Posts Tagged ‘society’



“The God of Gamblers” – Macau Profile for The New Yorker

Matthew Niederhauser's clipping for "The God of Gamblers" in The New Yorker

Macau looms large on the iniquitous edges of Asia. It is a city of sin: filled with casinos, prostitutes and any other vice or luxury one could imagine. In many ways this is business as usual. Trafficking of women and general skullduggery date back to the earliest days of the Portuguese colony at the turn of the 16th century. Now the stakes are much higher though, and for many visitors, money is not an object. Macau currently draws the biggest “whales” in the world and most of these high rollers come straight out of mainland China. The increase in gambling revenues in Macau is unprecedented. Galaxy Entertainment tripled its profits during 2011, and the entire casino industry is already up 20% in the first quarter of this year compared to last. Macau outperforms the Las Vegas Strip nearly six times over and there is no end in sight.

The already outrageous revenues posted by Macau casinos also appear to be the tip of the iceberg. It is largely acknowledged that a massive amount of cash moves through V.I.P. gambling rooms where high-stake bets are off the books. No one knows how deep that well goes. Money laundering and connections to triads run rampant through the “junkets” who shuttle wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers into Macau and collect their debts elsewhere in order to bypass currency limitations at the border. Macau is riding the tails of China’s economic boom and catering to the extravagant tastes of the Chinese nouveau riche looking to flex their often illicit financial muscles.

At the top of the pyramid are two of the world’s richest men: Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson (also the largest contributor to Newt Gingrich’s campaign efforts). Both are in heated competition to rule Macau as their fortunes continue to skyrocket despite serious allegations of corruption and a spotty track record. A WikiLeaks spinoff called CasinoLeaks – Macau offers up condemning fare based on collected public records. Be sure to read Evan Osnos’ article in The New Yorker that features my photography. He does an amazing job navigating this intricate web of sordidness. More photographs that didn’t make the cut can be seen below.

Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.Patrons of Galaxy Macau gawk at the "Fortune Diamond" that emerges from a fountain with a light and music show in the main lobby every thirty minutes.Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.

Patrons of Galaxy Macau pose with the "Wishing Crystals" that are equipped with motion sensor technology that trigger special effects and bestow good luck on those nearby.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau pose with the "Tree of Prosperity" that sports over 2,000 branches and 98,000 leaves composed of 24-karat gold and brass leaf - a true symbol of auspiciousness.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.The main casino floor of the City of Dreams is one of the largest in Macau.Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.

The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.A couple poses for wedding photographs outside the Venetian Macau.The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.



    Selling Out History: China’s National Museum of Luxury

    Paparazzi cue up on celebrities at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.

    After a four-year, $380 million refurbishment, the National Museum of China finally opened its doors to the public as the largest exhibition space on the planet, beating out both the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Even though now touted as one of the world’s premiere cultural institutions, it has failed to impress either international or domestic visitors with it’s shrill depiction of the history of the Chinese Communist Party in its centerpiece “The Road of Rejuvenation” exhibition. Key epochs such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are left out of its glossy displays and poorly translated placards. Still, such a propagandistic history of modern China was expected in the first place. What really shocked many visitors was the blatant commercialization of the National Museum of China within its first two design exhibitions: “Louis Vuitton Voyages” and “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence.” Museum directors claim such exhibitions are revitalizing interest in the space, but it is more a sellout at the heart of the nation a stone’s throw from Mao Zedong’s tomb. Critics remain baffled as to how such a key cultural institution could blatantly promote such crass consumerism, especially surrounding the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party which was also linked to an exhibition of historical paintings adjacent to vintage Louis Vuitton trunks and sparkling Bulgari jewels. Such opulent items stand counter to the core ideologies of the founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party celebrated a short distance away, as well as the core mission of the museum itself that is purportedly dedicated to promoting Chinese culture instead of foreign luxury brands. These photographs juxtapose the “The Road of Rejuvenation” and “Masterpieces of Modern Chinese Fine Arts” exhibitions advocating the socialist roots of the Chinese Communist Party with the champagne-fueled openings of the “Louis Vuitton Voyages” and “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence” exhibitions. Such paradoxes stand at the center of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to rectify its embrace of rampant free-market consumerism with its socialist heritage.

