Monthly Archives: September 2009

Black Market DVDs

DVD market

In the short time I’ve been in China, one of the great things I’ve found is the black market DVD stores. For the most part, these stores look like any small DVD/CD store. They’ll have the latest Taiwanese pop, an assortment of American music, and expensive box sets of T.V. shows.

But in the back, some of the DVD/CD stores will have crates of black market DVDs. It’s a lot of fun to dig through the unorganized DVD’s to see what you can find. They’ll have everything from the latest Hollywood blockbuster (often in Chinese stores week or so before it opens in theaters in the U.S.) to more difficult to find BBC sitcoms.

In the DVD market I found this BBC sitcom. It was recommended by a friend back in the States, but I never got around to tracking to down. I think I would have trouble getting this in the US (that is, without Netflix).

In the DVD market I found this BBC sitcom. It was recommended by a friend back in the States, but I never got around to tracking to down. I think I would have trouble getting this in the US (that is, without Netflix).

Derek digging for bootlegs

Derek digging for bootlegs.

The bootlegged DVDs are cheap, around $1.20 U.S. per disc. The quality of the DVD varies dramatically. I’ve seen “District 9” in which the aliens speech was not subtitled, “Hurt Locker” dubbed over in Italian with English subtitles, and I’ve heard about a copy of the newest Terminator that switches to Russian in the last 10 minutes. But bad quality isn’t much of a problem. And if it is, you can simply take to DVD back to the store, tell them what’s wrong, and exchange it for another.

These are the movies and shows Ive bought. So far I havent watched any of these movies. I am in China afterall! Theres too much I havent seen to be watching American media. Ive heard the winters are long and wet, so maybe then.

These are the movies and shows I've bought. So far I haven't watched any of these movies. I am in China afterall! There's too much I haven't seen to be watching American media. I've heard the winters are long and wet, so maybe then.

Walking Street, Bù Xíng Jiē

The main commercial center of Changsha is Bù Xíng Jiē, which translates into English as Pedestrian Shopping Street or as we call it, Walking Street. Walking Street is a street that is completely blocked off from motorized vehicles. I would guess that it’s about 1/2 a mile of clothing stores, restaurants, street food stalls, American fast food (McDonalds and KFC are the most abundant and now there is a Papa John’s Pizza), video game arcades, movie theaters, and tattoo parlors.

This statue marks one of the enterances of Walking Street. It is a common meet-up place for friends around Changsha.

This statue marks one of the entrances of Walking Street. It is a common meet-up place for friends around Changsha. Bright Lights everywhere.

Walking Street is behinde the statue, to the right.

Walking Street is behind the statue, to the right.

At night, Walking Street is  crowded with Changsha’s youth. Groups of young Chinese get dressed up and go to Walking Street to hang out for the evening. The combination of bright lights and young people make Walking Street one of the more exciting places in the city, that is, before between 5 and 11pm. Confusing for the uninformed, the street turns into a ghost town at 11pm.

Danny is a fellow teacher. The boy seemed a little afraid of us.

Danny is a fellow teacher. The boy seemed a little afraid of us.

Walking Street is surrounded by shopping malls (with designer stores like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabanna), alleyways lined with bars (a zoning quirk where the businesses on some streets don’t pay a liquor tax, so bars dominate these streets), dance clubs, and more American fast food. Walking Street and the surrounding area proves that there is wealth in Changsha, that there are enough people in a city like Changsha-large, but not terribly large by China’s standard-with the disposable income to support many high end businesses.

This is a Chinese poem. The man is using a Calligraphy brush and water. I was told that 10 years ago it was common to see men practicing the art of calligraphy like this in parks and other public places, less so now.

This is a Chinese poem. The man is using a Calligraphy brush and water. I was told that 10 years ago it was common to see men practicing the art of calligraphy like this in parks and other public places, it's less common now.

Pollution with Chinese Characteristics

When I first arrived in Changsha, I was expecting it to be polluted. I was expecting the air to be black with smog, the streets to smell like open sewers from babies and children relieving themselves on the street. The air is definitely polluted, but it’s no debilitating. The worst visible air pollution comes from the heavy traffic and from Chinese men smoking cigarettes. When traffic is bad in Changsha, it can take 20-30 minutes to get through an intersection. The carbon monoxide is nearly impossible to get away from, and crossing a busy street all but guarantees a direct inhalation of exhaust. Cigarette smoke is everyone: restaurants, bars, hospitals, video game arcades. I was very surprised to walk into a popular arcade and see young men in their 20’s chain smoking with they play the latest fighting game. I always associated arcades and video games in general with much younger kids. The haze of cigarette smoke seems more hazardous than the car and industrial pollution.

It’s not uncommon for the streets to smell like raw sewage. I haven’t seen babies pooping in the gutter, but there are dogs that will do their business anywhere, street or sidewalk, regardless of traffic. But the streets are Changsha are full of many smells, its a very odorous place. There are many small restaurants (literally, it seems like every family operates a small neighborhood restaurant with 4-5 tables) that line the sidewalks, from which one will catch a whiff of roasted garlic, stir-fried meat and vegetables, or the cough-inducing smell of chili-powerder. The streets of Changsha are actally very clean. Every stretch of sidewalk has someone who continually sweeps throughout the day, so the streets are generally clear of rubbish.

I was hoping for LA-esque smog produced sunsets, unfortunately beautiful sunsets are rare.

I was hoping for LA-esque smog produced sunsets, unfortunately beautiful sunsets are rare.

What is alarming is that Changsha is still rapidly growing. A Chinese friend was telling me that there are plans to connect Changsha with two other surrounding cities and they expect the population of Changsha to reach 12 million in a decade. The worst pollution visible to me is from cars, more Chinese are able to buy cars, and more Chinese are moving to cities where they want cars.

Changsha

(pinyin: Chángshā, simplified Chinese: 长沙)Changsha highlighted in China

Changsha  is a city of approximately 6 million people in south-east China and is the capitol of the Hunan Province. Hunan is best known for two things: the birthplace of Mao Zedong and food that is almost as spicy as the food in Sichuan. There doesn’t seem to be much culturally remarkable in Changsha. There are huge statues of Communist political leaders, especially Mao, but I imagine you’ll find the same in any decent sized Chinese city. A few years ago there was an enormously popular  t.v. program in China called SuperGirl that was produced in Changsha. I’ve heard it described as a Chinese American Idol but only young women can enter. Beyond that, I don’t know mao-zedongwhat would distinguish Changsha from the other large Chinese cities that are not Shanghai or Beijing. It’s certainly an exciting city. It’s experienced tremendous population growth in the past decade and a half, essentially all people moving from the countryside to the city. Again, this is something happening everywhere in China. It’s a city that’s been industrialized for awhile now. Infact, I can’t remember seeing any factories or warehouses, but I know things are manufactured in Changsha, so they must exist. Nearly all the businesses I see are service oriented. Perhaps with the my opportunities to travel and see more of China I’ll have better insights into Changsha’s uniqueness, but right now its difficult to describe Changsha as anything more than a large, crowded city where everything is written in Chinese characters instead of one of the other Romance languages.