Are we in Beijing? Nope, it's just Shanghai.

Hello world, Alex here.

Last week’s post is rrrright here.

Anyway, thanks for joining me on another blog post where you’ll have to waste 15 minutes of your life listening to me ramble on, and appreciate the many doggos, cattos and foods I’ve found in the People’s Republic of China. It’s Week 8 of the Asian Leadership Programme, and we’re wrapping up the second mandatory course of the programme – Design Thinking.

The earlier half of the week mostly circled around desperately finishing whatever we had to do for design thinking – finalizing our prints and filming them in action. You see, there’d be this massive presentation under the DIP 2018 (Design in Progress) banner where our Design Thinking products would be shown in a video.

But before I continue, I realize I haven’t really explained what the final products for Design Thinking were meant to be. So let me digress for a bit and fill you in.

The theme for this year’s Design Thinking course was This is a Book – it was inspired by Kelli Anderson’s work, including This Book is a Planetarium, a book with several pop-up contraptions inside that make the book far more interactive (and useful) than a typical book. Using the printed paper actuators, developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Morphing Matter Lab, we’d do something similar. For my group, we chose to do something related to water – a book that would have a cascade of water droplets. Each drop was easy to print, but printing a mass of raindrops without the print going awry was harder than winning the lottery.

Difficulties aside, our little teams would each produce a book with some contraption hidden within, that would come to life in response to heat or electricity. The book would be filmed in action, and it would eventually make its way into the presentation for Design Thinking in the final Design in Progress showcase.

So yep, that’s the endgame for Design Thinking. Still don’t see where the design thinking is in this, though.

At least I got to try this wonderful Malatang done in a dry style. Not sure what the sauce is, but it’s great.

Meanwhile, I’ve also had the opportunity to observe how the DIP teams (yes, there’s a separate eponymous programme) prepare for their presentations. The final presentation sure seems like a big thing, with there being a pretty legit production team (which comprises of the team TAs), and you can see the effort that’s gone into making the showcase happen. The big day rolled in, and here we are in this hall, with mic stands everywhere, a reception counter and all sorts of stuff – typical things. What piqued my interest was the legit production of the course videos and all, plus how meticulously planned every presentation was – there’d be floor markers, and a spotlight for the current presenter to stand under (and they’d have to stand very still because of the spotlight was static). The showcase, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, proceeded to overrun as expected, which was a bit of a bummer.

But at least I have this wonderful photo of Dan looking like a boss.

Anyway, indulge me as I make a few observations on the Chinese styles of design and presenting – especially presenting, which is something I hold pretty close to my heart.

I had earlier mentioned, probably a couple weeks back, that I had approached Design Thinking as a engineering problem – that there’d be a practical problem to solve. After a handful of back-and-forth discussions with the TAs, we finally settled in on our current idea. I noticed that throughout the discussions, there had this really strong emphasis on a story of some kind – I’m not sure if this is a designer thing, or it’s reflective of the Chinese style of design. Regardless, the idea of storytelling was always being floated, and to me – having chosen to wear the lens of ruthless pragmatism – found it plenty superfluous. Granted, I never did voice this opinion because it wouldn’t make the discussions any smoother, but it’s something that bothered me for a bit.

Now, onto more interesting things (for me at least). Having lurked in the International Design Institute on the night before the DIP 2018 showcase, I had a chance to observe how the Chinese students presented – they were under strict instructions to stand stock still, in a very specific senang diri-esque position when they were not under the spotlight and presenting. They’d have stage markers for every person, and only on their turn to present were they allowed to step into the foreground. Even under the spotlight, they’d have to stand in a certain way, largely devoid of organic gesticulation and otherwise with their feet rooted to the ground. Every movement seemed carefully choreographed, every line scripted and rehearsed and everything about the presentation seemed so… sterile. And to me, that’s painful to watch.

Now, don’t get me wrong – choreographing your presentation, and rehearsing for your presentation is absolutely essential to a good presentation, especially so when you’re presenting in front of an entire hall. What bothers me is how this is held up as the industry standard, the one and only true path to good presenting. We have SUTDents participating in the DIP programme, and some of them are absolutely phenomenal presenters. They present with a certain clarity and passion that comes with bundled with organic movements – both gestures and movements across the stage – and it pains me to see them to have their gifts straitjacketed and locked up this way. What ever happened to understanding your topic so well that you’d not need a script? What ever happened to tweaking your words in response to the energy of the audience? Where did eye contact and engaging specific sections of the audience in turn go? Look at the best presenters in the world – like the late Steve Jobs – and you’ll find that they’re dynamic. They don’t look like mechanical puppets on a stage reading off of a script, but rather real human beings who believe in what they say. What they say convinces you on a logical level, but it’s the delivery that makes you feel convinced. To ignore this half of presenting, I feel, is a great disservice to everyone involved. The presenters are shackled, the audience is bored, and the showcase loses its oomph.

But hey, I’m just an engineering student, so what do I know?

Anyway, in the later half of the week, I made a short trip with Timo to Shanghai (again) to pick up my tailored suit. A 10am Shanghai-bound train in the morning, and a 6pm train back to Hangzhou in the evening. Nothing too special.

For lunch, we tried this little beef noodles store hidden slightly off the main streets of Shanghai. It was small, quaint and neat place, run by Chinese Muslims (you could tell from the distinct Islam (or was it Arabic?) hints in the design of the place). Timo and gang had discovered this place in a previous escapade to Shanghai, so why not give it a shot? Suffice to say, it was quite good indeed – there was a depth and richness to the beef stock that I had yet to find elsewhere in China. Good stuff indeed.

Delicious Congyoubing – it’s quite like the New Mahamoodiya prata back in Simpang. Man I miss prata.
Beef noodles and of course a fried egg. Fantastic stuff, and not too expensive either.

Also, being somewhat sleep deprived meant coffee was in order – there’s this brand of bottle coffee that I quite like, and I get it regularly from Zhejiang University’s many school-run supermarkets. Pretty glad to have found it in Shanghai, so that was a small plus. On a totally unrelated note, the Chinese are fantastic at tea, being pretty much the civilization that chose to put all their civic points into the tea tech tree. But because of that, coffee is frankly lacklustre – why have coffee when you can have tea – so it’s quite an achievement to find coffee that we find palatable. (So it turns out coffee in Singapore is fantastic – there’s a certain fullness of aroma and flavour that the old uncles and aunties in the kopitiams have mastered. Our resident coffee addict Gui An swears by nanyang coffee, and that says something). So yes, hurray coffee.

Mmmm yes need me some covfefe. I weaned myself off of caffeine a long time again, but it looks like I’m back on this socially-approved drug.

Also, we went doggos spotting and found some. At the end of the week, I’m joining a handful of bold adventurers on a week-long trip to Sichuan, so look forward to that little journey. See you next week (click here for next post), and enjoy the doggos!

There are three doggos in this photo. Can you find them all?
Lil pupper goes shopping. Wonderful.
Behold this big shoobie boi in Shanghai. Splendid.
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