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Articles matching: china
Ninjas are deadly. Chipmunk Ninjas are just weird.
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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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GLint zeroOpacity = 0;
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Apr 22, 2010 | 09:14:49
西班牙人 (The Spaniard)
By marcwan

In late summer 2008, I found myself in Mumbai living in a Hindu temple and doing about four and a half hours of yoga every day. It was a very solitary existence in the city balanced between yoga, eating, sleeping, and reading. With no Internet in my room (I had a little USB card but it worked extremely poorly), I was by and large cut off from the rest of the world when not in yoga class. Thus it was all the more strange that one week when I met the Spaniard.

I would typically wake up at 6.40am and rush down the stairs to make the 6.45am class start; living in the same building as the classroom had its advantages. After breakfast I would usually shower and nap for an hour to let the local breakfast restaurants clear out a little bit before I myself would venture out to get something to eat. Afternoons, being unbearably hot and thus best spent inside, would be spent reading books, programming, or otherwise snoozing. Three more hours of yoga in the evening, and then a quick dash to get some late dinner and then off to bed. It was a really pleasant and simple life.

After a couple of weeks of this, though, a new student appeared in some of my classes. A lanky, tall guy with a big bushy beard, with legs that just did not want to bend in the way he wanted them to. He struck me as German, or perhaps American, and I had little interaction with him. He would scoot out of class as soon as we were done, and I wouldn’t see him until the next day. But then one day, we bumped into each other in the elevator and struck up a conversation — we were neighbours. He was not from either of my guessed nations, but was indeed Spanish, from Gránada.

His English was as good as my Spanish; which is to say workable, but not great. We would speak in our respective languages, and have slow, painful conversations about motivations for coming to India, what we did, and what we imagined doing in the future. And then we discovered a remarkable thing:

He had lived in Nanjing studying Asian art history for four years. His Mandarin Chinese was really, really good. Much better than his English. Mine was, similarly, better than my Spanish.

And so it came back to pass that this tall hippie-ish looking Spaniard (full disclosure: I didn’t look much better. I didn’t bring a razor and was too lazy to go buy a new one) and a Canadian guy would hang out in restaurants in Matunga, Mumbai, chattering happily away in Mandarin Chinese. The looks from the locals ranged from “oh, that must be english or something” to “what the hell kind of language is that?”

It’s a long way away from being a lingua franca, but for one week in metropolitan India, Chinese helped bridge a cultural gap that might have otherwise gone unfilled.

[Read Rest of Article]
Apr 22, 2010 | 08:59:06
China & Tech Links, April 20, 2010
By marcwan
[link] Myths and truths about Chinese criminal law (great article)
[link] China’s middle class under great pressure
[link] Off’l Press: Bursting China Housing Bubble ‘Necessary Choice’
[link] China NBS: Price Pressures Build, Inflation Target Difficult
[link] How to Think about China
[link] 3G in china
[link] The Myth of One China
[link] Obama’s ‘deal’ with China is oversold
[link] Chinese women like diamonds
[link] Is Jim Chanos Right About A China Real Estate Bubble?
[link] Beijing’s hutong heirs grow greedy
[link] U.S. Waiting for China on Iran Issue (gonna be a long wait)
[link] Analysis: Three simple lessons in Chinese for Julius Malema
[link] China’s Market. Too Hot? Too Cold? or Juuuust Right?
[link] China is a nation of ‘money worshipers’
[link] A trade war with China isn’t worth it
[link] More on China’s overcapacity issue
[link] China’s top four social networks: RenRen, Kaixin001, Qzone, and
[link] Unsafe ingredient in some flours
[link] President Hu warns Chinese officials against temptations of beautiful women, power
[link] 80 percent of napkins in restaurants unsafe
[link] Quit trying to blame China for American decline
[link] Deadlines and Delays: Chinese Revaluation Will Still Not Bring American Jobs
[link] Peking University gives the boot to Women’s Law Center
[link] Beijingers richer but unhappier
[link] Still way too soon to gamble on the potential US decline
[link] A flawed American political model aids China
[link] Colour photos from Beijing from 1946.
[link] China, Concubines and Google
[link] Journalists’ E-Mails Hacked in China
[Read Rest of Article]
Mar 31, 2010 | 01:48:55
Links for March 28th, 2010
By marcwan

