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Finding the right color in Beijing

To illustrate my interview reports and provide for future Global Health Fellows, I decided to buy a camera for GBCHealth. I had scouted out a parcel of electronic stores in the Chaoyang district and found my way to the Sony camera booth in the midst of a chaos of retailers. After I bargained the price down from 2200 yuan to 1500 yuan (1 yuan = .16 USD), the saleswoman asked me what color camera I would like. The choices were black, silver, red, and lilac.

Now I am from Manhattan. We wear black – in a somewhat unrelenting fashion. Think Johnny Cash and the man in black. While we New Yorkers can be a bit parochial, sometimes we like a change. Look at me. I am a Pfizer Global Health Fellow; after 25 years of doing market research in the US markets, I am in Beijing working for an NGO creating a strategy for a diabetes awareness, prevention, and treatment initiative. I can do change. There’s nothing wrong with a red camera. Goes well with black. Red meat. I’m in Red China, for goodness sake. I pointed to the red camera. I noticed that the sales assistant’s right eyebrow shot up in one of those micro-bursts of emotion. She turned away, covering her mouth as she stifled a giggle. The saleswoman in a mini-skirt and a t-shirt that read “Drug Free Zone” showed a touch more sangfroid and asked, “Are you buying this for your wife or daughter?” I was puzzled. Why would she think that? I replied “No, I need it for business. I will use it to take pictures of people I am interviewing.” She replied, “But that is a woman’s color.” I could just imagine that for the rest of the year, I (and the next male GHF) would be pulling out this “feminine” camera much to the bemusement of our Chinese counterparts. What a shame that a man could not use a red camera. So I asked her what color she would recommend that I buy. She promptly pointed to the lilac-hued camera.  “Lilac!” I thought.  Visions of little girls playing with pastel-colored Hello Kitty merchandise flashed in my head. I don’t think so. Now who was being shaped by the expectations of his culture?  I’m happy to say that GBCHealth is now the owner of a spiffy-looking silver Sony camera. Change is one thing – but I have my limits.

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