All Aboard for Sesame Street

China’s always had an odd love affair with cutesy things, Hello Kitty being the most visible, but certainly not the most egregious, offender. Take a look at the magazines for sale at a corner stand if you’d like to see something more pertinent to social critique. At least half the magazines feature women on the cover (the other half feature either NBA stars or weapons; I’m not sure why, or if there’s a connection), and most of these women are done up to look like little girls: pouty lips, pigtails, sometimes even the occasional schoolgirl outfit. I’ve also seen quite a few female students in China strolling across campus with a backpack that’s actually a stuffed animal. I’m sure someone could (and probably has) written a study on the cutesy phenomenon in China, but I’m only interested in commenting on one entrant: the Nankai University shuttle.

As campuses in China go, Nankai is fairly large. Walking from one end (Weijin Lu for those living here) to the other (Baidi Lu) takes about twenty minutes. So to facilitate public traffic, there’s at least one little shuttle that can take you where you want to go much faster. Now what I’d like you to do at this juncture is imagine what you think an ideal university shuttle would look like. Are you imagining something designed to look like a miniaturized yellow school bus? Maybe. Are you imagining the same miniaturized school bus with rounded corners like a toy for small children? Probably not. How about this same soft-cornered miniature yellow school bus, now with heart-shaped decals around a larger tableau of Winnie the Pooh riding a small locomotive? If you’re nodding at this point, stop what you’re doing and head to China for a lucrative career in marketing.

Winnie the Pooh. On a university shuttle. On a university shuttle that looks like a little toy school bus. Every time it passes me on campus my first thought is that someone must have set up a shuttle service for the kids at the on-campus kindergarten. But no, there are adults sitting inside. This is one of those times when I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall while a decision was being made. Who decided a Winnie the Pooh shuttle would be an appropriate complement to the academic atmosphere of one of China’s best universities? Better still: what was vetoed before it? Were Strawberrry Shortcake or My Little Pony in the works before someone decided they were too cloying? Were Voltron or Thundercats too masculine? Peppermint Patty too ambiguous? It’s all a mystery.

But far be it from me to be critical. One of the things I love about China is that you truly never know what you’re going to get. Just when you get used to things, you round a corner and see a set-piece from the Land of Make-Believe flying down the street with a cargo of Chinese university students inside. Harvard may be a better university, but it certainly isn’t as entertaining.

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1 Responses to All Aboard for Sesame Street

  1. Taylor says:

    Do you think they picked up their love of all things cute from Japan or do you think it’s all their own?

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