This weekend, I took a trip to the Chengdu Creativity and Design Week event here in Chengdu, with my housemate/new friend Claire: receiver of silly rants about the complicated social politics of travel and teller of funny Chinese internship-relates stories. We spent an hour or so traveling across the city, tube stop to tube stop, changing to line 3… It was a bit of trek! The event was held at the New International Convention and Exhibition Centre, which just so happens to be located very close to the New Century Building; the so called ‘biggest building in the world’. Quite a sight to see!
The event exhibited a huge range of different design work. There were various types of technology; (phones, watches, power packs…), cars, lighting, skateboards, jewellery, packaging, figure modelling, furniture (there was even an IKEA exhibit with sofas on grass and a huge wall made of cardboard boxes!), and so much more. It was also the temporary home of the Chromacon Showcase, featuring New Zealand based artists T-Wei, Allan Xia, Scott Savage, Martin Horspook and Anna Johnstone. It was relatively quiet on the day we visited, the last day of the event, although apparently, they had seen a massive 2.5 million visitors, and before we arrived there were awards presentations, artistic talks and demonstrations, workshops and book-signings. Author Master Li even signed his books in his signature upside-down calligraphy style!
Obviously, the most important and exciting part of the event was the Nescafe coffee machine (bare with me), with a SOY BEAN MILK button. If the UK is to take anything from Chinese culture and development, let it be this – This is the future! While we were there, and after a complimentary soy milk coffee, Claire and I wandered around as many stalls as we could possibly lay our eyes on, stopping every now and then to take photos and admire amazing design work. There were ornamental ceramic bowls and life size animal sculptures, we gazed at coloured string structures and cleverly arranged wooden framed interiors, 3D fantasy figures, stalls for holiday park… The content was so diverse and exciting to see, and it spanned outwards seemingly endlessly in all directions.
We had the pleasure of meeting a few designers and people from companies all over China and further afield. We were shown around stalls, told stories of success and asked about our travels and our purpose for being here in Chengdu. Of course many photos were taken of us, as they tend to do a lot with Westerners in China. One company who were particularly interested in holding our attention and sharing their experiences with us were the guys at Meetion Tea. There were two of them with enough English to offer us samples of their tea and enough broken Mandarin between the two of us to enquire what was in them. They offered us Blueberry flavours, red bean, banana, and some sweet tea we didn’t quite manage to decipher. They showed us their packaging (designed by another company) and after silly amounts of tea we were offered a tasty pineapple cocktail which was probably a bit too alcoholic for 3 in the afternoon but hey, when in China…
We also stumbled across a lovely couple who run Choclito, Tom and Lily. They made us feel so welcome and were genuinely interested in our story so I thought I’d share a bit of theirs. Choclito is a Belgian chocolate figure business running from China. The company is owned by Tom, who began his journey in Belgium working in his three-generation-old family business in Belgian chocolate. He crafts every figure like a piece of art, the Belgian Royal family including the princess and the queen even visit the family factory! Lily told us about how they have learned to be cautious and seek perfection but also to be brave in pushing new ideas into the future. The couple first met when Tom was in China on business. They soon fell in love and after returning to Belgium, every month Tom would send Lily a box of handmade chocolates. After the 12th box, Tom decided to move to China to live with Lily and start Choclito (Choc for chocolate, Li for Lily, To for Tom). All the finest raw materials are imported from Belgium, every single chocolate is made by hand using traditional, Belgian methods and advanced techniques, and every chocolate has its own design and story. Our favourites were the pandas!
After exchanging WeChat accounts and taking a few last minute snaps, we prized ourselves away from the pineapple flavoured cocktails and beautifully crafted chocolates and made our way back towards the entrance to tackle the long subway ride home. Luckily, we ran into a little street-food market close to the metro station and indulged in a stick of syrup-coated dough balls each. Yum! If you’re in Chengdu, definitely make sure you take full advantage of the street food (except maybe the rabbit skulls and pig snouts)… And of course try out all the cultural opportunities available to you. Despite its laid-back appearance, Chengdu is still a big city and there is a lot going on if you throw yourself in!