Plus-Size Models Challenge China’s Narrow Beauty Standards


GUANGDONG, South China — As soon as the sky clears one rainy summer day in Guangzhou, plus-size modeling hopeful Wang Jialin hurries out for a test photo shoot. Passersby stare as she poses on the busy street.

“I’m used to it,” the 20-year-old mumbles. At 165 centimeters tall and weighing 94 kilograms, she stands out in Chinese crowds. The long black floral dress she wears is size 5XL, while most stores only carry small, medium, and large.

Wang had never considered becoming a model until her mother, who works in the clothing export industry, came across a plus-size modeling agent and suggested that her daughter give it a try.

“Chinese people think of beauty as slenderness,” Wang tells Sixth Tone. At school, she was bullied for her size. She doesn’t remember anyone ever telling her she was pretty until she met modeling agent Huang Fei.

Fat-shaming is rife in China, whether in everyday interactions or popular media. While many countries have beauty standards that favor the slim, the pressure to be thin is particularly intense in China, where it is common for family members, acquaintances, and even strangers to comment on one’s weight.

Chinese people think of beauty as slenderness.

Last year, the viral “A4 waist” challenge saw swarms of Chinese girls post photos on microblog platform Weibo to prove that their waistlines were narrower than a vertical sheet of A4 paper. Shortly after, another Weibo beauty challenge launched in which female users posted photos showing off legs skinny enough to be covered by their smartphones.

Yet the nation is gaining weight as nutrition and living standards improve and lifestyles change. In a 2015 report, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission stated that more than 30 percent of the adult population is overweight — defined as having a body mass index of 24 to 27.9 — up from 22.8 percent in 2002.

Clothing sizes in China are not standardized across the fashion industry, but “plus size” typically begins at the equivalent of a U.S. size 10 or U.K. size 14. “It used to be that the middle-aged were the main customers for plus-size clothes, but now they have been replaced by young women who can afford trendy clothing and love dressing up,” Huang tells Sixth Tone.

Plus-size model He Jiahui poses at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth TonePlus-size model He Jiahui poses at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

In China, plus-size modeling is a relatively new business that only surfaced around 2010. Now, the city of Guangzhou has become the center of the plus-size modeling industry due to the southern coastal region’s flourishing garment export sector and its status as a hub for online women’s fashion retailers. Plus-size models can make over 10,000 yuan ($1,470) per month, twice the average monthly salary in the city, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Huang is one of the plus-size modeling industry’s pioneering agents. She sees plus-size modeling not only as a business opportunity with real growth potential, but also as a way to change popular perceptions around fatness, beauty, and health. Since she started her agency in 2012, she has signed more than 20 female Chinese plus-size models, all weighing between 70 and 100 kilograms, but she says she sees demand for many more. Her clients are primarily retailers on Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce website, who want to showcase their fashion on a range of body types.

“We have a great shortage of models, but it’s so hard to find qualified ones,” Huang says. Every day, she receives photos from more than 100 eager young girls with dreams of glamour and stardom, but few make the cut. “I can select maybe one good candidate every couple of days,” she says.

Strict beauty standards apply, even in the plus-size modeling world. Huang looks for pretty girls who are at least 1.65 meters tall; are under 25 years old; and have a relatively slender waist, a long neck, and — most importantly — a small, photogenic face. “These requirements rule out most big girls who want to be models,” she says.

Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (left) takes sample photos of model hopeful Wang Jialin in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth TonePlus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (left) takes sample photos of model hopeful Wang Jialin in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Huang herself is plus size, weighing 80 kilograms. The 34-year-old Guangzhou native studied sculpture at university, which she says gave her confidence in her aesthetic judgment.

“I can tell immediately that you’ll be a popular model,” she tells Wang. But though she encourages Wang to take pride in her appearance, she also asks Wang to lose 15 kilograms in two months so she will have a more defined hourglass figure.

Huang used to model herself, in addition to running her own clothing shops and restaurants. She got her start in 2010 when a friend asked her to pose for his plus-size online boutique. Back then, she says, the nascent industry was so desperate that she was chosen despite her height. She quickly saw an opportunity to build a business by recruiting girls who were taller, prettier, and younger than herself.

I have this sense of crisis; I feel like I need to constantly improve so I’m not eliminated by this industry.

Her business partner in the neighboring city of Dongguan, 32-year-old Cai Wenwen, had a similar experience. Cai began modeling part time in 2011, thrilled that she could make 300 yuan a day when her salary as a secretary was only 2,000 yuan a month. “I enjoyed applying makeup, posing, and being pretty in front of the camera,” she recalls. “I was proud to be a model because it satisfied my vanity.”

