Saturday, October 30, 2010

Report #4

I’ve spent the last few days researching pedestrian traffic patterns and shopping psychology for the Metro Valley project in India, which is a mega-structure in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) just outside of Dehli. I’ve filled my head with things like the invariant-right principle (our bias to turn right), merchandising layout psychology (the items we need are always farthest away from the entrance), the male tendency to shop without a list (and therefore impulsively). And with that, I went to the Beijing IKEA.

The escalator led me to third floor along with everyone else…it just flowed up there. There was no reason to get off at the second floor (although one could, but it looked like a service entry not a main thoroughfare). The only logical thing to do was ride it all the way to top. Once I was embedded deep within the snake-like maze I realized that there was nothing to buy. It was just a showroom. This was a time to educate myself of IKEA’s potential to create the space and subsequently the life that I didn’t know I wanted. However, I already knew I wanted this. I was there. I was ready.

I tried to rush through the rest of the third floor, but I was handicapped by a giant yellow bag and little folding cart that I was enticed to pick up along the way. There is a pace to IKEA, which cannot be violated; it’s a slow pace. Hurrying does no good other than cause anxiety. I finally emerged on the other side and discovered a giant dinning area with fancy food. It was such a smart set up they had, wooing the shoppers with ultimate IKEA lifestyle and then feeding their hunger with good but inexpensive food. After that, staying at IKEA for hours on end was no problem.

I finally made it down to the second floor where I traded my empty yellow bag and grandma cart for a real shopping cart. I went through the kitchen section slowly and recited some strange narrative that I conjured up about a potential dinner party or brunch that I might have at my apartment, and wanted to be sure I had enough settings for everyone. I couldn’t get this out of my mind. I kept going back and forth. First two wine glasses and then four. I tried to give myself a reality check every so often, which is that I’ll probably never have anyone over to my apartment. For one it’s so damn small, and two I just don’t lead that leisurely of life right now. But… could happen…and this glass is only $1.50, so what’s a couple more. I continued through getting multiples of four and even trading up in some instances. Choosing between the absolute cheapest option and next one up was an easy move. It’s hard to distinguish quality online (where I first did all of my browsing). This quality issue kept coming up, until I had a meltdown in the bedding department.

The quilts seemed so thin, so wimpy. I feared for the cold as I pinched the quilt between my fingers (this is the “petting principle” which is huge for shopping psychology….we have to touch things, we just have too) The sheets seemed so crappy. I was looking for the trade up but never found it. Every sheet, flat or fitted, looked grainy and see-through. The goose down comforter I thought I was going to buy wasn’t there; everything was synthetic. If only a marketing strategist would have caught me on tape (this is how many studies are done, viewing hours and hours of footage to see how and why shoppers make decisions) I would have looked crazy going back and forth to the sheets, then the duvet covers, back to the sheets, even putting a few selections in my cart, wheeling around a little bit, and taking them out, going back to the comforters…ughh there were so many things to consider and what threw the whole thing off was that DIVLA sheet set in crimson orange was out of stock in my bed size! I was falling prey to the fact that men are not as good as color matching as women and IKEA seems to take a democratic position on this and keep the fields level, whereas Gap and Banana Republic will match outfits for men and leave it up to the women to find their own combos (because women like to do that, I guess) While browsing online I thought I would go for the super-graphic, lots of color bedding, but later realized I just couldn’t handle that much action in small apartment. I finally broke down, and took out all the bedding-related stuff in my cart and headed for checkout. I would do my linen shopping at Carrefore instead, which has been described to me as the French version of Walmart.

I fish tailed my way to the escalator ramp and braced my overloaded cart for the incline only to be presently surprised that IKEA had thought of that too. My cart fused itself to the metal ramp through a strong magnetic force. I let go and it stayed in place. At the bottom I meandered through the warehouse like space at the end of the IKEA experience where the reality sets in: you have put this shit together; it’s just not as easy pointing your finger in the showroom. I approached the long gate of check out aisles and intently considered the “point of sale” items laid out for me (these are the last minute impulse buys one can make…very common for men). After my purchase, which included the default-blue IKEA bags because I didn’t think to bring my giant suitcases, I rewarded myself with 15-cent ice-cream cone and an 80-cent hot dog. The hot dog was odd looking, skinny and too long for the bun. It crookedly poked out on either end in a gross way, like a problem bowel movement for a small dog. It tasted good though.

