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Showing posts from 2015

Rua Da Felicidade - Macau's "Street of Happiness"

Located in the historic centre of Macau, only a few minutes’ walk from Senado Square, there is a street whose traditional Chinese-style buildings and romantic name seem to take one back to a long-gone colonial era, in which the society of old China mingled with the cosmopolitan, busy lifestyle of the former European enclaves in the Far East. Lined with two-storey, grey brick Chinese houses with conspicuous red windows and doors, decorations and inscriptions that recount old legends, the street is a remarkable example of the mix of traditional Chinese architecture and Western patterns. Here the visitor feels as if time had stood still, and is finally able to imagine, far away from the modern casinos and shopping malls, how life might have looked like for ordinary people in old Macau.

Why Macau Is Much More Than Just A City Of Gambling

Last Friday I travelled again to Macau, and I have to say that I am more and more intrigued by this city. Unfortunately, the former Portuguese colony is mainly known to the outside world for its casinos. But in fact, it is a place with a surprisingly rich history and culture.
A few weeks ago I heard a German guy talking on the phone with his parents. They asked him how he liked Macau, and he said something like, "Macau is famous for its casinos. Someone told us that there are many old buildings, but we were tired of old buildings, we've already seen enough of them in China, so we just went gambling." 
A Malaysian guy I talked to last week, said something similar: "There is nothing to see in Macau, only casinos."

Once Again, China Proves Neoliberals Wrong

A few days ago everyone talked about China's stock market collapse. "Xi Jinping has run into the one thing in China he can't control", wrote news website Quartz, implying that the all-powerful Communist Party finally had to acknowledge that it couldn't rein in the "free market". No sooner had the Chinese government stepped in to save the stock market than Western media dismissed Beijing's policies, predicting they would not work. "China markets plunge as government measures fail", wrote Yahoo News. These are only two examples of what the South China Morning Post called "Western media's callous delight at China's stock market crash". According to The Telegraph, China's stock market crash would cause a "more worrying financial crisis" than the one happening in Greece.
But, as has often been the case over the past four decades, the West's neoliberal-minded analysts have failed to understand the strength of C…

Saving The Souls Of The Ancestors - 'Qianshuichezang': Taiwan's Unique Religious Festival

Every year between the 1st and the 9th day of the 6th month of the Lunar Calendar (July 16 - July 24) a traditional folk festival takes place in Kouhu Township, in Taiwan's Yunlin County, to commemorate the souls of people who died over a century and a half ago.
The festival is called 'Qianshuichezang' (牽水車藏), which literally means 'leading along water containers'. The name refers to traditional lantern-like, three-level cylinders made of bamboo sticks and paper. The ceremony is held at Wanshan Shrine (萬善祠), near Jinhu harbour, and Wanshanye Temple (萬善爺廟) in Jinhu. The three levels represent the division between water, sky and underworld. Each side of the cylinder is painted with images of humans and benign spirits.
In the temples, people offer foodstuffs and paper money to the deities. The offerings are carried from the villages to the temples by women on traditional bamboo poles. The food and money are placed on round tables in front of the statues of the gods.

Sleeping At Taiwan's Eslite Bookstore

Before I went to Taiwan for the first time, a friend of mine told me that if I ever wanted to date a classy, clever and pretty girl I should visit Eslite Bookstore in Taipei. It was not until I arrived on the island that I realised what he was talking about. 
Eslite stands out for its stylish design, wide range of English and Chinese books, and its customer-oriented service. Many people spend hours there reading books, sitting on chairs and armchairs, and even on the floor. The staff will leave you alone, no matter whether you buy something or not. Basically, Eslite is half public library half bookstore. 
Some Eslite branches are open 24-hours and have their own cafes and tea houses. They have turned into actual entertainment centres for people who like to read, need to read, or pretend to like to read. There are all kinds of customers: you see families, couples, groups of friends, people who are absorbed in a book and those who stroll around leisurely and, most importantly, there are w…

How a Single Sentence Caused a Gang War in New Taipei City

On June 30 the residents of New Taipei City witnessed scenes of chaos as street fights broke out between rival gangs in the districts of Luzhou, Sanchong, Zhonghe and Yonghe. The feuds, which involved members of two Taiwanese triads, the Bamboo Gang and the Heavenly Way Alliance, were  triggered by a single sentence: "The girls of Luzhou and Sanchong are shameful."


