Thursday, April 29, 2010

Well, that didn't take long

I wrote about iPads on the Beijinger a couple weeks back, so it's good to see that the Chinese are on the ball with this: reports Reuters: "Just three weeks after the global launch, bootleg versions of Apple Inc's hot-selling iPad tablet PCs have begun showing up on the shelves of online and real-world shops in piracy-prone China."

I especially liked this quote:

"This is just the first rough version," says Lin a crew-cut agent speaking in bursts of quick-fire Cantonese.

"While the shape isn't quite the same, the external appearance is very similar to the iPad, so we don't think it will affect our sales that much," he added, explaining the difference was due to the difficulty sourcing matching parts because of the quick two-month turnaround time for the first version's development.

Good to see the people are working hard to improve their craft. Can't wait for the second gen knockoffs of the first-gen product.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

An interview with Lawrence Allen, author of Chocolate Fortunes

On Friday I spoke with Lawrence Allen, author of Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China's Consumers. As a former executive at Hershey and Nestle, Allen was in the thick of the chocolate war, fought between the industry's "Big Five" -- Cadbury, Ferrero, Hershey, Nestle and Mars -- who all jostled for position in this virgin market. "To the victor of the chocolate wars would go the spoils of over a billion potential customers for generations to come," Allen writes. You can read parts of my interview with him on the Beijinger.

Part instructional guide for those who want to start a business in China, part paean to chocolate, Chocolate Fortunes is the sort of "niche" book that we may see more of in the future. Just as Time's Jeremy Wasserstrom lamented -- rightfully -- that "big picture" China books miss the point, more room should be made on bookshelves for works like Allen's.

Below, more of my interview with him:

When did you get the idea to write this book?

Actually it's been a work in process for almost the last 10 years. When I started working for Hershey -- when I first got into the chocolate business -- that was in the fall of 1998. I inherited the country management role from an executive who started with a rep office in importing product in 1995. At that point I realized there was this remarkable story that was occurring, and I'd say the real inspiration came... at the end of the book there's an anecdote about a couple that's shopping together, and to see the passion with which people in China were adopting chocolate -- I guess that would be the first moment that I really said, Hey, this is a great story to tell.

There weren't a lot of China business books out there at that time. There are now.

(Allen left the chocolate business in 2006.) Do you think, while entrenched in the chocolate war, you would have been able to write this, or would you have needed the distance?

No, and the reason is, if you noticed, there're quite a few anecdotes but also observations about how these companies behaved, how they viewed the market, so that's something you really can't research. Having been in the industry and worked in the industry and worked within two of these companies, and had Mars as a competitor -- and others -- it really did help to understand what was at stake, the approaches and philosophies. For example, Nestle: understanding why they didn't make it a priority to build chocolate, it really hit home as I watched the way the company handled this massive task of bringing in thousands of products, two dozen factories, and realizing that chocolate was a low priority. I wouldn't have that kind of insight had I not been within the company.

What was the most interesting part of the process for you?

Learning about the publishing industry and media. I had no idea that books were sold -- 80 percent or 75 percent of nonfiction books are sold -- on proposals. I had the movie image of a guy sitting there with a pile of empty paper on one side and a typewriter and shopping around the manuscript, I thought that's how books were sold (and I guess fiction to some degree is sold that way). But realizing that nonfiction books are really a business -- the proposals go to a committee, with sales, marketing, they have their meetings to decide which book titles to pick up... I thought learning about the mysterious world of publishing was probably the most fascinating part.

Who is your target audience?

This book is targeted to two, potentially three audiences.

First is anyone who is either currently doing business in China or who is interested in learning about doing business in China, an executive for a small-, mid-sized American company that's looking to do a startup in China, or market and sell to China -- that would be I'd say the primary target audience. That would also include the academic realm, international business students who would want to learn about doing business in China. So that whole China business sector is the primary audience.

However, there is a great deal of interest in China from a wide variety of sources. This was pre-Olympics. So for an American audience, there was probably pretty big learning about some basics about China. They had one image of China, but after the Olympics there was so much exposure and focus on China, I think that there was a lot of general interest in China. So that general trade audience would be a strong second primary market.