The big news in recent days, of course, has been Google shutting off their Chinese internet service and redirecting all traffic to their Hong Kong servers. In general, they’ve been getting pilloried for this decision — nobody seems to buy Sergei Brin’s argument that this is about persecution such as that faced by his father in Russia decades back. Why didn’t they worry about this in 2006 when they first came to China? Nobody can find anything good coming out of this situation. R.I.P or good riddance [link]
Congress On China: Google Gets A Big Wet Kiss. Microsoft Is “Enabling Tyranny” [link]
Why Google should stay in China [link]
Disingenuous piece on Google China (all of the examples he states came to light because of Google IN China): [link]
Opposing view: Google’s big mistake [link]
Analysis: Google-China flap déjà vu for Microsoft [link]
The Google Shuffle and the Hong Kong Twist [link]
Brin Drove Google to Pull Back in China [link]
Google Isn’t China’s Problem. Press Freedom Is. [link]
Baidu is just a bad company [link]

More general links on China’s economy, the RMB, and the other big case this week, the Rio Tinto case (where a complete and utter lack of transparency alarmed more than a few people):

Property prices to see steady climb [link]
ANALYSIS-China’s influence silences Asia on yuan peg [link]
Volvo Seeks to Wean China Officials From Audis to Boost Sales [link]
The Chinese legal system and the Stern Hu case [link]
Stern Hu’s trial and its legal and economic implications – Weekly editorial [link]
Life in Chinese prison (Rio Tinto) [link]

And finally some other stuff, including the huge drought facing much of the country since last autumn (which we weren’t allowed to talk about until about a week ago because nobody wanted to be a buzz kill for the National Day celebrations last October or for Spring Festival this February.

What’s it like being black in China? [link]
Now that Spring festival is over, we’re allowed to talk about this: [link]
Beijing to sweeten stench of rubbish crisis with giant deodorant guns [link]
Shanghai restricts sale of knives during Expo [link]
People, people everywhere in China, and not enough to work [link]
[Read Rest of Article]
Mar 22, 2010 | 03:37:07
China & Tech Links, March 22nd, 2010
By marcwan

We’ll start out by looking at the RMB valutation debate raging on in the US. On the US, the “RMB is hugely undervalued” drums are being beat in Washington, and have a surprising ally in Paul Krugman, a normally quite rational and thoughtful person. The first article in this list by James Fallows, somebody whose thoughts on China are usually dead-on, and always worth reading.

[link] How to think about the RMB, “currency manipulation,” and trade war (James Fallows)
[link] Has Paul Krugman gone completely insane?
[link] The Chinese are not the source of our problems, …
[link] Paul Krugman’s China (RMB) fallacy

Next, a bunch of articles on Google’s departure from China:

[link] China state media accuses Google of political agenda
[link] What a Google China exit would mean
[link] China appears to be preparing for Google departure
[link] Google denies ‘exit China’ rumor

Understanding China:

[link] Behold China (Good content, nutty presentation)
[link] Too few deciphering the Chinese puzzle
[link] If You Want to See Entrepreneurs, Go to China
[link] What Won’t Work With China, And What Might

General Interest stuff:

[link] How Richies are influencing Chinese political policy (and tax debate)
[link] What Chinese Censors Don’t Want You to Know
[link] Beijing Becomes 3rd-Busiest Airport, Beating Chicago
[link] China’s Reverse Price Wars
[link] Land price record broken twice in day
[link] More attempted measures to cool Beijing’s housing market.
[link] How to manage your reputation online in China (hint: $$)
[link] China orders journalists to retrain in communist theory
[link] Soaring drug abuse in China’s south
[link] South Africa expects influx of Chinese prostitutes for World Cup
[Read Rest of Article]
Mar 08, 2010 | 02:39:44
China & Tech Links, March 8th, 2010
By marcwan

Interesting China reading for March 8th, 2010.

[link] Fascinating old Chinese menu from 1935
[link] Goldman betting that Chinese Yuan is no longer undervalued, warns of shrinking surplus
[link] Hackers of Google systems stole source code-
[link] In spite of an urgent need to cut emissions, fossil-fuel consumption in China is soaring
[link] Questions for the author of “Driving in China”
[link] Violent crime rate in China rises for first time in 10 years
[link] Rumours of a Chinese bubble are great exaggerated
[link] China’s English Teaching Boom may be about to burst
[link] Lies, Damned Lies, and Chinese Statistics
[link] Understanding (or not) China’s financial transactions
[link] China Warns Hong Kong
[link] Foreign Firms bet on Larger Chinese consumption
[link] Defying Global Slump, China Has Labor Shortage
[link] China pledges to ensure fair, high quality education in decade ahead
[link] Yang Yahui, cause of death: a glass of water
[Read Rest of Article]
Mar 01, 2010 | 02:40:26
China & Tech Reading
By marcwan

I’ve been really busy with my new job here and haven’t been writing as many blog articles as I’d like, but I have still been coming across lots of interesting things I’d like to share with people.

