Category Archives: Television

Taking a Walk Through 60’s New York

In all this heat, I’ve been watching a lot of DVDs. Tonight’s choice was the first episode of AMC’s series Mad Men.

I’ve only watched the first episode but the show seems to feature everything that I like about the 60’s: well-pressed suits, drinking in the afternoon and a sense of living where you can tell that they are taking lots of risks but they don’t make it look like they care about those risks. That last sentence can be used to describe the show’s lead character Dan Draper.

I don’t know enough about Draper’s character to really give a full description yet, but he seems to be living a bit of a double life — risk-taking Madison Avenue Ad Man while in Manhattan, quiet family man when he comes home to his suburban home. I’m not sure which one is really him — it will keep me watching to wait and see though. As will the little “time-sensitive” bits that are dropped into the show, such as Draper’s boss asking him to help write ads for RIchard Nixon’s first failed presidential campaign and a joke that Draper makes late in the first episode in reference to a photocopier.

I just took a look at the Mad Men website before writing this post and I saw that the second season will be starting on Sunday July 27th for viewers in the US. So any readers of this blog in North America who might have seen the end of season 1 please don’t tell me how this ends. This is one ending I definitely want to find out by myself.

J.

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Today’s Earthquake: The Day China Entered the Twitter Era

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the earthquake that hit Sichuan today. It was so big that we even felt it in Shanghai.

When it happened I was sitting at my desk working on my computer. I felt a little dizzy and I thought it was just from some eating some bad food at lunch. Only when my colleagues rushed by saying in Shanghainese that something had happened did I know it wasn’t just me. Within a minute my Twitter Feed jumped to life with people asking if anyone else felt the earthquake in Beijing. It was then that I knew something was up. A few minutes later we evacuated the building.

But we were given the all clear 15 minutes later. When I got back to my desk I was able to follow everything on Twitter and answer questions from different colleagues as the people on my feed fed information on the earthquake from all over the country. And we were able to help each other and filter out rumours. People who had access to televisions were able to keep people like me, who were in offices and working, up-to-date with the latest developments.

I can really tell that Twitter is coming into it’s own in China. Today really proves it, especially since the Chinese media did not release news right away and there is very limited access to foreign news sources such as CNN — I’m lucky in in that I have a satellite dish that gives me foreign programs but it’s on the fritz at the moment. Twitter filled the gap for me today and thanks to crowd sourcing I think that it’s pretty accurate. Two articles on the situation can be found on Danwei and China Herald.

As much as I feel happy for the role that Twitter played in the event, I fill sorry for all those dead and injured in the quake. My heart and prayers go out to them.

J.

Update (May 17th 2008): I sent a note to Jesse Brown, the host of CBC Radio’s Search Engine about Twittering the earthquake. They featured me on their blog here and here.

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Watching Antonioni’s China

This afternoon on the way back from lunch, Winnie and I stopped at the DVD store. There we came across a copy of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Cina: Chung Kuo (China: the Middle Kingdom). The film is a documentary that Antonioni shot in Beijing, Henan, Suzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai during a five-week trip and later aired on Italian TV as an almost four-hour documentary. Antonioni didn’t sneak into the country, he was invited by the Chinese government. No one really knew what was going on inside the country at that time so this film can very much bee seen as the film equivalent of Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China.

The fact that Snow and Antonioni were both invited by the Communists to see life inside China is were the similarities end however. Antonioni, while he praises the simplicity and collectivism of Chinese life at that time, does indicate through voiceovers that there is some repression in the country. He also mentions two or three times through out the film that the Chinese government minders asked him not to film something, but since Antonioni’s team already had their camera on they filmed it anyway.

What comes out in the end is this great picture of China that most foreigners — including expats like myself who live here — have hardly ever seen. Beijing and Shanghai without the skyscrapers and the traffic. In fact when they show Pudong all you see is a shipyard and an oil refinery the rest is all fields.

It is amazing what is still the same as well. Many of  the activities that the children play in school and the songs they sing haven’t changed in 30 years. Neither have the lives of the rural people in many of the villages in Henan and the rest of central China. That is probably the saddest thing about the documentary. You could change the calendar to 2008 and the scenes in Henan would still look the same. China’s opening up has made a lot of improvements, but for rural people a lot of these improvements have come because they are able to leave their villages and work in the cities — even though the government has tried to make structural improvements there, corruption has arguably prevented those reforms from having their full effect.

But that is an argument that is an argument that can be fleshed out during another post. If you’ve got four-hours to kill and are a fan of China’s history, go out and purchase Antonioni’s Cina, you won’t be disappointed. It is an eye-opener.

J.

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Chinese Diplomats Pressure the CBC

According the China Game, the CBC canceled a documentary on the Falun Gong last night, because it received pressure from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa. I’m not a big fan of the Falun Gong myself (I worked on a couple of FG stories as a journalist and always found them to be a little out there), but I am surprised that the CBC gave into pressure on this. It strives to make sure that the documentaries that it airs are extremely fair.

When I heard about that the Chinese embassy had “tried to correct factual errors” my first question was did the filmmaker try to contact the Chinese embassy for their side of the story? The article makes no mention of this so I can’t say for sure if he did or not (and I don’t know if this was the cause for the pressure — the comment section of The China Game post says that it may be due to manipulation of the filmmaker by the Falun Gong. I just know that when I tried to contact the embassy in regards to a lawsuit launched by Falun Gong members in Montreal in 2001 (I was an intern journalist working for what is now CanWest News Services), all they would tell me is that the Falun Gong is a cult. If that’s all the embassy would say to the filmmaker, I’m not surprised they were left out of the film.

J.

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An Awesome Commercial from Chinese TV

I read a great post on EastSouthWestNorth today:

[in translation]

A few days ago, I saw the most awesome television ad ever on Linfen TV.

Three women met in the middle of the street and the following conversation took place.

A (to B): “Didn’t you get a vaginal infection?”
B: “I was cured at Hospital XX.”

B (to C): “Didn’t you get a uterine pelvic infection?”
C: “I was cured at Hospital XX.”

C (to A): “Didn’t you get a chlamydial infection?
A: “I was cured at Hospital XX.”

A,B,C shout in unision: “We all got our sexually transmitted diseases cured at Hospital XX!””

And here’s a great piece about the beauty pageant industry in China from the same site.

J.

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More One-Sentence Movie Reviews

I spent more time this weekend watching DVDs so here are some more short reviews:

Spiderman 3: Probably the movie that is most like the comic books out of all three movies. It’s set in 2007 but it could as easily be 1987 — except Toby McGuire plays a more arrogant Spidey.

The Office (US Version): Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s a trainwreck, but you can never look away.

J.

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Why Hasn’t CNN Been Talking About The Lack of Press Freedom in It’s China Coverage?

I’ve spent this week watching CNN’s Count Down To Beijing Series everyday before I go to work. And I’ve been impressed by their coverage of the construction boom, the displacement of people and the pollution and environmental problems. What I think has been lacking though is the coverage of the fact that Beijing hasn’t really been living up to its promise of press freedom. In fact on Monday morning, Kristie Lu Stout was talking about how the press was able to work more openly here. But coverage from Imagethief and Richard Spencer plus a host of other media show that isn’t the case. Why oh Why is CNN not putting in its two cents?

J.

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