Chinese kindergarten – is it too much?

I was due to start teaching last weekend, but because of recent holidays the students had to go to school on Saturday, meaning our classes were postponed a week. If you’re British and reading this, you probably think that’s nuts. I think that’s nuts. It’s not really a holiday if you have to make up the time later, right?

Weird though it seems, it isn’t really out of place within Chinese culture. I’ve spoken before about how you don’t necessarily need to work hard, as long as you ‘work’ long hours and the same can be said for schools. Children attend kindergarten from age 3-6 years, with a day typically lasting from 8.00am until 5.30pm. This is something I’m still trying to come to terms with – my nursery class in the UK only lasted three hours – but it’s normal here for children to be out of the house for upwards of 9 hours a day.

The kindergartens accommodate this well, with ample space for play indoors and out including complicated play apparatus, ball pits and toys. Each classroom is fitted out with different zones for different types of work and children take a nap at lunch time on beds that are otherwise stacked in the corner. For kindergarten, classes are typically split up into 30-minute sessions, with play interspersed between them.


An example of the play equipment at No. 7 kindergarten, Kangbashi

The long hours have lots of benefits for the parents, who don’t have to worry about additional childcare, but it seems like there’s very little time for family. This is a bit of a juxtaposition to what I’ve seen of China so far, as family is very important and parenting is actively undertaken by both mothers and fathers. When speaking to a colleague about her children’s schooling, she was somewhat reserved – she would like to take her children back to Australia but her husband can’t emigrate again due to business. When I pried her about this, she didn’t like the long hours and how children are taught to repeat and remember things, rather than encouraged to think for themselves. This is an argument I’ve heard before and is fairly typical for collectivist cultures, meaning that even when students move abroad for university study, they fall behind their peers due to a ‘lack of original insight’.

It occurs to me that spending so much time in kindergarten and school is good for socialising, and from what I’ve been told, bullying is uncommon. It helps students to become part of the group, inducing community values from an early age. But at what cost? Are Chinese students still able to develop their own identity, to consider what is important to them? In my opinion, they don’t really have the time to experiment and find out what they like, but I may be wrong. It may encourage more social activities such as participation in sports teams and going to KTV, whereas my upbringing led me to develop solitary hobbies such as reading and drawing. It’s not necessarily that they don’t have time to develop an identity, but that their identity is developed in relation with others around them, which isn’t a bad thing.

Another point that my colleague mentioned was that the shift from kindergarten to elementary school can be tough on children. Although the hours are the same, classes are longer and typically don’t involve play time. This can have a profound effect on children’s attention span and make life a little bit miserable for them. As such, there is a preparatory year to deal with this – which seems to equate to ‘Reception’ in the UK. Once in school, children work the same amount but are also given homework, which can take up to two hours a night. High school students have it even harder, as they may return home for dinner at 5.30pm, only to return to school at 7pm for another two hours of classes, before doing their two hours of homework.

Once I found this out, I think I started to understand the Chinese work mentality a little better. For their entire lives, Chinese people have been told to go here and do this, with the emphasis being on time. It also explains the napping at work thing, as throughout their academic lives, time has been set aside for them to nap at school.

No one is particularly encouraged to excel, as everyone is supposed to advance at the same pace, meaning those with attention deficit disorders are told they are not trying hard enough. The message that keeps coming across is you only have to pull your weight, which is why many people are interested in government positions, where the pay is good but there’s relatively little work. And of course this won’t be true for everyone, or even every city, but it does seem to be the norm.


Hong Kong: Multicultural or Colonial?

Arriving in Hong Kong, I didn’t know what to expect – would it be more Chinese or more British? My gut told me it would be more British, but that was incredibly naïve of me. It turns out it’s neither… or rather, it’s both with a few more cultures thrown in as well. First and foremost, I noticed the Japanese culture (well, I would, wouldn’t I?) but it wasn’t until later that I realised this was due to occupation during the second world war. Although some of the influence is a direct result of this, the homeliness that comes from upward mobility may be a result of similar urban planning rather than culture. In Hong Kong you have to look up or you’ll miss out. Buildings often have shops up to the 5th floor or higher, and these shops will advertise on their windows. Alongside this were many Taiwanese and Korean products and stores, especially within the beauty shops.


Hong Kong is a shopping haven for many and it’s no surprise. The range of products available makes it ideal for people from throughout Asia to get the best products at reasonable prices and as a trade centre it also has a lot of Western imports too. I was staying on the Fashion Walk, surrounded by high-end designer stores, but the whole of Causeway Bay seems to be mercantile. It was amusing to take a walk around the neighbourhood because they really do have everything, sectioned off into little areas so that there is a whole street selling toilets. Another street selling electronics. Another selling socks and slippers. I suppose it encourages competition to remain friendly and makes browsing a lot easier.

