Monthly Archives: July 2010

CDotD: Just How Cheap Pirated DVDs are in China

OK, so maybe this post will make me sound like a complete newbie or fool, but I was recently in Shenzhen with my language exchange partner, a Shenzhen native and also a lawyer.  I asked if he would help me go buy DVDs and bargain, local style, to see just how much better a true local would be than me.

He asked if I cared whether or not the movies had been pirated, and I said no.  Movies are relatively inexpensive to buy in HK, and I’ve never been 100% sure of its authenticity there, as you can get packaging that looks true to the kind you’d get in the U.S., and expect to pay around $20 USD.  On the other hand, there are movies that appear to be pretty obviously copied, and costs closer to $5 or less (but my memory is pretty hazy on that).

I am not going to say whether or not we did or did not indeed partake in said purchase of DVDs, but I was floored to discover that all Chinese locals can expect a basic price of 5 RMB per DVD!  In this case, it was even less, as they were charging just 5 RMB per season of this television series I was interested in.  On top of that, you can bargain and ask for the vendor to throw in one or two freebies if you buy a lot of them.

That’s just mad! I mean I knew the practice was prevalent in China and heck, it’s not uncommon in HK either, but I had no idea how cheap it would be!  That’s less than $1 a DVD! And something in my lawyer’s heart felt it was just so wrong.

Still shell-shocked over the pricing of such things, I turned to my language partner after we left the shop and asked how on Earth was that ok and if the government did anything about it at all.  He shrugged it off and said that even though it is a blatant disregard for intellectual property rights whatsoever, the government looks the other way as its people just have to have its DVDs and couldn’t otherwise afford it.

Moreover, you could get just about anything!  I wanted to look at American television series, and the vendor brought out such a huge array.  Let’s also not forget to mention that there were also copies of movies that had just come out (with their release dates clearly  labeled on its packaging so customers knew what a hot buy it was!).  So China is hardly a closed country, as its government must also clearly be aware that its people are accessing all this American media too.

I would like to add, however, that it wasn’t exactly as simple as it may sound to get these DVDs.  We had to search around many mini-mall mazes and ask around to find a stand that sold movies, and even the spot we ended up appeared to be aimed at selling clothing and accessories, not DVDs or CDs, although it had a small box of discs on its counter.  Further, we were only produced more selections once we asked for them, and a small phone call to some mystery spot allowed someone to go and fetch whatever we wanted (including specific titles, especially once we knew its Chinese translation from the English titles).  So I suppose you can say the practice isn’t exactly condoned in China either.

Intellectual property, copyright, copying — all issues that have been discussed in plenty of other blogs and journals, obviously, but here as I live it, I couldn’t help but wonder how to feel on the whole matter.  On the one hand, it really IS fantastic to have affordable and easy access to any and all media, but on the other, artists need to be compensated and continue to be compensated in order to create more for us to enjoy.

But what is the right balance?  How much is too much, how much is too little, and how much is just right?  To be honest, I rarely go to the movies or buy DVDs or CDs because they are quite expensive in my opinion.  In the U.S., I did tend to rely on waiting for movies to come out on television, rent via Netflix or Blockbuster, or borrow them from friends who would purchase them.  Was I just a cheapass? Isn’t it a bit much to charge $28.95 for a new release DVD?

And don’t get me started on what crap is being produced in Hollywood for millions of dollars, versus amazing beauties on shoestring budgets elsewhere, which would clearly support the argument that $28.95 is most definitely too much.  And yes, I am tired of this Lindsay Lohan nonsense, and yes, I do think Hollywood celebrities are over-compensated, fawned over unnecessarily, and fuel a culture of material idolatry and waste.

In any case, it  seems that China is most definitely going to continue to turn a blind eye to the matter of media copyright (which isn’t all that’s fake in China, obviously — and further discussion on fake clothes, even fake pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, are a whole other topic, especially since the lesser quality of these items might even mean someone’s health at the line), and I wonder how China’s refusal to take a stance means overall for intellectual property in the world.  Big questions — not the type I have the capacity to tackle at all.

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Differences Bringing Us Together: Russell Peters Was AWESOME

For the grand finale for my visit back to the States, Oli got us and my three sisters tickets to see Russell Peters at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods.  If you haven’t heard of Russell Peters by now, you must go to youtube to check him out immediately.  Classics are “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad,” and “Be a man” sketches.

