Asia | Dominik Mayer – Products, Asia, Productivity

Xi Jinping in the Shadow of Gorbachev  

Christopher Balding retraces Xi Jinpings rise in the 1980s and the conclusions Xi must have drawn from the collapse of the USSR:

Everything the USSR did in the 1980s and 1990 was wrong. Do the complete opposite. To put it another way: whatever Gorbachev would do, do and do the complete opposite.

In Balding’s view this explains current policies:

If we take avoiding a system of governance collapse as the driving motivation for what Xi is going rather than seeking to address continually rising debt levels or differences in public and private productivity, his behavior makes sense. Foreign analysts talking about the importance of private enterprise to the Chinese market are not incorrect in their presentation of facts, they are wrong in understanding what problem Chinese leadership believes it is solving and how to solve it.

Interesting piece.

Evolution of the World's Tallest Building

The video shows the tallest building in the world between the completion of the Singer Building in 1901 and the planned opening of the Dubai Creek Tower in 2022.

Up until the completion of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the tallest skyscraper had always been in the United States. And ever since, Asia rules.

The video is from 2019 and therefore a bit outdated. Construction on both Jeddah Tower and Dubai Creek Tower is halted or has stalled.

Jack Ma’s Costliest Business Lesson: China Has Only One Leader  

Keith Zhai, Lingling Wei and Jing Yang write in the Wall Street Journal about Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

They quote former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao with calling himself a “serious student” of Ma’s. Current president Xi Jinping seems to be everything but a fan.

The article suggests that Ma’s companies are under scrutiny because of the outspokenness of its founder. But then there is this:

There also were concerns at the central bank that Ant could become too big to rescue in a financial meltdown, according to people familiar with the matter.

And:

By June 2020, Huabei’s credit outstanding accounted for nearly a fifth of China’s short-term household debt.

Reclaiming Land on Sinking Islands  

In the New York Times Magazine, Samanth Subramanian describes how Singapore reclaims land from the ocean. Less wealthy nations cannot afford these measures:

Kiribati, an island nation in the Central Pacific, has bought 6,000 acres of forested land in Fiji, more than a thousand miles away, hoping to resettle some of its 100,000 people if a crisis hits. The Maldives, similarly, has talked about buying land in Australia.

How is that going to work, I wonder. Moving a whole nation into another country will cause tremendous political, legal, social and cultural issues.

The Hottest Tables in Saigon  

Travel+Leisure portraits Anan’s Peter Cuong Franklin and Å By Tung’s Hoang Tung and mentions a couple of other fine dining restaurants.

Having been to Anan twice I’ll add some of the other places to my list.

Xi Jinping Turned Me Into a China Hawk  

China expert Michael Schuman describing his disappointment with where China is headed:

Xi’s vision for “a community with a shared future,” as he calls it, is like a neighborhood where a man beats his wife every night, but anyone who tries to help her is “intervening in his internal affairs.” In order to show you are not “prejudiced,” you invite the guy over for pool parties, and smile as if nothing’s wrong. Maybe he’ll bring you a few beers. That’s how Xi defines “mutual respect.”

Nian

Every Chinese New Year, Apple commissions a short film.

This year it’s about the mythical Nian. Wikipedia explains:

Once every year at the beginning of Chinese New Year, the nian comes out of its hiding place to feed, mostly on men and animals. During winter, since food is sparse, he would go to the village. He would eat the crops and sometimes the villagers, mostly children. […] The weaknesses of the nian are purported to be a sensitivity to loud noises, fire, and a fear of the color red.

Hence the fireworks, noises and the red color everywhere. I remember riding my bike through Shanghai on Chinese New Year with things exploding left and right. It felt like crossing a battlefield.

Here’s the making-of video to the short film with director Lulu Wang and colleagues touting the iPhone 12 Pro Max as a cinema camera:

The Dawn of the Dragon: How Xi Jinping Has Transformed China  

DER SPIEGEL correspondent Bernhard Zand:

Deep in Siberia, at the same latitude as Hamburg, China begins. It only comes to an end some 4,000 kilometers away, on the beaches of the tropical island Hainan. Both are places of great beauty.

In the north, the Heilongjiang, the Black Dragon river, winds silently eastward. It marks the border to Russia, where it is known as the Amur. The pine forests of the Taiga stretch out behind it.

In the south, the surf of the South China Sea gently rolls into Hainan’s Yalong Bay. Plane and palm trees line the coast and children frolic on the beach. Hainan is often called “the Hawaii of China.”

In between lies a country about the size of the United States, but with four times as many people – twice as many as in Europe, more than in Africa.

Before leaving mainland China for Hong Kong, Zand once again travels the vast country.

He wants to understand how Xi Jinping has shaped China in the past eight years. Eight years, in which Zand had been living in China, eight years that Xi Jinping has been president.