In many ways, I was impressed with Hong Kong, particularly with the civic mindedness evident throughout the city. There is signage for practically everything, reminding you to be clean and polite. There are a lot of messages for public health, including notices reminding you that elevator buttons are disinfected every hour, smoking indoors (or certain public areas) incurs a $5000 (£500) fine, eating on public transport incurs a similar charge, and there is hand sanitiser dotted about different parts of the city. This public concern for health could have come from anywhere, but Hong Kong’s history is spotted with epidemics such as plague, SARS and avian flu. Educating the public about sanitation has been a government objective since the second world war, but received a big push in the 1970s when the governor Murray MacLehose introduced reforms to improve public services, the environment, housing, welfare, education and infrastructure.

This mindfulness continued in the museums. The Hong Kong Science Museum had really well-designed exhibits that are informative for the young and old alike. Hong Kong celebrates its biodiversity and included exhibits about managing urban development so as to best sustain the environment. There was a self-health check that covered hand-eye co-ordination, balance, response, stability and balance, which encouraged development of self; a commissioned exhibit about occupational hazards and workplace safety; an entire floor dedicated to leaving a smaller carbon footprint, renewable energies and global warming; even an exhibit on food that discussed wastage, balanced diets, and ethical animal rearing.

Throughout my stay I found more and more things to praise about Hong Kong but found myself attributing it to how multicultural it is. I had to stop and think, as my idea of multiculturalism as a desirable community has, until now, ignored the chequered pasts that lead to blending of cultures. What has led me to do so? It is, of course, ignorance on my part but whether that is down to a lack of education, a generational distancing or the privilege I’m given from my country’s colonial past is still unclear to me. Does it matter? I think it would be a great disservice to ignore how multiculturalism becomes the norm, but somehow I still find myself thinking ‘at least good has come from it’. In different situations, this kind of thinking makes me the bad guy. I’m not forcing my culture on anyone (or at least I hope I’m not), but at what point does my behaviour deviate from pro-multiculturalism to plain old appropriation?

Appropriation is a tale as old as time, and often comes following an invasion, but over time we accept the multiple pasts as part of who we are. English people still take pride in the influence of the Romans, the Celts, the Vikings… but they were all invading forces. They changed our country to such an extent that it is hard to imagine how our country would have been had they not landed on our shores. They made our country better, but that’s easy to say from 2000 years into the future. When it’s happening in real time, it doesn’t really matter whether an invader thinks they know how to do things better, they have no right to force it on people. I’d be interested to hear what you all think about this, or even to know whether you’ve thought about it at all. I’m still developing my opinion, so outside influence would be appreciated at this point.

Bye Bye, Beijing – The Good and The Bad

Alright, I know, I haven’t posted a blog in two weeks. Some of you care about that, I’m sure, but hey – here now!

But I won’t be ‘here’ for long, as I am leaving Beijing tomorrow. It feels like I only just arrived but it’s been a full eight weeks, so it’s time for me to head over to Hong Kong, pick up a visa and fly to Ordos. I’m going to miss this city so much – I’ve really fallen in love with it. It has its bad points, sure, but Beijing is so busy, it’s full of life and it has so many good things going for it too.

Good – Transportation

I’ve already talked about the sheer number of bike rentals around the city, that are so cheap they’re practically free, but if you need to travel far there’s also buses, the subway and taxis.


An example of an ‘authentic’ taxi – photo from City Weekend

 I haven’t taken a bus on my own because talking to people still seems like a lot of hassle, but my journey to the Great Wall involved using a public bus and it cost 6RMB (£0.70) to go 60km. Back home, I can’t even get the bus to the next town over for that price! On the way there it was comfortable, there was enough leg space and air conditioning. The way back was a bit different due to the amount of people making the trip. We got stuck in traffic for over an hour whilst crammed into the aisle with other tourists, but all in all, it wasn’t a terrible experience.

Then there are taxis. People tried to put us off taking taxis when we first arrived because a lot of people get scammed, but I’ve never had a bad experience – either with the official cabs or the unlicensed cabs. It’s usually pretty simple to flag one down and although some don’t want to stop for foreigners (the language barrier), those that do are very patient and helpful. Even late at night, the cab fare home hasn’t been extortionate (the most I’ve paid is 45RMB (£5.30) at four in the morning) and the drivers are always friendly.

