Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More on Dairy Queen Inspirations in China

I'm currently having problems accessing the Internet freely and can only connect intermittently.  However, I am not sure that is due to a poor connection in my temporary remote location or Great Firewall issues.  I'll do a quick post while I'm connected.

Previously, I wrote about a Dairy Queen in Guiyang and its neighbor with a remarkably similar name, DU.  However, there exists another example of Dairy Queen's apparent influence in China.  See here:

Mango Queen store

I saw this Mango Queen last fall in a large central shopping district in Tianjin.  At least it may offer an alternative for those who have been to DQ, or DU, too often.

Monday, March 28, 2011

China Scenes: Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang

I'm still working on some potential material regarding China's Great Firewall (previous post: What Google, Baidu, and Sogou Results for "Witopia" Say About China's Great Firewall).  For what it's worth, I have not been personally affected by any changes during the past week.  So far, the adjustments I'm using are holding up fine.

This next week or so I may not be able to post as regularly due to once again being in "remote" locations in China.  After that, there is much I am planning to share and it should be smoother sailing.  Though, with the Great Firewall between me and this blog one can never be sure.

For now, below are photos from yet another city in China that sees relatively few foreigners, Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang Province.  It's best known for the beautiful nature nearby, but instead I'll share some scenes from the city center to give a small taste of Mudanjiang life.

people selling items on a shopping street
Shopping district

Newer section of shopping district

food cart with Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer umbrella
Street food with an American touch

large open gate with a colorful tiled walkway through it
A gateway to a colorful Oz?

No, to a place dedicated for wedding photography

wedding bed set on a platform in a lake
Another scene for wedding photos

A crowd listening to a variety of people sing at a riverside park

Mudanjiang River

A college student with an Elmo backpack

A college couple taking a walk

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Google, Baidu, and Sogou Results for "Witopia" Say About China's Great Firewall

Previously, I wrote that some cheap/free services openly distributed online in China for gaining access to an uncensored Internet were not apparently impacted by the recent expansion of China's Great Firewall (see here for who was affected and here for comments on the timing).  I also suggested the possibility that they were spared because they allowed China to maintain a degree of monitoring (see here).

There is one particularly intriguing candidate for a program that the Chinese Government may have wanted to spare.  It is called "Witopia" -- not the Witopia based in the US but a "copycat" program being distributed in China with the same name.  At least one person familiar with VPN services (I'll withhold their name unless I can be sure it is OK to share) has said it doesn't appear to be encrypting data -- a significant and striking failing for a VPN (again, for how VPNs and the Great Firewall work see here).

Is there any evidence the flawed fake Witopia is being promoted in China?

Today, I checked Baidu (Google's main competitor in China), Sogou (another search web site in China), and Google China's search service.  I conducted a search for "Witopia".

You can see a capture of the full first page of a search for "Witopia" on Baidu here (click to see a larger version):

Baidu results page for a search on Witopia

Here is today's first page for a similar search on Sogou:

Sogou results page for a search on Witopia

And finally, on Google China:

Google results page for a search on Witopia

Yes, those are really 3 different search web sites.  I'll save a discussion of Copyright/Trademark issues for another day (if you can't wait... for a potential Dairy Queen example in China see here and for a "Google Hotel" example in Vietnam see here).

Of relevance to the current topic, Baidu didn't return the legitimate Witopia web site in even the first 100 results.  Based on a search for "" I strongly suspect it was not there at all.  Likewise, on Sogou the real Witopia web site did not appear.  However, on both sites there were numerous links to apparently fake versions of Witopia.

Google China was the only one of the three sites readily displaying the real Witopia site -- in fact it is the very first link.  This page was not being blocked by the Great Firewall (however, the Great Firewall would block any attempts to actually access the Witopia site).

It is not particularly surprising that Baidu and Sogou apparently don't include the real Witopia web site in their search results since the Witopia site itself is blocked in China and the Great Firewall's recent expansion impacted Witopia's services.

