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Wuhan’s wardrobe controversy
Apr 5, 2019 (WiC 447)

Wuhan University has been making waves over the past week, but less because of its academic standards and more because of its cherry blossoms. The fuss started when two visitors were not permitted to see the sakura trees – allegedly because they were wearing Japanese-style kimonos. The university later issued a statement playing down the incident and blaming the visitors for not having made reservations and being rude to its security guard.

State broadcaster CCTV defended the university saying it was “a campus not a park”. However, many netizens were unconvinced, believing that it was the visitors’ decision to dress in kimonos that had led to their much publicised denial of entry, despite the men’s claims that they were actually wearing an ancient Chinese outfit, which is believed to have inspired the design of the kimono.

The sensitivity derives from the history of the trees: they were planted by the Japanese military during its occupation of Wuhan during the Second World War. That led one netizen to comment that turning up in a kimono was little better than wearing a Japanese army uniform. Butf others, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea that a dress code might be in place and saw it more as a case of patriotism taken too far.

Seats of (unexpected) power
Mar 29, 2019 (WiC 446)

The country that’s far and away the most famed for its ‘smart toilets’ is unquestionably Japan, where these electric devices can cost as much as $11,000. That’s the price tag for Toto’s top of the range Neorest which opens the lid when you approach, warms up the seat, deodorises your deposit, auto flushes and then shuts the lid when you walk away.

‘Smart toilets’ are increasingly popular in China too. This prompted the Shanghai Municipal Market Supervision Administration to test the safety of 28 of the trendiest electrical toilets seats currently available for purchase online.

Most of the brands on sale were priced well below the Toto toilet (between Rmb1,000 and Rmb2,000) but they weren’t nearly as advanced, and according to the Global Times, 39% of the candidates failed to pass quality tests. Some were downright dangerous, the Shanghai testing team claimed, with warnings that a few could even give off electric shocks.

The newspaper said that some of the local manufacturers had diversified into seat-making from their core business of making ceramic toilet bowls. However, it also pointed out that three out of five smart seats from South Korea failed to make the grade too.

Creating a stir
Mar 22, 2019 (WiC 445)

Tea originates from China, but it was the English who first served it with milk and sugar, a style which later found its way into different parts of Asia in various forms. In the Hong Kong version a juggling act sees the drink poured back and forth between two vessels (from height) at least four times before being mixed with evaporated milk and sugar. In Taiwan, the beverage was reinvented in the 1980s by mixing in new ingredients such as chewy tapioca balls and jelly and infusing it with tastes like taro or chocolate (today the tapioca variety is popularly known as ‘bubble tea’ and has become a global phenomenon).

As we mentioned in WiC444, modern tea outlets have become so popular among younger Chinese that they are often competing head-to-head against branded coffee chains.

This month the craze even prompted Alibaba to open an unmanned teashop in a Shanghai subway station. Apart from adopting more traditional smartphone-based technology such as payment via QR codes, the new milk tea store employs a single robot to make personalised beverages for its customers. Known as ‘Leimeng No.1’, the machine can simultaneously handle requests for additional ingredients and fine-tune the blend based on the customer’s required sugar level and temperature. The robot was built by Germany’s Kuka, a firm that was purchased in 2016 by Foshan-based Midea Group, while the recipes came from Happy Lemon, which is owned by Taipei-listed Yummy Town Holdings.