THE ART OF FREQUENT HAPPINESS

After an extended period of silence, the A Little Bit Apparel (ALBA) blog is finally back! This time the blog is in the able hands of our cartoonist Vali!

ALBA is in the middle of a crowd funding campaign!

crowdfunding title pic

Any other reference just wouldn’t be epic enough.

While our crowd funding platform is hosted in China, foreigners outside of China can still donate through our website at www.alittlebitapparel.com.

Shameless plugs out of the way; what I really want to talk about in this post is character creation. Since the creation of Mort about a year and a half ago, his story has slowly begun to unfold. He’s a workaholic Grim Reaper that gets assigned to China in order to figure out where the efficiency gaps are and get the China branch running properly. That was comic book one. In preparation for drawing comic book two, I’ve had to come up with a litany of supporting characters for Mort to interact with. Most of them came without effort. I knew what aspects of Chinese society I needed to represent and what characters from traditional folklore would be best suited to the task.

There’s the self-centered lazy boss Yan Wang:

Yan Wang Character Bio Chinese lossy

Then there’s Hei Bai Wuchang (just call them Black and White); two lazy, mean-spirited, and mildly sycophantic Reapers that serve as Mort’s primary antagonists:

Heibei Character Bio Chinese lossy

Zao, a slovenly Kitchen God and Mort’s flat-mate, serves as a foil to Mort’s obsession with order and cleanliness.

Zaoshen character sheet lossy

Bella is a vibrant Fox Fairy that embraces life, learning, and all things fun. Very few people in China are like this so I wanted to create a character that I thought could serve as a positive (female) role model:

Bella Character Bio Chinese lossy

The script for the second comic book calls for Mort to have a love interest. Her name is Chang Lele(常乐乐), which roughly translates to “Frequent Happiness”. Most of the other character designs came quite readily, but the design for Lele had been vexing me for almost half a year. The problem being that Lele is deliberately a boring character. Like many young Chinese her life has been controlled by the whims of her parents. In the case of Lele this control has been complete.

the asian way of life

Chinese life goes a little bit like this.

As a result Lele isn’t “lele” at all. That will change in the course of the book, but for the time I was faced with the challenge of drawing a somewhat pretty, but otherwise boring and defeated character that looks like she belongs in Mort’s world. This is not as easy as it sounds. So how does one go about it?

First thing I had to do was consider the design elements:

-Boring

-Defeated

-Somewhat pretty

-Typical Chinese

-Looks natural next to the other characters

My first attempts didn’t go all that well. They were either too pretty, too vibrant, or looked unnatural when placed next to Mort. Here’s my first attempt:

changlele concept 1

This one was wrong on so many levels. I modeled on a friend of mine and she came out too pretty, too smart, and too vibrant. Our little guy is cute, but this girl is just out of Mort’s league. For the next attempt, I tried to make a more typically Chinese woman:

changlele concept 2

A little better this time, but too mature, and still to vibrant by far. I tried to mirror Mort a little bit in her colour scheme, but it still didn’t feel right. After a few months of grueling preparations for our crowd funding campaign, (www.alittlebitapparel.com *ahem*) I finally got to sit back down and really think about Miss Chang. I went out to a busy mall coffee shop and began to observe the female patrons. In a professional manner, mind you. I paid attention to hair styles, facial structures, eyebrows, and expressions. You can see my sketch sheet below:

changlele concept sketches

You can see in the top right that once again I’ve listed my design points. The first few on the top row were done with a similar approach that Disney uses to design their female leads. It became readily apparent that these characters wouldn’t work, the use of a circle as the base design makes them potential once again to be too vibrant.   I began to play with the geometry of the head in the second row, keeping to rounded shapes. You can see that I got very excited with the second character from the left on the bottom row. The design notes beside her will clue you in to where this is going. She’s still too intelligent looking, but now she looks jaded and she’s not too pretty. Instead of relying on colour to connect her to Mort, I went ahead and added a few minor shapes that allude to our bony little protagonist. The peak in her hair part isn’t too dissimilar to the peak at the front part of Mort’s hood. I also stumbled upon a great little design element with this sketch: straight lines. As a cartoonist I love dynamic characters. Reciprocal curves are eye candy that I distribute liberally. Obvious as it may seem, this sketch reminded me that straight lines are boring. I would employ this idea into the final sketch:

changlele design

You might notice that I’ve added a couple more of Mort’s design characteristics in this sketch. Her trousers bunch up over her feet, much like Mort’s robe does. The extremities of her clothing flare out into angular shapes, which is also reminiscent of Mort. These elements become more obvious when you add a splash of paint and put the two together.

