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Monday, April 23, 2018

Gongbei-Ball Lives on in Zhuhai

In response to a post with a series of photos showing what happened to some blocks of ice left on the sidewalk in Yunfu, Guangdong, reader J P Hays commented:
Not what I expected in the slightest. I was expecting it to end sadly, with reports of people slipping on the ice and injuring themselves, not two kids having a fun time with it.
In fact, a couple other children were involved as well, but I didn't get any good photos including them. Fortunately, I indeed didn't witness any injuries, whether due to slipping or being hit by thrown pieces of ice. I don't know if that changed after I left though.

While putting together the ice post, the throwing aspect of it reminded me of a game I called Gongbei-ball that I saw played on Gaosha Middle Street in Zhuhai's Gongbei subdistrict two years ago. I was briefly back in Zhuhai yet again in February. One evening shortly after 8 p.m. I returned to the same street, which like Baisha Road in Jiangmen can be tricky to locate using online interactive maps. I wondered if the game was still played and whether I could be lucky enough to catch a match.

I am happy to belatedly report the game continues to thrive.

two boys and a man playing Gongbei-ball in Zhuhai


At least one of the boys playing appeared to be one of the same boys as before. And this time a man was playing as well. I'm still unsure of the precise rules, and like before sometimes suspected they were adjusted on the fly by the one boy. But it seemed to be the same game. There was one clear difference though. Instead of using a ball made from crumpled-up paper wrapped in tape, they used a regular tennis ball. Apparently the equipment change was authorized by the Gongbei-Ball Premier League.

If I have the opportunity to come across the game sometime again in the future, I will see if they will teach me the rules. I thought the paper ball had a special charm to it, but some things change. Maybe there'll be a different ball next time.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Forms of Ice in Yunfu

The science of what happens when a small restaurant dumps large chunks of ice out onto the sidewalk at a street intersection in Yunfu, Guangdong:

Ice I

chunks of ice on a sidewalk in Yunfu, Guangdong


Ice II

chunks of ice on a sidewalk in Yunfu, Guangdong


Ice Fun

kids throwing chunks of ice in Yunfu, Guangdong

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Another View from a Window in Yunfu

Good news. We have a winner for the latest "name this city in China" post.


Indeed, the scene which includes Xingyun East Road (兴云东路) is from Yunfu (云浮), a prefecture-level city in western Guangdong province. Yunfu borders the prefecture-level city Jiangmen, my previous location. Despite the shared border of the two cities, my bus ride, which lasted slightly less than two hours, followed a route which cuts through Zhaoqing, another prefecture-level city in Guangdong, presumably because it is shorter / faster than highway routes which don't enter Zhaoqing. In addition to Jiangmen and Zhaoqing, Yunfu is also bordered by the Guangdong prefecture-level cities Foshan, Maoming, and Yangjiang and by the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region prefecture-level city Wuzhou.

I had considered sharing another photo taken from my room window that in addition to an urban setting amidst karst topography also included a portion of the Yunfu Intercity Bus Station. I decided against it, though, after noticing Yunfu's name in Chinese could be seen on one of the signs near the bottom. So here it is now:

Yunfu Intercity Bus Station, buildings, and karst topography in Yunfu, Guangdong


Almost all of the people in Yunfu who have questioned me about why I came here responded with comments like "There's nothing interesting in Yunfu." and "Yunfu isn't a pretty city." However, I have already come across much that either interested me or I found visually attractive. More about some of that later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

From Jiangmen to Elsewhere

Today I was going to take an early morning intercity bus. But it was raining and my stomach felt unsettled so . . .

Today I took an early afternoon intercity bus. It was warm and humid inside at first. At my seat towards the back of the bus, I considered shouting my feelings to the driver, who was loudly playing radio music for us all to hear. But I saw a better hope — a man who was both much closer to the driver and fiddling with the air conditioning vents above him.

The man, such a wise man, kindly suggested to the driver that air conditioning would be grand. He exquisitely expressed this in a way so that all were able to laugh it off without much loss of face. Well done, sir.

At the end of the bus ride, I did something I don't usually get to do. I left the bus station and walked directly across the street to a hotel. It was sufficient, convenient, and well located for my purposes. And as a bonus, cheap.

