This got me thinking… even if you only pay 5 RMB per pirated DVD in China, it only takes about 12 movies per month to hit the equivalent of $8.99. I know many people here who watch far in excess of 12 DVDs per month, and they rarely ever watch the same DVD again, leading to piles and piles of unwanted DVDs, and just tons of DVD waste in general. And this Netflix plan is actually a legal alternative.
The way it works is you sign up online (yes, with a credit card), and then they immediately mail the Netflix PS3 disc (required for streaming) to your US address. Your two-week free trial starts at the same time.
There’s not really time to receive the disc in the States, and then ship it to China and still have time to enjoy the free trial. The people at Netflix are very nice and accommodating, however. So I had my dad mail the Netflix disc to me in China, then called up Netflix’s toll-free number (a free international call using Skype). I explained that I had received the disc, but hadn’t been able to try it yet (they can verify this), so the free trial had expired. Could I have another free trial? Oh, and by the way… I’m in China.
The customer service representative was happy to help me out, but let me know she wasn’t sure if it would work in China. Netflix is working on offering the streaming service internationally, but the movie studios are holding it up. I was hoping that Netflix was depending on very few people going to the trouble of shipping a disc to a US address and then re-mailing it to another country.
Anyway, after I inserted the Netflix PS3 disc, there was a rather long wait (2 minutes?) before the screen came up with the verification code. My customer service representative used that to reactivate my free trial. I could then browse all movies through the PS3 interface. I was told to try playing one. That’s where I got this message:
So Netflix is quite thorough in their streaming setup, it would seem. I’m disappointed; I was hoping Netflix could give me a (almost) legal alternative to buying pirated DVDs in China, and at a competitive price point. I would definitely pay Netflix a monthly fee for this service because:
1. It reduces waste
2. It rewards the creators of the films and the legitimate distributors
3. It’s super convenient and competitively priced
For now, the best similar alternative is very illegal: download movies to one’s home computer via bittorrent, then stream them to the PS3/TV across the network using PS3 Media Server.
What Netflix is doing really gives me hope that a legal, economically feasible alternative is on the way, though.
Cheap DVDs are one of the well-known perks of living in China. For roughly $1 per disc, you can buy almost any movie or recent TV series. There’s a huge market for this form of entertainment, and it creates two significant forms of waste material.
Some of the Chinese DVD vendors are using enough packaging these days to make even the Japanese blush. A recent DVD purchase of mine revealed the following layers of packaging:
1. Cellophane wrap
2. Cardboard display sleeve
3. Plastic box
4. Paper envelope
5. DVD sleeve case
6. Flimsy plastic sleeve
…and inside that was the actual DVD. The Chinese vendors are getting more elaborate with their packaging than the real (unpirated) DVD sellers. Why? Almost all of it goes straight into the garbage, and while some of the packaging may look good on the shelf, I can’t see the need for 6 layers of it.
Bag o’ crappy DVDs
These pirated DVDs are essentially as disposable as a magazine. After one view, you might be ready to get rid of it, but if you want to keep it, you can.
I remember when I first came to China I thought that every DVD I was buying was going into “my collection.” Well, you don’t have to be here long to realize that your collection will very quickly grow beyond manageable size if you keep everything you buy. And clearly not every DVD you buy is worth keeping, even if the picture quality is excellent.
So now after I watch a DVD, if it’s not deemed worthy of keeping (and most aren’t), it goes directly into the “bag of crappy DVDs.” I usually just end up giving that bag to my ayi. Not sure what she does with them.
How about you? What do you do with your unwanted DVDs? It’s a strange problem to have, but when I look at the amount of DVDs that are bought and sold on the streets of China, I’m reminded that it must add up to an awful lot of DVD waste.
> This week’s newsletter goes out to my DVD lady, who not even one day after being told to shut shop by the filth, opened right up again and ripped me off on a shite copy of Hellboy II.
> That’s the kind of tenacity that’s going to make this the century of China.
I’ve heard about the “Olympic DVD Crackdown,” but I haven’t tried to buy any lately. With my computer in the shop, though (it was the video card fan that broke, causing the computer to overheat and shut down), I might try.
1. Gladder: an auto-proxy addon for Firefox. Very convenient! Unlike TOR, it’s not either “always on” or “always off.” Just works for the sites you need it to work on. How did I not find out about this sooner?? (Via JP)
2. Olympic Game Piracy. Shameless. The best thing to do about this is to spread the word when it happens and turn up the scorn. (Via Dave)
3. The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail: a photo journey. Don’t let the use of Comic Sans fool you; this is one hardcore mountain climb. Make sure you see the pictures toward the end…
Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)
Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!
