Sunday, May 31, 2015

Musical Suona Moments in China and Canada

The video in the previous post may have been a jolt for readers expecting something more . . . Chinese. So to help soothe any frayed nerves, here is a man I saw playing the suona, a Chinese double-reeded horn, at Chengnan Park in Shaoyang, Hunan:

man playing the suona surrounded by greenery at Chengnan Park in Shaoyang, Hunan

For some music, instead of abruptly switching back to a fully China-themed post and possibly shocking some readers with yet another big change, I will share a duet which includes both Eastern and Western instruments performed by Zhongxi Wu and David All in British Columbia, Canada. The tempo picks up significantly around the 1:30 mark.

[on YouTube]

I feel safe saying that is the best suona and bagpipe duet performance I have ever heard.

Seeing Fame in Changsha

A bit of fame I saw Saturday night in Changsha:

young man wearing shirt with "FAME 08" on the back with a young woman

A bit of Fame I didn't see (or hear) Saturday night in Changsha:

[on YouTube]

In fact, I have never seen dancing like that (it really gets going just after one minute into the video) any night in Changsha. I have seen other styles of choreographed dancing here, though, including at the previously described pole dancing school. More about the non-pole style of dancing I have seen, often as part of mobile phone promotions, another time.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Clearer Day in Changsha

The intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road on Tuesday, the same day I shared examples of people protecting themselves from the sun on a smoggy day in Changsha:

intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road in Changsha on a smoggy day

The same intersection on an overcast Friday, which had much lower levels of pollution:

intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road in Changsha on less polluted day

The pollution was still higher than what would be acceptable in the U.S. for long-term exposure, but it felt like fresh air after recent days. The worst days in Beijing, and sometimes elsewhere, may make for flashier news, but the regularity of days like Tuesday not only in Changsha but many other places as well is a bigger problem for people's health in China.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Xtepiration in Changsha

I planned to post something I had expected to be delightfully simple before moving onto more delightfully complex matters. But the post turned into something also delightfully complex and took me down several unexpected paths. Since it clearly won't be finished today, I will now share a photo which tangentially relates to it. As a bonus, it includes a message which may inspire some people.

part of large advertisement for Xtep with the message "KEEP MY BELIEVE" covering a space apparently under construction

The space under renovation along Changsha's South Huangxing Commercial Pedestrian Street was covered by the upper portion of marketing material for the Chinese sportswear company Xtep. Since I don't know what appeared below the cut, I will refrain from commenting on its possible intended message. You are welcome to seek a deeper meaning in the scene though.

For an extra bonus, while I stood there with my camera out, a person walked by and enthusiastically posed for a photograph. I accepted his gracious offer.

young man wearing a face mask with his hands in the air and fingers making V signs.

And now I feel inspired to continue work on the other post.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Umbrellas More Common Than Face Masks on a Rainless and Smoggy Day in Changsha

Similar to what I found earlier this year in Chongqing, one thing that remains mostly the same in Changsha since previous visits is the air pollution. Today was no exception, and Changsha had some of its most polluted air for recent days.

a smoggy view of Furong Middle Road in Changsha

According to U.S. standards, the air quality in terms of a 24 hour exposure to the smallest particles was in the "very unhealthy" category. I saw few people wearing face masks, and those I did see were clearly not the types effective at filtering harmful pollutants.

Despite the smog, the sun at times did its best on a rainless and humid day to reach humanity. So far more than people wearing face masks, I saw people employing commonly used methods in China to avoid tanning.

two young women holding sun umbrellas walking down a street in Changsha

man blocking the sun from his face with a bag

woman holding an umbrella walking by a construction worker in Changsha

woman holding an umbrella at a street intersection in Changsha

Perhaps if these people knew the degree to which heavy smog blocks the radiation that causes tanning, they wouldn't have felt the need to take any extra precautions today.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Snack for Two on a Motorbike in Changsha

Some people talk on a mobile phone while on a motorbike. Some people sleep on a motorbike.

Today in Changsha, some people ate while on a motorbike.

two girl eating while sitting on a parked electric bike in Changsha

And in the background, you can spot something related to a couple of themes for some upcoming posts.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Shooting Rubber Covered Pockets of Air in Changsha

Earlier today while reviewing photos I took in October 2012, I noticed one scene at a riverside pedestrian area in Changsha captured a familiar theme — the deliberate destruction of innocent balloons.