The kind receptionist at the hotel checked me in. After signing a receipt, I pointed out that both my name and passport number had been entered into their computer incorrectly. Small details it seems.

No matter, they gave me a room with a fine view. And I mean that. I didn't know this was in store:

karst topography in an urban setting


Urban landscape with karst topography? Overcast skies or not, sign me up.

Some readers may be thinking "Guilin?"

Nope. Guilin isn't the only place where one can find such joys. So, it's time to play "Guess this city" again. This is one I would have likely failed before today. I could have even gotten the province wrong. You have some time to figure this out. I will return, I think, to a few Jiangmen-related posts before the big reveal.

The temperature on the bus was perfect the rest of the way.



Update: The answer is here.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Shirts for Sale in China: Still Supporting Jesse Jackson

Admittedly, I didn't predict any presidential political campaigns in the U.S. would inspire a little bit of fashion in China 30 years later.

"Jesse Jackson '88" shirt for sale in Jiangmen, China
For sale on the 2nd floor of Wuyi Plaza in Jiangmen, Guangdong

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Errors and Insufficient Information in Google's, Bing's, Baidu's, and Sogou's Online Map Services: Confusion Over the Name of a Road in China

For a variety of reasons, on a number of occasions I have found it challenging to figure out the name of a road in China. Two of those reasons are that online maps often lack relevant details and are sometimes incorrect. For example, based on some online maps people could question whether all of the photos in an earlier post were really from Baisha Road as I claimed and weren't instead from Dongguan Road.

Here is how Google Maps depicts the meeting of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road.

Google Maps for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen


Google Maps China, which unlike other versions of Google Maps is accessible in China, similarly labels the roads.

Google Maps China for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen


Starting from the upper right the maps indicate that Dongguan Road continues around the bend in the road. However, the first four photos in the earlier post were all taken at the bend or close to it on either side.

Part of my claim that the photos do indeed capture Baisha Road is based on something quite simple, the streets address signs on the buildings there. For example, here is a sign for 1 Baisha Road.

sign for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen


The location of this building neatly matches with the result to a search for the address on China-based Baidu Maps.

Baidu Maps for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen


As reflected above, even at the highest zoom levels, Baidu Maps doesn't display a name on the portion of road at and south of the bend (in all the maps south is "down").

Google Maps fails in a search for addresses on Baisha Road. It only returns a result for Baisha Road in general.

Google Maps failed attempt to indicate 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen


While the marked location is indeed on Baisha Road, it is far from 1 Baisha Road as indicated on Baidu Maps. Unfortunately, any time I have searched for Baisha Road or 1 Baisha Road in Chinese on Google Maps China I get the message "服务器错误. 请稍后重试." indicating there was a server error and suggesting to try again later. I've tried over a span of more than a week and have always had the same result.*

Like Baidu Map, the labels on China-based Sogou Maps at its highest zoom are also ambiguous on the issue, though a Dongguan Road label is closer to the bend.

Sogou Maps for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen


But Sogou indicates a location for 1 Baisha Road similar to Baidu's result.

Sogou Maps for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen


Like Google Maps, Bing Maps China** shows Dongguan Road continuing around the bend.

Bing Maps China for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen


The roads are identified similarly with English language settings and for the U.S. version of Bing Maps. Also like Google Maps, the best Bing Maps China can do for a search of 1 Baisha Road is just a general indication for Baisha Road without indicating a specific address.

Bing Maps China failed attempt to indicate 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen


Bing Maps and Google Maps also can't locate specific addresses for Dongguan Road.

To sum things up . . .

According to Google's or Bing's online map services, the scenes from the one portion of road I photographed are at Dongguan Road and not Baisha Road. They can't locate specific addresses for these two roads though.

The road labels for Baidu Maps and Sogou Maps aren't definitive one way or the other, though Sogou Maps make it look like at least a small part of the area is Dongguan Road. However, the search results for specific addresses indicate this portion of road is Baisha Road. These results match up quite well with the address signs I saw posted on buildings there.

