Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Physical Education at Colleges in China

students in a fitness class at a basketball court in front of the library at Hunan First Normal University in Changsha, China

The above scene in front of the library at the Hunan First Normal University in Changsha, Hunan province, represents something I have seen many times at universities in China: students participating in "physical education" classes--though sometimes they seem to involve rather light activities. There has been growing concern in China about the physical fitness of its students. As China Radio International (CRI) reports on a recent attempt to address this issue:
A circular, recently published by China's State Council has proposed an assessment system for middle school students' physical health, including a compulsory PE exam for students being recruited to universities or colleges...

Recently, increasing study pressure has forced Chinese students to spend more time at their desks rather than on playgrounds. Obesity and poor nutrition are quite common, as described by Qu Guoyong, a middle school PE teacher at east China's Shandong Province.
And the China Daily reports on new policies for colleges:
Experts have praised new policies that encourage physical education at universities, which will see students being tested on their fitness levels...

The policy will see students' physique and fitness added as a factor in evaluating their performance at the university, Wang Dengfeng, director of physical, health and arts education for the Ministry of Education, told China Youth Daily.

[Mao Zhenming, dean of Beijing Normal University's sports college] predicted that student fitness levels will become part of the evaluation system for universities.

The current evaluation system looks at physical education programs, including investment in sports facilities, recreation areas and the rate of students reaching the national fitness standard, Mao said.

He hopes there will be more ways to measure physical education, such as the number of sports clubs, involvement in dormitory sports, and opening hours for recreation centers.

Random inspections from authorities are also necessary, he said.
If you are skeptical any of these methods, you are not alone. CRI reports that some experts have expressed their doubts about their effectiveness:
Cheng Fangping, a senior researcher on education studies with Renmin University of China says the plan is not feasible since the promotion of students' physical health cannot be achieved through PE exams alone.

"Students would take physical exercises just for the purpose of passing the exams rather than developing a healthy lifestyle. They would have no incentive to pursue more sporting activities after they finish the exams. They may have high exam scores but poor health conditions. So, teachers should encourage students to take exercises as an effective way of improving their learning efficiency."
But further change is possible. And some professionals in the field appear to be seeking ideas from outside of China. A press release from the U.S. Department of State describes a recent example:
Chinese physical education professionals will travel throughout the United States from October 15-23 to exchange ideas and experiences with their U.S. counterparts, as they look to achieve the shared goals of ensuring that all sectors of the population have access to sports and recreation, and the opportunity to learn physical fitness skills.
I will refrain from any jokes that could be made about Chinese coming to the U.S. for advice about physical education. Instead, I will positively note my support for cross-cultural exchanges such as this one. They can open up each side to new ideas--on the topic of improving the physical fitness of students, both China and the U.S. could probably use some.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Advertising a Pole Dancing School in Changsha, China

The other day in Changsha, Hunan province, I met this college student at a large shopping center:

It proved to be an experience that led to seeing a side of China familiar to me and a side I had not yet seen.

Like the student I had earlier met elsewhere in Changsha, she was handing out printed advertisements for a part time job. Unlike the other student, she was not earning 40 yuan RMB for working four hours. Instead, she was earning 30 yuan RMB (approximately US $4.80) for the same amount of work. However, if she chose to work a full day she could earn 50 yuan RMB--the same as offered to the other student.

What most caught my attention, though, was what she was handing out:

printed advertisement for a pole dancing school in Changsha, China
Front of the printed advertisement

printed advertisement for a pole dancing school in Changsha, China
Back of the printed advertisement

Yes, Changsha has at least one pole dancing school, and it was seeking new students. Given the many clubs in Changsha and what I have seen at some clubs elsewhere in China, this made perfect sense to me. However, I had never seen a pole dancing school before.

On a later day, I met another student handing out the same printed advertisement. After I asked her a few questions about the school, she offered to bring me there. So we went up to the 7th floor of a large building which also includes several clubs. Not surprisingly, inside the school next to the lobby was a dance room full of poles and pole dancing students. While there, I had a pleasant conversation with a manager, and he proudly told me about one of their graduates who now dances in the UK.

If you're curious to learn more about this school, their website (in Chinese) can be found here. It includes a variety of photos and a video which can also be watched on Youku here (probably will begin with an unrelated ad). In case you are concerned, I would consider it all safe for work (the video is similar to what is displayed above but with movement). As they say on their website, the school believes it is about being "专业 Professional", "健康 Healthy", and "自信 Confident".

I will refrain from explicitly making any deeper points--just sharing more of what I have seen in a country that has surprised me in a variety of ways, including in how it is both different and similar to a country such as the U.S.

*Updated link from currently dead to currently working on May 31, 2015.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hanging Clothing at Dormitories in China

In the post about the dorm room at the Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, I mentioned that it was common to see clothing hanging outside of college dormitories in China. For example...

Clothes hanging outside at a Guangxi University male dormitory in Nanning, Guangxi

Clothes hanging outside at a Qingdao University female dormitory in Qingdao, Shandong

More soon about water-related topics, such a showers and drinking water, at university dorms in China.

Fake 'The Body Shop' Store in Changsha, China

Today in Changsha, (mainland) China, I saw this store:

fake The Body Shop store in Changsha, China

And now a relevant piece of information from The Body Shop's online site for Hong Kong:
Does The Body Shop operate in Mainland China?

No, The Body Shop does not currently operate in Mainlaind China. We have no stores or online shopping presence. The Body Shop cannot guarantee the quality or authenticity of any products purchased in Mainland China.
So I paused for a few moments as I was passing by. And then, of course, I went inside.

One column of shelves was dedicated to products from The Body Shop. The rest of the store featured similar products mostly from German and Australian companies.

On the side, one of the Australian products was "Essence of Kangaroo". I wondered why anyone would want this type of essence. After a quick online search I found that some brands claim it is an aphrodisiac (with an extra kick?) made up from ground meat and other items such as kangaroo sperm. I am unsure of the trustworthiness of some of the stores so I will not bother linking to them. However, maybe it is worth noting a short article on The Guardian titled "Essence of kangaroo among scams to fleece Sydney tourists".

