Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 12 – The Aimful Architect (Wendy SAUNDERS, AIM Architecture)

Oscar Fuchs
Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Oscar Fuchs

There has been a decades-long construction boom in China, and behind every building is an architect. Wendy Saunders has witnessed this boom, as Co-Owner and Principal Architect of AIM Architecture.

Original Date of Release: March 23, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 12 – The Aimful Architect (Wendy SAUNDERS, AIM Architecture)


WS: I need to tell them what colour they need to paint the wall? I mean, just paint it the colour that you want it to be. I mean, if you like pink, paint it pink, who cares?


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.

We're already well into the second season of this project, and in almost every episode we've mentioned the pace of construction, and the development of the built environment in China over the last decade. So it's about time we had an architect represented in the Mosaic. My guest today grew up in Belgium, is half Flemish and half English, and works alongside her Dutch husband, and you'll hear how she integrates a European perspective into the story of her life and work in China. We cover the rest of her intro very early on in our chat, so let's get on with it.

[Part 1]

OF: Let's just introduce you properly. So you are the chief architect? What's your title?

WS: Yeah, you could say that. I'm the owner, kind of I'm the owner, kind of Co-Owner and Chief Architect of AIM Architecture.

OF: How do you spell that, aim? A.I.M?

WS: A.I.M.

OF: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming in, Wendy. Oh, I should probably say your full name as well. So you're 'Wendy Saunders'.

WS: Yes.

OF: So what object did you bring that in some way describes your life in China?

WS: This one, this object.

OF: I'm intrigued, I have no idea what I'm looking at. So tell me what's going on.

WS: This is a sample of an object that we wanted to make for a project. And we never made it in the end, because it became too complicated, and stuff like that. But it's a rubber mould. And we wanted to use it for a seat of a chair. So we did a lot of testing with that. And in the end, we did the full rubber one, which of course is then too hard to sit. But it was kind of also a funny thing, maybe you don't need to sit, it's just kind of an object to have in the house. And I kind of, in my head I called it 'The King Seat' because of the crown-y spikes. But it's very uncomfortable. So it has this kind of duality to it, right?

OF: Oh, I see. So it's about being high profile, being high status, but also inflicting pain.

WS: Exactly. Why I brought it here, is because it really shows what was interesting in the beginning, what always fascinated me to be in China. When I first arrived as an architect, it was just, everywhere on the street, people were making things. You used to have a lot of these small stores and small little workshops, and you had no clue what they're really making. But you could just feel it everywhere, they were doing things and making things. And that was really exciting, everywhere people were producing stuff. And now we're part of that community, of course, because we make a lot of furniture, or pieces, or things, and interiors, or buildings. So it's a big part of what is China for us. And I remember also, kind of, our first office tables that we made, we made on the street. This guy, they used to make window frames, and we just thought "How cool is that?" To kind of just design a table that is made specifically with the stuff that he has. And it was it was really fun, to make something like that, which otherwise you would never do. Because he just did it with the pieces that he had in the shack, kind of thing.

OF: Yes. That is a great jumping-off point, because I think you've just described one of the conflicting things that you have to do as an architect: to balance the style, with the practical use, right?

WS: Yes.

OF: You have these huge buildings and you think "Oh, no expense spared, look at this amazing shiny building". And then you realise "Oh, wait a minute, the quality wasn't quite what you first expected", right?

WS: Yes, that is, I think, the constant dilemma here. But to be on the positive side, now it is changing a lot, I think that the quality is improving immensely. And also the knowledge of technology, and the knowledge of how things are made, is also really changing a lot. Because in the beginning, I think a lot of these workers - these construction workers - they come from the countryside, they have no formal education whatsoever. And they used to come to work for part of the year when the farm was not doing well. And they used to work in construction. And that was… Some people in the team, of course, were knowledgeable, but actually a lot of people, who actually were making the things, did not have any construction background, or… There's not a school that you go to learn construction, or masonry, or anything like that. So if you start thinking about it, it's very normal that they had to go through that whole process.

