From February 2009

Shanghai Jinmao Tower

Shanghai is well known for its dizzying array of skyscrapers with their unique facades and styles but rarely do most people look beyond the exterior shell which can sometimes be just as intriguing on the inside as they are on the outside. Such is the case with the imposing Jinmao Tower which at 421 m high makes it the fifth tallest in the world currently (as well as looking like something out of a batman movie!). Inside the monstrous building the Shanghai Grand Hyatt hotel occupies floors 53 to 87  and therein contains the hidden gem I was here to find…

Jinmao Tower, Shanghai

The hotel is obviously only open to paying guests which, being a man of modest means, I was not. Much against the protestations of my Chinese friend (who was sure we “definitely shouldn’t be here”) I casually wandered into the building and then took the super-fast lift up to the lobby on the 54th floor at a blistering 9.1 meters per second. Feeling a bit like a con-man at this point I asked one of the staff how to get to the 87th floor where we were “meeting friends” and was politely directed to the secondary lifts. This then whisked us up to the top floor which presented the purpose of this little detour; an awe inspiring barrel-vaulted atrium lined with 28 annular corridors and staircases arrayed in a spiral.

Awe Inspiring

Peering over the edge of the balustrade from the 87th floor down to the 54th was rather unnerving and exhilarating at the same time probably due to the subtle spiral effect which makes you feel as if you’re being sucked into the vortex (you can get a better feel for it by seeing the larger photos). I clung onto my camera tightly fearing that if I dropped it it might just kill someone below! Not for the faint of heart!

Junmao Tower Atrium

Whilst from a purely functional perspective it’s a huge waste of space it’s aesthetically very beautiful and literally a centrepiece for the hotel (as well as a good setting for a 007 action scene I’d say!). Iconic design is often lacking in China and even though this can’t be considered Chinese design per-say I’d still say it was one of the best things I saw in Shanghai in terms of its modern side. Hotels are dull places at the best of times but this is pretty cool.

Grand Hyatt Hotel Atrium

One day, assuming the economic meltdown doesn’t ruin us all, I’ll have to check in for real!

Shanghai by Night

Pudong by Night

Aside from the cold and wet weather my trip to Shanghai was pretty good. The city stands out as being surprisingly un-Chinese with its mixture of stark modern skyscrapers, European colonial remnants and the odd communist monstrosity (see Oriental Pearl Tower above).

Alcholic Soup!

Having travelled from the warmer climes of Shenzhen my first port of call upon arriving was to buy a coat which I had stupidly neglected to bring. After warmth was taken care of it was time for sustenance which came by way of an interesting soup concoction of sweet rice wine with glutinous rice balls and even more rice served warm. Just by the smell you could tell the alcohol content was pretty high but it wasn’t unpleasant, especially on a cold day.

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It was then time to have a prowl along the shores of Pudong and gaze up at the towering giants of commerce which line the eastern side of the shoreline. If cathedrals were the places of worship for our ancestors surely skyscrapers have replaced them as the new objects of wonder and mystical power. You cant but help drawing the analogy with the “Tower of Babel” here with each successive construction vying for the title of worlds highest.

 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4)

Construction has already begun on the 632m “Shanghai Tower” which will be the tallest in China and one of the tallest in the world once complete in 2014. No signs of any recession around here!

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On the opposite side of the Huangpu River The Bund is a much more restrained affair where dozens of historical buildings that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from around the globe are situated. Planning has been much more carefully controlled here where new building heights are restricted.

Nanjing Rd

Above: Nanjing Road East, where 30’s european architecture meets neon signage in an odd fusion of styles. It’s apparently the longest shopping street in the world at around 6km long. Think Oxford Street but but even busier.

Below: A short video I put together from a few clips I shot along the way whilst freezing my hands off in the process (stay tuned for the bonus fish at the end!).

More mind boggling architecture from Shanghai soon.

Universal Railway Maps

I’m back from Shanghai with lots of posts on the way (super busy city with some amazing architecture) but just stumbled across these wonderful re-imagining’s of Seoul, Tokyo and New York‘s subway systems by Korean designer Zero per Zero which also doubles as a calendar somehow (via JeanSnow). I love this stuff.

Check out what happens when you mouse over the cute logo on their site also (0 / 0).

I have got to buy one of these for my apartment but not sure whether to go for the Seoul or Tokyo designs. Hope they ship to China!

