Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

As I trawl through the reviews of the year here in the UK I wish someone could have done something like this . The Chinese South Metropolis Weekly is featuring a spoof review of 2006 in homage to the wave of internet political and film spoofs China saw this year. Seems to be offering more bite and social commentary than the UK media's rather flacid efforts.

Anyway, happy reading and a happy, prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

japanese Christmas greetings

A Japanese Christmas card, seamlessly blending Western and Eastern traditions by sticking a load of traditional Japanese artifacts in a Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

more Christmas thoughts

Just to direct you to another's blogger's thoughts on the subject here. I don't agree on several points here, the first being the choice of wilfully dumb picture (what are we to gather from that?) and also that adoption of Christmas trimmings = cultural collapse. As one commenter points out Christmas is another opportunity to boost the economy so its bound to be welcomed. It's also, I think, seen as welcoming and enjoying other cultures and a chance to join in what is seen as an international festival (note the only Chinese commentator's statement: "Just as the slogan of Beijing Olympic Games "one world, one dream". We need cooperate, and also we need to share"). I would also question the positioning of the Chinese Spring festival as such a wholesome affair - I hear plenty of people complaining about the stress, expense, boredom, bad TV and family rows it brings and of course, as a gifting season its the time to ingratiate and bribe.
Having said all that, the article does make the valid point that Christmas in China is adding to the debate about Chinese cultural identity today and its an interesting point about Christmas dictating the manufacturing seasons of China - though how different is that from many other manufacturing dominated country?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas!

And what could be more festive than a Starbucks in Beijing? (There's been some impressive Christmas displays in Beijing and Shanghai but this is the only picture to have survived a technical hitch involving my camera). One mall in Beijing summed the celebration up perfectly as "Christmas Shopping Festival" and as such its increasingly adopted by trendy and/or western-style restaurants and shops. But its not just another reason to go shopping for everyone, an estimated 90 million Chinese Christians might be celebrating Christmas today. An interesting conference report from the Ethic and Public Policy Centre talks about Christianity in China and the impact Christianity could have on China. This article is also interesting as there's parallels between the CCP's attitude to faiths and many other things in China - as one interviewee puts it "China doesn't have many freedoms but there is a lot of tolerance". Also interesting as we hear a lot about China's openess to economic opportunity and material lifestyle trends but little about the increasing interest in spirituality or new value systems.

But its Christmas and I'm really not thinking more on all that, I'm got a heavy eating schedule to stay up with today.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Winter means pelt sellers from the North West coming into the cities to hawk their wares on the streets, presenting incongrous symbol of the life that exists outside the sophisticated urban centres. And for any of you PETA supporters, no, there's no qualms about fur here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

first, we take Shanghai then Manhattan

This is the Shanghai guerrilla store created by design collective Adfunture and da>space.
Apparently New York and London are in their sights next.
Check out the adfunture website and the Da>space website for more on this and other projects. One of my favourite pieces on sale are some Nike trainers tagged with Chinese philosophical sayings by Changsa graffiti artists PEN crew and displayed with a suggestion that the buyer can then sell the unique pieces on eBay for a profit. Illustrating traditional Chinese culture/Western form clash, street fashion, post-modern sensibilities and Shanghai business acumen all in one go.

Monday, December 11, 2006

hospital marketing

Hospital advertising in China is big business. This ad, for the 'Ease Mail [Male] Hospital of BaoDing' emphasises their good practice standards. The cartoons illustrate the hospital' 3 key rules; doctors won't exaggerate symptoms, will pay close attention to patients and the most telling point, the staff won't demand bribes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

things that can happen to your brand in China 1

Now, I might be going out on a limb here but I don't think Mont Blanc are officially in the coach seatcover market.This is not only IP infringement, this is a brand being teleported into another entirely different product universe. But it's also not just Western brands suffering, local stars are also a target: a local business man has applied to use Yao Ming's name for a new brand of sanitary towels and Aidai, a local female singer, has found she is now also a brand of condoms.