And then, third, if we're lucky and it was compelling enough, chocolate lovers. If you google chocolate or you go to Amazon and look up chocolate, there're quite a few books out there about Mars, about Hershey, about the history of chocolate and the chocolate wars in the U.S. There're a couple dozen titles on chocolate itself, so that would be a potential third (audience).

Niche books...

I think there’s room for a lot of books. There's an old fable about the king and three blind men and the elephant. Easy and simple: King had three blind men standing before him and an elephant. He said go over and touch the elephant and tell me about it… (one person felt) the trunk, "long," and so forth. That's China. If you spent the last 15 years in southern China, you'd have a very different story than up here in Beijing, which would be very different from Shanghai, which would be very different out west in Chongqing. So who can tell the China story? There is no one story, so there should be quite a few titles.

What this book did is it told a story about five companies… how many places in the world do you have one billion people who have never seen or touched or tasted chocolate, that suddenly have the financial means with which to buy them? So this was a great story. I promised myself not to burden my readers with a lot of statistics and a lot of details that were going to be irrelevant. I wanted to tell the story so they developed the right mindset for doing business in China.

You write about how one of the keys to success for Mars -- what ultimately made them the market leader -- is their commitment to the long term. They lost money for the first 12 years of their operation in China. How unusual is that?

That's very unusual. I don't know any company that's consistently lost money. But be careful of that last statement... they needed to lose money for another five years. They had to. They did things in this market during that five-year period that has made this now one of their premier markets in the world. You've got to make that investment.

And Nestle, they weren't dumb, Nestle was smart... from 1978, as soon as Deng Xiaoping said, Heimao, Baimao (black cat, white cat), repeated heimao, baimao, they were here. They sent their executives, and they were exporting to China. They had people on the ground learning the market and they said milk powder is the number one priority, coffee -- which I thought was pretty brave -- number two, culinary number three, bang bang bang. And they knew that the chocolate market, because of the distribution channels, was going to be a long, long, long haul. And they said, You know what? We don't want to invest, we don't want to do this for 12, 13 years. We could probably do it, but we just know we won't get a return on investment that's satisfactory. Coffee they certainly did, milk powder, as you saw, they did.

(Speaking about a Mars executive that came in 2002:) I would say that the guy came in after him also lost money for five years, and it's interesting, they were breaking even in 2002, but the new managing director came in and put them back into an investment mode, said, No no, don't stop yet, keep this momentum going, and he expanded the organization, he put in a significant number of sales people, he added a lot of layers and cost. He built the organization. But those first three years (afterwards), they had 59 percent year-on-year growth. That's over-doubling every two years. It just exploded. So he came in at the right time and said, It's not quite time yet to take profit from this, keep driving. And they did. By 2005, they were clearly number one. They had a huge business relative to any competitor. They're now 40+ percent of the market, and they're clearly way ahead of anyone. So what do you take from that? My lesson is China was not like any other market. It needed that level of commitment to succeed.

There was a question you posed in your book: "What is the right way to do business in China?" Would you be able to answer that now?

I'm still answering that today. And everyone is. Chinese, foreigners, everyone is learning every single day because it is changing. (In) '93, I met a guy who was trading commodities in forex. Excuse me, two of the most capitalist, speculative things, you're doing it, and it just came up, bang. Franchises are illegal in China. December 11, 2007, suddenly, now franchises are legal. So that's just two examples, but every year, every month, something is changing -- a deregulation, a new regulation, a new competitor. Think about the automotive sector, Geely and these local companies, Scoda, they're popping up within a matter of four, five years, coming up out of nowhere, right? So what is the right way to do business in China? I can't tell you. I don't think anyone can. Everyone is learning as this economy continues to evolve.

What I can say is, I do admire Mars, and I'm glad I showed that face in the book because you can walk into any Mars office or warehouse around the world and you'll see a big sign up there that says, "The customer is our boss." That has been the philosophy of the Mars company for years, that has been the philosophy of the Mars company for years. So they put the customer first. And I think that is probably one universal factor that will help you succeed in China. You've got to understand your consumer or your customer and meet their needs and go beyond. Meet and exceed the needs of your customers or clients, that's No. 1.

