Assorted dumplings and fried goodness, plus lots and lots of meat (including horse and donkey meat)

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I had the opportunity to speak to a group of students the other day about doing business in China and Asia in general. As always, the subject of food and alcohol came up. I explained the business banquet and the rules of consumption, which in my experience are:

  1. There is no such thing as a glass of wine with dinner. If you say you don’t drink for religious or medical reasons, they will accept that, but if you start drinking, you are on a bus with no brakes, next stop Hangover Town.
  2. Everyone smokes, everywhere, all the time. Whether or not you smoke is irrelevant. At table, in the restrooms, in elevators, they will smoke. There will be smoking at dinner, and the further the drinking goes, the more smoking and the more they will encourage you to smoke. If you are a professional athlete, not the place for you. On that note, Chinese cities probably aren’t the best place for you anyway.
  3. You should eat anything put in front of you. As above, unless you have solid religious or medical reasons to say no, you WILL be eating whatever is ordered, especially if you are with me. No sissies at my table.

These ground rules established in the audiences’ heads, I recounted the epic drinking contests, food poisoning, hangovers, food poisoning, blackouts, and yet more food poisoning. You might think that with this track record I would be gun-shy trying new things but it is exactly the opposite. The most exciting cuisines in the world are in Asia, and good food is everywhere waiting to be tried. Including honey bees.

On my last trip to China, the highlight was donkey meat – best red meat I’ve ever tried. The Chinese have a saying, 天上龙肉,地上驴肉, “tiān shàng lóng ròu, dì shang lú ròu”, or “the best meat in heaven is dragon meat, the best meat on earth is donkey meat.” I have to agree.

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PassageMaker‘s Director of New Project Development, Dave Learn, is an adventurous traveler and an exceptional photographer. I live vicariously through Dave’s Flickr page, and his photos of his recent trip to Mongolia inspired the title of this post.

David Dayton of Silk Road International, a good friend of all of us at PassageMaker, says that there are really several different Chinas. The interior (where 400 million people live on a dollar a day or less) is a different world from the conspicuous wealth of the Bund in Shanghai. You need to get out and experience all that the Chinas have to offer, and the same applies to Asia in general. A friend of mine once said the cuisine is the principal art form of any culture, and nowhere is this more evident than Asia, and China specifically. So if you are going to go to the trouble to journey to China, do NOT eat all your meals in the hotel or at McDonald’s. Get out and risk food poisoning, because the rewards are worth it.

The Green Movement’s People Problem

I drafted the original post below months ago, for some reason never published it. This vile piece of excrement got me motivated. WARNING – the video at the link is graphic, showing children and adults being blown up for being opposed to or just apathetic about global warming. If you want to a good idea of just how screwed up the environmentalist movement really is, and how little impact they will have trying to sell their message to developing economies like China, India, Brazil, etc., watch the video. This is what evil looks like.

People who live in the polluted areas of China know it, and any of them will tell you they’d like things to be cleaner, but most also understand this is a trade-off – one kind of green for another. Green technology will fly in these markets as long as it works at a reasonable cost. As I’ve said before, environmentalism as it currently exists in the West is a luxury. When you are dirt poor, you are far less likely to get misty-eyed about dirt.

I cannot do better to close my commentary on this wretched bit of eco-fascist propaganda than quote the great James Taranto quoting the peerless David Burge, aka Iowahawk:

No, this video was made by green supremacists themselves, and with a high degree of technical proficiency. As 10:10 itself observed in a statement (since removed from its website), the video required the efforts of “50+ film professionals and 40+ actors and extras.” Blogger David Burge notes that “somehow, throughout this entire process, not one of the hundreds of people involved seemed to have questioned the wisdom of an advertising message advocating the violent, sudden death of people who disagree with it.”

Now, the original post, drafted way back in January 2010:

This is an excellent piece on how the “green” movement gets it wrong when it targets human beings as the problem.

