Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Julliard School Betting on Artistic Growth in China

Chengcheng Jiang in Time reported on the Julliard School's plans to open a campus, its first outside of the U.S., for pre-college & pre-professional students in Tianjin, China. Some of the reasons for Julliard's new campus highlight the different directions that China and the U.S. are headed in their commitment to the arts:
The Juilliard brand is landing in China at a time when interest in — and money for — the arts is on the rise. As part of President’s Hu Jintao‘s plans to build the nation’s soft power, the central government has established ambitious targets for the development of what it calls China’s ‘cultural industries.’ In the current Five Year Plan, the government’s blueprint for growth, for instance, 2 billion RMB, or about $315 million, has been earmarked for a national arts fund.

This level of enthusiasm and funding is a welcome change for American educators who are used to dealing with dwindling audiences and funding cuts. “The tradition of government funding of the arts has never existed in United States,” [The president of the Julliard School, Joseph Polisi,] told TIME on a recent visit to China to announce the new campus. “What has supported the arts for most of the 20th century in America was the value system where the public educational system saw the arts as being important as part of an overall education.” That, of course, has changed. But in China, he says, parents and school systems increasingly value music. “I see Chinese students, I see Chinese faculty members, I see Chinese educational administrators, who are all working towards an environment that is supportive of the classical arts.”
Like the aviation industry, the development of the arts could be representative of broader changes in China. And similar to some other fields, if the U.S. shoots itself in the foot and does not continue to support the arts, America could decline in a field where it now shines regardless of what China does.

Another set of issues raised by Julliard's plans relate to censorship. Julliard will be joining a variety of other American institutions of higher education with campuses or with plans to build campuses in China. They have had to consider how to best foster open learning in China. Isaac Stone Fish in The Daily Beast reported on the degree to which American universities have adjusted to China's censorship and how it is not easy when it is sometimes not clear what is off-limits:
Rowena He left China in the 1990s and is currently teaching 
courses at Harvard University about the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement
 and its aftermath—a course that she could not teach in China. “The 
problem is, we don’t know where the line is and what the punishment
 would be. That’s where fear and self-censorship comes from,” she says.
It would seem, though, that Julliard may have fewer challenges in this regard and may be less likely to have professors barred from China. Although there are many popular music songs which are banned in China, I am not aware of any cases where the style of music typically studied and performed at a school such as Julliard has been banned. However, there are certainly pieces which have the potential to be considered sensitive [if you are aware of any such pieces being banned, I would be curious to hear about it].

Regardless of the challenges that may be ahead, I think it is wonderful that Julliard is pushing forward in China. It will help to further spread the arts and creative expression in China. It will also provide Julliard a valuable mechanism to funnel talented and trained musicians to its main campus. Like other leading schools, it continues to draw many talented people to the U.S.

Whether the U.S. appreciates how valuable that can be and works to ensure it continues is another question.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I [Kid] You Not: A Chinese Name Lost in Transcription

Although some Chinese adopt a foreign name to accomodate those who speak other languages, others stick with their Chinese name in all situations. When writing in another language such as English, mainland Chinese will typically use pinyin -- the official method in several countries to write Chinese words in a Latin script. For example, the full name of the Chinese artist 艾未未 is Ai Weiwei in pinyin, and the full name of the retired Chinese basketball player 姚明 is Yao Ming. Some Chinese names, such as Xiaoxin or Cuiping, can be particularly challenging to pronounce, write, or remember for people who are not familiar with the pinyin system. Otherwise, using the pinyin form of a Chinese name is straightforward -- usually...

Yesterday, after exchanging several emails in English with a Chinese acquaintance who prefers not to use a foreign-language name, I noticed that she would always write her family name in pinyin or her given name in Chinese characters. Not once had she ever written her given name in pinyin.

As I started to ponder whether there might be an interesting story explaining this curious pattern, I replied to her most recent email.

Her given name is 诗婷. Typing it or saying it in Chinese never previously struck me as odd in any way.

But after I finished typing her name in pinyin for the first time, I paused and stared at the result: Shiting.

Mystery apparently solved.

Although not a word in English, her name in pinyin closely resembles an English word that most people would not want as a name. I could appreciate why she might want to avoid it. But her current strategy might not be practical if she were to work in a multinational setting or live in a non-Chinese-speaking country. Such are the occasional challenges of using one's original name in a foreign language.

