Cool Ideas Society
Fancy yourself as the next Donald Trump? Then consider signing up for one of the monthly meetings of the Cool Ideas Society – a forum where like-minded entrepreneurs can bounce ideas around in an effort to inspire creative thinking.
Each meeting features a pitcher who presents an entrepreneurial idea or issue to the group. Each member then offers feedback through structured dialogue rather than a free-for-all discussion. The formula for the meeting style originated in the Netherlands before being transplanted to Beijing.
Still, don’t forget you’re in China, where piracy is rife – IPR (intellectual property rights) is more like IP… argh! – so you’re probably better off keeping the crux of your buck-making brainwave to yourself. Despite this, most of the projects discussed end up being launched thanks to the positive feedback of fellow creative types. The group meets at Caffe O’Henry and most of the 25-30 participants stick around after the serious stuff for drinks and networking, making this as much a social as a useful business gathering.
If you’ve ever given a speech and spent the entire time hoping that the ground would open and swallow you up, that safe little subterranean cocoon you pictured – where you can speak publicly without judgement and tension – probably feels a lot like a Toastmasters night.
Toastmasters is an international society of clubs, with more than 30 in Beijing alone, whose mission is to improve its members’ oral communication and leadership skills by creating a closed, reassuring environment for people to get together and practise their public speaking. During the two-hour meeting that we attended, four speakers delivered presentations on pre-arranged topics lasting between five and ten minutes, with time allocated for constructive feedback from fellow members.
A mix of Chinese and foreigners, most members join to improve their speechmaking skills for work presentations, but end up staying on for years because of the friends they make – the meetings have strict agendas, but are otherwise relaxed and easy-going affairs.
There’s also a ‘table topic’ session where brave souls volunteer themselves at the front of the room and are given a subject on which they must start speaking about on the spot. If, after a few sessions, you feel plucky enough to have a bash at that, you can safely call yourself a confident individual.
Capoeira is a workout that puts the ‘art’ in martial. This style of Brazilian shadow boxing may look like breakdance fighting, but a more accurate description might be improvised tai chi practised in pairs. Don’t fret, it’s easier than it sounds, and definitely easier than it is to spell. To get started, head to Beijing’s Capoeira Mandinga, which offers classes for all ability levels.
As a warm-up, everyone follows the capoeira masters in rhythmic stretching, with meditative Afro beats banging away in the background. The more advanced students then pair off, while the beginners learn fundamental capoeira dance moves. What starts as lunging from side to side soon begins to incorporate turns and kicks. After working up a sweat, the instructor sets up fitness balls on stands to act as substitutes for real-life opponents.
You practise kicking your leg over the ball before cartwheeling around it, making for an artistic workout. If the last time you tried a cartwheel was around the same time you last gave a wedgie – on the school playground – the more acrobatic moves may be difficult to master at first. But you won’t be alone, total novices are welcome. Whatever your level, two hours of all those twists, kicks and turns is a great workout for your entire body.
Ever heard of flower power? No, not that one you peacenik hippy. We’re talking about the cathartic power of flower arranging. We’re serious: it’ll actually lower your heart rate. Our teacher Toni Yuan constantly stresses the importance of patience during our two-and-a-half-hour class for beginners. And she should know, having taught the craft for more than 20 years.
Yuan teaches her beginners how to make either a window box or a bouquet. On this occasion we were given the instructions and the materials needed to make the latter and told to get creative – all under her expert guidance. The class costs 250RMB, which is pretty reasonable if you consider that you get to take your creation home with you and how much a professionally made bouquet is.
And, even if your first attempt looks like the shredded bunch returned to a spurned lover, there’s every chance you’ll get better in time. Just as soon as you learn to calm down that is: ‘Flowers are soft and easy to work with,’ says Yuan, ‘just so long as you treat them with respect.’