RP has a knack for accents and picking up on idiosyncrasies of various ethnicities, starting first and foremost with his own cultural background – Indian.  Born and raised in Canada, he’s grown up with other cultural groups, while experiencing life as a minority. And as his comedy act grew increasingly popular, has had the opportunity to travel all over the world.

When I was first introduced to Peters not too long ago (thanks Namit!), I was utterly awestruck with his impression of a Cantonese person speaking English.  He had the accent down pat – and at the show we attended, he even had a sketch involving a recent visit to Hong Kong (about shopping at TST, among other things), and he really gets every nuance of that accent down! Truly incredible — if you’ve been exposed to this accent as much as I have, then you’d also be completely floored!

Peters is also pretty famous for involving audience members, and over the years his crowd has gotten extremely multi-ethnic — at this show, we learned we were among plenty of Indians, Chinese, lots of Middle Easterners, had a Porto Rican-Korean in the house, and even an Irish guy named Seamus!  Altogether, all these different races, were happily enjoying jokes about our own kind and others’, laughing together as we shook our heads in agreement.

My point in blogging about this here is three-fold: (1) thanks thanks thanks Oliver for getting us tickets!!! It really was special and we all had such fun!; (2) thank thank thanks Russell Peters for continuing to make us all laugh as we agree with your astute mockeries of all of us; and (3) it’s amazing how these differences make us laugh so much and at the same time brings us all together.

Since I left for HK last September, I’ve been blessed to finally visit India, and make trips to Macau, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.  In HK I’ve increasingly been exposed to Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, Brits, Filipinos, Nepalese, Chinese, and others.  And I can’t agree more with Peters and his “worldly” observations. Getting to know more and more of the world, however, I see quickly how our differences bring us together.  What a wonderful thing!

Torn Lover: How I Love New York!

I’m writing this entry from the Hudson River Park, just around West 10th Street near Pier 40.  It’s another perfect day of sun, blue skies, and gentle breezes.  This park has easily become my favorite place to visit during this trip back to New York, and I’m not sure if it’s the gorgeous weather or that Peter has loaned me his apartment in Chelsea for house-sitting, or if it’s that I’ve attended two beautiful weddings for some very good friends of mine, but I am falling in love with New York again.

I cannot believe how much anxiety I had about coming back to New York this time around.  My last visit, admittedly, wasn’t exactly stellar — I had a much tougher time with the jetlag, it was considerably colder and unpleasant weather-wise, and I also went through some emotional trials with someone I had been seeing in HK — so it was no surprise that I ended up rather depressed by the third and last week of my stay in New York in December.  And by extension, it made sense that I was not looking forward to New York this go — especially with four weeks’ stay planned.

And now with just about one week left to go to my stay, I’m actually afraid to go back to Hong Kong!  As I indicated in my last post, I miss the diversity of New York.  I love how different people are, and that all these different people are hanging out together, working together, commuting and living together all in this great city that is also my place of birth and home for nearly three decades.  Then there’s the diversity of food, entertainment, and neighborhoods. I love the beautiful and accessible public spaces, and that for a city of its magnitude, the pollution levels are actually quite low. Perhaps I still have so much more to get to know in HK, and really, I do enjoy myself there, but you cannot deny that there’s just something about New York, and for me, it truly is my first love.

The far-ness of HK has never felt more palpable ‘til now.  Moving to HK is not like moving to DC or California.  My American friends are more likely to have a reason to pass through any of those places, but a great effort has to be made to travel halfway around the world to Hong Kong.  At Alex and Adria’s wedding this weekend I told friends to please come visit, and that I was serious about hosting in my small but amenable studio.  Yet, no one could seriously reply “Sure!”  And while Hong Kong is a whole lot of fun, it isn’t exactly a place on the top of everyone’s travel to-do or wish-list.  Indeed, it never was mine.

I hate the goodbyes.  I can say, “see you later” but I know later is really much much later, and it’s going to be up to me to decide when that later might be, i.e., when I plan to return to the U.S.  And even though no one is really ever all that far away in the world of the industrious internet, nothing compares to being with someone in the flesh and in the present, and seeing so many close friends all at once during these weddings reminded me of that.

