Saturday, June 28, 2014

Second Floor Views in Hengyang and Ho Chi Minh City

My view from a cafe in Hengyang this afternoon:

view outside from a 2nd floor Bont Cafe in Hengyang

As I looked outside and pondered a variety of topics, a view I had from another 2nd floor cafe one morning last year in Ho Chi Minh City came to mind:

view outside from a 2nd floor cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Like experiences I had in Alabama, Mississippi, and Seoul, the unexpected connection provided me more to ponder.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Assorted Links: Internet Cafes, Johnny Cash, Needing Google, and Discouraging Protests for Democracy

Now seems like a good time for some assorted links. Here we go:

1. One man dreams of a salaried job. Another man never wants one again. They both live in a Japanese Internet cafe as featured in a video by MediaStorm.

2. On a musical note, one man:
had never been a huge music lover. His musical taste was broad, covering Dutch-language songs, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with a preference for the last named. While music did not occupy an important position in his live, his taste in music had always been very fixed and his preferences stayed the same throughout decades.
But as described in a Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience paper, with a bit of technology he "developed a sudden and distinct musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation".

3. Several years ago I spoke to a student in Guiyang, Guizhou, who was concerned if Google "left China" that her academic research would suffer. With most of Google's services now blocked in China, Offbeat China shares that others in China are expressing similar pragmatic concerns.

4. Finally, but definitely not least . . .

Many Hong Kongers seek a level of democracy that Beijing has indicated it won't allow, regardless of any past promises. In response to plans for large-scale protests in support of more democracy, the international Big Four accounting firms decided to pay a leading role and placed public ads in Hong Kong.

They basically say, "please don't protest for democracy, it could hurt business".

Good to know where Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte Kwan Wong Tan & Fong (Deloitte's Hong Kong unit), and PricewaterhouseCoopers stand.

A Nearby Place in the Middle of Hengyang

It did not have the solitude of the pavilion where where I saw two men playing xiangqi (Chinese chess) in Yangjiang and felt more connected to the surrounding city, but one location where men were playing xiangqi in Hengyang still had its own charms.

two men playing xiangqi next to an electric box with a drawing of a woman

two men playing xiangqi next to an electric box with a drawing of a woman

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Numerical Bart Simpson Snack Store in Hengyang

A local chain store with a notable sign in Hengyang, Hunan, sells a variety of snack foods, many imported.

527 零食汇 store sign with image of Bart Simpson's head

The use of Bart Simpson's image on the sign raises the common issue of trademark and copyright infringement in China. And the store's name, 527 零食汇, highlights how technology has influenced the use of numbers in Chinese language. In Chinese, the numbers 5-2-7 are a near-homophone for the phrase "I love to eat". Combined with the first two Chinese characters, the sign reads "I love to eat snacks". For more about how technology has influenced the adoption of numbers for expressing Chinese language, see the piece "The Secret Messages Inside Chinese URLs".

I took a quick look inside the store. I didn't see any snacks I wanted at the time, but due to the hot weather I was especially happy to pick up a brand of bottled water I would not expect to find in Hengyang.

Bottle of Vita pure distilled water

Vita bottled water is from Hong Kong and, like other products from the Special Administrative Region, would typically be considered an import. I doubt I could distinguish it in a taste test, but, like the image of Bart Simpson, the branding connected me to a far away place.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Scholarly Hengyang Ice Cream

A girl found her own place to enjoy some ice cream underneath statues of Chinese scholars near the Shigu Academy in Hengyang.

small girl eating ice cream while sitting below statues of Chinese scholars in traditional clothing

Presumably she had already finished her day's studies.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A People's Dinner in Hengyang

Where I ate tonight along a narrow street in Hengyang, Hunan:

"百姓排档" restaurant in Hengyang, Hunan

Some of the ingredients for the various dishes they could prepare:

a variety of meats and vegetables in bowls and plastic containers

The view looking outside from where I ate:

view inside a small eatery in Hengyang, Hunan

A dish of pumpkin and snails:

sliced pumpkin and snails

A spicy fish head:

spicy fish head dish

I would not have thought of mixing snails with pumpkin (I remain unsure of the exact type of pumpkin). The dish was surprisingly tasty, though, and the fish head was excellent as well. The name of the restaurant "百姓排档" (Bǎixìng Páidǎng) could be translated as "The People's Food Stall". If you happen to be near Changqing Road (长青路), I recommend it as an inexpensive option for trying some of the local fare in Hengyang. You can't go wrong with the pumpkin and snails.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Hengyang Blue Sky

Based on my time in Hengyang, Hunan, I would not say it's the best place to visit if you are seeking clean air. One day in particular last week offered clearer skies and better than average air, though. The air wasn't perfect and the effects of smog could be seen in the distance, but the sky above was striking nonetheless. So I was able to enjoy a blue sky accompanied by an artificial rainbow . . .

two buildings with a painted rainbow, blue sky, and birds with a real blue sky in the background

building with a painted rainbow, blue sky, birds, and a countryside house with a real blue sky in the background

. . . and the Huiyan Pavilion (回雁阁) on Huiyan Peak.

