Thursday, August 24, 2017

My Own Experience: Typhoon Hato Hits Zhuhai

fallen trees on the Lianhua Road Pedestrian street in Zhuhai
Yesterday at the Lianhua Road Pedestrian Street in Zhuhai, China

After seeing a curious tweet early in the early evening two days ago, I discovered Zhuhai had a fair chance of soon being directly hit by a typhoon. I pondered the weather forecast. I pondered the fact that I had recently arrived in Zhuhai and was now staying only a couple of blocks from the water.

I had earlier noticed that rain was headed this way, but Google's concise weather forecast left out the tiny detail of "TYPHOON". The more detailed reports I now checked indicated the typhoon would be classified in the Western Hemisphere as category 1 — the weakest category for hurricanes using the Saffir–Simpson scale which goes up to category 5. I figured my best bet was to ride it out and assume I might not accomplish much the next day. Not deeply concerned but feeling like I might as well get in the spirit, I headed to the supermarket to stock up on supplies — including the ingredients to make my first peanut butter & jelly sandwich in several years.

Long story short, I stayed up very late enjoying most of my emergency supplies, including a bit of gin purchased at a 7-Eleven, while tracking the storm and going down a YouTube rabbit hole. The storm hadn't hit when I finally went to sleep sometime around 7 a.m. When I woke up the storm was over, and my room seemed much warmer. I soon diagnosed the problem: my hotel had no electricity, except a backup supply powering the hallway emergency lights.

After eating another peanut butter & jelly sandwich, I headed out to walk around Gongbei, the subdistrict in Zhuhai with the only land-border between Macau and mainland China. I am no expert on powerful storms, but I questioned how the damage I saw could be the result of just a category 1 storm. And I thought that there surely must be some deaths in the region.

When I arrived at Gongbei Port, the typically busy immigration channel to Macau was closed. One foreigner I met there expressed concern he would not able to cross in time before his Chinese visa expired that day. Before I left the area, though, power had been restored and police were giving signs there was reason for hope. It opened later in the day.

As I walked around other parts of Gongbei during the remaining daylight hours, I saw some areas had their power restored, though some of those remained without running water. Some streets reminded me of scenes in the movie Planet of the Apes. When I returned to my hotel at dusk, this part of Zhuhai still had no power. I decided to stay put expecting that finding a better option would prove too challenging. I successfully took a cool shower in complete darkness, and tried to go to sleep early with the help of some American over-the-counter sleep medicine. I woke up slightly before midnight to discover that power had been restored and turned on the air conditioning before returning to bed.

Today while surveying more of the damage I saw that some parts of Zhuhai still remained without power as of this afternoon. That didn't stop one restaurant from serving its special roasted goose, which I enjoyed while sweating in the heat.

I also learned today that the storm had quickly gained power and made it up to category 3 (category 10 storm, the highest, using Hong Kong's system) before making landfall in Zhuhai. That explains what I have seen much better. At the moment, there are sadly 16 confirmed deaths — 8 in mainland China and 8 in Macau. In a series of later posts, I will share photos capturing capturing some of the damage at various locations in Gongbei, Zhuhai, and how people dealt with it. I will update this post with links to those.

Also, yes, I am obviously no longer in Bengbu. I had planned to continue with Bengbu-themed posts a little longer until the typhoon derailed my plans. Although I don't plan to return to Bengbu in the near future, I hope to post more about it later.

Anyway, admittedly part of me is disappointed to have slept through the biggest storm I have ever experienced. But at least that way I avoided any temptation to immerse myself as I often like to do.

Update: Posts with scenes of damage from Typhoon Hato in Zhuhai:

1. The Lianhua Road Pedestrian Street
2. Near the Water in Gongbei
3. The Bay Bar Street on Shuiwan Road
4. A Fallen Tree on Baishi Road
5. The Midtown Complex
6. More From Gongbei
7. The Recovery

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Bengbu Photo Request

One day in Bengbu while I was walking outside at a shopping complex, a woman sitting in front of a small convenience store got my attention and indicated she'd like me to take her photo. So this happened:

man resting on an outdoor lounge chair and woman posing for a photograph

It wasn't the first time somebody I didn't know in China, or even Bengbu, asked me to take their photo. The people who make the requests haven't fit any noticeable pattern in terms of age or gender, and it doesn't happen often — perhaps once a month at most on average.

