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Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore (Editor, Time Out Beijing) | International Herald Tribune Global Opinion
August 21, 2012
Dating is hard at the best of times. In China the stakes are high from the outset: the expectation is that it should lead to marriage; never mind love for love's sake.
A friend recently went on a blind date in Beijing. Arriving at the coffee shop, he found not only the girl but her mother, too. Within minutes she bombarded him with questions: What does he earn? Where did he study? Does he own a house?
Romance in China is often sacrificed to practicality; dating has largely become a commercial transaction. In Beijing parents gather in parks to introduce their children to one another. Singles' clubs set people up according to requirements -- height, income, property. And tens of thousands descend on matchmaking events in cities like Shanghai looking for the perfect mate.
For Chinese men today, being the perfect mate means having a car, an apartment, a good salary and, preferably, a tall stature. Women, meanwhile, must be married by 27; after that they are branded sheng nu or "leftover women." (This derogatory term -- whose prefix "sheng" is the same word used in "leftover food" -- was listed as a new word in 2007 by the Chinese Ministry of Education).
"Marriage in many ways in China is a way of pulling resources," says Roseann Lake, a Beijing-based journalist researching a book on sheng nu. In one direction, at least. "The idea that a woman, no matter how successful she is professionally, is absolutely nothing until she is married -- it still comes down to that."
Arranged marriages were banned in 1950. However, matchmaking -- through work units and family -- was, and still is, commonplace. Yes, China has experienced miraculous growth in the past three decades, but traditions are hard to shake. And Confucian ethics stress that marriage must satisfy societal duty over individual desire.
The one-child policy has further reinforced these expectations. With no welfare system in China, the young are expected to provide for the old: whom you marry matters for your entire family.
These concerns aren't evenly shared, and they expose something of a generation gap. Children of the 1980s and 1990s -- who were born in better economic times and fed on pop music and movies -- are in less of a hurry to get married than their parents were.
The best-selling author Wang Hailing, who wrote "Divorce with Chinese Characteristics," relays stories of pushy mothers on her micro-blog. One told her daughter to attend blind dates while she's still at a "valuable" age.
Xie Yujie, a 26-year-old resident of Wenzhou, a city of more than nine million some 230 miles south of Shanghai, is unmarried. Despite a promising career as a nurse, her parents remind her daily of her filial duties to find a husband. Xie is looking for love, but her parents chastise her for not been more practical. "Money worship and materialism is the reality," she explained last week.
And so now some single women in Chengdu, in southwest China, pay more than $3,100 for a special training course in how to snag a millionaire husband. In the reality TV dating program "If You Are The One," a 22-year-old model infamously claimed, "I'd rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back seat of a bicycle."
These are extremes, of course, but the pressures are real. Although China's skewed birth rate means there will be a surplus of about 24 million men in China by 2020, the majority of these bachelors will live in rural areas. In major cities -- where the rate of housing costs to income can reach 12:1 -- finding a good match is a constant worry for educated, ambitious women.
As Chinese Valentine's Day -- this Thursday, Aug. 23 -- nears, preparations for dozens of matchmaking events, most aimed at marriage, are picking up. At the Huanleyuan Culture Club, a singles' club in Beijing -- basic requirement: a college degree; annual membership fee: about $560 -- hundreds will be attending a gala matchmaking event. Ten thousand people are expected at a mass blind date in Guangyuan city, in Sichuan Province.
They'll be looking not just for a fetching smile or that spark of chemistry, but also for the promise of money and connections.
By Eric Abrahamsen | Latitude | International Herald Tribune - The Global Edition of The New York Times
March 12, 2012
Last Wednesday I tried to close my bank account. I won't pretend that the Bank of China is the most Orwellian institution in the world, but in terms of human suffering inflicted by bureaucracy, it has to make the long list.
I have learned to dread my constant visits to the local branch, where I wait in line behind 40 retirees, have my passport photocopied and learn from a preternaturally calm teller that whatever it is I would like to do, it can't be done today. The reasons change; the outcome is the same. Over the years fatalism has ripened through defeatism into despair.