OF: Well, we're touching upon this subject, but let me ask you outright then. So what is the state of architecture right now?

WS: Well it's doing extremely well. There's so much going on. And again, the evolution that we've gone through, or that I've seen… When we arrived, and we wanted to start a small practice, it was really very difficult to find a client, and to actually have a few staff to actually support you. Because nobody wanted to work in a small company, it was totally not interesting for them, everybody would want to work in a 500-people company, because it was secure, and that's what China at that time was. And if you see now, there are so many independent smaller designers, architects, and they've travelled, they're better educated, or they're educated abroad or wherever, but they're really very interested in what's going on.

OF: Let's go back to when you first came. So explain what the world was like in China then.

WS: There were just a lot of changes going on. And I think everybody was quite surprised and astonished about the tabula rasa that was going through, with little respect - at that time - of the old, maybe. Which again, now is totally changed, which is great. I don't think at that moment I dared to judge it, because you also don't really understand it. I mean, the conditions that a lot of these buildings were in, were also not great. As a tourist, you pass by and think "Oh, how cute", but actually the conditions for the people who live there are not really… I mean, you would not want to live there.

OF: Yeah.

WS: So maybe many things got destroyed that shouldn't have, but it is also kind of like an evolution of learning. And I think we - in Europe, anyway - it took hundreds of years to go through that. Well, here they did in such a short time. It's kind of normal, it's kind of learning through doing, basically.

OF: Mmm. Which is something you can say about China writ large, across everything.

WS: Yes.

OF: It's this trying, iterating, failing, making mistakes, trying again, making new mistakes…

WS: Yeah.

OF: And in your world, these are building-sized mistakes, right?

WS: Yes. But it makes it also kind of a bold… It has a boldness to it, and it's also… Architects in Europe - I can only speak for European architects, but - they're very serious. You know, they think they can change the world. And in the back of my mind, I also still think I can do that. But it makes everything very serious, and you don't take things lightly, because it has this huge responsibility to it. It is. But on the other hand, you know, not everything has to be liked by everybody, not everything has to be… Things can just sometimes be a little bit off, or a little bit weird, or a little bit funny. And it is also OK, it kind of also makes a city, a city. It makes the urban fabric a lot richer. In the beginning, when I came to Shanghai, the neon was amazing. I loved it, you know, it makes everything so happy and so vibrant. And it was, for me truly, like this cliché of Asia. And then when I went to Europe, it's so boring.

OF: Right.

WS: You know, everything is so quaint, and so perfect. Or they try at least to be, you know. And if it's not perfect, it's derelict. There's not really a lot in the middle. And I think this kind of freedom, a little bit, in a city is very refreshing. And I think that that liveliness, when I came to China, gave me a huge sense of freedom as a designer, actually.

OF: Right, how interesting. And I guess it's also a consequence of, as you've already mentioned, the fast pace of change. Where you see it happening before you, so it's much more obvious to talk about, right?

WS: Yeah, in Europe, I remember when… Before coming to China, I lived in Amsterdam. And when we left Amsterdam to come here, they were redoing the Amsterdam station, and it was like a huge building pit. And they were doing the second metro line, or something. And I think 12 years later, they were still doing exactly that. And they were still building the second metro line. Well, when I arrived in Shanghai, there was a Number 1 and a Number 2 line. And now how many do you have?

OF: Fifteen? Yeah.

