Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Reason to Support Beijing's Winter Olympics Bid

I can't say I have felt much enthusiasm over Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. In fact, I had hoped another location would be chosen. I will refrain from detailing the reasons, because I might have had a change of heart after seeing a potential logo for the games if they take place in Beijing. The image conveys with great clarity the feelings of its creator and evoked such strong emotions from myself that tears nearly poured out of my eyes.

Without further hesitation, I present Anthony Tao's transcendent piece of art:

I look forward with great anticipation to seeing Tao's design for the mascot.

Children and Dogs on Huiyan Peak

Just because, here are a few photos of two girls, a boy, and two pet dogs I briefly met on Huiyan Peak (回雁峰) in Hengyang, Hunan:

two girls and a boy with two dogs sitting on a rock in Hengyang, Hunan, China

a dog in Hunan

two dogs in Hengyang

two girls and a boy with two dogs sitting on a rock in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Power of Paper and Censorship in Thailand

One reason to read George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in paperback:

person holding a copy of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

The silent reading protest against the military coup in Thailand occurred in a country which has seen a sharp recent increase in censorship. For one overview of the censorship now occurring in Thailand's traditional media and online social media see Aim Sinpeng's guest post on The Washington Post. A number of Thai companies have readily accommodated the military's requests, but foreign companies with online services popular in Thailand are proving to be more of a challenge. For example, Facebook and Google so far haven't displayed any eagerness to meet with Thai officials and "discuss online anticoup dissent".

Perhaps most telling about what the military has in mind for the long term are plans for a new system to monitor online expression in Thailand:
The director of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s IT crime prevention bureau, Thanit Prapatanan, tells VOA it will likely be several months before the plan for the new control system is worked out.

Thanit cites the example of China, where he argues that filtering does not have a significant impact on society, rather it just blocks some websites deemed dangerous, but all Internet ports are not closed.
Thanit's use of China as a positive example says much.

I won't try to guess what steps Thai's military will take next. But if Thailand follows China's lead in restricting online expression, it's hard to imagine that the censorship won't significantly impact Thailand's society in Twenty Fourteen.

Ads With Feline and British Touches for a Photography Studio in Hengyang

After two posts about American ads, I will bring things back to China while sticking with the ad theme.

One of the first sights after entering through the northeast gate of the locally popular Yueping Park (岳屏公园) in Hengyang, China, is a helpful map. Below the map is something perhaps less expected.

map for Yueping Park above an ad with a woman wearing a cat outfit

It is not an ad for the nearby Hengyang Zoo. Instead, it is an ad for a photography studio which might have a penchant for cats. Fate or blind luck later brought me to the studio's location. The two signs on the pedestrian street in front of it were hard to miss, if for no other reason than that they were directly in my path.

advertisements for a photography studio--one a photo of a wedding couple and the other a woman wear boxing gloves and a bra with a British flag design

I don't have any strong opinions about the ads like I did for the Apple or ESPN ads. But I will note that the British flag design on the one woman's top fits a fashion trend I have noticed in China. More on that topic in a later post.

Pink boxing gloves are a far less common sight.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

(I Believe That) I Like "Esa-Pekka's Verse" by Apple

ESPN's "I believe that we will win!" ad left me me a bit surprised and asking a few questions. Another ad I recently saw also left me surprised but did so in a rather positive manner.

The ad by Apple is remarkable for featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen, a conductor and composer of "contemporary classical" music. As Alex Ross notes, despite their incredible talents, artists like Salonen usually doesn't garner much mass-market attention. I would say more except that I don't need to, because Ross already wrote a great piece about the ad on The New Yorker.

(I Believe That) I Would Change This Sports Chant

Thanks to the glories of online social networking and VPNs, I recently saw this ESPN advertisement for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil:

I appreciate ESPN wants to get Americans excited about the World Cup, but the chant "I believe that we will win!" leaves something to be desired. Not only does it call into question the claim that the U.S. is a leader in creativity, but its potential effect is weakened by the phrase "I believe that". Instead of detailing my thoughts in a three thousand word essay, I will instead simply share three other videos along with a few questions to ponder.

