Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Long Trip for Milk: Barriers, Trust, and Truth in China

During my visit to the top of Guia Hill in Macau I met someone new:

man with Macau scene in background

We met while we were both exploring historic Guia Fort. He lives in mainland China and was visiting Macau for the day. One topic he mentioned during our wide-ranging chat was the Internet censorship enabled by China's Great Firewall (which does not operate in Macau). He said it does not affect him as much as some of his friends since he works at a Taiwanese company which uses a VPN to securely (and freely) access the Internet. Regardless of his own situation, he believes the Great Firewall is unfortunate and should not exist.

In addition to the Great Firewall, there is another barrier in China that bothers him -- the borders between mainland China and China's special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

Pass book for Chinese to enter Hong Kong or Macau
Pass (通行证) required for mainland Chinese to enter Macau or Hong Kong

Despite possessing the passport-like pass mainland Chinese need to enter Macau, for each visit he must apply for a new visa-like permit to be placed in it. As with China's Great Firewall, he wants the border removed and believes it is not fair to mainland Chinese.

What most caught my attention was what brought him to Macau. Although he enjoyed seeing the sights, his primary goal was purchasing the customs maximum two cans of New Zealand baby formula. Like cigarettes and diapers, baby formula is a common product brought to mainland China by those coming from Macau. Due to past milk scandals his cousin with an infant does not trust the milk products produced in China. Approximately every two months he plans to take a more than hour-long bus ride from the city where he lives to the Macau border, pass through two immigration channels, purchase baby formula, pass through immigration again, and take another long bus ride back home -- all in one day.

I asked him why he did not save himself the trip and purchase the New Zealand baby formula through a source closer to his home. He said his family would not be able to trust its origin due to the vast numbers of fake products found in mainland China. When I asked him why fake products were such a problem he replied, "The Chinese government often lies to the people. So, the people..." He did not finish the sentence and simply looked away with an expression I am hesitant to interpret. I will just say that it did not at all appear to be positive.

He may not agree with some of China's policies. He may be wary of China's milk. He may not trust all of what he hears from China's government. But despite his frustrations, his story does suggest signs of positive recent changes in China. He was doubtful he would have as easily obtained a permit to visit Macau only 10 years ago. And I am not sure whether 10 year ago he would have as openly expressed himself or he would have given permission to publicly share his thoughts with his photo included.

Regardless, he feels conditions still need to improve for himself and others in China. And sometimes he is willing to take a long journey to help it happen.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Guia Hill in Macau, China

Similar to Jingshan Park in Zhuhai there is an easy way to the top of Guia Hill in Macau:

cable car to top of Guia Hill in Macao

And also similar is that I decided to take the stairs to the top. There I met a couple of birds:

parrot at Guia Hill in Macau

pigeon at top of Guia Hill in Macau

I also saw an interesting bug:

red bug on Guia Hill in Macau

And while enjoying some unique views of Macau:

view of Macau from Guia Hill

view of Macau from Guia Hill

I confirmed that playing with bubbles is not only enjoyable for children:

Two young woman playing with bubbles and another photographing them

But the top of the hill is most famous as the site for the historical Guia Fort which includes this chapel built in 1622 and lighthouse built in 1865 -- both periods during Portugal's long control of Macau:

Chapel and lighthouse at Guia Fort in Macau

Although I very much enjoyed all of the above, it is something else about my visit to Guia Hill that most stands out in my mind. I will share it in the next post.

More of the Same: "Fake" Apple Stores in Zhuhai, China

I have shared photos of various "fake" Apple stores in Hengyang, Chenzhou, and Guangzhou in China. Most recently I shared photos of an Android store and several Nokia stores in Nanping, Zhuhai. Although I did not see any stores in Nanping appearing to identify themselves as Apple stores, I did see these two stores in another part of Zhuhai -- Gongbei:

iPhone store in Zhuhai, China

mobile phone store in Zhuhai, China with Apple logo for its sign

Neither appears on Apple's list of authorized stores and both have characteristics of other unauthorized stores I have seen. I would share photos of other similar Apple stores in the area, but I feel the point has already been made. I share these photos simply to emphasize that such stores are not at all atypical in many parts of China.

However Apple may be reacting to unauthorized stores, it appears that they face a daunting task if they plan to swat down every example. And still more such stores are springing up in China. In fact, the first store seen above is one of the newest.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Wrong Side of the Gate

locked gate at graveyard in Macau
I was a bit surprised to discover this.

Getting locked inside a Catholic cemetery in Macau -- yep, can cross that off my list.

