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Showing posts with label Localization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Localization. Show all posts

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos in China: A Taste Test, Combo Version Included

Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos
Two spicy new Oreo flavors


Nearly a month ago I first heard about the introduction of two new Oreo flavors in China — Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi. The news provoked some strong reactions in the Western world, and several of my own friends in the U.S. shared stories about it. One wrote, "No!! Stop it!! What did the Chinese ever do to you, Nabisco??"

Nabisco probably can't be blamed (or commended) for this one though. While Nabisco produces Oreos in the U.S. for its parent company Mondelēz International, it doesn't make them for China and many other countries in the world.

Initially I had hopes for the Wasabi Oreos due to positive experiences in the past with chocolate with spicy red pepper. Hot chicken wings seemed rather peculiar, But then a friend reminded me that there is chocolate in the sauce for chicken molé, and that is good stuff. She had also just made chocolate chicken chili, which is now on my list of things to try. I now had higher hopes for the Hot Chicken Wing Oreos.

Additionally, the new flavors were of interest given my interests in how Western companies localize their products and services in China, and I have tried other Oreo flavors in China in the past. For example, six years ago in Shaoxing I tried Peach-Grape Oreos. They weren't my thing, but presumably other people feel differently because they are still available. Then three years ago in Hengyang I tried Lemon Cheesecake Oreos. I liked them a lot more, and they're still around too.

So I was ready to try the new flavors. However, there was a problem. After checking more than five large supermarkets in Ganzhou — including a Walmart — I came up empty. They all sold Oreos, but they didn't have these two flavors. Although I occasionally revisited the supermarkets, I expected I would have to wait much longer or switch cities before finding Oreo spiciness.

Recently, I left Ganzhou and am now in Zhuhai. Yesterday, I went to a Vanguard supermarket and finally found the new flavors. But they only had giant-sized boxes, and that was far many more Oreos than I wanted. After that I went to a Walmart. Their selection was rather uninspiring, and they didn't have the new flavors. So then I headed to the place I had thought would be my best bet here — Carrefour, a French hypermarket chain.

Yes, the Carrefour in Jida, Zhuhai, indeed had a wide selection of Oreos.

selection of Oreos at a Carrefour in Zhuhai


And yes, my search was over. Soon I had two fine boxes of spicy Oreos in my possession.

Boxes of Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos


Each box of 10 Oreos had a price of 5.8 yuan (about U.S. 85 cents). I tried sharing my excitement with several other people shopping at Carrefour. As far as I could tell, they didn't understand why I was so happy, but they at least seemed happy I was happy.

Now, a look at some of the info on the boxes:

Nutritional information for Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos


Based on this information, the Oreos have equal nutritional value. So being on a diet probably wouldn't affect a choice of one over the other. Also, the Oreos are made in Suzhou — a city in Jiangsu province bordering Shanghai. Suzhou has many canals and presumably many Oreos as well.

Opening the boxes reveal they both held two pouches of cookies.

pouches of Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos


If I didn't like them, I could easily give half away. If I did like them, half would stay fresh longer. I call that a win-win.

And finally, a look at the innards:

opened Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos
Note: some creme missing due to imperfect wafer separation


Now the moment we have all (or at least I have) been waiting for: the test taste.

I thought about this a lot (too much), and I will start with the Hot Chicken Wing Oreos. Prelude: a sip of milk, of course.

Here we go . . .

Huh, um . . . it's more like a hot pepper flavor Oreo. Or maybe more of a barbecue potato chip Oreo. I feel like it is flavor-shifting, but at no point do I taste a chicken flavor. It is . . . different. I like it more than the Peach-Grape Oreos. I'm not at all a fan of the Peach-Grape.

Now I will just try some of the filling on its own. That is . . . odd stuff. It isn't sweet. I liked how it worked with the chocolate wafers much better than on its own. If I had tried the filling without knowing what it is, I think I still wouldn't know what it is. Actually, I'm not sure I know what it is regardless.

By the way, it has been a long time since I have eaten Oreos of any flavor.

OK, now another sip of milk before trying a Wasabi Oreo.

