What will happen to Uber in China? Car-sharing app faces uncertain landscape and well-funded competitors

 ChinaFile:

Ride-sharing app Uber has expanded around the world at a blistering pace, launching in a new city every one or two days. At first glance, China would appear the ideal fit for the Silicon Valley startup. Most urban residents in the world’s second-largest economy rely on sclerotic local taxi monopolies whose numbers have failed to match the country’s breakneck urbanization: the population of the capital Beijing, for example, has grown by nearly 50 percent to 20 million in the past ten years, while its taxi fleet of 66,000 remains the same size it was in 2003. The potential for a better way to get around town is clearly immense.

But on December 23, Uber suffered a setback when local authorities raided its office in the large southern city of Chongqing, a sign the company may encounter regulatory scrutiny in China similar to what it has encountered in other countries. Uber’s Chongqing travails initially appear to be yet another case in the recent string of large foreign firms finding themselves in the crosshairs of Chinese regulators—often to the benefit of domestic champions. It may come as a surprise, then, that Uber’s local competitors have come in for their share of official scrutiny as well.

Foreign and domestic ride-sharing apps both brush against powerful vested interests here, meaning that app makers, riders, and drivers all need to prepare for a bumpy ride.

China’s ride-on-demand market has been so ripe for the picking that when Uber launched there in February this year, it quickly found itself a small player in a market dominated by existing alternatives. These include “black taxis”—low-tech drivers peddling rides outside of the official taxi system—as well as two domestic taxi-hailing and ride-sharing apps backed by deep-pocketed local Internet firms: Didi Dache (roughly “Honk honk, hail a cab”), which is integrated with social network titan Tencent, and Kuaidi Dache (meaning “Quickly hail a cab”), funded by e-commerce giant Alibaba. (On the same day Uber was raided, the U.S. firm also announced it had secured backing from a third internet giant, search engine firm Baidu, a move that Uber hopes will give it more resources to battle the local players.)

Both Didi and Kuaidi got their start as apps helping riders to hail traditional taxis from the local monopolies, allowing users to entice cab drivers with tips. The apps’ tech giant backers poured money into promotions and bonuses—which included literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps—to drum up supply and demand. The strategy has succeeded; taxi-hailing apps now count 154 million Chinese users. Didi alone boasts100 million users and 900,000 registered taxi drivers spread across 178 cities, with more than 5 million rides booked every day. Even after a decline following the termination of the major promotions, the apps remain in heavy nationwide use, appearing to vindicate the apps’ early, money-burning tactics.

Having conquered the taxi-hailing market, over the summer both Kuaidi and Didi separately rolled out secondary services for riding in private cars that compete more directly with Uber’s bread and butter. These offerings provide tiers of service, with car models going all the way up to high-end Audis. The private car services are still new, but Didi and Kuaidi and their deep-pocketed backers have made clear they aren’t afraid to spend lavishly on early promotions and subsidies to build the market.

It would appear that China’s ride-on-demand market is Didi and Kuaidi’s to lose.

Those apps’ private drivers are less sanguine. One told me that although business is good, “Didi is still new, so who knows if the government might ban it later?” It’s a line that illustrates the difficult relationship that firms on the cutting edge of business innovation often have with Chinese authorities.

Even before Didi and Kuaidi launched their private car services, their taxi-hailing functions already encountered considerable scrutiny and the occasional bans from city governments for most of their two-year lifespans. That has led to different regulatory regimes in different cities. For example, Didi’s ability to attract cabbies with the promise of hefty tips was still functional on this author’s recent trip to the regional capital city of Changsha, while as of late October, that option had apparently been removed in Shanghai, China’s largest city. Rumors swirled that authorities here were trying to protect traditional taxi reservation hotlines, or were attempting to prize the city’s taxis from the grasp of a smartphone-wielding technorati that had grown used to luring drivers with tips, leaving the elderly and other riders who still hail cabs the old-fashioned way coughing in the dust.

But another theory goes that Didi and Kuaidi removed the tipping function themselves, in order to push well-heeled riders to consider their new Uber-like private car services, which still allow tipping. But private car services also have seen their share of sniping from interest groups and regulators, in many cases well before the December raid on Uber’s Chongqing office. By adding private car services to their existing taxi-hailing functions, the apps have gone from helping traditional taxis secure riders and tips to cultivating competing services that step on the toes of local taxi monopolies, which are often state-owned and constitute influential vested interests. Cab drivers in some cities already have complained that private car services are eating into their business, with cabbies in the large city of Nanjing threatening to boycott Didi’s taxi-hailing app if the firm did not remove the private car function. Local governments have also come down on these native apps on grounds similar to those countries like Belgium have cited in restricting Uber: i.e., the cars act like taxis but aren’t licensed like taxis, making them technically illegal. The large industrial city of Shenyang has already banned the private car service, and others like the major seaport of Dalian have questioned its legality too.

