All Posts byMitchell Blatt

About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.

Mar 18

Restaurant Review: Wu’s Wonton King in New York City (Manhattan)

By Mitchell Blatt | Chinese Restaurant Reviews

Wu’s Wonton King is a banquet-style southern Chinese restaurant on the east edge of Chinatown in Manhattan. It specializes in roast duck, bbq platter, and seafood, as well as wontons.

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The wontons with noodle soup ($6.99) were fresh-tasting, and the soup was salty like the taste in China. I requested pepper oil to go with it, because I like my wontons spicy.

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Looking at the menu, another item that looked tasty was fried rice. There are nine types of fried rice on menu ($10.99-$15.99), including crystal crab meat fried rice, salted fish & diced chicken fried rice, traditional Yangzhou fried rice, and Fujian fried rice (which I was told featured seafood).

Restaurant: Wu’s Wonton King

Address: 165 E. Broadway
Subway stop: East Broadway Station (F line)
Review: Worth coming from afar for wontons.

Mar 17

What to do in China, Korea, and Malaysia this spring and summer, according to national travel promoters – Day 1 of Travel & Adventure Show

By Mitchell Blatt | Travel

The 15th Annual Washington DC Travel & Adventure Show opened today at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

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Approximately 260 vendors, including the China National Tourist Office, the Korea Tourism Organization, Tourism Malaysia, the East Japan Railway Company, Turkish Airlines, Visit Philadelphia, and many travel agencies, tour providers, and national and local tourism promotional offices, operated promotional tables. The expo also included national dance routines and cultural programs and presentations by authors, photographers, and travel specialists.

China-maps

The China National Tourist Office’s representatives enthusiastically offered me travel maps and espoused the benefits of visiting Gansu province in summer, where you can see the breathtaking rainbow mountains of Zhangye National Geopark. Gansu, of course, is also the home of Lanzhou beef noodles (兰州拉面 – lanzhou lamian).

The rainbow mountains in Zhangye National Geopark. Trains depart to Zhangye city from Beijing West Station and Chengdu. Photo from Wikimedia.

The rainbow mountains in Zhangye National Geopark. Trains depart to Zhangye city from Beijing West Station and Chengdu. Photo from Wikimedia.

One of China’s biggest summer festivals, Dragon Boat Festival, falls on June 7 on this year’s Chinese lunar calendar.

The Korea Tourism Organization promoted some vibrant festivals, including the lantern festival coming up in May to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. The festival is celebrated in Seoul from May 3 to May 5 this year. On May 4, the procession of lotus lanterns will march from Dongdaemun Gate to Jogyesa Temple starting at 7 pm. Dances and cultural performances follow later that evening and the next day in the surrounding area.

Photo from Korea tourism agency.

Photo from Korea tourism agency.

Malaysia emphasized its natural beauty and rich traditional and ethnic culture. Sabah state on the north part of Borneo Island is home to 32 ethnic communities, including the Murut, who live in the hills of southern Sabah. During the final week of March, they will celebrate Pesta Kalimaran Festival, which includes the Miss Kalimaran Beauty Pageant and a wedding ceremony with consumption of tapai rice wine and dancing.

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Malaysia also celebrates Buddha’s birthday, Wesak, in May.

Wesak observance at Buddhist temple. Photo by Kamal Sellehuddin, Wikimedia/CC license.

Wesak observance at Buddhist temple. Photo by Kamal Sellehuddin, Wikimedia/CC license.

The DC Travel & Adventure Show continues on Sunday, and shows will be held in San Francisco on March 23-24 and Dallas on March 30-31.

Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble performs on the Global Beats stage. Photo by Mitch Blatt.

Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble performs on the Global Beats stage. Photo by Mitch Blatt.

Mar 13

An interview with travel writer Alec Le Sueur, marketing manager of the first international hotel in Tibet

By Mitchell Blatt | Book Reviews , China , Culture , Travel

Alec Le Sueur spent five years as the marketing and sales manager of the Holiday Inn Lhasa, the first international hotel to be opened in Tibet after China reformed and opened to the world.

Barkhor Street in 1993, by John Hill. Wikimedia, CC.