Here we go again . . .

Wow. Just wow. Unlike the Hot Chicken Wings Oreos, there's no mystery here. This was undoubtedly a Wasabi Oreo. The kick isn't as strong as the wasabi that comes with your sashimi, but the flavor is clear. Now just the filling . . . Again, not sweet, but I wouldn't use it with sashimi. Like before, I prefer it with the wafers more than on its own.

Finally, I will try something the Oreo folks might not condone. I will eat half a Hot Chicken Wing Oreo and half a Wasabi Oreo at the same time.

Here we go . . .

Hey . . . that was a zillion times better than I expected (note: I had expected a near complete disaster). And it tasted like nothing I have tasted before.

The final verdict (for today): The Hot Chicken Wing Oreos were better than I expected. I don't find them gross, though I can't recommend the creme on its own. The Wasabi Oreos fit with my expectations, and I could imagine they have addictive potential. I wish I could say more about the improvised combo version, but I can't. It's like seeing a new color for the first time.

In short, while I expect some people wouldn't like either of these Oreo flavors even if they gave them a fair try, I definitely can now see how some people will like one, both, or even the combo.

I don't think I'm giving away my remaining Oreos.

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.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

McDonald's Brings Out the Prosperity Burger in Taiwan

Last night in Taipei I had local food on my mind and had no plans to eat at a McDonald's. But as I passed by one of their restaurants something caught my eye. It couldn't be.

It was.

The glorious Prosperity Burger, a special offering from McDonald's for the Lunar New Year holiday, was beckoning. Curiously, the burger is unavailable in mainland China, where McDonald's typically offers other holiday food items that change from year to year, such as the Year of Luck Burger (not at all my thing) or shrimp burgers (meh). I knew I'd be soon departing Taiwan in the near future and wasn't sure I'd be in any of the other areas that typically offers the Prosperity Burger, such as Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, or Indonesia, before the holiday ends.

So I changed plans and went inside the McDonald's to examine the options.

Lunar New Year special menu at McDonald's in Taipei


Last year in Macau I personally found that adding a hash brown "didn't do much for the burger except add intense caloric mass while diluting the taste of the Prosperity Sauce", so I avoided those options this time. That left a choice of either beef or chicken. I ordered the beef version, and very quickly I had a Prosperity Burger box in front of me.

McDonald's Prosperity Burger box in Taipei


Even better, as promised there was a Prosperity Burger inside.

McDonald's Prosperity Beef Burger in Taiwan


So black-peppery good.

If you've never had one, you're not just missing out on a delightful fast food holiday treat, you're also missing out on ensuring you aren't salt-deprived for the day.

nutritional information for the special Lunar New Year burgers at McDonald's in Taiwan


According to the McDonald's Taiwan website, the beef Prosperity Burger has 1320 mg of sodium. In comparison, the website indicates a Big Mac has 880 mg of sodium. Notably, the McDonald's U.S. website indicates a Big Mac has 950 mg. Perhaps this difference is due to Americans preferring more salt. Or perhaps this is due to Taiwan having a lower daily value for sodium (less than 2000 mg) than the US (less than 2400 mg). Whatever the case, the Prosperity Burger will have you well on your way to blasting through your sodium ceiling. You're really set if you layer on a hash brown or add a side of fries.

Regarding fries, I didn't bother getting any since curly fries, which have been part of the McDonald's Lunar New Year menu in other areas, weren't available. I suppose there is both good and bad in that.

And if you're still not convinced to try a Prosperity Burger, perhaps this McDonald's Taiwan promotional video, which emphasizes the hash brown option, will do the trick:


Anyway, I'm glad I was lucky enough to enjoy a Prosperity Burger this year. And I managed to still include a Taiwanese treat last night, though I had to head down a nearby alley. The small bowl of noodles with large intestines, not available at McDonald's even during holidays, was great as well. I don't want to know how much sodium they included though.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Apple & Xiaomi, Red & Blue in China

iPhone7 Red advertisement in Zhuhai


Like elsewhere in the world, Apple sells red iPhones in China. Unlike elsewhere in the world, Apple's promotions for the phones make no mention of their connection to (RED) — a charity that directs contributions to be "invested in HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, with a focus on countries with high prevalence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV". In addition to Chinese sensitivities regarding AIDS and (RED) displaying a picture of the Dalai Lama on its Instagram page, Josh Horwitz suggested another possible reason for Apple's notable omission:
Overseas charities like (RED) occupy a precarious position in China. A law enacted in January requires all foreign NGOs operating in the country to find government sponsors, register with the police, and submit yearly reports on their financing, plus jump through other hurdles. The regulations, which remain frustratingly vague, have sparked fear among nonprofits in China. Some worry that the government might use the rules as a pretext to kick them out of the country.

Shawn Shieh, a Hong Kong-based expert on Chinese civil society, says it’s possible Apple’s partnership with (Red) could be seen by authorities in China as incompatible with parts of the law.
Apple hasn't publicly clarified the issue. In any case, it isn't hard to spots the localized promotions for the phone at stores in China.

And now at some Guangzhou metro stations, and presumably many other places in China, it isn't hard to spot signs of a blue phone recently released in China — in fact, only in China.

Mi Note 3 advertisement in a Guangzhou metro station


Mi Note 3 advertisement in a Guangzhou metro station


Xiaomi's Mi Note 3 is also available in black though. And it has no stated connection to any charities. Instead, Xiaomi promotes it as a great phone for selfies. In a review of the phone, Mitja Rutnik describes some of the hardware and software which may lead to a more beautiful you, at least in your selfies:
With a powerful 16MP front facing camera, it is clear that Xiaomi is really trying to capture the imagination of its beautify-addicted user base, as it was clear in their marketing for the phone. Crazy video packages and gorgeous models aside, the phone uses face scanning to find the different zones of face and provide more accurate (if that is even the word to use) changes to the user’s visage. Eyes can be pinpointed for enlargement, the chin can be singled out for easier slimming, and the cheeks can be airbrushed to remove spots, to name a few options.

There are even different settings in order to add what could be described as “virtual makeup” to take it to the next level. Xiaomi even made a big deal about their new AI Beautify working for men just as well as women.
Even though it makes less explicit mention of color, Xiaomi's marketing may be deliberately playing off people's awareness of the red iPhone, particularly in the Mi Note 3 ad with strong contrasting blue and red colors. In any case, at the moment both Apple and Xiaomi likely face more direct competition from other companies, such as Huawei and Oppo. More about those companies and their promotions, colorful or not, another day.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Two Examples of Localization With Differing Results: Starbucks and Uber

Multinational companies grant vary degrees of independence to regional teams. One reason for increased independence is to enable the company to best adjust to local conditions. One piece about how this can work out and one piece about how this can go awry:

1. Keeping with the recent Starbucks theme here . . . Russell Flannery shares some thoughts from Belinda Wong, the country CEO for Starbucks in China, about the freedom they have to localize the Starbucks experience there:
Overall, the localization effort seems more subtle than overwhelming, making its approach "similar but not so similar" to what the company does in the U.S., Wong says. "I have to think about where you live, where you work and how you travel," she says. "This has to speak to you and not to folks in other countries. I like the fact that we are not the kind of the company that enforces what has to be done in the U.S. to be in China, and I think that forms part of why we are successful in China: because we are able to make sure that everything is developed in China with the Chinese consumers in mind."
2. In a in-depth story of how Uber knowingly rented unsafe recalled vehicles to many of its drivers in Singapore (link briefly goes through Twitter*), Douglas MacMillan and Newley Purnell detail how the desire to localize headed in the wrong direction:
Singapore in 2013 was Uber’s first Asian city, a beachhead for expansion. Uber however struggled to find enough drivers, documents show. The cost of owning a car there is among the highest in the world.

Uber created a unit, Lion City Rentals Pte Ltd., or LCR, in February 2015 to rent Uber-owned cars to drivers for about $50 a day. Buying a fleet of cars was new for Uber, whose business model relies on not owning assets. . . .