As for the subway, it typically runs from 5am until 11pm, which isn’t always convenient, but a journey anywhere in the city costs about 4RMB (£0.50). My journey to work took 40-50 minutes and I never had to wait more than three minutes for the next train. Sure, it gets crowded in rush hour, but where in the world doesn’t? It’s actually quite impressive as you think you couldn’t possibly get another person in, only for four more to push on in. I think it’s partly due to this close proximity that everyone is polite when it comes to shuffling on and off the trains. It’s just a shame that the slow walkers who stop at the top of escalators to check their phones ruin the flow.

Good – Social initiatives

A really cool thing about the subway is that the carriages have TV too. Late at night it tends to be playing ‘Shawn the Sheep’, but during the day they play through lots of public service announcements. The most common one is for blind people – showing libraries that have books in braille and audio books; a little ant construction worker who helps blind Tony Stark not to get run over… that sort of thing. There are messages about increased disabled access and there was even a video trying to eliminate some of the stigma attached to depression – which would be considered pretty forward in Western countries, never mind China. There’s a lot of anti-smoking posters too, which I was shocked by. Beijing’s starting to implement a lot of the laws we have in Europe about where you can and cannot smoke and it seems to be going down really well. I don’t know how long it’s been going on, but when I came here I was expecting a lot of indoor smoking and in fact, it’s almost exclusively reserved for bars and clubs.


Image from China Daily – just such a shame I can’t find the Iron Man one

However, some of the social initiatives could be damaging. The government is currently bricking up the hutongs in order to keep the backstreets under control. This means that any shops, bars or restaurants they find undesirable get their doorway bricked up. It happens overnight. It seems to be dividing citizens too, as some understand the government’s desire to make the city a safer, more reputable place, whereas others see it as ruining the lives of those who own the venues whilst taking away from Beijing’s culture. I personally think it’s a very sad thing, but there are two sides to every coin.

Good – Clean Streets

Okay, I know this is going to shock a lot of people, most likely including the expats that have lived in Beijing – but hear me out. The streets might be dusty and trash gets thrown anywhere – but it never stays there for long. I’m embarrassed to recall the streets in the UK littered with cigarette butts, covered in chewing gum and the more-than-occasional dog turd. Chinese people may feel free to throw things on the ground, but it never stays there for long – they hire a large number of street cleaners to make sure the mess doesn’t pile up. I keep reading ex-pat articles talking about faeces on the streets, but I’ve never seen it.

Bad – Public Toilets

To start with, I am impressed with the sheer number of public toilets, you’re never that far from one. However, the term ‘toilet’ may be loosely defined. Nearly every toilet here is a squat toilet and that’s something you can get used to, but public toilets don’t always have dividers. There’s just a row of four squat toilets, with no bins for toilet paper (or any toilet paper, for that matter) and no hangers for your bag. If you want to hold hand with the person next to you I’m sure it’s ideal, but there’s a few too many inconveniences to the public toilets for me.

It extends to shops and public buildings too. Often the female toilets don’t lock, so you’re squatting, trying to keep your clothes off the ground, your bag precariously perched on your knee whilst you try to keep the door closed. It’s risky, but if you’re quick to wipe, you can probably grab hold of the door again before anyone comes in.

And as a side note, I really miss flushing toilet paper. Women have a lot of reasons to need a bin in the bathroom, and I have seen all of them up close and personal. I have long legs. Trying not to knock the toxic waste of a basket with my knee is an ongoing challenge.


An example of a hutong toilet – image from the Daily Mail

Bad – The Spitting

Actually, it’s not the spitting itself that bothers me anymore, it’s the big throat-rattling performance they make on the lead up to spitting. It’s everywhere, including indoors.

Bad – The Beijing Bikini

This one isn’t actually all that bad, it just took a while to get used to. Men have a habit of lifting their tops up so that their bellies are out, making a ‘Beijing bikini’. I’ve seen lots of different types do it, but the usual suspect is a middle-aged man with a gut large enough to block his view of his own feet.

beijing belly. Tianamen square, national holiday, beijing.

The ‘Beijing Bikini’ – image courtesy of The Beijinger

Bad – The Lack of English

I feel bad saying it – how dare I expect them to speak my language – but English is spoken by a helluva lot of people. Getting about isn’t so bad because they have pinyin (pronunciation) over the characters but tourist sites don’t have English. Museums don’t have English. How am I supposed to learn about your culture if there’s no way for me to get the information? Sort it out.


As with anywhere, it’s a love-hate balance, but for me Beijing comes out on top. #IloveBJ


The Internship: Part 1


I’ve been an intern in China for two weeks now and wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve been doing, as well as my initial perceptions of the Chinese work ethic. As a disclaimer, I’m sure it differs industry to industry and this post is only based on my experience and the experiences my fellow interns have shared with me.

