Sunday, July 15, 2012

Two Sides of Shanghai's Huangpu River

On Friday I had an late afternoon appointment that brought me to a taller building in Shanghai's central Huangpu district. To provide a quick look at some more areas of Shanghai (earlier posts: an introduction; Xiaonanmen; Xuhui district; Jing'an district; Hongkou district) I will share the view it provided across the Huangpu River to Lujiazui in Pudong district and just a few other photos from that overcast day:

Office with a view

On the other side of the pedestrian bridge in the photo above is a station for a form of public transportation often neglected by visitors to Shanghai -- a ferry. But before going there I visited a nearby collection of restaurants and bars called the Cool Docks. It includes refurbished buildings from Shanghai's past. Here is some of of what can be found in a section that is behind the main scenes:

3 people and a cat

Although there was plenty to keep one entertained, the nearby ferry beckoned:

A Shanghai ferry

There appears to be more stations in the ferry network than the first time I rode one in Shanghai about 7 years ago. But the route I took to Lujiazui still costs only 2 RMB (about 30 U.S. cents).

On the other side of the Huangpu River I was soon greeted by this sight in Lujiazui:

The heights of Shanghai

The buildings on the left are two of the tallest in the world. The building on the right will eventually tower over them (see here for a view from the building in the middle).

Finally, to balance off all of those earlier photos of unauthorized Apple stores, here is a photo including the entrance to one of the genuine Apple Stores in China.

Superbrand Mall on the far left, circular pedestrian bridge in the center, and Oriental Pearl Tower towards the right

The photo was taken from a rooftop patio at the Shanghai IFC mall -- one of the numerous buildings that did not exist in this rapidly developing area when I first came to Shanghai.

That is all. Soon I will share some photos from another district in Shanghai that will provide quite a contrast to the above scenes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eric Schmidt's Comments on China: The Risks for Google

In the previous post, I discussed recent comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt that link freedom of expression to economic strength. One could worry that Schmidt's claims, such as those about the inevitability of the "political and social liberalization that will fundamentally change the nature of the Chinese government's relationship to its citizenry", could be seen as threatening to the Chinese government and create more problems for Google (more on Schmidt's comments by Josh Rogin here). However, although the Chinese government is very unlikely to be pleased or respond positively, I am not convinced that Schmidt made a mistake in publicly expressing his views. The following provides some of the reasons I feel this way (not intended to be a full review of what is a complex situation with many layers).

What type of risks do Schmidt's comments present for Google?

Some of Google's major services, such as YouTube, are already blocked in China. Even many of Google's services that are "available" face regular interference from China's Great Firewall. Schmidt mentioned a reason he has little optimism for improvements in the near future:
"It's probably the case where the Chinese government will continue to make it difficult to use Google services," said Schmidt. "The conflict there is at some basic level: We want that information [flowing] into China, and at some basic level the government doesn't want that to happen."
Despite the challenges for their online services, according to Google it "continues to thrive" in China (video of Bloomberg interview with Daniel Alegre, president of Google's Asia-Pacific division, here). One of the brighter spots for Google in China is selling global ads to Chinese companies. It seems unlikely these sales would be impacted by Schmidt's comments (Bill Bishop has made this point as well). What happens to Google's services in China has no effect on its services elsewhere in the world. Chinese companies' desire for ad space in foreign markets will likely only increase. Similar to what I discussed in my post last year comparing Google Maps and Baidu Map, Google can offer a world's worth more than any Chinese online service.

Given the already existing problems for Google services in China, a bleak outlook in the near future for the change Google apparently awaits, and at least one of Google's key sources of revenue in China not likely being affected, Google does not have as much to lose in the short term as it could first seem.

The possible benefits to Google if China "strikes back"

Even if China decides to retaliate against Google's online services in China, it could still be to Google's net advantage, particularly in the long term. Some people will positively view Schmidt's comments as evidence that Google is willing to forsake profits in order to hold true to more idealistic aims. Such a view could be strengthened or further considered if China reacts in an obvious manner.