First, what if the refrain in this song by Queen were "I believe that we will rock you"?

It doesn't quite have the same kick, does it?

Second, after the rocking is over, what if the refrain in this other song by Queen were "I believe that we are the champions?

It raises the question of whether they are really the champions, no?

And finally, the ESPN ad sounds more like a daily affirmation than a rousing or intimidating sports chant. But even if that is its purpose, why add "I believe that"? Stuart Smalley didn't:

I could go on, but (I believe that) I will stop here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

People, Fishing Rods, and Kites Next to the Xiang River

After the recent flooding, today a pedestrian area next to the Xiang River in Hengyang seemed relatively back to normal for a weekday afternoon with people sitting, walking, fishing ...

pedestrian area next to Xiang River in Hengyang

flying kites, ...

man flying a bird kite next to the Xiang River in Hengyang

and selling kites.

kites for sale next to the Xiang River in Hengyang

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Flooding and Cleanup Along the Xiang River in Hengyang

Flooding caused by recent heavy rains has led to at least 37 deaths in southern China. The Wall Street Journal posted a slide show showing some of the rain's impact in Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces.

The rain has been heavy at times in Hengyang, Hunan province, but I haven't noticed anything calamitous in the central urban area where I have spent most of my time. Flooding has been easy to see, though, along the Xiang River (also called the Xiangjiang River).

partially submerged trash container near a partially submerge stone railing
The stone railing was completely submerged at one point.

The river never came close to overflowing the nearby streets in this part of Hengyang, but it did rise high enough to submerge at least one adjacent lower-level pedestrian area. The water has been receding, but this area remains underwater. So instead of this:

people one a stone railing next to the Xiang River in Hengyang
Signs of earlier flooding are evident.

... today cleanup operations were underway to remove silt and other debris.

workers sweeping silt away from a submerged pedestrian area
Didn't look easy

I briefly met part of the cleanup team, and many of them appeared to be proud of their work. One person even asked me to take a group photograph.

Ten workers, some with brooms made from tree branches, posing for a photograph
The second woman from the right made the request.

They probably don't get as much positive attention as they should. But their work will mean the flooding's effects here will soon be forgotten, and people will be able to once again enjoy not working next to the river.

people sitting on a stone railing next to the Xiang River at night
A more typical scene at the riverside pedestrian area

Monday, May 26, 2014

More Reaction to the "Taiwan Coup" and a Metro Vancouver Correction

Metro Vancouver mistakenly identifying Taiwan as the location of a coup has led to a variety of responses. In the Taipei Times, Shelley Shan reported reactions which highlight that, for some, Metro Vancouver's error was a familiar one:
[Canadian Joel Charron, an English teacher in Taiwan,] added that the editor of Metro was probably not the only person in Canada who confuses Taiwan with Thailand.

“When I first got here [Taiwan], some people back in Canada thought I was in Thailand. I got concerned e-mails after the tsunami in 2004, asking if I was safe,” he said. . . .

Tourism Bureau Deputy Director-General Wayne Liu (劉喜臨) said the incident has served to remind the bureau to work harder to promote Taiwan abroad so foreigners will not keep confusing it with Thailand.
As Shan also notes, additional reaction included the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Vancouver formally requesting a correction.

Not surprisingly, Metro Vancouver has agreed that there was not a military coup in Taiwan. In its Monday, May 26, print edition a correction was provided. Here is a screen shot from the online version of a portion of page 3:

Metro Vancouver correction reading "In our May 23 edition, a headline incorrectly stated there was a military coup in Taiwan. The coup was in Thailand. We are sorry and wish to express our sincerest apologies to anyone who was offended by the error." And headline about a Gastown bar brawl follows.

So I believe that ties things up regarding Metro Vancouver's eye-catching headline. But as Taiwan's Tourism Bureau Deputy Director-General's comment indicated, challenges lie ahead if Taiwan desires to reduce the number of people confusing it with Thailand.

Finally, even though I am already familiar with both Taiwan and Thailand, in the process of writing these posts I still learned a few things, including, based on the information below the correction, that Vancouver has a Gastown.

