The China Syndrome | ZEN Design

The China Syndrome of Irina Greciuhina or restaurant in 22 days at the distance of 12 thousand kilometers


1979 The Chinese Syndrome film about the accident at the nuclear power plant won Cannes Film Festival award. Over the years, this has become an ironic expression about the expectation of a catastrophe, despite the fact that in reality such an event never occured. After her working tour to China, the architect Irina Greciuhina talked about her "china syndrome" and her "adventures of a Moldovan architect in China." And it was easier to write an interview as a first-person story. It didn’t work another way.



Beginning. night call, it is obvious that the voice comes from afar: “Irina, I, with my Chinese partners, have premises for a club in a "small" 8 millionth resort town of Shenzhen on the Pacific coast, between Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The premise is in a new hotel, by the sea. There is food in the afternoon and club at night. Would you take on the project? I pay for urgency. The club must be launched in 30 days“.

... and what I was thinking at this moment? That money for urgency is great? But in case of an obvious failure, no one will pay, and no one launch clubs in 30 days. For three months in an emergency? Yes. For nine months in an emergency order? Yes. For…? Yes. But not for 30 days! This is unrealistic … And suddenly, someone says with my voice: “OK. I will come”.

I listen to Ira and think… 15 years of work experience, children, so it looks like everything’s ok with sense of responsibility; she earns money not only in China anyway. What should push a person to such а shady enterprise? Thirst for adventure? A wish to test herself for a “break”? Invigilance? I put myself in her shoes. Me? Never. Like Ira, I haven't excelled even at English, still less at Chinese. Тhere is no reason why I would want to go there to Guangzhou?

Arrival. Under the wing there is a "small" Chinese town of Guangzhou. “Just” 22 million people. "Skyscrapers, skyscrapers, and I'm so small ..." There are more skyscrapers than kiosks for selling press and pies in Chisinau. You get off the plane into tropics. It smells damp, hot and fish. A few hours by car to the place where the future club will be. And the timer of the return ticket is ticking, there are less than 8 days left before departure from China.



Chinese Godfathers. In addition to my Russian-speaking customer, I was welcomed by two of his Chinese partners. One of them is the owner of the building; the second one is the builder. The owner is like a Mafiosi from the films about the "yakuza", (though whence is there yakuza in China?)). A colorful appearance - one eye doesn't open, therefore the second one does not look more affable. But they arrange a ceremonial reception for us. The main principle is work may be done later, ceremony first. Questions through an interpreter, shrimp in some insanely non-ecological oil and (it seems) with pork lard. The business dinner is lingering. It's getting dark, and I would like so much to get to the premises, measure and send the dimensions for starting the work to Chisinau.

Measurements and WeChats. It is clear that a business dinner with the customer is more important than measuring the room. Therefore, you have to measure in the dark, highlighting with your phone. Here and there wires of communications stick out and the walls are bare. Now it's time to transfer the data to Chisinau, to the office. Call it a challenge in the Internet age. But, it turns out, that in China it’s another problem. Since there is NO access to gmail, and Facebook, and Viber, and Skype! The Great Wall of China is not the wall that is visible from space. The Great Wall of China is an invisible border for the pernicious Western information influence. But there is Internet, and there is WeChat, a truly Chinese invention, where you can chat, and buy, and search. Just install WeChat in Chisinau, and the only barrier to communication remained is the six-hour time difference.

Search for the concept. At night, a tour to nightclubs and restaurants in Guangzhou. It is necessary to understand, what’s in trend for Chinese people. It turns out .. and it's a little bit shocking ... the design is closer to our 90th: everything is bright, with gold, pompous and over-the-top.

