Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The past several days have included quite a bit of traveling and I haven't been able to post anything lately.  Taxi, plane, bus, subway, and of course:

Ferry arriving at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province

Much more coming soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chinese Menu Innovation

It isn't uncommon in China for restaurants to have a very large number of dishes available in their menu.  When pictures are included this can mean the menu will also have a large number of pages.

Additionally, typically in China one person will order all of the dishes, which are shared, for the whole table.


Keeping track of all the dishes you may want to order can be problematic.  One way to deal with this is to simply pick dishes as you page through the menu.  In China, waitresses and waiters will usually stand at the table waiting while you decide what to order.

But maybe you want to decide on the full selection before announcing any choices.  In such cases I've found myself using my fingers to keep track of the pages with the most delicious looking items so I don't have to page through the whole menu again.  However, if ordering for many people I may quickly run out of fingers.

In Chengdu, Sichuan province I ate at this vegetarian restaurant:

Lotus on the Water -- a vegetarian restaurant in Chengdu

They had a rather extensive menu, but they also provided something else when they brought it to the table:

Colored clips and fake-meat dishes in the menu

The small clips were a simple and very useful method for remembering your selections.  It also helped to ensure that your order was properly communicated.  Sometimes low-tech innovation is all you need.

And here's more proof that it worked:

Spicy vegetarian beef and tea tree mushrooms

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

BlackBerry and Obama in China

After seeing some of the variety of mobile phones I've shared (see here and here) a reader and self-admitted BlackBerry fan, Pete, asked about BlackBerry's presence in China.

Recently, I saw BlackBerry's for sale at a large mobile phone store in Chengdu, Sichuan.

BlackBerry mobile phones for sale in Chengdu

Although it was just one small display amongst many others, it caught my eye since I hadn't seen BlackBerry's for sale in other cities I've recently featured, including Zhaotong and Zigong.  I can't provide any statistics but it's been very uncommon for me to see anyone using a BlackBerry (or other higher end phones, such as iPhone) in similar cities -- whether in my formal research (which I should note has focused on Chinese youth) or what I've seen being used in public.

The appearance of some Blackberry's in Chengdu is likely due to it being a relatively prosperous city, especially for Southwest China.

What most caught my attention, though, was how the phones were being promoted.  On the left side was this set of photos:

You may recognize a couple of the photos, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  Neither of them are too surprising given the NBA's popularity in China.  Kobe certainly has many ardent fans here and has been part of a number of marketing campaigns, including those for Nike.  That BlackBerry is using sports figures in its promotions may suggest something about how they are trying to position their products.

Regardless, on the right side were a few photos that you may find more intriguing.

Yes, that is Barack Obama giving a speech in one photo and apparently using a BlackBerry in another.  The views many Chinese have of Obama are likely more complex than those they may have of Kobe.  What is most important to note, though, is that it is very conceivable that the use of Obama's image would benefit BlackBerry's aims in China.

This isn't the first time for Obama (or a lookalike) to make an appearance in ads in China.

For example, I saw this ad in a shopping center in Shijiazhuang, Hebei.  Maybe it's not intended to be Obama but... well, you decide.

Look like Obama to you?

There was also an advertisement by KFC that involved Obama.  Although, apparently it only played in Hong Kong -- a market distinct in many ways from Mainland China.

For more about Obama in Chinese advertisements, including one not for BlackBerry, but BlockBerry, see here.

Now, let's do a thought experiment.

Would it be effective for BlackBerry's US sales to promote its products using this man?

Hu Jintao (source)

Would most Americans even recognize this photo as Hu Jintao and/or know that he is China's current leader?

If they did, would knowing he used a BlackBerry in any way impact their likelihood of buying a BlackBerry?  For the positive?

Even if Hu Jintao regularly used a BlackBerry I don't think his image will be appearing in any marketing campaigns in the US.  If BlackBerry decided otherwise, they may face the same fate as a failed PR campaign by China in the US half a year ago (see here).  Part of the problem was that the ads highlighted many "famous" Chinese who were complete unknowns in the US.

The familiarity Chinese have with a number of US figures and how they view such people is not a trivial issue and a sign of the United States' soft power in China.  The very different state of China's soft power in the US is very striking.  In a later post, I will discuss more about how this soft power may impact Chinese in the future, particularly in which online services they use.

