Sunday, November 30, 2014

Similarities of a Polluted Beijing and a Slowed Google

Yesterday, I saw Bill Bishop's photo of Beijing:

photo of a smoggy Beijing

Unsurprisingly, at the same time Beijing's air was reported as "hazardous".

Also at the same time, although my internet connection speed was good for regular access to China-based websites, it was extremely slow through the VPN I use to access blocked websites such as Twitter and Google. Here is what Google looked like for at least a minute when I tried to search for images of Beijing:

In this case, the grey placeholders for yet-to-load images seemed especially fitting. They didn't look very different from Bishop's photo or others of Beijing in heavy smog. Pollution blocking light makes one type of image common. Censorship blocking information helps make the other common for me. The visual similarity may be a coincidence, but once again there was a bit of harmony involving China's air.

Eyes Open Wide for Taobao's Sale

At several Shanghai metro stations yesterday, I saw the following ads for an "incredible" sale at select stores on

ad for 12-12 sale at Taobao with excited looking person

ad for 12-12 sale at Taobao with excited looking person

ad for 12-12 sale at Taobao with excited looking person

I thought the people's expressions in the ads were incredible as well. Taobao's sale will presumably do well if its customers are similarly excited.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lining Up for Shoes in Shanghai

Not far from the M&M's World in Shanghai, yesterday I saw a long line of people outside a store for a globally popular brand. They weren't waiting to buy iPhones.

line of people outside a Nike store in Shanghai

Instead, they were waiting outside a Nike store to reserve the opportunity to buy a special limited edition global rerelease of classic Air Jordan sneakers available today. It is a small example of how Apple isn't the only American multinational company which can generate a line in China.

Later that night, a store salesperson told me they only had 300 shoes available there and all were already accounted for. It would be interesting to know how many of the customers planned to later resell the shoes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Rock Pile in Shanghai

The other day I saw a stack of square bricks sitting next to a restaurant's outdoor patio at a mall.

I didn't know whether the person who stacked the bricks had anything spiritual in mind, but they still reminded me of the Tibetan rocks piles I saw next to China's largest lake.

See the Qinghai Lake photos I posted two years ago for more scenes at a place far away in many ways from Shanghai.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Bridge to Marriage in Shanghai

I saw no signs of a "bearish wedding" on a bridge over the Suzhou River one month ago, but there were still opportunities to stage photographic marriage moments.

posing for wedding photos on a bridge in Shanghai

I doubt they will have a difficult time remembering where those photos were taken.

posing for wedding photos with Shanghai skyscrapers in the background and a woman on an electric bike passing in front

I am not sure whether they captured the passing electric bike. I thought it added a special touch.

More on non-wedding topics when the speed and reliability of my connection to the blocked-in-China regions of the Internet are more... bearable.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fake Fall Foliage Fun in Shanghai

Most trees I have seen in Shanghai still have greenish-colored leaves. But if people want to enjoy some fall foliage right now, the K11 Art Mall in Shanghai has an answer.

adults and children enjoying fake autumn leaves at a mall

The fake fall-colored leaves made out of fabric are placed in multiple locations and seem to be a hit. Some are stuck on the floor, but many others are free to do whatever fake leaves do best. Hopefully no leaf blowers will be used for the cleanup.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hello Kitty Loves You and Your Blood in Shanghai

How can more people be encouraged to donate blood?

In many Chinese cities, I have seen mobile blood donation centers in buses, often parked near shopping areas, parks, or public squares. For example, here is one I saw several years ago in Kunming, Yunnan:

blood donation bus with cartoon image of two walking blood droplets in Kunming

Increasing blood donation's visibility and making it more convenient seem like reasonable strategies. But is there something that can be done to improve the buses? In Shanghai, some thought adding a Hello Kitty theme might be an answer.

Hello Kitty themed blood donation bus in Shanghai

I saw the Hello Kitty blood donation bus in operation between the Shanghai Railway Station and the Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Station. It first appeared this summer, and Kotaku has a collection of photos of its interior.

