Prenup 'partment

This is completely anecdotal, but in talking to some young white collar employees at major companies/firms in the business/banking/legal fields, I've been hearing some really interesting stories. It seems that prenuptial agreements are growing in popularity among this subset of people, and its not because they've spent too much time watching Sex in the City and other such shows. When I first heard about it, I thought it was just mistrust in courts to properly divide property and provide an equitable outcome for both parties. Instead, the reasoning seems solely concentrated on the crazy real estate situation (you don't think crazy is the right word? peep this) and the risk of being left without an apartment (or with only the right to half of one) down the road.

With property prices and the divorce rate constantly going up these days and with it being common that women require a man to have an apartment before they get married, many of those guys are making sure their apartment is fully protected in case of a divorce. While, typically, this wouldn't be deemed as communal property, it appears that courts have sometimes deemed it such as the apartment was purchased shortly before marriage and as a precondition to the marriage taking place. There is also a desire to protect potential communal property in the case where one spouse knows that in the marriage, they will take on much or all the burden of the apartment purchase and/or mortgage. Interestingly, in the first situation, often it is the spouse that didn't buy the apartment who is pushing for a prenup that will grant them a right to the apartment in divorce as they are very concerned about not buying an apartment before marriage only to find that prices have doubled or tripled when it comes time for a divorce and they are left in the cold.

As I said, purely anecdotal, but I've heard it discussed a lot lately, anyone else hearing similar things?



A Very Merry Musical Month

Once again, I'm breaking the focus of this blog to talk about what is an incredibly exciting month for Beijing music fans. Over the next few weeks, we'll see Karen Mok come to Worker's Indoor Stadium (on the 11th), the "Godfather", Cui Jian, doing is thing at Capital Gymnasium once again on a very unique way to enjoy Christmas Eve, while on the 31st, Na Ying will play what is sure to be an extremely memorable New Year's Eve show after 7 years away from performing, word is that she's been preparing for over a year for this one.

If you haven't run off for the holidays, attending one (or all) of these shows is sure to be a lot of fun. Tickets are available at


Made in China Part 3 : Made in China, Made with the World?!?

The new "Made in China" advertising campaign has received a lot of media coverage over the past few weeks and is interesting for a number of reasons, most importantly that this is the first (?) time the Chinese government has come out with a major, international ad campaign. The campaign, done at the behest of the Ministry of Commerce and prepared by the advertising firm DDB with the tag line that served as the title to this post as well as "Made in China, Made WITH China". The ad focuses on daily items, like a pair of (Nike?) athletic shoes, an (iPod?) mp3 player, and a luxury French bag.

The idea is that while many of the daily products that you use are Made in China, the reality is that they are designed by experts far away from China and that Made in China doesn't say anything about the quality of the item. Its an effort to remind people that not everything Made in China is low quality and potentially dangerous. Its interesting to note that the ad was originally supposed to come out during the numerous scandals of last year and the government (rightly) decided to delay it, though the fact its coming out at Christmas is also worth noting, if this was done purposefully, the government deserves a lot of credit. The ad will initially air on CNN in Asia and the United States.

Will the campaign do much to change the minds of foreigners? Probably not. Most consumers don't care that much and for those that do, Made in China is already poisonous. It doesn't seem like the target of the campaign is necessarily those everyday consumers who are sitting in front of their televisions but instead for small businessmen and entrepreneurs who are going factory hunting and may not have considered China or have misgivings about locating their production there. The idea's furthered by the fact the campaign was delayed during those scandals of last year, instead of being used as a proactive defense of Chinese production. Putting out the ad at that time would seem to say that while lots of things are Made in China, its on the companies (and their quality control people) to make sure that quality products are made there.

What say you and do you think the ad will help change the opinion of the common American consumer?

Double Deals Just Got Doubled

Blue Frog's "Burger Burger" Monday's is well known due to this little incident as well as the big time bloggers who are all for it. I make sure to hit up Blue Frog about once a month (with a review to come) for their Monday deal, but the true bargain of it hit home when I was enjoying my Burger King whopper today, which set me back RMB30, whereas if I brought a friend, a burger at Blue Frog would have only been RMB5 more.

Well, now the Beijing deal seeker (aka cheapskate) has another day to add to their calender. On Tuesdays, the Meat and Wine Co., an excellent spot that doesn't get enough love (another place to be reviewed soon), is having a buy-one-get-one-free Rib Night. Meat and Wine offers both beef and pork ribs and at US$50+ for a full slab, they have to be some pretty damn good ribs. Good BBQ ribs are something that's hard to find in Beijing and from the description (though it only says they are slow cooked and then finished on the grill), these don't seem as blasphemous as all the non-smoked "authentic" bbq offered in the city.

A good "deal" offered by one of the city's top western restaurants.


Mao Claus and the Commie Carol

I know the plan was to keep this blog focused on food and style, but sometimes I just can't help it. Is it just me or is China getting into the Christmas spirit in a unique way? I don't know about any other subway stations, but I've walked through the Guomao station (the Line 2 portion) a few times lately and heard muzak that sounded a lot like Christmas carols (lots of strings and horns, what sounds like 4 year olds singing, etc) except when I get closer and take a good listen, it turns out they are renditions of such classics as “Song for a Hero" (英雄赞歌) or "I Love You, Motherland" (我爱你,祖国).

There's nothing wrong with this except that its sudden appearance during the "holiday" season is really messing with my mind...

Made in China Part 2 : What's Worse Than Made in China?!?

"Made in China" gets a bad rap, especially amongst those lefties who are all about "causes" and don't like China's politics. Well, for those that thought "Made in China" was the worst possible label one could find on their clothes, it gets worse, "Made in North Korea."

That's right, an enterprising Swede is bringing Noko Jeans to the world. Yes, just in time for Christmas, you too could own a pair of jeans made by an entire family locked up in a prison camp happy employees in the "glorious, worker's paradise" that is North Korea.

And how much for these superwonderfulexcellent jeans from the world's most oppressive country and one of its poorest? Only about 6 months average salary for a North Korean or US$215. One wonders why they don't read the New York Times in Pyongyang (or in Sweden for that matter) and know "premium" denim is a thing of the past. Oh wait, because its North motherf***ing Korea we're talking about.

Watching the video on the company's website is a must for tons of unintended fun. "Can we learn more [about North Korea]? Can we get to know them? And most importantly, how?" I know, I know, let's pay them peanuts to make crappy jeans and charge a fortune for them.

Is North Korea the "final frontier"? What would be worse than North Korea?!?


Made in China Part 1 : Chinese Brands (or the Lack Thereof)

I have the utmost respect for China Law Blog as it regularly hits on topics that make me think and, more often than not, nails a topic that I was planning on blogging about. He's done it again, this time around its on brands in China. I'm working on a series of articles on the "Made in China" issue, and since Dan's hit on the topic of Chinese brands, that's what I'll start off with.

This topic's been in the news a lot lately, Dan's entry hits on a recent Newsweek article titles "Generic Giants". Interestingly, Fortune's taken a different approach with an article titled "China Buys the World". From an American standpoint, it doesn't appear that there are a lot of big Chinese brands out there and people are only starting to recognize them when they purchase a major American brand. However, that is far from reality.

