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Friday, June 24, 2016

A Moment of Blue Skies and Good Air in Beijing

When I see people excitedly mention blue skies in Beijing, I typically have conflicting feelings. On one hand, I feel happy they are enjoying a beautiful sky. On the other hand, I find it regrettable that the moment is so special in part due to air pollution.

But I felt only amazement after existing Beijing's Dongsi Shitiao metro station a couple of weeks ago and seeing a blue sky with clouds that look normal to me though not to everybody in China. Blue skies don't always equal good air quality, but in this case the pollution levels were good according to U.S. standards for both short term and long term exposure. The sky and air were quite a change of pace from the heavy pollution on the day I arrived from Hong Kong and many other days I have experienced in Beijing.

So here are a few photos from a moment which shouldn't have been so remarkable but was.

blue skies above the intersection at the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing


blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing


blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Umbrellas on a Dull, Rainless Day in Beijing

A scene today at the intersection of Fuchengmen Inner Street and Jinrong Street in Beijing:

female with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses riding a scooter and two others carrying umbrellas on a cloudy day in Beijing


The sky wasn't sunny for most of the day and the air pollution was noticeable. Yet I still saw people carrying umbrellas or taking other steps useful for avoiding a tan despite the low chances. I have no new comments to add, so I will simply mention earlier posts about the umbrellas I saw on a rather smoggy day in Changsha, Hunan, and how the desire for whiter skin might be a factor in China's large number of people with vitamin D deficiency.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Face Masks for Sale: Convenience Beijing Style

Yesterday at a convenience store in Beijing I saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing


Today at a different convenience store in Beijing I also saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing


An earlier sighting brought back memories of the first time I wore a face mask in Beijing.

These convenience store chains don't offer all types of face masks and aren't the only locations where they are sold in Beijing, but convenience stores have the advantage of often being, well, convenient — especially useful when you need a quick fix. And simply the visibility of face masks in convenience stores may influence people to protect themselves from air pollution in one way or another. I haven't seen similar selections of face masks at convenience stores in a number of other Chinese cities with heavily polluted air, so there are both negative (pollution) and positive (protection) stories to tell about these masks for sale in Beijing.

I expect to soon be in another city which has received attention in the past for its air pollution. I will provide an update on what I find there, both in terms of the air and the selection of masks at convenience stores I visit.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Still Building Beijing

CCTV Headquarters and under-construction buildings
CCTV Headquarters and under-construction buildings in Beijing

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Disney a Channel for Both American and Chinese Influence, Cares About Another Type More

shirt with an American flag design in the shape of a panda/mouse/etc shape
Shirt worn by a woman in Hengyang, Hunan

In minutes Disney will open a new park to the public in Shanghai. Some see it as an opportunity with deeper implications than an increased number of authentic Mickey Mouses in China. Last month, Graham Webster, a senior fellow of The China Center at Yale Law School, briefly commented on a tweet about a meeting between Disney CEO Robert Iger and Chinese President Xi Jinping:

I replied to Webster's tweet with a similarly brief comment:

My aim wasn't to refute Webster's point but to highlight the other side of the coin. It isn't clear how this coin is balanced.

David Barboza and Brooks Barnes in The New York Times recently provided an example from the past showing how Disney accepted the influence couldn't go just one way:
[In 1997] Disney agreed to back the director Martin Scorsese, who wanted to make “Kundun,” about China’s oppression of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Chinese government, which considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, denounced the project and pressured Disney to abandon it.

In the end, Disney decided that it could not let an overseas government influence its decision to distribute a movie in the United States. “Kundun” was released, and China retaliated by banning Disney films . . .

In October 1998, Mr. Eisner met Zhu Rongji, who had just been named prime minister, at China’s leadership compound in Beijing. Mr. Eisner apologized for “Kundun,” calling it a “stupid mistake,” according to a transcript of the meeting.
Disney's change of heart raises the question of how much of the content in Disney's movies has since been influenced to some degree, directly or indirectly, by a desire to not hurt the feelings of the Chinese government.

And Disney is now aiding Chinese influence in other ways:
Disney is going to extraordinary lengths to prove its commitment to China and the Communist Party. During a 2010 meeting with China’s propaganda minister, Mr. Iger pledged to use the company’s global platform to “introduce more about China to the world.” And he has done just that.
Barboza and Barnes also provide examples of how Disney has made a park that is "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese." Some of this is similar to how other American companies have localized their products or services in China, such as Pizza Hut's durian pizza or Walmart's larger selection of live seafood. Yet with its movies and its parks' immersive experiences, Disney has the power to influence in ways Pizza Hut or Walmart can't. The Chinese government clearly appreciates this and wishes to contain Disney in a variety of ways, though other factors are at play, such as wanting local companies to receive a large piece of the profitable opportunities Disney generates.

So not only is it uncertain what any success for Disney in China would mean for Western, or more specifically American, influence, Disney shows how an American company's ambitions can lead to China having more influence beyond its borders. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. China undoubtedly has much it can positively contribute to the world. But most Americans don't want the Chinese government to have any ability to restrict the content of movies which appear in the U.S.