Huiyan Pavilion (回雁阁) on Huiyan Peak (回雁峰)

On a related note, I don't remember having ever seen a real rainbow in China, which strikes me as odd. I wonder whether tall buildings obstructing the view or smog likely plays a larger role. Maybe someone can tell me what it means.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Best Design on a Car in Hengyang

A design with a message I saw tonight in Hengyang, Hunan:

car with design of a stick figure monster and the words "Best design derive from the character and innovations"

More on the designs people add to the exterior of their cars later. Not everyone wants their car to look like Chinese porcelain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More of New Orleans in Hengyang

Outside a KFC isn't the only place you can find New Orleans Roasted Chicken street food in Hengyang. For example, not far from the Hengyang Railway Station is a similar food stall.

新奥尔良烤鸡 (New Orleans Roasted Chicken) food stall on a sidewalk in Hengyang

Still haven't found any muffulettas though.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Variety of Mobile Devices for Sale in Hengyang

Laptops, smartphones, and electronic Chinese-English dictionaries aren't the only mobile devices I have seen in Hengyang, China. At a large indoor shopping center near the Hengyang Railway Station, I saw several stores selling a variety of mobile audio and video devices.

mobile audio and video players for sale at a market in Hengyang, China

There were radio, TV, and DVD players. The ones I checked all had USB sockets. With a USB flash drive, also for sale at the stores, the radios could play recorded music and the TVs could play recorded movies. And with the addition of a small card, watching CCTV on the TVs was no problem as well.

mobile audio and video players and USB flash drives for sale at a market in Hengyang, China

Elsewhere in the shopping center, I saw some of the technology in use. For example, one person was relaxing next to their shop while watching a movie on a portable DVD player.

These devices are an example of the diversity of electronics for sale in China, much of which rarely receive attention in comparison to smartphones. Yet knowing who buys these devices and why they buy them can be valuable to better designing devices with a broader range of functionality.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hengyang Spinning

Towards the end of a rather long walk yesterday in Hengyang, I saw a young boy in front of me spinning while he looked straight up into the sky. I wondered if anything in particular had inspired him. I looked up and saw a billboard structure with an intriguing geometry.

bars radiating from a central pole and helping to support billboard structures

I think he found a great location for spinning.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Chinese English-Learning Device, a Cross, and an American Apple

The student with the Baicizhan English-learning app on her smartphone isn't the only person I have met in Hengyang who uses mobile technology to improve their language skills.

Several weeks later, an English teaching assistant visiting Hengyang from Xiangtan, Hunan, approached me while I was walking outside. She said she was excited to talk with a native English speaker.

young woman holding a small electronic dictionary and wear a necklace with a cross

Like the student, she carried a mobile device that helped her improve her English. Unlike the student, her device functioned solely as a Chinese-English dictionary. She said she always carried it around as was recommended in an English class she had taken. Compared with an app like Baicizhan, it raises questions about why one might purchase / use a dedicated device versus an app on a smartphone.

Finally, she wore a cross not for religious reasons but because she felt it was a fashionable accessory to her clothes. In fact, they were presented together in the store where she bought them--a not unusual sight in Chinese cities like Hengyang. And similar to my meeting with the university student, I noticed a bit of American spirit.

the young woman's backpack with a US flag colored Apple logo

More on both the mobile and American spirit themes later.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Chinese English-Learning App with Artistic Cats, Buttocks, and American Spirit

sports field at the University of South China in Hengyang

One day as I was walking by the above sports field at the University of South China in Hengyang, Hunan, I heard a student practicing English. While wearing earphones and looking at the screen of her Xiaomi mobile phone, she would say a word and after a brief pause say a sentence which included the word.

As part of her preparations for an important English test, she was using an English-learning app a friend of hers had recommended months ago. The Chinese name for the app is "百词斩". I am not aware of an English name, so I will use its romanized spelling in pinyin: "Baicizhan". Browser-based and paper-based versions are available at the Baicizhan website. It is also available on both iTunes and Google Play. Although Baicizhan provides a link to iTunes, for the Android version Baicizhan now offers a direct download, not surprising since Google is heavily blocked in China.