First off, and what should be most obvious, is that China's brands are on the rise, but there's still a ways to go. Its hard to believe, but Japanese brands haven't been major players in the US market for that long and Korean brands, limited mainly to electronics, have been around even shorter. Chinese companies have started out fighting in home electronics, a wide open category where they can beat a lot of competitors on price and still offer good quality. In other areas, there have been minor achievements, but its going to take some time, in 10 years the picture will be far different.

Another issue is that the magazines are writing from a US perspective, where Chinese brands are few and far between, yet if a more global view is taken, greater influence can be seen. China has placed a heavy focus on developing countries that the Western world and multinationals has left behind. In Asia, Latin America, and especially Africa. This allows them a more open playing field, less brand loyalty, and less obsession with locally made goods. Not only is it an incredibly smart move, but its also a "training ground" for these brands before they make the more difficult entry into the US market. A number of Chinese car manufacturers have started building factories and importing cars into Mexico, hoping that the market there will pave their way into entering the US and having factories nearby will ease deliveries.

Newsweek argues that its the "incredibly competitive" domestic market (what market isn't competitive?) that hurts Chinese brands, but they are missing something about the domestic market, its incredibly large. If you're the boss of a major Chinese brand in a 2nd tier city and you're making money hand over fist domestically, why bother dealing with the bureaucrats in Beijing only to then battle your way in an unfamiliar market? For many, the headaches involved with creating a global brand aren't worth the potential gains.

This post focused on the major reasons why we've yet to see a lot of Chinese brands "go global", but it doesn't hit on all the issues, for that I'd need a lot more words and I think I'm already trying most of my few dear readers patience, so they'll be more on this in the coming days.

Tales of an Apartment Hunter (aka Burst Damnit, Burst!)

Another weekend just passed, for me, that means spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with despicable real estate agents and walking through some stranger's home for 5 minute only to be shocked and disappointed, shocked at the price, disappointed by the unimpressive home. I've made the mistake of giving out my number to too many agents, this has led to calls and texts at 7 am and 10 pm, often for apartments that are far outside my price range and in one instance, outside of Beijing.

The problem is that there is little governing real estate agents in China. Unlike the US, you don't need to be pre-approved by a bank before you start looking for an apartment. In fact, basically everyone with a job will get approved by a bank for a loan, part of why down payments typically start at 30% of the purchase price. To be a real estate agent in Beijing the basic requirements appear to be 1. that you are not from Beijing, 2. that you are young and have no other experience, and 3. that you are dumb as a bag of hammers.

As someone who has studied economics, I realize that it doesn't take an understanding of complex economic theories to understand supply and demand, which is all the current real estate picture in China is right now. Everything in my being says that this has to be a bubble, it has every sign of being a bubble, and yet it has been a bubble that shows absolutely no sign of popping anytime soon. It will also be interesting to see how the government reacts if there are signs that this bubble is starting to pop.

I'm looking at apartments that are in the 90-120 sq. meter range (around 1000 sq. ft), places that 10 months ago were going for RMB1.7 million that are now going for RMB2.2 million, a difference of around US$75,000. I've looked at places all over the city and even in the "suburbs" and have rarely found a place that I can be happy with. I understand Beijing is quickly becoming a major, international city, but even in a city like Chicago, US$300,000 will buy you a very impressive spot, probably in a nice, old building that you know will be standing in another 50 years.

That is rarely the case in China where you have to worry doubly about fears of faulty construction and fears of government requisition. I work among young Chinese who make a solid salary and yet many of them are in the "house slave" category. Who are all these people capable of buying US$300,000 places in China? Where do they come from? What do they do? And how in God's name do they do so without even taking out a loan?!?

Further, unlike the US where the suburbs are established, here you can save money buy looking for a place in the "suburbs" of Tongzhou or Shunyi or wherever, but you have to be worried about basic living amenities and the lack of restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, etc. For those things, you'd have to wait 2 or 3 years, part of the reason the apartment is so cheap now. There is also the habit of "buying air", purchasing a place that has yet to be built, with no recourse when its move in date and you aren't satisfied with the construction.

The search continues, its an incredibly depressing process, one that hundreds, thousands of others go through every weekend around Beijing (many who I've probably seen) as apartment after apartment is viewed, each even more substandard than the one before it, all incredibly expensive. I hope this bubble bursts soon and things go back to being realistic. I can see how property in Beijing inside the 4th Ring Road would be an incredibly wise investment over the next 20 years (though foreigners can't legally rent their apartment), but for the time being, it seems the price is destined to come down.

Unless, of course, China can yet again find a way to defy all economic formulations and the price just continues to go up. If that's the case, where are all the "laobaixing" going to live?!?


Thanksgiving 2009: East 33

Thanksgiving in Beijing has a very different meaning from in the US, where everyone gathers at home with family. In Beijing, its a time to get together with friends and head out to one of the city's few restaurants that serve turkey and follow this very American of traditions. The past few years, the Raffles Hotel has done Thanksgiving events at its restaurants East 33 and Jaan, once again this year we headed to East 33 to enjoy the Thanksgiving buffet.

As many Chinese don't fully grasp the "traditional Thanksgiving menu" of turkey with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc etc, a buffet is the perfect option to satisfy all tastes. Plus, this one is all-you-can-drink, need I say more? The other nice thing is that this year there was a real expansion of the offerings, including a large seafood raw bar.
a seafood bounty my seafood bounty

Of course, the main reason to come is for the turkey. For me, turkey isn't the most flavorful of birds (then again, I've never done an organic, free range heritage turkey before) and it is far too often overcooked, but this one was well cooked and moist, I had no complaints. At the carving station, a nice honey baked ham was also available, offering a nice saltiness and deep flavor if turkey is too boring for you.
turkey being carvedthe turkey carver in action

Other stations included Italian pastas and Chinese noodles cooked to order with a variety of options as well as a grilled meats station. There was sushi and prepared hot foods of both western and Chinese provenience (seafood lasagne or lazi ji anyone?). Of course no buffet is complete without a dessert bar, this one was especially impressive, including cakes, tartlets, a cheese section, homemade ice cream, and some cute little dessert bites.
desserts on offerJust some of the dessert bar offerings

At RMB298, it wasn't cheap, but considering most the other options were above RMB200, comparatively, it was a bargain. The Raffles Thanksgiving buffet is quickly becoming my own Thanksgiving tradition in Beijing, this year's buffet offerings were even an improvement over last year and our party walked out completely stuffed. The only problem with attending a buffet is that you don't get turkey leftovers for Friday's lunch, oh well.

East 33 (东33)
Raffles at Beijing Hotel, Wangfujing
Price: ¥¥¥ out of ¥¥¥¥¥
Rating: 4 out of 5 (a damn good buffet and a great way to celebrate the holiday)

pro: all you can eat&drink, great turkey, excellent raw bar, nice dessert bar
con: RMB298 ain't cheap, no leftovers, some of the sashimi was still frozen

Finally, a Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!


Did the Economic Crisis Hit Thanksgiving?

Is it just me or are there far fewer restaurants, especially hotel buffets, putting on Thanksgiving events tomorrow? Last year, my email box was overwhelmed with 5 star hotels hoping for my presence at Thanksgiving dinners or buffets, this year, to my knowledge only Raffles Hotel and the Legendale have advertised Thanksgiving meals.

