My Front Garden browsing by category

About my Garden in Shanghai, and the strange world surrounding it. A world of small china streets, where the most amazing things happen everyday.


Creating the Landmarks: of Heritage Restoration

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010


One of the things that foreigners enjoy lamenting in China is the destruction of architectural heritage. It is understandable, modern China has a terrible record of heritage destruction, and today there are cities with 2,000 years of history where it is hard to find any trace of old construction. But the worst is that you can witness the destruction ongoing even today, before your very eyes.

It is true that in the last years there is a growing awareness of this cultural loss (and the loss of tourism revenues), and the authorities have started to take measures. Unfortunately, these measures come in the form of “restoration”, usually by the method of demolishing and re-building something vaguely similar, in brand new materials. Of the many infamous examples of this, perhaps the concrete-and-plastic Jing An Temple in Shanghai is the most obvious. Click to continue »

Photo of the Weekend: The Stars Exams

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Saturday there was some alarming movement down the road. Starting early morning masses of unidentified individuals concentrated near the intersection, partially blocking the traffic. They were visibly nervous, but their expression was firm, clearly they intended to hold the position. They had been there for almost 2 hours when I arrived with the camera.


When I approached, I saw they were parents waiting for their children. It was the “Shanghai City Common English for Children Stars Level Exam“, an official certification of English level for children in 小学 (6-11 yo). From what I understood, it is organized by some bureau of the City of Shanghai one of many private companies. The levels are given in stars: 1 star, 2 stars, 3 stars, and the exam emphasizes oral communication. Click to continue »

US-China relations good: Change Sex

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Today I just wanted to share this picture, taken by one of the brave reporters in the Oriental toilet paper, who were first on the scene:


This is a brand new sculpture called “communication”, just arrived from the US to Shanghai to commemorate the 30 years of the opening of relations between the two countries. It is a great initiative, following the old tradition initiated in Troy and continued with the Statue of Liberty…

Except that, wait a second! Who are these guys? Do they represent Nixon and Mao? And why are they dressed up as two grannies getting ready for tea? Perverts! Click to continue »

Travel: The province of Zhejiang

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I never thought of this before, but when I was asked this week which was my favourite province in China, I naturally answered Zhejiang. I have been travelling there again on QingMing holidays and I have been reflecting what a remarkable place it is.

Zhejiang is the smallest province in the mainland, just a bit larger than the Chongqing municipality. But in this small area it contains some of the most beautiful places to visit in China. From the imperial gardens in Hangzhou to the islands off Ningbo or the beautiful cloudy peaks, it is like a whole China in miniature has been condensed there for the traveler to visit conveniently.


But it is for people watchers that Zhejiang is most remarkable. The almost 50 million people packed there have managed to get the highest GDP per capita of any Chinese province, something even more impressive considering it contains no major cities, and it is usually taken as an example of development through local initiative as opposed to the models in Shenzhen, Shanghai or Tianjin. Click to continue »

The Living Cells of a Sheep Foetus Injection!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

IMG_2508-4Of all the amazing things that happen to me in China, the SMS messages I get in my cell phone are one of them.

When I first got to Shanghai 3 years ago I was young and my heart was full of ambition. Eager to make a name for myself in the local business circles, I handed out my name card liberally to all those smiling locals that pullulated in the networking events, actively introducing themselves and offering their cards in the lovely Asian two-handed fashion.

It took me a few weeks to understand how things work in Shanghai, and by then my card had already become a commodity in the IDs market, classified right up there under the header: First Class Expat Suckers.

The downside of this is that a good 75% of the text messages I receive since then are adverts. The good side is that these adverts are among the most extraordinary that I have ever seen, giving a good insight of the resourcefulness and creativity of the Shanghai underworld. Click to continue »

Shanghai: Opening of The New Bund

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Today was the opening day of the new Bund. After a decade with the elevated road flowing into this street, the urban planners have finally realized that a 5 lane highway is not the best thing to have in the middle of your famous promenade. This year they have been busy getting that ring road buried underground, in my opinion the most needed urban transformation in Shanghai. Here are the results in pictures:


Three workers take a short break to enjoy their new creation, as hundreds of pedestrians invade the former automobile exclusive zone. Click to continue »

Sexy Laowai blogger covers Expo!

Friday, March 19th, 2010

I just noticed this picture I took this morning in the little lane. The intention was to illustrate how the Olympic spirit is finally coming to the Shanghai local communities. The result is I unwittingly took a cool portrait of myself reflected in the announcement board glass cover.


This is the typical Chinese motivational message that can be seen everywhere, often in the form of rhyming Dos and Don’ts. For a while now many of them are appearing with the Expo as central theme. The Oriental Post had an article yesterday announcing new measures in some districts to have locals take responsibility for their street’s cleanliness. Click to continue »

The Expo is coming to Shanghai!

Friday, March 19th, 2010

I visited an Expo for the first time as a kid, when my school took all my class together to Seville ’92. Spain was living a crazy year, the Olympics where happening at the same time that Summer, and the Expo was designed to be one of the largest ever. Like now in China, there was some debate about the corruption and the money squandered, and people didn’t really know what the show was all about.

