March 12, 2013

Shanghai Is a Fiction

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China  · Tags: , ,

No Comments »


February 4, 2011

Beijing Sim City

Reprise: YACHT – Psychic City (Classixx Remix) (4:13) – 4.2MB mp3 @ 128kbps

Explore Beijing from the comfort of your living room with Baidu’s 3D maps:

I used to live in the future...

I used to live in the future...

I can only assume that Google is still reticulating splines for NYC…

The map ends a few short blocks from Rem Koolhaas' CCTV building...

The map ends a few short blocks from Rem Koolhaas' CCTV building...

Filed under: China, Technology  · Tags: , , , ,

No Comments »


July 21, 2010

The Fabled Chinese Hipster – Parts 2.1-2.3

See also: Part 1, One Point Five and 2: Reprise.

PBR: three letters that spell the beginning of the End for Eastern Civilization.

pabst-blue-ribbon-landai-beer

However, as with just about every Chinese variant, the adjective ‘bizarro’ prevails: Evan Osnos of the New Yorker applauds Danwei‘s eye for PBR’s PRC rebranding as Blue Ribbon 1844 (蓝带啤酒), a premium craft beer.

That reliably blue-collar Milwaukee lager, later adopted by unbearable hipsters on the coasts, has turned up in China. And P.B.R., best known in the U.S. for being the cheapest beer on the grocery-store shelf, has—like so many expatriates before it—taken the move as an opportunity to change its image. For a beer, that appears to involve an elegant glass bottle and a fantastically ridiculous price tag. One bottle: forty-four dollars.

–Evan Osnos, Pardon Me, Would You Have Any Pabst Blue Ribbon
Letter from China blog on The New Yorker, July 19 2010

Osnos, ever duly diligent, also includes this link to PBR [advertising] through the ages. In fact, the story is so fascinating that he has just posted a follow-up post with a few choice quotes from PBR / BR1844 Brewmaster / Chief Representative – Asia Alan Kornhauser. Short of outright plagiarism, the relevant excerpt is reproduced below:

I formulated a special high-gravity ale called “1844.” It’s all malt, and we use caramel malts from Germany. The initial aging is dry-hopped rather heavily. Then we do a secondary aging in new uncharred American oak whiskey barrels. We bought 750 brand new barrels to the tune of $100,000. This is a very special beer; it’s retailing for about over $40 U.S. for a 720 ml bottle.

–Interview with Alan Kornhauser, All About Beer, July 2010

Indeed, Osnos’ colleague (New Yorker Beer Correspondent) Jesse Rodriguez notes that:

Traditional P.B.R. is light and fizzy with a distinct cloying malt profile, while the B.R. 1884 [sic] has a rounder mouthfeel with a notable hop presence on the front palate and finish. Is it worth the money? Probably not, but it’s definitely not a P.B.R.

–Jesse Rodriguez in Pabst in China, Continued,
Letter from China blog on The New Yorker, July 21 2010

pabst-blue-ribbon-1844-via-danwei

The interview continues with a few more telling tidbits:

There’s an audience there for it?

There’s the nouveau riche, and in China, perception is everything—look at me, I’m rich. Then also, there is another group that may be part of our market, and that’s state banquet dinners. Normally, you’d drink brandy, and this beer kind of has the look of brandy—it’s a reddish-brown color, but it won’t hurt you as much.

The beer combines a new flavor and a Western status symbol. Apart from the prestige, how are you selling these new tastes?

It’s new on the market, so I’m not sure exactly how it’s going—I have very little to do with the sales side. There is a TV commercial that’s quite attractive, that uses old still photos of the early days of Pabst, back when they used wooden barrels there.

What’s Pabst’s story in China?

We were the first foreign brewery in China, since the liberation in 1949—as it’s called there. We’re doing about one and a half million barrels there. Our first brews were, I believe, 1993; I didn’t get there until 1998. At that time, the largest-selling foreign brand in China was Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Read all about it

---- --- -- - -- --- ----

Possibly more related than one might think: the hipster fashion cycle.

hipster-fashion-cycle-infographic-via-flavorwire

I would hypothesize that Chinese fashion fundamentally differs from Western trends (to which the infographic applies) at the mainstream and conservative stages, where the former tends to correlate with (said) nouveau riche and the latter is either mainstream in the Western sense or more traditional Chinese. Nostalgia, then, would be informed by Western trickle-down imagery, while the ironic stage is virtually non-existent.