As for restaurants, its a lot of the usual suspects, Steak & Eggs, Chef Too, Blue Frog, All-Star, and Salt all have Thanksgiving offerings. Chef Too's home catering option is always popular and is pretty tasty, while Salt's 5-course menu this year looks tasty.

For all you Americans out there, where are you choosing to celebrate the holiday? For me, the hotel buffet is the way to go, the resulting food coma is the closest thing to tryptophan induced sleep, plus since we can't plop down on the couch and wallow away the hours watching football, why not simulate Black Friday and walk some of it off at Wangfujing?

PSA: Beijing Taxi's New Tax

For anyone who took a Beijing taxi today, there was a bit of a surprise (especially if you haven't been paying attention to the news). Midnight saw the start of implementing a RMB 1 gas tax on any fare that goes over 3 km (though this isn't understood by every driver). Most drivers have a book of receipts stating the new policy, however the RMB1 does not show up on the meter, creating a bit of confusion. I'm sure after a few days it will be more widely understood and accepted, but on day 1, it seems there's a lot of confusion for both passengers and drivers.


Long Live the King

I never expected my 1st restaurant review would end up being Burger King, but I couldn't help being excited a few months back when I saw the Wagas space at Xidan's Joy City (tear! I used to really enjoy their pasta) was being turned into a Burger King. You see, I regularly travel to Hong Kong and Shanghai, where the King's domain is wide, however in the capital, the only Burger King was located at the airport, until now that is.

I don't eat fast food in the US, but I guess in part due to the difficulty of finding a good burger, every now and then a BK whopper is mighty tempting (after all, the whopper is the only edible major fast food brand burger in my book).

Last Friday afternoon, the city's only BK outlet was really hopping as plenty of people were trying to understand this new fast food option. For those used to the US or even Shanghai's BKs, this branch is a bit of an upgrade, plenty of seating choices with large booths, nice seats for people watching near the atrium, and barstools. There's a flat screen tv (though it was only showing more about BK), a Beijing city mural, and lots of steely gray/metal tones.
How did we live without whoppers?!?

The food, well, its the King, all of your US favorites with very little localized items. Prices are a few kuai above the other fast food joints, with most "meals" going for between RMB26-30, though one (the bacon cheeseburger whopper I believe) topping out at RMB37. The taste is identical to any BK back home and its a welcome alternative adding a bit of diversity to the fast food scene. It's still early days, but it looks like the king will have a successful reign over Xidan.

Burger King (汉堡王)
Joy City, Xidan

price: ¥ out of ¥¥¥¥¥ (¥42 for 2 people)
rating: 2 out of 5 (I love BK, but its still just fast food, I'm not going crazy)

Boozy Saturday at the Hilton

Hilton's annual bacchanal, otherwise known as the Food and Wine Experience, was held last weekend (sorry for the delay in reporting back) and it was a really great party. The crowd was a mix of industry insiders, wine connoisseurs, the "see and be seen" crowd, and those who wanted to get really, really hammered.

The format of the event was simple, spread out over 2 floors around the hotel's atrium was table after table of wine, you paid your RMB200, got in, grabbed a glass, and roamed. Despite this being the 12th year this event has been held,it was my first time attending and so I didn't have any strategy other than the basic (whites the first go round, reds the next time).
Grace Vineyard's offeringsOfferings from Aussino

When there are nearly 1,000 wines to choose from, one really needs a system, but with over 7 hours to try them all, I'm sure more than a few made that their goal. Old world, new world, and even some rarer Chinese wines were on offer making this a must for any wine consumer who wanted to prepare his order list. Beyond that, there were also cocktail and beer stations if the wine got to be too much.

wine options galoreJust a small example of Grace Vineyards' offerings

The event was wonderful, though I still came away feeling a little let down. If you're going to have people drinking for 7 hours, then you must feed them, the logic is actually pretty simple. However, despite this being deemed the food and wine experience, food was hard to come by. The advertised food stalls consisted of 5 or so different food companies, including a bakery, a chocolatier, and a cheese maker (with only the cheese maker offering decent samples). There were meat "cooking displays", though they weren't well organized and those that attended were ravenous. By 5 pm, there was already people lining up at the restaurant prepared for the 6 pm buffet. Considering the amount of wine on offer, RMB200 for all that PLUS a buffet was a really good deal, but just because its a bargain is no reason to half-ass it on the buffet, which, considering the quality of the options, is what they did.

meat cooking demoThe meat cooking demonstration, the Kobe was transcendent, but everyone was ravenous by this point

My only other tip to the organizer, limit the number of attendees. It was cramped quarters with all the people and tables and it somewhat lessened the experience. That said, I definitely plan on going back next year, though this time prepared with a tasting notebook and pen(s) and definitely not on an empty stomach.


2 of World's Top Late Night Dining Spots in China?!?

Travel + Leisure recently ran an article on top late night dining spots where they quizzed some of the best chefs in the world (and Anthony Bourdain) on their favorite late night restaurants. I was a little surprised to find 2 of them were located in China.

Massive kitchen luminary Daniel Boulud, whose restaurant Maison Boulud a Pekin is arguably Beijing's best restaurant, included one of my favorite spots after a couple of "pops", Jin Ding Xuan (金鼎轩). Boulud offered this about the popular dim sum spot:
“This is a 24-hours restaurant that serves Cantonese cuisine, mainly in small dim sum portions. It’s a great place for people-watching, too. The shrimp dumplings, stewed beef with radish, and spare ribs with black bean sauce are some of my favorites. This is just the kind of steamy hot food that’s especially comforting on a cold, damp Beijing winter night.”
Hmm...people watching? Not sure about that, though you definitely see some interesting characters at the massive Yonghegong location at 3 am. I do agree that their dim sum, especially the fried options and a big bowl of zhou, are perfect to soak up the alcohol consumed during a night on the town. I wouldn't recommend the place before midnight, but then again, this is a list of late night restaurants. What Boulud fails to mention (and why should he, money's no object to him) is that after midnight many of the dim sum are discounted, making it all the better in these tough economic times.

David Chang, the Asian chef who took over New York with his noodles, offered up an equally popular Shanghai spot (with a number of Beijing outlets as well), Bellagio, saying:
"This Bellagio is not a Las Vegas hotel, but a faux-swanky Taiwanese brasserie. There are several locations in Shanghai, and they’re all open at all hours. It’s my favorite restaurant in Shanghai—which I know is sacrilegious—but everything is so delicious, like the pork-belly pot with egg and their weird fried breads. Don’t leave without ordering the shaved ice—it’s a must."
Personally, I tend to prefer some of the late night "da pai dongs" on Shouning Rd, I've been to Bellagio a few times during more "regular" hours and, well, the food is pretty good.

While many of the late night restaurants on the list were located in New York, Tokyo, and Paris, its great to see some Chinese spots getting some love.

Jin Ding Xuan (金鼎轩)
multiple locations around Beijing, but the favorite is the 3 story behometh just north of Yonghegong
77 Heping Li Xi Jie (和平里西街77号)

Bellagio (鹿港小镇)
multiple locations around Beijing, but Gongti branch probably best for late nighters
6 Gongti Xilu (工体西路6号)

Khan of Self Promotion

The first post of the "new era" was a PSA about a mall sale, how boring, I couldn't let that stand for long. You know, I'd like to fashion myself as a "man about town" when it comes to Beijing life enjoying the "good life", nice clothes, good food, and, of course, good wine. I get my wine through Torres' home delivery and if I'm going out to drink a bottle, its typically Enoteca or Big 9, due to their east side location.