No. 2, be prepared to have a long-term vision for China. It's going to take a long time to get yourself where you expect to be. You're not going to come in here and set up a plant and be making money in three years. Maybe if you're an export-only company, but if you're dealing with consumers in the consumer market, it's going to take years. I mean, it sounds a bit strange, but if you've been in the United States for 50 years as a brand, what makes you think you can walk in here in three years and take No. 1 market share and run the business? You couldn't do that in the United States, why would you be able to do that here? And you look at companies like the PNGs and the big guys, they stuck it out for year and year and year, built the brands, built the names, invested heavily, and now they're enjoying that profit and the success. But it took years and years of consistent investment.

I would say another key lesson is leadership. That's going to be your most important decision, who you put in charge. The reason is -- and not so much for technical abilities. Fairly typical, you had, Okay, we’re going to set up a plant in China, export but also domestic sales -- who are we going to send over? Well, John Doe is our engineering director, he's been to China many times working with suppliers, he knows China best, we'll send him over. So you actually literally had engineering or production people coming to China and they're sitting in the GM chair. What are they dealing with? State regulations, licensing, zoning regulations, dealing with the local government, HR, hiring... suddenly they’re wearing a CEO's hat, literally. They're dealing with all the same issues. Some of those guys did extremely well. Some of them didn't. So it's not necessarily their background that’s important -- you want as best a fit as possible -- but you need what we call behavioral competencies. They have the ability to be a leader, to understand, to, No. 1, find the right people, because you never do anything by yourself, No. 2, to provide the right kind of leadership to those people in the form of -- not directive, leadership -- selecting the right people to surround yourself with in an organization that understands the market, understands the challenges and will address those issues in a professional and best-possible manner.

One of the criticisms of Chinese companies, for example, in terms of leadership, is some of them are very successful but they don't get past the laoban. Still big boss, he's very directive. It's not that the people around him are incompetent, they're just never given the opportunity to become decision-makers. So my advice is, pick the right leader and have that leader pick the right people on his team. That's going to be essential.

If you could add a coda to your book -- it's been a year and a half since you finished it -- what would you say?

I think the epilogue that I have in the book currently is still relevant. It's still wait-and-see on the Mars-Wrigley merger. Are they really going to turn that into this powerhouse that we expect? Nestle is still selling the wafer KitKat, and they don't have any other retail chocolate right now. They haven-t changed. Ferrero-Roche is still stacking it high and watching it fly. Cadbury, their chocolate business is just flat, basically. Hershey, again, has made a rebound -- wait to be seen whether they're actually able to make that go any further. I really couldn't add anything to that. It's a wait-and-see situation.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Autobots, Deploy!

Last night my friends' band, Autobots, Deploy! (or have they dropped the exclamation mark?), played a show at Jiangjinjiu Bar next to the Drum and Bell Tower. Clip below.

And here they are at:

Also see: Hao Yunyu Band at Jiangjinjiu.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An afternoon at People's University of China

It happens sometimes that the clouds/fog/smog/whatever-it-is in this city breaks formation and reveals to us the deep, penetrative blue of an endless sky. We are not often privy to this sight, so excuse me for sounding as I do. Worries are tossed aside and time slows down: you simply exist.

I've said this before but it bears repeating: on a clear day, Beijing is gorgeous and truly world-class, as defined by eliciting happiness.

I took a stroll through the charming campus of People's University to commemorate the occasion.

People's University, i.e. Renmin University of China (中国人民大学), i.e. Renda (RUC), was founded in 1937 amid the Sino-Japanese War. It focuses on humanities and the social sciences, often hosting international scholars (including my friend Michael Chaitkin, from Stanford, who has a tag on this blog) and guest speakers, and is just a peg below the more internationally renowned Peking University (Beida) (but don't tell Renda's students that).

More pictures:

Practicing tennis against the side of Shiji Gymnasium.

Yes, the Beijing Olympics graced this campus.

Mingde building, which houses the schools of law, economics, international studies and maybe something else.

Pickup bball.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On this, a national day of mourning

Last night CCTV-1 ran a three-and-half hour New Year's gala-type benefit show, with high-ranking audience members sitting at banquet tables, ostensibly devoted to the people of Yushu, Qinghai Province (most recent update: 2,000-plus dead, 12,000-plus injured after Wednesday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake). You can watch the show on Youku, i.e. Chinese YouTube, a service that more or less stopped returning searches last night and instead redirected people to an earthquake relief fund page (linking to this).

