Monday, March 30, 2015

Two More Blue Sky Scenes in a Zhongshan Village

More blue sky & clouds scenes, these from today in Shimen Village, Zhongshan:

watch tower and blue sky in Shimen Village, Shaxi Town, Zhongshan

open window of a yellow building with a blue sky and cloud above in Shimen Village, Shaxi Town, Zhongshan

Sharing these and other photos of blue skies in Zhongshan (here and here) was partly inspired by my recent experience viewing some photos shared by friends elsewhere in the world. I doubt the deep blue skies had been intended to be the primary area of focus in their photos, and I found it striking my eyes were so drawn to them.

I will move on to other topics shortly. For more thoughts on how blue skies and "normal" clouds can seem unusual to me and others in China, see an earlier post with photos from Macau here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Blue Sky With the Moon in Zhongshan

moon in blue sky above a palm tree and a building
At the Ma Yingbiao Memorial Park in Shachong Village, Zhongshan

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Blue Sky in Zhongshan

Today Zhongshan had a blueish sky.

blue sky above a tower near the former residence of Sun Yat-sen in Cuiheng, Zhongshan
Watch tower near the former residence of Sun Yat-sen in Cuiheng, Zhongshan

It didn't mean Zhongshan's air quality was "good", but the air was significantly better than when I was deceived by a similarly blue sky in Shanghai.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Xiangqi at Yixian Lake Park

Another game of xiangqi, this one in Zhongshan's Yixian Lake Park:

two men playing xiangqi (Chinese chess) next to a tree

It was just one of many being played at the park that day. See here for all posts with scenes of people playing xiangqi, otherwise known as Chinese chess. They capture a variety of environments where the game is enjoyed.

Prohibited on the Chongqing Metro

Although it is possible to buy ice cream inside a Chongqing metro station, there are still plenty of things you can't bring or do:

sign titled "Dangerous Articles Prohibited" with symbols for 17 things or actions.

The sign is more extensive than one I saw on the Guangzhou metro a few years ago. And like the Shanghai metro, balloons are forbidden and scanners at stations are used to examine bags and larger items. In Chongqing I saw one family stopped by metro security because their son had a balloon, and I felt their pain.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Local Flavors: Red Bean and Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream

In response to a post about milk ice cream, wallaby78 commented:
Beats the green/red bean ice cream, but not by much. Haikou has a Baskin Robbins and I loved it at first but last time the pralines and cream was so badly freezer burned that I won't be back any time soon.
A Baskin-Robbins previously opened near where I once lived in Shanghai. I never noticed many customers anytime I walked by, and it eventually closed. I assume I have tried their ice cream at their other, presumably more successful, stores in China, but I don't have any specific memories.

I do remember eating green bean and red been ice cream numerous times though. I enjoy both flavors, though there is a great range in quality. One recent source I saw was unexpected: McDonald's.

sign for McDonald's Red Bean Ice Cream

The above sign was at a small McDonald's outlet inside Chongqing's Niujiaotuo metro station. Unlike some other cities, eating food doesn't appear to be forbidden inside Chongqing's stations. This McDonald's is conveniently located in the path of passengers changing between two metro lines which intersect at Niujiaotuo.

Since red bean is commonly used in deserts or pastries in China, the ice cream represents another way McDonald's has localized its menu. Not only did I enjoy it far more than McDonald's Year of Fortune and Year of Luck Burgers, I ordered it on a number of occasions. It was a great way to follow up one of Chongqing's famous spicy & numbing meals, and for 5 RMB (about U.S. $0.80) it's a reasonable deal. Although the ice cream has a distinct red bean flavor, I wasn't able to detect a noticeable flavor in the cone. A McDonald's employee explained that was because there was no added flavor, just food dye to make it green.

The red bean ice cream was a temporary offering which recently ended while I was in Zhongshan. Fortunately, it was replaced with another localized ice cream flavor I enjoy: black sesame seed.

sign for McDonald's Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream

Like red bean, black sesame seed can be found in a number of desserts and pastries. And McDonald's wasn't the first place I have had black sesame seed ice cream. One of my favorites was at Very Thai Noodles in Taipei last year.

young woman preparing a Black Sesame Seed ice cream cone.

They named it the "black volcano". My recollection is that it tasted better than the McDonald's version but had a higher price. Of all the new flavors of ice cream I have tried in Asia which are not common in the U.S., black sesame seed is probably my favorite. So I heartily recommend trying a black volcano.

There are other flavors of ice cream more common in Asia than in the U.S. Someday I will write an ode or a post about the fruit which is another favorite flavor of mine — durian.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Single-Child Kiddie Rides and Single-Child Video Games in China

When I was in Hengyang, Hunan province, last year, two kiddie rides resembling multiple-child playground equipment made me think of China's one-child policy.

kiddie ride resembling half a seesaw with a duck character holding one end end to push it up and down

kiddie ride resembling a two-child swing with one seat filled by a house-like object

It is easy to find examples of single-child rides in other countries, including the U.S., though. So while a certain symbolism can be seen, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions directly tying the rides to the one-child policy.