I adore my new friends in Hong Kong, and without them I’d be lost, but there’s just something about the people who have known you for the past decade or so, or who has been there with you through great moments of happiness and sadness.  My long time friends in New York and the United States otherwise, just get me.

Coming back to New York this time made me feel like Hong Kong is still just a very long vacation even though I started laying down some very real roots there just recently with the apartment, gym membership, phone contract, and now my application to the Law Society.  I need still something more to stabilize myself in Hong Kong to make it feel like my “home” through and through.  Might that be a job? A boyfriend?

Whatever it might be, I’m gonna need it soon, or how am I going to deal with the next time I return to New York.  Might I actually come running back to her arms asking for full absolution and return for real? On the other hand, someone asked me if I came back what I’d do, and at the same time I’m not ready to be here either for some reason.  So where am I?

I really thought I was resolving this, yet the questions continue…

A Li’l’ Bit Hong Kong

I’ve been back in New York for a little more than a week now and could immediately see all the ways that I’ve gotten a li’l’ bit Hong Kong.  There wasn’t any culture shock, even though the two cities really do look and feel completely different.

I have to say, I miss the great multi-cultural, multi-class, completely mixed up environment in NY.  Weather-wise, heat wave or no, the humidity and heat is far more tolerable in NY, and while there might be a whole lot more litter on the ground in NY, the air is most definitely cleaner.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much more at ease I’ve been in NY this time around than compared to last time.

I was nervous about this return, and not entirely sold about my 4 week stay this go.  Last time I was severely jet-lagged, struggling to get through crazy jam-packed schedules, freezing cold (til I found my uber-coat again), and by the third week, feeling unusually depressed.  Maybe it’s that there was some OUTSTANDING gorgeous weather when I first touched down (felt like a perfect spring day), or maybe it was that I was immediately tasked with massive wedding duties (hen night, bridal shower, rehearsal/rehearsal dinner, wedding) in addition to completing my application to the Law Society (running to all the courts getting certificates of good standing, collecting original reference letters from prior employers, finding my diplomas and figuring out how to send mail as quickly as possible when HK is already 12 hours into the future).

And with all that, I was extremely sleep deprived — most nights I got no more than 5 hours of sleep — which was the case since the night before I flew out from HK.  Then the first Friday, I got together with Rishi, a very special someone I had met the summer before I left for HK, and who had a similar need to completely change up his life.  We had only that small window in time and space to get together, and we met around 11:30pm that night, and left each other not long after the sun came up around 6!  As painful as that lack of sleep was, I think it more or less cured my jet-lag issues.

And now I’m writing from Chelsea, my old neighborhood, as I am house-sitting for Peter and his brother.  Having a spot in the City definitely eases the strain a whole lot. So being in NY has overall been quite different already.

Anyway, while it’s great adjusting this nicely back to New York, I did notice a lot of little Hong Kong habits:

While I knew the drill to get myself an unlimited ride Metrocard straight off day one, I noticed every time I approached the turnstiles to exit, I’d start reaching for my Metrocard to tap out like in HK.  But duh — in NY, it’s a single flat-fee fare, and not distance based as it is in on the Octopus system in HK. It took me quite a while to resist that urge.

Of course I have trouble adjusting to my cell phone since the next button and the caps button are reversed between my HK cell and my NY cell — so it always takes me a while to get used to writing coherent text messages, but the big difference this time was how annoyed I was to not be able to use my cell in the subway, as you can in HK.

Drinks are so much cheaper! I was pleasantly shocked with the $38 pitchers at the Mexcian restaurant we hosted Anna’s hen night dinner.  Yeahhhh — bring it on!

Going to the courts to collect my certificates I was a bit taken aback with the much much greater security (extra annoying since one day I was carrying two cell phones, and felt awkward checking them both).  When I was observing a case at the Court of Final Appeal in HK (its version of the Supreme Court), you just walk on in and take a seat!

Of course my speech had adjusted a bit — I’d already noticed in HK that my a’s and word choice had altered a bit (less ay’s more ah’s, and said things like toilet rather bathroom).  Fortunately, this easily turns back with time here.

Then the biggest shocker — I had a dream about shopping for home goods one night, where I was happy at the oh so cheap $21 bathmat — yeah, that’s Hong Kong dollars!