From buying bleaching cream, to worms replacing popcorn, endless queuing and the never ending noise of busy fans. Ni hao from China!
Written by Christiani Wetter
Lost in Translation
After having the air-conditioning aggressively blow cold air in my face for seventeen hours, I left the economy class of the Cathay Pacific Airline with a cold. First stop: The pharmacy in the airport.
The lady immediately began to express enthusiastically just how great she though Australia was, especially the exotic animals and the never ending summer. I briefly imagined the eternal Austrian winters and two squirrels I recently saw a few weeks ago in Schönbrunn. I then politely corrected the lady and said “Austria, not Australia” and added “No Kangaroos.”
“Yes, yes, she understood” said the friendly lady as she added that she had something very special in her shop for Australian women. I reminisce to myself that President Bush asked during his visit to Austria where the kangaroos were. I was abruptly brought back to reality when the lady handed me a SPF 80 sunscreen and face whitening cream. She ushered me towards the cash register with the recommendation that this would be “good for the hot sun in your country.” I was too exhausted for words,
I wanted to visit the Silicon Valley of Hardware out of the curiosity. Shenzhen was just about to push past California and be the next place to host the future Mark Zuckerberg’s and Jeff Bezos’ of this world. It all started on the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen where I needed a visa to cross the threshold into the Holy Land of Engineering. After a four-hour wait, my patience was at it limits.
Finally, with visa in hand, I then set about forming the longest snake in the world. I estimated around 300,000 people in front of me. “Oh Great” I thought and pulled out my smartphone to work on my Candy Crush skills. At Candy Crush Level 4092, I was finally called and was allowed to cross the border.
Many friendly Chinese offered astronomical taxi prices to drive me to the destination of my choice. Luckily, I had my personal guide named Bob, who was supposed to take me through the Shenzhen factories. Bob spoke broken English and smoked like a chimney. In order not to jeopardize the Austro-Chinese friendship, I maintained smoking pace with the chain smoker.
Before we had set off on our adventure in Start-Up Valley, I had bought an excellent counterfeit Bose headset. So I was in a good mood owing to my materialistic conquest when I entered a neglected building housing courageous start-ups from Austria. They were looking for their breakthrough in Hong Kong. Enthusiasm and an unmistakable belief in one’s own product was the driving force for the new up-and-coming Business-Army.
From edible worms to smart “table” phones and water cutting machines
Industrial designer Katharina Unger left Burgenland at the tender age of 22 and moved to Shenzhen to breathe life into her company LIVIN farms. I wanted to google LIVIN farms or at least search for more information on Facebook, but became painfully aware that these channels were not allowed in China.
Katharina explained to me that she was busy working on the food of the future and establish insects being a mainstream food for humans. Unger and her team are developing a portable mealworm farm that could breed edible mealworms at home for self-consumption. After taking a brave spoonful of roasted worms, I had to concede to the delicate taste and gave them the thumbs up, telling her it tasted “Almost like popcorn.”
Also looking to deal with the future was Johann Rath from Salzburg, CEO of TABLECONNECT. He and his team however are not concerned with food but with huge smartphones the size of tables. Their multi-touch tables are the ultimate way to use Android apps on house furniture. Available with 32 and 55 inch versions, TABLECONNECT is the first large-screen touch device to use the interfaces we are all familiar with from our smartphones and tablets, and applying them to large-scale collaboration, interaction and games.
A few wild American guys from the indie rock band sounding company WAZER had also decided to move to exotic Shenzhen. They had just completed one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns raising a staggering $1.3 million. WAZER created a waterjet cutter, which can cut through every material – be it stone, metal, rubber, ceramics or plastic – in an instant.
I kept in contact with Katharina from LIVIN farms through WeChat, the Chinese version of WhatsApp. She invited me to her birthday party on a sailing ship where she wanted to experience “Squid fishing” with her guests. After arriving on the boat and huddling by the fishing tackle for a while I then went to the top deck where I met the tech curator David Cranor. In his hand he held a small package, which I asked if it was a gift for Katharina. “No, it’s a DJI Mavic Pro Drone” he said whilst unpacking it.
To my astonishment, in absolutely no time he was able to bring the small drone to life and soon let her climb to the height of the tallest building in Hong Kong. “400 meters high” he said as he let me follow the drones flight on his iphone as it captured incredible cityscapes.
“Just like a Batman movie,” I said enthusiastically.
The DJI Mavic Pro Drone made the aerial filming of a cumbersome helicopter look like the filming attempt of a first semester film student. More and more I felt China becoming a futuristic parallel world in which I wanted to stay. Unfortunately, time flies and my departure for my home country was imminent.
The silence of Austria
At the farewell my Chinese acquaintance Ka said that the Austrian silence irritated him. As someone from Hong Kong, he was used to the constant humming of air conditioning units, the murmur of the crowds, the steady sound of televisions, stereos and radios, and the squealing tires of speeding taxis. In Austria, however, he felt the noise level was akin to being trapped in limbo with simply nothing to hear.
On the plane back to Vienna, with the enthusiasm of a child, I looked forward to returning to the silence of my beloved limbo Austria.