Barkhor Street in 1993, by John Hill. Wikimedia, CC.

The Holiday Inn was known as “the hardest hardship post.” Nicholas Kristof once wrote an article about it titled “A Tibetan Horror Story.” It was two flights away from Hong Kong on the chaotic state-run Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, and for long periods of the year, the only meal to be had was spam. But the sights on mountains, Buddhist temples, traditional markets, and streets with yaks wandering freely were another thing.

Le Sueur chronicled the beauty of Tibet and the absurdities of running a hotel, where management duties were duplicated between a Chinese party and a foreign party that rarely saw eye-to-eye, where staff didn’t know how to use the new, technologically-advanced washing machines, where teaspoons went missing and a guard was hired to protect the toilet paper, in his book The Hotel on the Roof of the World.

Boeing 707 with Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, from Wikimedia. CAAC Airlines was not separated into private airline operators until 1988.

Boeing 707 with Civil Aviation Administration of China Airlines, from Wikimedia. CAAC Airlines was not separated into private airline operators until 1988.

Le Sueur’s witty and conversational style brings the place to life. Some of the scenes will look familiar to people who have spent time in China recently (Chengdu taxi drivers racing to the airport, rice wine banquets), but much else is lost into the past. Tibet has changed much. China’s airports are still chaotic masses of people, but they have changed, for the better, with modern airplanes and functioning logistical processes. The Holiday Inn has been taken over by the Chinese government’s managers, and new international hotels have opened up in Lhasa.

Le Sueur was also in Tibet at a time when pro-autonomy protests and riots broke out between 1987-89, and Tibet was under martial law for about a year, with no tourism. He mentions the political situation in so much as it impacted daily life and hotel operations, but he did not dwell on politics as a main subject.

Nicholas Kristof's 1990 column on the hotel and photo by Kristof.

Nicholas Kristof’s 1990 column on the hotel and photo by Kristof.

After five years, he left Tibet with his wife, whom he met while both worked at the hotel, and went with her to Belgium, which was the subject of his next book, Bottoms Up in Belgium: Seeking the High Points of the Low Land. He also left the hotel business and got an MBA in law firm management. He continues to contribute to travel magazines, including Food & Wine.

Following is my interview with the author:Continue reading

Jan 23

New York City in black and white: A webzine of my travels

By Mitchell Blatt | Photos , Travel

I visited one of the world’s great cities outside of Asia this past weekend. That would be New York City. One need not be told that New York City is a hub of culture. I sought out dive bars of Brooklyn, art galleries and zine shops of Chelsea, underground sake bars, Chinatown dumpling restaurants, pork bone soup in Koreatown, crowded Cuban restaurants with tiny tables crammed closely together.

I’m going to list some of the highlights, some of which are included in the photos, below the toggle.

See highlights

Sake Bar Decibel at 240 E 9th St; Café Habana at 17 Prince St; PanYa, which serves Japanese breakfasts with fish and miso at 8 Stuyvesant St; Totto Ramen at 366 W 52nd St; Famous Xian Foods, a chain serving real tasty Xian noodles that started out in Flushing’s Chinatown and now has locations around the city; and Printed Matter, Inc., where the zine stockpile I photographed is located.

I thought the best way to present such a city is in black and white scanned photography.

New York in Black and White by on Scribd

Dec 28

China Travel Writer 2018 year in review

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Food and Leisure , Korea , Living in China

January: Largest Starbucks in the World

Jan - Starbucks
In December 2017, the 30,000 Starbucks Reserve Roastery opened in Jing’an district of Shanghai (West Nanjing Station). Early in January, I visited. The massive two-story museum-like establishment serves beer and libations, including coffee cocktails, as well as coffee. I enjoyed a Manhattan with Starbucks’ special touch.

