Ask the Readers 1: Tiananmen Closed at Night?

I seem to be developing a bit of a readership, for the life of me I've yet to figure out why, but I deeply appreciate all those who come here and sometimes even find it necessary to comment on my crazy ramblings. That said, I want to especially thank zhwj for enlightening me about the "Chinese pizza" phenomenon, for those interested in trying them, I guess there still are a few stands alive and kicking at Xidan. I also want to thank Laura for her interesting story. I'm forced to do this in a post instead of in the comments section because I'm fighting the losing fight, still using blogspot, which is still blocked in the PRC.

Here goes part 1 in Ask the Readers, a new (ir)regular post where, when I don't know something about China and am willing to admit it, I turn to you, my dear readers for help and hope someone answers the call.

Despite living a stone's throw from Tiananmen Square, I've rarely ventured there over the past few months. On the two occasions that I have (both in the evening), I've been surprised to find the Square totally empty. The first time I thought it just might be too cold (but still, absolutely NO people?) or that there must be some kind of gathering that I hadn't heard about, but to have come across this situation again doesn't seem like a random occurrence.

So does anybody know about this? Has the government taken to closing down the Square to the public after dark as a potential Olympics protest or gathering spot precaution? Is this only for a winter cleanup in preparation for the Olympics? Is it just coincidence that I happened upon the Square the two times there have been large, unannounced events in the Great Hall?

Any answers to this (or other wild hypotheses) would be greatly appreciated.

The New Kid on the Block at Xidan

If you're like me and take Beijing's subway on a regular basis, you've been bombarded by large, colorful, graffiti-like ads for a new mall called Joy City at Xidan, yesterday I decided it was time to investigate. Let me just say, while the mall won't be fully operational until early March, its already time to get excited. The majority of stores only offer coming soon signs that fill one with promise, though a number of stores are already open for business.

There is a certain element of Japanese influence already in place at Xidan, but Joy City will offer up a different, subdued version of Japanese style with the arrival of Muji to the capital and also Uniqlo rolling the dice again on Beijing. Beyond those two great (and very different) bastions of staples from Japan, there will be another Ajisen Ichiban noodle shop among other Japanese shops.

This mall isn't all things Japan, though. I'm equally excited about another Zara opening up (and in general, a lot of similar offerings as at The Place on the eastern side of town, including French Connection, i.t., and Sephora). There will be a large Apple (authorized seller) store and G2000 has opened up a store to match the size of the one in Xin Dong An. Beyond Muji, which I've already shown my love for, I'm really happy about the already opened G2 Black Label store in the mall, Beijing's first. In general, G2000 makes some decent work wear at reasonable prices (think Banana Republic), but the G2 Black Label items are a little higher end, more stylish, modern fit (think slightly slimmer suits and narrower ties) that are still very affordable. Another store that makes its first appearance in the capital (and is already open) is Giordano Concepts, featuring more fashionable (and slightly more expensive) offerings for work and weekends (almost always limited to black, white, and grey).

It will be interesting to see how Uniqlo does this time around, its Shanghai store at Raffles doesn't have a lot of floor space, a problem that I think also plagued its original Beijing locations. Uniqlo is sort of hard to pin down, it sort of a bit of Gap and a bit of Old Navy, a place for decent, affordable clothes which also has low-end basics. Given a large enough floor space (like they have in HK and like they seem to be getting in Beijing), they can show the full range of their products and should be able to succeed this time around.

Xidan is the place for edgy, young fashion, it will be interesting how this mall, full of preppy choices and stores for 20-something white collar workers to outfit themselves for work, play, and partying will do.

Xidan, always known as one of THE spots to shop, is now a destination for all walks of life. You have the teenagers into Japanese/Korean styles congregating in/around Xidan Shopping Center, the traditional Chinese department stores (Grand Pacific and Zhong You), the new addition (Joy City), and chuppie heaven (Time Square).


Another Example of BOCOG PR Errors?

Imagethief has often talked about BOCOG's PR issues, to me, one of the biggest is their refusal to see the light and shed the traditional Communist Party stances of denying all bad news and only reporting the good. With that in mind, a recent story in the Times (UK) about deaths at the Bird's Nest, the new National Stadium, brought this point home.

The Times article offers an "estimate" of at least 10 deaths, putting together confidential conversations they had with workers who worked on the stadium at different times over the past few years. Whether the number is more or less than 10 is really irrelevant, the article admits that deaths on large scale projects like this aren't rare (around 5 died building the Athens venue in 2004 and 1 in Atlanta in '96). The article also states the complexity of the architectural design of this project may be one of the causes behind the deaths.