If you do watch the show, let me know how many minutes you managed to sit through before realizing something was horribly amiss.

Up on stage, executives of China's top companies congratulated themselves for making donations, the RMB amount printed in bold characters on oversized placards that these executives held over their chests like homeless bums in San Francisco pronouncing the end is near. They may not have outright patted themselves on the back, but it was clear why they were participating in this parade of dunces: to let the country know that Samsung is harmonious with the earthquake relief efforts; to let the country know that Air China is mobilizing to help with earthquake relief efforts; to let the country know that the hearts and minds of those at Baidu -- nay, EVERYWHERE -- are with the people of Qinghai Province; to let the country know that THIS company is toeing the national line so for the love of God do not human-flesh-search us on the Internet and make our stocks lose value.

Yes, the culture here in China is, well, different, but it's still shocking to see these flagrant demonstrations of groupthink on every channel and major Internet portal. Then again, who's complaining? Who doesn't love watching middle-aged men trying to outdo each other by donating money according to the size of their penises company's worth? I, China resident, fully support pissing contests, almost as much as I support spending money to show the world that "Chinese people are indomitable in the face of natural disasters," you know, like robots.

If there was anything at all genuine about this segment, it was the toupee I saw on that one guy's head. And I wonder what soul-sucking vacuum those CCTV hosts had to crawl through to earn the assignment of sticking microphones in front of executives and listening to them say the equivalent of "Go Qinghai!" I wonder how long these hosts practiced perfecting that solemnly dignified expression of sympathy and interest and gratitude while nodding vigorously -- but nodding only once per executive -- and saying resolutely, "Thank you." Yes, thank you. Thank you, state media conglomerate, for giving soapboxes to an assembly line of pasty douchebags who fly on corporate jets and eat abalone. Oh, and thank you, great state media choreographer, for putting a second and third row of executives behind that first row so that they strain their arms holding their placards like pudgy parasites outside the windows or New York's Today Show, or vacuous models from Deal or No Deal. What a great use of time, energy and resources. I'm sure those people in Qinghai are cheering as we speak, each of them handed hundred-kuai bills for the reconstruction of their lives.

Don't get me started on "forced donations."

Not to be too cynical, however: lots of people are contributing positive energy to relief efforts and some of their work was, as it should have been, publicized on the CCTV benefit show last night. I just wish the whole thing didn't come off as so contrived, forcing viewers to discern the fake from the real.


POSTSCRIPT: (Lots of characters for "love.")

。爱。。。。。河北秦皇岛人民为同胞祈福 加油!!。。。爱
。。。。。。。。。。。。爱。加油 。爱

Monday, April 19, 2010

Charles Gaines KOs Chinese basketball player

Uh, this will have implications.

Any half-intelligent foreigner who's been in China for any length of time knows it's a bad idea to pick a fight against a Chinese person in this country, for reasons we won't get into at the moment. (Let's just say in my Cormac McCarthy-worship days I was witness to more than a couple fights where foreigners most definitely did not come out okay.)

Apparently no one gave Charles Gaines the memo.

Watch this video from Sina.

The synopsis: in the closing moments of Game 2 of the Chinese Basketball Association finals on Sunday, Guangdong's Du Feng gets tangled underneath the basket with Xinjiang's Gaines, a Southern Mississippi standout in the early naughts who was briefly on the San Antonio Spurs' roster. Du appears to butt heads with Gaines; Gaines responds by roundhousing Du. Ten-count, commence.

The Guangdong crowd, as you can imagine, gets into a tizzy as people wonder if Du is, as the picture above suggests, dead. (Don't worry, he survives -- a light concussion at worse.) If you click on that Sina link, the fourth video in the queue shows Gaines leaving the arena later that night surrounded by about 150 police officers. I'm only slightly exaggerating.