Hopefully nobody confuses it with Gassville.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Very Short "Taiwanese or Thai" Beer Quiz

In response to my post about Metro Vancouver incorrectly claiming there was a coup in Taiwan, I have seen many people comment elsewhere that, like me, this wasn't their first time seeing or hearing someone confuse Taiwan with Thailand. So I will now present a brief beer quiz that may be useful for helping raise further awareness of the Taiwan / Thailand distinction.

Question 1 (no time limit): Is Mystery Beer #1 a Taiwanese beer or a Thai beer?

can of Taiwan Beer
Mystery Beer #1

Question #2 (no time limit): Is Mystery Beer #2 a Taiwanese beer or a Thai beer?

small Chang Beer glass next to a Chang Beer bottle with "Product of Thailand" on the label
Mystery Beer #2

I will refrain from providing the correct answers. If you need, ask a friend familiar with Taiwan and Thailand to score your responses. I can't offer any prizes for acing the quiz but, if they are available where you live, feel free to treat yourself to a Taiwan Beer or a Chang Beer to celebrate. You are also welcome to provide your answers in the comments section. Perhaps of more interest, though, would be your answer to a deeper question:

Which beer would you choose?

And this concludes today's (and possibly this year's) tests here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Taiwan's Government Not Overthrown By Military Coup

One time in the U.S. when I mentioned I had been to Taiwan, a person I was speaking to replied, "Oh, I LOVE Thai food!"

After a brief brain freeze, I explained that Thai food is Thailand's cuisine and Taiwan's cuisine would be described as Taiwanese. The person was clearly embarrassed, although I explained I thought it was understandable and suspected many others could make a similar mistake.

Despite my familiarity with this potential confusion in English between Taiwan and Thailand, I was still rather surprised to see several recent tweets including this photo of a newspaper page (earliest source I found):

newspaper with article headline "Government overthrown in Taiwan as military stages bloodless coup"

The article headline "Government overthrown in Taiwan as military stages bloodless coup" contains a not-so-minor mistake. As the AP article below correctly states, the coup was actually in Thailand.

Text indicates the newspaper page is from Metro. According to Metro, it is "Canada’s most read national daily newspaper brand". The error is not a photoshop trick and appears to be specific to Metro's Vancouver edition (HT to Chou Peifen for this point--article in Chinese). Here is a recent screenshot I took from the Metro Vancouver weekend May 23-25 print edition currently available online:

screenshot of Vancouver Metro with article title "Government overthrown in Taiwan as military stages bloodless coup"

Other Canadian Metro editions I have seen do not contain the error. For example, here is a screenshot from Metro Toronto of a page with the same AP article :

screen capture of Toronto Metro print edition page with article title "Thai army stages bloodless coup"

So, to be clear, Taiwan is not the home of pad thai or tom yam goong, and the Taiwanese military has kindly refrained from overthrowing its democratically elected government. I recommend the Vancouver Metro staff take a visit to Taiwan. If I am there at the same time, I would be happy to treat them to some of Taiwan's many delicious local specialities. Afterwards, they should be less likely to ever confuse it with Thailand.

UPDATE: See the new post with more reaction and a correction from Metro Vancouver.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Taking the Dog for a Ride in Hengyang

In contrast to a man I saw taking a dog for a run while he rode a motorbike, a woman I saw today with a non-motorized vehicle expended more energy than her dog as they moved about Hengyang.

woman pulling a two-wheeled wheelbarrow with various items and a poodle on it

The scene made me think of a story I had heard decades ago about someone using poodles in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. A quick online search led me to an AP article from 1990:
John Suter will drive his black standard poodles up the Iditarod Trail for the last time in 1991.

The three-time Iditarod finisher has been trying for 14 years to raise an all-poodle team to run in the 1,200-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome. He's spent an estimated $150,000 on the project and weeded through 80 poodles, a span of six generations, he said.

