details), make it shocking that the government acted so swiftly, carrying out the execution less than 6 months from when Yang committed the horrific act.

I've been thinking about this for the past few days and I'm still at a loss as to what to say, so read the coverage from other fine sources:
NY Times
WSJ China Journal
Black and White Cat

Embarassing Other Leagues, Promoting the Domestic League?

The Chinese domestic soccer league was plagued with issues of fixed matches a few years back and it significantly damaged the domestic game. Now underground Chinese gambling syndicates have been implicated in a match fixing scandal that has hit the Korean K3 League (Korea's 3rd division). When I first heard about it, I thought it was gamblers doing their "national duty" and embarrassing a foreign league to make the Chinese Super League (CSL) look better, but the reality of the situation (3rd division?!?) is surprising and, at the same time, unfortunately unsurprising.

This isn't the first time Chinese gamblers have been implicated in betting (and fixing) games abroad or at the lower levels of soccer. There has long been rumors of Asian gamblers betting on Scottish reserve and youth team games. The gambling craze in China could have even been the reason for a double murder in England.

The government outlaws gambling in China, but it still goes on and, as with a lot of things, being forced underground leads to a lack of regulation and an anything goes environment.


Hockey in China?

Having started a mini firestorm by simply offering what was in many Chinese papers and bbs' (about the possibility of Gary Payton coming to China), I wasn't going to post about Claude Lemiux until it was confirmed and now that it has been, I find that I'm already too late, as his buddy Doug Wilson recently offered him a contract.

Its rare that I have a chance to talk about hockey and China in the same breath. The Asia Hockey League, which is what Lemiux had his brief experience in, is made up of 7 teams in Japan, Korea, and China and fails to garner much attention, even in the countries where it is played (in his league debut, the 43 year old Lemiux played in front of 500 people in Korea, probably the smallest crowd he's played for since he was 12).

The China team, the China Sharks, is backed by the San Jose Sharks, who moved the team from Beijing to Shanghai this season. The current squad plays out of the Songjiang University City Arena, not a good idea if they want to attract a crowd, but even in Beijing they played outside of the 5th Ring Road.

Hockey in China is basically non-existent, there are few places to play (outside of the northeast) and even fewer players. That said, there is a lot of optimism, the Sharks (SJ) talk about how the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) only became viable less than 20 years ago. Others talk about how China's soccer team is ranked in the 80s [actually its in the 90s] in the world, while the hockey team is in the 20s [though I didn't know there were more than 10 countries in the world who play hockey].

What will make hockey take off in China? It's not going to be easy, though a serious winter sports program is starting to be developed, especially as there are nascent hopes of hosting the Winter Olympics. China never before had a strong field hockey, beach volleyball, or boxing program, but the Olympics showed what China can do when they put their minds (and money) to it. Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders, did what he could to promote the game in his homeland, but

Harbin bid for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, both weren't serious bids, though I can see Harbin trying again in 2018 (or even Changchun taking a run at it), and if it receives backing by the government, the city could put together a serious bid. Though, Harbin borders Russia, the host of the 2014 Games, so one wonders if the IOC will want to go in that direction. Also, many feel China will bid for the 2018 World Cup, I don't see the IOC and FIFA granting them both events. A Winter Olympics in China would bring about a focus on winter sports and is the only hope hockey has of growing seriously in China.

What is Safe to Eat (and drink)?

When I'm traveling, I love to check out the local food markets to see what is on offer. When in the US, I do my food shopping at local farmer's markets supplemented by Whole Foods and ethnic grocery stores. Currently, Organic China Expo 2008 is taking place in Beijing as a way to inform and promote about organic eating.

When in China, grocery shopping is never easy. Sure, things are far cheaper than abroad and the abundance is huge, but where do you go? Big box shops like Carrefour have amazing selection, but I'd prefer buying locally when I can. Popular foreign grocery stores like Ole are incredibly expensive and often aren't very different from what you'd get anywhere else. In Beijing, Lohao City offers organic produce and other products, but at my local shop the selection is limited, prices are very high, and the vegetables rarely seem fresh. The other option is to buy local from a "cai shichang", where the vegetables and fruit are typically from the suburbs or nearby provinces like Hebei, though where they actually come from and the state of the farmer's land is unknown to the buyer.