However, it is notable that numerous links for apparently fake copies of "Witopia" remain on Baidu and Sogou.  Why show them if they work as advertised and China wants to stop people from getting through the Great Firewall?  The programs are obviously not hidden from view and are being heavily promoted on Chinese web sites.

Again, as I mentioned above it is possible the Chinese Government wants the fake Witopias to be used because of their "flaws" (such as a lack of encryption) that enable some sort of monitoring.  It may be for this reason they remain clearly displayed on Chinese web sites that have taken the trouble to remove the real Witopia web site.

I'm in the midst of some other explorations on this and related topics.  More may come soon.

Additional notes:

1.  The real Witopia site was listed first on the Microsoft Bing site for China as well (and the page was not censored).  There are some subtle twists in how Bing censors for searches in China/Chinese so I'm not yet comfortable interpretting my results (see here under "Regional censorship" and "Censorship in China").  For that reason I left it out of the above examples.

2.  I have not tested the fake versions of Witopia or other "VPNs" apparently developed in China.  I don't have a spare computer and I don't feel safe putting them on a computer with my work/personal information.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Street Farming" in Luoyang, Henan

One day while I was walking down a street in Luoyang, Henan I saw an example of what I'll call "street farming".

First, I noticed a man on the street holding a very long pole:

man aiming a long pole high into a tree

I looked closer and saw he was trying to snag some fruit:

net at end of pole about to snag some round fruit high in the tree

Once he was able to pick off a fruit his street farming partner helped take it out of the net:

And then she added it to their fruit collection:

woman adding newly collect fruit to a nearly full bag

From my experience this is not at all typical.  But maybe it isn't very different from going to the woods to collect blackberries.  Regardless, I'm happy to see the fruit isn't going to waste.  Nothing deep here other than some people in China can be very resourceful -- no matter the environment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Google's Problems in China: Perceptions of a Chinese Internet User in Guiyang

In the latest chapter of Google's challenges in China, Google has accused the Chinese Government of interfering with its Gmail service (see here).  That an American company would face "special" problems in China is not surprising.  Recent reports indicate that a growing number of American companies are listing "bureaucracy" as their main concern and complaining that they are discriminated against (see here).  

I certainly have my own thoughts on these topics, but first I'd like to share the thoughts of someone else -- a 26 year old female in Guiyang, Guizhou.  She recently completed a Masters degree and is working full time in the real estate domain.  I will refer to her as Rui Rui, not her real name.  I've selected her for a variety of reasons:  her comments were made recently, she lives in one of the numerous regions important to fully understanding China yet often ignored in research, she was completely comfortable with me sharing her thoughts in this manner, and what she said reflected much of the spirit I've heard from many other Chinese on a variety of subjects.

I asked Rui Rui if she was aware of any events this or last year involving Google in China.  She first commented that she was extremely concerned last year that Google would pull out of China.  Because she was concerned about censorship on the Internet?  No.  Because she wanted to see Google stand up to China?  No again.  The main reason for her concern was that she was writing a thesis for her Masters and needed to seek information sources outside of China.  Without Google she felt that her research efforts would be seriously hampered.

Rui Rui said she uses both Google and Baidu, Google's main competitor in China.  However, she does not use them similarly.  She uses Baidu to search for material within China and Google for material outside of China because she feels Baidu is very poor for searching non-China based information.  In the research I've done across China, I have found this pattern of usage is common for people who desire to access web sites based inside China and web sites based outside China.  For example, here is a photo of the computer screen of a college student in Harbin, Heilongjiang, Dalian, Liaoning, a very different part of China, who also uses Google and Baidu in a similar fashion:

The tool depicted above allows quick access to user-selected web sites.  Baidu is in the upper left rectangle and Google is next to it.

Rui Rui also said that she didn't care that Google "moved its search" to Hong Kong because it didn't impact her search needs and she noticed no obvious differences (technically speaking, Google directed its search services in China to its servers in Hong Kong).

