Thursday, August 13, 2015

Variations on British and American Themes: More Motorbikes in Shanghai

I previously noted that the Union Jack designs common on motorbikes in Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Changsha show varying degrees of faithfulness to the flag of the U.K. For example, the front of one motorbike I saw in Shanghai was missing about half of the blue coloring normally found on the flag.

motorbike with a design similar to the U.K. flag

Sometimes the design takes an even greater leap.

motorbike with a design appearing to be a creative variant of the U.K. flag

The prevalence of the Union Jack design on motorbikes likely increases the chance someone would appreciate the resemblance. And the Union Jack sticker on the front of the motorbike especially suggests it isn't a coincidence.

Another motorbike I saw displayed a design which was more subtly reminiscent of the flag of the U.S. than other designs.

motorbike with a red, white, and blue design with white stars and the word "FOREVER"

Whatever the degree of similarity, questions can be asked about the designers' and owners' intents and how the designs are perceived. I will later touch on these questions in regards to a similar trend in clothing, where I have seen an even greater range of designs possibly inspired by the flags of the U.K. and the U.S.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Scenes of the Mobile Phone Brand Vivo in Hengyang

large Vivo advertisement in Hengyang, Hunan

An advertisement I saw in Xiangtan, Hunan, is a small but relevant piece of data about Vivo's presence in China. To provide a bit more color, particularly of the blueish variety, and context about a mobile phone brand not familiar to many outside of China, this post includes some Vivo-related photos I took last year in Hengyang, Hunan. The signs, promotional events, and young people handing out printed ads all come from an area east of Lianhu Square densely packed with a large number of mobile phone stores — the same area where I saw people marching with Vivo and Oppo signs. I could have taken many more photos in the same spirit. Although Vivo is just one of many brands available there, it would be hard to miss.

young people promoting Vivo in Hengyang, Hunan

a store sign with logos for both Apple and Vivo

mobile phone store with Vivo signs in Hengyang, Hunan

boxes promoting the Vivo X3 in Hengyang, Hunan

Vivo signs at a mobile phone store in Hengyang, Hunan

tents and umbrellas for an outdoor Vivo promotion in Hengyang, Hunan

Vivo signs at an Apple authorized retail store in Hengyang, Hunan

two young women promoting Vivo in Hengyang, Hunan

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sign of Things to Come: An Advertisement for Mobile Phones in Xiangtan

billboard in Xiangtan, Hunan, for a mobile phone store

A few months ago I took the above photo of a billboard from a bridge in Xiangtan, Hunan province. The advertisement for a mobile phone store featured five brands: Apple, Vivo, Xiaomi, Samsung, and Huawei. One of those in particular, Vivo, receives relatively little attention outside of China, yet, as the sign suggests, it is rather visible in some parts of China. More on that topic, tech in general, and other themes soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shanghai Follow-Ups: G+, Patriotic Motorbikes, Best Buy, and a Cat

During my recent time in Shanghai, I have seen several things which aren't especially related to one another except that they all continue themes from earlier posts and don't require extended commentary. So I will share them together in a single post.

1. Last year I wrote about a restaurant chain with a logo remarkably similar to one used for Google+. The location in Shanghai featured in the post was still under construction at the time. It is now open.

G+ The Urban Harvest restaurant in Xujiahui, Shanghai

Since I have yet to eat at the restaurant, I am unable to say whether I would give it a +1.

2. Motorbikes in Shanghai with a Stars & Stripes theme covering much their surface have caught my attention. I also saw a motorbike with a less flamboyant design but which features a fearless bald eagle.

motorbike in Shanghai with a plate feature the U.S. flag and a bald eagle

This gives me hope it is just a matter of time until I see a U.S. flag decorated motorbike with a large bald eagle sculpture affixed to its front.

3. At the end of last year, I shared thoughts about Best Buy's experience in China and asked why the lights remained on at Best Buy's location in Xujiahui despite its last stores in China closing in 2011. Not much has changed. The storefront sign still turns on as evening approaches.

Long-closed Best Buy store in Shanghai with its sign turned on

And I still am not sure why.