In many ways, that first Expo was very similar to the one China is doing now. Spain had to prove something,  it had passed its own 改革开放 (reform and opening) in the late 70s with the transition to democracy. Then it went on to  join the European Union in the 80s, and by 1992 it was finally starting to look like a developed country. The old pessimistic phrases “Spain is different” and “Europe starts behind the Pyrenees” felt already like something from the past.

Granted, the Reform here has “Chinese characteristics”, and massive population of China needs more time than Spain to complete the Development.  But overall, there is a clear parallelism between Spain 92 and China 2008-2010, and that is one of the reasons I am so excited about the Expo. It was great stuff in 92, and I have some cool memories of chunks of icebergs in the Chile pavilion, or an outdoor temperature control system that was unseen at the time. Click to continue »

Presentation of the new CHINAYOUREN 2.0

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

gravatar This weekend I have taken a break from my exhausting research into the the sex of Chinese conservatives, to update old parts of the site and finish implementing some new features I had been trying lately.

The changes in version 2.0 are not related to design, so they may not be immediately apparent to the eye. But they are rich in content and they will have important implications in the way I blog from now on. See the following points for what’s new:

Switch to Real Identity

Ever since I started blogging, and especially since I started using the Google sharing tools with my real ID, I have suffered from split personality on the net. Those who have been following from the beginning might remember the big fuss about this last year, as I was never completely comfortable with my internet persona. Click to continue »

Startups: Technology for the gentleman

Monday, January 25th, 2010

All this G talk of the last days has brought me a lot of readers from the tech world, and I feel a responsibility towards them now to report the latest innovations. That is why yesterday during my Sunday walk I decided to stroll into the local public lavatory, where the latest developments are always cooking in the field of signese.

A bit of background: signese is the Chinese humour contained in public signs before they are translated to English. It is not Chinglish, it goes much deeper into our cultural differences, and it is funny because it shows an unexpected approach to life. Look at this sign below, it is a classic of toilet signese, a sign that hangs above millions of urinals in China, from the Summer Palace to the smallest alley in Shanghai:


A small step for man, A great leap for civilization

Approximately 50 million urinals carry this sign in the mainland. I wonder if somebody has told Neil Armstrong in his old age that his famous and well rehearsed line is remembered today by 1/5th of humanity as a hygienic measure for urinating gentlemen.

Bad aiming skills in the toilet is a common ill in all societies, any lady will tell you that. But in China the problem is most acute, and sub-urinal ponds are part of the landscape. Some ascribe it to the natural optimism common in most Chinese males. I prefer to think it is a matter of multi-tasking abilities: speaking on the phone while smoking a cigarette is not the best way to ensure full control.

In any case, the Ministry of Health prefers to not leave anything to chance, and already a tech startup is taking care of this:

Click to continue »

I too have swine flu: Perspective on virus politics

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Do not miss this story by A. Galbraith of the China Economic Review. In the long debate of China’s reaction to virus, this is the most reasonable opinion I’ve seen in a long time, and also the best informed.

The story reminds me of what my friend, a doctor back in Spain, told me when I went home last Summer: “We are all going to catch it in the hospital, and chances are you’ll catch it too. Get done with it as soon as possible and you’ll be fine for the season”. That pretty much summarized the feeling in her hospital.

These last months, the H1N1 and the swine flu have been used as biological weapons of debate, often to prove the superiority of some political systems over others. The truth is that the Chinese approach was in principle no better or worse than the Western one, and what it lacked in flexibility, it had in effectiveness—after all, the virus could have evolved into something more nasty.

But the real problem is not that. What we should be asking our politicians—and that includes all the countries—is that they get together and agree on a common strategy against virus. Because some day the Big Plague is bound to come, and when this happens humanity had better learned to face it united.

So from here, I prescribe for all the politicians a prophylactic shot of common sense, and I wish a speedy recovery to Andrew.

(h/t to ESWN)


Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

It has to be my lucky day. Today’s marathon meeting in Chongqing was aborted mid-session, and we had the whole afternoon for ourselves to explore the city in the mist.

The place feels like all the energies of China concentrated in one tiny peninsula. The result is not beautiful, perhaps, but it is intense.  By dinner time, my colleague was disappointed that we’d failed to spot any picturable monument, so I asked a taxi driver to show us the views.  He took us to this breathtaking spot on a nearby mountain called “One Tree” (一棵树):


Below, in the middle of the Yangtze, lies the city of Chongqing, and this view was in itself worth the visit. It is the best skyline I have seen in China.

It is not he buildings themselves, they can hardly compare with the towers of Pudong. It is something to do with the round perfection of the scene, the glowing isle on the Yangtze,  and the sudden revelation that there is some higher order in the dusty chaos below.

My colleague summarized it in a single phrase, that can be more or less translated to English: “She was beautiful from far, but far from beautiful” .