I was forewarned when I started that my supervisor wouldn’t be present for the first few days, so was expecting a light workload, but boy was I surprised. There were only four people in the office, as the time of my arrival coincided with everyone else’s holidays and visa runs, so the first week was quite intimate. My supervisor had left one of the girls a short set of instructions telling me to look through the public file to familiarise myself with the company, the website and setting my task for three days.

That three-day task was actually completed in three hours.

At first, I wasn’t sure if something had been lost in translation and I’d be receiving a new task each day, but unfortunately that was the total of what I was given. I had to plan 5-8 blog posts – not even write them, just come up with titles and subtopics. Okay, fair enough, they have no understanding of who I am, what I can do, so it’s quite acceptable to underestimate an unknown intern. But… it didn’t get better.

I planned them paragraph for paragraph, doing a bit of background research for myself and it still only took the first afternoon. As it turns out, I had also done too much, as the blogs should only be around 500 words each and my topics went too in depth. I found this out when my supervisor returned, “wow, you’ve done so much” and I started writing them up. I wrote two in the first morning as these are only short blogs and take less than an hour each only to be told, “wow, you’re so quick!” which is when I started to realise that just because you’re at work for nine hours a day doesn’t necessarily mean you are working for nine hours a day.

Not one to sit and twiddle my thumbs, I have been working on an online communications strategy in my ‘spare time’. This has been quite useful, because although I get the feeling the supervisor doesn’t want to see it, it gives me something to do. I’ve been asking for more tasks and usually get told that there is nothing to do, or if I can wait fifteen minutes they’ll give me one. Fifteen minutes seems to mean 2-3 hours.

This started to improve somewhat in the second week. I now get asked to help research projects! Some are interesting and give me plenty to work on – finding out about the company, the target audience and competition in order to brief the design team – but some aren’t even marketing. I’ve been asked to come up with designs for a client to put on their wall and this is not my area of expertise. I’m not a designer and even when reliant on Google images, I didn’t understand the brief. They want something ‘cool’, but not like that. ‘Modern… you know, something… modern.’ I spent the best part of a day trying to understand the image that my supervisor clearly had in mind, wondering why she didn’t just do it herself as she clearly wasn’t going to be happy unless I got the exact thing she wanted.

Mainly, I’ve gotten good at sitting around and pretending that I’m busy. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not dossing off as all my tasks are completed, it’s just that there isn’t enough work for me. I’m using my downtime to write those articles, which are still just sat in a file on the shared drive because they need to be translated into Chinese before we can post them. I’ve been finishing that online communications strategy that the supervisor doesn’t want to see. I’ve been working on my dissertation at work.

It’s a little demoralising, actually, because I have so much more to offer. The other day, I was given one task at 5.55pm. That was my first task of the day and do you know what it was? Finding an image of a pretty person eating a burrito.


Finding an image of a pretty person eating a burrito is actually a lot harder than it sounds, but it’s also incredibly funny. Here’s one of the gems that I came across.

Everyone in my office naps and the supervisor doesn’t mind. It genuinely seems like the emphasis on ‘good work’ is just about showing up – which, even then, my office isn’t great at. For the first week I arrived on time, only to wait in the corridor for 30-40 minutes until a keyholder decided to come in.

I thought it might have just been me, or just my company, but it seems to be affecting the whole of Beijing. A colleague said it was the same for her at first, she had to adjust to the slower pace of life. It’s not that these people are lazy, they’re just really slow.

Except for the girls in our building, they very well may be lazy. It’s very rare to get a cubicle in the bathroom because people from the other offices disappear into them in order to have a smoke or play on their phone. I’m pretty sure even the cleaner uses her time in there as an unofficial break.

My friends all have similar stories. For example, when a receptionist was asked “Do you not want to do this and become better? People are unhappy with your work“, she responded ‘no, I’m fine like this.’

At a different friend’s office, he goes in around 10am, has a 2 hour lunch and leaves at 4pm. Even when he’s there, he barely has any work to do, so he’s in the same boat as me, just wasting a few hours less of his day doing nothing.

Then there’s the intern working in a hospital who pushes a button and waits for the machine to finish. That’s his whole job.

So, my impression is that the Chinese aren’t good workers. They’re happy to show up, because that’s how they get their money, but I don’t see any pride going into their work.

I know I’m wrong to generalise, and I’m sure this doesn’t apply to every individual in this nation. Certain sectors such as construction are probably a lot more hard-working and even though my experience of wait-staff is one of frustration (I’m looking at you, Taqueria), they seem to put the effort in.

Tourism is Forbidden

Trying to make the most of our last days before work started, we opted to do some mid-week sight-seeing. The Forbidden City had been on the list for a while and doing it when there weren’t going to be as many people seemed a smart move. I read up on it before hand this time, not getting caught out by a lack of English signage and was a pretty good tour guide if I do say so myself. Listing off years that things happened, highlighting interesting architectural points and even throwing in some Mongolian trivia almost made up for the fact that we barely saw any of it.

