The Nanfang / Blog

Daniel Rebecca, of Danny’s Bagel, passes away

Posted: 03/31/2011 10:27 am

Many Guangzhou expatriates may already be aware that the familiar face of Daniel Rebecca, of “Danny’s Bagel” fame, passed away last weekend, March 26 2011.

I had never met Danny in the flesh, but he provided his input on the development of this website and I regularly chatted with him on both Facebook and Twitter. I also never visited his restaurant, but was (and still am) very familiar with the menu; I ordered from it all the time when I lived in Guangzhou in 2006 and 2007.

Danny had lived in Guangzhou since 1994, making him one of the city’s longest-term expats and known to many foreigners who live there now or passed through over the years. His restaurant was, and is, a landmark for hungry laowai looking for down-home American cooking. But more than that, as many comments online can attest, he was a connector; a warm man who made people feel welcome. (That he was a great NHL hockey fan does not escape me either, even if it was the New Jersey Devils he adored.)

He will be missed.

(Photos are from the Facebook page of Lonnie Hodge).




High-speed train allows dinner in Shenzhen, drinks in Guangzhou

Posted: 03/30/2011 9:21 am

For many years, China has been building the world’s fastest and most expansive high-speed railway network. The maiden run linked Beijing with Tianjin, cities that are 147 kilometres apart, in only 29 minutes. (And yes, it’s so smooth there is barely a ripple in your tea as you fly along at 350 kilometres per hour.)

Guangzhou has already been linked with Wuhan under this new high-speed system, and soon Guangzhou and Shenzhen will be connected, cutting travel time from an hour down to only 30 minutes. That’s faster that most people’s commute home after work. And it’s only part of the vast transport network planned for this area, reports the Shenzhen Standard:

The high speed rail that links the Shenzhen Guangzhou and Wuhan and Hong Kong sections will be open on the eve of the Universiade games in August. The section was originally scheduled to open by the end of 2010 when the Shenzhen North Railway Section is completed.

But work on the Shiziyang tunnel was delayed, and was just completed two weeks ago. The tunnel that passes under the Pearl River was about 11 kilometers and is said to be the longest underwater railway tunnel in China. The tunnel is part of the 140 kilometer railway system that links Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The rail lines will be open in sections from now till 2016.

Hong Kong, the southern terminus of the national network, will be connected in 2015, allowing travel from the shores of Kowloon to Beijing in only 8 hours.

The national plan is to be able to travel between any two PRD cities within only one hour. This new railway line goes a long way to accomplishing that, allowing people to have dinner in Shenzhen and drinks later in Guangzhou.


CCTV News to get a run for its money

Posted: 03/29/2011 10:21 am

It’s difficult at times to make-do with the programming provided on cable TV in Mainland China for your traditional, native English-speaking laowai. If you’re one of the lucky few with satellite TV, or live in a government-approved foreign compound (or serviced apartment), you likely have access to HBO, CNN, MTV and a host of other foreign televisions stations. For the rest of us, there’s CCTV News in English, and occasionally local newscasts on Guangdong Television or Guangzhou TV in Guangzhou. (Full disclosure: I worked as a news host at GZTV when it launched its now defunct “Guangzhou English Channel”. Yeah, the experiment didn’t work out too well…)

As someone who’s been heavily involved in China media both here in the PRD and up in Bejiing and Tianjin, I can tell you that Chinese television stations are experimenting with English shows: Tianjin TV had a Business Traveler program (also a show I hosted), Shanghai has an English channel, and other provincial-level and city-level channels are considering more English-language programming. Sadly, many of these experiments haven’t quite worked (see Tianjin TV, GZTV) because of a whole host of reasons. Generally-speaking, English language audiences don’t typically trust Chinese broadcasters, no matter what they say. Why? Because what they say is edited (and often censored) by people who must make sure that none of China’s sacred cows are touched. The result is a mish-mash of milquetoast programs that try and serve all audiences and end up serving nobody.

So it’s a breath of fresh air that Phoenix Satellite Television, which currently offers up Chinese news in Putonghua, is planning an English channel. For those unaware, Phoenix is partially owned by both the Chinese government and Rupert Murdoch, strange bedfellows to be sure (or… are they?). Nonetheless, Phoenix does a good job of covering news in China; so good, in fact, it’s only allowed to broadcast to Guangdong. For other regions in the country, only 3 star hotels or above, embassies, etc, can receive Phoenix. It’s much more polished than CCTV, and often has debates that discuss some of those sacred cows, like the Dalai Lama or Taiwan. It has a mainland slant, to be sure, but when you consider the current state of news in China, this is one giant leap in the right direction.