While I believe in buying organic, in China the choices for those who do want to buy organic are few and far between and when you find them, they aren't always that attractive (nor, in a lot of cases, local). At the same time, with all the stories about food safety and pollution, I can't deny that in the back of my mind, there are always thoughts about the quality of the food I'm eating.

Of course, buying locally is also important, but unless you buy in the suburbs and bring it into the city, you don't really know the farming techniques the farmer employees (and a lot of times, the farmer's themselves are unaware of all the chemicals they use or problems with polluted water, etc).

And with this item about used tea leaves being dried and repacked, is there anything that is still sacred? Is there anything safe? Do you take the attitude, like most, of just eating whatever you want and hoping its safe? Does anyone think the FDA's presence in China will help improve the quality of what's for sale on the domestic market? Or do you, like some cynics, believe, FDA-rejected items will simply be dumped on the Chinese market? If you are a conscious, green consumer (or have pretentions of being one), how do you deal with the question of grocery shopping in China?

Don't They Read China Law Blog?!?

I was unsurprised by yet another story of rioting at a factory in Dongguan. For the past few months, riots seem to be erupting all over China, but factory riots and general discontent has become a common thread amongst workers in Dongguan and Shenzhen. Therefore, when I saw the story "Workers riot at Chinese toy factory" about workers running rampant at a Hasbro factory in Dongguan, I was unfazed and quickly skimmed the article, until...this quote:

Guo [Chenming, cited as a "local Communist Party official"] doubted the allegation, saying it would be foolish for the police to incite such a massive crowd. He also said the 80 workers didn't get full severance because of bad performance. But he added that the company didn't fully understand new labor laws and was also to blame.

The Labor Contract Law has been something that foreign lawyers in China and legal bloggers writing on China (none more so than China Law Blog) have been talking about ever since it was first announced in June of last year and the fervor continued once it came into force on January 1 of this year.

Most Chinese companies quickly tried to sign contracts with their employees and dot their i's and cross their t's in preparation for the law, but some ignored it, either feeling the government wouldn't enforce it or that their employees wouldn't realize their newfound rights.

With the spotlight on factories of the Pearl River Delta as of late, workers, even migrant laborers working in factories, aren't as ignorant as they used to be and either know of their rights or know enough to find a lawyer who promptly informs them of their rights.

Though the factory claims to have paid all proper compensation under the law, it wouldn't surprise me if they cut some corners and didn't follow the full letter of the current labor law. If you are a business owner in China, you can't be too careful, especially if you're a foreigner, DO NOT play fast and loose with this law, make sure you are in compliance with it (and while you're at it, make sure all foreign employees have the proper visas).

PS: While we're at it, 2 asides, the article paints a good picture of how these protests can come about as well as a brief look at the current (scary) situation in the PRD. And while its not connected, I saw this cartoon today on a Korean blog I regularly visit as to how some Koreans get around the laws/requirements of a contract. Good stuff!


(Chinese) Beer's The Thing

Today's news reports that Snow Beer is now the world's best selling beer (hat tip to Shanghaiist), overtaking Bud Light according to an article in the Guardian. The article states that last year "Bud Light sold 5.18bn litres – about 9bn pints - while Snow sold 5.12bn litres", though this year Snow has already sold 5.1 billion litres in the first 9 months of the year (is this an Olympics bump?!?). This is a 20% raise in sales of Snow, while sales for Bud Light are down this year.

What's most interesting about this, and significant for other Chinese brands outside the beer industry, is that Snow hardly has a presence in China's major cities. Yanjing Beer controls the Beijing market, Guangzhou is ruled by Zhujiang, Shenzhen is dominated by Kingway, and Shanghai has a number of brands battling for top spot. In these cities, Snow is often absent from the restaurant picture, or only available at smaller establishments. So how does Snow do so well? Through major marketing and dominance in restaurants in second and third tier cities, Snow has left its mark on the China drinking picture.

