“I am interested in investigating what is extraordinary in ordinary life (for instance habit) and in looking at the ordinariness of what might be thought of as extraordinary.” ~ Ben Highmore

Although it’s now approaching two weeks since I left Shanghai for Boston (via UA858 to San Francisco), it’s becoming rather obvious that I’m yet to fully unpack – mentally and otherwise – from my trip to China. While I may have thankfully regained a semblance of some regular sleep-wake schedule, my unexpected tendency to respond courteously to Bostonians with “xie xie” or, better yet, my newfound reluctance to part with a dollar (see dollar-renminbi exchange rate) might be more indicative of a slow reassimilation into American culture.

I also recognize that “unbelievably amazing” is an honest, albeit inadequate and perhaps overly romanticized response to “How was your trip?!” – a somewhat loaded question, which I suspect will be asked of me for several weeks to come as I settle back down stateside. Thus, in order to further reflect on my experience in China, over the next few days (and even possibly weeks) I will be retracing my footsteps around Shanghai (and Beijing, briefly), highlighting noteworthy cross-cultural interactions (as well as some infractions) and dissecting both the ordinary and extraordinary in these experiences.

While this approach is admittedly a departure from the standard writing style often employed here on the blog, my hope is that this series of retrospective writings (à la Jan Chipchase) will provide a deeper look into my experience in China. Keep in mind, this is not intended to serve as a definitive guide to the Chinese experience (Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words has much more value to offer in that regard), but perhaps an attempt to demystify and deconstruct a culture  often perceived as remote and unfamiliar.


The picture above on Rujin Road (No. 1) was among the first set I took in Shanghai while riding in the cab from Pudong Airport to my hotel. It’s not immediately obvious, but the lady on the far right is wearing a face mask – an unintentional “Welcome to China” message of sorts. Although the air pollution in Shanghai is hardly as severe as Beijing, it’s not uncommon in public areas to see Shanghairen (“people of Shanghai”) wearing face masks – some more practical than others



The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs is currently using this creative and compelling ad to raise awareness of the need for more foster families for youths between the ages of 15 and 17.

The ad, which was developed by Try/Apt, combines the deep metaphors of journey, transformation and connection. The ad’s message is shown through the eyes of a girl drawing herself as she grows older. In her drawings, she shows herself move from a state of happiness as a child to a state of isolation and sadness in her youth. In the background, we also see plants and butterflies transform into trees and birds.

It isn’t until towards the end of the ad that the deep metaphor of connection truly comes into play. Still through her drawings, the ad shows that having caring foster parents will redefine this young girl’s story by putting her on the path to a bright future. As such, the ad ends with the following line: “It’s never too late to help someone on the right track.”

In addition to the deep metaphors at play here, the ad is also operating on a very high context. No words are spoken throughout the ad as it relies heavily on the strong visuals and the rather compelling Canon in D, one of the most famous pieces of music by German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel.

This concept choice for the ad is particularly interesting because Norway, along with a few other Scandinavian countries of Northern Europe, is traditionally seen as a low context culture. It demonstrates that audiences can be receptive to concepts that use message styles that deviate from their known cultural context.