Key paragraphs:

But the main, fundamental problem facing the movement after Copenhagen–which none of the green factions have yet addressed–is its people problem. The movement needs to break with the deep-seated misanthropy that dominates green politics and has brought it to this woeful state. Its leaders have defined our species as everything from a “cancer” to the “AIDs of the earth.” They wail in horror at the thought that by the year 2050 there will likely be another 2 or 3 billion of these inconvenient bipeds. Leading green figures such as Britain’s Jonathan Porritt, Richard Attenborough and Lester Brown even consider baby-making a grievous carbon crime–especially, notes Australian activist Robert Short, in those “highly consumptive, greenhouse-producing nations.”

Yet a slower population growth–while beneficial for poor, developing countries–can lead to a dismal, geriatric future in already low-birthrate nations like Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea and Russia. And although birth rates are dropping in most developing countries, particularly those experiencing rapid economic growth, it will likely be decades before population stops increasing in most of the developing world.

Besides, people in developing countries have much more important things to worry about–such as earning a living and getting ahead. Fighting climate change ranks low on the list of Third World priorities. The sprawling slums of Mumbai need more energy, not less; they want better roads, not fewer. More economic development would produce the money to help clean the now foul water and air, but also provide access to better education, one of the best ways to assure more manageable birth rates.

Instead of looking to make developing countries even more dependent on Western largesse, greens should focus on ways to help improve the day-to-day lives of their people. Rather than prattle on about the coming apocalypse, they could work to replace treeless, dense slums with shaded low-lying clean houses that are easier to heat or cool. Those interested in nature might purchase land and rebuild natural areas. The children of cities like Mumbai should have the opportunity to experience wildlife other than crows, pigeons and rats.

The environmental movement also might as well forget fighting the aspirations of the burgeoning middle class in India, or other developing countries. No developing world politician, whether from democratic India or Brazil or authoritarian China will embrace an agenda that stifles such aspirations. [emphasis added]

My first post when I started this blog was about the passing of Norman Borlaug. Despite developing strains of wheat and rice that fed millions and helped lift millions more out of crushing poverty, some in the “green” movement saw this as a bad thing. Feeding people was a bad thing, as it leads to more people. To those folks, and to the modern “greens” like them, I encourage them to lead by example. Starve yourself to death if you believe in it that strongly. Or if you can arrange to have your surviving relatives recycle the bullet, make it quick for yourself.

But since that’s not going to happen (the world needs them too much, don’t you know), I guess it’s back to ignoring the Luddites and finding technological solutions for the problems we face. Care to make a bet on the Chinese and Indian contributions to said tech solutions?

She’s fat?

ChinaSMACK, one of my daily guilty pleasures, has an article about the Chinese netizens’ reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese-American girlfriend. The consensus seems to be that she’s an egregious porker. And in most parts of China, she’d be seen that way, as a woman is supposed to look like a stick of bamboo. I’ve written before about this phenomenon, including a research trip to Shanghai Hooters. The sacrifices I make for science.

I am not going to comment on whether I find Miss Chan attractive or not, as beauty is highly subjective, whereas weight is (mostly) objective. Indeed, a woman can wear weight well or know how to dress her body (Kate Winslet comes to mind), but at the end of it, weight is measurable, whereas beauty is not. I assume that when you’re worth US$4 billion and founded the 3rd largest “nation” in the world, meeting girls is not a problem. Mr. Zuckerberg thinks she’s hot, and that’s what matters.

But I will say clearly that she ain’t fat. Give the poor girl a break.

I find this all interesting and worthy of commentary because the Chinese diet has changed so radically with the prosperity of the last 30 years, that seeing a little extra weight on women is pretty common in the cities. Listening to chatter on the streets, much air is spent bemoaning how fat so-and-so is now. Fat, as in 105 lbs versus 90 lbs. They are also 3 inches taller than their parents because they’ve had abundant food and animal protein their whole lives, and now have a discernible figure. To me this is a good thing.

It has long been considered attractive in China for a man to have a few extra pounds, as it is a sign of wealth. In a nation with a long history of famine, calories were the ultimate bling. But women were supposed to stay skinny.

Since I do not see China’s economic trajectory reversing, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese physique changes in decades to come. We know what’s happened in the USA, and India seems to be traveling a similar path (sorry – old article). Even more so to see if the cultural biases change to match the new reality. Should be fun to watch.

Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” talks about the nature of work

This video is actually over a year old, but the message resonates nonetheless. I am a bit of a paradox – someone who is obsessed with Asia, who spends my days lethargically tapping away at my MacBook Pro (fantastic device), helping companies do business in China, often to outsource the “jobs Americans won’t do anymore”. Yet I still have interests in two successful American manufacturing companies that make 90% of their product in the good old USA, and we are in the process of moving some of those products back to the America from China. That’s what the math is telling us to do, and I know it is the right move. I have an MBA, but some of my fondest career memories are of manual labor, working in a small brewery and various factories. I hate going to the gym (as anyone who’s ever met me can easily attest), but I love yard work – pruning trees, weeding, splitting firewood, etc.

Rowe’s point delivered to Congress, is worth quoting:

Rowe explained that “dirty” jobs, like those in manufacturing and farming, used to mean success, but now look like settling. He wants that to change.

“I don’t think the country is going to fall back in love with manufacturing and I don’t think these policies are going to change, until or unless we reignite a fundamental relationship with dirt, work, and the business of making things, as opposed to the business of buying them,” he said.

He said one of reasons this is occurring is because community colleges and vocational education have taken the backseat to four-year college degrees.

“It’s not happening because people hate community colleges, it’s not happening because people hate the trades, it’s happening because we’re promoting a very specific kind of education at the expense of the others,” he said.

I’ve written before about the higher education bubble (here and here) and thoughts on American competitiveness and the attitudes towards work, but Mr. Rowe does a better job of laying out where we’ve lost our way a bit. Convincing people that the only path to wealth is $120,000+ in debt for a degree in liberal arts or the soft sciences seems further from the mark than ever.

China has built serious capabilities in the last 30 years, skills and knowledge that many parts of the developed world have allowed to atrophy. Part of the attraction to doing business in China is price, but increasingly it is because the domestic industries have shrunken to the point that China is the only place you can get it made, whatever “it” is. That is why PassageMaker is there, so that if you are forced to do business with Chinese suppliers, you have an advocate that understands your concerns and requirements, and has your success as our primary objective.

Sustainability and news from the Dark Side

I had the honor to take part in a panel discussion at the University of South Carolina last week about entrepreneurship. During the discussion a bright young woman, an IMBA candidate, asked about “sustainable” products. My answer was a bit flip (“nobody cares”), but the point I was trying to make is I’ve yet to have a client who really wanted a “green” product.

We got into a discussion with other members of the group and briefly debated the recycled uses of various materials, but the consensus was that clients talk about wanting “green” products out of China but don’t want to pay for them. Ultimately, the green that matters is money.

Our Sourcing Feasibility Study (sample here) can identify suppliers that meet whatever criteria you like, including environmental criteria. But 90% of our clients pick suppliers based on price. Just my observation.

But that got me thinking about what really constitutes “green” or “sustainable” anyway. A few members of the group talked at length about recycling materials like metals and plastics, but I don’t think this should count, as people have been recycling valuable metals since time immemorial. I used the example of salvaging steel, iron, brass, lead, etc. from battlefields during the Napoleonic Wars. As any art historian knows, many of the great bronze statues were melted down to make cannon during this time.

But many “green” products strike me as a scam. The Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs that have been forced upon us by Congress just plain suck – they are expensive; they cast crappy light; they contain mercury, so you break one and need a hazmat cleanup; despite their supposed energy efficiency, I have seen no significant drop in my electricity bills; and did I mention they contain mercury, so how the heck am I supposed to dispose of the stupid thing when it burns out far ahead of schedule (as every one I’ve bought has done)? So, which savior of the planet should I thank for foisting this overpriced, under-performing, toxic “green” product on us? Should the control of Congress change hands in November, don’t be surprised if one of the first acts is repealing the incandescent bulb ban.

I remember my first encounter with “green” products was in the early 1990s while visiting family in Colorado. They used environmentally friendly dish soap, which in practice meant that you had to use half a bottle for every load of dishes washed. The stuff was environmentally friendly because it was apparently 99% water. Nearly 20 years later doesn’t look like much has changed – Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes (from the New York Times).