Perhaps its because I rarely venture outside of my Chaoyang base, but I'd never realized a new wine shop/bar opened up at Nanluoguxiang until I read the New York Times a few weeks back. That's right, I learned about a new spot in my own city from a US paper. Anyways, it seemed one of the owners of a wine bar named Cambulac, located at Nanluoguxiang, wrote in to the New York Times, started exchanging emails with one of their food writers, and got himself a mention in an article that showed off his wine pairing knowledge.

I've yet to go to Cambulac, it barely gets any mention on most of the usual suspect expat sites, but I must say, after reading the article in the Times, I'm intrigued. Has anyone been? I have't been to Nanluoguxiang in awhile, is it time for a field trip?

Guomao's Annual International Brands Sale Opened Today

The annual international brand "bazaar" that is held this time every year at Guomao began late this afternoon and will go from 11 am to 7 pm from tomorrow to Sunday. If you missed out on today's opening, don't worry, get there at 11 tomorrow and there's sure to be some good stuff left. The sale features many of the brands that are based in the Guomao concourse, including Dunhill, Pink, Stella McCartney, and Mark Jacobs. Last year, I was most impressed with some of the discounts at Lane Crawford's stand, but I'm not sure if they're taking part this year.

For most, this sale will be a pass, prices are often only marked down 30-50% on the "good" stuff, bringing it in line with prices at home while the majority of goods look like fakes that you'd never see in the actual stores. Anyways, to each their own, and if you're in the area, it may be worth it to stop in and take a look.

Ya Dead Yet? Nah, Mon!

And...We're back, and without the football (soccer) season to think about, our mind's focused on the "upcoming" 2010 Olympics, so why not reference a movie about another Olympics that was held in Canada?

Sorry about that bit of babble, but indulge me, we've been gone for a long time. So here's the plan, this blog will undergo a bit of rebranding, the focus will mainly be on the Beijing food and fashion scenes, expect fewer posts a week, but hopefully more quality. There have been a few promising Beijing foodie blogs, but they all end up sputtering out over time, as this is a big area of interest to us and we think we have something to offer on the subject, that's going to be the focus. So expect something like 70% food related posts, 20% fashion/shopping information, and 10% randomness.

If you've dropped us from your blogrolls, shame on you, you're gong to want to add us again! Also, thanks to all who've offered support and encouragement since we've gone silent. The return is thanks to purchasing a Witopia VPN, while its unbelievably slow and frustrating (any recommendations for a better VPN?!?), it gives us access to the world beyond the Firewall. All posts will be cross-posted at Modern Leifeng Inside the GFW for those who have to deal with the evil that is the Firewall, and we'll start out slowly, if all goes well, it may finally be time to purchase our own url.

Thanks to all the readers out there, please come back! And thanks to those who named us one of the Top 50 Blogs on China.

Finally, while this blog has dealt with sports in the past, we're moving all that to our blog Beijing Football (or for those outside of China, you can go to Gongti Legends).


Giving in to the Great Firewall

This site has been run on and off since the fall of 2006, today it is basically dead. It was murdered by the Great Firewall of China, which has blocked blogspot continuously since early June. The crime committed? Originally locating this blog on blogspot.

I've been critical of the government from time to time on this blog, but I've always kept an open, rational mind and tried to see things from the government's point of view. I've never been negative to be negative and I've never attempted to score cheap points by taking the easy way out. I love China, it's my home, and I want to see her get even stronger.

At the same time, I feel beaten down by the government. I can no longer access sites like facebook, blogspot, or twitter. I know how to access a proxy and can get around these bans, but the hassle of it all has made visiting sites that were once part of my daily routine, now they are sporadic at best.

I'm not an enemy of the state, I don't intend on writing things to embarass it, but due to the government's blanket ban, I've fallen victim to it. I get asked at times why the government tries to block information, knowing that things like proxies and VPNs are readily available to get around them.

The answer, because the Great Firewall works. Most, like me, will start to fight at first, but as a site block goes from days to months, we slowly lose the resolve and only the most vigilant continue bothering. I want this site to continue, but the writers outside the Firewall have given up because the number of readers dropped severely after the block, at the same time, writers inside the Wall can no longer write on the site, so everyone just gives up.

If this is the death of this site, then so be it, we'll see if I can continue the good fight. But, if indeed this is the end, for all you "out there", please remember us buried inside the Great Firewall.


My Favorite Place

I love Beijing, I love its streets, I love its food, I love its people. Like any major Chinese cities, there are hundreds, probably thousands of cheap, little restaurants around the city that serve the needs of the people living in the neighborhood. In the past I'd come across such a location, a place where "everybody knows your name", where people from the neighborhood come to have a snack or drink when their wife is busy or when they don't feel like cooking. Every now and then a tourist or foreigner will stumble in, but these are somewhat rare (especially the foreigners who may find it to be too small or not exactly what they're used to).

They don't know what they're missing, though. If they only walked in they'd be greeted by really nice staff, a number of really traditional Beijing dishes (things like mao doufu, baodu, and mending roubing) and other "homestyle" dishes at incredibly reasonable prices. The beer is cold (and only RMB4 a bottle), the baijiu is abundant, and a few doors down is one of Beijing's best yangrou chuanr and chicken wing stands (and he'll deliver to the restaurant for you).

It's not far from one of the city's main shopping areas, where tourists are constantly searching for local culture and local food when all along its right under their noses. It's the kind of place where you can walk out totally stuffed and only have spent around RMB50 or just go in for a chuanr or two, a bowl of noodles, and a beer and leave only RMB15 lighter than when you came in.

It's the kind of place men go to discuss manly problems over beer, it's usually open until 2 am, so all but the latest bar crawlers can still be treated to a snack (though the chuanr guy may close up shop a little earlier), and the staff isn't going to bother you or try to hustle you out. The tables are close together, but not too close, so that you have your privacy, but if there's something interesting on tv or if you make a new friend at the table next door, you can enjoy each other's company. Being a small place with a high rent and drawing from their neighborhood, they understand the idea of service (so rare among restaurants here) and take care of their regulars.

I don't get there as often as I once did, but every time I go back I realize how much I love this place and how great it is. It's not unique, there's probably one similar in every neighborhood, but this one was in my neighborhood and I fell in love with it. While the city has a lot of bars that are great, when I really want to sit down, drink, and chat, this is the place I'm coming. Everyone has their own favorite spot in this large city, this is mine...


No I Don't Want to Have Relations With My Mother (ie Let's Make the Grass Mud Horse Extinct)

Recently, over a glass of wine some of the editors of this blog had a discussion with close friends on Chinese politics. These friends are white collar workers who are enjoying the fruits of the Chinese economic miracle and are equally now concerned about how harshly the economic crisis will attack China. Neither were familiar with the "caonima" craze and both were dismissive of Charter 08. Despite some debate, at the end of the day we all came to the conclusion that too many of these phenomena are focused on the ivory towers of Beijing's campuses and rarely disseminate down to the masses.

