Pages

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stars & Stripes on a Boy and Motor Scooters in Bengbu, China

Today at a pedestrian street in Bengbu, Anhui province, I briefly met a little boy wearing clothing with a red, white, and blue stars & stripes design.

little boy wearing clothing with a red, white, and blue stars & stripes design


Nearby, I saw a familiar stars & stripes design style on a motor scooter.

motor scooter with US flag design in Bengbu, China


A very short walk away from there, I saw another type of stars & stripes design I have also seen before in China.

motor scooter with "Go With Me" US flag design in Bengbu

"Go With Me" US flag design on front of motor scooter


And across the river, I saw yet another red, white, and blue design.

motor scooter with red, blue, and white stars


All of this happened to come across my path in a span of less than 90 minutes. I saw more related designs later in the day and none of them struck me as out of the ordinary. The designs raise questions about American influence, or soft power, in China. In the next post, I will share a disturbing example of how that influence may be having an impact in an unfortunate way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nazi Salutes from Chinese in Germany and White Nationalists in the U.S.

There is a certain irony in Chinese traveling all the way to Europe only to get arrested for expressing themselves in a country where they were far, far freer to express themselves. Over a week ago two Chinese citizens visiting Berlin, Germany, apparently thought it would be a grand idea to take photographs of themselves giving the Nazi salute in front of the Reichstag building. This was, in fact, a really bad idea for several reasons including that:
The Chinese citizens are now facing charges for "using symbols of illegal organizations" which could carry a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years, according to the police.

The Nazi party is banned in modern Germany, and its symbols and imagery can only be used for purposes such as teaching or historical research.
However, they should feel fortunate no passersby responded as one person did this past weekend not far away elsewhere in Germany:
Police say a drunken American man was punched by a passer-by as he gave the stiff-armed Nazi salute multiple times in downtown Dresden. . . .

Police say the American, who is under investigation for violating Germany’s laws against the display of Nazi symbols or slogans, had an extremely high blood alcohol level. His assailant fled the scene, and is being sought for causing bodily harm.
It isn't clear whether these men were expressing support for any Nazi ideals. But in the U.S. this past weekend, white nationalists took things to another level, a clearly intended level, by protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia, while carrying a variety of flags, including the Nazi flag, and giving the Nazi salute. One man who had previously shown much interest in Nazis plowed his car into another vehicle near counterprotesters setting off a chain reaction causing multiple injuries and one death.

There have been many powerful and thoughts thing written about the protests, the violence, and the reactions. I will simply share one of the powerful images widely shared this past weekend which especially spoke to me:


The photo actually appears to be from a protest last month in Charlottesville. One of the earliest postings was on Instagram (source of the above image). There was also an early Facebook post that identifies the officer as Darius Ricco Nash, who responded.

Regardless of when the photo was taken, it speaks to the events of this past weekend and to many others. And it is a very American photo. There is both bad and good in that.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dutch and Tolkien Possibilities for the Starbucks Grond in Bengbu

In regards to the "Grond Open" sign displayed on the opening day of a Starbucks in Bengbu, one reader pointed out that "grond" is a word in Dutch. I had noticed that as well. But since the word translates to "ground" in English and the Dutch phrase for "grand opening" is "grote opening", I didn't see strong reason to believe the sign was a result of the Dutch language.

Another reader excitedly (I imagine) shared that Grond is the name of a battering ram in the novel The Lord of the Rings. Author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it.
Here is how Grond was depicted in the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) directed by Peter Jackson:

Battering ram Grond in the movie The Return of the King
Source: Lord of the Rings Wiki

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all, but I feel safe saying there wasn't a gigantic battering ram at the Starbucks nor were there images of Grond in any promotional signs. Perhaps Starbucks should consider it for the future, though.