I didn't know when I took the photo that later I would see the same activity in Hengyang and in Shaoyang. Hunan is a tough place to be a balloon.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Shooting Rubber Covered Pockets of Air in Shaoyang

A common evening sight along the river in Hengyang is people shooting balloons. In neighboring Shaoyang I didn't see as much of the activity, including at a popular pedestrian riverside area somewhat similar to the one in Hengyang. Possibly I was just not at the right place at the right time.

I did see the activity on at least one evening though. This time a boy enjoyed the opportunity to obliterate threatening colored balloons.

balloon shooting game operator in Shaoyang

boy shooting balloons in Shaoyang

In true balloon-shooting spirit, the boy showed no mercy. He noticed me watching, so, similar to the four boys with toy guns I met in Maoming last year, perhaps I was lucky to walk away unscathed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Barking Dogs, Barbecue Buddha, and a Broom Attack

Today while walking down Renmin Road in Changsha, I encountered two dogs who had plenty to say to me.

two dogs in Changsha

Perhaps the closer dog had realized at this moment I knew they were mostly just bark. But at least they were standing next to an interesting location — a Chinese barbecue shop.

two dogs in front of a Chinese barbecue shop

It opens at 5:00 p.m. and closes around midnight. When closed it displays a painting of what appears to be Buddha holding grilled skewered beef.

painting of Buddha eating barbecued beef skewers

Or maybe it is tofu. Whatever the case, the shop's name specifically mentions beef.

As I took photos of the shop and the Buddha painting, something unexpected occurred. A shirtless man approached me and began screaming at . . . I'm not sure who, maybe the dogs, though they weren't doing anything at the time. He was possibly using the local dialect.

I sensed something wasn't quite right as it certainly wasn't normal behavior. Especially compared to what I had seen and dealt with during my earlier 10 years of life in Baltimore, I wasn't worried, but I remained alert. I commented to the man about the painting. His yelling continued unabated.

I then decided to start video recording to capture the moment to see if a local friend could understand the man. But he had stopped yelling by then and started to walk away.

I sensed all was not over.

As the following video shows, I was not wrong, but what occurred was even more unexpected — especially the dramatic "unsheathing".

After the man walked away, one person watching nearby used hand gestures to communicate he thought the man was "crazy". I am somewhat surprised I haven't seen similar examples more often in China. Baltimore was more eventful in this regards.

I have no idea what the man did with the broom handle. It looks like it could have been a great skewer for some large pieces of beef.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A One-Wheeled Phone Conversation

Recently I shared examples of people using mobile phones while in control of moving motorbikes in Hengyang. Today in Changsha, I saw an example of someone using a mobile phone while riding another type of powered vehicle.

girl with a mobile phone to her ear while riding an electric unicycle down an alley

Despite the vehicle only having one wheel, I suspect the phone use presents less of a safety issue given the vehicle's slower speed and it not requiring any hands to operate. Although they are not an everyday sight, I have noticed more and more electric unicycles in use, often rented for a fun ride. I didn't ask the girl if she owned the unicycle. She appeared preoccupied as she zoomed past.

From Hengyang to Changsha With a Few Stops In Between

Over a month ago I arrived in Hengyang, Hunan.

motorbikes waiting at the intersection of Chuanshan Avenue and Zhengyang North Road in Hengyang
Intersection of Chuanshan Avenue and Zhengyang North Road in Hengyang

And almost exactly a month ago I left Hengyang and went to neighboring Shaoyang.

man carrying two baskets on a pole across the intersection of Wuyi Road and Dongfeng Road
Intersection of Wuyi Road and Dongfeng Road in Shaoyang

From Shaoyang I went to neighboring Loudi.

woman crossing the road at the meeting point of Dixing Road and Yuetang Street in Loudi
Meeting point of Dixing Road and Yuetang Street in Loudi

From Loudi I went to neighboring Xiangtan.

vehicles waiting at the intersection of Chezhan Road and Jianshe North Road in Xiangtan
Intersection of Chezhan Road and Jianshe North Road in Xiangtan

From Xiantan I went to neighboring Zhuzhou.

Tiantai Road in Zhuzhou with the Shennon Tower (Zhuzhou Television Tower) in the background
Tiantai Road in Zhuzhou

From Zhuzhou I went to neighboring Changsha — the capital of Hunan province and where I am now.