Changlele with Mort

Just look at the happy couple.

With Chang Lele finally out of the way, I can now set to work on Mort Comic Book 2!

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My Secret To Success

Confidence-Quotes-35

Recently  a lot of people have been asking me the same question – what is the secret behind ALBA’s rapid advancement? As foreigners starting a business in China, we have encountered a lot of challenges that we had to solve by ourselves. At the beginning I thought I didn’t have enough knowledge and experience. Then there was other issues such as cultural differences, language, and finding a partner.  We overcame all these problems by ourselves. After surmounting one challenge after another I came to the realization that something had changed.  As we overcame obstacles, our level of confidence grew.  As our confidence grew, we began to feel that everything was possible. When we started to believe that all things are possible, pieces started to fall together the way we imagined them. Success is a journey of vision, goals, action, taking responsibility for our actions, persistence, and knowledge.

 

 

 “ It’s better to have your own vision than to be part of somebody else’s vision”

 

The greatest secret I discovered during the ALBA journey is that we can be everything we want, but we don’t know it. People don’t dare to have big dreams because they are afraid of failures, because with failure comes criticism. We learned our most precious lessons from our mistakes, and I often wish I made even more mistakes so I could have learned faster.  These are the lesson’s I’ve learned so far:

 

Be confident in yourself – dare to dream big. Don’t listen to naysayers. Don’t let other people impose their limiting beliefs on you. Don’t nurture your own self-limiting beliefs. Always trust yourself, be positive and enthusiastic. Things happen for a reason that might not be immediately obvious.

It took courage give up on a conventional job to start ALBA, but that turned out to be the hardest part in the process. As soon as I made that decision all the pieces started to fall into place.

 

“You don’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets”

 

To dream big is not enough. You must have specific, realistic and measureable goals. In life nothing comes to us if we sit and wait for it to happen. It’s ACTION that differentiates the winners from the losers. Things start in our mind first, then we need to take action and realize it. We are the only ones that are the responsible for our own lives, therefore we must take full responsibility for our actions. The bigger the challenge that you overcome, the more your level of confidence will grow. Motivation grows alongside confidence, and before long, you become unstoppable.  If it seems difficult, refuse to give excuses. Excuses will only slow you down. Be persistent when things get rough. Instead of finding excuses to give up,  take small steps that bring you closer to your goals. Take small steps every day and stay 100 % focused.

 

Things for us haven’t been easy at all. There were many times toward the beginning that we thought to quit. Every plan had an obstacle, but whenever we took action and remained persistent, the solution was almost always quick at hand. All our failures were lessons that brought us to where we are today. Having overcome so many challenges was what led to our increased self confidence.

“Success is a journey, not a single event”

 

What really brings success is the motivation to stay focused until success happens. The best thing for maintaining this level of focus is to choose to do something that you really enjoy. If money is your only motivation, then you’ll watch as people break down when the obstacles start lining up. There is a price to pay first.  Sacrifice first, then succeed.  It is never the other way around.  Success is a mindset that needs to be developed. Just keep doing what you know it takes in order to succeed, and when it hits, after all the hard work you’ve done – you won’t be surprised with your success.

 

It has been close to year since I stopped working for other people.  Vali  left his job a couple months ago. People wonder how we manage to support ourselves.  We know that this is the sacrifice that we have to make in order to stay focused and ensure ALBA’s success.  We both know success is close, and it’s coming soon.

 

It makes me very proud to see that our confidence has helped to create the ALBA dream and that it has attracted a lot of people who believe in it and are inspired by us. I am very glad to  have found passionate people who are willing to pursue their dreams alongside us. These people are devoted to ALBA and have taken time to do things for our cause even when they are tired from their daily grind.  If nothing else, they still take time to be a part of the community. I am most grateful to see  that our community functions as one big family that cares for each other. We’re expanding every day.