I have questions. I don't have answers. That's fine. It was a good moment regardless.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Because he's a ...": A Young Man in Bengbu, China, Succinctly Explains Why He Doesn't Like Barack Obama

Not long after finishing a post about people giving nazi salutes in Germany and the U.S., I stopped by a pedestrian street in Bengbu, China, for some late night food and a break from the bad news. As I waited for my corn on the cob to be grilled at a food stand, I spoke to several locals. To my surprise, one person said he recognized me. Indeed, a mutual friend of ours had shared a photo including me.

Soon a young woman and a young man approached. The young woman introduced herself as an American. Her English wasn't fluent, and she spoke with a strong Chinese accent. She said she had been born in the U.S. in a way which suggested to me she hadn't grown up there, but I didn't inquire further. The young man was from Bengbu.

The light conversation soon meandered to American politics. I learned the young man liked Donald Trump. He then added he liked Clinton as well. From the context I assumed he meant Hillary Clinton. It was an interesting mix, but again I didn't inquire further. I just hoped my corn would finish cooking soon.

A little later when it came up that I liked Barack Obama, the young man quickly replied he did not.

Somebody saying they liked Trump and Clinton but not Obama truly piqued my curiosity, corn or no corn. So I asked, "Why don't you like Obama?"

With a self-satisfied smile, he cheerily replied in English, "Because he's a nigger."

I looked away to gather my thoughts. After a brief moment, I turned towards the young woman and said, "Please take him away."

Her reaction suggested she understood why I had made the request. In any case, without any further words exchanged she walked away with him. A few moments later I glanced back and saw them talking. I hoped the young woman was able to explain things to some degree.

I have no illusions about the amount of racism in China. There's a lot. And many times when I have come across it in individuals, I have tried to better understand and constructively push back. I have never responded like I did the other night in Bengbu before, but the choice of words and manner of delivery hit me. In the heat of the moment in an informal setting, I sought a way to make an impression that might have some tiny bit of positive impact when, admittedly, I wasn't sure I was in the right frame of mind for constructive conversation.

A few years ago in Chongqing, China, I met another young man who also expressed he didn't like black people. In that case, I engaged in conversation, but what followed also caught me by surprise:
After I pushed back against some of his following points, he sat quietly in thought, and I wondered if I had made an impression. A minute or so later he broke his silence and asked, "Are there people in America who don't like black people?"

I replied, "There definitely are." I assumed he was curious about racial issues in the U.S. So I thought it could be valuable to shed some light on the immense challenges the country still faces, despite recent progress.

But before I could continue, he triumphantly declared, "You see. So I'm right."
And so I must question whether the young man in Bengbu would have expressed himself in the same manner without news such as that about white nationalists and white supremacists in the U.S. making its way to China. I don't doubt racism would exist in China without any American influence. But perhaps some in China feel emboldened by what they see happening in the U.S. now. As somebody who would hope the U.S. could use its soft power for good, it is an especially troubling question to consider.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stars & Stripes on a Boy and Motor Scooters in Bengbu, China

Today at a pedestrian street in Bengbu, Anhui province, I briefly met a little boy wearing clothing with a red, white, and blue stars & stripes design.

little boy wearing clothing with a red, white, and blue stars & stripes design

Nearby, I saw a familiar stars & stripes design style on a motor scooter.

motor scooter with US flag design in Bengbu, China

A very short walk away from there, I saw another type of stars & stripes design I have also seen before in China.

motor scooter with "Go With Me" US flag design in Bengbu

"Go With Me" US flag design on front of motor scooter

And across the river, I saw yet another red, white, and blue design.

motor scooter with red, blue, and white stars

All of this happened to come across my path in a span of less than 90 minutes. I saw more related designs later in the day and none of them struck me as out of the ordinary. The designs raise questions about American influence, or soft power, in China. In the next post, I will share a disturbing example of how that influence may be having an impact in an unfortunate way.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nazi Salutes from Chinese in Germany and White Nationalists in the U.S.

There is a certain irony in Chinese traveling all the way to Europe only to get arrested for expressing themselves in a country where they were far, far freer to express themselves. Over a week ago two Chinese citizens visiting Berlin, Germany, apparently thought it would be a grand idea to take photographs of themselves giving the Nazi salute in front of the Reichstag building. This was, in fact, a really bad idea for several reasons including that:
The Chinese citizens are now facing charges for "using symbols of illegal organizations" which could carry a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years, according to the police.

