Tim Longhurst's Blog
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How a sell-out olympics means rows of empty seats

August 12th, 2008 · 1 Comment

When people say the Olympics has “sold out”, what they may actually mean is that the Olympics are more about “selling out” to corporate sponsors than ensuring people actually see the games live…

There are a number of reasons that Olympic stadium seats are empty in these ‘sold out’ Olympics. Here is the reason I find the most compelling:

Sponsors, media rights holders and government officials aren’t using their tickets; or, they are using their tickets for only a portion of the allocated time (tickets secure the holder a seat for an entire ‘session’, which usually lasts several hours).

The Olympics cost sponsors, media rights holders, government officials and committees (IOC, national Olympic committees and sporting authorities) a lot of time and money, and part of their reward includes allocations of tickets.

So the question is, how do tickets that won’t be used get allocated efficiently now and at the next games? Part of the answer may come from Wimbledon, helpfully, the home of the 2012 Olympic games:

“Wimbledon operates a ticket resale system, with tickets surrendered during the day resold and the proceeds donated to charity.

When spectators decide to leave before the end of a day’s play, they are encouraged to place their ticket in special boxes located around the ground.

These tickets are then re-printed and sold at the resale kiosk, which opens mid to late afternoon.”

This is a positive Public Relations opportunity

Well that’s straight forward: Olympic sponsors / ticket holders could quickly register the tickets they won’t be using each day online… The organisation that releases the most amount of tickets through the system (and therefore raises the most money for charity) could receive some kind of recognition, as a way of rewarding organisations that would otherwise be leaving seats empty.

At these games, though, a more basic system can come into play – if sponsors have tickets they won’t be using, give them away! Just about anyone on the street would gladly receive the gift. It’s much more sporting than just letting a ticket go unused because you couldn’t find someone schmooze-worthy to take!

If you represent an Olympic sponsor (General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, Manulife, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung, Visa, Sinopec, CNPC, China Mobile, Volkswagen, Adidas, Air China, PICC, State Grid…) and/or you’ve got an innovative method of ensuring ticket allocations are used, post it!

Zàijiàn! Tim

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Category: Corporate craziness

Beijing Olympics – We shall fight them on the beach volleyball!

August 10th, 2008 · No Comments

Last night was my first Olympic event – beach volleyball. As I approached the stadium, rows and rows of Chinese men dressed in “Beijing” uniforms were lined up in perfect rows, standing at attention. At first, I had assumed they were cleaners, like those I’d seen at Tianamen Square a few days before:

But these guys didn’t have brooms…

…or dustbins…

Still, I thought it was worth a photo, because it’s not often you see people standing so straight or so evenly placed in a sports ground… And then I saw where they were sitting in the stadium…

…These guys weren’t cleaners, they’re the security. And possibly not just any security, either – one of my fellow spectators explained that she’d seen one of the guys in the uniforms above sporting an Olympic photo ID, and he was wearing a military uniform in the photo.

I guess having a hundred Chinese military uniforms in the stadium would have been a little confronting. Polo tops with chinos as camouflage? Who knew?

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Category: Things that make you go hmmm

Modern China & Tsing Tao diplomacy on a Beijing street corner

August 9th, 2008 · 2 Comments

[caption id="attachment_412" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mark helps his new Australian friends get a Taxi in Beijing"]Mark helps his new Australian friends get a Taxi in Beijing[/caption]

Do you “look Chinese”? Well, if Beijing’s taxi drivers don’t think so, you’ll find it much harder to hail a taxi than the locals.

Beijing taxi drivers avoid foreigners

I’ve heard various explanations – non-Mandarin speakers are difficult to understand, and apparently it causes a ‘loss of face’ for a taxi driver to admit that he/she doesn’t speak English. More likely, though, is that us non-Mandarin speakers are hard work – we sing Mandarin words repeatedly trying to find the right tone, and we often don’t know where we’re going, or at least, how to pronounce where we’re going in Chinese

Attempting to hail a post-dinner cab with a few Australian friends, the “Don’t look Chinese? I don’t drive people who don’t look Chinese” taxi policy appeared to be in full swing. As the minutes (and empty cabs) passed us by, our frustration was noted by a local (read: Chinese) man who introduced himself as Mark. He offered to help us hail taxis, and soon we were in business.

Let’s have a beer with Mark

As our group numbers diminished, it became obvious that Mark – a young, Chinese student with perfect English, was actually a great find, and it would be a shame to speed off in a taxi away from our new local friend. “Hey Mark,” I enthused, “How about we go and have a beer?”. For whatever reason, Mark didn’t feel comfortable going to a bar with us, but he advised us he would buy beers and bring them back to our corner.

