Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes

I have enjoyed Xiaolu Guo’s storytelling style: crisp, bold, full of humour.

UFO in her eyes
UFO in her eyes

The disjointed narrative and peasants-speak in UFO in Her Eyes serve a purpose. A record of a series of investigation reports centering on the appearance of a UFO above Silver Hill Village’s sky, Guo highlights the disinterested attitude of some individuals towards the UFO happening, each being too caught up with their own daily struggles. In the narrative, the mystery lies not only in the appearance of the UFO, but in the strange ways this UFO incident impact on the lives of the villagers, bringing progress and at the same time a new form of existential angst, and the nostalgia for a self-sufficient, idyllic China.

Initially celebrated as an event that brought unexpected windfall to the village, the discovery of the UFO and Kwok Yun’s rescue of the American catalysed the change of the village and soon led to problems: the uprooting of traditional values, the clearing up of farmlands for industrial and commercial developments, the rise of pollution and the artifice of technology.

Half way through the story, we catch a glimpse of the super-structure, the invisible hand in the socialist regime, shadows of doubt and hidden motives: even Chief Chang and the investigation officer are questioned and put under secret surveillance.

The characterisation in the novel, however, is slightly disappointing. There is not a conscious effort in differentiating the voices to convey different messages, and sometimes it seems that all of the characters are there simply to participate in the collective tragedy of industrialisation. There remains so much unexplored in the protagonist, Kwok Yun. In the previous Guardian book review, Maya Jaggi describes the form, hovering between novel and screenplay, as somewhat frustrating (click here), while Neel Mukherjee points out that the book is undermined by the disproportionate weighting given to the formal high jinks and the elaborate design of documents, lists, investigations etc (click here).

Moreover, while being semi-tragic and a suggestion that socialism has backfired against itself, the sexual incident between Kwok Yun and Headmaster Yee can only at best be seen as a titillating episode that distracts the reader as to what role Kwok Yun plays. Or perhaps we simply find it unsatisfying that Kwok Yun does not end up the heroine we expect her to be.

Personally, I would prefer that the ending be more ambiguous. The over-conclusive clash between socialist ideals and industrial progress, as well as the evident unhappiness of the Kwoks and the villagers, have undermined the poignancy of the plot. Compared to the refreshing dialogue and characterisation in the earlier book The Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, here no real risks are taken. Perhaps this has partly to do with Guo’s identity as a writer as well as a film producer: the highly cinematic quality of the work is both its strength and weakness.

The Chinese internet I

There has been a surge in stories of late about the Internet search in China, sparked by Google’s call to move their search engine to Hong Kong. The Guardian has published an article on March 24 (see article), saying that companies in China sometimes get called up to remove online contents or have their websites suddenly removed. Financial Times (see article) has very comprehensive behind-the-scene reportage on this matter.

Chinese users can correct me if wrong, but I have never used Google too much when in the Mainland, simply because it doesn’t seem to provide as much as other engines such as Yahoo, Sina and Sohu. Perhaps it has to do with this ongoing row? In terms of design layout, the local Chinese search engines really suck, they are always so wordy, lacking in design and taste.

Look at Sina.com.cn:

And Sohu.com.cn

You will know what I mean.

I feel sad sometimes that Chinese users have to tolerate these really ugly and uncontemporary search engines. Everything is only in Simplified Chinese and I don’t know how its archiving works. The websites are also juxtaposed with flashing and colourful ad banners. It gives you a headache when you look at it for a long time. But if they are the better channels to retrieve information that they want…

In an attempt to poach Google’s customers, Google announced that its Bing searches are to stay in China. Okay…thanks for that. I also did a quick desktop search trial using Bing.com.cn, but it doesn’t work very well, and seems to trawl up very randomised, official-version websites. The globe image on the Bing homepage is rather ridiculous as well.

I would say, currently, that I like Baidu.com.cn much better in terms of searching for Chinese information, other than the popular but Hong Kong-based Yahoo.com.hk. In fact, Baidu looks like a Chinese-adapted version of Google, with more visual photos and a cleaner structure for finding what you need:

They use QQ (and for some, MSN) instead of Facebook. I remember several times, when I was in Beijing, and even in the UK, I asked some Mainland Chinese friends for their Facebook names so I can look them up, and they looked at me and said, what is Facebook? I don’t use it. I have QQ.

Not many of Mainland users like googlemail so much as hotmail or 163.com or yahoo.com.cn. This is highly related to the proliferation and user-friendliness of these website searches.

In China, the Blackberry devices are being launched without WiFi capabilities. The Blackberry to be sold by China Telecom is powered by the e-surfing function from the fixed line operator.

It is as if there is no one internet: there is a western internet, and a Chinese internet. These two worlds sometimes overlap, but for those who may only be able to access one world and not the other, it is a confusing experience to synchronise what one knows about these worlds.

According to Reuters, the Chinese internet user population has exceeded 384 million, with 86 million added in the last year. I am not surprised. Internet is a great way for the Chinese community to have access to the world of opportunities – for business, entertainment and education. With added wealth, higher living standards and the inevitable globalisation phenomenon, the trend is set to continue.