Today’s Office is a farmhouse in Aishanmen, nestled between paddy fields and karst mountains – a perfect location to detox from Shanghai and provide some mental space before diving feet first into the next project.
There’s something about a post flight, late night picnic in the company of the farmer’s friends: squat stools surrounding a small table laden with local delicacies, organic vegetables from the surrounding fields, a freshly slaughtered pig, a plate piled high with duck neck, a rainbow of peppers. The river drifting lazily by is a mixed blessing: on the one hand it provides the promise of a late night dip, on the other it’s a breeding ground for the mosquitos drawn to the embers of our stove. The occasional firefly flares its way into our proximity, nature’s special effects, before disappearing into the night. The talk around the table is a mixture of mandarin, plus provincial and village dialects, fuelled by beer games and punctured by the ritualistic tapping of cans on plates. The local ladies like to drink.
I was in two minds about coming here – Guilin (75km away) and its surrounds are popular tourist destinations, there are so many incredibly remote and incredibly beautiful places in China. But the choice was spot on, the village is quiet (even today being a national holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival), and there’s a report on Chinese tourism that we’re working on in need of some photos. I’m giving the custom luggage another trip before building the next prototype.
A classic, heavy black Feng Huang bicycle comes with the room triggering memories of one of first trip to Beijing: cycling for a full day mid-winter from Tiananmen Square past concentric ring roads, through the suburbs, then factories, dormitories and fields before coming across a village where, chancing upon a farmer sitting by the side of the road with his daughter I dismounted and handed him the keys and hitched a ride back into the city.
A colleague later reminded me that in some parts of the country a bicycle can serve as part of a dowry.
I moved to China two years ago to be closer to a country and culture that I’ve visited many times, and even with this stint don’t pretend to know – its simply too diverse, too vast, to fast changing. The business I’m in provides a unique and occasionally stable perspective, with ongoing studies that span provinces and demographics from entrepreneurs looking for ways to spend their fortunes through to migrant workers scraping by day-to-day and the multitudes in between. Aside from the polyglottal team in the studio, I’ve had the good fortune to have worked alongside two talented assistants for non-work-but-could-be-work projects that ranged from tracking down the source of translations that appear on rip-off DVDs only hours after being broadcast in Moscow/New York/Paris through to a series of experiments into the Chinese national psyche. Thanks to Francesca and Lily for dealing with the quirkier side of my research (which can get pretty damn quirky).
Right now the contents of my apartment is sitting in a container on Shanghai docks and will, customs officials allowing reappear in month or so in San Francisco, my next home (my role remains the same: heading up global insights, all be it in closer proximity to the motherships and the many people I need to interface with). The tide of night calls will switch to early mornings.
It feels good to head out of a country with great experiences, no regrets, and a longer list of places to visit on return.
Swapping the green of Aishanmen for Doha on Sunday, followed by a couple of weeks in Rwanda with the team. It’s all go.
Thought for today: if you want to understand where the world is heading in your domain where do you need to be? What do you need to experience? And why aren’t you there already?
M: this one’s for you.