I’ve read that Beijing Chinese are famed for their generosity, and fights over the bill are common. When I insisted that Mark take my 10 quai ($1.50 – there would be change…) to buy the beers, an argument ensued, which I won, reasoning that transportation of said beers to the street corner was hospitality enough. Having my money in his shirt pocket, Mark offered his mobile phone as collateral – to be collected on his return. We dismissed his gesture and off he rode to get those beers. When he returned with three Tsing Tao ‘longnecks’ (I don’t know what the locals call them, that’s an Aussie term for ridiculously large beer) he gave me the 4 quai change, meaning the 3 beers cost just under a dollar, total.

Mark is enrolled in Japanese studies at university. He is working at a Japanese restaurant in a Western 5 star hotel, and speaks perfect English. He told us he learned English by singing Richard Marx songs and watching American movies, neither of which explained his slightly Danish accent.

I didn’t ask our host to sing a Richard Marx song, which upon reflection was either a gross oversight or a demonstration of good judgment on my part – I have little doubt Mark would have sung for us had we insisted.

The media in China and other topics foreigners like to raise

We talked politics for a while, with me asking about how Mark feels about the media in China. “In Australia, we have all sorts of media from all over the world… Journalists can report on what they like, but my feeling is that that isn’t the case in China – does that bother you?”. “To be frank,” Mark began sternly, “We like our media the way it is.” End of discussion, at least on that topic…

As we sat on the curb of the footpath, watching the midnight parade of a Beijing street pass us by. Over there, a man in his 40s sits, shirtless, trying to cool himself in the frustratingly warm breeze. Here, a family of a father, mother and small daughter meander past in their pajamas – perhaps they didn’t have air conditioning, and couldn’t sleep in the heat? Cyclists spin past with baskets laden with shopping. A man lobbing a large hessian bag full of plastic bottles reaches into the nearby bins to collect his bounty.

Although ‘media’ was clearly not on the agenda, Mark was still keen to talk politics, particularly about Mao and the various government decisions that have led to what Mark described as China’s growing prosperity. Chairman Mao’s picture is at the geographic heart of Beijing – looking down on Tienanmen Square from the Southern wall of the Forbidden City. It is interesting to hear someone born in 1987 speak of the Government with such enthusiasm and interest. It’s not common in Australia to hear 21-year-olds sing the Federal Government’s praises – or for them to even have an opinion.

Australia’s Prime Minister has a Chinese name… Luke Erwin

Speaking of the Australian government, I was curious as to whether Australia’s Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was the Chinese-household name Australians believe he is. Well, from my sample of one, yes he is. Turns out the Chinese have a name for Kevin – it sounds like Lu-ker-wen… Here’s me trying to learn the pronunciation:

Kevin Rudd in Mandarin

We talked for a while about life in Australia, and I talked about how the sky was blue almost every day. Clouds pass and it’s blue. I expressed to Mark my frustration that he and his Chinese compatriots didn’t enjoy clean, clear air like me and my friends in Australia. “The way I see it,” I began, “Almost everything I own is made in China: my clothes, my computer, my bike, my car. I get a lot of benefits from these things, but the costs of producing them – the environmental costs, are paid for by people in China. The pollution in the air, soil and water is from factories making things – in part – for me. I get the gain, China gets the pain. I don’t think that’s fair.” Mark listened, but he liked me talking about the pollution about as much as he liked me asking about the media, so that conversation didn’t go too far, either

I’ve traveled fairly widely, and I’ve talked politics with Canadians, Brits, Kiwi’s, Indians, Americans, French and Germans… All those nations are democracies… When we talk about the policies of our own governments, even though we have a stake in our governments through the voting/lobbying processes, I’ve never experienced the kind of ownership/responsibility/defensiveness displayed by our host.

We actually talked and joked about lots of topics, but I’ve chosen to focus on the ‘diplomatic talks’ feeling of the conversation, because I’ve read an article in today’s Herald that goes some way to explain my experience, and offers some interesting ideas about the rise of China.

In John Garnaut and Hamish Macdonald’s article, China’s Strong March, the journalists outline their perspective on China’s media and economy, and prospects for the future. The article explains that Mark’s enthusiasm for the government isn’t uncommon – according to the US-based Pew Research Centre quoted in the story, 86% of Chinese respondents believe their country is heading in the right direction, up from 48% in 2002. That figure is explained by describing the way the propaganda office in China has been using Western-style PR to manage perceptions in the Chinese people.

