When our design company was contracted to production design “Sing! China” - China’s biggest singing competition show, based in Shanghai - we had a MASSIVE job on our hands. It was an insanely challenging project, and all the little things I didn’t know beforehand about working in China vs. the United States definitely made our lives hard. So to better prepare any of you that might be in a similar situation one day, and shed light on some fascinating cultural differences, here are the top things I REALLY MISSED in China that I wish I’d known about ahead of time.
Masking tape, painter’s tape, gaff tape, NONE of it was available (I heard tape was available in Hong Kong, but not readily in Shanghai). We use tape all the time in our world - marking things, taping down on the floor before we install, making notes on scenery - and it was impossible to find in Shanghai. Interestingly enough, they just don’t use tape in China, they use glues or screws! Ultimately we had to have tape shipped out to us from America.(!!)
The Chinese prefer not to use water-based paint because it’s very expensive compared to other paints - instead they use oil or thinner based paints. A lot of oil based paints are illegal in certain states - especially in California - but they’re aesthetically awesome and have a beautiful finish (crisp gloss like a lacquer). Still, I REALLY missed the ability to mix different colors and do different faux finish techniques with water-based paint, techniques we’ve grown so accustomed to in the US. We ended up putting our foot down and requesting water-based paint (increased the budget, needed to go through an approval process) and hired an American artist to come out and paint for us for 7 days.
Toilet paper is a luxury in China, so you should always bring your own. Antibacterial Purell or anything like that is a necessity - there’s no soap (it’s an expense for production they don’t provide). At first we were very confused every time we went to a different venue and these things were missing. Eventually we realized that these western conveniences are largely absent from Chinese culture, especially on location.
Be warned, everything Google related or Google bought (including gmail) isn’t allowed in China, and there’s lots of other western internet services that aren’t readily available either. This was a huge problem for us, because accessing cloud-based files through Gmail or Dropbox is how we share and collaborate all the time as a department. Over there we needed to use a VPN to get around this, and I suggest having at least two as they often go out or collapse. Because VPN’s put all your information through an encryption process, all of our web processing was slowed down by 50%!
All of these are just THINGS TO KNOW about going to work in China - they’re not negatives! All in all, it’s stressful but exciting to find alternate solutions to the things you’re so used to doing a certain way all the time. And in the end, we made it all work...