Zigor Aldama

Zigor Aldama

Zigor is a contributor to Inkstone. He is an award-winning journalist who has been covering Asia from China since 1999.

A piece of Chinese heritage struggles to survive
It’s 5.50am, with just a faint purple light glowing on the horizon, when a group of children aged six to 15 march diligently towards their classrooms.  At 6.15am, they begin lessons in Chinese, English and math. At 7.50am, they stop for breakfast.  There’s no time to linger, students must be clean and dressed by 8.30am, when they head upstairs to two spacious rooms on the first floor of an L-shaped building near the center of Liaoning’s provincial capital, Shenyang.  Here the real training begins. This is not academics, but acrobatics. The boys and girls prepare to bend their bodies back­wards until they can hold their legs with their hands.  “One, two, three!” instructs Wang Ying, 47, head
China’s ‘Orwellian surveillance state’ is still a work in progress
“You’re overstepping the line. Please get back,” warns a female voice from the loudspeaker on one of Shanghai’s new traffic lights. Pedestrians look left and right, see no cars and cross the road. The jaywalkers don’t realize that a set of cameras above the speakers have used facial recognition software to capture their faces. Soon enough, their photos appear on screens installed just under the lights. Nearby, a traffic warden armed with a whistle says that, very soon, jaywalkers will not just be publicly shamed but also fined. Their faces are expected to be compared to a national database, currently being developed. First launched in 2015 by China’s Ministry of Public Security, the system
China is the undisputed king of electric transport
It’s 9pm when the first buses start arriving at the Shanghai Bashi Public Transportation depot. In the coming two hours, as they finish service around the city’s Baoshan district, almost 300 drivers will bring their vehicles in to be cleaned, maintained and parked for the night. The queue to enter the security gate grows, but the employee in charge of the gas pumps has little to do. He battles boredom with his phone while buses pass by. His future employment prospects look bleaker still. Two hundred and forty of the buses here at the depot are fully electric. It seems likely that, next year, no combustion engines will enter the premises at all. In an effort to curb pollution and noise, China
40 years of China’s economic reform sounds like Pinggu’s violins
You may not know the name of this place, but you have most definitely heard the sound it makes. Close to a huge violin monument in the Donggaocun town in Pinggu, the easternmost district of Beijing, dozens of factories and workshops produce an estimated 300,000 violins – including violas and cellos – a year. That’s about one third of the world’s total production of the instruments, according to an official Tourism Bureau publication. Pinggu’s rise to become the world’s top violin maker – by volume, anyway – is also a reflection of China’s dramatic change in the 40 years since it began loosening state control over the economy and opening up to the world.  And like the story of China’s econom
Is that a Loius Vuitton? No, it’s a Plada: China’s knock-off economy
Loius Vuitton and Plada. No, these aren’t typos. They’re the bold-face names displayed at two spacious shops spotted a week ago on the ground floor of a new luxury compound in Renhuai, a small city in China’s southwestern province of Guizhou. The stores look just like the real thing. Storefronts display huge photos of models posing with legit-looking products. The only way to tell they're not real is that spelling. But nobody seemed to care, until I told the real Louis Vuitton about these stores. The next day, LV employees in Shanghai found the developers and threatened legal action. Two days later, workers started to dismantle the stores. It may sound like an extreme case, but it’s not unh
China’s female gamers fight family and stereotypes
There have always been many women at China Joy, Asia’s biggest videogame and digital entertainment show. But most are just bait for male gamers. Dressed in tight tops and miniskirts, models pose on the deafeningly loud stages scattered across seven massive pavilions at the Shanghai New International Expo Center during the event, which ends on Monday. But not Emmy Zhu. The 28-year-old wears what looks like a bulletproof vest and holds a very realistic-looking assault rifle. “This is the only place in China where you can dress like this without getting arrested,” she jokes. She has travelled 800 miles from the southern megacity of Shenzhen to play and beat her male peers. And she’s not alone.
The day I ate at Shanghai’s robot restaurant
It’s ironic, but the first thing we see at Shanghai’s new robot restaurant is a human being. “People are not yet used to dealing only with machines,” explains a smiling young man. Located in Shanghai’s suburban Jiading district, the Robot.He restaurant is the first of its kind. It’s part of Hema supermarkets, e-commerce giant Alibaba’s new retail chain in which customers shop not with trolleys, but with their phones. (Alibaba also owns Inkstone.) At Hema’s 59 (and growing) stores, shoppers scan the barcodes of products, choose their desired quantity, and staff assemble the items for home delivery in less than 30 minutes. But at Robot.He, we don’t even have to wait to get home to eat. We just
China’s self-driving cars want to overtake the US
“Snow is unusual in Shanghai,” says Li Xiao, an engineer at the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Pilot Zone, “so we have to take the opportunity to test the vehicle in the most adverse weather conditions.” Li and colleague Chen Dong are about to oversee a trial of a driverless electric bus, at the first testing area for autonomous vehicles in China. Covering two square miles and capable of replicating a range of road conditions, the zone has a section of highway, a tunnel to simulate the loss of positioning signals and huge metallic structures holding canvases printed with photographs of old Shanghai. The overall effect is dystopian, enhanced by the test cars of a number of companies,