Although any immediate benefit may be most clearly seen in markets such as the U.S., where railing against China's censorship is well received by many, there could also be benefits in China. To be clear, many in China will never see Schmidt's comments. Regardless, the comments can serve as a reminder or signal to a valuable segment of Google's users (and potential users) in China who do hear them and are sympathetic to Schmidt's beliefs and hopes (see the previous post for how tying freedom of expression to China's economy could be relevant in this regards). Schmidt's comments can be yet another drop in the bucket to let people feel "Google still cares". If censorship eventually fails in China as Schmidt expects, Google's consistent strong voice on this topic could provide it with a core block of users/supporters serving as a valuable seed for future growth.

A long term evaluation required

As I wrote before, one of Schmidt's likely hopes is for Google to be prepared for the changes that he believes are inevitable but may not occur in the immediate future. His comments and Google's recent actions suggest they are thinking long term, particularly in regards to the online services they offer (or wish to offer) in China. Although there are other points to consider (for example, I have not touched on Android nor on other ways the Chinese government could respond), the above points suggest there is reason to believe that not only will Schmidt's comments not cause Google great harm, but they could even provide benefits.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Street Market in Kaili, Guizhou

A follow up to my post about about some of Hillary Clinton's and Eric Schmidt's recent comments is taking longer than I expected. Instead of rushing it, I will for the moment share a scene of a place far away, both in terms of both distance and economic development, from the Shanghai scenes I have recently shared.

A street market in Kaili that is most certainly on the street

Although the city of Kaili in China's southwestern Guizhou province proved to be interesting in several respects, my primary reason for being there was to visit some of the surrounding ethnic minority villages. To see a side of China that is even "further" from Shanghai than Kaili, take a look at a post of some photos I shared last year -- China Scenes: Villages Around Kaili, Guizhou.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hillary Clinton and Eric Schmidt on the Economics of Freedom in China

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently made separate but similar comments that China needs to provide more freedoms for its people. There is much to mull over, and I recommend reading both of the pieces I reference below and Clinton's speech. In future posts I will soon cover other issues, but I will now briefly focus on a common theme in what Clinton and Schmidt said -- the belief that free expression is critical to China's continued economic development.

Jane Perlez in The New York Times shared some of what Clinton recently said while in Mongolia, a young democracy on China's northern border:
“You can’t have economic liberalization without political liberalization eventually,” [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] said. “It’s true that clamping down on political expression or maintaining a tight grip on what people read, say or see can create an illusion of security. But illusions fade — because people’s yearning for liberty don’t.”

In a dig at China as it wrestles with an economic downturn after a decade of double-digit growth, Mrs. Clinton added, “Countries that want to be open for business but closed to free expression will find that this approach comes at cost: it kills innovation and discourages entrepreneurship, which are vital for sustainable growth.”
Clinton's speech also includes a telling passage where she mentions that wealth is not sufficient without freedom but then emphasizes how freedom can lead to more wealth:
We need to make the 21st century a time in which people across Asia don’t only become wealthy; they also must become more free. And each of us can help make that happen through our policies, our programs and our actions. And if we do, the benefit is not only will people be more free, but they will be more secure and more prosperous. If we don’t, we will limit the human and economic potential of this great region.
On the same day as Clinton's speech, Josh Rogin in The Cable shared some of what Schmidt said about his expectation that China's "active, dynamic censorship" will eventually fail:
"I personally believe that you cannot build a modern knowledge society with that kind of behavior, that is my opinion," he said. "I think most people at Google would agree with that. The natural next question is when [will China change], and no one knows the answer to that question. [But] in a long enough time period, do I think that this kind of regime approach will end? I think absolutely."

The push for information freedom in China goes hand in hand with the push for economic modernization, according to Schmidt, and government-sponsored censorship hampers both.

"We argue strongly that you can't build a high-end, very sophisticated economy... with this kind of active censorship. That is our view," he said.
The way Clinton and Schmidt both frame the benefits of increased freedoms is significant. The freedoms they speak of do not always directly address the pragmatic day to day concerns of many Chinese and may be easily dismissed in the face of other challenges. But expressing their value in terms of an issue that is a major concern for most in China -- economic growth -- may catch more attention and cause deeper consideration. Even if people are not convinced of the connection between free speech and China's economy, what could matter most at first is if more people in China simply further consider the possibility that what is in the interests of the U.S. and Google could also be in their own best interests.

