Shanghai Sends Unsubtle Hint to Expanding Residents

Last night I walked into the lobby of my Shanghai apartment building and found long and narrow blue boxes protruding from most of the (100 or so) mailboxes. Here’s mine, unpacked:

The title of the book is “Shanghai Residents Guidebook to Self-Managed Fitness” [thanks, SLS], and if it’s not obvious, the device in the upper left-hand corner is a tape measure with a Body-Mass Index [BMI] calculator built into it. The BMI is a handy short-hand for assessing whether or not someone is obese (or underweight); meanwhile, waist circumference is a good way of assessing a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-associated diseases. So, below, note the green and red zones on the tape, as well as that easy-to-use BMI spin wheel.

I think it goes without saying that – when somebody sends you a BMI calculator via the postman – it’s not without purpose. I also think that anyone who has spent any time in Shanghai over the last decade knows that waistlines are expanding here (and throughout affluent urban China). No doubt, China’s obesity problem dwarfs in comparison to the US’s pathetic, beluga-sized obesity crisis, but it’s er, growing, and so I interpret this uninvited package as akin to one partner saying to another: “Darling, don’t be offended, but please take care of this before you start looking like that American couple next door.”

Government paternalism [fraternalism?] at its best.

Cry for Help: I’d love to know how widespread this mailing was. If you live in Shanghai, and received one, could you let me know in the comments or via an email?

Addendum: Back in January, Beijing, always less subtle than its Shanghai cousin, skipped the mail slot and instead sent the BMI tape measures home with school kids, telling them to assess mom and dad, then report back.

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

Novel Hazards Associated With Chinese Stairwells (and living here)

By popular demand (you know who you are), promoted from twitpic to the blog:


[Clarification, also by popular demand: the sign hangs in a stairwell]

For the record, this fulfills Shanghai Scrap’s official allotment of exactly ONE Chinglish-related post per Blog Year. An allotment established because, really, nobody at Shanghai Scrap HQ has any business looking askance at the foreign language skills of others.

In other health and safety news: a hearty, hearty recommendation for James Fallows on the (still unclear) health effects of being an expatriate in China. This is a subject near and dear to my heart: a few years ago, during a routine physical on a visit home to the United States, I asked for a blood test to check the lead levels in my bloodstream. The attending physician was skeptical, until I told him that I live in China. Then he did it, and a few days later called back to tell me that – he’ll be damned, but – I had elevated levels of lead in my blood. Maybe it was the air; maybe the paint on my apartment walls; or maybe the water used to clean the food that I eat. Whatever it was, he assured me that I’d probably be fine so long as I wasn’t planning to get pregnant or revert to being 12, again (note to self …). Since then, I’ve heard of other expats – some capable of becoming pregnant – who’ve had the same test, and the same results. And most of us are still here, and so far at least, we’re okay (which is sort of the Fallows point).

For the record, I think it’s worth recalling that most of the Chinese who have been, and are, our friends and neighbors are still here, too – breathing and eating many of the same things as we are. But, unlike us, most of them don’t have the option to leave. So, as much fun as it is to wonder whether or not China is killing the foreigners, pondering the long-term effects of China on the Chinese, is probably a better use of everybody’s time (also a point that Fallows makes).

And on that note, I declare it Friday.

I sat next to a fever on my flight into Shanghai.

Chinese authorities have been conducting temperature checks on incoming international flights for almost two months now. So last night, when I boarded a Shanghai-bound flight in Tokyo, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to be informed that the plane’s arrival would be delayed for a few minutes by a temperature check of all passengers. It goes something like this: the flight lands, taxis, and stops at the gate. Along the way, passengers are told to remain in their seats and not . A moment or two later, in a scene reminiscent of the opening moments of Star Wars (when stormtroopers burst into the rebel craft, firing lasers, followed by Darth Vader), teams in biohazard suits emerge at the front of the plane, and work the aisles, firing laser thermometers at the foreheads of seated passengers.


So what happens when this very efficient, mostly innocuous process finds a fever?

Last night, I was seated in 13G. Next to me, in 13F, was a thirty-ish Chinese man. A woman in a biohazard suit fired her laser at my forehead (normal), and then his. “Thirty-seven-point-three,” she announced to the person in the biohazard suit behind her (that’s 99.14° F). She then fired the laser again, confirmed the result, and the biohazard suit behind her wrapped a sterile sheath around an oral digital thermometer, and jammed it into 13F’s mouth. Sure enough: 37.3°. At this, the two biohazard suits waved at a taller biohazrd suit in the other aisle, and the three parties retreated to the front of the plane. Sensing a story, or at least a blog post, I turned to 13F. Before I could ask the obvious question, he answered it:

“I’m fine,” he said with a nervous smile. “Nothing to worry about. Don’t worry.” Continue reading

Notably Weird H1N1 (over) Reaction, Japanese Edition

This morning, while signing in for a meeting a very large corporate headquarters (which shall remain unnamed) in Tokyo, I was handed the following notice:


Full disclosure: I did not gargle.

Take Y/Our Vitamins!

On Friday afternoon I arrived at the registration desk for an international conference being held over the weekend in Ningbo (by car, roughly three hours southeast of Shanghai). The attendant checked my name off the attendee list, handed me my delegate badge, a tote bag containing a directory of attendees, a bound copy of the conference presentations, several magazines – and the vial of six vitamins pictured below:


“It is because of the H1N1 flu,” the attendant told me. “You should take two every day.”

I must’ve made a face of some kind, because she pursed her lips, tightened her brow, and added: “It’s the government’s suggestion, and we think it’s a good one. But it is up to you. We give you the choice.”

As it happens, attendance at this conference was negatively impacted by the H1N1 scare, and so I suppose it’s understandable that the organizers would want to reassure their still sizable number of attendees (roughly 300, I’m told). Whether vitamins will make a difference – I’ll leave that to the physicians.

Anyway, I post this item as a curiosity, but also as a contrast to my experiences in China during the SARS epidemic of 2003. Then, unlike now, the government was heavily criticized (and rightly so) for its delayed, anemic response to a very real health crisis, and its subsequent effort cover it up (the epidemic, and the anemic response, that is). The response to H1N1 couldn’t be much different, and for those who find the H1N1 objectionable/too cautious/ridiculous, I humbly suggest that it can’t be fully appreciated (much less, writtenabout) without the context of what happened in 2003. Mistakes were made, and now – for better or worse – they’re being avoided, and perhaps (it seems obvious to me, at least), over-compensated for.

Shanghai to Mexican passport holders: tortillas are for losers.

[UPDATE: Jim Fallows on PR, nationalism and public health. Highly recommended. By the Fallows analysis, a better title for this post would be “Shanghai to Shanghainese: tortillas are for losers.” A point for which I think there would be widespread agreement. I stand corrected.]

In my travels, I’ve learned that nothing stokes the patriotic vanities of Chinese government officials quite so effectively as praising the superiority of the local cuisine as compared to, say, anything to be found in France. Doors and lips open, friendships become permanent. And so it comes as no surprise to learn that the same Shanghai government officials who spent their weekends bullying Mexcian passport holders into quarantine would pause and, for good measure, assert the superiority of the local flavors:

Xu Jianguang, director of Shanghai Health Bureau, said local authorities would ensure the people under quarantine in the city were looked after. Internet access would be provided in their rooms and they could choose their own food.

“When first moved to the hotels, some Mexican people said they preferred delicious Chinese food and now they say they miss Western food. We will meet all such dining requests raised by the quarantined people,” Xu told a press conference.


Me, I’m under a deadline-inspired quarantine, and so even though I won’t be blogging for the next 48 hours, I plan to find the time to go out for some delicious Mexican food in solidarity with the detained Mexican passport holders.

[A good WSJ piece on the unacceptable conditions imposed upon quarantined Mexican nationals in Beijing.]