I used Didi to ride with several private car drivers, and found them understandably concerned about a potential ban on their new business. A Shanghai native surnamed Wang drove for Didi’s private car service full time, and was thus most vulnerable to any future regulation. Like all drivers I met, Wang was aware of the potential for a government ban on Didi and its competitors, but called it a double standard, noting the government had “allowed fleets of ‘black taxis’ to operate around Shanghai’s train station and other hubs with impunity for years.” Called “black” because they are illegal, black taxis have been a mainstay of Chinese city streets before smartphones even existed, taking advantage of the surplus demand created by limited taxi fleets. They offer rides to the impatient or desperate for unmetered fares that are bargained on the spot—usually to the disadvantage of those unfamiliar with the city.

If the authorities could turn a blind eye to black taxis, asked Mr. Wang, shouldn’t they be lenient towards Didi’s more professional private car service as well? After all, his clean Volkswagen SUV offered standard Didi features like bottled water and a charging port, and his friendly service and metered fares tallied by Didi’s app added up to a far better experience than that offered by the rundown black taxis with their shady drivers. Wang may have answered his own question.

Since the apps are far better organized and provide superior service, they represent a more significant threat to traditional cabs than black taxis ever could, which has inspired a stronger protectionist response.

Not all drivers were bitter about the threat of government action. One cheerful Didi driver, also surnamed Wang (no relation), came from the city of Xi’an and drove for the app as a lucrative sideline to his day job running a boxed-lunch business for office workers. He acknowledged that his part-time work probably infringed on taxi drivers’ territory and was resigned to the possibility that government action would put an end to it, but he was happy for the extra income while it lasted.

Drivers continue to participate in Didi’s private car service despite the uncertainties in part because Didi pays generous subsidies to drivers who receive high customer ratings, a gambit that echoes it and Kuaidi’s earlier promotions for taxis. (In an attempt to curry rider favor, some drivers even go beyond the app makers’ basic requirements like bottled water, providing extra touches such as medicine for carsickness.) Mr. Wang from Shanghai told me he was earning about $1,600 per month, thanks to subsidies and bonuses, more than Shanghai’s average white-collar salary of about $1,180. Wang’s father had been a cab driver and drove crushing hours, sometimes from 7 o’clock a.m. until midnight or later, without weekends; the younger Wang felt his hours were much easier. Bonuses fluctuate daily, but at their best can let drivers pocket double what passengers pay in fares, with Didi making up the difference. Given that Didi and Kuaidi battled for taxi-hailing market shares earlier this year by literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps, this latest subsidy scheme appears to be an effort to flood the streets with private cars at key times, making the service more convenient in the eyes of riders while also undercutting less well-funded competitors.

Uber may in the future find itself ensnared in more regulatory troubles with local Chinese authorities, but it won’t be alone. Didi and Kuaidi’s private car services have already upset the old system, in which traditional cabs dominated and black taxis mopped up excess demand without providing any real competition. Kuaidi has expressed confidence that it has the market knowledge and official relationships to ride out the initial wave of government scrutiny, though only time can tell if that is the case. In the meantime, drivers and riders can enjoy the services’ financial generosity and convenience—while they last.

Get spirited away in China’s Ghibli-esque tourist complex

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RocketNews 24:

Studio Ghibli’s acclaimed film Spirited Away is beloved around the world for its touching story and beautiful animation, and the whimsical setting has a real-life counterpart. Jiufen, a mountainous area of New Taipei City in Taiwan is said to be where creator Hayao Miyazaki drew a lot of his inspiration for the film, and many tourists visit the area to feel like they’re stepping into the magical world of Spirited Away. But it turns out there’s also somewhere similar in China! Check out these photos and videos of the incredible place.

In Sichuan province, the area famed for its pandas and delicious mapo tofu, is a place called Hongyadon situated in the heart of the city of Chongqing at the point where the Yangtze River and Jialing River meet. There you’ll find a tall, towering structure accessed by a bridge that looks just like a Japanese castle. It looks like something copied straight out of a fantasy movie, but it’s actually a traditional style of building from an area steeped in 2,300 years of history.

This particular place was reopened as a commercial and tourist facility in 2006 and has become a centre for shopping and sightseeing, and has recently become more popular after the news that it looked just like Spirited Away started circulating.

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And it does look just like the bath house from Miyazaki’s masterpiece, bridge and all. You’d almost expect No-Face to welcome you at the door! Inside the sprawling, 11-story complex it’s like a labyrinth filled with hotels, bars, and cafes. Judging from the photos it even seems like there’s a Starbucks and a Subway somewhere in there. The chaotic design that looks as though everything has been stacked willy-nilly on top of each other adds to its charm and the orange glow when its lit up at night is so beautiful and welcoming you feel positively drawn to it.

