Research topic

In case you did not know what I am working on, here is a tag cloud made from the introduction of an article I just finished writing. The principle of the tag cloud is that the words that are most used in a certain piece of text are the biggest in the cloud. Which means that my general area of research iiiis …branding, well done! In the context of this specific articles, I looked more specifically at brand communities, “SNS” which stands for Social Networking Sites (Facebook is the most obvious example of SNS) and brand commitment.

What I tried to understand is whether it makes sense for brands to have “fan pages” (or pages of the kind) to communicate with members of a social networking site, and what are the branding benefits of this.

Think about the brands, products, celebrities or causes that you “like” or the groups that you are a member of on Facebook. Is there a lot of them? Do you actually participate or take a look at what is said on these pages/groups? Do you like them because you really care, just for fun or because you want others in your network to know it?

Even if Facebook is probably going to die out at some point, I am fascinated with the idea of social networking sites and how they shape our lives and the way we communicate. Just like Facebook surpassed the once famous MySpace, another website will probably replace it one day (Google +?). As my main interest at school was marketing, I decided to take a look at these sites from a marketing perspective. So here I am!

I would love to tell you all about what I am doing, I could do it for hours…but I just wanted to give you a taste of it with this post 🙂 Keep blogging, posting, liking, commenting, tweeting, ….Keep SHARING!

Riding around

After living for a year in China and using a bike quite frequently, I found myself a bit lost in Glasgow without one. Since I also got my belgian bike stolen in August, and the criminality rate in Glasgow is quite similar to the one in Liège (I assume), I did not want to invest too much in my new bike and was on the lookout for a nice online deal….which I finally found – as well as a big solid lock :-). Meet my bike —————>

So, now I can proudly ride around and discover new parts of the city (in addition to my usual everyday trip, to and from the University). As today was extremely – and unusually – bright and sunny, I could not miss the opportunity to go for a ride. Here are some views of Glasgow on a nice Sunday morning.

This is the “Glasgow Green”, a big park on the south east side of the city. Very nice place to walk around…and have a chat with an old Irishman for 45 minutes 🙂

These were taken by the river Clyde. The riverside feels a bit like Liège in some place, although more industrial; you would almost expect to see an old steam train transporting coal on these bridges. The first bridge hereunder reminds me of the one that links Angleur with le Val Saint Benoît.

The old man I talked to today in the park (not creepy at all, rather very nice and interesting) told me something I find quite wise, and I will leave you on this note:

“If you start finding excuses for not doing something today, you probably won’t do it tomorrow either”.

Wish you all a very good week!

A breath of fresh air – Isle of Arran

When nature is so beautiful, there isn’t much more we can add.

I went to the Isle of Arran today (South West of Glasgow), and this is what I saw…

Below the ferry that took me to the island. A delightful trip of about an hour from the harbour of Ardrossan. I just love being on boats.

Here the Brodick Castle and its surrounding gardens. The castle is made of different parts built between the XIII and IXX centuries, a true taste of the past. Guess which was my favourite room?

Autumn countryside…can you spot the sheep?

Seaside at dusk. (Eating chinese food in the meantime…a bit less glamourous)

And a view of the island from the ferry, as the ferry was leaving.

Sweet dreams everybody …

告别上海

告别上海 or “good bye Shanghai”…Most of you already know that I have been accepted as a PhD student in Glasgow and, after almost one year in Shanghai, this is where I am headed now!

So, this post is dedicated to the great people I met here in Shanghai: some Chinese, some French, some Belgian, German, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, etc… I was only here for a year but you all really became friends and made this year in Shanghai what it was for me.

Even though my journey ahead looks very exciting and is what I have been waiting for, I am not leaving without sadness. Sadness for going and live far from what has become my home and family with Thomas, first…and sadness from leaving friends as well. But I will stay in touch for sure!

First, this blog will help. Second, I will come back to Shanghai (how can I live without my Thomas and Potatoe cat, without a decent cup of bubble tea and some fried dumplings?). Third, you are all more than welcome to visit in Scotland, …if you are brave enough to come face the heavy rain and drink loads of whiskey 🙂 (Avazu people, we see each other in Milan!)

