Category Archives: China

“Smart” KFC in Beijing Is Not Quite Smart Enough

kfc_in_beijing

No one is paying any attention to the “smart” machine at the left of the photo. (Amy Hawkins, The Guardian)

Even in China, where lack of privacy is pretty much taken for granted, KFC is running into some resistance its efforts to employ a machine able to recognize facial characteristics to pre-select food choices for customers before they have a chance to choose for themselves.

The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins “test-drove” the machine at a KFC in Beijing’s financial district. Though the store was busy, she was the only customer interested in ordering through the machine, which was created by Baidu, the search engine company often called “China’s Google.”

Maybe the machine is too closely oriented to Oriental features to be able to make sense of Amy’s Western ones. Maybe that’s why it was a decade off on her age. Maybe that had something to do with why she was offered the same thing – a crispy chicken hamburger – as the 20-something male who demonstrated the machine to her.

If you don’t like the machine’s recommendation, you can click through an assortment of other food options until you find what you want, they pay for your order through your smart phone and pick up your food at the counter.

The device, in what’s being billed as “China’s first smart restaurant,” is going to need to get a good deal smarter if KFC follows through on its plan to install them in the company’s 5,000-plus stores across China.

A press release from Baidu said that “a male customer in his early 20s” would be offered “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and [a] coke”, while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast.” Fortunately, most Chinese would be too polite to bash the machine’s brain if it offered the “porridge and soybean milk” option to a lady in her 20’s!

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

tiangong-2

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet csavignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth — including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rock slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

“In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.”

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China sent two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua recently visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavorable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F) winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only into the world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off in China it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts were using the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research.”

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least into new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth – including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rocky slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

“Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China will send two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in  the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavourable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F)winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only intothe world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off inChina it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts would use the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research”.

 

Feeling Under The Weather? A Pork Chop May Perk You Up

porkchop

Tiring (already) of grass-fed beef, and GMO-free stuff of all sorts? Never fear! Chinese farmers are pursuing what they hope will become ‘the next great thing’ in food – cows, pigs and ducks fed a diet rich in ancient Chinese medicines.

A New York Times article yesterday (July 16) reported that, because there traditional Chinese medicines and health foods are seeing a surge in popularity in the world’s most populous nation, “farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock.”

The results they’re promising will be flesh that will be delicious and healthy – “lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses.”

The science, rewarded recently with a Nobel Prize to a doctor for the specific scientific research procedures she used to extract a certain plant-based material and use it to create a chemical drug, is said in yesterday’s Times article to be “less resounding, though one study did find that cows that were fed Chinese medicines performed better in hot weather.”)

Several years ago, a farmer in the southern region of Guangxi “began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock.” The pigs that Mr. Lin now raises sell for $460, about $200 more than the typical price for conventional pigs, he said, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine.

“The pigs raised this way don’t get sick, they have good texture and they’re meaty,” he said.

Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20 percent annually for the next several years.

Mr. Lin said China was returning to something good from the past that had been neglected. “In the old days, we used traditional methods to feed the animals,” he said. “People’s longevity was very long.”

 

After Decade+ Away, Dunkin’ Donuts Is Returning to Beijing This Month

dunkin

While maintaining a presence in China with stores in Shanghai, Shenyang and Fushun, Dunkin’ Donuts decided around the turn of the century that Beijing wasn’t a viable market, and the company closed its stores there. Now, DD is coming back, with one location scheduled to open before Chinese New Year (Feb. 8), two more opening  shortly thereafter, and “a handful of others” due to come online later, according to The Beijinger.com.

What’s changed in Beijing? A growth in the popularity of coffee, spurred in part my Starbucks’ growing presence – that company has 1,500 locations in a total of 90 Chinese cities, according to The National Geographic – as well a spurt in the count of local coffee shops. The latter tend to offer premier coffee both because of its quality and because it is seen as prestigious, an important factor to Chinese consumers, National Geographic (NG) notes.

A large part of Starbucks success, the magazine says, has evolved from the company’s ability to offer a broad range of the sweetish drinks favored, over plain, black coffee, by the Chinese and, as or more important, Starbucks’ willingness to cater to the local market with such Chinese preferences as green tea frappuccinos, red bean scones and, during the Mid-Autumn and Dragon Boat festivals, such favorites of those events as mooncakes (“round pastries stuffed with red bean or lotus seed paste and whole salted egg yolks, these last representing the fertility-associated full moon, NG says) and zongzi (“a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rise stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed or other flat leaves,” Wikipedia says). Mooncakes and zongzi are to those festivals, respectively, as funnel cake is to many similar events in the U.S.

Apparently a problem for Dunkin’ Donuts in its earlier Beijing incarnations was the quality of its coffee – too often seen by the locals as worth by-passing – and the scarcity of its donuts, which apparently were prepared so infrequently that on-the-shelf selections and quantities tended to be limited. The upcoming stores are expected to take after Shanghai’s path with offerings keyed to the local diet. One of them, featuring dry pork and seaweed, is not recommended by the author of The Beijinger article!

That article said a DD spokesperson confirmed the openings cited here are “imminent,” and other locations should follow shortly as the company aims to open some 1,400 stores to complement the 17 or so in the country’s east and northeast, a former employee told The Beijinger. That large expansion plan was announced around a year ago, but only now seems to be moving toward fruition.