Here's CBAChina's coverage of the incident (throw that into Google Translate if you'd like). At the end of that article is a poll asking, "Charles's punch of Du Feng roused on-court chaos, who's responsible?" The choices:

a) Charles -- looking forward to CBA's punishment
b) Fans, though hitting people is uncalled for
c) Referees, who didn't do a good job controlling the game
d) Home organizers, whose inadequate security measures allowed disaster to happen

"Du Feng" was not an option. Can you guess who won with 69.7 percent of the vote? (I'll give you a hint: you don't need a hint.)

CBA: Where Shit Happens.

POSTSCRIPT: If you care, Guangdong, behind former Laker starter Smush Parker (26 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and David Harrison (17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks), won the game 95-90 and now leads the best-of-seven series 2-0. The series now shifts to Xinjiang, a place that most recently made Western headlines due to this.

UPDATE, 4/20: It's a best-of-seven series, not five as I'd earlier had it (correction appended). And let the debate begin on whether Du Feng "faked" any part of the incident (it does appear that Charles used an open palm, which makes the incident slightly less life-threatening than the Kermit Washington-Rudy
Tomjanovich thing in 1977).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Links: Quick-and-dirty edition

Hot or not? Hmm...

  • China Hush, which supplied the above picture, notes that Japanese AV idol Sora Aoi is causing quite a stir in China, perhaps single-handedly driving a citizen- (or Netizen-) led campaign to -- with apologies to Chris Jericho -- break down the Great Firewall. Interestingly, if you Google "Sora Aoi," you quickly come to the website Bukkake TV. Um, NSFW.

  • Lead (also from China Hush): "Not long ago, Dr. Zhang Hongyan encountered an embarrassing moment at the hospital emergency room: a woman dressed in rags was sent to the hospital with her lower body attached to her pet dog’s genital." Apparently the woman had her nine-year-old son help her make the call to the hospital. Believe it or not. Perhaps the only thing more bewildering than this article is the top comment, from Samuel, a first-class example of missing the point: "great article. thank you so much for sharing. this is a social problem that needs to be address in the future as China emerges as an influential power.

  • More women of China, via Danwei.

  • Kunming isn't all sunshine and that tourist-guide shit. Here, GoKunming exposes the darker side of the city's management officers.

  • Just for fun: some really harsh words from China Daily letter-writers.

  • Because good sites deserve recognition: Sinosplice.

  • Reuters's China blog has again changed URLs as it's merged with the Japan beat into a "Global News Journal."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Countdown to the end of Nanluoguxiang

In the Beijinger today I wrote about the potential end of Nanluoguxiang as we know it:

The tale is as old as it is predictable, almost not worth rehashing. But here goes. About five years ago, Nanluogu Xiang was an alleyway frontier, quiet and understated. When a few residents of hutong houses got the bright idea to rent their spaces to bar and boutique owners, the neighborhood began its gradual evolution into a pulsating and contemporary nerve center, a "hub of creativity," as tbj's Iain Shaw put it last November, "a culture -- at least, one side of what modern Beijing culture is." But the bandwagon of consumers and window-shoppers that followed inevitably carried the lure of commerce, money. And sure enough, behind them rode the bandits of Greed.

Give it a read if you're interested, but here I'm going to play a bit of Devil's advocate to my own piece.

I sympathize with the Chinese landlords on Nanluoguxiang. The shop-owners I talked to, i.e. tenants of said landlords, like to say that the landlords don't know what's good for them, that they're short-term thinkers. They say that Nanluoguxiang was an average little alleyway before they came in with their nifty bars and chic boutiques, and that when they leave -- replaced by commercial retailers -- Nanluoguxiang will lose all its charms.

Perhaps that's true. But I'd like to suggest that maybe some landlords -- I can't say out of the 200 or so in the area how many, exactly, feel this way -- like things to be what they were, before the tourists began filing in with their handbags, shrill laughs and annoying propensity for picture-taking. They want their quiet neighborhood back, those nights they could kibitz with their childhood friends, the ones they suffered with during the Cultural Revolution, survived and thrived with. At the age some of the landlords are at, I can imagine they'd want some peace and quiet. (And don't say they should just "move away" -- these are their homes, after all.)

I understand that most of them probably welcome commerce, which puts unfathomable wealth directly in their pockets. That makes it very easy to paint them as the villains in this story, when in fact they are just average people who want the best for themselves. Does that make them greedy? Well, maybe, though "self-invested" is perhaps a better term. Then again, who isn't a bit greedy?

