Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Starbucks Experience Now Available in Hengyang

Last year I saw a clear sign at a large shopping mall that Hengyang would soon have its first Starbucks.
A Starbucks shop under construction at a shopping center in Hengyang

Starbucks would offer an experience not available in Hengyang I could see people were craving, and I had little doubt this store would be a success. When I returned to Hengyang this month, the store was open.

Starbucks in Hengyang, Hunan

On one Thursday afternoon, people apparently not enjoying Starbucks products occupied most of the outside space, but customers took up much of the available seating area inside.

people inside the Starbucks in Hengyang, Hunan

While the store represents some of Starbucks incredible growth in China, it is also another sign of how Hengyang is changing. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shooting Rubber Covered Pockets of Air in Hengyang

On nights in May and June last year, I often saw people shooting balloons set up by various game operators at a multileveled riverside area in Hengyang.

young woman and man shooting balloons at night in Hengyang, China

several people shooting balloons at night in Hengyang, China

two people shooting balloons at night in Hengyang, China

three young women shooting balloons at night in Hengyang, China

And on one occasion, I saw people taking a creative, if not riskier, approach to the game.

two men shooting balloons from the side at night in Hengyang, China

When I returned to Hengyang this month, I saw that the balloon shooting remained a popular activity.

shooting balloons at night in Hengyang, China

Thanks to several friendly conversations last year, one of the game operators even recognized me and provided a hearty welcome back.

Like some sunken boats, the game was something that hadn't changed much in Hengyang over the past year. Though as one game operator set up for the night, I noticed a type of change common in Hengyang underway across the river.

woman setting up balloons to shoot with tall buildings under construction in the background

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Shirt in China Promotes a New York PRC Lifestyle

At a shopping market in Hengyang, China, I saw this shirt on sale for 19 RMB (about U.S. $3):

shirt with stars resembling the U.S. flag and scenes appearing to be from the U.S. with the text "PRC LIFE STYLE"

I asked a Chinese customer in the store for his thoughts on the shirt. He said he was unsure about most of the shirt, but the stars reminded him of the U.S. flag.

The one way street sign in the shirt's lower right image made me think of the U.S. as well, and the lower left image looked like New York City. I now more strongly suspect it is New York after finding a photo by "Global Jet" on Flickr which appears to have been taken from a slightly different vantage point:

New York City skyline

Yet "PRC", especially in China, most often stands for "People's Republic of China". The shirt's potential message about "lifestyle" intrigued me.

So I wished I could speak to the shirt's designer. At the very least, they might be interested to know I bought it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sunken Boats in Hengyang

While some things have significantly changed in Hengyang, Hunan province, during the past year, others have seen less change, including one related to the earlier boat theme.

The scene on a rainy day at a somewhat hidden park off Changsheng Road last May:

And a similar viewpoint from this month on a brighter day:

After heavy rains in June last year the water was higher than in either of the two photos above. The water was far less clear this year. There were also a number of dead large fish floating around during my latest visit.

But the sunken boats remain. I don't know their story and can only wonder if they will be in the same state if I return to Hengyang again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Restaurant, Mojitos, and a Roller Coaster: Examples of Recent Change in Hengyang, China

Gaining a deeper understanding of regional variations is part of what has motivated me to examine a large number of cities in China. Gaining a deeper understanding of what can change over time is part of what motivated me to spend two months in Hengyang, Hunan province, last year and return for a look this year after 9 months away. Here, I'll share three changes I noticed which impacted personal experiences of mine. However, they touch on broader issues as well.

Somewhere Under the Bridge

The first case involves a restaurant which appeared in a subtle photo essay about an important date in Chinese history. Unlike most restaurants, it was located under a bridge.

I passed the no-frills restaurant many times last year and on a few occasions stopped for lunch.

The dishes were already prepared and kept warm while on display — no printed menu necessary. I typically selected at least one fish dish.

The prices were especially low, and typically the customers were surprised to see me eating there. One man asked why I didn't eat across the street, since he thought the food was better there. I didn't agree, although most people would consider the other restaurant to have cleaner and more upscale conditions. For me, the restaurant under the bridge had a special atmosphere — including a group of older men often sitting outside drinking baijiu during lunch.

I was looking forward to stopping by again this year. But when I approached the bridge, I felt momentarily confused. Not only could I not find the restaurant, the building which held it no longer existed.

Fortunately, Hengyang has many other restaurants, though I haven't seen another under a bridge.