In China, revolution comes from the countryside and the feeling is that nothing has changed, despite China's advancements and globalization. If those in the countryside are happy, or at least not taking up their pitchforks, the country (and the Party) will remain safe. No matter how hard the economic crisis hits China, no matter how many middle management types in cities like Beijing and Shanghai get fired, the general feeling was that these people will not protest or cause problems for the government. For many, who are making tens of thousands of RMB a month, the feeling is that they know they're fooling their employers and would be perfectly happy with far less.

Intellectuals will always stir things up and create documents like Charter 08 and net-savvy, snarky young people will come up with things like "caonima", but neither will be very effective or be known widely. If you stop people randomly on the street in Beijing, less than 25% would understand "caonima" as anything other than a vulgar swear word, even if you stop people in the CBD, where many are considered more "world-weary" the number wouldn't be much different.

The "caonima" video/story is vulgar, juvenile, and can only elicit one or two small tee-hees. And unlike a lot of instant internet hits, this one got on the government's radar and was shut down fairly fast. The opinion of these friends, who feel the Chinese government has weathered the storm of the crisis well, was the same as what you'd hear in China a lot over the past 18 years after what happened in 1989, "why bother with politics, things are good now."


Translation Troubles for Chicago

I was a little surprised when roaming around Beijing over the weekend to see a new construction site emblazoned with the Olympics motto "One World, One Dream". Olympic slogans have been in the news lately in Chicago where they realized the original slogan, "Stir Your Soul", doesn't exactly translate well into all languages. Therefore, Chicago 2016 has decided to go with "Let Friendship Shine" instead. The move comes only a few weeks before the IOC comes to town for their city inspection, but I'm sure Hizzoner will have everything ready by then.

For the record, the Chinese translation of "Stir Your Soul" would be something like "燃烧你的激情" while the new "Let Friendship Shine" theme might be translated to something akin to "让友谊大放异彩".

Why Does the New York Times Hate Chinese Food?

Okay, maybe the New York Times doesn't hate Chinese food, but every time they come out with a new version of their "36 Hours" segments on a Chinese city, they tend to go a long way to avoid Chinese food. The most recent Shanghai edition does a better job than the last time they checked out the city, but it still comes up a bit short. The restaurant recommendations are pretty uninspired including 100 Century Avenue (mediocre, overpriced western food), Crystal Jade (mediocre, overpriced dim sum), and Citizen Cafe (more mediocre western food). I do give them credit for bigging up Yang's Fried Dumplings (shengjian bao) which are amazing and unbelievably addicting. Lost Heaven is another crappy choice, if you have only 36 hours in Shanghai, why wouldn't you want to try some local Shanghai cuisine? That said, Lost Heaven, the overpriced (and again mediocre) Yunnan fare on offer is popular with the Shanghai expat crowd, so its not a surprise.

I can get with most of their sightseeing tips, including the Bund/Peace Hotel, the CCP's 1st National Congress site and, the Shanghai Art museum. I also definitely love the suggestion of a massage at Dragonfly, a local chain at a decent price point and very comfortable set up. The nightlife suggestions are mostly "meh", though I can see tourists wanting to hit the Bund for a drink and a night at Shelter is usually a good choice.

What would your ideal 36 hours for a tourist in Shanghai be?

Around Town Monday Morning

Was surprised to see Puma's store at the Place closed down this weekend, but the sign was still up, remodeling or is it the first retail victim of the economic crisis? The Macau restaurant was as packed as ever though....Having not visited Nanluoguxiang and Gulou Dong Dajie in awhile, I was surprised by the large turnover in stores and restaurants in this area, but the people were still lining up for Wenyu Nailao and Plastered and Woo both appeared to be doing great business...During my time in the area, I also sampled a ziran yangrou pie from the pie stand at the northwest corner of Nanluoguxiang, a great mix of Chinese ingredients with the UK/Aussie pie wrapping, especially for RMB5...NLGX recently expanded their shop to include shoe offerings, including the newly hip brand Huili...The venerable Chinese old famous brand, Hundun Hou, is now offering the interesting curry beef hundun...Looking for something different? Just east of Nanluoguxiang's south entrance on Dianmen is a LvRou Huoshao (驴肉火烧)ie donkey meat chopped up with cilantro and green pepper and then added to a long, hot shaobing is unbelievably good and you can make a meal of a couple and a bowl of soup for less than RMB15, perfect for our economical times...tried Guomao Kaochi on Time Out's recommendation and was disappointed, the wings were decent (but not the best I've had) and the service was horrible...

CSL Ticket Prices in an Economic Crisis

The Chinese newspaper, Soccer News, put together an interesting story in the leadup to the Chinese Super League (CSL), the domestic soccer league, season next weekend about how much season tickets cost for each of the 16 teams in the CSL. The chart looks like this (all prices in RMB, teams listed based on their finish last season):

Shandong Luneng
Price: 150, 480, 580, 980, 1380, 2600, 3900
same as last year

Shanghai Shenhua
Price: 240, 600, 960, 1320, 1800, 3360
same as last year

Beijing Guoan
Price: 260, 1500 (VIP)
same as last year

Tianjin Teda
Price (per game): 40, 60, 80, 120, 180
no season ticket available, but individual game ticket prices are same as last year

Shaanxi Baorong
Price (last year): 100, 140, 210, 280, 350, 3500
expecting to increase prices by 10%

Changchun Yatai
Price: 120-150
price lowered from last year's 300-580

GuangYao BaiyunShan
Price: 298, 398
same as last year

Qingdao Zhongneng
Price: 100, 300, 500
price lower than last year

Hangzhou LvCheng
Price: 220, 320, 600, 1000
last year they were called Zhejiang LvCheng, but this year's ticket prices remain the same

Henan Jianye
Price: 202
price lower than last year

Changsha Jinde
Price: 80 (!!!)
price lower than last year

Price: 270-280
price lower than last year

Chengdu Sheffield United
Price: 150, 200, 350, 500
same as last year

Dalian Shide
Price (last season): 200, 300, 450, 600, 1000, 1500
Prices have yet to be announced for 2009, but will be cheaper than last year

And the two promoted clubs:
Price: 100-200
price raised since last year

Chongqing Lifan
Price: no season ticket last year, per game was 10
price will be raised this season

So out of the 16 clubs, only the two promoted teams and Shaanxi, which didn't play all their games in Xian last year and had some of the lowest prices in the league. It will be interesting to see how attendance figures work out this season, but in Beijing, Guoan fans are elated about the squads return to Worker's Stadium, leading to sales of around 10,000 season tickets.


Complex Does Chinese Women

Complex has been putting together lists of the top 9 hottest women from spots around the world and since it started, I was always waiting for the Chinese version. Well, its out and its disappointing. First off, a lot of the individuals aren't even from mainland China, though that should make the young nationalists happy that they were included in the China list. It focuses heavily on stars who've featured in the west and, let's just say, the list isn't really up to date.

Here goes, and I've added where they're actually from in parenthesis:
9. Liu Yifei (Wuhan)
8. Zhao Wei (Anhui)
7. Huang Shengyi (Shanghai)
6. Vivian Hsu (Taiwan)
5. Christy Chung (Canada)
4. Shu Qi (Taiwan)
3. Zhang Ziyi (Beijing)
2. Maggy Cheung (Hong Kong)
1. Gong Li (Liaoning)

Hmm, a very unusual list, especially considering nearly half aren't even from the mainland and it doesn't include China's former Miss World or Chinese favorites like Fan (or Li) Bingbing, Zhang Jingchu, or Zhou Xun. Or if you really want to include a Taiwanese, what about Lin Chiling?!?