Yeah, you read that right. We spent a good three hours walking around the Forbidden City and still managed to miss out on the calligraphy, the ceramics, and the Palace Museum. It’s a big complex okay? A big complex with a one-way exit policy. We left through the North Gate, not really realising that it is the official exit, and once we had left we weren’t allowed to return. The boys will probably visit again as their student ticket was only 30RMB, but foolish ol’ me left her ID in the UK and is a little too tight to dish out 60RMB twice just to see the bits I missed. Maybe next time I’m in Beijing.

It was at this point that we got a message from Sami asking where we were. He was helping out Ayodele get some footage for her vlog and had arrived maybe two hours later than the rest of us.

We sent him a message to let him know that there was absolutely no chance of finding us, as we had accidentally gone through the North gate and we weren’t allowed back in. To which dear Sami asked “What, are there exits?”

We were in creases. Of course there were exits. What he actually meant was something along the lines of ‘oh, we don’t leave through the same place where we came in?’ but it was at this point that Sami became immortalised for the phrase “I don’t know… it’s China, man!”

Once we’d established we were never going to see Sami at this rate, we headed up Prospect Hill (Jingshan Park) to get a good look at the city complex. It’s quite a peaceful place, quiet, and there’s quite a few old people just doing their own thing.


That was Thursday. I returned on Saturday with Ayodele, as she was determined to do some tourist attractions in her last weekend. She’d offered to front my ticket (or half of it), which made the idea of returning to see the bits I had missed a lot easier on the wallet. Only, things didn’t quite go as planned.

We arrived on a lovely day and joined the crowds out of the tube, but our journey began with an English-speaking Chinese man luring us into a side room to sell his calligraphy. It was alright, as far as calligraphy goes, but he was probably the least interesting artist in the room. We had no intention of buying and only went with him so as not to be impolite. On reflection, looking at his artwork and then turning him down is probably a lot ruder than ignoring a stranger on the street. Oh well.

We went back to the entrance, over the bridge and under the picture of Mao, we went through the different entrance courtyards, but the ticket office didn’t seem to be open. Maybe I’d missed it. We milled around a while but couldn’t find anywhere to buy tickets, although the place was heaving. We figured it must be free, and if it wasn’t someone would point us in the right direction, so we did as everyone else was doing and moved to enter between the guards. They stopped us.

“Where is your ticket?”

-We don’t have one.

“You need to buy a ticket.”

-Where can we get one?

“You can’t get one. You must leave.”

We watched as the guards ignored everyone else ducking between them to get to the entrance, regardless of whether they had a ticket or not. Maybe it was a Chinese-only day? We scoured the crowd for other foreigners, seeing if they had a prized ticket clutched in their hands or were just as miffed as we were. Defeated, we headed back the way we came.

“No, you can’t go this way, you must go ahead.”

Erm… what? Again, we watch as a string of Chinese people make their way past the guard yelling at us. It’s okay, turns out there’s an exit on the left in the second courtyard. That we also couldn’t get out of. We asked again, ‘where do we leave?’ and they pointed us to the main gate that’s already rejected us. Well, damn. Maybe Sami’s comment wasn’t so stupid after all. We spent a good twenty minutes trying to get out and it felt like going two steps forward and one step back each time. We resorted to waiting for the guards to be distracted, moving past as quickly as possible, only to be stopped by the next one. I really hope those other foreigners we saw had tickets, otherwise they’ll be trapped there forever.

We then proceeded to queue for another 30-40 minutes to get into the National Museum of China. This is something that could do with better direction, let me tell you. There were three queues: the first one took you up the stairs to the little plaza out front, which then has its own two queues facing opposite directions. Surmising that one must be the ticket queue and the other was not, we were further confused to see everyone had a ticket of some kind. We got on line whilst we figured it out and an overheard (but not understood) conversation in Chinese had someone pointing at tickets and moving to the other line. Okay. So it is the ticket line. Just to be sure we phoned our friend who had already passed the trials to find out there’s another door for foreigners. We found it, and actually, I’m glad as there wasn’t a queue for that one. We joined the line heading into the museum, went through security and… had to turn back. “You must get out now,” as the security lady’s ominously translated phone message told us. A camera tripod counts as a selfie stick and has to be stored in the cloakroom. With no idea where the cloakroom was and with no intention of queueing again, we played dumb until a security guard escorted us back down past all three queues to a hidden office beneath some stairs.