There may be some short term pains due to what has been recently said, and the potential gains may not appear soon (something I will further address in a later post). But Clinton and Schmidt do not appear to be solely focused on the short term. One of Clinton's goals is to help convince China to change. Her speech is just a small part of that effort. One of Schmidt's likely goals is for Google to be prepared for the changes that he believes are inevitable. Yet these changes will still require "a long enough time period" to be realized. And both of their hopes for increasing freedoms in China may be more likely or more quickly realized due to something that matters to many people in China and elsewhere --- money.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Twitter for Good in Shanghai

While waiting to meet a friend at a mall in Shanghai's Pudong district I briefly stopped by a small English language bookstore. Although Shanghai has mobile bookstores, there are reasons, such as quality, fakes, and selection, to buy books from more reputable dealers.

During my visit to the store, I noticed one section labeled "Chinese Related":

It contained a variety of books that did not seem to fit the category, but a book about Twitter in this row especially caught my attention:

"Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time" by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, who "lead[s] social innovation at Twitter", has been described:
As recent events in Japan, the Middle East, and Haiti have shown, Twitter offers a unique platform to connect individuals and influence change in ways that were unthinkable only a short time ago. In Twitter for Good, Claire Diaz Ortiz, Twitter’s head of corporate social innovation and philanthropy, shares the same strategies she offers to organizations launching cause-based campaigns. Filled with dynamic examples from initiatives around the world, this groundbreaking book offers practical guidelines for harnessing individual activism via Twitter as a force for social change.
Similar to how Facebook's popularity as a political tool in Taiwan likely caught the attention of mainland Chinese officials, the realization that Twitter allows individuals to join together and be a "force for social change" is likely at least part of the reason the online social networking service is now blocked in China.

So it could be expected that Twitter for Good would also be unavailable in China. But in addition to the bookstore I visited it is (currently) listed for sale on the Chinese online retail website 360buy and the Chinese online auction websites Paipai, and Taobao. It is also listed on Douban -- a Chinese social networking service website "allowing registered users to record information and create content related to movies, books, and music". However, no copies appear to be listed on several major online retailers for books such as Dangdang, 99 Online Bookstore, or China, despite those sites offering other books about Twitter such as Twitter Revolution. Regardless of whether or not there is a ban on Twitter for Good, it appears to be openly sold in China. Like the availability of other books about Twitter -- in English and Chinese -- it highlights the fuzziness of the line between what is and is not censored there.

Despite the Chinese government's concerns, there are signs that there are agencies with hopes for online social networking services in China -- particularly Sina Weibo. Unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo's ability and willingness to quickly censor its content per the Chinese government's desires provides a degree of control. This control combined with Sina Weibo's large reach can make it a attractive tool. For example, after an incident of a seriously injured girl being ignored by numerous passersby government officials reached out through Weibo:
The Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the CPC Guangdong Committee on Tuesday published a message on Weibo calling for citizens to make suggestions on how the law could better assist those who offer help to people in danger.

The message read: "Please stop the coldness. Guangdong province is going to hold a discussion to criticize the behavior of leaving people in mortal danger out of indifference, and to advocate the spirit to lend a hand to those who need help. Your advice may be written into the province's legislative rules."
Maybe those Chinese officials could learn something useful from Twitter for Good to improve their efforts on Sina Weibo. In that sense, maybe Twitter for Good is indeed "Chinese Related".

Regardless, although Diaz-Ortiz would likely appreciate her books being read by more people in China (especially if the books are not unlicensed copies), she may prefer something even simpler that could also potentially aid positive social change in China -- unblocking Twitter.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scenes of China: Southern Hongkou District in Shanghai

Shanghai's central Hongkou district (map) includes a variety of cultural areas, and I will highlight a small section of it to continue my photo series on different areas of Shanghai (earlier posts: an introduction; Xiaonanmen; Xuhui district; Jing'an district). Hongkou's southern Tilanqiao neighborhood is not only notable for the local Shanghainese culture that can be found there today but its unique history as well.

