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Didi grapples with Chinese cities’ draft laws


Didi has suffered a bolt from the blue, as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen each rolled out specific regulations for the car hailing business on Saturday. The rules are harsh, to say the least, and have brought the ride hailing behemoth to its knees, arguing for possible remedy from the authorities.

The newly published draft interpretations from the three largest cities — all with tremendous migrant populations — have stipulated that drivers must have local Hukou, or family register. This is a heavy blow for Didi, as it eliminates more than half of the drivers in Beijing and Shenzhen, and dispels an overwhelming majority of Shanghai drivers from the platform.

The draft laws from these cities also raised the bar for cars in the business. Didi bemoaned that the higher standards would disqualify more than four out of five existing vehicles.

Artificially holding down supply would “more than double prices,” and the waiting time for rides would increase from the current five minutes on average to a whopping 15 minutes, warned Didi.

It also threatened of the adverse effects of droves of unemployed drivers, which could pose a “mass risk” and become a “social unstable factor.” Naturally, in a state of desperation, the company pulled out its trump cards — “innovation” and the “sharing economy,” both espoused by the premier himself, and predicted that such measures would brutally crush the buds of the sharing economy.

“Didi sincerely urges local governments and authors to give citizens with and without local Hukou equal employment rights. We should not let citizens lose heart and passion in innovation and entrepreneurship,” the company said after the new regulations rolled out.

Perhaps the most fatal of blows is the rigid Hukou specifications. “Of the 410,000 registered drivers in Shanghai, only 10,000 have a Shanghai Hukou,” Didi said in a statement. However, these figures may be exaggerated for Didi’s own convenience, creating a victimized image and implying more severe consequences. Only 30 percent of Shanghai drivers were nonlocal, according to Didi’s “Mobile Transportation Employment Promoting Report” published last month, in which the company congratulated itself on the ability to attract local drivers who are better acquainted with roads.

More than 65 percent of drivers in Shenzhen and more than 50 percent of those from Beijing do not possess a local Hukou, the report found.

Once the guidelines, which are still in an opinion solicitation phase, kick in, cars on the platform must have a vehicle age under two years, a wheelbase longer than 2700mm, and an engine capacity of more than 17.25L — specs that mid-high-end cars are more likely to meet. On the bright side, this means there were be fewer creaky manual-windowed surprises pulling up when you hail a ride.

Unlike the desolate future which Didi fears, with all but luxury sedans plucked from the platform, Technode has found that it’s possible to get qualifying Chinese models that cost as little as 80 thousand Renminbi.

Just how much leeway do these local draft regulations leave before they are set in stone? That remains a question. The company has proved that it carries a lot of clout — surprise, some of the top executives in the company like Zhang Bei come straight from the government bureau of transportation — Didi’s outspoken objections to the national draft for car hailing led to an eventual version which are largely in favor of the company. Didi’s recent buyout of Uber China has been (so far) exempt from anti-monopoly investigations, again attesting a solid relationship with the authorities.

But these local interpretations have clearly come as a shock, or at least a case of  failed lobbying on the local level. Will the law be in favor of Didi in the china’s mega cites? Though Xinhua has published an commentary proposing that draft laws should leave “windows for revision” and emphasizes that even “provisional guidelines” are subject to modifications, the window of opportunity this time is short. Suggestions and objections to the draft must be made within one month, while Beijing left merely a week for rants and complaints. Didi had better start pulling some strings, or hold its peace — at least for the time being.

This story originally appeared on TechNode.

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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.