February: Spring Festival

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I went to a friend’s hometown for Spring Festival. Off a provincial road, Baichi village (in Henan province) consisted of dirt roads lined with cement-walled courtyard homes. Everyone seemed to know their neighbors and most of the villagers. Few foreigners ever visited, and I was a source of interest. They were passionate and hospitable during the Spring Festival season. Each even began with me eating dinner with my friends and his family, followed by us walking to one of his friends’ homes to drink beer, and invariably, their family would prepare a second dinner for us.
Feb - Spring Festival
One afternoon, friends and family came over for the Chinese New Year feast. Tables were set up in two rooms, and there was little room for any more food to be placed on them. Every adult who came, it seemed, brought a bottle of rice wine. If one’s cup was empty, it wouldn’t be empty for long. Someone would come along to fill it, and then it would be emptied again.
Feb - Spring Fest Liquor
Feb - Spring Fest Drinking
Children played with small gunpowder-filled toys in the courtyard. Popping things that you throw at the ground for the littlest ones. Exploding ones for the older boys.

Midnight on new years eve was a cacophony. Across the village, people launched firework out of their courtyards.

June: Singapore

Mid-June - Singapore Glamour
In June, I visited Singapore for the first time. The city-state is known for its posh, hypermodern central business district. The variety of cheap food at hawker stalls was delicious.

My favorite part was the vibrant street culture of Chinatown. I wrote about the dancing,

But there they were on the corner of New Bridge Street and the lantern-adorned Smith Street at 8 pm shaking their hips, swinging their arms, and doing the twist. I began watching and talking to a local, and soon enough the woman had convinced me to join in singing and dancing.

Mid-June - Singapore Dancing

July 4: Fireworks in DC

July 4 in DC
Sitting on the National Mall with people from all of the United States–and the world–you have the best view of one of the best fireworks shows in the country taking place in front of the Washington Monument.

August: Counterprotesting Unite the Right II

Aug - Alt-Right Rally Counterprotest
When the alt-right racists came to Washington, DC on the anniversary of their 2017 rally in Charlottesville, friend and contributor to my political blog, Bombs + Dollars, Patrick Rincon came from Korea to counterprotest. We’d be joined by thousands of others from nearby and across the country–mostly individuals who detest racism but also radical groups like the Revolutionary Communists and antifa. And also a lot–a lot–of media. Patrick, dressed as Captain America, was mistaken for an alt-rightist twice due to his flag.

I described the scene at B+D:

At around 4:55 pm, a commotion could be heard near the entrance to the subway station. People started shouting, “Fuck you, Nazis!” … Along the protest route, there was less of the chanting often heard at the protest site from members of organized groups and more homemade cursing and insults. Marchers were mocked about how, for example, their status as unemployable losers with no girlfriend is their own damn fault.

“No one wants you,” someone said.

“We are replacing you!” said another.

I did some digging on one of the featured speakers, Charles Edward Lincoln III, and found that he had a criminal conviction and long trail of court cases against him and reported on him for The Daily Beast.

My column that week: The alt-right’s lasting impact

Late August: Eating Hongeo

At the end of August, I went to Korea to meet friends during the final week before the new semester of my masters program at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies began. In Busan, I met up with a classmate from my program in Nanjing, and we ate one of the most infamous dishes in all of Korea: skate (홍어 – hongeo). Here we are featured on the restaurant’s Instagram account:
Aug - Eating Honeo

Why is hongeo so infamous? It is an ugly fish with a bony texture that is fermented in its own piss.

It was the third time I have eaten it–always for kicks. Taking a friend who has never eaten it, going on a quest to find the small restaurant (the only one in the vicinity of Busan Fish Market that served hongeo), and then having enough makgeolli in your bowl to override the taste is a good time every once in a while.
August - Hongeo

November: International Dinner

Nov - Int'l Dinner
At SAIS, I became Social Media Director of the SAIS Korea Club. The Korea Club hosted various events this past semester celebrating Korean culture, and we also participated in the International Dinner, an event where multiple clubs prepare food representing their country or culture. I served food while wearing traditional Korean clothing (hanbok). There’s also a contest for most popular food served. Korea Club placed third. Congratulations to Taiwan Club for winning.

December: Visiting the Old Korean Legation

Dec - Korean Legation Group Pic
This old house in Logan Circle of Washington, DC, the former home of Civil War hero Seth Ledyard Phelps, became the first diplomatic headquarters for Korea in the United States in 1889. It was only 1905 when Japan occupied Korea, however, and denied the country its sovereignty, later forcing Korea to give the property over to Japan. The Korean government finally repurchased the building in 2012, and it opened to the public in 2018, after years of historical restoration.
Dec - Korean Legation

Writing in 2018

In February, I was published in Silkwinds, the inflight magazine of Silk Air, for the first time, offering travel tips for Xiamen in the “Postcards” section. I have also written “Postcards” features on Changsha and Shenzhen for the magazine.