Why Taiwanese Media Are Talking About McDonald's Doll-like Waitress

On June 27 Taiwanese blogger RainDog posted pictures of a cute waitress who works at a McDonald's in Taipei. The images soon went viral and were shared on Taiwan's media.   
【吸睛!麥當勞店員酷似洋娃娃 超夢幻】 http://t.co/PSE9pSKwVbpic.twitter.com/pPlSzptCo1 — 中時電子報 (@tw_chinatimes) July 9, 2015
The girl's name is Xu Weihan and her Facebook page has over 60,000 likes. 
Xu's media notoriety is another manifestation of some phenomena I already described in previous posts. 
First of all, her 'cute' looks correspond to a popular beauty ideal: girls have to be child-like, feminine, gentle and innocent; on the other hand, they have to be pretty and sexually attractive. 
Read: 'Pretty, Innocent Asian Girls': The Cult of Cuteness in East Asian Societies
Secondly, this 'Lolita-like' appearance is used in the context of a competitive market economy, in which beauty attracts customers and publicity. Therefore, the right behaviour and looks mean, simply put, money. Another exa…

Hong Kong - Water Floods Tanner Road After Water Pipe Bursts

On July 8 between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., a pipe burst on Tanner Road, near North Point MTR Station, causing severe flooding. Traffic was disrupted and shops were flooded.

What Greece Wants

As a European, I am just a detached observer of Asian affairs. But when it comes to the destiny of the European Union, I feel I am personally involved. Although this is a blog about Asia, I cannot ignore what is happening in Europe, and I want to write a few words about it. 
On the statement he published this morning on his own blog, Greece's former Minister of Finance, Jiannis Varoufakis, explained that what the Greek government wants is simply:
an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms
They are not asking for their debt to be written off, as some media has argued; they just want their debt to be sustainable. As Varoufakis said in one interview (as I can speak Greek, I am following the actual debates in Greece), he thinks that the austerity policies of the troika are not viable for Greece, because they hinder growth and create a situation of instability that makes the recovery of Greece impossible. 

Without …

Treason, Secession, Armed Rebellion, Subversion And State Secrets – China’s Paranoia Takes Hold Of Hong Kong

On its 18th birthday, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) received an unwelcome gift from the Beijing authorities: a new sweeping national security law which, despite not applying directly to Hong Kong, is likely to raise pressure on the government of the former British colony to enact its own national security legislation. According to the controversial Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the HKSAR "shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets". When the first Chief Executive of the HKSAR, the pro-Beijing magnate Tung Chee-hwa, tried to enact such laws, about half a million Hongkongers took to the streets. Popular anger ultimately led to his resignation in 2005.
On July 1st, 1997, the British colony of Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China. The televised ceremony was watched by millions of people all over the world…

While Europe Destroys Itself, China Hopes That Greece Will Stay In The Eurozone

In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill called for the rebirth of the pan-European idea. This "noble continent”, he said, was “the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times”; and yet, it was from this great continent that a series of nationalistic movements had originated, which had plunged the whole world into the most catastrophic wars. 
Europe, however glorious its past, lay now in ruins. Its economy had been devastated. Millions of displaced men and women marched homewards from battlefields, concentration and labour camps. Prisoners of war languished in captivity. Fallen soldiers left widows and orphans behind. Divided by hatred, impoverished by war, shocked by the unprecedented cruelty it had unleashed upon itself, Europe's prospects were bleak. Was it ever going to …