With that in mind, what would be so bad, in the spirit of openness and winning points with the media, admitting that there has been some deaths, even if its just 1 or 2? Okay, granted, if they admit anything less than the actual number, the media will ravenously search for other stories and find a way to make the government look bad anyways. Yet, from my limited knowledge of PR, mostly gleaned in politics, the key is controlling (or at least trying to) the story and the public perception of what happened. When you admit there are deaths, you can defend yourself and you turn a lead story into something that will get buried in a blurb inside the paper. When you try to cover it up, that becomes the story more than the deaths, and of course, everything will eventually come to light and make you look that much worse.

Then again, perhaps BOCOG is paranoid with fear over unfair media coverage.


5-Star Hotel Boom, But What Happens After October 2008?

I've been thinking about posting on the huge influx of new hotels in Beijing and Shanghai and a recent post on All Roads Lead to China, discussing construction in Shanghai along Nanjing West Road around the Kerry Centre, reminded me of my intentions. The Kerry Centre will soon be surrounded by 3 or 4 new 5-star hotels, with offerings from Swissotel and Shangri-La. Not to be outdone, Beijing's CBD will include a Grand Hyatt and a Mandarin Oriental (among others) before the Olympics. The western part of Changan Road in the new "Financial District" also includes a number of brand new 5-star hotel offerings. 5 years ago you could stay in a 5-star establishment in these cities and pay around US$100 a night, an unbelievable bargain. While you can still find some prices around US$150, they're quickly rising to over US$200 a night and in some cases entering the rare air of US$300 (especially in Shanghai) for a standard room.

One of the great attractions to a China vacation in the past was that it offered a lot of bang for your buck, staying in nice hotels, eating great meals, and being able to see large numbers of world famous sights. While the airfare from the US or Europe wasn't cheap, in the end Americans would save a ton of money traveling to China instead of Europe and yet have a more luxurious vacation. Today, that's quickly becoming a thing of the past. The focus in recent years has been on luxury, luxury, luxury, and, especially in the leadup to the Olympics, the focus has been on high-end customers.

While there will be no problem filling these ultra-lux venues during the Olympics, will tourism in China suffer from a lack of mid to budget hotel options in the aftermath of the Games? Will the big brand 5-star establishments be able to continue raising their prices despite customers being spoiled for choice?

Scary Stat of the Day or Why the Paralympics Needs to Be the Disabled's Coming Out in China

There has been a lot of talk about the Olympics being China's "coming out party", which most intelligent China bloggers are calling bullshit. If you don't think China's already "out", then you've been under a rock for the past 15 years or so. However (and in light of the upcoming wheelchair basketball competition this weekend), the Paralympics really needs to be the coming out party for the disabled in China, hopefully it will be able to show that, yes, there are disabled people in China and that they can achieve a lot (if the Games are anything like in Athens, China will dominate in almost every event).

What motivated this post was an extremely scary stat in the papers today, published in an article announcing the first blind member of the Guangzhou Provincial government. Guangdong, which includes the major cities Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is far more advanced than most other provinces. However, according to the article (Chinese only), of the province's over 5 million disabled people, only 1% have university degrees and only 5% have high school degrees. I'm sure these stats are similar (or worse) around the country. Hopefully the media coming over for the Olympics will stay for the Paralympics and shine some light on this shocking situation.

203 Days to the Olympics: Daily Dose of News

There's a lot of important Olympics-related information to note today. First off, a ceremony was held yesterday to give the public a first look at the outfits for the torch bearers and volunteers. The red outfits are for torch bearers and blue are for volunteers. Nothing remarkable here, not sure about the untucked look, and amazingly no logo creep whatsoever, which should make Uniwatch happy. Here's a closer markup of the torch bearer getup (gotta like the headbands):
Also, something that fills me with dread, is the possibility that Celine Dion may be one of the singers during the Opening Ceremony and will come to China for concerts this spring. A press conference was held for that and Sang Lan was in attendance for some reason.

The 2008 PGA Merchandise Show opened up in Orlando and this year will include a special presentation titled, "Golf in China". Chinese media has also taken the unprecedented (I believe) step of sending reporters to cover the show. Okay, this isn't Olympics-related, but it should be, golf has forever been discussed as a test sport at the Olympics (most notably at Atlanta '96 where Augusta National was floated as a host site). I know there was some talk of making golf a test sport for the Beijing Olympics, it would definitely help the ever-growing popularity of the sport in China, but to no avail.