Tilanqiao was formerly known as the Jewish Ghetto. Unlike many other places in the world, it opened its arms and provided a safe haven to thousands of Jews fleeing the terrors in Europe during the 1930s and early 1940s. I will share more about that history and what remains of it in a future post.

For now, here are some photos from a walk I took in Tilanqiao last year. Given the demolition I then saw of several sections that had been familiar to me, I can only wonder whether all of the below scenes still exist.

The several simple restaurants along this stretch of road provide some tasty local Shanghainese food.

The meat has a taste somewhat similar to that of Western-style corned beef

Huoshan Road

More of the Western-style architecture in the old Jewish Ghetto

There can be a blurry line between sidewalks and roads in Shanghai and elsewhere in China.

Drying clothes

Street market on Dongyuhang Road

Variety of clothes for sale

Pirated DVDs for sale on the right

Shoe shopping

SpongeBob SquarePants balloons and other items for sale

Plenty of vegetables available

Auto-rickshaws can still be found in Shanghai but are not common in most central districts.

Taking an auto-rickshaw to a subway station after a long day of walking

For more photos of the older architecture in Tilanqiao there is an extensive selection on Zhongwenweb here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Boxing Cat July 4th in Shanghai

More posts on the way on topics such as the variety that can be found within the city of Shanghai and censorship in China. But on this Fourth of July American holiday I will be spending the evening at a most appropriate place.

No, not here:

The stories that bar must hold...

Bars similar to the Fafa Bar on Hengshan Road seemed to be more common when I moved to Shanghai six years ago. A story for another day. Instead I will be going to one of my favorite places for beer in China where after a long time away I recently returned and enjoyed this taster set:

Their India Pale Ale is my current favorite

I am certainly not the only fan of the Boxing Cat Brewery. For one example, beer (and China, aviation, anti-filibuster, etc.) enthusiast James Fallows wrote a piece about Boxing Cat and its founder Texan Gary Heyne that is definitely worth checking out -- as is the Boxing Cat if you are in Shanghai and in need of "non-watery beer".

Happy July 4th to American readers. And thanks for the memories to the British.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Scenes of China: Northern Jing'an District in Shanghai

This post will continue the theme of highlighting the variety that can be found within Shanghai (earlier posts: an introduction; Xiaonanmen; Xuhui district). Like Xuhui, Jing'an is central district (map) in Shanghai and includes a variety of sections within it. The following photos are from locations not far from Jingan's modern skyscrapers and other areas frequented by foreigners, but some feel like they are in another world. The area between the Hanzhong Road and Changping Road metro stations -- in this case beginning on Puji Road (普济路) and ending further west on Changping Road (昌平路) -- provides a striking contrast with more common pictures of Jing'an, such as seen at the end of its current entry on Wikipedia.

Although I was familiar with many nearby areas, this was the first time I had walked this particular route. It seems there is always something more to discover in Shanghai, or even just in Jing'an.

Looking southeast down the Suzhou River (also know as the Wusong River)

On a bridge looking northeast at Zhabei district

On the same bridge looking southwest into Jing'an District

Various items for sale on the bridge

Scene on Puji Road

Crayfish and other local food

A place for Shanghai's famous shengjian 

Fresh shengjian

Mop and bike on Changping Road

Hanging the clothes out to dry in the "fresh" air

Man watching the scene below him (and probably me)

A variety of architectural styles and vehicles

Meet Fresh: Taiwanese Dessert in Shanghai

A photo of a Taiwanese dessert restaurant in a recent post of scenes from Shanghai's Xuhui district apparently left some readers puzzled. They wanted to know, "What is a Taiwanese dessert?"

I am pleased to say that I had already conducted some research:

Taiwanese dessert making an appearance in Shanghai

The name in Chinese of the restaurant in my earlier post is "鲜芋仙" (xiānyùxiān). In English the name used by the restaurant is "Meet Fresh". The Meet Fresh chain of restaurants originated in Taiwan and now has branches as far away as Malaysia and Australia. One of their specialities is taro balls, included in the dish I tried. Taro is a root vegetable native to Southeast Asia. I would claim that the closest equivalent in Western food is probably the potato or sweet potato. However taro has its own unique taste. It can be included in a variety of dishes and even cooked similar in style to french fries or potato chips. My favorite version, though, is when it is sweetened and used in desserts.

