kottke.org posts about China
Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:
7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.
24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.
33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.
34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.
38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.
53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.
This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)
Worries over the slowing Chinese economy spilled out into the streets of Hebei province last weekend as two construction firms battled with bulldozers while competing for the same business. That is some end-times shit right there.
Ethnographer Christina Xu discovered a few of the nicknames that young Chinese fans have devised for American pop stars.
Nicki Minaj - 麻辣鸡 (má là ji): a slant transliteration of “Minaj”. Means spicy chicken (ma la is a spice combo commonly used in Sichuan cooking).
Drake - 公鸭 (gōng yā): Literally “male duck”, as in the definition of a “drake”. I laughed out loud when I finally figured this one out.
Kanye West - 侃爷 (kǎn yé): a transliteration of Kanye. In Beijing dialect, this means someone who brags a lot with no actions to follow it up.
Update: According to @billyroh’s coworker, Rihanna is known to some as “the Pop Queen of Shandong Province”.
From Sim Chi Yin’s Instagram feed:
Winter solstice offering at an ancestral hall for the Huang clan, #taiwan, 22 Dec. Wonderful to see such a detailed, traditional ceremony honouring 108 ancestors from the family, with young and old male members of the clan participating — traditions long lost in other Chinese societies. Where such ceremonies in the past always had a sheep sacrificed as well, this village which is no longer as agricultural used bread made in the shape of sheep instead. (With apologies to vegetarians)
(Photo credit: Sim Chi Yin)
Photographer Thomas Child took these images of Peking (now known as Beijing) in the 1870s and 1880s. This is of a Buddhist lama and his student:
And this one shows travelers on the Silk Road…according to Child, the camels “carry coal and lime into the City from the Western Hills, and merchandise between Peking and Mongolia”:
And this one is the Great Wall:
From Kevin Slavin and Bunnie Huang on location in Shenzhen, China, a look at what changes when you stop designing phones for companies and start designing them for people. You end up with a variety of phones satisfying different desires, from tiny phones that double as Bluetooth earpieces to phones that look like a race car or a pack of cigarettes or a soda can to phones with built-in lamps.
A spin around the internet reveals many more examples of these kinds of phones: flashlight phones, lighter phones, phones with up to 4 SIM slots, super-rugged phones w/ walkie talkie capability, credit card-sized phones, watch phones, and USB key phones. (via @triciawang)
An update as to what’s going on in China with prefab skyscrapers: Zhang Yue’s company recently completed a 57-story building in just 19 days. And they’re still planning on building a skyscraper taller than the Burj Khalifa in a matter of months.
The revolution will be modular, Zhang insists. Mini Sky City was assembled from thousands of factory-made steel modules, slotted together like Meccano.
It’s a method he says is not only fast, but also safe and cheap.
Now he wants to drop the “Mini” and use the same technique to build the world’s tallest skyscraper, Sky City.
While the current record holder, the 828m-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, took five years to “top out”, Zhang says his proposed 220-storey “vertical city” will take only seven months — four for the foundations, and three for the tower itself.
And it will be 10m taller.
The US and China, the two largest carbon polluters in the world, have struck an accord on climate change.
As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.
China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.
Here’s the official statement from the White House. The NY Times calls the agreement “ambitious” and a “landmark”, but Tyler Cowen says:
People, the China emissions “deal” isn’t much more than a press release…
But James Fallows, who has written extensively on China recently, is more positive.
The United States and China have apparently agreed to do what anyone who has thought seriously about climate has been hoping for, for years. As the No. 1 (now China) and No. 2 carbon emitters in the world, and as the No. 1 (still the U.S.) and No. 2 economies, they’ve agreed to new carbon-reduction targets that are more ambitious than most people would have expected.
Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.
The iPhone 6 won’t be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.
I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)
Stefano Maggiolo made a map of how much the time zones of the world vary from solar time. The darker the color, the more the deviation.
Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.
Something to note: China is about as big across as the continental United States and has only one huge time zone. (via slate)
When I was just out of college, my dad and I went to Beijing. One of my anxieties about the trip concerned my left-handedness, specifically going against the custom of not using your left hand (aka your bathroom hand) to eat. It turned out fine; the semi-expected reprimand never came.
Times have changed. Now, in Shanghai, you can go to a restaurant called Modern Toilet, which is actually one in a chain of Taiwanese stores that are toilet themed.
We are a group of “muckrakers” following our dreams. It all started when one of us was reading the manga, Dr. Slump on the toilet — and the rest is history. In the beginning, we mainly sold ice cream — a big pile of chocolate ice cream sold in containers shaped like a squat toilet. This humorous spin became a great success.
Susannah Breslin visited the Shanghai Modern Toilet and offers this report.
Upstairs, I took a seat at a table. My seat was a toilet. The table had a glass top. Under it, there was a bowl. In the bowl, there was a plastic swirly turd. The place mats were decorated with smiling turds.