Phoenix likely isn’t the magic bullet that will break down foreigners’ scepeticism of any news coming out of the Community Party’s mouth. CEO of Phoenix Liu Changle admits it will be a challenge (from the Financial Times):

Mr Liu said his new venture would also be at risk of being seen as part of this propaganda push, but he insisted it was a purely commercial undertaking.

In its Chinese programming, Phoenix has sought to balance some daring reporting with programmes designed to please the political leadership.

The station will apparently focus on economic and financial news, and also contain some language programs as well (maybe Da Shan will be making an appearance).

Right now, the legitimate international news networks broadcasting in English are few: the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera (which burnished its reputation with stellar reporting recently during the Japan earthquake). Britain is represented, America is represented, and the Middle East is represented. On this side of the world, there is NHK (which is very Japan-centric) and Channel News Asia, based in Singapore, which hasn’t quite got the resources to compete on a global level. As the second largest economy in the world, there is a voracious appetite for news and information coming from China – including a desire to understand China’s point of view – that can only come from a legitimate, fair, high-powered and professional international news organization. CCTV is definitely not it. Hopefully Phoenix can make it work.




Celebrating 100 years of dynasty-free rule in China

Posted: 03/28/2011 9:49 am

Depending on what side of the border you’re on, 2011 marks either the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China or the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. There is no doubt that China’s last dynasty, the Qing, did come to a whimpering end in 1911 thanks to a gang of revolutionaries led by Dr Sun Yat-sen who believed China needed to modernize and introduce democracy. But after creating the Republic of China with a capital in Nanjing, the ROC itself was driven out of the Chinese Mainland by the Great Helsman, Mao Zedong, in 1949. So today, the ROC lives on in Taiwan, while China is governed by Chairman Mao’s successors.

Thus, the political sensitivity surrounding this year. Taiwan (and many overseas Chinese) see it as the founding of the Republic of China which has developed into a full-fledged democracy on the island formerly known as Formosa. Mainland Chinese see it in the first step towards their liberation under the Communist Party; that Sun Yat-sen believed China needed to be free of a feudal and unjust society. Thus, if subscribing to this point of view, Sun’s revolution was beginning of what we know today in China. Both sides certainly have their merits. In fact, the virtue of Sun Yat-sen is one of the only things the ROC and PRC can agree on.

Regardless, there are a couple of interesting exhibitions underway to take in some of this history. The Exhibition of the 100th Anniversary of 1911 Revolution is now underway at the Guangzhou Museum inside Yuexiu Park. It features a lot of the clothes worn by Dr. Sun and will be open until June 12.

The second exhibit is across the border in Hong Kong. It is at the Hong Kong Museum of History:

Celebrating the centenary of the 1911 Revolution, this exhibition showcases over 150 exhibits from Hubei Provincial Museum and other collections as well as historical images, videos and maps to illustrate this milestone in China’s modern history and also highlight the immense contribution that Hong Kong made to this revolution.

It will continue until May 16. Admission is HK$10 for adults, $5 for students, and free on Wednesdays if you can make it there mid-week.

If you are interested in the history of China, both of these exhibits would be well worth checking out.


Sunday Photo Blog – Seaworld Construction Zone

Posted: 03/26/2011 11:54 am

We told you earlier about the construction underway at Seaworld Square in Shenzhen, but using the word “construction” might not be telling the whole story. The area has been completely dug up, leaving nothing but gaping holes and small narrow passageways to get to the surrounding bars and restaurants. Sadly, many of the establishments, especially the ones that open directly into the square, will likely see their business hurt by the construction. But just so you know, and according to the signs in the area, all of these businesses remain open! (Even if you can’t see them as easily as before).

Photos below.


The Spin Doctor – Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

Posted: 03/25/2011 8:14 am

Colin Stetson – “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”

4.3 out of 5

Perhaps the greatest complement one could pay Montreal based saxophonist, Colin Stetson, is that he doesn’t fit neatly into any one box. Although the saxophone is Stetson’s main axe, he also plays clarinet, bass clarinet, French horn, flute and cornet, which effectively makes him a one-man army. With such an arsenal, listeners may be quick to peg him as a Jazz artist. Yet to call New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, a Jazz record, would be to unfairly deny the scope and originality of Stetson’s incredible compositions.

I had the privilege of watching Stetson play a few years ago when he opened for The National at the tail end of their Boxer tour. Walking onstage with nothing more than a saxophone, (no pedals or effects of any kind), Stetson proceeded to blow the roof off the venue with a blistering 30 minute set that left me dumbfounded as to how so much sound could be created by a single human being. That he was opening for The National also spoke to Stetson’s artistic range and the impressive list of musicians who have taken to his sound. In addition to The National, Stetson has worked with Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, David Byrne, and TV on the Radio, just to name a few.