Rather than buy most new vehicles from authorized Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. dealers, Uber’s LCR unit bought new sedans and SUVs from more than a dozen auto importers, the emails show. These small dealers operate in the gray market—a legal channel outside manufacturers’ authorized networks—where safety, service and legal contracts are difficult to enforce. The Singapore team calculated it would be able to buy cars for 12% less than at authorized Honda dealers, according to the emails.
The fascinating piece captures how things went downhill from there in a variety of ways.



*I used a Twitter generated link because the Wall Street Journal offers free access to its articles if visited from there and some other sites as well. Otherwise, a paywall may appear for some readers. I could achieve the same effect by embedding a tweet here. I will share some thoughts about this practice in a later post. The tweet that generated the link is here. The direct link to the article is here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

China's Struggles With English: A Starbucks "Grond Open" in Bengbu

While signs of Starbucks localizations aren't hard to spot in China, such as its red bean scones, one sign displayed on the opening day for the second Starbucks in Bengbu probably isn't how Starbucks wants to adapt in China.



"Grond Open" presumably resulted from a combination of spelling and grammatical errors in translating the Chinese phrase below "盛大开业", which is typically translated as "Grand Opening". When I asked staff about the sign, one young woman told me it had been made by a local company in Bengbu. While them using a local printer doesn't surprise me, with Starbucks opening more than a store per day on average in China I would still expect them to use a design distributed by Starbucks' central corporate office in China. But perhaps displaying a grand opening sign isn't standard and Starbucks corporate hadn't planned for a store to take this route. The last time I saw a Starbucks store on its first day was over six years ago in Kunming, so I can't say from personal experience whether grand opening signs are common or not. A quick online search didn't turn up any similar examples from Starbucks elsewhere in China.

English mistakes like "Grond Open" on professionally made signs, displays, menus, etc. are rather easy to find in China, and the Chinese government wants to reduce their prevalence. It seems fair to have higher expectations in this regard for U.S. based chains, particularly one as successful, prominent, and internationally experienced as Starbucks. That even they slip up suggests it might be a while before such mistakes become a rare sight.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Lunar New Year Burger Wars in China: Prosperity Burgers, Shrimp Burgers, and (Good) Luck Burgers

Advertisements in Zhongshan, Guangdong, for Burger King's and McDonald's special Lunar New Year burgers

The Lunar New Year in China not only brings a change of zodiac symbols, it also brings the McDonald's Prosperity Burger. Although available in Hong Kong and Macau, this special holiday treat mystifyingly remains unavailable at McDonald's in mainland China.

This year I found myself in Macau at the right time. Normally the idea of eating at McDonald's in Macau, a city with wonderful Macanese and Portuguese delights, would seem sacrilegious. I made an exception this time, though I didn't give up a meal for it. Instead, I took one for the team and had two dinners one night. You're welcome.

Upon entering the Macanese McDonald's, I saw there were four Prosperity Burger options — a choice of beef or chicken and with or without a hash brown.

sign for the Prosperity Burger options at a McDonald's in Macau


Curious to try something new, I went with the chicken & hash brown option.

chicken and hash browns Prosperity Burger


It only took me one bite before asking "Why?" The addition of a hash brown wasn't disastrous, but it also didn't do much for the burger except add intense caloric mass while diluting the taste of the Prosperity Sauce. It struck me as an uninspired way to try to mix things up. Next time, I am definitely going for an option sans hash brown. It will have to wait until next year though.

But that's not the end to this new year burger story. Not even close.

Although the Prosperity Burger mysteriously remains unavailable in mainland China, McDonald's there has a different set of burgers available for the Lunar New Year. For an intro, I will hand it over to Angela Doland in Ad Age:
McDonald's China just introduced intriguing new products for Chinese New Year: the Emperor's Best Shrimp Burger, the Empress' Pineapple Burger and a beverage that translates, loosely, as Smiling Concubine's Lychee Bubble Tea. Names like that beg for an explanation.