Finally, as part of the "Good Luck, Beijing" series of events, this weekend the Wheelchair Basketball International Invitational will be taking place (more information can be found here). The tournament, which begins on Sunday and will go until Friday at the National Indoor Stadium, will feature China, Canada, Holland, and Australia on the men's side and China, Japan, Germany, and Canada on the women's side. Tickets are cheap and attendance will be minimal, so if you want to have a look at the stadium (and have it all to yourself), consider making the trip to northern Beijing next week. The scheduling of this event is very goofy as only one weekend day will be used and the majority of games are during work hours. Not that there would be big attendance, but the times seem sort of strange. In any case, to me this will be one of the first big tests for the Olympic committee and I'm very curious how the athletes will deal with, and alternatively how the organizing committee will prepare for, Beijing's lack of accessibility. I'm hoping to have interviews with some of the athletes, but we'll have to wait and see.


Fakes From China? Shocking!!!

News out of the US is that 3 Chinese nationals have been arrested recently as part of a conspiracy that sold millions in counterfeit goods in the US. The article stated:
Authorities call it one of the largest counterfeit operations ever discovered,
involving about 300,000 bags and wallets with names like Burberry, Gucci and

No surprise that one of the individuals was arrested in Las Vegas. From a legal standpoint I sort of wonder about the jurisdiction issue, despite the 3 leaders of the ring all living in New York, the indictment was issued in Richmond, VA. This story is definitely one to watch.

The Chat Software Divide pk The Social Networking Software Divide

I have a confession to make, I'm too harsh on Ben's Blog much of the time, no, no, its true. His blog does serve its purpose and from time to time makes me think, and, like in this case, it sometimes leads me to come up with an entry of my own on a day my mind is blank.

Today, Ben offers a good introduction to the chat software, QQ (previously talked about on this blog here). The QQ craze took over China in the late 90s, the country was awash in penguins, and it even led to the introduction of a clothing line, amazing success when we're talking about nothing more than a chat software. Can you imagine guys buying the MSN person logo for their girlfriend? Or tshirts with the ICQ flower on it? But that indeed is how powerful QQ was at that time. Since then, like all fads, it has died down, though the majority of teenage Chinese still regularly use and exchange QQ numbers.

The QQ trend ends at the teenage years, though, as the majority of urban Chinese outgrow it right around the age they enter university. After that, the majority of white collar Chinese university graduates would never dare admit to having a QQ number and, if they do, they will have "forgotten" it a long time ago. Why? For the urban, white collar employee, MSN is the choice. This is for a number of reasons, namely foreign (and increasingly Chinese companies) use MSN for intra-office communication, MSN is more stable, and MSN fails to have the annoyances that go along with QQ including lots of pop-up ads and random people adding you. Its as if part of the tradition of entering college nowadays is shedding your QQ number and not looking back.

That said, look at what people in the 3rd-tier cities or what the staff in urban offices are using and you'll often times find that penguins (QQ) outnumber people (MSN). This is even more apparent than the oft-discussed Myspace-Facebook battles in the US. It shares some similarities in the High School (Myspace/QQ) vs. University (MSN/Facebook) sense, but there is also the overwhelming white collar (MSN) vs. blue collar (QQ) battle that goes on in China that doesn't exist in the US.

I'm not a sociology major and so I can't go into all the issues this divide will bring about, though I think a very interesting research paper/study could be done on the issue. For all you Laowai who are arriving as students or have studied and are now starting to work in China, your choice of chat software says something about you, be careful that its saying what you want it to!


Open Discrimination, But That's Okay

Today, a friend sent me a unique job posting that I thought was worthy of being shared. A "Blind Man Massage" place was looking for some masseurs in the small city of Huizhou in Guangdong Province, not far from Guangzhou. The listing was looking for people age 18-34 with at least 3 years prior experience, nothing unusual so far, right? The interesting thing, though, was when it came to salary, they were offering males RMB1,000/month and females RMB1,200/month. Upon further questioning, the contact person explained that they already had a number of male masseurs and the higher salary was an attempt to attract some females.

I know there is no concept of "equal pay for equal work" (though this one does benefit the ladies), but its rare that I've come across such outright examples. What also was a bit striking was the salary. Considering I've seen articles from just a few years back that put the average salary of a university graduate at RMB2,000, for a blind person, who in many cases would be around the same age or younger than a university grad, to be making RMB1,000 in a small city isn't that bad by local standards. The real difference comes when you look at promotion tracks, the RMB2,000 a university student made is going to rise considerably over the years, but a 22 year old blind person working as a masseur (one of the only jobs available to him/her) won't expect much of any raise in the future and the main hope is to earn enough to open their own shop.