What would you do if you were Shiting?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Narrow Streets and Alleys of the Macau Penisula

Far (in Macanese terms) from Macau's Coloane Village, the northernmost region of Macau sits on a peninsula connected to the Chinese city of Zhuhai. Macau Peninsula includes a number of casinos and historical areas frequented by visitors, including Guia Hill, but I most enjoy meandering through its numerous narrow streets and alleys. Based on where I have been in the past, sometimes they can feel somewhat like Tapei and othertimes somewhat like Madrid. However, its mix of Cantonese and Portuguese cultures, which can be felt in so many ways, sets Macau apart from anywhere else. It is simply a Macanese experience.

intersection of narrow streets in Macau

Portuguese style buildings in Macau

back street in Macau

narrow street in Macau

pedestrian alley in Macau

motorbike on street in Macau

narrow buildings in Macau

ramp from an elevated road Macau

street market in Macau

older buildings in Macau

street along a temple in Macau

Friday, July 27, 2012

Scenes of Coloane Village, Macau

Since I recently enjoyed some blue skies in Macau, I will take a break from Shanghai and share several series of photos from a special city with a fascinating mix of Cantonese and Portuguese culture. Below are a handful of scenes from Coloane Village which is in the southernmost portion of Macau -- about an hour away by bus from Macau's border with Zhuhai. The buildings provide a taste of old Macau which feels rather different from Macau's new immense casinos. At least when I visited on a weekday in March it did not feel overwhelmed with tourists, and it maintained a small village charm.


Where I had a Macanese lunch

At Old Tin Hau Temple

Quiet lane

More homes

Famous Lord Stow's Bakery

One of Macau's delicacies from Lord Stow's -- a Portuguese egg tart

Looking across the water at Zhuhai's Hengqin Island

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Future Intercity Railway Station at the Macau-Zhuhai Border

[Update at end]

In February I wrote a post about the variety of transportation methods I used to travel from Guangzhou to Zhuhai to Macau. The trip began with a subway ride to the large Guangzhou South Train Station (see the post for photos of some impressive architecture) and ended with me in Macau after having walked across its border with Zhuhai. One of the highlights of the trip was the high-speed train on the Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway. Unfortunately, at the time it only reached as far as northern Zhuhai, and a long taxi or bus ride was needed to get to more central locations.

Someday the line will extend to Zhuhai border with Macau at Gongbei Port in central Zhuhai. Although some online sites currently claim this extension will open this month, I think I have some good evidence from last week that more time will be needed for its completion:

rail station in Zhuhai under construction
A section further away from the Gongbei Port border crossing

rail station in Zhuhai under construction
An opportunistic photo closer to the Gongbei Port (security soon explained I was in a restricted area)

Although it is not yet open, progress appears to be continuing on what should be a convenient transportation method for some of the people traveling to Macau -- even if all they want to do is buy safe baby formula, gamble large amounts of money, or eat good Portuguese food. And it is yet another sign that China's infrastructure is continuing to grow.

Update (March 4, 2013): The Zhuhai Train Station is now open. See the more recent post "The Good and Bad of the Extended High-Speed Guanzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway".

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China

Update at end

More than four months have passed since I first posted about the "Android store" I stumbled upon after I took a random bus trip in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. One issue some people raised was whether its days were numbered due to possible actions from Google. But I assumed that the store, like many unauthorized Apple stores in China, would not face any immediate interference.

Last week I happened to be in Zhuhai, so I returned to its Nanping district to checkup on the now semi-famous store. At first glance, it did not appear much had changed:

Android store in Zhuhai, China
Still there

The inside of the store was also mostly the same as before. One difference was that there were no Apple computers for sale -- only iPads and iPhones were available (see here for earlier photos from inside the store). Another difference also caught my eye. The staff were wearing store shirts:

Employee wearing green store shirt with Android and Apple logos.
She was happy to have her photograph taken.

Back of store shirt.
Sorry, the shirts are not available for purchase.

The Android robot is displayed on the front of the shirt, Apple's logo is on the right sleeve, and Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, and iOS are on the back of the shirt. Given the store's sign, it seems fitting that Android is the most prominently featured brand, even in the shirt's color. It is worth nothing that what appears to be the name of the store on the shirt is the same as the Chinese words which appear underneath the Android logos on the store's main sign.

Although finding that the store still existed did not surprise me, there was something else I was less sure about. Would the store inspire others?

I found the answer at another store just down the street. Here it is as I saw it several months ago:

store with prominent signs for China Unicom and Nokia
One of the many stores in the area with a Nokia sign

But the store has since undergone a bit of a makeover:

Store with China Unicom and Android signs plus some pillars with Apple logos

The large Nokia sign on the outside of the store has been replaced with the Android robot and what is presumably the store's Chinese name (which is similar to the other store's Chinese name and also does not include the Chinese word for "android"). The Nokia sign on the inside of the store has been replaced with a Samsung sign. Another outside face of the store is now partly in the Apple style, but it curiously includes the Android logos on the middle column. However, this mix of Apple and Android may not be so surprising since this same store previously had an ad for the iPhone that included a singing Android robot.

I will refrain from any deep commentary. I simply wanted to share that not only does the original Android store remain, but it appears to have an imitator.

And now I wonder if more will soon appear.

UPDATE: A little over a year later, much had changed. See "The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China: Part II" for more.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shark-Friendly Soup in Macau

Andrew Sullivan recently shared several pieces about shark fin sales covering topics ranging from the dispute over its ban in California to its strong market in Hong Kong. The eating of shark fins is an issue that has garnered much attention due to the practice of shark finning, where the fin is removed and then the shark is dumped back into the water still alive. However, not all shark fins are obtained through this process, and Sullivan mentions that "scientists and conservationists support managed fisheries over all-out legislative bans".

