Thursday, January 14, 2016

Apple Opens a Special New Store in Xiamen, China

Today Apple opened its first store in Xiamen, China, at the SM Lifestyle Center shopping mall. Unlike the notable Apple Store which opened almost a year ago at Jiefangbei in Chongqing, no Apple logo could be seen from afar.

Apple Store at the SM Lifestyle Center shopping mall in Xiamen, China

As explained by several Apple Store employees, that is all by design and part of the look for Apple's newest "D phase" of stores which also appears at new locations in Nanning far to the west and Shenyang far to the north.

Apple hasn't totally eliminated the outside logo, though. One is well hidden on a wall at the Xiamen store.

Hidden Apple logo at the SM Lifestyle Center shopping mall in Xiamen, China

My eyes strain to see the faintest sign of the logo in the above photo, and I had the same experience in person. If a store employee hadn't mentioned a hidden logo, I wouldn't have noticed it. Even after the hint, finding it took significant effort. Close up, the logo is somewhat easier to see but still doesn't jump out.

closeup view of the hidden Apple logo

Employees explained Apple wants people to focus more on the products than the logo and believes its stores' distinctive design will be enough for people to identify them.

It may also be hoped it communicates a message similar to "we're so cool we don't even need to show our logo". Another possible impact relates to the "fake" Apple Stores still common in China. Will they be willing to imitate a look which includes no sign?

A "fake" Apple Store with an "Apple Store" storefront sign
Another "Apple Store" I saw by chance today in Xiamen

Although it is not illegal in China for these stores to resell genuine Apple merchandise and most are easily distinguished from a genuine Apple Store, the bigger question is whether these stores are selling genuine, fake, or the semi-genuine Apple products I have seen being made at Huaqiangbei and elsewhere in China. Apple has far more control over what is sold in its own stores, where it can sell its genuine products in an environment which best complements its brand image, no small part of Apple's success.

The lack of a visible Apple logo didn't appear to hurt today. Over 30 minutes after opening there was still a long, slow line of people. The store is much easier to find than the logo.

crowd at the opening at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

A big draw for some people were the limited free shirts commemorating the opening.

free shirt given away at the opening of the at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

One group of Apple fans decided it was worth taking a break from their jobs in order to be among the first to visit the store and hopefully score some shirts.

group posing for a photo in front of the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

At the entrance, people were greeted with cheers and high-fives from Apple Store employees.

Apple employees greeting customers at the opening of the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Unlike the Jiefangbei store, no special art marked its opening. But the Xiamen store can make its own claims to fame, at least for now. According to an employee, it boasts the longest LED light panels of any Apple Store in China.

long lights at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

long overhead lights at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

And it also has the largest Ultra HD Screen.

large Ultra HD Screen at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

The live greenery inside is another aspect Apple's new look for its stores.

live plants in a wall at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

During the opening hours the store was packed with customers and Apple Store employees.

crowd at the opening of the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

As seems to be common for Apple's new stores in China, a number of the employees were from the the U.S. and established stores elsewhere in China. During my visit I met employees who had transferred from California, Hawaii, Texas, and Shanghai. At least some of them expect to be at the Xiamen store for two years. This not only helps Apple ensure its China stores offer an experience similar to its U.S. stores but could also have benefits when Apple's employees bring what they learn in China back to the U.S. or to elsewhere in the world.

After the opening hour or two, the crowd thinned to a point where the outside line had disappeared and the inside was still busy but moving around was more manageable. As Best Buy has learned, crowds can be especially deceiving in China. In the end, something else matters much more.

RMB cash counting machine

So Apple is surely keeping a closer eye on sales, whether by cash or card.

Apple employee using cash counting machine for a man's purchase

person making a purchase with a credit card at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Below are more scenes from the store today including employees demonstrating, assisting, discussing, and photographing; customers watching, trying, buying, and waiting for others; and security keeping an eye on things. The store is Apple's 30th in China, and more are on the way. The opening is symbolic not only for Apple but Xiamen as well. Like many other cities in China, Xiamen has seen much recent development. An under-construction subway system will soon have a station next to the large shopping mall, something surely not lost on Apple as it seeks to grow as well.

