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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 »

Mobile phone and Dissent 2.0

Monday, August 24th, 2009

One more from the fantastic world of China mobile.

These last weeks I have encountered what has to be the weirdest form of political activism ever tried in China.  It has happened twice, each time on a Sunday afternoon. It comes in the form of a phone call from an inexistent number. A very professional recording, with the same neutral feminine voice of all China mobile announcements.

First it gives some news about China, the kind you wouldn’t see on Xinhua. Both times I was walking on noisy streets and couldn’t get all of it, but  I did understand well the following item, which gives you a general idea:  ”A rock has been found in the province of Guizhou that bears some ancient natural marks ressembling the characters “gongchandangwan” (the CPC is finished???)”

The funniest  part is the end of the recording, where the voice gives you the typical voice menu that goes exactly like this (sorry for the pinyin, the characters would get me blocked again).

  • Nin xiang tuichu gongchangdang qing an yi.
  • Nin xiang tuichu gongqingtuan qing an er.
  • Nin xiang tuichu xianfengdui, qing an san.

Which is standard menunese for these 3 options:  quit the CPC (press 1), quit the Communist Youth league (press 2), quit the Young pioneers (press 3).

It is very strange that I should receive such communications, as I am obviously not part of any of the 3 groups. The only explanation is, like usual, that I am too liberal with the use of my name card and I must have handed it to some friend in the resistance (unknown to me). Otherwise I can’t imagine how they got my number, which is not related  in any way to this blog.

In any case,  I must admit I was too nervous to press any of the 3 options, as images of a modern  “hundred flowers” movement flashed through my mind. Later I have been asking around to my Chinese friends, and at least one of them confirmed she got similar calls to her landline in Shanghai,  causing some minor  panic scenes with her post-CR parents. We are still wondering what happens if you choose option 1, I don’t know of anyone who tried.

Anyone out there has experienced this? Have you tested the options? Is this, as I suspect,  from the FLG?

In any case, I doubt very much these modern forms of dissent can be really effective. China Mobile are notoriouly bad at solving your problems on the telephone, and this 60 years old problem seems too large even for them to tackle. This does confirm, however, that China Mob has much less control over the content of sms/voice messages than I imagined. This campaign has been going on for at least 3 weeks, and I am sure the company wouldn’t approve.

Other news

I might go missing for a few days this week because I am headed to the Edinburgh festival with my old Shanghai friend Caz. If anyone is going to be around let me know. I will be back end of the month with more interesting stories.

Remembering 5.12

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

It was exactly one year ago, almost to the minute. It was Monday, and we had started our meeting at 2pm in the 22nd floor of the client’s headquarters. About an hour later, in the middle of heated negotiations, there was an awkward silence.  It took a long moment before we understood what was making us dizzy. One of the slick managers of the client went first:  he sprang up, kicked his chair back and screamed: “Get the hell out of here!”

Panic spreads fast in the crowds. In the emergency stairs people screamed and treaded on each other as they desperately prodded at their cell phones. The crammed staircase felt like it would fall on us any moment. It is a sense of utter helplessness of man against the forces of nature. It feels terrifying and it feels unfair. 

Ten minutes later the building was empty, and thousands of employees were safely reassembled on the People’s Square. It was a sunny day in Shanghai.  We smoked cigarettes and, to get over our nervousness, we turned to joking about the reaction of our client. Only later the messages started coming in, and we understood we had just had a slight taste of the tragedy that took place 1,000 miles to the West.

Chinayouren’s thoughts today are with the brave people of Sichuan.

On the internet, the best and most tasteful homage to the victims I have seen today is the one on the taobao site. You have to be used to the exuberant front pages of  the Chinese internet to fully appreciate the impression. Only a little candle on the right side of the logo is in yellow colour, but you will have to follow the link to see it, as animations didn’t come out in the picture.



Phone scam: We know what you want to know

Friday, March 20th, 2009

dsc_2194Another one by the cell phone scam-buster.

Take a look at the picture. This baby beeped into my life the other day at 4am, just as I was getting ready to switch into deep sleep. I knew it was spam, but I couldn’t help the reflex. I stretched out one arm, opened one eye and mentally translated as follows:

“Do you want to know the content of somebody’s cell phone conversations? Just send us the person’s number, my company will do a  special card for you. Using this card you will be able to listen to all his calls. For complete info dial: etc.”

My first reaction of course was to run for my business cards drawer and pick a couple of cards from the section “competition”. If it is a public service it cannot be immoral, I thought, and they got it well deserved, those sneaky competitors who go around trying to snitch our projects.

But then I woke up a bit more and suddenly remembered: I am in China, and it is another one of those sms.  So I just mentally marked it for my blog collection and I went back to bed. Before I closed my eyes I still had the time to draw the follwing conclusions:

  1. This cannot possibly be true.  If it were, China Mobile would be facing thousands of lawsuits .
  2. But then, if there is one place in the World where this might be true, it is right here.
  3. Either way, the author is clever. I am sure there are loads of people out there calling the number right now. Nothing is more tempting than to know what you shouldn’t know…

So we will probaby be receiving more of these. And like I usually say in these cases: if there’s anyone out there willing to test the service for CNY, please go for it and let us know in comments.

Volunteers earn a free VIP subscription.

The Quick Loans of Mr. Wang’s

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

When I left China for the holidays I was pretty sure I would not manage to write a single line on the blog until my return. China is such a stimulating place that every day I am jotting down notes, and my blog runs 20 posts behind myself. In Europe the stimulus would stop - I thought- and I would get some rest.

