Archive for the ‘interests’ category


When not having something drives creativity

23.07.2020

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.

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Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.

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The ‘A’ (Aotearoa) Team

09.06.2020

Now that Aotearoa New Zealand has lifted our COVID-19 restrictions after getting rid of the virus on our shores, other than keeping our border closed, I Tweeted:

and between Cachalot on Twitter and I, we actually wound up with a variation of the song (incidentally, he was first with the chorus, showing that great minds think alike).

Then back to the refrain.
   Out of respect to the language in which the song was composed, te reo Māori, here are the original, poignant lyrics. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching song. There’s a further explanation to it here.

Pōkarekare ana,
ngā wai o Waiapu
Whiti atu koe hine,
marino ana e.

Refrain
   E hine e,
   hoki mai ra.
   Ka mate ahau
   I te aroha e.

Tuhituhi taku reta,
tuku atu taku rīngi,
Kia kite tō iwi
raru raru ana e.

Refrain

Whati whati taku pene
ka pau aku pepa
Ko taku aroha
mau tonu ana e.

Refrain

E kore te aroha
e maroke i te rā
Mākūkū tonu i
aku roimata e.

Refrain

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Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

One bonus of the lockdown was the live Easter Day concert held by Hong Kong’s own Sam Hui (許冠傑), perhaps fairly described as the king of Cantopop.
   I had no idea this was even on if it weren’t for the fire at the Baxter’s Knob transmitter that took out television transmission in our area. Faced with the prospect of no television during lockdown, and as I’m not a cat in an NZI commercial, I hooked up my laptop to the old LG monitor, relocated to the lounge, and streamed that evening.
   We put on TV1 but later that night, I headed to RTHK TV31, a government-funded channel in Hong Kong, and came across the commercial for Sam’s live concert at 5 p.m. HKT on Easter Day, which translated comfortably to 9 p.m. NZST.
   Hong Kong has some COVID-19 restrictions, with the safe distance a lower 1·5 m, though most people wear masks. Even TV hosts are masked on their programmes. There isn’t a big physical audience for the concert: just Sam, his guitar, sitting atop a building on the Kowloon side, with the Hong Kong Island business district skyline as the backdrop. The host is seated a suitable distance away. Some folks are seated in a roped-off area, sitting a bit closer, though masked. There’s a four-camera set-up. For such a massive star, this might have been his smallest physical audience, though on YouTube, the concert netted a six-figure audience (160,000 when I looked) around the world, and no doubt others will have watched on their television sets, while I watched on TV31’s stream. One source suggests a total viewing audience of over 2 million.
   Sam’s still got the same voice, despite being in his 70s—for the most part, he sounds like the young guy in his 20s that I watched on TV before I emigrated, and whose cassette tapes I cherished when they arrived from Hong Kong in the first few years we were in Aotearoa.
   For someone who missed contact with my birthplace, Sam’s music was a connection, something that took me back, a tiny slice of “home” that was both grounding and enjoyable.
   In those early days, Sam’s music struck a chord with HKers because he often sang about the working class, and in plain language. Few artists had done this at the time; most lyrics tended to be in properly structured Chinese, so Sam broke new ground by singing colloquially. A skilled composer and lyricist, we saw him regularly performing his own songs on programmes such as 歡樂今宵 (Enjoy Yourself Tonight), a variety show that was a big hit back in the 1970s.
   When he broke into films with his brothers, he was frequently cast as the hero type, and could genuinely claim to ‘star in it, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune.’
   His solo career as an actor hit a high in the 1980s and as the video cassette boom began, I indulged in the 最佳拍檔 (Aces Go Places) series. Most kids in the west watching Hong Kong cinema knew about Bruce Lee or that new guy Jackie Chan, but we locals knew that Sam was who you watched if you wanted decent entertainment with a mix of action and humour—and the obligatory Sam Hui theme tune.
   Watching the Easter Day concert brought back a lot of those feelings of connection, and Sam performed plenty of those earlier hits that anyone my age would know. You never lose your connection to the land in which you were born. Hong Kong might look different to how it did in the 1970s—the tallest building then, Connaught Tower, is dwarfed by the International Commerce Centre a short distance away—but the music took you back, and thanks to the cleaner air during the pandemic, the skies even looked as clear as they did back then. The city’s character remains intact, the concert a reminder of what unites Hong Kong people both there and abroad. We have a distinct culture, one that evolved through the will and the freedom of our people, that I hope will go on regardless of one’s political stripes.

