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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tangerine Trash in Macau

You know the Lunar New Year is really over when the tangerine pickup period has passed in Macau.

trash collection point in Macau


sign indicating dates for trash pickup of new year flowers and tangerines for Lunar New Year

Friday, February 17, 2017

Disappearances and Closed Doors: A Return to Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong on Monday, I noticed the front-page news about a missing billionaire in Hong Kong. Since then, there has been more news:
At least 30 employees of a Hong Kong billionaire who was whisked to China about two weeks ago have been stopped from leaving the mainland, with many more probably unable to travel, two people familiar with the matter said Monday.

It has become increasingly apparent that Beijing’s dragnet extends far beyond the billionaire, Xiao Jianhua, and is now closing in on dozens, if not hundreds, of his employees in one of the most far-reaching crackdowns on a private Chinese conglomerate in the nearly four decades since the country began to embrace free markets.
The case is reminiscent of the five staff of Causeway Bay Books who disappeared in 2015 and ended up in mainland China under similarly mysterious circumstances.

Since I visited the closed Causeway Bay Books store just over a year ago, one of the more remarkable related events was Lam Wing-kee's account of his abduction from Hong Kong and detention in mainland China. He could share his story only after returning to Hong Kong and ignoring the demands placed on him. In his full written account, Lam answered a question the media hadn't asked him but he felt was important:
Why did these people sell the bookshop but leave it empty? . . . Everyone knew that these people were rich. Yet they wouldn’t waste their money on nothing, would they? I am going to quote my own words — “when I was in Shaoguan, Shi told me that I had to continue working in the bookshop after I came back to Hong Kong. He would be in contact so I could report what was happening, through text or photographs. They wanted to understand what was going on in Hong Kong, especially those who were buying books about political theories.” Don’t you understand? The purpose of those people buying off the store was to have it serve as a convenient point of surveillance, from which they could spy upon Hongkongers.
This past Sunday I revisited the bookstore's location. The blue and white Causeway Bay Books sign still hangs prominently over Lockhart Road.

Causeway Bay Books sign above Lockhart Road in Hong Kong


After walking up one flight of stairs, I found the store's familiar closed doors, now without the notes of support I had seen before. Some written messages on the store's directional sign were visible though.

closed door of Causeway Bay Books


Contrasting in several ways, immediately next door SisterHood Lady Products was open for business.

entrance to SisterHood lady products in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong


While taking photos I noticed a man was watching me from partway down the stairway. After I started to leave he gave me a thumbs up. As we continued to walk down together he said in English, "Communist Party is bad." When I asked if he was from Hong Kong, he told me he was from "Peking" — the name for Beijing formerly used in English.

I was curious to learn more about the man, but I doubted I could confidently answer the questions now in my mind. I simply wished him well and headed down the street unsure of when I would next return to the bookstore. The man remained at the building's entrance for several minutes busy with his mobile phone.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Donald Trump Needs to Line Up for Noodles in Hong Kong

A few months ago in Shanghai I suspected there was something China wouldn't let me forget. And this past weekend, I was reminded of it yet again by a mural on the side of the Cart Noodle Expert (車仔麵專家) restaurant in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.

mural on the side of the Cart Noodle Expert (車仔麵專家) restaurant in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong


Here is a closer view of the section with yet another artistic interpretation of an iconic Donald Trump expression.

mural of a noodle cart line with a man offering assistance to Donald Trump


The sign next to Trump says "Please line up here". It looks like the man next to him is trying to help him.

If Trump does get in line, he might recognize somebody.

mural with a line of people including Barack Obama

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Swatching and Listening to Valentine's Day in Hong Kong

Performance for promotion at Swatch's store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Promotion two days ago at the Kai Chiu Road Swatch store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Billionaire News at a 7-Eleven in Hong Kong

Today at a 7-Eleven in Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, I noticed a New York Times front page with a piece titled "Video adds to mystery of vanished billionaire".

front page of New York Times magazine with piece title "Video adds to mystery of vanished billionaire" at a 7-Eleven in Hong Kong


It was a bit relevant to the local surroundings:
Xiao Jianhua, one of China’s wealthiest and most politically connected financiers, whose disappearance last month sent a chill through Hong Kong and the political class in Beijing, does not appear to be fine.

