Monday, March 31, 2014

Spirits Want More Than Just Chinese Bottled Water

Today I was reminded that there are worse things than spirits wanting your bottled water when I saw an advertisement in a Zhanjiang mall today:

The movie poster promotes the Chinese horror film released earlier month "Death is Here 3" ("笔仙惊魂3"). Here's a trailer in Chinese (on YouTube here and Mtime here):

I haven't seen "Death is Here 3" or the earlier movies in the series. But it seems safe to say that in addition to giving thirsty ghosts your bottled water, it is also advisable to avoid giant possessed pencils.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Supernaturally Good Bottled Water in Zhanjiang

Va Kin spring water, which uses the name 画景  in Chinese, is from the county-level city of Leizhou in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province. Earlier today in Zhanjiang's Xiashan District, I noticed a large outdoor advertisement for Va Kin in a central shopping district:

advertisement for Va Kin (画景) spring water including an image of a ghost woman coming out of a TV screen and trying to take away a bottle of water from a frightened woman

I'm not sure why the ghost coming out of the television screen is so interested in bottled water, but the text helpfully recommends giving her the water and points out you can simply buy another at a store. That may seem reasonable, but, personally, if a specific brand of bottled water attracted this type of attention, I would consider buying something else next time. I also know something else I would do.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Freedom of Expression Does Not Equal Freedom from Criticism

In Talking Points Memo Caitlin MacNeal wrote about a counter-event in the U.S.:
After a Minneapolis, Minn. restaurant hosted a Nazi-themed party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, an unofficial group has organized a counter-event to protest the original dinner, according to Minneapolis City Pages.

Margie Newman and Susan Schwaidelson Siegfried organized an unofficial group to meet outside of Gasthof Zur Gemütlichkeit on Wednesday evening to honor Holocaust victims.
One of the restaurant owner's earlier comments caught my eye:
... he told the Star Tribune that he'll no longer hold the event.

“We live in a free country...but from the comments I see, a lot of people they don’t see what freedom is. If I break the law, punish me.
I am not familiar with the comments he references, though at least one appears to be about someone wanting to burn down his building. If someone claimed that hosting a Nazi-themed party in the U.S. is illegal, they are wrong. I would not be surprised if nobody said this to him though. In that case, I'm not sure of his meaning when he says "they don't see what freedom is."

Still, the owner's statement reminds me of a surprising number of others I've heard or read regarding topics ranging from politics to a missing Malaysian plane. They boil down to something like this:
Person A: 2+2=5!

Person B: Hmm, I'm pretty sure that's wrong. Here's a rather compelling explanation for why the answer is 4 and not 5 ... Does that make sense to you?

Person A: Look, we could go on and on. I still believe 2+2=5. Don't trample on my free speech!
It amazes when a person in the U.S. claims that someone criticizing their actions or words represents an attack on their freedoms. Freedom of expression does not equal freedom from criticism. In fact, criticism is one of the strongest signs free speech exists. And one can desire to convince a person they should stop doing or saying something while still believing that person has a legally protected right to do or say it.

Freedom of expression is one of the most valuable and powerful rights enjoyed by Americans. But crying "free speech" is one of the weakest ways to defend one's actions or statements, and it's especially a shame when it is done in an attempt to evade constructive, rational debate.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Toast to Breathing Better Air in China

Last night I met two young men, both in their mid-twenties, at a bar / restaurant in Maoming's Maonan District in southeastern China.

two young men holding shot glasses in Maoming, China

After asking them where they had traveled, one said he had been to Beijing. I asked him for his thoughts, and his first and only comment was that Beijing's air was very bad. Later, he explained he didn't think Maoming had perfect air, but it was OK and much better than Beijing's.

About 2 hours away by bus today, I enjoyed the pleasant weather at a waterside park in Zhanjiang's Xiashan District.

park with large ferris wheel in Zhanjiang, China

I spoke to a man I met there who told me he had once visited California.

man raising both of his hands

While describing his travels, he suddenly exclaimed "The sky is very blue there!" He then pointed at the sky above us, which was not a strong blue but still bluer than many others I've seen in China, and said that Zhanjiang's weather and air is much better than either Beijing's or Shanghai's. He felt fortunate to be living in Zhanjiang.

In both cases, I made no mention of air quality or any other related topics before the candid comments. These are not the only times I've heard people in Guangdong, a province with pollution problems of its own, mention air quality as an important factor for them. For example, I have met a number of Chinese in Zhuhai who said they moved there for its better air. They are people you won't regularly have the chance to meet in Beijing or even Shanghai, because they don't want to be there. And they are a sign that not only is pollution "driving top talent away" from China, but it's also on the minds of some Chinese when considering where they live inside of China.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bonding Over Chickens

Late last night, not long after having finished the previous post "A Dinosaur in China and a Chicken from Hell in the U.S.", I showed someone I know in Maoming's Maonan District, about an hour from Gaozhou, the post's first photo:

chicken directly facing the camera

I explained to her I especially liked how the chicken was directly facing me.

