My internship experience in China
I interned in a Chinese architecture firm in Foshan, Guanzhou for 2 months in the summer of 2018.
I have to admit that I wasn’t planning to write about this internship experience at first, it wasn’t the first time I visited China, neither is it going to be the last. However, since the last time (back in Christmas of 2015) I visited I found that China was not the China that I knew already. Gone are small shops and local stores, and in their place are shopping malls filled with Valentinos, Starbucks, Apple stores and imax screens.
Though I decided to write about the experience, I am not going to write about the things that I saw inside the office, which is absolutely boring, but rather the things that I saw out in the city. So sit tight, and I shall entertain you with things from China that you didn’t know.
China is always ready for war
The term “人防牆” appears on almost all CAD drawing call-outs
When I first saw the term I thought it was some kind of human flow control systems that separate people in the event of large protests, but I was completely wrong, and I forgot the fact that there can be no protest in China.
人防牆 means Civil defense walls (人: people/humans 防: defense/ to stop 牆: wall).
For English readers, here’s the English version of the definition above:
“Civil defense walls or Civil defense construction is an underground shelter that is built to withstand heavy artillery and air attacks. It is build to safely house people and resources in an event of war, surprise attack or city invasion. With command centers built in, these constructions not only act as shelter but also a strong hold and local central reporting hub.”
First appeared in the United Kingdom back in WW1, civil defense shelter was initiated because of the Germany air bombs. As the war progressed more and more countries built underground air defense shelters. And naturally, as both of the wars ended, air defense services around the world start to dismantle, along with them are these shelter. The only large scale air defense shelters probably only exist in Moscow (because Russia is going to be Russia), Korea (because the South and North peninsulas are technically still at war) and China, and only China is actively building new shelters with each construction project.
Though I am not able to show actual screenshots of these CAD drawings due to company policies, I do am able to show you how they look in real life. The pictures below are in a shopping mall that I visited during my internship. It looks like a shopping mall, works like a shopping mall, until you reached the basement level — wow.
The left and middle pictures are the air-tight sealing doors and the right picture is the escalator that leads to the “shelter” (I estimate there is at least 5 meters in height difference between the ground and “shelter” floor).
And turns out it is required by law.
Article 3: People’s governments at or above the county level shall incorporate civil air defense construction into their plans for national economic and social development.
Article 4: The expenses for civil air defense shall be jointly borne by the State and the society.
Fancy sharing a bicycle?
It is much more than just bicycles
Bike sharing — one of the “Four New Inventions” of China, which is the one thing that is actually being exported to Western countries such as the States and the UK and being embraced. However it is not comparable when it comes to actual use. Where occasionally you might find a bicycle hanging around in the UK, there are fleets of bikes from different companies waiting for you to ride them in China. Where you might only find people riding the bikes when it is sunny outside in the UK, people ride them in any weather in China, from a boiling hot day to a rain-pouring night — “ just hold up an umbrella when you ride”, a woman told me in her not-so-good mandarin.
As an architecture student, I can tell you that the biking culture in China is just amazing. There are a couple of viewpoints to look from when we are talking about city cycling: infrastructure, ease-of-use and desirability.
The first thing that affect city-cyclers is how many well is the infrastructure. It includes huge things from cycling lanes and parking spaces to small things like lifts that are big enough to fit a bike. And don’t you worry, in China almost every pedestrian road has a cycling lane accompanying it. And even if it just so happen there isn’t a bike lane, the pedestrian roads are good enough to cycle on.
Ease of use
With the existing QR code culture in China, these bikes are dead-easy to ride. Pull out your phone, Open WeChat, Scan QR code, Bicycle unlocks , Ride. Because of how many bicycles there are, including full-fledged bicycle stations and random ones you find beside the street, it is again dead-easy to rent one and start cycling.
But what if you scan the QR code and the lock don’t open? What if the bicycle is out of battery? Don’t you even worry, there are solar panels built into the bicycles so they never run out of battery.
A lot of people ride these bicycles because they are convenient and fast, but more people ride them because they are cool. The success of the bike-sharing industry in China is largely thanks to the global trend of bicycles over cars. I ride them because my friends are riding them, and they are riding them because everyone is riding them.