Minted on Zhongshan Road

Towards the end of my time in Hengyang last year, a new drink shop opened on a shopping street that, unlike the restaurant under the bridge, was popular with youth. The shop featured mojitos — a rum-based cocktail with mint.

Most of the drinks were alcohol-free drinks, some similar to cocktails, but genuine mojitos were available. Mojitos aren't a common drink in Hengyang, or in many Chinese cities, and at an outside promotion they provided details on its non-alcoholic ingredients.

After inspecting their bottle of Barcardi rum, which was either genuine or a decent fake, I ordered a mojito for less than US $2 — hard to beat, especially since they were willing to be rather liberal with the rum. Honestly, I was most attracted by the fresh mint, something I hadn't seen in a while. I then enjoyed a riverside stroll with the drink. Unlike the U.S., in China one is free to walk around public areas with an "open container" of alcohol.

This year when I returned, I saw that the mojito shop was no more. But unlike the restaurant under the bridge, it had been replaced.

No rum or fresh mint, though. I can't say I am surprised.

Lost Tracks

In a more surprising case, I hoped to revisit a roller coaster I once compared to a historic roller coaster in the U.S. The cat & mouse themed roller coaster in Yueping Park had its charms.

As I approached the roller coaster walking on a winding path up a hill, something seemed amiss, and I briefly wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I then realized the location for the roller coaster was now covered with newly planted trees.

Perhaps the park wanted a more natural look. The rooster and chicken walking around the edge of the area weren't talking. I would never ride a roller coaster here again, and I couldn't even drown my sorrows with a mojito.

Other changes in Hengyang also caught my attention. In some cases, the changes reflect issues which extend across China. I will share more examples of change and also some of what hasn't changed in later posts.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hengyang Contrasts: Different States of Being Solid

I initially focused on the stark differences between the activities the statues depict at two parks in Hengyang, but lately I have pondered how they may sometimes be connected.

statues of scholars on a large rock in Shigu Park, Hengyang
Scholars in Shigu Park

statues of soldiers in Yueping Park, Hengyang
Soldiers in Yueping Park

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hengyang Contrasts: Opposite Directions

Enough of the boats, now it is time for motorbikes, cars, and buses. Here are late afternoon views looking east and west from a pedestrian bridge over Chuanshan Avenue in Hengyang, Hunan:

looking east from a pedestrian bridge over Chuanshan Avenue in Hengyang (衡阳船山大道)

looking west from a pedestrian bridge over Chuanshan Avenue in Hengyang (衡阳船山大道)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Two More Boat Scenes in Hengyang

I hadn't planned to continue yesterday's boat theme, but life had its own plans. So here is a night scene of two men fishing in the Xiang River:

men fishing from two narrow wooden boats in the Xiang River

And here is another man fishing in the Xiang River at night:

man fishing from a white boat in the Xiang River

The first photo was taken in June last year and the second last night in Hengyang. It wasn't until recently I realized I had captured fishing scenes with contrasting boats at nearby locations, as indicated by the buildings in the background. In both cases, no other boats with people fishing were around.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Hengyang Return

A boat in the Xiang River as the sun was setting one day in June last year:

small boat in the Xiang River near sunset in Hengyang, China

A boat not far away on the other side of the Xiang River one day in April this year:

small boat in the Xiang River in Hengyang, China

This is my way of saying I am back in Hengyang, Hunan, though for a much shorter time than the two months I spent here last year. I have already experienced and captured so much during recent days it could occupy my blogging for at least a month or two. That doesn't even count what I still have from last year.

As usual, more soon . . .

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Perfect for a Wedding: Purchase a McDonald's French Fry Costume From China Online

As I mentioned before, a recent set of photos from Shenzhen, Guangdong province, could inspire a number of questions. Some of the questions I had were about a McDonald's french fries costume in one of the photos.

person wearing a McDonald's french fries costume in Shenzhen

The person wearing the costume in the above photo was standing near a McDonald's in Huaqiangbei while another person was handing out McDonald's coupons. It appeared the costume had seen better days. Fortunately for the restaurant and anyone eager to be a box of McDonald's french fries, the seemingly same costume is available for purchase online. One Guangdong-based store sells a complete costume through China-based AliExpress for US $206.

portion of a web page for McDonald's french fries costume sold on AliExpress

The costume includes a helmet "strong and hard enough to avoid breaking and sudden striking" — a valuable feature since you never know when this costume might provoke an attack. The seller's list of settings where the costume could be appropriate includes "wedding ceremony".