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Timi the Bao’an

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For most countries, the responsibility of street-level law enforcement is relegated to single organization; China however is rife with them. Among these enforcers are the Bao’an, an unarmed branch of Chinese law enforcement. Unlike police, Bao’an have little means by which to enforce anything. By western standards, they are under-trained and generally have a disheveled look about them. As such they often broker little respect from others. Not long ago however, our activities with ALBA caught the interest of one of these individuals, as we have gotten to know him we have consummately impressed by his dynamism and depth of personality.

Wang Yuehou, we often refer to him as “Timi”, was born in Hubei province in the late 80s. He grew up in a broken home, which in China is a very uncommon occurrence. Disappointment and sadness were heavy in his voice as he explained how his home situation isolated him and was the cause for many of the taunts he endured from his classmates during primary school.

The taunts didn’t last long however. At age 11 Timi left school and began working in a restaurant. After a time there he began work with his brothers making furniture. From furniture making, he moved on to painting walls. Always eager to learn more and advance himself, Timi views his previous jobs as failures for their lack of such opportunities. It was after his tenure as a painter in Tianjin that Timi finally came to Beijing and took a position with the Bao’an, a job he has only held for the past 3 months.

When asked about why he took the position, he states that he had hoped he would be able to advance himself and his knowledge by working with the Bao’an. While he states that his expectations in this respect haven’t been met, he is fortunate enough to be charged with monitoring the very busy Nanluo Guxiang shopping street, a street littered with unique boutique stores that sell a wide range of interesting goods. It is also a place we frequently go to draw on the street and spread the word about our brand ALBA. It was there that we first met.

Bao’an have a rough job. Wages are meager, hours are long, days off are almost non-existent. Frustration is further compounded by the lack of respect that many of them have to endure while trying to maintain some semblance of order. The job does have its perks however. While the hours are long, down time is spaced in such a way that motivated individuals can still find time to study other things. Bao’an are also often used to run security for concerts and other events, which means that they occasionally get to take in a free show. As an additional perk, the area that Timi works in has given him opportunity to expose himself to many of the products that are sold in the area, which plays into his other interest: e-commerce.

Over the course of our discussions we have come to find that Timi is fascinated by e-commerce. He is resolved to learn how to use Taobao, China’s top e-commerce platform, and start his own shop. His interests extend well beyond that though. He is keen to learn everything from language, to music, to art, and beyond. His ultimate goal however, is to get the opportunity to travel abroad.

Timi told us that his involvement with ALBA and our fan-club/creative circle has encouraged him to pursue his interests further, especially when it comes to design, e-commerce, and marketing. In turn he has been very kind and helpful by letting us know what to expect each time we go out to his area to spread the word about ALBA.

Timi really is a diamond in the rough. He is a dynamic individual with a voracious appetite for learning and being creative. His drive to learn more and improve himself is inspiring. We are very happy to have him as a member of our group, and hope that he will be able to use the community we are building to reach his goals.

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So what is it that the 90’s generation fears most?

There’s a war raging in China.  I recently heard from some of my students born in the 90’s that a generation war has erupted on the internet.  Those born in the 90’s are in a pitched flame war with the kids born after the year 2000.  This came as shock to me, and I was very confused after hearing  about it.  I went on to ask:

“But aren’t you the most creative, the most popular generation in China now?! Isn’t this the time when most of you are starting to work and getting ready to make a difference in China?!  Why would you fight against a generation whose eldest soldier is just 14 years old?! “

child soldier                                        Thankfully not this kind of soldier.

“ They say we are an expired product on the market, old of age and still very traditional, therefore the world doesn’t belong to us, but to them. They are the mainstream, not us.”

The feeling of generational separation in the west isn’t that pronounced, so I couldn’t understand.  Could the traditional generation classifications of China really be that accurate, or is it just another way for them to pigeonhole themselves? Every generation brings something new to the world, but those new ideas have to come after the ideas of the previous generation have been exhausted.

Regardless, the animosity continues.  What exactly are these barely pubescent upstarts like?

For starters, there is a large disconnect between the two generations.  Those born in the 90’s can’t seem to understand what the Aughts are talking about most of the time.  I have been told that “Their ideas are strange.”  Many of them started using tablet computers at age 3, and “fall in love” at age 7, and they are almost completely engrossed in foreign culture.  The Aughts are so focused on foreign culture that they often forget about the Chinese culture. They are convinced that China can’t satisfy their demands, d rarely have China in mind when talking about their future.  They often chide the 90’s kids about only exposing themselves to Korean and Japanese culture.

tentacleThey probably caught one glimpse of tentacle porn and decided the outside world was too scary.