So, I’m going to start an Interesting Reading / Links type of blog post. Almost entirely centred around China and Tech (if not Tech in China). I hope to get back to regular blog-article writing soon.

  • [link] Apple Supplier United Win Technology’s factory in Jiangsu suffers more labour troubles, with 62 workers poisoned by n-hexane
  • [link] Recent government changes to house buying rules that make it harder for foreigners to buy will not affect the local market in Beijing
  • [link] “Research without Google would be like life without electricity,” one Chinese scientist said. What would life without Google in China be like?
  • [link]
    For those of you who continue to doubt, more evidence that MySpace is in terminal decline
  • [link] Americans continue to freak out about China
  • [link] “China’s local governments, which ran up huge debts during the record-breaking lending spree of the past year, are now feeling the pinch as authorities in Beijing tighten credit.”
  • [link] How Chinese football matches are rigged:
  • [link] How ready is the US for cyberattacks? (Hint: not)
  • [link] China is misread by bulls and bears alike
[Read Rest of Article]
Nov 19, 2009 | 13:25:37
China: 2, Afterlife: 0
By marcwan

Like a few other cultures in the world, modern China comes with thousands of years of tradition behind it. As with those others, it sometimes struggles to find a way to make that tradition and history mesh well with modern life (most often by simply jettisoning the former). However, every once in a while, you’ll see an example of how the Chinese will take a tradition and … get a little carried away with it. The results are as breathtakingly brilliant as they are horrifying.

The first example I came across was in late 2006, early 2007, when I read about the practice of minghun, or ghost marriages. Essentially, having an unmarried son in traditional China is bad enough — having him die without being married is nearly unbearable for some, so they endeavour to find him a bride. Various members of the clergy will offer to help the family find a family recently bereaved of a daughter whose horoscope is compatible with that of their son, and then arrange to have the couple ‘married’ and then buried together, so that they may enjoy a happy (and apparently quite frisky, according to academic Ping Yao) afterlife together. In some cases, the family of the male will compensate the family of the female for the hassle.

And that’s where the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese comes in and things start to get carried away. Normally, families will rely on networks of friends and relatives to find these deceased single women to marry to their deceased sons. But in some cases, there are none to be found, or those found are too long dead to be appropriate for the deceased son. Suddenly there appears a market for brokers who will help expand the search and find an appropriate bride, for a fee of course.

Now, in order to earn that fee, sometimes brokers will start bending the rules. For those cases where they truly cannot find an appropriate corpse, some will find themselves resorting to grave robbing. Knowing that a newer corpse will do better than an older corpse, some will stake out funerals, wait until the evening, and then nip the fresher corpse in return for a higher fee.

Which leads some extreme people to just start murdering women to get the freshest corpse possible and the highest price. Sure, they’ll target prostitutes, the mentally handicapped, the infirm, and other easy targets at first, but even those will get hard to come by and it’s only a matter of time before they’re arrested after abducting somebody off a city street at night.

I more or less forgot about this over the years, however, and it was only recently that I came across another example that made me put it all together and brought back memories of the ghost marriages. The second incidence came from a news report about arrests at a funeral.

Again, centering around burial traditions, it was noted that many people in poorer parts of the country believe that the larger the send-off you give somebody into the afterlife, the more the deceased is honoured. Families will thus try to ensure that as large of a crowd as possible will attend the funeral.

When mere appeals to people’s decency or sentiments doesn’t work, you start bribing people to show up, perhaps with free booze and food, or by making important people attend the proceedings.

But when even that fails, once again, the enterprising business mind comes to the rescue: why not hire strippers to perform at the funeral. It’s never hard to find farmers who are willing to hang out somewhere for a few hours when there are hot naked women to be had.

This, in fact, led to the formation of funeral stripper troupes, and subsequently government “funeral misdeed” hotlines. Thus, the arrests in Jiangsu province (interestingly enough, also in 2006, although the news has just come around again) of five people involved in organising these funeral strippers.