The Blue Express Incident - How 30 Foreigners Were Kidnapped in Republican China

On the evening of May 5, 1923, everything seemed quiet on the Blue Express, China's luxury railway line connecting Tianjin and Pukou. The train, recently purchased by the Chinese Railway Administration from an American company, boasted Asia's first all-steel coaches. Its first class carriages consisted of compartments which, on that day, were filled not only by Chinese, but also by foreign passengers of various nationalities, some of them businessmen or long-term residents of China, others, using a modern word, 'tourists'.
Among the passengers were Miss Lucy Aldrich, the sister-in-law of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and daughter of Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island; two officers of the US Army, Major Allen and Major Pinger; Angelo Musso, a wealthy Italian lawyer based in Shanghai and an early supporter of Benito Mussolini's Fascists; he was accompanied by his private secretary, the young Alba Coralli. There was a Mexican industrialist with his wife, one Rumanian, a…

Why Hong Kong Should Accept Beijing's Universal Suffrage - And Wait

On Sunday 14, thousands of Hong Kong citizens marched from Causeway Bay to the Legislative Council to protest against the electoral reform package proposed by the government. Demonstrators held yellow umbrellas and wore yellow ribbons, powerful symbols of the Umbrella Revolution that rocked the former British colony last year. They protesters denounced Beijing's version of universal suffrage, demanding 'genuine' democratic elections for Hong Kong.
If the electoral reform is passed by the legislature, Hong Kong citizens will for the first time vote directly for their Chief Executive. But critics argue that the democratic reforms are 'fake', as the candidates for the post of Chief Executive will be selected by an electoral committee. 
On August 31, 2014, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) passed a decision on the implementation of universal suffrage, a concept enshrined in Paragraph 2 of Article 45 of the Hong Kong Basic Law. According t…

Are the Himalayas Taiwan's Highest Mountains?

“What is Taiwan’s highest mountain?” This seemingly harmless question has caused a public controversy in Taiwan, a country where geography and politics are deeply  entwined. On June 11, Chen Qineng (陳啟能), a lawmaker of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), asked Eric Chu (朱立倫), the incumbent mayor of New Taipei City and Chairman of the Guomindang, an apparently simple question: “What is Taiwan’s highest mountain?”

“Taiwan’s highest mountain is Yushan,” answered Eric Chu. “But according to the Constitution," he added, "the country’s highest mountains are the Himalayas.” Chen Qineng’s question was not trivial. Its purpose was to make Eric Chu reveal his view on the controversial issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), a state that in theory still claims to be the legitimate government of China.   Chen insisted. “We are talking about the Republic of China on Taiwan.” Eric Chu reaffirmed that, if one refers to Taiwan, the countr…

Chemistry, or A Brief Encounter in Macau

On Sunday, exhausted from my first day in Macau, I went to sleep at around 2 am (relatively early by my standards). I planned to wake up at 10 am. Eight hours sleep would be sufficient, I thought. I felt weak, dehydrated, and had a headache, probably the result of too much walking and too little drinking. As I put my head on the pillow, I immediately drifted off.
At 10 am the alarm clock rang. It went on for half an hour until it stopped. I felt as if I couldn’t move, I had neither the energy to get up, nor to perform the simple task of grabbing the bottle of water inside my bag to quench the thirst that made my throat burn. I was aware that I was sleeping too long, but my limbs simply would not obey my brain's commands.
All of a sudden, I heard a noise, so loud and persistent that I could not ignore it. I slowly came round and realised someone was trying to open the apartment door. Repeated sighs and the nervous tinkling of the key resounded from the staircase, tokens of exasperati…

Nice Flats, High Prices - Airbnb in Macau

Since I could find no hostels in Macau, I decided to use Airbnb, which is a more expensive, but interesting alternative, as you can live with locals (or long-term residents), explore the neighbourhood and see how flats look like.
But once again Macau proved to be less convenient than Hong Kong. The cheapest accommodation I found in Macau was HKD 279 (around 30 euros). This wasn't the price for a room, but for a sofa bed in the living room. In Hong Kong, you can find a single room with private bathroom for HKD 264, or a single room for HKD 202. However, the location was good: Rua da Ribeira do Patane, just about 10 to 15 minutes on foot from Senado Square.
The HKD 279 bed was available only for three nights, so I decided to book this bed for two nights and then move to a nearby flat. I rented a single room for about HKD 383 (around 40 euros) per night. The price for these two flats for four nights, including Airbnb fees, was about HKD 1,600 (circa 180 euros). With HKD 1,700 I could h…

Cheap Accommodation in Macau – Mission Impossible?

