Having recently been surrounded by so many educators as a keynote speaker at the LWF12 conference, I delved back into some of my research while I was trying to get my head around a rather ‘fringe’ learning system in the high life of Shenzhen urbanites’ extracurricular activities.

Imagine gliding (make that triple-double jumping) on ice, when the surrounding is above 45°C under the scorching heat of Southern China’s summer sun. This is the epitome of luxury, of inconspicuous consumption in every way possible. Children live out their Michelle Kwan dreams surrounded by elite designer boutique within the air of cool extravagance pumping through KKMall. It reaches -35°C in the North of China, but what would be trend starts from the heat of the South. What would be special if anyone could do it? This is luxury education. The ultimate peacock’s feather, displayed from parent to parent and (if figure skating ever becomes a dating fad) a possible advantage for the next generation.

This is the piano lesson of the 2010s. I’d like to note, if not slightly relieved, that never did I ever have to seduce/impress or express by piano playing. The only reminisce of nine years of my piano training is the lonely Steinbach left in the corner of my parent’s sitting room. Back then, in the 20th Century, it was just a matter of grabbing a piano and finding someone who would teach once a week. The real ‘sacrifice’ for a parent was listening to the practice, which wasn’t often.

Figure skating, on the other hand, requires a different level of dedication. It’s money, plus sweat. The children start from a very young age. They require training 3-4 times a week, for hours at each time. During this time, a dedicated coach would have to supervise and train the young athlete, while the parent watches in the (expensively) freezing viewing zones surrounding the rink. I’ve been told by the coaches that the experience of physical ‘hardship’ strengthens the children from a young age and would like to suggest that it’s possibly also an exercise of endurance for a group of mothers who were resisting the temptation of a certain black-labelled Louis Vuitton singing to them as they sit shivering in the their mink coats, reserved exclusively for this occasion in somewhere as warm as Shenzhen.

If Wilhelm Vohringer reminded us that we display the exact opposite of what we lack within, I’d point out that it’s possibly not affluence that is lacking, or even a variety of expenditure. There seems to be an endless list of ways of spending but we’re waiting to see more critical criteria for which imagination and commitment could be applied meaningfully. The the search of a meaningful luxury is itself, rather humorous and undeniably beautiful to watch.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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