Archive for the 'Asia' Category

Bollywood: The Videogame

In India, Bollywood is king. You see it on TV, in stores, on the streets. So, I guess I shouldn’t have surprised me to find the Bollywood Playstation in Delhi. Love at first sight. (If only I could speak Hindi!)

The game industry in India is an interesting thing. Alongside the Bollywood box were a ton of titles for PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360. Wii, on the other hand, had just one slot in the rack, filled with just one trashy title: Alone in the Dark. Go figure.

It seems strange that Wii, which has done so well in Japan, wouldn’t have done at least passibly in the rest of Asia. One theory for India is that the culture is so IT focused (nearly 40% of jobs are in the sector) that specs rule, and certainly Sony and Microsoft are the ones wielding the big mips. That probably explains the Xbox 360 emblazoned with the mug of a Bollywood star being hawked on TV, too. (Where do I get me one?)

I’ve heard Bollywood games referred to as niche titles. But Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood in terms of tickets sold. And with growth close to China’s and a population set to pass them in short order, it’s only a matter of time before Indians start buying games; lots of them. More games with brown people on the cover? That can only be a good thing.

For more on the growing influence of Bollywood, see Hollywood goes Bollywood! And while you’re at it, rock out to some classic Dil Se and new school Singh is Kinng.

Hello Air India!

I’m boarding as we speak: NYC to Delhi direct. This rocks. Cue theme song.

First stop is business; then we’ll be traveling to Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra (Taj!), Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur. Sadly, we won’t get to Bombay (monsoon much?). That’s a shame since I absolutely loved Maximum City. Next time!

I’m expecting beautiful stuff, particularly since some of my favorite photobloggers live in India (Trivial Matters, Daily Sunrise). And, of course, we’re looking forward to seeing the big sites. But I have to admit my favorite part of any trip like this is the little things: backstreets — seeing how people really live — is what makes it for me. See you in August!

The Elephant in China’s Room

All hail Chairman Yingying! I love this shot for its juxtaposition of opposites: fun and serious, warm fuzzy and hardcore military. He’s cute, but that cuddly Fuwa is huge, overshadowing everything and everyone. He’s the elephant in the room.

In a lot of ways, China’s public image seems to sport a teflon jacket. Even with the Sichuan schools, even with the food recalls, even with the human rights violations. There’s just something about China’s meteoric rise that makes us forgive (when we shouldn’t). It’s a beautiful place, with a fabulous PR corps. It makes a great story.

And when I talk to thoughtful Chinese about the situation there, they almost always speak with genuine optimism. A recent On The Media interview captured it well:

I know a lot of what we are saying sounds very brainwashed and nationalistic, but actually we know very well what we are talking about. And we know there is something with China that’s not so good. But you should also know that if you compared today China with 50 years ago, it’s already much, much, much better. So give China more time and we have a better China for everybody. Student in Shanghai

But can we afford to wait?

The Resource Rush
What we’re seeing in China is growth on a scale the planet has never seen. And coping with that means Herculean measures. One of those measures is grabbing resources wherever (and however) they can. Specifically, this means places where there’s no audit trail — where China’s “big black hole of data” is met with similar, creating accountability deficit disorder. Enter Fast Company’s deeply important report China in Africa, which provides a peek into the singularity, revealing all kinds of double-dealing, non-living wages, seriously dangerous working conditions, environmental annihilation, and zero oversight. The author puts it this way: “While blood diamonds might be better known, there is also blood copper, blood gold, blood coltan, and blood cobalt.” Resources for the most ruthless.

The All Seeing Eye
A second Herculean effort is happening internally where, in order to manage the insane growth, China (with the help of US contractors) is installing a surveillance apparatus second to none. It’s a story of face tracking lampshades every 10 yards all wired to a central database that knows your every move and your every consort. The party line? It’s designed to manage public assembly and track known criminals under the guise of “if you’re not doing anything bad, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Orwell, anyone? (And, oh yeah, that same technology is starting to show up on US soil.)

The Upside
Of course, there are good things happening in China, too. Take, for example, environmental cleanup innovations that are being developed out of necessity. Most developing nations wait until they’re rich to begin to clean up but, because of scale and impact, China has decided it can’t wait. This is meaningful.

A friend once told me that to truly understand China, we must love her people. The problem as he saw it is that so many in the west can’t separate the 1.3 billion from the tiny fraction that run the place. His gaze didn’t leave mine for a while — he meant this in a deep way; a way I, as a Westerner, am still not entirely sure I understand. But I think part of it is this: just as China is cleaning up environmentally out of necessity, it also needs to give her people a voice out of necessity. That’s the only way China can truly lead the world. And that’s the only way China can repay the countries from which it has taken so much.

Of course, I say this as a citizen of a crumbling democracy whose leaders have exploited (and continue to exploit) Africa in awful ways. My point is that I believe China can find a better way. The sparks are there. Let’s hope they light.

photo via, chart via fastcompany

Saigon Night and the Sea of Motorbikes

Christmas in Saigon is amazing, but not for the reasons you’d expect. Honestly, I thought the holidays there would be a non-event — a nice escape from the endless Christmas carols and Santa suits back home. Tropical climate, 85% Buddhist, no worries, right?