Hotel Dining Takes Center Stage

I haven't written on food in awhile and I always enjoy the magazine Food and Wine, so I figured I'd pick up this month's issue with its Top 50 Restaurants in China. With few exceptions, even outside the big 3 (restaurants in Hangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, HK, Shenzhen, Xiamen, and Fuzhou were also included) all the meals ranged from RMB200/per person to astronomic. I've eaten at 4 of the 50, not bad for someone who lacks a substantial expense account (and I WILL bust my wallet and eat at Jade on 36 at some point), and wouldn't put any of those experiences anywhere near my top dining experiences in China.

I guess I should forgive the list, after all the magazine is called Food AND WINE, many of the great restaurants experiences I have are at restaurants without wine lists or whose list is limited to a few bottles of Great Wall or Dragon Seal. That said, just because a restaurant has a bottle of '82 Latour doesn't mean I want to mix it with the chef's ultra-modern fusion style Kung Pao Chicken, maybe its just me, but I'd still rather have a bottle of the local brew or some xiao er or even a very nice (and very expensive) tea with my meal, thank you very much.

The other noticable bit about the list is the large number of hotel restaurants, especially in Beijing and Shanghai, where hotel restaurants are in the majority. Part of this is because service is factored in and 5-star hotels are likely to pay special attention to all the little touches (though that isn't always the case). The proliferation of these hotels (something for an upcoming post) could mean that next year even a larger percentage of the list is made up of hotel dining, though Handel Lee's Legation Quarter hotspots-to-be are sure to find their way onto the list. 5-star hotels, backed up by major foreign conglomerates, also are more willing (and able due to both money and space issues) to splash the cash to put together an impressive wine cellar. The average restaurateur, even at a high-end restaurant, especially one serving Chinese style food, has to be concerned about the bottom line, and if diners will be interested in pairing wine with their meal.

As an aside, I'm wondering what partners at the bigtime I-banks or law firms feel about chits submitted to them for massive food and drink bills from these restaurants. While prices are constantly rising as diners become more and more spoiled for choice, at I would estimate 95% or more of the high-end restaurants, the majority of bills are for RMB500 or less per person. In the US, food is almost always the main expense. However, as wine in China is already more expensive than the US (due to import tariffs, etc.) even before you add on restaurant markup, and with these restaurants trying to promote top wine lists, its easy for wine costs to exceed food costs.

It's Official: NBA China in Business

I know stories came out months ago that the NBA would be forming an entity in China, though I thought it was already a done deal. As it turned out, it wasn't, but yesterday, the NBA officially formed NBA China in Beijing. Offices will be in Beijing and Shanghai and soon coming to Guangzhou. A bit on the finances:

Five partners will invest $253 million to acquire 11 percent of the company,
which will handle everything from merchandising and marketing to television and
other media, in preferred equity. They are ESPN, Bank of China Group Investment,
Legend Holdings Limited, Li Ka Shing Foundation and China Merchants Investments.

The NBA was the first, and to date only, American sports league to play a game in China and is the only league that features Chinese players. The MLB (baseball) and the NFL (American football) have been in talks to hold games in China, but have yet been able to work out all the details. Both sports have attempted to develop Chinese talent and the MLB has even entered the market as a "fashion brand", available in high end malls. The major difference, though, is that while the MLB and NFL are fighting an uphill fight to introduce the game to the Chinese and nurture interest, the NBA is long past that stage. Basketball has a long history in China, where missionaries brought the game to the masses shortly after Dr. Naismith hung up those peach baskets in Springfield, Mass. Selling the people on NBA basketball wasn't a hard sell in the late 80s when Jordan was in his prime and all things western were cool.

Baseball has a chance to succeed, but the key is building a domestic program and to start getting some decent players so that a domestic league can be formed. One existed a few years ago, but was a major failure, and is now but a faded memory, if its even thought about. Football will have a much harder time because it goes on during the basketball and soccer season, when the Chinese focus is elsewhere and, a problem baseball may have as well, it's too slow moving to keep the fans interested.