More on what I was doing at a cemetery in a later post. For now, I am just happy I didn't have to spend the night.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Variety of People at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, Guangdong

A couple of days ago I shared some of my experience at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai. What I would most like to share, though, are photos of the variety of young people I saw. While they were at the park I suspect few, if any, of them were thinking about whether they could cross the border to Macau, may have problems accessing Google, or would have meat for lunch. They all in their own ways seemed to be enjoying the day. I plan to soon return to more stories (like the ones in the previous links) about people in China. For now, here are some photos of the friendly people I briefly met this past Sunday:

Fashionably dressed couple at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
A fashionable day at the park

Four young men at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
They actually requested to have their photo taken.

Four people sitting on a bench at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
At first the young woman on the far left appeared to be sad but quickly perked up when I asked to take their photo.

Three girls at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
The very first people I met at the entrance of the park.

Three guys having drinks at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
The one in the middle was in the full Pepsi spirit.

Two young people with park food at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
Enjoying some park treats

Large group at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
A large group from far away Chongqing

Couple standing on a platform in a pond at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
She was nervous walking there, but he led her safely onward.

Five friends at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
The young man on the far right is from Bangalore, India and now working in Zhuhai.

Boy standing near drinks and packaged food for sale at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai
A boy who sold me a much needed bottle of water alongside a path in the hills

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nokia Stores Selling a Variety of Phones in Nanping, Zhuhai

The Android store I saw in Nanping, Zhuhai was unique in my experiences. However, as I mentioned when sharing photos of the inside of the store, I think it is important to shed more light on what is and is not unusual about the store by providing some additional context.

I will now share some similar examples of stores in the same shopping district highlighting another world-famous brand -- Nokia. Although Nokia may still be the single most popular brand of mobile phones in China, Nokia's strength in China has declined -- in part related to the rise of Android devices. However, Nokia hopes a line of newer phones running Windows Phone 7, including the Lumina 710 and the Lumina 800, re-boost Nokia's prominence in China.

Down the street from the Android store this Nokia store* may not seem striking from afar:

People selling clothes and shoes on the street and store with a large Nokia sign in the background

Similar to the Android store, a Chinese name is also on the sign. But its name "诺基亚(名流)专营店", which can be translated as "Nokia (Celebrities) Authorized Store",** is more specific than the Android store's Chinese name. It would seem to further suggest that this store focuses on Nokia products. However, as one approaches the store there are indications it has a more varied selection:

Store with Nokia sign in Nanping, Zhuhai, China

The greenish display is for Oppo, a Chinese brand with Android-based smartphones. Those with keener eyes may also notice displays for Koobee and Xiaomi, also Chinese brands. More is revealed as one gets even closer:

view of inside of a mobile phone store

Oppo's "Find Me" media campaign featuring Leonardo DiCaprio can be seen on the left side. Other brands available in the store are also clear such as Apple, BBK, LG, and Samsung. Is this Nokia store unique? Not at all:

Store with large Nokia sign also showing signs for Apple, Android, and Samsung

Store with large Nokia sign with displays for Apple and Motion

Store with large Nokia sign displaying Apple products

Again, these are all within easy walking distance from the Android store and they all sell a variety of Chinese and foreign branded phones despite so prominently displaying "Nokia"on their store signs.

Although Nokia seemed to receive this treatment frequently, it certainly was not alone. For example, here is a Samsung store:

store with large Samsung sign displaying Nokia and Apple products

And here is a store combining the spirit of Samsung and Nokia:

store with many Nokia signs with a larger Samsung sign at the top

They both sold a variety of phones. Amongst other brands, the second store sold Moral phones (also a Chinese brand) and the staff wore shirts with the Android robot logo.

The above provides a taste of the store sign issue. Another feature of the Android store was the variety of phones that could be found in a display case with a specific brand name. This is another area in which the store is not unique. Here is a relevant example from a display case sitting outside one of the many mobile phone stores in the area:

Nokia display case with non-Nokia phones

It includes mobile phones of Chinese brands such as Daxian and Telsda. You may now be thinking "Hey, there are iPhones too!" However, those are not iPhones. The remarkably familiar-looking phones are made by Chengji (诚基). Whatever their story, they are not made Nokia.

I saw numerous other examples of display cases with mismatched phones. It appeared to be very common.

There are some further issues I would like to touch upon and other "interesting" photos I would like to share, but I have already shared quite a bit in this post. For now, I just want to say that based on my recent explorations across China what I have shared above is not unique to Nanping, Zhuhai. I do not believe it is highly unusual for a mobile phone store to sell a variety of brands despite prominently displaying a specific brand on its store front and for it to maintain display cases containing phones not matching the name on the display. What was particularly unique (to me) about the Android store was that I had never before seen a mobile phone store in China leveraging the Android brand so prominently and extensively. The store's inclusion of phones not based on Android may seem striking, but as some Nokia store owners in Nanping could quickly tell you it is not unique in that respect.

