Friday, October 30, 2015

"Minnight" Movie Horrors in Shaoguan

In addition to the two movie posters I previously saw at the Fengdu Road Pedestrian Street in Shaoguan, another poster there more recently caught my eye.

movie poster for Midnight Whispers (半夜叫你别回头) which misspells "midnight" as "minnight"

More than the warm poses, the word "minnight" is remarkable. An online version of this poster at Douban uses the same word as well. However, all of the other posters for the same movie use "midnight", which makes sense since it is part of the Chinese name of the movie (半夜叫你别回头). While English language errors are common in China, misspelling the name of a movie on a poster which presumably was distributed nationwide seems to include a bit of extra unintended horror. Maybe that was the point though. Midnight Whispers opened today in China, just in time for the Halloween weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

U.S. Destroyer Appears in the South China Sea and the Nanxiong Bus Station

China allowed news agencies to report a U.S. destroyer recently making the "most significant U.S. challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China claims around artificial islands it has built up in the Spratly archipelago". Today at a bus station in Nanxiong, a county-level city in northern Guangdong, I saw news posted about the "illegal" action.

Woman at a bus station in Nanxiong, China, reading news about the U.S. challenging some of China's territorial claims in the South China Sea

In discussing some of the incident's coverage by "the most-watched and most tightly-controlled news broadcast" in China, Andrew Chubb points out why China may not similarly cover future challenges by the U.S.:
The high-handed demand that the American side “correct its mistakes” leaves the CCP well positioned to claim that its stern response forced an aggressive hegemon to back down. At least one US official has described the patrols as “routine“, suggesting there will be more to come. Even if the US patrols happen, say, once a month from now on, it will be up to the CCP to decide how often Chinese mass audiences hear about this. Having established a high level of domestic publicity on this occasion, the CCP might well be able to (implicitly or explicitly) encourage the perception that it forced the US to back down, simply by not affording the same level of publicity to future FoN patrols.
I am not going to even try to predict what will happen, other than that I doubt the issues over the territorial claims will be resolved anytime soon. Read Chubb's post "China announces the US’s Spratly patrols to the masses" for more analysis of the news coverage on CCTV's Xinwen Lianbo and an example of how China's control of news can be as newsworthy as the news itself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Friendly Xiangqi Photo Request in Shaoguan

As on the day before, this past Sunday a man in Shaoguan asked me to take his photo, though this time with others. The man had noticed stop to briefly watch a roadside game of xiangqi (Chinese chess), which he was watching as well. He was disappointed to learn I am not a reporter, as he hoped more of the world could see xiangqi being played. When I told I have a blog, he immediately brightened. Soon he repositioned himself to continue watching the game.

men playing and watching a game of xiangqi on the side of a road in Shaoguan, Guangdong

Before I left, he asked me to take a photo of just him and his friend, who he introduced to me as the retired director of Shaoguan's former Beijiang district, now a part of the central Zhenjiang district. I was curious to ask him some questions about his earlier role, but I refrained. Xiangqi was happening.

two friends sitting next to each other as one plays xiangqi in Shaoguan, Guangdong

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Imitated Art: Giant Abstract Flamingos in Chicago and Zhuhai

Dali L. Yang, Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, recently tweeted a photo of a sculpture by the American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976).

Photo by Dali L. Yang of Flamingo sculpture in Chicago

The Chicago Public Art Program's description of the "Flamingo" emphasizes how the sculpture fits in with its surrounding environment and offers an immersive experience:
Alexander Calder’s abstract stabile anchors the large rectangular plaza bordered by three Bauhaus style federal buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. The sculpture’s vivid color and curvilinear form contrast dramatically with the angular steel and glass surroundings. However, Flamingo is constructed from similar materials and shares certain design principles with the architecture, thereby achieving successful integration within the plaza. Despite its monumental proportions, the open design allows the viewer to walk under and through the sculpture, leading one to perceive it in relation to human scale.
Seven years ago, David Mendell for the Chicago Tribune shared how the cost for a needed renovation at the time may have been justifiable simply in terms of attracting tourists:
Art lovers and conservationists maintain the expenditures are essential, and economical, if Chicago is to continue drawing tourists who want to view public art.

