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Extra! Avatar is NOT about China

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

avatar-china-movie-poster-560x798 By the way, I watched the movie Avatar last night. It was an amazing experience for a China observer, and I draw this enlightening conclusion: the film has absolutely nothing to do with China.

Even if the king of the internet and man of the year Han Han thinks the opposite, the plot has as much in common with the forced evictions in China as it has with the cruel seal huntings in Greenland, or the extinction of the smurfs.

Which makes me think we are all suffering a phenomenon of hyperobservation, if that is the word I want. It was warranted in the case of 2012, where China was explicitly displayed, but let’s give ourselves a break and not scan every Hollywood number for signs of Chineseness.

Apart from this, if you want my opinion the movie was just OK, nothing to write blogs about. I have to say I am more of a reader than a movie watcher, I am focused on the plot/characters and the special FXs tend to leave me cold. On the other hand, I guess my watching it on my 2D Television without special glasses or even beer goggles didn’t help much. And to be fair to the Chinese commentators translated on ESWN, most of them (except HH) were just rambling about the technical level of the FX.

Ah, by the way, Avatar DVD was already on the tricycles already as of last weekend, and the series Woju just came out yesterday. My local retailer stopped me as I rode back from work, he was keeping an eye for me. No English subtitles included though, not even Chinglish.

Low on the EQ side: the New Philosophy of China

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

51aVuMO1vSL._AA200_ There are some beliefs that, although not originally from China, were embraced so thoroughly by the Chinese that they became part of the local culture. One example is Buddhism, imported from India in ancient times. Another one, I have found out, is the teaching of the modern management gurus, imported from the USA.

It is interesting how analysts of China continue to explain all the  social phenomena with the Confucian tradition, when it seems to me that the Johnsonian and Golemanian thought must be at least as influential nowadays. Walk into any Chinese bookshop or check out the local pirate’s tricycle to see that self-improvement and cheese management titles rule supreme. The glossiest and most liquid books on the front table are the likes of: “Train yourself to start the next Google”, “How I changed myself from a complete idiot to a Fortune 500 CEO”, or “How I built a company that acquired the  company of the idiot in the previous book”.

Now, I have to warn you at this point: the titles mentioned may not be 100% exact, I am illiterate in the field of self-improvement. As a conceited, self-styled free-thinker I cannot help an almost classist repulsion towards those works, and I frown even on the  tricycle that sells them. During my years in the old Europe I happily managed to stay away from the rites of personal productiveness.  But ever since I moved to China, the new philosophy is lurking at every turn of phrase, and all resistance is in vain.

One of the concepts that appears most often in conversation is that of EQ, or emotional intelligence, coined by D.Goleman in his 1995 best-seller. After dozens of Chinese  spin-offs over the years, it has become an everyday expression here. It is not surprising that an idea like EQ should be so popular in the highly competitive Chinese system, where it provides some much needed comfort: don’t worry if you didn’t make it into a top Uni - the books say - because it’s not IQ but EQ that will determine your future. The pair IQ/EQ is also known in Chinese as 智商/情商,(zhishang/qingshang), although I find that the English abbreviation is more commonly used.

Whenever EQ comes up in conversation I like to point out that the concept is unscientific, especially in the loose form in which it is used here. But my wikipedic erudition always fails to impress the locals, and I have seen my EQ summarily analyzed in multiple occasions. The first time this happened to me was during a lunch with my colleague Jia, an otherwise bright engineer, in the first year of my stay in China. I can remember it almost vividly:

- Uln, your Chinese is getting pretty good.
- Thanks -  I ignored it. The comment is standard icebreaker in mandarin.
- You have a very good IQ -  he continued.
- Hm, thanks, you are also not bad.
- Yes, but.
- But? –

He looked me intently in the eye. It must have been the expression called “frank positive emphatic” in page 362 of the emotional book. When the look had been established, he proceeded:

- IQ is not good enough.
- No?
- No, you should watch your EQ.
- You mean, Ah Q, by Luxun?
- No, I mean E-Q.
- So who wrote that one?
- Nobody did.
- It’s  not a book?
- It is many books.
- Is it any good?
- Listen here. EQ is what explains why some people with lower IQ get further in life than others with higher IQ!
- You mean, like guanxi.
- No, like emotional intelligence.
- Ah, I thought…
- Guanxi is just a part of it. EQ is  about your skills to get on in life!
- I see.

But I didn’t see. That human relations and non-technical skills are essential in one’s career was one obvious thing, that I should check my parameters like a cranky old motor was quite a different one.

- Your IQ is Okay - he insisted -  but you should watch your EQ.
- Like what?
- Like there are open positions in HQ, that would be a good move for your career.
- What?
- A corporate level position is the way to leverage your expat experience .
- But I don’t want to live in Paris!
- You see, that is EQ.