From the perspective Chinese born after 2000, the previous generations don’t love themselves enough, especially those born in the 90s.  Unlike the previous generation, these kids refuse to Photoshop pictures of themselves; they see themselves as individuals, perfect.  Though still quite young, they have a strong joie de vivre.  Unlike previous generations they are more apt to pursue their dating interests, something that up until this point in China was relegated to sometime around college, when your parents said it was okay.

arranged marriage

The post-2000 generation is quick to remind the 90’s generation that they are younger than them.  Sometimes this practice becomes downright antagonistic.  It isn’t unheard of for a teenager to address a 20-something as “Auntie” or even “Grandmother/Grandfather” in order to get a rise out of them.  In turn the 90’s generation chide the younger generation for being insipid children.

just me and my pubes

In fact, both generations are still quite young and naive.  They fail to recognize that each generation builds off the previous ones, and that by engaging in a generational flame war that they are being histrionic and blowing things out of proportion.  It does seem though that every subsequent generation in China is trending more toward creative thinking and global mentality.  This is something that I am glad to see, because it bodes well for China.  Also, I think it is going to be very fun to watch the next round ten years from now when those born post 2010 begin to come of age and begin antagonizing the Aughts in the same manner that they tease the 90’s generation.

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The 90’s in China: The Rise of Creativity and the Decline of Tradition

90s in China

 

 

I remember last year when we were still figuring out ALBA’s strategy and the nature of our designs; I had the chance to talk to one of my former students who was born in the 90’s.  She is now a very good friend.  Tragically, her father has compelled her to major in petroleum geology, but deep down her desire is to paint. I told her about our brand ALBA, and our intent to target the young Chinese generation.  I explained that we wanted our designs to take concepts from traditional Chinese stories, even “chengyu” (Chinese idiom stories) and turn them into funny T-shirt designs. I told her that we had already bought books about chengyus, and were now researching design ideas.  The reply that came out from her mouth rattled me like thunder.

“We don’t really care about tradition at all! We only care about things related to ourselves!I don’t really believe that your brand will succeed.  Many people start companies that die out too soon.”

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-10“These days there are a portion of young people who are not very concerned with the development of China and the world, only caring about themselves, ignoring many of the people and matters around them.” Guangxi, Jia Jia, 25 years old, (day) mobile phone after sales service / (evening) self-studying marketing management / (night) professional nightclub dancer.

Shocked from her reply, I realized how wrong we were about our strategy.  As I struggled to come back around to myself, I found myself grateful that finally I found someone who could tell me straight to my face that I was wrong.  This young friend didn’t care about hurting my feelings, which was the case with all my other friends helping me at that time. I thanked her and asked if she would be willing to help us. Soon after that she helped us come up with a brilliant idea about our brand mascot. It was then I realized that the kids of the 90’s generation in China are incredibly creative. The question was, did they know?

Previous generations in China seem to lack this quality. The personal focus of each generation has varied according to the stages of China’s rapid development.  Those born in the 70’s, growing up at the time when China was still considered a poor country, put their personal values second in favor of society. They were looking to settle and have a happy family life.  To them, change is often seen as something that brings discomfort. Many have no interest in pursuing personal interests, let alone expressing their own ideas and creativity.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-27“Do whatever you want in your life. Because you might DIE tomorrow.” Hong Kong, Sarah Yup, 22 years old, investment bank receptionist.

As society started to change, the “iron rice bowl” began to disappear, and the price of the housing skyrocketed, those born in the 80’s inherited significant financial pressure. Realizing that for some of them buying a house might be just a dream, growing up without siblings, and increased work pressure has led them to place focus on their friends.  They also spend much of their free time and money on trying out restaurants, going to shopping malls, and browsing the internet – where they go to meet new friends. They are goal oriented and consider themselves individuals who want to try out new things.  However, they carefully choose safe environments and trends to follow.  They are often not complete individuals because they still closely follow the trends of the masses instead of pursuing their own interests.