* I realize there could be a debate as to whether the terms "Android store" and "Nokia store" are appropriate. I am fine with them being interpreted as shorthand for "Store apparently portraying itself with a sign as an Android phone dealer" and "Store apparently portraying itself with a sign as a Nokia phone dealer" respectively. In a later post, I hope to touch on why it is reasonable in China to interpret the signs in this manner.

** I have seen a few people claim that "名流" is best translated in this case as "famous". My understanding is that "名流" is a noun typically specific to people. In that case, using "famous" could lead to unintended interpretations in English. I thank my Chinese friend who does professional translation work for her input on this matter. Regardless of the translation, it is not of much relevance to the main points I have made.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, Guangdong

I took a break today from Android stores and enjoyed the wonderful weather in Zhuhai. Instead of visiting Bailian Dong Park again, I hopped on a bus (not randomly this time) and went to Jingshan Park (景山公园). Weeks ago I noticed the park from afar because of a cart slide going down its main hill and put it on my to-do list. I will share some of my experiences today to provide a break here as well.

One of the first places I visited at the park was this temple within a set of large boulders:

Temple at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

Temple at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

Temple at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

After visiting the temple, instead of taking the chairlift up the hill:

Chair lift at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

I decided to take the stairs to help burn off a tiny bit of the weight I have gained while eating very well in Guangdong:

People with a dog on the stairs up a hill at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

At the top I enjoyed the different views of Zhuhai such as this one:

View of Zhuhai at Jingshan Park

And this boy even offered me a few moments of his paid time to look through the binoculars:

Boy looking through binoculars at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai

After spending time walking around the top of the hill, I made my way down as I had planned:

Beginning of a mountain slide at Jingshan Park in Zhuhai, China

The design of these carts seem to be common for such slides in China. I have also ridden slides in Guiyang, Guizhou province; Shantou, Guangdong province; and Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. One advantage is they are attached to the track so you don't have to worry about going too fast (I think). I used to believe that was the case for all cart slides but as I painfully discovered at a slide in Lucerne, Switzerland many years ago it is definitely not true (maybe a story for another day). Anyway, all was fine today and the slide was decent enough.

So, a temple in boulders, a little exercise, great views, and a slide all made my trip to the park well worthwhile. But maybe even more enjoyable was the opportunity to briefly chat with a variety of people at the park. I will share some of that experience in an upcoming post.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Inside the Android Store in Zhuhai, China

Update below

Since there has been a bit of interest about the Android store I saw in Nanping, Zhuhai, I returned to the same location today to conduct some further explorations:

street in Nanping, Zhuhai, China with an Android Store
Pedestrian (mostly) street in Nanping

The friendly staff permitted me to take a few photos, so I will share a few. Here is someone trying out an iPad:

customer trying an iPad at the Android Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China

There were a broad variety of smartphones for sale. This HTC case:

HTC case of a variety of phones in the Android Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China

included brands such as BBK, Huawei, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. Oh, there was one HTC phone too.

This Android display:

Android display case of a variety of phones reflecting the Apple logo in the Android Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China
The reflection adds a nice touch.

included a similar selection. At least the display cards for the Nokia phones did not indicate they ran Android and did not include the Android logo.

This Android display:

Android display in the Android Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China

included a ZTE U880 running Android 2.2 on the left and a Lenovo A60 running Android 2.3 on the right.

I did not see any BlackBerry phones so I am not able to top the BlackBerry marketing with Barack Obama I saw at a mobile phone store in Chengdu. Also, all of the phones appeared to be legitimate brands. There were no copycat "creative-but-inspired-by-Apple" phones such as the one I saw which included a portion of the Apple logo and the phrase "I See Things a Little Differently". Regardless, this display of HTC phones especially caught my attention:

4 displayed HTC phones in the Android Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China

Outside of China, the second phone from the left is often described as the HTC Eternity. However, that is based on its code name and its official name is the HTC 凯旋 X310e. If your Chinese is rusty, 凯旋 could be translated as "Triumph" though another translation I have found is "Return Triumphant". But here is the really fun part: although many HTC phones run Android, the X310e is a Windows Phone that was just released for sale two day ago (so, I doubt it was there during my previous visit). In fact, the label mentions that it runs Windows Phone 7.5 just above the image of the Android logo. Between Google and Microsoft, who is now groaning most?

The visit also allowed me to better clarify another issue. The store's business cards list its name as the text "名流智能手机体验店" shown below "Android" on its sign. This is similar in practice to what I noticed for some of the "fake" Apple stores I recently saw in Guangdong province and Hunan province where they did not list "iPhone 4" (or whatever was prominently displayed on their sign) on their business cards but instead a more proper-sounding name. I do not want to share an image of the front of the card since it includes a helpful employee's name, personal mobile phone number, and QQ number (not uncommon in China). However, I am happy to share the backside:

Android Store in China business card displaying Apple and Android logos

I am not sure if they plan to update it with a Windows Phone logo.