Her thoughts about why Google was having its various problems with the Chinese Government were particularly intriguing.  Was it because Google refused to censor its search results?  No.  Instead, she believed the source of Google's problems was that "Google was taking others' profits".  In this case, "others" meant Chinese companies.  She accepted it as being obvious that the Chinese Government would get involved in business matters to help or hinder companies.  Especially in her new field of work, she often sees examples of how government officials, often influenced by who is most connected to them, can "unfairly" make or break crucial aspects of getting business done in China.

That Rui Rui's thoughts regarding many aspects of Google's situation in China appeared to be primarily influenced by her day to day needs, desires, and experiences is typical for what I've seen across China.  Rui Rui remains pragmatic on such matters even with exposure to non-Chinese media and some negative feelings toward the Chinese Government and some of its policies.  For example, she readily shared that during the Cultural Revolution some of her family fled from Shanghai to Guiyang to avoid expected persecution from Communist Party members.  Regardless, her primary concerns today revolve around her immediate desires to improve her quality of life and gain new experiences -- goals she seems to be effectively achieving in her own way.

For now, I'd like to close with one of Rui Rui's related thoughts on fairness and the legal system in China since it sheds further light on how she now views the predicament not only faced by American companies such as Google but also faced by Chinese who aren't well connected in China.

A colleague of Rui Rui recently introduced a saying to her that she has found to be true in her everyday work.

Rui Rui emphatically said, "In China, everyone is equal in front of the law."

She then looked at me in silence.  After a long pause she continued, "The differences are behind the law..."

Monkeys in Guiyang

In most major cities in China you are unlikely to see a monkey walking about unless you go to a zoo.  However, at Qianling Park in Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou Province, there are numerous monkeys freely walking about doing what monkeys do best -- which according to what I saw was using various strategies to get food from other animals, aka humans, and generally monkeying around.

During my visit I saw easily over 100 monkeys.  They weren't aggressive although they liked to put on a show now and then.  When my cousin sat down on a ledge a mother monkey slipped past her from behind.  However, the baby monkey couldn't get by.  This led to my cousin being firmly pushed by the mother monkey.  Luckily, my cousin had some monkey sense and stood up.

Some photos:

Monkey sitting on a ledge
Watching the strange humans

8 monkey kids on the ground
Presumably the monkey kindergarten class

monkey kid sitting on ground
Pondering the lessons of the day

monkey kid reaching for fruit held by mother
"May I please have some fruit?"

monkey watching as mother bites into fruit

monkey kid again trying to take fruit

baby monkey eating food while sitting on a ledge
This baby monkey was lucky enough to have its own food

monkey sitting on girl's shoulders
Interesting strategy: sit on the human until they take the fruit out of their bag.  It worked

A Chinese lady who lives near the park said that occasionally they will see monkeys exploring the neighborhood.  Given the number of monkey babies I saw, I wonder if the monkey situation will soon get out of control.

For now, though, things seem manageable and entertaining.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bombs in Libya, Ripples in China

I don't expect to comment much on recent events in Libya.  However, I do think think it is worth sharing one way they will likely be viewed by many in China.

Across China, I've had conversations with many Chinese who want to see significant change in the Chinese Government.  However, in the vast majority of cases they don't support a mass rebellion.  One reason very commonly mentioned is the belief that any instability caused by a rebellion could provide an opportunity for a foreign country to take advantage of China, even through military force.  They are very conscious that in the past, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, various countries have invaded or taken advantage of China in one way or another.

Regardless of the results, the actions of the coalition forces in Libya will be viewed by many in China as further evidence that the 21st century may not be so different from previous centuries if the Chinese aren't careful.  They will think "look at what is now happening after many Libyans fought against their government".  Few Chinese would believe that coalition forces are in Libya without expectations of strong personal gain, just as some countries had in China in previous centuries -- in many cases to the detriment of the Chinese people.