My own personal wish would be to see the NHL make a China play, but Bettman, who is a total failure, has basically ignored the China market and any action he has taken was at the behest of the New York Islanders Chinese-American owner, Charles Wang. San Jose has put some money into the Beijing "professional" team, but that lacks much exposure. Hockey is a sport with a long history in China, being played mostly by Russian in the Northeast, but mixed teams did exist. Also, China has a large population of expats, not only Americans and Canadians, but Scandinavians and, of course, Russians, many who have a deep interest in the sport. It may be a tough sell, but the NHL played in Japan last year(?) and at the very least, Bettman owes it to the league to explore the Chinese market a bit more.

Anyways, here's hoping NBA China will be able to do the impossible, help make the CBA watchable.

Whatever Happened To...Street Pizzas?

Thinking back to two years ago, it seemed a new phenomenon had taken over Shanghai. Everywhere you looked you saw people eating something out of a brown paper wrapper (which you'd see all over the street, too) that sort of resembled pizzas and were often even advertised as China's first pizzas, most notably the masses were crowding around a little stall not far from Raffles Plazza. It was a fad in Beijing, too, but not on the supersized level that it was in Shanghai, yet that famous stand in Shanghai is long chai'd and you no longer see these pizza like items for sale.

I'd almost totally forgot about all this until I saw a post at On the Fringe few weeks ago. The "pizzas" that I always thoroughly enjoyed were much like what she is describing, often times also featuring cumin and other yangrou chuanr spices and pieces of "lamb". It seems that this trend is still alive and well in Qingdao, where she appears to be writing from, but why its disappearance from the streets of Shanghai and Beijing? Those brown wrappers WERE everywhere, perhaps it was so ubiquitous as to make too big a mess and so got banned?


More Money = Less Fakes?

I usually enjoy Tim Johnson and his writing, but his recent entry on counterfeits had me scratching my head, namely the quote below:

Chinese with new money want the real thing. They don’t want bogus. This is a really positive sign. In five years, the discussions about piracy in China will be very different. As standards of living improve, and as Chinese companies develop their own labels and brands, the Chinese will become better at self-policing.

Okay, first we need to define what kind of piracy we're talking about here, because I'm convinced nothing other than major lawsuits and/or the downfall of the CCP will stop pirated DVDs/CDs/computer software. The nouveau riche, along with everyone else, will continue happily buying pirated versions and the discussion in 5 years or 50 years on that subject will not change. Secondly, this really only comes from an observation, in passing, after time spent in the Tiffany & Co. store at Oriental Plaza.

That said, I don't think its a new thing that the nouveau riche are dropping mad loot at the big-name label shops in Guomao, Oriental Plaza, and now in the Financial District. At Wangfujing you have a choice, if you have the cash you buy real Tiffany at Oriental Plaza, if you don't, like most teens and 20 somethings, you choose to hit the subway tunnel sellers of fake Tiffany. Johnson's argument seems pretty tired, its nothing new, we were hearing it 5 years ago and though standards have continued, the talk is all still the same.

When will the fakes stop? They won't, but it really doesn't matter. In the past, white collar females (as the fakes are typically focused on jewelry and handbags) would be annoyed after having spent big bucks on an LV or Burberry bag on Saturday, only to be greeted on Monday by an entire office of secretaries and staff using what appeared to be the exact same bag.

However, in recent years, while counterfeiters have come out with more new brands (the Coach craze started a few years back) as well as some that target men (Tumi and Swiss Army/Victorinix have started appearing recently), they haven't been very adroit at brand extension. Therefore, the majority of Burberry/Gucci/LV bags (which make up the majority of fakes you see at the markets) are all the same designs that they were selling 10 years ago, despite these brands releasing numerous new styles and designs. There's also the fact that Tiffany isn't really a good example, because while they are still expensive, they are far from an ultra-luxury brand, with offerings that are borderline "affordable." This has been particularly hurtful to the brand's image in the US, where it no longer defines luxury like it once did.

Yes, those who can conspicuously consume are choosing the real deal over fakes in greater number and yes, Asians, including Chinese to some extent, are driving the luxury market. However, my own anecdotal experience working and meeting lawyers at top law firms seems to show that these decidedly middle class 20 and 30 somethings aren't the ones purchasing designer bags. If they aren't really doing that, we're far from a situation like in Japan where even the lowliest of office workers will save up to make one (or more) large luxury purchase a year.

Johnson's line that the Tiffany customers he encountered "look like they are internet entrepreneurs in their 20s or the very young girlfriends of factory owners" struck me as it reminded me of something Nehls Frye said in an interview, namely that "Northeastern factory owners and Shanxi coal barons will presumably still chase brands that scream luxury and wealth." Many who buy luxury goods want the brand name to jump out at anyone who sees the item, while a majority of white collar shoppers are stepping up from "domestic brands" like Baleno and G2000, but only moving so far as Zara and Sisley, they've yet to make the leap to designer labels.

