Monday, May 30, 2016

UV Protection Meets Spaceballs In Taipei

Yesterday at the Xinyi Place shopping area in Taipei, I saw something unusual.

to young women wearing huge silver helmets and passersby

The large shiny helmets, reminiscent of the movie Spaceballs, were hard to miss.

young woman wearing a huge helmet applying lotion to a toddler

Soon the helmets came off. Yet the activities proceeded as before.

young women in silver skirts applying lotion to passers by in Taipei

This wasn't a promotion for a Spaceballs sequel. Instead, it was a promotion for lotions with UV protection — a common type of product in a region where many want to keep or make their skin a whiter color — from the Japanese brand Bioré. The young women wearing the helmets offered to apply lotion to the arms of passersby, whether woman, man, or child.

Nothing was available for purchase, but some people had their photos taken with the lotion.

young woman having her photo taken with a Biore lotion

The large helmets appeared to be helpful in attracting attention. Presumably, they represent the lotion's ability to block UV light, which raises a key question I'm not sure Bioré has considered.

How many people would rather buy the helmets?

Two giant Bioré UV helmets

Taipei 101 Contrasts

Two photos of Taipei 101 taken on Saturday and Sunday from opposite sides of the skyscraper.

View  from Xinyi Public Assembly Hall (信義公民會館) of Taipei 101 on a cloudy early evening

view from Xinyi shopping district of Taipei 101, and under-construction building, and an ad for Brappers

Friday, May 27, 2016

Assorted Links: School Commute Peril, No Need for Refrigerators, and Deceptive Medical Treatment

1. Photos of how some children in Sichuan province must commute to school remind me of nightmares I have had:
Authorities in south-west China have vowed to come to the aid of an isolated mountain village after photographs emerged showing the petrifying journey its children were forced to make to get to school.

To attend class, backpack-carrying pupils from Atuler village in Sichuan province must take on an 800m rock face, scrambling down rickety ladders and clawing their way over bare rocks as they go.

2. Fortunately, most in China don't have as difficult of a commute. In fact, an especially short commute is one of the reasons why some people like those in a small Shandong town don't use refrigerators:
Aunt worked as a nurse in the local hospital, and as traditionally is the case with state-owned institutions in China, there was an apartment complex specially built for the hospital workers right across the street, which saved her from having to make much of a commute. On most days—so long as she had not worked the night shift—she would go to work in the morning and come back a little before noon, when she would have enough time to prepare lunch. This schedule was more or less the norm in Jiaxiang. Adults had long breaks off work in the middle of the day. And high-school students, who might be in school till 8 or 9 p.m., were given enough time at midday to go home for lunch. The daily schedule of working adults and students thus accommodated schedules that allowed lunch to be cooked and eaten at home, and that, in turn, meant that most food eaten at home would be finished off the same day it was prepared.

3. Sometimes, large pieces of equipment are bought and used for reasons relating to deception:
A salesman at Dongnan Medical soon explained why many of the devices were built to resemble MRI machines. "Private hospitals need to let customers know these are valuable pieces of equipment," he said. "The big devices entice customers in for treatment" . . . .

The machine resembled a large, open-style MRI machine, and its sleek white exterior held long English words—"Electrochemical Apparatus," "Infrared Light." On the patient table, a framed certificate stated the machine was made by the USA Wolman Prostate Institute, which later research revealed is a dummy company . . .

"The red light cures prostatitis," the salesman said, beaming proudly and handing me a brochure for the Wolman Prostate Gland Treatment System. The brochure featured a photo of the USA Wolman Prostate Institute's research center, which, thanks to a clearly labeled sign on the building, I quickly discovered was actually a photo of Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play football.
In multiple ways, the ending to this disturbing story about medical malfeasance in China is not a happy one.

4. As usual for these "assorted links" posts, I had a forth link to share. But another perspective just came to mind, and I want to consider it more. I have to run now, so I will share the piece later.

