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    Entries in China (9)


    Good photography

    I don't understand photography. Although I can recognize good photography (I know it when I see it), I have absolutely no idea how to produce it. I don't know how to "line up a shot" (hell, I don't even really understand what that phrase means), and I know less than nothing about how to work a "real" camera.

    The same is not true for my good friend, Colin Bissessar. He is the photographer behind Changsha Notes, a blog focused on street photography. He lives in Changsha (长沙), Hunan, China. As anyone who has ever lived in Changsha can attest, the city is nothing special. It's a normal Chinese city—overpopulated, drab, and grimy. Colin, however, is able to take the most marvelous shots you can imagine of this city. Through his lens, Changsha is transformed into a vibrant and truly beautiful place.

    Up until recently, Colin's blog was a well-kept secret, known only to a few of his close friends. Thankfully, he's started to get some of the recognition his skill deserves. A few days ago, Freddy Robles, a street photographer in New York City, interviewed Colin about his photography. It's a wonderful read. Check it out.


    Chinese zoos

    I've been to two zoos in China. The first was the Beijing Zoo. It was terrible and depressing. The second was the (old, apparently) Changsha Zoo. It was terrible and depressing. My friend, Colin, recently was dragged along to the new Changsha Zoo. Looking at his pictures, I can't believe how much better this zoo is than either of the others. Wonderful to see progress made on animal rights in China.


    iOS Maps and China (redux)

    Here are a couple more examples of the differences between Google Maps in iOS 5 and Apple's iOS Maps in iOS 6. First, Google Maps on iOS 5 (fully zoomed in). Second, iOS 6 Maps zoomed out a bit to cover approximately the same area.

    Google Maps

    Apple Maps


    iOS Maps and China

    It seems like people really hate the new Maps in iOS 6. Now, I'm not disputing that Maps does give a lot of strange results to a lot of people all around the world, but for a large, large number of people, iOS 6 Maps has been a huge improvement over Google Maps. I'm talking about those of us who live in China (you know, the place with 1.3+ billion people and the second-largest economy in the world). Google Maps was always pretty terrible here. In the big cities and tourist centers, it was passable. Once you left China's large metropolises, however, you were pretty much on your own. You could usually see expressways, highways, and even a lot of smaller roads, but there were very, very few shops, restaurants, banks, ATMs, etc. listed. That has changed with iOS 6. Apple has chosen AutoNavi to provide map services within China. That was a smart move, because AutoNavi is a local Chinese company that provides very detailed maps of China. Google was never going to be able to map China as well as it has other parts of the globe because the Chinese government doesn't trust the motives of foreign companies—and it especially doesn't trust Google. (see update below)

    Well, don't take my word for it. Check out the difference yourself. The first map is Google Maps on iOS 5. The second is Apple's iOS Maps on iOS 6. This shows the same location just outside of Lijiang, Yunnan. Lijiang is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. Both Google Maps and iOS Maps covers the center of the city pretty well. As you can see, though, if you move a couple of miles out of the city center, Google Maps becomes pretty useless pretty quickly.

    Google Maps

    Apple Maps

    Update: Looks like I was wrong about Google Maps not using data from AutoNavi. Google also used (some, all?) maps from AutoNavi. I still maintain that iOS 6 Maps is way better than iOS 5 Maps for users in China.

    Update: People are taking me to task for saying that iOS 6 Maps is better than the previous Maps (powered by Google). As someone who lives in China and has to find my way around, the superiority of iOS 6 Maps is clear. In my experience, the new version of Maps zooms in much further, shows more points of interest, clearly labels banks and cellphone shops (China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom), and gives the locations of ATMs and public restrooms (my original iPad running iOS 5 with Google-powered Maps doesn't show either of those things). The killer feature, though, is that iOS 6 Maps shows both English names and Chinese characters for everything, whereas Google-powered Maps only shows the English translation (on iOS devices whose language is English). This is killer. English translations are almost useless in China because—guess what—Chinese people don't speak English. For those of us who can read (at least some) Chinese, this feature is even more important. We can ask for places by name instead of just pointing at its location on a map. So, yes, I may have been wrong to say that Google doesn't use AutoNavi's maps (although, I can't see how they use the same provider since Google-powered Maps and iOS 6 Maps show such wildly different maps for the same location), and for that I apologize. Nonetheless, looking at Google-powered Maps and iOS 6 Maps side-by-side, I would choose iOS 6 Maps every time.


    Strange, random text messages

    Do you like mongrel?

    Altruism in China

    My friend, Colin, has been absolutely killing it recently on his blog. If you're at all interested in anything having to do with China, check it out.

    One post that especially resonated with me is entitled "Don't Be a Stranger," which details the dichotomy between the way Chinese treat their family, friends, and guests and the way they treat strangers.

