China’s ‘Use­less Edi­son’ com­bines in­vent­ing and the in­ter­net, with hi­lar­i­ous re­sults

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - W Eekend|fromtheeast -

HIS fans call him “The Use­less Edi­son.” But in­ven­tor Geng Shuai doesn’t mind. In fact, he kind of likes it. “Peo­ple say my in­ven­tions are use­less, but I think there are two di­men­sions to use­ful­ness: prac­ti­cal­ity and amuse­ment,” said the 30-year-old for­mer welder, who left his job last year to fo­cus full time on mak­ing his ques­tion­able con­trap­tions, such as a mo­tor­bike with its own toi­let. “I like do­ing this. So it’s use­ful.”

Ev­ery coun­try has its tool­shed in­ven­tors. But China - which gave the world mov­able type print­ing, gun­pow­der and the com­pass - has spawned a pop­u­la­tion of tin­ker­ers who dis­play the kind of out­size am­bi­tion that has helped the coun­try be­come a global eco­nomic giant.

There’s a sur­pris­ingly large sub­set of farm­ers and other DIY devo­tees who have built sub­marines and light air­craft, var­i­ous kinds of robotic plows and mon­ster truck­style trac­tors.

Geng may now be the best-known among them - a new kind of so­cial me­dia star whose call­ing card is his quirk­i­ness.

Stand­ing in his work­shop in this tiny vil­lage out­side Bei­jing, Geng shows off his in­ven­tions. There’s the meat cleaver turned hair comb. And there’s a ten­nis racket-size wa­ter­melon-slicer.

There’s the earth­quake-proof noo­dle bowl that swings in its stand to al­low the eater to con­tinue slurp­ing through seis­mic waves. There are the slip­pers made from me­tal nuts.

But Geng is most proud of his ham­mer bag. It’s a hol­low steel mal­let with a com­part­ment that slides out of the head. Per­fect, he says, for stor­ing your phone, keys and wal­let. It has a strap so it can hang over the wearer’s shoul­der.

“It’s very fash­ion­able,” he said, with ap­par­ent se­ri­ous­ness, mod­el­ing his cre­ation. “And if some­one tries to steal your bag, you can just throw it at them.”

But Geng, who grew up mak­ing things in his fam­ily’s pump fac­tory, is a spe­cial kind of Chi­nese en­tre­pre­neur. He does not make money from his in­ven­tions. Well, not di­rectly. He makes a liv­ing through in­ad­ver­tently hi­lar­i­ous videos - filmed with the Chi­nese beauty fil­ters that make ev­ery­one look like an air­brushed star - in which he shows how he makes his in­ven­tions and then hams it up for the cam­era as he demon­strates how to use them.

With smolder­ing eyes, he combs his messy hair with the meat cleaver. He falls out of the slip­pers while try­ing to walk down a coun­try road in them. And he presents a mo­tor­bike with a seat that lifts up to re­veal a squat toi­let. Just turn the throt­tle to flush. (Luck­ily the video cuts out be­fore Geng un­zips his fly.)

He now has al­most 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers on the video site Kwai, and they give him mo­bile phone “tips” for his per­for­mances - the in­ter­net equiv­a­lent of a busker get­ting cash dropped in a hat. His big­gest tip­pers get their names on plaques on the wall in his work­shop, which is of­ten the set for his videos. The big­ger the tip, the big­ger the plaque.

Geng tries to come up with a new in­ven­tion ev­ery week and to make videos two or three times a week. He makes about $150 ev­ery time he does a live-streamed broad­cast - de­cent money in a town where five peo­ple can have a lav­ish lunch for a to­tal of $25. He makes enough to sup­port his fam­ily - he and his wife have two chil­dren - and his brother, who shoots the videos.

“Most peo­ple think I’m an en­ter­tainer, but I think of my­self as an in­ven­tor,” he said, nam­ing as his hero the ec­cen­tric Ser­bianamer­i­can in­ven­tor Nikola Tesla.

Geng at­tributes his fame to China’s rapid in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, which has seen mil­lions of peo­ple mi­grate from ru­ral re­gions to small apart­ments in the big cities, where they work long days.

“Chi­nese peo­ple love in­ven­tions and in­vent­ing stuff, but be­cause of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, most peo­ple don’t have the time to do it,” he said. “That’s why I am pop­u­lar they watch me mak­ing things be­cause they can’t make things them­selves.”

It’s a sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non to the “live eat­ing” videos that started in South Korea and are now pop­u­lar in China. In­ter­net stars eat in front of the cam­era, of­ten so view­ers can eat with them and not feel alone.

Once, a fan who was liv­ing par­tic­u­larly vi­car­i­ously through Geng’s videos sent him $720. Which is lucky, be­cause he wouldn’t make much if he had to rely on sales.

When he first quit “bor­ing” con­struc­tion work to fol­low his pas­sion, he started mak­ing sling­shots out of me­tal nuts sol­dered to­gether. He of­fered them for sale on Wechat, the ubiq­ui­tous Chi­nese so­cial me­dia app, for about $10. He sold two or three.

No one wanted his wa­ter pipe that sup­pos­edly fil­tered tox­ins out of cig­a­rettes. But the me­tal nut can­non, which shoots rub­ber bands, has been one of his bestsellers. He’s sold four.

Geng’s most pop­u­lar prod­uct is the meat cleaver smart­phone case, which he makes to or­der de­pend­ing on the cus­tomer’s phone. He walks around with a meat cleaver han­dle stick­ing out of his own pocket, which he grabs to whip out his phone as needed. So prac­ti­cal. He’s sold 10.

But it’s the videos that have cat­a­pulted him to suc­cess.

“Peo­ple might not want to buy my in­ven­tions, but they like watch­ing my videos, so they sup­port me by tip­ping,” he said.

His fam­ily didn’t quite share his pas­sion. Geng’s wife, Ji Xiangy­ing, was ini­tially against his de­ci­sion to throw in his steady job for a fickle life of In­ter­net renown.

“But I came to ac­cept it af­ter see­ing how many peo­ple like his in­ven­tions,” she said, hold­ing their baby, the younger of their two chil­dren, on her hip.

And when Geng told his grandma that he had gar­nered more than 1 mil­lion fans on­line, she asked how he could pos­si­bly eat that much. The phrase in Chi­nese sounds a lot like “one mil­lion bowls of rice noo­dles.”

Now, his fans are en­cour­ag­ing him to push the bound­aries. Some threaten to stop fol­low­ing him if he dares make any­thing that is ac­tu­ally prac­ti­cal.

“I re­alised that my small in­ven­tions can’t sat­isfy you any­more, so I spent a lot of money to buy this mo­tor­cy­cle,” Geng said into the cam­era in one of his re­cent videos. “This time, I’m go­ing to make some­thing re­ally use­ful.”

Cut to the next shot and there’s Geng with a wheel­bar­row with half a mo­tor­bike on the back. A mo­tor­bar­row. He pro­ceeds to tear around a ware­house with it, barely able to con­trol the con­trap­tion which, for­tu­nately, is empty for the film­ing.

For Geng, the lack of sales is nei­ther here nor there. It’s the on­line celebrity that is mo­ti­vat­ing him. Af­ter all, be­fore it was only his fam­ily and friends who laughed at his in­ven­tions. Now he’s got al­most 2 mil­lion peo­ple laugh­ing at him.

Photo: The Wash­ing­ton Post

Geng Shuai, a so­cial me­dia star for comic videos demon­strat­ing his off­beat in­ven­tions, stands in his work­shop in the vil­lage of Yang, in China.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.