So, I went to China earlier this week. Out on Saturday, back on Wednesday. I went out with a couple of colleagues to assess, and subsequently (hopefully) recommend formal university approval of a potential partnership with Zhejiang Fashion Institute of Technology (ZFIT) in Ningbo on the Eastern Coast.
The whole visit went very well. Although I’ve encountered a fair bit of Asia, and spent a lot of time in the South East, this was my first visit to China. As with all first visits to such places, encountering the cultural and geographical differences are a joyous aspect for me of what was an all-too-brief immersion into an other; from the different taste of the air as one steps off the plane, to the etiquette of the formal business card greeting, to the ubiquity of delicious green tea accompanying every meeting, to the unfamiliar shapes of the architecture, both in the smallest of details and the wider sense of a cityscape. And the food…Oh the food! As an ardent foodie I have come away with many new ideas echoing in my taste buds. Suffice to say we were hosted to with an inch of our lives….
My cultural rendering of the familiar as welcomingly different was offset by what I perceived to be an increasing sense of global connectivity. Backed by a clear directive from the government, Ningbo’s agenda is to build – there’s a palpable sense of opportunity fuelled by an appetite for growth delivered with a speed unthinkable in the UK. The hotel we stayed in was an impressive building, clearly there to provide a sense of familiarity blended with regional character to the international business traveller. Breakfast catered to the traditions of all continents… (I still went for the red bean porridge and noodles*) Similarly, our brief tour of the Ningbo waterfront city centre saw East and West meet, with the traditional buildings and cultural reverence for the historical teachings and the evolutionary story of China sitting alongside the new churches – modern glass and steel arcades fronted by Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada et al.
Here’s a link to a slide show of the whole experience…
Aside from the business of business (I’ll tie all this together at the end, promise) the other aspect of the visit was entirely unforeseen. When we left Manchester the airport was shrouded in fog, which delayed our departure, resulting in a change of connecting flights through to Ningbo. For a while we were headed for Shanghai, but it ended up being Beijing. However, these shenanigans resulted in my luggage deciding to have a trip of its own, which meant that, due to its wish for independence and its desire to take in a number of sights and experiences sans yours truly, we were only actually reunited in Beijing on the homeward flight.
This meant, pretty much as soon as we checked in, and in the slight wobbly corporeal mismatch between internal time zone and external reality, I needed to visit the shops in Ningbo in order to replace the essentials and find another shirt. I had a speech to give the next day to a large gathering and needed to find a look other than that of 27-hours-awake-in-flight-chic. So my graceful and understanding hosts took us all off to a local supermarket. This again was one of those instances where the familiar is rendered strange, but there’s fun to be found when one can ride the disruption. (You try miming ‘hair styling wax’ without shampoo being the inevitable result…) However, we managed to find a shirt (slightly over-cosy denim is, apparently, the look for 2017) and pair this with a brand new University of Salford tie (resplendent with new coat of arms, mind). I think I’m the first to wear the tie at an official event. And possibly the first and last to carry it off with a fetching light weave denim. I give thanks right here and now to various deities for the small mercy of my coat.
But it was fun – genuine exploratory fun – riding the disruption, I had a little taste of the unexpected and saw a tiny slice of everyday Ningbo that I wouldn’t have otherwise strayed into. What a beautiful gift.
And there’s the tie together. I find that meeting of opposites fascinating – it’s an often unpredictable collision: the plan and the unforeseen in the luggage adventure, the Eastern traditions and Western practices in Ningbo as a whole. I think that’s what our (hopefully soon to be formally approved) partnership offers; focused as it is on fashion, it’s a meeting place for western pedagogies associated with disruptive experiential creative practices ,set alongside a Chinese educational system which brings a personal discipline and set of traditional values into this shared learning sphere. It’s an interesting and carefully tuned endeavour – one I’m really looking forward to seeing grow and develop and one that will undoubtedly produce further possibilities.
Not a bad start to the year at Salford. I hope the rest of our 50th birthday year will be just as much fun….
See you next week.
*And possibly a croissant