"These works really show the commitment Chicago has to promoting (the city's) cultural landscape in the last half of the 20th Century," said Victor Simmons, director of education for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. "It would be a great loss if those two contemporary works were allowed to disappear."
Fortunately, Calder's work didn't disappear. Two months ago, I felt inspired to take a photo similar to Yang's:

sculpture in Zhuhai resembling Alexander Calder's Flamingo

Perhaps too similar. Unfortunately, I haven't been to Chicago in years. Instead, I took the photo in China — more specifically, at the Huafa Mall in Zhuhai, Guangdong.

sculpture resembling Alexander Calder's Flamingo at the Huafa Mall plaza in Zhuhai

No Bauhaus-style federal buildings border the mall's plaza, and some differences exist between the Zhuhai sculpture and Calder's. But it is hard to believe the striking resemblance is a coincidence, and the Calder Foundation makes no mention of this work.

Photo by Min Lee of Alexander Calder's "Flamingo" in Chicago
Photo by Min Lee of Calder's "Flamingo" in Chicago taken from a more a easily comparable viewpoint

There have been times when an example of "China copied!", often a justifiable claim, struck me as being no more a copy than examples in the West which were not similarly called out. Many of the most celebrated artists have used others' ideas and material to one degree or another. The line between imitation and similar-in-style can be fuzzy. Some of Calder's own works made me immediately think of earlier artists. And the more I compared photos of the sculptures in Zhuhai and Chicago the more differences I noticed. Revisiting both in person may uncover more.

Nonetheless, I strongly lean towards calling the Zhuhai sculpture an imitation. At best, it seems to be rather near that fuzzy boundary. It would be interesting to know whether the differences are primarily a result of artistic considerations, a desire to technically avoid the "copy" label, or failing to perfectly copy Calder's sculpture.

Whatever the artistic, ethical, and legal issues, though, there is a positive side to apparent imitations like the one in Zhuhai. For example, relatively few people in Zhuhai will ever have the opportunity to visit Chicago or support its tourism industry. At least they can now better experience something similar to its art, if not its deep-dish pizzas and hot dogs. From this perspective, it could be argued it would be better if the Zhuhai sculpture were an exact copy.

Regardless, clearly crediting the original, which I didn't see in Zhuhai, would improve things — perhaps something to the effect of:
Variation on Alexander Calder's sculpture "Flamingo" in Chicago, USA.
Not only could it increase people's art appreciation and knowledge, but it could also help avoid a potentially face-losing situation in which someone proudly identifies the sculpture as an example of Zhuhai originality.

In his thoughts about another Chicago sculpture with a twin in China, Jonathan Jones, who writes on art for the Guardian, had this to say about creativity and Chinese art:
The creative individual has been at heart of Chinese art for a long time. Painters and poets of the Song dynasty, during the 12th century, were celebrated as distinctive creators at a time when European art embodied the labour of anonymous artisans and scribes.

There’s no reason to think that China placed a low value on the creative individual – until the 20th century, that is. . . .

The Cultural Revolution undoubtedly attacked the idea that individual creativity should be celebrated or protected.
Yet despite any lasting negatives effects resulting from events of the previous century, creativity exists in China today.

Even if China feels artistic imitations are justifiable, not openly identifying them as such detracts from the work of artists all over the world. And in a special way it hurts Chinese artists who create original work in the 21st century. An environment exists where it is all too easy to think "this might be an imitation".

Nobody is now wondering if Calder copied a sculpture in Zhuhai.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Night Studies in Shaoguan

There was a time not long ago when I thought I would have two posts ready for today. I suppose the previous sentence already implies that I likely will not. It could also imply I may have three or more posts for today. I definitely didn't intend the latter interpretation.

Instead of either of the two posts I had initially planned, which need just a little more work that is not going to happen at this moment, here is a photo of a girl focusing on her own work tonight.

girl sitting on a wooden chair outside and reading a school text book in Shaoguan

Abstract flamingos and a colorful (heavy on the red) place on Shaoguan's Wuya Alley shall appear shortly.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fortunes and Accessories on a Shaoguan Stairway

Early this afternoon in Shaoguan, Guangdong, I saw a person offering fortune telling and related services.

fortune teller on a staircase landing in Shaoguan
Another notable hat in Shaoguan

This evening almost exactly seven hours later, I saw a person selling mobile phone covers and other assorted accessories for electronics.

young woman using a mobile phone while selling mobile phone covers and other accessories on a stairway landing in Shaoguan
One of many "mobile moments" I captured today

Both of them made use of the same corner on a landing of a pedestrian bridge staircase — just at different times. In addition to raising a number of intriguing issues, the variety of offerings available at this single location today captures some of the spirit of what I have observed elsewhere in Shaoguan this weekend.