Dragon Boat Festival in Chengdu

Yesterday was the Duanwu Festival, known to many as the Dragon Boat Festival.  In China it was marked by a 3 day holiday weekend.

I enjoyed the day off in Chengdu, Sichuan and celebrated the holiday in part by visiting the historic Qingyang Temple and two parks -- the Culture Park and Baihuatan Park.  Here are some scenes of the temple and of how some people spent their day at the parks:

The Eight Trigrams Pavilion

Candles burning

Chinese calligraphy

Many like to rub the goat for good luck.

Laundry drying

A bit more fearsome

The ba gua symbol used to represent the Tao and its pursuit

Tea and mahjong are an integral part of life in Sichuan province

Kids enjoying a ride at the park

More tea and mahjong

The closest thing I saw to dragon boats that day

Just relaxing

No day is complete without a butterfly fairy

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blocked in China Every Which Way


I was going to share part of a TV show in China.  The video was on which is sometimes referred to (particularly by those outside of China) as "The YouTube of China" because of its similarities to YouTube.  Also, YouTube, coincidentally like several other key foreign web sites that could be serious competitors to local companies, is blocked in China.

When I was nearly finished with the post I had a question for a friend in America.  So I sent the link to the video on Youku and... well, this is what she saw:

Youku screen saying sorry this video can only be streamed within Mainland China

I didn't notice it before cause I had viewed it prior to turning on my VPN (which makes me appear as if I am in the US).

So, I can't share it with you on YouTube in part because YouTube is blocked in China so the video wasn't posted there.  I can't share it with you on Youku because they block the video outside of Mainland China.

I understand that there are videos in the US which can't be viewed elsewhere due to licensing reasons and such.  It's just that this feels like a particularly ironic situation.

Anyways, this actually gives me an idea for Facebook if they ever come to China.  I'll save it for a post I'm working on.

I've also been noticing some peculiar behavior with the Great Firewall lately.  More on that later as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pandas in Sichuan

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province in China.  Their web site here provides a bit of information and has some exciting announcements, including that they are looking for a Chengdu Pambassador.  I'm not sure if you get diplomatic immunity with that.

The pandas seem to have a pretty good environment to do what they do best, which from what I saw is lazing around and eating.  There were numerous locations in a very lush environment to observe the pandas.

In one part of the base there is an educational video to watch on panda reproduction.  It could leave one wondering if pandas just aren't too concerned about continuing the species anymore.  While I'm certainly no panda expert, I wasn't surprised that breeding pandas has been so challenging when the videos show attempted matings occurring is dismal bare rooms with numerous humans looking on.  Even dinosaurs know you need a little romance.

Some additional facts about giant pandas:
  • English naturalist Chris Packham thinks efforts to save the giant panda are too expensive and the funds should be used to save other animals.  In a particularly colorful moment he said, "I'd eat the last panda if I could have the money we've spent on panda conservation back on the table for me to do more sensible things with."
  • Adult pandas prefer to spend their time alone.
  • Due to their low nutrition diet, pandas need to eat a lot and may defecate up to 40 times in a day.
  • Some tribal people in Sichuan didn't believe the panda had many medicinal purposes but they did use to use panda urine to melt swallowed needles.  The referenced book doesn't offer an explanation as to why swallowed needles were such a problem.
  • "despite there being a number of depictions of bears in Chinese art starting from its most ancient times, and the bamboo being one of the favorite subjects for Chinese painters, there are no known pre-20th-century artistic representations of giant pandas."
  • The common Chinese term for pandas, 熊猫 (xióng māo), literally translates as "bear cat".  This may be because while other bear species have round pupils, the panda's pupils have vertical slits like a cat.
I know some readers have been long awaiting some gratuitous panda photos from China.  I hope the following appeases you:

Open wide

The panda flute essemble

Making a fan?

Panda trio

Young panda cuddling with Mom

Pandas sharing their thoughts on the best bamboo vintages

"I saw a pile of bamboo this big!"

The very distantly related red pandas like to eat too

Another red panda checking things out

Making use of the swing

On the way up

Made it

The older pandas are often kept solitary.  No matter, that's how they like it and the bamboo tastes just as good.

