Category Archives: China

Return from Shanghai

Waiting for the bus that never comes
Waiting for the bus that never comes

When I arrived at Pudong airport for my trip back to Canada, I had no idea that Beijing airports had been closed for the past two days because of heavy smog. International flights bound for Beijing were diverted to Pudong. There aren’t enough jet bridges at Pudong for the planes, which end up parked away from the terminal on the tarmac. This situation caused a bottleneck due to the limited number of buses, pushback vehicles and plane staircases. This is the story of what happens when a 22-hour trip becomes a 42-hour trip.

Some arcane information about China gets revealed, like:

  • it is illegal to operate a bus after 2am
  • Chinese immigration staff are not paid time and a half for overtime, and indeed are often paid less than regular pay, which means that fewer workers will agree to work overtime

Sunday November 6, 15:15 –
Frank drops me off at Pudong airport. Unusually short lines at Air Canada check-in. This looks promising!
16:00 – Arrive at gate in main international departure lounge, see incoming Air Canada plane approach gate and then swing around to park on tarmac. I surmise that it is empty, but a half hour later, passengers emerge down stairway and into buses.
16:15 – The area is very quiet. Someone looks at the notice board at the gate: the gate has been changed from D76 to D321, across the terminal. I take a hike.
16:45 – Very crowded ground level terminal, warm and few places to sit. Lots of international and domestic flights have been moved here.
17:15 – A fellow sits down beside me. Mike Tang met me here years ago when he joined our recruitment group. At this moment we are 5 minutes to scheduled boarding, but they announce the boarding of a Tokyo flight. It’s plain that we will be delayed.
18:45 – Boarding is announced. Mike is Elite so he gets me into the priority boarding line, but we still wait in line.
19:30 – I find my seat, 54K a window seat. Later an elderly couple take their seats in I and J. The man is beside me. His wife has severe Altzheimer’s. It will be a long flight… I don’t know how I will get out to visit the washroom. I try not to think about this.
20:30 – The plane is ready to go, but there is no pushback vehicle. We are 17 in list to take off.
21:00 – We are told that the delays are due to weather, and many flights have been diverted. Still no pushback vehicle.
21:30 – It is announced that due to safety regulations, the flight crew cannot complete the flight within the allotted time, so the flight has been cancelled. We need to wait now for the staircase and buses to take us back to the airport.
22:00 – Back in the terminal. We are given small slips of paper that gives the address of the hotel that the airline is taking us to. I befriend two couples from Ohio, one couple is Jan and Patsy, two retired teachers. I’m Canadian, so I apologize for the situation. We make our way to immigration. This is disorienting. Like going through an airport while walking backwards. At the entrance to the immigration hall there’s an angry crowd of locals jeering and screaming at the immigration people. Our little entourage finally discovers the way around this problem and we make our way to the immigration hall. The 450 people from our plane seem to be joined by an equal number of mostly Japanese. I find out later that the JAL flight that boarded from our gate before us actually took off, but turned around and landed again due to heavy turbulence. There are only three immigration inspectors (no overtime pay for them).
23:30 – Finally make it through immigration. I’m separated from my American friends who get into a faster line. I join a couple of others and we find the baggage claim area.

Monday November 7, 00:00 –
We find the exit gate for the hotel buses. One is waiting but the luggage storage area is full. I’m reunited with my American friends and we wait for the next bus.
01:30 – We discover that there will be no more hotel buses, and that we must take a taxi. Buses are not allowed to run after 2am, I learn the next day. We consider simply going back to the terminal and waiting there, but we see that there are now lots of taxis, so we wait in line. My friends don’t have any RMB, but I have 400, so we decide to go in two cabs, and one couple buys 200 RMB from me for US$35.
02:00 – I get in the cab with Jan and Patsy, and it takes all 200RMB and about 30 minutes to get there.
02:30 – Check in at the Koyal Hotel. FaceTime Dorothea. See if I can get a few hours of sleep.
06:00 – Shower and shave. I receive two emails from Air Canada giving me my itinerary. The second is an adjustment of my connection to Halifax. If all goes well, I should be back home early Monday evening… we’ll see.
06:30 – Go to breakfast. There’s not much room, so I join a fellow who is the Quebec MLA for the Magdalen Islands who was in China to look for investment.
08:30 – Check out of the hotel.
09:20 – Depart hotel on bus chartered by airline. This feels more and more like a holiday charter.
10:00 – Arrive Pudong terminal 2. After running between 3 check in areas, I made my way to G check in, and waited about an hour in line before getting served. Mike Tang found me and told me to find him in the business class lounge, which I did– and had some food, a glass of wine and at his suggestion (he always does this before a long flight) take a quick shower, which are provided for elite clients. It was very warm and humid in the terminal, and the shower was very refreshing.
13:15 – On the plane in my old seat, awaiting the arrival of my elderly seat mates. I’m greeted like an old friend by the cabin crew. Everybody has been friendly and good natured, despite the misfortunes.
13:45 – Just as they are announcing that they have secured the cabin doors, my two elderly friends approach slowly down the aisle, and take their places. I’m resigned to my imprisonment. However, about 10 minutes later, one of the attendants asks if I want to move to a more open area. Two seats in the middle column are available in row 19. I say yes, that this would give the seniors more space and make it easier to get to the aisle for a washroom break. They can’t get out of their seats so I gingerly crawl over them and up to just behind the business class cabin — the seats that they charge you $150 extra so that you can stretch your legs. While waiting for pushback I have a nice conversation with the woman beside me, who is a Chinese-Canadian who is an immigration consultant. An unexpected but agreeable turn of events.

