Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sep 28

What it’s like playing in the band for a rich Shanghai kid’s birthday party on a yacht

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture

When I received the invitation to perform at an unknown 18-year-old’s birthday party in Shanghai, all I could think about was how rich I would become from this endeavor.

I thought, “His parents are hiring foreigners for his party, they must be rich. I know, I will charge 10,000 RMB. No! Better make it 12,000 RMB (US$1,846). After I pay the rest of the band and take care of all the other expenses, I’m still going to walk away with over $600 for one night’s work.” My eyes quickly turned green—or in this case, red. What I didn’t expect is that what followed would leave me feeling poorer than I ever have in my 29 years of existence.

Guest Post by Alan Fowler

The party was on a boat about the size of a large yacht, but it wasn’t fancy. It carried the stench of years of wear and tear, probably through commercial use of similar events and tours around the Bund. The bulky spiral staircase that led up to the dance floor had a faded royal blue tint and, like the rest of the boat, felt tacky and outdated. The peripheral rust that barely hid itself all throughout the ships interior, along with the protruding bank slogan on the side of the upper deck characterized the vessel. It wasn’t at all what someone would see in a beach resort advertisement or flashy hip-hop video.

On top of that, the power failed, delaying the performance and causing the sound crew to rush out and frantically gather a bulky stand-alone generator and an endless supply of cables.



ut when it was all set up and the lights came on, it started to become clear that whoever was behind this had pockets that ran very, very deep. There were girls dressed in sexy captain’s uniforms—though they couldn’t have been much older than the birthday boy—a three man pop-lock dance group, a mediocre magician, a professional mixologist with a fancy repertoire of colorful booze and a mountain of wine glasses, a rent-a-DJ that seemed to use the same “Now That’s What I Call DJ Music” subscription club as every other Zhou with an mp3 player, an obnoxious host-in-a-suit, a lavish buffet, and then us, a motley group of foreigners who had come well dressed, ready to rock the house and eager to load our pockets with Maos (the Chinese equivalent of a Benjamin: i.e. 100 RMB note).

In between songs, we were asked to take a short break while a timid looking birthday boy was all but forced to take stage to say a few words to the crowd. His demeanor wasn’t unlike the typical 18-year-old Chinese boy one might encounter during their mandatory stint at scummy English training centers and rickety middle schools that, in their desperation for white faces, lure any half-literate “foreigner” in with money and a job description that reads, “No experience needed.” His shoulders were hunched, gaze focused slightly toward the ground so as not to accidentally make eye contact with anyone, arms tightly crossed, and carrying a somewhat nonplussed, Dad-please-don’t-embarrass-me look on his face.

When the host asked him to express his excitement to the crowd—a modest group of the boy’s friends that couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 people in total—the boy hesitated, and then in angst, finally was able to muster the courage to grab the mic, just to announce that he really didn’t have anything to say. At that point, he abruptly shoved the mic back over to the host, who I’m sure the boy wished would quickly just get the hell out of his life.



s I stood and watched alongside the stage, nightfall had set in and the towering Shanghai skyscrapers along the riverfront had begun to light up with brightly colored neon imagery—the Shanghai skyline is an architectural work of art. We had been taking advantage of the open bar (the one on the bottom level that had been designated “for the band”), and were starting to have a good time on what we thought was one of the coolest gigs we’d ever done.

My band mates—two Russians, an Armenian and an Englishman—didn’t speak much Chinese, so they weren’t too interested in the shenanigans that were taking place on stage. I however, watched and listened intently, if not just to practice my Chinese, I was also quite curious.

I turned around just in time to see three big bright red characters flashing under the Chinese for “happy birthday” on a skyscraper across the river. Leaning against the railing with martini in hand, I squinted my eyes and tried to recall how to pronounce the first character. It wasn’t a commonly seen Chinese word, and I probably wouldn’t have figured out that it was the boy’s name if people weren’t shouting it behind me. This, to me, was borderline unbelievable, but I was quick to accept it. After all, it seemed to fall right in line with all the other aforementioned festivities.


Then, when the dad took the stage, he gave his boy a warm hug, made a short speech, and presented him with a gift. But before I say what the gift was, just think back to what you received for your 18th birthday: maybe a check for college tuition, maybe the keys to a used Ford Focus, maybe not even that much.

