Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thorns and Roses (or why the fu** aren't there any cabs in Shanghai tonight?!)

I've tried to add entries to this blog after thinking them through beforehand and then writing them down later, but it just doesn't work that way for me. So, in the interest of immediacy, I rant. When doing long backpacking trips we used to play a game called thorns and roses, in which you point out a rose, or something you're enjoying; and a thorn, something that's pissing you off.

A stock example of each for Shanghai would be that I love the variety of food (rose), but that babbling in Shanghainese dialect just isn't easy on the ears at 7:45 in the morning on the bus, ladies (thorn).

Why couldn't I find a taxi tonight from 9:55 to 10:35 in Xuhui District of Shanghai. The New Year's holidays are still more than a week away, so that excuse doesn't hold up. Never, in my time here, have I had this hard a time finding a cab. Even if it was New Years, all the cabbies are Shanghainese, so they aren't going to leave, and since there are 60,000 of them, why would they take time off when there is lots of money to be made.

I ended up taking two buses home (and they were stuffed, just like rush hour, except at 10:40 at night). So I am left extraordinarily pissed off, and wondering what the hell? Even on Christmas, and (Gregorian) New Year's, the longest I waited for a cab was 15 minutes. If it was something I knew about in advance, no worries, that's okay, I can make arrangements to not be 4 miles from home in sub-zero weather. But no, thanks to you, Shanghai, it all seems completely random and designed to piss me off.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The New Year's Resolution

Amongst others (better Chinese student, working out, saving $, etc.), my resolution is to write more (outside of work), and a return after a little hiatus to blogging is included. So... I start 2009 off with a short one.

Apparently, China has relaxed formerly strict laws regarding private panda ownership, and one can now buy genetically cloned, mass-produced panda bears at their local pet stores. Coming soon to a Petsmart near you.

These 山寨 (literally translated: mountain bandit, or my translation: fake-as-hell) panda bears are, believe it or not, just little white puppy dogs that have been artfully dyed to pass for pandas. I really wish a friend had a dog like this so I could steal it for a short time, then return it to them "pandafied".

Note: I wish this was my find, but I am just taking all of this from another website where I saw it, so here's the link, and thanks, to the folks at

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Voting From Abroad & Fast Food in China

I made it to the US consulate this morning to send my absentee ballot to Boulder. Originally I was going to send in a Federal Write-in ballot, basically just a blank form for people who have not received their real ballots in time; but my procrastination paid off, as I received my ballot on Sunday. It felt good to participate in our country's political system, especially so in a swing state (I tried to register in Cook County, but that is a story for another lawsuit). There were a few too many Colorado ballot initiatives for me, so I had to do some homework to find out what they were all about (half of them I left blank as they have been eliminated from consideration due to wrangling between Colorado's labor and business powers).

Anyway, the point of this pointless story is that this year FedEx offers a free service, called "Express Your Vote", which will overnight my ballot back to the US. I don't know why this (relatively expensive) service is offered, or who funds it; but I definitely would thank them if I had the chance. I especially like that I can track it (my ballot is currently somewhere in the air between Shanghai and the states). I can rest easy knowing that if my man loses Colorado by one vote, it won't be my one vote.

On an unrelated note, I was reading the Economist today as I ate my spicy chicken sandwich at a local KFC, when I came across this article about Burger King making moves in mainland China. The article astutely points out that KFC's dominance in China is due in large part to Chinese consumers' preference for chicken, and the relatively localized menu that they feature here. I think one thing that the article ignores is the role of skillful marketing in McDonald's mainland success (KFC not withstanding).