Most of those born in the 90s are still in school and supported by their parents, they do not feel any financial pressure yet. This generation’s values have shifted from society oriented to self oriented.  By focusing on themselves, they are giving themselves the opportunity to express what really lies in them – the inborn creativity given to all of us from birth. They have become known for being a realistic, selfish, hopeless generation with a laissez faire attitude towards life, seeking opportunities to express themselves. As such, they are completely different than any previous generations.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-02“In adults’ eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.” Gansu, Chow Liang, 17 years old, hair stylist student on way to see father who works in another province.

They are jaded.  The hopelessness and depression they often feel results from the lack of excitement from the traditional system.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-09

“I think it’s time for us to STAND UP FOR OURSELVES & be WHO WE REALLY ARE!” Guangdong, Jell Zhu, 22 years old, communications student.

Their teachers can’t find ways to hold their interest with the traditional boring lectures. The tiger moms and eagle dads don’t understand why their child is giving so much resistance to their insistence that they get married

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-20   “Why people must get married?” Beijing, Meng Hai Lin, 29 years old, mobile phone engineer.

or become a doctor or a lawyer.  Despite their reputation with the older generations, for the first time, volunteerism in China has reached previously unmatched levels as a result of this generation’s involvement.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-12   “I want to save people’s lives.” Qinghai, Heng She Dong, 16 years old, junior high school student.

They also do not idolize celebrities as much as the previous generations. They are their own idols, in love with themselves.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-16“I want to walk my own path, I don’t want other people telling me what to do.” Henan, Jiang Min, 24 years old, farmer.

They are full of creativity and fresh ideas, looking for opportunities and freedom of self-expression.  They are searching for a different way to do things, their own idiom by which they can bring about a better future for their nation.

adrian-fisk-ispeak-china-what-are-chinese-youth-thinking-25“I want to associated with people from different cultures.” Guangdong, Ray Chuang, 20 years old, economic trading student.

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So this is the generation that will change China?!

Fancy-Hair-Boy-Edit1Behold the Savior of China’s future.

Recently I was talking with a young friend who told me that the management of her company was considering to organize a workshops on “how to communicate with Millennial’s”.  I found it incredibly humorous, but it was this moment that it became clear to me how different the younger generation is from their older coworkers.  I was also recently made aware of another interesting example is that of a Chinese general  saying that this generation kids are way too spoiled, weak, and even went as far to refer to them as effeminate!

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“Whatever, we’ve been cross-dressing for like, 5000 years!”

 Along with several other aspects of their upbringing, international exposure has caused this generation of young people to start questioning the values of the traditional system in China.  In face of the relentless chiding of the older generations, They often eschew tradition, shaking things up without causing the kind of revolution that their grandparents enjoyed so much.

cultural revolution Look at them, just a bunch of crazy kids out having fun.

 

Being employed by a famous company is becoming less of a motivational factor for this young people to make them work hard, complete boring routine daily tasks, let alone to think about staying with said employer until the day they retire. Instead they are looking for challenging and meaningful work. This is becoming a perceived threat to managers who are unable to produce those challenging and exciting tasks at the speed the Millennials request them. These people pose a significant challenge to their managers to be creative about creative tasks and responsibilities. HR Departments are often shocked to receive so many CVs of job-hoppers (which was previously the No 1 item on  their “Do Not Hire” list ). Furthermore,  the turnover rates are high compared to the time when the older generation began work, making HR professionals wonder “What’s wrong with these young people?!” The traditional management structure that worked for decades, no longer works for these young people who are looking for motivation, learning opportunities, and challenges that will help them get promoted faster. For many of them the biggest challenge in their work is that there is no challenge at all.   This often leads to office ennui and many hours spent perusing the internet.

dilbert Not at all like western companies.

This generation is leading a revolution of thought, and I for one, support it.  Seeing their creativity, learning about their dreams has inspired me to do what I can to help these young people to achieve their goals.  Since we are starting a creative brand for the young people, we decided that helping the youth in China to achieve their dreams through realizing their creative confidence,  should be our primary mission.  That’s how the ALBA Fan Club was born.

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Changing Values

Six years as an English teacher in China have provided me with the opportunity to meet people from different generations and industries. I have gained a clear insight into how different generations exhibit different values towards society. I have come to the fascinating realization, that the Millennials of China are radically different from any generations prior to them.

In the west, there are certain differences between generations, but they’re not as pronounced they are between generations in China. There are a few reasons for this. In traditional Chinese thought the Confucian concept of filial piety dictates that the first born son is responsible for the well-being of the older generation. The introduction of the one child policy in China has forced this burden upon the first and only child of a family, and has made parents put “all their eggs into one basket”.