The monitor, incidentally, was much easier to view than the television, with softer colours and less brightness. No matter how I played with the settings on the TV, I couldn’t get them to match. I suspect the TV has a lot of blue light, which makes prolonged viewing difficult. I notice that one can buy blue-light glasses, highlighting once again where we have gone wrong: we humans shouldn’t be adapting to technology, it’s technology that should be adapting to us. The LG (LED) monitor isn’t new, so clearly the technology is available to make TVs calmer on the eyes. Yet no one touts this as a selling proposition. Head into an appliance shop (outside of one’s lockdown) and all the TVs are set on the brightest setting, which would completely turn me off buying one.
   Friends tell me that OLED is the way to go in terms of getting the right setting. One of these days I’m going to look into it, but I will bet you that no one who sells these things in the shops will know what a “calm” screen is. They’ll just get excited about forkay, or maybe even atekay, not someone who wants 32 inches or less who wants to preserve their eyesight. ‘Big! Big! Big!’

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Is there a type that works from home more easily?

27.03.2020

Olivia St Redfern has featured yours truly in her lockdown day 2, part 1 podcast, so I decided to record another response.
   It brings to mind something Steve McQueen once said. ‘I’m not an actor. I’m a reactor.’ As in, he could react to a line from another actor.
   Anyone who has seen McQueen in a film, certainly anything post-Blob, would dispute that—the king of cool was an excellent actor. But for now, as someone who had avoided doing a podcast for two decades, I “react” to Olivia’s episodes, and recorded a response on Anchor:

   At some point I might do an entry independently but considering the first has only had one listen (out of hundreds who might read a blog post of mine), then there’s not a huge incentive! (Update: that episode has doubled its audience to two.)
   History tells us that it took a while for Melrose Place to be seen as more than a 90210 spin-off, for instance. And Joey never managed it post-Friends.
   This second one does make one point about working from home. As mentioned before, I’ve been doing this since 1987, so the only difference with the lockdown (and the days leading up to it) is that I don’t feel as “special”. But I also know that not everyone is enjoying their work arrangements, such as this British QC:

   I posted my 12 tips for working from home, but when chatting to Amanda today, there might be a bit more to it than that. Maybe there’s something about one’s personality that makes working from home easier.
   While I have things to do each day, I don’t make lists. I’m more substantive than procedural. In the daytime, I try to answer emails or see to urgent stuff. I almost never do accounts at night: that’s another daytime pursuit. I know to reserve time to do those but I don’t religiously set it to 2 p.m., for instance. The beauty of working from home is flexibility, so why re-create a regimented schedule?
   At night I tend to do more creative things, e.g. design and art direction. My work day is extended because I enjoy my work.
   My advice to those making the shift is to do away with the lists. Know the direction and get things done as the inspiration hits you. It’s meant to be calmer than the bustle of office life.

People should find exponential growth an easy concept to grasp, at least those of us of a certain age. Heather Locklear taught all of us with Fabergé shampoo.

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Responding to Leisure Lounge

26.03.2020

During the 2011 ‘snowpocalypse’, my friend, the drag queen Olivia St Redfern, produced a series of streamed video programmes called Leisure Lounge. If I recall correctly, the intent was to give people, who had not experienced snow in our city (it’s a once-in-70-year event), some light entertainment. I called in as ‘Charlie’ (with apologies to John Forsythe) with the catchphrase, ‘Good morning, Angels.’ We didn’t have a ton of viewers—they were in the double digits—but those who did watch were loyal.
   Now we’re in a national lockdown for ‘coronapocalypse’, Olivia’s started again with Leisure Lounge, but this time as a podcast, where you can follow her progress each day. It’s quite fun to share the experience, and she welcomes responses. However, I found the Anchor recording method terrible (it messed up a five-minute response I sent to her yesterday), so I redid it for her today. You’ll need to listen to the second episode for context, and, if it’s of any interest, here is my reply.

   After all that, I may as well continue doing the odd podcast as well—something I had the opportunity to do 20 years ago. Better late than never.

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Twelve things I do to keep balanced while working from home

17.03.2020

When I was 13, my father became self-employed after being made redundant at his work. By choice, my mother did the same when I was in my early 20s. They both loved the lifestyle and I imagine it was inevitable I would do the same in my career, beginning at a time when I was still studying.
   As some who self-isolate because of the coronavirus pandemic say that their mental health is affected, I thought I’d share how I’ve been based at home for over three decades.

1. For those working, make sure it’s not just one project. There’s nothing more wearing that having just one thing to work on the entire day. I always have a few projects on the go, and make sure I switch between them. The second project should be a lighter one or be of less importance. Even if it’s not work, make sure it’s something that gives you a bit of variety.

2. Make sure you have a decent work set-up. I find it important to have a monitor where I can read things clearly. Also I set mine on a mode that restricts blue light. If you’re working at home, it’s not a bad idea to have comfortable settings on a screen. If your monitor doesn’t have a native mode to restrict blue light, there’s always F.lux, which is an excellent tool to make screens more comfortable.
   If you’re used to standard keyboards and mice, that’s great, but for me, I have to ensure my keyboard is either at around 400 mm in width or less, and my mouse has to be larger than the standard size since I have big hands. Ergonomics are important.