Though there are examples of ironic style on display in China—Mao’s face, red stars, military regalia are today worn with something less than earnestness—there is also more at stake in young people’s fashion choices.

–J. David Goodman, Are There Really No Hipsters in China?, Slate, April 21 2010

Flavorwire via PSFK

---- --- -- - -- --- ----

chinese-dorm-via-newsweek

Why the FCH is still a rare breed: Smart, Young and Broke; insert bad pun about higher education not necessarily being hire education. (Thanks Eugene; cf.)

Filed under: China  · Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments »


June 17, 2010

The Fabled Chinese Hipster – Part 2: Reprise

“I guess I am deeply embedded in the ‘myth-making’ process…” –Matthew Niederhauser

A long-delayed (if not long-awaited) follow-up to Part 1. I would also suggest (re)reading my first impressions of the Beijing indie rock scene, and I strongly advise you to listen to the following track while you read this post (and, hopefully, while you do other things in the future):

» Carsick Cars – 中南海 (6:45) – 11.22MB mp3 @ 232kbps

sound_kapital_4a-matthew-niederhauser-via-wired

All photos by the amazing Matthew Niederhauser, who offers an insider’s perspective on the Chinese rock underground, specifically D-22/Maybe Mars:

Wired.com: As an indie rock fan in the United States, I don’t feel like a similar scene could exist here anymore without the bands being marginalized as posers and hipsters. But in your photos there seems to be an authenticity in the subjects that can’t be faked. Is this just my perception as a Westerner looking in, or do you think there’s something about really tough circumstances in China leading to more authentic rock and attitude?

Niederhauser: The socioeconomic circumstances of China cannot be divorced from the music scene.

[These musicians] are repelled by and don’t wish to participate in a largely vacuous and inherently unsustainable consumer culture taking hold of China. While they might not brazenly attack the government, their embrace of such a fringe lifestyle along with the music they produce is a powerful statement in and of itself. This choice comes with a social stigma that is hard to imagine outside of China.

–Matthew Niederhauser, Scenes from the Beijing Rock Underground,
Wired, December 2009 (highly recommended)

sound_kapital_1b-matthew-niederhauser-via-wired

During my second month in Beijing, I continued to explore the indie rock scene, to the extent that this lengthy postscript to my initial thoughts on ‘Beijing Rock City‘ is a felicitous introduction to this second look at the Fabled Chinese Hipster.

With no idea how to go about pirating music, I went out of my way to catch hyped bands such as ReTROS and Pet Conspiracy at their concerts. Meanwhile, I came to enjoy the likes of Carsick Cars and B6—probably my two favorite Chinese acts, at this point—by purchasing their albums (in retrospect, I should have gone pre-teen rock-virgin style and bought every CD I could get my hands on).

carsick-cars-2-by-matthew-niederhauser

In fact, in many ways, it was like going back a decade in time, to those glorious teenage days when every five minutes on Napster yielded a new rock ‘n’ roll gem. In a particularly portentous coincidence, I happened to discover the likes of the Velvet Underground, early Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead in Chinese bootleg form on the relatively lawless streets of Beijing in the early days of cheap CD-burners—as did many of my fellow countrymen (the rebellious teens of my generation, at least), including Zhang Shouwang of Carsick Cars:

The generation before us didn’t have as many chances to get to know the rock music of Western countries, but nowadays we listen to music from many other countries. I believe that when my bands write songs, we might be influenced some elements of Western culture. I think the next generation of bands will be much different than ours.