Apple employee helping a man put on an Apple Watch

Apple employee helping a customer put on an Apple Watch

Apple employees assisting customers

Apple employees assisting a customer

Apple employee assisting a customer

Apple employee assisting a customer

Apple employees with a customer

Apple employee assisting a customer with a laptop

Apple employee assisting a customer

Apple employee assisting a customer with headphones at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

customer looking at headphones

customer using a laptop for sale at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

customers in front of monitor displaying Jupiter at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

people trying iPads at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Apple employee giving a demonstration at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Apple employee giving a demonstration

Apple employee giving a demonstration

woman waiting with a suitcase at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

people using mobile phones at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

security at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

three employees speaking to each other at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Apple employee taking a photograph with a Canon camera at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

man with Swarovksi bag making a purchase at the SM Lifestyle Center Apple Store in Xiamen, China

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Book That Won't Be Published in Hong Kong

Woman holding a sign saying "Stand up for Press Freedom" at a rally in Hong Kong
Sign held at Sunday's rally in Hong Kong for five missing booksellers

Kris Cheng reported an example of people fearing to "stand up for press freedom" in Hong Kong:
A new book by a Chinese dissident planned for publication in Hong Kong and critical of China’s president Xi Jinping has been suspended due to pressure. . . .

Yu says that the book will be published in Taiwan in late February, calling Taiwan the “last lighthouse of publishing freedom for ethnic Chinese society”. On whether the Taiwanese version will be available in Hong Kong bookstores, Yu says he is “not optimistic”.
The chief editor for the publisher left little doubt the decision was a result of five Hong Kong booksellers disappearing under suspicious circumstances when he explained people "want to stay out of trouble so that they won’t be the next one".

Without changing any laws, China's "two systems" have become more similar.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Hong Kong Media Not Steering Clear of Politics

Despite an increasing number of similarities, Hongkonger's ability to freely express themselves at yesterday's rally speaks to how Hong Kong remains different from cities in mainland China. Two stories on the front page of today's South China Morning Post speak to the same issue.

Front page of South China Morning Post with headlines "Steer clear of politics, Shanghai media told" and "Thousands Rally For Missing Booksellers"
"Why can't the police solve this problem? Because it is a political issue."

A Quick Comment About Today's Rally for the Missing Booksellers in Hong Kong

man bounded with a noose in front of him and the word "kidnapped" in Chinese

I have much to say and share about today's rally / protest in Hong Kong regarding the missing booksellers. Unfortunately, I expect to loose internet access any minute (unexciting maintenance issues) and may not have it again until morning. And tomorrow I expect to be heading elsewhere, so I'm not sure when I will be able to post next. For one look at today's events, check out a piece by the Hong Kong Free Press here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wan Chai Bookfair Makes No Mention of the Missing Hong Kong Booksellers

Early this evening on Lockhart Road in Hong Kong, there were few remaining signs of last night's demonstration by People Power for the missing booksellers who worked at Causeway Bay Books, now closed due to the suspicious disappearances. Instead, there was a long row of tents on the road.

Wan Chai Bookfair on Lockhart Road

They weren't part of a new demonstration. They were part of an event of the Wan Chai Bookfair series. A number of different publishers and bookstores were present, including Cite Bookshop located directly in front of the entrance to Causeway Bay Books' building.

Cite Bookshop tent at the Wanchai Bookfair

Books for sale at the Cite Bookshop tent included Barbara Demick's book about life in North Korea . . .

Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy" for sale at a Hong Kong book fair

. . . Euny Hong's book about pop culture in South Korea . . .

"The Birth of Korean Cool" for sale at a Hong Kong book fair

. . . and a memoir by Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" for sale at a Hong Kong Book fair

A variety of other books were available as well.

But it was what I didn't see which struck me most. Despite the obvious connections, I didn't notice a single mention of the missing booksellers or any sign of solidarity there or at any of the other tents set up on several streets in Causeway Bay.

It all seemed a bit surreal, especially as the yellow Causeway Bay Books sign continues to turn on at night.