Or not. Vietnam does Christmas, and they do it huge. But the details are deeply different. Take, for example, the massive throngs of motorbikes that consume the night streets. It’s hard to convey just how surreal the scene is — a never ending, ever moving sea of bikers stretching as far as the eye can see. All celebrating, in all directions. Stunning.

And, while it appears to be a holiday tradition here, this year was different again. Because, in a country where the second leading cause of death is motorcycle accident, they just added a law that requires helmets. Glimmering domes for miles, each with their own style. I’ve never seen that level of compliance to any new law in the states. Wonder what that says.

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a group of kids showed up on bicycles, too young for the motored sort. The click-clack of those human-powered bikes provided a lovely organic counterpart to the endless rumble of their motorized brethren. Then they were gone — swept up into the energy of the night. Beautiful stuff.

Surprisingly, New Year’s was tame by comparison. But, then, the real New Year is Tet, isn’t it. I can’t imagine. And I can’t wait to see it.

See more of our Christmas Nights in Saigon on Flickr. We last wrote about Vietnam in Hanoi’s Hidden Graffiti.

Hanoi’s Hidden Graffiti

Some have argued that the street art scene in Vietnam is lacking — consisting largely of half-drawn scrawls and stenciled phone numbers promising everything from backyard bike repair to the hair cut of your dreams (for example). But for those who luck into it, there’s at least one place where all that changes.

Hidden in Hanoi’s super narrow back alleys is a special spot that features some beautiful work, flanked by great street food, homes packed on top of one another, and a truly lovely art gallery. Have a look.

I don’t know the artists (do you? drop a comment) and I make no claim they’re all Vietnamese, but it is nice to see this level of artistic expression on the streets of a beautiful country that has suffered so much. One might imagine that the communist rulers would frown on this combination of lawbreaking and artistic expression, particularly in the capital city. My only thought there is that artists stick together and protect each other. Hence the proximity to Mai Gallery.

I’ll have more on Mai’s and the whole gallery scene in Hanoi soon (suffice to say the best galleries there rival Chelsea’s). The city is booming in ways that it wasn’t just 5 years ago (iPhones are everywhere, people seem happier) but there’s a long way to go (the jobless rate remains high). Still, if the emerging art scene is anything to go by, Hanoi’s future is bright indeed.

See more shots from my visit to Hanoi’s graffiti row on flickr. Thanks to NYT for the pointer and to Jake for the conversation.

Update: Lunar, one of the artists involved, emailed more details on the project:

we were in hanoi in 2007 thanks to hope box project organized by dutch artist rienke enghardt. the artists who participated on the wall across mai gallery (there was works of hope box artists exhibited in it at the same time) were: angel (serbia), lunar (croatia), zorrox and few of his friends (hanoi), the london police (amsterdam) and def p (amsterdam). this is the wall with light yellow background starting with tigers and ending with london police lad characters. on the left site is unfinished piece by angel and me and i also spotted a piece from year earlier, i think it’s a guy from germany who writes zooloo if i’m not mistaken.

See more of Lunar’s work at

Death (and Typing) in Tokyo

Eyes squinting, zero light, monsters everywhere, you’re typing for your life. Yeah, you heard me.

The sudden obsessive uptake of a certain competitive typing game called TypeRacer reminded me of a recent visit to Tokyo. You see, it was there that I saw a couple kids playing Sega’s fabulous Typing of the Dead with unusual fervor late one night in Shinjuku.

For those unfamiliar, Typing of the Dead is a refit of the stunningly mediocre shooting game House of the Dead, but where the former provisioned traditional light guns to dispatch monsters, the latter hands you a keyboard. In TOTD, each word you type right blasts a monster, and speed counts — bigtime. That seemingly minor twist makes a boring game brilliant. If you haven’t tried it, you must.

Typing of the Dead has never appeared in arcades outside Japan (it has seen console release stateside). And it was fun to see Japanese players stuck to it like glue when the game really didn’t get much love back home. Good times, particularly since the kids couldn’t stop giggling to themselves as they nonchalantly typed Japanese characters at blinding speed. Competitive typing, cooperative typing. Either way, it’s goofy awesome.

Ah, Japan. And speaking of Japan, where else can you find fresh pastries just outside the door of an arcade?

Holy cow! Has it really been 6 months since I got back from the Asia trip? I’ve got lots of stories to tell. More photos soon!

Not the Dalai Lama

What’s it like to be the Dalai Lama’s brother? Pretty much the same, just less filter. Witness Giant Robot 52, where kid sib Tenzin Choegyal goes awesomely blunt:

GR: At a young age, you, too, were recognized as a reincarnate of an important man, right?

TC: Oh, that’s bullshit. I don’t believe it. From a Buddhist perspective, we are all reborn. But choosing a particular person as someone special and saying he’s a reincarnation of so-and-so is bullshit.

