Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bia hoi

I've happily learned that in the past the Czechs shared an important piece of their culture with Vietnam - their beer.  Vietnam's Bia hoi (beer) is brewed without preservatives and must be enjoyed immediately.  I was happy to help the cause last night.  Here is some of the bia hoi I enjoyed -- less than 20 cents (US) a glass!  For the price it's surprisingly good.

Here is a group of Vietnamese enjoying a bit of Czech culture in their own way.  There were many more people earlier and the other street corners of this intersection were being put to similar use.

Na zdravíMột hai ba, yo!

In Vietnam

I recently arrived in Vietnam for a bit so some related posts are on the way.

I came here on a bus from Nanning which drove by some stunning scenery along the way.  When I arrived in Hanoi I had no idea where I was in the city, no Vietnamese money, no hotel, no guidebook handy, ...  So what did I do?

1.  Walked around and found an ATM

2.  Got a bowl of pho


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Importance of Understanding Others: How a Single Speech Impacted College Students' Perceptions of Google in China

[Note:  Recently, I wrote some posts regarding Google in China on James Fallows' blog.  After adding some additional thoughts and clarifications I decided I wanted to write a shorter version of the posts to more effectively highlight a key part of what I wanted to share and to allow a quicker read.  Here it is...]

Last year, I spent a significant amount of time speaking to college students across China about a variety of topics to better understand their needs, desires, and concerns.  One of the topics I explored was students' impressions of the events which surrounded Google in China last year (for a review, a series of posts by James Fallows here covers many key moments).  I would like to share some of what I found from conversations with Chinese students who had a positive opinion about Google as I think it can highlight how a single event can be perceived very differently between two groups of people -- even when they share some similar goals.

Before discussing those students, for context it's important to note that many Chinese students lacked any awareness of news related to Google or were not interested in the news because they believed the situation impacted their lives very little.  For example, many students expressed little concern over any potential chance of Google leaving China.  They either already used another company's services, such as Baidu, or they felt they could switch to another company's services without much hassle.   Also, Google's refusal to continue censoring its results per government requirements mattered little to them.  They either saw value in censorship or didn't feel such censorship impacted any of their needs for information.

However, some students I spoke to did believe that the events of last year mattered and many such students held Google in high regard.  As in the words of one student:
"The people in Google always think 'We are Google' and that they can do anything they want. They think they are great.  They have their own ideas.  They can go their own ways.  They can choose what to do...
I trust them because Google was the first search engine and it was their own idea and their own method.  Baidu copied Google."
In addition to having a very positive image of Google, often these students felt that Google was "on their side".  Like many students I spoke to across China, they readily criticized their government as corrupt.  While most students felt powerless or first wanted their country to progress in other areas, some students believed Google might be one of the forces that could help bring about change in their government in the near future.  When Google first announced its review of the feasibility of its operations in China, the students wondered if some of their hopes would soon be realized.

However, much changed after an event that shortly followed Google’s announcement -- a speech by Hillary Clinton which addressed topics such as censorship in China and cyber intrusions apparently supported by the Chinese government.  Hillary Clinton's reference to Google in her speech particularly impacted the views of many students who had previously supported Google.  The US government's public alignment of itself with Google helped fuel a perception that they were a single unit acting towards a single set of goals.  Chinese students could readily accept the existence of such a close partnership due to the blurry line, if any, between government and much business in their own country.

Many Chinese students I spoke to often assumed that for any disagreement between the US and Chinese governments whatever the US advocated must be detrimental to China in some way.  The students did not consider it a likely possibility that under such a circumstance the US could be advocating something it genuinely believed to be good for both the US and China.  Due to it now be associated with the US government, Google and its actions were now viewed with more suspicion and it lost support amongst the students.

Hillary Clinton's speech may have actually been a gift to the Chinese government since it ended up distancing many of Google’s strongest supporters in China -- a group with many who also hoped for more reform.  The students who had been impacted by the speech may in fact be a minority in China but a) there are likely non-students with similar views and b) they may represent a key block of citizens who would lead any effort for change in China.  Although it's not clear whether Google had any control over the issue, based on what I learned if the US government wanted to maintain/strengthen Chinese citizens' support of Google and the ideals it represented to them then the speech was a mistake (at least in the short term) -- better had the speech never occurred or not so directly referred to the incidents surrounding Google in China.