In a land rife with fake products, I have wondered how much of the shark fin soup sold in China actually includes genuine shark fin. So while walking around Macau last week this pot of soup sitting outside a restaurant caught my attention:

Large container of soup in Macau labeled as "Artificial shark's fin soup with chicken meal"
The value of advertising artificiality

Regardless of whether customers primarily order the soup due to concerns about the welfare of sharks or a desire not to pay the higher price for genuine shark fin soup, this seems to be yet another potential way to reduce shark finning.

Chickens may have some objections though.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Skies and Clouds in China

Something in all of the following scenes caught my attention earlier this week:

A-Ma Temple

Penha Church

Mandarin's House

Taipa Village

Apartments and a Coca-Cola sign

More colorful apartments

Narrow alley in Taipa Village

It was something that would not have caught my attention in the same way before my move to Shanghai 6 years ago. While living there I grew accustomed to only rarely seeing a type of sky that was far more typical where I had lived in the U.S. Regardless of whether Shanghai's common monotone grey skies were mainly due to the local climate or pollution, seeing blue skies with fluffy or wispy clouds seemed special in Shanghai.

However, during the summer of 2010 I noticed that Shanghai's sky appeared surprisingly "normal" on a regular basis. Was this due to a sudden change in climate? Doubtful. Instead, the dramatic change was due to government imposted measure intended to improve the air quality for the World Expo being held in Shanghai. The connection became "clearer" after the World Expo ended. High levels of pollution enveloped Shanghai and once more blotted out the sky. Yet again, everyone was paying a price for China's development. But at least more people knew what was possible.

While the Expo was open I commented to a Shanghainese friend that it was wonderful to see "normal" clouds in Shanghai. She laughed and said many of her Shanghainese friends were expressing confusion online about the "strange" clouds they were seeing. They were not used to such skies on a regular basis.

Their comments reminded me of a friend from nearby Nanjing. A few years earlier after she returned from Japan -- her first trip outside of China -- she told me she loved it there. I asked her, "Why?"

She quickly responded, "Because its sky is so blue!" When I later explained that the blue skies she saw were common in many cities outside of China she looked bewildered. She had assumed the type of sky she commonly saw in Shanghai was typical for cities everywhere.

So after my recent weeks in Shanghai it was with great joy I gazed upon the above scenes. But they are not from Shanghai. They are from one of China's two special administrative regions -- Macau:

Scene from Penha Hill

I am not sure that the air was truly healthy, but the bluish sky and its clouds were nonetheless welcome. And they made a wonderful day of exploring Macau all the better.

The weather has been noticeably hotter than some of the more comfortable days during my time here several months ago. But I do not mind, I have been distracted by the sky.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scenes of China: For Sale on a Dachang Town Sidewalk

As part of a series on Shanghai's diversity, I have recently shared some scenes of less recently developed and more recently developed areas that can be found in Baoshan District's Dachang Town. This last set of photos from Dachang Town focuses on the sidewalk along the north side of Huanzhen North Road. Although the sidewalk includes some atypical designs, what most captured my eyes was what was the variety of items being sold on it:

items for sale on the sidewalk in Dachang Town, Shanghai
Low overhead costs for sellers

Taking time to trim his toenails

Tea sets

wallets and belts for sale on a sidewalk in Dachang Town, Shanghai
Holes had been cut in the box to make it into a mask

Chinese-style fans

Assorted books

Items for kids

The man on the right seemed engrossed with his mobile phone

Clothes and perfume

More clothes

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Scenes of China: Older Sections of Dachang Town, Shanghai

Previously, I shared photos of Dachang Town in Baoshan District, Shanghai, that captured some of what I saw there that was more recently developed. In this post I will share some contrasting scenes in Dachang Town from two neighborhoods with styles of architecture from Shanghai's past. Similar neighborhoods have been quickly disappearing in Shanghai, and the two I recently visited in Dachang Town are just small pockets remaining in the midst of more modern residential and commercial buildings. Walking around the small lanes made me feel like I was in another world from the scenes in the previous post despite being within walking distance.

The first area I stumbled upon appears to be part of (or at least near) an area called the Lu Family Residences (according to one Chinese map) in Dachang Town's Lianxi Village (联西村). As I discovered while there, it is just to the south of Shanghai University.

An island of homes in the midst of construction and demolition

At first I saw no obvious path to enter the area from the road that brought me there.

Shanghai's rural side

Public restroom

The building on the right with an awning has a small convenience store.

The shop's owners are a young couple. He is from nearby Jiangsu province and she is from Anhui province.

I can find no name for the second area I visited, but it can be found just northeast of the Changzhong Road Subway Station. And like the other neighborhood, I received some friendly attention and a few confused looks. I doubt many unfamiliar foreigners walk these lanes.

A typical lane


Open air office

Some older buildings appear to have had more modern renovations.

Girl trying to put a ribbon on her cat

The friendly girl and her family were happy to chat.