One thing that I still can’t grasp though, is why the young man had virtually no reaction as his father presented him with a fund for 5,000,000 RMB. At the current exchange rate of 1 US dollar for every 6.5 RMB, that’s around $769,230 big ones. That’s greater than 14 years of salary for the average American, or, just over 10 years if you’re an Asian American. Yea, I should have charged more.

Sep 19

Video for Chinese air travelers: Don’t fight the airline employees

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Strange China News

As more and more Chinese have been traveling by air in the past decade, many for the first time, reports of passengers fighting with airport staff and running out onto the runways have become a common phenomenon. And Chinese passengers often have reason to be angry. Their airports are some of the worst in the world for on-time departures. Average delays at Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Nanjing, and Hangzhou were all over an hour.

In 2014 the airlines of China got together and produced a helpful video explaining why delays happen and telling travelers not to fight. It seems to be partially an introduction to inexperienced travelers and partially a PR effort, but it also doesn’t explain one of the main reasons flights in China are always delayed.

1.) It begins by explaining the “main reasons” a flight could be delayed. Those are “weather,” “traffic,” “airline reasons,” and “travelers.” It is nice of them to admit that the airline could be the reason, something some American airlines have a hard time doing. But what’s missing from the four “main reasons”? The fact that less than 30 percent of China’s airspace is open to civilian airlines, while the air force aggressively controls most of the sky.

2.) Why are we stuck on the runway?, this man asks. As the video goes to explain, maybe there are a lot of planes waiting in line. (Maybe they have to wait a long time because there’s a lot of traffic in the skies due to no airspace being open.) This is the explanatory part. There is also an explanation that even if the weather at the departure and arrival airports is nice, there might be a storm in between.

3.) Up until reason #4, all of the characters in the cartoon have had black or dark brown hair, but when it gets to “passenger” reasons for delay, when it shows passengers stupidly being delayed while buying snacks when their plane is about to depart, the characters suddenly have yellow and brown hair! Are only foreigners so stupid as to delay a plane by being late? (A flight wouldn’t wait an hour for a late passenger, however.)

Military operations are only listed–along with “unidentified flying objects”–as a secondary reason flights might be delayed.

Now we get to the fun part of the video: exhortations to be “civilized” when traveling.

Don’t kick the trash can! There is an orderly process for dealing with delayed flights:

This video divides delays into two categories: Those which are the responsibility of the airline, which the airline will provide compensation for, and those which are not, like weather.

If it is the airline’s responsibility, they will communicate with you, offer food and lodging, get a replacement flight set up, and/or offer monetary compensation. In my experience with Chinese airlines, they really do live up to their obligations. When an international flight was delayed for about four hours at Shanghai Pudong, they provided food, offered to let me stay in a hotel for an hour or two (I declined), and handed us all a few hundred yuan as we boarded the plan. Try just getting transportation and hotel covered when your flight is actually canceled because of airline fault on with an American company and you might have to argue with their customer support for weeks!

Don’t run out onto the runway and block the plane if your flight is delayed! Once again, I was slightly interested in the color of the hair the cartoon characters had in this scene.

However when the characters are being escorted away by police all of them have black hair.

Don’t try to rise up against the airline’s customer service! The other passengers will shun you if you try to fight. (One of the women tells the man he wasn’t being “civilized.”)

Here’s a video of what that kind of fight actually looks like in real life:

And finally, don’t act like a superhero and start Hulk-smashing things or Batman-kicking things.

I first noticed this video being shown on flights in 2014. It was produced in partnership, the credits show, with Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, and a number of smaller airline companies. The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration is listed as producer.

Sep 17

A Western-style wedding in Beijing with Chinese-style drinking

By Mitchell Blatt | China

“Open up!” We were pounding on the door, but the girls wouldn’t let us in. They demanded we slip four red packets of money under.

I was one of three groomsmen at the wedding of a Chinese couple in Beijing this Mid-Autumn Festival weekend. Eventually the groom and we made our way into the bride’s chamber. This “door game” is an ancient Chinese wedding tradition. But it wasn’t over until we found the bride’s shoes, which the bridesmaids had hidden around the room, and the groom kissed her feet and put them on.

It was one of a few Chinese elements of the day. In a traditional Chinese wedding the bride’s procession to the car would have been accompanied by the bangs of firecrackers, gongs, drums, and rice being scattered.

But the couple wanted a Western-style wedding. “Chinese want Western-style weddings, and Americans marrying Chinese want Chinese-style weddings,” the bride said.
Continue reading