Treats in a Beijing market.
March 6 2004

I’ve done a closeup as well so you can clearly see the seahorses. There was another stall later on that had actual whole starfish on a stick as a snack food, one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen. When I tried to take a picture the stall owner blocked my shot, so I just went on.

Interestingly there are two different kinds of similar food stalls on this street in the market. One is like this, with a variety of meats and … things that you could charitably call meat. The other is stalls run by Uyghur, the Muslim minority of the Western Xinjiang province of China. As muslims they would never eat or sell something as un-halal as a seahorse. I can’t say I blame them.

North Korea and Japan Sign a Deal on Abductions

More lunacy from Kim Jong Il’s Democractic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This is what he considers diplomacy.

In a region where saving face is paramount, the 10-hour stay in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, was riddled with slights to the Japanese leader. When Mr. Koizumi, leader of the second largest economy in the world, arrived in Pyongyang, only a midlevel Foreign Ministry official was at the airport to greet him. There was no banquet. Mr. Koizumi ate a box lunch of rice balls an aide brought from Tokyo.


On Saturday, North Korea’s news media did not mention the issue of the kidnappings. Instead, it dwelled on the fact that the leader of Japan traveled to North Korea bearing gifts. In the past, defectors have said, foreign food aid is portrayed by North Korean officials as “tribute” to their militarily powerful nation.


Office Building Face in Shenzhen
March 3 2004
Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, China

Construction visible from Shezhen University.
China has a reputation as being constantly under construction and from what I saw this is more visible in Shenzhen than anywhere else. Here we actually see five identical large buildings in a row in the same stage of construction.

Shenzhen University Dorm Room
Standing in the middle of the room is my friend Henry, who studied here at Ritsumeikan University in Japan for a year. This is the room he lived in before he studied abroad in Japan; he now lives in a much roomier room actually intended for foreign students, which he got into because he works part time for the international office.


Hong Kong Ferry
March 3 2004
This odd looking boat is the ferry from Hong Kong to mainland China, Shenzhen city in Guangdong (Canton) province. It arrives in a place called ‘蛇口’ which is pronounced ‘Shekou‘ in Cantonese. In Japanese as jaguchi, and is the word for faucet but I have no idea if there is a relationship.

Emmigration from Hong Kong, immigration to China, and the respective customs checks were trivial. They’re a lot more interested in keeping illegal immigrants out of Hong Kong than out of China. The ferry takes about 40 minutes and costs $105 Hong Kong dollars. HK$ are about 7.5 to a US dollar, so it really isn’t very expensive for an international trip, even at such a close distance.

Just on the outside of the ferry terminal was this stall selling fishing gear. Notice the double turtle-dragon creature on the counter, and the giant can of Carlsberg beer behind the counter.


Hito Nomi Sugu Yase

February 30 2004.

I spotted this advertisement for 助助身茶(help-help-body-tea) in the Hong Kong subway system. What caught my eye was the Japanese text written alongside the larger Chinese slogan. Before reading the explanation of this picture you might want to refer to This earlier post.

The Chinese phrase of these characters 一飲就痩(at least as I understand the characters from the way they are used in Japanese) translates word by word to ‘one-drink-become-thin.’ Chinese literature has a long history of what are called in Japanese 四字熟語 (pronounced as yo-ji-juku-go), or four character idioms, and I presume that writing an advertising slogan in 4 characters is intended to convey a feeling of classicism reminiscent of these traditional phrases. The woman dressed in a Japanese Kimono in a Japanese style setting also adds to the old-fashioned feeling, but transposes it to Japan.

Alongside the Chinese slogan is a small line of text written in Japanese characters, which I have enlarged in the photo. Now, Japanese is written largely with Chinese characters (called kanji , but they also use natively developed phonetic characters (called kana), which is what these are. Japanese vocabulary is generally divided into the categories of ‘native’ Japanese words, Chinese words (whether actually imported from China or created in Japan by combining Chinese words), and ‘foreign words,’ mostly words imported from European languages (these days mostly English, but going back as far as the 17th century contact with Porteguese.)

I don’t want to get deep into explaining the Japanese language, but the point is that the words written in kana are native Japanese words and not the Chinese derived Japanese words which correspond to those characters. The Japanese words are read as ‘Hito Nomi Sugu Yase,‘ which translates to ‘One sip, soon lose weight.’ Now, kanji can be used to write either native Japanese words or words borrowed from Chinese. Like kanji, tea is something borrowed by Japan from China. The advertiser uses the image of Japan and the refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony to suggest that their tea, while superficially similar to the teas commonly drunk in Hong Kong has some quality of superiority, of a higher level of refinment. By showing the Japanese readings of the Chinese phrase, (the kana is incidentally is not readable for the vast majority of Hong Kong residents that have not studied Japanese), they are showing something else which was borrowed by Japan and changed, and reinforcing the suggestion that this tea with a completely Chinese name is somehow foreign.

