Christmas Tree Recycling, Shanghai Style.

Regular readers may recall this blog’s comprehensive survey of 141 Shanghai Christmas trees, posted in December. Ever since and, really, before, Shanghai Scrap has taken a keen interest in these Western holiday accessories: who owns them, why, and what happens to them after Christmas. One answer suggests that certain Christmas traditions are universal: namely, the owners have simply forgotten to take them down, despite the fact that the holiday season, by any reasonable definition, is over. But in recent days I’ve noticed a different answer popping up in and around some of Shanghai’s shopping malls: Christmas trees are being converted into Chinese New Year trees. The transformation is usually rather simple, usually requiring little more than a change in color, and perhaps some fake gold coins sprinkled around the trunk. I’ve seen several examples of these transformed trees  in the last few days, but none quite so grand as the giant gold tree in front of Plaza 66 on Nanjing Road. First, the tree as it was decorated for the Christmas season:

And, below, the same tree, as photographed yesterday, spray-painted red for the Chinese New Year season. Awesome! FYI: the giant red rose was there before Christmas – then gold, of course – but for some reason I failed to photograph it. If anybody has an image of the pair, I’d be grateful for permission to post it above [UPDATE: Flickr user ybouc tweeted this image of the Christmas-era tree and rose. Thanks!].

This is not the only Shanghai instance of this phenomenon. I’ve seen similar holiday metamorphoses take place in the Grand Gateway mall, and outside whatever that mall is next to Jing’an Temple. Now, I concede that this sort of thing may have been happening in previous years, and I just failed to notice it. But whatever. To my eyes, it’s another example of China’s über-pragmatic recycling culture (indeed, recycling of cultures) at work, where re-use is privileged over re-processing any day of the week. In any case, if you don’t share China’s enthusiasm for the lunar new year (even though you really should), you can always take the dull, developed world approach to recycling Christmas trees, offered here.

The US Pavilion at Expo 2010, Conflicts of Interest, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Dr. Ira Kasoff – UPDATED

[UPDATE - February 22, 2010. Three weeks later, Tim Stratford accepts a job in the Beijing law office where Dr. Kasoff's wife is a partner.]

Tomorrow at 12:30 PM, the US-China Business Council [USCBC] and the US Information Technology Office [USITO] in Beijing will host a luncheon briefing featuring Tim Stratford, an assistant US Trade Representative, and Dr. Ira Kasoff, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Asia. According to the notice for the event posted at the American Chamber of Commerce, the two gentlemen “will provide an update on plans for the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in 2010 and a briefing on their meetings with Chinese officials during their visit.” It should be an interesting briefing: the JCCT is a twenty-seven-year-old dialogue between senior US and Chinese government officials that has played a key role in resolving trade disputes and, in the process, has directly benefited – and penalized – companies involved in that trade (a list of China’s JCCT commitments between 2004 and 2009 can be found here).

The presence of Dr. Kasoff at the event should be particularly informative. As a senior Commerce Dept deputy for Asia, and a member of the Market Access and Trade Compliance Staff at the International Trade Administration in Washington, D.C., Dr. Kasoff is a highly influential figure in US-China trade relations. And he has been so for years: prior to his current role, he served in six US Commercial Service assignments in Asia, including a stint as the Chief Commercial Officer in Shanghai.

Thus, when Friday’s off-record lunch convenes at the Westin Chaoyang in Beijing, Dr. Kasoff’s stature ensures that he will look out at an audience that includes  representatives of leading American and Chinese businesses with a keen interest in how his actions – and, by extension, the work of the ITA and the JCCT – will impact their operation in coming weeks, months, and years. No doubt, many of those faces will be familiar to Dr. Kasoff from his years of work on US-China trade issues and, no doubt, many of them will be familiar to Dr. Kasoff’s wife, Ellen Eliasoph, a co-chair of the troubled US pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. [She is also a partner in the Beijing office of Covington &Burling, the law firm which Stratford announced he was joining three weeks after his joint appearance with Kasoff.]

The reason is pretty straight-forward: Ms. Eliasoph, in her official State Department-designated capacity, has naturally solicited many if not most of the leading US companies operating in China for donations to the privately-financed US pavilion project (donations that are often measured in the millions of dollars). She has also solicited and raised money from Chinese companies. In both cases, her actions, and relationship to Dr. Kasoff have gone mostly unquestioned.