Carsick Cars is China’s answer to New York’s (/NJ) holy trinity of feedback-drenched songcraft: Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo; in keeping with the fuzz aesthetic, a couple of their songs from the first album are deadringers for Jesus & Mary Chain. Say what you want about influences and imitation, it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll: guitar tones that are simultaneously warm and bright, backed by thick slabs of bass and unfussy drums—and Carsick Cars a damn good band for it.

zhang-shouwang-by-matthew-niederhauser

I’ve been hooked on their hit single (for lack of a better term) “中南海” since I first heard it last fall, after buying their albums directly from Maybe Mars’ headquarters near where I was staying. It’s a fairly simple song: the lyrics consist mostly of one phrase (“中南海”; literally “Middle South Sea” [Zhōng nánhǎi; sounds vaguely like "drunk not high"]) repeated over a catchy riff; the album version disintegrates into a pleasantly noisy breakdown—just to prove that they can—where the song would normally be truncated for radio, before cutting back for one last uplifting refrain.

And before you know, it’s over.

carsick-cars-1-by-matthew-niederhauser Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China, Music  · Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments »


May 25, 2010

Part One Point Five

The China beat goes on:

Ines Brunn after Li Wei

Ines Brunn after Li Wei

Some notes on the People’s Republic before the second chapter on the Fabled C[hinese]hipster

---- --- -- - -- --- ----

Wu Yulu’s amazing mechanical men:

After suffering a series of life changing set backs such as a burnt down home, spraying himself with battery acid, and experiencing great financial debt—all in the name of art—Chinese farmer Wu Yulu is finally gaining some recognition for his homemade robots.

Designboom

DB also has a gallery of Wu Yulu’s ‘Peasant Da Vincis’ for Cai Guo-Qiang’s inaugural exhibition at the newly restored Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai; some images interpolated below (cue egregiously ironic juxtaposition of images + text):

---- --- -- - -- --- ----
wu-luyu-for-cai-guoqiang-pollockbot-via-designboom

Click image to see Robo-Pollock in action at DB

Chinese news site Southern Weekend recently sent intern Liu Zhiyi undercover at the Shenzhen site of Foxconn, “the world’s biggest contract electronics maker and a major supplier to Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other companies,” which has been under scrutiny for the suicides of nine workers this year (more background info at NYT):

I know of two groups of young people.

One group consists of university students like myself, who live in ivory towers and kept company by libraries and lake views. The other group works alongside steel machineries and large containers, all inside a factory of high-precision manufacturing environment.

–Liu Zhiyi, Southern Weekend via Engadget

The translated article is definitely worth reading, though the Apple connection clearly raises the profile of these otherwise-overlooked incidents.

Skeptics (or fans of Apple) have taken to pointing out that this suicide rate, in a plant with four hundred and twenty thousand workers, is no higher than that in a Chinese city of comparable size.

–Evan Osnos, Items of Interest, Letter from China blog on the New Yorker, May 25 2010

Again, clickthrough for sweet vids...

Again, clickthrough for sweet vids on DB...

On a lighter note:

“I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”

Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans, The Onion

---- --- -- - -- --- ----

Essay Question (10 pts): To what degree does electronic music reflect the alienation of technology and hyperindustrialization?

Let me take this opportunity to explain my music. At first I liked drums, they were fast and noisy and that’s what I first produced. After a while I listened to more electronic, quieter music. I like fast music, but it’s more melodic as a general rule. I added more melody into my music, more baritone. My latest work has slowed down in comparison to my older music. In the past it’s always been very young, punkish, full of joy. Now, I like slower, blacker, darker music. Also, I like the Chinese influence. I cant explain it, I just like it. I add a little bit of Chinese music in everything.

Sulumi, via Intel×Vice’s Creators Project

via Wired

---- --- -- - -- --- ----

A few more for good flavor:

mickey-christ

  • Wild Wild Westernization: “16 Items They Only Sell at Chinese Walmarts” (Buzzfeed)
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Shanghai, 1948

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Shanghai, 1948

  • A glimpse into a Chinese toy factory.
Li Wei via the Guardian

Li Wei via the Guardian

Filed under: China  · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments »


May 19, 2010

The Fabled Chinese Hipster – Part 1

Tyler Bowa

Lunzi Lun by Tyler Bowa of People's Bike

I meant to comment on J. David Goodman’s (of the TimesSpokes blog) Are There Really No Hipsters in China? when it was first posted on Slate three weeks ago, but (what I intended to be) a brief note has somehow mutated into yet another discursive piece on the ever-vilified subculture that I seem to have buried myself in.