Oh, and yes, I can now post pictures again so the paranoia can subside for the moment.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Sorry about the lack of posts, for some reason I can't upload photos to Blogger , a stumbling point for my photo-driven blog as I'm sure you can imagine. Now this may be due just to Blogger's new upgrade but I can't help thinking its China's Internet Nanny at it again. The Government has only just unblocked Blogger and Google, Google Images and Gmail have all been playing up recently -usually an indication that The Powers That Be are trying out new Internet censorship toys. Most probably it is the site's upgrade but the fact I'm even considering government interference as a routine possibility is a symptom of blogging in China (I promise, I'm not prone to conspiracy theories by nature).

Ho hum, I'll keep trying, so please bear with me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

research snacks

Snacks laid out for a research group, lower tier China.

Classic Chinese focus group fare usually includes dry crackers, fruit, sweet preserved plums and dried meat snacks. No booze and crisps or sandwiches as might be expected for UK groups. Indian and Thai research houses sometimes provide a full buffet style meal before the groups (sometimes this also constitutes part of the respondents' payment).
Local variation in focus group food is one of my favourite things on the international research circuit; its an unintentional illustration of varying attitudes to hospitality as well as local food tastes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

weighed down

Shanghai schoolgirls wait for a bus.

Something I've just noticed recently; school bags designed like wheelie suitcases. Do students now need more help carrying the growing number of textbooks home perhaps? A sign of increasing educational pressure?

Friday, November 24, 2006

some techno with that waterfall perhaps?

This is a loud speaker in Shanghai's People's Park.

Is nature better natural? A debatable point in China where loud speakers blare out music in parks, nature reserves and scenic landmarks. Added value? Or noise pollution? Unspoilt nature or just boring countryside in need of livening up? All a matter of perspective...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

overly optimistic positioning

Hotel Breakfast buffet, Bao Ding, Hebei province

Bao Ding is famous for its donkey meat served in between bun-like pancakes. This is an attempt by my hotel to give the specialty a more western positioning but when does a hamburger analogy stop being useful? Perhaps when the meat patty is made out of donkey?

Ah, food, one of the greatest cultural dividers of them all.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

serious fun

Children being taught rollerhockey in a Shanghai park. Another example of China in transition - kit and tuition available but no formal space for it - this is just on a strip of pavement in the park just down from the elderly playing cards and the practising tai-chi masters. Entrepreneurial spirit meets with traditional notions of public spaces and sport.

Monday, November 06, 2006

post summit Beijing

The China-African Summit decorations are now deflated and the lanterns are looking a little knocked around by the wind but there's shiny new promises from the Chinese Government; increase in China-Africa trade, training African professionals, canceling more debts, China-Africa development fund of 5 Billion US, 3bln US dollar in preferential loans, a conference centre for the the African Union and doubling current to assistance to Africa. China is also to establish trade/economic cooperation zones in Africa.

But at the moment what does this mean to Chinese or Africans? From what I can see Beijingers seemed to be more concerned with the details of the traffic restriction over the conference days than anything else. And Africans? My only insight comes from Kenya's The East African and an article that touches on some of the on-ground realities for Chinese African business relationships, which suggests what life in the Special Economic Zones may be like...

"[China's] companies' prices for contracts are cheap because they pay their workers a pittance. The majority are Chinese, crammed into dormitories and sometimes paid less money than local companies pay casual labourers. Also, they don't mix with the community. As one Ugandan complained, they don't chase local women, so don't pay 'in-law levies'. "They take all the money back to China," he whined. Because they tend to import so many Chinese workers, they employ fewer local people than Western companies, the fact that they have a smaller wage differential between them and the 'native' hires notwithstanding.
Chinese companies, used to an environment riddled with corruption back home, are also known to have paid bribes in several instances, including to an African president who took a huge cut for a stadium contract. African Big Men, therefore, could continue to line their pockets with proceeds from trade with China. The masses of the people are unlikely to benefit."

(Full article here)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

chanting the crab

Autumn means hairy crab is here again. A delicacy of the crab world it's much in demand but many unscrupulous crab breeders pass off non-hairy crabs as the real thing.
Anti fake hairy crab measures include special licenses and tagging but each year there's a new warnings about fakes.