Anyways, a saleswoman in the store confirmed one of my suspicions. She claimed that The Body Shop products were originally purchased in Hong Kong, where there are numerous legitimate stores. Although it is conceivable that the products in this store are counterfeits, the containers showed no obvious signs of this. Plus, my familiarity with the extensive grey market that exists between Hong Kong/Macau and mainland China* makes the bought-in-Hong-Kong story rather plausible to me. However, I am not an expert in identifying fake cosmetic products, and as noted above there is no guarantee from The Body Shop regarding the products' quality or authenticity.

Like the many "fake" Apple stores I have seen in China, there may be improper uses of trademarks, but the related products being sold appear to be genuine. Given its use of The Body Shop trademark and the placement of the name were a store's name typically appears, I think it is fair to call this a "fake The Body Shop store".

How to characterize the Essence of Kangaroo is another issue, though.

*Some examples of the cross-border grey-market transport of goods in a post here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lakeside Tea on Yuelu Mountain

If you are ever in Changsha I recommend a visit to the picturesque Chuan Shipo Lake (穿石坡湖) hidden on the scenic Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山).

Chuan Shipo Lake (穿石坡湖) at Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山) in Changsha, China

I also recommend sitting at the lakeside and enjoying some green tea.

glass of green tea at Chuan Shipo Lake (穿石坡湖) at Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山) in Changsha, China

One final piece of advice: if possible, avoid the weekends when it might not be as peaceful as it looks in these photos. And that concludes this relaxing post for a Sunday.

Halloween in Changsha and Taipei

[Update at end]

Although the Halloween holiday is becoming more popular in some parts of Asia, I haven't seen much signs of it in Changsha, Hunan province. While stopping by a bar that brews its own beer (an extreme rarity in Hunan) on Friday night, I could not avoid noticing the ongoing Halloween party. But it seemed to be mostly comprised of foreigners who are working in Changsha. I heard there was a pricey Halloween party somewhere Saturday night and there may have been something happening in an area with many clubs, but walking around a popular shopping district yesterday during the early evening I saw no signs most people or businesses were aware of the holiday. However, I did feel a bit of the Halloween spirit when I saw this spider that had made its home next to a construction site at a pedestrian shopping street:

spider in a web in Changsha, Hunan, China

Since I have no other Halloween-themed photos from Changsha, I will share some more from last year when I was in Taipei where I saw signs of Halloween in several areas. These scenes are all from near Taipei 101, Taiwan's tallest building, where a number of clubs had Halloween parties during the weekend:

dressed up for Halloween in Taipei, Taiwan

dressed up for Halloween in Taipei, Taiwan

dressed up for Halloween in Taipei, Taiwan

dressed up for Halloween in Taipei, Taiwan

young women wearing cupcake and sailor costumes for Halloween in Taipei, Taiwan

For more scenes of Halloween in Taipei see my post from last year here.

UPDATE: There's much more Halloween spirit in Changsha than the above. For the Halloween scenes I saw in Changsha during the next couple of days see my more recent post here: More Halloween in Changsha, China.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Updates for Assorted Posts: Panties, Great Firewall, and a Treadmill

I have updates for several posts that don't require a full post on their own and will be missed by many if I now append them to the original posts. So I will share them together here in a single post.

1. After a photo of a fan and hanging clothes in the post "College Dormitories in China: Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha" I wrote:
If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't take your panties off.
If that struck you as a peculiar choice of words, I would agree. After recently rereading the post I realized I had messed up a potentially timely use of words. I am not sure why fretting over the photo would have caused anyone to take their panties off. That sentence in the post has been edited to what was intended:
If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't get your panties in a bunch.
I apologize for any misunderstanding due to my mangling of an idiom.

2. I have already made four updates in the post "The New York Times and Google Searches for 'New York Times' Blocked in China". Go to the post to read them. The gist was that James Griffiths in the Shanghaiist hypothesized The New York Times was not really blocked in China and the site was merely experiencing difficulties due to heavy traffic. I explained why that made little sense. In response Griffiths retracted his traffic problems theory and later in response to another post he also retracted his skepticism that The Times was blocked in China.

But I have yet another update now. I recently retested and The Times remains blocked, at least at my location in Changsha, Hunan province. Also, a search on Google for "New York Times" still leads to no results and only a connection reset error page (the exact wording depends on the browser used). And as before, no such blocking occurs on either Baidu or Bing and both provide results including links to The Times website.

3. Finally, in the post "A Stationary Child in Motion" I shared a photo of a young girl running on a treadmill. I passed by the same treadmill today, but it was being used very differently by a young boy.

At least he's still getting some exercise.

Friday, October 26, 2012

College Dormitories in China: Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha

In my series of posts about the conditions in university dormitory rooms in China, I have shared examples from the Dalian Maritime University here and the Longzhou campus of the Guangxi Normal University for Minorities here. To round them out I will share an example from a dormitory at the Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, Hunan province.

dormitory at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

If you drove from Dalian to Longzhou you would likely pass Changsha at about 26 hours into your 40+ hour drive (map displaying all three locations). In addition to being in a very different region of China, the room contrasts with the other two in another important aspect: it is in a female dormitory. Typically in China, college dormitory buildings are single sex and the opposite sex is not allowed to enter. But in this case security allowed me to be escorted inside. I will save why they were so kind for another day.

The dorm room I visited had four beds, each with a desk and storage space below.

inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

This room was unusually spacious for this dorm building given its particular location and layout of the building. On some of the floor space in the room an assortment of items could be found.

stuffed bearr, shoes, and other items inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

various items inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

One feature of the room that I have seen elsewhere was the central fan.

fan and hanging clothes inside a female dormitory room at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

If you are now fretting over me sharing a photo of the young women's underwear, don't get your panties in a bunch. It is extremely common for universities students, and other people in China, to hang their clothes out to dry outside where they can be seen by all. If you want to study underwear preferences of college students in China, you could learn a lot just walking by many dorms.