Once I met a Dutch guy who had flown to Macau on a visa run, planning to stay there for a few days or weeks. He believed that Macau was much cheaper than neighbouring Hong Kong, the latter being known as one of the world’s most densely populated cities as well as a major global financial hub.It didn’t take him long to realise that he had made a mistake. The first thing he did upon arriving in Macau was, of course, to look for a cheap hostel. Little did he know that Macau has no hostels! To his surprise he could find no cheap accommodation and had no choice but to spent around HKD400 for one night at a hotel. Macau turned out to be so expensive that on his second day he moved to Hong Kong.
Despite having heard his story, I did not learn the lesson. I still believed I would find a hostel. After all, I had been to hostels in small cities like Triest, Krakow, Salzburg. How could Macau, whose GDP depends entirely on tourism, have no hostels? Probably, the guy should have looked for a hostel…

Four Days in Macau

In 2013 I visited Macau with two friends of mine. We stayed there for two days and engaged in intense ‘touristy’ activities, as we went to the major sights, ate local food and strolled around the busy streets of the picturesque, European-style historic centre. After so much walking we were exhausted, but we accomplished our goal: to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
Those two days were nice and I had a lot of fun. But I left Macau with that kind of feeling that always accompanies me whenever I visit a place for a short time. I thought we had merely caught a glimpse of the surface, but had not got deeper into the soul of the city. We had seen churches, Portuguese-style houses, temples and nice squares; casinos, alleys and skyscrapers. But it was all too quick, too much. All I could remember of Macau was an incoherent patchwork of images, like pieces of a puzzle scattered around a table.

Is China's MINISO Copying Japan's MUJI, UNIQLO and Daiso?

Over the past few years Japanese retailers such as UNIQLO and MUJI have conquered foreign markets, opening shops in cities such as Paris, Berlin or New York and becoming household names in several countries. But the success of their business model seems to have inspired people with dubious intentions.
As the website Daliulian recently showed, a new chain called MINISO, which claims to be a Japanese company selling ‘100% Japanese products’, seems to be nothing more than a knock-off of UNIQLO, MUJI and Daiso, copying their logos, names and even the layout of their stores.
The company’s webpage proudly announces – in terrible English – that “MINISO is a fast fashion designer brand of Japan. Headquartered in Tokyo Japan, Japanese young designer Miyake Jyunya is founder as well as the chief designer of MINISO, a pioneer in global 'Fashion & Casual Superior Products' field.
According to the company’s homepage, MINISO
advocates the philosophy of a simple, natural and quality life a…

China Opposes Japan's Bid to Add Meiji Industrial Sites to UNESCO World Heritage

Hashima is an islet of 6.3 hectares lying off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture. From afar, its buildings and high walls, designed to protect it from typhoons, make it look like a fortress, or rather like a battleship, hence its Japanese nickname 'Gunkanjima' (軍艦島), or 'Battleship Island'.
During the Meiji Era (1868-1912) Hashima played an important role in Japan's rapid industrialisation. Coal, the fuel of the first industrial revolution, was abundant in the region. In 1890 Hashima was bought by Mitsubishi, which set up coal-mining facilities. The company transformed the islet into a major industrial site and a pioneering residential area, a model for Japan's industrial and urban development.
Mitsubishi sank vertical shafts of about 200 metres, erected massive walls and carried out land reclamation projects in order to obtain new land for the construction of factories. Due to the demand for labour, workers began to flock to Hashima. The population grew steadily, …

The Guomindang and the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the Eyes of K.M. Panikkar