Now, before you decide to berate me for looking down on the Chinese or otherwise laughing at their silly traditions and beliefs, please note that my intention is exactly the opposite — to show how the magical combination of a massive population (1.4 billion and counting), thousands of years of history, and a mercantilist / entrepreneurial spirit I have not seen elsewhere in the world can, on extremely rare occasions, come together to produce brilliantly bizarre results. You can say a lot about China, but you can never, ever say it’s boring.

Further reading:

[Read Rest of Article]
Nov 17, 2009 | 08:17:10
Understanding China in 3 Cities?
By marcwan

A local photographer of Malaysian/Singaporean origin by the name of Stefen Chow (no, not Steven Chow) once uttered what I find to be a brilliant way to understand China and its history:

If you want to understand the first 3000 years of China’s history, go to Xi’an.
To understand the last 300 years, go to Beijing.
For the last 30 years, go to Shenzhen.

(paraphrased slightly).

That really about sums it up.

[Read Rest of Article]
Mar 10, 2009 | 03:15:56
Chinese Signs, Slogans, and even some Chinglish
By marcwan

While I’m not particularly keen on spending much time posting or talking about Chinglish and bad slogans and signs here in China – there are already plenty of sites on the Internet that do this much better than I – on a recent walk home from having some business cards made, I ran into a number of particularly comical signs, all in the span of a few hundred metres, and all quite chuckle-worthy.

The day started off somewhat surreally as I walked past a local Chinese restaurant, only to have the restaurant name supplemented by “MYSQL”. Buy one bowl of noodles, get an ACID-compliant transactional engine for free?

It turns out that the name of the restaurant is 明月三千里, or míng yuè sān qiān lǐ. Hence, the MYSQL. Still, good fun:

Next, I walked past a massage parlour that advertised “Cupping and scrape measles”. Cupping, or báhǔoguàn (拔火罐), is a reasonably common treatment here in China, which provides topical relief on the skin for various ailments. Scraping, or gūashā (刮痧), is another frequently used treatment for heatstroke and other discomforts involving scraping the back of the neck or upper back. Unfortunately, there is no direct translation like cupping, so when you take the two characters separately, the first gives you scraping, the second gives you “acute ailment”, such as measles or some other virus. Hence, some great sign fun.

Not that it’s a hugely common problem here in China, but I guess the maintainers of this little garden next to a scrool, across the road from the parlour, wanted to make sure that nobody would use their cute little park as a public toilet (there is actually a public toilet about 20m away). Hence this sign asking exactly that:

With the huge fire of the Mandarin Hotel building next to the new CCTV complex on the east Third Ring Road due to unauthorised fireworks, construction sites all around the city are now being extra careful to point out that fireworks are illegal in the city now that Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is over. This one reminds readers that fireworks are illegal inside the 5th ring road:

And finally, I went to meet a friend for some lunch, and walked past a DVD store with this gem in the window:

Evidence suggests they meant to use the word “painting”, which would also be incorrect. The sign asks you not to write any graffiti on their windows. This is in Sanlitun, a big party area on Friday and Saturday evenings, with huge crowds of drunken foreign kids from 10pm until late.

[Read Rest of Article]
Feb 21, 2009 | 01:27:14
Economic Slowdown in China?
By marcwan

When visiting the USA last summer for some business, the Beijing Summer Olympics were but 3 weeks away, and the hysteria in the West was at a frenzy: The Chinese are going to take over the world proclaimed seemingly every other news source. Radio shows were filled with people talking about the coming Chinese threat, and how the American way of life was at threat due to the waking dragon 4000 miles to the west. Even in Canada, during my visit there, there was a hefty amount of anxiety about the new world order and how things would never be the same.

One of the nice thing about events such as the Olympics, however, is that they focus the attention for only a short period of time, and talk of China in the West seems to have receded to more normal levels, especially as navel-gazing increases while governments try to solve the messes in their own backyards.

The question I am most frequently asked now is: How is the economic crisis affecting China? Is there evidence of a huge slowdown there? Like most things in China, it’s hard to say: there are few statistics offered by anybody, and those that are offered tend to be heavily manipulated and untrustworthy.

