The Cut-Throat Chinese Way, Even In The Air

Commentary: China is busy with some serious self-examination about the national “condition” after the tale of a near disaster above Shanghai Airport when a Chinese pilot was determined – at all costs -- to land first.

Boarding China Eastern Airlines at Shanghai airport where a Lucky Airlines pilot recently made news (Ed-meister)
Boarding China Eastern Airlines at Shanghai airport where a Lucky Airlines pilot recently made news (Ed-meister)
Tang Jiachen

BEIJING - A group of people are lining up for the toilets. One of them is clutching his abdomen and asks the people in front of him if he can go ahead. If his request is denied, if you hear responses such as: "I'm in even more of a hurry than you are," or "Me, I'm going to wet my pants!" then, in all likelihood, you have bumped into Chinese people!

It's not that I'd been feeling particularly down about my fellow countrymen. But I just happen to have read a news item making the rounds these days that sounds strikingly similar. Only this time, it happened in the skies.

A few days ago, a Qatar Airways flight had only five minutes of fuel remaining. The air traffic control personnel at Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai, responded by following the emergency landing procedures. Yet the pilot of a flight from the Chinese-run Lucky Airlines, already ahead in the landing queue, refused four times to follow the give-way instructions. The pilot replied to the controller: "My aircraft has got only four minutes of fuel left".

It was reported that the Lucky Airlines flight did not give way until the Qatari pilot issued the "Mayday" signal, the highest alert level for help. In the last few days, Chinese bloggers and Internet commentators have sarcastically declared that the Chinese airline has once again "won glory for the country", and "has created yet another hundred-year miracle in the history of aviation."

In my opinion, Lucky Airlines won "dangerously" by one minute over Qatar. Rather than calling it a miracle, I'd rather say it simply accords with "customary Chinese conditions."

"Conditions' are mysterious things. Anything one cannot explain can be used to end quarrels. Nobody dares to help an old man up when he falls down on the street. This is a Chinese condition. When the deadly earthquake and mine explosion struck, the victims' family were said to be "in steady emotion". (This is Xinhua news' standard expression of reporting). When a person dies in custody with his body covered in wounds, it's because he has drunk himself to death with water, or because he played hide-and-seek with other cellmates, and knocked himself. These are also certainly Chinese conditions.

Don't ever give in

So it is only logical when Lucky Airlines insists on Chinese core conditions – to fight rather than give in, even if it defies standard international flight rules, aviation conventions, and any pilot's basic professional ethics, by lying about his aircraft's fuel status, even if this might have led to the loss of hundreds of lives.

In fact, the choice to fight back than give in is common practice in Chinese people's daily life. Perhaps it's because every Chinese has to face hundreds of millions of competitors once he is out of the womb. "Lagging behind merits a beating" is the ultimate consensus in our teaching. The fear of lagging behind is a universal social psychosis. When the risk of lagging behind is exaggerated, an individual's choice of behavior is naturally motivated to fight to be the first. To achieve the goal, universal values like ethics, morality, and a sense of order quickly become secondary.

This is a behavioral logic that can send a chill up one's back, yet it has been internalized as part of the Chinese people's national character. We are all scrambling along this road. In an extreme way, the "contest" of Lucky Airlines v. Qatar reflects the usual chaos in our daily life.

According to news sources, both aircraft finally landed and were inspected. The Qatari really did have only fuel left for another five minutes of flight, while the Lucky Airlines aircraft had fuel for at least another hour.

The information is to be confirmed by the authorities. But frankly speaking, I'm sure anybody who understands a bit about Chinese conditions wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Indeed, Chinese civil aviation experts have a more detailed explanation for what was happening in the Lucky cockpit. Certain domestic airlines have set up an incentive "bonus' to encourage pilots to economize fuel. The bonus is awarded in proportion to how much fuel is left after each flight. When the Lucky Airlines pilot gave in to the Qatar flight, it meant he had to turn his plane around, spend more fuel in circling for another turn at landing… and jeopardize his bonus. Lagging behind, indeed.

Read the original story in Chinese

Photo - Ed-meister

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!