In one of the most unlikely career moves of all time, Stefon has successfully made the jump from Weekend Update to the venerable pages of The Grey Lady. His first story is a look at leisure time activities in the towns outside of China’s tech factories.
The hottest nightclub in this factory town is a neon-encrusted dive down the road from the industrial park where iPhones are made 24 hours a day. Tucked behind an open construction site, “Through the Summer,” as the nightspot is known, had it all on a recent Saturday night — plastic whistles, fruit plates, a toddler with a mohawk, counterfeit light sabers and a bawdy comedian who imbibed beer through his nose.
This is amazing: Alan Taylor rounds up some homemade inventions from China, including DIY submarines, giant motorcycles, home-built robots, and can’t-possibly-fly airplanes. I can’t pick a favorite, but this homemade welding mask is outstanding:
Ok, and this giant motorcycle:
Oh, and this rickshaw-pulling robot:
And, and, and… (via @faketv)
Taking a page from Orwell, officials in Chengdu, China endeavored to prevent recent protests by moving the weekend and scheduling security exercises at the same time and place as the scheduled protest.
As text messages circulated calling for another protest, authorities decided to fiddle with the calendar: For many, Saturday became a workday, and the day of rest was moved to Monday, May 6. So as Saturday dawned, schoolchildren straggled reluctantly back to class, and employees at government-run work units discovered the day was taken up by urgent meetings.
See also how Georgia ended the country’s drug problem:
But the more radical steps involved brutalizing the addicts themselves. Saakashvili mandated as aggressive a drug policy as any country has attempted since Mao Zedong threatened to execute all Chinese opium fiends and “cured” about five million of them overnight. If you think New York’s stop-and-frisk rule is invasive, try Georgia’s: Cops can stop anyone at any time for no reason and force him to urinate into a cup. Fifty-three thousand people were stopped on the street in 2007, or about one in 20 of the young men in Georgia. About a third of those passed dirty urine; first-offenders were levied a fine of several hundred dollars. One more dirty test amounted to a criminal offense.
“There was such an unprecedented drug war,” Otiashvili says. “What was going on-and still goes on-in Georgia doesn’t happen anywhere. No country puts people in the prison for a positive urine test.”
In Focus has an arresting series of the air pollution in Beijing and other parts of China…including a few photos you can click on to toggle between normal and supersmog.
Earlier in January, the air quality was literally off the charts for 18 hours in Beijing.
On Friday afternoon, a government advisory committee released a draft of a federal climate assessment report, which pretty much meant that no one saw it, aside from the few journalists who were tasked, at that late hour of the week, with writing something about it. The upshot of the report? Bad news and there’s not much anyone is doing about it. From Mother Jones:
Say what you want about the Obama administration’s relative ignoring of climate issues: Many of his top scientists are paying rapt attention, and they think we’re about to get our butts kicked — although dumping the news at 4 p.m. on a Friday gives some indication of where it sits in federal priorities.
Anyway, what does the report say? From Nature:
Coming just days after news that the United States experienced its hottest year on record in 2012, the draft report says average US temperatures have increased by more than 0.8° Celsius since 1895, with a sharp spike since 1980. It also provides an update on the litany of impacts being analyzed by scientists. There is “strong evidence” that global warming has roughly doubled the likelihood of extreme heat events, contributing to droughts and wildfires, according to the report. Permafrost is melting in Alaska, while much of the country is experiencing more extreme rainfall and winter snowstorms.
And from Bloomberg:
The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report today that says many coastal areas face “potentially irreversible impacts” as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.
“The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change,” the panel said in its report. Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by 2 degrees to 4 degrees in the next few decades, according to the report.
The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth’s temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.
The report also highlighted decreasing air quality as a side effect of the changing climate. This weekend, the air quality in Beijing was off the scale for about 18 hours. The scale goes from 0-500:
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
The readings in Beijing topped out at 755. My friend Youngna is there and these two photos she took of the CCTV building two days apart shows how bad the pollution is there:
Danxia refers to a “type of petrographic geomorphology” found in China. What that means is you get these mountains that look as though they were decorated with crayons by a five-year-old channelling Dalí.
That shot was taken by Melinda ^..^ on Flickr…you can find dozens of her Danxia photos here. A kottke.org reader suggests that Tiny Wings creator Andreas Illiger was influenced by the Danxia landforms in developing the iconic scenery for the game.
Not a bad theory. (thx, christopher)
Chinese construction company Broad Sustainable Building has announced plans to build the world’s tallest building…in just 90 days. When finished, it will be 220 stories high, 10 meters taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
This may sound impossible, but BSB has been constructing buildings quickly by making parts ahead of time and then just putting them together on site. Prefab skyscrapers. In the past two years, the company has built a 15-story building in 6 days and a 30-story hotel in just 15 days:
I’ve seen several versions of the iconic Tank Man photo but here’s a little-known wider view that shows just how many tanks the guy was holding up.
