February 7, 2008
Posted by x_trapnel
Cruising on the Nile, smiling at the crocs
Here in Beijing, everyone is slowly returning to work after shaking off hangovers from New Year’s fesitivies. At a party I attended there was this amazing seventy-nine-year-old guy (Mr. Wang) who teaches classical Chinese dance here after spending twenty-two years in laogai (“work reform”) exile in Heilongjiang province (think Siberia) from the late 1950s for being “a rightist”. He seems remarkably humorous and good-natured about his experience, at least at this remove: “I told them, all right, you took away twenty-two years of my life, but just don’t give me any more sh*t!”
Maybe it was his healthy life in the northern forests, his daily dancing, or just good genetics, but he was almost able to drink me under the table with baijiu (“[vile] white booze”), and, hey, I’ve been well-trained by the Koreans who seem at times to be in some sort of unannounced competition with the Scots, Russians, and Irish for the Seagram Olympics. The party was, I must say, mostly a crashing bore, until Mr. Wang and I began livening things up (hmmm, or so it seemed to me at the time^^) by singing, in my case a rather risque Korean boat song that fortunately no one could understand. Our host, Mr. Zhao, took up the mantle and began crooning from his own ample storehouse of pre-revolution 1930s ballads, and we were off.
Even the younger generation joined in via a 20-year old granddaughter of Mr. Zhao (seeing my iPod, she said in English, “oh, an Apple”) who shocked and delighted the audience with an amazingly energetic and quite, uh, sultry dance she had learned off an internet video, and accompanied by vaguely “Egyptian-belly-dance-rap” music played from a recording on her cell phone, and ending with a spectacular arch of her back with her ample bosom jutting skyward. It turns out that she had performed this very dance recently for her whole university, to their great approbation, and her friends and family certainly seemed to enjoy it, as did I. Times are changing in China.
Like most such family gatherings, all manner of subtle currents were flowing just beneath the surface, worthy of a treatment as elegant as that in James Joyce’s “The Dead”. In this case the most poignant moment came when the host, Mr. Zhao, and his middle-aged son spontaneously began singing together, a chorus from a revolutionary opera of the 1960s (there was no other popular music at the time). The son is seriously ill from cancer and the father has an equally worrisome blockage in his carotid artery; everyone fears the worst, that there will be no party next year for them.
On my way out the door, Mr. Zhao (he’s a patent examiner) confided to me in a whisper, “You know, I always wanted to be a performer; I always wanted to sing–that’s what I wanted to do.”
Weird footnote: one recent health fad in China is a simple and fun exercise that is supposed to ward off senility. Close your eyes and try to stand on one leg as long as possible. The vague theory behind this is that the increased blood flow to the legs that occurs will have a salutary effect akin to foot massages, which given the Chinese medical theory of the jingluo (“acupuncture sites”) ending in the soles of the feet, supposedly works on the mind as well. For what it’s worth.
February 5, 2008
Posted by x_trapnel
More good news from Beijing
All the negative financial news from the U.S. has an aura of distant fantasy here in Beijing, where everyone is happily preparing for the biggest holiday of the year (the lunar new year) tomorrow. Shoppers are awash with cash and the mood is ebullient, tempered only by accounts of the freakishly cold and snowy weather in the southern provinces of Hunan and Guangzhou.
Meanwhile another site check at the large North Star (Beichen) Shopping Center in the heart of Yayuncun (the future Olympic Village), found an eye-catching iPod display front and center in the electronics section. The super-friendly sales clerk said that she sells “many” iPods, but looked baffled as to the reason, since she’s never been allowed to touch one herself and has no idea how they work or how they’re different from other mp3 players. She was particularly curious about my iPod touch, which I was glad to demonstrate to her, to her manifest delight. Meanwhile–as often happens–a crowd of 10 or so shoppers gathered to watch, and I noted one geekish looking high school guy, whom I let fondle the iPod and check out one of my videos (an episode of the new Terminator TV series). He was literally quivering with excitement, and I suspect I may have made an Apple convert there.
I don’t want to exaggerate the place of Apple in China–it’s still exotic, marginal, and virtually unknown. But there are now likely many hundreds (thousands?) of points of sale for the iPods across the major metropolitan markets. Three out of three of the sizable shopping centers in this neighborhood I’ve checked recently not only had them in stock, but displayed prominently. And the multi-touch technology is so far in advance of everything else and so readily perceived as superior that touch iPods and a future iPhone could very quickly gain prominence, I believe.
One footnote: the sales clerk had heard of the Macbook Air from a television report, but was under the impression that the cost was in the “US$10,000s”!
Progress in the China market will be gradual, but judging from early indications, there is a potentially massive base of consumers here eager for the products Apple makes, if only they can learn of them and understand the power and delight they confer.
February 3, 2008
posted by x_trapnel
Beijing site report: iPods now “selling well” in trendy stores
It has been a lovely winter day here in Beijing: clear, sunny, and briskly chilly, with palpable excitement in the air concerning the approaching lunar new year’s festivities. Spared the ravages of the massive blizzards further south and with traffic almost back to pacific 1990s levels due to the mass exodus of migrant laborers home for the holidays, Beijing shoppers were out in force today.
Having fortified ourselves amply with an amazing Sichuan meal (the “huband-wife lung slices” aka fuqi feipian were ungodly huajiao-ishly delicious, and the tofu with the mapo tofu was so fresh it literally melted in one’s mouth), my wife and I strolled over to one the main shopping venues near Yayuncun in the Chaoyang district–better known as the future Olympic Village–the Japanese department store Ito Yakato. Not as glamorous as the Wangfujing mall stores, a sort of Nordstrom’s in Beijing, the place was swarming with shoppers snapping up items on sale (in the say US$15-50 range and checking out the pricier clothes in the $50-$500 and up). There has been substantial inflation all over China this past year, but shoppers seemed eager to buy in advance of the holidays. There’s much money sloshing around here.
In the electronics section I couldn’t help but notice the prominent placement of iPods, including a full range, from shuffles to the 16 gb touch, the latter selling for a pricey 4500 RMB (somewhere around US$640), leaving room perhaps for some discreet haggling. The sales clerk was happy to chat with us and was clearly proud of the iPods and no doubt motivated by a potential commission to recommend them warmly. He says they sell “quite well” and sold an iPod touch yesterday.
This was also true across the street at a large electronic shopping center, where iPods were also prominently displayed. The sales woman was similarly enthusiastic about her full range of Apple products and said that the nanos and classics had been selling especially well.
It’s unfair to generalize much from these two stores, but I that one could safely say that Apple now has a solid commercial presence via the iPods in a wide range of upscale department stores and electronics stores in Beijing, that they have positioned themselves successfully as the premium product among the mp3 players, and that they appear to be drawing favorable attention from the large and growing group of affluent Chinese consumers.