Tag Archives: china

Beach essentials in China: flip flops, swimming costume, full face mask

Bizarre piece by Dan Levin (with additional reporting by Shi Da) in the New York Times. Pics by Aly Song/Reuters.


QINGDAO, China — It was enough to make a trio of heavily tattooed young men stop their playful splashing and to prompt a small boy to run to his mother in alarm: a woman rising out of the choppy waves of the sea, her head wrapped in a neon-orange ski mask.

As she made her way toward the shore, more people stared. A man floating in a yellow inner tube nudged his female companion, who muttered the question many others must have been asking themselves: “Why is she wearing that?”

“I’m afraid of getting dark,” said the mask-wearer, Yao Wenhua, 58, upon emerging from the seaweed-choked waters of this seaside city in China’s eastern Shandong Province. Eager to show why she sacrificed fashion for function, Ms. Yao, a retired bus driver, peeled the nylon over her forehead to reveal a pale, unwrinkled face.

“A woman should always have fair skin,” she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”

For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”

With the pursuit of that age-old aesthetic ideal at odds with the fast-growing interest in beachgoing and other outdoor activities, Chinese women have come up with a variety of ways to reconcile the two. Face masks like Ms. Yao’s have taken this popular beach town by storm. In cities, the summertime parasol is a more familiar accouterment, many adorned with rhinestones, lace or sequins (and sometimes all three). Those who need both hands free are fond of the tinted face shield, the perfect accessory for riding a bike — or welding. The fashion-conscious favor a chiffon scarf draped over the face.

What about arms exposed to the sun’s tanning rays? A search on China’s equivalent of Amazon yielded 20,000 results for “sun protection gloves.” These varied from form-fitting leopard-print sleeves that end at the wrist to arm-length gloves made of black lace.

Meanwhile, drugstore shelves across China bulge with rows of creams and cosmetic masks with names like White Swan and Snow White, promising a natural-looking aristocratic hue.

On a recent afternoon at Qingdao No. 1 Beach, the sand and surf were thronged. Beside the rows of orange beach umbrellas, people had erected dozens of camping tents, ignoring the amplified announcements that prohibited their use. Others made shelters out of multiple umbrellas or just piled on layers of fabric.

South Beach this was not. Some middle-age men chain-smoked in the shallows, their ample bellies bulging over diminutive Speedos. Under the watchful eyes of their parents, naked children built sand castles and relieved themselves in the moats. Older people were enjoying the sand, too, some using it to playfully bury their friends.

Few adults were entirely comfortable swimming in the ocean, judging by the ubiquity of inflatable armbands, inner tubes and rafts. Floating among them, looking like a flock of colorful waterfowl, were a number of women in masks. Some had even donned wet suits for total sun protection.

The masks, a relatively new product made of stretchy fabric commonly used in bathing suits, elicited a range of reactions from beachgoers.

“That is way over the top,” said Sun Li, 43, a gynecologist from Henan Province, when asked about the face masks. But Ms. Sun herself sat under an umbrella wearing a sun hat, sunglasses, a polka-dot surgical mask, a long-sleeve shirt and lace gloves. A shirt was draped over her legs for good measure.

Nearby, Li Benye lay on newspaper, shaded by twin parasols. Despite her commitment to paleness, she found the masks mystifying.

“They’re foreigners, right?” she asked. “Russians, most likely.”

While fair skin is prized across Asia, the women were, in fact, Chinese. The masks not only made them impervious to ultraviolet rays but also self-consciousness.

“Does it look like I care what people think?” bellowed Su Ailing, 57, clad in a red mask, blue goggles and a wetsuit. “The tourists dress skimpy, but we locals know how to protect our skin.”


The masks are a specialty of Qingdao, a German colony before World War I that is home to the Tsingtao Brewery. A few weeks ago, photographs of local women wearing such attire spread widely on the Internet, setting off mockery online but also a run on nearby shops.

“I just had to have one,” said Liu Jia, 32, the whites of her eyes gleaming through the holes of a pink mask, which matched the polka-dot sarong tied around her shoulders. Finding the item, she said, had proved arduous, with many store owners refusing to admit they had masks in stock. “I had to beg and plead,” she said.

The sudden scarcity, it turns out, may not have been a simple case of demand outrunning supply. After the photographs caught the attention of the nation, the local government ordered businesses to stop selling them, according to several shop owners, who said they were told the ban was due to concerns over “quality control.”

One seller, who declined to be identified for fear of angering the authorities, kept her supply of masks hidden under the counter. Only after repeated requests and vows of secrecy did she agree to part with one for 20 renminbi, about $3. “I don’t understand why the government is doing this,” she said, glancing nervously at the front door. “People just don’t want to get tan.”

Reached by phone, the Qingdao Administration for Industry and Commerce denied playing the role of fashion police. “Anybody who wants one is free to buy it in Qingdao,” said a man who gave his name as Director He.

So what explains the skittishness of so many proprietors? “The only reason why people think they shouldn’t be selling masks,” he replied, “is probably because they’re afraid thugs might use them for robbing banks.”


Jean Michel Jarre – The China Concerts, 1981 (full)

The first proper outdoor concert I went to was Jean Michel Jarre, when he played the Docklands in the early/mid Eighties. Mad crazy space music and lasers all over the shop. I didn’t know about the China concerts. Must have been an amazing experience. Synth-pop pioneer!