"It just didn't sell," he said recently by telephone from his home in Chugiak. "You can score on the news with poodles but you can't get a cup of coffee or a bag of peanuts with them."
I don't know if the woman I saw today has gotten any bags of peanuts with her dog. At least it appears she has a furry companion though.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Street Food and KFC: New Orleans Roasted Chicken in Hunan

In Hengyang, Hunan province, I have frequently passed a street food vendor who sells roasted chicken.

chicken cooking at a New Orleans Roast Chicken food stall
A chicken leg costs 5 yuan (about U.S. $0.80). Most of a small chicken costs 15 yuan.

The sign below the rotating chickens advertises "新奥尔良烤鸡"--"New Orleans Roasted Chicken". It may come as a surprise to New Orleanians that their city has received this type of attention in Hengyang. But like roasted chicken vendors, "New Orleans style" chicken is not unique to Hengyang in China. For example, it is easy to find marinades for sale online. It is also offered at a popular fast food restaurant chain: KFC.

New Orleans Roasted Burger (新奥尔良烤鸡腿堡)
A KFC New Orleans Roasted Burger costs 16.5 yuan. (Image source)

Despite their names, after seeing or tasting them, neither the street vendor's roasted chicken nor KFC's roasted chicken sandwich would have made me think of New Orleans on their own. And I don't see anything very similar to them in lists of "New Orleans' most iconic sandwiches" or "great roasted chickens" in New Orleans. When I think of New Orleans, chicken, and fast food, another American fast food chain first comes to mind though--Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. The only Popeye's in all of China is at the Hong Kong International Airport.

The roasted chicken vendor and KFC are related in another way: one of KFC's over 4,000 restaurants in China is located directly behind the roasted chicken vendor's usual location.

New Orleans Roast Chicken food stall in front of a KFC
Perfect location

I don't know what KFC thinks of this, but chengguan could be a bigger concern for the vendor. And even if nobody believes the food vendor is directly connected to KFC, I wonder if the vendor's location may cause KFC's brand to positively influence customers' perceptions, similar to the potential effects of imitating well-known brand names.

Whatever the case, perhaps the street vendor could further distinguish himself by diversifying his offerings based on the New Orleans theme. Personally, I would hope for muffulettas, but I suspect something from Popeyes menu with its spicy fried chicken would far better suit people's tastes in Hengyang and elsewhere in Hunan.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Brief Kiss in the Sand

Whether you like the short film or not, "Bisou"--an informal French word meaning "kiss"--may leave you thinking for a longer period of time than the less than two minutes it lasts.

RoboCop in Hengyang

Unlike a similar screen at a shopping mall in Haikou, a giant outdoor screen at the Shin Pin Shopping Mall in Hengyang was not displaying a static Windows desktop when I passed by. Instead, it was displaying something else with a U.S. connection--the remake of the science fiction film RoboCop.

scene from RoboCop (2014) display on a giant screen above a sign for the Shin Pin Shopping Mall in Hengyang

The audio was in English, and the subtitles were in Chinese. Based on the 暴风影音 logo, it looks like the movie was provided through the Chinese video streaming service Baofeng. And not surprisingly, the screen was receiving more attention from people than the screen I saw in Haikou.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Scorpion Bowls: A Great Drink to Pair With Chinese Food?

In a food-related post, a friend of mine in the U.S. yesterday mentioned having a scorpion bowl. I have eaten scorpions, but, knowing my friend, I guessed no actual scorpions were involved. The name sounded familiar, and I found a recipe online for what seems like a rather strong and fruity alcoholic drink. I read the accompanying description:
Routinely found at Chinese restaurants, this punch-like cocktail is absolutely mouthwatering. This goes great with Chinese and Polynesian food.
After a few moments of thought, I assumed the writer was specifically referencing American-style Chinese restaurants in the first sentence. I have never seen this drink served at a Chinese restaurant in China, which I feel safe saying has the largest number of Chinese restaurants in the world, and I am highly skeptical it is common here. Yet another site claims the cocktail is "now served in Tiki bars and seedy Chinese joints around the world". "Joints" is broader than "restaurants" and "seedy" could be an important qualification. Perhaps I would find something different if I frequented a certain category of KTVs, clubs, and bars in China. However, if I wanted to find a drink like this in China, some more upscale Western-style bars not found in most cities would first come to mind.

