Category Archives: China

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!

pekin opera [1280x768]

“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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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.


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.


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.


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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Learning to Laugh in another Language

Humour is funny.  While this seems like a given, I am actually referring to the nature of humor itself.  What is and isn’t funny often seems inherent.  It is not until we expose ourselves to another culture that the idea of humour is challenged.

For most of the English speaking world this first comes when we are exposed to the gap between English humour and American humor.  Two countries separated by one language but also by their humor.  Comedy films make for great examples: English tend to mix the mundane with the absurd, whilst American comedy seems to crux upon petulant man-boys finally coming to terms with adulthood.


Don’t even try to argue with me on this.

  While the humour in these countries is undeniably different, it is quite similar, and mutually intelligible.  When the language changes however humor begins to change as well.  In fact the more distant your second language is from your first language, the greater the difference in humour.  As a student of a foreign language its very easy to tell yourself that jokes are different, but it’s not until you actually immerse yourself in that culture that you finally begin to understand how radically different humour is across cultures.   Take this for instance:


This is one of my old cartoons called Breakfast of Champions.  In China, it’s not funny for two reasons, one: no one here knows what pancakes are, and 2: humour based on randomness and absurdity just doesn’t go over well in Chinese culture.

Now look at this:


This series of pictures recently went viral over Chinese social media.  They find it hilarious. Most Westerners however do not.  When I and many of my friends saw it, our first response was a hard eye roll and a beleaguered sigh that briefly permitted the soft sound of  “idiot” to escape our lips.  To us, it’s apparent that it is in anyone’s best interest to keep the business end of an alligator snapping turtle pointed safely away from one’s body. Furthermore, most of us have been taught not to handle any animal with such disrespect.  Still the fat lip resulting from this incident is hilarious to most of China.

As a creative cartoon design studio run by westerners but based in China, we at ALBA have had to find a way to reconcile the humours of our radically different cultures.

At first we didn’t understand a thing.  We even went as far as to treat our friends and contacts as “humour consultants”.  This yielded mediocre results at best.  We still felt completely lost in the quagmire of puns and number references that seemed to compose the bulk of Chinese language-based humour.  Then it got even more complex.  We came to understand that Chinese humour has distinct geographic divisions.  Travel 15 minutes out of town and no one will understand your jokes.  The same might be said of England, but this stems from the fact that accents radically change over the same time traveled.


“Ligature, yeff gutter fierce lake appearer tets.”

  Our agony compounded further when we found that there is also a wide humour gap between generations.  To our dismay, we concluded that there is no single variety of humour that would be widely accepted in China.

Between this realization and our aspirin budget wearing thin from trying to understand all this, we ‘gave up’ on trying to learn and develop a Chinese sense of humour.  We were trying to be what we weren’t , and it was really hurting us.  We were also frustrated as we had to depend on other people to “grind” and polish our jokes.  Also, they stopped being funny to us, which as an artist can really take the wind out of your sails, begin to hurt production quality and stymie motivation.

We have begun to strike a balance though.  We have begun a comic book of our mascot Mort, which starts in the US and will eventually see the character move to China.  As he adjusts to China, so will his sense of humour.  This be using this as an opportunity to collaborate with a community of fans that we hope to foster into an entire creative community.  We have also had some success in combining our two humours by taking things that are funny to them and adding a western twist.  Remember that idiot with the turtle?  Now look at this:


Learning how to humourously address a different culture can be taxing, but it can be done.  We’re steadily working toward more successes.

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An epic journey set in China


This is the epic tale of one intrepid entrepreneur and her trusty cartoonist sidekick in an epic quest for a reliable t-shirt factory.  Yea verily, this is truly the stuff of legends.

don quixote

We are very confident in the ability of our designs to perform well on the Chinese market, but what had concerned us most was how to produce them as t-shirts.  As a start-up with lots of experience making cartoons, but little experience making t-shirts we need to have a practice run.  That required us to go find a reliable factory to print a small order, print it well, and at low-cost. We also needed it to be in Beijing so we had the convenience of visiting it without spending too much.   Our research revealed a few factories that warranted a visit.  The drawback was that most of them were located in hard to reach areas that are seldom braved by even the most daring foreigners.  And so, with our +3 Smartphone of Direction-Finding in hand, we embarked on our epic journey.

hipster detectot

The +4 model wouldn’t be out for a couple months yet, besides the only difference is the bigger screen and that it glows blue in the presence of hipsters