I reported on the criminal history and legal troubles of an alt-right speaker for The Daily Beast.

Can you read Chinese? I had a Chinese-language article published in JiangsuNow about woodblock text engraving. (Can’t read Chinese? There’s an English translation at the end.)

I began working for The National Interest and had multiple articles published on its website.

That’s just a sample of some of my big articles and interesting experiences this past year. Subscribe to my email list (use the form below or menu above) and follow me on Facebook to see even more.

Oct 15

What it’s like living in a Chinese corental with 8 flatmates, a crazy downstairs neighbor who hates us, and a landlord who doesn’t take shit from us or him

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Living in China

When I arrived in China six years ago, I was a recent graduate fresh out of college with no idea how to rent an apartment in a foreign country and a stipend much too small to cover a studio apartment in Shanghai.

So I did what any foreigner in that situation should do: I rented a room in an illegal co-rental apartment (hezu) with eight flatmates. What I learned from that experience is that living in a hezu is a great way to make Chinese friends and become accustomed to life in China.

After I found an internship in 2012, the first thing I did was to get a list together of apartments from the website 58Tongcheng, a sort of Craigslist-esque website for which professional real estate listings are a main feature (“a magical website,” according to its commercials). Quickly I learned that the listings have almost no relation to the apartments an agent will show clients.

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I called to express interest in a promising apartment listed on the 27th floor of a building a few subway stops away from downtown. The agent told me to meet outside Lujiabang subway station and took me to the 23rd floor of a tower with European-esque colonnades and design ornaments. The apartment was new, he said, and I could tell, because there were still wood planks lying against the wall, and tape and paint on the floor and walls. It wasn’t the place in the listing.

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Nonetheless, I liked what I saw. It had five bedrooms, a common room, a refrigerator, and a spectacular view from the glass-enclosed balcony. I quickly decided I wanted to live there. There was only one problem: I was a foreigner. Only Chinese could live there, the landlord said.

I felt the sting of discrimination. Why couldn’t foreigners live with Chinese? I knew some foreigners in China could be loud and obnoxious, but I wasn’t that kind of foreigner. Why’d they show it to me in the first place if I couldn’t live there?

I told the landlord, “Wo hui shuo zhongwen” (“I can speak Chinese”), and I appreciate Chinese culture, so I should be able to get along with the others.

“That’s not the problem,” Landlord said. It’s just that the apartment, you see, was not technically a legal living arrangement. After all, Landlord had taken what was licensed as a single-family apartment and turned it into a flophouse. She had put up makeshift walls and rewired the electricity. Even the kitchen was a bedroom.

“Only ‘family’ can live there,” she said, referring to an apparently loophole. Why couldn’t I be “family”? “Aren’t I your nephew? Don’t you have a ‘sister’ who married a foreigner and had children?” I asked.

The landlord was charmed and eventually let me stay. A Chinese friend negotiated to cut the price by 200 yuan a month. I moved in a few days after signing the contract and was disappointed to see that the balcony had disappeared. There was a wall in front of it. The landlord had created yet another new bedroom!

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Besides me, 8 other people were living in the hezu, a word that means co-rented apartment. They were male and female, old and young. I was the only foreigner. Four of my flatmates were recent college graduates like me who had moved to Shanghai for work. Among them were three women, two of whom worked as models, and one man who worked first as a real estate agent and later as an event host. Next door to me was a young couple and their infant baby, and, in the smallest room, was an old man, who collected the rent.

The day I moved in was July 4, America’s Independence Day. In order to celebrate, I offered my flatmates American whisky. “I brought this from America, it’s one of my country’s biggest brands,” I said, as I unveiled the Jim Beam. We clanked cups together, gan bei-ed, and then went to a dinner of hot pot. To celebrate a country that aspires to be a melting pot, I felt whisky and hot pot was an ideal meal.