However, many of the people in the US who wanted to see more reform in China saw Hillary Clinton’s speech as a strong step in the right direction or even as not strong enough. That many in the US apparently did not foresee the Chinese students' reactions shows the importance of having an understanding of the people you ultimately want to see influenced -- a particularly valuable lesson both for those who are trying to bring about change in environments around the world and for those who are trying to appreciate and evaluate such actions.

China Scenes: Chaozhou, Guangdong

Chaozhou, Guangdong is a city on China's southeast coast.  It has kept some of its older architecture and has several historical sites.  However, what Chaozhou may be most famous for is its food - a style that is treasured by many Chinese.

A variety of snacks

A dumpling & fish/beef ball soup at a famous restaurant

A home in the "old town"

A wall of one of the homes

Some local transportation

Friendly boaters

I wonder if any kids have second thoughts about going on the slide.

Some apartments

Roller skating in a park

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Additional thoughts/clarifications on "Google, China, and Chinese College Students"

I've received some comments and questions on my series of articles "Google, China, and Chinese College Students".  I'd like to address some of them and clarify several related issues.

Am I saying Google didn't/doesn't know the points I am raising?

Not at all.  I simply don't know what research Google has conducted or collected.  I don't know whether Google was or is now aware of the dynamics I described in my posts (or even if they believe what I've found is "real").  It is entirely possible they were fully aware and due to other concerns felt what they did was in their best interests -- whether short or long term.  My concluding comments on the value of knowing your audience were not intended to necessarily mean Google did not know its audience in China.  It was intended for any of those who make or evaluate similar decisions, whether business, political, etc., without enough understanding of key audiences.  For example, I believe there are many people in the US who cheered on Hillary Clinton's speech who may have felt otherwise if they had understood how it would likely be received by many in China.  I think you can find similar misunderstandings for many other international events as well.

I should also add that based on what I know I do think that Hillary Clinton's speech was a mistake for the US government if one of their goals was "reaching" the Chinese people (or not pushing them away).  However, I have no idea if Google advocated for or welcomed the speech.

Am I saying Google could have done more "damage control" after Hillary Clinton's speech?

In the piece it was not my intent to say anything about this one way or another.

Assuming Google recognized the impact of the speech and desired to quickly repair any damage to its image, Google faced a daunting situation since not only did Google need to manage its image in China but also in the US where its every move received much press.  It would have been difficult for Google to distance itself from the speech without contradicting itself and/or raising eyebrows in the US.  Furthermore, since at the time of the speech they hadn't yet committed to staying in China, it may have been difficult for them to directly or indirectly send the message, "We're still on your side" to the Chinese students who were turned off by the speech.  Finally, any such message sent may have confused people who were unaware of the issue or who had never thought of themselves as being aligned with Google in any significant fashion.  Regardless, once Google established it would continue offering services tailored for users in China I believe opportunities existed for Google to effectively communicate their continued commitment in a way that would be positively received by many in China.  If fact, the continued availability of services itself may play a role in doing so. 

Do I think the students who perceived Google as having "left China" still feel that way?

That's an excellent question and something I've been exploring.  It is not something I feel ready to address.

When I wrote that Google "will need to take particular care to mend and expand the previous relationships it had with its users in China" was I implying it had damaged relationships with all of its users?

No.  The statement was intended to apply to the students who had become disillusioned with Google.  There are other users of Google who this does not apply to.  For example, many were unaware or unconcerned about Google's actions in China last year.  While Google likely hopes to "expand" relationships with any such users it does not necessarily have any need to "mend" those relationships.

Are the two specific possibilities I highlighted for potentially explaining Google's reported decline relative to Baidu the most important or most likely reasons?

As I mentioned in the piece I believe there are several possibilities.  To refresh, the two possibilities I focused on were a) remaining committed users dropped off after not seeing any (or enough) significant action from Google and b) students' changed impressions of Google may have had an effect on the perceived usability/usefulness of Google's services.

I chose to focus on these two possibilities because they related to my previous discussion of the impact of the United States' and Google's actions on students.  However, I think there are almost certainly other reasons that play a critical role in fully understanding any change in Google's performance in China.  As I mentioned in the piece, many students were not concerned about or aware of the dispute between Google and China.  Any role such users played in any decline of Google relative to Baidu is less likely to be explained by the two possibilities I presented, and it is possible such users account for a large amount of any decline.  Also, Google's users in China certainly are not limited to college students.  However, any impact of such users was outside the scope of my piece.