The pandas don't seem to give much notice to the strange humans.  Though they've been known to attack humans in the wild "out of irritation".

A panda shocked to see its mating rituals are being observed.  Actually, it's a less than grand diorama in the museum.

A section of another diorama in the museum.  This one is about the panda's long history.
The parks loves to point out pandas are "living fossils".  Apparently these are some prehistoric panda watchers.

Of course, a panda park wouldn't be complete without panda souvenir shops.

That's all of the panda photos for now.  Goodbye!

Today and 22 years ago in China

Here are some people today, June 4, walking on a pedestrian street in Chengdu, Sichuan province:

Here are some people on this same date 22 years ago walking on a street in Beijing:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pondering in Pajamas

Sometimes you just need to take some time to think...

On Renmin Road in Chengdu, Sichuan province

...even if it means outside next to the street in your pajamas.

In some parts of Shanghai it is not uncommon to see people walking about in their pajamas.  This was the first time I noticed it in Chengdu, though, so it really caught my eye.

I wanted to ask the man what he was doing or thinking about but I also didn't want to disturb the moment.  Despite all the activity in the immediate environment he seemed so serene.

Maybe we should all spend a few moments outside in our pajamas deep in thought.

Friday, June 3, 2011

NyQuil, China Style

[UPDATE below]

I had a bit of a cold for a few days and I very much needed a good night's sleep.  I probably would have headed to a store and picked up some NyQuil if I were in the US.

However, in Chengdu, Sichuan province NyQuil was not an option so I realized some East meets West ingenuity may be in order.

So first, I picked up a box of this:

side of Tylenol Cold medicine box with Chinese writing

If you're not sure what that is, let me flip the box over:

side of Tylenol Cold medicine box with English writing

But some Tylenol Cold medicine on its own certainly wasn't equal to a good dose of NyQuil without a special key ingredient.  So, I added that ingredient by washing down the medicine with some of this:

bottle of baijiu
90 proof Baijiu

Baijiu is a very common distilled liquor in China and there are a wide range of qualities.  The above bottle set me back about 10 yuan (about US $1.50).

The verdict of this new combo?

Well, based on my single test run it had a bit more of a kick to it than NyQuil but it served its purpose well.  I had a very good night's sleep.

Maybe this is why I've never seen NyQuil in China.

[UPDATE: A reader kindly recommended against mixing alcohol and Tylenol.  I had unwisely assumed that if NyQuil could mix cold medication and alcohol that other mixes would be fine as well.  After checking herehere, and here I realized it isn't that simple.  Under certain conditions mixing Tylenol and alcohol could have very negative consequences.  Fortunately, given my health, infrequent drinking, and the low dosage of Tylenol I was very unlikely to have a problem.  See the previous links for more information.  I hereby add the warning: I do not recommend trying this at home (or elsewhere).]

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lakes, Rivers, and Vehicle Washing

In the post "Car Bombs and No-Smoking Ashtrays" I shared some thoughts on the challenges of creating useful symbols to communicate messages.

Near a lake in Chengdu, Sichuan province I saw a sign that doesn't use any symbols and yet still seems to not be achieving its desired effect.

Chinese sign posted on tree

In Chinese the sign says:

Which in English translates to:
It is strictly prohibited to wash vehicles here
Violators will be fined 50-100 RMB [the chinese currency, equivalent to about US $8 - $15]

The sign seems pretty clear to me in its intent and that it is not merely a suggestion.  However, on the other side of the sign I saw this:

man washing motorbike while woman watches

After he finished washing his bike it was only a few minutes before I saw this:

another man washing his motorbike while a young girl watches

To be clear, I did not witness the lady or the girl seen in the photos collect a fine from the two apparent violators.

I can't say how common this practice may be, but I can say that while I was in Jinghong, Yunnan province I saw a similar scene.

car parked in shallow part of a river

My friend and I were confused to see someone drive a car straight into the river.  After watching for several more minutes our questions were answered when we saw the car being washed.  Later, we witnessed others doing the same thing.

However, at least in this case I wasn't aware of any signs saying it was prohibited.  Though, I'm not sure it would have mattered.