VientDeMe says: “The Concerts in China was a concert tour by Jean Michel Jarre, notable for marking the opening of post-Mao China to live Western music, in 1981. Five concerts were held in the two biggest cities, for an estimated audience of 120,000 spectators, on October 21 and 22 in Beijing, and on October 26 through 28 in Shanghai.

“The concerts were filmed and recorded for commercial releases. Due to the low quality of the recorded sound, the tracks were enhanced (overdubbed) for the release of the double album The Concerts in China.

“An 80-minute documentary entitled ‘Jean-Michel Jarre – China Concerts 1981’ was made by producer/director Andrew Piddington for Central Television in the UK. It was shown once in 1982 on the ITV network in the UK, and did not receive a video release until 1989, when a VHS-video was released. The film was partially released by Shock DVD in Australia in 2008, but they were prevented from selling it by Jarre and record label Disques Dreyfus. The release was not from the master tapes, but from an ‘off-air’ Australian TV showing, so the quality was imperfect. The film has yet to receive an authorised, high-quality DVD release.”

Fancy dress to save pandas

The dressing up is not just for fun, say scientists, but an essential part of China’s ambitious strategy to reintroduce captive-bred Giant Pandas back into the wild. It is not yet clear if the Pandas are fooled by the disguises, but researchers at China’s Wolong Panda reserve in Sichuan Province, say that captive-bred cubs must live devoid of all human contact if they are to have any chance of survival. Earlier attempts at reintroducing captive-bred pandas to the wild ended in disaster in 2006 when Xiang Xiang, a male cub who was supposedly trained to adapt to life in the wild, was found dead 10 months later, apparently killed by other wild pandas. In a new strategy, earlier this year conservationists released four pregnant Pandas into a protected area of Sichuan forest in order to prepare their future cubs for life in the wild. In these pictures researchers at Wolong’s Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center take the temperature of a four-month-old cub before carefully returning him to the ‘wild’ where he is monitored by 24-hour CCTV. Although notoriously fussy when it comes to mating, China has in recent years made great strides in its captive-breeding panda program, and this year attained the ‘magic 300′ number of captive-bred animals, the target for starting to reintroduce them to the wild.”

More here, with pics.

The Willow Pattern Story

I’ve been surrounded by blue and white china my whole life. Mum is a massive fan – the kitchen has always been packed with jugs, tureens, plates, dishes, and more, sometimes chipped but always loved. Thinking on it, it has been a massive influence on me, the idea that something utilitarian (a plate) can also have aesthetic value. This was drilled into me at an early age when I used to have to eat my food to see which Peter Rabbit plate I had. Then there’s The Dining Room Shop – Mum’s shop – which has always had gorgeous stuff – some really quite rare and beautiful (I’ve always liked the old Wedgwood, personally, especially the quite plain Jacobean (?) stuff).

Nowadays it’s a sort of collective term for knock-offs – usually transfers – of various other patterns. But Willow Pattern is named after an original Chinese design, first engraved by Thomas Minton in 1780. He was then followed by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, the whole gang (Burgess and Leigh’s modern Willow has been in continuous production since 1922).

There’s a story behind the original pattern, and it’s quite beautiful. Look at the plate first. It might look like a single image, but there’s a whole narrative happening inside it.

Once upon a time, there was a very grand Mandarin (that’s his palace under the big tree) who had a stunning daughter, Koong-se. She was so beautiful that he had knew he could do very well out of marrying her to the right person.

He also had a secretary, Chang. A personable young man who, while doing the Mandarin’s acccounts, full head over heels with Koong-se, and she with him. It was proper love too. Not an infatuation but an all-consuming need. When he found out, the Mandarin was livid. How could this lowly secretary ever dream he was suitable for his daughter? Something had to be done.

Poor Chang was banished, and a huge fence was build around the gardens of the Mandarin’s palace – you can see it at the bottom of the dish – so that Chang could not get in, and Koong-se was trapped inside, a bird in a gilded cage.

One day she was standing at the water’s edge when she saw something in the water – a shell, with tiny little sails on it. She picked it out of the water and found inside a poem, and bead that she had given her lover. Chang was outside, and he still loved her.

But then – terrible news – the Mandarin came in to tell her that he had found a suitable match. Ta-jin, a powerful warrior Duke. Not only that, but he was on his way to meet his betrothed, with loads of jewels for her (that’s him on the boat on the left hand side, making his way to the palace).

Chang had a plan though. Disguised as a servant, he snuck in to that night’s banquet, and up to Koong-se’s room. They kissed and decided to make a break for it. The Mandarin and Ta-Jin had drunk themselves into a stupor, and the two lovers quietly crept out. But just as they were leaving, the Mandarin woke up and tore after them (that’s him chasing them over the bridge – she’s holding jewels and I think the Mandarin has a whip).

They just managed to escape, and hid with a maid who the Magistrate had already fired for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang, so the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang as a thief when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river (on the plate it’s just behind the boat) and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned.

Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

The two birds on that plate? The gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two beautiful doves.


There’s another story to the plate – a secret Shaolin legend.The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are three Buddha awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks’ souls on the journey from human to immortal life.

[I might get Mum to check this 😉 – oh, and with all fables and legends, there’s always another version, so apologies if this isn’t the one you know]