My aim here isn't to argue against or in support of the coalition actions in Libya.  I simply want to point out that the reverberations of the bombs dropping in Libya are being felt far beyond their immediate targets.  In China they may be just ripples in the minds of people's consciousness, but they may have the unintended consequence of further dampening any desire Chinese have to take a very active stand to bring about significant changes in China -- some of the same changes hoped for by many elsewhere.

Want Some Ice Cream - DQ or DU?

A break from discussing China's Great Firewall for something lighter, or maybe creamier is the better word.  In a newer mall in Guiyang, China I saw this:

Dairy Queen store in Guiyang, China

I've seen numerous Dairy Queen outlets across China.  Although there are some apparent modifications for the Chinese market, they offer much that can be found at Dairy Queens in the US.

However, very close to the Dairy Queen was something I don't think you'll see in the US:

DU store in Guiyang, China

Not a DQ, but a DU ice cream store.  Seeing the DU store in such a relatively high end mall and so close to its, um, inspiration was particularly striking.  One Chinese lady I spoke to said she believed DU to be "a copycat store" but also pointed out that she believed DU was first to open in Guiyang.  While there may be reasonable grounds for a trademark dispute, unlike some KFC copycat restaurants at least DU wasn't exactly copying DQ's offerings.  For example, DU seemed to focus on hard ice cream.

So, the big question -- Did I go for DQ or DU?

Well, I decided to find the middle ground.  In this case it was a store in between DQ and DU where I got this:

Happy Lemon Peppermint Lemonade Drink

A peppermint lemonade drink from the Hong Kong based Happy Lemon chain.  It didn't turn out to be my thing -- I prefer Happy Lemon's milk tea or regular lemonade.  Happy Lemon actually has its own imitators.  However, at least none were within eyesight.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Expansion of China's Great Firewall: Why the Selective Impact?

In a post about why the recent expansion of China's Great Firewall occurred when it did I said I would follow up with my thoughts on another question: Why were some services which are openly distributed through Chinese web sites either spared or able to adjust without users noticing problems?

As I wrote in a post about who is impacted by the recent expansion of China's Great Firewall:
"If China desires to reduce the circumvention of the Great Firewall by Chinese users, one may expect that such services would be the main target for any disruption as their users are most likely predominantly Chinese.  And it would be curious if such services, often very cheap or free, could adjust without their users' awareness when users of services more familiar to most Westerners were painfully aware of problems."

I'll presume that the apparent sparing of some services wasn't due to them being able to adapt unnoticed to an unexpected event while numerous non-China based services could not.  I'll highlight two of the possible answers for my question as I think they have particularly important ramifications if true.

1.  As I wrote earlier (see here), the expansion of the Great Firewall may not have been about a need for closing any holes but was instead a show of might.  Hillary Clinton's statement that the US would aid research to help people develop and use technologies to get around censorship such as the Great Firewall may have "provoked" China to respond by showing it could impact such technologies if it desired.  In this case, China may not have cared about impairing the technologies most used by Chinese citizens, but instead those most likely to catch the attention of the United States -- ones used by many foreigners in China and delivered by US companies.  Based on its previous actions, it would not be at all surprising for China to respond in such a way without admitting its motives publicly.

2.  The cheap/free services distributed in China are perceived by many Chinese as being illegal since they help circumnavigate the Great Firewall.  This causes many Chinese users to believe the services are "safe" from government surveillance even though some of the services have unclear origins.  However, some of these services may in fact be directly or indirectly supported by the Chinese Government.  The Chinese Government knows there will be people trying to circumvent the Great Firewall.  It would be advantageous to the Chinese Government that people doing so use tools that enable continued surveillance.  For a particularly eyebrow-raising potential example, there is a widely distributed "copycat" service in China using the name Witopia -- which is in fact the name of a US-based company offering VPN services.  Some have claimed that the copycat service doesn't actually encrypt its data -- a significant failure for something apparently selling itself as a VPN.  Regardless of how they do it, some tools may be exempt from an expansion of the Great Firewall because they allow (deliberately or not) the Chinese Government a degree of monitoring not possible when other tools are used.  That China might allow the Great Firewall to be porous in this way would be consistent with how it has been implemented in the past (see here for an article about how the Great Firewall works by James Fallows).