Finally, unlike the dorm room in Longzhou, this room did not have its own bathroom. Here is a peek at a section of the nearby shared bathroom.

shared bathroom in a female dormitory at Central South University of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, China.

For the moment, I will avoid digging deeply into this specific example. But now that I have shared three different examples of dorm rooms, I will later write about some issues common to many universities in China. I will also provide a small taste of how visiting these rooms can aid in the design of new technologies.

The Faces of Students in Longzhou

Earlier I shared some of the challenges faced by students at a university in Longzhou, Guangxi. Here are some of the students I met there two years ago:

students in classroom at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

I don't know what any of these students may be doing now. Nevertheless, I bet most, if not all, of them would believe they have many more pressing concerns in their lives right now than whether The New York Times is blocked in China. Just something to ponder...

More soon.

The New York Times and Google Searches for "New York Times" Blocked in China

4 Updates at end

In a new development (or one could say a repeat of an older one), The New York Times is now blocked in China. As Keith Bradsher reports in The New York Times today:
The Chinese government swiftly blocked access Friday morning to the English-language and Chinese-language Web sites of The New York Times from computers in mainland China in response to the news organization’s decision to post an article in both languages describing wealth accumulated by the family of the country’s prime minister.

The authorities were also blocking attempts to mention The Times or the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, in postings on Sina Weibo, an extremely popular mini-blogging service in China that resembles Twitter...

By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Web sites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Times had posted the article in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version.

Publication of the article about Mr. Wen and his family comes at a delicate time in Chinese politics, during a year in which factional rivalries and the personal lives of Chinese leaders have come into public view to a rare extent and drawn unprecedented international interest.
I am not sure which 31 cities The Times tested, but their site appears to be blocked where I am now at in Changsha, Hunan province.

I have also found that searching for "New York Times" on Google leads to an interruption in service and no page is returned--again apparently the result of blocking in China. There is no such problem searching for "New York".  This problem only results when using the "regular" non-secure version of Google. If secure SSL search is in use (the URL will contain "https"), then no problems arise. This makes sense since it is not possible for China's Great Firewall to "see" the search terms under these conditions. Implicit in this is that I had did not find Google's SSL search to be blocked.

However, at the moment searching for "New York Times" on Baidu, China's leading search site, or Bing's Chinese site ( leads to no problems and results include links to the The New York Times website. Of course, the link is not particularly useful since the website is still blocked.

Also, previously the Google News site for users in mainland China ( appears to be blocked, but the sites for Hong Kong ( and the U.S. ( were not blocked. However, now the Hong Kong news site appears to be blocked too (although it may depend on the series of steps used to access it). There seems to be more to be sorted out here, so I will just leave it at this.

On the side... My own website remains partially blocked in China. This mix of results is likely due to it being hosted on Blogger (which is blocked) but it using its own domain name (which is not blocked). It is one of the reasons I don't use Blogger's default method for posting images, otherwise they would not be viewable in China. Anyways, I will keep tabs on its accessibility. For my most recent in-depth review of access to websites such as Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Windows Live, and Yahoo! in China see here.

More updates later if there are any new developments.

Update 1: James Griffths in the Shanghaiist writes that they are finding mixed results for their own tests of whether The New York Times is accessible in China. He hypothesizes:
Any failures by netizens within China to access may also be related to the sheer mass of traffic that always swamps sites once they claim to be blocked, as everyone checks to see if reports are true (as well as the extra attention the site was getting for it's pretty spectacular report on Wen Jiaobo).
This seems highly unlikely to me since I had absolutely no problem accessing the site when I used my VPN (which can allow one to "break through" China's Great Firewall) during the testing. As I soon as I turned off the VPN I could not access the site. Assuming traffic is being directed to the same place in both cases, I don't see how heavy traffic could account for this. Given the other reports that The Times has been blocked, I do not believe I had an unusual experience.

Update 2: Graham Webster also pushes back against the story in the Shanghaiist. To his points I will add that my own tests suggest the blocking is not occurring through DNS servers since I tested using non-local DNS.

Update 3: In response to my points James Griffiths updated his report to retract his "previous assertion that the NYT site could be suffering from traffic problems".

Update 4: Earlier, in his post Griffiths placed little faith in much of the reported evidence of The Times being blocked in large part due the reports of I have concerns about the results presented on such sites and was far more convinced by reports from numerous reputable sources and my own experiences. In his latest update (at the end of the post), Griffiths shares his change of heart:
It has been pointed out to me that doesn't detect reset connections which seems to be the problem most people are experiencing when they try to access the site. In the face of overwhelming anecdotal evidence I am retracting my initial scepticism about the NYT being blocked.
China's Great Firewall is a complex beast and it can present some "fuzzy" situations. Nevertheless, I, like Griffiths now, think there is sufficient evidence to say The New York Times is currently blocked in China.

Still Able to Dream in Guangxi: Studying at School and Working at the Factory

Before moving on to other posts about the conditions at college dormitories in China, I want to provide a sense of the life of students who attended the school in the previous example, the Longzhou campus of the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities.

When I visited the school in the spring of 2010, I met Connie Wieck, an American woman who was teaching English there and had previously taught English in Luzhou, Sichuan province. In a blog post she wrote about a month later she shared some of her students' stories:
Almost all of my students are from remote farming regions here in Guangxi. And almost all of their parents are farmers.

Farmers account for 70% of the population in China. An estimated 700 million rural farmers provide 60% of the food for the country with their average income being $300 to $450 a year. Those considered at the extreme poverty level make less than $120 a year.