    Chinese Communist Party officials pose in front of paintings at at a special exhibition celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Museum of China.

    Attendees photograph themselves at the National Museum of China during the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A painting depicts Mao Zedong with workers at a special exhibition of paintings celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Museum of China.Attendees photograph themselves at the National Museum of China during the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.

    A massive showcase room for vintage Louis Vuitton lies at the heart of the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A diorama shows the conditions of early industrial labor in China at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.Attendees try to figure out how to use a camera at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

    Celebrities show off their jewelry at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.A well-heeled crowd surrounds the central bar serving free Moet at the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.A diorama shows advanced military technology at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

    Attendees inspect a painting of Japanese troops massacring civilians during World War II at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.A red carpet snakes up to the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.Attendees crowd against display cases to inspect the jewelry at the National Museum of China for the Bulgari - 125 Years of Italian Magnificence exhibition opening.

    A mural depicts the surrender of the Kuomintang at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.A well-heeled crowd packs the main entrance hall at the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.Attendees can inspect a recreation of the rostrum used by Mao Zedong to declare the foundation of the People's Republic of China at the National Musuem of China's "Road of Rejuvination" exhibition.

    Contemporary art installations are scattered about the National Museum of China for the Louis Vuitton Voyages exhibition opening.



      2011 Strawberry Festival: Chinese Hipster Gathering and Related Controversy

      The audience flips out for Miserable Faith the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of Beijing

      You might be able to tell by now, but I am way behind on my posts. These shots were all taken during the second day of the 2011 Strawberry Festival on May 1. Whoops. Anyway, better late than never. The rise of the Chinese hipster brought much controversy this past year. There were naysayers calling them hacks and shallow followers, others too clueless to know where to look in the first place, while some dug deeper and provided taxonomies or even tracked Chinese überhipsters (trans-identity-meta-hipster-awesomeness). So, despite the general lack of irony and fixed-gear bikes in China, I still stand behind my previous assertions of the importance of this new wave of urban youth trying to stand out from the crowd and make it on there own. Identity in urban china is an ever-mutating beast, but there is no denying that people are trying to reach deeper and tap into more creative currents. Alternative lifestyles, especially in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and Guangzhou are on the rise and need to be celebrated. Here are a few of those who are visually standing out for better or worse.

      Hipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of BeijingHipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of BeijingHipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of Beijing

      Hipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of BeijingHipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of BeijingHipsters and freaks rock out at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of Beijing

      The audience waits for Hedgehog to come on stage at the 2011 Strawberry Festival at the Tongzhou Canal Park outside of Beijing



      Tianducheng: The Heavenly Paris of China

      The underused and rugged green space surrounding the fake Eiffel Tower in Tianducheng is now utilized by local laborers for small garden plots

      As new cities continue to spring up across China almost overnight, real estate developers are taking architecture and urban design in wildly different directions to tap into the lucrative luxury housing market. Tianducheng/天都城 was one of those hopelessly trying to set a bold new precedent for modern and cultured living with it’s fake Eiffel Tower overlooking Parisian townhouses. The knockoff of the 13th arrondissement, however, remains sparsely populated and only draws well-heeled clientele to its adjacent resort and villas modeled after Fontainebleau Palace. For now, many of the apartments are occupied by groups of migrant laborers working on surrounding megablocks, while other locals have gone so far as to appropriate the green space surrounding the Eiffel Tower for private ad hoc farming plots. Otherwise Tianducheng along with the attached French-themed village park is mainly used as a backdrop for wedding photography companies hoping to give young Chinese couples a taste of The City of Light while balancing their desire for traditional nuptial observances.