As Cai grew older and the industry matured, she decided to step aside and become an agent. She’s also in charge of a live-streaming channel for a plus-size Taobao shop. “Customers trust us if they see girls their size trying on the clothes in front of the camera and answering all kinds of questions live,” Cai says. One store for which she used to model herself boosted its sales from a few pieces a month to several hundred a day after Cai replaced a slimmer model.

Wang says that as brick-and-mortar shops don’t carry her size, she relies on Taobao, which boasts hundreds of retailers that sell plus-size clothes. But she only buys from those that use plus-size models, which she says make up a small minority.

Another model, 22-year-old Wang Lanxi, says she is anxious about the future of her career. “Youth is prized in modeling,” she tells Sixth Tone. “I have this sense of crisis; I feel like I need to constantly improve so I’m not eliminated by this industry.”

Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (right) measures model He Jiahui during a live stream for a Taobao store in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (right) measures model He Jiahui during a live stream for a Taobao store in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Every week, Wang Lanxi presents a two-hour live stream for a Taobao store with another model, He Jiahui, also 22. The duo try out a dozen new items in front of some 10,000 viewers, explaining which styles pair best.

Before this week’s broadcast, He spent nearly eight hours at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop that hasn’t officially opened yet. After failing to find any decent plus-size lingerie in Chinese stores, she decided to order 122 sets from a manufacturer in eastern China and start her own shop. She plans to launch by Qixi Festival — known as Chinese Valentine’s Day — which falls at the end of August this year.

“I believe it’ll be a hit,” she says. “I just want people to know that big girls can be sexy as well.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Caring for China’s Smog Dogs


SICHUAN, Southwest China — When Li Xiaolu adopted two puppies last summer, she worried about how to train them, where to buy them the right food, and whether the two would get along. What she didn’t worry about was how badly they would be affected by smog.

Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, is often described as the home not only of giant pandas, but also of some of the happiest people in China: Chengdu residents are known for their relaxed and slow-paced lifestyle. But recently, a decline in air quality has had the city’s 14 million people feeling worried and anxious.

The smog this winter was so heavy that at one point, the runway of Chengdu’s international airport had to be closed. “I saw the haze in the air, and it felt like the sky was falling down,” the 22-year-old Li recalled, describing the view from her window on a return flight from the southern city of Guangzhou.

When her dogs started to cough last November, Li didn’t associate it with the air pollution right away. “At first, I thought Bu Yao had food stuck in her throat, as she’s so tiny, so I held her upright and shook her,” says Li, who moved to Chengdu in 2010 to study nursing.

In December, when other dog owners in the neighborhood began talking about both them and their dogs coughing a lot, they started to suspect that it was due to the air pollution. Li started to worry about the health of her Bernese mountain dog, Bu Dong, and her toy poodle, Bu Yao — whose names translate to “don’t know” and “don’t want,” respectively. She says she named them after her life philosophy of being content with what she has and not desiring too much.

Throughout early March, official figures put Chengdu’s air quality index (AQI) at around 110, or “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” including the very old, very young, and immunocompromised. “But dogs, especially big ones, need to be walked so they can release some of their energy,” Li says.

When she takes her dogs for a walk, Li makes Bu Dong wear a muzzle and a snout mask. Masks made for humans don’t fit the 34-kilogram dog, so she puts wet tissues inside the muzzle and covers it with a piece of cloth on the outside. “Bu Dong doesn’t like it, but it’s for her own good,” Li says.

Li Xiaolu holds her two dogs, Bu Dong and Bu Yao, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Li Xiaolu holds her two dogs, Bu Dong and Bu Yao, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Bu Yao, however, has to make do without one, as the toy poodle isn’t even big enough to climb onto the sofa yet, and is far too small for smog masks. When the tiny poodle coughs, Li puts holds her in her lap and pats her back. “They mean the world to me,” Li says of her canine companions.

This winter, the unusually heavy smog has kept Chengdu’s veterinary clinics busy. Huang Li, a vet with over a decade of experience, tells Sixth Tone that since the new hospital she works at opened last November, she has treated coughing dogs every day. “I had never seen this at the clinics I worked at in previous years,” she says.

Although there are no official figures or research on how China’s pets are affected by air pollution, several vets told Sixth Tone that the health implications are similar to those in humans.

“Since dogs and human beings share a similar physical structure, smog that harms humans also damages the lungs of dogs,” says Huang. Several vets in Chengdu also confirmed an increase in coughing and sneezing in dogs, which coincided with periods of heavy air pollution this winter.

Huang explains that larger particles that are obstructed and filtered by the human nose can have adverse effects on dogs, as their nasal hairs are too short and sparse to protect them from dust and larger particles. Furthermore, dogs breathe at a faster rate than humans, and because they are closer to the ground, they’re more susceptible to breathing in particles that can be absorbed by their lungs to cause coughing and sneezing, and then enter their bloodstream to cause a variety of conditions, from retinal disease to fevers. In some cases, air pollution can even cause life-threatening diseases like lung cancer.

