Monday, April 21, 2014

A Buggy Experience on a Zhanjiang Student's Mobile Phone

At Guangdong Ocean University in Zhanjiang, I met a student who on her own initiative showed me a photo on her mobile phone.

iPhone displaying a photo of a bug walking across English text

The photo contrasted with a Starbucks photo I saw several days earlier about 1 hour away on a Zhanjiang Normal University student's phone.

Starbucks and a bug are two genuine experiences Zhanjiang students' captured with their mobile phones. On the surface such photos can seem very different, but what they hold in common at deeper levels can be more revealing.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Starbucks Experience on a Zhanjiang Student's Mobile Phone

While meeting the students at Zhanjiang Normal University who, to varying degrees, were cleaning up a grassy area, I saw that one student's mobile phone had a notable image prominently featured.

female Chinese university student holding a Samsung mobile phone displaying a photograph of two drinks in Starbucks cups

I found it notable partly because Zhanjiang does not have any Starbucks stores. But the photo represents a genuine Starbucks experience, something I suspect both the student and Starbucks appreciate, and she took the photo at one of the many Starbucks in Shenzhen, where her family lives.

At least for the moment, the photo likely sets her apart from many other students at her university. But soon they and the girl I saw wearing the Starbucks Gangnam Style shirt will have more of an opportunity to have their own genuine experience when a new Starbucks opens in Zhanjiang. I would not be surprised if the occasion leaves a mark on many other mobile phones.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Non-Voluntary Volunteer Work at a University in Zhanjiang

On a large grassy area between several classroom and dormitory buildings at Zhanjiang Normal University, one group of students happily posed for a photo:

Part of their happiness may have been due to me offering them an excuse to take a break from their "volunteer" work of cleaning the area. The quotes are used because "volunteer" was their initial word for it, and they later explained that the work was a university requirement for freshman students. At other universities in China, I have seen freshman students engaged in similar required activities. It is supposed to be more about instilling certain values than providing the university free labor.

One of the students emphatically explained that she "really, really, really" didn't want to be doing the work. I can't say I was surprised, since I had earlier observed that few of them seemed very engaged in cleaning and several of them simply stood in the middle of the grass holding still brooms while engaged in other activities, usually involving a mobile phone. In the next post, I will share what I saw on one student's mobile phone. It ties back to an earlier post about Zhanjiang and suggests what she and probably some others would rather have been doing than sweeping the grass.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Science Labs at Zhanjiang Normal University

Today at Zhanjiang Normal University in Zhanjiang's Chikan district I stopped by a Colloid and Surface Chemistry Lab:

a Botany Lab:

a Chemistry Measurement Lab:

a Food Nutrition Lab:

and an Environment-Friendly Polymers Lab:

The last photo includes a prominent hint of one of the reasons behind my visits to these labs. My main reason to share the photos here, though, is to simply provide yet another look at China.

This probably concludes the science lab portion of the tour, but I will later share other scenes from Zhanjiang Normal University while touching on issues such as creativity and Western brands in China.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Underneath the Zhanjiang Bay Bridge at Night

Dancing ...

Adults and children holding hands in a circle as they dance underneath the Zhanjiang Bay Bridge.

walking ...

People walking underneath the Zhanjiang Bay Bridge.

and contemplation ...

A view over the water at night underneath the Zhanjiang Bay Bridge.

-- all are possible underneath the Zhanjiang Bay Bridge at night.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Starbucks Gangnam Style Arrives Before Starbucks in Zhanjiang

According to an outdoor promotional video at a new mall under construction, the first Starbucks in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, will soon open. But already one can see signs of Starbucks here.

back of a t-shirt with a Gangnam Style Starbucks logo

Possibly inspired by a modified cup, this Gangnam Style Starbucks shirt isn't sold at Starbucks, even in China. However, like the girl in the photo, you can buy it on Taobao. After a quick search, the lowest price I saw is 9.9 RMB (about U.S. $1.60), though a more typical price seems to be around 20 RMB.