Shanghai Here I Come

Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Photo by jiazi

Been an extremely busy week work wise but tomorrow afternoon I’m flying off to Shanghai for a short weekend break and a chance to explore another of China’s megacities. I had actually planned to visit in 2007 whilst I was living in Beijing but time was against me then. Be sure to check back next week for pics and a write up. Hopefully the weather will be kind to me!

Dafen Oil Painting Village

China is well known for all manor of fakery – be it consumer electronics, clothing, pharmaceuticals, DVDs, food and just about anything else you can imagine. They even have a word for these products; shanzhai (山寨).

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Last weekend I took a trip to see Dafen Oil Painting Village whose sole purpose is basically to mass produce copies of western art to be sold to shops, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and tasteless consumers across the world. Located in Longgang District, Shenzhen the village boasts over 5,000 artists working in 600+ galleries who churn out over 5 million paintings each year. Needless to say that’s a lot of paintings!

Mona Lisa?

Masquerading as an artistic community of sorts the endeavour is clearly one of a business rather than anything remotely artistic in the true sense of the word. The quality of the work is dubious at best yet it remains a fascinating place if only as a curiosity in a land where they don’t do things by halves.

Sir David!

From the Mona Lisa to Van Gogh, David Beckham, world leaders/dictators and vulgar nudes this place has it all in bulk.

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Wandering around an area saturated with hand-produced copies of the worlds most famous art I was reminded of a subtle link to one of my favourite philosophic concepts; hyperreality:

The fluid reality that spans the territory between the real and the fake, between simulations and the hyperreal, between the authentic and counterfeit, is the slippery territory where we all now live. This blurred continent is Philip K. Dick‘s universe, and the land of reality TV, and the home of pirates. There is something deeply disturbing about our inability to tell real from unreal (who can discern a fake diamond from real?), or to care about it. As the post-modernists maintain, sometimes the fake is so real, it becomes realer than real (hyperreal) and we come to prefer it. [Source: CT2]

Thanks to Defan the world is now populated with enough fake Mona Lisa’s to confuse even the most persistent Da Vinci code hunters! In China the line between what is real and what is reproduction is rarely clear-cut from a layman’s perspective. Personally I still can’t understand why anyone would want a soulless fake but it’s clearly good business. Taste on the other hand cannot be brought.

Van Gogh?

You can find Dafen by taking bus 306 from Louhu station. Should you want to make a purchase remember to bargain hard!

Digital Footprints

In this age of ubiquitous connectivity there is very little we do which isn’t tracked and stored in some form or another be it active (something we request) or passive (something which is happens automatically behind the scenes). This data is used for a variety of reasons; for marketing, personalisation, recommendation, law enforcement, research, capacity planning, trend analysis, performance enhancement… – the list is almost endless. It spans both our online and offline lives, whether we like it or not, and is becoming evermore sophisticated in its reach and depth.

Being a bit of an analytics junkie I decided to take a look at what all my favourite applications/services offer by way of being able to visualise some of this data –

WordPress Blog Stats Graph

WordPress blog stats for randomwire.com showing slow but steady traffic increase month-on-month (actual numbers obfuscated). The two mini traffic spikes were caused by exceptionally popular posts (1 / 2).

WordPress Akismet Spam Stats Graph

WordPress comment spam being tracked and auto-deleted by Akismet. Spikes show a targeted attack/flood. 40,683 spams caught and an overall accuracy rate of 99.855%. Petty impressive.

Feedburner RSS Feed Stats Graph

Feedburner RSS stats showing the number of subscribers and reach of the syndication feed (actual numbers removed). Because of the way feeds are ingested and used these stats should only be taken as a guideline at best.

Flickr Stats Graph

Flickr photo view stats tracking 3,404 items / 13,251 views to date. Difficult to infer anything here but generally I’ve noticed the more metadata you add (especially titles) the more hits you can expect.

Google Reader Trends Graph

Google Reader trends – “From your 86 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 4,858 items, starred 15 items, shared 16 items and emailed 2 items.” Saturday – Monday clearly slow news days in the blogosphere.

FriendFeed Stats Pie Charts

FriendFeed activity stats showing a breakdown of top sites from the past 30 days of online activity. Twitter dominant in this group at least but with the ability to re-share and re-tweet these stats may be incestuous.