An example of a possible contributing factor I did not discuss is users' perceptions of Baidu's services.  However, this was a not a topic I felt I had explored sufficiently to comfortably address and it did not appear to directly relate to the key issues of the piece.

Given the above points, I simply make no claim as to how much of the decline could be accounted for by the two possibilities I raised.

And finally...

I realize my posts could lead to some impressions I did not want to convey.  I hope I've now been able to clarify and add to some key points regarding what I think is a very important and fascinating topic.

[Additional Note:  I've since written a briefer version of the posts which focuses on the impact of Hillary Clinton's speech.]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shaolin Athletics

A lighter post for the weekend...

The Shaolin Monastery in Henan is famous worldwide for its martials arts, most specifically Shaolin Kung Fu.

Shaolin Monastery in Henan

The monastery is full of beautiful and historic sites.  Not surprisingly, for many people the highlight of the visit is watching a masterful display of martial arts.

martial arts show at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan

I was duly impressed and enjoyed my walk around the monastery grounds.  However, when I looked down the side of one of the buildings I saw something quite unexpected.

basketball game at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan

Even at a place most famous for its rich Chinese tradition, there is evidence for the immense popularity of basketball in China.  I wonder if similar to many foreigners who visit Shaolin these players would find significance in attending an NBA game in the US.  I suspect so...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lots of bikes

I'm working on some clarifications for my earlier posts on Google in China.  More soon.  In the meantime, I'd just like to follow up with my earlier post on transportation in China with a photo from a college in Tianjin.

As you can see, bikes are rather popular at this university as they are a great way to get around.  However, for other universities I've visited they aren't as commonly used.  Why?  Because many universities in China, especially newer ones, are built in the very distant suburbs of cities and often quite  isolated.  Students would most likely need to take a bus to get to the locations of most interest (such as shopping, parks, etc.).  The university above, though, is located in a relatively central part of Tianjin.

Another interesting thing about bikes is that while some students may desire a fashionable or high tech mobile phone, they may not be as keen to have the best, shiniest bike.  Why not?  Because they don't want it stolen.

Another win for pragmatism.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

China Scenes: Wuzhou, Guangxi - Part 2

The second installment of photos from Wuzhou, Guangxi (Part 1 is here):

View of a section of the city from a hill

More arcade style buildings

Poster advertisement.  The NBA is very popular in China.

Street market

Soccer field in the middle of the city


I think I know what these are but...  what do you think?

China Scenes: Wuzhou, Guangxi

Today I'll post the first half of some photos I've selected from Wuzhou, Guangxi.  Wuzhou is the city that sets the scene for the post Two Wonderful Invitations I did at James Fallows' blog.

At a pit stop on the way to Wuzhou with a semi-familiar restaurant

A real McDonald's (I assume)

Cat at a temple

Arcade style building
A pedestrian street

There are many shipping boats in Wuzhou

It's common to see clothes being hung out to dry wherever practical

Last post for this past week at Fallows' blog

My last post at James Fallows' blog is here:  Thanks and Some More Scenes from Yulin.

It was a fantastic experience to guest blog there.  It really kept me on my toes to know that what I posted would be seen by a very sophisticated and international audience.

I should note that Jim made it clear to all of us guest bloggers that we were free to post on whatever we wanted.  He had no idea what I would post about, although given our prior discussions I'm sure he assumed much of it would be about China and technology.  In fact, I later discovered even I didn't know what I would post about.  Prior to the week I had a set of ideas, but as time went on new experiences or thoughts caused a few unexpected posts to appear.  For example, the post on "Tiger Mother" methods came to me as I was walking through a park and saw the scenes depicted in the post.

I found it interesting that in thanking my week's guest bloggers and introducing the next he singled out my post Fugues.  It was probably one of the more personal posts I had written, and I was happy to get the extra attention for my friend James, a very unique and talented musician, who had unwittingly made the perfect video to highlight my point.