Air pollution has a greater impact on puppies, older dogs, and dogs with weaker immune systems — “in much the same way that children and the elderly are more vulnerable to air pollution,” Huang says.

Huang feels that there’s little she can do to comfort pet owners. In severe cases, she prescribes antitussive drugs to relieve coughing. Generally, though, she just advises them to avoid long walks.

Following the dog doctor’s orders, Li now walks Bu Yao and Bu Dong for very short periods of time — about 15 minutes in the morning, and then again during lunch. In the evenings, when the AQI is usually higher, she rarely takes them outdoors. “When you see the data climb to over 300, you don’t want to go out anyway,” she says.

While many dog owners are using face masks to protect themselves from air pollution, similar masks for dogs currently don’t exist. “The market may not be large, but someone has to take the risk eventually,” says Mary Peng, CEO and founder of Beijing-based International Center for Veterinary Services, an animal hospital and pet care facility.

Peng says she’s been looking for dog masks for years but has only come across homemade products from particularly concerned pet owners. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Peng, who owns four cats and one dog herself.

Peng believes that a tight-fitting, well-designed mask could protect dogs from smog, but also that do-it-yourself versions like the one Li uses might not be as effective as optimistic pet owners hope. “I still encourage them to try it though,” Peng says. “They’re just showing how much they love and care for their dogs. At least they’re doing their best and feel good about it.”

Last year, Peng approached Cambridge Mask, a U.K.-based pollution mask manufacturer, and asked whether they would be interested in producing masks for dogs. “I planted this idea in their head, and now it’s sprouting,” she says.

Cambridge Mask CEO and founder Christopher Dobbing told Sixth Tone that his company has already started working on the new line of masks specifically for dogs.

According to estimates, more than 1 million pets — the majority of them dogs — live in Chengdu, and Li is not the only one who is worried about their health.

Fang Ling hugs Jian Jian at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang Ling hugs Jian Jian at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

The only truly viable option appears to be escaping the bad air — something entrepreneur Fang Ling is trying to turn into a business, in the form of a pet hotel in the mountains outside Chengdu, where the air is fresh and clean.

Last year, Fang bought an apartment in the city center with the needs of her young Labrador in mind. She chose one with a big balcony, which would allow her dog, Jian Jian, to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. In the winter, however, air pollution levels were so bad that Fang and Jian Jian spent all their time indoors, never far from their air purifiers.

“He looked sad,” Fang says of Jian Jian. Late last year, the 35-year-old took a drastic step: She sold her apartment, moved 30 kilometers east of the city center, and opened a dog hotel where owners can drop their dogs off while they are away on holiday. Key to choosing the right location, she says, was finding a place where the air quality was fairly good.

As a former marketing director, Fang is adept at promoting her hotel on social media, and although she only opened it in January, more than 50 dogs have already stayed with her. Most of them come from the city.

“We chose this place from many other options in the city because of its relatively good air quality on the mountainside,” says Wang Peipei, who brought her 1-year-old Labrador, Abu, to spend a week at Fang’s pet villa in late January. “Abu really enjoys playing outdoors here because we only let him out a few minutes a day when the pollution is bad in the city.”

Business is going well, and Fang is currently expanding the facilities and adding a pool where her canine guests can swim.

Fang Ling plays with dogs staying at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang Ling plays with dogs staying at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang says that her friends and family laughed at her when she told them about her plan to move for the sake of her dog’s health. But life up on the mountain, surrounded by fresh air, has put her at ease with her choice of lifestyle. “They would understand if they had dogs,” she says of those who criticized her. “I see Jian Jian as my family, and I hope he can live a longer and healthier life.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

China’s Year-end Bonus Game Has Just Started


yearend

The end of the year is approaching. This means that Chinese employees start to look forward to their annual year-end bonuses (年终奖). It is a tradition in China that can be both stressful and pleasant for full-time workers: is the boss finally giving out that promised bonus, or do they have to wait another season?

The year-end bonus became a hot topic on Sina Weibo this week. A number of China media, including China Daily (中国日报) and Caijing (财经网), posted the news of a Chinese boss paying terminated employees the year-end bonuses they were supposed to get four years ago.

Over 90 employees were forced to leave the Chongqing-based company in 2011 due to financial problems, and the employer failed to give them their year-end bonuses that year. Since the company has been doing better in 2015, the boss decided to reissue the bonuses that he promised his former employees four years ago.

The news received much attention on Weibo, where the hundreds of netizens responding to this post can be roughly divided into two camps: those who praise the Chongqing employer for being “such a wonderful boss”, and those who say that they just want to repost this news to their own boss as a subtle hint.

