Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seating and Ink

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my good friend P. told me something about the Chinese that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. She told me that the Chinese tend to place too much emphasis on starting salaries and on “brands.” P.’s the COO of a tech company and has much wisdom dealing with people in general. So when she told me this, I nodded and didn’t question her, but I understood by “brands” she meant more than Goldman-Sachs, Lehman Brothers, or Harvard and Stanford...

Fast forward a couple of years to me sitting in front of the TV in our Beijing apartment. (I’m not as young but perhaps just as vulnerable.) I must confess that I probably watch entirely too much TV. There’s always something to see. At least that’s the excuse I give myself.

Besides the different formats of sit-coms and serials and other TV programs, there are also advertisements that give me pause. One is a commonly used tagline, 中国驰名商标, which literally means “China Famous Brand” that comes with many products, ranging from cough medicine, to snacks, to clothes and to makeup. Those of you who’s ever shopped in any Chinatowns around the world must have seen items with ad-lines similar to “China’s Famous Brand”.

I don’t quite remember when I first saw Seating (CCTV 座位篇). But the first few seconds immediately convinced me it was very different from other Chinese commercials.

The clip opens with a sofa in the middle of someone’s living room. A modern living room. The sofa is facing the TV.  (You can see the reflection from the TV shimmering on the glass coffee table as the camera frame slowly zooms in.) A small white “1 1 ” (“1st Row, 1st Seat”) floating effortlessly above the sofa.

Then a shot of the top of a chair, sitting in front of a red wall and beneath tiles that look like they are from the Forbidden City, with a white 七排、八座” (“7th Row, 8th Seat”) floating above the chair.  A park bench (for two: 12th Row, 36th Seat and 12th Row, 37th Seat, respectively) facing Beijing's 什刹海/后海 (ShiCha Hai, Hou Hai, which are part of the series of man-made ponds to the west of the Drum Tower). As the camera zooms in, you can see boats moving in the background. Next is up is a sliver of a view of a traditional Beijing courtyard, with 2 chairs (88th Row, Seats 207 and 208). A full view of a old Beijing courtyard (307th Row, Seat number 1832).

A panning view of an office lounge chair, sitting beneath an overhang, looking at modern office buildings (835th Row, Number 8104). Frontal view of a yard of an old peasant house (1032nd Row, Number 10350). An office view of modern skyscrapers. Housing development, with a lawn chair on the grass out front. Small space (a park? a private yard?) behind a circular arch. (By now, the seat number is over 800 million.) Yellow chair facing blue ocean (1 of over 1 trillion seats)

Yellow cabs streaming past Times Square; a reflection of that traffic on the shop windows of a coffee shop. The chair & table sidewalk seating outside the shop belongs to one of over 12 million rows and one of more than 1 trillion seats. View of the British Parliament, with an office lounge chair and already more seats than the number of people on Earth. Frontal view of a French château. A small bench in a Spanish (Italian? Argentine?) arcade, with kids playing in the background. One kid is bouncing a football up and down with his knees. A wooden chair in a field with haystacks neatly rolled by modern machines. Then an arty, modern chair, in front of a rectangular opening, with a view of a modern downtown area filled with skyscrapers. The phrase in white, floating above the chair, is


(The World is Watching)

And finally, a shot of a flat panel TV, framing

2010   看我    看中国

(2010   Look at Me  Look at China
First, ‘2010’ by itself, then ‘Look at Me’ appeared next to it, before ‘Look at China’ appearing last.)

And then the CCTV logo (White with the second C in Red) with the CCTV tagline beneath.

Lately, there’s an even more visually stunning CCTV commercial, entitled Ink (CCTV 水墨篇) .
A droplet of ink falls in water, senseless swirls finally emerging into a Chinese mountainscape, reminiscent of the ones in classical Chinese paintings. Chinese words in (what else?) ink appear


(From Formless to Having Form)

A second ink droplet falls. Goldfish emerge from the swirls and swim about, finally swimming upwards and breaking the surface of water to reappear as flying cranes that flap their wings farther and farther, disappearing in the distant landscape.


(From Having Borders to Sans Frontier)

The words and the landscape fade into a dragon sweeping across the screen leaving a segment of the Great Wall.

A third droplet falls into a person practicing Tai Chi and with a full extension of his left arm, a bullet train speeds across the land before turning into a person practicing martial arts in front of where the Birds Nest emerges up from the ground. More people exercising and one does a flip in the air and becomes a plane flying, flying over the Beijing CCTV Complex.

[Chinese history in 60 seconds.]

Finally, the CCTV towers disappear in a swirl that eventually reveals the CCTV logo.

