Friday, December 30, 2011

KFC and McDonald's in Yueyang, Hunan

I'll continue on the theme of bird meat from the previous post, but this time in a way that involves no photos of blood or birds soon to meet their end.

At an intersection in a central shopping district in Yueyang, Hunan province there is a KFC and a McDonald's right across the street from each other. On Thursday evening when I looked inside this is what I saw at KFC:

many people waiting to order food at KFC in Yueyang, China

And this is what I saw in McDonald's:

not as many people waiting to order food at McDonald's in Yueyang, China

In short, many more people were lined up at the KFC. One could now think, "Maybe McDonald's is more efficient serving customers so the lines are shorter." Well, even in other parts of the restaurants it was clear there were far more people at the KFC. While this is just one night in one city, it represents KFC's very successful presence in China.

As noted earlier this year by William Mellor in an article on Bloomberg about KFC in China:
In its home market, the U.S., KFC is struggling, an also- ran to McDonald’s Corp., the world’s biggest restaurant company, and feuding with some of its own franchisees over how to halt declining profits.

In China, KFC has achieved such dominance over McDonald’s and local rivals that Colonel Harland Sanders’s image is a far more common sight in many Chinese cities than that of Mao. That accomplishment is striking in a country where foreign companies often stumbled and ran into roadblocks in the past.
The article argues that part of KFC's success is due to how it localized some of its offerings. This point helps provide a sense of just how much of an effort has been made:
While fast-food restaurants in the West often host kids’ birthday parties, KFCs in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang autonomous region that’s home to the Muslim Uyghur people, advertise parties for the families of boys who have just undergone the religious ritual of circumcision.
While I don't think there were any circumcision parties at the KFC in Yueyang (which is far away from Xinjiang) while I was there, the menu was the typical China-localized version I've seen in many other regions of China (read the article for more on the localizations made by KFC or see KFC's products on their Chinese website here). Ironically, one of the chicken sandwiches offered by KFC in China, and not in the US, is the "New Orleans Roasted Burger". I'm not sure what it has to do with New Orleans, but I like it and apparently so do many Chinese.

There's more I could say on the issues KFC raises regarding localization but I'll save that for another day. For now, I'll just be content that I think I've wrapped up the bird meat theme for now.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bird Market in Yueyang, Hunan

While exploring the city of Yueyang (map) in China's Hunan province yesterday, I stumbled upon a large market area with live birds for sale -- not as pets but as food. I didn't spend a long time there but it made a rather large impression, so I'll share some photos of what I saw. Especially as someone who eats meat, I feel I have an obligation to at least be aware of the experiences of animals that could end up on my plate. (Mild warning: Some of the photos below include blood and bird innards, however there are no images of birds being slaughtered.)

In one very large area of the market there were a numerous pens filled with a variety of birds:

Ducks, chickens, and more...


Though some of the birds, such as the pigeons below, had smaller accommodations.

several pigeons in a cage
They'd probably be happier strutting about in a town square.

However, the birds were not there to mingle and at some point it would be time for them to take, um, a trip:

a duck quacking while on a cart with a variety of birds
I can only imagine what the duck was expressing.

While some of the birds are kept alive after being sold, many of them will first visit another area of the market where they will be slaughtered and cleaned:

area for slaughtering and cleaning birds

area for slaughtering and cleaning birds
Apparently there had been quite a bit of slaughtering that day.

scene of blood and buckets filled with bird innards
The mess and leftovers

After that, the birds are finally "free" from the market:

man carrying several dead and cleaned birds
Man carrying some very fresh food

Most of the people in the market seemed surprised to see a foreigner walking around and a few laughed as I took photos. These people even took a break from their lunch to shout out "hello" as I passed by:

four people huddled around a hotpot
I wonder if they're eating chicken.

So, if you're ever in Yueyang and want to visit the market yourself I can provide general directions. However, given its size and location I wouldn't be surprised if it soon ended up like this nearby place:

demolished land with older apartment buildings in the background
A common scene in China

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Sights in Wuhan

I'll use this down period (at least for some people) until Jan 1 for mostly "lighter" posts. Then, back to some topics I left hanging -- particularly, how observing shopping experiences in China could help lead to better designs for technology. Today, I'll share a few photos from two sights in Wuhan I visited during a break of sorts last Sunday (links provided if you wish to learn more about them).

The first few are from the Changchun Taoist Temple (长春观). The most memorable part of the experience was meeting these kids who lived nearby:

three children at Chang Chun Temple in Wuhan
Fortunately, the little girl doesn't need to worry about her balloons not being allowed on a subway.