What’s so fantastic about Judges is that it defies traditional notions of what a single artist with a single instrument is capable of. Recorded solo, with no overdubs or looping, Stetson’s compositions hinge on his virtuosic technique and unique mic positioning. Impeccably produced by Shahzad Ismaily, and engineered by Efrim Menuck, Judges was recorded with no less than 24 microphones. Though it may sound extreme, the mic placement creates a breadth of sound, depth and tone that results in the illusion that there are three or four musicians, when it is actually only Stetson. Take the title track for example: “Judges” opens with droning bass sax (mics embedded in the horn), percussion (mics placed around the keys of the horn), and everything in between (mics placed on Stetson’s neck and at varying positions around the room).

Then there’s Stetson’s technique: a combination of circular breathing, which allows him to play continuously without coming up for air, tongue slapping, and multi-phonics. The result is that Stetson is able to incorporate a percussive effect and cyclical phrasing while literally singing through the saxophone. It’s this vocalizing that creates a counterpoint in the melody that is nothing short of astounding. Though he’s not the first sax player to utilize the technique (the late, Eddie Harris for example used it to similar effect), Stetson vocalizes without any additional instrumentation. This stripped approach and clever miking gives the compositions an organic quality; at times feeling as if you’re listening from inside the saxophone, exposed to all of the mechanics, wails, cuts and bruises the instrument has to offer. Elsewhere on the record, it feels as if you’re listening to Stetson play in the back row of an empty theatre, with the notes bouncing off the walls and reverberating throughout the hall.

With all of the technical wizardry, Judges could very easily have been a masturbatory exercise. But Stetson wisely switches things up just enough to keep the listener engaged from cover to cover. On several tracks, for example, experimental performance artist and musician, Laurie Anderson contributes spoken word. The effect is reminiscent of Tilda Swinton’s turn in Max Richter’s excellent record, The Blue Notebooks, and it helps to establish a narrative, which ties the record together. Then My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden contributes vocals to the gorgeous cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes”. Pushed to the back of the mix, Stetson’s subtle accompaniment complements Worden’s vocals perfectly, resulting in a haunting rendition of the blues classic.

Stetson’s Judges will no doubt be mentioned alongside more avant-garde artists such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, and though the comparisons are warranted, Judges possesses a level of accessibility Glass and Reich’s more challenging works lack. Stetson pushes the boundaries of what a saxophone is capable of, and thanks in large part to his sense of melody and rhythm, the only thing you need to bring to the table when listening to Judges is an open mind… and perhaps a drink.

- Ewan Christie


Crowds gather in Huaqiangbei, gang fighting?

Posted: 03/24/2011 5:25 pm

Sina Weibo was all atwitter around 5pm on Thursday regarding what appeared to be a major scuffle in the Huaqiangbei area of Shenzhen. More than 500 people posted comments to Weibo, but nobody seems to know what was going on.

All we know is there was a large crowd on the scene, as well as several police officers. We hope to post more information as we find out, so check back later.

UPDATE (21:17):

Details are still scarce, but we are at least getting some second hand information. First, all references to the event can no longer be found on Sina Weibo, including the photo we’ve included in this post.

@mic tweeted us (@thenanfang) to let us know that it was a gang related confrontation with the police. He said: “Seems to be a gang fighting, hundreds of tenants of Zhuowang Building against with police, for some unknown reasons”

As always, if you know anything let us know and we can pass it on.



Shenzhen on verge of massive metro expansion

Posted: 03/23/2011 9:38 am

The metro system in Shenzhen is about to expand rapidly, just in time for the Universiade in August.

Shenzhen Metro Line 4, which was taken over by Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, already runs from the Futian Checkpoint border crossing (Lok Ma Chau on the Hong Kong side) to Children’s Palace Station. But the Shenzhen Standard is reporting that an extension of the line will see trains continue from Chidlren’s Palace Station all the way to Qinghu Station, with testing already underway.

Meanwhile, getting into town from far-flung Bao’an Airport is going to be a whole lot easier once the Line 1 Extension begins operation in June. People will be able to reach the airport (or make their way back into town) on the line once it commences services. Testing on this line will also begin in March.

