Latest update on the Pudong transformation.
I seem to be travelling to China a lot recently. This time, mixed in with some supplier visits and research (oh, and picking up an iF China design award for my wee Vostro V13), I decided to whisk Nikki off for a weekend in the big smoke. Since she had not been to China before, the main aim was to give her a chance to see a quick cross-section of the place.
Looking at China, and especially Shanghai, through the lens of a Taiwanese person is a really interesting experience. In some ways, it’s like an American person visiting London for the first time, but in other ways the comparison falls apart. China is not a small island separated from it by thousands of miles of ocean, the roles of economic upstart are flipped in favour of the ‘homeland’, and of course the political status of the ‘settled’ land is far from clear.
Most of the time when I am with Taiwanese people in China it is for visiting the multitude of factories that supply components for Dell; themselves mostly run by Taiwanese bosses. In these times, they are excessively protective and mollycoddling, and I will find myself being whisked around the Yangtze river delta plain for hours on end in shaky VW Santanas, in order to wait in dimly lit rooms for hours more, only to have a twenty minute-long meeting about something they should or should not be doing. If you choose it to be, it is the purest description of boredom and frustration, and for this reason I travel solo whenever I have the opportunity; thus, working out the train system. It also means I avoid the round-table dinners when I need a night off, scheduled as they are with heavy drinking, heavier food, uncomfortable conversation and thinly-veiled sliminess from the sales guys.
It also makes travel with Taiwanese in China on personal time that much more pleasant – curiosity, modesty and politeness from the Taiwanese, in a sea of nail clippings, car crashes, shouting, and general rudeness is at once touching and heart-rending. It’s like being reunited with an old friend that seems to have gone off the rails (but that is driving a flashier car than you). Looking at China through their eyes, I at once see them staring in wonder at the history and the stories, in mild shock at the pace of development compared to Taiwan, and in disbelief at the chaos that is ensuing.
So, I installed Nikki into the local scene for a few days. Hooking up with Gerhard and the crew, we rattled around the bars, restaurants and night-life that makes Shanghai, Shanghai. We saw the sites, and while I was working for a couple of days, she had time to get to grips with the city. I think she enjoyed it, but one or two excessive nights (I blame Oktoberfest) brought home the fact that while Shanghai is a great place to visit, it’s not the best place for your health.
Admiring The Bund
Nathan Road lights
In the French Concession with one of the many groups of newly-weds getting photographed
Wide-angle Shanghai action
A trip to the more sedate city of Hangzhou (if 8,000,000+ people can be called sedate) was just what I needed. I had been there before, but it was obviously Nikki’s first time. My previous experience on the Kunshan rail system had obviously spoiled me; just turn up, buy your tickets and you are done. We had to wait in line for what felt like an eternity, only to be told that the ‘fast’ trains were fully booked; I should have just got the hotel to book it for me (in fact, that makes so much more sense than going to the station myself to get tickets). Three hours on a stinky, slow, packed train, quickly became three and a half hours, and we were beginning to wonder if everything was okay when suddenly everyone alighted. We had clearly arrived. Not quite recognising the station from my previous trip, we made a beeline for the taxi rank, and virtually had to shout at the drivers to persuade them to take us to the hotel. How can they be so stupid?
Almost, but not quite.
Well, it perhaps turns out that we were stupid. Somehow, we had ended up at Hangzhou South Railway Station. It actually displays ‘Xiaoshan’ Station, so you can imagine the confusion trying to work out where we were, and profuse apologies to the taxi driver as he drove us the 45 minutes it took to get to our hotel. A little research goes a long way, Jonathan, especially when it is late at night in a dark corner of Zhejiang Province. Ironically, the high-speed rail service between Shanghai and Hangzhou opened only days later, shortening the journey to a mere 45 minutes. No matter, on the way home we got the hotel to buy the tickets, and it took us about an hour and half on the train that I originally wanted to take.
Shanghai South Railway Station roof
Boarding the slow train
Watching the world go by
Spirits remained high!
Sun setting …
Waiting some more, and contemplating life
Are we there yet?
No really … are we there yet?
Onto the design awards! The V13 has been a big success for the team, and has been steadily picking up design awards along the way; G-Mark, Red Dot and an iF China ain’t bad. Oh, and the fact that it’s been selling at 300% over original projections. It was a nice opportunity to bump into a couple of colleagues from Asus, make some new friends at Philips and have a chin wag with the bosses at the iF organisation.
What was even more interesting was to bump into a few designers from the local Hangzhou design scene; it’s no surprise that it exists, and it sounds like they are in the same position as Taipei was perhaps ten years ago; quantity trumps quality, and intense price competition makes for compromised solutions. But they are making strides, and I would say Hangzhou would be a great location for a design centre; the culture, the considered pace, and the proximity to nature makes for a more creative feeling. Perhaps Hangzhou is to Chicago what Shanghai is to New York. Something to keep an eye on.
Hangzhou as a location? I have to say I am quite smitten with it, with Xihu Lake forming the centre-piece for the city. I suppose I was a little carried away with the image of China, so I was a little disappointed when Nikki said ‘well it just looks like Lake Constance‘ … looking at the pictures now (though I have never been), I can see what she means! Probably the same number of Chinese tourists as well.
No matter, we had a thoroughly pleasant day meandering along the lake shore, and taking in a few cafes and tea rooms in the setting sun. Magic. With the light fading, we headed for the aforementioned train back to Shanghai, and the amusements awaiting us.
I hope it was a good introduction!
Nationalism from an early age
There is an entire sub-class of my photography that includes monks carrying high-tech equipment.
Mountains in the distance … there must be good mountain biking around here!
Watching the world go by.
Oh what book are you reading?!
Okay, put the book away – we get the picture!