When will they start making that jump, perhaps in the next 5 years, but its still just guess work. The focus is still less on small-item consumption and more focused on apartments and cars. Perhaps as my generation of Chinese young people continue their climb up the economic ladder and start obtaining those things, luxury will be what comes next, though spending on kids often seems to get in the way of that.

In any case, I don't see 5 years as being enough to change the discussion of piracy. I've heard that song before and while we're getting closer to the time when one can truthfully say that in 5 years the debate will be different, we still ain't there yet.

A Little Around The Web Action For Ya...

First off, the Yilishen tale has finally been picked up by a US newspaper (hat tip to Granite Studio). The story had everything US papers usually love writing about when it comes to China: government corruption, large worker protests, scandal, working people getting fleeced by big business, celebrity, ants(?). However, the Global Voices blog had a great writeup summarizing Chinese blogs almost 2 months ago that told me everything the LA Times story did (and more) and included pictures. US media has almost completely ignored the story, beyond a brief writeup in Reuters (the UK did a better job) as far as I've seen, despite this being called the "perfect China story." The blog coverage in late November of this story and the subsequent lag before traditional media started picking up the story is yet another demonstration of how blogs are, in some cases, replacing traditional media, or at least usurping their territory.

Next we have Imagethief on plastic bags. I agree that the oft discussed recent government measure is a step in the right direction, at least PR-wise, but I doubt it will lead to much change when it takes effect. Although one only hopes it causes the public to pay attention to the issue and possibly at least lead some individuals to consider reusable shopping bags.

The NY Times/IHT carried an article about poverty in China yesterday. It doesn't say much of anything new, but I have a feeling that we'll be seeing many of these articles in the leadup to the Olympics as they provide such great contrast to articles like the Tim Johnson article on nouveau riche spending. I do think the most interesting point from the article is the fact that much of the government's poverty relief programs have been focused on development in western China and little has been done to help the interior provinces that are struggling with the dual problems of large migration to the cities and lack of opportunity/markets at home.

Finally, a China Daily story on Mojo. Despite my regular travels to Shanghai and the music scene there, I've yet to meet the man. Though I know there are some haters out there, I respect anyone trying to bring the message of real hip hop to the Chinese masses, instead of the overly commercial crap that regularly gets played over here. His pushing that the "next big thing in China" will be hip hop is another of those tired plaudits that seem to be popping up in a number of the articles I'm looking at today. It would be great to see, but its going to take time, Common came over and was basically ignored, the Roots had a largely Western audience, and Talib's show didn't get the love it should have. Anyways, to take a closer look at the man called Mojo, you can check out his blog.


It's All in the (Prosthetic) Legs...

A dose of Beijing Olympics news as we near the 200 day mark to the start of the Games (a funny thing to think about on this dreary, cold, yellow skied day in Beijing). In what is hardly going to be a surprise to most, the International Association of Athletics Federations appears set to announce that Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee runner, is not eligible to race in the 2008 Olympics. After extensive testing, the organization is claiming that the prosthetics Pistorius uses gives him an unfair advantage. For interesting reads in the past about Pistorius and this controversy, here are the takes of the NY Times and Wired.

I've done a lot to advocate for the disabled, but in this situation, I believe that the IAAF and IOC is doing the right thing banning him from the Olympics. The Times article brings up the interesting weird science world that might exist if disabled athletes like Pistorius are able to use prosthetics, race in the regular Olympics, and defeat able bodied ones. I am inclined to trust the science on this and I think Pistorius should be happy to compete for gold in the Paralympics. I think the only sport where it is realistic to expect the IOC to allow a disabled athlete to compete in the regular Olympics would be in swimming, where minimal or no accomodations would be required. At the end of the day, he's still a role model and if he's looking for a payday, he can always continue his races against able bodied athletes when allowed or some PPV special events.

Tourist Scams 1: Donghuamen Night Market

There once was a day where tourists who came to the capital faced assurance that they would get ripped off, in fact it was state policy, one price for foreigners, one price for Chinese; one currency for foreigners, one currency for Chinese. Beyond that policy, the majority of the people who you came across were (relatively) honest and well-intentioned. Today's Beijing is far different, while everyone pays with the same currency and (should) pay the same prices, honesty is a rare thing to find in this city. Instead, merchants and vendors will often do their best to get more money from foreigners at every turn. While I tend to avoid the overly touristy parts of the city, there are some that just can't be avoided, and so when I come across a rip off artist or hear verifiable evidence of a scam, I'll make sure to print it here as a service to all those visiting this (once?) great city.