So, without any official data, lets look at the available anecdotal evidence:

  • Newspapers are full of stories of factories closing left and right, especially in the industrial heartland of the Pearl river Delta in Guangdong Province. People are going home en masse to the provinces, and not planning on going back.
  • Politicians are suddenly going out of their way to be seen as friendly to farmers. With so many farmers newly returned to the countryside and not as willing to tolerate a lousy feudal existence, the recent drought plaguing the entire northeast of the country is getting serious attention from all levels of government. Most of the unrest and protests in the country occur in smaller towns and villages, and keeping those people happy will be a priority for the Party.
  • In the big cities, real estate prices are markedly down. In Shenzhen, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and other major cities countrywide, real estate has fallen from 2500$ – 3500$ USD per square metre (purchase price) to well below 2000$ USD/m2. Worse, people who have placed deposits on apartments at the higher prices are demanding money back from developers who, desperate to fill the their units, are selling the remaining ones at hefty discounts.
  • Rents in Beijing are down at least 15%, if not more. At the high end, in apartments that cater to foreigners, rents have sometimes even dropped dramatically. I saw one new building here in the east 2nd ring road that was advertising 1BR units (about 90m sq, or 1000 sq f) for 1200$ USD not six months ago, and is now as low as 700-750$ USD per month. Even in the cheaper, lower glamour units that cater more to locals, rents that were 4000 RMB (575$ USD) per month are now going for, at most, 3400 RMB (490$ USD).
  • Food and restaurant prices are markedly up over the last two years, much more so than one would easily attribute to normal inflation levels.
  • The Chinese stock markets are down – way down – from late 2007 levels, often by over 70%. Locals who used to spend money completely recklessly because the stock markets would make it all back are much more cautious now. A recent 30% surge in the market already seems to be fading.
  • For an “on the street” measure, Yoga studios are hurting. Memberships, which were selling out at well over 8000 RMB a year (1150$ USD or so) are now heavily discounted into the 5500 RMB (< 800$ USD) range and you don’t see as many students being driven up in their chauffeured black Audis as before.
  • And at an even more “on the street feeling” level, fireworks during this year’s Spring Festival – the Chinese Lunar New Year – were the lowest in the three years I’ve seen them. Whereas, two years ago, the first night of spring festival was an insane war zone from 6pm until 3am, this year, it was mildly exciting from 8pm until 1am, but by 1.30am, most of it had died out and I was able to get a good night’s sleep without much interruption. This is a slightly tongue in cheek measurement, as much of the reduction could be attributed to the novelty of fireworks simply wearing out. 2007 was the first year in over 15 years that the central government allowed fireworks.

Evidence that goes against an economic slowdown exists to some degree too, however, and must be noted:

  • Retail spending appears strong. Statistics all point to it being quite robust, and anecdotal evidence shows many of the local shopping malls and department stores doing booming business many days of the week. Whether people are purchasing as much or just browsing more is hard to tell, and there definitely is a lot more heavy discounting in the retail chain.
  • Car registrations here in the country’s capitol continue to accelerate. In the first 45 days of the year, there were nearly 70.000 cars licensed with the city government, or well over 1500 a day.

Talking to people, more and more conversations do seem to involve the words jīngjìwēijī (经济危机), or economic crisis, and most Chinese people I know remain as frugal as they’ve always been, so it’s quite wise that the central government avoided any tax breaks or cash handouts to the locals, as they would simply save it and inject almost nothing into the economy.

Are things slowing here? Definitely? Is the crisis going to be a major disaster for the country and government in particular? Much harder to tell.

A note on the picture above: one of the questions I ask myself about China is why do they constantly design crappy buildings or (in this case) plazas/squares that don’t handle things like drainage (or wind, cold, rain, etc) properly.

The answer: it’s significantly cheaper to just hire people to squeegee away the water than to pay the extra to money solve these problems at design/construction time. This applies in so many situations.

[Read Rest of Article]
Feb 05, 2009 | 04:51:48
What happened to winter?
By marcwan

Winters in Beijing are noted for being both cold and long, with late-January and early-February promising the most bone-chilling cold temperatures and blustery winds.

So, it has been with no small amount of surprise this week that the weather has been hovering around 9-11C (that’s around 50F in ‘mericun units), with nighttime temperatures barely breaking freezing any more.

Snow? Not even a dream any more in Beijing. Locals will tell you of a time 10-15 years ago when it would snow regularly here in the capitol during winters, but this year we didn’t even get the 1cm dusting that we’ve seen in the last couple of years.

As an absolute lover of both winter and snow, it’s been pure torture to watch all my friends in England upload photos of all the snow there, as well as the crazy-record amounts on the east coast of the US and Canada. Drat!