But among my students, I learned that many of their families have no income at all. They live off the land with few appliances to help them in their daily rituals. Home-grown peanuts are pressed into peanut oil for cooking. Vegetables grown year-round become the staple for meals. Raised pigs and chickens are their protein supply. Washing clothes by hand in nearby streams and rivers are a daily chore.
I have been to a number of these regions in Guangxi and have seen what Connie describes. It can be hard to believe these places are in the same country in which can be found cities such as Shanghai or Beijing.

Curious about how her students could meet their costs while in school, during a conversation with several female students Connie discovered that some of them work at factories when school is not in session:
I asked about the conditions of the factories they worked at.

Basic non-climate controled dorm rooms for 8 (bunkbeds, a toilet, a sink) are provided for workers but purchasing food is their own responsibility. They can either go to the factory cafeteria or outside.

Roommates are iffy. If you don’t know them, best to carry all your money and valuables with you or expect your things to be stolen...

Their pay ranged from 1,200 yuan to 2,000 yuan ($190 – $280) for 6 weeks of work. Hardly enough to cover the $800-plus our school requires.

In one case, the girl said she quit due to exhaustion after 5 days standing 12 hours straight at the assembly lines. Her pay? Nothing. Workers are paid by the month, not the week, so if you don’t stick it out those 30 days, you’re out of luck.
When I met Connie, she struck me as positive but aware of the realities for many in a region such as Guangxi. Combined with what I know from my own explorations, I was not at all surprised to read this:
I asked about their hopes for the future, after college.

Since these students are the first in their family to get a higher education, they’ll most likely be the main breadwinners after they finish school to help repay what was spent on their education. It’s a big burden, especially since finding job is so difficult.

In this area of the country especially, white-collar work is hard to come by. Guangxi is a poor province and city jobs are for university graduates, many who have connections. Those that come to these small vocational schools in remote areas don’t stand much of a chance to succeed in China. Despite having an education, they might still be stuck returning to factory work to help out their families.

But at least for now, they can enjoy an environment of learning and holding onto their future dreams.
I have asked many youth in China about their own hopes for the future and helping parents who living in difficult conditions is a common answer. I will later share a story of someone I met in Guangxi with a similar story, except she didn't even have the opportunity to complete her education and saw only one way she might be able to achieve this dream.

I recommend reading Connie Wieck's full post where she provides more details about the challenges faced by her students and their families. And although it may not be obvious to people in places such as the U.S. how these students perceive their own situation, a topic I will discuss later, I think Connie's final thoughts in her post are well worth considering. I don't want to fully reveal them, so again I recommend reading "American College Kids Don’t Know How Lucky They Are".

Thursday, October 25, 2012

College Dormitories in China: Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou

In southwestern China more than a 40 hour car drive (map) from the Dalian Maritime University dorm room I previously featured, you could find the following dorm building at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

dormitory at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

But start driving now, because this oldest campus of the school will soon be closed. The faculty and students who currently remain will be transfered to a newer campus a few hours away in the outskirts of Chongzuo city.

Nevertheless, an 8 bed room I visited in the dorm is similar to many others I have seen in China.

dorm beds at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

Despite Longzhou being in a southern climate with hot, humid summers, the rooms do not have air conditioning--typical for the dorms I have visited in China. I could point out several other things, such as the various shelving units, but instead I want to focus on the reddish paper next to the bed. Is it decoration? Well, it can be, but it also serves a more pragmatic purpose. Here is a similar example next to another bed in the same room.

wall covering next to a dorm bed at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

The paper has been placed there to prevent a white dust from coming off the wall if a student rubs against it while sleeping. I have seen dorms elsewhere in China where students faced the same problem and employed the same strategy. This seems consistent with many other signs I have seen of apparently poor construction quality in university buildings, even newer ones, in China. A story for another day...

Another familiar aspect of the dorm was the hanging power strip.

hanging power strip in a dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

Finally, the dorm room did have one piece of luxury not found in many other Chinese dorm rooms, including the one at Dalian Maritime University.

This dorm has its own bathroom.

bathroom with squat toilet in dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

The squat toiles that can be seen is typical for the dorms I have visited in China. They are also very common in many of the homes I have visited, but that can vary depending on region. I could easily write several posts on toilets in China. At this point, I will just say that I have seen renovated expensive restaurants with shiny new squat toilets and that there are several arguments for their superiority.

Finally, the bathroom also included a shower:

shower in dorm room at the Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities in Longzhou, China

As would be typical for private bathrooms in dorm rooms, the shower was in the same space as the toilet. This arrangement can also be found in many homes in China. And like squat toilets, it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

That's all for this dorm room. More on showers later. You might be surprised where they can be found if they're not in the room. And if you are looking at the above photo and wondering about hot water, well, that's another story for later too.

Soon, I will share a story about some of the students at this school. Not only are they familiar with school dormitories, but factory dormitories as well.

UPDATE: See here for that story.

College Dormitories in China: Dalian Maritime University

Earlier I provided an introduction, an overview of some of my relevant research experience, and a brief methods section for a series of posts on college dormitories in China. And now finally an actual dormitory room, this one from the Dalian Maritime University in China's northeastern city of Dalian, Liaoning province.

bunk bed in a dorm at Dalian Maritime University in China

bunk bed and table in a dorm at Dalian Maritime University in China

There are many comments I could make about this four-person dorm room that I would rank as one of the more "upscale" I have seen in China. But since more is to come, and I have already written plenty in the previous recent posts, I will keep this simple and focus on one issue that can be important in college dorms: storage space. This dorm was remarkable in the amount that could be found.

One shelving unit mostly held toiletries.

shelving unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

There were also two units for locked storage.

storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

The student who had earlier offered to guide me around the campus opened up one his locked storage compartments to reveal a number of items such as a pair of headphones, a laptop, books, and of course... toilet paper.

inside a storage unit in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

Even the area above the door was used for storing items.

items stored on a shelve above a doorway in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

And an area below the desk was also used as storage space.

books stacked underneath a desk in a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University in China

You may have noticed some curious aspects of the storage space in the above photos. For example,  one of the units doesn't match the rest of the room. Also, some of the units look like they could be suitable for more than four people. Well, that is not an accident. Someday, if not already, the greenish storage unit may depart and more beds will be moved into the room.