Today's lesson: nothing is safe from piracy.

(Hairy crab food article here in all its gory detail).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

shopping in Inner Mongolia

Was up in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia recently. While I was there I popped into one of the city's malls and saw some interesting fashion ad casting.
First off, the choice of brand spokesmen for the men's wear brands:

I would guess that these are local heroes (not at all implying that its not their dashing good looks getting them these gigs, of course).
Either way, an interesting take on the masculine ideal:

Also Grandsire - what a great name eh?

On the other extreme, the female mannequins were all uber-Aryan types. Row after row of them in fact, all standing outside the shops in the mall, like something out of Doctor Who:

I'm sure that China, as with most things, is the world's biggest producer of shop mannequins but I have yet to see one Asian or even Asianish style shop dummy. I'm sure this isn't a source of fierce racial debate in China but it must be re-enforcing the link between the west and fashion on some level...

Which leads me to Exhibit C.
First off, a classic copy-cat brand strategy, the sound alike:

How many Inner Mongolians recognise the difference between Gucci and Cuuci on a linguistic or product basis? But hey, its a Western model, must be kosher right?

Monday, October 30, 2006

friendship, peace, cooperation and development

Beijing is hosting the third ministerial meeting of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in a couple of days time. The streets are already being decorated with pictures of Sahara sunsets and Chinese lanterns (a rather strange juxtaposition).

Beijing road decorated for summit

A jetta (also a popular car model in Africa) parked next to one of the billboards welcoming the African summit attendees

I don't think I've seen so much effort for one summit, perhaps reflecting that this time China is entertaining in the role of patron.
China's involvement in Africa is relatively recent but they are now investing heavily into the continent which they see as a key future market for Chinese products, a chance to build valuable voting partnerships in the UN and a source of bargain priced resources (especially from African regimes the West won't deal with - Mugabe doesn't consider China a 'very special friend' for nothing).
While the West is still looking at China as the economic opportunity, China is building up the African continent with infrastructure, anti-corruption campaigns and training future African leaders alongside future Chinese government cadres - simultaneously contributing to economic development while also ensuring Chinese businesses have the best possible operating conditions.
People's Daily Online article about the Summit here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

electronic tickets are go

China is now issuing electronic tickets for domestic flights. I traveled with one last week and had a bit of an issue at the security gate when I handed over just my boarding pass and passport instead of the usual passport, boarding pass and ticket;

Security officer: ticket please
Me: I have an electronic ticket
Security officer: I need your ticket
Me: Yes, but it's an electronic ticket (showing email print out of flight details)
Security officer: but where's your ticket?
Security officer's colleague shouting across from the next desk: It's an electronic ticket!
Security officer motions to another colleague, "She doesn't have a ticket"
Me: I have an electronic ticket!
Colleague calls over supervisor,
Me: It's an electronic ticket!
Supervisor grunts and motions me through.

Now, wouldn't you expect an airport security officer to know about electronic tickets? It was all ok in the end as at least I knew I was in the right but what if I wasn't used to air travel procedures? Or wasn't used to electronic tickets? How confusing would that all be? I could perhaps be wondering if the travel agent or the airline had ripped me off somehow... how would I know whose word to take on this?

Illustrates in a small way how even sensible improvements can cause disruption, doubt and distrust - you just can't bank on everyone, even those whose should, to know what's going on. Now apply that to implementing a rebranding, a new look for packaging or a new service procedure and imagine the fun that could be - people thinking sellers are trying to pass off fakes, sales people not sure of the new system, misinformation abounding. Fun all round. Changes are inevitable as the systems and standards here improve but change shouldn't be undertaken lightly.

Friday, October 27, 2006

order, order

China is in flux when it comes to behaviour, some people think its ok to drive down the middle of the road, others know different. Some people will be queuing while others will completely ignore the queue, genuinely unaware of what the protocol is. There's yet to be an established standard of behaviour.

Japan is probably the absolute opposite, everything is prescribed and explained. No ambiguity is allowed and definition and instructions rule.

