Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the tag “Innovations”

Why don’t we do that too?

China makes me awe struck, and it makes me laugh a lot too! It’ll be weird to go home where most things makes sense.

I only have one more full day in China, and then I come home to U.S. soil! I am so excited to get back to Massachusetts, see family and friends, and enjoy all of the American treats that I’ve missed.  Even so, there are many things that I will miss about being here (that I can’t buy in a market to bring home).  What I’ll miss most is the way that Chinese people think differently.  Most places around the world have been colonized by Europeans at some point in their history, like the United States.  China is one of the few places on the planet that avoided European influence until much more recently.  As a result, the Chinese do many things differently than we do in the United States.  Many of their methods are very innovative, and make me think, “Why don’t we do that too?” Here are my top ten favorite Chinese Innovations:

1. The Water Clock – The Chinese invented the water clock in ancient times, possibly even more than 6,000 years ago. It uses flowing water to measure time. As you can see in the video, when the water level rises to a certain point, it makes the man chime. The Chinese also used the sun and fire to measure time (you’ve probably seen a sundial and the incense clock is pictured in a previous post).

2. Bar Code Lockers – Why bother with a locker key? At the Wu-Mart Supermarket here, push a button to open a locker and a little bar code prints out. You can put your bags in there while you shop, and then use the bar code to open your locker after.

3. Misting Ads – On hot days, you can stand in front of advertisements and get misted with water.  It makes you much more likely to read the ad!

4. Sensing Escalators – Some escalators here slow down when not in use. What a great way to save energy!

5. Dumplings – They are delicious and shouldn’t we all eat more of them? You can put anything inside.  At one restaurant, I filmed the chefs making their masterpieces.  Maybe I can practice at home using this as a model:

6. Informative and Fun Subway Signs – In addition to showing cartoons and other TV on the subway, the signs on the subway cars give very helpful information, such as what stop you are currently at, and which side the door will open on.  In Boston, I am always having to guess which way the door will open.

7. Accessibility for the Blind — Here in China, blind people have it much easier.  The money is all different in size, so a blind person can feel the difference between a 100 yuan bill and a 5 yuan bill.  Also, there is braille on the end of the hand railings at each subway stop, so that they know which exit to use.

A new friend peeks at me from the middle bunk (it’s like a triple bunk bed!)

8. High Speed Trains — We rode the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai. It traveled over 300 km per hour and took 5 hours when the regular train took 14 hours. Even though it was a lot slower, the sleeper train was fun too, because we got to make friends with some cabin-mates. After we got off the overnight train, an attendant came around and flipped all the seats manually, so the train could go the other direction. Trains are a great way to travel, and I wish we had more of them in the U.S.!

9. Mega-Sized Restaurants — There are huge complex-type restaurants here with many floors.  The nice ones have hallways with private rooms for each table.  When you arrive, the host will show you to your room, like in a hotel, and that room is yours for the evening. There are almost always enormous “lazy susans” for sharing food.

10. Peking Duck — Beijing’s old name was Peking, and duck is very popular here. I heard about a restaurant where you get a number code for your duck when you eat there. Afterwards, you can look up your duck online and read about its life — where it lived, how old it was when it died, and more. I think this is a great idea, so that people appreciate their food more! Even if you don’t go to this fancy place, you still appreciate the whole duck. They serve it all, even the head, and then after you eat the meat, the chef makes a soup out of the carcass. It’s delicious!

If you could bring one of these innovations back to the United States, which one would you bring?


It’s easy to think that there’s only one right way.  I often think that things that I’m used to back home are just “normal” everywhere.  Yesterday, I saw a guy on the side of the road with a pet turtle on a leash, and today I saw a cat on a leash. I had to laugh at both because it was so unusual for me.  I’m used to seeing dogs on leashes, but it’s a strange sight to see other animals like this. It made me stop and think — is my perspective correct?

Over the past few days, I’ve been touring around Shanghai with our second group of students.  My view of the city is vastly different the second time around.  Seeing something for the first time makes all of my senses come alive. I notice things differently, and I am so busy looking around that I can barely focus on anything else.  Returning here, I am starting to notice different things about the city, and I’ve also had more time to focus on other things, like conversations with others and shopping.

Shanghai is a massive city, and I have been seeing it from a number of different perspectives.  No matter which view, visiting Shanghai feels like going into the future.  Here’s the view from just below the World Financial Center (the building on the left).  The building on the right is shorter, even though it looks taller.

Here’s the view from the top of the World Financial Center, pictured above on the left.  Last time we went, it was very cloudy (see that post here). We got a clear day this time around.  Wow!  Notice below the lighted up building in the front — that’s the building on the right in the picture above.

Finally, here’s a view from across the river, taken a few hours ago:

Which view is the best? In my opinion, the world is a more beautiful place with multiple perspectives.

Chinese Time

Last night, we had a workshop about the history of the Chinese dynasties.  Well before the United States even existed, Chinese emperors were taking over huge areas of land, building thousands of miles of the Great Wall, and developing all sorts of new and creative systems for society.  It’s hard to imagine just how they accomplished so much with such little technology.

The other day, we visited the Drum Tower in Beijing. It was really neat to walk up the steep steps to the top, where we could look out over the city.  We saw a performance of drummers, which is what they used to use to communicate the passing of time. I took a little video to give you a sense of what it was like:

There were also amazing exhibits to show various interesting ways that the people used to keep time. They were so creative, using things like water and incense to keep track of passing seconds.

They used to burn these incense, and they acted as a certain kind of clock. When they were finished burning, they knew how much time had passed.

This was one of my favorite time innovations. As the incense burns, the bells on the dragon drop, and indicate the passing of time, like a cuckoo clock.

The Chinese have really figured out a lot of interesting innovations throughout history.  Today, they are still leading the way into the future.  One in five people on Earth is Chinese today, and their economy is one of the fastest growing.  I didn’t make this video, but we watched it the other night, and I think it shows how powerful China continues to be today.  Watch it and let me know what you think.  Is China still a cutting edge society for today’s time?

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