Hence, a three-part discussion on a point I mentioned in passing in my previous open [read: incomplete] comment on hipsterdom: are Chinese hipsters more or less authentic than their Western counterparts? Well, it depends on your definition of hipster—which I glossed over in the aforementioned essay—and whether hip(ster)ness and authenticity are mutually exclusive.

Photos via Ines Brunn

Ines Brunn

The Chinese certainly have history on their side when it comes to bikes; whether or not this is counts as authenticity is less clear. Conversely, there is certainly some degree to which hipsters abuse irony to validate a contemporary subculture that is parasitic on, well, history.

Though there are examples of ironic style on display in China—Mao’s face, red stars, military regalia are today worn with something less than earnestness—there is also more at stake in young people’s fashion choices, making them “less likely to ‘play’ with their dress in a cynical or ironic manner,” Wu explained.

–J. David Goodman, Are There Really No Hipsters in China?, Slate, April 21 2010

In some sense, the overarching pragmatism that permeates Chinese culture seems to preclude irony on principle. Irony, as a fashion statement, falls on deaf ears: it is, in a manner of speaking, like learning another language. Whereas the Western world is one where we (hipsters or otherwise) can afford to be impractical, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that 99% of the Chinese population would find it inconceivable to spend upwards of two months’ pay on an ostensibly outdated machine for transportation… especially when they are saving up for a car or, at very least, an electric bike (related video).

STC_Spring_Bicycle_Ride_26-via-Ines-Brunn

Ines Brunn

In other words, biking, in and of itself, simply is not subject to irony: it is a way of life, a symbol of tradition—or rather, the past.

A 20-year-old New York hipster can smoke a pipe or drink a really naff drink because it’s funny, but for someone in China, many of their equivalent peers don’t have the history and past knowledge of trends to understand what has been cool in the past.

–Nicole Fall, co-founder of Asian trend consultancy Five by Fifty
(in Are There Really No Hipsters in China?)

To Fall’s point, I would assert that the very concept of the hipster is founded on a highly ‘evolved’ (for lack fo better term) pop/consumer culture, where irony qua hipness is at least one generation removed from brand saturation. (I also have issues with her implication that [New York] hipsters can do things “because it’s funny”; more on this later.) As far as I can tell, Chinese mass culture has just crossed the threshold of postmodernity, at least to the extent that an emerging middle class has recently discovered the joy of brand fetishism.
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China  · Tags: , ,

No Comments »


March 22, 2010

Google vs. China: Round II

googlecn

Earlier today, Google announced that it is shutting down Google.cn. (Uncensored) Chinese searches are currently being redirected to Google.com.hk as the Search/Ad Giant hopes to make good on its promise to not be evil by challenging the Chinese government’s policy of Internet censorship.

The Internet was seen as a catalyst for China being more integrated into the world. The fact that Google cannot exist in China clearly indicates that China’s path as a rising power is going in a direction different from what the world expected and what many Chinese were hoping for.

–Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet project at UC Berkeley
Google Shuts China Site in Dispute over Censorship, The New York Times, 3/23/2010

It’s a bold move that has been applauded by many, including myself: the Great Firewall was perhaps my only plaint about my recent stay in Beijing.

However, there are some who sympathize with the PRC, painting Google as the symbol of Western imperialism in the Information Age. I agree that American criticism is inherently biased toward freedom of speech—a constitutionally inalienable right that may still seem foreign to many native Chinese (though perhaps not to the 400m+ Chinese Internet users)—but I’m impressed that Google is willing to sacrifice profit for principle nonetheless.

UPDATE: G vs C on NYT Room for Debate Blog, a fascinating look at China’s internet culture, WSJ on how Brin was forced out and an older essay on the Chinese scholars’ reliance on Google Scholar via Nature.