To summarize, the Great Firewall's expansion may have been more about displaying it's potential power than a desire to further clamp down on the ability to get through it.  And regardless of the motivations, it may have been done in a way to avoid disrupting services that allow surveillance and to further funnel people to those services.  This and my previous posts help show that there is much to consider when evaluating any change in the Great Firewall's behavior.

Finally, I should add that in China I am currently able to freely access the Internet by using an appropriately adjusted VPN.  I wouldn't be entirely surprised if I remain able to do so for the near future without any further adjustments.  It's possible the Chinese Government has already achieved its relevant goals for now.

Again, we'll see...

Friday, March 18, 2011

China Scenes: Villages Around Kaili, Guizhou

I'll take a break from my recent posts on the expansion of China's Great Firewall to share some photos from villages around Kaili, Guizhou.  They will help provide a sense of why I previously said I may have limited Internet access this week (in addition to any problems with the Great Firewall).

Guizhou is full of various minority cultures rich in traditions not commonly found in most places in China.  The beautiful scenery and warm people in the Kaili region make it a particularly wonderful place to explore.  Many people here have day to day concerns that are typically far more on their mind than issues such as the Great Firewall...

Bus ride to Matang

Gejia woman in Matang weaving while her husband cooked a meal

A boy in Langde who was constantly fidgeting with his pockets

Cat on a roof in Langde

Home in Langde

Basketball court with chickens in Langde

Kids walking home from school


Touristy street in Xijiang
Xijiang was the most touristy of the villages I've visited in the region so far

Rice terraces in Xijiang

Boy walking into a home in Xijiang

Xijiang rooster protecting its lady

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Expansion of China's Great Firewall: Why Now?

In my previous post on who is impacted by the recent expansion of China's Great Firewall, I said I would comment on a key question:  Why the expansion of the Great Firewall now?

I think it's worth keeping in mind several issues which may have been of influence in one way or another:
  • China's National People's Congress just recently concluded.  China has been known to clamp down in the past during this period.
  • Recent events in places such as Egypt have highlighted the role the Internet can play in revolutions -- something the Chinese Government is deeply worried about.
  • A recent upsurge in new Facebook users from China - apparently gaining access through VPNs since Facebook is blocked in China.  Given the role that tools such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc played in the Egyptian and other uprisings the sudden increase of Chinese Facebook users may have caused China concern.
  • Hillary Clinton gave a speech last month about the role the Internet can have in people gaining various freedoms  -- in part highlighting the events in Egypt (see the link for the full text of the speech).  It also mentioned the United States' funding and support for technologies and people working in the fight against "internet repression":
    "We have our ear to the ground, talking to digital activists about where they need help, and our diversified approach means we’re able to adapt the range of threats that they face. We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are available. And we invest in the cutting edge because we know that repressive governments are constantly innovating their methods of oppression and we intend to stay ahead of them."
    The speech specifically referenced China.  The expansion of the Great Firewall may be a retaliation or a show of might by China -- look what we can easily do against existing technologies.  This wouldn't be the first time a speech by Hillary Clinton had an impact in China.
It's very hard to say if one of these factors may have played a larger role than the others -- but they are all potentially "big" to China.  They also impact understanding another issue: Why were some services which are openly distributed through Chinese web sites either spared or able to adjust without users noticing problems?

I will tackle that in my next post.

[Added note:  "Next post" is here.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More on Witopia and the Great Firewall's Expansion in China: Who is Impacted?

I have some more information regarding the expansion of the Great Firewall and my experiences using Witopia as described in my two previous posts here and here.

With assistance I received after contacting Witopia, I am now once again freely accessing the Internet.  However, the previous ways I used Witopia remain "blocked" in China.  Other Witopia users can contact Witopia directly by email to receive similar assistance.  I will wait and see whether my return to Internet freedom is derailed by another expansion of the Great Firewall. 