I started writing this blog in French in order to let my friends and family from Belgium follow my adventures in Asia. Now I am leaving Shanghai, I want to keep in touch with friends I made here as well; I will therefore start writing in English (and stick to french when I need to make fun of the chinese or scots :p). On top of that, I am headed to an english-speaking country, so it even makes more sense (not like I could have written anything in chinese before…). I know I am not leaving the belgians aside by writing in English: most of you guys speak pretty well english anyways – and if you don’t, please do… we need a competitive edge over the French people when our country dies and we become a french region 🙂

So, I will go back to enjoying my last few days in Shanghai and wish all the best to you guys. Please stay away from the typhoon!

Lau

I love bibimbap!

Expats living in China will understand when I say that Seoul is civilization. A bit like Japan, I guess, although I have never been. When you arrive in Seoul, you understand that the economic boom is over, that middle class as we know it in Europe has already developed and settled, and that, thank goodness, people have manners as we mean it.

The only tiny negative point about this trip to South Korea was that I visited in the middle of the rain season. What can you do…although it rained on and off for 4 days, at least it was a bit cooler than Shanghai: we left China under 35-40°C, so a small 25°C, even with wet feet, was much appreciated.

For four days, I roamed each corner of the city. Or at least it feels like a saw a great deal of this vast capital.

In Seoul, temples and palaces are legion. There are 6 main palaces in the city centre. Each time, they are a collection of temples serving multiple and varied functions, and arranged in a very large space with beautiful gardens, ponds and parcs around. What I loved most about old Seoulite temple architecture was the way temples were painted in bright, yet elegant colors. It gives a sense of harmony, detail and yet simplicity that I have not found in Chinese temple architecture.

Seoul1


seoul2

To my greatest delight, Seoul is also a city rife with museums and art galleries. I found the Seoul Art Center to be undeniably the best place for art lovers: a plethora of exhibitions are grouped there, along with theatres, an opera and the school of arts. I would also warmly recommend visiting the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, in the Itaewon area. No, it is not a museum of mobile phones, it is just commissioned by the Korean electronics giant Samsung. Seoul also has a tradition of making craft masks, which I found really impressive:

seoul masks

Another wonder about Seoul is its food. First of all, do not worry if there is about a dozen different tiny dishes accompanying your main dish. These contain assorted pickled vegetables, which vary according to the restaurant and area. Amongst them, though, a constant: there is always, always kimchi. Kimchi is white cabbage, pickled and preserved in a mixture with chilli and garlic. It seems that Koreans eat it with about every meal. Let me assure you that your nice breath takes a hit after a mouthful of kimchi!

A traditional dish is the bibimbap (picture below), which comes in a stone dish and contains rice, vegetables, mince, egg yolk…all of this mixed in a spicy sauce. It’s abosultely gorgeous! The traditional Korean barbecue is also a must: they bring a little portable barbecue at your table (if the table is not already fitted with a built-in barbecue) and you can cook beautiful thin-cut slices of beef or pork yourself.

bibimbap

South Koera also bears a number of surprises for the European traveler: a unique alphabet invented by Kind Sejong in the 15th century; toilets fitted a very disturbing system of cleaning sprays and blows (AND a self-heating seat), and locals sporting high-heeled Wellies. Rainy season, but in style, please!

Crazy China

After a few months of advanced ethnography of the Chinese population, let me summarise for you in a few points the cultural clash that us, expats in Shanghai, live every day…

Sustainability first 

Fact #1: Chinese people are environmentally friendly. Or not.

Everything is individually packaged, from toilet rolls to flowers. Here, if the streets are super clean it’s not because people are well educated like in The Netherlands, it’s because there is an army of street cleaners — who are payed close to nothing. Here, so long recycling! So long different-colour trash bags…everything ends up in the same bin.