      A young Chinese couple poses for wedding photographs on a hilltop in the French-themed village park overlooking Tianducheng

      A Chinese groom hoists his bride into the air on a small beach overlooking the Tianducheng International Holiday Hotel which is modeled after the Fontainebleau PalaceOverlooking Tianducheng and the French-themed village parkA young Chinese couple poses in front of a horse and carriage in the French-themed village park attached to Tianducheng

      Young Chinese couples are filmed posing within a gazebo adorned with flowers

      A young Chinese couple poses on the banks of Swan Lake across from a villa development next to the Tianducheng International Holiday Hotel

      The fake Eiffel Tower lights up the night in TianduchengYoung Chinese couples line up beneath a fake tree to film a champagne toast for their wedding ceremoniesSmall garden plots and Parisan-style townhouses surround the fake Eiffel Tower in Tianducheng

      A young Chinese couple is filmed kissing on a boat swing next to an advertisement for wedding photographyA mixture of western and eastern traditions are incorporated for the filmed wedding ceremoniesA young Chinese couple is filmed walking through a gazebo



        Indonesian Hardcore Revival: Unity Through Diversity

        A hardcore screamo band ignites an abandoned house in Blitar

        Indonesian hardcore is back. A growing number of youth, disaffected by high rates of unemployment and conservative social mores, are returning to hardcore musical roots that first emerged in Java during the early nineties. Looking to blow off steam and build an alternative community that doesn’t bow to sponsors or mainstream media restrictions, these teenagers like the tempo loud, strong and fast. By employing DIY tactics on the Internet and through mobile phones, they continue to establish larger networks of peers and fellow outsiders. The swelling ranks of Indonesian hardcore fans now organize shows in abandoned houses, art centers and empty storefronts across the country. These communal affairs, put on purely for the sake of the music, often showcase up to twenty bands playing short, fiery sets of hardcore music as well as other outlying subgenres of metal and punk. The mosh pits may appear violent but fighting is not tolerated and after the shows most fans hang around and enjoy the camaraderie of their peers. The hardcore community in Java promotes tolerance and diversity and also continues to redefine the role of women in the largest Muslim nation on the planet. Check out the video below for a more detailed look into the Indonesian hardcore scene on Java.

        A hardcore fan shows off his "friend" tattoo in Blitar

        A lead singer screams into the mic in JakartaA crowd goes crazy for Straight Answer in JakartaA guitarist flips over a crowd in an abandoned house in Blitar

        Hardcore fans explode into a mosh pit in a community center in MalangA hardcore fan sports his "hardcore is back" shirtYoung hardcore fans work themselves up into a frenzy in Bandung

        A hardcore fan gets rammed into a crowd beneath a portrait of former President Suharto in BlitarA hardcore fan sports his "skinhead" tattoo in JakartaYoung hardcore fans sit outside a venue in Bandung waiting for the show to start

        A band rips through a set in an abandoned house in BlitarHardcore fans sit outside on scooters during a show in JakartaA lead singer gets lifted by hardcore fans in an abandoned house in Blitar

        The lead singer of To Die screams into the mic in MalangA drummer displays his "beat down" tattoos across his knucklesA young hardcore fan sits on a stage monitor during a show in Solo



          Counterfeit Paradises: Windows on the World

          Visitors scramble up the steps of the United States Capital beneath Mount Rushmore at Windows on the World

          International vacations are a must for the burgeoning number of nouveau riche across China. A well-used passport is a sure sign of fulfilling a “modern” and “cultured” lifestyle and completes the trifecta of high social status along with ownership of multiple homes and foreign luxury cars. Even in the face of the global economic downturn, China continues to boast the fastest growing outbound tourism market in the world. In 2009, the average expenses paid by Chinese for international travel went up 21% and will continue to grow as more and more flex their purchasing muscle. In Shenzhen, however, a favorite travel destination remains the Windows on the World. A short subway ride from the city center, the park boasts over a hundred small-scale replicas of famous monuments and buildings from all over the world. Here Chinese can fantasize about visiting foreign countries and practice taking tourist photographs. This make-believe space is one of consumer indoctrination and a selling point for a notion of civility that will most likely prove as empty as other social movements in China’s past.