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As a result, the parents (and grandparents) focus completely on a single child’s wants and needs, which in turn has led to the creation of “little emperors”- children used to getting everything they want.

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Some are not so little.

 

As China’s economic situation has rapidly improved over the past 40 years, so has the standard of living. Parents now have a wider range of options of things to provide their children with that they themselves never had a chance for. This has instilled in this generation a level of confidence and self worth that is impossible for the previous generations to match. Furthermore, with China’s rapid technological advancement the Millennials have reaped a bulk of the benefits as China finally catches up to the Western world. This includes unprecedented global connectivity which has given them opportunities to connect with people around the world, and to have immediate access to information through micro blogging. With all these competencies, the Millennials are in for something different.

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i.e.- Not this.

Perhaps the last generation to enjoy the benefits of the “iron rice bowl”, China’s Generation X and generations prior developed their self worth through hard work and loyalty to their employer. They took pride in working for a famous employer. Their personal values are often a reflection of the employer’s values. In comparison, pampered and doted upon since they were born, the Millennials grew up assured of their own self worth, which has made them feel confident if not entitled. Their search for values began within themselves. For them the focus of self-worth has shifted from outside (e.g. companies, society) to inside (i.e. self). They don’t share the dreams of their employers, they are more inclined to pursue their own dreams. Even if they don’t know what they want, when they start their first jobs, they usually have an insatiable, voracious thirst for knowledge and experience which will help them to realize their potential and show others that they can make a difference.

Everything said, when these children get a foot in the door of their first employer, and are faced with a traditional system which solely reflects the values of the older generations, these young people are often able to confidently reply with a “ No thank you, I am individual, not a drone. I deserve to be treated as such. ”

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Kids these days.

 

Realizing this trend, It is now very clear to me that China is slowly breaking away from the tradition, and it is exactly this generation that will make a difference in the future.

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Last summer we were still debating how to increase the number of our online followers. Our initial approach was to use our friends as Chinese humour consultants and entice followers through our borrowed witticisms. We realized that in doing this, we were no better than Aesop’s jackdaw, borrowing the plumes of others in order to succeed. By trying to be what we weren’t, all we were doing was complicating our own lives. Each time when we tried to work with our “Chinese humor consultants” to develop new social media posts, or a story for our comic that our Chinese audience would like, we realized we weren’t happy with it, that it just wasn’t us. Trying to follow the mentality of the Chinese people, and be like them only made us look silly in their eyes; not to mention the frustration we were enduring as we nervously followed our number of followers like ticker tape. Somehow it fluctuated, but always seemed to remain around one hundred. One day, in a fit of exasperation we concluded that this approach wasn’t taking us anywhere. We decided we had to take the risk, be western, and ergo, true to ourselves. In essence, we would never be Chinese no matter how hard we tried to tape our eyes to look so.

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Our makeup didn’t go over well either.

Vali, when put under extreme pressure by yours truly, is a font of lucrative ideas. And so it was that under ultimatum, he came up with the brilliant idea to go out to heavily trafficked areas with an easel and hold drawing sessions. Chinese social media certainly wasn’t our strength, so it held that a drawing session would be the perfect opportunity for our target audience to meet us, talk to us, get to know more about what we are doing…and then follow our official WeChat and Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter). With a big easel in tow, a large pad of paper, and a large attractive sign, we set off for the nearest tourist trap. We looked so professional. We also made the effort to create flyers with both our codes to give to those pansies that wanted to “think about it first”.

This method has worked wonders for us. We go out to the 798 Art District and to the famed tourist street, Nanluoguxiang every Saturday. It has been at those times that we have met our fans to listen to their feedback and suggestions about how we can improve and get people to like us.

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Please Like Us.

We have also garnered a lot of business opportunities from this activity, aroused the media interest, educated and established a strong interest with our fans, and met our first potential employees. Having to stand outside for 2-3 hours in the freezing weather was grueling, but it was so much fun meeting and talk to our new fans. Many times it felt like we were in an episode of “The Apprentice”, facing big challenges and combining different creative methods to complete our goals before our sales started in the spring.

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Minus Donald’s sentient hairpiece.