Posing in Front of a Taipei Love

two young women having their photograph taken in front of a sculpture of Robert Indiana's "LOVE" design in Taipei, Taiwan
Sculpture of Robert Indiana's LOVE design next to the Taipei 101 skyscraper (not in view)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Stars and Stripes on a Building in New Taipei City

The earlier photo of Hello Kitty facial tissues with an American flag theme reminded me of a striking design on a building I stumbled upon two years ago while walking down Lane 185, Zhongzheng Road, Luzhou District, New Taipei City.*

Building with a large flag of the U.S. painted on its side along Lane 185, Zhongzheng Road, Luzhou District, New Taipei City

A closer look at the relevant building:

Building with a large flag of the U.S. painted on its side along Lane 185, Zhongzheng Road, Luzhou District, New Taipei City

And for good measure, a view from the other direction:

Building with a large flag of the U.S. painted on its side along Lane 185, Zhongzheng Road, Luzhou District, New Taipei City

As to why there was a large flag of the U.S. painted on the side of the building, the front of the building and the stores and Christian religious organization inside didn't offer a definitive explanation.

front of a building on Zhongzheng Road, Luzhou District, New Taipei City, with a large flag of the U.S. painted on its side

According to Google Street View, the flag was there at least as early as 2009 and still remained as of September, 2015.

That is all I know. If any readers know more, I would be happy to share. While I have seen many designs clearly inspired by the American flag in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, seeing a painting of one this large is quite unusual.

*New Taipei City surrounds Taipei City.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stars and Stripes Hello Kitty Tissues in Taipei

Signs of Japanese and American culture are easy to spot in Taiwan. Why not combine them?

Hello Kitty facial tissues with a U.S. flag design
Tissues for sale at a Taipei convenience store

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Digging for Fun Near Mao in Xiangtan

The previous post included a photo of a set of statues including Mao Zedong at the Dongfanghong Plaza in Xiangtan, Hunan. For a contrast, here is a scene from last year outside the large BBG shopping mall (步步高生活广场) underneath the plaza:

kids in a toy diggers at a sandbox outside of the BBG shopping mall (步步高生活广场) underneath Dongfanghong Plaza in Xiangtan, Hunan

Neither a shopping mall underneath a large statue of Mao nor an abundance of empty, unused space inside the mall seemed out of place in China. Another day, I will share more about this tenant-challenged mall and the large shopping center under construction across the street.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pieces for the 50th Anniversary of the Cultural Revolution

sculpture "Hometown Love" ("鄉情") at Dongfanghong Plaza (東方紅廣場) in Xiangtan, Hunan
"Hometown Love" ("鄉情") at Dongfanghong ("The East Is Red") Plaza in Yuetang District, Xiangtan, Hunan — not far from Mao Zedong's childhood home

Today, May 16, is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. In the spirit of "never forget", here are links with excerpts to some recent pieces:

1. An in-depth multimedia account possible in Hong Kong but not in mainland China: "Cultural Revolution, 50 years on — The pain, passion and power struggle that shaped China today":
Fifty years ago today, China issued a top directive calling on its people to rid society of “members of the bourgeoisie threatening to seize political power from the proletariat” – marking the start of a decade-long violent class struggle.

For 10 tumultuous years from 1966, the country underwent massive sociopolitical upheaval that saw countless politicians and intellectuals driven to their deaths, civilians killed in armed conflicts, and cultural relics and artefacts destroyed. The official death toll numbered more than 1.7 million.

We detail the birth of the movement – Mao Zedong’s brainchild – and how the hardline political campaign shook the nation even as its effects rippled across the globe. Former Red Guards and rebels share their personal accounts of the difficult decade that the country and its people are still struggling to come to terms with half a century on.

2. "50 Years After the Cultural Revolution, a Son Awaits Answers on His Father’s Death":
The teenage mob threw the couple into the back of a truck and took them to a school where they were beaten with military-style leather belts, the favorite punishment tool of Red Guards; a jump-rope twisted into a whip; and shoes with nails jutting out, Ms. Liu later said. The mob then drove the couple to another school where the beating continued, including with iron rods.

The father, Chen Yanrong, 37, insisted that the landlord label was wrong; his family had long given up the property. But back then, the younger Mr. Chen said, “the more you denied something, the more you were beaten.”

As he lay in his own blood, Chen Yanrong begged for water. The students said no, and he stopped breathing soon after.

3. "‘Flesh banquets’ of China’s Cultural Revolution remain unspoken, 50 years on":
In 1968 a geography instructor named Wu Shufang was beaten to death by students at Wuxuan Middle School. The body was carried to the flat stones of the Qian river where another teacher was forced at gunpoint to rip out the heart and liver. Back at the school the pupils barbecued and consumed the organs. . . .

“Cannibalism? I was here then, I went through it,” a man named Luo told AFP. But Wuxuan has developed rapidly in recent years and now, he said, that history “has no meaning”.