Global marketing at its best

Fact #2: if its sounds western, it sells. At the supermarket you’ll have the chance to find a detergent named “Pigeon”, a brand of shampoo called “Sifoné”, or “Descente” apparel. Well, if it sells…After all, Superdry is a purely British brand that has nothing to do with Japan despite it’s heavy use of Japanese graphics and signs.

Yummi!

Fact #3: Chinese people have a mutant stomach.

For instance, we don’t really know if the picture here, taken at the supermarket downstairs, represents the weekly oil supply of a family or of a fried noodle shop….but we don’t really want to find out either.

Coagulated duck blood will find its way in your soup; you will be unable to find something that has not been fried, fried and re-fried (except, maybe, said duck blood) & chicken feet are by no means to be tossed: they are a sought-after snack. Oh and be ready to have a bowl of spicy noodles for breakfast, too.

I think I am in for a colonoscopy next time I come back to Europe. My stomach might already have mutated, though.

At the gym…

Fact #4: in China, sport is “casual”…

First of all, who needs trainers to exercise. Like the lady here, feel free to come to the gym in your high heels, that’s perfectly fine. Secondly, running is vulgar: one WALKS on a treadmill. It’s so much better to walk inside rather than in the polluted city. Then again, forget about gym gear: jeans and a button-down will do just fine.

Lastly, when you go into the lockers, ladies, take a deep breath. Intimacy and reserve are inexistent: when you get changed, you go all out and hang about naked as long as you need to. I have no visual proof I’m afraid…

Flawless style

Fact #5: Chinese people have taste.

They will tell you that you are the one dressing in a very boring way, but do take it as a compliment, because to them, fashion means:

  • Wearing Winnie the Pooh slippers in the tube (photo)
  • Going grocery shopping in a Mickey Mouse fleece pyjama
  • Matching a stripped shirt with polka dots trousers, Crocs and flowery gloves (what looks nice on its own, looks nice with anything!)
  • Wearing heels so high you can only walk like a duck
  • Having skirts so short that they are actually belts (I guess it’s to make up for the inability to wear low cuts…you make do with what you have)
  • Own a real Louis Vuitton bag when you make €400/month
  • Sport FAKE Vuitton bags, Prada glasses, Jimmy Choo shoes and a Guess belt…well, because the fake market is around the corner.

Here are a few pointers of what to expect if you plan on coming and visit in Shanghai. Those who’ve come already can testify. I also wanted to say a word about politeness, but I think I will need a whole post just for that. Freedom of speech could also be a theme, but I would not want my blog to be blocked by the government (there, I already said too much).

I hope you enjoyed the read and the glimpse into Chinese culture!

Thailand

On February 3rd, 2011, day of the Chinese New Year, we flew to Bangkok on our way to a longer trip in Laos. We only got to spend a day there before flying to Chaing Rai, in the North.

Although Bangkok has a sad reputation of being the capital city of sex tourism, it is also and most importantly, a beautiful Asian city to visit. Thailand is economically much more advanced than its neighbor Laos, and tourism plays an important role in this financial stability. They speak Thaï, have Teravada Bouddhism as main religion and the currency is the baht (40 000 baht = roughly 1 euro).

We decided to spend the very little time we had there as perfect tourists, and visited the Royal Palace. As you can see, sobriety is not a key word there: there are loads of golden ornaments and architecture is extremely detailed. The Royal Palace is a hallmark of the city and the King himself is really close to a living God – you can see his picture on every corner.

Like many other Asian capitals, Bankgok is hustling and bustling day and night. Thai people love flowers too, which they use as gifts to Buddha and arrange is sophisticated ornaments. Below a picture of the flower market.

Bangkok is not only a treat for the sense of smell, but also that of taste! Local specialties can be found and eaten anywhere in the streets: chicken satay skewers, fried anything, Phos, …and insects! I tried with much anticipation and pleasure a few fried insects…Yummi!

After a brief walk through the hot district where the population is composed almost exclusively of white male and Thai girls, cute night markets were a much appreciated change of air and ended my first and only day in Bangkok before flying to the north of Thailand.