So my own prediction for the future: I will just say don't be surprised if things as different as bamboo rats, xiangqi, marketing for pole dancing lessons, and Little Red Books all appear here soon.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Greeting from Shaoguan

One man who saw me taking photos on a bridge in Shaoguan today greeted me and then offered to pose for a photo. As typical in such cases, I didn't pass up the opportunity.

smiling man in Shaoguan wearing a hat and waving to the camera

Friendly guy. Had I not been so focused on another task, I would have asked about his hat.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chickens in China Not Crossing the Road Today for Different Reasons

Today in Haikou: Why did the chicken.... wait, no, it doesn't look like he made it that far.
Posted by Erik-Nicki Johnson on Thursday, October 22, 2015

Whatever the fuller story for the chicken in Haikou may be, it doesn't seem likely to be a happy one (if no photo appears above, the link on the date leads to it). So on a related yet happier note, today in Shaoguan:

hen walking on a sidewalk in Shaoguan, China

The first time I saw this hen she appeared to be looking inside cages with birds for sale as pets. I wondered what she was thinking, surely something profound. This time she was on her way to join her companion, here eating within sight of the caged birds:

rooster eating greens along a sidewalk in Shaoguan, China

Despite living in the middle of a city, these two lovely domesticated fowl are free to roam about, which has some obvious pluses. Unlike a chicken I once saw in Malaysia, though, I have not seen them show any desire to cross the road next to their home. The answer to this different riddle may have something to do with the large number of cars and motorbikes passing by.

As to these chickens' ultimate fate, I am not sure. Perhaps that riddle is better left unanswered.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Complicated Romances and Bloodthirsty Pencils: Two New Chinese Movie Posters

Two of the movie posters outside a theater at the Fengdu Road Pedestrian Street in Shaoguan especially caught my eye during recent days. One, for the poses and expressions:

movie poster for Youth Never Returns (既然青春留不住) in Shaoguan, China

Youth Never Returns (既然青春留不住) premiered at the Montreal Film Festival, which provides this synopsis:
When Wang Jinhui enters university, he immediately becomes one of its most popular students, certainly to the girls. But not Zhou Hui. When he asks her to help him cheat in exams, she reports him instead. Still, she does help him study, and eventually they warm to each other. They become a couple. An unsteady couple, with ups and downs -- lovers, enemies, lovers again. And finally a breakup. Years later, having become a successful restaurant operator, Wang Jinhui learns about Zhou Hui’s ill health. He comes to help, but once again they separate. Is there one more reconciliation in the cards?
And if Wang Jinhui now becomes ill, will Zhou Hui run the restaurant in his absence? Or given how the cheating incident worked out, will she instead report him for tax evasion to help rekindle their love yet again? Indeed, more ups and downs could be in store. Youth Never Returns opens in China on October 23. If offered free tickets, popcorn, and really good beer, I will consider going.

The other movie poster caught my attention because it reminded me of the Death is Here 3 movie poster I saw last year in Zhanjiang. Yes, folks, the terrifying giant pencil is back.

movie poster for Campus Mystery (笔仙魔咒) in Shaoguan, China

In addition to gratuitous cleavage, other movie posters for Campus Mystery (笔仙魔咒) include gratuitous gore, upskirt views, and water. I haven't yet seen them displayed in Shaoguan.

For reasons I can't explain, this movie did not premier at the Montreal Film Festival, so I will not share a proper synopsis. Instead, I will share a guess about the plot:
After Wang Jinhui enters university, an evil giant pencil convinces him to cheat in exams. But Zhou Hui, his occasional lover who has an interest in tax law, discovers it isn't a number 2 pencil as required and . . .
Wait, maybe I shouldn't confuse films. Anyway, whatever the real plot, if any, presumably a really big pencil appears in the movie, which is all you can ask for. Campus Mystery opened in China last Friday, and I will consider seeing it as well, assuming similar conditions. Given my curiosity about the pencil, though, I am willing to forfeit the popcorn and beer in a plastic bag is good enough.