Although the Dutch language and a fictional battering ram may not explain the "Grond Open" sign, along with the conversations about the sign I had with people at the Starbucks they are indicative of the various paths and questions that can be raised when trying to identify the cause of English which appears to be incorrect or unusual in some way in China. As one reader who has much experience in translating Chinese text to English mentioned, looking for explanations often leads one down a rabbit hole. Sometimes it even leads to a Grond hole.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trying to Explain the Starbuck's "Grond Open" Sign

In a comment about the sign with incorrect English — "Grond Open" — for a Starbucks on its opening day in Bengbu, Potomacker suggested reasons why English errors on signs are more common in China than in Singapore and included this as a factor:
I'm very confident that more than one employee at this new franchise can read English and recognize the error. But to speak up has no upsides and only downsides. It means that the manager must reorder the signs (more work); the printer must admit that he has no quality control (loss of face); there is a delay in getting a corrected sign on display (horrors, a potential loss of income!) Whereas a Singaporean business owner might express gratitude to a stranger pointing out an English error in a business text, a mainland employee who catches a similar mistake has learned by example to just keep silent and pretend that everything is perfect.
In reply, I will share two relevant conversations I had at the Starbucks along with some impressions. I don't have answers to some of the questions they raise, part of why I don't feel like I know why this "Grond Open" mistake occurred and why it was allowed to be displayed.

While I was taking a photo of the outdoor sign, a young Chinese man who had been sitting inside approached me and asked me a few questions. His family lived in Bengbu, he spoke English, and he had studied for the past year in Toronto, where he would return once school was back in session. I took the opportunity to ask him whether he noticed anything wrong about the sign. He said he didn't, so I asked him to read the English words. What he said sounded like "ground open". After I asked him what it meant, he appeared genuinely confused as he looked at the sign and said he didn't know. This struck me since people in China who have studied English are typically more skilled in written English than spoken English. Also, the Chinese text immediately below could have acted as a cue to what the English text should have been.

I also showed a photo of the sign to one of the Starbucks employees who spoke at least some English and asked her what she thought of it. She recognized the sign and pointed out it was for their first day. When I asked if there was anything wrong with the English on the sign, a deliberately leading question, she said "no" and smiled. Based in part on her expression, I wasn't convinced she hadn't noticed a problem. My past experience interviewing people in China led me to believe I wouldn't be able to effectively and comfortably explore the matter in the present environment, so I didn't pursue it. After I pointed out that "Grond Open" was a mistake, she explained the sign had been made by a local company.

These are conversations with just two people, but already there is plenty to consider and ask.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Bengbu Cats for International Cat Day

It has just come to my attention that today in International Cat Day. With the exception of pet stores & markets, I haven't seen many cats in Bengbu. But I did see a few today. One was in a small store and froze upon seeing me. After some staring, it darted for cover. Elsewhere, I saw a kitten in a tiny cage that had just been sold to a man. Perhaps the man knew it was International Cat Day. The kitten probably did not.

I don't have any photos of the cats I happened to see today, but in the spirit of the day I can share two photos of cats I saw earlier in Bengbu.

Here is a kitten in a small convenience store:

kitten in Bengbu, China


I later learned the kitten is only present when it is brought by a woman who sometimes works there.

Here is a cat outside late at night:

white cat outside in Bengbu, China


Of note, there are several pet stores along this stretch. The cat ran off when I approached closer.

And that concludes this blog's observance of International Cat Day.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Codes and Antlers Abound at a Coca-Cola China Promotion in Bengbu

Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China
Coca-Cola promotional event in Bengbu, China

For this year's summer campaign, Coca-Cola China with the help of McCann World group rolled out new packaging called the "Code bottle":
Cia Hatzi, McCann Worldgroup Regional Vice President for Coca-Cola said, "The codes include more than just emoticons, but also numbers mixed with characters and graphics. When communication involves feelings and emotions, we can turn conversations into real connections, which is the role Coca-Cola can help facilitate.”

The campaign debuts with two films that will run on both TV and digital platforms. The stories focus on friendship and romance, two themes which appeal to Chinese youth. The first spot, “Friend Hunt” [which came out in June] centers around an invitation, using codes, to connect with friends for a special moment. . . .

The second film, “Break-up”, [which came out in July] incorporates codes for consumers to trace a young couple’s relationship journey, from the first time they met, to their first date, first kiss, first fight and first break-up, and ultimately how they reconcile over a bottle of Coke.


Versions of both ads were displayed yesterday in a Coca-Cola promotional event at the Intime City (银泰城) shopping center in Bengbu, Anhui province. The last time I took a close look at a similar Coca-Cola promotion, I possibly came close to destroying one of the displays due to incorrectly believing the intended interaction involved slamming a red target as hard as one could. This time I decided to avoid any undesired feats of strength and just observed.