Additionally and finally, there was one other step I took to sort things out. I asked a person working in a shop there. Without hesitation she identified this section of road as Baisha Road.

So while I wouldn't completely rule out a more complicated story indicating otherwise, the overall evidence suggests Google and Bing have it wrong and Baisha Road begins just slightly east of where Baidu Maps and Sogou Maps indicate 1 Baisha Road. While a small portion (the closest 5 meters or so of road) in the first photo might include the western end of Dongguan Road, I feel fine saying that the earlier photos capture Baisha Road.

For added evidence and color, I will later share photos of some buildings from this section of road with posted street addresses. And in another post or two farther down the road (pun unintended), I will examine other limitations and problems, some quite disastrous, with online map services for China. Similar to this post, it will in part serve as a follow-up to a comparison of online map services I did seven years ago. A lot has changed since then . . .





*I get the error message regardless of whether I use a VPN or not. I get the same error message for many other searches I've tried as well, though I have had success at times with some types of searches. It seems searches for specific addresses are especially unlikely to succeed, but at this point I'm not sure of the scope of the problem.

**I tested Bing Maps China at cn.bing.com/maps while in China, using a clean browser, and without using a VPN. However if Bing identifies you as outside of China, you may be taken to another web address without the "cn". And you may need to change Bing's settings for country/region or language to achieve a similar, though perhaps not identical, experience.


Disclosure: In the past I worked at Microsoft China. My work did not cover Bing Maps.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Watering All the Things in Jiangmen

Watering the flowers . . .

man watering flowers with hose connected to a water truck
Intersection of Jianghai 1st Road and Donghai Road in Jianghai District


Watering the steps . . .

woman spraying water from a hose onto stone steps
Baishuidai Folk-Custom Religion Area 


Watering the air . . .

truck with active water mist cannon
Ximen Road in Xinhui District

Monday, April 9, 2018

Political Art: Trump Gives Orders to Japan's Prime Minister at an Aircraft Carrier Restaurant in Jiangmen, China

While looking across the street at the Rongji Plaza shopping center in Jiangmen, Guangdong province, one of the signs perched on its roof especially caught my attention. I soon felt compelled to check out the Jin Li Ao Aircraft Carrier Restaurant (金利奥航母主题西餐厅). A dining experience with aircraft carrier ambience could be something to behold.

The 3rd-floor restaurant features Western-style food with a heavy emphasis on steaks. I assume this is not standard fare on China's single combat-ready aircraft carrier, but admittedly I have never eaten there.

In addition to a variety of steaks, the restaurant in Jiangmen includes a large structure with features similar to a miniature aircraft carrier. At the ship's bow sits a jet.

mock fighter jet with child inside


And a helicopter is ready for takeoff on the stern.

mock aircraft carrier helicopter


Both the jet and helicopter are open to visitors. Set between the two on the aircraft carrier's flight deck is seating for diners. There is also seating next to the carrier and in another section of the restaurant with a tropical theme. The servers and hosts all wear sailor uniforms.

To me, the most remarkable aspect of the restaurant isn't the aircraft carrier or the two vehicles on it. Or even the extensive variety of steaks on the menu. Instead, that honor belongs to some artwork in the restaurant's lobby area.

mural of Donald Trump pointing from a ship and Shinzo Abe made to look like a shrimp


After pondering the piece a couple of times, I asked a host who had earlier invited me to take photos about the intended meaning. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: What is happening here?
Host: Oh, it's just a picture. There's no meaning.
Me: Is that Trump?
Host: It's just a picture. It could be anybody.
Me: Um, how about the other person. Is that Japan's leader?
Host: Nobody in particular. It could be anybody. It's just a picture.
At this point, I figured the conversation wasn't going anywhere. I strongly suspected he was deliberately avoiding an explanation and appreciated that this was far more than "just a picture".

A minute or so later he asked, "Oh, do you think that looks like Trump?".

After I confirmed I did he replied, "Well, it could be anybody."

He smiled throughout our conversation.

Good times.

So my best current take on what is going on here. . . Well, it sure looks like a deliberate depiction of President of the U.S. Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe. Abe's appearance as a shrimp may be connected to a politically provocative meal served to Trump during his visit to South Korea last November:
The menu at South Korea’s state banquet for Donald Trump has left a nasty taste in Japan, after the president was served seafood caught off islands at the centre of a long-running territorial dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.

