I created this site back in 2009 to share content gathered from my favorite online sources: most of them related to art and design but also websites, videos and short essays on anything from science and management to cool infographs. More often than not, figments has been about distributing content rather than creating it. I have also shared someimpressions about my most recent trips abroad. I recently came back from a four-months journey to India (studying at IIM-Lucknow); if you've followed my previous entries, you will know I am fascinated by Asian cultures.
Theme used: Six to Close by Richard Woodson
Albeit short, this trip to Istanbul has been an interesting experience. Keeping a sense of perspective, it is the second out of three important journeys to Asia in the course of one year (the first being Shanghai in October, and the third being my four months séjour to India coming up in September). Two thirds of the way done I can’t help to compare these two distant places with the western environment I am used to. More interesting however, might be looking into both at a time and seeing their differences and their touchpoints.
- Both trips have had similar nature. Taking part in the international outsourcing process of a Spanish industrial company, the aim was half business and half fun. Time to see factories and close deals, but also time to see the touristic landmarks; the bigger cities and a glimpse to the provinces.
- My work destination upon arriving to China was YuYao, an industrial ‘smaller’ city for Chinese standards with a population of 500.000 people 300km south from Shanghai. Here in Turkey it was Izmit, less than 100km east from Istanbul. While the operating costs of the latter are only 20% higher than those in China, the standards of quality and the working conditions are just worlds (or rather continents) apart. In this sense, while Turkey is clearly at European standards (ready to put the stars in its car plates), China still has a lot of work to do.
- The provinces (the ones I’ve visited this is) are very heavily industrialized. From the high speed train on the way to YuYao you can see immense factories with their unmistakable blue roofs, amid vast cultivation extensions. The same can be said about Turkish production sites, no blue roofs though. Huge chemical plants are located all along the Bosporus Strait and the Marmara coast.
- Leaving the province behind and heading to the city is quite a sight of booming construction for ‘the base of the pyramid’. Huge residential buildings that show the economical progress of the region. The ones built this year double in height the ones that were put up only fives years ago. The quality of the construction is also seemingly improving.
- The traffic into the city is a nightmare for both cities. Although the infrastructure is quite enviable (4 to 6 lane driveways, radars for speed control, light panels and sophisticated toll gates) the density and way of driving makes it still quite chaotic. As opposed to what happens in former North African colonies, everyone here is now driving brand new cars, and not second hand imports. More often than not, these are vehicles made by domestic industries.
- Defined in terms of proper population (no suburbs, and sensibly only censed people) Shanghai and Istanbul are the two most populated cities in the world with 20 and 15 millions respectively.
- Although the cities are profoundly westernized, there is a strong feeling of individuality in both. Turkey is as proud of its omnipresent flag and dominant muslim religion, as China is of its way of living and millenary habits. The tension however, is obvious as traditions struggle to survive in the commercial districts where flashy ads invite the locals to succumb to the pleasures of European and North American lifestyle. A palpable example of this is the triumph of Starbucks or Nespresso. Who would have thought a tall latte would ever take the place of a porcelain cup of earthy puh er tea, or a meticulously prepared middle-sweet glass of unfiltered Turkish coffee.
- However dark the cloud of westernization, there is a silver lining. In Turkey, contemporary designs at Elaidi to handcrafted silk pieces from Gönül Paksoy take their inspiration from ancient kaftans and Ottoman jewelry. In Shanghai’s Tai Kang Lu area, dozens of shops offer locally designed modern furniture, minimal hand painted silk scarfs, and vintage frames from old factories that stopped their production in the 70s.
- If Pudong skyscrapers could pass for midtown Manhattan offices, and the adjacent streets of Taksim square are no different than those in Amsterdam, where would the use of traveling be? I do wish there will be a day when the local differences would be a required success factor for all expanding companies, specially in B2C products and services. Leaving the multinational company model to favor a global company instead. As this is clearly not what the market currently demands, I do hope that the sentiment will somewhat generalize in near future, at least before the cultural identity treats fade away.
- From luxurious outposts and big retailers, to the hundreds of cheap standalone stores that occupy the streets of Shanghai and Istanbul alike there’s a feeling of oversupply. It’s hard to imagine that demand could ever absorb the surplus and yet, most of the commerce seems to be aimed at the locals.
- Targeting domestic market versus becoming the provider of a worldwide audience is an issue that both countries must have in their agenda. The middle class has already grown a lot in Turkey and therefor it seems that their mass consumption products needn’t travel abroad to be purchased. With a much larger population, but a less affluent one, China still has to make that decision.
- In Istanbul, it comes as a surprise and in some ways a relief, that walking around the Bazaar has turned into a pleasant experience. Instead of chasing you down its alleys, shopkeepers would rather wait for you to go into their stores now. Both in China and Turkey, the client is still expected to negotiate a better price, but less so than a few years ago. To prevent this practice, some sellers will try to offer you some complimentary gift with your purchase, instead of lowering the value of the product.
- As territories with an immense heritage in luxury products and services, the sense of asian hospitality prevails at least in the less touristy places: From hotels and restaurants that are never short on waiters who serve coffee with charming pomp or valets that speak as many as five languages, to owners of silk and cashmere ateliers that will patiently talk you through the making of their products. They have the honest smile that western countries lost long ago.
Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience. Full of contrasts and with plenty of time to think about the rapid development that I’ve seen before my eyes. The direction these countries might take in the future is uncertain. However, the local people I’ve seen hurrying down their streets and relentlessly working in their businesses exude an ambitious flair of progress and transformation. Many asian countries share glorious pasts, and less bright history in recent centuries, which is enough a reason to call them reemergent and not just emergent countries. Although their societies are not fully developed for western standards, they’ve come a long way. Their potential is immense, and perhaps the answer is a reformulation of the said standards to agree on a global set of expectations.
As the world won’t stop to let us think about these matters, we have no choice but to move ahead and ask ourselves said questions on the go. What can be done about resource scarcity? What are the social implications of our current consumption model? How can we conjugate globalization together with cultural diversity? It is important to formulate these questions while thinking forward as scarcity, consumption and globalization are not phenomena we can afford to stop. Nevertheless, it is important to think of ways of making them sustainable in the long term; not as individuals nor even as countries, but as a global community that must procure itself an ever brighter future altogether.
Both pictures are taken by me. The first is the view from the lower platform of the Galata Bridge (note the fishing rods above). The second pic was taken on a tour boat to see the skyline of Pudong.