For the first time in my life, I wish I owned a fanny pack. It would have completed the look. I’m standing at a busy intersection in Yu Yuan, watching Western tourists, maps in hands and baseball caps on heads, filtering through the streets. I’ve got a camera over my shoulder – a nice touch. I’m not here to take any pictures, though: I’m here to get scammed.
“Hey, boy!” And so it begins. “Take my photo?” A skinny, smiling 20-something man is thrusting his phone towards me.
He stands with his friend, a shorter man in a floral shirt. I snap a photo of Smiley and Floral in front of a drab building – not exactly a great shot. I give the phone back, and he doesn’t bother to check the photo.
What do a cheap Shanghai convenience store and a small Guangdong village have in common? Here are some hints: it’s one of the fastest-growing markets in China. It’s particularly popular with newly moneyed city dwellers. It’s all over social networks like WeChat and QQ. No, it’s not a new smartphone or app: it’s crystal meth.
It’s a Wednesday night, and we’re in a generic Shanghai convenience store in the former French Concession. Two young shop attendants are standing behind bubbling vats of sauce-soaked skewers. In the opposite corner, a stocky man lingers by the snack counter. He’s been there all evening. He was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow. He is the local drug dealer, at your service: and you can bet he has “bingdu” (冰毒), or “ice.”
His supply could have come from any number of places, but there’s a decent chance it was produced near the village of Boshe, in Guangdong Province.
You’re standing in line at a coffee shop, ready to order, when your cellphone goes off. It’s from your bike: ‘Someone is stealing me!’ Ignoring the eager barista, you burst from the cafe to spot a bike thief in action. He panics, and bails.
Or let’s take another scenario. You click your helmet into place, hunch over the handle bars, ratchet up to a high gear and begin pedaling so fast it feels like your knees will hit you in the nose. You fly from Waibaidu Bridge on the North Bund to Yan’an Lu on the South in record time. You pull over, catch your breath and check your phone. Damn! A good speed, but the app says another cyclist has done better.
Those are the type of situations that the people at Basic Conception are hoping will attract business. After 10 months of research, design and development, the Shanghai-based start-up is getting ready to present its technology-equipped ‘BiCi’ smart bike to the world.
We’re in the ballroom of a high-end Shanghai hotel. Glass and gold chandeliers hang from the ceiling like giant, opulent octopi. Marble columns flank two-person-tall wood doors. And 388 people are sitting in rented beds beneath lunch trays stacked with noodles, fruit, spring rolls and a bottle of orange juice. It happens to be 388 people, but really just needed to be more than 289 – the number of Australians who set the previous Guinness World Record for “Most people eating breakfast in bed” in 2012.
“Please enjoy your breakfast, and please enjoy being part of a new world record!” a man exclaims from a podium bedecked with Guinness logos.
Shi Zhongpeng is going to die today. If he’s lucky, he may die more than once. In the morning, he could be hit by a sniper. In the afternoon, he might perish in a storm of quickly-shot arrows along with a dozen of his beige-uniformed colleagues. Before dinner, he could suffer any number of fates, from getting his heart pulled out of his chest to a well-thrown hand grenade taking down his prop-plane fighter.
Shi Zhongpeng isn’t a WWII-era Japanese casualty, he just plays one on TV. “I’ll be on six or seven different sets daily, if I’m lucky,” he says. “I’ve died more than 30 times in one day.” Shi has a stunt man’s build: fit and strong, with a gymnastic talent for spins and flips, he is perfectly suited to being blown up. At 27 years old, Shi has been working in the film industry for more than a decade. He exclusively plays Japanese ‘devils,’ the extras who die en masse in the scores of Chinese films and TV series produced each year depicting the 1937-1945 Second Sino-Japanese War.
“When it’s around New Year or a national holiday, some of the sets will be short on extras and I can take more roles, and die more times,” he says. He makes about RMB70-80 per day, and has heard that actors with dialogue make RMB200-300, but doesn’t know that first-hand. Although Shi has appeared hundreds of times on screen – sometimes dying in one scene yet appearing in the background of another – his characters have never lived to tell the tale.
The most iconic photo submitted to Chinese cellphone maker OnePlus’s recent contest was a girl holding both of her hands up, middle fingers extended. One hand had the OnePlus logo written on it in black ink and the other hand said, “Don’t be sexist!” The headline read “OnePlus asks women to participate in degrading contest to get a smartphone.”
The campaign was not a success.
Maybe it had seemed like a good idea at the time? The cellphone company had been able to generate much excitement about its upcoming ‘One’ smartphone, which was receiving rave reviews online. “A tiny Chinese startup has made my favorite new smartphone of the year” gushed a Business Insider headline. The phone featured top-of-the-line hardware, sleek looks and a mind-blowing low price.
Seeking to capitalize on the buzz, OnePlus launched a campaign this August entitled ‘Ladies First.’ The company invited women to submit photos of their bodies with the OnePlus logo written on their “hand/ face/wherever” — but did include the admonition, “Ladies, no nudity please” — promising that whoever received the most ‘likes’ online would win an invitation to buy the new phone — they still had to pay, mind you — and a t-shirt. Accusations of sexism ensued, and the company pulled the competition and issued a hasty apology, calling their campaign “a misguided effort.”
A 16-year-old from the 9,000-person-strong Pacific Island of Nauru is holding two bright yellow weights over his head and the audience seems bored. A group of teenagers sit with a Chinese flag draped over their laps, looking at their phones. 120 pounds of metal fall to the ground and some light applause floats in the auditorium. Abruptly, the clapping gets louder and the excited screaming starts.