Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Xiangqi for One in Taiyuan

I have seen many people in China playing xiangqi outside, and often a crowd will gather to watch the two players match wits. Onlookers aren't necessary for the game though, and this afternoon in Taiyuan I noticed that some don't even need a second player.

man playing a game of xiangqi alone next to a donuts & bread stand

I didn't try the donuts nearby. I will wait until I come across what I like to call Chinese donuts, otherwise known as xián jiānbing (咸煎饼) — something I won't miss whenever I am next in Guangzhou.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Taiyuan Xiangqi Moment

Yesterday in Taiyuan I came across an opportunity to add to the xiangqi series of posts.

man pointing at a game piece in a xiangqi game on a board sitting on the ground surrounded by 5 men
A game of xiangxi alongside Shuangta North Road

Assorted China Tech Links: Innovation and Control Mix, a Reason to Break Through, and Uber China Sold

Some longtime readers will remember the days when there was a more explicit tech focus here, and I hope to soon return to some old themes. For now, I will keep it simple and share links to six pieces on China tech:

1. Emily Rauhala pushes back against the idea that heavy censorship by the government means tech innovation has been stifled in China:
“You go on Facebook and you can’t even buy anything, but on WeChat and Weibo you can buy anything you see,” said William Bao Bean, a Shanghai-based partner at SOS Ventures and the managing director of Chinaccelerator, a start-up accelerator.

“Facebook’s road map looks like a WeChat clone.”

2. Despite the innovation, not everything is rosy about the Chinese internet. Christina Larson captures some of how the good and the bad fit together:
These stark contrasts—an Internet that is simultaneously dynamic and lethargic, innovative and stultifying, liberating yet tightly controlled—are easier to understand when you realize they are not necessarily contradictions. Being forbidden to develop tools for stimulating free expression or transparency essentially forces Chinese entrepreneurs to concentrate their resources on services that facilitate commerce, convenience, and entertainment. And the more successful those kinds of businesses become, the more money they and their investors have at stake, possibly cementing the status quo.

3. Zheping Huang looks at a specific case where Chinese people who previously didn't see a need to access online information and services blocked in China finally felt compelled to use a VPN to break through the Great Firewall:
Recently, hundreds of Chinese investors, who may be out $6 billion in one of China’s biggest financial scams, have leaped over the Great Firewall in an organized, determined way. After being ignored by China’s regulators and lawmakers, these desperate investors are pouring into Twitter to spread news of their plight.

While their numbers are small, their actions are already inspiring other Chinese investors burned in a monumental number of recent scams, turning Twitter into a new venue for angry Chinese citizens to protest. And as they leap over the Great Firewall, some are coming to a new realization—the government has been cracking down on free speech and civil protests just like theirs for years.

4. For something fresh from today, there is big news about Uber and Didi Chuxing:
Didi Chuxing, the dominant ride-hailing service in China, said it will acquire Uber Technologies Inc.’s operations in the country, ending a battle that has cost the two companies billions as they competed for customers and drivers.

Didi will buy Uber’s brand, business and data in the country, the Chinese company said in a statement. Uber Technologies will receive 5.89 percent of the combined company with preferred equity interest equal to 17.7 percent of the economic benefits.

5. The sale of Uber China comes as no huge surprise to many. Heather Timmons highlights how the writing was on the wall:
Then things got even worse—Beijing started to openly back Didi, with an investment by China’s sovereign wealth fund into the new Chinese giant. China’s state banks rolled out billions of dollars in loans to Didi.

In August 2015, Uber reported it was being scrubbed from WeChat, a move, Quartz wrote, that was “almost certainly designed to protect and promote Didi Kuaidi” and make it hard for Uber to do business.

6. And Josh Horowitz takes a quick look at the impact of beyond China:
Didi’s $1 billion investment in Uber likely gives it only a minuscule stake in the ride-hailing giant. But it nevertheless means it has its hands in every single one of its potential major competitors.

This changes perceptions of the future of the ride-hailing industry.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Considering the Options

Signs for shop selling pig's feet and pig's brain in Taiyuan, Shanxi
Signs for shop selling pig's feet and pig's brain in Taiyuan, Shanxi

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Changing Slogans

man on ladder and men in boat covering the slogan "加快科学发展 率先转型跨越" with another sign
Slogan promoting scientific development about to be covered underneath the Yingze Bridge in Taiyuan, Shanxi

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Six Bowls of Noodles in Taiyuan

The knife-shaved noodles (刀削面) I saw cut off of dough on top of somebody's head while they balanced on a unicycle at Shanxi Huiguan are a famous style of noodles in Shanxi province. The knife, cutting style, and dough are critical components. Placing the dough on your head or having a unicycle handy is not.

Many other styles of noodles can be found in Shanxi, and trying all of them is a bit of a challenge. The Taiyuan Noodle Shop, another well-known restaurant, makes things a little easier with its set meal of six noodle styles accompanied by various sauces and meats.

set menu dish including six styles of noodles (六中面套餐) at Taiyuan Noodle Shop (太原面食店)

You can mix and match as you would like. Admittedly, the combo made by a server to help get me started was better than any of my own creations. In terms of the noodles, the cat's ear noodles (猫耳朵), named for their distinctive shape, were my favorite.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unicycle Head Noodles in Taiyuan

Does cutting Shanxi-style noodles off of dough on top your head sound impressive? How about cutting noodles while on a unicycle?