I would be curious to see a study comparing the effectiveness of the Hello Kitty bus versus more typical blood donation buses in different locations. Perhaps a train station isn't where this particular bus could have the largest impact. Whatever the case, it's an interesting tactic to consider and a change of pace from walking blood droplets.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bunny Ears and Love Balloons in Shanghai

A common sight in much of China are promotional shows staged in shopping areas. Here is one which took place yesterday in front of the Eco City 1788 shopping mall in Shanghai:

3 people and 6 young women wearing pink dresses and bunny ears while holding large bunches of heart-shaped balloons stand on a stage for an outdoor promotion

In comparison to promotions I have seen elsewhere in Shanghai and many other Chinese cities, such as a Toyota promotion at the Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, nothing appeared unusual during the brief time I stopped to take a photo. And I wouldn't be surprised if the many cameramen forming a wall in front of the audience were hired primarily for appearance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harmonious Chinese Air

Early this afternoon I noticed an especially harmonious moment in China. U.S. State Department facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu reported nearly identical "unhealthy" air quality readings at 1:00 p.m.: 154, 153, 156, and 154, respectively.

A 190 reading from Shengyang was less harmonious, though still in the "unhealthy" category.

My experiences of days with obviously bad air in each of these cities easily come to mind. I am also reminded of similar days in many other Chinese cities. Sometimes I expected it, such as in Shijiazhuang which I knew was in a region with many coal-based power plants and industries. Sometimes I did not, such as in Liuzhou which is set in the midst of incredible natural scenery. Now that hourly and daily information like the above is available to check, I wonder how many times in the past a blueish sky tricked me into thinking the day's air wasn't so bad. In other words, the overall air pollution was probably worse than I thought. And I had already thought it was pretty bad.

The above readings are just a snapshot of ever-changing pollution levels from single locations in only the few Chinese cities covered by the U.S. State Department. Yet their momentary similarity despite coming from very different geographic regions is at least symbolic of the fact that air pollution is a widespread problem in China—presumably not what the Chinese government has in mind when it mentions "harmony". Although Beijing may receive the most attention, avoiding it or even all of the above cities is not enough to have a good chance of finding regularly clean air there. You could even find worse.

A Blue Shanghai Sky's Blues

When I looked up while walking outside this morning in Shanghai, the blueish sky and light patches of white clouds encouraged me.

blueish sky in Shanghai

But like a day when I was "deceived by the sky" in Beijing, I learned the air quality was nothing to cheer:
In this case, Shanghai residents can't even say "at least it's better than Beijing", where instead of 163 the air quality index at the same time was "only" 115—still far from good.

For me, it's a reminder that, although they receive the most attention, the more obviously bad air days are not the only ones to be concerned about. More on this theme later.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The New York Times Responds to Xi Jinping With a Less-Than-Full Account of Its Own Actions

In the past, The New York Times has allowed government requests to impact what and when they publish. For example:
In an unusual note, [The New York Times] said in its story that it held off publishing the 3,600-word article for a year after the newspaper's representatives met with White House officials. It said the White House had asked the paper not to publish the story at all, "arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny."

The Times said it agreed to remove information that administration officials said could be "useful" to terrorists and delayed publication for a year "to conduct additional reporting."
And the Times has itself acknowledged that it "has come under fire in the past for agreeing to government requests to hold back sensitive stories or information".

Yet in a recent response to President Xi Jinping's comments regarding some foreign journalists' inability to obtain visas, the Times' editorial board wrote:
The Times has no intention of altering its coverage to meet the demands of any government — be it that of China, the United States or any other nation. Nor would any credible news organization.
Technically speaking, the White House's requests may not count as "demands", and the Times carefully writes "has no intention". At the very least though, as Bill Bishop wrote, their claim is "a bit disingenuous".

The Times has indeed altered its coverage in the name of U.S. national security — something surely not lost on the Chinese government. Both the U.S. government and the Chinese government desire to limit the spread of information that could negatively impact national security. Yet they differ significantly in how they try to achieve this goal and how they define "national security" — no small matter in the Times' predicament in China.

In painting a misleading picture of its own willingness to alter coverage, the Times does not provide "the fullest, most truthful discussion of events and people shaping the world" but does provide an easy excuse to dismiss their argument or question their intentions. And in doing so, the Times misses an opportunity to make more nuanced points useful for discussing how foreign journalists operating with greater freedom could be to China's genuine benefit, including its national security.