Wondering where to stop to allow vehicles to pass? Well, just look for the sign. Wondering where to stand when queuing for a public pay phone? Look for the sign (no photo for that, sorry, but in case you're wondering its about a meter back at a 45 degree angle away from the platform edge).

There's nothing left to chance:

No need to worry about where to stand when waiting for your train, your carriage door will be marked out for you.

And wondering what to do if a woman next to you is being sexually harassed? Follow the instructions on the anti-sexual harassment poster. Well, I assume they are explaining how to intervene (though it also does look like it's explaining how to join in). Either way, there's a guide for everything so there need never be any ambiguity, doubt or confusion.

How does this sort of prescription affect people? If you introduce a new category or product into this market for the first time perhaps your first task is not just selling benefits or affinity but also removing ambiguity about usage and occasion?

blocked again

Once again I find myself on the wrong side of the Chinese censors. Blogspot has been blocked again in China, so if I look for my blog or any other on blogspot I get the above message. It's only been a matter of months since the site was unblocked but these things tend to fluctuate as the Chinese government often uses a let-out-the-reigns-pull-in-the reigns approach to new liberties whether civil or economic. Blogger obviously failed its trial period. As it happens fairly soon after Blogger became accessible a Chinese professor alerted Chinese netizens to an excretable blog written by an expat teacher about his sexual conquests of female Chinese students from his English class, sparking a web-wide hunt. As this was a Blogger blog I personally wonder if this is connected with Blogger's return to web pariah status.

But obviously, you can still post on blogger, you just can't read the blogs themselves- a strange sort of compromise you often find here, a sort of third way that suits the ultimate agenda (no reading) while giving concessions (you can still blog, just not to a Chinese audience).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

China? Oh yes, I was in prison there for a while

Just back from seeing Sidney Rittenberg, author of The man who stayed behind, speak at the Bookworm Cafe in Beijing. Mr Rittenberg was posted to China with the US Army towards the end of WW2 and fell in love with the language, people and country. He stayed on after his honorable discharge from the Army to work as a translator for the Communist press and even for Mao himself, then moving to famine relief work in the North West of the country. That is, until Joseph Stalin personally wrote to Mao naming him as the leader of an international spy ring based in China. 6 years in solitary confinement followed, with Mr Rittenberg continuing to protest his innocence. Released eventually after Stalin's death he stayed on in China resuming his charity work. He met and married a local Chinese girl and became involved in the Cultural revolution or rather 'The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution' ("Nothing to do with the proletariat, actually anti-cultural rather than cultural but it was Great"). His involvement landed him back in prison and back in solitary for another ten years, separated from his wife and children with no access to the outside world. Eventually with the demise of the 'Gang of Four' he was released and reunited with his wife and family (who had refused to disown him as many family members had had to during those years). A couple of years later he moved back to the US to consult on China for government and business. It's quite some story, and one even more amazing when told with a wry repartee that sat somewhere between Bob Hope and Noel Coward "They [his interrogators] would accuse me of being this international spy ringleader, I'd point out I only an insignificant American, not at all the big shot. They would tell me there was no need to be modest". Also quite something to hear about first hand about Mao, "compassionate and caring but then also extremely cruel", and the evils of the engineered class-struggles of the past. Listening to him, it did all seem a world away - the expats that constituted the audience tonight were largely young western language students with a canny eye on the market and foreign company executives. I wondered how many of the audience would stay on for another revolution and risk prison for China? (Myself included here, I hasten to add). Another sign that China now represents economic not ideological frontiers.

Mr Rittenberg is now working on a new book, a self-help guide based his philosophical training and his own mental techniques developed to help him survive in solitary. Apparently inspired by the number of times he is asked about this in the US. Now there must be a zeitgeist point to made about Americans feeling like they're in solitary confinement, or a need for more mental toughness today or existential angst or some such but you figure it out, it's late and I'm off to bed.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

reversing the view 2

Now and again I try to share some views of the West from a Chinese perspective in an attempt to balance things out here. This one comes thanks to the Library of Unwritten books, a UK project where anyone can submit an idea for a book they would like to publish. This one is written by Ming-He Yang who proposes a book about 'Real British Life' for Chinese readers who are interested in learning about life in the West. In this book she would explain some cultural differences based on her own experience of moving from China to England in the late 80s. Here she covers the key topics of tea, pubs and historical homes;

"I didn't even know what a bar was til a colleague said "Oh we will go out for a drink". I found it very strange. The pub is like a teahouse in China. ... people sitting around talking..."