Again, there is much more I could say about what can be seen in these photos, and there are many questions to ask, even just about the storage issue alone. I would be interested to hear your thoughts. In upcoming posts, I will share views of other dorm rooms, some of which will serve as striking comparisons. I will also later comment on some typical features of college dormitories in China that most Chinese students don't seem to give a second notice but would give most American students pause.

More is on the way.

UDPATE: See here for the next post: a view inside a dorm room at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities.

College Dormitories in China: A Brief Methods Section

Before sharing the examples of college dormitories in China (introduction here; my relevant research experience here), an informal post on some of the "methods" I used may prove useful in interpreting what will soon follow. Although the methods varied, there are some commonalities worth mentioning:

1. None of these visits were arranged in any way by the universities. I visited all of the dorms at the invitation of students.

2. The students and the dorms were not selected by the universities in any way.

3. The choice of the specific dorms was not planned in advance. When the students woke up that morning, they had no idea I would be visiting their dorm room. The photos are all of "natural" conditions, and the students had no opportunity to prepare for my visit.

4. I made no effort to view any specific type of dorm.

Finally, I want to thank the many students who guided me around their schools, allowed me into their dorms, and opened up to me about a variety of topics. It reminds of the many other people in China who were friendly to me.

Now that those formalities are out of the way, on to the main posts...

College freshman in Dalian, Liaoning province, participating in their mandatory military training

UPDATE: See here for the first post of views inside a dorm room, this one at Dalian Maritime University.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

College Dormitories in China: The Research

In the previous post I mentioned that I will share examples of living conditions in a variety of student dormitories in China. And as I wrote before, I would like to provide some background on why and how I became familiar with this topic.

While working as a user experience (UX) researcher at Microsoft China, I helped to inspire and guide the design of useful, usable, and desirable technologies for global and China-specific markets. What I learned on a daily basis through a variety of projects ranging from the usability testing of new applications for mobile phones to participatory design sessions with amazingly creative Shanghai high school students never ceased to amaze me -- both in terms of what seemed so familiar, and what seemed so different. And often, what I discovered not only surprised me, but my teammates as well.

One set of projects I led focused on the life of youth, 18 to 25 years old, in China. Based on what I was permitted to earlier share for an international conference in Germany, I can say that one of the projects covered five provincial capital cities in China: Changsha, Hunan province; Guiyang, Guizhou province; Xi'an, Shaanxi province; Ji'nan, Shangdong province; Changchun, Jilin province. They are cities in very different regions of China -- important since we well recognized China's diversity. Our specific recruitment requirements ensured that the Chinese participants whose lives we delved into came from a range of income levels, backgrounds, and environments. Since half of the participants were students and interviews began in participants' place of residence, I visited a number of college dormitories. I am not able to share the specific goals of this research study, even the participants didn't know the details (and sometimes they expressed confusion about what they could be). I am also not able to share the findings nor their impact other than to say I presented them to a wide range of teams at Microsoft both in China and the U.S.

But I mention this project because combined with others I conducted in China for Microsoft and similar technology companies, it serves as a background which implicitly guides some of my recent independent research. And as part of that recent research, I have visited many more universities in China.

Since beginning this blog, I have shared a variety of individual examples or stories that capture key themes in China: a migrant worker's first payday in Shanghai, a Guizhou woman's thoughts about Google's challenges in China, a Sichuanese waitress's surprise about the lack of censorship in Taiwan, or the "Sansumg" computer I found in a Nanning college classroom. Like the examples in those posts, I do not necessarily claim that on their own the upcoming examples serve as definitive proof for any particular "big" claim. But based on previous experiences, I am confident they are representative and significant examples. Most importantly, I hope they can provide a new perspective and stimulate further thought about the many topics they touch on--many do not only relate to China, but elsewhere as well.

College student in Changsha, Hunan province, displaying her map of the world

UPDATE: See here for the following post.

College Dormitories in China: An Introduction

Yesterday an American reader wrote to me:
I recently found your blog and just wanted to say how much I enjoy the pictures you post. They really show a different side of China than the image I have had in my mind.
I asked if he could say more and he replied:
My mental image was of a much more dismal place. I never thought much beyond the image of huge factories full of underpaid workers, but your pictures show that there is more than that in China (which I knew on some level, but never really thought about).

I'd really like to visit China if I am ever financially able to at some point.
First, I appreciate the comments, and I hope the reader someday has the opportunity to visit China.

Second, the reader's comments about his image of China are a great setup for some posts I have been planning to provide more context about working and living conditions in China. In another coincidental but perfect setup for what I will soon post, James Fallows is now sharing photos from his recent tour of a Foxconn site in Shenzhen, China. As Fallows writes, Foxconn:
is the hyper-secretive, highly controversial company that makes so many of the smartphones, computers, tablets, and other devices that you use.
At the moment, Fallows has four "Inside Foxconn" posts, all including photos. You can find them here: One; Two; Three; Four.

The third post includes photos inside a dorm room. In commenting on the dorms Fallows writes:
...I've seen enough other Chinese factories, rural schools, villages and so on to recognize that these are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Based on the many dorms I have seen in different regions of China, the photos shared by Fallows left me with a similar impression.

On that note, I will post series of photos from a range of dorms not at factories, but at universities I have visited across China. They will provide points of comparison for the dorms photographed by Fallows and also some perspective on the living conditions common for students in China. But before that, I want to provide a brief overview of why and how I became familiar with university dorm conditions in China as part of my research. That's coming soon.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out the Foxconn posts by Fallows if you haven't already. Newer posts may already be available on his blog at The Atlantic here.

UPDATE: Here is a current (as of Oct 27) list of links to posts on this topic in the order they were published:
More is on the way.