With disappointment in her voice, the girl told me she has never been to a Starbucks. She perked up when I told her about the soon-to-open store. I wonder if she knows her Starbucks drink might cost more than her shirt.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pets for Sale in Zigong

Today I saw a street in Zhanjiang which reminded me of far away Zigong, Sichuan province--a place I wouldn't mind returning to. So here's a scene from Zigong I haven't shared before:

A small outdoor pet market with dogs, cats, turtles, and other animals

More later ...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Muse and a Door in Yangjiang

the word "MUSE" written in a large modern script on an old Chinese style building with traditiona; style decorations around its door
Alongside a narrow alley with many small trendy stores in Yangjiang, Guangdong

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Extraordinary Streak Through the Lives of Many: John Shirley-Quirk

I will begin with an excerpt from a recent obituary in The Telegraph:
John Shirley-Quirk, the bass-baritone, who has died aged 82, began his working life as a scientist and went on to become one of the most significant and prolific figures in Benjamin Britten’s circle at Aldeburgh ...

Wherever he went Shirley-Quirk was a distinctive, larger-than-life figure, who could hold an audience with the beauty of his phrasing and clarity of tone. “A singer needs to be three-dimensional, not simply a walking voice,” was one of his favourite maxims, and one he invariably applied to himself.
Britain's "least boring music critic" Michael White described meeting John Shirley-Quirk two years ago:
I’d only ever seen him from a distance on a platform, or on record sleeves, and not for decades. Back then, he was conspicuous for an extraordinary streak of white hair, badger-like, that ran back from his forehead through an otherwise quite thick black mane. And now that streak was gone, because the whole head had turned white.

I was thrilled to meet him on that afternoon, he’d been a hero to me for so long. And while meeting heroes can be disappointing, in his case it wasn’t. He was charming, thoughtful, modest, fascinating; happy to be back in England with a third wife, having had two previous marriages cut short by death.
Prior to his return to England, Shirley-Quirk spent several decades teaching at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland. His hair was all white during the time I studied there, and, more notably, he was on a wish list of teachers I especially hoped to learn something from. Since he taught voice and I played clarinet, I wasn't sure I would have such an opportunity. Fortunately, a soprano who studied with him asked me to perform Franz Schubert's "The Shepherd on the Rock" with her, and she invited me and a pianist to join her for a coaching during one of her lessons. That hour proved to be another example of how great musicians can transcend any particular instrument.

Again, thank you.

His impact beyond me at Peabody was made all the clearer from the many recent posts and comments I saw written by friends who studied there. In a private post he has allowed me to share here, pianist Michael Sheppard introduced a video with these words:
One of my very favorite songs, sung incredibly beautifully by one of my favorite teachers at Peabody, John Shirley-Quirk, who passed away today. I had the incredible good fortune of accompanying many of his students over the years, and learned so much of value about music and about collaborating with vocalists. This man was a true musician, who cared deeply about composers' intentions (he worked closely with Benjamin Britten for many years) but who was also not above exhorting his students to "SING, dammit, just SING!" And what a glorious example of both this video is. You'd never guess that the man I caught napping many times on that ratty old couch he kept in his studio was someone of such stature, because he never put on airs, and his artistry was just of that sort, too; not at all without subtlety, but just so perfectly direct and truthful. RIP, JSQ...may your ripples be felt for many more noons, silent or not.
I will end with the video shared by Michael and other friends--a performance by John Shirley-Quirk and pianist Martin Isepp of "Silent Noon" by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, based on a sonnet by English poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The original sonnet "Silent Noon" by Rossetti:
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,—
  The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
  Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
  Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge
  Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fiy
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:—
  So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
  When twofold silence was the song of love.

Monday, April 7, 2014

People Who Wanted to Take Their Photograph With a Foreigner in Zhanjiang

People I don't know asking me if I would pose in a photo with them has been a semi-regular experience in China, particularly in regions where there are few foreigners. As some other foreigners in China could readily report, these experiences are not unique to me. But similar to the stories I shared of Chinese being friendly to a foreigner in China, I don't think all of these requests were made only because I was a foreigner, and all foreigners would not have had the same experience. As before, "there are many complexities".