WS: So it was just this constant, looking, going back and forth and thinking "Wow, you know, what are we doing?" Of course there's a dark side to that, especially in interiors - which is also what I also do - the speed, and things that get built and knocked down, is sometimes shocking in the sense of how much waste it creates, and how much energy it wastes. And I think that is something that not a lot of people think about. But I think it also does change when it's about making a clear business plan, or… It used to be "I'm just going to do this". And "I'm just going to take a chance and make a little store". But they had no real idea what they were going to do with it. Or didn't really do the numbers properly. So they failed. And I think now because things have gotten a lot more expensive - also construction has gotten a lot more expensive - which is a good thing, because people think maybe a little bit harder about "What do I really want to do?" And "What effect will it have?" And "How will my business be sustainable, at least for a few years?" All these factors will bring change, and I think, in the right direction.

OF: Yes, you could build anything before, and it would somehow still make money, right?

WS: Yeah, exactly.

OF: But now you've got to be more conscious of, well, "What is it?"

WS: Yeah exactly. You need a more of a plan, an idea. And it's not like that anymore, that you can just make money…

OF: … by default.

WS: Yeah.

OF: Yeah. So how did you start your business?

WS: I was working for a company, which was really nice. And I got really well paid. But I was a bit bored, because I just didn't really feel that I could bring so much to the table. And so we thought "Oh, why don't we just do some freelancing competitions, and try to get some small work?" Which was really hard at the time because nobody knew us, nobody wanted to work with us, we didn't have any 关系 [guānxì] or anything.

OF: Right.

WS: But then we thought "OK, maybe we need to stop doing these competitions, and try and get some small work, so that we can build our portfolio, and have some fun building something at least". And we met our first client, it was a friend of a friend who was a gallery owner. And he didn't really have a lot of money, and we didn't have any work. So we said "OK, you don't need to pay us, we'll do it for free. But you have nothing to say".

OF: Oh, so you had total creative control?

WS: Yes.

OF: That's pretty good.

WS: Yeah.

OF: So what did you end up doing?

WS: Well, the thing was that design at that time, everything was very glamorous and…

OF: Gold-plated…

WS: Gold…

OF: Chandeliers…

WS: A lot of marble, chandeliers… what was seen as 'Western' at the time. And he didn't have a lot of money to build anything. "So let's just only build a few things, but then build them well". So we left the space very, very raw, and just built a beautiful mountain, to have the office inside and kind of have a stage. And then… Now it would look very, very normal, because everybody's doing that. But then at the time, it took a lot of convincing. And luckily, he was quite relaxed with it, and and he was OK with it. But it would have been hard to do that for anybody else at that time, nobody would have done it.

OF: Right. And the aesthetic you're talking about, is where you have exposed materials, you have…

WS: Yeah, we left a lot of the space 'as found'.

OF: Yes.

WS: And built in some things. Also, for budget reasons, but also because we just thought it was a lot more interesting to show what was there, instead of hiding it.

OF: With marble.

WS: Yeah, exactly.

OF: Well, that allows me to ask you, then. Like, do you have a specific design aesthetic? Or are you really at the mercy of what your clients tell you to do? Like, what is that process?

WS: We, I try to always find the essence of what they're trying to do, it has a lot to do with the context of the space that you have. But it also has to do with the client's vision, and the client's dream. And trying to really translate that, as strongly as possible within that space. For example, then HARMAY, this is the cosmetic brand that we work with. And the interesting thing with them, was that they came and said "We're an online company, we want to make an offline store. And we really want it to be not too different from each other". But how do you do that? So we tried to create something that was a place where things got sent out from, to the people that were buying online as well. So it became a hub where online and offline came together. Basically, they just asked us to do one store, and then we got on quite well together. And…

OF: Who are they? They are Chinese?

WS: Yeah, two Chinese men. And they're very good at what they do. And they're very fast in reacting to the market. They're fast in how they develop their product, their branding, their marketing, they just interact a lot with their community. And that's what made it very interesting to work with them, because they always push you a little bit further, or they ask difficult questions.

OF: So with that as a starting point then, how did you translate that into the finished product that you made?

