My wife recently returned from traveling in China, and I spent the week thinking about my trip there last August. It was a spur of the moment thing. I accompanied about 25 Indian men from Bihar who work at my father’s factory on a week long excursion through Shanghai & Beijing. 6 days passed from the point I was asked “So, you want to go to China” to the day we touched down. And just as suddenly I was back in Kolkata – not sure what hit me. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that outside of my 3 brothers (in law) I can’t name a single person in this picture. Not only was I the “boss’s son” but I was the “foreigner” too. Doors were held open for me, bags carried, and I stood in lots of pictures with an awkward smile on my face – but I’m a little shy and probably came off as a slightly unapproachable to these guys.

I learned some interesting things on this trip – about India. For instance, Indians will NOT eat anything except Indian food. 6 days – 17 meals, all in Indian restaurants. And no, there aren’t that many Indian restaurants and we had to visit several of them multiple times. The one Chinese meal that we had was “Indianized” in a wretched way.

The biggest shock though was the level that China is playing at. Sure, we can look at the numbers and say India & China are in the same league, vying for the  title as a new Superpower, but walk through Shanghai, then go to Mumbai. Spend a weekend in Beijing, then go to Delhi for a few days. The differences are immense. Quality infrastructure, clean streets, really nice modern architecture!

It is clear that “Brand China” sees a huge role for design in its world dominance in a way that India either hasn’t considered or has rejected. Bird’s Nest vs. Nehru Stadium is an obvious target with the Commonwealth Games in full swing, but see the shopping malls, the restaurants, and even the most mundane housing complex – they are all seen as an opportunity to be designed with care and an almost self-conscious realization that the world is watching and taking notes – I just hope India is.