Before long, conflicts began. The root of the conflicts stemmed not from my being a foreigner but rather from all of us being outsiders—foreign to Shanghai. Some Shanghainese who had moved to Shanghai a decade or two ago don’t like recent arrivals, especially those from neighboring Anhui, a less prosperous inland province where a few of the models were from, whom they view as “uncultured” “peasants.”

The man living on the floor below us was one such person. Despite us following Landlord’s request not to be too loud, the man below quickly went to war with us.

He would knock the women’s clothes off the drying poles when it was hanging to outside the windows. He came to our apartment one day and got into a fistfight with the husband living next door to me. One night in winter, we heard a loud crack. The next morning, we discovered the crazy man had smashed the bathroom window from below. Showering was very cold for the next month until Landlord finally had it fixed.

Worse than the December cold was the scorching summer heat. With 8 people in the place and the temperature hitting 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) a few times, we had air conditioning cranking to the max all summer long. Often the power would go out. After all of us called Landlord to complain, she would eventually come late the next day, sometimes two days later, to fix it.

Within the hezu, however, we were getting along and making friends. I became good friends with the model, “Small A”, and the real estate agent, “Small W”. We all had dreams. Being young workers in Shanghai, we were intoxicated by the bright lights of the big city. We went to a nightclub one night and drank Qingdaos while standing at the bar and marveling at the spectacle of champaign being served with sparklers to tables with bottle service.

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Most nights, however, it was shao kao barbecue. Small W told me he was gay. He couldn’t tell his parents or almost anyone else, he said, but he trusted me because, “Foreigners are more open.” Now he’s married to a woman. Small A told me how tough it is to stand on your feet all day at expos for video games, wine, cars, and washing machines while keeping up a constant smile and cute demeanor towards strange men who ogle you. We all complained about Landlord and how she didn’t treat us well enough.

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But then one day we arrived at the apartment and there was a notice on the door from the police telling us to leave by the end of the week. Our illegal apartment had finally been uncovered and sanctioned. When I called Landlord, she told me not to worry. She was there quickly and had a curtain put over Small A’s door and left some boxes scattered haphazardly in the common room. When the police came back, she told them that we had moved out.

I did move out for good halfway through my lease. I had found a new job, which offered its own housing on site in a much nicer apartment with just two flatmates in Lujiazui, the posh financial district. In the ensuing six years, I lived in many different apartments in different cities, most of which were vastly more comfortably than that 9-person co-rental.

But none of them had the same charm and excitement. Living with 8 Chinese flatmates from different provinces who shared common goals and faced common challenges. Even Landlord ultimately stood up for us.

A few years late, I was reminiscing about those times with Small A, and I asked her if she knew why the man downstairs came to our apartment to fight. You didn’t know? she said. It was because Landlord left a used tampon on his door after he started bothering us.

Jul 09

What a flight from Japan to the U.S. teaches about Confucian values and capitalism in America

By Mitchell Blatt | Culture

It was a most disappointing experience to arrive at the Los Angeles International Airport in late June 2018 and transfer from a Japan Airlines flight to an American Airlines flight. It was an experience, I believe, that reveals much about the marketization and stratification of American life, as well as the need for virtue to coexist with capitalism.

I had been in transit for close to 26 hours, having flown JAL 38 from Singapore to Tokyo and then JAL 7018 from Tokyo to LAX. Yet I was feeling all right. I had passable (which is to say, quality, by airline standards) meals on the JAL flights, including a salad with smoked salmon. I had two bags carried by JAL for free. An uncle of mine greeted me at LAX and had lunch/dinner/whatever at a restaurant in the terminal, a great way to spend a 4 hour layover. But now I have arrived at the last of the enjoyable aspects of the experience.

As for the service and treatment by the airport and airlines in America, there is nothing much positive to say. Consider the contrast between Japan Airlines and American.

Boarding at the Singapore Airport, one of the nicest in the world, was an orderly process. Japan Airlines only has four boarding groups, the first two of which included priority customers. I was offered a selection of newspapers in English, Chinese, Malay, or Tamil. Arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport with 6 hours for a layover, I asked the friendly customer service representative how to get to Tokyo, and she gave directions to the Tsukiji Fish Market, where I ate fresh, delicious sushi. The security line in Haneda was fast and efficient. No need to take shoes off in either Singapore or Japan, and the attendants moved passengers through the line with not the slightest hint of impatience.