Wakoopa Applications Stats Pie Chart

Wakoopa applications stats showing application usage over the past week equating to an average of 10 hours per day – I really must cut down! Interesting how I’m now using Google Chrome more than Firefox these days.

Google Analytics China Map Overlay

Google Analytics map overlay showing visitors to the blog from China – most were from Beijing or Shenzhen (where I live) clustered in the more developed east of the country. Unfortunately no readers in North Korea!

Last.fm Top Artists Stats

Last.fm top artists list artists by the number of times I’ve played their tracks since installing the “audioscrobbler” tracking application. If someone asks me what sort of music I like I just point them here.

Whilst this is all fairly rudimentary it provides some basic insight into some of the data we generate. Already many services provide semi-open interfaces to allow other applications to take data and create mashups and this is likely become more pervasive and easier to do. Personally I just like looking at pretty graphs!

Thinking in Circles

When it comes to solving problems and finding solutions I’ve noticed something peculiar/particular about the Chinese mindset which I’ve been trying to articulate for some time. I don’t claim to be an anthropologist or anything more than a curious observer of life but for what it’s worth here’s my theory…

Problem -> Solution

The western way of problem solving is usually fairly direct and focused. We articulate a problem and then define a solution with all the steps which are needed to be taken to reach the end goal. We also generally appreciate constructive criticism and embrace suggestions from anyone who has a good idea irregardless of their position within a hierarchy.

The Chinese seems to take a rather different approach. Instead of tackling a problem head-on they will talk around it in circle-like discussions until a mutually agreeable solution is found. This seems to be partly about maintaining “face” (Mianzi) and not upsetting anyone by being indirect whilst also allowing people to steer a conversation in a direction of their choosing. The waters get even more muddied because even after you’ve agreed a course of action verbally the likelihood of the other party changing direction without warning is still possible (hence being very specific is crucial).

To give an example three people asked a member of my team a similar question at different times. He gave each person a different answer each tailored to what they wanted to hear. Chinese rarely say no even if that’s what they’re thinking so learning to mind-read is a skill well worth investing time in! I’m sure this is why many attempts by foreign companies to enter China fail so spectacularly.

Of course it’s not always as black and white as I’ve made it out to be above; these are just general trends observed during my time in China so far. I’ve started reading a book called “Think Like Chinese” which provides some illuminating insights into how Chinese thinking is wrapped up in their history, Confucian philosophies and language.

Have you had any experiences like this or have tips on how to deal with it?

Cheung Chau Island

It’s a little known fact that Hong Kong is comprised of 236 unique islands, the largest being Lantau Island and the second largest being Hong Kong Island which is the political and commercial centre of Hong Kong (where all the skyscrapers lie).

Map Showing Hong Kong and surrounding islands
Map showing the islands and peninsulas of Hong Kong

During my short trip to Hong Kong last week I decided to head out to Cheung Chau island which is comparatively small at around  2.45 km² with around 30,000 inhabitants mostly clustered in the developed central area. Traditionally it was a fishing village but today the economy is mostly related to tourism.

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To get there you can take a ferry from pier 5 of the Central Piers on Hong Kong Island which takes about 40 minutes (there’s also a more expensive faster ferry) providing a pleasant trip in itself. When I arrived on Friday morning it wasn’t very crowded and I practically had the whole island to myself once I left the central area.

Pak Tai Temple

Exploring the island can be easily done in a single day. I followed a walking route in my guide book which took me in a circular path around the most of the island including some beautiful beaches, small temples, a 3000 year old rock carving, and the alleged treasure cave of infamous 19th century pirate Cheung Po Tsai. The weather was perfect and I enjoyed the time away from the crowds you find everywhere else in Hong Kong.

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Unbeknownst to me at the time Cheung Chau also has a dark side as the ultimate get away from it all. With its many secluded holiday chalets it became a popular destination for people wanting to end their own lives and a spate of charcoal burner suicides a few years ago led to many landlords suspending short-term rentals. As you might imagine stories of apparitions have followed and you would be forgiven for drawing parallels with numerous Japanese horror films like Ringu.

Cheung Chau Beach

Aside from its rather macabre reputation it’s a beautiful place with a slow pace of life where one could easily imagine spending their latter years (think the south of France in the south of China!) or if you’re more short on time just an enjoyable day.