April 10, 2006

Beaten flat by a Chinese puzzle

Ambitious, city-living Chinese, working in office towers in Beijing, contented with their lot but missing that certain je ne sais quoi that adds so much texture to the lives of Westerners, are about to get their own version of the angst of do-it-yourself flatpak furniture.

Sweden's Ikea, the largest self-assembly furniture company in the world, is to open a giant, 460,000 sq feet flagship store in Beijing. Pity the millions of city dwellers, beguiled by a swish computer desk on rollers with lots of compartments, or a fancy bookshelf - or, heaven help us, a complete kitchen system - who eagerly tear off the (rather sturdy) wrappings and settle in contentedly to read the instructions, only to be confronted with a Chinese puzzle of their worst nightmares. "It says to put K in the slot marked A, but cannot lah! All different sizes!"

"Wah!" cries his wife in despair, "cupboard only fits if put in wrong way round and knob upside down!" And an entire weekend later, they have a computer desk that circles dangerously to the left when they try to roll it to the wall and only two of whose rollers actually roll. Doubtless this is where Mr Lee and his wife resort to the solution applied by so many hundreds of thousands in the West after an encounter with self-assembly flatpak furniture. With a twist of the wrist, they undo the bottle cap on the booze.

Posted by Verity at April 10, 2006 04:15 PM


Posted by: Anton Traversa at April 10, 2006 05:27 PM

Nah. If the Chinese instructions are written as competently as the English instructions are, the Chinese will have no problems.

Of course, it does help to be mechanically "handy". :) If you're not, well, I still think you'll do alright-- just take your time and put it together in the way that "makes sense".

And yes, one of the nice things about living in metropolitan Baltimore (aside from not actually living in Baltimore) is having an IKEA store close by. I could spend (and have spent) hours in that place.

Posted by: Hale Adams at April 10, 2006 05:51 PM

Hale Adams - you do not sound normal. I hope you are not dangerous.

Posted by: Verity at April 10, 2006 06:00 PM

Half my furniture is from IKEA. I've only ever had one problem with them. I expect the Lee's of the world will be just fine.

Posted by: Brock at April 10, 2006 06:46 PM

I totally agree with Brock and Hale Adams. I bought my first piece of Ikea furniture in 1983 in Montreal. Several moves and more than two decades later, across provincial and state borders and one national frontier, it is still (although more than a little battered, more like patinated) doing fine service. My wife and I have completely lined our New York City apartment with Ikea Billy bookcases (much better if you add the optional glass doors), and we have found the children's toy chests to be wonderful blanket boxes. I think it is mere snootiness to sneer at Ikea; I also make furniture (in said NYC apartment), and I can tell you that if offered the choice of building a bookcase myself, having some overpriced NYC cabinet-maker build it for me, or buying Ikea, Ikea wins almost every time. In fact, the only time Ikea loses is when I have an odd-sized or -shaped space to fill, and then Metropolitan Lumber and I work it out between us.

Posted by: David Fleming at April 10, 2006 07:08 PM

Most people aren't professional carpenters and cannot follow Swedish logic. Suffice it to say. You have to have an Ikea Assembly Degree. This will not serve you in any other area of life.

Posted by: Verity at April 10, 2006 07:40 PM

My wife is devoted to Ikea. I find their products go together fairly simply, and I not in the least handy. I find that under normal use by my children, who inflict a lot of damage generally, the fronts of drawers pull off. So, I put in some wood screws when they loosen up and that fixes it. So, I also think the Chinese will be fine.

Posted by: Lex at April 10, 2006 08:37 PM

We bought a sofa from IKEA a few years back. The good news is that it was quite stylish and a real bargain. The bad news is that the frame fell apart in six months and we had to throw it out.

Posted by: Peter at April 10, 2006 09:22 PM

Anybody could work it out. I've had an Ikea computer desk for over 10 years now, a pretty big affair that me and my dad took just over an hour to assemble. We never had to even tighten the screws once in those ten years after the initial assembly.

If even my uneducated mom could figure it out just from the diagrams alone, anybody can.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at April 11, 2006 01:12 AM

IKEA's been in Beijing for four or five years now. And the instructions are in Chinese too, so not sure where you got this report from ..

Posted by: dlp at April 11, 2006 05:15 AM

dlp - yes, thank you. The instructions would, of course, be in Chinese and not in the Roman alphabet, but not having Chinese characters on my computer, and not knowing how to use them anyway, as there aren't really any characters in Chinese (it's all pictographs)I illustrated my point in the English language and Roman alphabet. I figured this would also be easier on the non-Sinologists among the readership.