In his book "In Two Chinas: Memoirs of a Diplomat", Kavalam Madhava Panikkar (1895 – 1963), an Indian intellectual, journalist, historian and ambassador, born in the Kingdom of Travancore, then part of the British Indian Empire, recounted his impressions of the transition between the Guomindang-led Republic of China (ROC) and the newly founded People's Republic of China (PRC). 
Shortly after India had obtained its independence from Britain, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed Panikkar as India's first ambassador to China (then ROC). During the following two years, Panikkar would experience the chaos and turmoil of the Chinese Civil War, which ended with the complete collapse of the Guomindang regime and its retreat to Taiwan. Panikkar remained in China until 1953. 
***

What was my general impression of New China? I had spent over two years in Peking in close contact with the leaders of the Central People's Government. I had also lived in Nanking when the Kuom…

Life as a Westerner in Taiwan and Hong Kong

When I came to Hong Kong for the first time back in 2012 I had already lived in Taipei for about half a year. One of the first things that struck me was that people in Hong Kong seemed to have a different attitude towards foreigners than Taiwanese (generally speaking, of course). Even in Taipei, the largest and most international city of the island-state, I always felt as if I were an exotic creature. People talked to me because they were 'curious', or because they wanted to practice their English, or because they regarded me as a guest that they should treat with a politeness reserved for people from faraway lands.  
In Hong Kong, on the contrary, most people seemed to be indifferent to me. They didn't look at me when I took the metro, when I went to public toilets, libraries or restaurants, as it was the case in Taiwan. Obviously, I wasn't a local either in Taiwan or Hong Kong. But in the latter I felt more comfortable. I did not stand out. I was not perceived as an &…

China Deported American Teacher Because She Wrote SMS Critical of the Government’s Tibet Policies

L. is a US citizen in her early thirties. In January 2015 she moved to China to work as an English teacher in a public high school in Shenzhen. Her life in China was good. She had already lived in foreign countries such as Russia and South Korea, so she had learnt to adjust herself to new cultures and customs. She liked her new job and her flat. She loved her students. But it all came to an abrupt end after she decided to travel to Tibet.
Tibet Autonomous Region is unlike any other part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Foreign nationals cannot go there with a simple Chinese visa. They must organise their trip via an authorised tour operator and travel with a tourist group. The agency applies for a Tibet Travel Permit issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB). The application must include a route plan of the areas of Tibet one wishes to visit. However, foreign travellers enjoy freedom of movement only within Lhasa city.
If you want to leave Lhasa you need another document: the Ali…

Hong Kong Police Told To Enforce "More Strictly" Public Order Ordinance Prohibiting "Unlawful Assembly"

As the 'South China Morning Post' reported today, the Hong Kong police will enforce laws governing public order "more strictly" and prevent gatherings of more than 3 people if they are deemed suspicious by police officers.
"If officers deem a gathering likely to cause any breach of the peace or threat to public safety, we would not allow the participants to proceed," a source was quoted as saying. "We would demand that they produce identification and disperse, and follow them around if they did not leave. Anyone who refuses to comply can be arrested for obstructing police."
The relevant laws prohibiting public gatherings are not a result of Hong Kong's 'mainlandisation', but date back to the British colonial era. In 1967 pro-Communist riots broke out in Hong Kong, and the British colonial government enacted the Public Order Ordinance, which controlled public meetings, processions, and assemblies (see: Wong Yiu-chung / Brian Bridges: One …

"Are You Crazy?" Says Ma Ying-jeou to Scholar Who Asked If Taiwan Will Renounce South China Sea Claims

At a meeting of the Fullbright Taiwan Foundation for Scholarly Exchange Ma Ying-jeou, the incumbent president of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), was asked by a scholar whether the ROC will renounce its claims to the South China Sea. Earlier in March the former vice-secretary of the National Security Council of the ROC, Zhang Xucheng (張旭成), and the former deputy minister of National Defence, Ke Chengheng (柯承亨), had said in an interview that the ROC might renounce its claims to the South China Sea. They stated that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the current main opposition party, is "considering a proposal to give up Taiwan's sovereignty claims over the South China Sea as defined by the U-shaped line".
Ma Ying-jeou seemed surprised by the scholar's question and replied: "Are you crazy? Of course we won't!" As leader of the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party), Ma Ying-jeou officially maintains that the Republic of China is the legitimate go…