Monday 16:40 Toronto time –
Arrive on time, processed through customs, and board flight to Halifax. Hanno and Rika also on this flight, returning from Munich.

20:20 Halifax time –
Home again!

Critical Design Symposium at Foshan University

Critical Design keynote
Critical Design keynote

While in Foshan, I was asked to give a keynote presentation for a short symposium on “Critical Design.” Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby say that “Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life… Its opposite is affirmative design: design that reinforces the status quo.”I started with a historical perspective by leading my Chinese listeners into an overview of the Paris Uprising in 1968. I linked the start of the Cultural Revolution with the student-driven ferment in France, Poland and the United States at the same time. I introduced the Situationist International, Guy Debord and his book “The Society of the Spectacle”:

…In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation…
…The spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute. All it says is: “Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear.”…
…The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images…

Panel Discussion
Panel Discussion

I followed this with an introduction of Marshall McLuhan, who was active in Canada at this time, the launch of Adbusters in 1989, and Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” as examples of the beginnings of a critical discourse around the role of (mainly graphic) design in late 20th-century society. The rest of the talk was showing some examples from Dunne and Raby, Viktor Hertz, The Hypothetical Development Organization, Randy Sarafan, and, of course, my own efforts, including the Shy Dildo, Clock with Tics and Media Circus.

My point was this: it’s good to have clients and it’s good to have problems to solve, but designers should question societal norms from time to time. Sometimes it is necessary for a designer to take an opposing position, if for nothing else but to clear out the cobwebs of sycophantic thinking. Often, the most innovative design comes out of a process that is critical of current practices and presumptions.

After a short question-and-answer session with the audience, which included members of the Foshan Design Association in addition to students in the Art and Design school (and at least one very articulate Business School student), I was joined on a panel by several members of the design community, including Renato Franchini from Modena, Italy.

The Foshan University report is here.

The Google Translate version is below:

The afternoon of November 22, the ceramic (jewelry) College of Art and Design, and Foshan Design Enterprises Association jointly organized the exchange of design innovation. The General Assembly has invited Canada Nova Art and Design University (NSCAD University) the Design Branch President, Professor Michael LeBlanc entitled “Critical Design” keynote speech. Professor Michael invitation by the College of Science and Technology of Foshan ceramic (jewelry) College of Art and Design, and come to my school for industrial design students held a design workshop international educational exchange activities.

In exchange meeting, the Mr. Michael Professor and Italian designer Renato Franchini, ceramics (jewelry) Associate Dean of the School of Art and Design Professor Fan Jinsong, Foshan Design Enterprises Association, Mr. Liu Guangxiao the Foshan design corporate vice president of the Association Mr. Gao Zhanhui, Foshan design corporate vice president of the Association, Mr. Deng Ruihua together with Foshan local designers will my school teachers and students interact and communicate well.

Design Workshop: Electricity Access for Consumers

The class
The class

Foshan University’s School of Art and Design invited me to do a seven-day workshop with their 4th-year Industrial Design class last November. I made some friends, learned much, and it was a lot of fun. I was assisted by Prof. Jack Fan and Instructor Phoebe Guo, who alternated acting as advisors and interpreters. I should note here that all Chinese universities require entering students to have some level of English proficiency: arts and sciences generally have a high requirement, but Art Design students in China are not expected to have as high a level of English proficiency. However, there is a lot that can be communicated with drawing, and as long as I had a pencil (or stylus and iPad), I could make myself understood, and my students could do the same for me.