[Read Rest of Article]
Jan 15, 2009 | 07:05:38
Is China the future of Intellectual Property?
By marcwan
The Chinese sure do love a good Korean soap

Every twelve to eighteen months, the police here in China will swoop into one of the staples of the Beijing shopping scene – the cheap (read: pirated) CD/DVD store – and seize all of the merchandise within. Evening news programs will crow about the continuing victory of law and order, their cameras zooming in on the sullen faces of the shop owners as oficers carry box after box of their stock out to be destroyed.

Look a bit more closely, however, and you’ll see that this, like so many other things here in China, is a carefully choreographed show. It is not a coincidence that these raids occur in the weeks immediately preceeding the visit by an American trade representative with a laundry list of Hollywood’s complaints, or right before major international events, such as the Summer Olympics.

Without fail, however, the stores are operational again in a few weeks with “legitimate” merchandise, and with the regular materials maybe a month or two later. Locals and expats alike who enjoy reduced fare offerings will patiently ride it out and resume watching movies when they return. You see quickly that, in a free market without the West’s strict and particular intellectual property copyright laws, people are unwilling to pay the 10-20$ USD that a film or audio CD will cost them.

All the better reason, industry and trade officials will argue, to encourage countries such as China to join international organisations and start abiding by the same copyright regimes that they adhere to. When asked about the alarming decline in CD and DVD sales currently seen in the West, the ease with which anybody can download content from BitTorrent networks, or the unprecedented power Apple wields over the entertainment industry with its iTunes store, they’ll cough nervously. Ask about the increasingly desperate measures such as file-sharing lawsuits that far too often snare octogenarians or primary schoolers, and you can expect a rapid change in subject.

Looking elsewhere, it only gets worse. In October 2007 Madonna, a money-making brand-name machine, declined to sign a new contract with Warner Brothers, instead opting to sign with Live Nation, a tour promtions company (other big name artists such as U2 and Jay-Z have also signed with them). The move sent shockwaves through the industry, but was merely the latest manifestation of a trend that as already well under way. Here in China, rare is the musician or band that makes any money from CD sales and rarer is the one who expects to. Instead, all understand that the road to making money is though touring and merchandise. Other famous Western acts such as Radiohead or, more famously, Nine Inch Nails, are experimenting with alternative distribution mechanisms and making profits off things such as signed and numbered box sets and low-price online downloads.

Indeed, You see the music industry fighting tooth and nail against any changes that give the consumer more choice; purchasing only individual tracks instead of an entire album, being able to use puchased media on any number of personal devices instead of restricting them to just one, or somehow integrating music listening to the online experience (what’s that, you want to put a song on your YouTube video of your cat Chairman Meow attacking a ball of yarn? Not without paying you won’t!)

no, i am not paying royalties on this image
No, I did not pay for this image. I’m a bad boy.

Ultimately, as it is when any industry fights a tectonic shift as this, it is a losing battle. More and more bands will gradually defect and start trying to make a living in the new world. Eventually, to the great dismay of the others, one of the big record labels will jump ship, and the others will either follow or die. The new world of music will involve some officially free content as well as up-sells and touring.

Well enough, one might say, but what about the movie industry? There’s no touring there to make up for a decrease in theatre ticket revenues. But there are a number of other important factors to consider. Already, merchandising is a hugely profitable enterprise, and there’s no reason not to expect this to continue – kids love their Little Mermaid underwear. Secondly, there are large numbers of people who will pay for higher quality content than the average movie rental or iTunes download. With all of the hi-def TVs in use in the USA, some people will pay for access to better quality versions of their favourite films.

Perhaps the most devastating argument, however, against the status quo in the movie industry is the subtle shift occurring in Hollywood: TV is starting to get good. So good, in fact, that many people await the return of their favourite Television shows far more than they anticipate the arrival of the latest movie blockbuster, which has a high likelihood of being bad and costing a lot of money to go see. With the advent of TiVo-like devices, people no longer even have to be a slave to the schedules of the networks. They can watch their shows whenever they want. And if a show is bad, they’ll very quickly abandon it, encouraging Hollywood to develop better content.