I don't question the authenticity of the McDonald's restaurant, but, as far as I can tell, the costume doesn't represent an official McDonald's character. The closest I found were the Fry Kids, formerly known as the Fry Guys. Although they have an affinity for fries, they are not fries themselves, which has its advantages.

So I am left wondering whether the McDonald's Corporation has approved or cares about the use of this french fry costume for promotions. I would also be interested to learn whether they have approved the public selling of the costume, which includes their registered trademark.

One thing I am not questioning, though, is whether there are any opportunities for the costume in a wedding. In Hong Kong, which borders Shenzhen, McDonald's offers wedding parties.

McDonald's Wedding Party webpage banner
From the wedding party page of the McDonald's Hong Kong website

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

12 Photos From a Quick Trip to Shenzhen

My recent visit to Shenzhen lasted less than 48 hours before I bordered a high-speed train. Below are 12 photos shared in the spirit of "some of what caught my attention and interested me in addition to monsters and huge mobile phone markets during a brief period of time in Shenzhen". In one manner or another, each photo captures a part of Shenzhen's culture and environment. But there is certainly much, much (much) more to this rapidly changing city which fascinates me every time I visit. And even as I look at the photos now, they continue to inspire new questions.

So here is traffic on a road:

traffic on a road in Shenzhen

Traffic in an alley:

people walking in an alley in Shenzhen

Traffic on a pedestrian street:

people walking on a pedestrian street in Shenzhen

Signs for sale:

numerous neon signs at shops

A sign on clothing:

dress with word "LASTNIGHT" and a five-pointed star

A sign on a young woman's arm:

six-pointed star tattoo

A sign for vocational training:

sign with a Caucasian man wearing glasses and holding a scientific calculator

A sign for a skin whitening creme:

advertisement for Chando skin whitening creme

A message on the front:

dress with "DEAD INSIDE" written in large block characters

A message on the back:

back of shirt with words "THE GUILTY PARTIES  — FUCK YOU KILLER TOKYO"

A promotion for mobile phones:

large outdoor booth selling mobile phones at Huaqiangbei

And last but not least, a promotion for McDonald's french fries:

McDonald's french fry mascot

Any questions now?

More from other lands soon . . .

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Genuine, Fake, and In-between: A Visit to Electronics Markets at Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei

an alley near Huangqiangbei

Several days ago I spent part of one afternoon in Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei (also known as Huaqiang North) commercial area. According to ShenzhenShopper:
Theres over 20 shopping malls located in the Huaqiangbei area which provides about 70 million square meters of business area. Annual sales reaching over 20 billion, and there’s something like 130,000 people employed in the area. Yep, it’s large.
Huaqiangbei is most known for being one of the biggest electronics markets in the world. For many first time visitors, especially those already familiar with typical consumer electronics chain stores in China, I would agree with the suggestion on PIXEL to:
Skip [the consumer electronics shops] and spend your time in the buildings dedicated to Android tablets, “Shanzhai” phones (copies), phone accessories, components, LEDs, various gadgets, etc.
Just one of the shopping centers on its own can be overwhelming to those not accustomed with their scale, density, and intensity. Charles Arthur shared a gallery of photos on The Guardian. As prelude to another gallery of photos on Tech in Asia, Paul Bischoff wrote:
Within lies stall after stall after stall of nearly every gadget, component, and tool imaginable. Over half a dozen city blocks are filled to the brim with crowded marketplaces, each ranging from four to 10 floors high. Photos hardly do it justice. The place is immense.
For a variety of reasons, I kept my photo-taking activities to a minimum this time. The photo above is of an alley on the outskirts of Huaqiangbei. On both sides are huge electronics markets which aren't labeled even on Seeed Studio's detailed Shenzhen Map for Makers (free PDF download). The several markets I visited on this block mostly focused on mobile phone products — from components to complete phones to accessories. Here is just a small taste of what I saw in these markets where the line between genuine and fake can be blurry:
  • Thousands of mobile phones with cracked screens, some showing clear signs they were from the U.S.
  • Screens for various brand name phones for sale.
  • Workers fixing and cleaning phones.
  • Workers affixing brand name labels to unmarked batteries.
  • Workers packaging iPhones to appear as new.
  • Foreigners making purchases, reminding me of what I learned at a fake stuffed toy wholesale store in Guangzhou.
There is much more to say about Huaqiangbei, but I will leave it this for now. It can be a fascinating place to visit, even if you don't need to change an iPhone 5c into an iPhone 5s.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Monster in Shenzhen

Part of a promotion at the COCO Park shopping center in Futian District, Shenzhen