Category Archives: china

The 50-cent Party

or “五毛党” (wǔmáo dǎng)
**a follow up to  “White Screen of Death”**

Apparently there is a ’50 cent party’ whose members cruise the internet, posing as normal citizens, who post on internet forums in the favor of government and The Party. For every pro-Party comment, they are allegedly paid 50 RMB cents (< $0.75).

It’s so Big Brother! Interesting that China boasts having the largest population of internet users (about 420 million), it also has the largest number of Internet Wardens and the most complex and ‘largest’ firewall (The Great Firewall of China).

The service isn’t exclusive to the government though. According to “Mercury Brief,” a news blog, for about eight thousand US dollars you can have a similar kind of online smear campaign against any of your major competitors.  In a matter of two months the first few pages of sites from a search engine referring to your competitors product can be made to be dominantly negative information.

In the US, of course, the Federal Trade Commission recently (oct. 2009) produced an 81-page document on the transparency  of word-of-mouth marketing.  My hunch is China doesn’t pay too much attention to these types of things.

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The Russians Are Here

“Как вы сегодня?” he said to me.

The funny thing about Russian is – if you’re not expecting it and someone says just one phrase to you – it’s not overtly obvious that it’s not English. At least for a sentence that short.

“Excuse me?” I replied. I had just finished a long workout and was headed back up to my room to take a much-needed shower. Self-conscious of my smell, I took care to keep my arms down, hoping it would stop the odor from wafting up in the now crowded elevator.

“Angliĭskoĭ” he returned “uh – English?”.

“American” I replied – not sure if he’d asked my nationality or my language due to his thick accent.

“Ah, where do you live?” he said, after taking a moment to consciously switch over to speaking English.

“Here — ”.

“Yes – but I mean. In Amerika –”

It always sounds so Old World when people use America as a noun. The states, the US – both common words with which we lovingly call home. But America? It sounds like you’re getting off the boat at Elis Island. Since it is technically the description of all the land from those wanna-be’s to the north we affectionately call Canadians, to the ancestral lands of the Aztecks.

He’s was 50-something with that slightly wrinkly but completely hair-free kind of sturdy older man look that gives the strong impression he still has the juice of a 25 year-old. It looked like he and his slightly younger (40’s) associate were on a real-estate tour with a middle-aged Chinese woman. The fact that I’d walked on the elevator seemed to completely disrupt his conversation with the other two. The Chinese lady, after a quick glance at me, continued on her conversation with the other man, almost as if she was irritated that I’d caused the disruption.

Don’t look at me! I just want to take a shower! I thought.

“But where in Amerika are you from?” he asked, only to draw out this awkward moment.

“Minnesota – up north”  (If you must know. We’re Sister-Cities with one of your coldest Siberian cities – probably because we both have something for that insane cold.)  “Are you living in Beijing?”

“Yes. We have buzinezz,” he said to me while glancing over at his partner.

I don’t know if his friend really looked at me, or if it was just across the elevator at his older associate. If he did, it wasn’t for more than a half a second, but in that quick glance, and the one he gave his partner, I saw that “I know where this goes” kind of look. The ‘you’re as ruthless as a saber-tooth tiger, and as mean as a mama bear separated from her cub, but the minute a skirt walks by, you completely lose all focus’. The ‘I think you’re a fool, but there’s no stopping you’ kind of look.

“Well” I said as the doors started to open to my floor, “I hope you’re not too rich, or too powerful. I would imagine it a great weakness that your Achilles heal is so obvious.”  Unfriendly men would know all too easily how to manipulate you.

I left the cramped feeling elevator with a nod to his associate in a ‘good day’ kind of way and walked down my hall.  I laughed a little to myself because no one from their group had remembered to call their floor. The irritated agent leaned across the two men and pressed the button when she realized the absentee mistake.

Epilogue: All this is true. Except for my parting comment. It was exactly what I was thinking, but my floor wasn’t high enough up to make the ride long enough, to give me chance enough to say it. But how often do we get to say just what we’re thinking?

It is not too much of a surprise to run into a few Russians, and not even a Russian speaking Chinese lady. There is a substantial Russian community here in Beijing. Of course, as Beijing is the governmental center of China, all the embassies are in this city so in general there are a variety of ex-pats. However Russia, I imagine because of its strong ties of old, has probably the largest single body of foreigners.  Indeed, a good deal of Russians give the impression they’re second generation, and that they’re here to stay. (But don’t quote me. This isn’t a body of people I interact with too much).

There’s a whole section of Beijing, not too far from where I live, that is basically Little Moscow. There’s an entire shopping mall filled with shops that cater to Russians (furs!) and Russian restaurants. The whole area of town even advertises its shop wares in Russian, not Chinese or English.  It’s an awful strong nod to the days of not too long ago when China and Russia were palls and the West, specifically the US, were the enemy.

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The Trial of Toiletry Purchasing

For the last couple of weeks every time I get into bed my body begins to itch violently from extreme dryness. Last night, before I could fall asleep, I filled my last lucid thoughts of how delicious it would feel to have a bath in a tub of olive oil.  The green grassy smell and the soothing quality of the ointment.

I’ve used handfuls of lotion lately but it doesn’t seem to help.  I’ve found the dryness of my skin is considerably worse after I’ve been in the chlorinated pool and hot tub.  No matter how I shower afterward to remove the chlorine, or the amount of lotion I lather on, I cannot find reprieve.

There is a scrub at my parent’s house that I would die to have here – I think it’s sugar  in a rich oily base.  There it seemed a bit excessive but here it would be perfect.

“So go out and get something,” you say.  I would, I’ve looked. But all the toiletry bottles only have  descriptions in Chinese. There is sometimes a two-word phrase on a bottle of whatever that gives the most basic sign of what it might be – conditioner, shampoo – but in general the mystery is so deep when it comes to personal hygiene products that it’s quite baffling.

I wanted a leave in conditioner for my hair, as it too is suffering, but I always find that ones that contain alcohol always do more damage. Good luck figuring that out on an ingredients label!

Next time you’re standing in the shower look at a bottle of shampoo and think how hard it might be to figure out if it was all printed in Chinese characters!

I ended up getting a brand I recognized of something-or-other, that was in a bottle I remembered seeing in the states, but who knows what it really was. Perhaps “hair straightener, guaranteed to strip all moisture out of hair and leave it stick straight”?

I consoled myself with the fact that most conditioners do about the same thing, it’s more how you use them.  When have you ever read a bottle that says something you don’t want?  “Moisturizing curls”, “silky smooth”, “weather repair” – in the end you realize it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not really the bottle of hair relaxer.

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