What do you think of the list? Who is missing? And sorry, a post on beautiful women and no pictures, such a tease....


Buying a Mobile Phone in China

We've bought way too many mobile phones during our time in China, having either broken them or lost them in the back of taxis (or simply just lusting for the newest and latest tech toy), it seems one of our writers is always changing their phone. The process of buying a mobile phone in China is far different from that of what we're used to being from the US and UK, where phone choices are limited to 5-10 and you only get them from a carrier. In China, Nokia, alone, offers more than 10 choices, and its true of almost any major phone maker. This means you're left with 100s of choices, and those are only the main phone makers, through in smaller Chinese brands and other options and its easy to be overwhelmed. In some cases, there are malls that sell nothing but mobile phones. We don't do many of these "welcome to China" style posts, but after recent experiences, we thought this one is in order.

It seems that everywhere you go sells mobile phones, the company's have their own stores, there are the larger mobile phone shops, the electronics stores, big box retailers like Carrefour, department stores, Silk Alley and the like, and of course taobao is in on the action. Making things harder nowadays is that all phones that legally enter China (ie that taxes have been paid on, the type you'll find in above the board places) all must have wifi disabled.

For many people, no wifi is a major deal breaker, leading them to the grey market. This is the equivalent of a friendly person telling you about a shortcut and leading you into a dark alleyway, it could prove to be quicker, but you're not liking your odds as you could also end up beaten up and with your wallet gone. Grey market products are themselves divided into two categories, "shuihuo" (水货) and "ganghang" (港行). When buying shuihuo, you usually don't know what you're getting and there is no guarantee, you might get lucky and well, you might not. Ganghang is a bit safer because the product will include a Hong Kong receipt and in many cases means that, if for example you buy a Nokia, Nokia will honor their warranty (typically 1 year) and service the phone for you on the mainland. This is not always the case and if say, you buy an iPhone, you're SOL (for the time being) and the phone has to be sent to HK to be fixed. Ganghang phones are usually RMB300-600 more than the same shuihuo version, but still cheaper (and often times considerably so) than the phones that legally enter China.

Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other option, the "shanzhai" (山寨) mobile phone. These phones often look a lot like popular models and may even come packed with features like the ability to use multiple SIM cards or watch tv, all for low low prices typically under US$100. These phones, like shuihuo models, are unpredictable as to how long they'll last, but unlike the shuihuo variety these won't make you cry if they suddenly stop working or are lost/broken as it will only be RMB200-500 down the drain.


Movie Review: Slumdogs vs. Garbage Collectors

The Useless Tree presents an interesting question about whether a film like Slumdog Millionaire would ever have a chance of being seen in China. Unfortunately, some in the Chinese movie industry have ignored the fact that many in the Indian film industry (and Indians in general) are upset at the portrayal of their country in Danny Boyle's Oscar winning movie. Would an Indian ever make a Slumdog? And more importantly for me, would it be possible to have a Chinese version, which examines some of the more controversial topics the country faces?

The Chinese movie industry tends to be about extremes, cinema is either very accessible and mainstream or very artsy and not targeted for mass consumption, or alternatively digging up controversy and end up getting banned. As of yet, few have been able to walk the fine, middle line.

The movie Gaoxing, one of this year's early offerings, based on the novel of the same name by writer Jia Pingwa is definitely targeted as a feel good comedy for the masses. Jia's novel was a hit in 2007 and one of the year's best books, but the movie hasn't received very much critical acclaim. A movie about a poor, peasant garbage collector who goes to the big city, falls in love with a prostitute, and has to face the death of his sibling due to lack of funds to cover the hospital bill doesn't sound like much of a comedy, but it actually is.

Sure, if the movie took a hard look at these issues, like Slumdog, it would most likely be banned by the Culture bureau. It would also kill it as a Chinese New Year movie, which is what the film was targeted as. Gaoxing's main character, Liu Gaoxing, is presented as a likable, optimistic guy who looks on the brighter side of life and eventually gets the girl (even if she's only a "massage girl" with a heart of gold). Nothing too serious is portrayed, Liu Gaoxing seems happy with his lot in life, and the only time the true grit of working as a collector is shown is at a landfill when garbage collectors fight over a newly dumped load of garbage.

Overall the film is entertaining and ellicits a laugh here and there. For those interested in language, its also almost completely in Shanxi dialect. Also, the movie is quite possibly China's first modern musical, as there are a number of long song and dance numbers (far more Bollywood than Slumdog was), including a few hip hop songs. This element gives the movie a strange feeling and overall, it seems better suited for the stage, rather than the big screen. In the end, Gaoxing will give you a laugh or two and help you to feel better, a nice way to escape all the pessimism and negativity surrounding the current global crisis.


Song of the Week: Native Beijinger

Song of the Week will be a new feature highlighting a great Chinese song (or two) that we've had on our mind (or that's been burning up the charts) over the past week. In this week's edition, I'm going with the excellent pop hop song 北京土著 (Native Beijinger) by Zhang Bohong.

The song's been out for a long time (2 years+) and I vaguely remember it when it came out, forgetting it, then recently hearing it used regularly as background music on Beijing tv, caused me to scramble to find it again. After that, I was hooked. It's really catchy and a great example of Beijing hua. Not the best song, but I love the Beijingness of it and the mix of old and new. It's also made its way around the expat blogosphere and so, for those in need, a quality English translation was recently posted. The artist, 18 at the time, is an interesting story himself and a Beijinger who grew up in the hutongs he sings about in the song.

Enjoy the mp3 and have a great weekend!


Another Day

When one of the co-founders of this blog first set up an account on a social networking site using the "modernleifeng" moniker, he quickly received a message from an "old China hand" who had a very weak understanding of Lei Feng and what the Chinese think of him. The debate about whether the Lei Feng story is true or simply a myth and the propaganda machine that built him into a hero during the Cultural Revolution is completely meaningless. When we chose the name "A Modern Lei Feng", it was in part influenced by our Dongbei roots and, of course, the song, but also because we like what Lei Feng stands for. Perhaps its a lie, and its definitely propaganda, but its much like George Washington and his cherry tree, but even more important.

March 5th marks the day the Chinese government set up to honor and remember Lei Feng. To do so, school teachers across the country encourage their students to go out and do small tasks to help other people or hold educational programs promoting social responsibility. This message isn't only important for the kiddies, but for all of Chinese society.

If the spirit of Lei Feng can be co-opted by Chinese (and western) hipsters, pun rockers, why can't it also be used by those who are trying to promote volunteerism and environmentalism. Volunteerism is significantly lacking in China. A self-serving interest and desire to take part in a once in a lifetime event motivated millions of Chinese to apply as volunteers at the Olympics, but the same people are the ones that push in front of you as you're getting on the bus, ignore the lost foreigner, or throw their garbage on the ground instead of taking a few steps and finding the garbage can.

