Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Sexy Beijing


I've been a big fan of Sexy Beijing for some time now or maybe its just Su Fei who has got it going on for me, as you may recall when I first tipped China's number one internet TV show off back here. On more pedestrian mattters, a few days ago I just had to get on the subway. The first free planning lesson in any country is to use public transport. There's so much to be learned from observing public social discourse, and on this occasion I had a real insight into how the Pekinese tick which gained momentum from a discussion I'd had some nights before thanks to a quality thinker called James about Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange and some very provocative thoughts on the idea of harmony and socialization vis a vis personal liberty. I'm stoked at what is going on. James, I really hope you start a blog soon you'd be a very welcome additional voice.

Beijing is a supercity and to manage all that human traffic takes some order, or the system would be dysfunctional. It starts with queues on the subway platform. The train arrives, those disembarking get off and those embarking wait briefly, as you can see from the orderly queues in the picture below. Any dawdlers getting off the train are smothered quite quickly by those waiting to get on board. There was a heated discussion in my queue one day.


The subway system (Die Tie if you're asking) shifts an awful lot of people around the city, and in my experience so far, is more often squashed than the London Underground which is a lot more extensive than the Beijing system completed in 1977. The Queens silver Jubilee right? Here's the view inside the train in the morning once all that getting on and off is completed. Lots more headroom there which is something the Northern and Piccadilly line can be a bit tricky providing to tall people like me standing close to the doors.

But the thing that really turned me on was the completely civilised way to exit the station. This one pictured below is new so its not very representative of rush hour, but the principle is the same. Notice how there is no barrier? Once you've handed in your ticket at the luxuriously manned (not turnstiled) subway entrance or swiped a 'tube Card' on a sensor, the journey is hassle free and you're good to go, on your way wherever you choose to get off.

This woman asked me why I was taking pictures of Subway exits, and when I explained she gave me her business card. Turned out we both work in the strategy end of communications and we're going to touch base when she gets back from Paris. Small world isn't it?

Moving away from public infrastructure (one of my favourite subjects), I have been shamelessly ambushed by McDonalds who have such a savvy marketing outfit, that not only do they know my weakness for a Sausage & Egg McMuffin breakfast, but have also accurately stationed a restaurant devastatingly close to my apartment. I thought I'd kicked the habit from my Brixton runs which were becoming less and less enjoyable but now that I'm back in the sausage patty groove I'd love to share a couple of points with you. First off is the amazing coffee in McDonalds China. Now I'm not a coffee freak although I do like my friend Terry's award winning Dakine Kona Coffee from his farm in Hawaii but other than that I'd be fibbing to suggest I'm an aficianado. I prefer tea generally, and I'm particuarly enjoying my Chinese and green tea these days. But getting back on track the McDonalds coffee here in China is on another level. To make the stuff bearable in the UK I'd need to order a latte or cappuccino, yet here its borderline fantastic and a real caffeine kick to boot. Which begs a serious question for me.

Why can the product be superior in one country and significantly inferior in another, and yet the logo and marketing communications have to be uniform? Does anyone else believe all that 'think global act local' pabulum? Whatever happened to 'when in Rome'? OK it's a little more complex than that but my point is that anything reduced to a binary input/output such as think this, do that is obviously questionable and in this instance is mostly about economies of scale with communication. That doesn't mean that consistency isn't important but as Richard over at Adliterate put it much more eloquently than I ever could, coherency is often more important.

I would go on but it does feel weird to be drinking from a Styrofoam cup again even though it insulates from the scalding heat much better than those cardboard affairs that seem to need doubling up anyway. They could quite easily have just as large a carbon footprint when all is said and done as far as I can figure out. Just less biodegradable I guess. Its one of those throwback things that I'm getting used to again. Its frightening how quickly we normalise from change and how much we disproportionately fear it in the first place. The other point that struck me as telling were the charity boxes in McDonalds over here. You may recall I did some qualitative research for a
Childrens Charity back in London and I've a post about that process to finish yet, but ever since then I've been chucking my spare change into the box and so I notice details like this. McDonald's children's charity boxes in China are not chained to the counter as they are in the UK. I think this says a lot about social harmony, division in society or the benefits or socialisation versus liberty of the individual. I haven't figured it all out yet and will need to go into some more impoverished places to get a fuller understanding but I'm formulating ideas on subjects that I haven't really thought about for a long time now.


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