Reflection | Jan Chipchase : You are what you carry

In this chapter, Jan had introduced very interesting concepts of range of distribution, centre of gravity and point of reflection to explain our carrying behaviour, which is about knowing where things are, being able to access them at the right time and feeling secure about their safe keepingg. Range of distribution is the distant people feel comfortable to let loose of their items, centre of gravity is the points where portable objects tend to be placed and point of reflection is the moment of reflection and evaluating what people carry.

I find these concepts thought provoking and it allows me to understand other behaviour that could be similar to carrying things. For example, forgetting to pick up buy something at the supermarket is very similar to forgetting to carry something for the day. Are we lacking points of reflection to remind ourselves that the milk at home has run out? If so, is it better to make packaging transparent to tell us when milk is low?

In the reading, the author discusses how advanced technology will change our carrying behaviour and how these 3 concepts will be used in an intangible form of network or data. Personally, I feel that technology has expanded the survival value of a phone by broadening the concept of connectivity. Carrying a phone nowadays does not simply allow contacting others in need, but it also allows access to other virtual possessions we have, be it content we created for a meeting, our online presence in social media or thousands of photos that captured our memories. The gen Y people like myself might consider connectivity as our basic need – something we cannot leave home without. The phone now is a device that affords this much more sophisticated connectivity. Phone makers have been constantly competing in this aspect, making their phones more capable by expanding its connectivity.


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In the Amazon predictive product example, technology will eliminate the need for a point of reflection for consumers. Ordinary consumers no longer need to check and decide when to buy their supplies. Algorithm will act as their proxy, going through almost the same process of checking supply status and make a purchase decision, with considerations for personal preference (machine learning). At this point, I realise that point of reflection is highly important to our decision-making process and it is also what makes us distinctive as human. If computers are going to remove this from us, how much more or less can we be homo sapien? Also, corporates could be using this power to shape us into consumption machines, buying things that are deliberately marketed using predictive technology. In this way, the value of physical things might be changed significantly because we put less efforts into buying them and subsequently, our idea of ownership may change as well

Another point that strikes me is the power of network that allows doing more and owning fewer things. Many start-ups like Uber, Airbnb, DHL Myway…etc are winning billions of dollars by creating shareconomies that allow people to access products and services without owning them. Essentially these shareconomies make us more independent as individuals as we have every tool we need at hand. However, we must acknowledge that these shareconomies are largely motivated by personal gains and economic interest. How can we use the power of network to create greater public good?

Lastly, I strongly agree that the Great Unburdening is on the physical aspect and people like myself are having more of psychological burden with technology. Reducing physical things to bits and bytes make them homogenous and only recognisable to a user by names. I have great difficulty search of things because I cannot always remember what I named my file. The range of distribution seems to be further and I only need to a have a string to bring things back. The search function is like a bundle of strings for me to choose from. However, how do I make sure I have the right string?

Field Trip Planning (1)

After reading different research on food adulteration, I realise the situation is slightly different from countries to countries. While the ones I have been reading on ( China, India, Bangladesh) could be classified together into emerging countries, their situations slightly differ from one another.

Most significantly, the food involved in adulteration differs from one country to another. This is due to the cultural, culinary and taste difference. Also, particular buying practices influence the choice-making process and open up opportunities for adulterated food to enter the market. (Separate post on compare/contrast)

As such, following some of their research method, I decided to conduct a field trip to understand the issue better in my project context: Vietnam. I’m going back to Can Tho city (my hometown) from the 9 – 13th September. On the 10,11 and 12th, I will go on to conduct interviews and observe the behaviour of buyers in markets and supermarkets (main sources of groceries for people staying in the city)

INTERVIEW QUESTIONs (aim to get 50-70 respondents in 3 days)

Location: Can Tho city


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Market: Tan An market, Xuan Khanh market


Supermarket: Coopmart, Big C 

Green-grocer stores: some store promising safe and green produce are popping up around the city. Can make some quick visit.

User profile

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education level
  • Income
  • Tech-savvy (owning a smartphone? using internet?)

Buying behaviour

  • Frequency of purchase (daily/2-3times weekly/weekly/monthly)
  • Where do they usually buy groceries (order of frequency): market, supermarket, wholesale, straight from farm/supplier, online?
  • What do they consider when buying (rate importance): appearance? Price? Relationships with vendor (trust)? Freebies? Availability of the food they are looking for? Accessibility of the place?

Knowledge of food-adulteration

  • How well do you know about food adulteration (don’t know, heard of, read frequently, know very well)
  • Where do you get your information from (online, newspaper, word-of-mouth, own experience)
  • Any recent suspicion/experience of food adulteration (personal experience) in the past 3 months?
  • How do you make sure the food you buy is safe?
  • What do you do when you find out the vendor adulterate the food?