Weekend in Beijing

After living for 4 months in China, it was high time for me to go and visit Beijing. I took advantage of an impromptu business trip to have an express tour of the capital city.

The week-end kicked-off in a bit of a rush: finish work at 7.30 on Friday night, leave Shanghai at 10.00 and arrive in Beijing by midnight. The next morning, wake up call at 7 am, direction the Great Wall.

Great Wall

The Great Wall (Chang Cheng in Chinese) is this massive and really impressive, 9000 km-long stone wall. We reached it by cable car and then started walking on the wall itself, which is quite a hike! Reaching the highest towers takes a while, and there are quite a few steps to take, but it is really worth the effort, especially with the wonderful weather we were lucky to have.

We visited two spots on the Great Wall: Mutianyu, which is rather touristy, and Huang Hua, which is much quieter and secluded. In Mutianyu, after admiring the view and some intense leg action, we had an amazing time on the slide that took us down the wall. There again, you could see the difference between careless Europeans going down the slide as fast as possible, and respectful (or scared!) Chinese people going as slow as they could. I must confess to slightly bumping into a poor child in front of me…After these emotions, we took it to Huang Hua (Yellow Flower) in the afternoon for a bit of peace and quiet. We fished our own lunch and had it in a little hillside restaurant, with the same wonderful view of the wall.

On the Saturday night, it was the cherry on the cake! Or, rather, the duck on the crepe. As you know, Beijing is known for its “Peking Duck”, and it was a must for us to have it at least once. The cutting ceremonial that goes with it and the wonderful sauces and condiments made for a truly amazing meal.

Tiananmen Square

Forbidden City

On Sunday, we were off to the other key attraction of the city: the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (above). The Forbidden City was erected in the middle of Beijing, under the Ming and Qing dynasties. At its entrance on Tiananmen Square, the massive portrait of chairman Mao reminds you not to speak too loud around there. We spent a few hours in the beautiful Forbidden City before heading to an area with traditional houses: the Hutongs (below).

Hutongs

We finished the trip with a visit of the very hype and busy area of Sanlitun, and then hopped back on the plane to kick-start a new week of work, super fresh!

 

10 Days in Vietnam

Taking advantage of the Chinese national holiday on October 1st and the few days off that usually go with it, I took a 10-day break in the country of spring rolls. A breath of fresh air in a country quite different from China!

These ten days were very intense, as we visited 5 cities, took the place 5 times and took the bus twice for 5 hours on very windy roads in the countryside. We first landed in Ho Chi Minh (also called Saigon), the economic capital; Hanoi, the former Indochine capital city; Hoi An, a delightful small coastal city; Da Lat, a city percehd up in the central Highlands, and Mui Ne, known for its sandy dunes.

Although it seems hard to express the beauties of this country in a few words and pictures, here are a few key memories from this trip:

Hanoi Flowers

Vietnam is the country of cheap massages (5 to 15 euro for 3 hours), spring rolls (fresh or fried, a pure madness), amazing food in general, flowers (see picture) and kindness. Indeed, we were amazed by how smiling and welcoming Vietnamese people are. Everyone speaks English, and even sometimes French among the elderly (signs of the former French and American occupation of the country). Overall, it was a delight going around, communicating with locals and discovering the country through their tales.

Hanoi People

Ha Noi was my city crush. The tourist guides do not lie when they say it’s the most “athmospheric” city of the country. For instance, crossing the street and hoping to come alive on the other side is a really though exercise due to the density of traffic and amount of motorcycles in action. We also had the chance to be there for the city’s millennial: the whole city center became pedestrian at night: we go trapped in what seemed like an urban revolution! Above, a picture taken with a group of teenagers that night.

Da Lat

We also visited the countryside and more picturesque areas like Da Lat, a little town perched up in the central Highlands (above), where they produce their own, but slightly dubious wine and coffee (beans below!). Mui Ne and Hoi An also offered relaxing beach breaks.

Da Lat Coffee

Here we are now back in China where I have started my first full time job.

I miss holidays already!