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merican visitors to the Los Angeles International Airport are greeted by an automated kiosk that prints your customs ticket. The machines are not so bad as far as automated kiosks go, but it’s representative of a broader American corporate push to get rid of as many human workers as humanly possible. Now you will see automated kiosks at Safeway, CVS, McDonalds, check-in areas for many of airlines and more.

Airlines in the U.S. are now trying to implement an “automated” security line, like the one I used when reentering the terminal at LAX. The conveyer belt system shoots out a bin at you, and TSA agents try to explain to confused passengers, as only TSA agents can, how the system works, then all the bins get stuck in a line going through the X-ray machine, and the passengers wait single-file to be scanned and have their genitals massaged by a TSA agent, and the whole fancy process doesn’t take any less time than the old way.

Once you finally arrive at American Airlines’ gate, after it has been delayed for four hours and switches gates three times, the gate attendants will call out boarding in slow, precise order, all the way through nine status-listed boarding groups, plus pre-boarding. The first five groups are all those passengers who paid extra for status tickets or frequent flier programs.

U.S. airlines have divided their passengers into dozens of groups based on price-discrimination and value to the corporation. Delta has six groups, consisting of 27 categories of premium members, including Diamond Medallion members, Platinum Medallion, Gold Medallion, and partner airlines programs like GOL Smiles. American has 22, and United, 19. If the order one boards a plane with assigned seats is so important to status seekers, one wonders whether Flying Blue Platinum members must feel offended and ripped off that they have to share the “Sky Priority boarding zone” with Flying Blue Gold members despite their clear superiority in miles earned.

Even low-cost Spirit has four groups, with the first two for premium ticket holders. At least American and United board active military members in the first groups. JetBlue and Southwest have military board in group three—after those who paid the most.

No newspapers are offered on the American flight. It goes without saying that there’s no food and no liquor and that, on an ordinary domestic flight, checked luggage costs US$25. It’s not just that America’s airlines offer worse domestic service than do foreign airlines. Their international service fails to live up to standard in many ways, too.

United and American don’t even offer free liquor on flights to and from China. United offers only free beer to main cabin passengers. American offers beer and wine on flights to China and Korea and spirits to Japan. Just for a few contrasting examples, Japan Airlines, Emirates, Lusthafna, Turkish Airlines, and Taiwan’s Eva Air, among others, offer free spirits to all passengers, ANA offers sake, and Air France brags that it is the only airline to provide free champagne to coach.

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merican airlines do not stand up well in international comparisons. AirHelp’s 2018 rankings show no U.S. airlines in the top 20. (The highest is American Airlines at #23, followed by United at #37.) Neither do the 2017 Skytrax World Airlines Awards. Airlines on the Asian continent dominated, taking nine of the top ten spots.

Skytrax also classifies airlines by star ratings. In North America, there is only one 4-star airline: Air Canada. The city/SAR of Hong Kong itself boasts three airlines rated 4-stars or higher, as does mainland China. Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and Singapore each have two.

Upon landing after a sub-par flight, American passengers are greeted by often-dilapidated airports serviced by subcontracted companies trying to nickel and dime them. Need a luggage cart? That’ll be $5 at most American airports. Those carts are free in Asian and most European airports. Finally, there will be no useful public transportation to take you out to explore most American cities—a reality that keeps the poor poor. (Those which do exist can’t match the 99%+ on time performance of the Hong Kong, Singapore, and Seoul metro systems.)

What’s the point? After all, most people don’t need luggage carts, since their luggage has wheels. But it’s just another example of how America tries to squeeze money out of people out of every opportunity for providing any kind of service that is regarded as simple hospitality by much of the rest of the world.

Alexis de Tocqueville remarked, “The love of wealth is … at the bottom of all that the Americans do.”