Mourning The Patriotic Chickens

Mourners honor chickens killed in wake of bird-flu outbreak

Dressed in a black suit and tie, a man asked a roomful of mourners to bow their heads. For a minute, they all stood and faced the brightly lit altar in silence.

On a stage, piled in a pyramid and surrounded by white daisies and lilies, sat the dead — dozens of eggs in clear, plastic cartons.

Having been arranged by the agriculture ministry and poultry industry officials, this solemn sendoff Wednesday at a Tokyo hotel honored hundreds of thousands of chickens slaughtered since bird flu was discovered here in January.

Link to full article

Aji Ichiban

Aji Ichiban
Japan is one of the dominant exporters of pop culture in the world, possibly the only country that even comes close to rivaling the United States in this field. While the English speaking parts of the world are oddly resistant to foreign language films, popular music and so on, most other countries have no trouble with it. As seems natural, Japan’s close neighbors (particularly Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where the standard of living and consumer culture are most similar to Japan) have the biggest culture exchange.

Young woman carrying Aji Ichiban shopping bags around is a common sight in Hong Kong. Notice that she is standing in front of an American style bar entirely sans-Chinese.

This store is an example of the popularity Japanese pop culture has in Hong Kong. This candy store, despite being a completely Hong Kong owned and operated business, has a Japanese name and bases a lot of their appeal on the Japanese image. While it does have Japanese candy, it’s hardly a specialist shop and puts the stuff in bins right next to mini Nestle bars or more local style sweets. The name is also peculiar. The name written in the Roman alphabet is ‘Aji Ichiban,’ which is Japanese for ‘Taste Number 1’ and is written as ‘味一番.’ In Chinese/Japanese characters, the name is written 優の良品、which in Japanese would be pronounced as ‘Yuu no Ryouhin’ and translates to ‘Quality Goods of Excellence.’ The first, third and fourth characters are Chinese characters, which are also used in Japan, and are normally read with the local pronounciation anywhere in China or Japan, and generally with the same meaning. The second character(の), however, is the phonetic Japanese character for the syllable ‘no‘ and as a merely phonetic character does not have any intrinsic meaning. However, in this case it is being used to represent the possessive particle in Japanese grammar (hence the ‘of’ when translated). The phonetic syllabary of Japanese (hiragana or katakana, depending on style. In this case the hiragana form of the character is being used) does not exist in Chinese and has no meaning whatsoever to a typical Chinese person, so the presence of this character in the name is what gives the name a particularly Japanese feeling.

Now, this may seem like mere trivia, but there is a point. While not coming directly from Chinese, the Japanese hiragana characters did evolve from them, specifically from the cursive style calligraphic forms of the Chinese characters. In the case of the character の(no), it was derived from the character 的(pronounced teki in Japanese). The really interesting thing is that the meaning of 的 (pronounced de in Mandarin Chinese) in Chinese is as a possessive marker – the same function that の(no), which was derived from it, serves in this store’s name. I imagine this is in fact why that character was chosen as the basis for this particular symbol- because the grammatical particle written with this particular syllablic character has the same meaning as the original Chinese character. To return from a mild tangent: the important thing is that while の is used for its value as a symbol of Japanness, it is also recognizable to most Hong Kong citizens for its meaning.

の has actually become popular in advertising in Hong Kong, and not just in cases that have any particular Japan feeling to them. For example, here is an ordinary flyer for some kind of social activity.

This flyer says ‘Haru no Yuu‘ or ‘Fun in the Spring.’ Interestingly, the の looks like it might have been a piece of clip art, which would be appropriate for the way in which it has been adopted as a symbol in Hong Kong.

Filipino Workers in Hong Kong

Filipino Domestic Workers Gather on Sunday

February 28th, 2004
If you go to the area between the main Hong Kong train station and the waterfront on a Sunday evening this is all you see, everywhere you turn. Hong Kong employs about 100,000 Filipino domestics, and being Catholic they all have Sunday as their fixed and un-alterable vacation day, upon which they take over the entire district to socialize. Despite the fact that a Hong Kong work visa, even for this job, requires some amount of higher education women with college degrees and perfect command of English are often still willing to work as maids and nanny’s for a salary higher than they could easily make at home.

Back to Japan

Since the last update Ashle, I and both Chads took a plane to Urumqi, met up with Ablajan (who was the guide of Chris and I last year) and went with him to Turpan and back, then Ashle and I left the Chads in Xinjiang while we took a 24 hour bus ride to Kazakhastan, spent a week in Almaty, and flew back first to Urumqi and then to Beijing. Now all three of the them have left Japan, Ashle and one Chad back to Japan (although Ashle is leaving there for the US shortly) and the other Chad back to Canada while I finish my time here in China. Before they left we went on a trip to the Great Wall, and after they left I finally went to the Forbidden City by myself yesterday. I’m taking a sleeper train to Shanghai tonight and then on the 30th boarding the Osaka bound ferry.

I have a lot of journals, information and photos to post, but that’ll all wait until I get back to Japan when I’ll start doing so gradually. It’s been a good trip, but I’m tired and feeling about ready to go home.