No industry is safe. It gets harder and harder to make any money writing books. Most computer book authors I meet are thrilled to make enough to make a down-payment on a small car. Why purchase a book to learn a new programming language when there are hundreds of free tutorials online, all of which are likely to be more concise and useful. Few and very (very) far between are the Steven Kings of the world. At least in this industry there is recognition of the change at hand, and every possible avenue to survive is being explored – observe the relative success of Pearson and O’Reilly’s Safari book network. As Microsoft is learning, people are also increasingly unwilling to pay a premium for software when all they really want to do is surf the web. Equally few are the software companies making much money any more.

The problem is not that people are not willing to pay for things. It’s just that they want to have a sense that they’re getting good value for their money. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, the decline in audio CD sales can partly be attributed to the broad perception that a lot of the acts coming out of Hollywood these days are poor, at best. Yet, sales for DVDs of TV shows are doing roaring business, as the Top 100 rankings on will quickly attest. Even here in China, where dubbed Korean soap operas dominate the airwaves, post-viewing DVD sales are significant. And one must not forget that iTunes continues to make Apple Computer – and Hollywood – bundles of money.

Some aspects of intellectual property are likely to remain reletively safe. As much as they rail against the huge number of fakes and rip-offs, luxury good manufacturers are probably not losing that much to piracy. People absolutely can tell the difference between a fake and the real thing, and enough people are still willing to pay for the prestige of the real deal (global economic meltdown aside). A real Burberry scarf is actually a lot nicer than a fake, and the people buying the fakes would certainly not be buying the real thing if there were suddenly no other choice.

But for music and film, which have enjoyed something of a Golden Age for the last half century or so, the glory days are over. They are running out of time to adapt, and this far don’t seem to be doing very well.

And so, as in so many other things, whereas some see the Chinese as rebels and rabblerousers, if you look closer, you’ll see that they just might be ahead of the curve.

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Dec 25, 2008 | 00:07:35
Christmas in Beijing
By marcwan

Not having particularly large numbers of Christians, for most of Asia Christmas is not an official holiday. Everybody trundles off to work at 8am in the morning like any other day, banks and government services remain fully operational (if completely unhelpful) and few – if any – people have trees or other decorations in their homes – gifts and the like are rare.

As such, it has been interesting to see how Christmas is becoming a bit of a “thing” here in Beijing, and entirely unlike what one would expect. Nearly every mall, shop, and restaurant has some sort of decoration, ranging from tinsel snowflakes to cutouts of Shèngdàn Lǎorén (Santa Claus), to big signs proclaiming 圣诞节快乐 (Merry Christmas). While old people tend to not care and are usually more than barely aware that the holiday is passing, the younger generations (and therefore the commercial enterprises who depend on their dollars) seem to be quite into the whole thing, with groups of coworkers sharing cakes at the office or going out for meals with little Reindeer antler hats on.

One aspect of it all is that Beijing becomes something of an expat ghost-town for the holidays. Many people leave to go back to their home countries, and those who live here tend to hunker down in their little expat enclaves such as Shunyi or Wangjing. What’s left are the (typically younger) foreigners who either couldn’t leave because of work, or decided simply not to bother. The expat restaurants and bars all begin the annual business “dry season” which usually lasts until the arrival of spring (and, coincidentally enough, actual rain).

Thus, it was with some surprise last night that, as a few of us went out for drinks at Q Bar, home to some of Beijing’s finest mixed drinks, traffic in the city was a complete mess. Any place that had bars and clubs was a complete madhouse, and even big shopping areas were all quite packed. Yet, only those places that catered to the locals were full – expat places such as Sanlitun and the like were still completely deserted.

What was going on was that all the locals were going out and partying. But instead of doing presents or any sort of family thing, it was more along the lines of New Years partying, with countdowns to Christmas tree lightings, party hats and streamers, and otherwise drunken revelry. No arguing here about how the holiday has lost its spiritual meaning and roots here – it never had any in the first place. For the Chinese, it’s just another way to participate in some of the things that Westerners like, but do it in their own unique way, and have a blast at the same time.

Here is a video from the local Chinese YouTube rip off (called YouKu):

In another uniquely Chinese way, many of those restaurants and shops will be sporting those same Christmas decorations until well into the summer. It is not unusual for me to be having Sweet and Sour Pork somewhere in July, with a big bearded Santa watching over me.