As the full NYT piece details, Disney has made a number of unusual sacrifices in order to operate in the mainland China market. For them to pay off, Disney's ultimate concern won't be the balance of American and Chinese influence it facilitates. They are simply pieces of a puzzle in reaching another goal.

Disney cares about Disney influence most.

Scene of 让: Gao Xiaowu's Art, a Traffic Sign, and Security in Beijing

security guard walking by a 让 (yield) sign and a sculpture of a smiling forward-leaning bald human (either by Gao Xiaowu or an imitation)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grass-Mud Horse Makes Another Promotional Appearance in Beijing

Today was a special day. I saw a promotion in Beijing with a grass-mud horse.

Alpaca in a promotion in Beijing's Sanlitun area

Or maybe it was an alpaca — hard to say. Whatever the case, this isn't the first time such an animal has been part of a promotion in the Sanlitun area.

Maybe tomorrow I will see a promotion with a river crab.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tiananmen Flagpole and Sky

National Flagpole at Tiananmen Square after the flag-lowering ceremony
National Flagpole at Tiananmen Square after the flag-lowering ceremony

Some Thoughts After Guiding a Family of Four Through Hong Kong and Beijing

During the past week or so I have spent a lot of time hanging out with two good friends and their two children and guiding them around Hong Kong and Beijing. This caused me to take more of a break from blogging than I had expected. To get back into things, I will share a few quick off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts regarding the rather enjoyable experience I had with four visitors from the U.S.:

  • Hong Kong has been something like a second home for me during recent years. I really enjoyed the opportunity to show some friends a mix of standard attractions I felt were worthy and personal favorites I thought they would appreciate. And I felt fortunate to be able to efficiently adapt to some unexpected conditions, such as discovering two favorite places for pork chops & milk tea don't stay open very long after lunch. We just walked to a favorite nearby place for goose instead.
  • They liked the goose.
  • China has a number of popular tourist sites which don't necessarily deserve all of the attention they receive relative to other options, and some people have an almost fanatical attitude regarding "must sees". It of course depends on personal tastes, which is why it can be so useful, especially if you are on a tight schedule, to have a guide (or recommender) who better appreciates what you are looking for. I have experienced both sides of this equation, and it makes a big difference.
  • Some places which are worthy of more attention might not be as enjoyable if they received more attention. Life is complicated.
  • We met up in a similar fashion a year and a half ago in Shanghai, but it was still a reminder how different exploring a city can be when you have children along for the ride. For example, I have written before about requests I receive to have photos taken with strangers and am familiar with experiences other foreigners have had, but it still fascinated me to see yet again the amount and type of attention Caucasian children can receive in mainland China. I will refrain from a fuller commentary, but I will say that in Beijing some people asked if it was OK to take a photo with one or both of the children in the midst of others who were, shall I say, far more direct in obtaining a prized photo.
  • For the most part, the kids enjoyed the attention, so my friends were fine with the photography. But in one case when a crowd of photo-seekers swelled to the point where it was clear things wouldn't end anytime soon, intervention was required. We thought it would be nice to see more of the Forbidden City before it closed for the day.
  • I had a grand time hanging out with the children. Earlier in Shanghai we discovered they both like eating termite larvae and bees (Yunnan style). Impressive.
  • Visiting popular sites during a Chinese holiday is often a tricky proposition. Sometimes I grin and bear the crowds. Sometimes I decide it isn't worth it. Again, life is complicated. So is briefly walking around Houhai in Beijing on a Friday night during the Dragon Boat Festival.
  • Of course, I bought him a bottle. Part of the experience . . .

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Back in 北京

night scene of a street and a pedestrian bridge ramp in Beijing, China
Beijing

Hong Kong Nature and Power

A friend visiting Hong Kong asked me to take her to somewhere with nature. She seemed pleased with the island I chose, even though this happened:

View of the Lamma Power Station from Hung Shing Ye Beach on Lamma Island, Hong Kong
View of the Lamma Power Station from Hung Shing Ye Beach on Lamma Island, Hong Kong

Monday, June 6, 2016

My First Time to See the Lights in China on June 4

Since starting this blog, I have noted what I saw on June 4, whether in Chengdu (2011), in Xining (2012), in Qingdao (2013), in Hengyang (2014), or in Changsha (2015). One common theme of those days was what I saw seemed unremarkable compared to many other days I have experienced in China.

For most of June 4 this year, much was the same. But that night I saw something which undoubtedly spoke to the day's importance. It only happened because I was in a part of China where the rules are different — where people are allowed to remember.

When a friend and I arrived at the vigil commemorating the 27th anniversary of the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, we were told the main area was already full and were diverted to another area in the park with large video screens. After spending some time there, we made our way to the main area, which held more video screens and the main stage. And there were candles. Lots of candles.

Presented in the order they were taken, below are photos from Victoria Park in Hong Kong on the night of June 4, 2016. They are unlike any photo I have taken in mainland China on June 4. They are unlike any photo I have taken in mainland China on any day.

For me, they are rather remarkable.


person holding a candle at a vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

woman and girl holding candles at a vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

2016 vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

young woman holding a candle at the vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

hand holding a candle at the vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

"Vindicate June 4th" sign at the vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown