Digital Chinese Take Out for the Expat's SoulPosts RSS Comments RSS

Archive for the 'china internet' Category

Lazy Panda: Lessons in Cultural Localization

Around March 21st I ventured out of the house to a popular Muslim eatery not far from me and only a minute’s walk from the Yellow River. This particular noodle restaurant has an impressive view of one of the prettier Mosques in Lanzhou. Despite my unease in crowded areas and the fact that virtually everyone pauses to look at me or listen to the words spoken by this “foreign ghost” I am relatively comfortable along the Silk Road. The people here are well grounded, happy and generously patient with me–I am one of the few white faces that they see venture into the back alleys of their wholly ethnic neighborhoods. I usually find laughter, song, and endless questions. But, this night seemed different.

The looks from Uyghers and Hans alike were disquieting: Either I was struck suddenly paranoid, unknowingly wearing some tribal gang tattoo or people had taken a sudden dislike to my ethnicity. On the short elevator ride to the reception area I was roughly bumped by two large and unapologetic men. As I have spent the last five years in Guangzhou, where etiquette means you don’t stare at the victim if a truck runs over your competition for a cab, I was only slightly ruffled until one of them asked, without looking at me and in terse local dialect if I understood Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and they pushed ahead heads down and mutering in discontented low tones about someone or something they did not like.

And I was still wonderfully ignorant and emotionally fine as I flagged down a taxi. But, once my cabbie looked in the rear view mirror he began sternly advising me against scuffing his seats, not once, but three times on my way home. I am not sure how I could have damaged them any more than they already were: I was guessing he had the transport contract for the local vet who did the lion’s share of cat declawing.

I am not sure I have ever been happier to arrive home and turn on the news. Surely even CCTV would tell me that the Japanese earthquake had spun the world off its axis and people were more disoriented than usual.

In fact, the Libyan assault had started that day. The French had swung first, but the Americans were clearly to blame on social networks. Uygher separatists were using the event to rally for dissent and revolution and CCTV, despite minimizing U.S. involvement in the conflict, was having little impact on the volume of less than rosy twittered epithets being propagated online. I had an Alexander Wallace-like epiphany: “Start telling people you’re Canadian, aye.”

Yesterday, with some trepidation, I returned to the restaurant. I was greeted like a prodigal son and ushered to a comfortable table where several waiters and waitresses dropped by to practice their English. And I wasn’t body checked into the elevator’s walls on my way out where I quickly was able to catch a ride with an ebullient Chinese Gabby Hayes.

The only negative event of the evening came when a young woman disturbed my deeply reverent communion with a bowl of white river lilies in peach sauce. She was hitting her husband with surprising force and making him literally and figuratively lose patriarchal face among the 60-70 patrons aggressively watching the altercation. Between swings she would stop briefly to vilify him and explain to the restaurant that he had left his newborn son unattended for more than an hour in favor of Five Treasures Tea with friends. And she called him a “lazy panda.”

I caught on that “lazy panda” was not a term of endearment after our tea fancier was frog-marched out of the restaurant and sent back to his enclosure somewhere in Lanzhou. His friends began to joke about the nickname he had earned earned since the birth of his child. It seems he is a lot like the furry masked creatures at Chengdu who don’t show much interest in propagation. It was then I guessed his wife to be a pretty creative zoologist when not involved in a live capture exercise or a domestic violence assault.

The political and cultural weather is better now. It’s quit snowing and people are glad to be out even among the strangers in their communities. And I learned a great deal during this last storm:

Behavioral contagion in the form of anger or violence is color or religiously sensitive, and does not remember names or faces from friendlier times.
No man should aspire to be cuddly like a panda.
I am a guest here and always will be. And it behooves me to watch for signs of inclement days ahead. Cabbies and waiters are emotional meterologists and can gauge the pressures that associated with the best and worst of everything moving in and out of town.

Asian Women,Beijing Olympics,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,china internet,Chinese Food,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Expats,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Muslim Food,Personal Notes,Silk Road,中国

One response so far

I See You

Our common lexicon is often changed by movies, televison shows, advertising, and oral transmission in person or over digital, analog or snail mail networks. “Unfriend” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2009 as it had, despite its psycholinguistic negativity, “lex-appeal” been passed on by social medians around the world. “Believe it or Not,” “Come on Down,” “Help I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up,” “Where’s the Beef?,””Impossible is Nothing,” and dozens of terms have planted themselves firmly in the center of conversation in scores of cultures world-wide even when users are barely able to remember origins.

Avatar has been panned by some critics as nothing more than a film with bright graphics illuminating predictable story lanes. And I have read blog posts asserting that all of its content will fade from our collective consciouness faster than it grossed its record breaking billion dollars in box office revenue. I am not so sure.

The curmudgeonly two-percenters among us, those dizzying intellectuals who can construct an intricate and convincing argument for just about anything negative, are often strangers to the ravishingly simple beauty of an oft told love story. Sure, the fates of Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliette, Cyrano and Roxane and Abélard and Heloise will long be retold as adapted by lesser princes of literature and music, but Bob Dylan once said that all the songs have been sung and all stories already written. However, to put them into a contemporary idiom that speaks to modern hearts (in varied cultures) is worthy of praise, not derision.  Confucius said of these critics: “Men in old times studied to improve themselves; men study today to impress others.” Hopefully we’ll emotionally wake to the fact that an Avatar line like “I see you”–meaning I sense, feel and completely connect with you– can appeal to the marvelously ordinary in everyday people and  may well wind itself into more than one exchange of affection. But, I digress….

There may be other reasons for thwarting the success of Avatar in China.

I saw Avatar last week in a packed Hong Kong theater, tickets to which were were as scarce as a tamed Lenopteryx. Mainland China authorities stalled its release beyond an already delayed debut. Subsequently, I heard rumors that the Radio and Television Ministry (SARFT) had deployed a strategy similar to one used during the National Day holiday to boost domestic ticket sales for the currently running Bodyguards and Assasains, a home-grown feature flick. At that time, foreign films were nowhere to be found during the The Founding of a Republic, initially a box-office weakling, that went on to capture patriotic hearts, minds and a handsome gross. Avatar was reviewed ahead of its opening on the mainland by respected Chinese sites and generally given a bad grade by reviewers during the enforced break.

I am no conspiracy theorist – I look bad in aluminum hats – but, I cannot help but see, even in potentially false rumors regarding Avatar, evidence of a greater problem in China. During the last year China slowly and systematically re-lowered the Bamboo Curtain and took a look backward for guidance about its collective future. From karaoke bars to social networks the ability to electronically connect and “see” beyond China’s borders has been progressively restricted and interactions shunted toward scrutiny. With bit torrent sites ceremoniously closed to posture for the WTO and antedeluvian western IP criticisms gave dubious credence to China’s need to create more Internet restrictions to grow what Evgeny Morozov in The National calls cultural scarcity.

Morozov says, “For every Chinese blogger that the techno-utopians expect to fight their government via Twitter, there are a hundred others who feel content with the status quo.” I don’t agree. Facebook usage fell from 1 million users to 14,000 after it was blocked following the Uruqimi riots, but it wasn’t ennui that caused it, rather China’s Internet landlords upped the rent and effective proxy clients are not in the average netizen’s budget. A huge number of people are mad as hell, but will have to wait a little longer to not take it anymore. They “see” the forces at work…. The culturally hungry find new ways around the existing virtual blockades and the ongoing freedom fail.

A spot-on request by the WTO is that China allow more western entertainment into the country. But, they need to embrace a better model for distribution like Creative Commons along with reasonably affordable properties from which lawyer run entertainment companies expect to profit: DVDs sans extras, China specific releases, and more ad supported online availability would be a good start…..

Morozov is wrong when he asserts that “Citizens of modern authoritarian states face a choice between hedonism with stable prosperity (their status quo) and hedonism with unstable prosperity – the hedonism that may follow a tumultuous transition to democracy.” People cannot object with voices without being taught a vocabulary with which they can dissent. Moreover, it is naive to think that they will defend what  they have never been allowed to see….

 

American Professor in China,Animation,China films,china internet,Intercultural Issues,中国

No responses yet

An Open Letter to the #140conf

Jeff,

I hope this finds you well and not too overwhelmed by the hundreds of nominations folks have sent in for the #140conf –especially after your carb-laden drive back from IHOP today and what was surely a stimulating  visit with one of my favorite online connections, @geogeller.

With Twitter censored/blocked/banned/muted here in the Middle Kingdom and my VPN suffering some neural disorder of late I apologize that I didn’t catch the call for attendees nor did I make the deadline for nominations. Here below the far side of the Great Firewall we have to make-do with state run papers, tunnel networks, and year old broadcasts from Hong Kong of American Idol’s Got Talent in Funny Home Videos to keep us acculturated until we return to the land of round doorknobs, boneless chicken and (insert envy here) IHOP.

I am writing in hopes that you were given leads for a few China-centric microbloggers. No, not the ones who live within arms reach of San Francisco and its technocentric, wash-my-back-and-I-will introduce-you-to-my-VC and his friend who lived once in Shanghai–the financial Haight-Ashbury of China where all the pretty people go to gamble on the Chinese version of the American Dream–who knows a lot of peeps. The real China Twitterati. And please don’t get me wrong: I cherish my association with many bright successful entrepreneurs and old China hands in Shanghai and SF, but, I digress….

Here is what I mean to ask of you:

A military medial supervisor of mine, years ago in Germany, was giving a lecture on psychopathology and said that the real definition of “crazy” was fighting someone twice your size. During my tenure in China, I have come to call such actions “bravery” and am glad that there are those crazy enough to wade in treacherous digital waters to lead others through China’s information Killing Fields…

Too often U.S. and world conferences ignore Asia and the folks who will make up–according to Forrester–almost 50% of the world’s Internet traffic. While @Loic lamented, at France’s LeWeb, America’s narcissism and self-centered deprecation of anything not engineered in Silicon Valley, there was little Asian representation at that event–and this after Loic had been an invited guest at Open Web Asia. And Blog World Expo has routinely ignored a demographic with more users now than America has citizens. Those wanting to Digg their way to China (sorry) simply don’t have the tools to do it nor a craftsman to show them how to use them if they did.

140 conference

Apart from the human rights imperative that the government here has created with censorship and dis-information, there are hundreds of millions of Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese and other APAC Netzens that would love to be part of the global conversation and could teach us all a great deal about business and cultural opportunities beyond our borders.

And while I seriously feel that there are extraordinary China savvy expats both here and abroad, I advocate for native voices who are part and parcel of the social networks here: Dr.@ganglu the founder of Open Web Asia;  @Isaac the first blogger in China, Harvard Fellow and founder of CNBloggercon; @zola, China’s first guerella blogger and citizen reporter; and dozens of others…

Your last conference should be applauded if only for drawing Al Jazeera and the Israeli Consulate to the same event. Here’s hoping you continue setting global conference precedents at your next 140 character conference.

Wishing you much success,

OMBW

China Business,China Editorials,china internet,Chinese Internet,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Online Digital Marketing China,social media,Twitter

7 responses so far

A day in the life

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

-Bill Moyers

I am glad to be back writing again after a long hiatus….This is not a regular fare for those of you who have read me in the past…It is simply a laundry list, a sorry set of excuses explaining my absence, and one way to personally reflect on “mundane” events from the last couple of months. I track below one “normal” day’s activities:

–Read RSS, Twitter, NY Times, Facebook updates with coffee–1.0 hours

–Forget to eat breakfast–0 hrs

–Check in on Ms Yue and practice my Yueyinglish–30 min.

Prepare lecture materials for the week on Culture, Writing, Social Media…–1.0 hours

Tweet and Re-Tweet interesting articles about China, Charity, Humor, Inspiration, Good Music and post pics from my i-Phone and relate drivel about what I am up to for the day (zzzzzzzz)….. –1.0 hours

Order in late lunch that I eat cold later while I am working–2 min.

Read and answer all @ and DM Tweets, Email, and FB messages sent my way; try to delete most of the 120 spam mails received overnight–1.0 hours

Speculate on the actual number of Viagara users who buy online–10 sec.

Online meetings with amazing charities to whom I donate time, web work and support–1.5-2.0 hrs

Training and consultation with digital interns in SEO, SEM, PR 2.0, online digital marketing; prepare business proposal for an expat business that will either not pay for, or steal and then outsource to a “good friend who is an SEO expert” –2.0 hrs

Clean my world-view glasses and remember all the good folks; chant “the future is all you can hope to control”–10 min.

Buy some clever domain name (Straight-eye-for-the queer-guy.com) that I will park with the 185 others I own and never use–5 min.

Catch-up on Skype with close friends and collegues–1.0 hours

Lecture on nothing I was prepared to speak about–2.0 hrs

65325_600

Laugh and walk away when students or colleagues ask the meaning of “multitasking”–0 min

Business Planning, delegation of work with PA and team–1-hrs

Re-explain business planning to the interns who pretended they understood my colloquial English the first time thru–30 min.

Do a BBC Radio Interview on Censorship–45 min.

Wonder if that sound at the door is the Net Nanny–10 sec.

Write 3 letters of recommendation for students past and present–45 min.

Give pep talk to the students for whom I wrote recommendations and tell them it is not necessary to send applications to 65 U.S. colleges for safety–1 min.

Help brainstorm three separate creative projects (non-profit) with artist friends in Washington, SG and Shanghai on Skype and by telephone– 1 hr.

Do Guardian newspaper interview about China Internet/Social Media/Censorship–45 min.

Wonder if I have seen that car outside my house before–10 sec.

Hand code/write SEO/SEM work I am “donating” to a $1,000,000 online company that pays a friend instead of me (he is in danger of losing his house due to a layoff)–30 min.

Media Magazine Interview (sound bite) about Baidu/social media in China–20 min.

Drink 3-5 canned drinks (tea, fruit juice, diet Coke…)–Ongoing

Make organizational plans for free networking event I sponsor in Guangzhou –15 min.

Skim a poetry book while in the, um, library (do not visualize)–confidential 😉

Power nap/meditate–20 min.

Catch fast dinner at a local cafe; watch TED video on i-Phone enroute–45 min.

Openly stare at the 60 year old expat and his 25 year old Chinese mate without a rational thought in my head–seems like days

Watch a re-run and then the news (also a ongoing re-run) while surfing the web for new ideas–hard to do as I have had hearing loss since my twenties (THE MILITARY FRANK, THE MILITARY) and often need closed captions or subtitles (yep, really)–1.5 hrs

Try to reconstruct the plot line of the show I watched (’cause I was surfing at the time) and Google/Yahoo TV news stories that the Chinese censors tried to hide by cutting away to commercials–20 min.

Curse the Great Firewall, Twitter’s Fail whale and the sluggishness of my computer on VPN–Afraid to quantify

Make plans (hotel reservations or prep my spare room) for out of town first and second life  guests who graciously drop by and rescue me from myself at least one day a week–10 min.

Scan and answer tweets and retweet valuable or fun information; blow soda thru my nose at great tweets by @frankyu, @garysoup, @sioksiok and others; marvel at the kindness and wisdom of folks like @sashakane, @meryl333, @billglover, @bestsydrager, @davidfeng, @barbatsea, @dougwhite, @lindasmith247, @weirdchina, @sdweathers, leonacraig, chicagodiane,@rolandinchina, @neilspeen @inkophile, @deswalsh @joeleisen and scores of online buds–30-40 min.

Plan on how to politely turn down a chance to write chapters for 3 books on China SEO, Internet and Business; write three blog articles in my head and “vow” to put them online; “swear” to begin learning more Chinese; think of guests for radio show (soon to return) with Des Walsh and for Web Wednesday Guangzhou; lament that I have not read a whole book straight thru in 2 years; get back up to take medicine for autoimmune condition that keeps me awake and in pain most nights; create 20 new business ideas I will be able to say in 10 years I thought of first–45 min. (while trying to get to sleep)

Be thankful, really–24/7

I will be rotating the posts I swore I would write 😉 with poetry from my new book: Stone Pillow: New and Collected 1994-2009. The first poetry post will go up tomorrow!

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,china internet,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Uncategorized

9 responses so far

AdTech, AdGate and Blue Collar Blogging

Returning in the plane from the AdTech conference in Shanghai I remarked to a colleague that I thought blogger, author and social media icon Shel Israel to be a wonderful writer. My associate replied with “As good as you?” I was struck dumb, unable to answer as I wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be a compliment or was a ping to test the depth of my self actualization. I didn’t answer immediately and instead set about reviewing in my mind the event I had just attended and tried to solidify my thinking on a number of issues raised while in Shanghai…

Robin Li was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the annual gathering of media, advertising and PR decision makers who come to AdTech for education, networking and the renewal of ties. Li, who has canceled his appearance at the event before, reportedly called the night before the event and announced he would not be there. Rumor has it that he phoned again later and asked if he could send a second to deliver the opening address and AdTech brass demurred because the condition was added by Baidu that there be no question and answer session.

An official statement was released by AdTech later in the morning that indicated Li had called off his speech because of a sore throat and AdTech had opted to form a panel of experts on his proposed topic rather than accept a stand-in from Baidu.

What really prompted Li’s absence is less important than the absence itself: BAidu, a NASDAQ company, under fire for alledged complicity in search result suppression for money in the Sanlu Milk Crisis, puported willful acceptance of funds (15-20% of gross ad revenue) from unlicensed pharmaceutical companies, Intellectual Property battles in court regarding music download links thought by the recording industry to be illegal and constant criticism from search engine professionals and Internet publications regarding the manner in which Baidu marks (or fails to delineate) paid ads as different from organic results. The fact that Li was not available to answer in any fashion to charges levied against the company gives credence to those who, for whatever reason, look to diminish Baidu’s powerful presence in the world’s largest Internet market. Li had a chance to answer to allegations, allay fears, and rescue credibility and revenue, but did not. I would have been there had I needed an assistant to lip-synch my remarks. But, Baidu, like many Chinese companies has not always taken the management road best traveled and did not hike it at AdTech. I heard a PR industry old-hand remark that even if their PR company had the chutzpah to issue them sound advice/ultimatums they would likely not have listened. Even the hard hit Sarah Palin, stared down an army of spin doctors and managed to put a little lipstick on the face of some very ugly remarks. She did not win the nomination for VP of the United States, but she won a great many supporters by putting up a fight.

Later on at the conference I was a member of a powerhouse social media panel where I was fortunate to share the stage with Joe Chen, Ceo of Xiaonei, Jigsaw Media Partner P.T. Black, Magdelena Wszlaki the Regional VP of Agenda Corp and Jeff Lyndon a 26 Year old VP of Interzone Futeball and already a pioneer in China online gaming. One of the questions moderator Black asked of us was to answer to a P&G executive’s recent remarks indicating that he did not see the efficacy of social media over conventional advertising. All panelists were in agreement that to shunt conversation, conversation being itself the rightness and reason for social media, is to assume that consumers are less informed about their own needs than the corporation that is pitching them. Feedback and engagement are the mediums in which we will grow excellence, social responsibility and honorable brand loyalty. We are he worst judges of our own foibles and failures no matter how bright or seasoned a veteran of any professional war we might have fought in….

As for comparing myself to Shel Israel?:  I am currently reading–and I am shamefully tardy in doing so–the book, Naked Conversations, that he and Robert Scoble penned. It is a must-read for anyone in Social Media. It is a brilliant treatise that truly stands, as stated by Chris Pirillio, as an unofficial sequel to the Cluetrain Manifesto. Shel’s genius as a writer lay in his ability to take a starched white-collar idea and transform it into a blue-collar working treatise that speaks to the needs of a diverse tribe of social medians. He is a better writer than I am and I am not less of one for acknowledging that fact. I am not afraid of conversation and while my competitive self likes winning I warmly applaud mentors and masters….

Baidu, or any company, would do well to join the party (not that one…) and join in on the many conversations, those that honor AND those that harangue, which can only make us better business people, more responsible netizens and decent global citizens.

Book Reviews,China Blog,China Business,China Editorials,china internet,China Search Engine Marketing,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,chinese serach engines,Xiaonei

7 responses so far