Twittering, and on-leave for a few more weeks.

My regular readers have probably noticed that posting has slowed considerably over the last month. This is due to a number of factors, both professional and personal, that have kept me out of Shanghai, and prevented me from doing the reporting that makes this blog (at its best, I believe) a reported blog. So, for the next few weeks, I’m going to hold off posting until I have something reported to say.

A couple of quick notes before I go.

First. Over the last couple of years I’ve been surprised to notice that, on occasion, posts which garnered very little traffic when they were written, can suddenly, for no obvious reason, begin to draw significant traffic. I’m pleased and flattered to note that this has started to happen (both inside and outside of China) with “The Two Cultures: Recycling Edition,” posted on February 6. As a result, I’ll be writing a longer version of that post, in more formal terms, soon (complete with a response to some of the criticism that’s been pointed at it). Sincere thanks to those who’ve taken an interest in that post, linked to it, and written to me about it.

Second. As of today, I am twittering. Not sure why, yet, but I’m told that everything will become obvious in time. So, even though I won’t be writing any more “philosophy of recycling” posts for a few more weeks, I may very well reveal my preferred Hüsker Dü album.

Finally. Not so long ago, I visited a pet trade fair in southern China where, among other wonders, the organizers staged an exhibition of tattooed fish. I took photos, of course, and I probably should’ve just posted them on the double. Instead, foolishly, I held out for an appropriate occasion. But what occasion goes with a tattooed carp? A blog hiatus, I guess:

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” …few exchanged garbage for admission.”

I recently spoke to a friend who works for a five-star hotel in a first-tier Chinese city about the precipitous decline in room bookings since the economic crisis hit. He told me that – despite the drop in business – his chain has no plans to drop its prices for fear of devaluing its brand image, especially for customers who value exclusivity.

This valuable lesson came to mind this morning as I skimmed the last week’s newspapers for stories that I might have missed, and came across this unusual promotion in Shanghai Daily:

THE offer of a free ticket to the plum blossom exhibition at Century Park in exchange for a bag of household rubbish found few takers at the weekend, park officials said yesterday.

“More than 20,000 visitors came to the exhibition on Saturday,” said Sun Jiayi. “But very few exchanged garbage for admission.” The offer holds good until the exhibition ends next month.

Alas, the paper didn’t report as to whether this promotion helped or hindered admission at this year’s festival.

Earth to CCTV: What happened to your sprinklers?

[UPDATE: Really remarkable video of fireworks (apparently) igniting the north tower's roof, here (h/t black and white cat)].

If the CCTV complex’s engineers could figure out how to accomplish the marvel of twisting the main CCTV building upon itself, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that they could accomplish the relatively easier task of devising a sprinkler system capable of shutting down a fire started by sparks no bigger than cigarette butts upon the roof? Maybe it’s because I’m not in Beijing, but the proportionality (or lack thereof) of the fire strikes me as totally off. Major international building commissions should not turn out to be as fragile as, well, paper lanterns.

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In any case, lots of talk in advance of, and during the Olympics, about the “world class” nature of Beijing’s new buildings, and the materials used to build them. I can’t count the number of times that I was told that the Olympic-era buildings were not only “different” from what’s normally built in Beijing and the rest of China – they were substantially better. And maybe that really is the case. But the fact that this wonder of modern architecture burnt to the ground as a result of a few sparks on the roof is reason enough for this blogger to wonder whether or not the materials used in the building were up to “code” – whatever that might mean in modern Beijing.

Of course, it may very well be the case that something other than fireworks caused the fire. But that’s little comfort for those of us wondering where the sprinklers were, and just why the thing went up so quick.

[Sidenote: What kind of hillbilly continues lighting off fireworks in the shadow of a 40-story tower in flames?] Continue reading

Bird Flu? Needs more research.

