Showing posts with label Cultural Differences. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultural Differences. Show all posts

Monday, September 3, 2018

Kindergarten in Shenzhen, China, Welcomes Students With a Pole Dancing Show

Advertisements for jobs and classes at a pole dancing school in Zhongshan
Advertisements for jobs and classes at a pole dancing school in Zhongshan, Guangdong (October 2017)

Six years ago I met a college student working part-time handing out printed advertisements for a pole dancing school in Changsha, China. Later, I met another student doing the same. After asking a few questions about the school, she invited me to take a look myself. Soon I was having an enlightening conversation with a manager during my first visit to a pole dancing school.

Since then, in a number of other cities in China I have come across signs of more pole dancing schools, and the activity's popularity has grown as a way to stay physically fit while enjoying oneself. Although pole dancing occurs in some locations, such as nightclubs, where it can more typically be found in the U.S., there are differences between the two countries in how it is perceived.

Still, when I first saw a remarkable tweet today from Michael Standaert, a freelance journalist based in Shenzhen, indicating his children's kindergarten had put on a pole dancing show for the young students on their first day of school, I wondered if it was some sort of joke.

He wasn't joking.

Below are most of Standaert's tweets on the topic, including videos of children watching pole dancing performances and some of his replies to others' comments. The tweets are from multiple threads and presented in the order they were tweeted. Read to the end to learn the school's decisive response.

It looks like opening day will be a bit different next year.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Buckets of Rice Abound: China Expert Gets It Wrong at a Chinese Restaurant in the U.S.

Although acknowledged by a seemingly growing number of people, China's immense diversity remains difficult to grasp. It is also easy to forget. A story in The Washington Post about a recent incident involving a group of diners and a big bowl of rice at the Chinese restaurant Peter Chang in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., touches upon this:
One of the diners, who had lived in Beijing for much of the 2000s, was surprised [when a server brought out a family-style bowl of rice] and made a comment to the server, saying "'Oh, you guys don't serve them in individual rice bowls?'," related another diner in the party, who asked to go by his first name, Matt.

The server told the group that when rice is served to three or more diners at Peter Chang, it comes in a large bowl. The former Beijing resident thought that was odd, considering the family-sized portion ran counter to the personalized bowls he encountered in China. The server then asked if the foursome would like individual rice bowls instead. They declined.

"She said, 'No, no, I can bring it for you,'" Matt related. "He said, 'No, no, don't worry about it. It's fine. Just wanted to let you know that's the way it's done in China. It's not a big deal.' . . . It just got really awkward."
Read the rest of story for the sarcasm and insults which followed and the resulting fallout. I will just focus on the claim made by Matt's friend. Had I had been there, I would have felt compelled to respond.

But before sharing what I would have said, I would like to take a slight detour and introduce a wonderful, spicy chicken dish (茶油鸡) I enjoyed in Hengyang, Hunan.

spicy chicken dish (茶油鸡) in Hengyang, Hunan

Looks delicious, right? It was. But what I really want to highlight is in another picture I hadn't expected to ever share here. It shows the dish in a more-consumed state.

partly finished meal with a metal bucket of rice in Hengyang

The photo also includes a family-sized portion of rice served in a shiny metal bucket. I wasn't surprised by it at all. And I didn't question the waitress about it.

How the rice was served at a nearby trendier restaurant did surprise me though.

trendy restaurant in Hengyang, Hunan

It is hard to see in the above photo, so I will share a cropped version.

couple sitting at a restaurant table with a rice cooker

At this restaurant, you can have your family-sized portion of rice served in a rice cooker which sat on your table. In my experience, this is rather unusual.

But what isn't unusual in Hengyang is restaurants serving family-sized portions of rice for diners to share. In fact, it is quite common. Part of a rice bucket can be seen in this photo of a tasty chicken dish at another restaurant in Hengyang.

spicy dish and greens with portion of a metal rice bucket visible

And at yet another restaurant, one can be seen in this photo of my favorite eel dish in Hengyang.

spicy eel dish with portion of a metal rice bucket in Hengyang, Hunan

Are family-sized portions of rice just a Hengyang thing? Nope, it is common elsewhere in Hunan province too. For example, here is a photo of a spicy chicken dish (earlier shared here) I enjoyed several times at a restaurant in Hunan's capital, Changsha.

spicy chicken dish next to a wooden bucket of rice in Changsha, Hunan

In this case, a lovely wooden bucket was used. They are common as well. Please don't complain to your server about these. Wooden buckets of rice are the best.

So are family-sized portions of rice just a Hunan thing? Again, no.

Here is a part of a meal I enjoyed over nine years ago in Wuhan, Hubei.

assorted dishes and a big glass bowl of rice at a restaurant in Wuhan, China

In this case, a big glass bowl for the family-sized portion of rice worked just fine.