Yes, you can be like the major brands and focus on the top 4 cities in China, or you can get down and dirty and battle it out in the provincial capitals and small countryside towns around the nation. Price is incredibly important if you want to get into these markets and distribution (especially for something like beer) is equally important, something Snow has down pat.

While this approach might be different for foreign brands (pricing is often preventative), other Chinese brands should take note, and some have (ie Li Ning). It's not easy to go head to head with the big international boys in the major cities, but its a vast country, take to the countryside, and the results just might be impressive market domination.

Since we're discussing beer, very interesting news recently from China's nascent antitrust regulators who have approved the Anheuser-Busch -Inbev merger (discussed previously on this blog), though they also barred the megabrewer from expanding its stake in Qingdao as well as preventing them from pursuing Snow and Yanjing. Interesting both for the antitrust aspect in itself, but also for the limits placed, though I will save that for someone else to write about.


Getting Between Shanghai-Beijing Faster

Currently there is only 1 high speed "D" train plying the Beijing-Shanghai rails, taking just under 10 hours (9 hours, 44 minutes), basically trimming the time of the overnight "Z" trains by 2 hours. The "D" train leaves in the late morning and gets in late in the evening, but rumor has it that before the end of the year, there will be an overnight "D" train making the trip.

With the current price for the "Z" and "T" overnight soft sleeper trains at RMB499, it will be interesting to see if the price for a "D" sleeper berth will remain at RMB499 or go higher. If the price remains the same, it will definitely be an attractive option, most likely leaving around 9-10 pm and arriving at 6-7 am. While plane tickets can sometimes be had cheaper than the soft sleeper train tickets, this option is far more convenient, dropping you off in each of the city centers.

Of course, the "bullet" train that will make the trip in 5-6 hours is still a few years down the line.

The Bar is Passing People By

Having talked with a number of sources at a few more top law firms in China, the anecdotal evidence is starting to add up to more than a small anomaly. The bar exam pass rate at China's top 4 firms this year seems to be around 75% with some offices being as high as 90%. If this was the US, this wouldn't be so surprising, but considering that even at T4 firms, the pass rate last year (and typically) is lucky to reach 50%. I've yet to see any official data released stating the overall pass rate, but from mainly anecdotal evidence and the few stories I've seen, it's much higher than the typical 10-15% and possibly even higher than last year's pass rate (though there were also 20% more test takers this year). The pass rate over the past few years looks like this:

2002 - 8%,
2003 - 11%
2004 - 11%
2005 - 14%
2006 - 15%
2007 - 22%

Does anyone else have any anecdotal stories about the bar (US or China) this year? Any theories as to why the pass rate has been slowly rising and if this will be a permanent thing?
Will we eventually see US style (or something closer to California style) pass rates? Would love to hear some theories on this.

*its a slow morning (wait, its almost noon already) and my brain isn't really functioning, so forgive the title, its an admittedly weak reference to this classic joint, law and old school hip hop, don't they just go together?


Why is Everyone So Surprised?

Over the past week, a new web phenomenon was created with the rapid spread of a recorded phone call an American made to a Shanghai restaurant delivery service. In the call, the American "taught", insulted, and demanded an apology from the operator. He also stated he had 2,000 employees under him and he makes RMB3 million a year, which makes one wonder why he was so up in arms about a 2-for-1 burger deal. It also seems obvious the operator couldn't understand much of his English and he didn't speak Chinese to her, its likely he can't speak any to begin with.

What seems so funny to me is how fast this has spread around the net and how roundly its condemned by everyone. It's not that I condone this kind of behavior, the way he acts is pretty appalling. Yet the reality is that this is fairly common among the expat community in China. I don't know if this guy has 2,000 employees under him and is making RMB3 million a year, but there are a lot of young 20 and 30 somethings (and even older) in China who are making a lot of money and who feel a sense of entitlement based on their passport.