How Vietnam Fought a Pandemic and Won  

For VnExpress Phan Anh retraced how Vietnam successfully contained the Coronavirus in the first and second wave. It all started way before other countries realized what was going on:

Despite its best preventive efforts, Vietnam recorded its first Covid-19 cases on January 23 in HCMC: two Chinese nationals, a father and a son, who were quarantined at Cho Ray Hospital after testing positive.

Immediately afterward, on January 24, Vietnam suspended all flights from and to Wuhan despite the World Health Organization (WHO) saying there was no need for widespread travel bans at that point in time.

More flight suspensions followed in the days after that as more cases sprouted up until finally flights to China were completely stopped on February 1.

Vietnamese Helmets

“What’s the danger with Vietnam’s motorcycle helmets?”, asks Govi Snell in the Southeast Asia Globe.

“What isn’t?”, I would reply.

But it’s not that easy. From the article:

Vietnam’s first helmet law, which passed in 2001, required motorcycle drivers to wear helmets on specific roadways. With limited enforcement of this legislation, the use of helmets was estimated at 30%. In June 2007, the government passed a decree that made it mandatory for all motorcycle drivers to wear a helmet on all roads from December of that year. With the law in place, helmet-wearing reached 90%.

Wearing helmets has been mandatory for less than 15 years.

Dr. Pham Viet Cuong, the head of the department on public health informatics at the Hanoi University of Public Health is quoted:

“When helmet-wearing reached 90%, we thought it was a great success and everyone thought that it would help to reduce the number of brain injuries and deaths initially. But after a couple of years, we didn’t see that happening,” he said. “We did a lot of studies and looked at a lot of issues and we saw the problem of unstandardised or low-quality helmets.”

It seems to me, that Vietnamese only wear helmets to avoid being fined, not because they value their head. When I refuse to take friends without helmet on my bike they would often argue that there’s no police around. And when they wear helmets, they choose tiny ones, that might only protect you from a rock falling from the sky. And they seldomly tighten the strap, reducing the already slim protection even further.

What I understand even less than Vietnamese wearing these helmets – they grew up here and everyone around them is wearing them as well – is that many foreigners go with them as well. As if everything our societies have learned doesn’t apply anymore. (Not buckling up in taxis is the same story.) As if the laws of physics would not apply in another country.

Doing and Sitting  

John Pasden at Sinosplice shares this cute conversation between a bilingual kid in the US and a Chinese adult:

Adult: 你最喜欢跟家人做什么?
Child: 椅子。

In English:

Adult: What do you most like doing with your family?
Child: Chair.

John explains:

The key to understanding this exchange is knowing that 做 (zuò), the verb meaning “to do,” sounds identical to the verb 坐 (zuò), which means “to sit.” Add into this that many verbs in Chinese don’t require an additional preposition like their English counterparts (for example, we’d say “sit on” rather than just “sit”), and the child’s answer starts to make a lot of sense.

Great example of the challenges understanding spoken Chinese. Using characters this mixup could never happen.

Then enter Vietnamese, where even in the written language everything looks the same:

Chào em = Hello
Cháo em = You porridge

TikTok War  

Ben Thompson suggests blocking TikTok in the US:

This is, without question, a prescription I don’t come to lightly. Perhaps the most powerful argument against taking any sort of action is that we aren’t China, and isn’t blocking TikTok something that China would do? Well yes, we know that is what they would do, because the Chinese government has blocked U.S. social networks for years. Wars, though, are fought not because we lust for battle, but because we pray for peace. If China is on the offensive against liberalism not only within its borders but within ours, it is in liberalism’s interest to cut off a vector that has taken root precisely because it is so brilliantly engineered to give humans exactly what they want.

I would add a friend’s suggestion to block WeChat so the Chinese elite’s kids studying overseas can no longer communicate easily with their friends back home. Let them see how it feels.

Tokyo 1913 – 1915

Denis Shiryaev upscaled and colorized footage “from the dawn of film taken in Tokyo, Japan from 1913-1915”.

Livestream Censorship

Joshua Drummer on Twitter:

Wife trying livestreaming on Douyin. Comes over to me in the middle of a stream and puts me on camera. After about a minute, notice pops up saying that foreigners are not allowed to appear on livestreams “without permission”.

Journalist Isabelle Niu replied:

This seems really alarming so I did a little digging and found that apparently ByteDance, which owns Douyin & TikTok, explained how it self-regulates livestreaming content in a detailed 2019 report. I’ll break down some of the main points of the report in this thread

Read the whole thing. Welcome to semi-automated livestream censorship.

Vivian Vo  

Another hilarious article from VnExpress. This time they introduce “makeup queens”, one of which is Vivian Vo-Farmer:

Vivian Vo was born in the U.S. and has a Vietnamese mother and a Vietnamese-Dutch father. With 1.7 million followers on Instagram after seven years working as a makeup artist, Vo is well-known for her revealing style and long hair.