WS: You try and understand the brand or the client And there's also a little bit of gut feeling, of course. One, you have organising the space, which is just like how can people experience the whole area? But then you also have the whole look and feel. And experiences, everybody's talking about experiences, in interior or in retail. But experience is very personal, what I think is a good experience is probably not the same as you consider a good experience. So it is also a very vague concept. Also, like with this client, the first proposal we did for them - because they were not clear, and maybe we didn't ask the right questions at the time - we kind of did the proposal that was, they said "Yes, yes, yes, yes", but by the time we were ready to build it, they said "It's not us. We're not going to do it". And we totally re-did everything. And it was so much more interesting, because then we really… And they were totally right. And then you start asking the real questions, and then you can try and make something real. It has a lot more layers than just a simple kind of quirky fact…

OF: Yes.

WS: … is maybe what I'm trying to say.

OF: Yes. And you mentioned 'real', this makes me think about the designs that look very good - especially if you think about social media, it looks like perfection, right? - and then when you actually try and use it, it doesn't work, right? That's obviously what you tried desperately to avoid.

WS: The thing is, you as a designer, you're human, you can make mistakes. You have the builder, who's human, who also might make a few mistakes. Things, especially here, can go quite fast.

OF: Yes.

WS: So there are some things that are just overlooked.

OF: And and then those mistakes can aggregate very quickly.

WS: Yes. For example, in a hotel room or something, you do have sometimes drawers that don't open.

OF: Yes.

WS: Or they were made to go open, but they only go open five centimetres, because there's something else sticking out, there's a wall sticking out too far. And nobody actually looked at that corner, and things go too fast, or because they just didn't make the drawing properly, or didn't think things through. But all these, if you can imagine, all these little details need to be thought through, need to be designed, need to be drawn out, and then built. So there's a lot of these things like… Chairs not being able to sit at the table, because the leg is there. Or they didn't think of that, or they didn't decide what chair to buy before they made the table. For example, you know, and so you have a lot of these.

OF: Yeah. Because I've been to hotels like that, where it looks pristine, and then you go "Oops!"

WS: Yeah.

OF: And then, as the customer, that's kind of what sticks in your head, right?

WS: Yes, exactly.

OF: Isn't that funny? And sometimes it's something beyond your control, and yet you have to own that mistake sometimes too.

WS: Yeah. So there's a fine line between over-designing, not designing, not caring enough, yeah. There's a lot of grey there.

OF: Interesting. And like, I sense that we're talking about interior design a lot. Like, what is the difference between interior design versus architecture?

WS: I think there's a big difference. I studied to be an architect, I didn't do any interior design before I came to China. And I was not interested at all. In the beginning, I found it very trivial. I remember being in Holland and we built a house. And then the couple that were moving in, they said "We've tried many interior architects, but they all make it so different. And we really like the architecture, why don't you be the interior designer for it?"

OF: Ah.

WS: And I was like "What? Why? I need to tell them what colour they need to paint the wall? I mean, just paint it the colour that you want it to be. I mean, if you like pink, paint it pink, who cares? That was kind of my thought about it. But then of course, I realised It's not like that. So I don't… And it's extremely difficult, interior design, as well. I mean, if you do it well, it is extremely… There's so many details on it, there's so many thoughts and processes. And so I've really learned to appreciate it. But the bigness and the boldness of an architecture project is really also very fun to work on. And to be able to orchestrate how people use a building is really very satisfying, as an architect. And to really kind of make an impact on how society can use a building, or also the surroundings of it. The building has - or should have - an impact on its surroundings, how you stand or use the space around it. And I think that is very interesting. Now, for example, we're working on a 25,000 square metre medical resort in 温州 [Wēnzhōu].

OF: Oh.

WS: And it's this beautiful landscape, a really amazing valley, and you stand there and you think "Wow", you know. First of all, you think "Why do we build anything here, it's so beautiful".

