Apple’s Chinese iPhone: bad for the environment.

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.

The Cat Thief

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.

The colors are never so bright as when you lower your standards.

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

New trend in Shanghai restaurant marketing: Extreme Honesty

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.]

Mad Mission: a Shanghai Street Scene

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

Interview: Monday Night Football’s Play-by-Play Man in China Airs it Out.

In American sports broadcasting, there’s no seat more coveted than one in the broadcast booth of Monday Night Football, the thirty-nine-year old, once-per-week franchise for which ESPN pays US$1.1 billion per season. Over the years, it’s been home to some of the very best in American sports broadcasting (Al Michaels and John Madden most recently), and some of the most bizarre (Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith). But no matter who occupies that booth, the job remains essentially the same: entertaining one of America’s few remaining mass audiences, while serving its varying expectations, and understandings, of American football.

That’s really hard. But I argue it’s nothing compared to what Zhang Nan, the twenty-eight-year-old play-by-play man for NFL China’s weekly live streaming simulcast of Monday Night Football on, faces on a weekly basis [directions for watching the broadcast, here]. Sure, the NFL has a small audience in China (roughly 20,000 viewers watch the weekly simulcast), but Zhang – as the play-by-play man – has a key role in helping the NFL expand it. And in doing so, it’s partly his responsibility to figure out a way to translate this most American of sports to a Chinese audience that has almost no knowledge or experience with it. The challenge is technical, cultural, and linguistic, and on Wednesday afternoon I spoke to Zhang (to the right of his broadcast partner, Guo Aibing, in the photo below) about how he handles the responsibilities.

Coors Light_NFL Broadcast on Sina

The conversation ranged over a number of topics, and shifted between Chinese and English. As a result, I’ve edited the transcript a bit, for clarity, and rearranged some of the questions. But the words, as best as I was able to record them, are accurate.

Our interview was arranged and joined by Michael Stokes, Managing Director of NFL China. At a couple of points he interjected some thoughts, and I’ve added those to the edited transcript. Continue reading

Of Minnesota interest, only: Overseas Absentee Ballot Follies, Very Local Edition

[UPDATED 10/23: This morning I received an email from Mark Ritchie, Minnesota’s Secretary of State, in regard to this post. He explained that Minnesota overseas voters are no longer required to obtain witnesses (unlike local voters). Most likely, the SLP elections officials simply gave me the wrong application, and then proceeded to send the ballot to Minnesota, anyway. He indicated that he’s looking into adding some “large letters of warning” to the absentee ballot application to prevent local officials, and voters, from making similar mistakes.

Thanks Mark – there aren’t too many statewide officials, anywhere, who would go through the trouble of looking into this, and getting back to me.]

I’ve spent seven years abroad, and in that time I’ve cast a ballot in every presidential and mid-term election dating back to the Fall of 2002. In one case, for sure, I cast my ballot in person, back home. But otherwise my ballots have been cast absentee, from overseas, and for that I must thank the good folks at the Hennepin County Elections Division. Despite the fact that state law requires them to send out the ballots no earlier than 30 days before an election, my ballots have made it through the notoriously slow Chinese postal system – both directions – to be counted.

Which brings me to the local elections to be held November 3 across Minnesota. Continue reading