Donghuamen Night Market is extremely famous, though many people, even some who've visited it, don't know it by name. It takes its name from the street of the same name that its on, but many mistakenly call it the Wangfujing Food Street (there is a separate Wangfujing Food Street that is open all day and has far less options), as it is just to the west of Wangfujing. It is well known not because of its quality or tradition, but because of the crazy options that you can purchase there, including bugs, scorpions, and sea horses.

First, let me say that unless you are going to sample some of the wilder options, are staying at Wangfujing, or are limiting your China travels to just Beijing and Shanghai, avoid this "market". There are very few stands selling Beijing specialities like bao du (boiled tripe) and yang za sui (lamb offal in soup), but those aren't the things most foreigners would want to sample anyways. Since the government has come in over the past few years and made the market more uniform in an attempt to turn it into a bigger tourist destination, quality standards and cleanliness have definitely improved, so if you go for the popular yangrou chuanr, you know you'll be getting one of the cleanest versions in the city. Regional options abound, including Guangdong's grilled oysters, Tianjin's baozi, and Chongqing's suanla fen making this market a decent option for visitors who will only be visiting China for a very brief time (and limiting that visit to one or two major cities). As with any touristy area, prices are higher than anywhere else in the city and portions are much smaller.

So there's a bit about the market, where is the "scam"? The boards at each stand clearly show prices, but the item names are all in Chinese and not every item is always listed (especially at the chuanr vendors). The other night when buying a Chinese "wrap" at one of the stands, I asked the price and the vendor correctly stated it to be RMB5, though the vendors next to him were having a discussion in Chinese, one said he made a mistake and should have said RMB10, another said that was too cheap and he should have said RMB15, I paid the RMB5 and as I walked away, I asked if I should really pay RMB15 considering the sign clearly says its RMB5? Vendors often attempt to charge anything from RMB1 to RMB10 over the price of what the signs say, but being able to read Chinese helps and sometimes you just need to walk away.

Granted, this isn't one of the worst scams in the city and being charged what amounts to a little more than US$1 isn't a big deal, it is unnecessary and improper, especially considering that there are little more than 200 days until the Olympics. These petty attempts to squeeze money out of the unsuspecting or unknowing are wrong and give the city a black eye.

Knowing all this, why do I still stop by on a regular basis? Mainly, its proximity to my apartment makes it a good spot for a really fast meal. Plus, a steaming hot bowl of yang za sui and an ear of grilled corn is an excellent meal and provides the heat needed to face another cold winter's day in Beijing.


A Week Can Make All the Difference...

A week ago I was getting ready to post an entry that started out like this:
According to a source Sinobyte says that the iPhone could be out in China as early as Spring 2008. As an aside, it looks like Sinobyte's going to be a great new blog for anyone interested in technology in Asia.
While Sinobyte still looks like its going to be a great blog, I, like many others, am left playing Monday morning quarterback as to why Apple and China Mobile have halted negotiations on bringing the iPhone to China. Last week, I was contemplating whether iTunes would open up a China store and if it could lead to people starting to pay for music through high-quality downloads and other new features (I know this is basically an impossibility, but its something to ponder on a slow day). This week, I'm left wondering whether I will be able to get my hand on an authorized release of an iPhone in China before the Olympics.

These negotiations dragged on for a long time with more than a few fits and starts and this was mainly caused by the fact that neither party really needed the other. Sure, China Mobile is going to lose a bit of money, but they are still the biggest player in the world's largest wireless market. The Apple juggernaut isn't going to be slowed down by lack of entry in China at this point, either.

From all the media reports that have come out so far, it seems like Apple overplayed a relatively weak hand and China Mobile called their bluff. Now Apple can choose to wait things out, go to China Unicom, or crawl back to the negotiating table. Waiting it out seems like the most likely option, as Apple has only slowly started entering the China laptop/mp3 market, though the iPhone could serve as their first real mainstream entry and draw people toward other Mac products, much like the iPod drew people in the US toward Apple laptops. Grey market iPhones will still be readily available, but rarely purchased due to the high price tag and the glut of reliable dealers selling them.

I'm most interested now in seeing if China Unicom can capitalize as this could be the big draw they need to attract customers and take a bite out of China Mobile, but on the other hand, doesn't this make Apple look like the spurned prom date who waited too long and is now desperate to say yes to anybody? This isn't like being in the US and switching from T-Mobile to Cingular AT&T, its more drastic as Unicom is, for all intents and purposes, only a CDMA network. My guess is that Apple will attempt to first wrap up negotiations in other major national markets as not to weaken their position first and then come back to China Mobile accepting a lower percentage of the profits.


