Adhering to a long-held tradition, this month’s Insight concludes with a brief listing of the some of the birdbrained, bewildering and sometimes brilliant things the citizens of China have done to make the news more amusing this past year.
Free Falling Crocodile
In August, a Sichuan grandmother awoke to discover a live crocodile in her back garden. As the garden was walled off, the woman was rightly perplexed by the animal’s presence. Had it fallen from the sky, she apparently wondered? Neighbors later revealed that a family on the fifth floor of her building kept crocodiles, and that at least one family member was a gastronome with a taste for exotic foods. Dinner had escaped, fallen almost 50 feet onto the roof of a shed, and all without injury. The crocodile was later carted off by wildlife authorities.
According to the Nandu Daily, Chinese university students this year took to uploading nude photographs onto online lending platforms. The reason: the photographs act as collateral for loans. While most loans are capped at RMB15,000, students at prestigious universities can access even more cash, albeit at weekly interest rates of up to 30%. Which is where the photographs come in. Students who fail to pay off their loans face the ignominy of having their nude photos splashed across the web.
Climbing your own Great Firewall
Earlier this year Fang Binxing, one of the architects of China’s Great Firewall – which blocks internet users in China from accessing much of the web’s content located outside of China – gave a speech on internet safety at the Harbin Institute of Technology. In a comical twist of fate, a website Fang attempted to load produced a message all too familiar to those residing in China: “Page not found.” In a move that surprised the live audience, Fang then opened a VPN in an attempt to escape the confines of the firewall that he himself created. Worsening the situation, his VPN dropped its connection twice, prompting him to give up and instead search for screenshots of the desired webpage on Baidu.
In Flagrante Delicto
Two scintillating celebrity extramarital affairs exploded onto the Chinese internet this year. In the first, beloved actor Wang Baoqiang, nicknamed “Baobao” by his fans, went straight to social media to air his dirty laundry. In a statement released on Weibo, he described his wife Ma Rong’s affair with his agent as having “severely hurt the marriage and destroyed the family” and thus he was filing for divorce. Fans obediently attacked the guilty female party. Months later, a second bomb. Beloved bad-boy badminton champion Lin Dan was caught on camera canoodling in a hotel room with model-slash-actress Zhao Yaqi while his wife, Xie Xingfang, also a badminton champion, was pregnant with their child. Lin Dan made a brief apology, Zhao Yaqi made a teary apology, and, like a script for a jilted politician’s wife standing by her man, Xie Xingfang released a statement saying she would support a “man who takes responsibility for his actions and is willing to correct his mistakes.”
No Monkey Business
What would you do to retrieve your hijacked taxi from a monkey? That’s the question a taxi driver in Qingdao had to ask in September when, reported the People’s Daily Online, a monkey almost caused an accident after he leapt across the cab to take control of the steering wheel. The animal’s trainer (and director of the local circus) could explain: the monkey can ride a unicycle, and thus cannot resist the urge to jump on wheels of all kinds. The police became involved when the trainer and his monkey refused to exit the taxi, and the pictures went viral on Weibo. “Monkey King,” one user commented. “You are so naughty.”
To New Heights
The Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) was surely China’s leading engineering accomplishment of the year. Almost 70 feet long, 25 feet wide and 15 feet tall, the ‘bus’ is designed to maneuver through traffic by rising above it, not nudging, pushing or violently speeding past it. Greeted with a mixture of adulation, surprise and doubt, the TEB runs on a track. So as the Wall Street Journal helpfully pointed out, “it’s a train.” And each train is estimated to cost US$4.5 million, so it’s not a cheap bus (or train). Doubts about the bus were voiced soon after its trial run. “This may create some psychological pressure for motorists,” said Zhang Jianwu, a professor at the Institute of Automotive Engineering at Shanghai Jiaotong University, in an interview with the China Youth Daily. Still, the TEB puts to bed the long-held myth that Chinese companies can only copy the best of the West. The bus’s designer, Song Youzhou, is thinking way outside the box.