Friday, October 12, 2012

Life at an Antique Market in Changsha, China

Near the historic Tianxin Ge (or Heart of Heaven Pavilion) in Changsha, Hunan province, is the Tianxinge Antique City, an indoor mall with many small shops selling antiques (or what look like antiques). On weekends and holidays, people selling antiques and other items cover its surroundings as well. When I visited, these areas were noticeably busier than the indoor mall.

Below are photos of the outdoor areas that provide a sense of the assorted items for sale, including vases, bracelets, necklaces, stones, musical instruments, Mao Zedong posters, paintings, and artillery shells. They also capture a number of everyday moments, each of which speaks volumes. Simply considering how people are sitting, how they are carrying something, or what they are engaged in can increase one's appreciation of them. Most outdoor areas may not have antiques for sale, but much of the life in these photos is easily found in a Chinese city such as Changsha.

various items on the ground for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

saxophone, trumpet, watches, and other items for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

young girl reading an educational book outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

man carrying a box on a bamboo stick outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

a man sleeping next to his items for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

people examing items on the ground for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

man eating lunch while selling small stones outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

painting auction above the Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

man closely examining a vase outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

various items on the ground for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

women squatting while looking at items on the ground for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

men squatting while examining a sword for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

man sitting next to posters, many of Mao Zedong, for sale outside Tianxinge Antique City in Changsha, China

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Signs of Hate and a Japanese Mother Ready to Leave China

At a bar street in Changsha, Hunan province, one of the bars was not remarkable to me in any way except one:

sign forbidding Japanese from entering a bar in Changsha, China, with the words 驱逐倭寇 保卫河山 日本人or猪不得入内

The strong Chinese words on the sign next to the bar's entrance tell a disturbing story. A rough translation:
Expel the "Japanese".
Defend the rivers and mountains.
Japanese or pigs will not be admitted.
The Chinese word used for "Japanese" is extremely derogatory (as described by a Chinese friend) and references pirates common hundreds of years ago. The image appears to be the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the source of a key dispute between China and Japan.

I did not see any similar signs on the many other nearby bars. But although discriminatory signs may not be typical at bars in central Changsha, I have heard anti-Japanese sentiment expressed in Changsha. For example, during a friendly discussion some high school students felt compelled to tell me that "Japanese are bad" without me mentioning any Japan-related topic. So I asked them whether they would be friends with a Japanese person. One 15 year old girl said with a skeptical expression, "Well, they could be my friend, but they need to show they are a good person." Her statement was striking given how excited she had been to meet me, obviously realizing I was a foreigner. She did not appear to negatively prejudge me and need to check to see if I was "good".

In the post "Chinese Being Friendly to a Foreigner in China" I wrote:
To be clear, I would not claim that [all of these experiences] occurred only because I am a foreigner. Nor would I claim that all foreigners would have had the same experience. Again, there are many complexities.
Anti-Japanese sentiment was one of the many "complexities" I had in mind.

But not every person in China harbors strong negative feelings for Japanese people. For example, in Changsha I met a Chinese student who said that the anti-Japan and anti-Japanese sentiment in China was ridiculous and that the island dispute should be an issue the governments can resolve without needing to rally any citizens. She did not care who controlled the islands.

She knows her Japanese classmates are now careful not to speak Japanese in public, but she says she has rarely seen anti-Japanese sentiments openly expressed in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, where she studies at a university. But while recently visiting a friend in Wuhan, Hubei province, she was shocked to see a large number of restaurants with signs forbidding Japanese from entering.

Regardless of whether the student's and my observations are representative for Changsha, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, they are at least symbolic of the variations that can be found between different people and regions of China.

Although the anti-Japan protest marches seem to have subsided, it is hard to believe much anti-Japanese sentiment does not remain. It is also hard not to wonder what messages many Chinese take from the Chinese government's continued behavior, such as not sending its finance chiefs to important meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank apparently because they are being held in Japan.

The effects of the anti-Japan protests continue to be felt in a variety of respects, such as rapidly declining sales in China for Japanese automakers. Like before, I would like to share a relevant perspective that has not received significant attention elsewhere. The Japanese mother living in Shanghai who shared her thoughts and experiences (here and here) regarding the anti-Japan protests recently wrote more and after some consideration agreed to let me share it. Again, she is someone who was once very positive about her experiences in China, and she sought ways to immerse herself in its culture, including learning Chinese. To say the least, her perspective has changed:
I've done a lot of thinking, and it made me want to stop thinking about it all together. But I still continue to. As for the Island dispute, it's just too bad it had to happen this way. I personally feel (as many Japanese do) that [the Japanese government] shouldn't have nationalized the islands the way they did at the timing they did. But that is all now left for the goverments to deal with.