Its all About the Moments

Charlie Wilson's War is already in theaters across the US and if you're in China, its probably already showing up in your local DVD guy's suitcase. The movie is "based on a true story" about how a lowly and depraved Congressman from nowhere was moved enough to decide he wanted to actually do something with his position and then went about arming the Mujaheddin in their fight against the Soviets who had occupied Afghanistan. Its entertainment quality is high, with a great performance by Philip Seymor Hoffman and a good performance by Tom Hanks.

That said, none of the above is what drove me to write this entry, instead its about the message behind the movie, and since its a Sorkin project, you can be damn sure there's a message behind the movie. Maybe its not the message so much as circumstances that struck me. The movie plays up the fact that, at the time, one Rudy Guliani was working at the Justice Department, going after Congressmen who were using drugs and one of the individuals in his sights was none other than Charlie Wilson. At the same time, the mujaheddin used the weapons and the training supplied to them by Charlie Wilson to defeat the Russians, but many of them went on to join the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Hmm, if Guliani would have only nailed Wilson back then, would we have Guliani Presidential candidate (failure) today? Would 9/11 have happened?

Going back to the message, with our current involvement in Afghanistan having disappeared from the front page of the news, one wonders if the failure of Wilson to build schools is meant as a hint to Americans that we need to look at what's going on in Afghanistan (and Iraq) today and think about rebuilding and not just the fighting. My own thoughts are on how easy it was/is for this individual, again a no-name Congressman on the right committees, to take a war from a small $5 million thing to a mega $1 billion operation. Is something like this still possible today?

So there is my bit of free association and muddled reactions to the movie...

China's One Step Behind the US, the US is One Step Behind the Rest of the World...

Its interesting that the same week China is moving to more widespread use of lethal injection (replacing the old bullet in the back of the head), the US Supreme Court is debating whether (one state's process of) lethal injection is cruel and unusual.

PS: I just found out another blog beat me to the punch (so what's new?), China Business Law Blog has a more detailed entry on this issue.

Christmas and Christians in China

Much talk exists about the size of China's Christian population, predictions even exist that its currently the largest in the world (though Pat Robertson is still hoping for more). The media typically ignores the issue unless some priest has been arrested or a crackdown is on, in which case China is viewed as an evil oppressor of religion and is beat down with Soviet-evil empire era rhetoric among the religious community in the US.

The reality of Christianity in China is far different from the picture you get in US/Western media. That many Chinese Christians choose house churches over official institutions often has little to do with a decision to stick it to the government as it does location. Even in large cities in China, its far from the US Bible Belt, churches are few and far between and so choosing between a long bus ride (or two) and something down the block often chooses itself. House churches, in most cases, are far from the clandestine ideas that people have about them, they are usually very open and often take place in offices or other buildings instead of just a person's home.
With that in mind, I want to share with you some pictures taken at a recent event at Sea World in Shenzhen. Sea World is an extremely popular destination in the city where there are a number of bars and other popular establishments. On Christmas Eve, a friend's church was granted permission by the government and local police to hold a Christmas choir concert at that location, which was very well received and attended, with minimal incident. This is not a church with close ties to the government or anything like that and its members come from a range of different churches, including both house churches and state-endorsed churches. There is nothing special about this church, just that they tried and were granted a permit for this gathering which turned into a great success. God's word is spreading throughout China and it isn't being done by crazy missionaries (though the large number of beautiful girls in the choir helps).

Pictures courtesy of Princess Dudu and are not to be copied, anyone interested in using them should contact me.

PS: Okay, to lighten things up a bit, I just had to share this picture. It shows perfectly a mirror of the battle in the west between secular and religious. In the front, strong Christians who came out to sing songs to and about God/Jesus on Christmas, in the back a huge, jolly Santa with a gigantic beer mug.


Happy Belated Everything

So after an extended holiday, the boys behind "A Modern Lei Feng" are back and ready for more. We hope everyone out there had an excellent holiday season and a great start to the new year. Call our late start an extended hangover from crazy, riotous NYE festivities, but we're ready to get back to fighting the good fight. 2007 saw many changes for us and things have been good, hopefully 2008 will be even better and will see this blog continue the success it had last year. 3 posts in 2006 and 169 in 2007, hopefully we'll top that in 2008!