In addition to the large video screen, there were interactive booths, none of which even to me looked like they required any hitting.

Booths at a Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China


The more stations visitors attended, the bigger of a gift they could receive in return. For example, with a stamp from one station visitors could get a small bottle of Coke. With five stamps, though, visitors could use a machine which produced a large Code bottle according to their own specifications. The station with the longest line was a virtual reality ride.

virtual reality ride and large video screen at Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China


Also popular was a money grabbing booth which somewhat ineffectively blew paper tokens instead of money.

kids in a money blowing machine at a Coca-Cola promotion


Of course there was plenty of Coke around.

Coca-Cola bottles with deer antler caps


And at least some of the part-time staff were college students.

two young women wearing deer antlers and one young man at a Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China


The full festivities lasted just one day, and today only a scaled-down version remained.

smaller version of Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China


All of the red deer antlers on displays, bottles, and heads of female staff aren't signs of Coca-Cola getting into the winter holiday spirit way too early. Instead, they are an integral part of this and other Coco-Cola promotions featuring the popular Chinese singer and actor Lu Han, who is the main character in the "Friend Hunt" ad. The character for "Lu" — 鹿 — in his name means "deer" and many of his fans wear deer antlers to show their support. One of Lu Han's performances in Beijing even set a Guinness World Records title for "largest gathering of people wearing antlers" with 1,731 participating. For context, this number surpasses the world record for "most dogs in costumed attire", which was set by 1326 dogs in St. Louis, USA, but falls well short of the world record for "largest gathering of people wearing false moustaches", which was set by 6,471 humans in Denver, USA.

In addition to the antlers, the displays include other references to Lu Han, such as the Shanghai mailbox he made famous. So along with the codes, there was no shortage of symbolism. The event seemed to be a success in terms of turnout yesterday. They may have hoped for a slightly larger crowd when I happened to be observing, but many more people would have made it difficult to move around and participate.

After conversations with some of the staff, I was given an small ice cold bottle of Coke. Perhaps they felt I had interacted enough despite not participating at any of the stations. Perhaps they were just happy I didn't mistake anything for a strength tester this time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Two Examples of Localization With Differing Results: Starbucks and Uber

Multinational companies grant vary degrees of independence to regional teams. One reason for increased independence is to enable the company to best adjust to local conditions. One piece about how this can work out and one piece about how this can go awry:

1. Keeping with the recent Starbucks theme here . . . Russell Flannery shares some thoughts from Belinda Wong, the country CEO for Starbucks in China, about the freedom they have to localize the Starbucks experience there:
Overall, the localization effort seems more subtle than overwhelming, making its approach "similar but not so similar" to what the company does in the U.S., Wong says. "I have to think about where you live, where you work and how you travel," she says. "This has to speak to you and not to folks in other countries. I like the fact that we are not the kind of the company that enforces what has to be done in the U.S. to be in China, and I think that forms part of why we are successful in China: because we are able to make sure that everything is developed in China with the Chinese consumers in mind."
2. In a in-depth story of how Uber knowingly rented unsafe recalled vehicles to many of its drivers in Singapore (link briefly goes through Twitter*), Douglas MacMillan and Newley Purnell detail how the desire to localize headed in the wrong direction:
Singapore in 2013 was Uber’s first Asian city, a beachhead for expansion. Uber however struggled to find enough drivers, documents show. The cost of owning a car there is among the highest in the world.

Uber created a unit, Lion City Rentals Pte Ltd., or LCR, in February 2015 to rent Uber-owned cars to drivers for about $50 a day. Buying a fleet of cars was new for Uber, whose business model relies on not owning assets. . . .

Rather than buy most new vehicles from authorized Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. dealers, Uber’s LCR unit bought new sedans and SUVs from more than a dozen auto importers, the emails show. These small dealers operate in the gray market—a legal channel outside manufacturers’ authorized networks—where safety, service and legal contracts are difficult to enforce. The Singapore team calculated it would be able to buy cars for 12% less than at authorized Honda dealers, according to the emails.
The fascinating piece captures how things went downhill from there in a variety of ways.