As it turned out, I had forgotten the sms. I’ve been receiving a continous flow of text messages from China that have inpired me a good deal more than I would have wished. Every little spammy sms is a concentrate of Chinese characteristics, and one that tells a lot about the country if you read it carefully. Look at the one we have here, for example.

Exhibit 1 above is one of the first text messages that greeted me in 2009. It is an interesting one, and I thought I would blog it for its Chinese language and economics interest.

First of all, here is the translation:

Dear Sir,  the Nanguang Group in this city provides for those who lack funding small loans at 3% interest monthly , 10% yearly. Guarantee not needed. Interested call Manager Wang.

OK, this is not exactly news, quick loans spam have been coming in for a while already. I suppose anyone in Shanghai who gives his name card around as easily as I do gets the same, but surely I am the only foreigner who cares to read them all as they come. Because it is my mandarin homework.

This has allowed me to see the messages getting more frequent and more dodgy as the Crisis pushes into China over the last months. In the field of dodginess, this one sets a new high, featuring:

1 - Commas inserted in random places, probably to avoid automated searches for character strings.

2 - Interest of 3% monthly becoming 10% a year, when my financial calculator gives 43% yearly interest for a 3% monthly compound.

3 - Slightly more disturbing: as far as I have been able to ascertain on the internet, the Nanguang Group does not exist.

As a consequence of the financial Crisis official banks are tightening their conditions and it has become difficult for many Chinese to get a loan. This is the reason why “underground banks” (地下钱庄) seem to be flourishing these days.  Danwei recently reported that the government is planing to legalize private lenders, and set some limits to the interest they can ask. Obviously, Mr. Wang still hasn’t heard about this.

There has been a lot written about the parallel financial system of China, and how, from the beggining of reform, it has helped start many family businesses. However, this sms looks like the dark side of the system, and I would strongly advise everyone to stay away from these deals. If only for one reason: the loans are being offered indiscriminately on cell phones, which means that there is no real guanxi (network) contact between the lender and the borrower.

The main problem with these no-questions-asked credit is that somehow the lenders need to make sure that their loans don’t go bad.  In case of non performance, they cannot follow the legal procedures (since they are illegal) and they cannot appeal to a family network (since there is none). Surely they have some  convincing reasons to remind the debtors of their obligations.

So please stay out of trouble and do not call Mr. Wang.

Goodbye 2008

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

As I am writing this entry, 2008 has finished in China. Fortunately, we still have a few hours in Home Country to fit in my last 08 post before the evening aperitif. I take the chance to get back in action after this week’s holidays and do my little roundup of 2008.

It has been a good year to blog China. The Chinese have continued to amaze the World with their constant source of news. Successes, catastrophes, change; we’ve had our fair share in 2008. And everything seems to indicate that 09 will be every bit as bloggable. So stay tuned, China is still changing us, and I hope to be there to witness it next year too.

And now down to the hard numbers. I won’t go over the main events of 08, as more diligent bloggers have already done it while I slept. Instead, I just include below the latest results of my own  Chinanews-meter:

In case you haven’t been following, this chart shows the number of articles containing “China” over the last 128 years (from LaVanguardia). As I predicted a month ago, 2008 has beaten 2007 by one length. Bets are open for 2009, and my money is on the rise of China news. In spite of the crisis and Obama’s tough competition in the West, I am going for the 5,000 mark.

Ah, Christmas is a great time to be back home, but I’m missing China already. And if I believe my cell phone, China must be missing me too: There’s dozens of sms in characters coming in this week, offering Christmas wishes, readily made poems and quick no-questions-asked credit at 3% a month. I even received one unexpected proposal that filled my heart with joy: “Marry Christmas”. Thanks all for remembering me.

To the readers that have come into my garden these last days and found it deserted I dedicate this picture I took yesterday of The Shire. This is what I have been doing when I was not answering comments on the blog:

Panic in the Morning

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Morning Daddy!

You know that feeling in the morning sometimes. You wake up with the lark, full of optimism to face a new day, and, before you even had the chance to smell the first espresso, trouble is knocking at your door.

It was just like that this morning when my cell phone beeped.

It was a message from my daughter.

Asking for money!

I knew it was bound to happen some day, all this Shanghai nightlife is so confusing, one really can’t be expected to pay attention to details. And there you go: one more mouth to feed, one more creature in the world. That’s about as much as I can take at 7:23 in the morning.  I run down to the computer, rubbing my eyes, straight to my online bank website to get done with it before she starts calling for more.

Hey, hold on a sec. My daughter can’t speak chinese.She couldn’t be old enough to use a cell phone anyway.

Actually, what the hell, I don’t have a daughter!

It’s the lively Chinese phone scammer community, back in action. I can only think that they are so persistent because it pays once in a while. I mean, come to think of it, with all those spoilt girls running around getting into trouble and calling their busy daddies for money, and daddies losing track of their little Shanghai princesses.

It would be quite funny actually, if it didn’t happen so often. Scams and Spam make up for about 70% of the text messages I get in my phone every day! I hear it is about the same for most users in Shanghai.

Anyway, here is my translation: “Daddy: I lost my phone and my wallet, please wire urgently 1500RMB to this account number of my friend Wang, I will tell you the precise details one of these days.”  No “thank you”, no ” I love you”, no “kisses to mum”. Brilliant. These clever scammers know exactly how to impersonate a Shanghai princess!

PS. The phone number of the sender is displayed on the screen, in case someone feels like taking action against the scammers, and deliver us from this pest. I hear there are some very good law blogs around if you need legal advice.