In the early hours of Jan. 27, he was taken out of the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong in a wheelchair, his head covered by a sheet or a blanket, according to people who have seen or been briefed on video footage captured by security cameras in the hotel.

Mr. Xiao, 45, who was not known to use a wheelchair, was accompanied by about half a dozen unidentified men who were also pushing a large suitcase on rollers. He is believed to have been transported by boat from Hong Kong, eluding border controls, and is now in police custody in mainland China, according to two people familiar with the investigation into his whereabouts.
More details from the piece here.

I will share a followup to a post about a somewhat similar case in Hong Kong later.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Change of Direction Due to a Graphics Card

Four nights ago in Zhongshan I was trying to learn a little bit about a practice which ties together astrology and plastic surgery. But before I could decide whether to mention it in a post, my laptop's screen suddenly displayed a peculiar pattern. And that pattern remained fixed. Not good at all. I mean the fixed pattern wasn't good, though I haven't been convinced astrology-based plastic surgery is a great thing.

Based on previous experiences, I strongly suspected there was a hardware issue with my graphics card. Also based on previous experiences, I knew that if this was true I would need to replace the entire motherboard since the graphics card is integrated with it (wonderful). And also based on previous experiences, I expected that unlike the previous two times the graphics card died in this laptop, the replacement would no longer be covered by a plan which had been extended due to known issues with the graphics card. It was possible the cost of replacing the motherboard would be high enough that buying a new laptop would be more sensible.

Dealing with all of this in Zhongshan was definitely not on the table. And my next destination was not ideal either. Fortunately, a very good location to resolve my problem wasn't too far away, though in another direction. A functioning laptop is a bit of a priority for me so . . . plans changed. And after a 3.5 hour bus ride (including passing through an immigration control point), I found myself in Hong Kong where I have been the past several days.

All went mostly as expected. Yup, it was the graphics card. I now have a new motherboard — incredibly my fourth and probably the last for this laptop. Partly due to a significant discount, it didn't cost as much as I had expected.

Anyway, the period of time my laptop was non-usable explains the recent silence here. More posts soon . . . 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Local Colors: Macau's Year of the Rooster Parade Floats

As in previous years Macau held parades for the Lunar New Year.  According to the Macao Government Tourist Office this year's "Parade for Celebration of the Year of the Rooster" went:
. . . under the theme of “All Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix for the Dawn of Spring” this year. In the story, birds of all kinds gather in Macao to welcome the phoenix, which breaks through the golden eggshell and bestows wishes of happiness, good fortune, longevity and prosperity to residents and visitors in Macao at the dawn of Chinese New Year. Marching across streets and plazas imbued with local color, the float parade continues to shine as a major highlight of the event. Along the way, souvenirs will be given out to spectators. The Parade together with other festive activities will brighten up the city with joyful vibes during Chinese New Year.
Even if you missed the parade and free souvenirs like me, you can still currently experience some of its joyful vibes at Tap Seac Square where the parade floats are illuminated from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Below are six of the more rooster-ous floats. They include some of the more artistically intriguing examples of roosters, phoenixes or other birds I have seen during the holiday. I don't know if the floats have names, but I call the one in the last photo Mecharooster.

Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau



Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau



Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau



Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau



Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau



Lunar New Year rooster parade float lit up at night in Macau

Sugar Painting in D.C. and Zhongshan

Thanks to a friend in the U.S., on Saturday I saw a video from NPR of traditional Chinese sugar painting at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The video, at least in part, is worth watching if you haven't seen sugar painting before. And even if you are familiar with the practice you may find it soothing to watch, for example after having read a lot of political news and commentary.

