Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fake Mold Sandwich Bag on Weibo Not a Sign of Chinese Creativity

In "Images—Chinese Creativity" on Tea Leaf Nation David Wertime wrote, "Weibo user Jason Peng (@赵鹏自媒体) has just posted two hilarious images of Chinese creativity." The second example particularly caught my attention:

photographs of a sandwich in a clear plastic bag with fake mold spots

Wertime suggested that this fake mold plastic bag could mean that "colleagues at the office will never pilfer your delicious lunch from the communal fridge". I would question, though, whether it would lose its effectiveness over time. Bringing moldy sandwiches regularly to work could raise the suspicions of others and cause them to investigate.

But what I most questioned when I saw the image was whether the plastic bag was truly a sign of Chinese creativity. If it was designed in China, I would be curious to learn what inspired or motivated the designer. Based on what I have seen in China, most Chinese do not bring homemade sandwiches to work or keep them in resealable plastic bags.

Although only a link to Jason Peng's Sina Weibo account was provided, I was able to track down his specific post. It makes a comment about the bag's potential use that is similar to Wertime's, but Peng makes no claims about the designer's nationality or ethnicity. Furthermore, Peng was not the first to post the image. He found it in a post by the Weibo user 微吃货 (Weichihuo). Although Weichihuo provides no links to other posts, the multiple Weibo stamps at the bottom of the image and the "DIY私房菜" logos suggest Weichihuo found the image elsewhere on Weibo. DIY私房菜 has her own Weibo account and her post of the image on Weibo appears to be Weichihuo's source (though it may not have been direct). DIY私房菜 posted the image earlier, the image only has a single Weibo stamp, and Weichihuo's comment is identical to DIY私房菜's comment.

DIY私房菜 also has no mention of the designer, and she provides no information in the post about her source for the image. To see if there was any reason other than the image being posted in China for Wertime to describe the plastic bag as a sign of "Chinese creativity", I decided to apply a complicated research method. After countless seconds of tireless work, I discovered several relevant articles from four years ago, such as one by Emily Dreyfus on CNET:
If only Jane had known about the Fake Mold Lunch Bags. Created by New York-based engineer and designer Sherwood Forlee, these bags are sure to gross out any lunch thief. Just place your delectable sandwich inside its clean yet deceptively filthy-looking plastic, and voila: the unstealable sandwich. Even the most stealthy lunch thief won't be desperate enough to eat a moldy sandwich (we hope).
I also discovered that Forlee's "Anti-Theft Lunch Bags" can be purchased here. The webpage includes images that appear to match those shared on Weibo. I was reasonably convinced that the plastic bag seen in the Weibo posts was Forlee's design.

However, since "New York-based" did not sound Chinese to me, I dug a little deeper and found more information about Sherwood Forlee:
Sherwood was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Zimbabwe, and attended university in the US. After graduating with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, he has worked as a product designer for various companies and consultancies.

Sherwood's main interests lie in searching for the simplest solutions to problems and creating novel and memorable experiences. He has created innovative designs for well-known companies as well as for his own personal brand, the. ( His works have garnered awards and extensive press attention.

Outside of design, Sherwood is passionate about food. He hopes to one day open his own bread and nut butter shop replete with a staff of well-trained squirrels to operate the grinding the machines.
I supposed Forlee being born in Hong Kong might allow the claim of "Chinese creativity". Clearly, additional innovative research was required: I sent a quick email to Forlee. He kindly replied, and I will share his answers to my questions.

As far as you know, were you the first to create a fake mold plastic sandwich bag?
I believe I was the first to come up with idea of fake moldy sandwich bags and apparently, also the first to have them made.
I see you were born in Hong Kong. Would you describe your creation as a sign of "Chinese creativity"? Would you feel it is accurate for others to do so?
I was born in HK, but only lived there for 1 year. I wouldn't consider my work a sign of "Chinese creativity" as any influence from China or HK is minimal and most likely naught.
Could you provide any updates on your squirrel training?
I am interested in opening up a nut butter shop where customers can mix and match various nut butters together to create their own specialty jar. Squirrels are incorrigible and thus, I have had to alter my plans a bit.
And thus, my research came to an end.

I believe Forlee's response resolves my question, and I cannot characterize his work as "Chinese creativity". Additionally, Forlee has shown that sometimes human-centered design is not sufficient for a successful product or service. Squirrel-centered design may be required as well.

I could now opine about how the above relates to a variety of issues such as the challenges in interpreting and discussing online posts to gain cultural insights, but instead I will recommend checking out Forlee's website at It includes links to some of his other intriguing designs such as modular wine glasses, a maze waffle iron, a double ended jar, and a mirror plate which reminds me of some fascinating neuropsychology research (maybe a topic for another day).

In a later post, I will discuss a creative endeavor I witnessed in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. It highlights how labeling a new design or piece of art as "Chinese" can raise some deep issues, even when it is made by someone who is Chinese. In addition to Forlee's diverse background before living in America, these issues mean I am more likely to be thinking about "Forlee creativity" than "American creativity" whenever I see his work.


  1. Replies
    1. The exploration certainly provided some entertaining surprises. I never expected it would lead to a conversation about squirrel training.