Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Barbie...Savage Garden & Tootie Rolls

In the midst of one of the worst financial crisis, the world has seen in decades, what does China do? Open the biggest (and pinkest) Barbie Flagship stores in the world of course!

I went into this wonderful monstrosity the other day and thoroughly enjoyed myself. We all have our guilty pleasures and as a designer; this is mine. It’s so over the top and ridiculous that I actually liked it.

The experience was like listening to Savage Garden while downing a Henry Weinhard’s vanilla cream soda with a mouth full of tootsie rolls and pop rocks, all while wearing a full body day glow spandex outfit laced with sequin. The place is a 6-story sugary lollipop that is so decadent that my teeth hurt when I left. To that end, shear stupidity and absolute superficiality sometimes has it’s place in our lives.

I was not allowed to take pictures but I snapped a few off with my camera phone when no one was looking.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Big Fish in little Pond or Little Pond with lots of Bigger Fish

Yesterday I had a huge reality check. Well, let me put it in terms that are more honest. “Yesterday, I had a huge reality validation of something that I found out after I moved to China.”
You see prior to moving out here, I thought China was at least 10 years behind the US in everything. In many respects it is, so I thought I would be able to come in and dominate. I thought I would walk into my new office and start kicking ass. I thought that when I walked unto the basketball court (or any sport for that matter) I would push and shove their skinny asses around. Basically, I thought I would own this 2-bit town. Well, about 10% percent of that came to fruition. What I did not expect was the “X-factor”.

You know all those Chinese kids with rich parents that live in Beverly Hills, San Marino, Tiburon, Walnut Creek and every other filthy rich Suburb in the North America; well, they are all here too! They are the X-factor! Not only are they armed with their damned Harvard and Yale MBAs (seriously every frickin’ rich Taiwanese or Shanghainese kid here seems to have gone to Harvard – it is ridiculous!) they also have the cash to back them up. To top it off, it seems like all their parents know someone in the Chinese government. They all got the damn Guanxi!

So back to yesterday, you see, I organize and run a group here called yodeng (young designers networking group). I started this when I first got here because I didn’t know anyone and it was a way to meet, network and get the pulse of the design industry in China. As our groups popularity grew so did our reputation. Since then, several other people and entities trying to tap into the network of designers that we’ve built have approached me. One in particular, GIGA (Green Actions Green Ideas) struck my fancy and we have now collaborated in organizing series of “talks” or lectures on sustainability and more specifically aimed at the grass roots level in China.

The GIGA guys are amazing and there are really no words that I can use to describe their drive and passion. They are involved with so much here in regards to Green design and getting the Chinese government involved that what they have done in such a short time in China has completely blown my mind. What blows my mind even more is the fact that they have embraced me and yodeng to help them bring their agenda to fruition. I mean, yodeng, a group that started (and continued) as few architects and designers going out and having a drink to forget about work. Here we are now having a goal and purpose beyond fun…WTF…but I digress.

With this new GIGA + yodeng marriage I’ve found myself surrounded by so may Type A, obsessive compulsive, Ivy league overachievers that I’m having a huge complex about what I’ve done and accomplished in my life. These kids are amazing! I mean not only are some of them like Carol Chyau co-founder of Ventures in Development and Shokay alleviating poverty with the Tibetan Yak herders but she’s making a ton of cash while doing so. What the hell did I do in my early 20s?

Yesterday, during Carols lecture, I was reminded that I am a not so big fish in a little pond with tons of really ginormous, intelligent and cash rich fish.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Bricklayers

After a 7-month hiatus from any sports related activity due to my ruptured Achilles, I am finally back on the basketball court. This is a picture of the Bricklayers, my basketball team in Shanghai. Just look for the oldest, shortest most out of shape person (and the only one that looks Chinese) and you’ve found me.

We are called the Bricklayers for two reasons. One, we are a team mainly comprised of Architects or architectural graduate students and two…have you seen our jump shot?

Playing basketball here in China has been interesting to say the least. First, they play under the FIBA (International basketball association) which is a totally lame system. Second, the referees suck ass and none of them have ever played the game before in their life. Finally, since I’m the only person that looks Chinese on our team, everyone from the refs to the stats guy talks to me. Ironically, I’m on a team of Americans (and one Belgian) that can all speak Mandarin fluently except for me.

At any rate, the guys are a good bunch and we are having a great time losing our asses in the open division. I think next season I’ll drop down to the recreational league where all the 40 somethings play.

Architects in Motion

After sitting on my ass for over 7 months, Christina and I decided that we should run the Great Wall Marathon again this year. So I joined a running group called Architects in Motion. They are a great group and we meet every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday to train. It’s been good for me because I’m not the kind of person that was built to be a long distance runner nor do I have the discipline to maintain such a rigorous and time-consuming schedule.

It’s been grueling at times. Ryan, the young kid (he’s 26 and I consider anyone under 30 these days to be a kid) is a machine. I’ve met type A and obsessive-compulsive people before but this kid takes the cake. I wish I had his mental fortitude and discipline.

He’s scheduled some amazing runs. Last week we ran through the historic Old Town in Shanghai. Weaving through dark dank and narrow alleyways dodging pots, pans, and everything you can think of including the kitchen sink (there was one in our way at one point) keeps things interesting. Next Saturday he is making everyone take the subway to the last station and run back on an alternative route, which he meticulously selected. This way, he says, we will be forced to run back and not catch a taxi.

As I said, it’s been tough however, the toughest thing isn’t waking up at 5:30 am or the long 32km runs in the freezing cold. The toughest thing about training is getting into the elevator every morning and smelling the scent of freshly baked bread and pastries wafting up the elevator shaft.

You see our new apartment is right over Paul’s, a French Bakery that makes and bakes some of the most amazing confections, deserts and pastries this side of Paris! The temptation to skip the run, the freezing cold, avoid the aching knees, and sore back and to sit inside this haven of flour and dough encompassed by the warmth of the ovens is overwhelming.

As I take my first stride onto the cold crisp polluted air of Shanghai, I look back at the warm glow of the storefront with the bakers dressed in white filling baskets full of freshly baked baguettes and croissants. I can imagine myself sitting in the corner reading the Shanghai Daily sipping on a cup of freshly brewed Kenyan Medium Roast Coffee and taking a bite of a flakey buttery heart-stopping croissant with orange marmalade jam dripping off the side….

…as I turn on Nanjing Xi Road, a bus full of local commuters pass by spewing some god forsaken black gunk from its exhaust that chokes me. Once the fumes are gone, the scent of steamed buns and oil manifest themselves in the air. Thump…thump….thump…my heart rate matches my stride. I forget about Paul’s and I’m off to meet the other Architects in Motion.