The Nazi party is banned in modern Germany, and its symbols and imagery can only be used for purposes such as teaching or historical research.
However, they should feel fortunate no passersby responded as one person did this past weekend not far away elsewhere in Germany:
Police say a drunken American man was punched by a passer-by as he gave the stiff-armed Nazi salute multiple times in downtown Dresden. . . .

Police say the American, who is under investigation for violating Germany’s laws against the display of Nazi symbols or slogans, had an extremely high blood alcohol level. His assailant fled the scene, and is being sought for causing bodily harm.
It isn't clear whether these men were expressing support for any Nazi ideals. But in the U.S. this past weekend, white nationalists took things to another level, a clearly intended level, by protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia, while carrying a variety of flags, including the Nazi flag, and giving the Nazi salute. One man who had previously shown much interest in Nazis plowed his car into another vehicle near counterprotesters setting off a chain reaction causing multiple injuries and one death.

There have been many powerful and thoughts thing written about the protests, the violence, and the reactions. I will simply share one of the powerful images widely shared this past weekend which especially spoke to me:

The photo actually appears to be from a protest last month in Charlottesville. One of the earliest postings was on Instagram (source of the above image). There was also an early Facebook post that identifies the officer as Darius Ricco Nash, who responded.

Regardless of when the photo was taken, it speaks to the events of this past weekend and to many others. And it is a very American photo. There is both bad and good in that.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dutch and Tolkien Possibilities for the Starbucks Grond in Bengbu

In regards to the "Grond Open" sign displayed on the opening day of a Starbucks in Bengbu, one reader pointed out that "grond" is a word in Dutch. I had noticed that as well. But since the word translates to "ground" in English and the Dutch phrase for "grand opening" is "grote opening", I didn't see strong reason to believe the sign was a result of the Dutch language.

Another reader excitedly (I imagine) shared that Grond is the name of a battering ram in the novel The Lord of the Rings. Author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it.
Here is how Grond was depicted in the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) directed by Peter Jackson:

Battering ram Grond in the movie The Return of the King
Source: Lord of the Rings Wiki

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and all, but I feel safe saying there wasn't a gigantic battering ram at the Starbucks nor were there images of Grond in any promotional signs. Perhaps Starbucks should consider it for the future, though.

Although the Dutch language and a fictional battering ram may not explain the "Grond Open" sign, along with the conversations about the sign I had with people at the Starbucks they are indicative of the various paths and questions that can be raised when trying to identify the cause of English which appears to be incorrect or unusual in some way in China. As one reader who has much experience in translating Chinese text to English mentioned, looking for explanations often leads one down a rabbit hole. Sometimes it even leads to a Grond hole.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trying to Explain the Starbuck's "Grond Open" Sign

In a comment about the sign with incorrect English — "Grond Open" — for a Starbucks on its opening day in Bengbu, Potomacker suggested reasons why English errors on signs are more common in China than in Singapore and included this as a factor:
I'm very confident that more than one employee at this new franchise can read English and recognize the error. But to speak up has no upsides and only downsides. It means that the manager must reorder the signs (more work); the printer must admit that he has no quality control (loss of face); there is a delay in getting a corrected sign on display (horrors, a potential loss of income!) Whereas a Singaporean business owner might express gratitude to a stranger pointing out an English error in a business text, a mainland employee who catches a similar mistake has learned by example to just keep silent and pretend that everything is perfect.
In reply, I will share two relevant conversations I had at the Starbucks along with some impressions. I don't have answers to some of the questions they raise, part of why I don't feel like I know why this "Grond Open" mistake occurred and why it was allowed to be displayed.

While I was taking a photo of the outdoor sign, a young Chinese man who had been sitting inside approached me and asked me a few questions. His family lived in Bengbu, he spoke English, and he had studied for the past year in Toronto, where he would return once school was back in session. I took the opportunity to ask him whether he noticed anything wrong about the sign. He said he didn't, so I asked him to read the English words. What he said sounded like "ground open". After I asked him what it meant, he appeared genuinely confused as he looked at the sign and said he didn't know. This struck me since people in China who have studied English are typically more skilled in written English than spoken English. Also, the Chinese text immediately below could have acted as a cue to what the English text should have been.