          A child wearing bunny ears poses for her parents in Piazza San Marco at Windows on the World

          Crowds fight for position in front of the Sphinx and Giza Pyramids at Windows on the WorldA child attaches herself to the United States White House at Windows on the WorldMount Fuji and the torii gate from the Itsukushima Shrine feature prominently in the Japanese section at Windows on the World

          A visitor strolls by Mont Saint-Michel at Windows on the WorldTwo ladies pose in front of Angkor Wat at Windows on the World

          A man crouches in front of the Versailles with Saint Peter's Basilica overlooking its garden at Windows on the WorldA child poses with Native American Indians at Windows on the WorldA child flashes the peace sign in the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at Windows on the World

          Visitors fight for position in front of Niagra at Windows of the WorldA child crawls onto the London Bridge with Parliament in the background at Windows on the WorldA man poses in Gamehenge at Windows on the World

          A child sits on the shoulder of his father in front of the Taj Mahal at Windows on the WorldVisitors paddle around the Statue of Liberty and Easter Island with Rio de Jenairo's Christo overlooking at Windows on the WorldVisitors clamber over Abu Simbel at Windows on the World



            Moscow Metro’s Darkest Corners: Dostoevsky Underground

            Dostoevsky appears in a mural at the end of a long tunnel in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

            Moscow bears the historical stigma of a brooding city fringed with murder, corruption and greed. Now these grim trappings of the Russian psyche have found a home underground. The Dostoevskaya Moscow Metro station, named in honor of Russia’s dark prince of literature, delves into the most gruesome nooks of Dostoevsky’s oeuvre. The graphic nature of the murals even went so far as to delay its opening earlier this year. A prominent Russian psychologist, Mikhail Vinogradov, declared before the unveiling, “The deliberate dramatism will create a certain negative atmosphere and attract people with an unnatural psyche.” There is no doubt that death hangs heavy over the polished marble of Dostoevskaya with depictions of Raskolnikov wielding an ax against an elderly pawnbroker and her sister from Crime and Punishment and the suicide-obsessed Kirillov holding a gun to his head from The Demons. Concerned Muscovites fear the station might become a magnet for those contemplating suicide, adding to the almost eighty committed on a yearly basis in the Moscow Metro. However, after my own visit, I felt such concerns are unwarranted. The entire station inspired a sense of reverence and awe. I felt like I was meandering through a church instead of a public transportation hub. The aura of Dostoevskaya was only punctured when a train screeched into the station and let off another teeming load of commuters. The artist behind the murals, Ivan Nikolayev, remains rightfully unapologetic, “What did you want? Scenes of dancing? Dostoevsky doesn’t have them.”

            A suicide-obsessed character from Dostoevsky's The Demons holds a pistol to his head in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

            A passenger passes in front of a mural at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationCommunters pass through the recently opened Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

            An old women looks at a mural depicting a hanging man at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA passanger exits the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station

            A character holds a gun to the head of supine man in a mural at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationSubway security guards monitor the platforms at the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro stationA mural depicts the main character from Crime and Punishment murdering an elderly pawnbroker and her sister with an axe in the Dostoevskaya Moscow metro station



              House of Barbie: Shanghai’s Barbie Princess Training Center

              The main staircase in the House of Barbie displays an overwhelming number of Barbies all dressed in pink

              Just days before Barbie’s 50th birthday last March, the House of Barbie opened its doors in Shanghai and introduced China to over six floors of Barbie merchandise and services that catered to almost every need of a Barbie-princess-in-training. It was a full on Barbie assault from the start as you rode an entrance escalator bathed in pink light with the sound of giggling girls playing in the background. Aside from a daunting array of Barbie doll varieties, there was also a Barbie spa offering services such as the Plastic Smooth facial or Barbie Bust Firming treatment, a Barbie catwalk where girls can dress up as Barbie and put on their own fashion show, a Barbie design center where creatives can produce a custom-made Barbie, and a Barbie Cafe complete with Barbie-themed food and a pink martini bar. The Barbie spearhead into China came with a US$30 million dollar price tag and huge expectations. Sales of Barbie continue to fall with the financial downturn and Mattel International is counting on China to pick up the slack. With the spa and martini bar, the House of Barbie also hopes to stir up interest amongst older women in China who otherwise wouldn’t be targeted in western markets. Major designers such as Vera Wang, Patricia Field of “Sex and the City” fame, and handbag maker Judith Lieber all contributed to the merchandise including a US$15,000 Barbie wedding dress. Barbie, known as “Ba Bi Wa Wa” in Mandarin, still faces plenty of hurdles without the pedigree heritage she enjoys in western countries. Despite initial enthusiasm for the business model, Mattel was forced to downgrade sales expectations by 30% within the first six months of opening the House of Barbie. The interest is there, but whether or not Barbie can have her way with China and engender a new generation of Barbie princesses is yet to be scene. Check out more coverage by the Wall Street Journal and BBC as well as a CNN report detailing a blow-by-blow account of trying to spend twelve hours straight in the House of Barbie.