She then shared that I was not the only one to photograph such an event:

young woman holding a Nokia phone displaying a closeup photo of a chicken directly facing the camera

I was so overwhelmed by our mutual appreciation of attentive chickens, I forgot to check whether she knew she had photographed a dinosaur.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Dinosaur in China and a Chicken from Hell in the U.S.

Across the Jianjiang River (鉴江) from the Baoguang Tower (宝光塔) in Gaozhou (高州), Guangdong province, a dinosaur spotted me last Monday.

Chicken, Jianjiang River, and Baoguang Tower in Gaozhou

The dinosaur was clearly indignant at having been tethered.

Chicken, Jianjiang River, and Baoguang Tower in Gaozhou

Despite it still being able to move around to some degree, it displayed much pluck by holding its ground when I came nearer.

Chicken and Jianjiang River in Gaozhou

Regarding any questions about labeling this fine animal as a dinosaur, I will share an informative comic from xkcd:

Birds and Dinosaurs

On that note, perhaps the formidable attitude of the dinosaur, more commonly called a chicken, I met was passed down for generations from the "chicken from hell", more formally known as the Anzu wyliei:

Anzu wyliei, the "chicken from hell"
Mark Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Details about the Anzu wyliei, "a 600-pound cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor", were recently published, Christopher Joyce for NPR explained the "chicken from hell" nickname:
For the past decade, dinosaur scientists have been puzzling over a set of fossil bones they variously describe as weird and bizarre. Now they've figured out what animal they belonged to: a bird-like creature they're calling "the chicken from hell."

There are two reasons for the name.

First: If you took a chicken, crossed it with an ostrich, bulked it up to 500 pounds, stretched it out to roughly 11 feet, put a bony crest on its head (like some ancient Greek helmet), added a dinosaur tail and a pair of forelimbs with five-inch claws, and then, finally, stuck some feathers on it ... you would have what paleontologist Matt Lamanna formally calls Anzu wyliei ...

Reason two for the nickname: The three new specimens Lamanna has now put together were dug up from the Hell Creek geological formation in Montana and the Dakotas.

Although the research did not address what it tasted like, Christine Dell'Amore for National Geographic explained how researchers deduced what the Anzu itself ate:
Physical features on the North American skeletons indicate Anzu dined on a variety of items from the Cretaceous smorgasbord, including vegetation, small animals, and possibly eggs.

Small prongs of bone found on the skulls' palates may have helped the dinosaurs swallow eggs; the same prongs are found today in egg-eating snakes.

The dinosaur also had big hands with large, curved claws, which are usually found on animals that grab small prey to shove down their throats.

And the Anzu's jaw shape suggested it could shear pieces off plants.
Fortunately, the dinosaur in Gaozhou did not possess large curved claws and did not eat me.

As far as its own fate, after noticing a change in its demeanor, I realized it was no longer tethered by the string. I'm not sure how this came about, and I decided it was best to avoid interfering with a proud relative of the Anzu. As I departed, it also walked away. I don't know where it went but ...

... there was a road nearby.

untethered chicken walking in Gaozhou

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Yangjiang Kiss

When I meet people, even if briefly, I often ask to take their photo. Sometimes, as with these teenagers in Yangjiang, there are unexpected results:

Two of four teenagers in Yangjiang, China, kiss while posing for a photo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The OMG Bar in Yangjiang, China

One day while walking around Yangjiang in Guangdong province, I noticed a bar with an unusual name.

OMG Bar in Yangjiang, China

Later, without making any comment I showed the above photo to several young Yangjiangers of drinking age. They all recognized that "OMG" is an abbreviation for "Oh My God", and most thought it was a creative and good name for a bar.

I don't have anything deeper to add at the moment--just a "and now you know" post.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Nian Li Festival in Maoming, China

Two days ago on Sunday, as I enjoyed a bowl of dumplings along an alley in Maoming, Guangdong province, I heard traditional Chinese music slowly growing louder and louder. Kids nearby were clearly excited and soon a Gods Parade passed by.

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

musician playing on a large tricycle cart on Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

The parade was part of the Nian Li Festival (年例节). Nian Li is a local holiday celebrated in Maoming (and perhaps Zhanjiang) and it can't be found elsewhere, including Maoming's neighbor to the east, Yangjiang. According to, during the Nian Li Festival people make sacrifices to gods, pray for good luck, and feast with relatives and friends. The Gods Parade and entertaining programs are also part of the festival.