One thing I can tell is that I'm more aware now of what this country holds inside itself. I've come to realize that patriotic or non-patriotic, rich or poor, most Chinese do have anti-Japanese sentiment deep down, and that it will not change unless the communist government falls apart, and God knows if that would ever happen. I've lost every bit of confidence and positive curiosity that is necessary in order to keep on living in this country. Daily life seems back to normal, but to me it will never be the same. I used to think it would be nice if we could stay here until my daughter finishes high school, but now am ready to get packed any day. I'm just tired of telling my kids to not speak Japanese in public, or getting nervous every time I catch a taxi. Just as simple as that.

I know that there must be much more to this country and that it could be very appealing to certain types of people, but I just can't see any hopes of Chinese and Japanese people ever building a relationship based on real trust. I don't understand those people who come to this country seeking business opportunities, just to have everything destroyed every several years.

My husband says I'm a bit extreme, and I probably am. But like I said, I'm just tired of this whole thing. I want to live in a normal country...

I'm just a tai-tai [wife] who is only here to be with my husband. I was never prepared to embrace, in the true sense, all that comes with living in China. I am free to leave if I wanted and therefore could easily be saying things about this country in a seemingly irresponsible way. But I also know there are loads of Japanese people who live here with a very strong determination and, regardless of all the absurdity, still love the people of this country. I truly respect all the efforts they must have made to build relationships on a personal level. I just know that for myself, in this lifetime at least, this isn't where I wish to put my energy...
I wonder what I would do if I had to be concerned about speaking English in public and was forbidden from entering some bars, restaurants, and shops in China because of my nationality. Would I stay?

I will not attempt to predict the future of either China or the Japanese mother. But I hope the island dispute will be resolved peacefully. I hope the peak of anti-Japanese sentiment in China is now in the past. I hope more people will be able to distinguish a government's decisions from its people. I hope the Japanese mother and others like her will be able to lead a more open and less fearful life.

And I hope a bar I saw in Changsha is not a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Citibank's "Seafood Ads" in Hong Kong's Sai Kung Town

Similar to tram advertisements in Hong Kong, at Hong Kong's Sai Kung Town I saw several examples of ads displayed in a manner not commonly experienced elsewhere in the world. Two of the ad displays were for Citibank, a large international bank whose promotions can be found in a variety of places in Hong Kong.

The Citibank presence at one of Sai Kung's many waterfront seafood restaurants was hard to miss:

Citibank promotion and logos being prominently displaying at a restaurant in Sai Kung Town, Hong Kong

The sign on the left advertised a discount promotion at the restaurant if you use a Hong Kong Citibank card. Promotions by Citibank and other banks are not uncommon in Hong Kong at places such as restaurants or movie theaters. But this restaurant took the extra step with its Citibank awning and Citibank seat covers. If I were meeting a friend there I might just tell them to find me at the Citibank restaurant.

The other example I saw in Sai Kung Town was also seafood-related:

Citibank umbrella on a seafood boat in Sai Kung Town, Hong Kong

This was one of several boats along the waterfront selling fresh seafood to customers. Despite its Citibank umbrella, the boat did not appear to accept Citibank cards. However, it did have some impressively large crabs.

These two seafood-themed examples present a variety of issues worth pondering -- for example, the potential benefits for Citibank and the restaurant or the seafood seller. I also wonder whether Citibank specifically planned for one of its umbrellas to end up on a seafood boat or it was the result of an opportunistic act.

Finally, regardless of whether you are interested in considering seafood-related advertising issues, I can recommend considering something else in Sai Kung, eating a variety of delicious seafood dishes:

seafood dishes at a restaurant in Sai Kung Town, Hong Kong

Don't worry, my friend and I were still awaiting a fish dish.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Inspiration on Tracks: More Tram Ads in Hong Kong

Almost exactly one year ago, I shared photos of advertisements on Hong Kong's double-decker trams. The unique canvas trams offer, their stop-and-go nature, and the wide range of activities engaged in by potential viewers can all be factors relevant to the design of effective tram ads. For me, contemplating the design of ads for less-than-common environments and how such ads are experienced by viewers can inspire new ideas for how ads could be effective in environments created by online services or software applications. The tram ads also interest me because I am curious to see which companies are making marketing efforts in Hong Kong and how ad designers are approaching Hong Kong's unique conditions and mix of cultures.

Sometimes, the consideration given to an tram ad's location is readily apparent:

tram in Hong Kong with BBC Newsday advertising

Personally, the slogan "Unlike this tram the news never stops" makes me want to groan. But whether the ad influences its intended target audience as desired is a more important issue. Regardless, it is notable how the creators of the BBC Newsday ad took advantage of the ad's environment.