Larger version here. There is also, amazingly, video of the incident:
You’ll note at the end that the man is hustled off by a group of people. See also the Tank Man of Tiananmen (via @polarben)
Asian carp were imported decades ago by catfish farmers to clean out the catfish pens. These carp escaped in the great catfish escape of 1983 (previous clause is more “truth” than “fact”), and don’t have enough natural predators to prevent them from multiplying rapidly. The carp are spreading so quickly, President Obama recently allocated over $50 million to eradicate them. No one in the US really noticed this move. Chinese internet users, on the other hand, memed the story out in a variety of different ways.
To understand why Chinese netizens have taken such an interest in the story, it’s absolutely essential to know that the most popular dinner-table fish in seafood-crazy China is carp, bar none…Add the fact that Chinese covet wild carp — an expensive treat compared to cheaper, more common farmed carp — and poetry ensues.
I like the use of the word ‘poetry’ to describe Internet explosions.
Well some of them are. The plain old American Oreo didn’t sell so well in China, so Kraft had to rethink everything about the cookie.
It turns out that if you didn’t grow up with Oreos and develop an emotional attachment to the cookie, it can be a weird-tasting little thing. And this started a whole process in the Chinese division of Kraft of rethinking what the essence of an Oreo really is.
Key terms in this article include “the essence of Oreoness” and “Twist, Lick, Dunk”.
Adrian Fisk recently traveled through China asking the young people there to write anything they wanted down on a piece of paper. The results are interesting.
“After watching television I have many ideas, but am unable to realize them.” Yunnan, Luo Zheng Chui, 30 years old, farmer.
“I’d like to see any supernatural thing such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing.” Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province but learning English in Guangxi province.
“We are the lost generation. I’m confused about the world.” Guangxi, Avril Lui, 22-years-old, post-grad student.
More are available on Fisk’s site (click on New Stories and then Ispeak China). (via @bryce)
Not content to knock-off simple iPhones and iPads, some enterprising Chinese have built an entire fake Apple Store in Kunming, China. It’s an actual store selling actual products but is obviously not affiliated with Apple in any way.
Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple.
Even if it’s fake, it’s real. (via stellar)
A traffic jam in China’s Heibei Province has been going on for nine days now and may last a month.
The traffic jam has sparked some entrepreneurial spirit for local residents, which has added to traffic-hostages’ annoyance. One truck driver complained that vendors were selling instant noodles for “four times the original price while I wait in the congestion.”
Tom Vanderbuilt, who wrote the book on traffic, notes that the jam is on its way to becoming a small settlement. (via mr)
Chinese masons used to make mortar using sticky rice. The practice originated at least 1500 years ago.
The secret ingredient that makes the mortar so strong and durable is amylopectin, a type of polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate, found in rice and other starchy foods, the scientists determined. The mortar’s potency is so impressive that it can still be used today as a suitable restoration mortar for ancient masonry.
(via history blog)
Chinese companies are temporarily hiring white men to pose as fake businessmen.
One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image — particularly, the image of connection — that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”
In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left while in the rest of China, they drive on the right. If you’re building a bridge between the two, you’ve got to come up with a clever way to switch lanes without disruption or accident. Behold, the flipper:
The only way that could be more cool is if one of the lanes went into a tunnel under the water or corkscrewed over the other lane in a rollercoaster/Mario Kart fashion. Lots more on the NL Architects site.
They are as follows:
There are also many other inventions, including fermented drink, forks, and the noodle.
How bad is the pollution in China? James Fallows reports.
The Chinese government does not report, and may not even measure, what other countries consider the most dangerous form of air pollution: PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, tiny enough to work its way deep into the alveoli. Instead, Chinese reports cover only the grosser PM10 particulates, which are less dangerous but more unsightly, because they make the air dark and turn your handkerchief black if you blow your nose. (Spitting on the street: routine in China. Blowing your nose into a handkerchief: something no cultured person would do.) These unauthorized PM2.5 readings, sent out on a Twitter stream (BeijingAir), show the pollution in Beijing routinely to be in the “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous” range, not seen in U.S. cities in decades. I’ve heard from friends about persistent coughs and blood tests that show traces of heavy metals. “I encourage people with children not to consider extended tours in China,” a Western-trained doctor said. “Those little lungs.”
Update: Here are some pretty compelling photos of Chinese pollution. (thx, kurt)
Update: Stephen Voss has a set of Chinese pollution photos along with an accompanying story.
For many Chinese, the Ikea in Beijing is not just a store, it’s a lifestyle amusement park with free admission.
Bai mapped out a five-hour outing. First, they had hot dogs and soft ice cream cones at noon. Then they enjoyed a long rest lounging on the beds. Bai kicked off her sandals and sprawled out on a Tromso bunk bed. The 36-year-old homemaker made herself comfortable and even answered passing shoppers’ questions about the quality of the mattress. “It’s soft and a great buy at this price,” she told a young woman, pointing to a dangling price tag. After that, Bai and her family took group pictures. By 5 p.m., it was time for another meal, so they headed to the cafeteria and ate braised mushrooms with rice.