BUT! It is more than just bicycles. Other than the shared bicycles going around on the cycle lanes, other transport goes by too. They include hoverboards, segways, motorcycles, motorbikes, delivery-bikes, 3-wheeled tuktuk-like bikes. All sorts of electrical vehicles roaming on the road. I always thought that these people are abusing the bicycle lanes but have yet to find someone that agrees with me on this point. People simply do not care as long as you are driving something smaller than a taxi. But things only get more bizarre from here. Some cyclist just don’t like to use the lanes designed for them. In certain roads you will find motorbikes roaming on cycle lanes and bicycles driving among cars. This extremely high harmony between pedestrians, bicycles, motor-vehicles and cars is perhaps something I would never find in other countries.
The power of QR code
The following scenario is absolutely real. On a casual Tuesday afternoon, my colleague and I go out for lunch. I took my phone, wallet, coins and of course the keys, which I have reminded myself numerous times after that one time where I have to wait under the boiling sun for somebody to open the entrance gate for me. On the other hand, my colleague took his phone and casually walks out the front door (because everything is done on his phone). It took us 10 minutes to walk to the shopping mall, which should have only taken 5 on a bike, but we are forced to walk because I don’t have WeChatPay — a payment system inside the messaging app owned by Tencent. Upon arriving, as I was grumbling about the hot weather outside, he took out his phone, scans the QR code on the mall’s door and instantly we got a $10 discount for our food. He quickly opens Baidu maps — a popular navigation app in China, and start looking at restaurants, because Baidu maps also support indoor search. As we arrived at a Japanese restaurant, he scans the table’s QR code again and we ordered a Unagi don and a tonkotsu ramen. After confirming the order, the payment page was brought up and he quickly paid with a simple scan on touchID, all done without leaving his seat. As we were finishing our meal, a notification from his phone pops up, alerting him that someone bought his apples — he recently received a huge box of apples from his relatives who is in the agriculture business and decided to sell them as he can’t possibly finish them before they go bad, so with a single QR code, he became a merchant. On our way back he pulled out Baidu maps and navigated us to a nearby coffee shop and ordered an ice-cold-latte, of course, paid with WeChatPay.
With WeChat and Baidu maps, you can basically pay and navigate yourself in the whole of China, fyi even beggars take WeChatPay. As the Western world lost interest in QR codes China picked it up and slammed it on tables, shops, walls, taxis, buses, advertisements, basically everywhere. A single QR code connected the online and offline world, allowing the insane growth of mobile payment and e-commerce in China.
When they decided to add the QR code into the WeChat, it transformed from a messaging app to a browser. You can produce your own QR code, search a QR code and pay a QR code. But why stop there? Scanning a code means it is still taking you away, to a website, why not integrate the whole system into the app?
So it is done. Now if you scan a QR code, the web-page opens directly in WeChat, all running native, from order to pay, start to finish.
But what if you want it done when you arrive there instead of arriving, scanning and so on? BAM. Now you can open the store’s page (in WeChat), order (in WeChat), pay (in WeChat) and it will generate a QR code, which you show when you arrive at the store so they know it is you.
And before you know it, you can do almost everything on WeChat. (Screenshot on the left) (Yes, even paying your insurance)
But you guessed it right, everything comes at a cost and that cost is Huge. First to enjoy all of these convenience, you either have to be a Chinese citizen (the account is opened with your ID number) or have a Chinese bank account — with your passport and a phone number that is linked to your Chinese bank account. Emm… yep, both of them sound horribly invasive in terms of privacy when you just want to pay. With your ID tied to your payment account, which the app itself is oversaw by the communist party, opps I mean the government, you can imagine what will happen if you did something they did not like — simply disabling your WeChat account will get the job done.
(As for myself, I can access the wallet page above but cannot actually use it, as I am not a Chinese citizen — I am from Hong Kong and I was just interning so I do not have a bank account. Yes. I was living the barbaric way of paying by cash)
The photo on the left is a message from Baidu maps telling me that I havn’t turned on my location services and keep nudging me to turn it on immediately (which I have intentionally left it off during my time in China). I found it really funny as it is basically like the government is sweet talking you to give up your location, I know I know, google maps nudges me too, but this is China that we are talking about.
Although China is starting to gain traction in originality, there are still a ton of products that they simple copied and pasted on to another product. (Photographs above, each copying Lego, Apple and Muji respectively)
Another bonus, Chinese women absolutely love wearing flip-flops/ sandals. Same as riding a bicycle, they wear it on any occasion (I don’t dare to take photographs and you know why).
P.S. I wrote this in China, hope I don’t get caught by the government and I’ll see you next post.
Thanks for reading. I am a third year student studying architecture in Northumbria university and am interning in a Chinese architecture firm. Feel free to get in touch or check out my website.