 

“Over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015.”

 

According to PXC Consulting, a well-known human resource research organization in China, over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015. Within these enterprises, 77.6% pay more than RMB 5,000 (±US$1,058), and 4.1% pay more than RMB 30,000 (±US$4,645) to each employee. Of all cities, Shanghai tops the ranking with the average employee working there receiving roughly 8,515 yuan (±US$1,319) on top of their monthly salary.

The height of the year-end bonus largely depends on one’s profession. People employed in the finance, e-commerce, automobile, and aviation sectors rank amongst the top earners when it comes to year-end bonuses, PXC Consulting reports.

 

“I only stay at the company because of my year-end bonus.”

 

For many Chinese workers, the year-end bonus is their motivation to work hard and stay in the company till the end of December. Sina Weibo user ‘Xiao Meng‘ is a typical example of such a worker: “My wages are nothing compared to the labor intensity of the job. What’s more, my company is a two-hour drive from home. I only stay at the company for the sake of my year-end bonus.”

The year-end bonus is also called the ‘December bonus’, which means that the bonus is supposed to be paid in December of every year. But over recent years, more and more companies choose to pay the bonus in the middle of the year or divide it into seasons, to make sure their employees don’t leave right after receiving the bonus.

Weibo user ‘CBH2015‘ complains that he might not be able to receive half of his year-end bonus. “My income is composed of a base salary and the year-end bonus. However, the year-end bonus is given out twice a year – in the end of December and in the middle of next year. I don’t think I will get the second half of my bonus, as I have just resigned.”

 

“Some employers have turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’ to make sure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year.”

 

It is up to each employer how much they pay for the year-end bonus, and when they pay it. Some employers have now turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’. This way, they can ensure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year. Since companies care about keeping good employees for the development of their businesses, and employees care about the receiving a bonus to boost their income, the delay of bonus-giving seems like a clever solution for many companies.

Pressured by rising prices, the timing of when to pay the year-end bonus and deciding on its amount seems increasingly crucial to employees. Therefore, most companies do not add the bonus to their labor contracts. Whether or not they give out the bonus depends on the company’s situation and recent profits.

 

“Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees.”

 

According to Fu Ting, a labor relation lawyer from Beijing, employees should demand a written promise to ensure the pay of year-end bonuses. She writes that it is not required for companies to give out year-end bonuses, unless there is a contractual agreement. Such an agreement would avoid confusion and disappointments, benefiting both employers and their employees: “The written promise could be included in the work contract, in a compensation agreement or in the company regulations. The specific date of payment should be written in the contract as well.”

But in reality, many employers are not yet willing to contractually agree to give out the year-end bonus. They do not want to risk violating the contract once they cannot afford to give out money at the end of the year. Simply not putting anything on paper is the safer route to take.

 

“After I complained about it on Weibo, they decided to give out the bonus.”

 

The year-end bonus will be a hot topic for the coming weeks, as some workers will be surprised and some disappointed. It has created some social media hypes over recent years. Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees. Another company reportedly gave out 1 RMB lottery tickets as a year-end bonus, making some employees resign on the spot.

If the boss is late paying, complaining on Weibo might offer a solution. User ‘Nikovsky‘ writes: “My company always delays the year-end bonus. The managers don’t pay us until we are back for work after Chinese New Year. But after I complained about it on Weibo, they’ve decided to give out the bonus in the end of December.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Tipping is not the Only Way to Improve Service Quality in Shanghai


I went to a steakhouse on Nanjing road (city center of Shanghai) with one of my American friends the other day. It’s a fancy restaurant which charges 488 RMB ($78) for a meal set per person. The environment was elegant and the food was tasty. It stands to reason that we expected decent service.

Unfortunately, the waiter still gave us one menu to share, like 90% of the other restaurants in Shanghai that I’ve been to. It’s been bothering me for so long. Aren’t we supposed to have a menu for each? Then during the meal, my friend also reminded the waiter that he should serve the lady first. He nodded but he didn’t learn at all.

Honestly, we were not that satisfied with the service and to our surprise, we were forced to add 15% service fee to the bills for that level of service. As the manager explained, the service fee is like an international convention; however, the service here is worse than what I’ve experienced in the US. I would love to tip the waiters or pay the service fee if the service is good. Here, I’m not sure if the service is 15% better when they charge 15% service fee.

In the US, the servers’ salary mainly depends on the tips they get from the customers. The restaurant manager only pays servers the lowest salary by law. The service level can decide how much they can earn. That ensures that the service quality in the US is decent. When I was in California, whether I went to a small family style diner or a fancy French restaurant, waiters greeted me with smiles. They wanted to help and they knew the menus well. They are professional most of the time due to the tipping system.  They constantly served me sample of wine and food that I didn’t order. I knew they did it to get more tips from me and the managers just turn a blind eye as they know it can gain more returned customers. The customers have the right to decide how much they want to tip based on the service they receive, which to me is totally fair.

