Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mongkok Scenes from Mong Kok

Mong Kok is a densely packed district in Hong Kong. Its name can also be found written in Latin script as "Mongkok". Even government websites can be conflicted about the format of the name, sometimes using both forms within a single address. The Hong Kong metro and the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post both regularly use "Mong Kok", so I will go with that.

Whatever the spelling, the area holds much to discover and a single block can contain a dizzying array of culture. The Hong Kong Tourism Board provides this description:
Mong Kok is Hong Kong’s most congested shopping and residential district, but don’t let that scare you away. The neon-bathed historic streets that wind through one of the densest parts of the world are worth visiting - just for the ‘peoplescapes’ alone. It just so happens that the shopping is excellent too.

The neighbourhood includes one of Hong Kong’s most popular markets, the Ladies' Market, and also has a ton of shopping streets, which are a common feature in southern China. Conveniently, these are where a cluster of merchants sell one type of product on a single street. Mong Kok has entire streets and street sections dedicated to the sale of goldfish, flowers, birds, sneakers, kitchenware and wedding dresses.
I have been there on numerous occasions and would list Mong Kok as a must-see place for visitors to Hong Kong or those seeking to ponder humanity. The strong impressions Mong Kok has left make me wonder if its single-word spelling would be well suited for a new adjective.

I had the opportunity to visit Mong Kok yet again just a few days ago. Below is a set of photographs in the order I encountered the various scenes. They represent just a sliver of life there and do not capture the streets when they are especially jam packed with people or provide a sense of how a large number of stores, offices, restaurants, guest houses, and residences can compactly fit inside a single building. But together they still give me a feeling that is so... mongkok.

Above-ground view of one of Mong Kok's streets

Above-ground view of one of Mong Kok's street markets

A section of Mong Kok's most extensive elevated walkway

On the elevated walkway

Parked minibuses

Fish for sale at the Fa Yuen Street Market

young woman wearing a shirt with the message "This is me This is who I am I've finally learned to LOVE myself. Wohooo"
A shirt with a message

No lack of advertising

Street-level advertising

An almost quiet alley

A relatively quiet moment at a busy intersection

Freshman participating in a flash mob song and dance for a university orientation activity

Posing for a professional photographer

Crossing Portland Street

Colorful buildings

A high-level view inside the architecturally intriguing Langham Place shopping mall


Another street

Fruit for sale

More fish for sale

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Scene from Mong Kok

For a short amount of time today, I was on this street in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district:

advertisements hanging over a sidewalk and street in Mongkok, Hong Kong

I am still sifting through many other photos from today, and a number of scenes from elsewhere in Mong Kok will appear soon.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't Eat Your Friends on the Hong Kong Subway

Eating food is not permitted on Hong Kong subway trains. In the past, passengers disregarding this rule has led to clashes between mainland Chinese and Hongkongers. So last year I was not surprised to see inside a Hong Kong subway station a sign with the English message:
Inside paid areas, enjoy the ride.
When outside, enjoy your food. Thank you!
However, I was a bit surprised by the accompanying graphics:

a hamburger holding hands with a large smiley face inside a subway station as the smiley face imagines later eating the hamburger friend outside of the station

Yes, a friendly hamburger is holding hands with a smiley face inside a subway station while the smiley face imagines later eating the hamburger outside of the station. Well, as long as you are following the rules ... And is this so different from the habits of praying mantises?

Hong Kong is not the only place an anthropomorphized hamburger has met a gruesome demise. For a similar but much more, dare I say, tasteless example, it would be hard to beat Mayor McCheese's* appearance on the adult animated sitcom Family Guy (warning: graphic violence) here.

Anyway, please do not eat food on the Hong Kong subway. And if you are a hamburger riding the subway, you should consider staying on it as long as you can, no matter what your friends may say.

That poor burger.

*If you are not familiar with Mayor McCheese, see the old McDonald's advertisements here and here. As a bonus, the second advertisement includes a large number of anthropomorphized hamburgers.