I also showed a photo of the sign to one of the Starbucks employees who spoke at least some English and asked her what she thought of it. She recognized the sign and pointed out it was for their first day. When I asked if there was anything wrong with the English on the sign, a deliberately leading question, she said "no" and smiled. Based in part on her expression, I wasn't convinced she hadn't noticed a problem. My past experience interviewing people in China led me to believe I wouldn't be able to effectively and comfortably explore the matter in the present environment, so I didn't pursue it. After I pointed out that "Grond Open" was a mistake, she explained the sign had been made by a local company.

These are conversations with just two people, but already there is plenty to consider and ask.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Bengbu Cats for International Cat Day

It has just come to my attention that today in International Cat Day. With the exception of pet stores & markets, I haven't seen many cats in Bengbu. But I did see a few today. One was in a small store and froze upon seeing me. After some staring, it darted for cover. Elsewhere, I saw a kitten in a tiny cage that had just been sold to a man. Perhaps the man knew it was International Cat Day. The kitten probably did not.

I don't have any photos of the cats I happened to see today, but in the spirit of the day I can share two photos of cats I saw earlier in Bengbu.

Here is a kitten in a small convenience store:

kitten in Bengbu, China

I later learned the kitten is only present when it is brought by a woman who sometimes works there.

Here is a cat outside late at night:

white cat outside in Bengbu, China

Of note, there are several pet stores along this stretch. The cat ran off when I approached closer.

And that concludes this blog's observance of International Cat Day.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Codes and Antlers Abound at a Coca-Cola China Promotion in Bengbu

Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China
Coca-Cola promotional event in Bengbu, China

For this year's summer campaign, Coca-Cola China with the help of McCann World group rolled out new packaging called the "Code bottle":
Cia Hatzi, McCann Worldgroup Regional Vice President for Coca-Cola said, "The codes include more than just emoticons, but also numbers mixed with characters and graphics. When communication involves feelings and emotions, we can turn conversations into real connections, which is the role Coca-Cola can help facilitate.”

The campaign debuts with two films that will run on both TV and digital platforms. The stories focus on friendship and romance, two themes which appeal to Chinese youth. The first spot, “Friend Hunt” [which came out in June] centers around an invitation, using codes, to connect with friends for a special moment. . . .

The second film, “Break-up”, [which came out in July] incorporates codes for consumers to trace a young couple’s relationship journey, from the first time they met, to their first date, first kiss, first fight and first break-up, and ultimately how they reconcile over a bottle of Coke.

Versions of both ads were displayed yesterday in a Coca-Cola promotional event at the Intime City (银泰城) shopping center in Bengbu, Anhui province. The last time I took a close look at a similar Coca-Cola promotion, I possibly came close to destroying one of the displays due to incorrectly believing the intended interaction involved slamming a red target as hard as one could. This time I decided to avoid any undesired feats of strength and just observed.

In addition to the large video screen, there were interactive booths, none of which even to me looked like they required any hitting.

Booths at a Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China

The more stations visitors attended, the bigger of a gift they could receive in return. For example, with a stamp from one station visitors could get a small bottle of Coke. With five stamps, though, visitors could use a machine which produced a large Code bottle according to their own specifications. The station with the longest line was a virtual reality ride.

virtual reality ride and large video screen at Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China

Also popular was a money grabbing booth which somewhat ineffectively blew paper tokens instead of money.

kids in a money blowing machine at a Coca-Cola promotion

Of course there was plenty of Coke around.

Coca-Cola bottles with deer antler caps

And at least some of the part-time staff were college students.

two young women wearing deer antlers and one young man at a Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China

The full festivities lasted just one day, and today only a scaled-down version remained.

smaller version of Coca-Cola promotion in Bengbu, China

All of the red deer antlers on displays, bottles, and heads of female staff aren't signs of Coca-Cola getting into the winter holiday spirit way too early. Instead, they are an integral part of this and other Coco-Cola promotions featuring the popular Chinese singer and actor Lu Han, who is the main character in the "Friend Hunt" ad. The character for "Lu" — 鹿 — in his name means "deer" and many of his fans wear deer antlers to show their support. One of Lu Han's performances in Beijing even set a Guinness World Records title for "largest gathering of people wearing antlers" with 1,731 participating. For context, this number surpasses the world record for "most dogs in costumed attire", which was set by 1326 dogs in St. Louis, USA, but falls well short of the world record for "largest gathering of people wearing false moustaches", which was set by 6,471 humans in Denver, USA.