However, here in China, whether the servers are paid 2000 RMB ($320) or 1000 RMB ($160) is up to the owner of the restaurant. As long as they don’t break the plates or annoy the customers, their salary won’t be deducted. In other words, no matter how well they serve the customers, it won’t help them add any more pennies to their pockets either, unless the boss decides to give them a raise some day.

I’m watching an American sitcom called Two Broke Girls which is about two waitresses who are making their efforts to build their cupcake business in Brooklyn, New York. When one of the waitresses Max knew the manager was to hire another waitress, she said, “don’t hire any new waitress. I can do all the work and I could really use the extra money.” The more tables they serve, the more tips they will get from the customers.

In the US, there is only one manager in the restaurant and the rest are servers. I’ve noticed that the servers there serve the customers the whole process from leading them to the seats to pass the bills. However, in a restaurant in China, you can see a group of waiters chatting with each other instead of serving customers. There are also head waiters, division manager, lobby manager, etc.

Of course, some people will say the tipping culture in the US motivate the service staff to give customers better service. It’s just an excuse. I believe we can figure out a way to enhance the service quality in China, especially in a metropolis like Shanghai. I admit the service in Shanghai is probably the best we can have in China, but compared with that in the US, it’s still far from satisfactory.

The good thing is at least someone is trying and it’s working. The service at the famous chain of hotpot Hai Di Lao Hotpot is described as too good to be true. I went there twice and I was amazed by its service. For example, I went there in a raining day and right after I was seated, the waitress handed me a cloth for my glasses. Hai Di Lao is ranked as No.2 of 6528 restaurants in Shanghai on Trip advisor and it takes nice spots of Top 10 best services restaurants in Shanghai on Dianping.com (Chinese version of Yelp).

A visitor from New York even consider Hai Di Lao as the best hotpot restaurat in the world!

Image

Then, how come Hai Di Lao is able to offer such an excellent service to the customers? They don’t charge service fees at all and they don’t expect the customers to tip them either. What they do is a policy called employee stock ownership plan. All the employees, from the cleaning lady to the regional manager can all share the profits of the company. It means employees’ income is not entirely decided by the boss. Instead, it’s related to their service to the customers. The better service they offer, the more customers will come. In the end, the profits are shared by all the servers.

I understand most bosses don’t want to share the profits with employees but I’m sure they can figure out a way to enhance the service quality. It should connect the service price with customers’ feedbacks.

I hope next time I will be paying the service fees for the excellent service.

Wine Education Needed in Shanghai


I was enjoying a glass of fine wine with a local friend on his belcony on a sunny afternoon the other day. He bought a bottle of French white wine at Shanghai French Week that was held later last month on Yandang road.

“That French guy told me that this is a famous wine brand in the world but I haven’t heard of it,” he confessed, “I still bought one bottle as it’s on promotion. 99 yuan per bottle for such a great wine is a great deal.”

Oh, yes! It’s great. We both agreed it tastes wonderful. Then I asked him how to judge a good wine and how to appreciate a good wine. He was speechless. I didn’t know the answers either.

I’m sure there are a lot of wine lovers in Shanghai. As Paris of the east, no other city in China has ever embraced exoit and diversity more than Shanghai. Shanghainese love to focus on life quality and enjoy life. That’s why Shanghai is also described as the heaven of petty bourgeoisie.

Sipping a glass of wine while chatting with a friend on a sunny afternoon is a kind of petty bourgeoisie. Shanghai should have the biggest wine market in China because it has the most highest density of five-star hotels, wonderful restaurants and people who are willing to pay for extravagant things. What’s more, in Shanghai, it’s full of business people who love to drink, to gamble and to have fun. From my own experience, it is in Shanghai that business people treat clients with wine, while in the North, in most cases, it is replaced with Chinese liquor or rice wine.

Then the problem occurred: how many of these wine lovers actually know how to taste wine? I was looking for a wine tasting class online but I haven’t seen many options. Then I read a story that a professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University developed a course this semester called the culture of wine. In his class, students can taste different wines with goblets while listening to the music and chatting with classmates.

It’s not surprised that this class is popular among students from Jiaotong University. They are lucky. The wine class I had was based on text books where the teacher just orally told us how to taste wine. Drinking wine is a regular method of socializing and it represents an elegant culture. If we could have an opportunity to learn knowledge on wine tasting at school and apply it in social life after graduating, it could embody personal manners. However, the sheer theoretical knowledge fails to express the essence of wine culture. Text book reading would just made students sleepy.

