By Robert Slape.
Hello friends. It feels like it has been many moons since I’ve sat down to contribute to this project. Indeed it’s not even been one full cycle since I left Australia and it seems I have packed a lot into that time.
Owing to a few technical difficulties (dropping my camera and having it run over, infrequent internet access and sheer lack of time) this has been the first time I’ve bothered since my departure. With that this is a topic, signs, that has been something very relevant during my adventures so here are some thoughts that I’ve gathered along the way.
Signs can be made for and about practically everything. Simplistically, they are merely indicators of certain ideas or expectations. They can be helpful or friendly and sometimes they can be outdated and misleading. So here, in no particular order and for various reasons, is a collection of signs I’ve encountered over these last four weeks.
I came across many of these clever bins in Shanghai. They not only have a map of the near surroundings with an indication of where the nearest toilets are located, they are also fitted with solar panels and are illuminated at night. Very helpful.
In general it is always nice to come across a good map when you are wondering around with an atrocious grasp of Mandarin and certainty that you are walking in the right direction (which I hardly am). This one is in Thames Town, one of Shanghai’s nine themed urban developments on the outskirts.
In Hong Kong they maintain vestiges of British times – in particular driving on the left (speaking as an Australian, the ‘right’) side of the road. Luckily they are always reminding us foreigners that had just adapting to thinking backwards in North America… Of course on the mainland sides of the road, and road rules at all, were at the best of times only solid indications – usually it seemed determined by personal preference.
Signs can also be indicative, consciously or otherwise, of society’s perceptions of itself or of what it seeks to become. There are endless signs of the future throughout China – here is an impression of the coming modernist revival when everyone will be living in Frank Lloyd Wright adaptations. Where the space will come from is another issue – another department’s issue, most likely.
The inherent problem with such proud and blatant futurism is that sometimes the reality just does not match the expectations, at least in the short term.
Signs govern are every move in cities that are growing incessantly. These simple arrows, at least to an urban-trained eye, offer contextual universal meaning – do what the arrows say.
Such signs can become annoying and officious and there is huge scope for more humour and creativity in educating the public, like these in the Squaemish nation of British Columbia.