Monday, October 24, 2011

Trains, Vitamin Water, Linguists, and Subway Behavior

As a counterpoint to my recent "refresher post" providing links to some older posts here, I'll now share some assorted links to pieces on other sites.  I had been saving them up to for deeper commentary or to use when an appropriate situation arose, but to avoid sitting on them forever...

Here they are:

1.  Xiao Qiang on China Digital Times posted a series of photos of people on trains in China.  So many of them remind me of scenes I've seen myself in China -- particularly on slower trains.  I've had many very pleasant experiences chatting with people while I've been on trains in various regions of China.  To foreigners visiting China I always recommend at least one train ride -- and I don't mean the high speed rail -- to see sides of China's culture that they may otherwise miss.

2.  Stan Abrams on China Hearsay has an interesting post on how Coca-Cola is dealing with a Chinese competitor to its Glacéau Vitamin Water that looks remarkably similar.  The first time I saw a Victory Vitamin Water (I think in Changchun last year) I was confused as to whether it was an imitator, an attempt to localize Glacéau with a different name, or that Glacéau had changed its name globally.  The piece is worth a read as it presents how some US companies can be rather pragmatic in their approach to the Chinese market.

3.  Louisa Lim on NPR shares the story of Zhou Youguang:
Zhou Youguang should be a Chinese hero after making what some call the world's most important linguistic innovation: He invented Pinyin, a system of romanizing Chinese characters using the Western alphabet.

But instead, this 105-year-old has become a thorn in the government's side. Zhou has published an amazing 10 books since he turned 100, some of which have been banned in China. These, along with outspoken views on the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China, have made him a "sensitive person" — a euphemism for a political dissident.
Read the full piece for a very fascinating interview -- one I doubt that made the main pages of most papers in the China.

4.  Finally, Freakonomics had a piece in July (see why I was worried I might sit on it forever?) making the case that even with calculating the risk of a fine it is profitable to hop the subway turnstile in New York City.  The piece brought to my mind images of people slipping into metro stations without paying in Shanghai.  I wouldn't say it's common, but I'm also not surprised when I see it.

Why do I raise this?  Well, it reminded me that a behavior I had noted in Shanghai could also be found in New York City.  On several occasions I've seen Americans complain in online forums about various subway behaviors in Shanghai only to have someone reply, "Have you been to NYC?" and then provide some striking examples.  I don't want to get into a discussion of which city boasts the most lively metro scene, but instead I will simply point out that it is easy to comment on one place while either forgetting or being unaware of what it can be like elsewhere, including your own hometown.  This opens up a whole set of issues that I hope, really hope, to explore later.

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