Friday, January 31, 2014

A New Year, A Different Animal

statue of a human figure with a horses head in traditional Chinese armor holding a flame
Statue at the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong

Happy Lunar New Year, or whatever you want to call it. "Lunar New Year" seems to be common in my current location--Hong Kong. So I'll go with that plus the common New Year's greeting in Cantonese: "Kung Hei Fat Choy!"

Also, happy year of the wooden horse.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bitcoin Red Envelopes Given Away in Hong Kong

young woman holding a red envelope with a Bitcoin offer in Hong Kong

While walking through Causeway Bay in Hong Kong today, the young woman in the above photo approached me and handed me a red envelope. Giving red envelopes with money inside is one of the traditions for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. But in this situation it was surely for a marketing purpose, and I did not expect to receive Hong Kong dollars. This red envelope included an especially interesting twist on the money theme though. Instead of cash, it contained a code for "free Bitcoins" as part of an ANX promotion.

As Danny Lee reported today in the South China Morning Post, I was not alone in receiving such a gift:
Vouchers worth HK$500,000 [approximately US$64,400] in bitcoin are being gifted to members of the public by the city’s biggest bitcoin exchange, ANX, to mark the dawn of the Year of the Horse ...

ANX hopes the stunt will encourage Hongkongers to embrace the controversial digital currency, which has shot to prominence in recent months amid mixed messages from central banks around the world over its use.

“We are trying to help the eco-system,” said Lo Ken-bon, the company’s founder and managing director. “One of the biggest issues is the adoption of it because it’s too complicated for most mainstream users – we are trying to get them started as easily as possible.”
The promotion caught my attention since I had been following some of the recent news and commentary regarding Bitcoin in mainland China. Hong Kong is its own world in many ways, and perhaps the promotion should not be too surprising in Asia's first city to soon have a Bitcoin ATM (video report on WSJ Live here). It will be fascinating to see if and how Bitcoin use grows in Hong Kong and the rest of China.

Maybe ANX has started a slightly new Chinese New Year tradition.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Bisected Zongzi on Display

As mentioned in a recent post, aside from the usual sticky rice, the contents of zongzi can be a mystery. After writing the post, I saw a place with at least a partial solution to this problem:

half of a zongzi wrapped in plastic wrap with insides on display

The store displayed a single zongzi that had been approximately cut in half and wrapped in plastic wrap. The insides were easily visible. Presumably the other nearby zongzi had similar contents.

Not only does it provide information about the items inside the zongzi, but, as my Hongkonger friend noted, it also tells you how much of the zongzi is not just rice--a concern for zongzi eaters. My friend had not seen zongzi displayed this way before, and it seemed unusual to me as well.

It's yet another example of how the best solutions can be the simplest.

Monday, January 27, 2014

McDonald's Offers Prosperous Chinese New Year Burgers

[Update at end]

Just over a year ago, I saw this McDonald's advertisement in Penang, Malaysia:

advertisement on a chain linked fence for McDonald's prosperity burger in Penang, Malaysia

I had written about McDonald's customizing its menu for local markets before, but this was the first time I saw the McDonald's Prosperity Burger -- a special offering for the Chinese New Year holiday. It's back in Malaysia this year, as announced on the McDonald's Malaysia website.

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Malaysia website

Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet, recently expressed his excitement over the Prosperity Burger's return:

He also provided a brief review:

Minter isn't alone in his opinion of the Prosperity Burger (see here and here), and he may be thrilled to hear it's available outside of Malaysia. For example, today in Hong Kong I saw an advertisement for the incomparable burger.

sign for the McDonald's Prosperity Burger in Hong Kong

The McDonald's Hong Kong website has a similar promotion.

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Hong Kong website

McDonald's in Hong Kong not only has the beef and chicken Prosperity Burgers found in Malaysia but also a pork version. Given that Islam is the state religion in Malaysia, it's not surprising McDonald's has not introduced the pork version there.

As the McDonald's Singapore website ...

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Singapore website

and the McDonald's Indonesia website ...

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Indonesia website

... show, the Prosperity Burger is also available in Singapore and Indonesia. And it can be found in Brunei as well. McDonald's does not appear to have a website dedicated for Brunei, but in an article seeming more like an advertisement the Brunei Times noted the Prosperity Burger's "highly anticipated seasonal return":
Nothing is more mouth-watering than the anticipation of biting into the Prosperity Burger’s succulent, juicy beef patty, dripping with lip-smacking black pepper sauce, topped with silvered onions on a sesame seed bun, and many Bruneians look forward to its return every year.
Bruneians (and Adam Minter) rejoice!