Added note: It just occurred to me that I ate a burger for dinner today. For what it is worth, it was a vegetarian burger, and it did not smile at me.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Minibus, a Truck, and Tacos in Hong Kong

I am in Hong Kong at the moment, and it's good to be back. To celebrate, here are some scenes from my visit last year including a minibus, men loading a truck, and Mr. Taco Truck.

minibus (public light bus) in Hong Kong

men loading a truck in Hong Kong

Mr. Taco Truck restaurant in Hong Kong

Mr. Taco Truck is rather stationary, but I enjoyed the tacos nonetheless.

More (posts but maybe tacos too) later ...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Street in Nanning and Related Posts

I have not been able to post as much as I had planned during the past week. To help me get back into the flow, I will share this scene from two years ago in Nanning, Guangxi:

street market in Nanning, China

More scenes from Nanning, including a photo taken of the same street but capturing another moment as people passed by, can be found in the earlier post here. Two posts of mine which are also Nanning-related but which focused on topics related to my research in China include "Discoveries Leading to Questions: 'Sansumg' Computers and Bilingual Notes in Nanning" and "McDonald's in China - Localized, Growing, and Influencing".

And that's all on Nanning for now.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prelude, Fugue, Riffs, and FBI Files

Today would be Leonard Bernstein's 95th birthday if he were still alive (H/T to Adam Bear). As described on Wikipedia:
Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history."

His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.
To celebrate this day, I will share a recording of a piece I first heard when I was in junior high school: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949). The All Music Guide to Classical Music offers this description:
Prelude, Fugue and Riffs is scored for a standard dance-band instrumentation of solo clarinet, saxes and trumpets in fives, four trombones, piano, string bass, and drums, to which Bernstein adds a second percussion part. It is one of the most frequently performed of Bernstein's shorter concert works, and has been widely embraced by wind ensembles in particular. While it was intended as a sort of crossover piece that combines jazz and classical elements, the material in Prelude, Fugue and Riffs leans more heavily in favor of the jazz aspect. Stravinsky's jazz-inspired music is an obvious point of reference for this work, and the similarity is felt most strongly in the opening Prelude, scored for the brass. This is followed by the Fugue for the saxes. In the Riffs section the solo clarinet is heard over the whole ensemble, which concludes with a riff reminiscent of Count Basie and of Kansas City-style ensemble jamming.
And with that out of the way, here is the recording (also H/T to Adam Bear):

If you now desire to learn more about Bernstein and are deeply suspicious of musicians, perhaps you will enjoy perusing the more than 500 pages of FBI files on him here which begin the same year Prelude, Fugue and Riffs was finished. They reflect another side of American life during the middle of the twentieth century.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More Pollution in Shenzhen and Hong Kong

After first arriving in Shanghai several weeks ago, I noticed that the pollution levels were often worse than Beijing. But towards the end of my stay, there were several days with excellent air quality.

When I arrived in Shenzhen in southern China a few days ago, I doubted the thick haze I saw was simply fog and knew my brief respite from China's air pollution was over. Today I read about neighboring Hong Kong's especially bad recent pollution (via Michael Standaert):
Hong Kong’s air pollution index reached “very high” levels today as a tropical storm that passed through Taiwan trapped pollutants and blanketed the city in haze, triggering a government health warning ...

“Because of the typhoon, we don’t have any wind, the air now is like static, pollutants accumulate and they can’t get out,” Kwong Sum-yin, chief executive officer at Clean Air Network, a non-profit advocacy group, said by phone today. “Central is pretty bad, exactly because we have so many skyscrapers.”

The former British colony, which will raise its air quality standards, has never met its targets since they were adopted 26 years ago, according to a government audit in November. Hong Kong relies on the wind to help sweep away choking emissions from Chinese factories and vehicles.
In other words, things aren't as good when the wind doesn't send your problems elsewhere.