Outside taxicabs were lined up waiting for the shoppers. I loaded up my stuff in the trunk and backseat of one and hopped up front (customary in China). It was short trip home. I managed to schlep everything up 5 flights in one shot, but created a ruckass as I squeezed my oversized bags through the narrow stairwell. I was panting at the top and it seemed inevitable my neighbors would appear out of curiosity.

I unloaded my stuff and continued the shopping mission, this time on bike to Carrefore. Upstairs about a dozen women in yellow shirts swarmed like bees around the comforters. This was too much. I pointed to the goose down and one took me down an aisle “Ty gway la!” I said (too expensive) at the $300 dollar price tag. They were all following me, saying what little English they knew “Hello, hello, you like this one?” This went on for a while until two of them coerced me into getting a wool-filled comforter. They even convinced me to do the trade up. They pointed to the different packages, one had a small sheep that looked kind of young and thin, the other package had this robust, super furry sheep. It was clear which one was better.

I rolled around with it in my cart looking at sheets. Another yellow shirt approached me with a brick-like sheet set, but the dimensions were all wrong. I showed her the measurements I had taken of my bed 150cm x 190cm, and she pointed out that my comforter was 200cm x 230cm. “I know” I said “I really like to wrap up…” but it quickly became clear that this was not a pick and choose set up. I would have to buy a comforter precisely the dimensions of my bed if I wanted to buy sheets here. This is fucked, I thought.

I rode home and parked my bike, then walked back out to the street and caught another cab to IKEA. I only rode the escalator up to the second floor this time, and took a few cut-throughs between aisles. Everything in the bedding aisle now made sense. Winter quilt with a coldness rating of 6, done! Duvet cover that is kind of textured and a soft gray-blue, got it! GOSSA HILLA pillows, you guys are so soft, in the cart! White sheets because those crimson ones are still missing, I’ll take you! Two white pillowcases that are 50cm x 80cm, that’s a match!

Back at the check out aisle I filled the conveyor belt with all my stuff and showed the clerk my blue bags like I was a seasoned veteran. I handed over my card and she seemed confused after trying it on her machine, and went to another. I knew what was happening. It’s either my US bank or China that doesn’t want you going on wild spending sprees, so it only works once per day at any given store (no repeat trips). I quickly handed her my Visa and she seemed surprised and almost humored. Yes, I thought, it is true that Americans have many of these cards. One of my co-workers was shocked when I pulled out my rubber-band wrapped stack of cards. “They’re for different banks!” I said. “I heard Americans get many cards and spend all the money.” He replied. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” I recalled this conversation as the clerk swiped the new card and it went through. I signed the receipt and wheeled over to ice cream and hot dog stand for another cone. After all that I had been through, I needed another reward.

The next day at work I became a “marketing maven”, the term used for the consumers who are in the know and have a great influence over other consumers (they apparently watch a lot of tv, read junk mail, and like to talk about products). I told my co-worker, Ben, about shopping for linen and how IKEA was way better than Carrefore. “Really, how far away is it.” He asked “Just right up the street. A straight shot. Fourteen-kwi cab ride” I said with confidence. “Oh man, I’m definitely going…” And it is precisely that sell that is most effective and the hardest for companies to influence, and most of the time the “maven’s” don’t even know they’re doing it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Report #2

There are some things you just have to do, like eating a duck foot when you're out to dinner with your boss. Rubber and cartilage.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Report #1

My blog is now up and running with some new features. I've created links to my old blogs below the title page, and best of all there is an email subscription link to receive notifications each time a new "report" is posted (that's for you Janyki)

REPORT #1: The Acclimation Period, Two Weeks Chinese

From Detroit to JFK and then 5 hours of layover. I had two bags checked in Detroit, which were being shuffled somewhere in the airport system. I took the subway to Rockaway Beach to have one last fish-taco deluxe, but to my disappointment Rockaway Taco Stand was closed for the season. The cafe next door sufficed. I ate a fancy baguette sandwich, and then felt panic like I always do when I leave the airport on a layover. I headed back to JFK and the security line had grown exponentially since I had left. I tried to inquire with one of the line monitors about skipping it if my boarding time started in 45 min., but they assured me I would get through by then. "Don't worry your airline will come looking for you if you're late" she replied. That seemed too easy, too friendly for the airline industry.

