Whilst the team has traveled across time zones to be here, in many ways our journey starts here in the hot bustling haze of today’s on the fly office – Beijing’s West Station. The last time I passed through these hallowed halls was wrapped up to the 11’s to board a train for a mid-winter jolly in Mongolia and if the allure then was to pause and reflect purpose now is to feel our way around the challenge of designing [redacted].
The train from Beijing to Handan takes four hours, time spent in the company of a mixture of working-under-the-sun country folk, city slickers, an dormitory’s worth of university students returning home for their summer vacation. Pleasantly there’s also a couple of teens who appearance I can only describe as chemo – a rawer, punk induced Chinese variant of emo. Making sense of the fashion here is a art-form that requires an understanding of local tastes, international fashion, and knowing what international brands are currently being manufactured locally – sooner or later it shows up on the streets and back alleys. Tip for the future? That little known brand called Made in China.
A last-minute switch to an earlier morning train means we have standing-only tickets although it turns out this is no barrier to taking a seat on the over-crowded train – so friendly are the locals to the strangers in their midst that the seats designed to take two cheeks are pushed to accommodate threes and fours. It’s time to ad-hoc the local nuances of train travel: the first challenge of the day is to turn a slightly suspicious captive audience in to a captivated audience. Let the games begin.