I thought of these rides because of recent news about the one-child policy's impact on fun in another area:
Some Chinese officials have apparently extended the nation’s one-child policy to include completely imaginary virtual character in videogames, or so said a gaming-company chief executive Thursday.

“The regulators require the birth system in our games to meet the regulations of birth-control policies, which means if players have a second child in the game, we must impose virtual social-compensation fees on them,” Xu Youzhen, CEO of Guangzhou-based Duoyi Network Technology, wrote on his official microblog account.
For more about why one can't freely have multiple children or fight a giant panda in a Chinese video game, read Linda He's article on MarketWatch here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ice Cream With a Natural Flavor: Milk Ice Cream

In response to the post about Cold Stone Creamery imitator Ice Stone Creamery selling ice cream in Zhongshan, China, "Potomaker" commented:
More evidence of a very immature market and uninformed consumers. I recall asking a colleague what her favorite flavor of ice cream was. Her response: milk.
Before replying to the first part of Potomaker's comment, I would want to clarify what counts as a "mature market" and an "informed customer" in this case. I would also want to know why customers in Zhongshan are choosing Ice Stone and more about what the store offers them, including the overall experience. For now, I'll just say that Ice Stone's similarities to Cold Stone and my own negative impressions of their mint chip ice cream doesn't mean its customers aren't making considered decisions based on relevant information.

I have more to say in response to the second part of Potomaker's comment, especially since it calls to mind some fond memories of an ice cream flavor that is likely unknown to many yet couldn't be more simple.

In the U.S., ice cream I have seen for sale includes at least one flavorful ingredient, such as vanilla or chocolate, in addition to the usual standard ingredients of sugar and milk/creme. But what if someone made ice cream without any of the familiar additional flavors? And if this "flavorless" ice cream was sold at an ice cream store what should it be named? Since the flavors of this ice cream are simply milk/creme and sugar, "milk ice cream" would be a an option. It acknowledges the established use of "ice cream" as a more general term and the expectation additional words will specify the ice cream's flavor. And from a marketing perspective, "milk ice cream" may be more appealing than other options such as "plain ice cream". I am not trying to making a conclusive case it is the best option but just that it is reasonable.

And I have had ice cream named "milk ice cream" (or the equivalent in Chinese) several times in Taiwan and mainland China. Years ago when I first I heard of milk ice cream, I assumed the person introducing it to me was confused or meant vanilla ice cream. But I soon discovered that, yet again, what can seem obvious isn't necessarily so obvious. And before I knew it, I was enjoying milk ice cream.

Sometimes ice cream with this name may include at least a bit of vanilla flavoring. Nonetheless, ice cream described as having the flavor "milk" is definitely out there. And for those who are now doubting my sanity, Flying Cow Ranch in Miaoli County, Taiwan, offers one clear and definitive case of the existence of "pure" milk ice cream.

containers of chocolate, milk, and vanilla flavored Flying Cow Ranch ice cream

On a Yahoo Taiwan ecommerce site, Flying Cow Ranch's store sells three flavors of ice cream, as seen above, labeled in Chinese as "chocolate", "milk", and "vanilla". The listed ingredients for the milk ice cream are "raw milk, fresh cream, sugar, and milk powder". Although I wouldn't say it was my own personal favorite, I wouldn't question anyone else who declared it as theirs. And without hesitation I would recommend giving it a try if you have the chance. Like Potomaker's colleague, you might find milk to be your new favorite flavor of ice cream.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Drop of World Water Day From Zhongshan, China

Yesterday at a blt supermarket in Zhongshan, China, I was reminded that today, March 22, is World Water Day.

"12% off" sale for a selection of bottled water at BLT in Zhongshan

Like a recent promotion in Zhongshan on International Women's Day, I question whether it appropriately reflects the day's spirit. A sale of relatively expensive waters from around the world on a day partly focused on finding ways more people can have access to any sort of safe water doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But I guess I shouldn't complain. I visited this particular supermarket specifically due to its unusual-for-Zhongshan selection of carbonated water and saved a few RMB.

Although carbonated water is a treat for me here, in Zhongshan I always drink bottled water. I wouldn't feel safe regularly drinking tap water in China.

Finding clear and reliable numbers on China's water safety can be challenging. For example, although a 2014 report by the World Health Organization and Unicef indicates China has made notable strides in the number of people with access to improved drinking sources, this is largely based on the assumption that having piped water on premises is better. The report doesn't address whether the tap water in China is actually safe. Even by China's own standards, though, much of its water is bad. Incidents of severe water contamination are obviously not positive signs and some experts are highly suspicious of tap water. Other experts argue that China's approach to improving water access and water quality largely through a "infrastructure-focused approach" is misguided and should instead "focus on cleaning water sources and recycling water".