Cutting noodles off of dough on top your head while on a unicycle? Now that's really something.

young woman slicing noodles from dough on the top of her head while she balances on a unicycle

The noodles I had just finished before watching this performance last night at a well-known restaurant in Taiyuan were another type. On one hand, I doubt they were cut by somebody on a unicycle. On the other hand, I can't completely rule out they were cut by somebody on a tricycle.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Barbecue and Baijiu in Taiyuan

It was late, and I hadn't yet had dinner. So I went out and headed to a late-night barbecue place in Taiyuan. Due to the recent rains they didn't have any vegetable options. I am unclear about the connection, but "tomorrow" they said.

As I waited for my meat kebabs, the cook took a drink of a clear liquid from a thin plastic cup. When I see people drinking water I sometimes joke that I think they are drinking baijiu, a rather strong Chinese alcohol. But as I made the usual joke, I realized that the cook was probably really drinking baijiu.

He smiled and spoke to his assistant. A jug of baijiu appeared, and soon I held a plastic cup with a healthy amount of baijiu.

And so, we drank.

barbecue cook drinking baijiu in Taiyuan

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump in Taiyuan, Trump on Tiananmen

This afternoon in Taiyuan I came across a newsstand.

newsstand in Taiyuan displaying covers of various magazines including one featuring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

One of the featured magazine covers included a mockup of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having what appears to be a vociferous discussion. So I wondered if when I returned to my laptop I would be able to find a new quote regarding China from either of them to accompany the photo I took.

As it turns out, today The New York Times published the transcript of its recent interview with Donald Trump. In reference to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, surviving a recent coup attempt, Trump had this to say:
I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that. Right?
I will refrain from commenting on Trump's perspective. I will just say that it should be interesting when he and Clinton face off for real in a debate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Few Modern Tweets and an Old Newsreel on Flooding in Beijing and Tianjin

Today flooding is affecting Chinese cities such as Beijing and neighboring Tianjin. A tweet by Bill Bishop reminded me of some points raised in yesterday's post about flooding in Taiyuan.

Sam Crane remarked on a sliver of positive news:

Rain doesn't always mean much better air, but I similarly noticed the air during yesterday's flooding in Taiyuan was unusually good. That didn't last very long though.

Matthew Stinson remarked on some misleading posts regarding the flooding in Tianjin.

I doubt Stinson was referring to 77-year-old newsreels. But I will share below a brief account of the 1939 Tianjin flood which left thousands dead. The video includes some striking scenes from another time. It also includes a striking concluding statement: "So once more the swelling flood adds another burden to the tragedy of modern China".

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

More Flooding in China: Twenty Scenes from Taiyuan, Shanxi

In a piece about widespread flooding in China this year, Te-Ping Chen explored the possible causes, such as:
“China’s urban construction was carried out at too fast a pace,” says Jia Haifeng, associate professor with Tsinghua University’s environmental science and engineering department. Officials have tended to focus on visible projects such as roads, bridges and housing, he said. “They emphasized infrastructure above ground, but not so much infrastructure below ground.”

Many roads are built without being properly leveled, said Andrew Buck, an urban planner at Beijing landscape-architecture firm Turenscape, meaning that water easily accumulates. Older drainage systems often can’t accommodate current demands.
During my recent time in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi in northern China, I noticed it too apparently lacked appropriate infrastructure to deal with wet weather. Almost any time it rained, some streets became challenging to cross by foot or walk on (sometimes there isn't a useable sidewalk) due to water quickly accumulating in places.

Today the rain was especially heavy. When I went out for lunch I was soon faced with an unusual decision: try looking for food in another direction or step into water nearly knee-deep with a slight smell of sewage. I had deliberately put on sandals, was wearing shorts, and didn't have any open sores, so I figured I would take the submerged route to get a better sense of the extent of the flooding.

Below is a series of photos presented in the order they were taken during a brief outing this afternoon in a popular central shopping district. They include scenes of people crossing roads, vehicles trying to make it through high water, not-so-lucky vehicles, people dumping out water from an underground garage, a person clearing debris from a grating where water drained, and water flowing out of a sewer hole. Based on the pattern of garbage on the sidewalks, the flooding had already subsided from its high point by the time I made it outside. None of what I saw was as dramatic as what I experienced in Hengyang, Hunan, two years ago — in other words, no chengguan offered me a ride on a raft. It also wasn't as dramatic as many other recent examples of flooding in China. But the photos capture a side of life in a city, and in a country, in need of a water drainage infrastructure upgrade.

Car driving on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

car driving on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

Scooter and people on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

stalled car, person riding a bicycle, and people walking on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

young man and woman with umbrella on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

woman and girl with an umbrella walking on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

two young woman pulling up their skirts to avoid getting them wet on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

people crossing a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

men dumping out water from a flooded garage

men dumping out water from a flooded underground garage

SUV driving on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

woman pushing scooter on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

people crossing a flooded street next to a Starbucks in Taiyuan, China

man riding a motorbike on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

car driving on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

man standing in a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

open sewer hole cover in a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

young man clearing debris from a grating for drainage on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

motor-rickshaw on a flooded street in Taiyuan, China

water coming out of a sewer hole on a sidewalk next to a flooded street in Taiyuan, China