Yesterday in Zhanjiang's Xiashan District, I received many more requests than any other day in Zhanjiang despite visiting some of the same places I have visited several times before. I have no doubt my behavior and appearance at any moment can impact whether people either want or are willing to make a request. But based on my conversations with some of the people I met, I suspect the primary reason for the increase was related to people having extra time off due to the Qingming Festival and more people visiting from parts of Zhanjiang where foreigners are even more uncommon.

I would like to delve into some of the "many complexities" regarding these requests and what they may indicate (and not indicate). But for now I will simply throw some color on the topic by sharing photos of all the people who asked me if I would pose in a photo with them today and yesterday in Zhanjiang. Although some of what I see represented in the photos feels typical to me, such as receiving requests from both males and females, I would caution against making any China-wide generalizations based on the people in these photos. For example, in Zhanjiang a higher than typical percentage of requests have come from high school students.

In all of the cases below, I was not the first person to initiate contact, and they made their request before I asked if I could take a photo of them, which always received a positive reply. The photos are presented in chronological order, and the locations were all in / near parks or popular shopping areas.

Finally, yes, I have some photos with me included. Turning the tables can be revealing. But I don't think readers need or want to see 10 photos of me. For me, this phenomenon primarily represents yet another window through which I can better understand China. I am not the point.

So here are some of the people in China who recently introduced themselves to me in Zhanjiang:

a boy and two girls in Zhanjiang

three women and four men in Zhanjiang

a couple in Zhanjiang

four high school students sitting on a bench with a lake and a ferris wheel in the background in Zhanjiang

two men in Zhanjiang

two young men in Zhanjiang

two young women in Zhanjiang

two young men wearing shirts with creative designs in Zhanjiang

three young women in Zhanjiang

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Chinese Porcelain Car in Zhanjiang

In many parts of China, I have seen cars with added designs, sometimes elaborate, on their exterior. For example, in a post several years ago I shared a photo of a "Counter-Strike car". I have also seen a number of cars fully covered in a Hello Kitty design.

Typically the designs reflect current popular culture. However, today in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, I saw a car with a more traditional design.

car with art common for traditional Chinese style porcelain

car with art common for traditional Chinese style porcelain

I don't recall seeing a car which reminded me of Chinese porcelain before. I wonder if the owner has considered putting on matching wheel covers.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What a Restaurant Chain's Absence from Beijing and Shanghai Can Say

The Greenery Cafe (绿茵阁) is a restaurant chain in China which opened its first location in Guangzhou in 1989. They bill themselves as a western-style restaurant, though their menu also offers other styles of food such as Chinese and Thai. I have seen the restaurant in numerous Chinese cities, and yesterday I ate at their location in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province.

While there I listened to a waitress's story about why she had come to Zhanjiang from her hometown in Guizhou province and how I was her only foreign customer during her three weeks of working at the restaurant.

waitress at the Greenery Cafe in Zhanjiang

And I puzzled over why the club sandwich I ordered not only contained some typical ingredients but also had an unusual (including for China) layer of peanut butter.

club sandwich at the Greenery Cafe in Zhanjiang

But what most caught my attention that afternoon was the menu's map of the Greenery Cafe's locations in China.

map of the Greenery Cafe's locations in China

Their 100+ stores cover a broad range of the country, though I am curious about their absence from provinces such as Zhejiang, Fujian, and Jiangsu. However, as an online store locator confirms, most interesting to me was the identity of two cities that don't have a single Greenery Cafe--Beijing and Shanghai.

Notably, those are the cities in China where many foreign companies focus their efforts, especially when first entering the Chinese market. While this can make a great deal of sense for some companies, this seemingly "obvious" choice is not necessarily the right choice for other companies. Even when pragmatism demands focusing on a single city, somewhere like Changsha could be a better place to start than Beijing. An understanding of why a Chinese business such as the Greenery Cafe can't be found in Beijing and Shanghai could provide insights about a) which parts of China a foreign company should target and b) how some products or services may meet the needs of or be better tailored for particular markets in China, whether Zhanjiang or Shanghai.

I could go on and on about this topic, and there are great questions to ask specifically about the Greenery Cafe. But for now, I will just add that China is a huge place full of opportunities and potential competitors. Although Beijing and Shanghai are big markets, the rest of China is much larger. The Greenery Cafe was yet another reminder of that.