After a brief chat they offered to show me around the temple. Although I had just finished my explorations, I decided to take them up on the offer. It proved to be more interesting than I expected since they immediately took me to sections that were marked off-limits due to construction.

three children running through a construction area
Running through the rubble

So yet again, by following young tour guides I saw something I likely would've otherwise missed.

However, our time wasn't only spent navigating through scaffolding. The two older girls also took some time to do their prayers:

child praying at Chang Chun Temple

After thanking the kids for kindly showing me around, I walked west to see the Yellow Crane Tower (黄鹤楼), seen in the background here:

Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan

The ticket for the tower was over US $12. Maybe another day I'll rant about the rather high prices (particularly in local terms) for some famous (and not so famous) sights in China. At least the ticket include the area around the tower, such as this pond:

pond on grounds near Yellow Crane Tower

While there was some enjoyable nature to experience in the park, when you reach the top of the tower and look around it's clear that you're in the middle of a (smoggy) city.  Here is the view facing east:

view of Wuhan from tower

And if you go to the other side you'll see this:

That's all. If you're ever in Wuhan these are two of the more touristy sights worth seeing. And if you're not, well, now you've seen some parts of them -- for free.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another Scene in Wuhan, Hubei

Where I was shortly before Christmas Eve:

West Street (西大街) in Wuhan's Hanyang District

In contrast to the photos in the previous post, there are no obvious indications of the Christmas holiday. In that respect, it's probably more representative of what one would experience in most places in Wuhan.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas in China

Around this time of year, it isn't uncommon for people in the US to ask me, "Is Christmas celebrated in China?" So, I'll share some thoughts on what I've experienced. This post is not intended to be all-encompassing nor will it explore how Christians in China are (and are not) able to express their religious beliefs during the holiday.

While there are millions of Christians in China, the vast majority of Chinese are not Christian. However, at least in several of the larger Chinese cities I've been in during the holiday period it is not uncommon to see Christmas decorations at places such as shopping centers and restaurants. Also, Christmas music can sometimes be heard playing in such places (I once heard Christmas music playing at a Hunan-style restaurant in Shanghai in mid-June -- they had no idea it was Christmas music). My sense is that much of this visible "celebrating" of Christmas is simply people wanting to participate in what is viewed as a Western tradition and not a religious holiday. And at least some of it appears to be commercially motivated.

This generic template of numerous conversations I've had in China as Christmas approaches helps provide a sense of how Christmas can be perceived:
Chinese Person: What will you be doing for Christmas?
Me: Nothing special, I don't celebrate Christmas.
CP: Really?!?!? Why not? You're American!
Me: Yes, I'm American, but I'm not Christian. I'm Jewish.
CP: So what?
Some will then point out that they celebrate Christmas despite not being Christian and ask why it would be any different for me. Christmas has as much religious connotation for them as Halloween does for most Americans.

This short report by The Christian Broadcasting Network (hat tip to M.I.C. Gadget) about the growing Christmas tradition in China mirrors some of what I've found -- particularly in the interviewees' responses to questions about the meaning of Christmas:

For more color on Christmas in China, below are several photos of decorations (and hats) I've seen in Wuhan, Hubei province (map) the past few days. To be clear, the photos are very much cherry picked and are not intended to imply that all of Wuhan is decked out for Christmas. It definitely isn't. But particularly in many shopping areas, one can feel some of the spirit of Christmas -- at least in a commercial sense.

Outside a large department store

Some decorations inside the department store

I'm willing to bet few understand why the term "X mas" is used.

A small store selling Christmas decorations

A shoe store

Another department store (FYI - Chocoolate is a fashion brand from Hong Kong)

Hair salon

A department store at a very large and relatively empty shopping mall


Family wearing their Christmas hats

Finally, my comments above may have left some readers wondering, "What does a Jew in China do on Christmas Eve?"

Well, I can happily say I do the same thing as many Jews in the US where most places are closed that evening.

I go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant.

A Scene in Wuhan, Hubei

Where I was today:

Around several clothing and fabric markets in Wuhan, Hubei province

Really, more soon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shanghai Metro Mascot Chang Chang

In my previous post I discussed the "security theater" at subway stations in China and my efforts to understand why balloons were not allowed. I just realized that I left out a critical photo so I'll share it now:

Shanghai Metro mascot Chang Chang (畅畅) at People's Square station
Chang Chang happily holding a balloon

In the photo is the mascot of the Shanghai Metro -- Chang Chang (畅畅). Despite being very close to a metro security point Chang Chang maintained a cheerful demeanor while holding my balloon. I'm not sure if this violates any subway rules, but I did notice that the nearby security inspectors duly ignored me while I prepared Chang Chang and took the photo.