*I used a Twitter generated link because the Wall Street Journal offers free access to its articles if visited from there and some other sites as well. Otherwise, a paywall may appear for some readers. I could achieve the same effect by embedding a tweet here. I will share some thoughts about this practice in a later post. The tweet that generated the link is here. The direct link to the article is here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

China's Struggles With English: A Starbucks "Grond Open" in Bengbu

While signs of Starbucks localizations aren't hard to spot in China, such as its red bean scones, one sign displayed on the opening day for the second Starbucks in Bengbu probably isn't how Starbucks wants to adapt in China.



"Grond Open" presumably resulted from a combination of spelling and grammatical errors in translating the Chinese phrase below "盛大开业", which is typically translated as "Grand Opening". When I asked staff about the sign, one young woman told me it had been made by a local company in Bengbu. While them using a local printer doesn't surprise me, with Starbucks opening more than a store per day on average in China I would still expect them to use a design distributed by Starbucks' central corporate office in China. But perhaps displaying a grand opening sign isn't standard and Starbucks corporate hadn't planned for a store to take this route. The last time I saw a Starbucks store on its first day was over six years ago in Kunming, so I can't say from personal experience whether grand opening signs are common or not. A quick online search didn't turn up any similar examples from Starbucks elsewhere in China.

English mistakes like "Grond Open" on professionally made signs, displays, menus, etc. are rather easy to find in China, and the Chinese government wants to reduce their prevalence. It seems fair to have higher expectations in this regard for U.S. based chains, particularly one as successful, prominent, and internationally experienced as Starbucks. That even they slip up suggests it might be a while before such mistakes become a rare sight.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Just Another Day in China: Starbucks Opens 2nd Store in Bengbu

For several weeks, the status of the second Starbucks in Bengbu hasn't been clear. This afternoon I had reason to stop by the Intime City (银泰城) shopping center and discovered the store is now finally open — part of Starbucks opening more than a store a day on average in China. I didn't have plans for a caffeine boost, but I decided to check things out and immerse myself in the experience.

Staff excitedly told me it was their first day of operations. They hadn't opened earlier because some supplies and equipment hadn't yet arrived.

As at Starbucks elsewhere in China, many of the staff wore name tags displaying English names. Typically some of the names are more creative and wouldn't be common in western countries. The name used by the young woman who took my order fit in this category.

Starbucks nametag with "Lonely 石"


In short, the coffee tasted just like the coffee at the Starbucks 1000 meters down the street and other Starbucks much farther away. Although at the moment this location doesn't appear in the store finder for Starbucks in China, it seems safe to say the store isn't a fake. It was about one third to one half full of paying customers while I was there. At times there was a line at the counter, but at other times you could roll right up to place an order.

young woman on skateboard at a Starbucks counter


While this Starbucks reflects Bengbu's recent growth to a degree, what's reflected off of the front of the store will say more about Bengbu's future.

under-construction buildings reflecting off of the front of a Starbucks store in Bengbu


Many residential and commercial building projects are currently underway in Bengbu. Many, many, many. They raise serious questions which also apply to other cities in China. More about that later.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Bengbu Memory & Smile

"MEMORY" on the back of a shirt worn by a young woman



"Smile" with a smile below on the back of shirt worn by a young woman


Both of these photos were taken on Huali Street (华利街), which at times is packed with street vendors selling a variety of food. More about some of the life there another day.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Children Out to Dance in the Bengbu Night

I have been thinking a lot about Liu Xiaobo, the possibility VPNs will soon become much more difficult to use in China, and China's expanding censorship. For now, something on a lighter and cheerier note . . .

People dancing in groups at parks is a common sight in much of China. Most of the time it doesn't involve children dancing in the dark though. So below are a few photos taken after 9 p.m. this past Wednesday and Thursday at Datang Park (大塘公园) in Bengbu. During my brief time watching, the children appeared to be dutifully following the dancing program, though at least once a few separated out to do their own thing.