4. "Maoists still a force 50 years after the Cultural Revolution":
In the ancient city of Luoyang, the old, the poor and the marginalized gather daily in the main public square to profess nostalgia for the political movement, downplaying that period's violent excesses. . . .

It was here in the plaza that Xu Xiaobin met a group of Maoist retirees who changed his thinking five years ago. That was before he was laid off from his 3,000 yuan ($460) -a-month machining job and condemned to a life of off-and-on construction work that has slowed to a trickle as the economy sputters.

"Even the word 'layoff' didn't exist" in Mao's time, Xu said, standing outside the state-owned gear factory that used to support his family of four. "You look on the Internet and there are people showing off their wealth. Then there are people like me, working under the sun in 40-degree (Celsius, 104-degree Fahrenheit) heat."

Born in 1974, Xu scarcely experienced China under Mao, whose death in 1976 started China's journey toward liberalization. But during childhood, Xu saw pictures of his laborer father, and was told he was respected, not denigrated.

5. "China marks 50 years since Cultural Revolution with silence"
No official memorial events were reported by China’s heavily controlled media and Chinese academics were forbidden from talking about the sensitive period. . . .

“I am shocked that after 50 years we still don’t have a complete report on the Cultural Revolution. It is a shame," [said Wang Youqin, author of Victims of the Cultural Revolution, a three-decade investigation into Red Guard killings].

The academic said she was convinced that ordinary people could make a difference by remembering and recording the events of that tumultuous decade.

“Things will change,” Wang said. “If we make the effort, if we tell the truth, people will listen.”

6. "'What mistake did we make?' Victims of Cultural Revolution seek answers, 50 years on"
Chen Shuxiang shakes his head when asked if he can forgive the teenagers who chained his father to a radiator and used an iron bar to bludgeon him to death. . . .

Chen is determined such atrocities will not repeat themselves and vows to use his final years to shed light upon the tragedy through his father’s story. Once his 12-year-old grandson is old enough, he will tell him the details of how his great-grandfather died.

“Nothing like this had happened before in all the 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation,” he says. “It can’t be allowed to happen again.”

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Big Bowl of Rice in Historical Sujiawei Village

Look at this — another family-sized portion of rice.

dish of chicken and snow peas next to a large bowl of rice

The bowl was served alongside some excellent Hakka-style chicken and snow peas in Sujiawei, an old village in Heyuan, Guangdong. At the time, the traditional surroundings where I ate this meal were far more notable than the large bowl of rice. Even some talkative geese in the village were more worthy of attention.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Buckets of Rice Abound: China Expert Gets It Wrong at a Chinese Restaurant in the U.S.

Although acknowledged by a seemingly growing number of people, China's immense diversity remains difficult to grasp. It is also easy to forget. A story in The Washington Post about a recent incident involving a group of diners and a big bowl of rice at the Chinese restaurant Peter Chang in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., touches upon this:
One of the diners, who had lived in Beijing for much of the 2000s, was surprised [when a server brought out a family-style bowl of rice] and made a comment to the server, saying "'Oh, you guys don't serve them in individual rice bowls?'," related another diner in the party, who asked to go by his first name, Matt.

The server told the group that when rice is served to three or more diners at Peter Chang, it comes in a large bowl. The former Beijing resident thought that was odd, considering the family-sized portion ran counter to the personalized bowls he encountered in China. The server then asked if the foursome would like individual rice bowls instead. They declined.

"She said, 'No, no, I can bring it for you,'" Matt related. "He said, 'No, no, don't worry about it. It's fine. Just wanted to let you know that's the way it's done in China. It's not a big deal.' . . . It just got really awkward."
Read the rest of story for the sarcasm and insults which followed and the resulting fallout. I will just focus on the claim made by Matt's friend. Had I had been there, I would have felt compelled to respond.

But before sharing what I would have said, I would like to take a slight detour and introduce a wonderful, spicy chicken dish (茶油鸡) I enjoyed in Hengyang, Hunan.

spicy chicken dish (茶油鸡) in Hengyang, Hunan

Looks delicious, right? It was. But what I really want to highlight is in another picture I hadn't expected to ever share here. It shows the dish in a more-consumed state.

partly finished meal with a metal bucket of rice in Hengyang

The photo also includes a family-sized portion of rice served in a shiny metal bucket. I wasn't surprised by it at all. And I didn't question the waitress about it.