"And afternoon tea! When you are first invited to go to an English family they say 'Come to our home for afternoon tea. But oh! It's so heavy! It's not only tea."

"Chinese like modern houses very, very much but here they keep the original. If it is one hundred, two hundred years old, people are proud of it, but the Chinese are not. They like everything new and modern."

Pretty good benchmarks for cultural segmentation to be honest, alcoholic/non-alcoholic key social space, tea consumption and old/new home preference. I can feel a plannerish Venn Diagram coming on...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

anything national left?

Internet horribly slow today and I can't even link so instead here's edited highlights from a New Weekly article, via, questioning the reality of China's so-called national characteristics. Particularly interesting as Chinese identity is often presented as unwavering and monolithic ...

National Day, National Pastime, National Flavor...
by Xiao Feng / New Weekly

National Day: National Day has become a travel holiday. The solemn national consciousness of the past has been replaced by joyful consumerism. Using the long holiday for travel or shopping is the main theme of the day. If parades and putting up banners were patriotic in the past, then active consumption is patriotism today.

National Cuisine: The cuisine that Chinese culture has marketed to the world is how to eat differently. People have suggested setting up an International Eating Committee. "When you've sung your part, I take the stage" is what food is like today; no one can speak for a "National Cuisine." If you really want to find one, then perhaps hotpot is one national dish. But children and youth might rather suggest to you McDonald's or KFC.

National Medicine: National medicine, or zhong yao, is not the medicine of China, but rather the medicine of the mean. Essentially, illness is anything taken to excess. "Halls of national medicine" have started up chain stores. The resistance of Chinese medicine to standardization has caused it to be spurned by the international pharmaceutical world, and it has become a mark of wandering outsider doctors. Today, old Chinese doctors plaster ads throughout every street and alley advertising special sex cures.

National Performance: In the past it was the Spring Festival Evening Show, when 900 million of the billion citizens were watching. Now, the Show has dropped to a program for peasants (and our peasant brothers don't necessarily watch). When the three Super Girls PKed, they snatched up a majority of Chinese eyeballs.

National Flavor: Chinese flavor is not hanging up a few strings of hot peppers in the doorway; it's not the four treasures of the studio; it's not the four great inventions - none of these. The core of Chinese flavor is not readily expressed by these dead ideas. "What it is" is hard to say. I only know that cultural heritage isn't a day's work; it should be one generation teaching the next through example rather than preaching. If the previous generation themselves didn't amount to much, then what attraction is there to Chinese flavor?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Density 2: Japan

Talked before about density as a characteristic of Asian cities, previously using Hong Kong as an example. Though this post's title might sound like some dodgy straight-to-DVD Asian-ish action film it's just me trying to prove my point again, this time using Tokyo.
While Hong Kong's density is a sort of jostling crowdedness, Tokyo's density is a sort of concentration of maximum content into the smallest possible space. This applies particularly to people and information;

view of Shibuya district

destination guides at a station

map of Tokyo's railway lines and their stations

Dense travel structure even. Unbelievable amount of stations in Tokyo, tightly packed destinations.

Advertising is particularly compacted too. More information the better when you have the trapped attention of the concentrated (though perhaps not concentrating) Tokyo commuter, it would seem.

What effect does this concentration of content have on people? Perhaps sets up an expectation and reliance on it but also necessitates a relief from it? Japan is the home to Zen after all...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

back from hols

Back from Japan and catching up with work so just a wee post of a vending machine and one of those lost-in-translation-celebrity-ad-only-for-Japan for you here. This one featuring Tommy Lee Jones advertising a Japanese coffee brand called 'Boss'. I can't help but feel he's a dubious advocate for coffee - he looks like needs one but also as if he may have had one too many already. Or maybe he's just a good boss? And Boss, what a great name for a coffee eh? Masculine, work-orientated and aspirational all in one go, a brand name to make those 6am commutes on the Yamanote line seem worthwhile.

