Archive for January, 2009

Postcards From The Edge

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Here are some oddball photos from Shanghai that have been stacking up for a while, in no particular order.


This was taken at Carrefour, a huge French conglomerate that’s popular in several Asian countries.  Two things were novel (to me) about this shopping cart:  a) it was on an escalator-ramp, which allowed for carts to move from floor to floor, and b) the wheels magnetically lock once you push the cart onto the escalator.  This latter feature is just so clever.  No struggling with the cart’s weight!  (When I first encountered this unexpected feature, though, I thought that the cart had gotten stuck somehow.)

IMG_0590The second picture is a billboard that I photographed inside a mall (the JLife Mall next to what used to be Shanghai’s tallest building, the Jin Mao Tower).  Call me a bigot, but I’m not sure that everyone gets the warm fuzzies when a sign claims to help you “enjoy” a “German dental experience.”  Are the Germans famous for dentistry in a way that I’ve not heard of before?

IMG_0385Then we have several food-related photos.  The first shows the cafeteria where many Microsoft employees eat.  The photo was taken at 1:20 pm, a time when in the US you’d still expect many people to be eating.  But as you can clearly see, the cafeteria was abandoned at this time.  No one would sell me any food, even though it was within the official opening hours of the cafeteria, because the workers were all eating and cleaning up.  In Redmond, you’d have employees eating well through the afternoon.  The China employee culture is very precise when it comes to lunch time.  People don’t eat at 11:50.  They stop heading to the cafeteria at 12:20.  The elevators are impossibly jammed at precisely 12 noon.  It’s like an unspoken agreement here.

IMG_0548IMG_0478The Lay’s chips, you’ll notice, are “Ziran Steak Flavor.”  I love market customization – like 7-Elevens selling tea eggs in Taiwan, or KFCs selling passionfruit juice in China.  The potato chips were pretty tasty.  Speaking of KFC, the one above is one of the most uniquely-decorated I’ve seen.  It’s on the famous West Lake in Hangzhou.  The Colonel sure gets around.

IMG_0222What’s a story about China without something being broken?  Left, you see a child seat.  The safety buckles are all broken, and the seat furthermore features several choice pinch points for little fingers.  What makes this seat truly awesome is that it’s essentially the same seat that we’ve been given in many restaurants, both native and foreign – complete with broken buckles each time.  In fact, I’ll go on record for saying that we have never once used a child seat in a Chinese restaurant that had working buckles.  This suggests perhaps some design feedback to the company that makes these seats (or alternatively, some feedback to parents who care about their children’s safety).

IMG_0214The red button you see on the left is meant for emergencies.  It calls the police or the guards in your apartment complex (you’ll remember from a previous post that there are guards everywhere in China).  It’s a sort of “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” type of button that features prominently in multiple rooms in many apartments.  The red button would be a pretty awesome idea – if it actually did anything.  I pressed an unlabelled one when I first got to Shanghai.  Nothing happened for days.  It reminds me of several friends who I’ve talked to over the years who, when dialing 911, got a busy signal.  Does this bother anyone?

IMG_0578These last two highlight subtle humor in language and culture.  “Wall Street English” is a huge chain that offers English tutoring.  They have video ads that feature hip Asian people confidently proclaiming, “I speak English – Wall Street English.”  This is perhaps only bested by their main competitor, “English First,” which loves featuring billboards of an Asian woman tied at the wrist with thick rope to a white man.  I guess it’s supposed to be a we’re-in-it-together sort of thing, but it strikes me as… odd.

IMG_0551Lastly, the trash cans.  Kudos to the Chinese for having trash cans that typically come separated between regular trash and recyclables.  This is a great move.  But you’ll note the particular recycle bin on the right is labeled “Unredeemable.”  True in literal meaning, comical in connotation.