What is the message in this ad for Shanghai’s chic dining/shopping area, Xintiandi (新天地)?
I’m almost certainly reading too much into it, but this is what I see:
– To the Chinese women: “Hey, pretty, young, fashionable Shanghainese women! Come to Xintiandi, the place to be seen. Not only will men ogle you, but lots of handsome, singleforeign men will ogle you! If you’re crazy enough not to want that, there are also Chinese men, most of whom are rich!”
– To the foreigners: “Hey, handsome male foreigners! We know you’re looking for Zhang Ziyi-esque women, and Xintiandi has them in droves. Don’t worry, the submissive local males will let you have them (as if you were worried!), and the women all want you, anyway.”
– To the Chinese men: “Hey, rich Chinese men! Come to Xintiandi, where you can flaunt your money with pretty young women and foreigners. Oh, but remember that it’s only polite to offer the ladies to the foreigners first.”
What has Xintiandi got against Chinese men? There may be tons of foreigners in Xintiandi, but I’m pretty sure the Chinese men are still the ones spending the big bucks. So for this reason the ad doesn’t make a lot of sense.
What have I got against Xintiandi? Nothing, really. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t have any deep philosophical reasons for that. I’m mostly just cheap. In the past year I’ve started going there fairly often after work at ChinesePod for happy hour at Kabb. 20 RMB for Tiger draught is not bad.
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.
1. A sound uttered to show contempt, scorn, or disapproval. (source: Dictionary.com)
2. Boo is a term that is derived from the French word “beau” meaning beautiful. In 18th century England it meant an admirer, usually male. It made it’s way into Afro-Caribean language perhaps through the French colonisation of some Caribean islands. [Boo now means] girl or boyfriend. (source: UrbanDictionary.com)
On my daily rush hour commute to ChinesePod, I’ve noticed something about the subway commuters on Line 1 and Line 2 in Shanghai. Everyone is in a hurry to get to their destinations, but some so much so that they are actually running. Of these morning subway runners, the vast majority are female. I don’t have any statistics, but I’ve been noticing this for weeks, and I figure the females outnumber the males by something like a 5:1 ratio.
OK, so why? Why do the women run in much larger numbers than the men? Are there reasons for this? I’m not sure, but I have a few crackpot theories:
1. Running is not manly. (Chinese men are late with dignity.)
2. The men are not the ones always running late.
3. The men are more secure in their jobs (i.e. the women feel they face a greater risk of being fired or getting in trouble if they’re late).
4. The women actually take their jobs seriously.
5. The women actually have jobs.
6. The “rush rush rush” Shanghai atmosphere affects the female psyche more potently.
Is this a universal phenomenon or a Shanghai phenomenon? I don’t even know; I’ve never really lived in a big city until Shanghai.
My ChinesePod co-worker Colleen, new co-host of The Saturday Show and outstanding Canadian, is a very sweet girl. I was shocked to hear that she recently fell victim to violence on the streets of Shanghai.
She was walking along the side of a downtown street in broad daylight. Bicycles were going by, as usual. Suddenly an oncoming cyclist stuck out his arm and intentionally clotheslined her, knocking her to the ground. As she lay on the street, stunned, she heard her attacker laughing as he rode away.
It was really hard for me to believe this story. Shanghai is usually so free of violent crime — especially against foreigners. I can’t imagine what possessed the guy to do that.
I’ll resist the urge to try to start a Chinese-style internet witch-hunt for “a Chinese guy on a bike in a jean jacket.” This kind of thing really is rare.
> Verizon Business, part of the No2 US phone carrier, announced this month plans to build an undersea cable with five Asian partners. It will directly link China with the United States and is due for completion by the third quarter of 2008.
> The company said on Thursday it would use the Trans-Pacific Express cable to launch a “mesh” communications network to ensure uninterrupted voice and Internet service in case of a disruption by re-routing traffic on alternate lines.