In case you're wondering, I'm not aware of any connection between Chang Chang and the Citibank advertisement in the background. However, their very similar colors make me wonder if some assume Chang Chang is endorsing Citibank.

OK, enough with balloons and subways for now. Soon, back to some other topics more commonly covered here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chinese Subway "Security", Radiation, and a Dickies Balloon

I recently shared some "themes of James Fallows" I found in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. There's another theme of his of interest to me that I've recently encountered  -- "security theater". The term was coined by US security expert Bruce Schneier:
Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No-one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards. Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at US airports in the months after 9/11 -- their guns had no bullets.
Like in a growing number of Chinese cities, Shanghai has a useful subway system. And like at least some of those Chinese cities, it engages in what I believe is "security theater". Before entrances to the paid areas of subway stations riders need to pass through security such as seen here:

security and scanner in Shanghai metro

security and scanner in Shanghai metro

security and scanner in Shanghai metro

The scanners seen above were put in place shortly before the World Expo last year and have remained in use since then. I can't speak for every city so I'll just describe the current security experience in a number of stations in Shanghai. As you approach the scanner a security inspector will make a signal that apparently means to place your bag or whatever item you may have onto the scanner. I say "apparently" because many people simply ignore the signal and walk by without placing anything on the scanner. In such cases the security typically reacts in no way other than to signal (suggest) to the next person that maybe they should place their bag on the scanner. However, if you're carrying luggage or a very large package typically they will more strongly insist that you place the item on the scanner. In short, if you have a bomb or any other forbidden item in your backpack or bag (or under your clothes/jacket) it's usually up to you whether you'd like to place it on the scanner.

Not only am I skeptical about the effectiveness of the security, I don't even think it's effective "security theater" since so many people blatantly ignore it. Fallows has shared his thoughts regarding the Beijing subway here and writer Adam Minter summed up his own thoughts last year when he wrote, "... to my mind, these x-ray machines don’t qualify as 'security theater' because they project incompetence, not security." What the machines are effective at is creating bottlenecks for entering the paid areas of subway stations, providing jobs for security inspectors, and providing business for manufacturers of scanners.

Shenzhen is another city in China that recently adopted the use of scanners for subway stations. They were installed in preparation for the 2011 Summer Universiade that took place this past August.  Shenzhen Security Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd expressed pride and confidence in the scanners they sold in a press release where they claimed, "To ensure safety, the Shenzhen subway in the city to install security equipment, foolproof, thus ensuring the Universiade held. [sic]" However, to my surprise these "foolproof" machines were no longer in use and the security inspectors, who during the Universiade were college students, were nowhere to be seen when I visited Shenzhen in mid-November.

scanners not in use in Shenzhen metro
Scanner in Shenzhen no longer in use

I thought maybe I had reason to smile because someone had determined that the scanners weren't really needed (at least when a Universiade isn't occurring). A friend of mine who lives in Shenzhen told me that at the conclusion of the Universiade it was announced the added security would stay in place. However, after about a couple of months the security suddenly was no longer being used. My friend was not aware of any official announcement as to why. But I had a nagging feeling there must be more to the story.  And there was...

Just two months ago the Shanghaiist reported that security machines in Shanghai had been operating without the proper radiation saftey license:
The Shanghai Metro now claims they didn't test the machines properly because there were simply too many of them, and not enough time before Expo! (There are a few other aspects of our metro system that we now suspect have seen similar degrees of neglect.) To save time, they had the machines sampled and tested by a third party (not the proper government regulator) who deemed them satisfactory.

Apparently testing on the scanners has been going on for a year now, and only about 245 of the machines have been cleared. They now promise to get all the machines licensed before the end of the month, but they will not shut down metro security in the mean time.
Could the same have occurred in Shenzhen? Well, according to echinacities the answer is yes:
According to reports, 286 X-ray luggage scanners installed in Shenzhen subway stations violate China’s radiation regulations and could increase cancer risks for children and pregnant women sensitive to radiation.
Ah, that seems to explain the (temporarily?) decommissioned scanners in Shenzhen.

So, other than scanners without proper inspections for radiation safety, college students as security inspectors, and a very lax inspection process that is unlikely to provide any real security is there anything more to say about subway security in China?

Well, if none of that has caught your attention maybe the following will do the trick. While subway security may seem lax, there is indeed something you can possess that will apparently guarantee you being stopped in Shanghai. I know because I was stopped at multiple entry points for having one. Here's what caused the security inspectors to forbid me from riding the subway:

Dickies balloon in a Shanghai metro station
A Dickies balloon after being denied the joys of riding the Shanghai subway

Above is a Dickies helium-filled balloon -- given to me free as part of a promotion in a nearby shopping mall on Shanghai's Nanjing East Road -- proudly on display outside of the security area. I asked the security inspectors, who at least didn't appear to be college students, why the balloon was not permitted and I was told (rough translation), "Because you're not allowed to bring balloons." I stared at the security inspectors, briefly pondered humanity, and walked away despite their offer to take custody of my balloon.