I had six classes in the studio with the students:

Thursday Nov. 15: Introduction class with Prof. Jack Fan
Friday Nov. 16:Make Your Classroom” with Phoebe Guo
Monday Nov. 19: Studio work and class review with Jack Fan
Tuesday Nov. 20: Studio work and class review with Phoebe Guo
Wednesday Nov. 21: Studio work and class review, with Jack Fan, Shelly Luo and Li Yueqiong
Thursday Nov. 22: Critical Design Symposium—no studio class
Friday Nov. 23: Student presentations of their work with Jack Fan, Phoebe Guo and Shelly Luo

I'm reviewing work, with LI Yueqiong and Shelly Luo looking on.
I’m reviewing work, with LI Yueqiong and Shelly Luo looking on.

The theme of the workshop was to explore how to get electricity from a wall outlet to an appliance. Although most of the design submissions centred around power bars and extension cords, I urged them to pursue their curiosity and think about new or alternative materials and approaches.

We started things with a discussion of the question: how do we use the electricity that comes to our homes and offices as alternating current, 120 or 220 volts?

We then looked at:

  • different world standards of plugs and sockets, including two- and three-prong devices
  • the difference between alternating and direct current
  • the nature of conductors and insulators and general safety issues
  • the problem of a limited number of electrical sockets and an expanding number of electrical devices
Jack Fan (right) acting as interpreter.
Jack Fan (right) acting as interpreter.

This last point is where I disclosed my project (to be discussed in a later post), which attempts to address the problem of small transformer crowding on power bars. When I had proposed the workshop, I was hoping to interest a local consumer electrical device manufacturer in developing my idea, which would have resulted in a working (electrically working, that is) prototype. Unfortunately, there were no takers, so Jack proposed that we ask another instructor, Shelly Luo, to help me model a design in Solidworks and then render it out in 3D. The result will be two prototypes (minus the electrical connections) produced using a computer aided milling machine. There were many local agencies that do this for students for a very reasonable price, compared to North America. We didn’t have time to output the prototypes before I had to go, so we will wait until my next trip in March to pick it up. It could be shipped, but I’m in no rush.

Student Work

I’m presenting here the work of ten students who I felt had genuinely benefitted from the workshop and came up with some really interesting ideas and/or exceptional execution—given the short time frame. The students were asked to submit process books of their developmental work, including research material and drawings, along with final renderings in Solidworks or 3D Studio Max.

ZHINAN Liang, like many of the students in the class, were interested in pursuing the problem of socket crowding. He had several ideas, but ended up with a pentagon-shaped device that had sockets for the different plugs in common use in Asia.

ZHANG Yuchao is an excellent draughtsman, and had many good ideas. One idea that he presented mid-way through the workshop was for a charging station. I was very enthusiastic about this, because I had just seen a piece about ad-hoc phone charging stations in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. I think that his idea for an emergency charging station has real potential.

HUANG Keyu’s ring/cell power bar has five three-prong sockets. The sockets can be rotated about relative to each other by means of acrylic arms that hold the electrical wiring and also illuminate when source power is available. The power bar can be placed on the wall as an ornament. Some commercial potential here, I think.

TANG Jingheng’s idea is for a portable power bar in three sections that folds. I would have preferred to see the ability of the unit to fold neatly into a packet to save space, but only two sections do so at the moment.

LUN Huanyi had an interesting idea to allow the HOT, COLD and NEUTRAL sockets to move independently on rails behind the front of the module, making it possible to infinitely reconfigure the sockets and provide for several different styles of plug. The idea is good and I’d like to see more work to develop it further.

GUAN Mingan was full of ideas and much time was spent winnowing through the ideas to concentrate on just one. I encouraged him to think beyond practicality and consider something more speculative: a robot-controlled power bar. This is a three-wheeled device that’s controlled by a small infrared remote.

FANG Cuihua had difficulty coming up with an idea but her concept of a portable power bar in a collapsable tube is nonetheless well-executed and has exceptional attention to detail.

GAN Chaoping, one of the students just returned from a visit to RMIT, also had several good ideas. The one he chose to develop he calls his “Multi-purpose platoon insert design”. This power bar has cube and diamond shaped modules that make connection to the mains power through a conductive bar that runs through the middle of each cube. The cubes can accommodate all styles of plug currently in use in China. Another excellent effort that has some commercial potential.

CHEN Benzhao’s idea was to dispense with the current socket styles and create a new standard that could fit into a plugboard of evenly-spaced sockets. Unfortunately his image doesn’t render the holes with uniform spacing.

GUAN Baoyu proposed a power bar based, I think, on a well-known Chinese story of the Han Dynasty warlord Cao Cao. Her “dislocation puzzle socket” conveys electricity to the sockets from the base; these puzzle sockets can be rotated at 90° increments.