After looking at the online version, I would say it certainly has room for improvement. I am not familiar with language-learning theory, so I will refrain from conducting a full review of Baicizhan. However, I won't refrain from sharing a bit about how it works and some striking examples.

A section usually begins with multiple choice questions:

question for "artistic" on Baicizhan

One voice says the word and another says the sentence. After choosing the photo one thinks best matches the sentence, the answer is provided along with the word's definition:

definition of "artistic" with photo of a kitten wrapped in a towel on Baicizhan

The above example is from a section Bacizhan says is using a nonstandard vocabulary list. Based on the section's name and other examples, it appears to deliberately use strange or funny examples to help people remember the words. Even so, it seems peculiar to say the photo of the kitten is a good answer for the above question.

Here are two other examples of Baicizhan's wit in the same section:

definition of "absolve" with a photo of a monkey touching a cats head

multiple choice question with sentence "My grandma is a bitter conservative" with one photo including the image of an older woman and the words "Back in my times the bathroom was used to shit not to taking pictures"

Many of the English words in the section were rather familiar to me, but I did learn (or perhaps relearned) something:

multiple choice question with sentence "Yes, I'm holothurian"

Photo 2 is the correct answer. I now know that "holothurian" is another name for a sea cucumber and that the word can be used as an adjective. I dissected a sea cucumber in a high school marine biology class and ate my first sea cucumber–they are a Chinese delicacy–in Jinan, Shandong. Some sea cucumbers are especially remarkable in their ability to "confuse or harm predators is [sic] by propelling their own toxic internal organs from their anus in the direction of attack". But I don't think that is the reason Bacizhan described the cat as holothurian. Instead, it is presumably referencing the cat's shape. I can't find a single instance of a cat being described as holothurian anywhere else. Regardless, Bacizhan delivered. I now know the word and await an opportunity to use it.

Overall, the words, questions, and images I saw in other sections, some of which include vocabulary to prepare for American or Chinese college entrance exams, were more mundane, though some still gave me pause.

sentence "If you can't control him mentally, sometimes you have to use force" with photo of a woman pulling man down on his knees by his tie

sentence "Ahh, look at that. Her buttocks are pretty nice." and photo of woman wearing a thong

And none of what I saw online captured the American spirit like what caused me to stop as I was walking by the student in Hengyang. I heard her say, "Facsimile. This is a facsimile of the original U.S. Constitution; of course it's not real." When she said the sentence, her phone wasn't displaying a Starbucks cup or an insect like I had seen on other students' mobile phones. Instead, along with the sentence and definition for "facsimile", it displayed an image of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. flag, and a military dog tag.

student showing a Xiaomi smartphone displaying the page for "facsimile" in an English language learning app.

It appears to be a cropped version of a stock photo by Sergey Kamshylin.

The title of the photo: "Freedom is not free".

Well, at least Baicizhan is free.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Seven Tiananmen Tweets

Much has been recently expressed and shared regarding the events at Tiananmen Square 25 years ago and their lasting impact in China today. Below are seven people's tweets I retweeted (shared) last week during my moments on Twitter (if no images automatically appear, viewing this post on the blog (not in a reader) and / or enabling javascript may do the trick). The tweets are brief and only a small piece of the picture, but they say much.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cars and Bikes Instead of Boats in an Hengyang Alley

Today, I walked down a much drier Yudetang alley in Hengyang. It was flooded several days ago, but where I had seen a boat before ...

boat on flooded street

I saw a young student walking by some cars.

young student walking down an alley

And instead of a submerged vehicle ...

vehicle submerged in water

I saw a woman with her bicycle.

various people doing what they're doing

At least one older woman I passed recognized me from my previous visit, and she spiritedly greeted me. I didn't get to take any raft rides this time, but I did get to walk through a narrow portion of the alley I hadn't seen before.

narrow alley

Yesterday, I returned to the pedestrian area next to the Xiang River which I have seen both flooded and dry. This time is was half-flooded. That didn't stop people from enjoying the area, including a couple having their wedding photos taken.

couple having their wedding photo taken while standing on a partial submerged stone railing and kissing

That is all. If all goes well, I won't have anything more about floods to share.

An Expiring Deal with a Changing Chinese People

In "For Tiananmen leader, a permanent exile" Ananth Krishnan's interview of Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi touches on a deal the Chinese government made decades ago:
Despite the two decades of unprecedented growth in China since 1989, [Wu’er Kaixi] believes the Party will face growing calls for political reform and anger against rising corruption — the same two demands that propelled protests 25 years ago.