Previously when I was in Vietnam, I was unable to access China-based web sites while using Witopia.  Witopia's technical support suspects the problem is due to blocking by China and they are able to reproduce my experience.   Ironically, as I understand things the problem is most likely to only impact Witopia users NOT in China.  In effect, China has created a mini reverse Great Firewall.  As I mentioned before, I am not sure whether China specifically desires to block Chinese sites from Witopia users abroad (though, the more I learn the more I think it is just a byproduct of their blocking tactics).
    I've also learned a bit more about who has been affected by the recent expansion of the Great Firewall:
    • According to both Witopia and a variety of sources on the web (such as here) the expansion of the Great Firewall has impacted a variety of VPN services and not only Witopia.
    • Of some employees I've surveyed working at the Chinese offices of companies with American headquarters, all reported no problems accessing an uncensored Internet.  I don't know if those companies are not being affected by any recent changes in the Great Firewall or they are successfully "adjusting".
    • I have spoken to people using VPN services in China on their private computers who have also not experienced any problems.  Like the above, I'm not sure if this means the services were not affected or the services successfully adjusted without their users being aware of any disruption.  All the people I spoke to who fit this description were using VPN services distributed through Chinese web sites that are not frequented by most Westerners in China.
    If the above is representative of events in China, I find it particularly intriguing that some services openly distributed through Chinese web sites were either spared or were able to adjust without users noticing problems.  If China desires to reduce the circumvention of the Great Firewall by Chinese users, one may expect that such services would be the main target for any disruption as their users are most likely predominantly Chinese.  And it would be curious if such services, often very cheap or free, could adjust without their users' awareness when users of services more familiar to most Westerners were painfully aware of problems.

    I will suggest some possible reasons for the above pattern and also comment on some possible reasons for the timing of the Great Firewall's expansion in an upcoming post.

    [Added note:  "Upcoming post" can now be found here.]

      Monday, March 14, 2011

      Update on China's Great Firewall and Witopia

      I am back in China.  I am still pulling together some information regarding my previous post on China's Great Firewall and Witopia.  Since I may not have regular internet access this week (due to mundane reasons not related to any Great Firewall events), I wanted to provide an update.

      At this moment I can say: 
      • Upon my return to China, I discovered the claim that the Great Firewall had been expanded in a way that greatly interfered with at least some of Witopia's services appeared to be true.
      • Under such circumstances I was effectively "behind" the Great Firewall and could not access sites blocked in China such as Blogger.
      • I am now writing this post through Blogger's normal online interface.  I will leave it at that.
      The Great Wall is still not solid.  Previously, I believed some of its holes were left knowingly and intentionally (see here for an article on the Great Firewall and it's flexibility by James Fallows).  However, with recent events I'm not sure to what degree China is now willing to allow holes in its Great Wall.  The issue could have large consequences.

      More as soon as I can...

      [Added note: Further update here]

      Saturday, March 12, 2011

      China Firewall Blocking Witopia or Witopia Fighting Back or...?

      There may be a new development regarding the "Great Firewall" used by China to censor the Internet.

      First, I need to provide some context.  I frequently make use of the virtual private network (VPN) service Witopia.  In short, it provides a way to surf the web more securely and anonymously.  In China it has the added benefit of "getting around" the Great Firewall -- the main reason I, like others, started using it.  Many foreign companies in China openly use strategies similar to Witopia's for their own internet needs and would not be able to operate efficiently otherwise.

      Now the meat of the story...  While using Witopia in Vietnam tonight I noticed an interesting pattern.  It was working fine for web sites hosted in the US, Germany, Japan, etc.  However, I was not getting a response from any of the China-based web sites I attempted to visit despite not having had a problem earlier in the day.  The new problem was consistent whether I connected to Witopia's service through servers in the US or Singapore.