It’s not that America is a capitalist country. So are the countries of Europe, and so are South Korea and Japan. It’s that America has little concept of a public sphere. America is one of the most individualistic countries in the world, with a high degree of competition and a “winner-take-all” ethos.

asian countries

european countries

Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist who worked for IBM and taught at Maastrich University. He developed the “6-D Model”, a comparison of national cultures across six dimensions.

The United States is shown to be both extremely individualistic and scored low on long term orientation, compared to European and Asian countries, as well as more competitive (“masculine”) than average.

The explanation defines values as such:

Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. … The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive.

About the competitive nature of the United States, Hofstede Insights writes:

Behavior in school, work, and play are based on the shared values that people should “strive to be the best they can be” and that “the winner takes all”. As a result, Americans will tend to display and talk freely about their “successes” and achievements in life. … Typically, Americans “live to work” so that they can obtain monetary rewards and as a consequence attain higher status based on how good one can be. Many white collar workers will move to a more fancy neighborhood after each and every substantial promotion.

About Japanese attitude towards time, the analysts wrote, “The idea behind it is that the companies are not here to make money every quarter for the share holders, but to serve the stake holders and society at large for many generations to come (e.g. Matsuhista).”

American capitalism, combining an ultra-competitive nature and unbridled individualism, seeks to serve the interests of individuals and corporations. Luggage carts are there for airports and companies to make money, not to serve the passengers. Automated kiosks take work away from paid employees and force customers to do it. Boarding order becomes a perk and a status symbol.

This attitude pervades many aspects of America going well beyond airline travel. Americans, compared to Europeans, fiercely oppose regulations on businesses, with a view that more profit “creates jobs.” Cities and states sell off parking meters and highways to private companies, who quadruple rates and rake in profits at a rate of six times as much as they paid.

Major League Baseball stadiums charge US$6 for a 14 ounce beer. At Korean baseball games, a beer on the inside of the stadium costs 3,000 won (US$2.69), same as it costs outside the stadium. And outside food and drink is allowed to be taken into the park. Chaebol companies own baseball teams in Korea almost as a national obligation. Europe, meanwhile, holds tighter to old world traditions of hospitality than does the U.S.

The stakeholders and society are much more important in a Confucian culture that puts a premium on upholding one’s obligations to society and comporting oneself with honor. Tomasz Śleziak wrote about Confucianism in Korea, “Since the Joseon period, maintaining the sense of proper social conduct –which is thought to lead to the general social harmony – has been highly promoted by central governing institutions…”

Max Weber thought that Confucianism posed a problem for the development of capitalism in China. It is true that merchants had long been at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Confucian societies. Confucius said, “Gentlemen are interested in virtue, vile people are interested in profit.” There’s even a chengyu (Chinese phrase) that goes, “All businessmen are rapists” (“无奸不商”).

Confucius realized, “Wealth and rank are desirous, but are useless if not attained through ethical means.”

In today’s economy, maybe Confucianism inculcates some necessary restraints to capitalism.

Jun 21

Dancing on the streets of Singapore

By Mitchell Blatt | Culture , Music

Singapore is a city-state known for peace and order. It’s a place where chewing gum is banned, and the airport refrains from doing final boarding call announcements to make it quieter. It’s not a place where you would expect to see people dancing to classic Chinese pop-rock music in the middle of a public sidewalk guangchang wu style.

But there they were on the corner of New Bridge Street and the lantern-adorned Smith Street at 8 pm shaking their hips, swinging their arms, and doing the twist. I began watching and talking to a local, and soon enough the woman had convinced me to join in singing and dancing. I have to try out the local culture where ever I go.

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Unlike Chinese guangchang wu, which features many slow 50’s and 60’s era songs with choreographed dance moves, the music in Singapore’s Chinatown is more modern, fast-paced, and swinging. The dancing is less choreographed and left up to individuals. Singapore doesn’t have the legacy of political dancing during the Cultural Revolution, which many of China’s public square dancing grannies experienced.

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Dancing at that intersection takes place every Saturday and Sunday evening, dancers said, but lately they have faced complaints over noise. About half an hour after I arrived, two police officers approached the music performer.

The dancing aunties and uncles were angry. “It’s always the same person complaining,” a few of them said.

“People can still use the sidewalk,” which was basically true, but the concentration of people did slow down, if not entirely obstruct, traffic.