Before commenting further, in an upcoming post (by Monday) I will share photos of some other nearby stores. They provide important context for understanding what is and is not unusual about the above store. The context will also be useful for my responses to some comments and questions I have received or have seen on some of the articles/posts now referencing my earlier post.

Here is just a small taste of what is on the way:

Store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China displaying signs with logos for Android, Apple, Nokia, and more.

More soon.

UPDATE: See in what ways this Android store is not unique in the post "Nokia Stores Selling a Variety of Phones in Nanping, Zhuhai"

Disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher in Microsoft China's Mobile Services China group. This exploration was not conducted as paid work nor at the request of any company.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Boiled Frog "Experiment"

I have long appreciated a series of posts by James Fallows where he refutes a common saying about frogs and boiling pots of water. As he explains, a frog in cool water will indeed try to jump out if the water's temperature is slowly raised to the boiling point. Last year, I added to the topic and shared my observations of Chinese Forest Frogs at a market in Dunhua, Jilin province which suggested that these frogs a) might not want to hang out for long even in a non-boiling pot of water and b) could not jump high enough to escape some pots regardless.

However, I have recently seen evidence that I found shocking and caused me to (momentarily) question my beliefs about frogs and boiling water. Watch for yourself a video of a meticulously executed "experiment":

You can come to your own conclusion whether Fallows needs to adjust his claim. Personally, I think once he reaches the end of the video any shock he may have felt like me will have subsided, and it is a mistake for the video to exist in YouTube's "Education" category.

On the side, I appreciate the desire to spare frogs. And I also appreciate the jolt the video gave me. But is there any better example of an experiment missing the most crucial part of its design? Unless it is subtle satire, the video may be providing material for an unintended metaphor. After all, Fallows has noted that "boiled-frogism is impervious to such forces as 'factual disproof.'"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Android Store in Zhuhai, China

Updates at end

An earlier post here provided an overview of the "fake" Apple stores, including iPhone stores, I saw in a number of cities in Southeast China. Another post shared photos of a variety of other mobile phone stores in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Although I have included photos of a variety of stores, at least one company may feel left out. If so, Google can now perk up. I saw this Android Store after I took a random bus to Nanping in Zhuhai, Guangdong province:

Android store in Nanping, Zhuhai, China
Android store in Nanping, Zhuhai

"名流智能手机体验店", which is under the word "Android" on the store's sign, can be literally translated as "Celebrities Smartphone Experience Store". In short, if you want to be like a celebrity (or you are celebrity) this is presumably the place for you. The idea of an Android "experience store" reminded me that several months ago in Melbourne, Australia Google opened its first "Androidland". Mike Isaac on Wired described the store:
Created in collaboration with Android device manufacturers, “Androidland” showcases the many different devices that run Google’s operating system in a fun, Android-themed environment. And rather than merely hawking the devices, special displays and gaming kiosks aim to inform potential buyers about how Android works, and what devices may be best for them.
Perhaps the owner of the store in Nanping was inspired by Androidland. As far as I know, Google has not opened any official stores in China, so this could also be another opportunity for a foreign company to be inspired by local design (in this case "store design") in China. It could also be another opportunity for a trademark dispute. Whatever the case, I doubt Google would be thrilled with all of the choices made by this Android store owner. For example, in addition to a variety of Android-based mobile phones the store also sold Apple products such as iPhones, iPads, and computers (no ifads for sale, though).

Sign for iPhones and an iPhone accessory display case at the Android store
Sign for iPhones and an iPhone accessory display case at the Android store

Maybe some celebrities in Zhuhai demand Apple products. However, Apple lists only one authorized retailer in Zhuhai. Of no surprise to me, its address is nowhere near the above store and it does not have "Android" in its name.

After scratching an Android store off my list, I will now keep my eyes open for another brand. After all, Windows Phone 7 officially launched in China today. That could mean some additional interesting stores are on the way.

UPDATE 1: More on this store in the more recent post "Inside the Android Store in Zhuhai, China".

UPDATE 2: See in what ways this Android store is not unique in the more recent post "Nokia Stores Selling a Variety of Phones in Nanping, Zhuhai"

UPDATE 3: See what I discover when I visit the store several months later in the post "The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China"

UPDATE 4: About a year and half after my first visit, much more had changed—see "The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China: Part II".

Disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher in Microsoft China's Mobile Services China group. This exploration was not conducted as paid work nor at the request of any company.