Children dancing at Datang Park (大塘公园) in Bengbu



Children dancing at Datang Park (大塘公园) in Bengbu



Children dancing at Datang Park (大塘公园) in Bengbu

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lined Up, Tied Up

Graffiti alongside Dongshuncheng Street (东顺城街) in Shenyang — October 22, 2016:


graffiti on a wall in Shenyang, China



people crawling behind one another with their face tied to the rear end of the person in front of them and a large coin at the front



graffiti in Shenyang, Liaoning



graffiti next to Chaoyang Street in Shenyang

Friday, July 14, 2017

Liu Xiaobo: Hidden, Missed, Undefeated, and Passionate

One day before the death of human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, I serendipitously met a friendly married couple in Bengbu, Anhui province. They have a little girl and both are highly-educated professionals. Upon learning my nationality, one of them said, "I like the US."

When I asked why, he replied, "Democracy".

So I asked what he thought about Liu Xiaobo, who had sought a democratic China.

After repeating Liu Xiaobo's name several times in apparent bafflement, he said he didn't know who I was talking about. I didn't pursue the matter as we walked into a small crowded local restaurant known for its wontons.

———————————

The following are excerpts from three recent pieces well worth reading in full. They say much about Liu Xiaobo, the reaction to his death, and a conversation I had in Bengbu that could have occurred in many other places in China.

Nicholas Kristof in "Liu Xiaobo, We Miss You":
Most Chinese have never heard of Liu Xiaobo, because the state propaganda apparatus has suppressed discussion of him. Thus the paradox: The first person to win a Nobel for work in China has died, and he is little mourned in his own land. Yet for those of us who followed his extraordinarily important and courageous work over the decades, there is a great sense of emptiness and sadness—not so much sadness for Liu himself, who is now free of persecution, but sadness for China’s backward march and sadness for the timidity of world leaders at the brutalization of one of the great men of modern times. There is so much we can learn from Liu’s courage, decency and vision, and some time I look forward to placing flowers at the memorial to him at Tiananmen Square.

Wu'er Kaixi in "Murdered but Undefeated"
During [the Tiananmen Square protests], I was to talk to US broadcaster Barbara Walters. Liu Xiaobo was my advisor on almost everything I did during the protests of 1989, and he helped to prep me for the interview.

I asked him, “What if she asks, what it’s like in Tiananmen Square? Do the students know what they want? Is it orderly? Is it hygienic?”

He looked at me in exasperation, and said, “Tell the truth.”

I was shocked. In China, you did not tell the truth.

Perry Link in "The Passion of Liu Xiaobo":
It was hard to find people who disagreed with the Charter once they read it, and it was precisely this potential for contagion that most worried regime leaders. That was their reason (not their stated reason but their real one) for suppressing the Charter, for imprisoning Liu Xiaobo, and for denouncing his Nobel Peace Prize. Their efforts have been effective: most young Chinese today do not know who Liu Xiaobo is, and older ones who do are well aware of the costs of saying anything about him in public.

The controls on Chinese society have been tightened during the last few years, under the rule of Xi Jinping—the opposite direction of what Charter 08 called for. This raises the question, “Is the Charter dead? Was the effort in vain?” It is difficult, but my answer would be no. The organization has been crushed but its ideas have not been. The government’s continuing efforts—assiduous, inveterate, nationwide, and very costly—to repress anything that resembles the ideas of Charter 08 is evidence enough that the men who rule are quite aware of its continuing power.

Liu Xiaobo, Dead But Not Gone

"As a tribute to the absent Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Medal and Diploma were placed on an empty chair during the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, 10 December 2010. Photo: Ken Opprann."

Incredibly sad in so many ways . . .

Chris Buckley in The New York Times:
Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil on Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him an 11-year prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2010 while locked away, died on Thursday. He was 61. . . .

Mr. Liu’s illness elicited a deluge of sympathy from friends, Chinese rights activists and international groups, who saw him as a fearless advocate of peaceful democratic change. He was the first Nobel Peace laureate to die in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, the German pacifist and foe of Nazism who won the prize in 1935 and died under guard in 1938 after years of maltreatment.

Portion of the statement from Ms Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee:
Liu Xiaobo's absence from the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony was marked by an empty chair. We now have to come to terms with the fact that his chair will forever remain empty. At the same time it is our deep conviction that Liu Xiaobo will remain a powerful symbol for all who fight for freedom, democracy and a better world. He belongs to a heritage of former Nobel laureates such as Carl von Ossietzky, Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Shirin Ebadi, to mention a few.

