I spent many years walking the streets of London’s Soho. Every day would include a transvestite or two; a man sheepishly ducking into a sex shop; buff gay guys strutting their stuff; token drunks.
Photograph by Barney Edwards
Eventually these became reassuring. Even the most bizarre overheard exchanges were in a language I understood. Well, more or less.
I now start every day completely unaware of what will cross my path. Old people practicing Tai Chi or tapping tree trunks (to promote longevity apparently). Others walking the streets in pyjamas. Or walking backwards. Or walking backwards in pyjamas.
Traffic lights have little purpose. Road signs are pointless. One-way streets don't exist. The Chinese are a people are on a mission. To get ahead, no matter what it takes. They are completely driven. Constantly striving. Out for themselves, or more to the point, their child.
There’s no shame in barging past as you walk, cutting up traffic, squeezing into an overloaded lift or disobeying a one way street. Not if it saves time.
I may still be a little way from comfortable with all this, but I’ve certainly grown to respect it. This is a nation dedicated to achieving its goals, double speed. Undistracted by other people's opinions. In the daily Zen rituals and the made up road rules lies an unwavering commitment to moving forward.
The results defy belief. Want to see a daring and creative approach? Try building a 16 storey hotel from scratch in 72 hours.
I’ve seen the footage.
Then you start to understand why a client has no problem with asking for 5 new campaigns by Friday.
There’s no doubt I’ve got my work cut out here in this supersized creative department. There’s talent from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and of course local Chinese, with an American and a few Brits thrown in for good measure.
The creative standard is not as high as I was used to in London - there’s a lot of training to be done - but with the self-belief and sheer drive of the people here, it won’t be long before China is competing with the best on a regular basis. In Cannes this year JWT Shanghai won the Grand Prix for best outdoor with a beautifully crafted piece of work for Samsonite. The creative future, just like the economic future, is Chinese.
So I find myself looking homeward, for people who want to be part of something exciting and new. A frontier land of creative opportunity. A place akin to the old Wild West, where anything is possible.
Ogilvy Shanghai is becoming a global hub, with a mixture of local and international brands. Then there’s Beijing. More Chinese, more rooted perhaps, with a big, original and exciting art scene. Google the area 798 and you’ll find a district full of amazing galleries that takes two days to walk round.
Modern post-Olympic architecture rubs shoulders with the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven - an incredible place to spend a sunday morning, among hundreds of Tai Chi practitioners with their fans and swords, their chanting in the woodlands. On my last visit to Beijing we took the head creatives to an old favourite restaurant of Chairman Mao, eating beneath photographs of his meeting with Che Guevara.
The agency there outsizes even Shanghai. More than 1000 people, including an exciting digital department. Hardly surprising when you learn that more Chinese sign up to the internet each month than the entire population of New Zealand.
A mind boggling statistic, but one amongst many. More people are learning English here than in the rest of the world put together.
The economy has grown 7 times faster than the US in the last 10 years. They will build enough skyscrapers by 2025 to completely fill 10 cities the size of New York, and China has more pigs than the next 43 pork-producing countries combined.
So come on out, eat some pork and help shape the world’s future.
Or just tap a tree trunk...