4. Finally, yesterday I shared photos of cats in Changsha, Hunan. I often see cats in a small independently-owned stores, though it depends on which city I am in. Today in Shanghai, I also happened to see a cat. More remarkable, the cat resided at the store of a popular mid-sized grocery chain.

cat meowing inside a supermarket in Shanghai

Although it may appear to be signaling its intent to bring about my demise in the photo, my impression was that the talkative cat merely hoped for a head scratch. The results of a test supported my hypothesis. And a later conversation with store workers supported another hypothesis. The friendly cat is valued as a rodent catcher.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In Memory of a Big Black Cat: Eight Felines Living in Changsha, China

I have seen some treated better than most humans, some regarded only as low maintenance mouse catchers, and some sold next to vegetables and chickens in street markets. Born on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, one of these creatures lucked out and found himself in a home with plenty of attention and food, though Howie wouldn't have minded another treat. A few people feared him, sometimes to comedic effect, but one would never know why from only watching this big black cat with his human mother. I fortunately fared rather well with Howie, including when I gave him an airplane ride in my hands as my sister watched in astonishment. A few days ago my sister chose to bring Howie's long life to a more gentle end than cancer would have otherwise allowed. Undoubtedly, he has earned his place in our family's Pantheon of pets.

A couple of months ago in Changsha, Hunan, I saw a number of Howie's extremely distant Chinese cousins, often at small convenience stores or shops. Comparing what I know of their lives to Howie's reminds me of the immense similarities and differences between China and the U.S. and how much life varies within in each. Below are photos of eight cats in a land far away from Howie's. I suspect all of them would appreciate a treat.

cat walking down an alley in Changsha, Hunan, China

cat sleeping in Changsha, Hunan, China

cat standing in front of a chair in Changsha, Hunan, China

cat meowing in Changsha, Hunan, China

black cat in front of a basket and box of fruit in Changsha, Hunan, China

cat sitting inside a shop in Changsha, Hunan, China

white cat on a wooden chair in Changsha, Hunan, China

tiny black kitten crossing an alley in Changsha, Hunan, China

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Red, White, and Blue on Motorbikes in Shanghai and Changsha

In the previous post about the motorbikes I saw yesterday in Shanghai with designs resembling the flags of the U.S. and the U.K., I mentioned I now often seen motorbikes in China with the latter design. Today in Shanghai, as usual, I was not searching for motorbikes. Yet less then two minutes after stepping outside the door, I saw another motorbike with a Union Jack design.


Again, I was not particularly surprised. But a couple of hours later, I was surprised to see yet another motorbike with the Stars & Stripes design, something I have seen far less often in China.


A couple of hours later though, another motorbike helped create a more usual balance for the day.


Today I also looked through photos from my stay in Changsha a couple of months ago. I don't have photos of any American-themed motorbikes from there and don't think I saw any. But I do have photos of three British-themed motorbikes. They definitely weren't the only ones I saw. I took a photo of one because of its setting.

motorbike with a Union Jack design parked in an alley in Changsha
Changsha, Hunan

And I took a photo of two others because they were parked near each other.

two motorbikes with Union Jack designs at a parking lot in Changsha
Changsha, Hunan

The motorbikes in the photos above and in the previous post appear to be similar models but the Union Jack designs are not exactly alike and often don't match the flag as much as would be possible. My main point for now is simply that the general design is not uncommon in Shanghai and a number of other cities in China — a change of pace from four years ago when a man felt safe claiming his Union Jack motorbike was "one of a kind" in Shanghai.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Oh Say Can You See the Motorbike in Shanghai

While walking across Xizang South Road in Shanghai today, I didn't see anyone wearing clothing reminding me of the flag of the U.S. as I did yesterday. But a motorbike with the familiar theme did zip by.

young man and woman riding a motorbike with a U.S. flag design in Shanghai

Although I don't often see similar motorbikes, in a number of Chinese cities I do regularly see motorbikes with a British-themed design. And I was not the least surprised when I noticed one a few hours later elsewhere in Shanghai.

motorbike with British flag design in Shanghai

More about the popularity of Stars & Stripes and Union Jack designs in China, whether on motorbikes or clothing, another day.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Signs of Socialist Core Values in Shanghai

sign in China for "socialist core values"

