Author Archives | zlhyman

A Day in the Life: 3-wheeled Vehicle-based Fruit Vendor

imageEditor’s Note: A few weeks ago Fulbright Fellow Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro introduced readers to the world of low-resource creativity in China. In this post he takes us into a day in the life of a 3-Wheeled Vehicle-based Fruit Vendor. Below is a rich ethnographic description, giving deep glimpses into the detailed financial exchanges and intricate processes that unfold in just one day. Zach concludes his post with several reflections on the social interactions that hold a day like this together.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

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Introduction: My preferred method for researching  how owners use and modify their vehicles is engaging in participant observation by riding along and working with them. Once I am able to break through the barrier of convincing vehicle owners that I am not afraid of “getting my hands dirty” and am eager to help them work, the stage is set for a day filled with insights as I work side by side with users in context and see firsthand the role their vehicle plays in their lives. This particular ride-along came relatively early on in my research, where I had the privilege of riding along with a fruit vendors who uses their three-wheeled vehicle 1) to transport fruit from the market to the point of sale, 2) as a means of displaying the fruit to customers, and 3) a storage solution for the fruit when the vehicle is parked at his home at the end of the day. In this post, I explore the first of these uses.

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6:50 AM: I am standing at the junction of the ShiQiao Bridge, in Chongqing, China. The sun is trying to pierce through the heavy morning mist. It is early October, I can barely see my breath, and the smell of diesel and exhaust begins to intensify with each passing minute I spend standing at this intersection of a tunnel and the 4-lane road that feeds into it. I am surprised at the lack of guidance provided to the lanes of merging drivers, and I stop keeping track after witnessing a dozen near misses. Surprisingly, there is not much honking, just labored, steady merging. I am not alone here – there are other people who have congregated at this natural pick-up point. Unlike myself, they are dressed for office jobs – two girls in matching formal uniforms and sporting gold plastic nametags. Another man wearing a loose-fitting suit, resting his black leather briefcase on the concrete divider as he leans against it on a piece of newspaper, eats dumplings held in a plastic bag. At 7:00 AM, a late-model Volkswagen Passat pulls up and the women jump in. The man continues to eat his dumplings.

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Inside the World of Low-tech, Resource-constrained Creativity in China [Fieldnote Update]

A father-son team work together in a workshop modifying three-wheeled vehicles in Guizhou, China.

A father-son team work together in a workshop modifying three-wheeled vehicles in Guizhou, China.

imageEditor’s Note: When we started Ethnography Matters, we envisioned it to be a place where ethnographers could share updates from their fieldsites. Last month, An Xiao Mina shared her fieldnotes, Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes. This month, Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro shares his fieldnotes from his fieldsite in China.

Zach is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update. 

His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers.  It’s no surprise to an audience of ethnographers  that cultural values inform design decisions, but companies like GM are having to learn the hard way.  

A deep understanding of workers’ current vehicle practices reveals new opportunities to develop vehicles that challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles. 

Find Zach on Instagram @SquareInchAnthro and twitter @SqInchAnthro

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

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I am presently based out of Chongqing, China, conducting research for a Fulbright grant on resource-constrained creativity surrounding mobility across China. So far, my work has me riding along with, living with, and working alongside urban and peri-urban vehicle users. I have been conducting ethnographic “deep dives” to better understand vehicles’ role in today’s (and tomorrow’s) China. To that end, I will be spending this year documenting and reflecting upon the patterns and practices of mobile creativity.

This is the first of many opportunities to share with a wider audience glimpses  into some of the aspects I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for my research. Enjoy this initial serving, stay tuned for future updates here on Ethnography Matters, and point yourself towards squareinchanthro.com for more of what you see below. Here’s more information more about the technique I’m practicing of using Instagram to write live fieldnotes similar to the ones below.

I_ UN/REACHABLE: In a talk at 2011’s Poptech Conference, Jan Chipchase identified the practice in Seoul of vehicle owners displaying their cellphone number on their vehicle so they may be notified if it must be moved. A similar practice can be found amongst 3-wheeled vehicle-owning fruit vendors who frequent Chongqing’s crowded wholesale fruit market – though this one has a slight twist.

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