Those questions need to be asked. Continue reading

Tears of Mermaids: The Chinese Pearl Revolution

I’m tied down on deadline today (breaking only for the inaugural meeting of the Shanghai Metals Club – more on that another time), but I would be seriously out of line if I didn’t alert folks to a couple of fascinating posts on the Chinese pearl industry over at Deep Glamour (Part I, here; Part II, here; interview with the author, here). They’re excerpted from Stephen Bloom’s new book, Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls. Below, an image taken in Zhuji, China’s pearl capitol, two years ago, by my friend Randy Goodman (a great non-ferrous scrap metal man).

Of the pearls extracted from these shells, Bloom writes:

The Chinese freshwaters were a breakthrough in the fashion marketplace. Fashion-conscious women around the world started wearing pearls that weren’t just white or cream-colored, and not always round. Stylish younger women gravitated to them. These pearls had four things going for them: they were colorful, they often weren’t symmetrical (the baroque shapes appealed to non-traditional pearl wearers), they had the legitimacy of being real pearls, and they were downright cheap when compared to traditional pearls. As their size got larger, the Chinese freshwaters readily turned into trendy fashion items, turning into accessories fashion-forward women in their twenties and thirties from Paris to São Paulo just had to have. It didn’t hurt that women like Meryl Streep, Jennifer Aniston, and eventually Michelle Obama started wearing them, too.

Back tomorrow with some questions for and about one of the more mysterious figures in the US Pavilion at Expo 2010 fiasco.

The Pride of the High Seas, Reduced.

I like scrap yards; I’m fascinated by what happens to the things that developed societies don’t want anymore; and I’m even more fascinated by the ingenuity that developing societies do with those throwaways. Scrap yards are not, by their very nature, sentimental places, and I really can’t say that I’ve ever felt emotional about the automobiles, appliances, and other recognizable items that I’ve witnessed being cut, crushed and shredded, worldwide.

But there’s one exception: ships. I don’t know why, but there’s something undeniably poignant about witnessing a large sea-faring vessel reduced to steel, and then to nothing. Below, a photo that I took on Saturday at a Chinese ship-breaking facility. To the left, a just arrived vessel undergoing the first stages of its demolition. And to the lower right, its eventual fate (roughly two months from now) as embodied in a (once) similarly-sized ship. Click to enlarge.

I’m told that vessels which arrive at this particular ship-breaking yard are greeted by a shower of fireworks ignited to scare off any ghosts that they might be carrying. In one notable case, the shower of fireworks was accompanied by bagpipes played by the ship’s captain – in his kilt – as the ship docked. I’m also told that – due to a superstition that nobody was willing to explain – women were only recently allowed to board the ships. If somebody knows why – perhaps a sea-faring reader? – I’d be much appreciative if you commented or emailed via the contact form.

After the jump, we get even more poignant … Continue reading

If you write it, I.M Pei will come? Not exactly.

Earlier this week I was skimming my favorite state-owned Chinese newspapers when I came across this rather startling People’s Daily headline regarding I.M. Pei, the last of the great modernist architects:

According to the article, the developer of the museum “has invested 50 million yuan to invite Pei to design the museum” and “[r]eporters also learned that the museum will be Pei’s 75th design.”

Well.

An I.M. Pei commission is big news whenever and wherever it happens, but particularly in China, where the Guangdong-born architect designed a mere two buildings, and the last one – the Suzhou Museum (2006) – was widely rumored to be his last. If he were to take on a third building, it would be major news – major China and architectural news – and surely People’s Daily and other influential state-run newspapers would have the story on the first day. But, curiously, even two days after the People’s Daily story, no other newspaper in China or outside of it was reporting that I.M. Pei had just accepted his 75th commission.

So I contacted Mr. Pei’s office and asked whether or not there was anything to this Nanjing commission. This morning, I received the following emailed response from Nancy Robinson, I.M. Pei’s Executive Assistant:

We received your message about the report in the Chinese press about the Nanjing project. I was not familiar with this, so I asked Mr. Pei about it. He has no involvement in the project described in the press.

100 Days Out from Expo 2010, and the Critics are Starting to Speak (about the US Pavilion)

Today begins the 100 day countdown to the largest World Expo – or World’s Fair – in history. Lots of reasons to note this moment, but if you’re a US citizen, I suggest three, all related: first, the folks behind the US pavilion haven’t managed to complete fund-raising for the structure; second, the US State Department has yet to respond to a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request for information that includes a breakdown of the pavilion’s budget and disbursements; and third, and most demoralizing, the architecture and design community is beginning to take notice of the US pavilion design, and they don’t like it very much. That design, below:

Let’s work backward through my list, starting with the already scathing reviews of the US pavilion. Continue reading