  • Buying process: from start to end
  • Environment studies: food market/supermarket (how food is displayed/how they are selected and purchased/packaging/payment/how the crowd is like?/peak hour?)
  • Behaviours: common practices / any idiosyncrasies
  • How do people choose which food to buy/which store to buy from?
  • What do they carry?
  • How do they make payment?
  • Attitude towards food-adulteration
  • Packaging type
  • Level of assurance? (suggested by Peer)

Case study: China (based on media reports)

Research article: Economically motivated food fraud and adulteration in China: An analysis based on 1553 media reports by Wenjing Zhang, Jianhong Xue


  1. The authors studied 1553 media reports in China for this research.

Why using media reports?

In general, people pay more attention to acute food-borne illnesses that are severe and requires immediate medical treatment. However, most illnesses caused by consumption of adulterated food have few symptoms and only take effect after a long period of time. Also, in this case of economically motivated adulterations (EMA), wrongful acts are intentional and designed to evade investigation. As such, adulterated food-borne illnesses are often underreported to authorities.

In addition, previous literature suggests that many adulteration incidents and scandals in China were initially discovered by media reports rather than official surveillance.

Reflection: this seems to be the same case in Vietnam. Government efforts to QC the supply chain are usually sporadic and there is little communication with consumers about the findings. The issue is made public and contentious by media coverage and news agency rather than government bodies.

Food for thought: Power of the masses? The importance of information dissemination?

  1. Results and discussion:
  • Regional distribution: Regions with higher level of industrialization and urbanization has the highest number of cases while least developed areas have the least number of cases (fig.1)


  • Types of adulteration: There are 8 types of food fraud defined by EMA database, and the percentage of these types from media reports. Intentional distribution of contaminated food and Artificial Enhancement are the top leading types (table 2&3)


  • Food involved: most commonly adulterated food is Animal Foods (37.8%), followed by grain-based food (22.7%) and drink/beverages (12.8%). Research includes further breakdown of cases into sub food category.


  • Adulterants: top adulterants are additives (35.9%) including forbidden additives (23.2) and food additives, followed by foreign substances (11.2). the purposes of using these substances as adulterants were either to replace legally allowed additives to save costs (e.g., formaldehyde, nitrite and DEHP), to change color, appearance, or texture of foods (e.g., the uses of sulfur dioxide, Sudan red, fluorescent bleacher, DEHP, alum, talcum powder), or to keep counterfeit foods or adulteration from detection (e.g., the use of melamine and beef extract).


  • Food source:


Food for thought: What about VN? What are the most commonly adulterated food and how much do they affect? How do they get adulterated? Where do these things happen?

Recommended Book List

Hello everyone!

I just thought of creating a new post for us to compile electronic books/reading materials that Peer recommends or anyone of us find beneficial. If you guys manage to find good reading content please comment with links and I will update the post :D!

Here goes some that I have as of now.

  1. People Watching – Desmond Morris (recommended by Peer on first meeting) Link
  2. The Design of everyday thing – Don Norman | Link 
  3. Materials and Design: The Art and Science of Material Selection in Product Design – Michael F. Ashby | Link

Experimental Map

Think of a way in which you could develop an experimental map using images, sounds and stories. Some ideas… What else would we use if we didn’t use maps to find our sense of place? How would you map the sounds you hear every day? How would you map emotions? How would you map the overlooked peoples or places of Singapore?

In order to develop an experimental map, we must first understand what a map means.

National Geographic defines map as a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about the world in a simple, visual way.

In my opinion, a map displays one of many sets of relationships between different entities in a defined area or region. We get a sense of a place by understanding those relationships. A commonly seen geographic world map does not exactly tell us where a country is, but rather it tells us the country’s relative position to other countries. As such, I believe the relationships between different entities in map play a vital role in how we understand the map. Each map has one or a few sets of relationship to convey. For examples, a population heat map not only conveys where the countries are relative to one another but also the population density of each country and how they compare to others. Most geographical and scientific map relies on quantitative data to create those relationships.


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In that sense, experimental maps could be dealing with relationships that are more abstract and less qualifiable in other forms rather than a 2D/3D representation of a place. The first step would be deciding what information we want to convey through this map and choosing a form that best capture the relationships between different entities that carry this information. For examples, If I was to map the life of construction workers in Singapore, I could also record journey around Singapore and identified where the sound of their national language is present, its loudness and perhaps even emotions it conveys. Chattering and laughter could indicate a place of comfort and relaxation while interfering vehicle noises could indicate their workplaces.

The power of abstract data like sound, images, stories…etc is that it relies on interpretation to make meaning and hence could tell us a lot more information that is quantitative counterpart which was collected with scientific assumptions for a specific purpose.