One of the nice things about living in a country with a total lack of respect for intellectual property laws is that if you really need to, you can have an entire book photocopied for cheap.
I borrowed a book from my professor which compiled the results of various investigations into foreigners’ studies of Mandarin Chinese. There were quite a few investigations with some relevance to my own research, so I really wanted to buy a copy of the book. None of the bookstores in Shanghai carried it, though, and the bookstore employees seemed to indicate that special ordering it would be a long, difficult process. Even good old 当当网 (China’s most famous online book seller) didn’t have it.
Rather than launching a long crusade to track down a seller of the book, I finally just had my professor’s copy photocopied in a little shop near the school. The book’s cover price was 29 RMB. My photocopied version, bound and all, was 25 RMB.
I still would have rather bought the official book, but this convenient alternative is not so bad.
[For those of you interested in the specifics, the charge was 0.1 RMB per page, but each page was A4, horizontal, covering two pages of the original. So the 450 page book came to 22.5 RMB total, plus 2.5 RMB for binding. I dropped the book off in the evening and picked up my copy the next day around noon.]
I passed by a tattoo shop near my home the other day and snapped a picture of it. I briefly mused that with more and more Chinese tattoo shops opening, maybe foreigners can come to China to get their tattoos and finally get the Chinese characters right! (Of course then most people would have a language barrier to deal with, but that seems more surmountable to me than depending on a random tattoo artist to really know Chinese characters.)
Anyway, after looking at the picture of the shop at home, I decided to check out its website, yueyutattoo.com. Here’s what greeted me:
I hadn’t paid any attention to the Chinese name of the store until I saw its website. The tattoo shop is capitalizing on the success in China of the TV show Prison Break to sell its tattoos. The Chinese name for “Prison Break” is 越狱 (Yuèyù). I understand the main character has a big tattoo vital to the storyline.
Actually, the movies above were not pirated. They were purchased in Carrefour, a reputable grocery store, for about 20 RMB each. My point is… how can you tell?
A lawyer friend of mine recently visited China. He wouldn’t buy any pirated DVDs because he had heard horror stories of a friend of a friend trying to bring back fifty DVDs and getting busted by U.S. Customs, and fined something like $1,000 per DVD. Scary.
But if I bought fifty of these legit DVDs at Carrefour and tried to take them back home, how would customs know they’re not fake? You can buy pirated DVD-9 DVDs that look just like these. The way I see it, you’d have to show your Carrefour receipt. Your faded, blurry scrap of paper written all in Chinese. Would that really work?
And if it did work, does that mean that all you need to get your DVDs through customs is a receipt? Those would not be hard to produce. Something doesn’t fit.
Does anyone really get busted for bringing pirated DVDs back into the States? If so, can one also get through with legitimate Chinese DVDs? I really wonder this.
I saw Spider-Man 3 in the theater yesterday (May 2nd) here in Shanghai. Yup, that’s two whole days before North America (or two and a half if you count in time difference). Oh yes. This is why I moved to China.
It felt like the movie was barely promoted here, though. There were ads for it in Cloud Nine, the mall where I saw it, but I didn’t see much promotion elsewhere. What’s the point of the early release in Asia if you don’t promote it? You’re just making it easier on the DVD pirates.
Oh yeah, so the movie… pretty good. Some good action scenes. Venom looked cool. Just don’t forget that at its core it’s still a comic book.
I recently went to my local video game store and asked when God of War 2 was coming out (yeah, I’m a little excited about this game). They told me March 15th. Well, this past week at ChinesePod was really busy, working hard to implement all kinds of new features.
Yesterday (March 16th) after work, I met my wife for dinner. She asked about God of War 2. I had forgotten about it. We rushed over to a nearby video game store, and the conversation went something like this (keep in mind that the normal price in Shanghai is 5 RMB per PS2 game):
> Me: Do you have God of War 2?
> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) Yes.
> Me: How much?
> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) 20.
> Me: 20?! Why??
> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) It’s DVD-9 and it’s brand new.
> Me: So how long is it going to be 20?
> Shop Owner: (not looking up from his game) Come back tomorrow and it’ll be 10. No, wait, 15.
> Me: Forget it.
Then my wife and I headed to our local video game store. We were afraid it would be closed, but it wasn’t. They had God of War 2, but the boss told me it wasn’t working on a lot of people’s PS2 machines. When I tried to pay, he insisted on giving it to me for free, because I had recently helped him out with something.
When I got home it took about 5 tries, but it worked.
Today John B informed me that that same shop is charging 15 RMB for the game.