To build buzz about the unexpected ingredients, a campaign from Leo Burnett Shanghai tapped into China's passion for historical TV costume dramas. The shows, such as "The Empress of China," starring actress Fan Bingbing, feature elaborate costumes, tales of love and palace intrigue. Playing on that pop culture phenomenon, the agency did a series of surprising cartoon ads with a historical theme, which rolled out on digital channels including ubiquitous mobile app WeChat.

It can be dicey for Western brands to be too literal when referring to Chinese culture, but this approach works because . . .
Read Doland's piece for her thoughts on the promotion's effectiveness and the story behind it. Campaign Brief Asia has a review of three videos which were part of the promotion.

Although I was excited to try the two burger, I ran into an unexpected problem. Many McDonald's I checked didn't have either of the burgers. A couple of days ago at a McDonald's in Zhongshan with only the shrimp burger, an employee handing out flyers featuring the burgers told me they had sold out of the chicken burger at least half a month ago. And another McDonald's confirmed their lack of the items was due to selling out.

flyer for the Lunar New Year special items at McDonald's in mainland China


Regardless of the difficulty of finding the burgers, street-side advertisements for them are still easy to find in Zhongshan. I don't know whether this McDonald's promotion was wildly successful or they only prepared a very minimal number of burgers, but either way there a bit of a problem here.

I never did find anywhere still serving the chicken pineapple burger, but one recent day in Zhongshan I sat down for the shrimp burger set meal.



The curly fries must have been sitting out for a bit and were room temperature. If you imagine sugar stuffed into sugar with lychee flavoring in water, then you have an idea of the lychee bubble tea.

And the burger . . .

McDonald's Lunar New Year shrimp burger in China


A deep-fried shrimp patty topped with deep-fried shrimp is a bit more deep-fried than I would usually go, but I must say it was decent and reasonably shrimpy. I wouldn't need to do it again, but I'm glad I tried it. I would put it above the chicken hash brown Prosperity Burger but not the original Prosperity Burger.

That is all I have for McDonald's, but Steven Schwankert had better luck than I did and reviewed both mainland China burgers for The Beijinger along with explaining the puns in their Chinese names.

But we're still not done, because Burger King is in the new year burger action too with two portobello mushroom burgers.

advertisement for Burger King's portobello mushroom lunar new year burgers in China


The promotion includes the mixed-language pun "菇大 Luck". "菇" means "mushroom". "大" means "big". And together their sound "gūdà" roughly sounds like the English word "good". In case people who know a bit of English miss the pun, Burger King helpfully puts "good" in parentheses above the relevant Chinese characters. On some signs Burger King provides the English names "Grilled Portobello Chicken Burger" and "Grilled Portobello Beef Burger". But I am going to go with "(Good) Luck Burgers".

With that out of the way . . .

In Zhuhai I met my first (Good) Luck Chicken Burger.



A look inside revealed two tomato slices along with the other ingredients.



The results?

Folks, this was one of the best fast food sandwiches I have ever had. Honestly, I was rather surprised. The portobello mushroom wasn't huge, but it was hearty and complemented the grilled chicken well. This is a burger I would happily eat again.

So later at a Burger King in Zhongshan, I figured I had to give the (Good) Luck Beef Burger a try. After opening up the burger, I realized my experience this time might differ.



There was only one tomato slice this time — a travesty. The positioning suggested another was to be added but for whatever reason it didn't happen. Also, the mushroom was significantly smaller than the meat patty.

I found myself less thrilled by this burger. Not only did it have the previously mentioned deficits, but I found the beef and mushroom mix to be less enthralling, though not displeasing, to my tastebuds. I am not sure what to make of that since I enjoy beef and mushrooms together in other dishes. Anyway, I would definitely go with the chicken version next time. Hopefully they don't cheat me on the tomato slices again.

Burger King has other special items available for the new year, such as their Salmon Nuggets with Cheese & Pasta.



It isn't something I would expect from Burger King but intriguing. I felt I had dedicated enough of my meals to fast food for this year's holiday though.