Marketing, especially focused on youngsters, is what keeps McDonald's growing in China, and helps them to overcome the general distate for the stuff from more traditional palates, as older (middle-aged and up) folks are dragged along by their Xiao Huangdi (little emperors). The kids come for Ronald, free toys, ice cream, and a kids' clubhouse atmosphere. The adults that accompany them are stuck with the food offerings, while McDonald's is 'stuck' with their money. I'd be interested to see if anyone has done any research into the percentage of McDonalds mainland business that is directly related to kids. I'm sure it would be higher than in the west, and that in tier-2 and tier-3 Chinese cities (ie not Shanghai, Beijing, or GZ) it would be the highest.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Of Personal Interest

First: Michael Pollan's recent piece for the NY Times magazine. It's an open letter of sorts, to the next president, advising him on food policy. I think that it is true to form for Pollan in that it is insightful, timely, and rather dry. He illustrates, convincingly, the environmental and health problems resulting from our rather anti-free-market agricultural system. If, like me, you have in interest in the absurdity of the US food system and policy related to it, this article is definitely worth a look. I think it's going to be tough for any politician to substantially fix our farming/ food system, because ending the subsidies that keep it afloat would be tantamount to political suicide. Even though the main beneficiaries of the current policies are giants like ADM and Cargill, changing/ ending farm subsidies can always be spun to seem like a politician is crushing the non-existent Jeffersonian ideal of an American farmer. What's more, truly "fixing" our food system as Pollan has suggested here, would take more than just a change in government policy. What he recommends could take many years, and would involve a shift in Americans' dietary habits, which are a big part of our culture. What will be necessary and unavoidable is weaning American agriculture off of petroleum products. Expect changes.

Second: I read an article in last week's Economist about the money that the music industry has been making from music based video games like Guitar Hero and others. I figured some money was going to the artists and record companies for these games, but I had no idea how much. Apparently, I underestimated the games' popularity, as the article mentions that: "Aerosmith have made more money from “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith”... than from any of their albums." To me, that's just incredible.

That's all I got.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Plastic Hong Kong Dollars HK$

Back from HK. How cool is this? I'd heard before that Hong Kong had bills made of plastic, but it seemed like straight monopoly money when I received this HK$10 bill as change yesterday. Not only plastic, but see-through as well. Apparently they are also longer-lasting than paper money.

This segues nicely to "I For One, Welcome Our Chinese Banker Overlords". Someone else's joke, but check out the links for interesting stuff on China's foreign currency reserves. On second thought, if you're in the US right now, you'd better just find pictures of adorable kittens or something. Best not to think about the ~$6000 you owe China.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Skype surveillance, HK, etc.

I've read a lot in the last 5 or so days about how some evidence has surfaced that Skype is being watched/listened to in China. This is of course not very surprising to me, and I might actually care about it if I could get Skype to work properly in my building. Take this morning, for example: I'm able to watch parts of the presidential debate in live streaming video, but just after that Skype is all but useless. I won't pretend to understand how my internet chooses when to work and when not to, but I pay for China Telecom ADSL, and everyday it seems to have problems of some sort. My guess is that my building's internet pipes need cleanin', as the patchiness doesn't seem to come at any regular times.

Now I'm off to Hong Kong for the next 36 or so hours to renew my visa. This should be the last time I'll have to do this, as in about 3 weeks I'll be starting a new (real) job and will be able to get my own genuine, bonafide work permit. I've got some catching up to do on the blog in the next few days, as I still want to get out some entries on my trip to Dongbei, my impressions of Hong Kong (from a longer trip this summer), and link to some recent photography that's been sitting on my camera waiting to be uploaded. Ahhhh... laziness.

Mao Era vs. Reform and Opening Up

The China Rises blog had an interesting post today noting that China has now spent more time in the Reform and Opening Up era than it did under Maoism. I'll refrain from commenting on the Mao era, except to mention the quote from Deng Xiaoping, architect of the Reform era, in which he said Mao was "seven parts good, three parts bad".

Aside from that, during last week's National Day holiday, the advertising/big brother flat screens in my building's elevators had a message commemorating 30 years of 改革开放 (Reform and Opening Up). Basically, there was a globe on a red background, and the message came in two parts: first (a rough translation), "For thirty years, we've watched (learned from) the world." Then, "Now, the world is watching us." I should have got pictures...