Last Monday I had the pleasure of meeting Wen Ling (温凌) of Ziboy.com in the flesh. Although I interviewed him once upon a time, we hadn’t communicated much since then. I was happy, then, to get an e-mail from him out of the blue saying he was going to be in town and did I want to meet up.
I was hoping that he was going to show up with a camera around his neck, because the only angle I could possibly recognize Wen Ling from would be the absolute profile shot. (He never posts any other photos of himself.) He didn’t show up with his camera out–and in fact I never even saw his camera–but he had no trouble identifying me.
Talking with Wen Ling, I found out he has a personal connection to Shanghai. He thinks of himself as a Beijinger, but he actually spent some of his early years in Shanghai, his mother’s hometown. He even understands quite a bit of Shanghainese. Still, he wouldn’t want to live here. Beijing is his home.
There was one point in our conversation which, to me, made Wen Ling feel distinctly non-Shanghainese in his outlook. He told me he no longer works as a photojournalist, even though it paid well and he really enjoyed it. He quit the job because what he wanted most was to pursue his art. As a photojournalist, he simply never had time for it.
I know this type of person exists in Shanghai too, but they seem so marginalized here. Somehow in Beijing pursuing art is just natural…
Last Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Beijing on ChinesePod business. I can’t really talk about that, but hopefully our reasons for being there will all be public by the end of the month. This trip was significant for other reasons, though — I got to (briefly) experience Beijing as a non-tourist for once, and to finally meet some guys I’ve been communicated with over the internet for years (that’s hard to believe) without ever meeting.
The last time I was in Beijing was 2001. I visited twice that summer, once with my friend Ari as part of a big long trip, and the other time with my little sister. It had been 5 years since I saw it last, and with all the preparations for the Olympics, I was looking forward to seeing all the changes. I didn’t get to see any, though. My last visit to Beijing had been as a tourist, and this time I didn’t go to any of those same places. Geographically, the visits didn’t overlap a single bit. Even points of arrival and departure were different; this was my first time flying to and from Beijing. So without any physical overlap, I couldn’t really compare from a chronological perspective at all.
My impressions of Beijing were very good this time, though. The weather was great, and the areas of Beijing I spent time in were all pleasant. I think what impressed me most, though, was the laid back feel of the city. I know that Shanghai is extremely fast-paced and business-oriented, but perhaps I had thought Beijing was too, at least to a greater degree. To me, Beijing felt more comparable to Hangzhou in that respect. In Hangzhou, people go to West Lake to just sit around and play cards all day long. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Shanghai.
I met up with Roddy (Chinese Forums, Signese) first, and a little later Joel (Danwei) joined us at a cafe/bar on Houhai. Brendan (Bokane.org) organized a get-together at a bar called Sandglass (a very predictable selection, according to Roddy). There I met David (AdsoTrans) and Jeremy (Danwei, Danwei TV).
It’s always interesting to meet in person the people you only know through online communication. There were some differences between my expectations of these guys and what I actually experienced.
I have chatted with Roddy a lot over the years, and we’ve helped each other out with online projects more than once. I was already familiar with his sense of humor. Although I didn’t know exactly what he looked like before I met him, there weren’t any surprises there.
Joel has been an extremely helpful commenter on Sinosplice over the years, and has helped me out with various translation issues. As any reader of Danwei knows, the man is an impressive translation powerhouse, and he’s an all around good guy as well. (He even bought me an ice cream.) No real surprises here.
I had actually met Brendan once before in Shanghai, but that time was brief and alcohol tinged. This time I got a better feel for the guy, and I think he’s pretty much exactly like his online persona with one big exception: he’s more cheerful in person.
What does one expect of a computational linguist who developed a free, impressive online machine translation system? A quiet, geeky guy, that’s what. I had chatted with David over IM multiple times, but I guess I didn’t get a good feel for his personality. In person he was funny and outgoing and didn’t look at all like what I expected. Also, he’s Canadian!