Why can't patriotism be about more than just hating France and feeling insulted from time to time? There are people battling to do the right thing on a daily basis, there are "angels" around Chinese cities and the countryside who are dedicated to helping others or who see someone in need and feel its their civic duty to go and lend a hand. These people are rare, they need to be celebrated. Patriotism isn't only about raising a riot when faced with a (perceived) insult, its about devotion to your country, one of the best ways for most of us to show that devotion is by helping those around us and doing what we can to help the environment.

Honoring the spirit of Lei Feng should be like Mother's/Father's Day and Valentine's Day. It shouldn't be an afterthought once a year, it should be something we live by on a daily basis.


What A Day - 不平凡的日子

Guomao Qiao during lunchtime.

I'm standing at the light in the midst of a large crowd, bikes flowing in front and behind when a middle age woman comes steaming through, walks her bike right over my foot, and doesn't say anything. When I say something, she swears at me as she rides away.

Ahh, I love Beijing...


我跟朋友在一起,聊聊,周围都是人。汽车,自行车像鱼一样穿梭。。。突然有个大妈推着她自行车过来,她的车轧我的脚,一句话没说。。。我受不了,“你咋不注意,你干什么?" 这个大妈,瞥了我一眼,上车就走了,狠狠的说: “妈的,你才干嘛?"



Economic Crisis Creating Opportunity for Some?

The economic crisis has hit the US very hard, that's obvious, but for those in China who may not get back to the States much, its hard to realize how bad things really are, though the horror stories online and from family and friends bring it home. The crisis has quite obviously hit many Chinese factory towns, especially places down south like Dongguan or on the east coast in Zhejiang and Shandong. However, in Beijing and Shanghai, despite it being a regular topic of conversation, the reality is that its only seen in small ways (ie less expats at restaurants/bars). For the most part, white collar workers in these cities have gone (more or less) unscathed up to this point.

While companies aren't desperate to hire new talent, they also aren't laying off people. If you are a Chinese law firm these days, the economic crisis can actually serve as a sort of blessing in disguise. There are some rumors floating about that two of the biggest firms have laid off some attorneys, but these firms are heavily reliant on IPO work and that has all but dried up. Yet at most Chinese firms, things are churning along and lawyers are pretty safe (unless you work at this firm but that has nothing to do with economics). For firms that are more diverse, while work is slow for many Corporate associates, they aren't at risk of being laid off and most ended up receiving a bonus and a (slight) raise, not great, but far better than what their counterparts at foreign firms in Beijing and New York are getting.

Chinese firms typically have more limited expansion plans than their foreign counterparts and the top ones can offer the same service quality you would get at one of the biglaw foreign firms in China. The difference is, of course, they charge about half what biglaw firms do and pay their attorneys even less.

Expect things to get a lot worse for foreign law firms in China over the next year or two. While their home offices are in complete disarray, layoffs (or even the threat of them), will lead top associates (often Chinese citizens) to consider making the move to Chinese firms. Hours are similar at Chinese and foreign firms, but there is a far greater chance for advancement at a Chinese firm for a Chinese native, especially one with experience at a top foreign firm. At the same time, clients are bound to reconsider their firm affiliation and make the economic choice by moving their business to a Chinese firm.

The shift from foreign biglaw firms to Chinese firms has been a slow process since the early 2000s and the crisis could be a major blow that reorganizes the legal market in China.


On a Carousel

If you're involved in the online expat scene in China, there are a few people you come to know, very quickly, almost all in a very positive light, but one name has stood out over the years and it doesn't bring with it positive connotations, Chris Devonshire-Ellis. FOARP has the best, most comprehensive introduction of Mr. Devonshire-Ellis around.

The name led to many stories and blogs in previous years, but little has been heard about him lately, though recently he was back to his old ways, threatening the dean of Shanghai blogging, Wang Jianshuo. However, recently it appears Devonshire-Ellis did something unprecedented among bloggers in China and quite possibly around the world.

In his firm's "China Briefing" newsletter, he published a statement from a chummy "interview" with a Chinese government official in which the official makes very remarkable statements about the yuan, the Chinese currency, that, it seems were completely fabricated. China Law Blog has a great look at the whole story, breaking it down with links to other bloggers and some pertinent questions. Though it's doubtful that CDE could face legal charges for his questionable article, whatever connections he has to the Chinese government are certain to be burned. Pretending to be a journalist will get you in trouble in China, but when you do so and it influences the country's currency, I'd expect major ramifications.

This story is causing a mini-storm on twitter and could end up being the expat community's story of 2009, even though the year's only 2 months old.


Too Good to be True?

"Stop the presses!" I hear myself shouting, before realizing this is a blog and there are no presses involved, but that's the kind of story this is to me. The idea that Nike would dedicate US$200 million to the Chinese Super League (CSL), the Chinese domestic soccer league, over a period of 10 years is just shocking.

Just a few years ago, the league went from large companies sponsoring it (and its tournaments) like Siemens, Pepsi, and Midea to no sponsor, then had a British internet phone company sponsor them and pull out shortly into the season. Kingway, the Shenzhen based brewery, was league sponsor in 2007 a decent step up, but then in 2008, they were replaced by small Chinese wine brand Jinliufu. Siemes, iPhox (the British internet company), and Kingway all signed multi-year deals with the league and ultimately pulled out of them after a season (or less).

The nitty-gritty of the Nike deal looks like this:
  • 2009: US$15 million spread between 12 clubs
  • 15% annual increase of that US$15 million
  • eventual sponsorship of all 16 clubs

So what does this all mean? For one, finally some major muscle is coming in and serving as China soccer's white knight. CCTV recently agreed to broadcast CSL games, after having suspended their broadcast last season. The league still has the stink of corruption, on-pitch battles, and walk-offs, but one of the league's biggest concerns over the past 5 years, sponsorship, will no longer be an issue. In the long run, hopefully this will take the Chinese league from general oblivion into one of Asia's premier leagues. While the national team is probably beyond saving at this point, a good run of form by one of the Chinese teams in the newly expanded Asian Champions League would help the league's reputation.

Currently, only 2 of the 16 teams (last year's winner and runner up Shandong and Shanghai, respectively) wear Nike. While it would be expected Nike would want to very quickly re-establish its ties with Beijing Guoan, the capital club will continue wearing Adidas in 2009.

Nike's signing on is a major investment in Chinese soccer, hopefully this will mark a turning point for all of Chinese soccer, though it should guarantee that the domestic league will be improved. The league begins next month, the past two seasons have gone down to the final match, hopefully the same drama (without the negativity) will be seen this year (and most of all, hopefully Beijing will finally be champions!).


Fireworks and Fire

Events turned surreal tonight as amidst all the fireworks that are going off all over our fair city, a fire appeared to break out at the iconic new (and not yet totally finished) CCTV Building. In fact, the fire occurred at the equally odd shaped building just north of it, known as the TVCC complex (Television Cultural Center).

The fire appears to have started around 8:30 pm, though we first heard about it from colleagues in Guomao around 9:10 pm. After raging for an hour or so, explosions started to be heard and the flames were seen reaching many stories in the air, and the whole process came to an end around 11 pm or so. As of right now, smoke can still be seen coming from the area and some are concerned about collapse. All of subway Line 10 is closed and traffic around 3rd Ring Road is at a standstill as police are keeping people away from the building.