I told my friend I have seen people sugar painting set up on the sidewalk or at street markets. I debated over the right word for describing how often I see it, but it seemed fitting that the very next day at a popular pedestrian street in Zhongshan I saw a booth selling a variety of sugar painted figures.

sugar painting booth in Zhongshan, China


butterfly sugar painting figure.


Typically I see less formal setups for the sugar painting. When I stopped by the sugar painter was off doing whatever sugar painters do when they aren't sugar painting — so no video from me. All of the figures, presumably with the exception of a large fish on display, were 10 yuan each (about US $1.46). I have seen more elaborate figures made by sugar painters elsewhere, and perhaps this sugar painter would do something in that spirit on request. Whatever the case, this is just one of the many examples of sugar painting I have come across while going from one city to another in China.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Lunar New Year Burger Wars in China: Prosperity Burgers, Shrimp Burgers, and (Good) Luck Burgers

Advertisements in Zhongshan, Guangdong, for Burger King's and McDonald's special Lunar New Year burgers

The Lunar New Year in China not only brings a change of zodiac symbols, it also brings the McDonald's Prosperity Burger. Although available in Hong Kong and Macau, this special holiday treat mystifyingly remains unavailable at McDonald's in mainland China.

This year I found myself in Macau at the right time. Normally the idea of eating at McDonald's in Macau, a city with wonderful Macanese and Portuguese delights, would seem sacrilegious. I made an exception this time, though I didn't give up a meal for it. Instead, I took one for the team and had two dinners one night. You're welcome.

Upon entering the Macanese McDonald's, I saw there were four Prosperity Burger options — a choice of beef or chicken and with or without a hash brown.

sign for the Prosperity Burger options at a McDonald's in Macau


Curious to try something new, I went with the chicken & hash brown option.

chicken and hash browns Prosperity Burger


It only took me one bite before asking "Why?" The addition of a hash brown wasn't disastrous, but it also didn't do much for the burger except add intense caloric mass while diluting the taste of the Prosperity Sauce. It struck me as an uninspired way to try to mix things up. Next time, I am definitely going for an option sans hash brown. It will have to wait until next year though.

But that's not the end to this new year burger story. Not even close.

Although the Prosperity Burger mysteriously remains unavailable in mainland China, McDonald's there has a different set of burgers available for the Lunar New Year. For an intro, I will hand it over to Angela Doland in Ad Age:
McDonald's China just introduced intriguing new products for Chinese New Year: the Emperor's Best Shrimp Burger, the Empress' Pineapple Burger and a beverage that translates, loosely, as Smiling Concubine's Lychee Bubble Tea. Names like that beg for an explanation.

To build buzz about the unexpected ingredients, a campaign from Leo Burnett Shanghai tapped into China's passion for historical TV costume dramas. The shows, such as "The Empress of China," starring actress Fan Bingbing, feature elaborate costumes, tales of love and palace intrigue. Playing on that pop culture phenomenon, the agency did a series of surprising cartoon ads with a historical theme, which rolled out on digital channels including ubiquitous mobile app WeChat.

It can be dicey for Western brands to be too literal when referring to Chinese culture, but this approach works because . . .
Read Doland's piece for her thoughts on the promotion's effectiveness and the story behind it. Campaign Brief Asia has a review of three videos which were part of the promotion.

Although I was excited to try the two burger, I ran into an unexpected problem. Many McDonald's I checked didn't have either of the burgers. A couple of days ago at a McDonald's in Zhongshan with only the shrimp burger, an employee handing out flyers featuring the burgers told me they had sold out of the chicken burger at least half a month ago. And another McDonald's confirmed their lack of the items was due to selling out.

flyer for the Lunar New Year special items at McDonald's in mainland China


Regardless of the difficulty of finding the burgers, street-side advertisements for them are still easy to find in Zhongshan. I don't know whether this McDonald's promotion was wildly successful or they only prepared a very minimal number of burgers, but either way there a bit of a problem here.

I never did find anywhere still serving the chicken pineapple burger, but one recent day in Zhongshan I sat down for the shrimp burger set meal.