The museum was the first time I became aware of actual propaganda. The censorship is a little more noticeable, but proactive propaganda has only really manifested itself as a sense of civic duty. Walking around the museum, however, there was some beautiful wording, which would have made me feel like scum if it weren’t so ridiculously over the top for a government organisation:


We left around half four, with not enough time to see the Ancient China exhibitions, but with enough time to get in some last-minute gift-shopping at the pearl market. The first time we were there Ayodele was young and naïve, paying 300RMB for two dressing gowns, but this time, she was on her game. Pyjamas for her brother? 80RMB. A jacket for her father? Something like 100RMB. Two Michael Kors knock-offs and a Herschel back pack? 90RMB each. She had really upped her game in such a short amount of time – I think the indignity of the dressing gowns fuelled a rage that could only be sated by true bargaining.

I, on the other hand, needed to buy a new purse and fell victim to a nice store attendant and the glittering hope that I wouldn’t have to check every purse on every stall. It had the same layout as my purse, a similar pattern (Cath Kidston) but as soon as I over-paid for it, I regretted it instantly. I hate it. It doesn’t feel right, it’s ugly, they didn’t even bother putting a lining in it. I’m using it – my old purse is too damaged to fix – but I’m not happy about it. But oh god, is it ugly.


Being a Female in Beijing


Before coming to China, I had already mentally positioned the country as a half way point between the culture in the UK and the culture in Japan, but I was majorly wrong. The main difference that has struck me between Japan and China is that I don’t have to be conscious of my gender. It may sound ridiculous to you, depending where you come from, but I’m really bowled over by how little people care I’m a woman. That’s what I’m focusing on today, and this handy little bar chart from is going to help me explain it.

hofstede for china

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions evaluate countries on specific scales that can dictate how society functions. We’ve all heard of ‘individualism’ and most have heard of the opposite end of the scale: ‘collectivism’, but this is actually only one of the six dimensions typically used by sociologists, anthropologists and many other kinds of ‘ologists’. Understanding how a country scores on each scale can facilitate understanding of the culture and is actually a pretty good starting ground if you are trying to understand a nation different to your own.

I want you to pay particular attention to the middle bars labelled ‘masculinity’. What does it mean? Traditional gender roles are a part of typically ‘masculine’ society, where men act as the bread-winner and women look after the family, but there’s more to it than that. Masculine societies are typically competitive with a focus on individual success and can be aggressively high-achievers. This applies for both men and women, where working long hours and focusing on quantifiable measures of success are common. In feminine societies people tend to be more concerned about liking what they are doing, rather than focusing on being successful. Lithuania (19), Denmark (16) and Iceland (10) all score low on masculinity; their citizens are less likely to look for praise, and that which benefits the most people is considered the best way.

My experience in Japan made me a bit apprehensive about Asian countries – which was completely nonsensical because even within Asia, Japan sticks out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, I came to China with some misguided expectations about what would and would not be okay for me to do as a woman. I think a large part of it came from concepts such as ‘leftover women’, historical depictions of foot-binding, killing daughters during the one-child policy, and maybe even Western fetishization of Chinese women.

Disclaimer: I’ve only been here for two weeks and may be naive. This is an opinion piece, and discussion is encouraged!

Fashion and Body Image

To start off, China scores the same for masculinity as the UK, meaning my role as a woman shouldn’t really change. Despite this, I have a lot more freedom about what clothes I wear. Wearing strappy tops or miniskirts don’t seem to incite the same reaction here as they do in the UK. Maybe the hot weather allows for skin to be shown, or maybe Chinese people aren’t as judgemental and quick to slut-shame.

One of my favourite things about Chinese fashion is the fad for see-through clothing, creating a layered effect where half the garment is solid and the other half gives a sneaky peak of the skin underneath. Technically you’re dressed from head to toe, but there’s actually quite a bit on show. Fashion is fun and experimental, seemingly without the risk of ‘asking for it’ and there seems to be a lot more allowance for personal taste as well. If your ‘thing’ is fashionable clothes with teddy bear appliqué no one’s going to mock you for it.

Women aren’t Objects

I feel zero pressure to ‘act like a lady’ here, unlike Japan. I remember trying to play pool in Japan and being extremely self-conscious about taking shots because it required bending over, and I was conscious that it may come across as flirtatious… despite being necessary to play the game. Pool was a very masculine sport and women were only really seen if they were taken there on a date, so it was a relief to find that I can have fun in China without worrying about how others perceive me.

Similarly, smoking in Japan is not something women do – unless they are edgy ‘gyaru’. I haven’t seen a lot of women smoking in China, but it is not uncommon and no one stares and judges me when I light up. If they did, maybe it would help me quit, but eh, for now I can do without the shame.

You know what else is great? Not getting felt up on the subway. People stare a bit because I’m White, but that quickly wears off. It’s never been sexual or predatory.

