What do I want to get out of my time living in China?
I want to help people back home understand this place and the people who live here. Make it feel less alien to my friends and family; less impenetrable to the businesses I work with. I’m keen to get beyond biases about China that I was carrying with me before getting here.
In the design and innovation space that I work in, China is often regarded as ‘the future.’ This sound bite is usually inflected with a sense of apprehension. Many Western companies don’t know where to begin trying to make sense of China — or even if it’s worth their effort.
It’s one country but acts like a continent. Its many tiers are complex to understand. Much feels familiar; there are copies everywhere you look. But the differences are huge. And everyone (keeps) talking about the pace of change.
So here we are. In a new place for my partner Dan and I to call home for the next 12 months. Maybe more?
A culture to understand.
A business world to permeate.
A social life to establish and maintain.
I want to make every moment count but I’m already aware there’s a potential end date in place. Where to begin?
Initially, I liked the idea of focusing on a specific topic to study. But I quickly realised a singular focus would narrow my understanding of this vast and complex place. Instead, I’ve tried to tune into the heartbeat of Shanghai as a whole. In doing so, I hope to have a better sense of any subsequent studies’ context.
For me, this doesn’t just mean food and water. It means optimising my own experience of the city in every way. How can I best connect the different aspects of life here in a way that heightens and facilitates my experience of each of them?
Happily, this is one of the ways I get my kicks in work and life. I love to unpack how people experience and navigate the modern world, and design ways to improve that experience.
It’s the same when you are optimising your own experience; when you are the subject as well as the researcher.
I know this approach will also develop my personal relationship with Shanghai as a city. So far, the plan is working. It’s love.
I have set about grasping the tools and services needed to survive in this buzzing metropolis. I’ve found a place to live. I’ve learnt how to navigate the city; it’s easy to bike everywhere. I’ve set up all sorts of ways to pay and transfer money. I’ve downloaded a thousand new apps, altering my iPhone interface beyond recognition.
I’ve joined a fitness app, which has led me to strange peripheries of the city — and into some pretty awesome new yoga poses. I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve learnt purely from observing how other people use technology to get things done. Google Translate is a life saver to fill in the gaps.
These are all the aspects of life that one normally takes for granted. When you are in new place, they need to be reinterpreted in a uniquely local way.
Six weeks in, I’ve decided to start writing about some of the experiences I am having here. What follows will be a selection of musings about the highs and lows; the differences and similarities.
It’s also a chance for me to write about the opportunities I feel someone should work on — or at least be thinking about.
Blink and it’s likely someone already is.