Last night Apple and China Unicom finally rolled out the Chinese version of the iPhone. So far, at least, the introduction seems to have been a low-key affair, with media attention focused – if at all – on the fact that the Chinese version of the iPhone lacks wifi capability. No doubt, that’s a key difference. Here’s another: unlike in the United States, its home market, Apple in China doesn’t offer free recycling of all those non-Apple phones about to be replaced by expensive iPhones. So, despite its image as progressive, green company, Apple is, in effect, relegating hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Chinese phones to China’s notorious underground e-waste workshops in places like Guiyu.
Why doesn’t Apple care about the Chinese environment as much as it cares about the US environment? In September, I gave Apple numerous opportunities to answer that question while reporting “E-waste: There’s an App for that” for Foreign Policy. And, no surprise, they didn’t take the opportunity. The FP article speculates on why.
Last night I was walking south on Fenyang Road when, at the intersection with Fuxing Road, I saw a small crowd of five or six people standing around a tricycle outfitted with cages packed tight with terrified cats and a few small dogs. In front of it, a waif-like man dashed around, mostly crouched over, stirring two stainless steel pots. As I drew closer, I noticed he was chatting with a large, unwashed woman who was busy rattling a pair of metal chopsticks against a cage full of kittens, terrifying the animals [yes, from Dickens/Hell]. This would be an unusual scene anywhere in Shanghai (in my years here, I’ve never seen anything like it), but particularly so at that intersection – the affluent heart of the French Concession. I usually carry a camera with me, but last night I only had the benefit of my camera phone. So, when I thought the waif was looking elsewhere, I snapped this rough image:
At the sound of the closing shutter, the waif (on the left side of the photo) dropped his pot and leaped at me – or, more precisely, my phone. I pulled it back and he came to a stop a hand’s distance from my face. He was taller than I thought, towering over me with eyes set so deep into his weather-beaten skull that they appeared to be in a perpetual squint. His voice was even more uncomfortable: a deep, hollow thing that reminded me of what a double-bass sounds like when a bow whispers lightly across the strings. But the metaphors came later. At that moment, my only thought was to watch for a knife or another set of metal chopsticks. I was, to put it lightly, in a bad spot.
Fortunately, there were other bystanders, and simultaneously they all began to call out: “Laowai, laowai!” ["Foreigner! Foreigner!"] It wasn’t directed at me, however, but rather at the demonic man in my face, as if to remind him that the foreigner simply doesn’t understand our ways (some truth to that), that one doesn’t take photos of this kind of thing. So he backed off, and I got out of there with a few snickers at my back, but no worse for the wear.
This afternoon, around 4:00 PM, I left a friend’s thirteenth floor apartment and paused to wait for the elevator. While I did, I gazed out the window and noticed a stunning, multicolored striped building in the near distance. Though incomplete, I think it’s an absolute stunner, and I took out a camera and snapped a couple of photos – including the one below:
Now, if you don’t live in Shanghai (or China, for that matter), you might take a look at this photo and wonder just what in the hell I was thinking. After all, the colors are drab, dulled – quite obviously – by the thick smog that hung over the city this afternoon. And, I must concede, when I pulled up the image on my laptop later in the afternoon, I thought the same thing. But that’s not what I thought as I stood at the window, staring at the building, nor, earlier, as I sat on a balcony on the opposite side of the elevator lobby, enjoying a different view of the city. Indeed, like most people in Shanghai over the last week, I’ve been praising the unseasonably good weather and clear skies that we’ve been enjoying. It’s been a treat – or so I thought.
And that has me thinking. Continue reading
Say you’ve been running an Italian restaurant on a busy, crowded street in a busy, crowded part of Shanghai where Italian restaurants aren’t likely to do well. You think to yourself: “I need a change. I need a gimmick … I need a Hong Kong Gimmick.” And, just to make sure that any foreigners passing by know exactly what my new Cantonese restaurant is about, I’m going to give it the English name …
So what, you may be asking, is the Hong Kong gimmick? I wondered that, too – and so did a friend of mine. We agreed to meet for lunch there, and – as best as we could tell – the Gimmick comes down to the Hong Kong street signs hung about the restaurant. Hardly a Gimmick worthy of the name! But anyway, as Cantonese food goes – not bad. And, on the off-chance you want to see the Gimmick – you’ll find it just south of the intersection of Tianyaoqiao and Xingeng Roads in Xujiahui.
[Relevant UPDATE/omission: The finest translator I know writes: "The sign on the restaurant reads Hong Kong, then 风情【fēngqíng】 amorous feelings; flirtatious expressions. or Hong Kong Expressions of Love. How that became Hong Kong Gimmick is beyond me, yet another example of the inscrutable Oriental mind." No evidence to support this hypothesis, but Shanghai Scrap suspects that someone might have been messing with somebody.]
The other afternoon I was in a very busy part of Shanghai, on my way into the subway entrance which I use several times per week. It’s been getting harder, though. Over the last two weeks the stairway has become a crowded marketplace of sorts, and it’s followed a predictable Shanghai-style progression: somebody gets away with selling a couple of video game cartridges, and the next thing you know there’s two guys with rabbit cages, a sharp-tongued lady with a box of puppies, and an abandoned carton of bagged goldfish that inevitably gets kicked down the stairs.
Anyway, that stairway has become so crowded and narrow that it’s impossible to tell, at first glance, who’s just trying to catch a train, who’s selling caged crickets, and who’s prophesying the end times (I’ll get to that). So, the other afternoon I’m about to descend the stairs when I notice a scrawny, gender uncertain presence in an old army shirt. She – and I think she was a she – had darker skin, long features, ragged hair, and hollow, round eyes – in other words, not a Shanghainese. She also had a broad, wild smile that she flashed at passersby, and a canvas satchel stuffed with crisp, stapled photocopies that she was handing out to anyone who caught that smile. She pushed one of the packets into my hand, and just as I grabbed it, pulled it back – the text was Chinese – and handed me an English version. Continue reading