The second sentence in the description is what most caught my attention. I questioned how a single drink could "go great" with everything from tongue-numbing Sichuanese dishes to sweeter and less pain-inducing Shanghainese food. I would expect that such a versatile drink would pair well with much more than only Chinese and Polynesian food. Again, I quickly assumed the writer had typical American-style Chinese food in mind. The diversity of tastes would be narrower than the full range of Chinese cuisines. Still, a presumably strong-tasting drink that complements everything from moo goo gai pan to pepper steak? That is probably more likely if one is well into their scorpion bowl before eating.

More than any purely edacious or potatory influences, I wonder if the "goes great" simply reflects an association of this drink with a subset of American-style Chinese restaurants in the U.S. The drink reminds me of a Chinese restaurant which was near my alma mater in Baltimore, Maryland. I don't recall whether scorpion bowls were on the drink menu, but one could order similar cocktails with liquor and fruit juices, such as zombies. More important to some students under the age of 21 than the exact drinks offered, this particular restaurant rarely asked for ID when cocktails were ordered. The students probably wouldn't argue that the drinks went great with Chinese food.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Then and Now: Two Bridge Scenes in Hengyang

Now seems like a good time to share photos I took this month from locations similar to the locations of two photos in a set of scenes from Hengyang I posted over two years ago. I recently shared some scenes located under traditional style and more modern style bridges in Hengyang. The photos below were instead taken while I stood on a bridge.

View from the Hengxiang Bridge in December 2011

View from the Hengxiang Bridge in May 2014

Traffic on the Hengxiang Bridge in December 2011

Traffic on the Hengxiang Bridge in May 2014

Some of the differences can be attributed to the time of year. For instance, the red lanterns in the third photo likely reflect Chinese New Year being less than a month away. Other differences, such as the new buildings on the right side of the second photo, reflect more permanent changes. And what has not changed can be just as interesting.

What do you see?*

*As usual, click/tap the photos for larger versions.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Underneath the Shigu Academy Bridge

Dancing, walking, contemplation, and playing cards are all possible under-the-bridge activities. If none of those appeal, riding a kiddie train and shooting at balloons are other options.

circular kiddie train and area for shooting balloons under a traditional Chinese style bridge
Bridge at the historical Shigu Academy (石鼓书院) in Hengyang, Hunan

Friday, May 16, 2014

Underneath the Hengxiang Bridge

Dancing, walking, and contemplation are not the only things one can do underneath a bridge. Playing cards is another option.

Underneath the Hengxiang Bridge (衡湘大桥) in Hengyang, Hunan

Online Ads in China for Breaking Through the Great Firewall

In previous years, I have documented some of the impact of China's Great Firewall, which selectively blocks or interferes with websites and services on the Internet in China. When I typically connect to the Internet, though, I use a paid-for personal virtual private network (VPN). The VPN allows me to have an online experience as if I were outside of China and not directly affected by the Great Firewall. China has at times taken efforts to block personal VPNs, but the companies providing them can offer new ways to connect. It can feel somewhat like a game of Whac-A-Mole.

Recently, I stopped by a cafe in Hengyang, Hunan province, and sat at a table which had a computer with Internet access. I took advantage of the opportunity to see whether what I saw on a "local" computer presumably not using a VPN differed from what I had seen while not using a VPN on my own computer. Most seemed the same. For example, my own blog was partially blocked, likely due to it having a non-blocked domain name but being hosted on Google's Blogger, which is blocked in China. To serve as a sort of baseline, part of my quick exploration included visiting several foreign websites that I would not expect to be blocked in China. One aspect of what I saw offers an opportunity to highlight some issues regarding VPN usage in China.

I checked ESPN's sports website first. After an initial pause, it loaded and based on just looking at it nothing was obviously amiss*.

ESPN home page with an ad for a VPN service on a computer in Hengyang, China

But one portion of the screen jumped out at me: an advertisement for a "VPN for China" from GoTrusted with the selling point of unblocking websites such as Facebook and YouTube.