Japanese officials have also complained about the decision to invite a former wartime sex slave to the event, held earlier this week during the second leg of Trump’s five-nation tour of Asia.

Conservative media in Japan labeled the banquet “anti-Japanese” for featuring shrimp from near Dokdo – a rocky outcrop known in Japan as Takeshima. Both countries claim sovereignty over the islands, which are administered by Seoul.
China makes no claim regarding these islands, but it does have a similar dispute over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China, currently controlled by Japan. Many in China would applaud the meal served to Trump in Seoul.

The island in the background looks like a possible match to the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands (would be easier to confirm if Trump weren't blocking a portion of it). Perhaps Trump is ordering Abe to deliver an apology (big in China) and hand over the islands. Although I wouldn't bet on this scenario happening, even forgetting the shrimp part, many Chinese probably find it far more plausible. At the very least, Trump would certainly gain a huge number of fans in China if he achieved something like this or even tried.

So perhaps the restaurant dreams of a visit by Trump. Maybe that is why they feature steak. It is one of his favorite foods after all. They better have some ketchup though.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Two in Jiangmen

In a post with a photo of people playing xiangqi, I said sometime this week there would be a followup to an earlier post about Baisha Road in Jiangmen. However, I had forgotten about the Qingming Festival holiday, which threw off my schedule. That isn't the whole story, but it's enough of it.

So instead of the followup post taking one week to appear, it will take this many weeks:

female model in red traditional-style dress with only two fingers extended from her raised hand


To make up for the trouble, next week I will also share some context for the above photo, which like the photos of the xiangqi and Baisha Road was taken in Jiangmen, though in a very different setting.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Knockoffs, Cars, and an Electric Chair: Paper Replicas to Burn for the Qingming Festival

store selling paper replicas of items to burn for the Qingming Festival
Shop in Jiangmen, Guangdong, selling paper replicas to burn for the spirit world


Last year in Guangzhou during the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, I saw many people spend at least part of the day doing something not part of the spiritual side of the day, such as spending time at pedestrian shopping street. But it still wasn't hard to find people observing the holiday, such as a family burning paper replicas of iPhones, clothing, money, and other objects to send to their ancestors in the afterlife — part of a common Qingming tradition, as is visiting grave sites.

Like in Guangzhou, today on the holiday's return I saw many people in Jiangmen simply enjoying the day off or working as usual. I didn't happen to stumble upon any burnings. And I didn't visit any graveyards. But this afternoon I did pass one shop selling paper replicas to burn. They may have already sold out of some items, but they still had a varied selection.

As I saw in Guangzhou, there was clothing for sale. And of course there was plenty of the traditional ghost money.

ghost money and paper replicas of suits


Shoes were available as well.

paper shoes


You were in luck if you wanted to send shoes with a matching knockoff "Louiis Vuitton" bag.

paper "Louiis Vuitton" bags


There were also combo packs which included all-important smartphones.

boxes contain a variety of paper replicas including smartphones and jewelry


And a collection of cars was available.

paper replicas of cars


paper replicas of cars for the Qingming Festival


The cars depict people inside, which raises the question of whether burning them sends both the car and the people to the spirit world. I would honestly be curious to hear experts' views on this.

While there are other ways people remember and honor their ancestors during the Qingming Festival, the practice of burning paper replicas presents an intriguing intersection of spiritualism, materialism, and pragmatism. Whatever the ultimate result of the offerings, at the very least they express that one hasn't forgotten the departed and can help keep some memories alive.

Finally, there was one item for sale that left me briefly puzzled, because at first I wasn't sure what it was. And then I realized . . .

paper replicas of a massage armchair


Who in the spirit world wouldn't want to relax in a deluxe massage chair?

