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Main Topic: Beyond the Beijing Burbclaves

Hosts: James Stanworth , Clyde Warden

Clyde and James are in Beijing doing some consulting work. For this show, they get together and look at some contrasts between the gated communities of Beijing, out near the airport, and the very normal local spaces consumers live in.

All international cities have two sides, the side presented to foreigners and the side locals see. Beijing is exactly this way, but the opportunity to never even see the local is very high cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as gated communities have sprung up that reproduce Western houses and even towns. More than any other location, these communities are very similar to the burbclaves of Neal Stephenson’s novels. In fact, one of the selling points is just how much these communities resemble specific American or UK towns.

Beijing TV When you walk through these communities, you hear all the sounds so normal to Western homes--even some garage bands as the expat children kill time. Little import shops are common also, where one can find all the comforts of American consumption, at about twice the local equivalent price. In other words, with nice big international schools, no one ever really need face the uncomfortable fact they are living in China. In fact, it is even better than home. One of the most common sights while walking is a large number of domestic help walking large (expensive) purebred dogs. Drivers take you where you want to go, and all the food shopping and preparation is done for you. In other words, all the normal day to day consumer behaviors the mainstream Chinese consumer performs are skipped over by these expat communities, leaving plenty of time for higher-end consumption.

What is scary is these people are making the strategic and tactical decisions of Western firms trying to penetrate the local consumer market. If you get the idea they are out of touch, well, it is because they are. And who do you think they hire to work in the top levels of their firms in China? Of course graduates form the top Beijing universities, who have perfect English skills. Not exactly the most in touch people either.

Just a short walk, however, can bring one in contact with the real mainstream consumption of normal consumers, and even the domestic help of the expats. What one can see are the huge availability of local brands, far underpricing the American brands, and being placed right where consumers are and being sold by retailers who understand the context of the product’s use.

My norm is this norm over here, very different from what the expats are seeing as normal and modern.

The Show:

Length: 22 minutes. Download MP3 39.2MB (Right click->Save As).


Show Links:

Bottom Line:

  • Gated communities in China are physically and psychically cut off from the local reality.
  • Malls present a Western value system, with retailers pandering to the expat community.
  • The feeling that China is just like America is easy to be reinforced, although this is a complete disconnect.
  • Local consumer reality is never far away.
Category: Podcasts

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