I clicked the ad and GoTrusted's website quickly loaded.

GoTrusted home page on a computer in Hengyang, China

Next, I checked two blogs offering viewpoints from different sides of the American political spectrum. One, Balloon Juice, has a more liberal perspective and was not blocked.

Balloon Juice home page with an ad for a VPN service on a computer in Hengyang, China

It had an ad for another site offering VPNs, Facebook and China were again both specifically mentioned. I clicked the ad and the site loaded without any apparent problem. home page on a computer in Hengyang, China

The other blog I visited, Hot Air, offers a more conservative perspective and loaded without any obvious problems as well.

Hot Air home page with an ad for two VPN services on a computer in Hengyang, China

Not only did Hot Air include ads for both of the previously mentioned VPNs, but it also had other ads such as "Explore Topeka" and "Immigration Attorney".

China probably isn't too concerned about ESPN, Balloon Juice, Hot Air, or information on Topeka, but what about the VPN advertisements? Regarding foreign companies offering VPNs, in 2010 CNN reported:
Steve Dickinson, a China-based lawyer with Harris & Moure, an international business law firm, said that companies supplying VPN products in China are technically breaking Chinese law.

"China has no jurisdiction over such persons. As long as they do not physically enter China, there is no risk," he said in an email to CNN.
To which Dan Harris on the China Law Blog added:
... if I were the president of one of these VPN companies, I would at least think long and hard before going to China. And if I were super paranoid, I might even want to know which countries might or might not extradite me to China.
And last year The Wall Street Journal reported:
While companies use commercial VPN services routinely for secure data, foreigners, China's elite and other tech-savvy users can use personal VPNs to leap the Great Firewall to use services like Facebook.

But it is illegal for foreign companies to operate a VPN in China without a local partner, according to lawyers and state-run media ...
GoTrusted, the company I saw advertised on ESPN and Hot Air, lists a U.S. address in Stuart, Florida, on its "About" page and the registrant information for its domain name also has a Stuart, Florida, address. GoTrusted does not mention a Chinese partner., the company I saw advertised on Balloon Juice and Hot Air, is a different case. Its "About" page does not provide a location and only lists an email address. The registrant information for its domain name, though, shows an address in Shanghai, China, with a street I haven't been able to locate on an online map.

This raises a number of questions about the service. For example, is the "company" running based in mainland China? If it is, has it registered its services with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as it reportedly should? If it isn't based in mainland China, where is it based and why is a Chinese address and phone number listed for the registrant of its domain name? Questions like these aren't only relevant for determining any potential legal jeopardy faced by the company. VPNs should also provide a degree of anonymity, privacy, and security through effective data encryption. I would need to know more about before potentially having confidence I could trust it to meet my expectations in that regards.

Whatever the case may be with GoTrusted and, one can ask whether it is technically illegal to use VPNs in China that are operated by foreign companies technically breaking Chinese law. The site VPN Instructions had this to say in commenting on the WSJ article:
It is not illegal to use a VPN in China if the Virtual Private Network’s nodes and servers are outside of mainland China. The Shanghai-based lawyer we conferred with, along with our deep understanding of China’s Internet landscape, shows us that there are no laws on the books in China that prohibit any user in China from connecting to a VPN outside of mainland China.
I don't know whether the relevant government authorities in China would agree. And I wouldn't tell someone they are 100% in the clear using a VPN from a company operating illegally in China. But I am personally not too worried unless signs appear that China believes it is illegal. I am not aware of anyone being arrested simply for using these VPNs. And China surely knows they are being used.

So some companies are technically breaking Chinese laws by offering VPN services in China, and the users of those VPNs appear to be in the clear, at least at the moment. What about sites with ads for VPNs?

If the VPN is operating legally in China, presumably there are no problems advertising it. If it isn't, I don't know, and I can think of several issues, such as the location of the servers placing the ads, which may be relevant. It would be great to hear from some lawyers and relevant authorities on this topic.