I was beginning to feel a bit annoyed by the philosophy. I weathered another “empathic positive penetrative” while I plotted my counterattack.

- So, why don’t you apply to go to Paris yourself? – I said finally.
- What, me?
- Yes, of course, you have much more experience!
- But I am not an expat!
- So what, it’s not required.
- You know, Uln – he paused slightly - I have my children to take care of.
- There are family packages.
- She would never let me, my in-laws would kill me!
- Hah! –I said victorious - You should watch your EQ!
- But I already do!!

And this time he quickly looked away, forgetting the EQ looks, as if to hide some shameful thought. But too late, I had caught him already. It was my turn to pull the thread.

- Jia?
- Yes?
- You are pretty serious about this EQ, right?
- Er, I … do what I can.
- Building  good connections in the company is a good strategy, right?
- Er..  you might say that.
- Like having a friend in the HQ,  for example, right?
- Huh? No, no, of course I didn’t say that..I wouldn’t…
- Jia?
- Well?
- You have an excellent EQ, Jia, you know that?
- Oh, haha, no, no, thanks, you have an excellent IQ…

Han Han and the post-80s

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

From http://msn.ent.ynet.com/

Chinese ultra-blogger Han Han is starting a magazine. He announced it previously on his blog, and his last post is already giving the details to send in article drafts and job applications. I learned this last night from my friend 2Ting, who was eagerly preparing her CV and intro letter. The literati of the post-80s are very excited, it appears.

Han’s magazine, which still doesn’t have a name to avoid imitations, is presented in this blog post. A very Chinese and a very Han Han announcement, interesting for several reasons. But before I speak of it let me give some background on Han Han. I’ve been planning to write about him for ages, and never found the time until today.

The man

Han Han is 2Ting’s idol. He is also the idol of thousands of others post-80s Chinese, and he has become - in spite of himself-  a symbol of this often caricatured generation. His bio is interesting: while attending middle school he won a first prize in a famous literary contest, then he dropped out of high school and started writing  popular novels and driving race cars. By now he has become one of the best selling authors in China, and, if I got my stats right, the most read personal blogger in the World. Click to continue »

The Week of Obama

Monday, January 19th, 2009

We are at the beginning of a historic week, and I just can’t not write about Obama’s inauguration. This blog is also about changing the World, and there is a chance that this Tuesday will be one of those days that changes everything. Call me a dreamer, but I want to believe that this new president of the USA will lead us to a better World, one finally based on the Rule of Law and not on the force of a few bullies. One where Western countries will not need to ask anymore for political change from China, because all know there’s no better teaching than leading by example.

Looking around the China blogosphere, I see some of the early birds have already done their Obama posts. There is this comparison of Obama’s inaugural ceremony with emperor QianLong’s, and Chinamatic here takes a look at one hilarious letter by a school kid. But I must say that up to now my favourite Obama post has been this one by Global Post. (h/t Peking Duck). I always liked the idea of interviewing a taxi driver, especially the chatty Beijing ones. These people get masses of information from all sorts of sources and can provide the best radiography of society. In this case, the taxi they chose sounds a bit conservative. He wishes Obama “to value Harmony”.

Now, one thing you don’t want to miss is the inauguration speech this Tuesday. For local info, it will be Tuesday night 12:30 China time and 17:30 West Europe. Whatever happens afterwards, this speech has all the chances of becoming a classic of political speeches. I dare say it might also become the most read/watched speech of all times: I’ve never known so many people in Europe and China preparing to watch a speech by a US president. Thousands of Chinese listened already to the election speech: We saw the Sensitive, who cried with emotion; the Ambitious, attentive to every detail of Obama’s technique; the majority, jotting down the new English vocabulary.

For American readers these links probably look too obvious, but for the rest: check out some analysis of the speech by previous presidents’ speech drafters, and here more details of the ceremony. Will Obama mention directly his ethnic background? Will he finish with “God bless America”, or with “I love you guys”? A whole lot of things to watch for Tuesday evening.

And what has Chinayouren been doing this weekend in preparation of the Historic Week? Well, among other things, reading Obama’s book in stereo Chinese-English. I bought these two books at the little stall next to my place, initially with the intention of getting some bilingual material to practice reading, but eventually captivated by the book and reading it all straight to the end (in English). As for the Chinese version, I admit I skipped a few pages and ended up in the passages where Obama plays with “Ma-li-ya” and “Sa-Sha”, which contain a vocabulary more adapted to my level.

By the way, if you are one of the thousands of Chinese out there trying to get this book, I would not recommend buying the daoban (fake) translation, buy the real one published by Han Manchun instead. The fake can be seen all over the place, riding on a thousand tricycles in Beijing and Shanghai, but believe me, I have some very serious doubts regarding the translation they are using. More about fake books in the next chapter I am preparing for this week…