Today while grocery shopping at Carrefour I discovered a rather extensive collection of non-pirated DVDs. It was really kind of shocking. I’m not talking about just Roman Holiday or Charlie Chaplin or whatever; I’m talking about movies that were in theatres in the States in the past year. Most were priced at about 20 RMB. While that’s still close to triple the pirated price tag, it’s moving into the affordable range. With DVDs priced at 20 RMB, many Shanghai consumers could still afford them (although they might have to get choosier) if the police were ever to really crack down on DVD piracy instead of just pretending to.
Kung Fu, Season 1
But anyway… this post is about the old TV series with David Carradine, Kung Fu (Chinese title 功夫, not to be confused with the Stephen Chow movie of the same name). I found Season 1 on DVD at Carrefour priced at 118 RMB for the 6-disc set. Anti-piracy saint that I am, I plunked down all that cash for the official version.
When I think about it, the TV show Kung Fu was probably my first exposure to “Chinese culture” growing up, aside from the occasional Chinese restaurant. I was never very interested in China until about two years before coming here, so it’s kind of interesting to revisit one of my earliest sources of Chinese cultural input to see what I think of it now. I remember watching bits of the TV show with my dad as a child and finding it pretty boring. So now, about 20 years later, I have a chance to see what I missed.
I was also curious what Chinese people think of this TV show… I mean, it’s a story about a Shaolin monk in the American Old West, but it was written in the 70’s, mainly by Americans Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman. I’m just going to take a wild guess here and say that they’re probably not eminent sinologists. The chances of massive cultural gaffes are great. You have tons of flashback scenes of the young protagonist at Shaolin Temple, and you can’t watch 5 minutes without someone spouting some sort of Eastern philosophy. Bruce Lee was co-creator, though, so maybe he made sure they got it mostly right?
Not being a journalist, I’m not bound to do any real research about this kind of thing, so I simply asked Xiao Wang (my ayi). She was very familiar with the show, and though it was great. Well, cool… at least some Chinese like it. She didn’t erupt into spontaneous laughter, anyway.
Three little details I noticed after watching the first episode:
1. The main character of the showed is called Caine. His name is written in the Chinese subtitles as 凯恩. This is also the Chinese name of Ken Carroll, co-founder of ChinesePod, as well as of his Kaien English School. Coincidence??
2. In one scene there are two clear references to Shaolin Temple as being in Hunan. But it’s not. It’s in Henan. The Chinese subtitles got it right.
3. Caine’s full name is Kwai Chang Caine. Apparently the Chinese translators couldn’t make any sense of that as a Chinese name, so they called him 凯恩· 张.
If you want English audio, the DVD won’t let you turn off the Chinese subtitles. It’s not a big deal except that I can’t help reading the subtitles. So I end up nitpicking the translation even though I don’t want to. On the plus side, though, I’ll learn how to say things like, “when you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave” in Chinese. And living in China, you know that’s going to come in handy.
UPDATE: Once upon a time, Prince Roy offered insight into the issue of Kwai Chang Caine’s real name and the location of Shaolin Temple.
Last night while on an evening stroll around Zhongshan Park I was surprised to discover that the pirated book man (he pushes his goods around in a big cart) had a copy of the Chinese version of Freakonomics.
The book was good quality, except for the occasional misalligned printing which plagues pirated books. The cover certainly looks fine, although I was disappointed to see the trademark apple/orange image (see the book’s own website if you’re unfamiliar with the book) replaced by the lame wolf/sheep image. Why would they do that?
The other thing is the name. The translator chose to represent Freakonomics, a blend of the words “freak” and “economics” as 魔鬼经济学, which literally means “devil economics.” OK, so the name Freakonomics is hard to translate, but “devil economics?” Yet another translation challenge unmet. Maybe 惊济学?
Well, I’m not really sure if “plagiarism” is the right word exactly. The other day I stumbled upon a Chinese article concerning the 校花 of various colleges and universities in China. I find the whole concept of 校花–a “campus babe” representing the best in feminine beauty that a school has to offer–pretty sexist, but China holds no monopoly on sexism, and that’s another matter altogether.
The point of the article is that pictures of these pretty girls–supposedly students at certain schools–are often posted online (presumably by members of those schools), but the girls in the pictures are sometimes not students of the named schools at all. In fact, in some cases, the girls in the pictures are even fairly well-known stars.
The girl at the left is not a student of Peking University as someone online claimed, but a Taiwanese star. The girl in the middle is not a student of Northeast Agricultural University as claimed, but a Taiwanese cartoonist. The girl at the right is not a student of Nanjing University of Science and Technology as claimed, but a Hong Kong star. The original article gives many more examples, including pictures of Japanese and Korean stars.
I’m not sure how to classify this kind of false representation, but its existence here in China doesn’t surprise me. It does, however, somewhat amuse me.