Both Seating and Ink end with the CCTV logo and the same CCTV tagline beneath:


(Literally) Believe in the Power of Brands

[But perhaps more accurately, “Believe in the Power of Our Brand.”]

FYI, 品牌 and 商标 can both mean “brand” in Chinese, though I would place 品牌 above 商标, as in “this is not your grandfather’s brand” brand. Indeed, 商标 is very generic, and is usually used to mean simply “trademark.”

Full disclosure: The first lines of this blog are a tribute to “The Great Gatsby,” one of my favorite novels. The TV in our living room is a 27 inch Samsung, whereas the LCD TV in our bedroom is a 32 inch TCL. My wife and I are in no way affiliated with CCTV.

In case either of the embedded videos fail to play, here are links to Seating and Ink.

The working title for this blog was once, a sinicized,  “Seating in Lounge Chairs, Watching Ink Flow,” but I opted for “Seating and Ink.

And finally, a Happy (Lunar) New Year to Everyone!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A New Yorker Playing Beijing

Came back home early last night, having missed dinner at our usual CAS cafeteria. These days, the cafeterias have been running out of stuff early --- Chinese New Year's being a mere 3 days away and there are only a few students and faculty/staff left. Was in the midst of editing/rewriting when 7 PM passed just like that.

Anyway, back in the apartment, I put on two pots of water to boil. One for soup (pork ribs and Chinese cabbage) and another for dumplings (frozen, Chinese chives) before I turned on the TV. A quick surf around: CCTV-13 (news), CCTV-5 (sports; the Chinese-Korean football match had just ended), Kaku (cartoons), CCTV Premier Movie Channel (showing 'Justice League')... I set up viewing Episode 49 of 'The Myth' on CCTV-1 for later (22:35-23:15), before ending up on BTV-6.

And there he was, Stephon Marbury, the Coney Island Kid, Starbury, bringing the ball upcourt for the Shanxi Brave Dragons. Marbury, or 马布里 as transliterated in Chinese, came over to play in the CBA a few weeks ago. His Chinese moniker is 独狼, i.e., the Lone Wolf, which I am assuming reflects his stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the 'fall-out' with KG. By showing up to play, Steph's automatically the best player not named Yao Ming to appear in a CBA game. (O, where art thou, Bonzi Wells???)

Stephon Marbury. Born and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Abraham Lincoln High. Georgia Tech for one year before entering the NBA as the 4th overall draft pick in 1996. The NBA Draft in 1996 would be remembered as the Allen Iverson - Kobe Bryant draft (A.I. was the first overall pick to the Sixers, and Kobe went 13th to Charlotte but was traded immediately to the Lakers for Vlade Divac). The other notables draft picks that year: Marcus Camby (before he had '勉族' tattooed on his right arm, went number 2 to the Raptors), Ray Allen (number 5 to the T-Wolves but was traded immediately to the Bucks for Marbury), Steve Nash (number 15 to the Suns). (Ahh, Knick fans, remember John Wallace, Syracuse Orangeman? We picked him 18th that year.)

I had heard about Marbury's move to Shanxi a while ago (see NYT article). But it was the first time I've seen him on TV since he was in Celtic green in the '08-'09 playoffs. There he was, stutter-steppin' to the rim, dishing and swishing to 30 points, 15 assists, and 9 rebounds (1 rebound short of a triple double!) against the Beijing Jinyu (金隅) Ducks.

Steph looked good. Didn't look like he's lost a step. Although, of course, last night he was playing against Cedric Bozeman (who?!) and other Ducks. Here are some photos of the game on the CBA official website.

Glad to see that the Steph’s team won the game 116-107 (in fact, it was the 2nd win in a row for Steph and the Brave Dragons). But last night every Chinese sports fan’s attention was on the Chinese-Korean football match in the 2010 East Asian Football Championship. The Chinese won 3-0, breaking a 32 year victory-less streak against the Koreans. So even on the evening of his first home victory for the Brave Dragons, Steph couldn’t win. Just like old times.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blogs Titles II

Some more possible blog titles:

  • Thank You for Not Smoking
  • Scenes from a Beijing City Subway Car
  • No More Valley Song in the Middle Kingdom? (or Google v. China, Misc.)
  • Parking, Parking Everywhere, but No Place to Walk
  • Two NYT Articles on Chinese Science & Scientists
  • From Peking Duck to Bao Du, Some Old-Fashion Beijing Snacks and Foods
  • It Doesn’t Taste Like (Normal) Chicken!!!
  • China’s MoneyBall
  • From Hot Dog Buns to Chewing Gum Dispensers
  • Tiramasu in Beijing