These two major extensions are in addition to the Shekou Line extension, which opened not long ago (thus eliminating the excuse that Shekou is too far to go for laowai in Futian), and are part of 113 kilometres of new metro lines comprising 80 stations in Shenzhen, all of which will be open by the end of June. To put that in perspective, Hong Kong has 84 stations in total, constructed since 1979. Yeah, things move quickly in China’s “city of dreams“.

From Wikipedia, here is the complete map of what the Shenzhen Metro system will look like come June this year. And if you really want to blow your mind, take a look what’s in store for 2020, which is right below it.


China declares war on the Internet; here’s how to get around the Net Nanny

Posted: 03/22/2011 6:00 am

It’s been a tough couple of days for Internet users in China. We’ve all become used to no Youtube, no Facebook and no Twitter, but the Net Nanny has at least left more vital services alone, such as email. That has changed in the last few days as China, with unrest in full swing in North Africa, has begun clamping down on what can be accessed online. Yes, it appears leaders have a severe case of the jitters and when that happens, the people inside Zhongnanhai tend to take a conservative stance.

Two major developments have occured; the first is that wildly popular (especially among laowai) email provider Gmail has had intermittent service the last few days. Some users said they couldn’t access their Gmail accounts, others couldn’t send mail, and others couldn’t mark emails as unread. Google itself finally chimed in yesterday, as reported by the Guardian:

“Relating to Google there is no issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail,” said a Google spokesman. China’s embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement follows a blog posting from Google on 11 March in which the firm said it had “noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users. We believe activists may have been a specific target.” The posting said the attacks were targeting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser. The two firms have been working to address the issue. At the time, Google declined to elaborate on which activists had been targeted or where the attacks had been coming from.

The second major development is that China is beginning to knock out access to VPNs, also known as Virtual Private Networks, or the precious tool that gives us access to Youtube. For those unfamiliar with VPNs, they effectively mask your computer’s IP address (the unique ID given to every device accessing the Internet) and gives it a generic IP address which appears to be from somewhere else, such as the United States. If your computer appears to be in the US, you get two benefits: you can see all the websites behind the Great Firewall, and also have access to US-only services such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix. Right now, reports on Twitter indicate that Witopia, a popular VPN, and 12vpn are both inaccessible in Mainland China, however this can change minute-by-minute.

One VPN you can try (which still works, at least for me) is Strong VPN. (No, I’m not affiliated with them, although I did find out about them through a friend of mine’s blog.) It’s the best VPN I’ve used thus far, but also a bit pricey. But there are many to choose from, as you can see in this list.

It’s hard to gauge how long the crackdown will last. If I’m a betting man though, knowing how scared China is of any potential unrest, I wouldn’t expect to see Facebook or Twitter unblocked anytime soon, and we can only hope that Gmail will eventually be fully freed.

If you have other VPNs to recommend, please leave them in the comments below.


Mark Obama Ndesandjo’s thoughts on China’s city of dreams

Posted: 03/21/2011 6:00 am

One of Shenzhen’s claims to fame is that it calls itself the home of President Barack Obama’s half-brother, Mark Ndesandjo (they share the same father).

Mark was born in Kenya, but studied in the United States and moved to Shenzhen in 2002. Since arriving, he has learned how to speak fluent Chinese and married Liu Xuehua, a woman from Henan Province. Mark is also a concert pianist, and published a book in 2009 called Nairobi to Shenzhen, a semi-autobiographical work looking at his immersion into China.

Mark now keeps himself busy by running WorldNexus, an internet marketing company, teaching piano to orphaned children at the Shenzhen Social Welfare Center, and running a popular bar/bbq chain called Cabin BBQ. He’s traditionally kept to himself, shunning media during his more famous brother’s run for President. But it appears he might be coming out of his shell, as he’s expected to publish his memoirs which will detail his relationship with Barack Obama.

Over the weekend, his book was excerpted in the International Herald Tribune. He talks about the frantic pace of change in China’s “City of Dreams”, Shenzhen, and how it might come at the expense of maintaining traditions:

I believe that in the future China, the current Shenzhen disposition will become more relaxed, more traditional. “Time is money” will become “time is precious but can be shared with strangers.” Or, in the words of Confucius,

Don’t just treasure the water, treasure the mountain; don’t just move, but be still, don’t just enjoy, but preserve.

So perhaps by the time the kids of today’s Shenzhen grow up there will be a change in the current attitude toward headlong growth. Perhaps they will begin to ponder questions like: Do they have a wholesome life based on values such as establishing a quality-based economy and social responsibility, and not living just to pursue a quick yuan? Will they begin to stop to check out the blue skies, safely drink water direct from the tap, have more time to be with loved ones, volunteer, and walk where tree leaves gently touch?

The full article can be read here.

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