UPDATE 2: Here is a list of links to later relevant posts:

  • Hard Beds in China -- context for considering the thin mattress on the beds in the dorm rooms

College students outside their dorm rooms in Longzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney and Counterfeit Valves from China

I previously shared this quote of Romney from the second U.S. presidential debate (full transcript here):
We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level. China's been cheating over the years. One by holding down the value of their currency. Number two, by stealing our intellectual property; our designs, our patents, our technology. There's even an Apple store in China that's a counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods. They hack into our computers. We will have to have people play on a fair basis, that's number one.
I argued that even under a generous interpretation of his comment about the Apple store, it was not particularly relevant to whether the "playing field is level" for the U.S. and China. In short, most accounts and my own many experiences do not support a belief that many "fake" Apples stores in China are selling counterfeit Apple products (more about Romney's earlier comment and the many "fake" Apple stores I have seen in China here).

In the third and final U.S. presidential debate both candidates made a few comments about China. Romney again raised the issue of counterfeit products (full transcript here):
We have to say to our friend in China, look, you guys are playing aggressively. We understand it. But this can't keep on going. You can't keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even to the United States.

I was with one company that makes valves and - and process industries and they said, look, we were - we were having some valves coming in that - that were broken and we had to repair them under warranty and we looked them and - and they had our serial number on them. And then we noticed that there was more than one with that same serial number. They were counterfeit products being made overseas with the same serial number as a U.S. company, the same packaging, these were being sold into our market and around the world as if they were made by the U.S. competitor. This can't go on.
It is notable that Romney mentioned counterfeits, but did not mention any counterfeit Apple stores this time. I'll admit, I am pleased to know that Romney must have read this blog. It is worth noting that he did not use the tech-related examples involving either Google or Microsoft that I thought could be useful for his uneven playing field claim. As I mentioned before, this may be because it would not be beneficial for such companies to be publicly mentioned by a leading political figure in the U.S. If they were, it could increase perceptions in China that they are arms of the U.S. government.

Instead, Romney used an example of counterfeit valves. I have no familiarity with the valve trade nor do I have any experience with fake valve stores in China. I will just say there is nothing in his account that strikes me as peculiar or especially unlikely. In fact, it reminded me of a wholesale counterfeit toy store I saw in Guangzhou which had several customers in the U.S. I can only assume Romney chose an example of valves instead of my example of cuddly stuffed toys because most of the toys in the store I highlighted were of animated characters from Japanese games, TV shows, and movies. If only the store had sold counterfeit stuffed Disney toys my post might have made it into a presidential debate. Oh well.

That's all for U.S. politics here for now. Like before, I doubt this particular comment in the debate will be what matters most to American voters as they consider their vote in the upcoming election. But I assume many Americans would agree that China selling counterfeit goods is not good for the U.S.

After all, someone could seriously hurt themselves using a counterfeit bayonet.

Chairs, Blankets, and Broken Mannequins

In the Changsha neighborhood marked for demolition where I spoke with the man mentioned in my post about forced evictions in China, I saw these items on the ground:

folded chairs, blankets, and broken mannequin legs on a street in Changsha, China

Feel free to consider what, if any, symbolism can be found here.

More soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Stimulating Forced Evictions in China

The report "Standing Their Ground" by Amnesty International covers an issue familiar to many people in China:
The forced eviction of people from their homes and farmland has become a routine occurrence in China and represents a gross violation of China’s international human rights obligations on an enormous scale. Despite international scrutiny and censure of such abuses amid preparations for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the pace of forced evictions has only accelerated over the past three years, with millions of people across the country forced from their residences without appropriate legal protection and safeguards. These evictions are often marked by violence, committed both by state and private actors in pursuit of economic gain and, less commonly, by frustrated residents in desperate acts of protest and resistance.

Chinese who lose their homes or land in forced evictions often find themselves living in poorly constructed dwellings far away from jobs, schools and public transport. Because there is not yet a comprehensive social welfare safety net in the countryside, rural residents are particularly vulnerable to severe economic hardship after evictions. Farmers who lose their land often end up in poverty. The problem of forced evictions represents the single most significant source of popular discontent in China and a serious threat to social and political stability.

Premier Wen Jiabao and other members of the Chinese leadership have publicly acknowledged the gravity of the situation, with Wen recently saying in a meeting: “What is the widespread problem right now? It’s the arbitrary seizure of peasants’ land, and the peasants have complaints, so much so that it’s triggering mass incidents [protests].” But other Chinese officials have sought to minimize the problem and defended abuses in the eviction process as a necessary cost of modernization.
In the China Real Time Report, Chuin-Wei Yap's overview of Amnesty International's findings explains the connection between a recent increase in evictions and a nationwide stimulus intended to help China's economy:
Forced evictions have long been a problem in China, in large part because the country’s chronically underfunded local governments rely heavily on land sales for revenue. As part of the 2008 stimulus, initially set at 4 trillion yuan (roughly $640 billion), local governments went on a building binge financed by loans from state-run banks. The need to service those loans drove local governments to sell even greater quantities of land than before, which in turn drove an increase in evictions, according to Amnesty International.

The non-profit says there are no reliable estimates on the number of people forcibly evicted in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it claims development-linked evictions have risen “significantly” in the last two years. “China’s response to the global recession has exacerbated the problem, with local governments borrowing huge amounts from state banks to finance stimulus projects and relying on land sales to cover interest payments,” it says.
A few weeks ago in Changsha, Hunan province, I was walking through a neighborhood marked for demolition. While there I encountered a man who seemed curious about my presence. After he expressed his happiness in meeting an American, he had one parting message for me: the people who lived there received far too little compensation for their homes.