      When I turned off Witopia I immediately had no problem accessing the sites in China.  I reconnected through Witopia and the problem returned.  The problem appeared to be specific to my use of Witopia for sites in China.  At this point I noticed a report of recent problems using Witopia in China which suggested that China is doing something that negatively impacts at least some of Witopia's services.  Now, I was intrigued...

      So, based on the above I think it's worth suggesting a few possibilities I can think of that may account for what I experienced.
      • Maybe China wants to make all of Witopia's services less usable for getting around the Great Firewall or for accessing any site in China.
      • Maybe China doesn't want it to occur and it is an undesired (but possibly necessary) side effect of any other interference caused by China.
      • Maybe Witopia is retaliating against China - if you interfere with us we'll interfere with you.  It may seem peculiar they would do this without a public announcement but it could also be very savvy.  Often in China, publicly airing your disputes is not effective in resolving issues.
      • Maybe it is just an unintended technical glitch -- whether specific to me or broader.

      This all raises a host of very interesting issues which I'd love to explore but...   I'll first do some more digging around and also see what things are like during the next day or two.  If nothing else, I want to see if this is a "stable" situation.

      On the side, in the near future I will be returning to China.  If I am not able to use Witopia there then I am not sure whether I will be able to access my blog for posting as I normally do.

      We'll see...

      [Added note: Update here]

      Vietnam, meet Mahler and the Backstreet Boys

      In Hanoi you can listen to a Vietnamese premiere of music by Gustav Mahler:

      Or to the Backstreet Boys:

      I wonder if there is anyone who attends both...

      Friday, March 11, 2011

      Unproductive Interviews

      Yesterday, my day was filled with bicycling to some historic sites outside of Hue, Vietnam and my night was occupied by a flight to Hanoi.  The historic sites were incredible and I hoped to speak to some other visitors to learn more about their impressions.  Unfortunately, in several cases I was rather unsuccessful in getting much response as seen in these two cases at the Tomb of Khải Định:

      Attentive, but quiet.
      Dare I say he was stone faced?

      Hopefully better luck next time.  Now, I must deal with an unexpected flight cancellation, so I will have to postpone a more substantial post till later.

      Tuesday, March 8, 2011

      Google's Reply to the Chinese Media's Accusation of "Meddling"

      In my recent post "Google Accused in China of 'Meddling' in Egypt" I wrote that part of the goal of Google's detractors in China is to link Google with the US Government.

      Recently, Bloomberg received this email reply from Google regarding the Chinese article:
      “Contrary to assertions made by the Chinese media, every decision we have made regarding China has been made by Google alone.”
      However, convincing the Chinese people that Google is independent of the US Government is not going to be solved by an email to Bloomberg News.  I'm pretty sure Google did not have such far reaching hopes for the email, but it raises an important issue to consider.

      How do you convince the Chinese people you're not "against" them when the Chinese Government supported media is actively saying otherwise?  That's a million dollar (actually, much more than that) question.

      Much of my research in user experience design in China has touched on this and similar issues.  After all, my work has been to help companies design technology that is not only useful and usable for consumers but that is also desirable.  Being viewed as a company aiding the causes of foreign governments doesn't likely aid in increasing the desirability of your products or services.  And just as understanding people's needs, desires, concerns, etc. are key to designing a successful product or service, they are also a key component for understanding how to best navigate situations such as the one Google faces.

      Based on my research, I have thoughts about how companies such as Google could increase their chances of success in China with particular groups of consumers.  Some of these directly relate to Google's current predicament.  I will share some of these thoughts in future posts.