Yes, the Ikea press release (my source)mentioned there had been a small Ikea in Beijing for four years, but this is a mega-flagship store, meaning it won't be a specialty store any more but will introduce millions of people to the joys of assembling flatpak furniture.

And to all those deft people above who calmly assemble flatpak furniture while practising Greek declensions on tape, you are one of the lucky ones. Many of us give up and hire a carpenter to come over and do it.

Posted by: Verity at April 11, 2006 07:08 AM

What is the progeny of Albion doing messing about with Swedish Luthern furniture anyhow? That's just begging for trouble.

You should be trying some authentic, fully assempled, indestructable William-Morris Arts-and-Crafts style furtniture.

As Morris famously said, "A man should know that every item in his house is useful or believe it to be beautiful." IKEA might meet the later if assembled by a Scandanavian carpenter, but traditional English furtniture is both useful and beautiful!

Stick to your patrimony! :-)

Posted by: Death Bredon at April 11, 2006 09:48 AM

Well, Death Bredon, you may be a Dorothy L. Sayers fan but anyone who invokes the ghost of William Morris gets struck off various Christmas card lists, including and especially mine. Or you would be if I wrote any Christmas cards.

Posted by: Helen at April 11, 2006 10:25 AM

It is absolutely imperative to write Christmas cards. How else to maintain contact with your throngs of now-distant friends? I see no other way. The Net is not enough.

William Morris may have been a socialist, and the perpetrator of a particularly silly form of dancing, but there is really nothing wrong with that quote from him, actually. Sounds very sensible to me.

Posted by: Lex at April 11, 2006 11:31 AM

Morris dancing has nothing to do with William Morris. It goes back to at least the fifteenth century, though the origin of the name is disputed. A corruption of Moorish is one theory. So, we do have to acquit the man of that, at least.

I guess you are right, Lex, that quote is not too bad, though typical of the self-righteous pomposity of the man. And many of his designs were very good, particularly when it came to furniture - not so sure about the wallpaper. It's just that he was a crashing bore and, as I said, self-righteous and pompous, as well as a socialist of the worst snobbish variety. And he probably invented Christmas cards. Just the sort of thing he would do.

Posted by: Helen at April 11, 2006 01:26 PM

Sorry. One more thing about William Morris. You shouldn't have started me on this, Death Bredon. His comment was one of intense criticism of traditional English furniture. He really hated it.

Posted by: Helen at April 11, 2006 04:55 PM

Sorry about the Morris quote!

Posted by: Death Bredon at April 12, 2006 09:12 AM

But you are a Sayers fan, aren't you, Death Bredon?

Posted by: Helen at April 12, 2006 09:43 AM

I purchased an IKEA king sized bed six years back. I have moved 4 times since then, meaning the bed was assembled 5 times and disassembled 4 times. It also goes through ...umm... vigorous daily use. The think has not yet fallen apart!

Posted by: Tushar D at April 12, 2006 02:16 PM

>>The think has not yet fallen apart!
should read:
>>The thing has not yet fallen apart!
clumsy finkers!

Posted by: Tushar D at April 12, 2006 02:36 PM

May I suggest Iowahawk's salute to Ingmar Bergman, Ikea & the Dukes of Hazard. (http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2005/08/ingmar_bergmans.html)

I, too, know many people who see Ikea beckoning them from hundreds of miles away and they fall into its honey trap. My experience, however, has not been so great - some major part is always missing & they think service consists of putting up a quite cheerful place & letting it run itself. And the internet is worse: you don't learn your order is out of stock until days later.

Posted by: Ginny at April 13, 2006 11:54 PM

I agree with Ginny about the customer service aspect. There isn't any. To enter a large Ikea is to enter a land of lost souls ... people wandering, empty-eyed, looking for an assistant to help them. The only worse place for lost souls who have given up all hope of finding what they were looking for, and there being no staff willing to assist them is Charles de Gaulle airport.

Posted by: Verity at April 14, 2006 06:08 AM

Well, of course, there is no customer service at IKEA. That is why it is cheap or cheaper than places that do have customer service. Cheaper by far, I may add. You pays your money and you takes your choice. It's called the market.

Posted by: Helen at April 14, 2006 06:14 AM

I'm aware of that simple truth, thank you, Helen. But there are a few people scattered around to help buyers - if nothing else to direct them deeper into the store so they are introduced to new merchandise - but they are never around.

Posted by: Verity at April 14, 2006 10:48 AM

Who is Dorothy Sayers? I am no "fan" of anyone. Rather, I am the second son of the Duke of Denver.

As for Arts & Crafts furniture, I am able to separate the result from its progenitor. After all, God himself created Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. And, I have yet to see a socialist chair in my life. If its comfy, I sit in it!


Posted by: Death Bredon at May 1, 2007 07:34 AM
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