Another tram ad proved notable in another way, not so much for its design but its intended message:

tram in Hong Kong with advertising encouraging people to vote

A campaign encouraging citizens to vote in government elections may not seem significant until one considers the unlikeliness of a similar ad appearing in mainland China. Elections where there are genuine choices to be made by citizens is one of the ways in which Hong Kong is a "special" place in China.

In the spirit of updating my earlier post, I will share a new set of tram photos. They were taken in mid-August of this year in Hong Kong's Eastern District. Even if one has no interest in advertising strategies, the photos can be appreciated for the striking visual contrast the trams provide in a variety of Hong Kong Island city scenes.

tram in Hong Kong with Goupon advertising

Hong Kong tram with Edifice advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Citygate Outlets advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Daikin advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Hong Kong Museum of History advertisement

Hong Kong tram with advertising for Great Britain's universities

Hong Kong tram with Standard Life advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Hysan Place advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Tonino Lamborghini advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Liu Shen Wan advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Mannings advertisement

Hong Kong tram with advertisement for the National Products Expo Asia

Hong Kong tram with The North Face advertisement

Hong Kong tram with The Outdoor Shop advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Pure Fitness advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Hong Kong Museum of Art advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Tissot advertisement

Hong Kong tram with Roca advertisement

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Making Faces at Hong Kong's Victoria Peak

view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

I feel safe saying that it is rare for people to unintentionally walk from the lowest levels on Hong Kong Island to its highest point at Victoria Peak. Well, my friend and I managed to achieve such a feat. After a sea-level dim sum brunch and Hong-Kong-style milk teas, we headed out for a walk without any particular destination in mind. We slowly made our way to higher levels and eventually passed over the tram tracks which connect Hong Kong's Mid-Levels with Victoria Peak. I interpreted a nearby split in the tracks to mean we were close to the top (which could not be seen from our vantage point), so we decided we might as well walk the rest of the way. However, the split was actually at the halfway point for the tram -- not a small difference. After walking uphill for a curious amount of time I realized my mistake, but now that we had a goal in mind we were determined to reach it.

Although we had both been to the top before, it was our first time to go up completely by foot. I thought it would be a grand idea to walk down the other side, but my friend was already rather content with our accidental achievement. At least the tram provided an entertaining return.

Above is an unremarkable photo of the remarkable view from Victoria Peak. What else sticks out in my memory of our time at the top is meeting a young Hong Kong family. Just before taking a photograph of them to remember the moment I exclaimed, "Make a face!". They were fully prepared for such a request and obliged without any hesitation:

young Hong Kong family making similar faces for a photo

Ah... family.

Just another small wonderful moment that confirms the joys of semi-random walks -- no matter the altitude.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Huang Xing Statue at a Pedestrian Street in Changsha

Earlier, I asked if anyone could identify a city in China based on a nighttime view of its most popular pedestrian street. Here is a daytime view:

north end of the South Huang Xing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street (黄兴南路步行商业街) in Changsha

Unlike previous attempts involving Shanghai/Munich and Huizhou, we have a winner. Congrats to Eric Beckers in Zoetermeer, Netherlands, for being the first to correctly identify the city as Changsha -- the capital of Hunan province.

There was less success in answering the bonus question -- the identity of the statue seen in the center of the photo. Of course, the statue would be rather difficult to identify solely through looking at it in the photo I provided. I assumed prior knowledge about Changsha or some research would be required to figure it out. Guesses included Mao Zedong, Lei Feng, Sun Yat-sen, Deng Xiaoping, and "an ancient sage". The first two were the most common. I suspect some people were misled by the existence of a Lei Feng memorial & statue elsewhere in Changsha and some peculiar inaccuracies in English online about the above statue's identity (such as a Flickr photo identifying it as "one of the famous Chinese philosophers from the early 1900's").

For more help, here is a closer view of the statue:

statue of Huang Xing (黄兴) at the Huang Xing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street in Changsha

If that is not enough (and it was not enough for at least one Chinese college student who was standing in front of the statue), a plaque in Chinese at the bottom of the pedestal makes it clear. Unfortunately, most of the plaque is currently covered by shrubs:

plaque with Huang Xing's name

Huang Xing (黄兴):
(born Oct. 25, 1874, Changsha, Hunan province, China—died Oct. 31, 1916, Shanghai), [was a] revolutionary who helped organize the Chinese uprising of 1911 that overthrew the Qing dynasty and ended 2,000 years of imperial rule in China.
Huang's story is rather compelling. A condensed and easy to read version of it can be found at Encyclopædia Britannica here.

