Archive | February, 2012

Piracy and incompetence

23 Feb

In Europe or the US, if you had a pirated version of a DVD or software you wouldn’t advertise it out loud and, if you did tell anyone, you’d probably admit it a bit shamefully. In other countries, you’d find them easily on street corners from the dodgy sellers. Here in Shanghai, it’s not a taboo at all but just common practice or business as usual to acquire pirated copies of anything digital. And you can get pretty much anything, even the most recent movies, from one of the many, well visible DVD shops around town for a shoestring (1 or 2 US dollar for a movie).

Although I don’t actually buy pirated copies myself, what is surprising in most cases is that the packaging of DVDs is actually quite well done. Sometimes the resolution of the cover is not absolutely spot-on but certainly good enough and, on occasions, the DVD would be sold in a simple sleeve. But most of the time, the pirates actually go through some trouble to give you a box with front and back covers. The packaging is mostly impressive when they sell series boxes containing a few seasons. However, if you look long or well enough you will spot really critical copying mistakes, attesting to a certain freedom to improvise in order to make the packaging more appealing or supposedly authentic. Two case-studies to illustrate my point.

Below is a quite sweet movie with Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood, whom I didn’t know as an actress. While watching, I wanted to know who she was and had a look at the bottom of the back cover to see the main cast. I found it strange when I read Alicia Silverstone first and then Andie McDowell, neither of whom features in the movie, and no mention whatsoever of Michael Douglas…

As some of you may know, “The Wire” is a realistic series about drug trafficking and the economic, social and political aspects around it. It is wholly set in Baltimore and therefore offers a contextual approach to the theme, interweaving issues and places that are very specific to this city. Yet, why is the Sydney Opera House the only thing shown on the box’s cover????

Sum sing zwong.

Brilliant indeed

Butchery course

15 Feb

I had lunch with my friend C. the other day. The weather was exceptionally beautiful and for once not freezing for a sunny winter day. We then had a bit of time to wander around the French Concession. This area of Shanghai is probably one of the most sought after amongst foreigners to live in. It has retained a lot of its charm and it is very difficult I am told to build tall structures over there. Somehow, many of its original residents still live there and it can have quite a popular feel on many of its streets.

Walking out of the restaurant, we were greeted by the usual profusion of drying of laundry typical of sunny days in Shanghai. Except that in this very street – Jinxian Road, also hanging from the laundry racks, was an abundance of meat and all sorts of it: poultry, pork and fish at least. So much so that it felt like we could’ve had a butchery course on the spot. There were lots of homemade sausages but also gutted duck, goose and chicken, gutted gigantic fish, split pigs’ heads and other things I can’t put a name on. Have a look at the pictures below for colourful details.

Jinxian Lu

Poultry, fish tails and other stuff

Pigs' heads

I was surprised there weren’t many flies around or on the meat itself, even for the ones hanging just above the rubbish bins. I understand that drying meat is part of the local culture and a local necessity to preserve meat for as long as possible. And you don’t find meat drying only in popular streets or areas, you can also find it on the windows of the 15th floor of expensive apartment buildings. I have to say that I find it somehow admirable that in spite of living in one of the largest cities on the planet (16 millions inhabitants), Shanghainese are managing to carry-on and nurture the tradition of homemade foods instead of buying it industrially processed and overly packaged from an impersonal supermarket. Still, I can’t shake the high levels of urban pollution from my hygiene food standards. Instead of having, say, oak-smoked bacon, you’re actually having it kerosene-smoked… Not the best marketing angle or feeling really. But who knows? Maybe it does enhance its taste? Given that I have very limited control over what I eat here, I guess that’s what I have to keep saying to myself for as long as I live in China.


6 Feb

Entering a Chinese pharmacy feels more like entering a witchcraft shop, even for a modern pharmacy. For most of us non-Chinese have a very clinical idea and relationship with our drugs. Little pills containing very specific doses of medicine and wrapped individually in plain packages; the long lists of guidelines and caveats that accompany each drugs, explain its uses and potential side effects. Even the off-the-counter drugs which are more aggressively marketed are just a pack of powder that we swallow without really knowing what are its constituents.

Those drugs do exist in Chinese pharmacies, but when you get in you are mostly drawn to all the funky stuff displayed around the shop and which you are not sure you can recognise or know at all. It looks like the primary resource is sold to you with barely any prior transformation. Dried mushrooms, ginseng’s thin roots, dried sea cucumbers (I think), and other things which can be roots but which really look like long dried worms. I don’t know what these things do to you and against which illnesses they are meant to cure you. However, I think there’s something quite amazing in being able to have access to the very product of pain relief or cure without the rest of the junk that we have to swallow knowing that it might affect something else in our body. True a single product can have both a desirable and undesirable effect, but the fact that it has not been subjected to so much transformation and has not been mixed with too many other products is quite interesting and perhaps altogether saner to the body. The problem with being used to totally clinical drugs is that I wonder if I would try some of it in its original format.

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