Read Yap's post and the Amnesty International report for more details on an issue that can raise so many emotions in China. And see here for an earlier post where I discussed the possible links between forced evictions and corruption not only in China but in the U.S. as well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Harmonious Mobile Phone Stores in Changsha, China

To improve the experience of viewing two photos I will share in this post, I highly recommend playing a particular video for some background music to set the mood (video also here on YouTube):

If you are located in a country such as China, Iran, Syria, and Turkmenistan where YouTube is blocked to prevent you from hearing and seeing its nefarious content, then maybe you can play this Youku copy which may include an advertisement at the beginning (the video does not appear in some readers; not sure why, but it is also here on Youku):

If you are not able to play music at the moment, then I recommend simply singing the song "Ebony and Ivory" to yourself. Make sure to try your best to imitate Paul McCartney's and Stevie Wonder's different voices. And ignore any strange looks from people around you. This is really worth it.

Now that an appropriate theme is in the air, here are two mobile phone stores I saw today in downtown Changsha, Hunan province:

mobile phone store with prominent Apple and Android logs on its sign in Changsha, China

mobile phone store with prominent Apple and Android logs on its sign in Changsha, China

The stores complement the "fake" Android store and many "fake" Apple stores I have seen in China. Not surprisingly, both stores sold Apple and Android mobile phones. The second store also had an extensive selection of Nokia phones, including several which run the Windows Phone 7 operating system.

I will avoid delving into any possible deeper points so you can immerse yourself in this touching moment of blissful harmony. You may even want to play the video multiple times.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Three Artists Photographing the Diverse People of China

Several articles recently caught my eye not only because they highlight how photographs can bring better understanding to often overlooked or misunderstood sides of China, but also because they touch on themes I plan to further delve into. I recommend reading the following articles and taking some time to consider the people and scenes captured in the photographs. There are so many stories in these stories.

1. One method I have used in my research is to ask people to empty their bag or pocketbook. Not only can it provide important insights into their everyday lives, but it can also stimulate revealing discussions. Didi Kirsten Tadlow wrote about one of Huang Qingjun’s projects that takes this concept to a grander level than I have ever attempted. Huang asked people to move the entire contents of their home to an outdoor area:
“I wanted to show ordinary people. Show them in their environment and at home, the connection,” says Mr. Huang, a tall 40-year-old from Heilongjiang Province on the border with Russia. “Because China is a place that is changing.”

The link between people and their possessions is apt, because above all, China is getting richer — though that’s perhaps not the first thing a viewer sees in the photographs, which focus on ordinary people who don’t seem to own much.
Read more of Tadlow's article and explore the details in Huang's photographs here.

2. Claire O'Neill writes about Japanese photographer Go Takayama's desire to understand the impact of China's rapidly expanding infrastructure on remote regions:
While some focus on what these roads will bring to China's economy, Japanese photographer Go Takayama is more interested in what that means to people — especially those in some of China's most remote western regions, like the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Many ethnic minorities there, such as the Kyrgyz, have sustained a traditional nomadic way of life — until now.

Takayama had read an article about plans for a highway that would stretch through western China into Kyrgyzstan. A few months later, he was driving toward Kyrgyzstan and picked up a hitchhiker "on the terms that I could follow him to his destination," he says.
Tokayama's project reminds me of the several cities and villages I may have never otherwise visited or even heard of if they were not stops on China's new high speed rail lines. Read more of O'Neill's article and gaze at Takayama's photographs's here.

3. Last and definitely not least, Kerri MacDonald wrote about a project by Lucas Schifres that relates to a topic receiving significant attention in the U.S.:
In “Faces of Made in China,” a series of typological portraits looking at workers inside six Chinese factories, the photographer Lucas Schifres seeks to consider the otherwise anonymous people who produce our essential possessions by looking directly into their eyes...

...when they interviewed the workers, the photographer and his team found that the pride was really there.

“The answer was always, ‘Oh, we’re very proud; we’re happy that the products go all around the world,’ ” Mr. Schifres said. “‘This is good for China; this is good for our generation.’”

“They have absolutely no idea about controversies around the world about the Made in China products,” he added.

From Zhang Hao, a 16-year-old who was already onto his second job as a manufacturer at a factory in Yiwu (Slide 5), to Wang Jang, a 22-year-old from Chongqing with a 3-year-old daughter (Slide 3), many of the stories followed similar threads. Most of the workers had moved from rural areas to make a better living, hoping to send money home or make a better life for their children. But Mr. Schifres was captivated by the little details.

“They’re people, too,” he said. “China is not this machine the size of a country that pops out cheap T-shirts without anybody doing it.”
The sense of pride and the unawareness about the controversies surrounding their work is very consistent with much of what I have found in China. Read more of Kerri's article and look into the eyes of the people Schifres photographed here.

A Stationary Child in Motion

In an earlier post including a photo of a young girl I asked, "What matters more, where you are or where you plan to go?"

In this particular case,

girl running on a treadmill outside in Changsha, China
Near a shopping district in Changsha, Hunan province

it seems to be the former.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Bench of Life in Changsha

I see so many stories to discover in this scene:

A bench with statues and real people on Changsha's Huangxing Road Pedestrian Street

And more stories are on the way...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney and Counterfeit Apple Stores in China

The most recent U.S. presidential debate touched on some China-related issues, and I would like to comment on at least one of them.

No, this post will not be about the single question from a Shanghainese female I know:
Binders of women. What does 'binders' mean here?
Nor will it be about the many creative answers she received from friends.

Instead, I want to focus on this statement by Mitt Romney (copied from a debate transcript here):
We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level. China's been cheating over the years. One by holding down the value of their currency. Number two, by stealing our intellectual property; our designs, our patents, our technology. There's even an Apple store in China that's a counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods. They hack into our computers. We will have to have people play on a fair basis, that's number one.
When listening to the debate live, Romney's reference of the "counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods" struck me as peculiar. I had assumed he was talking about the widely-reported "fake Apple Store" in Kunming. But that situation has long since been resolved, and I am not aware of any evidence that the Apple products it sold were counterfeits. However, it would be easy for me to believe there exists at least one store somewhere in China that could be reasonably called a "counterfeit" Apple store and that sells counterfeit goods of some sort (even if they aren't Apple products but instead are accessories designed by other companies). Since it is not clear which exact store Romney is referencing and he does not specify which type of goods are being counterfeited, I would not consider Romney's Apple store claim to be necessarily untrue. But whether he was referencing the store in Kunming or another store in China that has somehow caught his attention, I am not convinced the example was relevant in regards to arguing that the playing field is not level in China.