      "I'm Muslim, Don't Panik"

      Seen on a bridge in Hue, Vietnam:

      Shirt with words I'm Muslim Don't Panik

      Google Accused in China of "Meddling" in Egypt

      David Bandurski for the China Media Project comments on a recent article about Google circulating in China in his piece "Opium Wars and the perfidy of Google":
      "As “web user” Zheng Yan (郑岩) wrote in an article posted Friday on People’s Daily Online, a website operated by the CCP’s official People’s Daily, “[Google] is not just a search engine tool — it is a tool to extend American hegemony.” The Mountain View, CA, based company is, says Zheng, “America’s British East India Company.”
      The article was cross-posted on more than 300 websites in China, including Xinhua Online,, China Youth Daily Online and
      And since this is a story about good guys and bad guys, you should know that Chinese search engine provider Baidu is a national hero that “strongly blocked” Google in China."
      Bandurski's piece also provides an English version of the the article by Zheng Yan that is worth reading.  It makes numerous claims including:
      "The facts have shown that Google is not purely a company, that it seeks not only to make the money of other nations, but also meddles in the political affairs of other countries. It is not just a search engine tool — it is a tool to extend American hegemony"
      This claim is key for those who wish to "block" Google in China.  It is to the advantage of Google's detractors, whether competitors or other "forces", for Chinese people to believe that Google is not a potential vehicle for what they may want but for what the US Government wants.  Many Chinese already believe that if the US & Chinese Governments disagree on something, what the US wants must be detrimental to China.  So, any association of Google's interests with the US Government's is viewed poorly.

      As I wrote earlier, some of Google's supporters in China had a change of heart after Hillary Clinton gave a speech last year that specifically referenced Google's situation in China.  The speech provided an opportunity to associate Google with the US Government.  Zheng Yan's article is yet another attempt to fuel the perception that Google is "political".  Ironically and brilliantly, it may cause many in China to not only further dismiss the power that could be provided to them with services such as Google's, but to also not see that they have many goals in common with the people in places such as Egypt.

      [Added note:  Post about Google's reply]

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      Google Hotel in Vietnam

      Recently, I arrived in Hue, Vietnam - the former imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty.  I was excited to explore both its rich historical sites and its delicious local food.  However, something else also caught my attention.  Yesterday, while I was walking down a street I noticed this sign:

      Google Hotel sign

      I had never heard of a Google Hotel, so I walked around the corner to see if it really existed.  Indeed, not far away I found the Google Hotel:

      Google Hotel in Hue Vietnam

      Later that night, I discovered the hotel appeared to have its own web site -- of course, it's the Google Hotel!  I was particularly intrigued to find that under "Our services" they listed "Nerd water" as a drink for sale.

      Well, I knew I had to try some nerd water so I stopped by the next day.  The menu was a bit different from the online version.  The drinks page is here:

      Google Hotel menu drinks page

      Instead of "nerd water" they had "nerd bird can".  I wasn't totally sure I wanted a nerd bird can so I ordered this instead:

      Festival Beer

      After a few sips of the decent 50 cent local beer I asked the Google Hotel staff about the nerd bird can.  They insisted it was very healthy so I decided to give it a try.  Out came this:

      White Fungus Bird's Nest Drink

      It actually had a good taste.  I don't know how to describe it other than that it was completely not like how I'd expect a white fungus bird's nest drink to taste.  Or nerd water.  Regardless, "bird's nest" appears to be a much better English translation for the Vietnamese listings on their menus.  The people I spoke to weren't aware of the meaning of "nerd".  Maybe someone else had a sense of humor...

      After finishing the drinks, I took a look around the lobby and saw this:

      Google Hotel's clocks for different cities around the world

      All those clocks for different cities around the world and no Mountain View clock?  I suspect Google Headquarters would not be pleased.

      At least they were providing free internet:

      Google Hotel's computers at entrance

      They were also selling Google Hotel raincoats & hats for less than $1 each:

      Google Hotel's raincoats and hats for sale

      I finally asked why they named their hotel the "Google Hotel".  One replied, "It's a good name!"  Indeed it is.  After some further questioning they pointed to a lady, who I assumed was the manager or owner, and said she really liked Google so she decided to use its name.

      That was the end of my visit to the Google Hotel.  I saw no point in staying longer since there weren't any free meals.

      Just one more thing...  If you visit the Google Hotel web site you can find this at the bottom of the pages:
      "Copy right @ 2010 by Googlee Hotel"
      That's priceless.