In Japan, I only got felt up on the train once, although you have to be on constant alert. It’s such a common thing that we learnt about it in our second year text book, and the train company has had to introduce female-only carriages to prevent the number of occurrences of ‘chikan’. They advise you to grab the man and pull him off the train yelling ‘chikan’ so that security can take care of it, but in such instances the woman still receives negative association, despite being the victim. Consequently, not many people are willing to confront the issue. I feel safe on the streets, in bars, and clubs. I don’t know whether workplace discrimination exists, but there are many working women who run shops, wait on, work in bakeries etc., and continues even after childbirth.

Essentially, Chinese people respect women as human beings, which is the biggest difference I have seen between China and Japan so far.

Business Seminar: Branding a Product In a New Market, Part 2

Okay, so last post I spoke about using the government’s five-year plan when entering the Chinese market, inspired by a talk from Arthur at Strategic Public Relations Group. Today I’m going to talk about how things can work in reverse – moving a Chinese company to the UK.

One member of the panel on Wednesday was Georgia Yaxley from Mobike (摩拜单车), who has just launched the brand in Manchester, UK. For those who don’t know, there are a few companies in China that allow you to rent out bikes anywhere at any time. They line the streets and can be picked up by anyone – all you need is your phone to unlock them and pay. The bikes are monitored over GPS so that the company knows where their bikes are at all times, although apparently this technology is exclusive to Mobike – other companies use the GPS on your phone and hope for the best.

Mobike has over 5 million bicycles in circulation throughout China and Singapore, making them one of the largest networks of IOT (internet of things). IOT has really taken prominence in research and design lately and some examples of the application include kettles that switch on when they know you are coming home, mobile apps that control central heating and there is talk of fridges that scan the barcodes of products put in, so that they can reorder foods when you are running low. It’s taking off, but a lot slower in the UK.

Part of Mobike’s success lies in the ease of purchase. Renting a bike is cheap and easy to do, as you only need to scan a QR code. Although most people are familiar with these codes, they are rarely used in the UK, which could cause a potential problem for the company. In order for people to see how efficient the system is, they first must know how to use QR codes and be willing to do so, so one of the first steps of marketing Mobike in the UK has been educating people on this ‘new’ method. Last year another company attempted to launch in London and did not last very long, as they had not prepared consumers. They showed up, presenting a different method than they knew and the lack of understanding led to an unsatisfactory uptake. From the sound of it, Mobike made sure that consumers knew exactly how to use the bikes and the app before launching.

Another important part of ensuring success was communication with local authorities. I’m sure it will shock no one when I say road rules are a lot more lax in China, so the idea of picking up a bike anywhere and then leaving it anywhere is a lot more feasible. In the UK, there are designated areas for everything. In order to ensure it works in the UK, Mobike have worked alongside the City of Manchester and City of Salford Councils, not only ensuring the bikes aren’t disruptive, but also feeding into cycle-to-work and green energy schemes. Thinking on this, I’m sure there are going to be more restrictions on UK cyclists than those in China, perhaps in the form of designated pick-up and drop-off points, that may impede the brand’s current way of working and inhibit how quickly they can expand the geographical area covered.

Finally, I want to talk about something Georgia mentioned about the ‘stigma of a Chinese company’. Even just that word – stigma – resonates with me. Everyone has a stereotype in their head of what China is like and how things function and, truthfully, that image is 10-20 years out of date. People still think of the ‘made in China’ label and use it to represent different prejudices – the quality is inferior, the service is bad, the employers are poorly treated – and trying to tell the world that ‘made in China’ doesn’t mean that anymore is a hard job. Changing people’s opinion is hard because they don’t like to feel that they were wrong. Rather than tackling this head-on, Mobike has opted to remove many of the overtly Chinese elements from their marketing. It’s an unfortunate but wise business move as the West doesn’t currently respect Chinese business as much as they should. I’m hoping this will change in the future as more and more brands emerge, showcasing top-quality and this may be one way to do that. Establishing Mobike as a familiar brand, only to later find out that the firm you have given your loyalty is Chinese could open up your perspective. I hope so.

Business Seminar: Branding a Product In a New Market, Part 1

Last night was the first event hosted by CRCC during my time here. I was quite excited as it was a business seminar based on branding an international product in China and vice versa, which is essentially what my entire degree is about!

We began with a talk from Arthur Hagopian from Strategic Public Relations Group, which covered the basics of the marcom (marketing communications) mix and how it needs to be tweaked for the Chinese market. He mentioned a particular case he worked on with is client Merz, an American pharmaceutical company whose global brand revolves around the idea of ‘curiosity’. Bringing this to China was a delicate matter, as curiosity is something acceptable in moderation, but could lead to some serious culture clashes if handled poorly. The way around this was to tap into a ‘childlike wonder’, which would be acceptable in the majority of countries around the world.