These two movies probably don't best represent the overall state of movie-making in China today, but they still remind me of a recent conversation I had about Chinese movies with a high school student in Zhongshan. She said she used to only enjoy foreign movies. But now she was finding more Chinese movies she enjoyed and believed they were getting much better. She is definitely not alone in her opinion

On its opening weekend in China, Campus Mystery didn't captivate as many viewers as a number of other movies and only grossed U.S. $840,000. Recent domestic success stories for the Chinese film industry, comedies Goodbye Mr. Loser and Lost in Hong Kong, fared much better though. And showing that ants can trump pencils, even in a market clearly gamed to benefit domestic films, the foreign film Ant-Men, also opening in China this past weekend, came in number one grossing over $43 million.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Game of Real Leaps in Shaoguan, China

As I observed and photographed life at a location on Shengping Road in Shaoguan, Guangdong, two girls behind me played a game involving action poses and dramatic jumps. More about Shengping Road, a small bit of which appears below, another day. Today is for the girls, who enjoyed viewing their captured moments and happily posed for a somewhat more typical photo before I left. They provided an entertaining example of how children can still have a lot of fun without electronics or extra equipment.

two girls playing a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

girl leaping in Shaoguan, Guangdong

girl leaping backwards in a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

two girls playing a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

two girls playing a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

girl leaping forward in a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

girl leaping forward in a game in Shaoguan, Guangdong

girls playing a game next to Shengping Road in Shaoguan, Guangdong

two girls posing for a photo in Shaoguan, Guangdong

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Day and Night at the Tongtian Pagoda

Shaoguan's 3-year-old Tongtian Pagoda (通天塔) replaced a pagoda built in the mid-1500s and destroyed in the mid-1800s. It sits on a small island where the Wu and Zhen Rivers meet to form the Bei River. Below are two photos of the pagoda and the Beijiang Bridge (北江大桥), which opened 30 years ago, taken from nearby vantage points but at different times of the day. People can have strong preferences for one viewing time or the other.

Tongtian Pagoda (通天塔) and Beijiang Bridge (北江大桥) during the day in Shaoguan

Tongtian Pagoda (通天塔) and Beijiang Bridge (北江大桥) lit up at a night in Shaoguan

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Multitasking at the Zhen River in Shaoguan

man wearing a hat uses a mobile phone while fishing at the Zhen River in Shaoguan

A return to the mobile theme is not far away — more on the fishing theme someday too.

Severed Fingers and Haunting Chocolates at Pizza Hut in Shaoguan, China

It's that special time of the year in China. You can feel it in the air, even in Shaoguan, Guangdong. Which means, of course, Pizza Hut has pulled out its special Halloween menu.

portion of Pizza Hut's Halloween menu in China

And Pizza Hut's excitement over Halloween in China doesn't end there. Halloween-themed M&M's characters are available as well.

Halloween-themed M&M's characters for sale at Pizza Hut in Shaoguan, China

Curiously, a Halloween M&M's pizza wasn't available.

But more Halloween fun is available elsewhere. An RT-Mart, a Taiwan-based hypermarket chain similar to Walmart or Carrefour, I visited in Shaoguan now has a Halloween section.

Halloween section at RT Mart in Shaoguan, China

A bit of Halloween spirit is nothing new in parts of China, and these signs of the holiday in Shaoguan may reflect the holiday's growing popularity. I won't still be in Shaoguan during Halloween, so I won't have the opportunity to see if related festivities arise like those I have come across elsewhere in China, including Changsha a few years ago. I haven't noticed any indications trick or treating will be a big thing though. The RT-Mart didn't even have a Halloween candy section.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Change of Room Views in Guangdong

A view outside the window where until yesterday I recently stayed in Zhongshan, Guangdong:

view from a window in Zhongshan, China

A view outside the window where I am staying now in Shaoguan, Guangdong:

view of the Wujiang River from a window in Shaoguan, Guangdong

I wouldn't characterize the differences between the cities using these two photos, but I appreciate the change of scenery afforded by my new room nonetheless.

