Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Battle Over a Bottle

Ben Fu, illustrated for Week in China
In Chinese its name means ‘running to riches’, which is pretty catchy as far as most consumers are concerned. But the problem for Australian wine label Penfolds is that someone else claims to have trademarked its Chinese name – Ben Fu – first. This is creating headaches for the winery’s owner Treasury Estates, which is engaged in legal action to ensure the “integrity of the brand”.

Penfolds is facing off with an individual named Li Daozhi, although Treasury Estates says it “is confident it is the lawful owner of the trademark for Ben Fu (奔富) in China” and that its initial legal challenge was successful. However, Li has subsequently appealed against the court’s decision.

Last August a ­Chinese court ordered French winemaker Castel to pay Rmb33.73 million ($5.43 million) to Li after a similar dispute. Castel has since abandoned its former Chinese name. After winning the case, Li said he wasn’t interested in the cash. His aim? To stop “trademark infringement” from those who “want to make money through copying famous brands”…

 /from Week in China/

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Incarnations:Past Lives Haunt Beijinger

British writer Susan Barker's remarkable new novel is ambitious in scope, scholarly in depth and absolutely riveting.

The Incarnations works on a number of levels, pulling together so many strands of history and perspectives and drawing them into a compelling and convincing tale. Part history, part love story, with good doses of horror, comedy and philosophy, it is ultimately a thriller and a page-turner. In less capable hands, such a daring undertaking could so easily have flopped, but Barker has polished it well and the reader never so much as glimpses the cracks in the magic that is fiction writing.

The book begins with a letter written to middle-aged Beijing taxi driver Wang Jun. The writer claims to be his soul mate and to have known him for many lifetimes. But this is no love letter. As with the ones that follow, there is a chilling undertone to the correspondence: "I pity your poor wife, Driver Wang. What's the bond of matrimony compared to the bond we have shared over a thousands years?"

Wang is rattled. Who is stalking him? What do they want? The identity of the letter writer is kept secret until the closing pages but we are treated to intimate details of the lives the writer claims to have shared with Wang.

 The letters - short stories within the framework of the novel - make for compulsive reading. Each tells of a life the two have shared, dipping into the vast pot of China's history and revealing the details of their lives against a rich historical backdrop. The stories run in chronological order from the time they are young slaves struggling through the Gobi Desert to escape the Mongol invasion, to the Ming dynasty where Wang is a concubine plotting the murder of a sadistic emperor all the way through to their lives as Red Guards during the 1966 Cultural Revolution...

The research Barker has done for the book is phenomenal. She was almost 30, but already with two books under her belt, when she moved to Beijing in 2008 to work on the novel. It took her six years to write and the hard graft is visible in not only the scope of the work but the detail...

If you want to learn more about the book, please go to South China Morning Post.

The Incarnations, by Susan Barker
Doubleday , 384pages

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Bite of China II, Too Many Persional Stories

Two years ago state-run broadcaster CCTV surprised viewers with its beautifully produced food documentary A Bite of China, showcasing the country’s culinary heritage. The eagerly awaited second season, A Bite of China II, started in mid-April, with a young Tibetan travelling deep into the mountains to find the ingredients for a dessert that blends honey and shortening. Without a safety harness, the man spends three hours climbing a huge tree to collect the honeycomb he needs to make the delicacy, which he intends as a gift for his brother (who is set to depart for college).

“Honey is the most valuable gift Bai Ma can bring his family,” the narrator says, adding that it is difficult to obtain anything sweet in the impoverished area.
Next, the series travels to Zhejiang province, where it profiles a fisherman who spends two years mastering a technique to catch mudskippers, an unusual fish that his daughter has long wanted to try.

The audience response to the second season has been a little less glowing than the first series. Many say the show’s producers should have focused more on the food. “Too much time is spent on the personal stories, diluting the true meaning of the documentary,” one netizen wrote.

Chengdu Business Daily concurs: “The first season of A Bite of China was so popular because it spoke about Chinese cuisine but wasn’t only about food. The documentary was interspersed with personal stories. However, the second season takes that one step too far.”

Still, more sentimental viewers said they were touched by the narratives featured in the show: “What the Tibetan boy did for his brother, and what the father did for his daughter, that is so moving!” one wrote.