              A pink tunnel that emits the sound of giggling girls leads up to the main floor of the House of Barbie

              The main floor of the House of Barbie contains over 1600 Barbie productsThe House of Barbie caters to every possible aspect of your life, including where you sleepBarbies of every ethnicity are on display at the House of Barbie

              A dejected boyfriend sits in the corner of the House of Barbie while his significant other shopsThe House of Barbie sports a catwalk where young girls can dress up like Barbie and partake in their own fashion showA wall in the House of Barbie features cutout faces so that you can pose with Barbie at a grand ball

              Girls are transformed into Barbie princesses at the House of BarbieThe House of Barbie celebrates the little black dressThe story section shows how every girl can become a magical Barbie princess and save Flutterfield from the Skeezites

              Barbie girls can become anything they want at the House of Barbie, even doctorsThe Barbie Cafe offers all sorts of Barbie-themed candies and mealsAdults can even order pink Martinis at the Barbie Cafe

              Patrons can even create their own Barbie in the custom design center at the House of BarbieBarbies line the walls at the House of BarbieThe House of Barbie spa offers such treatments as the Plastic Smooth facial or the Barbie Bust Firming treatment



                Chinese Heavy Metal Crowd Burns Japanese Flag on National Day

                This post must start with a disclaimer. I do not in any way believe in or support the acts performed in this video. I can only hope for greater understanding and congenial relations between China and Japan in the future. This act of flag burning was filmed purely for documentary reasons. The event occurred on the first night of the 2010 Zhenjiang MIDI Festival after a particular rousing performance by a death metal band. The kids are singing the Chinese national anthem while burning the Japanese flag. The first night of the festival also landed on October 1 which is China’s National Holiday. It goes without saying that tensions between China and Japan have peaked in the past week thanks to the standoff over sovereignty issues regarding the arrest of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat on disputed waters in the East China Sea by Japan’s coast guard. This friction and general hatred of the Japanese runs deep and dates back to the brutal and humiliating treatment suffered in China at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. Even though the Chinese captain in question has since been released, the incident ignited the embers amongst China’s increasingly nationalistic youth.



                  Video Short for Activate! China at the Dandelion School

                  I recently put together a short video for the Activate! China program at the Dandelion School in Beijing. The Parsons The New School for Design and Dandelion School collaboration introduced Dandelion students to the basics of computer literacy and game design. The project led by Parsons faculty and MFA Design and Technology graduate students utilized Activate!, a game design curriculum designed by PETLab, a research group that investigates social issues through the use of games and interactive media.

                  The Dandelion School is the first and only registered Middle School in the Daxing District of Beijing serving children of poor migrant families. The school was founded in August 2005 by a passionate educator named Zheng Hong who, after obtaining a MA from Harvard University, came back to China on a mission to transform a dilapidated old factory into a viable school serving the underprivileged.

                  The project began with the creation of the “AMD and Parsons Technology Lab” at Dandelion. The computer lab is an advanced multimedia and technology hub for the students at Dandelion providing computer skill training and digital tools that are not commonly accessible to migrant communities. 30 brand new desktop computers were also donated by AMD Foundation for the lab. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at the Dandelion School. Make sure to check out their website.





                    All content © 2014 to Matthew Niederhauser