The curly fries must have been sitting out for a bit and were room temperature. If you imagine sugar stuffed into sugar with lychee flavoring in water, then you have an idea of the lychee bubble tea.

And the burger . . .

McDonald's Lunar New Year shrimp burger in China


A deep-fried shrimp patty topped with deep-fried shrimp is a bit more deep-fried than I would usually go, but I must say it was decent and reasonably shrimpy. I wouldn't need to do it again, but I'm glad I tried it. I would put it above the chicken hash brown Prosperity Burger but not the original Prosperity Burger.

That is all I have for McDonald's, but Steven Schwankert had better luck than I did and reviewed both mainland China burgers for The Beijinger along with explaining the puns in their Chinese names.

But we're still not done, because Burger King is in the new year burger action too with two portobello mushroom burgers.

advertisement for Burger King's portobello mushroom lunar new year burgers in China


The promotion includes the mixed-language pun "菇大 Luck". "菇" means "mushroom". "大" means "big". And together their sound "gūdà" roughly sounds like the English word "good". In case people who know a bit of English miss the pun, Burger King helpfully puts "good" in parentheses above the relevant Chinese characters. On some signs Burger King provides the English names "Grilled Portobello Chicken Burger" and "Grilled Portobello Beef Burger". But I am going to go with "(Good) Luck Burgers".

With that out of the way . . .

In Zhuhai I met my first (Good) Luck Chicken Burger.



A look inside revealed two tomato slices along with the other ingredients.



The results?

Folks, this was one of the best fast food sandwiches I have ever had. Honestly, I was rather surprised. The portobello mushroom wasn't huge, but it was hearty and complemented the grilled chicken well. This is a burger I would happily eat again.

So later at a Burger King in Zhongshan, I figured I had to give the (Good) Luck Beef Burger a try. After opening up the burger, I realized my experience this time might differ.



There was only one tomato slice this time — a travesty. The positioning suggested another was to be added but for whatever reason it didn't happen. Also, the mushroom was significantly smaller than the meat patty.

I found myself less thrilled by this burger. Not only did it have the previously mentioned deficits, but I found the beef and mushroom mix to be less enthralling, though not displeasing, to my tastebuds. I am not sure what to make of that since I enjoy beef and mushrooms together in other dishes. Anyway, I would definitely go with the chicken version next time. Hopefully they don't cheat me on the tomato slices again.

Burger King has other special items available for the new year, such as their Salmon Nuggets with Cheese & Pasta.



It isn't something I would expect from Burger King but intriguing. I felt I had dedicated enough of my meals to fast food for this year's holiday though.

So to wrap up, the (Good) Luck Chicken Burger won this year's fast food Lunar New Year burger prize for me. And all of the burgers far surpassed the Year of Fortune Burger and Year of Luck Burger I subjected myself to two years ago at McDonald's in Chongqing. Kudos to McDonald's for not bringing them back this year. Somehow I missed out on a good old regular Prosperity Burger this year, but I take consolation in having enjoyed some portobellos.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Two Lunar New Year Chickens in China

If you didn't already know, the displays in Macau might make you aware of the zodiac symbol for the new lunar new year. There is far less debate over what to call it in English than there was for the recent Year of the Sheep/Goat/Etc. The Chinese character for the symbol, 鸡, isn't sex-specific and is typically translated as "chicken", which also isn't sex-specific. But most people go with the male-specific "Year of the Rooster".

It is often hard to definitively say whether the numerous displays for the holiday don't actually include hens, female chickens, instead of roosters. But I can at least say I have seen many depictions of chickens lately. An especially large one fittingly stood near a KFC at a shopping center in Jieyang.

large inflatable chicken in Jieyang, Guangdong


Another stood at an entrance to the Zhuhai Port Plaza in Zhuhai.

entrance to Zhuhai Port Plaza


Captain American Chicken deserves a closeup.

Captain America rooster statue at the Zhuhai Port Plaza


Happy Year of the Rooster, folks.