Causeway Bay Books sign lit up at night

"Hong Kong is Dying": People Power's Demonstration for the Missing Booksellers

When I stopped by Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong this afternoon, not much had changed since yesterday's visit to the currently closed store yesterday. The sign at the building's entrance warning of mainland Chinese police was gone. Most of the same notes for Lee Bo and the other still-missing booksellers were on the store's still-locked door. I did not see the man who reminded me of Zhou Yongkang. Instead there was a different person nearby. I wasn't surprised when he took a few photos of me while I stood in front of the door. After I asked, he confirmed he was a press photographer. He soon joined several other photographers waiting outside who appeared bored.

When I returned to the area in the evening on my way to the nearby MTR station I saw a demonstration was about to start, so stayed around. It was led by People Power, a familiar political group in Hong Kong I have seen before, including at a Hong Kong fair half a year before the beginning of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. Photos of today's demonstration appear below along with a video of one of the demonstrators who spoke in both English and Cantonese.

The video would be more effective in some ways if shorter, but I have left it unedited to offer a look closer to what one would have experienced there. The speaker passionately expresses his concerns. Some people stop to listen. Many others in the busy commercial area simply walk by. Demonstrators hold signs and pass out informational flyers. There are even jokes.

I'm still digesting the events, so for the moment just a few informal points. The speaker in the video expressed a clear desire to reach out not only to Hongkongers but the rest of the world as well. This desire could also be seen in how another demonstrator made a point of speaking with foreigners, including me. I roughly estimate there was somewhere between 50-100 people watching at any moment while I was there. Uniformed Hong Kong police were present in an nonintrusive manner at the beginning but soon became less visible, if they were around at all.

Notable English comments made by the speaker in the video include (some paraphrased):
  • Lee Bo felt that if he stayed in Hong Kong and did not go to mainland China he would be safe. Lee Bo was wrong.
  • How can this happen in Hong Kong? It is very dangerous in Hong Kong nowadays.
  • They are trying to kill Hong Kong. Hong Kong is dying.
  • Why can't the police solve this problem? Because it is a political issue.
Finally, People Power is just one of many voices in Hong Kong. Others will make themselves heard as well. They can still do that in Hong Kong.

People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Sign with photos of the five people missing from Causeway Bay Books

Signs at the People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

"Missing Impossible" sign at People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Imitation of a street sign reading "Bookstore Five people WHERE they"

"Missing Impossible" sign hanging form the Causeway Bay Books sign

People Power demonstrator speaking to foreigners

People Power demonstrators holding signs

Speaker next to a woman holding a sign reading "Sometimes it's a short step from banning to burning" at the People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Closed Space Filled with Books China Doesn't Want Read: Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

If you are looking for something different from The Nostalgia Book Room — a Cultural Revolution themed store in Shaoguan, Guangdong — Causeway Bay Books with its banned-in-mainland-China offerings might be the answer. Today I decided to visit the store for the first time.

Far from Wuya Lane, the store can be found on the more crowded Lockhart Road in Hong Kong, a city with broader freedoms than Shaoguan and the rest of mainland China.

Causeway Bay Books on Lockhart Road in Hong Kong

The store doesn't display an English name, but a blue and white sign with its Chinese name 銅鑼灣書店 is easy to spot near an exit for the Causeway Bay MTR station. As you get closer, more signs confirm you have arrived at the right place.

Storefront signs for Causeway Bay Books (銅鑼灣書店)

All that remains is to enter the building and go up one story by stairs.

entrance to building where Causeway Bay Books is located

A sign outside the building today, may have convinced some people to abort a visit to the store though.

sign with "公安出未注意!" repeated three times

With an apparent typo*, it emphatically warns police from mainland China are around. Duly noted.

When I arrived at the store's entrance inside the building, I saw a man who looked somewhat like a cross between Zhou Yongkang and Hulk Hogan photographing notes on the store's outer door. He turned towards me and appraised the situation. After I smiled, he emitted a sound somewhat like a cross between a grunt and a laugh. He soon left without a word, which did not surprise me. But I did not expect he would go up instead of down the steps. I did not see him again.

