Bird’s Eye China is a webcomic that combines screengrabs of Baidu Maps and clever observations for a unique and witty perspective on everyday Beijing.
Bird’s Eye China is the creation of Derek Man Lui, a copywriter from San Francisco who now lives in Beijing. While browsing Baidu Maps, a Chinese mapping service similar to Google Maps, Derek discovered that, in addition to the standard and satellite views, a third option overlaid the world in cartoonish pixel-art like a huge Super Nintendo Game. This discovery gave him the idea for a webcomic that would let him share his experiences with friends and family back home, and his sense of humor with the rest of us. PSFK caught up with Derek to learn more about his work and experiences in China:
What brought you to Beijing? Were you familiar with China when you moved there?
About three years ago I decided I wanted a change of environment and China seemed like the perfect challenge: It was new, scary (my grasp of Mandarin was at 2nd grade level) and very of the moment.
How did you come up with the idea for Bird’s Eye China?
I originally wanted to blog about my experiences in China to keep my friends and family involved in my life abroad but blogs are so boring. And my Instagram (@muttyeah) already acts like a blog. And then one day, I was browsing Baidu Maps and stumbled on this crazy cartoon mode that recreated entire cities to look like video games. Discovering this feature sparked Bird’s Eye China.
Are the comics based on real experiences, personal or overheard?
On any given day, doing something as mundane as walking my dog around the neighborhood or eating at a restaurant, I might witness a hundred different hilarious and fascinating things. Things that either piss me off or make me fall in love with China again. The culture shock never really goes away. I let my observations stew in my imagination, and every now then, out pops a new comic.
The content is fairly political. Do you intend this as a platform for delivering a message or critique on global inequality?
I don’t write Bird’s Eye China with any particularly agenda. China is a country of contrasts, defined by its 1.3 billion inhabitants – each with their unique background, personality, and unapologetic fashion sense. When 1.3 billion people go shopping, go to work, travel, put food in their stomach, fart, certain stories and themes naturally rise to the surface. I’m lucky to have such a rich source of inspiration.
What is up with this wacky Baidu maps 3D pixel art view? It seems almost more functional than the standard map.
I could get lost in this maps feature for hours digging for strange buildings and landforms. It’s so much fun. I like to think about how this Baidu Maps mode came to be. Who was the genius who wrote the brief on this project? Is there a staff of a hundred illustrators somewhere, faithfully recreating my apartment building pixel by pixel? There needs to be a Kickstarter to turn this into an alien invasion game.
Are locals familiar with your comic at all? Have you gotten any feedback from Chinese people?
Not much feedback. I think my humor leans toward Americans. But locals are always blown away by the Baidu Maps feature, more so than the actual comic.
Do you have any vision for the future of Bird’s Eye China, or will the project just be a one off?
I’d like to just keep writing more comics. Maybe one day there’s enough to publish a book.