Filed under: China  · Tags: , , ,

No Comments »


March 7, 2010

Second Spring

Or, a New Direction in China’s Digital Communications

yfd1Back in January, Nowness posted a handful of production stills to mark the premiere of Yang Fudong’s “First Spring.” Well I’ve decided that they’re interesting enough to reblog here, a month and half a late to spite the title of their original source.

yfd2

Meanwhile, the New York Times recently ran an interesting article on bloggers in Shanghai. The article suggests, in so many words, that Chinese blogs are regarded as documents of unique cultural significance, and that their archives should be dog-eared, in a manner of speaking, for their future historical value as chronicles of first- and secondhand accounts of life in the Web 2.0 era, not to mention a massive body of meta-level commentary.

“The Chinese migrant experience to Shanghai is going to be as important to the future Chinese self-image as the New York immigrant experience was to the American self-image,” he said.

But whatever its gaps and the limits, Mr. Wang said, the broad rise of blogging has meant a welcome increase in available information; and more information means a better idea of what is really happening in the city.

–Maile Cannon & Jingying Yang, “Bloggers Open an Internet Window on Shanghai,”
The New York Times, February 24, 2010

yfd3

So it’s probably safe to assume that blogging in Shanghai (or Beijing, perhaps) is at once quite similar and quite different to blogging in, say, New York: I find that Chinese blogs are somehow both more and less authentic than their Western counterparts. It probably has something to do with the Western / American dogma of freedom of speech, but I’m not quite sure how or why.

Filed under: China  · Tags: , , , ,

No Comments »


February 26, 2010

Chinese Artists Protest Eviction

BEIJING — Nearly two dozen artists protesting the forced demolition of their homes and studios marched through the ceremonial heart of the capital before the police intervened and prevented them from reaching Tiananmen Square, the artists said Tuesday.

The fight over the future of Beijing’s artist villages coincides with soaring real estate values and ugly scuffles over land expropriation, several of which have led to the suicides of those facing eviction. Widely publicized in the media, the suicides have helped prompt the government to consider modifying the nation’s urban redevelopment regulations.

–Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times

…because state-controlled gentrification is a sure way to prevent a housing crisis…

Full story & Reuters video clip at NYTimes.com. Also on the Guardian.

Filed under: China  · Tags: , , , ,

No Comments »


February 24, 2010

Indie Asia with the Handsome Furs

» Handsome Furs – I’m Confused (3:36) – 4.6MB mp3 @ 178kbps

handsomefurs

Handsome Furs are a Montreal indie rock duo who draw musical inspiration from their travels—Russia and Scandinavia for last year’s Face Control and their 2007 debut Plague Park, respectively. For anyone who is familiar with Dan Boeckner’s songwriting/guitar work for Wolf Parade, it should come as no surprise that the synthesis of his trademark punk riffage/yelping and his wife Alexei Perry’s keyboards/electronics over sequenced beats yields jittery indie pop.

The Furs’ second album was good enough to merit CNN’s blessing for an Asian tour last fall, flip-cameras in tow, including a handful of shows in China about a month and a half before I landed in Beijing. Their mission: to create authentic travel content for the Cable News Network.

indieasia

Of course, it seems like a bit of a stretch for CNN to co-opt the indie cred of the relatively obscure Canadian duo, but Sub Pop pulled it off and I, for one, appreciate the production value: flip-vid footage, when edited properly, can pass for decent amateur cultural interest content. Indeed, each webisode consists of vicarious sightseeing excursions with the Handsome Furs.

Although the winsome pair invariably see Beijing through the eyes of tourists, Dan and Alexei still manage to come off as rather genuine when, for example, they rep Double Happiness (my cigarettes of choice). Similarly, brief clips of a gig at D-22 and a brief cameo by Nathaniel of Splitworks (who I had the pleasure of meeting towards the end of my stay) elicit a distinct personal resonance that, at the risk of sounding completely cliché, really brings me back.

handsomefurs_d-22

Unfortunately, the videos are not embeddable—apparently CNN doesn’t care for free publicity—so you’ll have to go to the microsite at CNN.com/IndieAsia to watch the videos… and, of course, comment on them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China, Music  · Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Comments »