Intersection of Chengnan West Road and Baisha Road in Changsha

Both Hengyang and Changsha were return visits. The other prefecture-level cities in Hunan were first-time visits, and by design, with one minor exception, I have not previously mentioned them here. After flipping through all of my photos from the past month to prepare this post, I am reminded I have more than enough to process and share.

The frequent travel and amount of time I spent immersing myself a diverse set of cities meant I was not able to blog as much as I would have liked. In the near future, I will share some of what I have experienced and learned in Hunan. I plan to also touch on some topics related to two cities elsewhere in China where I spent a significant amount of time earlier this year — Chongqing and Zhongshan.

So as usual, more soon . . .

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Balanced Sleep in Hengyang

Whether or not you are a motorbike-taxi driver in Hengyang, sufficient sleep is an important part of a healthy work-life balance.

man sleeping on a motorbike with his legs propped up on the handlebars

Some people are more flexible in where they can get it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Inflated and Deflated Hunan Style

At Donghu Park in Zhuzhou, Hunan, during the day children enjoy playing on an appropriately inflated slide.

children playing on a large inflated Pororo-themed slide at Donghu Park in Zhuzhou, Hunan

At night children may reflect when they discover the slide has been deflated.

child looking at a deflated slide ride at Donghu Park in Zhuzhou, Hunan

Some may even prefer it that way.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Waiting for an Early Passenger in Hengyang

Two motorbike-taxi drivers waiting for passengers around 7:30 a.m. in Hengyang:

motorbike taxi driver waiting at an intersection in Hengyang, Hunan

motorbike taxi driver waiting at an intersection in Hengyang, Hunan

The two types of helmets seen in the photos are common equipment for motorbike-taxi drivers in Hengyang. As suggested in an earlier set of photos of motorbike drivers in Hengyang, most other people ride sans helmet.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Buddha Lends a Hand

This Buddha appears to be ready to lend a hand . . .

a large Buddha head sitting on the ground with a large hand next to it

. . . or a foot.

a large Buddha head sitting on the ground with a large hand next to it and another hand and two feet farther away

I saw the Buddha head at Hengyang's West Lake Park. For a size reference, here is a young girl examining it:

young girl who is almost the same height as the Buddha head

I don't know why the parts were there, nor do I know what became of the rest of Buddha's body, assuming it ever existed. Perhaps a deep message is intended. Perhaps one can be found.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Desire for Whiter Skin Possibly Connected to Vitamin D Deficiency in China

After mentioning the vitamin D deficiency she developed after moving to Beijing, Alyssa Abkowitz described a study indicating many others in China have the same deficiency:
A recent study conducted by seven Chinese hospitals across five cities found that more than half of the Chinese population suffers from the same problem. The study measured vitamin levels in more than 2,000 volunteers and found that only about 5% of participants had healthy levels of Vitamin D, which is crucial for strong bones and a healthy immune system. That’s compared to about 67% of the U.S. population whose Vitamin D levels are deemed sufficient, according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
In a fact sheet for health professionals, the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. explains the important connection between sun exposure and vitamin D:
Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) B radiation with a wavelength of 290–320 nanometers penetrates uncovered skin and converts cutaneous 7-dehydrocholesterol to previtamin D3, which in turn becomes vitamin D3. Season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D synthesis. Perhaps surprisingly, geographic latitude does not consistently predict average serum 25(OH)D levels in a population. Ample opportunities exist to form vitamin D (and store it in the liver and fat) from exposure to sunlight during the spring, summer, and fall months even in the far north latitudes.

Complete cloud cover reduces UV energy by 50%; shade (including that produced by severe pollution) reduces it by 60%. UVB radiation does not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors through a window does not produce vitamin D. Sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 or more appear to block vitamin D-producing UV rays.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers in China suggest people spending less time outdoors and high levels of smog as causes for the large number of people with a vitamin D deficiency. But a possible contributing factor not discussed in the journal article exists as well.

In addition to people using mobile phones while driving motorbikes, this is something else I recently saw on a bridge in Hengyang, Hunan province:

young woman walking while holding a red bag over her head
I moved to the side just in time.

She was not hiding from my camera as she walked down the sidewalk. Instead, most likely she was trying to avoid the bright sun that day. I saw multiple similar examples, all involving females, just minutes apart on the same bridge. None of this surprised me in the least, since many women in China desire whiter skin or, at the very least, don't want their skin to become darker.

advertisement for skin whitening cream in Shenzhen
Advertisement for skin whitening cream which previously appeared in a set of scenes from Shenzhen

In addition to skin whitening cream for sale, a big business, in many parts of China it is common to see younger women using umbrellas outside on sunny days. When an umbrella isn't available, a variety of items, such as bags, extra clothing, and paper flyers, may instead be used as shields from the sun. So even if they are outside on a sunny day, they are missing out on a prime opportunity for vitamin D.

