…but, then again, it wasn’t high season.
Pingyao street scene
[Click image for slideshow]

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Heaven in a half-fried dough shell from Josh Chin on Vimeo.

In the same way Americans swirl madly around food fads (Atkins, South Beach, etc.), Chinese tend to go crazy over specific food items—and often over a specific food item as prepared by a specific food provider. It has to be said, “The People” do not always know what they’re talking about. There’s a yogurt stand in an alley not far from my home in Beijing that every weekend attracts lines to rival the TSA back-up at JFK Airport on Christmas Eve. Why, I have no idea. I have tasted that yogurt and it’s not as good as the yogurt at a perpetually empty stand twenty feet to the south.

But sometimes they do know what they’re talking about. The restaurant that appears in this video, Xiaoyang Shengjian (小杨生煎), is a case in point.

Xiaoyang is widely regarded as Shanghai’s best producer of shengjian baozi (生煎包子)—a half-fried, half-steamed pork bun that arguably ranks third behind only bacon and prosciutto as an expression of the beauty of pork. Having missed on out them the last time I was in Shanghai, I was eager this time not only to gorge on the buns, but to gorge on the best iteration available. An Internet search revealed Xiaoyang to be the consensus destination. But with the yogurt shop in mind, my inclination was to look elsewhere. I wanted a transcendent bun, not a bun any sucker on the street might eat.

In the end, Xiaoyang prevailed on convenience, being just around the corner from the hotel. The branch I visited (there are several Shengjians spread throughout the city) did not look promising: Jammed in next to an anonymous noodle shop at the back of a mall food court on the heavily touristed Nanjing East Road pedestrian street. None of the remote, hole-in-the-wall charm one usually associates with world-class Chinese snack shops. No charm at all, in fact.

But line was long, which is always a good sign. And the the baozi at the end of it: my God. Perfectly crispy and golden on the bottom, tender on top, cradling a gorgeous nugget of just-firm-enough ground pork in a bath of salty, scalding-hot broth. They were, to borrow a phrase from a foodie friend in San Francisco, like crack. And nearly as cheap: If memory serves, it was a whopping $3 for a quadruple order (16).

Are they the best available? Not being resident in Shanghai, I’m be hesitant to say. But of the six or seven versions I’ve tried over the years, no others come close. Hence the video.

Sometimes, it pays to study the masses.

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Ebike video camera rig

[Gear Geek Alert: This post concerns the logistics of multimedia news production and has only marginally to do with China or any other topic of interest to normal people.]

When the video editors at the Wall Street Journal called last month asking for a video to go with a print story on the dangers of electronic bicycles (a.k.a. e-bikes), it gave me a chance to do something that I’ve been aching to try for quite some time: Mount thousands of dollars’ worth of somebody else’s camera equipment to a moving vehicle.

Lest anyone accuse me of recklessness upon reading further, it’s important to note at the beginning that this was not the original idea. The original idea had been to profile someone who’d had a serious run-in with one of the bikes (China recorded more than 2000 e-bike-related deaths, and thousands more injuries, in 2008). Then the editors decided to take the print story in a more tongue-in-cheek direction and suddenly I was tasked with doing something “funnier.” And so the decision was made—I had no choice, you see—to slap some cameras on one of the bikes and force the print reporter to ride it around in Beijing’s sub-freezing weather while providing play-by-play (or, rather, street-by-street) commentary.

Like a lot of first video experiences, this was a tremendous amount of fun, and highly instructional.

The first issue was what camera to use. Much as I would have loved to put the bureau’s 3-chip CCD camera into play, it soon became clear that e-bikes were indeed accident prone, and in the end, I decided it might be less-than-wise to risk losing a $4000 piece of gear for the purposes of a 3-minute video. Luckily, the bureau had an older Sony Handycam lying around, the loss of which, although unfortunate, would not be tragic.

But because we wanted two shots—one of the reporter riding the bike, and one showing what the reporter was seeing—we needed another camera. Enter the Zi-8, a pocket-sized HD gadget Kodak rolled out last year to compete with the likes of the Flip. WSJ is testing the Zi-8 as a tool for its print reporters to capture simple interviews with news makers (CEOs, government officials, etc), but its size and affordability made it an attractive option for this as well.

The second issue: How to attach the cameras to the bike?