More eagle-eyed netizens wondered if CCTV had been taking lessons from the award-winning BBC documentary Human Planet. A number of viewers pointed out that some of the sequences and camera angles were almost exactly the same as the UK documentary. But Chen Xiaoqing, who directed the episode under scrutiny, denied any plagiarism, saying any “similarity” was intended as homage to the BBC show.

Netizens weren’t convinced: “If you compare the two scenes with screen shots, you will find them exactly the same except for the characters,” one wrote. “If that is not copying, then we can call academic plagiarism ‘paying homage’ to scholars.”

Despite the mild criticism of the format, the food featured on the show quickly sold out online. CCTV reckons that supplies of Sichuan bacon and Beijing roast duck – dishes mentioned in the first episode – soon sold out on Tmall.com afterwards.

Restaurants featured on the show were also mobbed. Shanghai’s Sanlin Benbang, which appeared in the second episode, told the Shanghai Daily that its phone has been ringing off the hook. The family-run joint, which serves traditional Shanghainese cuisine, says diners have been queueing up for a seat at one of its 12 tables. The Li family, which owns the restaurant, says they are already considering expansion to accommodate all the new customers: “There’s an abandoned warehouse behind the restaurant…I will talk to township officials to see whether I can rent it,” says Li Mingfu, the eatery’s boss.

One of Sanlin Benbang’s most popular dishes is Shanghai-style fried river shrimp. River shrimps are tiny – so small that they are consumed with their shells intact. The shrimps are usually dipped in hot oil until their shell turns red. Then they are returned to the wok and coated in a light gravy composed of soy sauce, cooking wine and sugar.

Sanlin Benbang Restaurant is located on 65 Zhong Lin Street, Pudong, Shanghai. (Tel: +8621 5077-1717)

Please go to Week in China learn more.

Chinese Spaghetti

Yi Mian is a type of egg noodle that originates from Guangdong province. Shaped like spaghetti, it is made from eggs and flour. But the egg noodle is first cooked in boiling water and deep fried twice (not unlike instant noodles). The delicacy, definitely not for those who are counting their calories, is perfect with dishes that feature thick gravy or sauce.

Why is it famous?
Legend has it that the dish was created accidentally when the chef of the Qing Dynasty calligrapher Yi Bingshou (1754-1815) mistakenly put egg noodles that had already been cooked into a wok filled with boiling oil. The chef improvised and decided to serve the noodles together with a stock. Unexpectedly, the dinner guests loved the dish and sang its praises.

Where is the best place to eat it?
One of the most popular variations of the noodle meal is one that’s cooked with lobster. In Hong Kong, many restaurants serve Yi Mian with braised lobster too, sometimes topped with grilled cheese.

For a unique dining experience try Loaf On Seafood in Sai Kung, Hong Kong. The restaurant, which was awarded one Michelin star in 2012, is famous for its fresh seafood.

Loaf On Seafood, 49 Market Street, Sai Kung, Hong Kong (Tel: +852 2792 9966).

Learn more, please go to Week in China

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One of China's Most Unloved Space

Public toilet in China, illustrated for Week in China
It was as far back as issue 11 when we first regaled readers with tales of one of China’s most unloved spaces: the public toilet. Anybody who has visited one won’t forget the experience. So there was good news this week from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reports the South China Morning Post. Researchers with the institution say they have developed a new “bioweapon” capable of wiping out bad smells in public toilets.

Having laboured on the problem for several years – conducting tests on pig intestines – the researchers claim that a bacteria in the Lactobacillus family can remove up to 75% of odour from human waste. How? It feeds on the waste and releases lactic acid that eliminates the growth of smelly bacteria.

Jiuzhai Valley National Park in Sichuan will trial the bacterial fix. If it meets with the approval of tourists, the China Academy of Sciences claims it can ratchet up production to 1,200 tonnes annually, at a cost of Rmb20 ($3.22) per half litre.

Bravo, says WiC. But wait, there is a catch. The bacteria only thrives at temperatures above 26 degrees Celcius, so it won’t work in the winter, unless the toilets are heated (and few of China’s public bogs are).

Please read more at Week in China.