I have a lot of respect for Jeremy, but somehow I got the impression of a rather formal, business-like person. Was I unfairly stereotyping budding media moguls? Anyway, Jeremy turned out to be a really funny, gregarious guy. It was really good of him to stop by after just getting back from a blogger conference in Hangzhou. I imagine he is quite bloggered out now.
Hopefully I’ll be making trips to Beijing more often in the future. Shanghai is the place for me for the foreseeable future, but Beijing is definitely a place I’d like to spend more time.
When I went to Japan in 1997 to study for a year, it was my first time out of the United States. I knew Japan would be different, but I had very few expectations. I went out there with a year’s worth of Japanese, eyes wide open, and a brain ready to soak it all up. Of the many, many cultural peculiarities I noticed in Japan, one of the most convenient was the tissue pack advertising.
It’s a simple method. Someone goes to a crowded metropolitan area with a box of small packs of tissues. On the tissue packs’ plastic wrappers is advertising. People are quite often willing to accept free tissues, and happily carry the advertising with them wherever they go. Everyone wins.
When I first arrived in China, I discovered how important tissues are here. You use them as napkins, you use them as paper towels, you use them as toilet paper. You really shouldn’t go anywhere without a small personal tissue supply. I found myself really wishing that the Chinese would adopt the tissue pack advertising method.
Here in Shanghai the primary method of street advertising is handing out business card-sized ads in and around the subway stations. I imagine it doesn’t work well at all. The workers handing out the cards are extremely annoying, and no one wants the cards. Subway sanitation workers are always sweeping them up. It seems like the tissue pack advertising method would be perfect for China.
I have actually seen the method used here in Shanghai at least twice. I got a free pack of ad-swaddled tissues outside of the South Huangpi Road (黄陂南路) subway station just last week, and I saw it once before, a long time ago. This really needs to catch on.
These were all spotted on t-shirts on the streets of Shanghai:
– Herpes Club
– Naturally Two-Two
– Tomorrow is Peace. Tomorrow is Yesterday.
I have no explanation for the first two, although to be fair, “labial” is a legitimate linguistics term, and “herpes clubs” actually do exist (although I can’t imagine there being t-shirts for it). The second one is obviously a knock-off of the Taiwanese clothing company “Naturally JOJO.” The last one is confusing because there are no grammar or spelling mistakes, and it almost makes me want to believe that something clever is going on, but in the end it really just doesn’t make any sense at all.
I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about IPTV lately. The image at left is the ad I now see every month in my phone bill from China Telecom. So what is IPTV? According to Wikipedia:
> IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) describes a system where a digital television service is delivered using the Internet Protocol over a network infrastructure, which may include delivery by a broadband connection. For residential users, IPTV is often provided in conjunction with Video on Demand and may be bundled with Internet services such as Web access and VoIP.
I’m going to be moving into a new apartment soon, and IPTV is an option I’ve been considering. I’m not sure how wide the offerings are, if it compares with satellite TV (which can be a slight hassle because it’s technically “illegal”), and how easy it would be to use in conjunction with satellite TV.
Oh, and then there’s also the whole “why pay for something you can get for free online already?” issue. Well, it’s not that simple. The internet here is slow. YouTube is slow. Bittorrent downloads take a long time. The IPTV connection should be fast; real “video on demand.” For the time being, it may very well be worthwhile.
I’ve done some internet research, but I think what will help inform me the most is to make a trip to the China Telecom building (I need to go there to pay an overdue phone bill anyway) and see what they can tell (and hopefully show) me.
I was equally surprised, then, to discover fortune cookies in Shanghai recently. Some company was offering free fortune cookies at Zentral (a yuppie restuarant). The catch, of course, is that there’s advertising on one side of the fortune slips.