At the end of June the news reached us that Liu Xiaobo had been released from prison. He had been transferred to hospital, but was still under guard and held in complete isolation. We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill. The Chinese Government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.

The news of Liu Xiaobo's serious condition was met in part with silence and belated, hesitant reactions world wide. Eventually the governments of France, Germany, and the USA called for his unconditional release, as did the EU through its foreign policy spokesperson. It is a sad and disturbing fact that the representatives of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, are less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others.

One of the "fundamental principles" endorsed in "Charter 08", the manifesto which led to Liu Xiaobo's fourth and longest prison term:
Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

And a more personal note from Liu Xiaobo's Nobel lecture in absentia "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement", which he had hoped to read at his trial:
If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bengbu Experiencing Starbucks' Expansion in China

I have been to a number of cities in China where Starbucks can't be found, such as Ganzhou, Mudanjiang, and Shaoguan. Yet Starbucks' growing reach in China has been readily apparent, whether by coming across their first stores in cities such as Hengyang, Kunming, and Xiangtan or knowing they have opened in cities such as Lanzhou, Yanji, and Zhanjiang since I last visited them. Loosely based on these experiences, when I recently arrived in Bengbu I didn't expect to find a Starbucks here. I didn't even bother to check if one existed.

But I still found one.

Starbucks at the Bengbu Wanda Plaza (星巴克 — 蚌埠万达广场)


Prominently situated at the Wanda Plaza (万达广场) shopping center, the store opened about six months ago.

Inside the Starbucks at the Bengbu Wanda Plaza


For those now thinking of making a pilgrimage to Bengbu for mug, a warning: unlike many places elsewhere in China, no city-specifc mugs are available at the moment.

"China" labeled Starbucks mugs


Soon after finding this Starbucks, I saw that another Starbucks will open only 1000 meters away at the Intime City (银泰城) shopping center.

Under construction Starbucks at Intime City (银泰城) in Bengbu


Five days ago I watched workers place the letters for the storefront sign.

workers putting up lettes for a Starbucks storefront sign in Bengbu


Since then, the state of the store hasn't been as clear.

Starbucks at Intime City in Bengbu (星巴克 — 蚌埠银泰城)


The outdoor coverings are gone and there is nothing external to indicate the store isn't open. Sometimes, as in the above photo, the door is even left open. This seems to scream "we're open", but they aren't. I have seen multiple people approach the outside door only to find it locked or to open it and discover a Starbucks with a ladder standing in the middle of the floor, empty shelves, and no baristas at work. This experience doesn't strike me as what Starbucks should want to deliver. When I asked a Starbucks employee at the other store when the Intime City location would open she said she wasn't sure and suggested I wait a bit.

Whatever the story, the already-open Starbucks seems to be doing well and presumably, someday, the other will open as well. It isn't obvious whether this says more about the growth of Bengbu, which like many Chinese cities has undergone much change over recent years, or Starbucks, which also has stores in nearby cities including Hefei, Suqian, and Xuzhou. But both Bengbu and Starbucks appear to be enjoying the arrangement.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trying to Understand the Finger Rift in Bengbu

A Werner Herzog quote at the movie theater in Bengbu appeared to a be relatively clear case of what can happen when one attempts to translate translation back into the original language. Figuring this out was especially satisfying because often when I attempt to track down the source of English that for one reason or another catches my attention in China I feel like I am going down the rabbit hole.

Such was the case with an example elsewhere in the same shopping mall with the theater. On a men's restroom wall I saw a decal I have seen in China before in places like cafes:

city themed decal on a bathroom wall

Romantic City

Love is promised     twisted in the love   between
Finger rift    the fingers
I didn't understand the message, but perhaps nothing is wrong with the English. Poetry often involves creative language usage that wouldn't typically be considered grammatical or is not transparent in meaning. I was curious to see if I could sort this out.