After watching the parade pass, I decided a change in my day's plans was in order. So I finished my dumplings and tracked down where the parade had made a temporary stop. There I found a scene enshrouded in smoke from exploding firecrackers.

table with food and incenses for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

food for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

After the air cleared, people prayed.

people praying outdoors for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

Others placed many more firecrackers to set off.

man with large roll of red firecrackers

Some were curious about my presence since there aren't many foreigners in Maoming. I met a number of people, including a few of the parade's flag carriers.

three girls in Maoming, China

After the prayers finished, it was time to line up.

girls holding flags during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

And they headed to another destination. I was told they went to 11 in total.

man pulling one of the gods for a Gods Parade in Maoming, China

The parade had occasional onlookers.

people watching a Gods Parade in Maoming, China

Once at the next destination, they set up.

people preparing a location for prayer during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

And things went mostly as before.

god figures facing a table of food during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

This time, though, one kid was super excited about the fireworks.

boy excitedly running by a long strip of firecrackers in Maoming, China

Again the parade continued on, sometimes stopping traffic.

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

people carrying multicolored striped flags across a street in Maoming, China

After a long walk, we arrived at the final destination, a temple.

temple in Maoming, China

A variety of rituals took place. In one a man exhibited some fine attack skills.

rituals at a temple for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

To conclude, after a set of exceptionally loud explosions, the gods which had been paraded around were returned to the temple.

people taking the enclosures off god figures in Maoming, China

man carrying a god figure in Maoming, China

Later in the evening there there was a Chinese opera performance on a stage set up next to the temple. I couldn't make it that night, but I did catch some of the following night's performance.

For me, the holiday was another chance to experience traditional Chinese culture and see another example of how China can differ from one place to the next. There's always more to discover. Even if this is the first mention of the Nian Li Festival you've ever seen, you already know more than I did before I happened to be eating dumplings at the right place at the right time.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Inside a Small Factory on an Island in Yangjiang

As I explored Yangjiang, in places much smaller than the factories sometimes featured on the news I was reminded of Guangdong's role as a manufacturer for many of China's and the world's goods. For example, on the southern side of an island in the Moyang River I came across a nondescript building where I could here machines clacking. I can't provide specific directions to the location, because all online maps I've seen lack any details for the area.

I saw a man curiously looking at me, and I said hello. After doing my best to explain how a foreigner had found his way there, I inquired about the machines. He said he was the owner and welcomed me to take a closer look.

man standing in front of an open entrance to a one-floored building

I first entered a living room area.

living area with chairs, couches, TV, stereo system, etc.

And I passed through another set of doors with a white sign marking the area for workers only.

entrance with a "do not enter" sign in Chinese

I then entered a much larger room including everything from bunk beds to machinery.

large room with bunk beds, machinery, and other items

The machines were noisily at work, apparently not requiring constant supervision.

knife-handle pin making machinery

knife-handle pin making machinery

The owner showed me their output: pins.

hands holding two pins together

Yangjiang is known for knifes, and the pins are for knife handles.

a Yangjiang knife with pins in its handle

After my tour, I met the man's wife and two sons.

And young man standing with a boy and a woman watching in the background.

My visit complete, as he escorted me to a bridge off the island I explained I hoped to share online the photos I took. The idea excited him, and he spoke about his desire for more people to know about Yangjiang and visit. After our conversation, he bade me farewell and hopped on a motorbike taxi.

As I reflected on what I had seen, I walked along the riverside and drank the parting "gift" he insisted I take--a tall can of Qingdao Pure Draft Beer.

Tall can of Tsingtao Draft beer with the Moyang River in the background

My visit to a place much more than just a small pin factory was an opportunity to meet a friendly family, see another side of Yangjiang, and learn more about broader issues of interest to me, such as working / living conditions and technology usage. It's just a single example, but there's much to consider in the above photos and some aspects remind me of what I've seen elsewhere in China. I'll have more to say related to these topics in later posts.

But first I'll soon share an example of someone in Yangjiang who sells something very different from pins and knives.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Malaysia's Press Conferences May be Frustrating, But They're Better Than China's

With the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and many of the details of who knew what, when they knew it, and what actions they took still unknown, I think it's largely premature to evaluate the Malaysian-led search efforts. Thomas Fuller's article in The New York Times about the scrutiny and criticism now faced by Malaysia's leaders mentions that no country may have been fully prepared to handle the situation. Fuller raises several other interesting points, but with my mind frequently focused on China I found the story he shared about a press conference in Malaysia especially remarkable:
... it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.

That raised the question of why the information had not been released earlier.
An important piece of information was only brought to light because of "a barrage of intense questioning". It felt like a world far away from the one revealed in a piece by Andrew Jacobs, also in The New York Times, about government press conferences in China, which are aptly described elsewhere by James Fallows as a "charade". Using a recent Chinese press conference "which caps the annual political gathering known as the National People’s Congress" as an example, Jacobs provided details:
The event is staged, with the complicity of some of the most respected brands in Western journalism ...