But the glory of wooden buckets shouldn't be forgotten, so here is one with a lot of rice at an incredible vegetarian restaurant in Guiyang, Guizhou.

vegetarian dish in front of a wooden bucket of rice in Guiyang, Guizhou

At another restaurant in Guiyang, this one with meat on the menu, a big metal bowl sufficed for the family-sized portion of rice.

dry hot pot in front of a big metal bowl of rice in Guiyang, Guizhou

But Peter Chang isn't famed for serving the local-style food found in Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou. Instead, it is described as an "authentic Sichuan outpost". I happen to be a big fan of Sichuan-style (Szechuanese) food. On that note, here is a rabbit dish I ate in Zigong, Sichuan.

rabbit meat dish in front of a wooden bucket of rice in Zigong, Sichuan

Now that is a stunning wooden bucket (with rice).

Here is another rabbit dish I ate in Zigong.

rabbit meat dish near a big metal bowl of rice in Zigong, Sichuan

Both of these meals in Zigong came with family-sized portions of rice. Like rabbit meat, this is common there.

I am not familiar with the details of Peter Chang's menu, but many Sichuan restaurants outside of Sichuan province base their menu on the style of food found in its capital Chengdu.

So here is a dish I enjoyed during my most recent visit to Chengdu.

spicy dish next to a wooden bucket of rice in Chengdu, Sichuan

I am not sure whether this is a rabbit or a chicken dish, but there was definitely plenty of rice in that beautiful wooden bucket.

Undoubtedly, many places in China serve "personalized bowls" of rice. In my experience, region is one key factor affecting the likelihood of receiving a family-sized portion of rice at a restaurant in China. Other factors matter as well. Even in a city such as Hengyang where family-sized portions of rice are especially common, single servings in small bowls are typical in some environments — for example, cafeteria-style restaurants.

I don't know the percentage of restaurants in China which serve family-sized portions of rice, and a guess wouldn't be very meaningful. But I am confident it is significant number. I don't take photos of every meal I eat, when I do photograph a meal I rarely capture how the rice is served, and in preparing this post I only searched through a small percentage of my photos for relevant examples. In other words, these photos represent just a tiny portion of the many times in China I have been served a family-sized portion of rice. This is all the more remarkable, since in a majority of the above examples I was eating alone and would sometimes point out I only needed a small bowl of rice. But the bucket or big bowl of rice would still come.

So if I had been at that table in Virginia, I would have asked Matt's friend what in the world he was talking about and pointed out that serving family-sized portions of rice is certainly another "way it's done in China", particularly in a place such as Sichuan. I would be curious to learn about his own experience in China to better understand how he came to his conclusion. Perhaps we would discuss how China's "different colors" trip up even the people who may know it best.

And hopefully it would have been possible at some point for me to say "pass that authentic and awesome wooden bucket of rice".

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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Nian Li Festival in Maoming, China

Two days ago on Sunday, as I enjoyed a bowl of dumplings along an alley in Maoming, Guangdong province, I heard traditional Chinese music slowly growing louder and louder. Kids nearby were clearly excited and soon a Gods Parade passed by.

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

musician playing on a large tricycle cart on Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

The parade was part of the Nian Li Festival (年例节). Nian Li is a local holiday celebrated in Maoming (and perhaps Zhanjiang) and it can't be found elsewhere, including Maoming's neighbor to the east, Yangjiang. According to, during the Nian Li Festival people make sacrifices to gods, pray for good luck, and feast with relatives and friends. The Gods Parade and entertaining programs are also part of the festival.

After watching the parade pass, I decided a change in my day's plans was in order. So I finished my dumplings and tracked down where the parade had made a temporary stop. There I found a scene enshrouded in smoke from exploding firecrackers.

table with food and incenses for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

food for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

After the air cleared, people prayed.

people praying outdoors for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

Others placed many more firecrackers to set off.

man with large roll of red firecrackers

Some were curious about my presence since there aren't many foreigners in Maoming. I met a number of people, including a few of the parade's flag carriers.

three girls in Maoming, China

After the prayers finished, it was time to line up.

girls holding flags during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

And they headed to another destination. I was told they went to 11 in total.

man pulling one of the gods for a Gods Parade in Maoming, China

The parade had occasional onlookers.

people watching a Gods Parade in Maoming, China

Once at the next destination, they set up.

people preparing a location for prayer during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

And things went mostly as before.

god figures facing a table of food during the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

This time, though, one kid was super excited about the fireworks.

boy excitedly running by a long strip of firecrackers in Maoming, China

Again the parade continued on, sometimes stopping traffic.

Gods Parade for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

people carrying multicolored striped flags across a street in Maoming, China

After a long walk, we arrived at the final destination, a temple.

temple in Maoming, China

A variety of rituals took place. In one a man exhibited some fine attack skills.

rituals at a temple for the Nian Li Festival (年例节) in Maoming, China

To conclude, after a set of exceptionally loud explosions, the gods which had been paraded around were returned to the temple.

people taking the enclosures off god figures in Maoming, China

man carrying a god figure in Maoming, China

Later in the evening there there was a Chinese opera performance on a stage set up next to the temple. I couldn't make it that night, but I did catch some of the following night's performance.

For me, the holiday was another chance to experience traditional Chinese culture and see another example of how China can differ from one place to the next. There's always more to discover. Even if this is the first mention of the Nian Li Festival you've ever seen, you already know more than I did before I happened to be eating dumplings at the right place at the right time.