On a side note, one thing that really annoys me about fortune cookies is when my fortune is not even a fortune. Take these fortunes for example. “Home is where the heart is” is not a fortune! You get fortunes like these all the time. I don’t want some cute motto, I want a fortune. I want to know what my future holds. The more specific, the better. For example, “you have only three days to live” would be an awesome fortune to get. It doesn’t have to be true; in fact, I rarely make my major life decisions based on fortune cookie fortunes. (Take note, fortune cookie makers.)
哦哟! is a Chinese expression that means something like, “whoa!” But 哦哟！视频 (www.oyoo.com) is a video guide to the shops along Shanghai’s subway lines. Ads for the new website are currently plastered all over the Shanghai subway system.
It’s an interesting concept. You take a bunch of short videos, set them to poppy music, and put them on the site in YouTube fashion. But the videos taken are all of shops along Shanghai’s subway line. They’re organized by subway stop as well as by category: 好吃 (food), 好玩 (entertainment), 好看 (clothing and accessories), 好家 (home decoration/furnishing), 好学 (education), 好朋友 (partners?).
I must say, the videos offered are all pretty dull (with the possible exception of the “Transformer Heaven” shop video); they’re all basically just poorly shot commercials. I also don’t see a lot of evidence of activity. I’m not sure that 时代报 (Metro Express) has what it takes to make this site work, but it’s good to see the Chinese experimenting. Other encouraging signs: the site is relatively free of the cluttered design that plagues Chinese websites, and the page looks fine in Firefox!
I thought this kind of thing could only be seen in movies and comic books. A very old lady slowly shuffled to the edge of the street. As the light changed she glanced fearfully to both sides, looking very uncertain at the start of her journey across the street. A middle-aged woman–clearly a stranger–appeared at the elderly lady’s side and exchanged a word or two in greeting. The old woman then gratefully held onto her savior’s arm as she was very patiently led to the safety of the opposite curb.
The other day I was working when I got a call on my cell phone from an unfamiliar number. I picked up my cell phone, but before I could answer it, the call stopped. Figuring it was a wrong number, I went back to work without giving it a second thought.
Then I received a text message. The message read (in Chinese):
> I dialed the wrong number just now. Sorry about that!
Some mornings on the subway when I’m packed in tight with the commutants, it’s all I can do to just stay stone-faced and hang onto my sanity. Other mornings, I notice things. Instead of pushing, I see people actually talking. They say things like, “Are you getting off at the next stop?” and “Excuse me, I need to get off at the next stop.” What’s more, the other person politely steps aside!
Today on the way home from work, after the subway doors opened and expelled us, we surged up the stairs as a group. On the way up the stairs, in two separate incidents, two men just barely bumped into me. Both promptly apologized.
Kindness and courtesy in Shanghai: there have been multiple sightings. There will be more. Keep your eyes open.
A while back I mentioned a blog called Sex in Shanghai in which a Western guy tells about all his exploits with Chinese women here in Shanghai. (That blog is still #1 on the “hottest blogs” list on the CBL, but it now seems to be inaccessible.) Since then, the Chinese have found out about the blog, and they are (understandably) pissed.
> From time to time, Chinabounder uses his own experiences as a springboard to make sweeping generalisations on, among other things, the sexual frustrations in Chinese marriages, the failings of Chinese men, and the overly tradition-bound upbringing of Chinese girls which makes them rebellious and sexually adventurous. Chinese netizens have routinely been posting venomous messages on his blog in response to his pop-social commentaries — and his occasional outpourings on the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’s womanising ways.
> But last week, a professor of psychology at the prestigious Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences gave new direction to this hyperventilating when he called for an Internet manhunt “to find this foreign trash until we kick him out of China.” In a posting on his own blog, Prof. Zhang Jiehai said that Chinabounder, “an immoral foreigner”, had routinely used “obscene and filthy language to record how he used his status as a teacher to dally with Chinese women… At the same time, he did everything that he could to insult the Chinese government and men.”