But then you think "OK, you know, people can come and enjoy this. And I want to do a good job to respect what is there". So you have this image in your mind, you do something small and kind of light, but then you look at the programme, and it's so big, I want the building to actually hover over the land. So, kind of, land and nature can just live underneath this building. So we ended up with this huge, huge building, it looks so big. But the choice of how we did it comes from that idea, that we wanted to have the mountain that it's on, to actually still be the mountain. And we didn't want to kind of stick a big building right on the mountain. So just by starting that idea has a very big consequence on how you design the building.

OF: This is the kind of thing that I think of, when I think of architecture, it's this conversation between the building and its surroundings, right?

WS: Yes.

OF: Do you see the built environment, in general now, being a little bit more aware of that conversation?

WS: Yes, I think now a lot more people are conscious of where they build, what they build. I think sometimes as a young architect, it's very tempting to… You know, you have a great idea, and you're so proud of the idea, and "I just want to build it". And it doesn't really matter where it is. And that… You need to kind of stop yourself. Because there are many ideas. And sometimes they're like, you know "Great idea, but we're not doing it here". You know, just save it for another time.

OF: Yes. And you're talking about your projects. And I'm talking to you as an individual. But of course, you have a team. So tell me about how you work in your team?

WS: Well yeah, we have a team. So we have like 35-40 people, and every project will have a project architect and small team. And we have about 70% or 65% local, and the rest would be International. It's not always easy in that way, because the different cultures, and different nationalities - and already personalities - can be quite challenging. But for us, it's very important to have that. To have like, a conversation about a concept or design, it's a very different conversation than the one that I would have with friends that I went to school with, for example. One is maybe also generational, but two it's also background and everything. But it doesn't mean that it's less, it's just very different. And you need to… Sometimes when, you know, you need to get something done, and you're a little bit under stress, you need to force yourself to be open at that moment, to kind of have that give-and-take a little bit.

OF: Yes, even as you're talking about it, I can see you have this determination in your look. But then, you have to at some point step back and say "Wait, you know, maybe I should listen to a different viewpoint", right?

WS: Yeah. Because I'm also you know… I think designers, in any way, are quite passionate people, and can kind of get emotional. So we tend to fight for our idea, or want to explain what you do. So there's also quite a lot of talking involved. And sometimes you just need to kind of… I also kind of jump in sometimes, and say "Ach, we should do like this", and then I need to… Then I go quiet. I'm like "OK. OK, you go ahead. What did you want to say?"

OF: Yes.

WS: I need to really stop myself.

OF: I like that. That's the kind of creative tension that I think would exist in many different environments, architecture included.

WS: Yes.

OF: Thank you so much, Wendy.


OF: Let's move on to Part 2.


[Part 2]

OF: OK. Part 2, Wendy, are you ready?

WS: Yeah.

OF: What is your favourite China-related fact?

WS: I remember having this conversation in the beginning, I was here with some Dutch friends that came to visit us. And I was convinced that Chinese people, their hair never goes grey. After a while, I realised that actually everybody dyes their hair. And even the men. And all the politicians and everybody, they all dye their hair black.

OF: Especially the men.

WS: And the men! I mean, the women, OK, they dye their hair already for ages, everybody does it. But the men. And this kind of fear of looking old, it was something that really surprised me so much. Because on the other hand, in China they respect the old so much more than we do in the West. So I really can't understand that duality of it, I still don't understand it.

OF: It's absolutely true. And it reminds me of an interview we did last season with the Head of Research and Development for L'Oréal here in China. And yeah, he said the same thing. It was about how the market for hair dye has now moved from those men to women. But it started off with men.

WS: Yeah.

OF: Question 2, do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

WS: I think everybody has the same, no? 没办法 [Méi bànfǎ].

OF: 没办法 [Méi bànfǎ], interesting. That's the first time in two seasons it's been said.

WS: Ah OK, no I find that it used to be said all the time to me.

OF: Can you first explain what it means?