Anyways, I deeply appreciate the opportunity Jim provided me.  I learned a lot.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clarification on Google, China, and Chinese College Students

My series of posts "Google, China, and Chinese College Students" (Part I, Part II, Part III), which in part describes the impact of a speech by Hillary Clinton on many Chinese college students' impression of Google, needs a clarification.  A representative for Google wrote in to say:

"I'm with the Google Communications team, and I wanted to reach out regarding your recent post, "Google, China, and Chinese College Students - Part III."

 Specifically, I'd like to address a factual point about Google's servers and our business in Hong Kong. Your post includes the phrase, "when Google chose to move its servers to Hong Kong." This characterization is not quite accurate because there was no transfer of servers. It would be more accurate to say, "when Google chose to direct some of its services to its servers in Hong Kong.""

What Google describes above is what I intended to communicate and the post was updated accordingly.  It's a good lesson in the challenges of writing about a complex matter that spans politics, technology, culture, etc.

This brings to mind some issues I didn't get into (there is so much I could have discussed) such as Chinese college students' perception of any changes in Google's services and how they're delivered.  For example, many students were not aware of any changes, even if they were aware of the dispute.  On the whole this may be a very good thing for Google.

Anyways, always glad to make sure I have things as right as possible.

[Added note: See here for further thoughts and clarifications]

Monday, February 14, 2011

More on "Google, China, and Chinese College Students.

PC Screen of College Student in Harbin, Heilongjiang

Here is my series of posts at James Fallows' blog: "Google, China, and Chinese College Students"  Part I, Part II, Part III

As I wrote on Fallows' blog, I think it is an intriguing topic which crosses Chinese culture, politics, and technology.  The situation is certainly broader than what I covered and there is much more to say (for example, additional reasons Google may have lost ground to Baidu), but I think what I shared helps provide a further understanding of the situation.

I'll probably say more on the topic later as I receive comments on the piece.  It's a story with many threads and, like many issues in China, I look forward to evolving my understanding of the situation.

[Added note:  Clarifications and additional thoughts for the above series of posts can be found here and here.  A condensed version of the above focusing on the impact of Hillary Clinton's speech can be found here.]

More on "Fugues"

Recently, I posted "Fugues" on James Fallows blog.  I particularly recommend checking it out as not only does it provide some of the reason for my blog name, but it also communicates a part of how I see the world.

Plus, it has a great video!!!  Check it out.

More on "China Scenes: Dunhua, Jilin

Here are a few more photos to follow up my post on James Fallows blog:  China Scenes: Dunhua, Jilin



Tricycle-cart Taxi

Village Road

Friday, February 11, 2011

Latest Posts

Here are my latest posts on James Fallows' blog:

China Scenes: Yulin, Guangxi

Did China Attack My Blog?

China Scenes: Xiapu, Fujian

China Scenes: Yulin, Guangxi - Part 2

The "China Scenes" series include a variety of pictures that I think can play an important role in understanding China.

I've been hard at work on a post about Google & China that incorporates some of my own independent research.  I hope to throw some more light on how a segment of people I often research, college students in China, interpreted and reacted to events as they unfolded last year.

In the meantime...  Here's another photo from Yulin - evidently indicating that the fresh sugar can juice business is going strong there.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More on "Ride Like You Want To In China"

Another post on James Fallows' blog: Ride Like You Want To In China

And a few more photos of transportation in Xiapu, Fujian:

Xiapu local bus

Several forms of transportation

Long distance bus station

My motorcycle taxi for a day

More on "Will Amy Chua's 'Tiger Mother' Methods Create a New World Order?"

Recently, my tongue-in-cheek post "Will Amy Chua's 'Tiger Mother' Methods Create a New World Order?" appeared on James Fallows' blog.  Some more pictures of truly harmless children doing what they do best.

The dragon/octopus/fish(?) machine.

More tanks.

Even SpongeBob SquarePants is there.

That's all for now.  I'll update on James Fallows blog as needed this week.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Guest Blogging Begins

The introduction to my guest blogging on James Fallows' blog at The Atlantic.

And my first post there: Two Wonderful Invitations.

Signing On

A quick introductory note:

I am looking forward to blogging here about a variety of topics of interest to me - such as (in no particular order) China, user experience research & design, cognitive science, technology, etc.  However, to kick things off I have the honor and pleasure to be a guest at James Fallow's blog at The Atlantic.  I'll be primarily posting there this week (links will be provided here as well) and then continue in a similar fashion here.  More later (both in terms of content and blog design)...