Got that? We all know the 14th Dalai Lama (aka Tenzin Gyatso) and his thoughtful talks about compassion in the modern world (moreso today as he stands in the middle of a renewed Tibetan conflict). Having seen him speak in Central Park and having a Mom who spent a day with him as part of the Buffalo Delegation, I know how easy it is to feel connected to the guy. But you also sense a wry sense of humor lurking just under the surface. For the Dalai Lama, it serves to humanize him. For Choegyal, it makes him hilarious:

Richard Gere is a wonderful person — very simple, modest, and natural with whomever he meets. He’s done a lot for the Tibetan community. And then on the other side of the scale, there’s Steven Seagal. Oh my god. I met him when he came here. He was wearing a funny coat, a Chinese brocade, funny trousers, and funny shoes with a ponytail. I asked him, “Why do you dress in such a peculiar manner?” He didn’t say anything. He’s arrogant and pretends to be a Tibetan reincarnate. But why? He’s a strange man.

Snap. You gotta love this guy. And it makes me totally wish I could be a fly on the wall at the next Tenzin family dinner. Well, there’s always reincarnation!

image via time

Holidays in Cambodia

I’m going to Cambodia and Vietnam for the holidays, and in some ways it’s like going home. You see, growing up black in a largely white suburb of DC can be isolating. If anything makes differences plain, it’s gotta be the cliquish culture of junior high and high school. And it turns out the groups I fell in with were immigrant kids: Mexican, Ethiopian, Paraguayan, Korean, Vietnamese, more. I never wondered much about why I was so comfortable with them, I just was. But a recent story on Barack Obama got me thinking:

And there are also times when Obama’s experience feels more like an immigrant story than a black memoir. His autobiography navigates a new and strange world of an American racial legacy that never quite defined him at his core. He therefore speaks to a complicated and mixed identity — not a simple and alienated one. This may hurt him among some African Americans, who may fail to identify with this fellow with an odd name. Black conservatives, like Shelby Steele, fear he is too deferential to the black establishment. Black leftists worry that he is not beholden at all. But there is no reason why African Americans cannot see the logic of Americanism that Obama also represents, a legacy that is ultimately theirs as well. To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything — this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. (atlantic)

Then it hit me: spending time in immigrant communities was a way for me to escape (in some small way) the racial confines of America — to be with people who haven’t been quite so fully indoctrinated with the racial expectations we in the US have been taught generation over generation. It gave me the opportunity to define myself as more than one thing. Maybe this poster says it best.

After my African American family at home, then, my second family is Vietnamese and Cambodian, my oldest friend is Vietnamese, my wife is Vietnamese. The sights, sounds, and smells (mmmm… pho, bánh mì) of Southeast Asia have been part of my life for so long it honestly seems a bit strange I’ve never been there. That’s about to change.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be off the grid; traveling mostly in Cambodia and Vietnam, with stopovers in Tokyo and Bangkok. We’ll be back in 2008 with more art, games, change, and everything else. Happy holidays and see you on the other side. Peace!

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Update: Comments are open again — more soon!

images via stuckincustoms and infrangible; with apologies to dk

Asia Rich, Poor, Ever-changing

Running to keep up with the ever explosive change in Asia is dizzying. Here’s a snapshot of what’s particularly surprised, shocked, and dismayed us over the past week out east.

Down the Block Badass – gorgeously redesigned Tokyo hair salon stunningly sticks out (via myninjaplease)

Living in Refuse – the flip side of Tokyo’s super opulent hair salons is found in Cambodia’s garbage dumps, where families live day-to-day on what the rich throw out

New Gambling Capital – skid row meeds front row in Macau, the Chinese territory that’s just surpassed Las Vegas as the most profitable gambling spot on Earth

Yao-Yi Trumps Super Bowl – NBA matchup featuring two Chinese players drew more than twice as many viewers as the Super Bowl, most of them in China

Sub Surprise – undetected Chinese sub surfaces amid a US Navy exercise in the Pacific, tweaking the nose of the “vastly superior” American sea force

China Dumps Dollar – Chinese state TV implores citizens to abandon US currency before it tanks

New Chinese Mythology

China Opening Day
Hairman Mao

When we think China, we often think of a place steeped in centuries old mythology. But new myths spring up now and again, too.

Communist Opening – the majestic visuals surrounding Communist Opening Day belies a political agenda that’s anything but

Hairman Mao – Zedong’s hidden history comes out of the closet in a Yuan retrofit for the ages. Bald to Bouffant in 60 seconds

New Mao / No Mao – speaking of Mao, Shanghai’s Guangci gives two sides of the man: one in mythmaker sterling silver and another melting grotesquely under the bright lights of historical scrutiny

And shedding light on myths around the globe:

Daily Deforestation – paper dispenser hack connects consumption with its environmental effects

Visualize World Health – lovely visualization highlights where doctors are needed most

War and Weddings – photographer forges credentials and sneaks into places officials would rather forget to shed light on world issues that desperately need solving. It’s people like Mark that make sure we remember

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