As I have detailed before, what counts as a "fake" Apple store can be fuzzy. And since so many potential offenders can still be found, at least at the moment Apple may only be taking action against those that go to extremes in imitating a real Apple Store. Furthermore there exist many Apple-authorized retail stores in China that are not Apple Stores, and it is not illegal for unauthorized stores to resell genuine Apple merchandise in China (see previous two links for more about these topics and examples of both fake and authorized Apple stores in China). Although I have seen mobile phones for sale in China that appear to inappropriately use Apple's trademarks (see here and here for two of my favorite examples), I have never seen such phones for sale in what I think could reasonably be called a "counterfeit Apple store". Also, I am not aware of any evidence that many fake Apple stores are selling counterfeit products that look and function like genuine Apple products. Instead, most reports and my own experience suggest that the Apple products being sold at such stores are purchased from authorized Apple stores. The Apple Store in Hong Kong has been a particularly popular source due to differences in prices and availability of products, and it plays a role in China's extensive grey market (for other examples of grey market activities see here and here). See here for some examples of stores in Guangzhou who earlier this year openly stated that their iPhones come from Hong Kong (also includes many examples of stores in Hunan province and elsewhere in Guangzhou province). See here for a more recent example in a Reuters report from nearby Shenzhen.

So, although Apple certainly faces challenges in China, I don't think the "counterfeit stores" are effective for the point Romney was making. After all, those stores mostly appear to be selling genuine products purchased from Apple.

If Romney had his heart set on using a tech example to make his case, I think there would have been more suitable options. For example, an online service that is blocked by China's Great Firewall, such as Google's YouTube, could touch on the issue of fairness while also touching on another issue that can stir up American voters. Mentioning YouTube's situation could show Romney is concerned about the restrictions on free speech in China. It is also an example of where China's censorship leads to a playing field that is not level. After all, YouTube cannot expect to make much profit in China if it is blocked. China's Great Firewall is even helping Chinese companies get business from American companies (see here for one example related to YouTube). And if you think services such as YouTube are only blocked due to reasons of censorship, read here about a Chinese woman in Guizhou who thinks there are also economic reasons for Google's "problems" in China. Regardless of the reasons for the blocking, though, I think it is fair to assume that most American voters could be easily convinced (if they aren't already) that YouTube is not on a level playing field with its potential competitors in China.

However, some would largue that all is indeed fair in regards to YouTube and that Google just has to observe China's censorship laws. Well... if Romney is sensitive to such concerns, then he can mention another well known tech company. Microsoft could make a kadzillion* dollars if all the copies of its software in China were used under proper licenses and not pirated versions. The problem is so extreme that Microsoft has reportedly even had to make a formal request in China that several state-owned companies stop using pirated copies of Microsoft software (see here). And although there may be disagreements over the severity of the problem (at least in public statements), the Chinese government has openly stated it wishes to reduce software piracy. So even they appear to acknowledge (at least in their words) that there is a problem. Again, I think American voters would readily view Microsoft's situation as not fair. The only caveat that now comes to mind is any Chinese software company probably also faces issues with piracy in China. So I suppose one could say there is a level playing field in that regards. However, the problem has a much larger financial effect on American companies such as Microsoft, and no Chinese company faces a similar problem succeeding in the US.

So why did Romney mention Apple's situation instead of Google's or Microsoft's? I could speculate about reasons that relate to either Romney's interests (for example, he might think Apple is "sexier" to voters or he might have a very specific definition of "level playing field") or Google's and Microsoft's interests (for example, they may not consider it to be beneficial to resolving their China-related problems for them be publicly stated by a prominent U.S. politician) but... I think it is best to just say I really don't know.

Finally, I don't expect this critique to pose a significant setback for Romney. Although I was puzzled by his statement about a counterfeit Apple store and wanted to comment on it, American voters will likely be far more concerned about many other statements made during the debate.

Even those about binders.

*"Kadzillion" equals whatever amount Microsoft would make under such conditions.

UPDATE: Paul Mozur in the China Real Time Report writes that Jessica Angelson, the blogger who brought attention to the fake Apple Store in Kunming, "didn’t feel her find was being used properly" by Romney. Again, even though it was my first interpretation as well, at the moment I don't think it can be said that Romney's words definitely refer to the Kunming store. But even if they don't, the example would not seem to be highly relevant to his point. Maybe Romney will shed more light on this issue.

Disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher at Microsoft China. All of the information and claims about Microsoft in this post are based solely on public sources (except for my newly-created word "kadzillion") and in no way represent "inside knowledge" on my part. The rampant pirating of Microsoft's products in China is well-known and easy to see.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A College Student's Part-time Job on a Street in Changsha

female college student handing out small advertisement fliers in Changsha, China

Yesterday afternoon, the above college freshman in Changsha, Hunan province, handed out printed advertisements--a form of street marketing common in Chinese cities. During this first day at her new part-time job she was surprised to discover the challenges in convincing people to take a small piece of paper. She had already noticed, though, that if she could point out the coupon included in the advertisement, people were more likely to accept it.

For working at the job from 2 to 6 p.m. she could earn 40 yuan RMB. If she worked from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. she could earn a total of 50 yuan RMB. She thought the proportionally small increase in pay for doubling her working hours made no sense, so it was an easy choice to decline working all day. But working for about US $1.60 per hour during the afternoon made perfect sense to her, and she happily accepted the opportunity.

This brief account lightly touches on some themes that earlier appeared here in a series of posts including the story of a young Chinese woman's first payday in Shanghai. I will soon return to those themes to address some of the recent media attention and commentary on the conditions faced by China's factory workers.