Beijing is famous for pollution, it might be the city’s number one export, but thankfully, somehow every Saturday there would be a strong wind that would blow the pollution away at least for that day. When the fireworks and firecrackers of Spring festival brought with them a blanket of pollution that smothered the city, we switched back to an online mode of operations. This time though, we had followers to help us.

We’ve finally accepted, we’ll never be Chinese.

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My Wonderful, Futile Search

A Difference in What Drives Us

As we’ve touched upon before, the thought processes of a business professional and an artist are radically different. 

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This man obviously cared a great deal about his investment portfolio.

Typically speaking the business person aims to explore and research market and consumer demand, these are the marks by which they navigate their path to success.  Great business people can anticipate market demand and offer products to the consumer before they even realize they want it.  They are shepherds to the masses, earning their living by cultivating the flock to desire the goods and services that they are offering.

Artists are motivated by a different force entirely.  The artist explores the self and the mind.  There is no compass to guide, only aimless wandering in a quest for greater expression.  Unlike the business person the artist produces for the sake of creation.  There is often little concern for the market, because the artist generally presumes that no matter what, there will always be someone out there somewhere that is willing to buy.

There are many industries where these two mindsets meet and clash.  Ours is certainly one of them.  This difference was probably no better pronounced than in one particular situation we experienced at our company…

 

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There’s a reason our business cards look like this.

 

At one point we decided it might be in our best interest to draw upon some Chinese influences for our designs.  In order to research this and draw inspiration Vali read through a collection of Chinese horror stories by Pu Songlin entitled Tales from a Chinese Studio.  Many of the stories in the book focused on Fox Spirits.  These cunning creatures were known for taking the form of a woman, seducing a man, and then slowly draining the life force out of him.

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Vali: “In other words, a woman.”

Given this was a common theme and had potential, our cartoonist quickly jumped on the concept and produced this design:

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As a westerner closely involved in the project I’m very fond of this design, but as a business person I felt that it was time to poll the audience.  I kindly asked him to get some feedback from some of our contacts.  Some of you recall however that saying the word “feedback” to an artist is often like saying “bath” to a dog.  Though I’ve come to find it’s not really that, it’s that artists have a different feedback system.  They want artists’ feedback, not consumers’ feedback.  I digress, after few days he came back and told me he had asked some 6 people, and they all told him that they liked it a lot, and that they couldn’t hide the expression on their faces just how much they liked it! The seventh person however, who happened to be a very good friend of ours disagreed, she told him that Chinese typically don’t envision fox spirits in this way.

He rode off the comment, citing this particular friend’s frequent negativity.

So we disregarded the one negative review out of seven, and almost went on to place the first sample order.  The night before, I got a gut feeling that maybe I should run the design by some of my other Chinese friends.  I showed it to two people, both of which said the same thing, “This is not something that Chinese people will understand.  It’s a cultural difference in perception, to us the fox is a bit scary, the colors are wrong.”  In other words, they won’t wear it. My artist was trying so hard to explain to me that this is art: some will see and not understand, while some will see and love it.  The most important thing is that is okay with the design.  As a business person I was struggling to explain that this is not art, this is business.  If we were to make any money from anything, our designs need to be appealing to our customers, and the best way to find that out is to poll the audience.

It doesn’t help that Vali is a life-long skate punk, or that he may well be an eccentric genius.  He’s an iconoclast by nature, show him something done a certain way only for the sake of tradition and he’s prone to fly at it like an Angry Bird gunning for a green pig. 

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You could say he flies in the face of tradition

 

Naturally he also questioned the relevancy of my people’s comments. Frustrated I suggested that we put the design on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and see what the people out there thought about it. These were random people, so if their comments tipped in my favor he said he would consider changing the fox spirit design.  Naturally I won, and naturally he has yet to revisit the concept.

 

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It’s a Pyrrhic victory.

 

I was hoping that he would learn a lesson from what happened. If we want to become a brand, then we have to stop being only product focused and listen to what our target customers like.  People are very willing to give us their opinion, we just have to listen carefully.  My artist however is still an obnoxious little nuisance, but at least I learned a lesson.  I realized that I didn’t need to search for some mysterious arcane business knowledge, or ask seasoned business gurus what to do to succeed.  I realized that I only needed to listen to my customers and do what they told me.  Very soon, we saw the benefits from it.

 

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