“They struck a deal with the Chinese people in 1992 to give people a certain degree of economic freedom in exchange for political submission. That was a lousy deal because both economic freedom and political freedom is something that, to begin with, the Chinese people are entitled to. But this deal is also expiring. Once you give people economic freedom, they will become a little bit more powerful and they want more freedom. Because they want to be able to protect the money they made, they want rule of law, fair competition.”
In "Tiananmen, Forgotten" Helen Gao shares what it has been like for some to grow up under that deal:
[In] the post-Tiananmen years, life was like a cruise on a smooth highway lined with beautiful scenery. We studied hard and crammed for exams. On weekends, we roamed shopping malls to try on jeans and sneakers, or hit karaoke parlors, bellowing out Chinese and Western hits.

This alternation between exertion and ennui slowly becomes a habit and, later, an attitude. Both, if well-endured, are rewarded by a series of concrete symbols of success: a college diploma, a prestigious job, a car, an apartment. The rules are simple, though the competition never gets easier; therefore we look ahead, focusing on our personal well-being, rather than the larger issues that bedevil the society.
And in "The economic backdrop to Tian'anmen" Rob Schmitz highlights how even though people may want a new deal, whether because they feel "left behind" or a "little bit more powerful", people whose life has been more "like a cruise on a smooth highway" can have concerns about possible changes:
University of California’s Jeffrey Wasserstrom says 25 years later, with China’s economy now slowing down, there are signs the Chinese people want to renegotiate this deal – it’s no longer clear that making more money is an option. "Now I think there’s a sense that if you’ve been left behind, maybe you’ll be permanently left behind," says Wasserstrom. "And also, with the rising concern with issues like food safety, and heavy polluted air and water, I think it’s not so clear to people anymore that they can assume their children will live better lives than they did."

"People are angry, but people are worried that if something changes, would anything get better?" asks University of Michigan's Mary Gallagher. "I don’t think people in China have much confidence in democracy right now, and looking around them they may feel particularly people in the cities and people in the middle class may feel that democracy could end up even worse. It’s a much more segmented society, and people who are wealthy and who are middle class have much more to protect. And when they think about democracy, they think about majority rule. And I think majority rule is scary to them."
These excerpts together tell a story which resonates with what I have learned in China. In the future, I will share some thoughts on some of the seeming contradictions and important issues they raise. But for now, I simply recommend reading the pieces by Krishnan, Gao, and Schmitz. They each have their own story to tell about China 25 years after June 4, 1989.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

25 Years after June 4, 1989, in Hengyang, Hunan

I don't know what occurred in Hengyang, Hunan province, on June 4, 1989. But I do know a small portion of what occurred there today. As I thought about what happened 25 years ago in China, I took an afternoon walk in an urban area of Hengyang's Shigu district and saw that ...

Some people cooked.

woman cooking outside in Hengyang

Some people ate at a street food market.

street food stalls in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people ate at a McDonald's.

people at an outdoor service window at a McDonald's in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people ate at a restaurant under a bridge.

restaurant under a bridge in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people played cards and drank tea under a bridge.

people playing cards and drinking tea under a bridge in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people waited for passengers under a bridge.

mototaxi driver sitting on a motorbike under a bridge

Some people used a mobile phone.

man looking at his mobile phone in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people read a newspaper.

man reading a newspaper in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people bought something at a newsstand.

people at a newspaper stand in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people bought something at a department store.

people walking about a department store in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people bought a rabbit.

rabbits in small cages for sale on a sidewalk in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people sat.

woman sitting on a stool in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Some people rested.

man sitting down with his hands clasped and head bowed down

Some people worked.

men working on a large sign

Some people played.

young women playing badminton

Some people asked a foreigner to take their photo.

two boys

Some people simply said "Hello!" to a foreigner.

woman and man smiling for a photo

Some people wore matching shirts.

Some people wore a distinctive shirt.

woman wearing a shirt with the portrait of someone who looks like a princess on her back

Some people wore a shirt with English text.

young woman wearing shirt with text 'DO WANNA LET MOMENT AWAY"

Some people wore a shirt with an American symbol.

woman wearing shirt with an image similar to the US flag

I saw much today, yet almost all of it reminds me of what I have seen many other times in China. It was as if today "may as well be just another day", like what I saw two years ago in Xining, Qinghai, or three years ago in Chengdu, Sichuan.

Well, there was one thing I saw which gave me pause. So after passing a young man, I turned around and caught up with him. I told him I liked his shirt and asked if I could take his photo. Without hesitation, he gave his consent.

He didn't ask me why I liked his shirt. I didn't ask him why he wore the shirt.

How many people in China are asking questions today anyway?

young man wearing shirt with text 'It's time become brave. brave means that you stand up to peapole"