How the rice was served at a nearby trendier restaurant did surprise me though.

trendy restaurant in Hengyang, Hunan

It is hard to see in the above photo, so I will share a cropped version.

couple sitting at a restaurant table with a rice cooker

At this restaurant, you can have your family-sized portion of rice served in a rice cooker which sat on your table. In my experience, this is rather unusual.

But what isn't unusual in Hengyang is restaurants serving family-sized portions of rice for diners to share. In fact, it is quite common. Part of a rice bucket can be seen in this photo of a tasty chicken dish at another restaurant in Hengyang.

spicy dish and greens with portion of a metal rice bucket visible

And at yet another restaurant, one can be seen in this photo of my favorite eel dish in Hengyang.

spicy eel dish with portion of a metal rice bucket in Hengyang, Hunan

Are family-sized portions of rice just a Hengyang thing? Nope, it is common elsewhere in Hunan province too. For example, here is a photo of a spicy chicken dish (earlier shared here) I enjoyed several times at a restaurant in Hunan's capital, Changsha.

spicy chicken dish next to a wooden bucket of rice in Changsha, Hunan

In this case, a lovely wooden bucket was used. They are common as well. Please don't complain to your server about these. Wooden buckets of rice are the best.

So are family-sized portions of rice just a Hunan thing? Again, no.

Here is a part of a meal I enjoyed over nine years ago in Wuhan, Hubei.

assorted dishes and a big glass bowl of rice at a restaurant in Wuhan, China

In this case, a big glass bowl for the family-sized portion of rice worked just fine.

But the glory of wooden buckets shouldn't be forgotten, so here is one with a lot of rice at an incredible vegetarian restaurant in Guiyang, Guizhou.

vegetarian dish in front of a wooden bucket of rice in Guiyang, Guizhou

At another restaurant in Guiyang, this one with meat on the menu, a big metal bowl sufficed for the family-sized portion of rice.

dry hot pot in front of a big metal bowl of rice in Guiyang, Guizhou

But Peter Chang isn't famed for serving the local-style food found in Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou. Instead, it is described as an "authentic Sichuan outpost". I happen to be a big fan of Sichuan-style (Szechuanese) food. On that note, here is a rabbit dish I ate in Zigong, Sichuan.

rabbit meat dish in front of a wooden bucket of rice in Zigong, Sichuan

Now that is a stunning wooden bucket (with rice).

Here is another rabbit dish I ate in Zigong.

rabbit meat dish near a big metal bowl of rice in Zigong, Sichuan

Both of these meals in Zigong came with family-sized portions of rice. Like rabbit meat, this is common there.

I am not familiar with the details of Peter Chang's menu, but many Sichuan restaurants outside of Sichuan province base their menu on the style of food found in its capital Chengdu.

So here is a dish I enjoyed during my most recent visit to Chengdu.

spicy dish next to a wooden bucket of rice in Chengdu, Sichuan

I am not sure whether this is a rabbit or a chicken dish, but there was definitely plenty of rice in that beautiful wooden bucket.

Undoubtedly, many places in China serve "personalized bowls" of rice. In my experience, region is one key factor affecting the likelihood of receiving a family-sized portion of rice at a restaurant in China. Other factors matter as well. Even in a city such as Hengyang where family-sized portions of rice are especially common, single servings in small bowls are typical in some environments — for example, cafeteria-style restaurants.

I don't know the percentage of restaurants in China which serve family-sized portions of rice, and a guess wouldn't be very meaningful. But I am confident it is significant number. I don't take photos of every meal I eat, when I do photograph a meal I rarely capture how the rice is served, and in preparing this post I only searched through a small percentage of my photos for relevant examples. In other words, these photos represent just a tiny portion of the many times in China I have been served a family-sized portion of rice. This is all the more remarkable, since in a majority of the above examples I was eating alone and would sometimes point out I only needed a small bowl of rice. But the bucket or big bowl of rice would still come.

So if I had been at that table in Virginia, I would have asked Matt's friend what in the world he was talking about and pointed out that serving family-sized portions of rice is certainly another "way it's done in China", particularly in a place such as Sichuan. I would be curious to learn about his own experience in China to better understand how he came to his conclusion. Perhaps we would discuss how China's "different colors" trip up even the people who may know it best.

And hopefully it would have been possible at some point for me to say "pass that authentic and awesome wooden bucket of rice".