This type of behavior probably doesn't account for all of the researchers' findings, such as the significantly lower vitamin D levels for males in Beijing aged 49 to 59 years. Again, other factors such as time spent indoors and levels of smog likely play a role. Yet the well-established connection between UVB exposure and vitamin D levels, the prevalence of people actively blocking the sun's rays while outside, and the study's finding that vitamin D levels were overall "much worse among women and younger participants" make it more than fair to suspect the desire for whiter skin has contributed to China's vitamin D problem.

In the near future, I doubt many people who now prefer lighter skin would rethink their views and seek more outdoor UVB exposure, even if the air quality and their schedules allow it. Instead, as Abkowitz suggests, increased demand for vitamin D supplements and fatty fish, one of the better natural food sources for vitamin D, is far more likely. I can't imagine how much their prices would go up if they were found to also cause lighter-colored skin.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Motorbike Phone Calls in Hengyang

The Hengxiang Bridge offers an excellent opportunity to appreciate Hengyang's "traffic culture" and the variety of vehicles used there.

motorbikes, motorized tricycle cart, bus, truck, and cars on the Hengxiang Bridge in Hengyang

It also offers an excellent opportunity to observe some real-life mobile phone usage in Hengyang. On that note, here are four photos I took as I crossed the bridge one afternoon:

man using a mobile phone while driving a motorbike

woman using a mobile phone while driving a multi-colored motorbike

woman holding a mobile phone to her right ear with her left hand while driving a motorbike

man using a mobile phone while driving a motorbike

In all four cases, a person was using their mobile phone while driving a motorbike. The above capture most, but not all, of the examples I saw.

Later as I walked back across the bridge, I saw one man park his bike in the dedicated bike lane and then have a phone conversation as he stood on the sidewalk.

man looking over the railing of a bridge while speaking on a mobile phone and his motorbike parked in a bike lane

And finally, tying it all together in what felt like a brief magical moment, I saw a man using a mobile phone while he rode by and looked at a woman who had stopped to use a mobile phone.

man using a mobile phone while riding a motorbike and looking at a woman who stopped her motorbike to use a mobile phone

It is a just a small period of time and only a single location. But if representative, it suggests a large number of people in Hengyang are willing to use their phones while driving a motorbike, at least under some conditions. And much else could be learned, better appreciated, or questioned at this single bridge in Hengyang.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

To See or be Seen in Hengyang

Some of the seats at the Starbucks in Hengyang, Hunan:

seats facing a window at Starbucks in Hengyang

man and woman looking out a window at Starbucks in Hengyang

The view may not seem special, but that doesn't have to be the point.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tasting Something Local: Lemon Cheesecake Oreos

As reported in USA Today earlier this week:
[A Colorado mother] packed her 5-year-old daughter a ham and cheese sandwich, string cheese and a 4-pack of Oreos on Friday. The child came back home from Children's Academy with the Oreos and a note from her teacher which read, in part:
"Dear Parents, it is very important that all students have a nutritious lunch. This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable and a heavy snack from home, along with a milk. If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it. Lunchables, chips, fruit snacks, and peanut butter are not considered to be a healthy snack. This is a very important part of our program and we need everyone's participation."
The child said her teacher didn't allow her to eat the cookies during lunch, because they don't have enough nutritional value.
I am not sure about the statute of limitations in such cases, so to avoid any potential jail time for my mother I will refrain from sharing details of my own snacks as a child.

I liked Oreos as a kid, but now I now lean towards other items when I indulge in sweets. One exception occurred about two years ago in Shaoxing when I tried one of the localized flavors available in China. I discovered "peach-grape Oreos were not my thing".

Recently in Hengyang, I decided to try another flavor targeting China's consumers:

Thin Oreos with chocolate wafers and lemon cheesecake cream didn't sound appealing. But to my surprise, not only did I prefer them to peach-grape Oreos, I actually liked them. The mix of flavors worked in a manner similar to mint-chocolate. The lemon added a refreshing quality to the chocolate.

Maybe I should send a few packs to Colorado. I would be more than happy to receive some string cheese in return.