When I wonder about the reliability of the bottled water I drink and the amount of tap water I have ingested indirectly through prepared foods, I am not sure how much I have accomplished. One of the things I enjoy during my trips to the U.S. is drinking and using water straight from the tap without worry. This is one respect where I would say most Americans don't appreciate how good they have it.

For more about something that is so important yet easy for some to take for granted, see Tariq Khokhar's "5 reasons why water is key to sustainable development" and David Sim's "World Water Day 2015: Photos to make you think twice about wasting this precious resource". The latter includes a number of striking images from China and elsewhere providing more reason to appreciate regular access to safe water, especially if it as close as the kitchen sink.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring in Zhongshan

For many in the northern hemisphere in the West, March 20th marks the first day of spring. For those in China who also associate spring with the March equinox, the same astronomical moment occurs early in the morning on March 21st.

So here is a scene from a park next to the Shiqi River on what could be called the last day of winter in Zhongshan:

man with a young girl riding a motorbike through a riverside park

But Zhongshan is far south, roughly similar in latitude to Havana, Cuba (which matches up even better with Zhongshan's neighbor to the north, Guangzhou). So it really doesn't experience much of what I would call winter. Combined with the fact that in China spring would be traditionally said to have begun on the arrival last month of the new Year of the Yang, there is plenty of reason to say spring was already here.

An Ice Cream Walk in Zhongshan

young man and young woman walking on a Sunwen West Road Pedestrian Street while eating ice cream
Walking on Sunwen West Road Pedestrian Street in Zhongshan and eating ice cream not from Ice Stone Creamery

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mixing It Up In China: The Ice Stone Creamery Sells Ice Cream With a Familiar Look

U.S.-based Cold Stone Creamery opened its first mainland China ice cream store near People's Square in Shanghai in 2007. Many more Cold Stone stores have since opened elsewhere in Shanghai and also Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, and Wuxi.

Recently during a walk, I was surprised to see their reach had spread to Zhongshan, Guangdong province, as well. The first time I briefly saw the store, though, something seemed off. When I passed by another time, it hit me. Despite the outside resemblance, the store wasn't actually a Cold Stone Creamery.

Ice Stone Creamery shop (酷石客冰淇淋料理专家 ) in Zhongshan, China

The name of the Ice Stone Creamery store isn't all that seems to have been inspired by the Cold Stone Creamery. Here is the logo for the Cold Stone Creamery in China:

Cold Stone Creamery China logo

The ice cream logos for Cold Stone and Ice Stone aren't exactly the same, but, like the names, the resemblance is rather remarkable. I could recognize the difference only after a direct comparison.

Ice Stone Creamery appears to have an account on Sina Weibo — a Chinese online service roughly equivalent to Facebook and Twitter.

中山Leonidas酷石客 Sina Weibo account page

Curiously, "Leonidas" takes the place of "Ice Stone Creamery" in its name, although "Ice Stone" can be seen in some posted photos. The most recent post, which is from September, 2013, shows a photo of the store I saw before it opened at the Central Power Plaza shopping mall. The account also mentions other locations in Zhongshan.

After recognizing the store for what it was, I felt compelled to give it a try to see how it compared.

inside the Ice Stone Creamery (酷石客冰淇淋料理专家 ) shop at Central Power Plaza shopping mall

In response to my questioning, the server proudly told me they were a local Zhongshan store. They offered a variety of flavors such as cantaloupe, chocolate, coconut, cookie, cranberry, durian, and green tea. For 18 RMB (about U.S. $2.88) I ordered a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Unlike the Cold Stone Creamery, the chocolate chips were already in the ice cream and other toppings were offered only after the ice cream was in a cup.

a cup of Ice Stone Creamery's mint chip ice cream

As I sat down with my ice cream (sans additional toppings), the remarkable placement of a trademark symbol next to the Ice Stone Creamery logo on the cup reminded me of a 7-Eleven lookalike store in Guizhou. But what I was most interested in was the taste of the ice cream, so I quickly dug in. And the taste truly puzzled me. It was difficult to notice any mint flavor and identify what I could taste. A few more not-especially-creamy spoonfuls left me rather disappointed, so I tossed the rest — something I rarely do with ice cream in China (or anywhere).

Last year, an American visited an Ice Stone store at another location in Zhongshan and had a different experience:
The ice cream was great though! It came with toppings, a waffle cone and all! We will DEFINITELY be going back there again.
So perhaps I would have better luck with another flavor or Ice Stone store. Or perhaps Ice Stone hasn't maintained the quality of its ice cream. Or perhaps the person has a very different perspective on ice cream. I don't know. Whatever the case, like with the McDonald's Year of Fortune Burgers, I don't feel especially motivated to give Ice Stone's ice cream a second try.

I don't know whether Cold Stone is aware of Ice Stone and whether there is much it has done or can do from a legal perspective. But I do know that I will later have more to share from China about other imitators and, thankfully, better ice cream.