Guest Blogging WEEK of Feb 28 … and speaking in Shanghai, March 4.

I am definitely blogging this week, but I am doing it as a guest blogger for James Fallows over at the Atlantic. Most of my readers, I suspect, are familiar with Fallows’ blog  (it’s oft linked in these parts), but if not I hope you’ll stop by (and stay for Jim’s return in a month or so).  I’ve worked up something different for this stint: seven photo-oriented posts, limited text, one per day. The links, below, will go live as the posts go live at the site.


In other news: the Shanghai Literary Festival opens Friday, March 4, and I’m on the opening day panel –  the Bloggerati Panel – at 17:00 at the Glamour Bar. Jeffrey Wasserstrom of the China Beat blog (and so much more) will be moderating, and it guarantees to be a good discussion. It also guarantees to be followed by the festival’s opening night cocktail reception. Details on the panel, the cocktail, and the entire festival, available here.

Weekend Notes: Demolition (and) Baseball (and) guest-blogging

After an unusually acid week on Shanghai Scrap, the staff couldn’t be more anxious for the weekend. And we have plans.

First and foremost. If you happen to be in Shanghai at 16:00 on Saturday, and you take even a minor interest in all of those crumbling colonial buildings that dot downtown, then you’d better attend Amy Sommers’ lecture to the Royal Asiatic Society, “Disappearing Shanghai: The History of Shanghai Housing 1949 to the Present.” Regular readers may recall that I did a two-part Q&A with the wonderful Sommers on this very subject during summer of 2010 (part I and part II); they are two of my favorite posts from the long and illustrious history of Shanghai Scrap (again, part I and part II), and if they offer any indication of what’s to come on Saturday, you’re in for a treat. Better yet, Sommers’ presentation will feature photographs from my friend (and reported birthday celebrant) Sue Anne Tay (also the victim of a Shanghai Scrap Q&A, here), best known for her extraordinary Shanghai Street Stories blog.  In short: Saturday, 16:00 at the Puli Hotel, 1 Changde Road, Level 3 meeting room. Complete details here.

Next up: baseball bats.

One day I will write an essay on sacrifices associated with being an American sports fan in China. I mean, until you’ve experienced it, you really have no idea just how destructive breakfast MLB baseball can be to a day’s productivity. Total devastation. But I digress. Here’s the deal: on Sunday, your blogger’s favorite team is taking the spring training field against a bunch of chumps from Boston. I would like to watch. Alas, despite years of experience with this kind of thing, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get access to this game in Shanghai. There must be an audio or video feed somewhere, no? So, a Shanghai Scrap contest: the first person to send me a verifiable means of catching this game in Shanghai wins a 2011 membership to the Twins Territory Team (or MLB merchandise of equivalent value, so long as it doesn’t have a Yankees logo on it). Contact form is here. [UPDATED 2/27: In a late-breaking development, the Minnesota Twins website announced – at some point since I posted this – that the game will be available via MLB’s Gameday Audio service. I think this means that I owe somebody in the Twins PR office a membership.]

And finally, this space will be mostly idle next week while I’m guest blogging for James Fallows at the Atlantic. I have a little something special cooked up, something scrappy, and I’ll make a point of adding some links from this page. But the content will be there, and I hope you will be, too.

Hey hey, ho ho, Jon Meade Huntsman’s got to go.

It’s amazing how much leeway people will give you if you speak a bit of Chinese. Take, for example, US Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. After Obama selected him in 2009, smart people greeted his ascension to Beijing as a masterstroke based upon two factors: a) Obama had just eliminated a potential rival for his re-election in 2012; and b) Huntsman is a China expert, mostly based – best as I can tell – upon whatever language proficiency he gained during a couple of years serving as a missionary in Taiwan. I’ll leave for people with more ability than me to determine if Huntsman’s Chinese is as good as advertised, and rather get to the question of his current China expertise and judgment.

[addendum: and they have. Gady Epstein of Forbes tweets: “Caveat: Huntsman had quality resume of diplomatic & trade experience with Asia. Chinese lang was just a bit of icing.“]

Last Sunday somebody on the interwebs called for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ to take place in 13 Chinese cities. The source of this message remains a complete mystery (publicly, at least), and the response to it was – charitably – underwhelming. Multiple accounts suggest that it mostly attracted foreign journalists and cops. At least, that was the story before yesterday when video surfaced of Ambassador Huntsman strolling by the McDonald’s where the Beijing protest was supposed to be – and doing so in a leather jacket with a US flag patch on the left shoulder. Now, reasonably speaking, I think we can all agree that both the cops and the press had some reason to be there. But the US ambassador? Continue reading

Bye-Bye, Best Buy (China): You had it coming. [UPDATED]

[23 Feb: Multiple updates to be found at the end of the post!]