In the research for this exercise, I also came across an interesting Atlas of Emotion by renown psychologist Paul Ekman and Dalai Lama ( Atlas of emotion

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In this work, they have beautifully explained the 5 major group of emotions (which they call continents), mapping out the relative relationship between an emotion with another, and also illustrate how emotions vary in strength and frequencies in people’s lives. I note that while these map deals with an abstract and intangible topic like emotions and does not relate to any specific place with a physical boundary, our understanding is not impeded because the authors visualise relationships through representations that we understand. Each continent of emotion was given a form and a colour. They vary in tone for intensities and are juxtaposed on charts.

state of anger

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Interestingly, Paul Ekman consulted for the popular Pixar animation movie Inside Out. The directors of the film decided to use the 5 continents of emotions as the based for their characters. The story beautifully map out and explain those emotions and how they interact to affect our behaviours


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Reflection | Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (Annette Kim)

Upon Kim’s suggestions on understanding the physical and social dimension of a place, I reflect on my understanding of sidewalk as a Vietnamese. This reading is particularly interesting to me because it challenges my views and understanding of the place I call my motherland.

In my opinion, the commonly assumed purpose of the sidewalk as a pedestrian path does not completely apply in Vietnam.In this case, the reality of social activities does not match with the expectation of the sidewalk’s physicality that affords flow of people walking. Firstly, urban sprawling and lack of coherent planning make city roads highly complicated, resulting in long commute distance (fig1). Secondly, it also lacks public transport system such as trains and buses that usually require walking to access the stations. As such, people naturally turn to motorbikes, the most affordable, convenient and physically easy to commute between places. This might have led to under usage of the sidewalk and subsequently attracts lower income groups for other activities rather than walking. Also, the open-air and flexible nature of street vending makes it highly accessible for both motorbikes on the road (buying on the go) and pedestrians. At this point, I think that Kim’s strategy on mapping spatial ethnographies should be applied because the sidewalk is not a separate element of the city. Its dynamics are results of interactions with other elements such as the street or residential houses, economic activities in the area and its people…etc Understanding the relationships between different spatial elements will result in more informed design mindset.

HCM_map newyork

Fig.1 HCMC map vs New York map (captured from Google map)

Secondly, the difficulty of policing sidewalks could be a result of cultural and moral conflicts within the mind of Vietnamese, including police officers. While many wish to see a more order and formal sidewalk that creates a better image of the city, we still linger on the cultural and emotional values of street vending. The practice of open-air market is deeply rooted in the agricultural background and clustered layout of many cities. As people used to walk long distances to work on landlord’s paddy fields and houses were far apart, it was common and logical practice to stop and buy things along the roadside. This could be the motivation for open-air markets in the past, and eventually evolves into vending carts for higher mobility we see nowadays. While post- war development in Vietnam has been radical, there is a large group of the middle age and older population who still very much relates to the society with open-air and road-side vendors. Many of those people are frequent patrons of street vending as they are used to this kind of lifestyle. Youngsters in Vietnam, no matter rich or poor, on the other hand, turns to street food as it is believed street vendors have the best-kept recipes and the food they sell is value for money. As such, while street vending could appear to be unhygienic and obtrusive, its value is not only for the livelihood of vendors but also building social fabric between classes. The questionable legitimacy of street vending is not only about its economic proposition but also emotional and social values that Vietnamese cannot deny, whether they are rich or poor, modern or outdated.


Fig.2 Patrons of street vending includes both rich and poor.

Thirdly, in Vietnam, property rights is a highly versatile concept and many times commonly agreed upon by people sharing the space, despite conflicting with proper laws by the government. Complying and resolving conflicts with the law is a strenuous and costly process which might be corrupted anyway. As such, often people sharing the space compromise and come to an agreement on how that space should be used, whether implicit by social hierarchy or explicit in the form of contracts and monetary trade. In such cases, it is a win-win situation for different stakeholders despite it being against the political regimes’ regulations and this behavior renders property rights irrelevant. For example, some street vendors act as security watchers for the neighborhood, spotting strangers, and alert crimes. Also, the idea of public spaces is not well defined and educated when it comes to pavements as compared to landmarks such as parks, library or schools. From my own experience, is many house owners assume the pavement in front of the house is theirs, and sometimes even rent it out to vendors or open up their own business. This kind of issue results from the lack of education and accessibility of information on properties rights, also the lack of transparency rather than the nature of property rights itself. While lawmakers should certainly consider ethics and inclusiveness of the law, the way the law is communicated or enforced is equally important.

The main question I have for the reading is that how do urban designer evaluate needs of different groups of people and negotiate the conflicts between groups? Also, designing and implementing public infrastructure or regulative laws is highly time-consuming and costly, while needs change as social conditions change. At some point, the original intention of a place might be irrelevant to the society it serves. How do designers then make sure the space they design is adaptable to changing needs?

Note : this reflection was originally submitted via email on Saturday 27/08/2016 due to inaccessibility to OSS. It was re-posted on 28/08/2016