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Charles Frith In China: Chasing Chip

Charles Frith In China: Chasing Chip
Cities
Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 10 december 2007


On the right is one of those huge posters depicting a non existant idylic rural scene such as smoky waterfalls, that are so popular right across Asia.

There are two types of coal used in these parts and this is the lumpy stuff that gets broken down to feed the oven. Behind me is the local coal dealers stock pile.

Which is purchased by the households and then kept in dryer conditions because gas mark 5 to get the frozen pizzas nice and crispy isn’t so easy to achieve when dealing with damp fuel.

Then there are the coal briquettes which are used for the relatively primative central heating. They are more efficient in terms of quality and the size that allows them to burn stronger but also for longer. I was particularly excited by the winter cabbages being stored here because when I heard about the whole ‘stocking 200 heads of cabbage’ for winter in Chinese households I couldn’t quite imagine how it worked but in the cold of winter its practically a fridge outside and so they are maintained. I’m also rather fond of cabbage in soups as well as buttered with some creamy mustard. Out here though its pretty much a staple food.

I couldn’t help but imagine that this scene hasn’t changed since the the middle of the century and further back really. It wouldn’t take too much to knock out a Hovis inspired Ad for those phones evoking the romance of a bygone era would it? Point being its far from gone yet.


This Gentleman was the happiest and simplest guy I’ve met in ages. Only recently married his house was decked out with all new mod cons including the winter bed behind him which is harder than the summer bed because of a thinner mattres to allow the heat from the oven outside to permeate through. When oil reaches three hundred dollars a barrel maybe we’ll all be a bit more frugal with how we use energy with ideas like this. It was also interesting figuring out why he’d switched from three consecutive international mobile phone brands to his intention to buy a local brand next. Initially his reasoning was that all technology is the same so why pay a premium but with some thoughtful probing it turned out his new wife was now in charge of the purse strings. Fair play to him I thought. Women make for great houshold finance directors, although I’d be inclined to communicate that those local brands are in fact a false economy.

One more oven shot from the Gentleman above, you can tell I like them can’t you? I got the feeling that this one would be less frequently used to begin with, as he and his new wife took communal meals with his parents who live close by after building him his new home. I forget the Chinese word for this style of living. I like the way that relationships are maintained through meals though. They don’t share the living space together but food helps to keep a sense of familial involvment doesn’t it?

And here is the local 7-eleven convenience store for those last minute veggie purchases maybe forgotten to be picked up at the local weekly market shop.


Those ovens do require feeding with some decent kindle to get that coal going, and this 53 year old woman seemed to be making reasonably light work of the load needed for her household. All in all it was a fascinating day but I got the feeling that I’d like to have done a couple of nights braving the winter chill and getting into the routines of their lives to really understand what it means to sell a liberating and democratising piece of technology such as a mobile phone to these folks.

Previously published on Punk Planning 

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