WS: Oh, it's like, you know "You can't do anything about it". It's like "It's how the cookie crumbles", right? 没办法 [Méi bànfǎ]. So, any question that you ask somebody, like "Can you do this?" "No, no, it's out of my hands. No, I can't do it, 没办法 [méi bànfǎ], I can't". And I've realised that I don't hear it that often any more, and then I thought "Why is that?" And I think it's also because I've learned to ask the questions differently. Or maybe it's also changed… Society has changed a little bit. Because for example, I remember buying a train ticket, years ago in the train station, you would say "I want a second class train ticket to Nanjing" or something. And they would say "No, sorry, sold out". And you would be "OK. So is there another train?" And then you would start, you know, rearranging your whole trip. And then you just realise that they don't say "No, the tickets are sold out, but you could get a first class, or a third class ticket, or a standing ticket, if you really want to go to Nanjing". Nobody said that. So now I've learnt to ask my questions differently. I would say "I want a ticket to Nanjing", and then they will ask me when, or what class it has to be, and then they will get me a ticket.

OF: Yes.

WS: So it's very silly, but I've learned to ask, you know, "But maybe you can do it like this? Or like this?" And you kind of give them options, how to answer things. And then you get a lot more done.

OF: Yes. I can't explain that. But you are right. And I've been in Asia now for 16 years, not just in China. And I've experienced that same thing where you ask a closed question, they'll give you a closed answer, yes or no.

WS: Yes.

OF: There isn't this culture of "No, but how about that?"

WA: Yes. Exactly.

OF: I find like, how do I describe that? How do I attribute that to something? But yeah, it's a curious one. Excellent. What's your favourite destination within China?

WS: I have to go back… Like, before I had kids, I used to travel a lot more, I think. For me, the most surprising, then, trips that we made was go to 新疆 [Xīnjiāng], to Kashgar. Just because, the landscape is just amazing, so beautiful. But it's also such a different China. It's a totally different people. I still remember very clearly the feelings that I had, when I was there. It's just so surprising.

OF: Yeah.

WS: Very different.

OF: Next one, if you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

WS: I have to say the spontaneity of living in China, and the way things go so fast. OK, on the one hand it makes you very tired, and it has a lot of other things to it. But I will miss that. It can accommodate so many things, it's so lively, and it's so flexible. And I remember when I first arrived, I thought that was so amazing, that you don't have to make appointments weeks ahead with people. You don't have to… It's not so planned out. And now it gives me another type of stress. But that, I think, is something quite special.

OF: Mmm. What about anything you'd miss the least?

WS: Yeah, the fact of being misunderstood, and the frustration of it, I think.

OF: Even now, how many years later.

WS: Even now, still. And you're always the foreigner, right? You're always a little bit, the one on the outside. That also gives a certain freedom, and a pleasure to it. I'm not gonna lie about that. But there's also sometimes something alienating about it.

OF: Mmm. Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?

WS: Oh many. Yeah, I think it never gets really boring. You can't say life in China is ever boring. You walk around the neighbourhood where you go every day, and you'll just see something totally new, and something new popping up. Or you'll notice something, people doing something different than they did five years ago. I was going for lunch, and I just passed by this, this small little hole-in-the-wall. And you look in, and it's this super cool little store. And it's like very trendy young people it it, in the middle of nowhere. And you think "Wow, you can't imagine that happening even five years ago", and it's just always this, kind of, never boring place.

OF: Yeah. OK, next question. Where is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or just hang out?

WS: Locally, I think for 15 years, nearly every week I go to a local dumpling place on 延庆路 [Yánqìng Lù]. And I think if you've been here long, you tend to kind of keep your - well I do anyway - you tend to keep your life a little bit simple. You go to some places that you know what you're going to get. And I find, like in work, everything is quite busy and stressful. So I tried to keep my family life quite simple.

OF: Mmm. What is the best or worst purchase that you've made in China?