Friday, September 29, 2006

off on hols

How do you boost an economy? By creating new longer holidays so people can go off an spend without the distractions of work. Well, that's what Chinese government did when they instituted the 'Golden Week' holidays of Chinese New Year, May Day and National Day and it's working - these week-long national holidays mean significant sales peaks for many categories. And I'm not complaining either. I'm off for this National Day holiday 'Golden Week' so I won't be posting for a while but back soon, promise.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

getting fitter

The pre-Olympics fitness drive is on. A signpost here from Shanghai's new sports facility.

And there's so much fitness going on, its spilling out onto the pavements outside the complex. Below is a badminton game in progress.

It's common to see impromptu pavement badminton games but when its right outside a purpose built million dollar sports complex it does seem to suggest the facility is only one of many possible venues rather than the definitive. And a reminder that the purpose built isn't always the answer to everything, sometimes the relaxed, expedient or informal is just fine.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A recently published Chinese guide book to Tibet:

I love the treasure map styling. Don't get me wrong, stumbling off a flight you need your neat and up-to-date list of local hotels from a guide book too but I really like how this design approach makes you feel you are on an adventure.

Also an illustration of (if you excuse the expression) the wanderlust of Chinese youth and increasing curiousity about their own country.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

hard-wired superstition

Street shrine in Hong Kong

Interesting article in the Timesonline about superstitious belief arguing that superstitious belief is a by-product of the intuitive thinking that gave us an evolutionary edge. I'm sure there's also something connected to this concerning brands and how we relate to them but I've got the 'flu today and I'm too feeble to do more than wave limply towards it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

labour margarine

Labour margarine from Singapore. An old style brand identity that would help illiterate customers identify and ask for it easily (I know that would help me as I'm illiterate). Just a great identity, fits perfectly with the world of industrial catering, so much better than some namby-pamby sunflowers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

how d'ya like them apples?

One of my favourite things about Beijing airport are the smiling apples that sit on the security check desks in the domestic terminal:

I asked an officer why they were there and she replied "For the smile". Of course. I don't know why this need 'for a smile' came about but I'm guessing that the brief was to make an official area seem less formal and more welcoming. If I'd had that brief I'm not sure my answer would have involved drawing smiling faces on apples, but that's my lack of imagination for you.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

reincarnation for objects

A chair is recycled as outdoor seating, its back dismantled and wedged into a gap in the wall. It's common to see this sort of adaption or re-assembly here in China.

This chair now has provided seating in two different formats, albeit unintentionally. That could be quite a selling point but how much do manufacturers really think about reassembly or adaptability for their products when developing them? Why isn't that something we think about more? Would we be less inclined to discard things so quickly if we have more opportunity to modify and create something new for ourselves after we tire of the original form?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

sort of safe

This moped rider in Beijing demonstrates that safety is often more notional than concrete. He's wearing a construction hard-hat for protection but I'm not sure it would even stay on his head in an accident, let alone anything else (another favourite is to wear a horse-riding hat). As most Chinese moped riders don't wear any protective clothing it's definitely engaging with the idea of safety, and perhaps makes him feel protected, but not much else beyond that. Paradoxically he is also carrying a load rather haphazardly balanced in front of him, which I'm guessing isn't safe for him or fellow road users. A reminder that safety is a deceptive concept as it seems a nice, universal, absolute quality but it's actually an extremely subjective area.

And yes, he did manage to pull away before that bus flattened him.

Monday, September 11, 2006

book of wisdom

A Thought for the Day from Bu Hua's Book of Wisdom, a series of lessons from the ancient Chinese fable 'Journey to the West'.

Good advice for planners?

Bu Hua is also a Flash animation trail blazer and you can see more of her work here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

maximising space

Small apartments obviously restrict possessions and human occupants alike but residents find ways to maximise space. Grills on windows are designed to provide security but also offer extra storage and space for more recreational purposes:

airing the pet rabbit and cat (not a combination I would try but it seems to work ok here)

and creating a garden.