Friday, 24 June 2011

Youth in Kunming

I've caught occasional glimpses into youth in the different countries I've visited and as I know it's often a fascinating group of people to many brands and marketers, so here are a few observations that may be useful and/or interesting. I was thinking of writing a post about several countries and observations at once, but after thought that would be way too long and would probably lose focus. In many ways, some of the things I noticed or thought about while traveling have been like looking through a keyhole without getting the full picture, and that's often where I find the most interesting pieces of insight, even if sometimes I don't know what it all means, I have more of an idea where to look next if I'd like to find out more about a topic.

As for the previous post, we are still in Kunming, City of Eternal Spring and capital of Yunnan Province, in Southwestern China, a few months ago. For a bit more background, Kunming is a lovely city, not very large by Chinese standards with about 5 million inhabitants. Similarly to many Chinese cities, the old town has mostly been destroyed to make way for modern roads and buildings, though it seems to have been done particularly well, giving the centre of town an airy and agreeable feel. The people seem rather laid-back and friendly, not moving at the same kind of frenetic pace one can notice towards the large urban areas of the eastern side of the country.

While walking around on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I came across several fairly large groups of young people and teenagers practicing their hip hop dance moves and routines on one side of a pedestrian square, and some dancing to more dance / vaguely electronic music on another (Mostly girls, with what seemed to me like emo or gothic looks, though they probably weren't at all - different references).

Check here for a quick Audioboo sound snippet of the scene (embed didn't seem to work, weirdly).

It was nice to see them express themselves and be quite at ease with dancing or singing in front of all their peers as well as passing strangers, if you think about it, it's not usual characteristics one would associate with teens. The classic stereotypes would probably include being self-conscious, worrying what others think of you and wanting to be part of the right kind of group. I'm not saying they don't have these concerns though they didn't seem to have them as I was observing so perhaps they show up differently.

The closest scene I could imagine elsewhere, and mostly coming from hearsay or movies rather than personal experience, is in the US, kids gathering close to outdoors basketball courts with the boom boxes or car stereos, hanging out and some dancing. It's completely cliché, but that's how this scene in Kunming felt. I wonder if that's where these kids got their cues from to start gathering like that..?

Another thought is about the fact that concepts of personal space or privacy are also completely different in China (perhaps Asia) than they are in the west (I'm generalising). This point alone can easily be the main focus of an all nighter conversation with friends, alongside some wine and/or drinks so I'm not going to go much into it aside from saying that people all over China practice dancing, tai chi and various other physical activities in large groups everyday, interior spaces are often crowded so the streets and public areas are naturally places where people meet and hang out so perhaps what these teens are going it all normal and nothing to do with American culture - apart from the music itself perhaps.

To finish on a different note about Kunming, a few days later I visited a trendy bar / club type of place and noticed this poster in the entrance:
Is it a party for white people? Do white blond girls on the poster attract more Chinese customers? Or the promise of white blond girls? Is it a party where are you are supposed to come dressed in white?

I'm still not sure what this one is about, though fascinating and rather funny I think, happy to get ideas and suggestions about it.

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