Imagine if your house and the neighborhood you grew up in, in matter of a few short years, got overrun by foreigners -- many of them often drunk, to say nothing of the locals -- and tourists who kept taking photos of your doorway, and carousers who'd pee on your wall. Would that not get, after a while, frustrating? And would you not yearn for an older, more sophisticated crowd, one that would bring class -- and money -- without all the rowdiness that comes with youth and alcohol?

Yes, you would want that. You too would raise your rent. (The contrarian argument to that, of course, is that a lot of really good people would get driven out of the area; it's a crapshoot, and it sucks.) You would see the Nanluoguxiang ordeal in a completely different, grayer, light.

In any case, it's a terrible situation all around, and while I'll certainly rue the day Nanluoguxiang turns into Qianmen, I'll try not to overreact.

I would probably still rant though.

Earthquake... again

Never a good sign when you open your browser to see a headline like "6.9 earthquake strikes China," but with all the earthquakes that's been happening recently, it seemed only a matter of time that the Middle Kingdom (I still prefer "Central" Kingdom as a translation, but I'm not going to fight the masses on this one) would eventually get hit. "Hundreds dead" is the latest update. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Your example of bad journalism for the day: the Guardian!

They really deserve a lifetime achievement award in this category when it comes to China, but here I reprint, in its entirety, their latest mistake:

Has China done Bob Dylan a favour?

The singer who was once synonymous with political protest has been banned from Beijing. Might it do him some good?

Bob Dylan's Asian tour, planned for later this month, has been called off after Chinese officials refused him permission to play in Beijing and Shanghai.

The Chinese seem to be worried that he might say or sing something politically sensitive, as Björk did in 2008.

As if Dylan would. Don't the Chinese know that these days the 68-year-old former protest singer is a respectable golfer who released a Christmas album last year and has even allowed Blowin' in the Wind to be used as the soundtrack of a TV commercial?

But maybe the Chinese ban will do him some good. Could it help to restore his credibility as the prophet from Desolation Row?

As Wang Ge of the Beijinger reported back on February 25:

Sun Mengjin, one of China’s most well-known music critics, published such statement in his blog post titled Greed Destroys Dylan's Shows in China: “There’re people working their ass off to pull off a show and not making any money, and there are also scalpers who only care about making money from music; Business is business, but there’s a bottom line. Dylan’s agent asked for USD 250,000 per show in mainland China, and some Taiwanese promoter sold it to a mainland company for USD 400,000 – I mean, how money-driven can you be? Don’t they know about the international standard of maximum 15% for agent fees? 400,000 dollars for the 8,000 seated Shanghai Grand Stage, it’s impossible to make the money back by selling tickets. Those people are whistling ‘blowing in the wind’ while their black hearted money are also blowing with the shit out of their ass. FYI, there will be a day when Dylan is too old to sing.”

Um, yeah. So Guardian, maybe you should think about adding tbj to your RSS. Or at least doing a bit more research next time.

POSTSCRIPT: Fallows, same subject.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cars suck

If true, this bit from Global Times is the best news I've heard all week:

The daily average of 5 hours of congested traffic is due to the inadequate public transportation system, according to a new report by Beijing's Political Consultative Conference.

The city has responded to the public transport shortcomings, saying it will increase the frequency of subway trains and will offer 80,000 bicycles to hire free of charge. Insiders say the city has stepped up efforts to promote "green ways to get on the road."

Yes to free bikes (I refer you now to a City Weekend article I wrote about public bike sharing in Beijing). Big yes to train frequency.

But a couple things:

1. FIVE HOURS of congested traffic? Well, I don't exactly know what that means (how does one define "congested"? where are the city limits?), but it seems like an adequately ridiculous
length of time to warrant the all-caps.

2. "Inadequate public transportation" doesn't seem like it's the cause of congested traffic. Dumbasses buying cars is the cause. And they buy cars here for some of the sorriest reasons imaginable, like, "I need a car to get a girlfriend." Uh-huh.