In what makes this my longest ever blog post, I have taken the most salient quotes from “China’s Strong March” and included them below. It’s worth reading the whole article, but here’s the brief version:

Propaganda/PR driving popular opinion

“[In 1989] Deng Xiaoping instructed the post-Tiananmen leaders to also make one crucial departure from the previous years of reform. From that moment they would place as much importance on propaganda as they did on the economy.”

“The party elevated its propaganda chief to the inner cabinet and extended his reach to each tier of government and every realm of public communication.”

“As the Communist Party moved beyond the ideals of revolution to the imperatives of staying in power. After the Soviet Bloc collapse, the public was educated on the perils of premature democracy. The news media were guided to incessantly show the chaos that followed the collapse of Soviet communism and ethnic bloodshed after the break-up of Yugoslavia.”

“China has rebuilt its propaganda apparatus with tools and methods based as much on Western public relations theory as Marxist-Leninist dogma, censorship and coercion. “In the 1960s people weren’t necessarily convinced, they were just terrorised into submission,” says [Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand] who this year published a forensic account of China’s propaganda system, Marketing Dictatorship. “Now they stress management rather than control because they understand that persuasion is more effective than force.”

China’s PR in action

“[Within weeks of the Sechwan Earthquake] Sheng Si, Bu Li (Alive or Dead, Never Apart). The song, hastily composed by an official disaster committee in Beijing and sung by the martial arts movie star Jackie Chan, was broadcast nationwide. It was a sentiment that drowned out the anger from the bereaved parents of children killed in shoddy school buildings.”

It’s us vs. the world – the Chinese perspective

“Incidents such as the clash of Chinese and American military aircraft, the Tibetan riots, the Olympic torch relay and even the Sichuan earthquake were immediately framed in the nationalist narrative of a resurgent China defending itself against a hostile world.”

The Olympics

-China’s tense determination to host a “successful” Olympics and its clinical campaign to top the gold medal tally are part of the new narrative about redressing past humiliation. “We have to have a good Olympics,” said the Vice-Premier, Wang Qishan, when he was mayor of Beijing last year. “Otherwise not only will our generation lose face but also our ancestors.”

China’s booming economy

“So where is China headed? Chinese officials don’t like talking about how big their country’s going to be – the world is wary enough already about “China Rising” – but the Chinese economy looks set to power on much as it has for three decades, at a time when the West appears set for a few tough years. Geo-political power will shift accordingly.”

“The West has no direct lever to force China to change domestic policies. It could close its wallets today and China would hardly notice. China, on the other hand, has become the single biggest lender to the US Government, as Beijing works out what to do with the $US2 billion ($2.2 billion) in foreign exchange reserves it accumulates each day… If China pulled those investments, American and world interest rates would soar and the financial crisis would become a global catastrophe… Thankfully, that’s not going to happen. To analysts such as Richard Rigby – the director of the Australian National University’s China Institute, a former senior China analyst at the Office of National Assessments and a former consul-general in Shanghai – it’s a financial version of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine that kept the nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, at arms’ length for so long.”

Taiwan as a tipping point

“If there’s a “tipping point” to worry about, it’s when China’s military feels it can control the seas around Taiwan for the five days or so before the US can send massive reinforcements. At this point the Chinese leaders – aware American public opinion cares little for Taiwan’s fate – might expect Washington to rethink, and US allies such as Japan and Australia to waver. A report to the US Congress in April said this “anti-access” capability could be reached as early as 2010.

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Category: Communication and connection

How to speak Beijing Mandarin Chinese like a local

August 8th, 2008 · 6 Comments

[caption id="attachment_396" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="A local waitress helps me with my Chinese"]A local waitress helps me with my Chinese[/caption]

Taxi drivers in Beijing were offered free English classes in the lead up to the Olympics, but from my one week of ‘on the ground’ experience I can only conclude that most of the drivers skipped class.

In fact, as someone not sticking to the tourist haunts or well-worn paths to the ubiquitous KFC’s, the people that I’m communicating with to order food, get around and socialise, generally speak a maximum of “hello” and “bye bye!”. I’m the visitor, so it’s up to me to learn at least the basics of the host language for simple daily communication over the next few weeks…

I’ve made a go of it, but boy is it hard!

About Mandarin

In Beijing, China’s capital, the language spoken is Mandarin. There are actually a number of languages in China, but most of the media broadcasts in Mandarin, so it’s widely understood. Well, that’s what I’ve been told, anway.