I first tried taro while in Taiwan about 10 years ago. My lack of any Chinese language skills at the time led to some minor chaos while trying to order a milk tea. I was quite surprised to receive a purplish drink and realized there had been a communication problem. But I decided to give the drink a try. I still have no clue why the young employees at the Taiwanese store I visited gave me taro milk tea, but I am not complaining. I immediately became a big fan of taro.

Meet Fresh's Taiwan website can be found here. For those who cannot read Chinese, their Australian website in English here will be more useful. The online menu on the Australian site does not appear to be exactly the same as what I saw at the Shanghai store, but you can find a close approximation of the dish I tried here. Follow that link to see other desserts served at Meet Fresh. There are also some examples of Taiwanese desserts from other restaurants at the end of my post comparing the food culture in Taiwan and Italy. The examples there and on the Meet Fresh site provide a hint of the great variety of Taiwanese desserts. I hope more people will soon hear "coming to a store near you".

Monday, July 2, 2012

In China Even Free Internet is not Free

free internet kiosks at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Upon arriving at Shanghai Pudong International Airport I saw the above scene. The Chinese words "免费上网" on the sign posts were unambiguous in their meaning: no payment was required to surf online. Yet another interpretation of the English translation "Free Internet" still caused a slight glimmer of hope to enter my mind.

So I checked a computer to see whether at this supposedly modern international airport one could access some of the world's most popular websites -- YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. I quickly found that China's Great Firewall was blocking these sites as usual. Somewhat ironically, the vast majority of international flights from the airport could take me to places where I would find no such censorship.

I was not at all surprised by what I found, but nonetheless the experience dampened the excitement of returning to Shanghai. Free Internet at an airport is wonderful to see. If only it were also free.

Scenes of China: Northern Xuhui District in Shanghai

This will be one of several posts of photos from Shanghai capturing a bit of the diversity that can be found there. The following scenes are presented in the order I encountered them during a winding walk last week in Xuhui district (map). The walk from Tianyaoqiao Road to southeast of Shanghai Stadium covered just a small part of Xuhui and does not include a number of regions such as a portion of the former French Concession or the contrasting residential areas near the Shanghai South Railway Station. It began near a popular shopping district with several malls and department stores, but I will share more "ordinary" street scenes instead.

And my choice of this region is not random. The first few scenes are just minutes away by foot from where I previously lived for several years.

A new outlet for the Wall Street English school

There certainly was not a Spanish Restaurant around when I first moved to this area.

Years ago I would sometimes come here for a spicy soup.

A new Taiwanese dessert restaurant

Just a few more blocks from my old home

Farther away south of Lingling Road

I had suspected that the fascinating local market once here would not exist much longer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Diversity of China, Shanghai, and Xuhui

During my 6 years in China I gained a deeper appreciation of something.

China is big and diverse. If one wants to better understand China, it is important to not only consider well-known cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

The city in China with which I am most familiar is Shanghai. And from my explorations there I learned something else.

Shanghai is big and diverse. If one wants to better understand Shanghai, it is important to not only consider well-known districts such as Pudong and Huangpu.

The district in Shanghai with which I am most familiar is Xuhui. And from my explorations there I learned yet something else.

Xuhui is big and diverse. If ones wants to better understand Xuhui, it is important to not only consider well-known subdistricts such as Xujiahui and Longhua.

Of course, for most purposes there is no way possible to understand all of China down to the level of subdistricts. My point is simply that at whatever level I have looked I have found incredible diversity in China. Better appreciating this diversity improves the chances of conducting research, whether about China or Xuhui, that leads to meaningful results.

Shanghai can range from the skyscraper views that I have shared here & here to the Xiaonanmen area in the disappearing "Old Town". For some of my upcoming posts I will share sets of photos from other areas of Shanghai. They will provide a taste of how in its own way Shanghai, like many other places in China, is indeed big and diverse.