Have you ever heard of Exploding Dog? It’s a website where Sam Brown, the artist, takes suggestions for titles, then turns them into simple, awkward drawings that can leave quite an impression. I’ve known about Exploding Dog since way before my more recent affair with webcomics, and I’ve even linked to it here once (wow, that old entry feels a little embarrassing now…).
Anyone at all familiar with Exploding Dog knows that although the drawings are very simple, they have a very distinctive style. Therefore when 21st Century (China Daily’s youth-oriented English language newspaper) put an Exploding Dog illustration on its front cover, it wasn’t hard to recognize. The use of the image was not approved. The illustration is only marginally relevant to the text beside it, and Exploding Dog isn’t featured anywhere else in that issue.
Click on the image at the right to see a larger image of the newspaper cover featuring the Exploding Dog art. Apparently someone removed the text from the original artwork and then did a mirror image of it.
Ah, plagiarism in Chinese news. Not news, really. I just happened to notice it this time because, being an “old-timer China blogger” I was interviewed for that edition. My painstakingly crafted interview responses were then trimmed way down and branded “EASY.” Heh. Take a look.
I’ve talked about funny examples of pirated DVDs’ English subtitles and funny examples of pirated DVDs’ Chinese subtitles. These are both pretty commonplace in China. Another source of pirated DVD amusement is the actual DVD jacket the pirates create to sell the movies on the streets.
In many cases the pirates do an extremely professional job, creating either an almost exact replica of the official release, or an original design which is hardly inferior to the official DVD release’s case design. However, it is also not unusual to find DVD jackets with English text thrown on for appearance only (why would Chinese customers care if the English synopsis is totally wrong?). This happens most often when the DVD jacket is created way before the DVD’s official release. This can have hilarious results. I once saw an English synopsis on the back of a pirated DVD jacket that looked something like this: “Sfhtmcp hirncoae nsf doijwp sd dgv pmayq icbs ht yfksbn gxksmzbnc hfjr oisjgf tcwtq nsiv cpsj Fxhstr utn vgbgj doivpb mndlc jvnbh dyr.” You get the idea. The more “professional” pirates often turn to movie reviews on the IMDb. Sometimes they choose less than favorable reviews to display prominently on the DVD jackets, however.
Below is just one example of this phenomenon. Note the quotes on the front at the bottom, and at top right (in red) on the back.
The movie’s full title is Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. In case there is any doubt, it is indeed a horrible movie. I got through about 20 minutes of it before I turned it off. (Someone gave it to me!)
That’s right, the PS2’s manufactured in China cost more, and according to the owner the quality isn’t as good. I asked the owner why. The conversation went something like this:
> Me: Why are the ones made in China more expensive? Shouldn’t they be cheaper?
> Owner: Sony is Japanese! The Japanese always do this! They make good stuff and sell it to the USA, then they sell all the crappy electronics in China, for higher prices than the good stuff sells for in the USA! Why do you think we hate the Japanese?
> Me: Ummm, I thought that had something to do with historical events…
> Owner: No, this is why!
A very “Shanghai moment,” that.
The imported controllers are more expensive than locally manufactured ones, though. The owner highly recommends them, as the locally manufactured ones break/wear out too easily.
In that shop, pirated PS2 games go for 5 RMB each! I remember when I was a teenager I had to mow quite a few lawns to earn the money I needed to buy the NES cartridges I was dying to have. Nowadays, kids in Shanghai can get the newest video games for pocket change. The cost of the system itself is a bit prohibitive, though.
While I was in the shop, there was a high school boy in there seeking out the owner with all the anxiety of a parent going to visit a sick child in the hospital. It seems his mom got so fed up with his excessive game playing that she picked up his PS2 and smashed it against the ground. The owner said he could actually fix it! Meanwhile, the kid, in desperate need of his video game fix, was returning to the shop every few hours to inquire about the status of his precious PS2.
One of the games the owner was recommending was God of War. Now, I pretty much outgrew video games in college (except for the occasional game of StarCraft or original Alien Hominid), but this game had the magic to draw me completely back in. At least for a little while. There’s just one word for this game: stunning. (Also shockingly violent — not for the kiddies!) Greek mythology has never been so fun (even if it is a bit off).
If you know me, you surely know about my staunch anti-piracy stance. All this rampant piracy in China should not be supported.
But yeah, I’ve been playing quite a bit of PS2 lately.
Winterson.com, a recent addition to the CBL, has an awesome entry entitled “episode iii, the backstroke of the west” (the title will make sense when you read the entry). I had a really good time writing my “Closer Subtitle Surrealism” entry, and it gave me ideas for other similar subtitle-related posts. Jeremy has beaten me to one of them: hilarious English subtitles on Hollywood films. This phenomenon comes about when pirates do their own shoddy English subtitles to new releases. Here is just one example (and not the best):