Shanzhai (山寨) is such an awesome word.
It's Chinese slang to describe a range of pirated or imitation goods. But with a difference. Shanzhai products include cellphones, cameras, computers and laptops that try their darndest to look like the real deal.
But Chris Chang of MIC Gadget offers a more nuanced definition. He says, "if a device looks like the authentic iPhone at first sight, we call it an iPhone knockoff. If it doesn't, we just call it shanzhai."
In tech markets like Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei you can score shanzhai versions of everything from Sony PSP players to Nokia phones. But Apple's designs are the most copied, as they are the most coveted.
Chang, a 19-year-old student based in Hong Kong, came by the studio armed with a select array of charming and eyebrow-raising shanzhai gifts including the shanzhai iPad. At first glance, you can imediately tell it's smaller than the real thing. It also runs a rival operating system, Google's Android, and lacks a truly multi-touch screen. In fact, you have to use your fingernails to touch it. But the shanzhai version has a handy feature that Apple left out of its tablet - a micro SD card slot. It retails in China for $135.
Next up, the Magic Mouse Phone. It has absolutely no link to the iPhone and looks just like Apple's mouse. It's a $45 GSM-only handset styled after a much-loved peripheral. Consider it a charming nod to Apple's design savvy. Shanzhai as geek tribute.
And then Chang revealed the very buzzy Apple Peel. It's a skin that turns an Apple iPod Touch into a GSM-only iPhone. When fully charged, it provides 4.5 hours of call time and 120 hours of standby time. Price tag? $45.
It may be a clever hack, but you have to extremely clever to put it together. It took Chang more than two hours to assemble at his first go, and that after jailbreaking his iPhone.
And yet Chang is a big fan, as the Apple Peel showcases Made-in-China tech not as a shameless rip-off or even shanzhai tribute... but as a "magical" example of innovation.
But there is one more thing...
The S-J "iDoll" is designed by MIC Gadget. With black turtleneck, glasses, and New Balance sneakers... it is a remakarable likeness. MIC had 300 figures made and, at just under $80 a pop, they quickly sold out. But then Apple told them to stop immediately, for violating Apple's copyrights and trademarks.
A bit ironic, considering the blog's content. It is after all a celebration of all things shamelessly shanzhai.
It's a direct challenge to China's Internet filtering regime... shot entirely within World of Warcraft.
Bit of background. "Harmonize" (和谐) is popular China Net-speak for being censored (as it's done under the slogan of "constructing a harmonious society.")
"War of Internet Addiction" was directed by Twitter user CorndogCN, and made with dozens of volunteers on no budget (other than WoW fees).
According to Youku.com, more than 10 million Chinese netizens have seen the movie.
Check it out while you can. It hasn't been harmonized... yet.
For years, it's been called the fuel of the future. But I wasn't expecting THIS vision just yet.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology was first embraced a few years back by carmakers eager to go green. The big obstacle? Hydrogen at the pump wasn't available, and was expensive to produce.
But one inventor hope to change that.
Hubbing through Hong Kong, Taras Wankewycz showed me a table-top hydrogen power station that can extract hydrogen from water to be used in fuel cells.
The Hydrofill uses electricity from the outlet (as well as solar panels if you're particularly green), and produces hydrogen that can then be stored in refillable cartridges. The system can pump out 2.5 watts of power.
(And brushing Hindenburg nightmares aside, the company insists the technology is safe.)
No word yet on the cost. Online chatter puts it at about $200 for the whole kit, but Taras himself is mum on giving an exact number because he's still in talks with retailers. He expects to have it on shelves at the end of the year.
Taras' company, Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, is also pushing out a range of products which can use the cartridges to power up smartphones, lights and other devices including a zippy RC hydrogen fuel cell car.
Taras is confident his invention is the very first step to a so-called hydrogen economy where hydrogen displaces oil as our chief source of energy.
One interesting upside - hydrogen is a compact and relatively light source of power... which is why the US military has been developing hydrogen-powered drones.
Of course, the obvious big upside of hydrogen is that it's clean. Hydrogen fuel cells produce only water vapor as a by-product. But power is still needed to produce the stuff.
My own private... wind turbine? (Hat tip to Constance Cheng, my Eco Solutions producer.)
Here in Hong Kong, investors can "feng shui" their finances.
The Year of the Tiger starts February 14th. But the Feng Shui Index, produced by Asian investment bank CLSA, marks the start of the year today - February 4 - as the first day of spring according to the solar calendar.
Solar/lunar issues aside, it's gonna be a bumpy year.
Tiger years are usually marked by dramatic changes. According to the guide, "Markets (in Hong Kong) will be volatile with a surge in the first month followed by a decline that turns upwards in June, dips and then swings up again in September."
The Feng Shui Index identifies the year's big winners by analyzing the elemental sign that they're aligned with. For example, companies associated with metal elements will have a great run, and the index predicts that gold will break $2000 an ounce this year.
But water-related industries - like shipping, logistics and transport - could see their positions weaken.
The popular index made its debut in 1992. Despite its tongue-in-cheek tone, some of their past forecasts have been on the money - like gold breaking $1,000 an ounce and the resurgence of the China property markets during the last year, the Year of the Ox.
In terms of the Zodiac, a great year is in store for those born in the year of the Dragon, Sheep and especially the Horse. A relatively good year is ahead for Rats, Cows, Rabbits, Roosters, Dogs and Pigs. But for the Tigers, Snakes and Monkeys out there - it will be a rough one.
I'm a Tiger.
Thankfully, there are feng shui measures to bring a bit of good luck in a bad year like the wearing of red underwear (I'm not making this up).
That to be continued... in another post.
"Warrior" is a 75 year old shoe brand from Shanghai. Its original mission? To outfit China's athletes with a simple and lightweight canvas trainer.
Known in Chinese as "Hui Li" (回力), the brand was a footwear favorite in China from the 60s to the early 80s. Today, not so much. Most Chinese youth prefer to be seen in Nike or Adidas.
But these days, "Warrior" is out to score a new audience in the West by positioning itself as a sort of hipster trainer with a story to tell.
And let it be known, these are award-winning shoes. According to its China-based website, "Warrior" shoes have "successively won the State Silver Medal for Quality, the prize of the Chemical industry Ministry for high-quality products and the prize of Shanghai for products."
Booyah. Or, as they say in China, 加油!
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