3. Find that spot. Find a comfortable space to base yourself with plenty of natural light and ventilation. At-home pet cats and dogs do it, take their lead.

4. Stretch. Again, the cats and dogs do it. Get out of that chair every now and then and make sure you don’t get too stiff working from your desk. Exercise if you wish to.

5. If you relax to white noise or find it comforting, there are places that can help. One friend of mine loves his podcasts, and others might like music, but I enjoy having the sound of web video. And if it’s interesting, you can always stop to watch it. One site I recently recommended is Thought Maybe, which has plenty of useful documentaries, including Adam Curtis’s ones. These give an insight into how parts of the world work, and you might even get some theories on just what landed us in this situation in 2020.
   When Aotearoa had two network TV channels, I dreamed of a time when I could have overseas stations accessible at my fingertips. That reality is now here with plenty of news channels online. If that’s too much doom and gloom, I’m sure there are others that you can tune into to have running in the background. Radio.net has a lot of genres of music.

6. Find that hobby. No point waiting till you retire. Was there something you always wanted to learn about but thought you’d never have time? I recommend Skillshare, which has lots of online courses on different subjects. You learn at your pace so you can delve into the course whenever you want, say once a day as a treat.

7. I do some social media but generally I limit myself. Because social media are antisocial, and they’re designed to suck up your time to make their owners rich (they look at how much attention they capture and sell that to advertisers), there’s no point doing something draining if you’ve got some good stuff to do in (1). However, they might be cathartic if you want to have some human contact or express your feelings. Personally, I prefer to blog, which was my catharsis in the mid-2000s, and which I find just as good today. It’s a pity the old Vox isn’t around these days as there’s much to be said for a long-form blogging network.
   Sarb Johal started the #StayatHomeEnts hashtag on Twitter where Tweeters have been putting up some advice on what we each do to keep entertained. I just had a scroll down and they’re really good!

8. Many of us have this technology to chat to others, let’s use it. We’re luckier in 2020 that there’s Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. I had thought that if we didn’t have social media, we’d be finding this an ideal opportunity to connect with others around the planet and learning about other cultures. I remember in the early days of the web how fascinating it was to chat to people in chatrooms from places I had never visited. I realize these days there are some weirdos out there, who have spoiled the experience for the great majority. But I’m sure there are some safe places, and if they’re not around, see what friends are in the same boat and form your own virtual networks. Importantly, don’t restrict yourselves to your own country.

9. Don’t veg: do something creative. For those of us with a creative bent, draw, write, photograph, play a musical instrument—something to de-stress. I can’t get through a day without doing one creative thing.

10. Anything in the house that you said you’d always do? Now’s your chance to do it, and hopefully you’ve got your tools and equipment at home already.

11. If you’re in a relationship, don’t get on top of each other—have your own spaces. Having said that, seeing my partner helps as I used to go into town a few times a week for meetings; because I see her each day, that need to meet up with colleagues to get out of your own headspace isn’t as strong.

12. Take plenty of breaks. You’d probably have to anyway, in order to cook (since you’re not heading out to a café) so structure in times to do this. It soon becomes second nature. Don’t plough through till well after your lunchtime or dinnertime: get a healthy routine. Remember that self-isolation means you can still go for walks, just not into crowded places or with someone. When we self-isolated in January over an unrelated bug, my partner and I headed to a local park that wasn’t busy during the day and we were the only ones there.

   Normally I would have a small amount of meetings during the week but as I get older, they’re actually fewer in number, so I can cope with not having them.
   Do you have any extra tips? Put them in the comments and let’s see if we can build on this together.

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Roger Nichols performs the original Hart to Hart theme

13.03.2020

In 2013, I wrote a small note on my Tumblog about Roger Nichols’ theme to the TV series Hart to Hart. The music was played as the opening and closing themes in the pilot, and as an incidental theme to many episodes later, but few remember it. I’ve even seen websites proclaim that the Mark Snow theme that most of us know was the ‘original’, not unlike how The Love Boat attempts to exorcise the two pilot films starring Ted Hamilton and Quinn Redeker as the captains.
   The tune was later commercially released by the Carpenters as ‘Now’, among the final songs recorded by Karen Carpenter. However, that was with a different set of lyrics, and the original by Leslie Bricusse has never been heard. I suggested in 2013 that the closest might have been Mariya Takeuchi’s recording in Japanese, though that has since vanished from YouTube.
   However, there is now a post on YouTube at almost the original tempo, performed by Nichols himself, but the Bricusse lyrics remain unheard. You’d think that there’d be a fan somewhere who has the inside story.

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Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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