So to wrap up, the (Good) Luck Chicken Burger won this year's fast food Lunar New Year burger prize for me. And all of the burgers far surpassed the Year of Fortune Burger and Year of Luck Burger I subjected myself to two years ago at McDonald's in Chongqing. Kudos to McDonald's for not bringing them back this year. Somehow I missed out on a good old regular Prosperity Burger this year, but I take consolation in having enjoyed some portobellos.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sales, Santas, Apples, Prayer, Police, Beer, Devil Horns, and Balloon Attacks: Some Christmas Sights in Wenzhou, China

Signs of the holiday were easy to spot the day before Christmas in Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang on China's central east coast. In many ways, they were similar to what I had seen previous years in Wuhan, in Changsha, in Putian, and in Zhangzhou.

For example, in a central commercial district, there were numerous holiday promotions, including one with a "I have a dream!" theme at the Kaitai Department Store.

"I have a dream!" department store Christmas promotion sign in Wenzhou


And several stores I passed had people dressed up as skinny Santas.

young Chinese woman dressed up as Santa


But I had never seen as many Santas together as I did at the Wuma Pedestrian Street. A parade of them kept coming . . .

Santas walking down the Wuma Pedestrian Street in Wenzhou


And coming . . .

more Santas


And coming . . .

man more Santas in Wenzhou


And coming . . .

more people dressed up as Santa


And coming . . .

even more people dressed up as Santa


And coming.

person in Santa outside looking at their mobile phone while walking


One of the Santas handed me a gift.

Christmas apple box in Wenzhou, China


As soon as I had the box in my hand I realized it contained a Christmas apple — a tradition in China for Christmas Eve.

Christmas apple in Wenzhou, China


The Santas and their Christmas apples were part of a promotion for a dental clinic. I didn't get my teeth whitened, but the apple was good.

Christmas apples were for sale elsewhere, including at the Washi Lane wet market.

Christmas apples for sale at the Washi Lane wet market in Wenzhou


The Christmas holiday takes on a special significance in Wenzhou and elsewhere in Zhejiang due to recent forced demolitions of churches or removal of their crosses. I didn't seek out any churches, but I did stumble upon a small one on an alley off of Dasheng Lane.

Grace Church in Wenzhou, China


When I first passed by I noticed two men wearing unmarked uniforms standing nearby. Other people greeting guests encouraged me to come inside. They said photography was fine and pointed out the church's ceiling.

sign on church ceiling with words "Jesus Christ Love You"


There were approximately 150 people seated inside. I stuck around for a couple of songs.

youth singing inside a church in Wenzhou, China


As I left, I noticed an unhappy-looking policeman talking to the greeters outside. I didn't stick around to listen. When I passed by the area later, the church was still active and a policeman was keeping an eye on things nearby. It was a far different scene from the 30+ police I saw at a larger church in Quanzhou four years ago.

Not far away on Shuomen Old Street, the Hello K.T. bar had special Christmas all-you-can-drink deals.

Hello K.T. Bar in Wenzhou, China


After not drinking all I could drink, I saw two people who were wearing a type of headgear I had seen a number of others wearing for the holiday.

group of young men, one wearing a head band with Santas and another wearing devil horns

Yes, those are devil horns. No, I don't know how wearing them became a thing. My guess is their red color simply fits in. And lights. It is worth pointing out that for most people in China Christmas is mostly a chance to have some fun and there is no religious meaning attached.

To top things off that day, I stopped by a food fair at Wenzhou's European City.

food fair at European City in Wenzhou


A number of the booths were decorated for the holiday.

sign with words "god bless you! happy everytime, everywhere and everything. yourfried"


And a few people there were full of holiday spirit.

man wearing Santa cap smoking and looking at a mobile phone


Most of the holiday spirit I saw on Christmas day was just more Santas and sales. But at the Wuma Pedestrian Street I saw my favorite Christmas holiday sight this year: two dressed-up children enthusiastically attacking their amused mother (I presume) with weapons made from balloons, a stick, and a giant inflatable pencil. They happily agreed to pose for an action photo.

boy and girl wearing Santa and Mrs. Clause outfits pretending to hold weapons aimed at their mother


Maybe this will give rise to a new holiday tradition in China.