Unfortunately, I am not able to provide a look inside the store as I did with The Nostalgia Book Room. Due to the suspicious disappearances of five people who worked there, Causeway Bay Books is currently closed.

door to Causeway Bay Books with "Closed" sign and notes left by visitors

During the approximately five minutes I was near the door, 4 people stopped by. One person initially acted as if they were going to a location higher in the building, but all appeared to have come solely to visit the store. Several took photographs, and all read the notes with wishes in Chinese for a safe return of the booksellers. The notes differed from those which appear in a video of another person's earlier visit to the closed store.

One note had a message in English similar to some Chinese messages on other notes.

note with messages "祝願早日平安回 重新營業" and "Freedom of speech never dies"
Freedom of speech never dies
from HKer
Freedom of speech may not now be dead in Hong Kong. But the current closure of Causeway Bay Books and a much larger international bookstore chain removing "controversial" books from its shelves in Hong Kong are signs of how it is suffering a thousand ongoing cuts.

locked chain around an outdoor metal door

*Thanks to several Hongkongers who believe this represents a common type of error for helping me sort this out. 未 appears to be a result of two errors regarding the likely intended character 沒. 沒 and 末 sound the same in Cantonese. 末 and 未 look similar. As someone who once researched language cognition by examining errors in written English, I found this intriguing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No Rain and Missing People & Books in Hong Kong

Unlike yesterday, no Hong Kong AMBER signal was needed to warn of heavy rains today in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Island on a clear day

The booksellers remain missing though. And more is missing:
English-language-focused Page One, which has a total of eight outlets in the city – six of them at Hong Kong International Airport – is understood to have begun withdrawing sensitive material from sale in late November, around the time the first of five men linked to Causeway Bay Books went missing. . . .

"The manager did not tell us the reason, but said Page One would no longer sell banned [in mainland China] books ever again.”
The Chinese government's role in the booksellers' disappearance remains unclear. But surely they like this result.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Amber Day in Hong Kong

In the U.S., an AMBER alert indicates an abduction of a child. And that is what first came to mind when I saw an AMBER signal today. Fortunately, the warning in Hong Kong indicated something rather different: heavy rain.

Sign with an "Amber" rainstorm signal alert in Hong Kong

Had I seen the warning prior to going out, I would have probably been less wet today.

Although no American-style Amber alerts were issued today in Hong Kong, the city is reacting to the mysterious disappearance and suspected detention of Lee Bo, the fifth person working for a publisher of works criticizing the Chinese government to go missing. The story has taken some twists and turns, including Lee's wife curiously retracting her claim he had been abducted. The only thing clear at the moment: not everything which has been reported adds up. And there are worries an effort to make those things better add up will only put the booksellers in a worse situation.

The forecast for tomorrow doesn't call for more rain. More important to many Hongkongers, though, is the forecast for their freedoms.

Future Seen Higher at Future Dancehall in Hong Kong

As a result of a good friend's wedding, I spent the New Year holiday in Hong Kong. I won't be here long, so I expect to only do a few HK-themed posts before returning to other topics. In that spirit and on the lighter side, here's some advertising I saw today in Hong Kong:

musical event advertising posters in Hong Kong

For a clearer view, here's an online version of the advertisement which caught my eye:

Future Dance Hall New Year's 2016 Promotion

There's just so much going on I don't know where to begin. So I won't. Like the scene of lightsabers during New Year's in Hong Kong, I will leave it to readers to ponder what may have inspired it or find any meaning. If you're interested in digging deeper, the associated event page on Facebook (the source for the 2nd image) is probably a decent place to start. It helped me answer a few of my questions. It also led to new ones. That's often how these things go.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year's Lightsabers in Hong Kong

During the recent New Year's celebrations in Hong Kong I didn't notice any pro-democracy yellow umbrellas, but I did see people carrying lightsabers.

people carrying lightsabers and a Captain America shield across an intersection in Hong Kong

Since several rather different possibilities come to mind, readers are free to find any symbolism in the scene on their own. Clearly, though, Captain America was enjoying the "sweet taste of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs" that night.