Monday, April 2, 2018

"A Story About Something Kind of Wonderful That Happened Yesterday" in Beijing

A series of tweets today by Te-Ping Chen, a Beijing-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal, resonated with me and apparently many others. Her story of discovery is well worth sharing beyond the world of Twitter, so here it is:












Friday, March 30, 2018

A Smoking Game of Xiangqi in Jiangmen

In a post earlier this week featuring scenes from two sections of Baisha Road in Jiangmen, I mentioned that some people might question whether all of the scenes were really from Baisha Road. I felt inspired to put some more effort into the later post promised on that topic than I initially planned, so it will appear next week.

For now, I will instead add to the series of posts with photos of people playing xiangqi with an example alongside Dongguan Road — a road which will play a key role in next week's post about the potential Baisha Road dispute and a few online maps.

man holding cigarettes and a man with a tobacco pipe playing a game of xiangqi
Cigarettes vs. Tobacco Pipe

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Silence from the Air Quality Twitter Accounts for the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates in China

Several years ago, David Roberts, the former Regional Strategic Advisor for USAID-Asia, wrote about the impact of the U.S. Embassy and several U.S. Consulates in China tweeting out regular reports of pollution levels.
In 2008, everyone knew Beijing was polluted, but we didn't know how much. That year, the US Embassy in Beijing installed a rooftop air-quality monitor that cost the team about as much as a nice car. The device began automatically tweeting out data every hour to inform US citizens of the pollution’s severity (@beijingair). . . .

At first, the Chinese government pushed back and pressured the Embassy to stop releasing the data, saying that “such readings were illegal”. Fortunately, the Embassy stood its ground. Eventually, the Chinese government relented and began implementing an effective monitoring system of its own. By the beginning of 2013, it had succeeded in setting up around 500 PM2.5 stations in over 70 cities. Later that year, completing its about-face, China pledged hundreds of billions of dollars for cleaning the air and began to implement pollution reduction targets for major cities (now, like the embassy data, defined in terms of PM2.5).
I have personally found the information provided by the tweets valuable on a number of occasions. And the tweets proved useful to include in pollution-related posts here covering topics such as deceptive blue skies and children breathing hazardous air.

So earlier this evening when I saw some comments about recent pollution readings in China, I found it odd that I couldn't recall recently seeing any air quality tweets from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, whose respective accounts I both follow on Twitter.

I went to BeijingAir's Twitter page and saw a straightforward reason. The account had stopped tweeting over a month ago on February 13.

BeijingAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting


With the curious exception of the last report, since February 7 the tweets are all of the "No Data" variety. One possible explanation for the pattern could be a problematic air quality monitor.

So then I looked at the four U.S. Consulates in China that also report air quality readings on Twitter: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang.

Con Gen Shanghai Air Twitter account page for air quality reporting


GuangzhouAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting


CGChengduAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting


ConGenShenyang Twitter account page for air quality reporting


Like BeijingAir, they all stopped reporting at the same time on February 13. And with the exception of GuangzhouAir, they all ended with a stream of "No Data" tweets.

Whatever is happening, the "single bad machine" explanation doesn't cut it. In fact, it appears all of the air quality machines are just fine. The U.S. Department of State Mission China website currently displays recent readings for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang.

Mission China page for current Beijing PM2.5 readings


Mission China page for current Shanghai PM2.5 readings



Mission China page for current Guangzhou PM2.5 readings


Mission China page for current Chengdu PM2.5 readings


Mission China page for current Shengyang PM2.5 readings


So the data is out there. And links to the respective twitter accounts still appear on the websites of the embassy and three of the consulates. Yet for longer than a month all of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate twitter accounts for reporting air quality information in China have been completely silent. This is a remarkable change.

I find it peculiar, at best, that I can't find any public explanation. So what's going on?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Scenes from Two Sections of Baisha Road in Jiangmen

One section of Baisha Road (白沙路) in Jiangmen has a much older feel than other sections. Below are four photos capturing a bit of the life on that stretch this afternoon. For a contrast, the fifth photo captures another section of Baisha Road.

Some people may question whether this is all really Baisha Road. A later post will highlight some of the apparent disagreement on that issue.


section of Baisha Road in Jiangmen with older buildings


section of Baisha Road in Jiangmen with older buildings


school children walking on Baisha Road in Jiangmen


people walking on Baisha Road in Jiangmen


section of Baisha Road in Jiangmen