I also noticed a TV show called Connoisseur. It is produced by a small production company based in Shanghai. They have made 24 episodes so far and all the videos can be found on Youku.com. It shows you everything you need to know about wine in an entertaining way. I think it’s a great way to educated ourselves with wine knowledge when we can’t find a good wine class in real life or we don’t have time to go to such class.

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMzAzNzIzMzQ0/v.swf

As one of the emerging wine market in the world and the biggest market in China, people in Shanghai are eager to learn more about wine. However, most wine brands haven’t really paid attention to the education. It’s extremely important to educate the customers and local partners if these foreign wine producers want to raise the quantity of wine sold in Shanghai, even in China.

I’m going to attend a wine tasting class and have myself educated. I hope I can pick up a good bottle of wine with specific reasons next year during Shanghai French Week.

In Memory of Steve Jobs in China


Right after I got an iPad as my birthday present, I heard the news of the death of Steve Jobs. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Apple as everyone in Shanghai is using iPhone and I want something unique, but I’m in love with my iPad after playing it for a couple of days as it’s so powerful and it makes my work and life so much fun and efficient.

Apart from the product itself, I truly admire Steve Jobs as a great person.

I’m not alone. I went to the newly opened Apple Store on Nanjing road pedestrian street the morning I heard the sad news and I met a guy who came there to buy an iPad to remember Jobs. He confessed, “I don’t think iPad is useful as I have a couple of laptops and netbooks already. But I want to buy one today for Jobs.”

When asked why Steve Jobs was important to him, he said he really appreciated Jobs’s concept of following one’s heart.

Jobs addressed at the commencement of Stanford University in 2005 that don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. However, as Chinese, we are so used to be taught what to do and have others arranged life for us. Our parents choose which school we go to, which job to apply for and who we should marry. It’s sort of Chinese tradition that parents or higher authorities can always give right direction in our life. Thus, sometimes it’s really difficult to follow our hearts.

But I think it’s going to be changed. Apple is so popular in China. Chinese consumers have become the most adoring and loyal fans of Apple. It’s relatively a new brand to China but in the second quarter of this year, Apple sold nearly $4 billion worth of products here. The death of Jobs quickly captured the attention in public especially on the Internet. Over 20 million posts on Weibo mourned for Jobs or quoted his famous remarks. More and more of us are learning the ideas from Jobs and inspired by this innovation. Think differently.

Netizens on Weibo saying that the best way to remember Jobs is to carry on his spirits. Stay hungry, stay foolish. It’s easier said than done. The education system in China isn’t suitable for talents like Jobs. If he was born and raised here, he wouldn’t be the same man who changed the world. Chinese education doesn’t encourage students to be innovative. It’s not the cradle of talents.

Because of the exam-oriented and single-answer education system, we don’t have someone like Jobs in China yet and it will probably take a long time to realize it. But we need to see the essence of Apple products which is to combine technology with humanity. The common mistake that Chinese entrepreneurs always makes is that they don’t put users first. Technology serves people and create experience. I’m sure there are IT companies that are more innovative than Apple, but few of them are able to define the purpose and the worth of high technology.

That’s what we should learn from Jobs. I hope someday in the near future, China will be a creator instead of a copycat. It will be the best way to remember Steve Jobs.

Be more careful with foreign brands


CCTV recently reported that Davinci, a furniture manufacturer whose products are all listed as being “Made in Italy”, has in fact been producing their products in China. The products obtain an “import certification” after a one-day tour in Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone.

In today’s free competition market, a commodity can be priced at will. There is nothing to be said against the high price as long as consumers are willing to pay for it and merchants are honest about the origins. That’s why most of the defrauded consumers are complaining that Da Vinci is deceiving them about the origin of the furniture, instead of the quality itself.

Why would someone lavish 700,000 RMB on sofa? Why would someone spend hundreds on imported cosmetics whose cost is only a few dozens Yuan? It is a problem that merits an analysis.

Luxury goods have grasped psychology in consumer spending in China. Part of these loyal consumers are eager to distinguish themselves from others by consuming high-end brands to show their levels and tastes. The higher a product is priced, the more popular it is among consumers.

There is a crucial factor we shouldn’t neglect is that most of China’s consumer goods brands came up gradually after reform and opening up o the outside world. Few of them are ranked as top brands. Apparently, the speed of brands development in China fails to reach the speed of a group of Chinese people become rich. This group of people naturally chooses western brands which are mature and well-recognized.

Then I noticed a lot of Chinese brands are inclined to give themselves foreign names. I thought Metersbonwe was a foreign brand until my old boss corrected me. Davinci is another vivid example. Some local brands or stores don’t even have Chinese names. They are registered with foreign names to promote the brand image among consumers.

