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Mobile technology in China runs largely parallel to the rest of the world. Here, there are rarely Google searches; instead, we use Baidu (Google searches account for less than 2% of the total in China; Baidu searches capture more than 65%). We don’t use Ebay; instead it’s Taobao. There’s no Twitter, Facebook, or WhatsApp; these are all rolled into WeChat.
The parallel world exists here in part because of the Great Firewall of China. It also exists because platforms built to support primarily Chinese language inputs need a different DNA than those built to support primarily English language inputs. Finally, we have a parallel tech world here because of different interests, assumptions, and expectations of Chinese consumers.
One result of this is a handful of billion dollar tech firms that few Americans have heard of. The coolest, most desired jobs for young Chinese are at companies like Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei. To my friends in NYC, these sound more like Disney characters than competitors to Apple and Microsoft.
Another result of living in a parallel tech world is I get to see the breakneck speed of innovation at Chinese companies. There are some stunningly useful apps in China that either blow the U.S. equivalent out of the water, or are so unique that they have no parallel back home. One example: China’s versions of Uber. (Uber exists in China, but it is struggling). I use DiDi to call for a car. It is voice activated, allowing me to record a quick message to the driver.
But my favorite new app is Baidu Translate. I can photograph something and let the magic of a Baidu algorithm find the word for the object in the photo in both English and Chinese. Yesterday, I forgot how to say “humidifier” in Chinese. So I snapped a photo of my humidifier, and, presto, Baidu told me how to say it (加湿器, for the curious). Brilliant!
Of course, it’s more fun to talk about the fails than the successes. Check out this tumblr and see how Baidu thought a chicken was a flying squirrel, and thought Sun Yatsen was Elvis Presley.
These two photos were taken one week apart. The first is on a day with a low AQI. The second is on a day with a high AQI. This is life in Beijing. Luckily, we have good air filters in the house, so at home the air is perfectly clean. But most Beijingers are not so lucky.
I wont be in town this year for the greatest combo of Jewish and Chinese Christmas you can find: Woks and Lox, this year at Nom Wah. If you’re in NYC this weekend and in the mood for some delicious food, matzoh lager (no kidding!), and some free copies of Kosher Chinese, get yourself a ticket.
Exciting news: I’ve taken on a new role at Avenues: The World School, and it will move me for the foreseeable future to Beijing.
Brooklyn has been my home since I left Guiyang. I’ll miss biking to Williamsburg for coffee; walking with my dog in Prospect Park; finding a new fantastic restaurant each weekend with my wife. I’ll miss my friends, and my colleagues. I’m sad I wont be in Brooklyn when the Nets beat the Thunder in the 2014 NBA Finals.
In fact, I wouldn’t even consider leaving this little hipster heaven if not for such an exciting project. Avenues is building a global school with three goals in mind: graduating students who are
fluent in multiple languages;
active global citizens;
prepared to do well and do good in the 21st century.
We will do this, in part, by opening 20 campuses in 20 global cities, and encouraging our students to move between them. Now that our flagship campus is up and running here in NYC, we’re ready to expand. China is an ideal choice for campus #2.
So what’s to come? In the short term, I’ll be able to build programs in China for our current students from New York. In the longer term, I’ll help hire our new faculty, help oversee construction of our new campus, help drum up applicants from China, and help facilitate a cross-pollination between the NYC curriculum, and the best of the Chinese curriculum.
And, of course, I’ll have plenty to write about.
The Peking Duck has a nice review of Unsavory Elements, Tom Carter’s collection from China. My story of teaching in Beijing kicks off the collection; worth a look if you can get your hands on a copy.