... unbeknownst to many people in China [BG: and many people elsewhere who would watch or learn about the press conference], all the questions had been vetted in advance, with foreign reporters and Foreign Ministry officials having negotiated over what topics were permissible, and then how the acceptable questions would be phrased.

This year CNN, Reuters, CNBC, The Associated Press and The Financial Times were among the outlets permitted to ask questions.
Nobody can say for sure, especially now, whether or not China's government would be better managing the current search effort for the missing plane if it were in Malaysia's shoes. But it's hard to believe China would have set up press conferences as open as Malaysia's. To some, that would be seen as an advantage, as at least implied by this tweet:

As Fuller points out, in addition to increasing the chance of revealing more of the truth, the recent questioning of Malaysian officials has highlighted another benefit of real press conferences:
The government is accustomed to getting its way, and the crisis surrounding the missing plane is holding officials accountable in ways unfamiliar to them, [Malaysian lawyer] Ms. Ambiga said.
More truth. More accountability. The process can be messier, but they both increase the chance for improvements beneficial to Malaysia's people.

Malaysian officials are facing challenges, both in finding a missing plane and responding to a vigorous press, rarely, if ever, faced by China's officials. Whatever mistakes may have been recently made, Malaysia should be applauded for its relative openness. A telling point will be whether Malaysia's government uses the current experience as a stepping stone for bringing about important change, including expanding the government's openness and accountability, or sees it as a sign it should follow the model of hiding behind fake press conferences.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Equanimity in the Face of a War with Goats

Some non-threatening goats I saw last year in Zhuhai, China (photo previously shared here)

A brief break from all things China ...

If I am ever misquoted by a newspaper, I might appreciate it more if it leads to a result similar to the recent misquoting of Richard Robinson, founder of the Brighton Science Festival in the UK (HT Tania Branigan). In its apology The Argus explains:
We would like to clarify that the quote “I have become increasingly convinced that we are heading for a disastrous confrontation and that the 21st century will be remembered for a terrible war between mankind and goats” was a reader question and not a response from Mr Robinson.

The next paragraph, “People often underestimate how dangerous a goat can be – I personally know six people who have become severely injured by goats, and the annual death toll racked up by goats is over 2,000,000”, is also a reader question and not a response from Mr Robinson.

The Argus is happy to correct this and would like to apologise for the error.
I'm glad they were happy to correct the article. I imagine some readers received quite a jolt from the original version. The apology is currently circulating online for obvious reasons. What is often missing, though, is Robinson's deadpan response, one that stayed true to his outlook on life, the universe and everything:
The reassurance provided by a purely objective, existentialist view of life is that one can view with equanimity the scenario in which we humans are displaced by almost any other animal on the planet, including goats. It is all one, in the grand chaotic riot of things.
See the full article here for more of Robinson's thoughts and his lighter (or darker?) response to the followup question.

And more here soon on other topics also part of the "grand chaotic riot of things".

An Island in Yangjiang's Moyang River

In Yangjiang's Jiangcheng District there is a somewhat finger-shaped island which first caught my attention because of its older buildings. It may be debatable as to whether the island should be considered separate from a larger island surrounded by the Moyang River, and I can't find a name for the specific area on any map. It is crossed by Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) with Jiao Bridge (滘桥 ) on the western side and Moyang Bridge (漠阳桥) on the eastern side. Of the online maps I examined Sogou provided the most relevant details, so I will link to the location on their map (Chinese) here.

motorbikes on Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang, China
Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路)

Below are a set of photos in the order they were taken on a walk I took slightly south of Jiaoquiao Road to as far as I could find roads, sometimes just dirt, towards the southern tip of the island. They provide a taste of the contrasts which can be found even in this small area of Yangjiang and detailed context for an upcoming post about one of the many friendly people I met there.

boat homes in Yangjiang

boat homes in Yangjiang

flowering plant growing on a older buiding south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

buildings south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

older building south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

road south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

older building with circular entrance south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

alley south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

woman with bicycle south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

traditional style homes south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

cat sitting next to a wooden chair south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

clothes hanging next to older building south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

swimming pool south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

woman carrying a baby on her back south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

clothes drying next to an older building south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

broken up brick road south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

apartments with red doors south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

little girl playing south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

cars in front of a large building south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

narrow road south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

dogs running down a dirt road south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

palm tree next to a dirt path through greenery south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

dogs in front of a partially dilapidated building south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang

dogs next to two motorized tricycle carts south of Jiaoqiao New Road (滘桥新路) in Yangjiang