These merchants surly know Chinese consumers well. Most of us tend to believe that foreign brands are good brands. Imported goods are products with good quality. They are supposed to be expensive. But the truth is, most consumers don’t have the capacity to identify the quality of the brands and their products. We just take it for granted that it’s more likely a product is good if it is priced high.

Every enterprise is purchasing maximum profit. However, the basic is to ensure the quality especially for luxury industry as it has had the biggest profits already. In my opinion, high profits should be built on a brand’s additional value rather than lowering the cost. The cost of luxury goods takes a relatively low percentage in the retail price. There is no point using bad material to further lower the cost. When the economic condition permits, a group of consumers would love to buy luxury goods because they believe these luxuries are excellently made.

As a rational consumer, I don’t think I would ever purchase Davinci furniture. I can afford a 500,000 Yuan closet but that doesn’t fit my consumption concept. It doesn’t matter where a product is made. I more care about the quality and price performance.

A couple of my female friends were very upset when I informed them that Lancôme, Sisley and other international cosmetics brands failed to pass the summer supplies quality inspection, which was released earlier this month. They are firmly conceived that these expensive products can keep them young and beautiful. “It must be more effective. That’s why it’s much more expensive,” one of my friends said.

Sadly, now we know better than ever before that not all the expensive foreign brands ensure us good quality. For those who worship foreign brands, it’s better to ask yourself before you purchase next time: do I really need this product? Why do I want to buy it besides it’s a foreign brand? How much do I know about this brand and product?

These questions seem more necessary to be asked since the deceiving has been exposed. I’m sure there are more brands like that in the market. It’s time to open our eyes and be more careful when purchasing fancy foreign brands, or any other brand.

Changes required in Shanghai’s Thames Town


I remember in 2001, urban planners in Shanghai initiated the “One City, Nine Towns” project, which aimed to decentralize the city by building nine unique satellite towns modeled after cities from other countries.

With the help of these wonderful architects from all over the world, it seems like we can walk along Thames River or grasp romantic feelings in Madrid without even leaving Shanghai.
Unfortunately, these exotic towns can barely attract attention from public and gradually faded into the background.

Located in Songjiang district, 20 miles away from downtown, Thames Town is the most famous town among these new settlements. It features cobblestone streets, red telephone boxes, guards in red uniforms, and Edwardian townhouses.

But the only thing missing is the people.

I went to Thames Town again last week to cover a story. It hasn’t changed much since I visited it last year. By change I mean the popularity. The occupancy rate is still under 50%, though, according to the real estate agent, all the houses were sold out five years ago. People enjoy a getaway at the weekends but living here seems a little bit scary, especially in the evening.

Residents call it a ghost town.

I could hardly see any other visitors beside the couples and photographers who were shooting wedding photos. None of the restaurants were open when I was there except a café called incomplete coffee. The owner was very excited to see us as we were the only two customers during the lunch time.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even think of going back if it’s not for work purpose. It takes two hours to get there from the city by metro and then taxi. I have a limited choice of eating and window shopping. Another thing is that, people don’t want to do business in the town as there are too few visitors and visitors like me who don’t want to go back.

The government seems very picky about the merchants. They have established an investment promotion department for over a year but haven’t attracted enough investment yet. They care about what you sell and how many you can sell. They also care about whether the products you sell fit Thames Town’s surrounding. That’s probably why less and less people want to do business here.

I actually appreciate the government being strict with the merchants. It’s crucial to keep its style as that’s what outstands Thames Town from other residential areas in Shanghai. Maybe it’s better to keep it that way so that the residents can have a quiet life here and wake up by the singing of the birds every morning.

And that’s exactly why they chose to move to Thames Town in the first place, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. If there are thousands of visitors in the town everyday, what’s the difference of living there? I think the government should shift its focus from attracting business to serving the residents. They could start with extend metro line or add more taxis near the town. The transportation is not convenient at all. It took me 20 minutes to get a crab both times when I was there.

Another thing the government can do is to develop owner committee and residents’ committee in the town. They should have been established five years ago. Besides, how come there is still no food market or supermarket inside the town? Residents have to drive 15 times to get and daily supplies.

The initial purpose of building such towns was good, but the planning should have combined with local factors to better serve the local residents. I believe the occupancy rate will be greatly increased if the government really takes actions to solve these problems.

The more national, the more international


One of my American friends took me to an instrument store in Xujiahui (downtown Shanghai) a few days ago and I was amazed by the Guzheng (a 21 -stringed plucked traditional Chinese instrument) they sell in the store. The Guzheng I have seen is made from wood but they are selling the electronic ones with pink and blue panels.

It immediately reminds me of the band called Beautiful Energy which is consisted of 12 pretty Chinese girls playing Chinese instruments. They have changed the way how we play our instruments and people define it as the new style of traditional music after they made a name for themselves in the US and Japan.