    Colin isn't the first person to point out this contradiction. In fact, it has almost become cliché to say that China is a country full of contradictions. It's a country where people are, for the most part, incredibly friendly and polite. Yet, it's also a country where restaurant owners—with a smile on their faces—will serve their customers food prepared with gutter oil. Sometimes, I worry that Chinese people have lost their sense of being a single, united society—one that rises or falls together. Increasingly, it seems like more and more Chinese people are adopting the mindset of "if you're not a member of my family or one of my close friends, then I don't care about you."


    Don't let this happen to you

    My good friend Colin makes a list of deaths to avoid. The newest addition to the list is especially rough.


    Apple is doomed in China

    Nathan T. Washburn is wrong. As is the case with most Western "analysts" (in this case, "analyst" stands for "assistant professor") commenting on China, he betrays his ignorance about China fairly quickly.

    To start with, more than half of the 30 million iPhone users in China have unlocked their phones (a hint that something isn't right) and are using them on an unauthorized network (China Mobile) that until recently limited them to 2G data speeds.

    First of all, China Mobile still "limits" users to 2G data speeds because its data network uses TD-SCDMA—a 3G format that the iPhone doesn't support. As for the unlocking issue, many of the iPhones in China were purchased before Apple started selling them officially within the mainland. Of those phones, the cheapest were American iPhones, which, until recently, were locked to AT&T. Therefore, in order to use those phone in China at all, they first had to be unlocked. The high incidence of unlocked, gray-market iPhones in China shows the overwhelming demand for them here. It is not, as he implies, a sign of Apple's impending doom in this market.

    To be fair, I'm nitpicking. However, these factual errors impinge the man's credibility, which is important to think about when considering his overall point.

    With its recent explosion of sales in China, Apple looks like the dominant force in the global smart-phone market. But that dominance could be very short-lived.

    Mr. Washburn makes this assertion based on an "impromptu survey" he took of 70 midlevel Chinese executives. This research led him to conclude that:

    Apparently, a lot if not most of the new iPhone users in China are women, and many women I spoke to said they had acquired their phones as gifts from husbands or rich boyfriends. For a gift that exudes exclusivity, functionality is secondary; slow downloads, sparse content, and kludgy fixes may not be important. Maybe on the next quarterly call, Tim Cook will tell analysts that Apple is now focused on selling expensive fashion accessories.

    He's right. A lot of Chinese women have iPhones. Do you know what, though? Tons of Chinese men also have iPhones. Since Mr. Washburn is making broad assertions based on anecdotes, let me share a few of my own. Nearly every guy in my gym has an iPhone 4/4S. Nearly every one of the male small business owners I know who can afford an iPhone has an iPhone. My Chinese friends who have iPhones love them. They use them all the time. They use them far more than they used their feature phones. Contrary to what he says, pretty much every major Chinese website (Youku, Tudou, PPTV, Sina, QQ, etc.) has good, frequently-updated apps on the App Store. To say that the iPhone's "functionality and user experience quickly dissipate when it leaves its natural environment" is absolute nonsense.

    I agree with one thing he says. Chinese language input in iOS is by no means perfect. Apple has made great strides since iPhone OS 3.0, however. Today, writing Chinese on the iPhone isn't too painful, but it's certainly not ideal. Since iOS' Chinese input method lacks autocorrection, a user has to be very accurate when typing. Mistyping is easy to do on the iPhone's small keyboard, and, since every mistyped letter must be corrected manually, writing in Chinese on the iPhone can be quite a time-consuming process.

    Contrary to what Mr. Washburn says, I see a lot of encouraging signs for Apple here in China. One of the most positive signs is that the Apple brand is widely admired. I've never heard any Chinese people speak negatively of Apple. Another positive sign is that iPhones and iPads are beginning to make their way into the hands of the average consumer. Young office workers and even college students are starting to buy iPhones. Most analysts miss this point and just focus on the purchases of iPhones by urban elites. When I bought my first iPhone in China (the iPhone 3G), it cost nearly $1000. My most recent iPhone (the iPhone 4S) cost only $700. During the same time period, my poorest Chinese friends' salaries increased from about $200 a month to $500 a month (this increase is due to both their increasing salaries and the decreasing value of the US Dollar compared to the Renminbi). An iPhone is still a luxury item, but it has become an affordable luxury item—one that many, many Chinese people desperately want to have.


    Shrink-wrapped fish

    There are many differences between China and America. There are also many similarities. You can decide which one this is.

    In America, a teacher will sometimes receive a small gift from a student. The stereotypical example is an apple.

    In China, a teacher will sometimes receive a small gift from a student. Here is one example:

    Shrink wrapped fish