Since I found the reply of the security people to be lacking, I decided to visit various nearby establishments and speak to a number of people to see if I could uncover any similar aversions to my Dickies balloon. Obviously, the mall where I received the balloon had no worries about it, but what about elsewhere?

Well, this coffee shop had no worries:

Dickies balloon in Shanghai cafe
Balloon not considered dangerous in the vicinity of caffeine

A statue of Lebron James in a large Nike store looked unfazed:

statue of Lebron James in Shanghai Nike store with Dickies balloon
Lebron James slam dunking on a balloon

The newest Apple Store in Shanghai? No problem, apparently my Dickies balloon wasn't a threat to all of the iPads and other electonics on display, and like in Hong Kong the Apple Store staff had no issue with me taking photos.

Dickies balloon in a Shanghai Apple Store
Could the iBalloon be next?

These two Shanghainese girls showed no fear of the balloon:

two Shanghainese girls holding a Dickies balloon
They both had a good laugh when I showed them the photo.

Even these Japanese guys in their newly purchased panda hats weren't concerned by the balloon:

Japanese guys wearing panda hats and holding a Dickies balloon
Just another Shanghai experience for them

That night the subway was the only place where I wasn't allowed to bring the balloon. While it was wonderful that my explorations led me to meeting a variety of people, I didn't feel I was any closer to understanding why a balloon wasn't allowed on the subway. One possibly related issue that I've since learned about is that in the Hong Kong subway balloons could be problematic for overhead cables (some discussion on the topic in Chinese here). However, according to the rules for the Hong Kong MTR seen in the safety brochure here (pdf) only metallic balloons are forbidden. My Dickies balloon was definitely not metallic.

And speaking of the Hong Kong subway... There aren't any scanners in use there. How is it that scanners are critical for cities such as Shanghai, but not Hong Kong?

Anyways, I wasn't going to change Shanghai's subway rules that night, and I determined that storming by security with my free balloon, even if stuffed under my shirt, wasn't worth it. Fortunately, this little boy graciously agreed to adopt my balloon:

little boy with a Dickies balloon
He was actually more interested in the green toy in his hand.

So, after an enjoyable evening I was able to peacefully pass through security and hopefully avoided any unhealthy doses of radiation. However, subway security in Shanghai remains a puzzle to me. Maybe I should just be happy I don't have to take off my shoes.

Disclosure: None of the companies referenced in this post provided me any compensation, except for my brief possession of a Dickies balloon.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Scenes of China: Huizhou, Guangdong

In earlier posts I asked whether anyone could identify the city in the photos here and here. I suspected it would be difficult and indeed I didn't receive any correct responses. "KingTubby" correctly identified the body of water in two of the photos as West Lake, but I suspect he knows it's a good guess to make since there are a number of cities in China with a West Lake (and a reason I didn't ask "name that lake").

The city is in fact Huizhou in Guangdong province. It is just a couple of hours by bus or train from Shenzhen, the city in mainland China that has a border with Hong Kong. And for any of you who may live in Milpitas, California, USA this is your "sister city" in China.

According to, which claims to be "the premier online source of Guangdong news and information", Huizhou:
...has absorbed, digested and renovated advanced technologies and management from abroad to nurture and build its own industries and brand names, such as TCL, Desai, Maikete, Huayang and Bailubao. People first coming to Huizhou are immediately aware of the presence of TCL, which ranks third among China's top 100 electronic enterprises, and whose emblem, signs and sales outlets can be found everywhere in the city. The company mainly manufactures telephones, color TV sets, computers and mobile phones. Its successful operations have energized the whole city.
I'll have to confess that upon arriving in Huizhou I wasn't immediately aware of anything that suggested TCL's presence. I'm doubtful that TCL played a role in one my first experiences in Huizhou, this auto-rickshaw I rode to my hotel:

By coincidence, a few days later the same rickshaw driver was driving by and picked me up when I left the hotel.

On that note, here are other photos of scenes in Huizhou that show some of what else reached my awareness there:

Street in central shopping district

Man playing an erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument

Entrance to an alley where there were many stores selling "antiques" (or what at least looked like antiques)

Night market

Modern skyline

Just a random street in the city center

Driving lessons start early

Peanuts were a common snack sold in the city

View from a historical tower

College students handing out real estate brochures for a part time job

Local market in a suburb

Employee at a small clothing store having a good laugh

And as the last photo reminds, more soon on shopping experiences and technology in China.