What makes it new? Firstly, they get rid of the antique wood instruments and play the ones out of recognition. Secondly, electronic effects are wildly used in the music which totally kills the special tones of traditional Chinese instruments. Some tones are even created by computer. Thirdly, these 12 girls swing and dance with the beat which is contrary to the sprits of peace and calmness of the “old” style.

Some people say every girl in Beautiful Energy is excellent instrument player with glorious education background. But I think they are just the products made from star-forming factory. Audiences like to see them dancing and wearing sexy outfits. All the skills and artistic accomplishment don’t count that much any more. Is this what we are purchasing?

As a professional pipa (Chinese lute) player and teacher, I worship Chinese traditional music and I hope I can make more people both home and abroad know about our music through my own efforts. Our traditional music should be reserved and developed with its own style and characteristics, instead of the new modern style, which has completely twisted and changed the aesthetical standard of how people see traditional music.

When the new style just established, people considered it as the succession and development of the “old” one. However, with this kind of performing style becoming mature, more down sides came up, such as finger-synching and exposed dress. This is absolutely not what we have expected. New Chinese traditional music has turned Chinese music into being vulgar and commercial. It breaks the tradition and essence to meet audience’s needs, which is not the highest state the traditional music desires to reach.

The new style adapts western music elements and adds electronic elements into Chinese traditional music which in my eyes seems neither fish nor flesh. The more national, the more global. Chinese instruments are charming and mysterious to westerners. I don’t think most of them would appreciate this new style. They want to hear and see something they haven’t experienced in the west. My Belgian client once told me that she didn’t like the idea of Chinese instrument playing western music at all because it fails to outstand Chinese instrument’s characteristics.

I was invited to play pipa in a documentary shot by a French TV station the other day. The idea was to introduce Shanghai to French audience and I was asked to wear Qipao and play a typical Chinese song. The performance was a great success because I showed the quality and spirit of traditional Chinese music. The director wouldn’t prefer a pipa player wearing low cut and mini skirt, let alone playing pipa like guitar.

I understand that nowadays people have become more blundering and have request for higher level of art. But it doesn’t necessarily mean traditional Chinese music has to put down self-esteem to meet the ordinary taste. We should definitely keep its traits and meanwhile look for a way to create more great works.

Keep Your Chinese name


Dear Fei,

Congratulations on your new position in that multinational company that you have been longed for. Regarding your question on if you should give yourself an English name, I don’t think it’s necessary.

First of all, how hard is it to remember or pronounce Fei? It’s simple and catchy. It’s much more unique and original than David, John, Jack or whatever names Chinese seem to give themselves in an effort to fit in or be trendy.

I know you are concerned that the employee might ignore you if they have a problem remembering your name. But in my experience, employers wouldn’t ignore you based on your name but rather the weight of your resume. The qualifications you had, experience and references count more. It is more about who you are and what you can do than how you are named.

Though you will be working in a multinational company, most of your colleagues will still be Chinese. Almost all my Chinese friends have a western name except for those that have really easy ones to remember like Ling. It usually ends up like Chinese colleagues are calling each other in English names and it’s difficult to relate your English name with your real Chinese name.

When I was studying at college, our teachers required all of us to use English names as it’s a language school and all the courses are taught in English. We were calling classmates English names for four years and I have a problem remembering their Chinese names. I ran into one of my college mates on the street the other day and I called her Cecilia without thinking but she said she no longer called herself that name. I was embarrassed as I couldn’t remember her real Chinese.

But she doesn’t forget mine. I didn’t have an English name and I insisted my teacher call me Yiying. Only by that can I feel that people are calling me instead of a stranger with a strange foreign name. She accepted with pressure. See, an English name is no need. My name is my identity and I am very proud of it.

Don’t worry that your foreign colleagues won’t remember or pronounce your name. It wouldn’t take long for most people to learn how to pronounce your Chinese name properly. In English speaking countries, many people have long and difficult names, let alone people from some other countries like India, Middle East or Africa. People are usually willing to try to pronounce your name correctly. Worrying about people having difficulty trying to pronounce your name shouldn’t be a reason to change your name.

The best example to follow is Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he first came to the US, he was told to change his name to Arnold Strong. But he stuck with Schwarzenegger and look at him now.

Be true to your name is like believing in yourself. If you mingle well enough and just give everything a go every once in a while, you’ll fit in just fine. Eventually, most reasonable people will know you as you and take you for whom you are.

In the end of the day, you would realize that foreigners actually prefer Chinese names. Since they work in China, they must have some common sense about Chinese names and culture. What’s more, a lot of foreigners give themselves Chinese names to fit in China. Why should we use English names in our country?

Therefore, I strongly suggest you keep your Chinese name. I wish you the very best luck in your new job.

Yours sincerely,
Yiying