While in this case it was an American, it just as easily could have been a Brit, a Canadian, a Frenchie, etc. It seems like a lot of expats want to pretend this is an isolated incident, instead of something that happens in the expat bars/restaurants on a daily basis, you know this guy, if you're in a cafe or bar, you could very easily be sitting next to this guy. I sent this to a friend, quite possibly the only person who hadn't seen it, and their reaction was "why are you sending this to me?" This "douchebag" attitude was so prevalent among those who they were around (mostly lawyers), that this call didn't seem odd in the slightest.

It's great to call out this guy on the net, with a lot of "brave" statements about punching him out and name calling in Danwei's comments, but the next time you come across "this guy" in a bar, club, or restaurant, how many of you will actually do something? It's not like this never happens, what never happens is that foreigners take notice and stand up for the Chinese involved.

2008 Olympics Retrospective: Baseball

Baseball had its curtain call as an Olympic sport in Beijing and though it was very foreign to most Chinese, it still had decent crowds of people looking for a day in the sun at the temporary venue at Wukesong. The Chinese team, making its first ever Olympic appearance, gave the fans a lot to cheer about playing hard against the Dutch and Korean teams and, most importantly, defeating Chinese Taipei.

Korea won the gold medal in a dramatic 3-2 clash with Cuba, while the US secured the bronze. While baseball (as well as softball) won't be part of the 2012 Olympics, the talk is that it will be reconsidered for 2016 (Olympic baseball at Wrigley?!?), though it could depend on whether Major League Baseball will allow its stars to participate.


What Are They Thinking?

I try to stay away from blogging on the weekend, but there's too much to talk about this weekend, so here goes.

T!betans the world over are coming together in Dharmsala this week to discuss how to proceed in their dealings with the Chinese government. The meetings have taken on greater significance for two reasons, following the March riots in T!bet the calls for independence (and even violence) among some T!betans are louder than ever, and beyond that there is the pressing question of who will take over after the DL (abbreviated to avoid the Great Firewall).

The major issue is what comes after the DL? I talked about this a little in March after the riots and I still think this is critically important. If the T!betans hope to reach any kind of agreement with the Chinese government, it must happen while the DL is still in power. If they fail to do so, it's going to be a lot harder than they thought, why?

One thought is that the Chinese are convinced once the DL is out of the picture, they'll be able to name his successor and be able to slowly placate those who are in T!bet. Another possible line of thinking is that the DL is such a strong symbol of T!bet, a Nobel Prize winner famous the world over, but his successor won't be able to cultivate the same strong cult of celebrity.

The Chinese can be equally confident they don't need to be concerned about radical T!betan youth attempting to push for independence. As long as the DL is alive, the majority of T!betans will follow his "middle way" path, which was confirmed by their decision at the conference. The funniest part of an NY Times article on the conference states:
An independence movement, he [Jamyang Norbu, a T!betan writer in the US] said, would unite the exile community, keep T!bet in the headlines and increase pressure on the Chinese government. Supporters would organize economic boycotts of China. Young T!betans in the West would go door to door explaining the cause.
What? Economic boycotts of China will be impossible to organize except among some of the most ardent T!betans and some wacko leftists and will have no effect. They'll also fail miserably at getting much news coverage and creating any pressure on the Chinese. But the best part is the idea of monks going door to door in the US. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, the club of crazies, that's the club you want to join?!? I always pictured Tibetan buddhism as far more noble.

However, what's more laughable are the radical T!betans, basically terrorists, who are calling for violence against the Chinese. Not only does that go against everything they purportedly believe in as Buddhists, it will quickly get them denounced around the world, as well as quickly crushed by the Chinese.

An agreement must come while the DL is still alive, or else the Chinese will have little patience for negotiations. Without the DL, China will be under even less international pressure than the marginal pressure they're under now and they'll also be able to split the domestic T!betan community.