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.)
> As you probably know, I’ve spent much of my year teaching a choir made up of migrant children. As you probably know, migrant children are among the poorest in the city. They aren’t allowed into public schools so their families have to pay double the tuition of a public school to send their kids to poor quality schools created specifically for migrant children. The Shanghai Migrant Children’s Choir has performed in four concerts, including a concert with 5 time grammy award winning artist Steven Curtis Chapman, and the choir has been featured in over 12 TV and newspaper publications in China. Now, a friend of mine and I are starting a music school so that these children have a permanent place to learn music. We would also like to give the children a place study after school and attend free tutoring lessons.
> Because the migrant school that these children used to attend was in such poor shape, we’ve coerced the local government to allow our choir kids into public school. They say that they will let the kids into public school ONLY if the students’ English skills are up to par. So, right now, our most immediate need is an English tutor. We need a college-age native English speaker to come to our school once or twice a week for the month of August to tutor 26 migrant children. The tutor will have a native Chinese speaker assistant from Fudan who can assist the tutor. The school is located 5 minutes away from Fudan University in Jiangwan district. All transportation costs will be covered.
If you are interested, please e-mail me and I will give you the necessary contact info.
Are you concerned about your water supply in Shanghai? Would you like to know which company handles it? Are you interested in the entire process, represented in a small animated diagram? But most importantly: do you want to get all this on a Flash website with pounding dance music soundtrack?
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?
I found this 8-page Carrefour ad in my mailbox the other day, and I thought I’d scan it and share it. For those of you not in the know, Carrefour is a French supermarket chain that is super popular here in the PRC. It just recently opened at its new Zhongshan Park location in Shanghai. Anyway, I would think that this these pages might be very interesting for anyone interested in China, Chinese, or Shanghai.
– Page 3: find out once and for all what the price of eggs in China is.
– Page 4: the chicken’s not fresh unless the head is still attached.
– Page 5: the electric bug swatter is one of the coolest things you can buy in China, period.
– Page 8: maps and bus schedules! (Micah is loving this page even if no one else is.)
I have added a few of my own comments on the individual pages on Flickr. Note that on the individual pages for each scan on Flickr you can click on the “all sizes” button to see a much larger version of each image. You may just want to go to the Flickr Shanghai Carrefour Ad set page.
The pizza I most often eat in Shanghai is Hello Pizza‘s. It’s not the best, but at only 10 rmb for a 9″ pepperoni or Hawaiian pizza, it can’t be beat. Thrifty pizza scarfer that I am, I’ve been a big fan of Hello Pizza ever since I moved to Shanghai.
a $15 Hello Pizza feast
So the other night I ordered pizza for dinner. Imagine my horror, then, at being told that the pepperoni pizzas are now back to 15 rmb (!) and the Hawaiian pizzas are now 18 rmb (!!!). Noooo… (The price changes haven’t made it to the online menu yet, apparently.) I guess those ridiculously cheap prices were really just too good to last. Even with the recent price hike, the pizzas are not even remotely expensive. The only decent pizza place I know of that can compete is the New York Pizza place in Jing’an Temple Plaza.
Actually, this price hike might be a good thing for me. I used to like to have pizza and salad from Hello Pizza for lunch, but since the minimum order for delivery is 30 rmb, I would get two pizzas. One pizza with a salad is enough of a lunch for me, but I would almost always end up completely devouring both pizzas. I think maybe I have some of those genes responsible for the tendency to eat a whole goddamn bag of chips.
Then last night I went with some friends to check out the new Tanghui (堂会). I used to really enjoy the old bar, but I hadn’t been to the new one yet. (That didn’t stop me from talking about it with Brad and Aric for GigShanghai though.)
I think the new Tanghui is really cool, but it’s a totally different bar. I felt like it shouldn’t even be called Tanghui. The intimate dive I once knew is gone, and now there’s this fancy new four-floor bar. One thing that I was happy to see unchanged was the Tiger on tap for 30 rmb* a mug. I’m sure I’ll be back to Tanghui in the future, but I think I’ll continue meeting most of my live music needs at Shuffle.
* Hey, that’s the cost of two pepperoni pizzas at Hello Pizza, even at the new prices.
GigShanghai is a new website created to share the Shanghai music scene with the world. Created by Brad of ShanghaiStreets and Aric of ChinesePod, it provides regular audio content via podcast to give you an actual earful of what Shanghai live music venues have to offer. You can also stream the podcasts directly from the site.
I know both Brad and Aric personally, so I can tell you that this teamup has a lot of promise. Maybe they’ll even mention this website someday, when someone asks about when the Shanghai music scene started gathering steam for its eventual eclipse of Beijing’s. Check it out.
If you’ve never had to buy presents in the USA to bring back to Chinese friends, you probably don’t understand how hard it is. Nearly everything is made in China these days, and quite often those same products are sold in China as well. Quite a few times I’ve bought presents in the USA thinking, “you can’t buy this in China,” only to discover upon presentation of the gift that it is, in fact, available in China. In Shanghai, the issue is even worse. Furthermore, a lot of things that you can’t buy in China the Chinese don’t want (think: most American candy).
Since bringing back gifts is a non-negligible part of Chinese culture, this creates a major problem: what presents do you buy for the Chinese when visiting the USA?
I recently mentioned that I had found a good present to bring back from the USA and give to Chinese friends. Don’t expect it to revolutionize West-East gift-giving; it’s only a minor item. But it seems to have gone over well. I brought back packs of Craisins.
Craisins make a good present for several reasons:
1. If you can even get them in China, they’re certainly not widely available. I’ve never seen them here.
2. The Chinese typically don’t know what cranberries are, and often have never heard their Chinese name before (蔓越莓), giving them a sort of exotic quality. Some Chinese have heard about them (particularly in association with American Thanksgiving), but few have tried them.
3. You can’t bring fresh fruit through customs, but no one wants to eat fresh cranberries anyway. So dried, sweetened, and packaged is good.
4. The dried, sweetened fruit thing is very similar to a lot of Chinese snacks, so they’re easier for the typical Chinese person to accept. (Many foreign foods aren’t.)
Craisins have a special meaning for me as a linguistics student as well:
1. The name “Craisins” is a good example of a blend (cranberry + raisin).
2. Leonard Bloomfield, key contributor to structural linguistics, uses the “cran-” in “cranberry” in discussions of morphology as a (now classic) example of a bound morpheme that exists in only one lexeme (although this status is possibly changing, thanks to modern marketing). The “cranberry” example is often cited by Chinese linguistics professors (I have heard it many times already) even though most of them are not exactly sure what a cranberry is.
Thus I was able to present Craisins to my linguistics professors and classmates as a “souvenir with linguistic characteristics.”
Most importantly, they ate them all up. Nothing says “I’m not just being polite” like devouring the entire bag.