Day 14 – Tuesday – Some interesting China article links to kick things off:
- Daring blogger tests the limits
- Power rationing in China
- Why America and China Will Clash
- Avatar banned in China
- chinaSMACK – this is an awesome news aggregation site sent to me by Dave Learn – a real insight into modern China
- More on Google v China
I had some customer calls this morning and got to the office later than planned. It was a beautiful day, clear and warm and actually worked up a sweat walking to work. Mike is very frugal (like a good entrepreneur should be) and he sited PassageMaker and the corporate apartment on purpose. Liantang, our “town” in the Luohu district, is not upscale at all, and most Western companies are based in tonier districts like Futian and Shekou. Liantang is very Chinese, we are the only foreigners and there is no Starbucks or other Western shops. We do have a KFC and a McD’s, but both these brands are so well established in China they are almost like local offerings now. KFC especially has a very different menu than in the States, tailored to the local market. When Mike was researching our new home a few years ago, he chose this area because he could buy a house across the street from the office. Also we are an important tenant for the landlord, so we can control the HVAC. In many of the high rise office towers, the landlord controls the thermostat. And rents are also much lower in Liantang.
In order to get to work, you have to cross a foot bridge over the main highway. Chinese steps are instructive.
For breakfast I went to a vendor around the corner selling a type of flatbread. The size of a large pizza but wafer thin, it is fluffy and crispy at the same time. I has green onions cooked into it and is coated with sesame seeds. A real taste delight. I bought half a pizza, cut up into bite-sized pieces and shared with the office. All for 4 RMB = $0.60.
It was a busy day in the office. We had customers visiting from France in the morning and USA in the afternoon. Late afternoon, my friend from Taiwan stopped by for a meeting to learn more about PassageMaker. We gave her the run down on all the companies – PassageMaker, QTP Bag & Case, and China Quality Focus – and their services – Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination, Assembly-Inspection-Packaging, China Sourcing Office, our Medical Assembly Center with Clean Room and Sterile Packaging, Logistics, VAT Rebate Processing, Simple Factory Audits, on-site Quality Inspections, Market Feasibility Studies, Factory Formation, and our Endorsed Service Provider network. She has USA friends and clients contacting her to help source in China and she wants to introduce them to us. I am confident we will find a good way to work together. Only one dish of note today at lunch, the variation on my favorite shrimp skewer dish, this time without the chiles and salt baked, to give them an intense somewhat smokey flavor.
I head out a bit earlier than normal to join her for dinner. It is not uncommon for folks at PassageMaker to work until 8 or 9 PM, so I felt a little bad leaving at 5:30 PM. My friend is in the mood for Japanese, so we head to Coco Park, a big mall and surrounding shopping area in Futian. Our driver heads off and we are mired in a few minutes time in rush hour traffic. Liantang is on the east end of Shenzhen, almost to Yantian, the most eastern district of Shenzhen and the location of the port. Shenzhen was the first Special Economic Zone set up by Deng Xiao Ping when China decided to open to the West. 30 years ago it was a farming and fishing village that just happened to abut British Hong Kong. Today it is a sprawling city of around 12 million people. From Shekou and Baoan in the west to Yantian in the east, even in good traffic at highway speeds it can take an hour or more end to end. The original Luohu district is crammed right up on the border and it is obvious that the city planners years ago had no idea what was to come. The highway in Liantang running to the port that I’ve posted in the past, was built because this area was almost a suburb. In central Luohu, the highways take crazy S curves weaving in and out of skyscrapers, and in some areas are reduced to two or even one lane. This is the polar opposite of the planned asphalt and concrete expanses of Pudong in Shanghai. Thus the trip to Coco Park takes around 45 minutes.
Coco Park is across the street from the new McCawley’s we visited the other night, and is a big beautiful mall. Lots of stone and neon and every major Western brand represented. In contrast to some of the malls in China, I actually saw people buying, not just looking. In we go to a Japanese restaurant, which if you take the bad blood between the two nations seriously, should be deserted. Instead we have to wait 25 minutes for a table the size of a matchbook, crammed between a large party of Hong Kongers and a couple on a date. This lao wai barely draws a second glance, except when I take a picture of the food. My friend tells them I am a food critic, which I guess is accurate.
We start the meal with raw beef tongue sliced paper thin. We initially opt to cook it ourselves on a portable butane burner, but after nearly giving ourselves 3rd degree burns (the cast iron cooking plate doesn’t exactly fit the burner and keeps sliding around), we send it away for them to cook.
Beef tongue is a bit more unctuous than other cuts, despite having not much visible fat, and is quite good. I am not sure I would be able to tell the difference if I was not told though. I remember that in his book Undaunted Courage, Steven Ambrose reported that Lewis only ate the tongue and the fat of the buffalo they killed. Now I understand.
We rounded out the meal with some sashimi, which everyone has seen so I didn’t bother with photos. My friend is into dessert, so we had ice cream and cheesecake, neither of which were anything special. The highlight for me was the Suntory beer, which I hadn’t had since my last trip to Japan nearly 12 years ago. Suntory is an brand rarely exported (I’ve never seen it in the USA, even in major cities) and it is a good basic lager. Just the thing for the food.
Conversation over dinner gets philosophical. She and I have known each other a long time through a string of career and life changes. She’s met my family and I’ve spoken to her significant other on the phone a number of times, though we’ve never met. She and I may not talk for a year, but whenever we do, the conversation picks up just where it left off like no time had passed. She looks great, hasn’t aged a bit. It has been 5 years since we’ve actually seen each other. It felt like last week. OK, so it WAS last week at the Italian restaurant, but you get my meaning.
Life is nothing but a string of anecdotes, with book learning thrown in for filler. You never really know anything but what you see with you own eyes, smell with your own nose, etc. When Mike asked me to write this blog, it was to boost our search engine results. I immediately realized I couldn’t do it if every post was a string of key words. It had to be about life. It really should be called “Whit’s tiny slice of Shenzhen, Hong Kong, a couple places in Dongguan and Guangzhou, a few trips to Shanghai and Beijing, Singapore from 15 years ago, Taiwan from 12 years ago Business Blog”. I know more about China than most people, but as our rep in Brazil, Andrea Martins, who lived in China for 25 years once told me, “If you go to China for a week, you can write a book. If you go for a year, you can write an article. If you live there for 25 years, you have nothing to say.”
A professor of mine once introduced me to an audience at a speaking engagement as one of the happiest people he knows. I don’t know if that is the truth, but I AM happy. Not because I don’t have anything to be sad about, but because it doesn’t do any good to fret and worry. I have a beautiful wife and a wonderful family, I love to meet people and make new friends. I love what I do, because I essentially made my own path (with lots of help from everyone in my life, including The Man upstairs). Some years ago, I made a silent promise to myself to “live a life less ordinary”. So far, I think I’ve succeeded.
When I am at home I am happy and content. I love Salem, VA and the USA. I love my family and friends. It is a beautiful small town, safe and pleasant. Do I miss China when I am at home? Of course.
When I am in China I am likewise happy and content. I cannot say I love China, so much as I am fascinated by it. Every day is a new experience. Buying a loaf of bread or a carton of milk is an adventure. Do I miss my home when I am in China? Of course. I miss my family terribly.
But there is work to do and money to make. You put it out of your mind. Absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder. I know when I see my family in 3 weeks, it will be a wonderful homecoming.