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Guangzhou (China) House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

 

HYPEBEAST: 

The last stop of the House of Vans Asia tour concluded in the city of Guangzhou, providing a three-day program of diverse cultural offerings to the local community, as well as tourists alike. Although Guangzhou may not be the first place to spring to mind when one thinks of creative locales in China, the illustrious city has long been leading the line in economic and cultural developments, yearning only for a platform to showcase the creativity it has to offer. House of Vans provided this platform, where multiple workshops grounded in art and expression brought together the like-minded community and even mothers who took their infants to experience the occasion.

Kicking off the first day were renowned photographers Tobin Yelland and Lele Saveri, teaching students the art of self-publishing through DIY zine classes. Shanghai art duo Idle Beats carried on the momentum by educating design and illustration students on the entire process of making a screen print, from design to creation, and finally printing a custom tote bag. Taking a different approach than to the previous House of Vans events to represent the more edgy side of expression, tattoo artists from Sunrat Tattoo in Korea and famed Chengdu-based artist Keke offered up free tattoos of which were well-received, causing local kids to line up in front of the venue from the early morning hours in a bid for some free ink.

A House of Vans event would not be complete without a slew of talented local and international music acts. Thus, the evening portion of the festivities saw Hong Kong-based punk rock drummer Kevin Boy open the stage to pave the way for Beijing indie/synth band The Big Wave. The first night was then capped off with Montreal indie dance band We Are Wolves, which ended everything off in climactic fashion and made sure the crowd stayed dancing into the early hours of the morning. Saturday night showcased a more hip-hop-laden roster as local crew Chee Productions successfully whipped the packed house into a frenzy by bringing out a surprise performance by Beijing’s MC J Fever. However, the next act that followed was arguably the highlight of the evening, where special guest Pusha T performed a full set of his most popular songs and verses, from the likes of ‘Grindin” to G.O.O.D Music tune ‘Mercy.’ The musical performances did not stop there though and DJ duo Two Fresh brought things to a close with an explosive performance. Sunday night also saw a rap-infused event and an MC battle by the Iron Mic brought together a plethora of young aspiring artists to battle it out in front of friends and family.

Notwithstanding what Vans is predominantly known for, the three-day event also provided a program of skateboarding activities open to all. Independent skate/surf photographer Leong Zhang took out a crew of young photographers to give them insights into the intricacies required for shooting skating activities. Using the Vans China/Hong Kong skate team as the subjects for the class, the participants took note of the details and angles that transform a great photo into a legendary photo. Two days of skate contests for amateurs and pros were also offered as Chongqing artist Panda and local graffiti crew Dickid created a monster 6-meter tall, Sk8-Hi-inspired set filled with a mammoth quarter-pipe as well as street obstacles painted by American artist Rich Jacobs. The much-anticipated jam-format contests brought out the pro’s representing five local skate brands: Vagabond, 8FIVE2, HKit, Symbolic and Hero, who all battled it out to take home the winnings. After impressive displays of tricks and creativity from all those involved, it was the 8FIVE2 team from Hong Kong that took the title for best street run and Shenzhen-based team Vagabond winning the best quarter-pipe jam.

Enjoy the recap above and head over to House of Vans Asia for more information regarding the events, while you can also check out recaps of the previous stops in the tour here.

 

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

Image of Guangzhou House of Vans 2014 Recap

 

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China’s take on Mount Rushmore (and other world landmarks)

Kotaku:

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

Somebody please cut George Washington’s leafy locks! He’s in need of a trim. That is, before things get out of hand.

This is the Mount Rushmore replica in Shaping Park in Chongqing, China. The park has been around for years now, and according to website Dale in China, it’s apparently dedicated to the Americans who helped fight against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Besides the faux Mount Rushmore, there are other small-scale replicas in the park:

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

But the concern now is George Washington’s hair! As this photo from RShuckman.com from 2010 shows, a well-manicured George Washington is a handsome George Washington.

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

Recent ChinaNews.com photos show some unruly growth.

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

Trim those leaves before they get out of control!

China's Mount Rushmore Has Green Leafy Hair

Photos: 沙坪公园FantongCftea陈庆纲的摄影博客DaleInChinaRShuckman

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China’s take on Mount Rushmore (and other world landmarks)

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25 Beautifully Cluttered Cityscapes In Asia

1. Hong Kong

Hong Kong

2. Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

3. Seoul, Korea

Seoul, Korea

4. Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

5. Seoul, Korea

Seoul, Korea

6. Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia

7. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

8. Jeju, Korea

Jeju, Korea

9. Ghorka, Nepal

Ghorka, Nepal

10. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

11. Hong Kong

Hong Kong

12. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

13. Zhejiang, China

Zhejiang, China

14. Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

15. Chongqing, China

Chongqing, China

16. Fenghuang, China

Fenghuang, China

17. Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

18. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

19. Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

20. Ura-Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

Ura-Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

21. Beijing, China

Beijing, China

22. Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

23. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

24. Jiufen, Taiwan

Jiufen, Taiwan

25. Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan
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