I've dreamed of closing the account for years, all the while gripped by an irrational certainty that they simply wouldn't allow it: we regret to inform you, sir, that your transaction cannot be completed at this time.
Last Wednesday I nearly failed. Armed with most of the paperwork I've produced in my 34 years of life, I approached the window and stated my intent, searching the teller's face for the slight crease of the brow and shake of the head that would signal the inevitable. She stared intently at her screen, the minutes lengthening.
I couldn't help overhearing a British man next to me in the midst of a breakdown. For reasons he could not fathom they would only let him withdraw half the amount he wanted; he would have to wait until next week for the other half. But why? And why did they need yet another photocopy of his passport? And what exactly were they doing with his money?! Mounting rage began to derail his otherwise fluent Chinese. I admired his principles, but wished I could whisper to him: peace only comes to those who abandon hope.
My teller cleared her throat, and suddenly I was hurtling through an entire circus-full of hoops: entering my PIN eight times in five minutes; calling a number to cancel online banking that had never worked because it required Internet Explorer; signing 15 sheets of paper. Then it was done. I was released onto the street, relieved of the crushing weight of a single plastic card. I rejoiced.
The bank called me at 5:21 that evening. "Oh God," I thought. "They will never let me go." In settling the account the teller had inadvertently given me four mao, about seven cents, too much. Could I pop by the bank and drop it off? Summoning what dignity remained to me I suggested that, as it was her error, perhaps she could produce the four mao herself. She was dubious but hung up. Ten minutes later her supervisor called back saying they really did need that four mao or else the poor lady wouldn't be able to leave work for the day.
Accustomed to being at their mercy, I resigned myself to getting back on my bike. But then the revelation hit: I had them! I had stymied the great machine with nothing more than the change in my pocket. It was a heady feeling, charged with years of general resentment at bureaucrats everywhere, and in my elation I may have behaved with less than perfect grace.
When the supervisor promised that someone would come by my home to collect the four mao in person, I began to feel silly.
And I felt even sillier a half hour later, when I went out onto the street and found my bank teller standing there in her uniform, along with a colleague and a young man who appeared to be a boyfriend. All three were full of giggling apology: "Such a stupid thing; we know! Sorry to cause you so much trouble! Thanks for your understanding!" Four bright coins changed hands, then the three hopped on their bikes and were gone.
By David Barboza | The New York Times
July 18, 2011
SHANGHAI -- For years, DaVinci furniture stores have been places where wealthy Chinese in this and five other big cities can indulge their appetite for imported luxury.
Promoting itself as "a haven for premium products," DaVinci is the place to go for Versace sofas, sumptuous Fendi Casa calf-skin couches or stylish chaise lounges stamped Made in Italy. A DaVinci bedroom set can sell for $100,000.
That's why it set off a national consumer scandal when one of China's biggest state-run media outlets reported last week that it had discovered a tawdry truth: some of DaVinci's imported Italian furniture, the report said, is actually produced at a factory in southern China.
Besides sullying DaVinci's reputation, the revelations have raised questions about whether European furniture makers are keeping close enough tabs on their Chinese supply chain.
Maybe more significant, the scandal indicates that even in China -- where consumers have long been willing to turn a blind eye to pirated DVDs and Gucci knockoffs -- there are boundaries that no counterfeiter should breach. Not if the fakes are priced as high as the real thing.
"DaVinci plays a trick of mixing pearl and fish eye together, so we customers paid for pearl but got fish eye," one customer complained in the Chinese news media.
In a Web outcry, customers have demanded refunds and posted details of how their DaVinci products turned out to be shoddily made or reeking of foul-smelling lacquers.
DaVinci, which was founded in Singapore before branching into China, tried to quiet the storm by holding a news conference last week in Beijing, along with European executives representing some of the luxury brands in question. But DaVinci's chief executive, Doris Phua, fed the news cycle anew by breaking down in tears over loud interruptions by customers.
Ms. Phua insisted that the allegations were false.
That same day, however, customs officials in Shanghai said they had evidence that DaVinci was temporarily storing Chinese-made goods in a Shanghai warehouse, including cattle-hide sofas produced in nearby Zhejiang Province. The officials said that after a day spent in Shanghai's Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, the products -- with the paperwork duly filed -- were imported back into the country.