Despite all of these countries offering the Prosperity Burger, most Chinese in the world will still have to seek another way to celebrate the Chinese New Year. McDonald's in mainland China does not offer the Prosperity Burger.

Perhaps people there can enjoy a McDonald's breakfast hot dog instead.

Update: Links to more recent posts here about the Prosperity Burger and other Lunar New Year burgers:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Two Big Circles in China

In a post on The Guardian's "Architecture and Design Blog", Oliver Wainwright took a look at "Architecture's trend for cutting holes in buildings". Of the 9 examples he shared, I've seen two in person--both in China. One is Shanghai's World Financial Center. The other is the Guangzhou Circle, which I happened to notice while looking out of a window last November on the second leg of high-speed rail trip from Zhuhai to Changsha. Here's Wainwright's description of the building:
As if a giant cable reel had rolled into town and come to rest on the banks of the Pearl River, the newly completed Guangzhou Circle towers 138m above southern China's largest city like a great copper spool. Housing the world's largest stock exchange for raw plastic material, it is the work of Italian architect Joseph di Pasquale, who says the form “will be immediately perceived as a native Chinese landmark.” Because it's big and brash and dressed in a spangly Christmas jumper? Maybe, but also because it is “inspired by the strong iconic value of jade discs and numerological tradition of feng shui.” How so? Because not only does the 50m-wide hole punched through the centre make it look like an ancient Chinese coin, but when the building is reflected in the river it forms the lucky number eight. And an infinity symbol. And the insignia of ancient dynasty that reigned in this area 2,000 years ago.
And here is a cropped version of a photo I took from a train:

Far away view of the Guangzhou Circle from a passing high-speed train

The Guangzhou Circle is off in the distance on the left side of the white pole. Even though it was far away and I wasn't expecting to see it, my eyes were drawn to its unusual shape and color. It reminded me of another building, also based on ancient Chinese coins, in Shenyang. When I arrived in Shenyang over 3 years ago, the Fang Yuan Building was one of the first buildings I saw after leaving the bus station. I had seen photos of it before, but seeing it in person was ... special. I passed much closer to it than the Guangzhou Circle:

Fang Yuan Building in Shenyang

Alas, it couldn't have made Wainwright's post since the square center is not a hole. I hope they put the square to good use.

See Wainwright's post here for a closer view of the Guangzhou Circle and to see his other eight selections. The one I'd be most interested to visit is the proposed TEK Center in Taiwan. In the meantime, maybe I should return to the Fang Yuan Building to see what's inside the square section.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hong Kong Zongzi

three zongzi (粽子) hanging at a Hong Kong take out restaurant

I saw the above zongzi hanging at a takeaway restaurant in Kowloon, Hong Kong, not far from the King George V Memorial Park. As Amy Ma wrote in The Wall Street Journal:
All zongzi features a bamboo-leaf wrapping and is trussed with twine or thin seaweed leaves before it is boiled or steamed until the contents are tender and fully cooked. The shape of the bundle and what's inside – aside from the requisite sticky rice – varies and is often a clue to its geographic origins.
I've tried zongzi in many parts of China. If not labeled, their contents can be a mystery, and I sometimes buy them without even asking what's inside. Sometimes the mystery at least partly remains even after I finish eating one. Ma shared the favorite ingredient of a co-founder of a Hong Kong restaurant-review book:
Mr. Fung's weakness is for the glistening globule of fat. "It's like a nugget of treasure that you unearth in the center. The fattier the better," he says, adding that the perfect texture of rice is "QQ," a popular Taiwanese expression for chewy or al dente.
To the possible horror of Mr. Fung and some other zongzi connoisseurs, the more health conscious portions of my brain have caused me at times to set aside those glistening globules of fat. In a Seinfeld-ish scene, I can imagine Mr. Fung seeing me do this and him declaring "no more zongzi for you!"

Mr. Fung might be more accommodating though. Whatever the case, fortunately, the world of zongzi remains open to me, and I look forward to new surprises. For more about the history and great variety of zongzi plus some recommendations for where in Hong Kong to try them, see Ma's article here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Marriage, Birds, Dancing, and Swinging in Hong Kong

This past weekend I visited two places in Hong Kong for the first time. Despite the places being new for me, much of what the people were doing I had seen before in Hong Kong.