Late last week the Chinese media started reporting rumors that Best Buy, North America’s dominant electronics retailer, was planning to shut down its branded stores in China. Rumors like that don’t start from nothing – the company’s stores have been empty for years, and rumors have circulated about all kinds of management problems. Still, that didn’t prevent the company from formally denying the closure rumors yesterday … and then shutting them down today, Tuesday. An image of Best Buy’s flagship store, shut down and locked up, around 4:00 this afternoon.

So what went wrong? Continue reading

Old Monitors of Revolution.

Back in Shanghai for the first time in 28 days and my only observation is that this cold weather – the cold weather everyone is complaining about – doesn’t feel any different to me than the air-conditioning that I kept shutting off in Singapore.

In any event, below, a photo that I posted to Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It was taken inside of a Malaysian factory where – among other profitable activities – imported computer monitors from the developed world are repaired and refurbished for consumers in the developing world who can’t afford flat panels.

I know, I know: in an age defined and owned the Dark Cult of the Endless Apple Upgrade, the use of anything short of an HDTV flat-screen must seem hopelessly antiquated (that’s what Apple would like you to think, anyway). But the truth is that the growing population of internet users in the developing world can’t afford iPhones, iPads, or flat panels. But they want to get connected, and so they get connected using used PCs with half decade-old processors and old-style monitors that may cost in the range of US$100 for a set. And where, you might ask, are such consumers?

You could do worse than look to Egypt, one of the world’s major destinations for imported, used electronics. But it’s funny: over the last month, when people in developed countries spoke of “Egypt’s Internet Revolution,” I honestly think they envisioned young Egyptian college students, racing rally to rally, guided by their iPhones. Reality, however, is that the internet revolution took place on out-of-date (for the developed world) PCs and old-style CRT monitors, many of which were imported from the developed world – because that’s what young Egyptians can afford. The old regime knew it, too, and made efforts to crack down on the import of use computer equipment and refurbishment facilities. More on this subject in the coming months. For now, a word of caution to the high-tech provincials and technorati out there covering, cheering on, and misunderstanding, the other Arab internet revolutions: the rest of the world isn’t nearly as wealthy as you are.

Back Online, Catching Up.

In the US, savvy newsmakers like to save bad news – scandals, say – for the holidays, when reporters and ordinarily conscious citizens have turned their attentions elsewhere. In China, it seems, English-language bloggers like to do something similar: save some of their best posts for when their readers are enjoying the lunar new year. So, before I get back to the business of reported blogging, later in the week, allow me to point you in the direction of a handful of China blog posts that have been written – and might have been overlooked – due to the Chinese New Year, Egypt, and – give me a break, people – Groupon:

  • What We Lost 2010: Shanghai’s Architectural Losses Last Year” at Paul French’s essential China Rhyming blog. The post is exactly what the title suggests: a comprehensive, heart-wrenching account of what few remaining pieces of Shanghai’s diminishing architectural heritage were demolished in the last 12 months. It’s a frustrating, depressing, and above all informative post:  “… the pace of destruction in no way slowed but significantly increased throughout the year … [w]e should all be clear now that ‘preservation orders’ supposedly placed on buildings to protect them have no validity whatsoever and are merely cosmetic. Supposedly preserved buildings continue to be bulldozed regularly, often at 2am!” This is an ongoing, preventable tragedy, and French deserves tremendous credit for the depressing drudgery of documenting it (but goodness, Paul, why publish on the first day of the new year?). Absolutely essential reading.

Chinese New Year Hiatus – Offline until Feb. 8

It’s Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, and – doing like much of East Asia – I’m going offline for a few days. In search of a suitable image to celebrate this unplugging, I’ve settled on the Prosperity Burger and the Prosperity McFizz, the Chinese New Year-themed offerings at McDonald’s Malaysia. Think of them, my dear American readers, as Shamrock Shakes for the SE Asian set.

For those in search of rabbits, I encourage a visit to Cat Meng’s 101 Chinese New Year Rabbits post (related, in part, to my much-maligned 141 Shanghai Christmas Trees). She’s got that beat covered, and well.

And finally, a quick note on Ambassador Jon Huntsman and his decision to step down so as to challenge his current boss in the 2012 presidential election. From my perspective, in retrospect, Ambassador/Presidential Candidate Huntsman has been a careful curator of his image in the US press. No surprise, but put differently: has he received anything but fawning coverage from the US press over the course of his tenure in Beijing? A single, even remotely critical story, blog post, mention? Has he really been so perfect? This sort of coverage is assiduously cultivated, believe me, (especially by his disagreeable former press attaché, Susan Stevenson, now the US Consul General in Chiang Mai). Nothing wrong with that, of course: it’s what politicians do. Here’s hoping Obama relieves him of his duties, sooner rather than later.