"Staying at the bonded zone for a day, the products changed from domestically produced ones to imported ones," Zhou Guoliang, a customs bureau official, told Chinese news media.
Over the weekend, Shanghai's official consumer watchdog agency ordered DaVinci to stop selling items bearing the label of the Italian brand Cappelletti, because of "fake ads" and "unqualified labels," according to Shanghai Daily, the local English-language newspaper.
A spokesman for Cappelletti and the other European brands could not be reached for comment Monday.
The allegations first appeared early last week on China Central Television, China's biggest state-run television broadcaster.
By Tania Branigan | guardian.co.uk
January 28, 2011
China's air force is again under close scrutiny as internet users pore over images of its fighter pilots in action. For the second time in a month pictures of military manoeuvres - this time aired by the state broadcaster - have spread rapidly across websites and blogs.
This time the craft is not the country's new stealth fighter; and the reaction is not excitement but amusement. Sharp-eyed viewers have spotted that a key clip came straight from the film Top Gun.
China Central Television News last week broadcast a training exercise by the People's Liberation Army Air Force with one plane firing a missile at another. But an observant viewer spotted that the resulting explosion matches a blast from the final fight scene in the Tom Cruise movie.
The frame-by-frame comparison of the images, by someone posting under the name Liu Yi, demonstrates the likeness, and the Wall Street journal has produced a video comparing the news clip with the movie scene.
The news broadcast was posted on the CCTV website but vanished after news of the gaffe began to spread.
A spokeswoman in the foreign affairs department at CCTV said she was not aware of the claims and would need to look into them. She was not available when the Guardian rang back.
While the clip is no doubt the work of a maverick employee, many internet users have enjoyed the broadcaster's embarrassment. The authorities censor television more strictly than publications and CCTV's news bulletins, in particular, are notorious for their unflinching dullness.
When fire consumed a building in the glossy new CCTV headquarters in 2009, many attacked the broadcaster for censoring the images in its own reports. The celebrity blogger Han Han described the blaze as an act of self-castration by "the world's number one eunuch media".
By Scott McDonald - AP | via UNCENSORED Yahoo! News
August 28, 2010
China's monster traffic jam has reared its head again, with trucks and cars backed up for up to 18 miles (30 kilometers) Saturday on a highway north of Beijing, although that is a third the size of what it was.
The traffic jam came four days after the break-up of an even bigger one -- stretching to 60 miles (100 kilometers) at one point.
State media said the latest jam on the Beijing-Tibet highway was caused by an accident and road maintenance.
The worst of the jam started in Zhangjiakou, a city about 90 miles (150 kilometers) northwest of Beijing, and stretched into Inner Mongolia in northern China, with traffic creeping along in fits and starts.
A woman who answered the phone at the Beijing traffic management office said drivers should not take the highway. "The traffic flow is very slow," said the woman, who refused to give her name.
Traffic jams are part of daily life in China's major cities, with vehicles moving at a crawl in parts of Beijing for most of the day.
In the last traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet highway, which started Aug. 14 and lasted about 10 days, state media said some drivers were stuck for five days with drivers on the worst-hit stretches passing the time sitting in the shade of their immobilized trucks, playing cards, sleeping on the asphalt or bargaining with price-gouging food vendors.
A bottle of water was selling for 10 yuan ($1.50), 10 times the normal price, Chinese media reports said.
The main reason traffic has increased on the partially four-lane highway is the opening of coal mines in the northwest, vital for the booming economy, which this month surpassed Japan's in size and is now second only to America's.
Officials eased the first jam by directing truckers to take a 180-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) detour, the China Daily said.
It quoted one truck driver, Lu Yong, who was stuck in both jams, as saying he should have prepared some food this time. "Who knows when the traffic will move again?" said the 37-year-old, who was stranded for two nights in the last jam at almost the same location.
A woman at the Inner Mongolian traffic management office said it may take several days to ease the latest jam. "Please do not drive on this expressway," said the official, who also would not give her name.