–          The first factory we visited was located far beyond the reach of the subway, where few dare to tread.  It took us ages to find it.  We took  a subway, tuk-tuk, and then set out on foot.  We stopped to ask many locals how to find the factory, and after enduring many hazards, finally reached our destination.  Our victory celebration turned to shock when in the first five minutes, the boss didn’t seem really interested in selling anything.  He literally greeted us with complaints, and a pack of madly barking dogs.

angry dog

The dogs were nicer

“Oh you guys want to print Tshirts, well we use to do this for Coca Cola and other big brands, but now there is no profit anymore.”  He gave us the impression that somebody else was coming to take care of our order, but in the end that person didn’t show up.  Just before we left, he said , “but it doesn’t matter, we can do a sample for you if you like, no problem, and will express mail it to you in 2 days.”

We were flummoxed; it seemed that his selling method was different from the traditional one – his was trying to sell by scaring customers away.

We went through the same process for the second factory: baidu search, google maps, researching how to get there, asking many people on the way how to get there, numerous phone calls, and endless frustration.  Finally we found the factory.  The first impression was pleasant, there was a nice lady who was interested to talk to us, and even showed us around the factory.  I learned how screen printing was done.  We took them seriously so we visited them twice, and soon after that we went to their office to order our first sample.  National holiday was coming, and since the design itself was a custom design for our friend’s coffee shop, who said he was going to promote us in the media immediately after the holiday, we had to hurry up. They said we would get the sample in 3 days.  Not only did it not come in three days, they completely forgot about it.  Despite our anger we needed that sample, we had to push.  When we finally did get it nothing as we expected: colors, material, printing…it was all wrong!  We were stupefied when we saw the sample.  It was right after the holiday that our first Chinese partner left us.  Boy, this was just getting more fun!


With a little experience under our belts, it wasn’t such a big trouble to find the third factory, we had gotten used to the hassle.  This time the sample was great, and we placed a small order for about hundred shirts.  This time the shock came when we went to pick up the order.  90% of the order had to be rejected.  There is little in the way of quality control in China.  If the boss is not around, the employees won’t bother to use their heads.  When the work is done, the boss won’t bother to check quality.  They just hope the client is not picky enough so they can get away with it.  In the event they are wrong, they will think of some way to get out of it when the time comes, or will offer to treat you dinner.  Why plan in advance?!  The material was right though; and they seemed like good people, so after arguing for a bit they agreed to compensate for the damage.  I insisted to be on site the 2nd time.  For the second printing I sat in the boss’s office and we had pleasant conversation over tea and lunch.   Over the course of the day I noticed that the print quality was improving as my relationship with the boss was improving, but now the material was not the quality we ordered!  There was no end to the frustrations!  This was my lesson in Guanxi.  We decided to do it their way, we Invited them over for dinner in order to maintain the relationship in hopes that they will get our Spring order right.  We are still thinking to find a back up vendor, but I’ve heard that factories operate similar to artists: if you try to replace them, the next one won’t be much different.  Quality control is something you need to do by yourself, it is not in the factories’ portfolio of services.  It’s hard, but patience goes a long way in dealing with Chinese factories.  Our quest continues…


Helpful tips to aid you in your quest for a factory in China.

  1. Don’t expect to find the factory easily.
  2. Don’t expect that they will get anything right the first time.
  3. DO expect delays.
  4. Don’t lose your cool.  They can smell fear and will exploit it.
  5. Don’t expect quality control in China.
  6. Don’t expect them to display responsibility.
  7. Don’t expect they will deliver everything they say.
  8. Do be prepared to sit and get drunk before they agree to do their job.
  9. Contracts and any other written and verbal agreements don’t mean anything in China; mostly because they’re hard to enforce.
  10. Do be pushy. Pushing is the only way to get things done.
  11. Hone your “social skills”, e.g.-small talk, drinking and eating skills,etc.
  12. Do learn the Chinese style of doing things: you talk, smile, drink, eat, and the thing will get done, you don’t need to discuss the problem so much. That’s not the point. It’s the guanxi that counts.
  13. Chinese people can often come across as lazy by western standards, even if the contract says they are obligated to do something, like “quality control”, they won’t do it if they are not familiar with you, or if they don’t like you.  You must make the effort to wine & dine with them, maintain that guanxi, and the task will get done by itself.  That’s why most of the executives here spend 80% of their evenings in dinners with customers.  Once the circle has finished though you need to start again…
  14. Chinese people don’t tell things straight.  You have to guess what they really mean because they are afraid to say no.


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