Finally, if ESPN, Balloon Juice, and Hot Air felt concerned about this issue, I suspect they would point out they are not choosing the specific ads to display. The URL for all of the VPN ads began with "". This indicates the ads were placed through Google's advertising service AdSense. Yes, Google, a company with several services blocked in China, is placing VPN ads targeting people who want to be able to access blocked-in-China websites. In other words, it is being paid to do something that could lead to more users being able to fully access its services. There is a certain beauty in that, although I'm sure the money Google earns this way is nothing compared to the additional revenue Google could generate if the Great Firewall ceased to exist.

The above examples are from just three US-based English websites. There is much more to the story of how VPNs are promoted in China. But these ads highlight the current relative "freedom" in China to use VPNs, even if they are periodically blocked and the companies running them are afoul of Chinese law. And they are another sign of how in some ways China's censorship is not as clear cut as most walls, great or not.

*The Chinese words near the bottom of all of the screenshots are the lyrics to songs playing on the computer and not related to the displayed websites.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Giant Desktop in Haikou

A post related to China's Great Firewall and VPNs I had hoped to finish today still needs some more work and should makes its appearance tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a photo of some other technology in China.

giant screen in front of the Seaview International Plaza displaying a Windows OS desktop
The Seaview International Plaza in Haikou, Hainan

I don't think the giant screen at the shopping mall was being put to use as intended, but seeing a giant Windows desktop made ponder some possible personal uses for a computer monitor of that size.

More later.

Confidence on a Shirt

young man wearing a shirt with "VICTORY SHALL BE MINE!" on the back walking with a young woman
Seen in Hengyang, Hunan

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mother's Day Promotion in China with WeChat and QR Codes

Unlike a Mother's Day several years ago in Zigong, Sichuan province, I didn't see any fashion shows yesterday in Hengyang, Hunan province. However, I saw some signs of Mother's Day at a few shopping centers and stores. One especially caught my eye because of its use of technology and flowers.

Outside of a shopping center with small clothing stores primarily targeting younger women, there was a Mother's Day promotion. In return for a flower and other possible gifts to give one's mother, people were asked to do two things.

One, people captured an image of a QR code through the mobile phone app for WeChat--called "Weixin" in China.

After the code was read, people found that they were now following the shopping center's WeChat account.

Two, people were also asked to write their name and phone number on a pad of paper.

During the time I was around, there was a constant stream of people going taking the two steps for receiving a free gift (sometimes receiving it in the middle if they signed their names first)--a possible sign of many things, including the popularity of smartphones and WeChat in China. It's definitely not the first instance of using QR codes and WeChat as part of a marketing campaign in China though. The use of a pad of paper instead something more high-tech for collecting names and numbers also raises some interesting issues.

Finally, although I didn't follow their WeChat account or provided my name and number, one of the people working for the promotion gave me a flower and a mousepad.

Since my mother is nowhere near Hengyang, I was not able to give her the gifts as intended. Instead, I passed them on to people I later met. Perhaps they made their way to other mothers.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An Easy-to-Identify Knockoff Chanel Shirt in China

Knockoffs of well-known international clothing brands are a far more common sight in China than imitations of well-known international hotel brands. Just how common is not simple to pin down though. Depending on the degree and quality of the imitation, it can be challenging to identify knockoffs based purely on their appearance, especially if one is not familiar with the brands. For example, today in Hengyang, Hunan province, I saw someone wearing what appeared to be a Chanel shirt.

young woman in China wearing a possible knockoff Chanel shirt

After a quick check of Chanel's website, I now see that the shape of the two interlocked letters in the logo seems less circular than the interlocked letters in Chanel's standard logo, but I am still not sure whether the shirt is a knockoff or not. I would not be surprised if Chanel could provide a very quick answer.

In contrast, there are other shirts I feel confident labeling as knockoffs even without checking a website or consulting a fashion expert. For example, also today in Hengyang, I saw someone wearing a shirt with what is clearly only an imitation of Chanel's brand.

woman in China wearing a shirt with an imitation of Chanel's logo and the word 'FAKE'

As everyone knows, the interlocked letters in Chanel's logo don't have rounded ends. Sometimes it is so easy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking the Dog for a Run in Hengyang

Seen on a bridge over the Xiang River in Hengyang:

dog running while it is attached by a leash to a moving motorbike in Hengyang, Hunan, China.