> Giving sparse details about Chinabounder’s identity (he’s probably a 34-year-old Briton) Zhang called on “Chinese netizens and compatriots” to join this “Internet hunt for the immoral foreigner”. That message has found echo in numerous Chinese websites and blogs, which have resonated with calls for lynching Chinabounder.
Yikes! Real life consequences for licentious behavior in Shanghai? What is this world coming to?
The Shanghai Metro (subway) commuters are infamous for their “enthusiasm.” The subway philosophy of 先下后上 (let people off first, then board) is blasted repeatedly during rush hour by station attendants each and every day, but it always falls on deaf ears as the hoarde surges to board the subway cars the split second the doors open, forcing the passengers who wish to disembark to shove and claw their ways through the subway doorway battlefield. It really is insane, and it shocks most newcomers to Shanghai.
I once said to a Chinese friend that the rush hour commuters are “like animals.” That comparison didn’t sit too well. Although at rush hour they may be doing their best imitations of subhuman creatures, the commuters are, in fact, human beings deserving of respect (if only because they are human beings). Somehow Shanghai’s particular societal circumstances–including cultural factors and a massive population–contributes to this inexplicably barbaric commuter behavior.
I’ve been riding the subway a lot lately on my way to ChinesePod, and I am forced to ride both Line 2 and Line 1 (the Evil Line) every day during morning rush hour (oh, the horror!). I have quite a few thoughts I plan to share about these commuters with whom I rub elbows (among other things) on a regular basis.
But somehow the term “commuter” doesn’t seem entirely appropriate. Social conditions have transformed them into something beyond what the mere term “commuter” implies; their behavior has already mutated into something else. They are… Shanghai’s commutants*.
I always think it’s kind of funny when I hear people talking about the “Chinese work ethic.” Usually it’s an American who knows plenty of successful Chinese immigrants in the States and just assumes that China is a nation of the same kind of people. It doesn’t take too much thought to realize that the hard-working Chinese immigrants in the States were able to immigrate to the States because they’re smart and hard-working, and so many of them are successful in the States for the same reason. (There are exceptions though.)
Of course there are hard-working Chinese in China too, but it is by no means a universal cultural trait. I thought I’d give one little story related to just one tiny facet of the complex “Chinese work ethic.” (The more I think about it, the more I think that the idea of a unifying work ethic for a nation as large and diverse as China is almost entirely meaningless, but I’m going to tell a story anyway.)
I left the subway station and took a shortcut down an alley on the way home. I passed by a low wall, and lying stretched out on the wall, sound asleep, was a young man. Judging by his appearance, he was a migrant worker. Next to him on the wall was an electronic produce scale, and just behind the wall was a big cart full of apples. It was late afternoon.
Right after I passed the sleeping guy, I saw another man and a girl coming down the alley towards me with another cart of apples. I guessed that they were working with the sleeping guy, so after they passed me I walked a few steps further and then stopped to observe what happened next.
Life for immigrants to Shanghai is not at all easy. Migrant workers have to work extremely hard for very low wages. I wasn’t sure what the relationship between the two men was, but I fully expected the older man to really let the young guy have it for sleeping on the job.
The older man stopped by the younger man and walked around to the other side of the wall, near the apples. I saw the young guy stir, and he noticed the older man. The older man said something, and I saw a smile spread across the young guy’s face. He slowly sat up, and the two men began chatting happily. The girl looked on, a big grin on her face.
No, not for me. A Chinese friend and former co-worker is looking for a roommate here in Shanghai. She hopes to find a female foreigner. No, she’s not a language rapist, she just finds foreigners interesting and enjoys their company. This is a great opportunity for a female foreigner. The apartment is in Pudong near the Century Park subway stop. You don’t need to already speak Chinese, but it might be more convenient if you do.
E-mail me if you’re interested.
(No, this space is not turning into a classifieds board, but I’ve been really busy at work this week, so it seems like a good time to put these up.)