While I have had an easy time viewing many scenes since arriving in a city I have never visited before, I have not had an easy time viewing my own blog due to significant challenges connecting to my VPN, which I need to access a variety of blocked-in-China services. Although some potential fixes did not offer a lasting solution, things may have returned to normal, my normal at least. As usual, I can't be sure why, but in many ways much of life is like that.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Alley Cats in Zhongshan

The other day in Zhongshan I met two Chinese alley cats in, of all places, an alley. I saw one cat expertly catch a butterfly — looked like it tasted rather good. The other cat was more open to petting and also far more talkative. After I made a quick trip to a nearby place, soon both were quiet. You can figure out what happened from the photos. Not sure it was better than butterfly though.

Cat walking in a Zhongshan alley

cat resting with its eyes closed in a Zhongshan alley

skewered barbecued meat in Zhongshan

two cats licking their paws after a meal in a Zhongshan alley

An American friend who earlier saw these photos in a less clear sequence jokingly asked, "They became quiet because you turned them into cat on a stick?!?!"

Well played, perhaps more than the person realized. I have occasionally seen restaurants and people in food markets in this region of China selling cat. I can't say I have seen anything similar in Zhongshan, but I also haven't looked. Anyway, the cats I met seem to have a relatively good life, though they probably wouldn't mind more butterflies. Or chicken from the nearby food stall.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Opportunistic Pose in Zhongshan

I often aim to capture "real life" moments in my photography. In those cases, ideally I would like the subjects in the photos to be unaware of my, the photographer's, presence as that can impact their behavior, including small details of body language. Sometimes it doesn't work out as hoped though. Today in Zhongshan, one captured moment reflected two possible results when my presence has been detected: wondering what I am photographing and posing.

young man looking in the opposite direction while a young woman poses — both on the same scooter

Well played. Admittedly, it wasn't what I expected. But both reactions have their own "real" stories to tell as well.

Scenes Around the Camões Garden in Macau

Over three years ago in Macau I met someone who had made a day trip from Zhongshan to buy milk formula from New Zealand. Yesterday for the first time, I made the same trip, though not for milk formula. Near where I am staying in Zhongshan I boarded a direct bus to the border between Gongbei, Zhuhai, and Macau. After the one hour, 27 RMB (about U.S. $4.25) bus ride, I crossed the border in my shortest time ever, easily less than 15 minutes to pass though both mainland China and Macau immigration. Returning to Zhongshan at night was also simple, though the bus cost 28 RMB instead. The trip would likely have taken much longer had I gone during the recent holiday.

The Camões Garden is part of a set of famous sites in Macau which extend southward. The many winding streets just to the West, North, and East see far fewer tourists, yet like Macau's nearby Three Lamps District, which is also in Freguesia de Santo António (St. Anthony's Parish), they have their own charm. I spent a rather pleasant hour an half walking around the area beginning around 5pm. For yet another side of Macau, below are some photos from my walk with any streets names written in Portuguese, which along with traditional Chinese is typical in Macau.

Rua Ribeira do Patane and Avenida do Almirante Lacerda in Macau
Rua Ribeira do Patane and Avenida do Almirante Lacerda

Rua da Palmeira in Macau
Rua da Palmeira

Tou Tei Temple in Macau
Tou Tei Temple 

European architecture in Macau
One of the many examples of European architecture in Macau

buildings in Macau
Other varieties of architecture

Building at Escada do Muro and Escada do Caracol in Macau
Meeting point of the steps Escada do Muro and Escada do Caracol

Rua do Patane in Macau
Rua do Patane

Intersection of Rua de Tomas Vieira and Rua de Coelho do Amaral in Macau
Intersection of Rua de Tomas Vieira and Rua de Coelho do Amaral

McDonald's on Rua de Coelho do Amaral in Macau
 Rua de Coelho do Amaral

Calçada do Botelho in Macau
Calçada do Botelho

View towards Zhuhai from Camões Garden in Macau
View from the Camões Garden towards Zhuhai across the Qianshan Waterway 

Northern view from Camões Garden in Macau
Another view from the Camões Garden

man walking down stairs towards Travessa dos Calafates in Macau
 Stairs leading towards Travessa dos Calafates

Cat eating above a sign for Calçada do Galo in Macau
Cat eating above a sign for Calçada do Galo

food stall in Macau
Street vendor selling food at Rua de Cinco de Outubro

food vendor stall in Macau
Street vendor watching video at Rua da Ribeira do Patane