Also, I'm not sure I buy this "inadequate" argument. Beijing has one of the best bus systems I've encountered. Sure, it's a bit hard to figure out sometimes, and it's not as convenient for foreigners who can't tell Dongzhimen from Dongshimen, but you can, theoretically, get from any point in the city to anywhere else via bus, as long as you don't mind occasionally waiting behind cars stuck in traffic.

Of course, no public transportation system is perfect (New York City's is fairly perfect, though it's a bit overextended and may collapse upon itself unless people quit complaining about MTA's price increases and just understand how lucky they are to have so many trains at their service)*. It'll take longer going from Point A to B when you're stopping a dozen times in between, but that's why you can, say, bring a book to read. The alternative is trying to get from Point A to B through aneurysm-inducing traffic jams.

The GT article goes on:

Beijing's Political Consultative Conference released its 2009 report on Beijing's transportation system on Friday, concluding that the city's inefficient public transportation system means that commuters rely heavily on private cars. The report said the solution to heavy road congestion is a better public transportation system combining bicycles, buses and the subway.

According to the report, Beijing has about 3,291,000 private cars with an annual growth of 500,000 cars, and 40 percent of them drive less than 5 kilometers every time they hit the road.

Forty percent of them drive less than five kilometers.

...[poo-pooing of public transportation]...

All of these issues mean that the public transportation system is far from efficient and this gives residents an incentive to buy a car, said Mao Baohua, director of the Transportation Research Center of China at Beijing Jiaotong University.

Anyone who's sat in traffic anywhere, to say nothing of Beijing, probably understands why murders can happen. I'm not generally violent, but when I need to travel six kilometers and can't do so within 30 minutes -- I can light-jog six kilometers in 30 minutes -- because the guy in front of me is irritable and driving a car that is behind an irritable guy driving another car behind a guy about to wear out the horn on his car because he's behind an irritable guy of another car, well, things compound and I can easily see myself killing someone, or at least maiming them with repeated kicks to the head.

I think my point is: Beijing traffic is a big DISINCENTIVE for buying cars; "inadequate public transportation" is not an incentive.

But whatever, if this report means shorter waits for subway trains -- not that waits are very long to begin with -- then it can bad-mouth public transport all it wants.

*Alicia tells me Hong Kong has the best public transportation in the world. As someone who just returned from Hong Kong, I believe it. Can't believe I neglected to mention this up there.

Friday, April 9, 2010

KFC: do not like; these new blogs, however...

One of my biggest frustrations from traveling to Shanghai and Ningbo was with KFC. I know how weird that sounds, and you have every right to question why I'd go to KFC -- seek it out, even -- when I'm in a region known for xiaolongbao and zongzi, both of which would make better meals and snacks. Anyway, long story short, let's just say the service was slow and unreliable, and SEVEN kuai for a crappy sundae when I can get a bigger, better one at McDonald's for five? Ridiculous.

Anyway, then I got home and read this from the Beijinger, and feel much better.


A few blogs to pass along: apparently Beijing Notebook, an award-winning China travel blog, is back in action; Round-the-World Barstool Blues, the writer of which is based in Beijing; and Froogville (these last two blogs both recently commented on the Gulou-demolition ordeal, so check that out if you're interested in the fate of that neighborhood).

Also, if you haven't already (and why wouldn't you have?), check out New York Times Magazine's feature about China's cyberposse, i.e. human flesh search engine.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yesterday in Ningbo

Was in Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. There's not a whole lot to see in this city of 2 million, but if you're there with friends, make your way through Tianyi Square in downtown Ningbo and find the grassy area just north of the square. Many an afternoons can be easily wiled away at that spot. I now know from experience.

Kevin Reitz has more about Ningbo on his blog.

Images and observations follow. (Not pictured: Jeff Orcutt and Shan Wu.)

Some fruit and flora:

Oh you pretty faces:

Clockwise from top left: Michael Chaitkin, Therese, Matt, Alicia.

Around the city:

Such a hard life...

Therese with rabid puppy, and guy roasting meat.

Nappers: c.f. this site.

Ah, to be a kid again...

Like this big kid here. (Kevin Reitz shenanigans.)

Church next to Tianyi Square.

Portuguese church that we finally made it to after an afternoon of beer frizz on a lawn (the playing of which attracted lots of attention, as you can imagine).

Food porn -- Alicia's final meal in Ningbo.