I will soon write again about pollution in China, so I will refrain from commenting further. For now, I will simply recommend checking out a NetEase slide show of photos by Alex Hofford. They are of mainland Chinese tourists taking photographs in Hong Kong and speak for themselves. See them here (via Shanghaiist and Beijing Cream).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A High-Speed Digestif on the Way to Xiamen

On a high-speed train heading south from Shanghai to Xiamen I sat next to a man from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

As I settled in for the almost 9-hour trip, I smelled something peculiar. Although the smell seemed familiar, I could not place it. As the man who appeared to be in his 60s later unpacked some of his belongings, I discovered the smell’s source -- some of the various preserved vegetables that along with a large chicken foot served as his lunch.

When he later enjoyed these delights, I noticed another smell, but this one I recognized immediately. I then saw the man had just opened up a bottle. Despite it being labeled as Tibetan spring water, I had no doubt it actually contained the strong Chinese alcohol baijiu. I then looked at him and huge grin grew across his face.

Whatever the baijiu’s strength, it was not enough to deter him from finishing the bottle during his lunch. In fact, the man still had enough room for a digestif. For after finishing his lunch he brought out a half-liter sized can of a strong beer.

I probably will never see this man again, but I won’t soon forget him. And I appreciate his offer to share his baijiu and his later offer of a can of beer. Maybe next time I ride a high-speed train, I’ll bring some alcohol of my own and offer to share it with whoever happens to sit next to me.

And maybe they too will leave with a story to tell.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Posing in Front of Beijing Green

5 people posing with outstretched arms for a photo at Jingshan Park
The view to the north from Jingshan Park in Beijing

I have been preparing for a day or two of travel that should involve a variety of vehicles if all goes as planned. I have several posts half-finished, and I hope to finish them on the high speed train. More will be on the way once I make it to my destination or possibly when I stop off at somewhere on the way.

For breakfast today I visited one of my favorite places in Shanghai for a plate of shengjian (a photo of shengjian can be found in an earlier post here). Later I had a grilled salmon salad for lunch (sorry, no photo). Dinner was unremarkable.

That's the end of today's remarks except ... Yes, the photo has nothing to do with the rest of the post -- just sprucing things up.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Beijing Ring at Night

Ever wonder what the northeastern section of the 2nd Ring Road (二环路) in Beijing looks like around 2 a.m.? Here's how it looked one night in June:

Beijing 2nd Ring Road at night

I took this photo as I crossed a pedestrian bridge during a rather long but enjoyable late night walk.

And that's all for today.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Washington Post's WorldViews Corrects Statements About Google China

Yesterday I pushed back against Caitlin Dewey's claims in the blog post "Wikipedia largely alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands" on The Washington Times. Amongst other issues, I pointed out that the statement "Google China complies with government censorship laws and does not surface pages related to to banned topics" was not accurate.

Dewey later provided an update, which I noted in an update to my post:
Dewey provided the following update to her post:
Samuel Wade at the China Digital Times points out that, while Google formally follows local censorship laws, it also quietly redirects Chinese users from to — which helps them avoid mainland filtering.
Hmm... I'll just say that the biggest impact of redirecting users in mainland China to Google's Hong Kong site is it allows Google to legally not censor search results as required by mainland Chinese law. However, the Great Firewall selectively filters those searches. Google offers encrypted search, which would be difficult for the Great Firewall to filter, but that's often entirely blocked by the Great Firewall. I just tried the encrypted search now and was able to successfully search for a typically blocked query. However, I was soon blocked from continued use of Google. This "messy" sort of blocking is very common with Google in China.
More recently, Dewey edited her post again:
Correction: This post originally stated that Google formally complies with government censorship laws in China. While that is the company’s policy in other countries, it has not been Google’s policy in China since 2010. The post has been corrected.

The corrections include this section on Google:
Google: Google has a long and complicated legacy in China, which has put it on both sides of the censorship debate. Since 2010, however, Google’s Chinese search has been based out of Hong Kong, where Chinese censorship laws don’t apply. (Outside of China, the company has a policy of removing pages from search as required by law — in Germany, for instance, the site takes down pages that glorify Nazism.) In January, Google China removed a feature that told users when their results were censored.
Dewey still does not mention that Wikipedia's encrypted version is currently blocked in China. This provides important context for her point that "Wikipedia offers an encrypted version of the site to help users evade the firewall" and another example of how Wikipedia is not "alone" in China.