Most of what Arthur said was common sense if you have a background in marketing, but one thing he said stood out as something I had not considered before. The Chinese government focus on five-year plans, which are goals for social and economic development in the medium-term. As such, companies that are aligned with the government goals are more likely to have an easier time entering China. I’ve done a little bit of investigation and China’s current plan for 2016-2020 is focusing on the following areas:

  1. Innovation (modernising practice)
  2. Balance (bridging the welfare gap between urban and rural)
  3. Green (developing environmental tech)
  4. Opening up (increased international cooperation)
  5. Sharing (sharing the wealth)

There are two points on these that I think international companies are likely to neglect; namely, the welfare gap between urban and rural, as well as international cooperation.

Now I know what you’re thinking – surely the ‘international cooperation’ box is ticked by the very nature of the relationship – but it is a bit more nuanced than that. The keyword is ‘cooperation’, meaning that you can’t just enter China and do your own thing. You have to work alongside the government, work alongside Chinese investors, franchisees, and joint ventures. No one knows China better than the Chinese and setting up independently is almost certainly a recipe for failure. ASOS learnt that the hard way last year when poor research into competition and consumer behaviour resulted in them pulling out of the market with a £4m loss.

So how does an international company get around this? Typically we’re told that FDI (foreign direct investment) and joint ventures are the way to go.  FDI is flawed in that firms try to maintain their independence, changing the company they buy to comply with the rules that work abroad – which is not so smart. Joint ventures allow you to access people with the cultural, legal and economic knowledge to adapt your strategy and make it work domestically; however, after a few years they will have learnt enough from you to terminate the relationship and develop their own method moving forward.

If you want to remain independent, at least use a Chinese PR firm. So many foreign firms are misinformed about China overall and tend to forget to segment the market on a national level. This is often seen from a socio-economic standpoint, where the cities are separated into tiers. Tier 1 consists of Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shanghai, areas with dense populations and front of the curve when it comes to trends. Naturally, these cities are targeted for market entry, with the expectation that once success has been obtained, the brand can trickle down into Tier 2, and then Tier 3. This is just how it’s done, or so it seems.

As someone who comes from a rural area myself, I understand that certain things may be slower to catch on, but growing up in the middle of nowhere, I often coveted those products and services that weren’t available in my area. They would have made life easier, but instead, we had to look on as those in the cities that already had better opportunities were given even more. Even though I understand the safety of following the tried-and-tested tier system, I am interested in finding out if there are firms focusing on the lower tiers first. Is it feasible? If so, why and how does it affect future growth? This would, of course, be in line with the government initiative for balance and could potentially pose an alternative way to enter the market, even if it does appear riskier than following the crowd.

Following the presentation from Arthur, he was joined on a panel by Georgia Yexley who is part of the team exporting the Chinese company Mobike to the UK, as well as Zilin Wei (I think that’s his name) localises Chinese games for the foreign market. Mobike raised some very interesting issues both in China and abroad, but given how long this post is getting, I’ll write these up in Part Two, available tomorrow.

Catch 2.2

I want to tell you about my phone.

I was sent an email perhaps 2 hours before I traveled telling me that I would need to have my phone unlocked in order to use a Chinese sim card. I phoned Tesco (I know they get a bad rep, but they are a great service provider) and they did it in a matter of minutes, but the actual unlock will take up to 20 days. So, despite having a Chinese sim card, I can’t use it yet.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem since there is uni wifi, only my phone is an android. The only browser it has is Chrome and so the university log-in page won’t work. The app store is Google Play, which also won’t work in China, so I can’t download a different browser.

I came up with the plan today of logging onto the Macdonald’s wifi, using my VPN to get into the app store and downloading Opera – a quite clever way around it, or so I thought. It still won’t log in. I know what you’re thinking – maybe it’s the username or password. Well, how am I writing this, or this, or THIS? Because the username and password work on my laptops, that’s how.


A picture of the special promotion in Macdonald’s – a chicken and cheese burger (with an egg in it), printed with a Minion on top.

Which brings me to the solution – not the most practical, but pretty decent. I’ve used my laptop as a hotspot, meaning I can access wechat, the play store (via VPN) and everything else.

In other technological news, I bought a kettle! It seemed silly at the time but as I sit here, sipping a nice cup of coffee, it feels justified. I paid 112 RMB (about £13), but considering a cup of coffee costs 15-20 RMB and takes effort, I’ll save myself over 1000  RMB (£114) if I was to buy a cup of coffee every day – and it’s a Chinese plug, saving me precious space on my English adapter.