Today is Yuanxiaojie, the Lantern Festival, and it is the final day of Chinese New Year festivities, so its marked by lots of fireworks. Fireworks were being set off in Beijing since early in the evening an speculation is that fireworks are what started the fire. Explosions were heard around the scene, but with fireworks going on all over the 3rd Ring Rd area of the city, it was hard to differentiate at times what was coming from the building and what came from elsewhere.

If you aren't on twitter, its time to get on, as the story broke there well before it was seen anywhere else on the web, a full hour before it made it onto Chinese tv. What is there to take away from all of this? First, lets hope and pray for the safety of everyone who may have been in/around the buildings and also for the first responders. Also, be very careful when setting off fireworks in the city (though fireworks policy is bound to change next year). We'll try to bring more if anything develops through the night and especially tomorrow morning.

*Above photo by Wu Lin. All photographs and content are copyright and can only be used with approval of blog editors.


Hater in the House, Part 2

My problem with the New York Times article on the hip hop scene in China (discussed here), is that there's no reason for that article now. There is no sudden love of the music (despite site views) or anything in 2009 that's popping off that wasn't before. More top acts are coming to China, but the audience is almost exclusively expat (just look at the Roots, Kanye, and Talib shows). There hasn't been a sudden large number of hip hop clubs that have opened up, or live local shows going down, there aren't that many underground ciphers or battles that are going on either. Yes, the clothing has been appropriated and the dancing is very popular, but the music is still just a tiny niche.

Let's first get some things straightened out, hip hop contains four elements: graffiti, break dancing, MCing, and DJing. This is something often forgotten or overlooked by those outside the community, all of them are equally important and there's a big difference between that and rap music.

To be honest, all 4 elements have not even come close to entry in China and its going to be a long time before that changes. Dancing came in first and is unbelievably popular here, with tons of crews even in far flung 3rd tier cities and mainstream classes at gyms and even on tv. In Korea, the dancing came with the music, and while the dancing popped off a lot faster, the music slowly caught up to where there are serious hip hop acts, but in China, we're still a long way from that. You do see some graffiti around town, but because of the strict nature of the police, almost all of it is sanctioned or more pop art than the raw tagging that goes on elsewhere (even in Hong Kong).

DJing is another problem, mainly caused by the difficulty of getting top records. Real DJ's use records and the only way to get them is by having them shipped from back home, making HK or Tokyo runs, or bringing them in whenever the DJ (or friends) return home. Most clubs don't even bother with real DJs, they just use computerized mixes or loops, though some "hip hop" clubs will put somebody who fits the "image" of a hip hop head behind a platform with 2 turntables and tell them to pretend to spin for an hour or two, good money if you can get it.

And finally to MCing, well...We're not there yet, we're nowhere near there. The problem, it seems, especially from reading some of the comments to another blogger, is that there is more a desire to make money than stay true to any art form. Groups that have made it "big" (you could mention Gongfu, but they even make Yin Sanr look gangster) do so with feel good, sometimes even pop, lyrics. There are some decent underground acts who've yet to sell out, but the difficulty is in keeping them together because there isn't a lot of money to be had. There are a lot of expats running around who are sometimes involved in the scene back home and trying to promote it here, some of them are highly skilled and doing a great service, others, well...not so much. There's also too much lack of confidence (perhaps that's the right way to say it?) in some artists to perform straight up hip hop music, all too often you get something more akin to Fred Durst-ian rock rap (but in part, that goes to the lack of influences and the difficulty of getting all kinds of hip hop in China).

Then there are the guys who come from government housing, poor families where both parents were laid off, where the father beat them and their mother, who come from failing schools and instead of rapping about this experience, they talk about "gats" and "ho's", although they've never held a gun and are probably still with their high school sweetheart. I'm not making this a call for conscious rappers or saying that they need to be political, not at all, but talk about your own experiences, you are ghetto, you don't need to pretend to be from the (US) "ghetto."

There is not enough diversity in influences, not enough DJ's who know how to scratch and mix, and far too many hangers on and its made the movement stagnant. The minor glimmers of hope you see from year to year quickly dry up and the scene just feels like its slowly lurching nowhere. The dancing has taken off, but it is already completely disconnected from the music. The clothing style is often more about pissing off one's parents than anything else and is so out of tune with current American hip hop style.

However, it's not all negative, there is some decent, pure hip hop if you dig for it. There are people who are serious about trying to make the scene grow and there are people who truly love the music and aren't just in it for the money. 2009's a tough year economically, but do what you can to support the real hip hop acts when they play live, drop some money on a real CD instead of downloads, hit up websites like which are often doing a great service. The scene is paused, its in its infancy, but that doesn't mean it can't grow.


Why the World Cup Not Coming to China is a Good Thing?

The deadline for bidding on the World Cups in both 2018 and 2022 came and went on Monday and to many people's surprise, China wasn't one of the countries that bid. China was widely expected as one of the bidders this time around and would have been an immediate front runner.

So why didn't they bid? While we here were major backers of the concept of a China bid, we've since reconsidered the idea and decided not bidding was best. Why? Well, let's look at some of the reasons that have been put forth:

1. Chinese Soccer Development
There is a feeling among the "highly intelligent" people at the Chinese Football Association (CFA) that hosting the World Cup when the team is still as bad as it is is not a good thing. It's a matter of face and national pride, which is why this belief is shared by the fans. Much like with the Olympics and China's record 51 gold medal haul, fans want the World Cup at a time when the national team will make the country proud. This is a major reason why on a poll, 89% support the CFA's decision. The problem is that 1. China can always host the World Cup again, and 2. having the Cup here could be a major boon to soccer's growth and development in China.

2. the Olympics
No, not Beijing 2008, but Harbin 2018 or 2022. If all goes well with this month's Winter Universaide in Harbin, the city has high hopes to seriously bid for the Winter Olympics (unlike their 2010 bid). It seems the national sports authorities are more focused on this (and building China's winter sports power) instead of focusing solely on one sport, soccer. Also, development of a winter sports program will be far easier than making the national soccer team good. What's the problem with this? London in the UK and Sochi in Russia are already hosting the 2012 and 2014 Olympics, but both bidding for 2018/2022, while Tokyo and Chicago are in the running for 2016 and both Japan and the US are bidding as well. Some even think that hosting the Olympics could be an advantage to sealing a World Cup bid.

3. Money
Yes, we're in the midst of a global financial crisis and China has been hit hard. With the Olympics debt yet to be paid, adding a World Cup burden on top of that could be a bit much for the country to handle.

4. Venues
This is the final one and, to me, the most important of the 4. China simply isn't prepared to host. China only has 3 soccer specific stadiums (in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chengdu), but all of them have a capacity of less than 40,000, the minimum to be used in the World Cup. In China, there are beautiful new stadiums in Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang, and Guangzhou and all would likely host games, however all (and an older one in Shanghai) are surrounded by running tracks. In fact, I'd venture to guess that almost every stadium in China over 40,000 is a multi-use stadium with a running track, keeping the fans far away from the field. Therefore, either a lot of new stadiums (which would undoubtedly go unused or make older ones redundant) would need to be built or the fan experience would be severely lacking.

It would be great for China to host the World Cup, especially because it may be the only way China gets into a World Cup in the next 10 years, and while soccer needs to be developed here, the CFA made the right decision in not choosing to bid for the 2018/2022 World Cup.