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Aug 14, 2008 | 22:08:55
Life in Beijing during the Olympics
By marcwan

Well, after a good six weeks of traveling to many different places (Singapore, Hong Kong, New York City, Maine, and finally Seattle), I’m back in Beijing now. I had originally planned to avoid coming here on account of how difficult the visa situation was supposed to be, but after some research, it turned out to be quite trivial to get a full year tourist visa (with the caveat that I have to leave every two months and then come back). But with all the pre-Olympic-hullabaloo, I was still nervous about coming back here during the middle of the games—what would things be like?

The short answer is that it’s a bit more annoying here, but not ultimately not all that different. Security measures that have been in place for years but were never seriously enforced before are suddenly being checked rigorously. I awoke in a panic this morning when I realised that I slept through most of yesterday and didn’t make it to the local gong an ju – public security office – to register. So I ran there this morning and started chatting with them and they were all smiles and then told me to come back later because they couldn’t get to the government website anyway.

Traffic definitely is better than it was before—Banning half the cars from the road is, it seems, an awesome way to improve traffic and air quality. There are dedicated lanes for the Olympics here and there which make the occasional mess of traffic still, but overall, the roads are deserted compared to what they were merely two months ago.

Air has been harder to measure. The first two days after I arrived were very cloudy, humid, and overcast, so it didn’t seem that nice out. A nice round of thunderstorms, yesterday, however, cleared nearly everything up, and today one can see the mountains surrounding the city (which I didn’t notice when I first moved to China until after nearly three weeks of living here!).

Oddly enough, compared to some of the DSL I was experiencing in the USA, the Internet here is stunningly fast and reliable. Sure, some sites are blocked, but that’s what SSH proxies were invented for, and I’ve pretty much got everything I want at my fingertips, with great speeds to boot.

My favourite thing about being back? The food. It’s awesome eating here. Lots of vegetables (even the meat dishes), lots of fruit, and the occasional ice cream here and there to help with the heat and humidity. I’ve already hit up the good Szechuan restaurants, and will keep working on all my regular smaller places before leaving again next week.

One thing I found interesting is that, despite the obvious pride at doing so well at the Olympic games and winning so many gold medals, many Chinese people I talk with are pretty sardonic about the whole thing, recognising that governments can pretty much buy as many gold medals as they’re willing to spend money on…

So, here’s to hoping that by the time I come back from India, China has returned to being the same old crazy and fun place that it’s been to live in. I can’t wait.

[Read Rest of Article]
Jun 07, 2007 | 19:30:33
Website Design Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong
By marcwan

There are lots of ways in which a website can be annoying. Favourite methods include: rotating and blinking animated GIFs (or worse, Flash), popup advertising windows, unexpected background music files, or just plain all around atrociously ugly page design. (I’ve been quite guilty of this in the past!)

But until you’ve lived in China, or at least spent some time browsing around websites here on the mainland, there’s probably one way to annoy the living bejeezus out of people that you’ve never thought of.

To demonstrate, simply visit any Chinese website, such as the Bank of China or something else such as Chinaren. Don’t worry if you can’t see the characters, they’re not important for this experiment. (Windows XP users can add them by going to Control Panel /International and installing the Asian Font Pack, while Vista and Mac users will have all these fonts installed already).

Once you have one of these pages up in your browser window, click on a link or two. Click on some more links on those pages. Try to get back to where you came from. Within minutes, you’ll have at least a dozen browser windows littering your desktop, or at best, for those Firefox users with the correct settings, dozens of tabs.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was specific to a few sites with particularly bad design. And you’d be totally wrong. This is completely endemic here in local website design, and is how the locals think that the “Internets” should work. Indeed, there is almost no concept of forward or back button usage any more, and it is not uncommon to see users with well over twenty browser windows littering their desktop at any given time. While Windows users can at least expect the Task Bar to group similar windows, Mac users just end up using the mouse to move the windows out of the way until needed later, or until they just close the browser application completely.

Ultimately, the problem becomes such that, if you want to fix the site design to not do things this way, you will confuse your user. When they click to go to a new page, and they then subsequently finish visiting it, they will close the browser window and proceed to go looking through their other browser windows until they find the one from whence (they hope) they came.

The only thing I can say? At least blatent ripoffs of other sites on the internet don’t seem to have felt compelled to introduce this behaviour into their clones. For everybody else, it’s going to take a while to change this design.

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Jun 04, 2006 | 17:46:06
Google Blocked in China
By marcwan

Living in China for the last few months has been surprisingly hassle-free Internet-wise. In the living room here I’ve got a 768k DSL connection, and the government blocking of sites has not been too big of a deal, given that I often don’t do much more than read or check email.

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