October 7, 2016

Ad-ventures Abroad : Shanghai

This story ends on a Chinese woman’s mantlepiece. It begins in John Hegarty’s office. As months go, August 2014 was a pretty bitching month. After a 10 month placement, Callum and I were given permanent jobs at BBH London. Two weeks later, they shipped us to the China office for a big pitch.

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At that point, I had never stepped foot in China, or Asia even. Like any virginity, I was pretty excited to lose my China virginity. But when it came to losing my China virginity it was exactly like losing my actual virginity. Fucking terrifying. This pitch was huge. Samsung. The biggest spending brand in the world, and BBH laid trust in me to be part of the global pitch team...two weeks into employment.

All nerves soon passed, though. The “ad-venture” started in the best possible way. BBH flew us business class. I’d never flown business class before. I lost several virginities on this trip. Only this virginity was helped along with complimentary champagne instead of Strongbow. As bitching as that sounds, they flew us business class because we had work to do on the 13 hour flight. And work did happen. Honestly. For roughly 3 hours. The rest was spent revelling at being able to LIE DOWN ON AN AEROPLANE. So there I was, a Geordie reclined on a business class flight to Shanghai. The cabin crew were just as surprised.

Arriving in China, I was met by two dangerous things: an account man and humidity. After a quick hotel pitstop to take my pants off, I was whisked straight to the BBH Shanghai office, situated near the French concession. A beautiful, humble area. Within 20 minutes, I was given the grand tour and introduced to their ECD, CEO and ice cream fridge. All three were lovely. Then the unexpected happened. They showed Callum and I to an office, which turned out to be our office. I’ve worked at BBH London for 3 years now and I’m still a good 7 years from an office. You can imagine the “gots me an office” twerk I busted out as soon as everyone left the room. Aside from that, the agency itself was pretty cool. 100 people. Minimal Chinese decor. And a dog called Brad Pitt.

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One thing that took me by surprise was Chinese food. Not that there was Chinese food in China, but that everyone ate Chinese for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I just wasn’t used to that. Chinese was, and still is, a treat, cheat meal. A restaurant meal. Or a drunken Just Eat booty call. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d have to eat Chinese all day, every day. Which was BRILLIANT...for the first few days. It was a little overwhelming after awhile. I’m all for dim sum, but not for breakfast. Thankfully, a brilliant British account man gave me a Shanghai takeaway guide. There was one british place. So one day, Callum and I ordered fish and chips...from the other side of the city. It took roughly 2 hours and was possibly the worst fish and chips imaginable, but, my god, it was sensational. Locals in the office watched us like we were on Googlebox. I know what you’re thinking, I’m the worst tourist in history. I just needed a slice of home for at least one day. I almost tested a Shanghai KFC until my Creative Director joked it stood for Kentucky Fried Cat.

In all, I spent two weeks working there. It was mainly script work, which turned out to be an interesting experience. The pitch was ran from BBH Shanghai because the actual pitch meeting took place in China. And when the work was pitched to Samsung, it was pitched to a split room. Half of the clients were Chinese, half were Korean. They literally sat on opposites sides of a long, business table. This is when I learned the Chinese had a very different sense of humour to Koreans. The first script made the Chinese half of the room laugh hysterically. I felt great (When that happens, you just know the meeting will go well). But then I turned my attention to the Korean side of the room. Silence. Either they hated it or their game faces were on fucking point. Next script. This time, the Korean half of the room laughed and, guess what, sod all from the Chinese. This pattern continued. Until the final script. It contained a fart joke, but the classy kind of fart joke. Both sides of the room laughed. Which just goes to show, a fart is funny anywhere in the world.

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A few months after, I learned we won the pitch. This is unconfirmed, but I reckon the fart pushed us over the line. Aside from work and it being a pitch, I did find a few hours in some days to explore the city. Firstly, it was nowhere near as high-tech as I thought it would be. It was actually fairly rural for a major city. I loved that humbleness. Great food. Cool bars. Interesting people. Life-threatening taxis. That kind of stuff. However, there were parts of town that did live up to the modern image of China we often see in movies. Like skyscrapers with bars and pools on the top, which were also cool. But my most...interesting...experience took place on The Bund. The Bund is a beautiful walkway, which hugs the river and offers the best view of the city. That being that, it’s also a mega tourist spot. One day, I decided to go for a stroll there and, long story short, became a tourist attraction myself…

It all began with me snapping a few photos. Next to me, three Chinese boys were also taking photos. All normal up to now. Until one of them asked me to take a photo. I said of course, and proceeded to grab his camera. He looked confused. It turned out he didn’t want me to take the photo, he wanted a photo with me instead. Shocked and flattered, I agreed and pulled my best ‘what the fuck is going on/ blue steel’ pose. To my fear, it wasn’t a one-off. It happened approximately every twelve metres down the bloody strip. Tourists. Families. Kids. Women (Which I was totally down with). Fully grown men. Dogs. I felt like Kim Kardashian. To this day, I have no idea why this happened. Maybe because I’m tall. I actually snapped a few myself.

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The most memorable case happened next to a towering emperor statue. This thing was huge. I was minding my own business, admiring the landmark when I turned to see a large Chinese family huddled behind me. A bit strange, even stranger when I clocked what they were doing. Instead of getting a grand family photo with a famous Chinese emperor, someone who probably changed the course of their lives, they took a family photo with me.

As I left China, a few memorable things dawned on me. First of all, how fortunate I was to work in a business that would send me all over the world to basically write jokes. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m still amazed I have a job that pays me to literally make shit up (Fuck you, Mrs Hall - Head of 6th Form and all round bitch). It’s the dream job, if you ask me. But something else, slightly less inspiring, but certainly more worrying, dawned on me while flying back to London. Somewhere in China, sat on a mantelpiece, there’s probably a framed photo of me and a Chinese family.

Marc & Callum are creatives at BBH London.

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