The Internet is full of ideas on how to do this, some of them beautifully simple and some (like this steadycam mount) seemingly beyond the pale. None were an option in this case 1) because the bike in question was shaped like a scooter, with limited bar space on which to screw a genuine mount; and 2) because we were working on a tight schedule.

So I was forced to use what I had on hand: a Joby Gorrillapod, some packing tape and a cheap bungee-like cord bought for a buck at the convenience store down the street.

Here was the final product:

Handycam and wireless mic receiver, mounted to handlebars with Gorillapod. and bungee cord.

Handycam-rig secured with packing tape.

[More images, plus verdict, after the jump:]

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A long holiday spent with relatives in Utah is nearing its end. In four days, I’ll be on a plane back to Beijing, forced to bid goodbye to the glorious flow of Free World broadband and the euphoric cleanliness of mountain air. In honor of the trip, I’ve posted a quick little Christmas video on Vimeo (blocked in China). The piece was shot on my new Canon 7D and features the most vulgar computer accessory I’ve seen—the latter a stocking stuffer from an uncle whose studious demeanor masks a fantastically infantile sense of humor.

For best results, click on the link below the video and watch it in HD.

7D for Christmas (test) from Josh Chin on Vimeo.

[Note to gear heads: I'll post a review of the 7D and it's uses for news video once I've had a chance to use it in the field.]

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  • Obama China Visit Drives Up Green Stocks – new WSJ video (by yours truly): http://bit.ly/2EN2a7 #
  • One more Obama video, possibly to be broadcast on NewsHour today: "The Chinese on Obama," globalpost http://bit.ly/1Z36Hk #
  • @kaiserkuo Can't have a hutong-themed video without a shirtless dude, now, can you? At least not if you in reply to kaiserkuo #
  • @kaiserkuo …At least not if you're running low on extra hutong footage on deadline and that's all you have in the can. in reply to kaiserkuo #
  • RT @mranti: "What's Twitter" and "Obama Shanghai" now top Chinese google searches. RT @wangpei: 谷歌上升最快关键词 http://is.gd/4W6t3 #
  • Are you volunteering? RT @davesgonechina: @ch_infamous I dare you next time to include a shirtless laowai. #
  • Strange VPN behavior in Beijing: Twitter, YouTube work, Facebook doesn't (connection reset). Anyone else having this problem? #fuckgfw #
  • RT @davesgonechina @imagethief: Why iPhone won't sell well to Chinese mainstream: No place to attach a lanyard or Hello Kitty charms. #
  • RT @kcna_dprk: #korea #dprk Kimchi-Making for Winter in Full Swing http://url4.eu/lwQi #
  • RT @GraniteStudio: RT @kaiserkuo/@mstrass/@raykwong: Cool: Google Translate now displays Pinyin for Mandarin Chinese. http://twurl.nl/8s1f3w #
  • Agree with @DavidFeng, the @BeijingAir readings suspiciously chipper lately. Everyone there too busy w/ Obama to take real measurements? #
  • A nice little piece in The Guardian by @goldkorn on Tian'anmen icon Chai Ling's lawsuit vs. Tian'anmen doc producers http://bit.ly/1bagOu #
  • RT @stevenleckart: Someone's actually trying to make a live-action film adaptation of the Smurfs. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472181/ #
  • @skycita Three "Good" air quality days in a row…it's beyond even the almighty Weather Bureau. in reply to skycita #
  • RT @isaac: RT @wangpei: 胡奥宴会上,军乐团不仅演奏了"We are the World",还演奏了 "I just called to say I LOVE YOU" http://bit.ly/45gi1I (via @AdamMinter ) #
  • 2 years old, but still one of the coolest things I've ever seen: Great White attack at 1/50th actual speed. http://bit.ly/1G3cws #
  • Christ…RT @raykwong: HuffPo Video: Eating A Deep Fried Fish That's Still Alive. http://twurl.nl/djrota #SomewhereInGuangzhou #
  • I second that motion. RT @christinelu: Hi @CiscoSystems, cool new Flip cam will have Wi-Fi. Any chance of ext. mic jack while you're at it? #
  • RT @dshupp: Effing rad Nat'l Geographic video http://bit.ly/4b7seA #

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Administrative Note

November 20, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized | Leave a Comment

BaDaChu Weeekend 09_0006In response to a question from a cherished reader of this blog about whether or not I planned to pick up posting here again: I do. Eventually. Between China’s 60th anniversary and the Obama visit and some other things, I’ve been slammed at work, which has pushed back a long-needed website re-design, which in turn has pushed blogging to the back of the line. But all this looks to change in the near future.