An online search for an exact match to the message came up empty. But I did find an online site selling the same decal. They display it with the words in a different order.
Romantic City

Love is promised between the fingers
Finger rift twisted in the love
An online search for an exact match to this version also came up empty, but there were many matches to a slightly different version without the word "is":
Love, promised between the fingers
Finger rift, twisted in the love
Notably, most of these matches appear to be on sites based in Chinese. The quote often appears in a lists of quotes presented in both English and Chinese. This is the usual Chinese version:
爱情... 在指缝间承诺
指缝... 在爱情下交缠
Sometimes the list of quotes is described as "classical English" and some of the other quotes are recognizable or similar to other familiar quotes.

Elsewhere online, it isn't hard to find examples elsewhere of people asking in Chinese about the meaning of the English version. Typically somebody replies with the usual Chinese version without any further commentary.

Despite trying several different approaches, I have gotten much further than this. I couldn't find any attribution for the quote in either Chinese or English. And while I wonder whether something happened similar to what happened to the Herzog quote, I don't even know in which language the quote originated.

So if you can catch this rabbit, please let me know. And finger rift, the fingers . . .

Monday, July 10, 2017

Herzog Translated in Bengbu

At the Dadi Cinema today in Bengbu, I saw this quote from Werner Herzog on a wall:

slightly incorrect quote of Werner Herzog


The quote struck me as fitting for a movie theater. I also suspected the English version on the wall resulted from an attempt to translate back into English a Chinese translation of the quote — something I have seen with other quotes before in China. Indeed, I now see that the original quote in English is different:
It's not only my dreams. My belief is that all these dreams are . . . are yours as well. And the only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them.
For a more extended version, here is Werner Herzog speaking in Les Blank's Burden of Dreams (1982) — a documentary about the production of one of Herzog's films:


Now I'm looking forward to watching both the documentary and the movie. So, thank you, Dadi.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Today's Diversion: Quantum Fields

So this is out of left field (pun intended), but a lecture by David Tong distracted me from my original plans for today's post.




The lecture is primarily targeted for people who want to learn about the latest scientific theories of the universe's building blocks without getting into much or any math. Most of what he presented was already mostly familiar to me, but I was intrigued by his spin (once again, pun intended) on some topics and enjoyed how he made a compelling story out of complex ideas.

A Q&A followed the lecture.



Tong's response to the first question led me to looking up and reading his paper "Physics and the Integers" which expresses the viewpoint that at a fundamental level the universe is continuous, not discrete. Cool stuff.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Bit of Bengbu on the Fourth of July

Two days ago in Bengbu, a city in China's Anhui province, I spent the evening trying to celebrate the Fourth of July. Like a big part of my reasoning for choosing to visit Bengbu — appreciating the sound of its name — I saw it as a way to mix things up and learn things I may not have otherwise learned about China. I don't have as much of a story to tell about the night as I did a few years ago for a Fourth of July in Hengyang, Hunan. And while I did find much of interest, it would make more sense to share most of it in other contexts. Still, I have a bit of story . . .

The night started more fittingly than I could have ever reasonably expected. Seconds after heading out, I saw a Stars & Stripes themed motor scooter driving off.

American flag themed motor scooter in Bengbu


While I have seen scooters with an American flag design in China on occasion before, including one other in Bengbu, the timing here was wonderful. This really happened.

Later in the evening, I saw a scooter with a design seemingly inspired by a country who played a large role in making the Fourth of July happen.

British flag themed motor scooter in Bengbu


I see these British-looking designs on motor scooter far more often, so this was less of surprise.

After several nighttime snacks including two local items and one Big Mac, I stopped by a small convenience store to buy a celebratory drink. A Bengbu brand of baijiu struck me as a grand idea, and I jokingly asked a young girl who was eager to help whether she liked it or not. With body language playfully suggesting she wasn't exactly telling the truth, she said she did. Her mother (I presume) and I laughed. Good enough.

girl holding bottle of 皖酒王


So for 15 yuan (about U.S. $2.20) I bought a bottle of Bengbu Baijiu — not its name based on the Chinese (皖酒王), which more emphasizes its Anhui roots, but I like how it rolls of the tongue.

During a discussion with the taxi driver as I headed back to my hotel, I wasn't surprised to learn she didn't know July 4 had any significance in the U.S. But I was a bit surprised when she said she liked drinking this brand of baijiu. And I gotta say, as far a cheap baijiu goes I found it to be pretty decent. I didn't finish it though. I had more explorations planned for the Fifth of July.

Thursday, June 29, 2017