In addition to the antlers, the displays include other references to Lu Han, such as the Shanghai mailbox he made famous. So along with the codes, there was no shortage of symbolism. The event seemed to be a success in terms of turnout yesterday. They may have hoped for a slightly larger crowd when I happened to be observing, but many more people would have made it difficult to move around and participate.

After conversations with some of the staff, I was given an small ice cold bottle of Coke. Perhaps they felt I had interacted enough despite not participating at any of the stations. Perhaps they were just happy I didn't mistake anything for a strength tester this time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Two Examples of Localization With Differing Results: Starbucks and Uber

Multinational companies grant vary degrees of independence to regional teams. One reason for increased independence is to enable the company to best adjust to local conditions. One piece about how this can work out and one piece about how this can go awry:

1. Keeping with the recent Starbucks theme here . . . Russell Flannery shares some thoughts from Belinda Wong, the country CEO for Starbucks in China, about the freedom they have to localize the Starbucks experience there:
Overall, the localization effort seems more subtle than overwhelming, making its approach "similar but not so similar" to what the company does in the U.S., Wong says. "I have to think about where you live, where you work and how you travel," she says. "This has to speak to you and not to folks in other countries. I like the fact that we are not the kind of the company that enforces what has to be done in the U.S. to be in China, and I think that forms part of why we are successful in China: because we are able to make sure that everything is developed in China with the Chinese consumers in mind."
2. In a in-depth story of how Uber knowingly rented unsafe recalled vehicles to many of its drivers in Singapore (link briefly goes through Twitter*), Douglas MacMillan and Newley Purnell detail how the desire to localize headed in the wrong direction:
Singapore in 2013 was Uber’s first Asian city, a beachhead for expansion. Uber however struggled to find enough drivers, documents show. The cost of owning a car there is among the highest in the world.

Uber created a unit, Lion City Rentals Pte Ltd., or LCR, in February 2015 to rent Uber-owned cars to drivers for about $50 a day. Buying a fleet of cars was new for Uber, whose business model relies on not owning assets. . . .

Rather than buy most new vehicles from authorized Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. dealers, Uber’s LCR unit bought new sedans and SUVs from more than a dozen auto importers, the emails show. These small dealers operate in the gray market—a legal channel outside manufacturers’ authorized networks—where safety, service and legal contracts are difficult to enforce. The Singapore team calculated it would be able to buy cars for 12% less than at authorized Honda dealers, according to the emails.
The fascinating piece captures how things went downhill from there in a variety of ways.

*I used a Twitter generated link because the Wall Street Journal offers free access to its articles if visited from there and some other sites as well. Otherwise, a paywall may appear for some readers. I could achieve the same effect by embedding a tweet here. I will share some thoughts about this practice in a later post. The tweet that generated the link is here. The direct link to the article is here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

China's Struggles With English: A Starbucks "Grond Open" in Bengbu

While signs of Starbucks localizations aren't hard to spot in China, such as its red bean scones, one sign displayed on the opening day for the second Starbucks in Bengbu probably isn't how Starbucks wants to adapt in China.

"Grond Open" presumably resulted from a combination of spelling and grammatical errors in translating the Chinese phrase below "盛大开业", which is typically translated as "Grand Opening". When I asked staff about the sign, one young woman told me it had been made by a local company in Bengbu. While them using a local printer doesn't surprise me, with Starbucks opening more than a store per day on average in China I would still expect them to use a design distributed by Starbucks' central corporate office in China. But perhaps displaying a grand opening sign isn't standard and Starbucks corporate hadn't planned for a store to take this route. The last time I saw a Starbucks store on its first day was over six years ago in Kunming, so I can't say from personal experience whether grand opening signs are common or not. A quick online search didn't turn up any similar examples from Starbucks elsewhere in China.

English mistakes like "Grond Open" on professionally made signs, displays, menus, etc. are rather easy to find in China, and the Chinese government wants to reduce their prevalence. It seems fair to have higher expectations in this regard for U.S. based chains, particularly one as successful, prominent, and internationally experienced as Starbucks. That even they slip up suggests it might be a while before such mistakes become a rare sight.