Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tsingtao Beer and Qingdao Seafood

Qingdao, PRC- This is a city that was built from a fortune made on beer. It is a place of fishermen who used to live on the other side of the tracks, but now they are rich as we deplete the seas and charge 188RMB per kilo for flounder. I have had a lot of seafood. The first night we drank a pitcher of beer and had a couple sea chestnuts as well as this fish.

Wandering the streets you see many places where they are drying fish...right on the sidewalk. Make sure you wash your dried fish seems to be the moral of the story.

I have enjoyed the beer, which is for sale in its raw or unfiltered form here. Have also had some great fish dumplings and shrimp dishes.

We paid 60RMB to sit under an umbrella at Beach #1 today. Beggars kept coming along to ask for money, but the most startling beggar experience I have had in China was not at the beach but right after getting off the train here. A woman and her three children came up to me and the children started to tug at my clothing. It was tragic and sad.

An old-fashioned bottle-washer

Tsingtao Brewery Co., Ltd. has been many things in its illustrious history, including owned and operated by the Japanese during the First World War. It was run as the Dai Nippon Brewery Co., Ltd. In 1922, the Chinese re-took Qingdao from its occupiers, but the company continued to be run by the Japanese until the end of the Second World War.

The brewery was founded on August 15, 1903 as the Germania-Brauerei (Germania Brewery) with a paid-in capital of 400,000 Mexican silver dollars.

Originally, Tsingtao Beer was brewed in accordance with the German Reinheitsgebot ('Purity Law') of 1516, therefore the only ingredients that were used were water, barley, and hops. This German law is the oldest food safety law in the world still enforced. However, after privatization the recipe changed; like many other beers made in China, Tsingtao Beer contains a proportion of rice (less-expensive) as an adjunct in the mash.

There was a lot of general history about beer and the process of making it.You could see hops growing and there were life-size dioramas of men malting the barley.

The company has made a commitment to environmental stewardship and had this awesome sign:

Beer was also declared a health food in 1972. Who knew?

The Old Observatory

I am staying at a youth hostel called The Old Observatory. The rooms smell like the mold that is growing on the ceiling, but the air-conditioner works and so does the TV so I have caught some of China's Olympic glory, as reported by CCTV. Just watched Zhang and Wang vs. the Germans in ping-pong. They pretend like they sometimes sell stamps at the front counter, but I suspect it is a ruse. My room is right across from the dorm room with bunk beds and is the first one you get to on the first floor after checking in so it's a bit noisy. There was a verbal fight late last night between a man and woman.

The roof deck is wonderful despite the plywood decor on the inside. The parasols hang up-side down as protection from the punishing sun (my forearms got quite burnt in just a couple hours) and water dribbles down the skylights in a continuous fountain.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Football (aka "soccer" or zu qiu) and VW

Getting ready to set out to Qingdao on vacation this Friday. After that, I embark on the energy trip. You will start to see a flurry of posts.

Last Saturday night, I attended my first Changchun Yatai soccer game. They played their first ever exhibition (friendly) game against a European team. That team was Vfl Wolfsburg--a club that grew out of a multi-sports club for Volkswagen workers in the city of Wolfsburg. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen Group.

As you may recall from previous posts, Changchun is the "Detroit of China." This city builds most of the world's high-speed trains and a large number of the millions of cars that China produces each year. One of the biggest car companies in the city to have a joint venture with FAW is VW.

FAW company is currently one of the "top 4" Chinese automakers along with Chang'an Motors, Dongfeng Motor, and SAIC Motor. As of 2011, its production of more than 2,372,700 units allowed the company to round out the top three Chinese vehicle manufacturers.

One of my cynical compadres suggested this game was a junket for the VW executives. Perhaps. This game came at interesting time for FAW-VW, which shipped in hundreds of workers on buses to fill the stands. Last week an important story broke in the German business daily Handelsblatt. The Wall Street Journal picked up on the story and then Sam Blackstone wrote a sensational piece for Businessweek:
Chinese piracy is nothing new. Chinese piracy of entire car engines is, however.
In what's turning into a warning for all car companies hoping to capitalize on the Chinese market, China's First Automotive Works (FAW) is allegedly copying Volkswagen's Golf and Polo model transmissions, then putting them into their own cars, reports German newspaper Handelsblatt
To manufacture cars in China, foreign car makers must join in partnerships with one of China's domestic, state-run car companies. While opening the door for opportunities at piracy, many foreign car companies see it as a necessary risk, given the huge opportunity in sales China presents. In April, VW took this risk when it extended its joint venture contract with FAW, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and German Chancellor Angela Merkel there to witness the occasion.
But is the risk worth the reward? For VW, it appears so. Last year, VW sold 2.26 million cars in China, 27% of total sales for the German car maker. In the first half of this year, the number grew 17% to 1.3 million.
Given this fact, VW doesn't really want to burn any bridges. In addition, even if the allegations are true, they can't legally do much until FAW comes out with its Besturn B50 in 2013, FAW's small car model believed to be the model in question.
FAW seems to recognize their chance, too. According to engineering firms whom work with VW, FAW has built a manufacturing factory in Changchun where it plans to start churning out the Bestrun B50.

Nicholas, Naseema, and Jingjing are my colleagues at Perfect English who attended the game. (Yes, we had green and red noisemakers!) The seats around us were filled with factory workers wearing white, pre-printed T-shirts specifically for this game.
I would not learn the result of the game until morning. We left ten minutes before the game was over when it was tied 2-2. In the 85th minute (soccer games are 90 minutes, my American readers) Iranian national team winger and Vfl Wolfsburg fan favorite Ashkan Dejagah scored the winning point. We left early in hopes of finding a cab, but that was a nearly impossible venture and we spent close to an hour--long after the game ended--flagging down taxis. Eventually, we split into two groups and some of us (not me!) allowed ourselves to be hustled for by the cabbies for an extra 20RMB.

The game itself cost 100 RMB (cheapest tickets were at 80RMB). It was section seating with no assigned seats and we were in Section 10. You can see from this action shot early in the game that the bleachers were quite full on both sides of the stadium.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chancghun Car Show

I am not particularly interested in cars. Are you? For me, they are symbols of the fragmentation of society. If I was trying to determine whether I lived in a developed and civilized country, I would not measure it with cars per capita or miles of road per family. I liked to play soldiers much more than with cars as a boy. It is true that I am having a great time teaching David Macaulay's The Way Things Work to my students. Windscreen wipers (he retains some British English despite having moved to America at age 11) and the brakes are fascinating applications of science and technology. Especially, the brakes in a hybrid car.

These are the brakes and the inner-workings of a new Chinese-produced, hybrid Toyota:

This week, I went to the Changchun Auto Show. It was not really about cars. It was about making cars sexy. My friend told me matter-of-factly that one certain red sports car was the favorite of government officials for their mistresses. I wondered if somebody wrote an exposé or if the car company kept such statistics as a point of pride. Most of the news coming out of the show this week has been about China's flagging demand for new cars, but a few Chinese companies seem to have done all right, according to China Daily.

There were also big trucks and the poshest school buses that I have ever seen.

Some of the displays were captivating even without human models. (I am not sure how you suspend a car in mid-air like that at a place where people are walking around underneath.

All of the fancy brands seemed to have a display (and Disney!):