Some points perhaps worth making:

1. This is not at all a common sight for me.
2. The dog was running at a decent speed for its size and, as seen in the photo, leading the way. Sorry, no video.
3. The dog was not pulling the motorbike.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Brand Names Can Set Expectations Even for Known Imitators in China

In an article in The New York Times about the imitation of well-known international brand names in China's hotel industry (HT Helen Gao), Julie Weed shared a viewpoint from one international hotel:
“We do take steps to protect our brand, " said Sian Griffiths, director of communications for the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel. “However, we also feel that our target customers are sufficiently discerning not to confuse the Peninsula-branded hotels with the copycats.”
But an example Weed shares shows why The Peninsula Hotels may still have reason for concern:
Li Quan, a pharmaceutical sales representative traveling on business this week in Shanghai, said he knew the Hengsheng Peninsula International Hotel was not part of the international Peninsula chain, but believed it would be an “upscale hotel because of the obvious name resemblance.”

He was disappointed to find “so-so facilities and worse-than-average service,” and said that some domestic hotels tried “to boost their value and brand awareness by sharing names with other reputable hotel chains so they can achieve a make-believe attachment to those hotels.”
Using similar logic as Li, people may also buy mobile phones, such as the iPncne I saw in Yinchuan, even if they are recognized as imitating a well-known international brand. Several years ago in a post about how local rates, fashion, and fakes are relevant to mobile phones in China I shared a relevant example from Shuolong, Guangxi:
Her dream phone was a Nokia. Not because of any concerns regarding fashion but because she believed it would be very reliable and rugged. However, a real Nokia phone was not a possibility given their relatively high price so she wanted to get a fake Nokia phone since it would be cheaper.

Unlike many other examples I've seen of purchasing fake products, her choice of a fake Nokia versus other relatively inexpensive options did not appear to be driven by how others around her would perceive the product. It was about her own internal expectations for what the product could provide to her based on its name - even though it would be a fake.
The hotel and mobile phone examples show if brand X's name is used in some way by an known imitator in China, people can have an expectation that an X-ish level of quality or type of experience will be delivered. If the imitator is then chosen, those expectations may positively color later perceptions, or they may draw attention to any shortcomings. That brand names can have such powerful carryover effects for known imitators is yet another sign of their value.

Surely this effect is not limited to only hotels and mobile phones. And it is one reason why customers' being able to distinguish genuine from imitation isn't necessarily enough for a company to avoid losing business to its imitators.

Two Brief Encounters in Hengyang

After I took a photo of an architecturally intriguing department store while I waited at an intersection in Hengyang, Hunan province, someone behind me enthusiastically said in English, "Beautiful!"

I turned around and saw a man on a motorbike smiling at me. After a brief friendly chat, he happily agreed to pose for a photograph:

man on motorbike in Hengyang, China

When the light turned green he rode off with a hearty "Goodbye".

A little more than 10 minutes later as I was walking on a sidewalk, a college student I hadn't noticed before approached me and said hello. Without any prompting from me, he then shared that he felt pleased about having just earned money for handing out flyers. I found out he made 40 yuan (about US $6.40) for 6 hours of work--less per hour than the amount earned by two college students I met a year and a half ago in Hunan's capital, Changsha, who had similar part time jobs (see here and here). I would not be surprised if the going rate was lower in the smaller city of Hengyang, though, and I have met many students elsewhere in China who would consider his part-time job a good deal. So I congratulated him, and he then headed to a bus stop to take a bus back to his university.

These two brief experiences made my Saturday in Hengyang a little more interesting and touch on themes, some more obvious than others, I have raised before. And as much as the experiences were unexpected, neither was unprecedented, and they are consistent with others I have had in China.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Another Nighttime View of the Xiang River

A Xiang River scene from tonight in Hengyang, Hunan province:

nighttime view of the Xiang River in Hengyang, China

For a nighttime view of the Xiang River elsewhere in Hunan, see the earlier post here.