In any incomprehensible situation, buy light... Well. Just seven days remained until the end of the business trip to China. While the office proposes the arrangement of furniture and equipment, as well as renders the sketches of the future restaurant, it is possible (and necessary) to make purchases. And if you still don’t understand anything, then you can start with light, let it serve as a starting point. After all, light is less attached to the exact dimensions of the room. I go to my Chinese guide Kolya (it is clear that his name is "Shen Bojing Wang ", but he once lived in the USSR for several years, and for convenience of Russian ear prefers to introduce himself as Kolya) and say: "Let's go for the light." Let's go, he replies. Only you, Irina, do not discuss prices, you're European, and they will raise prices for you. You just choose ... Well, I can choose ... More precisely, I thought so, until I came to the "light market." I stand and look at this "small market". Thirty (!) fifteen-story buildings, where they sell only (!) light: lighting, lamps, chandeliers, and floor lamps. And I'm used to watching everything, before choosing. And a crack appears in my brains like in a century old ice in the Arctic Ocean; now I will either live here in the light for the rest of my life, or I'll choose the first one that suits me and take it off.

Without language. My translator Kolya could not stand my schedule, so I had another interpreter too, Tolya. And with other 20 million Chinese people who surrounded me close enough, I would establish non-verbal contact. More precisely, I wouldn't establish any contact at all. I think that by the fourth day a draft of the bar was ready. A pole for night club. And the edges of the bar, like wings, had to hang in the air. The drawing is in my hands, but who will perform it in reality is unclear. Neither Kolya, nor Tolya can find a person or an organization that would take up this bar. And, I remind you, it's not 30, but 26 days before the opening of the club. Finally, it seemed like a bright spot appeared. We've found it. We drive for about four hours. The city is replaced by abandoned industrial zones, such a sweet Chinese post-apocalypse. We arrived. The owner of the company greets us. He does not speak English. Kolya's and Tolya's vocabulary doesn't include reading drawings and technical features. I understand: this is a real bummer. And then a miracle happens. The China man unfolds his drawings, and we talk with him the same language for two hours. It turns out that the Russian and Chinese drafts are 100% identical. I hadn't have such a mutual understanding for a long time (e.g., for our Moldovan very often you need to supplement the builders drawings with gestures, facial expressions and even sounds). The most amusing thing is that China is a very strange country, the old man who took up and made the bar, was incidentally a millionaire. China is a strange country.

Food for an architect. One cannot work without eating. But to eat Chinese food in China means to put at risk your European stomach, and then your European work capacity. They really like to fry everything in oil. And, the impression is that draining oil after frying is a crime against all Chinese gods. But even if they drain it… At the place where I was, recently one case took place, on a street with many restaurants, that goes downhill, a couple of dodge Chinese would collect waste oil from the sewage system at the end of the street, would do something with it out of politeness and would sell it back to the owners of the same restaurants. In general, once a day I went out to eat something European. But it's expensive, damn it. A visit to an Italian restaurant without miracles costs 40-50 euros for the same food that in our country costs 10 or 15 euros.



White man’s position. A European in China still stands out vastly. Women may approach saying (Kolya translated): "How beautiful you are." Men look, but, I must give due, do not allow themselves neither superfluous words, nor superfluous gestures. And there is a sense of security.

From China to Milan.  You'll be laughing, but right after China I flew to Italy, to Lake Como. And in the first evening, when I went out for walk alone, I run into a company of Arabs. I never left room alone anymore. Okay, this is sentimentality. Although, in order to finish with lyrics, I should scream saccharinely: "Chinese children!" God, how beautiful they are. Porcelain dolls!

Eight days. On the eighth day I flew away. The club was opened already without me after 22 days. It’s easier to show an unbelievable thing than to tell about it. Here are the photos of the operating club. China. 



They say that there are black holes where energy disappears. China is a black hole vice versa. The energy there is being accumulated, even rather it is boiling. In poor oil, in "small" cities with five million people and big cities with twenty millions, they accumulate and accumulate the energy. And one day it will be splashed out and they will go to conquer the world. Not with weapon, but with their lifestyle. They are different. And I had to go to China and I must return. In order to switch scales. Why did I get into this? Well, definitely not for the money. I need money like anyone else, but when you get into such a situation, you do not think about them anymore. It's a drive, or testing myself and my team for strength, or preparing for something new in my life. Because after this trip I can't now make objects in six months or nine months every time. Sometimes, yes, I will. But I'll crave for trying to create something in 30 days again. As for there is a precedent in history when a bigger object took up just seven days, at that Sunday was a day of rest.



Pavel Zingan

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