Today in Shanghai I saw the above sign. Along a wall, related signs promoting the various "socialist core values" — a focus of President Xi Jinping — accompanied it. Similar signs aren't uncommon to see in Shanghai or elsewhere in China, not surprising since Xi wants the values to be "all-pervasive, just like the air". On that note, Xi has stressed he doesn't want them polluted by undesired Western values or institutions. I will touch more deeply on this topic later. For now, I just want to say as a man wearing a shirt with a clothing design I have seen many times in China passed by, I wondered about the signs' impact. It's hard to know.

man wearing tank-top with U.S. flag design walking a signs promoting socialist core values

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Non-International View of Zhuhai from Macau

To balance things out with the previous post, here is a view of Zhuhai from Coloane Village in Macau:

view of Zhuhai from Coloane Village in Macau

Once again, I would recommend against swimming from one side to the other.

Air pollution obscures some of the details, but if you look closely at the mountains, you can see wind turbines, which struck me as both hopeful and ironic.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Non-International View of Macau from Zhuhai

View of Macau from Zhuhai at night
View of Macau, China, from Zhuhai, China (February 2015)

You could try swimming from the location in Zhuhai where I took the above photo to Macau. I stress "try". Even if you reached Macau, the relevant authorities would likely prevent you from getting much farther, and what follows would likely not be a pleasant experience. Reaching Macau would be far easier if you simply walk to the nearby immigration and control point and cross the border on land, assuming you have the relevant documents. Many Chinese people I have met in the same area did not though. But if you do make it to Macau from Zhuhai, regardless of the method you use I wouldn't call it "overseas travel".

Monday, August 3, 2015

Many of China's 109 Million "Overseas" Travelers Never Left China

People in Zhuhai walking away from the border gate with Macau
People in Zhuhai, China, walking away from the border gate to Macau, China (February 2015)

The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) claims mainland Chinese citizens traveled "overseas" more than 100 million times last year, the most ever. This statistic is often mentioned in media reports and commentary regarding growing opportunities for countries to attract international travelers from China and their money (examples from The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Xinhua, and Quartz). But numbers from China often come with big caveats which significantly impact their meaning. This one is no exception.

To be clear, the statistic does not cover citizens of Hong Kong or Macau, both Special Administrative Regions where a number of rules and regulations differ from the rest of China. One possible reason for omitting the two cities is if CNTA included them it would be at a loss to explain why it wasn't also including Taiwan. The People's Republic of China claims Taiwan but doesn't currently control it. Presumably CNTA doesn't have the same access to Taiwan's travel data. So clumping Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau together, a common thing to do in China, helps CNTA avoid highlighting a delicate issue. And there can be meaningful reasons for not including data about Hong Kong's and Macau's citizens, including many countries making it easier for them to visit by having more generous entry rules for them than for citizens of mainland China.

Less mentioned and more significant than the statistic excluding people traveling from Hong Kong and Macau is it including people traveling from mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau, where mainland Chinese need a special permit to visit. This means when a Chinese citizen living in Shenzhen travels to Hong Kong it could count as "overseas" travel despite the cities sharing a border easily crossed by foot and both undisputedly being part of the People's Republic of China. The same holds true for Macau, which borders Zhuhai.

I can't find a breakdown of the statistic for all of 2014, which was 109 million, on CNTA's website. However, in December last year CNTA provided additional details for the year's first 11 months when the number had already surpassed 100 million. According to CNTA, of those more than 100 million "outbound tours" from January through November last year:
Overseas tourist destinations of Mainland Chinese citizens are: Asia (89.5%, in which Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan account for 70.4%), Europe (3.5%), Africa (3.0%), Americas (2.7%), Oceania (1.1%), and other regions (0.2%).
Reported elsewhere, Taiwan had 2.8 million mainland Chinese tourist arrivals for all of last year. Hong Kong and Macau clearly account for a large majority of the trips. Even in the most extreme case, the final numbers for the year could not change this point.

So indicating Chinese citizens made 100 million "overseas" or "international" trips is highly misleading at best. This doesn't mean there aren't growing opportunities for countries such as the U.S. to attract international travelers from China or influence them to spend more money. I think there are. But citing the 100 million statistic isn't usually going to be a great way to make that case.