Early last week a Hong Kong infectious disease expert announced that – in his opinion – China was suffering an outbreak of bird flu among poultry. This conclusion was based upon two factors: first, eight people had been infected with H5N1 since early December; and second, Hong Kong scientists had detected H5N1 virus in dead birds on Lantau Island, suggesting – to them – that the virus was circulating in Guangdong Province. Continue reading

The Two Cultures, Recycling Edition

Here’s something that I’ve learned: the world has two cultures of recycling.

In the developed world (Europe and North America, in particular), recycling is a moral act, done – primarily – as expatiation for consumption. Little to no consideration is given to the cost of recycling; and, on those rare occasions when economics enter the discussion, they often do so because an entity – say, a city recycling program – suddenly finds itself in need of a subsidy to continue running a government-chartered recycling program. The average citizen rarely considers the economic value or cost of his or her sorted paper, cans, and bottles; sorting such materials is a civic duty.

Meanwhile, in the developing world, recycling is an economic act, done primarily for income. Little to no consideration is given to the environmental benefits of recycling; on those rare occasions when the environment enters the discussion, it’s a side-benefit, often utilized as a marketing ploy by companies seeking more valuable recyclables for less money. The average citizen (say, in Shanghai), rarely considers the environmental benefit of selling his or her paper, cans, and bottles to the local scrap peddlers. Almost to a person, he or she is concerned with obtaining market value from an item that has value – to someone else.

I’ve written about this topic in other places, and I’ll be writing more in the coming year. For now, though, I’d like to repeat a story: a good friend, from Hunan, likes to recount how people from her small town warn school age children that – if they don’t study hard – they’ll end up as scrap peddlers, picking through trash to find value in other people’s garbage. That is, in rural Hunan, recycling is what you do if you’ve failed at everything else.

Today I thought of that story, the people in that small village, and what they might have thought about this Wednesday event at the University of Minnesota (as reported by the Star Tribune):

After a garbage truck dumped its full load in front of Coffman Union, student volunteers pounced on the pile — about 10 feet tall by 20 feet wide — and pulled out all of the material that could have been recycled but ended up in the trash instead.

The smelly demonstration was part of an effort to increase recycling on campus

Below, a screen capture from the Star Tribune’s accompanying video:

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A couple of points, here. First, I’m willing to bet a sizable sum of money that you’ll never, ever find a group of Chinese university students digging through a 6 ton pile of garbage (at their college, or elsewhere). I could give a long list of reasons, but the one that I’d like to focus on is this: trash sorting is a job in China, and it’s one that Chinese students don’t want. It’s not about virtue; it’s about work, status, and money. Continue reading

Now, more than ever, Lenovo is Chinese.

Today’s news that Lenovo’s American CEO has left the company (after one bad quarter!) is not the big Lenovo news of the day. Nor is it the news that Yuan Yuanqing, the company’s Chairman and former CEO is taking over in the American’s place. No, the big news is that a company which staked its growth as a global company on an expensive 2005 acquisition of IBM’s PC business, is now talking like this:

In its statement on Thursday, the company said it suffered from a sharp drop in global demand for personal computers, a situation that is hurting the entire industry. The company said it would now focus on its China business, an area that Mr. Yang had helped develop.

“Lenovo has grown successfully on the international stage, but at this important time, we want to pay particular attention to our China business as it represents the foundation of our global business and growth strategy,” Mr. Liu, the new chairman, said Thursday in a statement.

When Lenovo signed on as a major sponsor of the 2008 Olympics, it did so with the belief that its presence would solidify its status as a globally respected/successful brand (after re-branding IBM’s PC line with the Lenovo name). Indeed, since the 2005 IBM acquisition, Lenovo has been at pains to prove (to itself, I think, above all others) that it’s not a Chinese company; it’s an international one. Obviously, I have no idea what’s going through the heads that comprise Lenovo’s board, but I have to think that the decision to dump its “international” CEO and return to its Chinese roots (despite its expensive int’l PC business) might be cause for a bit of buyer’s remorse. Would Lenovo, if it could, make that acquisition, again?