In the meantime, I’ve added a link to my Twitter feed (ch_infamous) in the right sidebar and will be publishing an automatic weekly Twitter digest. Not a substitute, I know, but please bear with me.

Than you for reading,

Josh

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In keeping with a recent tradition of only coming back to this blog when I have something to brag about, I’m pleased (and, honestly, pretty damn shocked) to announce two developments. First, a video story I did with the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Fairclough earlier this year has been nominated for a Business and Financial Reporting Emmy. The story follows the story of a Mongolian herder, caught up in his country’s version of the subprime lending crisis, who was forced by crushing debt to sell his animals–proof, once again, that a good story trumps technical skill 99% of the time:

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[Originally written for my "Reporter's Notebook," i.e., blog, at GlobalPost]

China watchers have been abuzz all day with news of a forthcoming book, “Prisoner of the State,” based on tapes secretly recorded by Zhao Ziyang, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party who was stripped of power and placed under house arrest after opposing the military crackdown in Tian’anmen Square in 1989.

Media large and small have greeted the book with blanket converage, including a fulsome review by Paul Mooney in the Far Eastern Economic Review and an impressive presentation of the tape recordings (with transcripts in Chinese and English) on the Washington Post website. While some in China will surely try to label the book a hoax, the tapes appear to be authentic.

zhaobook

[For those dismayed at the attention the book has received, suffice it to say that Zhao is considered a mensch by many who followed his career (no small feat for a Chinese government official) and there was considerable worry after he died that he had taken his insights to the grave.]

There’s no point in re-hashing all that’s been written about the book already. But I feel compelled to note it here because we are fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square crackdown (June 4) and Zhao—or rather, Zhao’s death—is what first started me thinking seriously about how the event is remembered, and not remembered, inside China itself.

Zhao died in January of 2005, apparently after suffering multiple strokes while under house arrest. I recall it vividly because the day after he died I found myself sitting in a classroom with several Chinese journalists on the UC Berkeley campus, listening to a lecture on media in China. One of the journalists was slightly older and visbly shaken by the news. It emerged he had been on the square, a college student protesting for democracy, in 1989. When the professor asked him to offer his thoughts on Zhao, he made to talk, then covered his face and offered a muffled apology.

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This one’s been a long time in coming. Abby is one of that rare but thankfully growing species of artist bridging the Pacific from West to East. She’s probably most famous in the US for her collaboration with Bela Fleck (who appears in the video), but she’s better known over here as the girl who actually, against all odds, made Mandarin bluegrass work. I originally filmed this in August for the Wall Street Journal, but it got lost in the post-Olympics, pre-Election shift away from China coverage. Luckily the GlobalPost took to the story and decided to put it up.

Abby makes a powerful argument both for and against “world music” (a genre I have to say I’ve never much liked): “It’s such an interesting phrase…because it really represents fusion music. It’s about taking this aspect of Arabic culture and this aspect of Eastern European culture [and throwing them together], whereas I think the future of global music is in having human beings spread across two cultures, or several cultures, and combining the music internally before it even comes out.”

I certainly hope so.

Enjoy.

Her website is here. And the website for Casey Driessen, the mind-blowing fiddle player who also appears in the video, is here.

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I’d originally meant to post this photo on my “Reporter’s Notebook” (read: blog) over at GlobalPost, but then the post morphed into a story and the editors decided to go with more dramatic art. It’s true, I arrived a tad too late to see the real explosions. It was tremendously entertaining nonetheless (Note: I can say this without being an asshole because no one died, or at least, we think no one died, and anyway these days there’s a seems to be a sort of karmic justice in a building intended solely for the filthy rich going up in flames).

For those who want the full photographic story, fellow resident alien Caroline Killmer, who lives near the now crispy Rem Koolhaas creation, has a fine set of pics on her photoblog. She also posted a brief (but vivid) video to CNN’s iReport.

More of my photos here.

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