It may now come as no surprise that the statue is found at the north end of Changsha's South Huang Xing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street (黄兴南路步行商业街). Sometimes it all fits together.

That was fun, and I appreciate all of the responses. I will do this again at an opportune moment. As I mentioned before, several upcoming posts will be inspired by my time in Zhuhai, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou. As you may suspect, Changsha will be thrown into the mix as well. I also plan to return to some technology & UX related themes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Squid Ink Hot Dogs for Breakfast in Hong Kong

In an earlier post, I pondered McDonald's serving hot dogs as a breakfast item in China. Recently at some eateries in Hong Kong which served a variety of foods, including Hong Kong's "traditional" Canto-Western fusion cuisine, I noticed that hot dogs were available for breakfast. This was also true at at least two different Macanese-style restaurants, which served hot dogs in a bun specifically as a breakfast item. Perhaps Hong Kong & Macau provided inspiration to McDonald's that a hot dog breakfast might be appealing to people elsewhere in China.

However, that does not mean there is not more room for hot dog inspiration at McDonald's. For example, one of the Macanese restaurants in Hong Kong served breakfast hot dogs with a bit of a twist:

Breakfast sign in Hong Kong recommending a squid ink hot dog w/ scrambled egg for breakfast
(fyi -- 30 Hong Kong Dollars is about US $3.85)

There was another item on the menu my heart was set on ordering, so I decided to give the squid ink hot dog a pass. Next time, maybe. I have tried squid ink bread before, and it is common at least one Taiwanese bakery chain. I remember I enjoyed it, although I cannot recall the taste.

Anyways, maybe squid ink hot dogs will soon be available in McDonald's all across China. Could they be a hit? I don't know. But I feel safer guessing that McDonald's will not be serving them for breakfast anytime soon in the U.S.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Pedestrian Street Somewhere in China

I still have posts about Zhuhai, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou planned, but here is one end of a popular pedestrian street in the city where I am now:

I blacked-out sections of signs displaying the city's name.

Can you identify the city? It is not obscure. I would expect that most Chinese would at least be familiar with its name.

Bonus points if you can identify the statue.

Update: Answers here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Delicious Cantonese Food in Guangzhou

Earlier I wrote "I now find myself in a place I had no plans to visit. But at least it is a place with good food". So that readers cannot claim I wrote empty words, I will share just a few of the wonderful dishes I opportunistically enjoyed during my recent and brief stay in Guangzhou.

A restaurant I earlier mentioned for their "Chinese-style donuts" is also deservedly well known for their congee and rice noodle rolls. Here is just one of the items I enjoyed, a shrimp rice noodle roll in a tasty sauce:

Shrimp rice noodle roll at Wuzhanji (伍湛记) in Guangzhou, China

I had to splurge for this item since it is their most expensive roll at about US $1.60 (10 yuan).

I also enjoyed several dishes at another well-known restaurant, Nanxin (南信). Here is something you do not often (ever?) see in the U.S. -- brisket with radishes in a fish broth noodle soup:

Brisket and turnips in a fish broth noodle soup at Nanxin (南信) in Guangzhou, China

I would not have thought of putting beef in a fish soup, but I can only praise the results.

After noticing it while taking a walk, I tried another restaurant for the first time. The cold green beans in a fermented bean sauce were refreshing:

Green beans in a fermented bean sauce in Guangzhou, China

Yet what impressed me most was their spicy seafood curry:

Cantonese seafood curry in Guangzhou, China

It might have been my favorite Cantonese curry ever.

Continuing the curry theme, before heading to the Guangzhou South Rail Station today I gave this seafood curry fried rice a try:

Cantonese seafood curry fried rice in Guangzhou, China

The crab roe was a great touch.

At yet another favorite restaurant, I already knew what I wanted to order before I walked in the door. Although it had been more than half a year since I had last been there, the staff not only remembered me but my favorite dish as well:

Fish dish in Guangzhou, China

The fish is filleted and mixed with assorted vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, and sweetened cashews in a light sauce. The head, tail and remaining fish bones (which still include some meat) are deep fried. When I shared the photo with an American friend he commented, "I like how they made the fish look just like a plate." Yes, it is amazing what they can do in Guangzhou.

I could go on but I will leave it at this. I do not want to bore the people who do not care about food photos, and I do not want to overly torture those who might care about them a bit too much.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Dog in Guangzhou

In case you are waiting for a new post, you need not feel like you are the only one waiting for something:

dog waiting in an alley in Guangzhou, China
A dog in Guangzhou

Tomorrow I will head to where I had planned to go before my enlightening experience at the Shenzhen North Train Station. More soon about my impromptu destination and several other topics.