For example, at the Victoria Peak Garden on Hong Kong Island I saw wedding photography ...

man lying on the ground taking marriage photos of a couple with colored balloons at Victoria Peak Garden in Hong Kong

... and bird photography.

people near several professional cameras with large lenses on tripods near a wooded area at the Victoria Peak Garden in Hong Kong

And at the King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon I saw dance routines ...

five women in the middle of a dance routine at the King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon, Hong Kong

... and kids on a swing set.

adults watching kids on a swing set at the King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon, Hong Kong

Of these four scenes, only the bird photographers surprised me. I had seen a similar group of bird photographers with pricey cameras and lenses at a park in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, but it wasn't until I visited Victoria Peak Park that I suspected birding was not uncommon in Hong Kong. For some examples and thoughts on the apparent growing popularity of bird photography in Hong Kong see a recent blog post with photos of birds and birders by John Holmes here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

News Scenes and a New Camera

Observant readers may have noticed an absence of "fresh" photos here recently. Instead of sharing a sad story, I'll share something more positive: two photos taken today with my rather new camera.

couple walking on a busy sidewalk in Mong Kok

several taxis and a minbus in Mong Kok

For more scenes from Mong Kok, one of Hong Kong's densest areas, see the post here which includes photos taken with my previous camera. More photos from both cameras are on the way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Fake But Not So Fake Street in Wuxi, China

In a post on Beijing Cream titled "This Wuxi Street Is The Fakest In China", Bernd Chang shared a photo that has been making the rounds in China:

empty store with Sffcccks Coffee sign from

Chang wrote:
H&N, Zare, Hugo BGSS, SFFCCCKS Coffee: these are just some of the counterfeits of famous brands — not the same as “famous counterfeits”… or is it? — you can find on a shopping street in Wuxi, Jiangsu province...

Maybe it’s a homage.
I would like to add some additional context. First comes from this tweet by Chris Buckley, a reporter for The New York Times:
A key point mentioned by Buckley is that the stores are vacant. That's not to say the signs aren't interesting, but it's a different story than if these were signs for open stores and not possibly just placeholders.

The second piece of additional context comes from the new Kaifu Wanda Plaza I recently visited in Changsha. In the "pedestrian promenade" which surrounds the main building, I saw a number of similar signs imitating popular brands. For example:

Vacant store at Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha with "Sterbkcus Coffee" sign

As in Wuxi, all of the signs were for vacant stores. I didn't see any similar examples there for a non-vacant store and the shopping center included a large number of what appeared to be genuine foreign brand stores.

Many examples of non-vacant stores imitating foreign brands can be found in China. I've mentioned two examples here and here specifically for Starbucks. So I question whether Wuxi should be awarded the "fakest street" award. If the signs were for open stores, then it would at least top anything I've come across in China. Otherwise, what I saw in Changsha indicates the street in Wuxi is not very unique.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Paul and Daul Frank for Sale

To get back into things after an unexpected "blogging holiday", I'll start with a simple post and share a few photos which include a famous monkey and touch on the variety of shopping venues and large number of imitation products in China.

At the previously featured Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, Hunan province, I noticed this Paul Frank store:

Paul Frank store at the Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, China

About a 10-15 minute walk away, I saw this outdoor temporary outlet near a construction area:

an outdoor Paul Frank sale in Changsha

Two salespeople claimed the items for sale were genuine Paul Frank.

And finally, I earlier saw what be called a sign of creativity for sale at a bus stop near a shopping district in Zhuhai, Guangdong province:

piece of cloth with the logo "Daul frank" for sale in Zhuhai, China

That very well could be a genuine Daul frank.

I'll refrain from making any deep points and simply say that none of the above struck me as unusual for China.

More later ...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Prediction for State-Owned Mall Developers in China

Recently I have shared scenes from the site of a future shopping center and a recently opened shopping center in Changsha, Hunan province. On that note, I'll share the eighth of ten predictions for China in 2014 by McKinsey & Company's director Gordon Orr:
Mall developers go bankrupt—especially state-owned ones

Shopping malls are losing ground to the online marketplace. While overall retail sales are growing, e-retail sales jumped by 50 percent in 2013. Although the rate of growth may slow in 2014, it will be significant. Yet developers have already announced plans to increase China’s shopping-mall capacity by 50 percent during the next three years. For an industry that generates a significant portion of its returns from a percentage of the sales of retailers in its malls, this looks rash indeed. If clothing and electronics stores are pulling back on the number of outlets, what will fill these malls? Certainly, more restaurants, cinemas, health clinics, and dental and optical providers. But banks and financial-service advisers are moving online, as are tutorial and other education services.

