Gerry Farrell: I found the future of toilets in China

Danny Macaskill riding the Cuillin ridge on Skye
Danny Macaskill riding the Cuillin ridge on Skye
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The toilet in my Shanghai hotel room was a technological wonder, writes Gerry Farrell.

I just got back from Shanghai and a few folk have been asking me what it was like.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to do any touristy things, I was there to work, running workshops teaching top Chinese advertising creatives how to have bigger, better ideas. Like a lot of young UK creatives, they’re obsessed with technological innovation – they use their phones for absolutely everything.

Even if they’re buying a bar of chocolate in a corner shop they just take out their phone, scan the chocolate and the shopkeeper scans their phone and that’s it. But the technological innovation that pleased me most was the hi-tech toilet in my hotel room. I would literally just walk in and stand in front of it and the lid would lift up silently and robotically as if inviting me to relieve myself. Oh the joy when I sat on it! No bum-chilling plastic; this seat was permanently pre-heated. And at hand level was a row of buttons – almost as many as on your average home entertainment centre. I had a wee play: there was ‘rear cleansing’, a surprisingly accurate warm jet, and ‘front cleansing’ which was just, well, a surprise! There was rear and front drying too. I was surprised I didn’t get a cup of coffee, a blether and a curly perm into the bargain. If you’re interested in giving your own tush a similar treat, the hotel manager told me these appliances of science cost over five grand a pop.

Shanghai at night is the ‘city of the future’ that we drew with crayons when we were weans in school. The skyline is an architects’ playground – all dizzying angles, domes and needlepoints, pulsing with their own light-shows. If I was the CEO of Lego, I’d be re-inventing my brand right now so that today’s generation of children could create these flashing, flickering cityscapes in their bedrooms.

For the first time, out of all the countries I’ve done creative workshops in, I had to have my words consecutively translated. That meant each workshop was twice as long as normal. I’d been told that Chinese people are a little shy in circumstances like this, so I wore my kilt to break the ice and taught them a couple of Scottish drinking toasts with a bottle of Talisker and a few nosing glasses I’d brought along

for the purpose. We talked about brand-building and the remarkable job Red Bull have done in becoming the No 1 energy drink brand in the world by making “gives you wings” into such a successful, ownable property. They’d all seen Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space back to terra firma, all financed and facilitated by Red Bull’s marketing team. What they hadn’t seen – and what really appealed to these inhabitants of a country with 430 million bicycles – were the films Danny MacAskill starred in for Red Bull: his heart-stopping bike climb and descent of The Cuillins ridge on Skye, set to Martyn Bennett’s ‘Blackbird’ and his hell-for-leather comedy romp across Scotland in “Danny’s Wee Day Out”. It allowed me to let them admire the best of my own small country at the same time as showcasing the work of a global brand at the top of its game.