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?"