I expect malls in weaker locations to suffer disproportionately. These are often owned by smaller developers that can’t afford better locations or by city-sponsored state-owned developers that are expanding into new cities. The weak will get weaker, and while they may be able to consolidate, it’s more likely they will go out of business.
Neither of the developers for the two Changsha shopping centers recently featured here, the Changsha IFS and the Kaifu Wanda Plaza, are state-owned and both shopping centers (especially the Changsha IFS) are what in what I'd consider to be "better locations". But a number of other shopping centers can be found in the same area, and it is easy to wonder whether they will all succeed.

In fact, at least at the moment, not all are. More on that topic later.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Photos That Nearly Made Here it in 2013

When I upload a photo to Picasa it usually means I plan to use it soon in a blog post. But sometimes things don't go as planned. So to start off 2014 here, I will share a mishmash of photos from 2013 that were uploaded but for one reason or another never made their way into a published post. In addition to any descriptions, I'll share links to earlier related posts--all except two from 2013. Together they provide reminders of a tiny bit of what was covered here during the previous year and a hint of some of what else I had hoped to share and write about.

So in chronological order...

2013 for me began celebrating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After Kuala Lumpur, I went to Penang, where I listened to a woman describe her challenges visiting her son in the US, and later Melaka, where not far from the Melaka River I saw this shop in a mall:

stall selling a variety of items in a mall in Melaka, Malasia

Some of the flip-flops (sandals) for sale caught my attention:

flip-flops with the logos for Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and YouTube

What do all of the brands on these flip-flops have in common? They are all global online services created and based in the US. I didn't see any Baidu, WeChat, or Tencent flip-flops...

Later in Melaka, I think not to far from where I met a young woman seeking forgiveness, I looked up and saw this:

blue sky with clouds in Melaka, Malaysia

For more about why my time in China has given me a deeper appreciation of blue skies with "normal" clouds, see the 2012 post "Skies and Clouds in China" with scenes from Macau.

After Malaysia, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I documented many examples of people riding pedal-powered vehicles, motorbikes, and motorized-vehicles which were pulling or pushing something. However, there was one example, like one of a coffin being delivered on a motorbike, that I had hoped to share in its own post. I never got around to the post, so here is the photo:

young woman with many flowers riding a pedal-powered rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Street vehicles weren't the only thing on my mind in Phnom Penh. For example, at one shop I noticed this screen for a cash register at a small convenience store:

computer screen showing calculations for price and change in US dollars and Cambodian Riel

In Cambodia, both US and Cambodian currency are regularly used, and transactions can include both. The above screen is presumably an attempt to make life easier and reduce the number of errors.

While in Cambodia I also went to the riverside town of Kampot. In the countryside I walked to Fish Isle, ate a mysterious sea creature, surprised a little girl by answering her phone call, and explored the area to the north by bike. I didn't share many scenes from central Kampot, but here's one at a large market:

man posing next to a van with its back door open to pack in more vegetables

After Cambodia, I went to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the US. No unused uploaded photos from those places, but there's one from my next stop: Seoul, South Korea:

MLB store in Seoul, South Korea

This was one of several MLB (Major League Baseball) stores I saw in Seoul. In the window the logo for the Los Angeles Dodgers can be seen--the same team some men were watching at Seoul's Namdaemun Market.

After returning to China, I had the opportunity to revisit Cheung Chau--one of Hong Kong's outlying islands. While there, I saw this monkey:

hanging orange toy monkey in Cheung Chau

I had considered posting the photo without any comment except a title something like "Orange Ennui in Cheung Chau".

Fortunately, ennui wasn't an issue for me on Cheung Chau. Nor was it during my visits to nearby Macau where I saw beer speeding through the streets on the peninsula and these three young women in Cotai:

three young women wearing racing clothes, helmets, and goggles in Macau

Almost 2 years ago I shared my experience taking a random bus ride in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Several months ago I took another random bus ride in Zhuhai. Maybe someday I will share more of what I saw, but for now I will just say I was particularly surprised to hear, and then see, goats:

three black goats on and around a brick path in Zhuhai

Also while in Zhuhai, I shared some scenes from a late-night outdoor dining establishment. For a contrast, here's an outdoor dining scene at a pricier establishment:

outdoor dining scene at a cafe in Zhuhai

Usually I enjoy the local Chinese-style seafood in Zhuhai, but this is my favorite place for a smoked salmon sandwich.

Finally, more recently I shared a scene from a restaurant in Changsha--a city where I've seen a lot of change. This is the spicy chicken dish I ate for lunch at the restaurant:

spicy chicken dish, rich, and a pot of tea at a restaurant in Changsha, China

And that brings this unplanned set of photos to a close. Undoubtedly, more photos, experiences, and thoughts from previous years will appear here in the future--as will new ones.