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The tall officer examined the musician’s documents for a minute or two. The second officer tried to convince the travel writer to delete the photo he took of the scene. The officers left a few minutes later. The musician then began playing a little bit quieter.

By then, however, many of the original dancers had gathered to observe the public bus that had crashed into a car.

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Jun 01

Dali’s most important religious festival starts June 6: Photos

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Photos

During Raosanling festival in Dali, Yunnan province, people sing and dance, slaughter chickens, and pray in front of epic billows of smoke emanating from the most burning joss paper most tourists will ever see in one place at one time.

Raosanling is a festival of the local Bai ethnicity, who believe in both Buddhism and Benzhu folk religion. It lasts three days and is celebrated at three separate locations nearby Dali Ancient Village: Qingdong temple on the first day, Xizhou the second day, and Majiuyi temple on the third day.

Because it begins on the 23rd day of the 4th lunar month, it starts on June 6 on the Gregorian calendar this year. Here are some photos I took of the first day of Raosanling in 2013:
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May 22

Jinshan: The fishing village at the very south edge of Shanghai

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Travel

Shanghai is home to tree farms, streets lined with fishwives, and children searching for crawfish at low tide.

Jinshan, at the very southwestern corner of the administrative area of Shanghai, is a mildly interesting diversion, a fishing town that has been touristified over the past five years. There you can find fish being sold on the street, museums about Jinshan fishing culture, and an “ancient-style” street full of charming shops and cafes. Here I will tell you how to get there and share some of what to see.

The fishing village is called Jinshan Zui Fishing Village (金山嘴渔村 – Jinshan zui yu cun). The Zui character means “lips.” The restaurants along the road should have you licking your lips. Shanghai was once just a fishing village. Now this is one of the few fishing villages in Shanghai; Shanghai city is not known for fishing markets like Busan, Hong Kong, or even Seoul.

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The fish sellers are lined up on the street that runs along the coast. Behind the fish vendors is a wall and a long stone promenade overlooking the water. (Travelers were climbing over the wall and down a wobbly ladder.) The water, when I visited, was very low, and kids were playing in the sand. They were looking for crayfish in the rocks and concrete buffers.

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On the other side of the road, going away from the ocean, is the typical “ancient-style” shopping street with cafes, bars, souvenir shops, and snack vendors. It was scenic, with flowers, canals (although the water didn’t look terribly clean), and cafes with porches. The “ancient-style” street isn’t close to as scenic as the ancient streets of Suzhou—and Suzhou is just 30-40 minutes away by train, too—but Jinshan is cheaper and more of a daytrip within Shanghai.

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Food
The road by the shore is lined with seafood restaurants. They have live fish in tanks for selection. Independent travelers on budget might choose to have seafood fried rice (海鲜炒饭 – haixian chaofan) for ¥20-40 yuan. I asked for it, and the manager said it wasn’t on his menu, but he said he would make some up for ¥35 yuan, and selected some shrimp, clam, and other seafood, and had it fried with eggs and vegetables.

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How to get to Jinshan

Go to Shanghai South Railway Station (上海南站), located at the so-named subway station on Line 1 (red) and Line 3 (yellow). At Shanghai South Station, there is a station called Jinshan Station (金山站). Tickets are sold at a machine, which doesn’t require identification. Click through the buttons—or have a Chinese traveler in line help you, most of them are going to Jinshan, and they will assume you are, too—and select the final station—金山卫 (Jinshan wei).

Trains leave from Shanghai South about 2-3 times an hour, starting at 5 am and ending at 9:20 pm or so. Trains from Jinshan to the city start at 6 am and run until 9:55 pm. The journey for most trains takes 32 minutes. All tickets for the full trip cost ¥10 yuan (US$1.63) one way and have no assigned seats.

You can get from Jinshan Wei Station to Zui Fishing Village by taking a tax for ¥12 yuan or walking or waiting for the bus, which might come once an hour.

This restroom won awards as a "Model Toilet" and one of Shanghai's "Most Beautiful Tourism Toilets" of 2016.

This restroom won awards as a “Model Toilet” and one of Shanghai’s “Most Beautiful Tourism Toilets” of 2016.

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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.