WS: Because I'm a little bit bigger than the average Chinese person. And my feet are a little bit bigger. So I used to kind of try and squeeze my feet in small Chinese shoes. And I think "You know, I can just do it, I can just do it". And I'll fit it in, and I'll buy them, and then I would be like walking, even just out the door, and I couldn't. You know… So many things that I gave to 阿姨 [Āyí]…

OF: That's the thing, it's… We're here in this amazing fashionable city. But yeah, the sizes are not for us.

WS: No.

OF: You can look, but you can't taste.

WS: Yeah. It's just that thing about being the foreigner. The shoe is like… It kind of fits, but it doesn't really fit.

OF: No. What is your favourite WeChat sticker?

WS: OK. I got this from a friend, and it's just super funny, I think. And it always makes me laugh because it's just these two women, fighting but not really fighting. But it's kind of this very… If you've lived here…

OF: Yeah.

WS: …It's so funny, because you can just imagine that being your neighbour, right?

OF: Yes. Next question, what is your go-to song to sing at KTV?

WS: Maybe something from Wham!, or something. Bring me back to my childhood.

OF: Which is your favourite Wham! song?

WS: Oh, Club Tropicana or something like, you know? Or like a good Blondie one would also be good.

OF: Oh, well that would suit you especially. You've got a little bit of 'Deborah Harry' about you.

WS: Yeah, a good Blondie would do, I think. Always does the trick.

OF: And finally, what about China related media or sources of information do you rely on?

WS: Well, for China news, I would just do like… WeChat is actually a very good source of news - or is it gossip? I don't really know - but you realise, everything you know goes through WeChat.

OF: Yeah.

OF: It's kind of sad.

OF: It's the way that the question is worded. But increasingly, it's just WeChat. It just shows how everyone just uses WeChat.

WS: Yeah. And you sometimes forget that people outside of China don't.

OF: Wendy, thank you so much for that.

WS: My pleasure, it was fun.

OF: The last thing that I would ask you, is the same thing I ask everyone. Which is, out of everyone you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?

WS: My friend, YoungAh Kim. She's been involved in a lot of, like the youth culture and branding and…

OF: Right. What does she do?

WS: Well, at the moment, she's doing all the training wear in adidas, but she did other big companies coming into China before. so I think it's quite interesting.

OF: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, I look forward to meeting Young-Ah. And once again, thank you, Wendy.

WS: Thank you.


OF: I loved that analogy Wendy made between how a shoes fits, and how a foreigner fits in China. To me that just describes the life of privileged immigrants anywhere: we like to fit in, and we like not fitting in, and somehow both of these states exist at the same time. Maybe this is the same duality that Wendy was describing with her object: we're kings sitting on uncomfortable chairs.

Before I forget, if you're in Shanghai between now and March 28th, you can visit the AIM Architecture pop-up exhibition in the space above Marienbad Cafe on the corner of 安福路 [Ānfú Lù] and 武康路 [Wǔkāng Lù]. I went there myself the other day, and I've posted a couple of photos online from it, please check Facebook, WeChat or to see them. You can also see a bunch of other photos there too, there's Wendy's object, her favourite WeChat sticker, lots of architectural projects, and plenty more besides… Including a map that shows the 17 lines (and counting) of the Shanghai Metro.

And finally, please subscribe to the PREMIUM version of the podcast on for an average of 10-15 minutes extra per episode. Here are some clips from today's show…

[Clip 1]

WS: Pretty is also a little bit boring.

[Clip 2]

WS: I convinced Vincent to take the train to China.

OF: Oh, all the way from Europe?

WS: Yes.

OF: He actually works with you now?

WS: Yes.

[Clip 3]

WS: When we called, they said "Come back in March." And we were like "What?"

[Clip 4]

WS: You know, you demolish something and there's a pipe there. Nobody told you, or nobody knew that it was there.

[Clip 5]

OF: You've seen it.

WS: You've seen this.

[End of Audio Clips]

And that's all for this week. Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. And we'll be back next week.

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