On the plane I sat in one of the four seats in the center. The headrest unfortunately did not have one of those little tv screens to watch movies...I guess I got spoiled flying back and forth to Spain this past summer. My neighbors, a young chinese couple, had a baby....the kind that cries on airplanes. Air China served us dinner after a couple hours in the air. I got mine first, before anyone else because I had requested a vegetarian meal when I booked my ticket -it just seemed like a safer bet. The tray had a piece of tape stuck to it with my seat number written on it. I had mixed feelings of VIP status coupled with some type of deficiency.

I slept, and woke up to another dinner...again with my tray arriving first. It was similar to the first dish, pasta and vegetables in some type of alfredo sauce. I walked around some to stretch out my knees. The plane was so large you could easily do laps around the 4-seat center aisle, cutting through the flight attendant's prep area. Out one of the emergency exit doors the sky was turning a pale gray. I wasn't sure if it was dusk or dawn. We were flying pretty far north over the ocean off the coast of Alaska according to animation map. I could see the water below was covered in a sheet of ice. This would be certain death.

At the airport my luggage arrived promptly. I exited the baggage area and bought a chinese SIM card from a young girl standing next to the SIM card vending machine. She assured me that her cards were cheaper because I would get an additional 20RMB of talk time. I popped the sim card into my iphone (which I jailbroke and unlocked back at home) and she activated the prepaid minutes and I was up and running. I called Tom Lee, another UM architecture alum, who also flew into the airport that evening after a 3 day stint in Hong Kong to reset his visa. We met up and took a cab back to his place where I would stay for the next week.

Tom lives in this massive block of apartment high rises just east of the 4th ring rd. His roommate, Nick, an Englishman from Manchester teaches english classes and can speak mandarin. Both Tom and Nick smoke in the apartment, and when casually asked "Oh, do you mind?" when Tom lit a cigarette, I lied and said no. I slept on the couch and went to bed when the living room was vacated. Nick stays up late watching internet television, drinking cheap chinese beer and chain smoking. He often brings home chinese girls he meets at the bars, and from what I could gather sleeplessly on the couch, he has no regard for intimate audio levels. That was my last night on the couch. I started sleeping on the floor of Tom's room who was sympathetic to my need for sleep. My commute to work was 1.5 hrs via a bus, two subways, and a short walk. After a week I had worn out my welcome, or rather Nick inquired about my progress in apartment hunting to Tom, and also added that he felt the apartment was not big enough for three people. I was glad to leave, and would have done so before then had I known that staying on the couch in the office was fine with my boss.

My office is in the top floor of a Steven Holl building called "The Linked Hybrid". It's a 3 bedroom 3 bath condo. Most of the desks are in what would be considered the living room, and the rest take up the master bedroom. The other two bedrooms are dedicated to a library and a conference room. Our roof deck has a nice sized grass lawn, and on a clear day you can see mountains surrounding the beijing skyline. Living here has been awesome. The shower has one of those "rain shower" heads on it and just dumps out water. We have a full kitchen with a fairly robust cappuccino machine that has already swung me back into the coffee habit. It's just too easy to steam up some milk and pull a couple shots...and it's on the house.


OBSERVATION: Riding The Subway During Rush Hour

In the subway tunnels people form thick lines on the platform waiting for the next train. When the door opens only a small void exists inside the subway car, which is far too small to fit everyone. The line slowly shuffles forward....and then....there's the push. The shuffles turn into fast wobbles, and the thick line several people across, compresses into compacted chunk of bodies squeezed tightly like a stampede that might suffer casualties. It's a frantic moment but doesn't seem to cause panic. The subway doors slice through the mono-body separating the chunk of people. Five minutes later the scene is repeated. It took three trains before I got on. When I was part of the push it felt like we were one big organism. Inside we were all packed together, bodies against bodies, all movement was felt collectively. The fat chinese men had sweat on their foreheads -the air conditioning just couldn't overcome the body heat present in the car.