Tones

Mandarin has five tones, described as “hīgh”, “risíng”, “fallǐng-rising”, “fallìng” and “neutral” (note that I’ve added ‘tone marks’ on the appropriate words to give you an idea of what pinyin looks like). Tones are arguably the biggest barrier to basic Mandarin pronunciation, and even when you pronounce a word in a way that sounds a LOT like you should be saying it – at least to an untrained ear – if you get the tone wrong, you will be met by a confused, blank, or sometimes hostile face.

I guess getting the tone wrong must be like pronouncing English words without the vowels
or with the right consonants – just not in the right order. So, “Hello, I’m Tim Longhurst” ends up sounding like, “Hll, m Tm Lnghrt” or worse, “Ellho, M’i Tmi Lhustrong”.

The most traveller-friendly locals spend a few seconds trying to work out what you might have said by going through the variations in tone to decypher what you might have meant, but not everyone is so accommodating.

Coping with tones

Here’s a tip that seems to help me – If you can’t remember the correct tone, repeat the same word over and over in all the tones, almost like you’re singing a song… The context will help the listener work out what you’re after. (Example: “bao” can mean, “wrap”, “thin”, “guarantee” or, “hug”, depending on tone.). This is a tip from Scott Browning, a friend of mine who spends a lot of time in China.

So without a minute of formal language training, my innovative Chinese language course – which is yet to prove successful, is based on three pillars: phrase books, enlisting the help of complete strangers (this is key), the internet.

Phrase books

The two phrase books I’m using are “Survival Chinese” and “Immersion Guides’ Mandarin Phrasebook”. Both present phrases in Chinese characters, English and Pinyin – a roman-letter based format designed to help visitors pronounce Chinese words. I chose the former because it includes the “phonetic” pronunciation of each word, however a MASSIVE drawback of the book is that the pinyin is presented without tones! So the useful feature (how to pronounce pinyin) is almost completely cancelled out by this ridiculous ommission.

The “Immersion Guide” is full colour and quite comprehensive. It includes sections on hiring staff for your home and paragraphs on how to fire workers, ok, maybe not that, but it seems to be written for monied ex-pats who have come to run companies in China or at least plan on bossing locals around…

Complete Strangers

Holding a phrasebook, looking hopefully at the listener and announcing out your best attempt at a Chinese word is a great way to win over many locals. There are some who don’t want to deal with your frustrating inadequacy, but I’ve found in cafes, taxis, trains, on street corners and in restaurants many Beijingers who relish in the opportunity to help their new “Ow-da-li-ah-ren” (Australian) friend with the language.

So many people have helped me with my pronunciation that I’m starting to feel like the tones are worth the effort – that I’d like to stick at this and at least be able to have a very basic conversation in the local’s native tongue. Looking further ahead, Sydney has a strong Chinese population, so it’s not like I’m not going to have anyone to practice with!

So here’s what I do – I practice little sayings, and when I find a particularly friendly local, I record the sayings using my phone. For your entertainment, I have uploaded a few examples of my bastardisation of the Mandarin language:

Directing a taxi driver in Mandarin – Locals tell me how to give directions in a taxi

How are you? Fine Thanks! (in Mandarin) – A basic conversation – now possible thanks to a taxi driver

I understand a little – “A little” – a woman on the train helps me pretend I understand “a little” Chinese

I need an interpreter – Another taxi driver counsels me on “I need an interpreter”

Take me to Jiantai Xi Lu – Same taxi driver, this time on how to get me to Jiantai West Road – where I’m staying.

The Internet

There are a few great resources I’ve found so far: a table that ‘pronounces’ all the sounds/tones for you at a click; a website that collects all the Mandarin training videos on YouTube in one place, and Ask Benny, a YouTube channel full of fun videos for learning Mandarin. The first of the three is particularly useful: as I come across a word I’d like to practice, I can generally hear how it sounds using that table. Highly recommended.

The future

I’m setting myself a goal of recording a short video entirely in Mandarin, before I leave China in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to link to the video in this post should I prove successful!

Your help

If you’ve got any tips or tricks for learning languages – or Mandarin specifically – please be sure to let me know… I really need all the help I can get!

Zàijiàn

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Category: Uncategorized

One comment policy?

August 2nd, 2008 · 4 Comments

On my first day in Beijing I uploaded a video of me stepping off the plane. I blogged it here. I’ve been told in conversation that a few videos on the blog during my trip to Beijing would be a great idea. However, the only comment (so far) is from an apparent local who’s not thrilled about my coverage:

“To tell you the truth, people like you are not welcome in China. We dont like your type.”
Youtube user

Ouch! I guess the “Make Olympic Guests Feel Warm and Bring Hearts Closer Together” advertising campaign I’ve been seeing in Chinese television hasn’t won over everybody.

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Category: Communication and connection