And as I was writing this, I just saw the polar bear commercial for the all-electric Nissan Leaf. Does anyone realize where 50% of the USA’s power comes from? Hint: It’s a black rock we burn. And the reports I’ve read about the Chinese betting big on EVs are also followed by reports about how such a move will result in LOTS more pollution. While the traffic jams in Beijing may be not quite so smoggy and saturated with ground level ozone, the net result will be more pollution from the coal-fired plants that supply most of China’s electricity.

So…remind me again what makes a “green” product?

I lived through such governmental BS in the USA heavy truck industry, but since my escape from the automotive world, I’ve tried not to think about it. So those stories will have to wait for another day.

Quick note in closing about the Dark Side (as a friend termed my switch to Mac)…my eyes have adjusted. I love the MacBook Pro and doubt I will ever go back to PC.

The only thing better than having dinner with a beautiful woman…

…is having dinner with two beautiful women. Feel free to quote me.

The last two weeks have included the opportunity to take part in a number of events at Mike’s and my alma mater, The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. USC excels in teaching international business, and we are currently hosting an excellent intern from the IMBA program in our Shenzhen office, so I freely admit I am shopping for next year’s intern(s).

Aside from the obvious ego boost of being asked to speak at your alma mater, it gives me enthusiasm for the future. The class of 2013 has some real ringers, students I expect to read about in the business journals a decade hence (and a few who might make the police blotter for public intoxication between now and then, much to my gratification – Go Cocks). To Aaron, Clinton, Frank and the young man with the extravagant hair who had the insane idea to eat a chili dog and then take hot sake shots at 4:00 AM, study hard. You have quite a task to live up to trail blazed by Admiral Goodtimes, aka Mike Bellamy, and I circa 1997, but you are well on your way. Make us proud.

These two weeks of travel also included meeting an amazing entrepreneur, Doreen Sullivan of Post No Bills. It is hard for me to briefly describe what they do (hell, it is hard for me to briefly describe what I do), but it is far above slapping logos on coffee mugs. I expect we will be doing plenty of business together in the future. A very dynamic woman with a very exciting company.

This week I was contacted by a student I’d met earlier in the year. She wanted my input on a project for one of her classes. We had a very enjoyable lunch, which put me in the mind to cogitate on three subjects much on my mind of late.

The first is the higher education bubble (much discussed by Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, if you care to follow along). I’ve debated whether the bubble is real with the folks from my undergraduate alma mater, but there is no denying that the price of school has risen far faster than the rate of inflation. I was very surprised to hear what this young lady was paying at a state school.

The second was the (sadly) trendy, politically correct nature of some of the classes she’s being required to take. Sustainability in a business program? Really? Like every person able to read doesn’t already know “green” products are all the rage? I know all the schools are doing it, but this strikes me as the B-school version of the “fill-in-the-ethnicity-studies” programs at the undergraduate level. Let’s keep to the rigor of the old core, shall we? I am not picking on USC, just pushing them to shuck the academic fads

The third was the advice this young lady had been given. Most people were advising her to specialize, to focus on one subject, be it finance, marketing, etc. I gave her the opposite advice. I have always striven to be a generalist. I shared with her (a badly butchered version of) one of my favorite quotes from Robert A. Heinlein. Here it is in full:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Specialization is for insects. What an amazing line. If there is quote that sums up the need for an entrepreneur to have as broad a knowledge base as possible, that’s it.

Our lunch stretched into the afternoon, then into the evening. My lunch companion is a very impressive young woman, Chinese but having spent half her life in the USA, her English is flawless, and there is obviously a great deal holding her ears apart. We had a grand time discussing the vagaries of doing business in China, the diversity of the cuisine, the peculiarities of regional culture, etc. Doreen of Post No Bills joined us around beer:30 and made an impromptu introduction to a struggling young entrepreneur with the single most amazing product concept I’ve experienced all year. The next hour was spent discussing branding, funding, IP protection, etc. We closed with a late dinner with the ladies (hence the title of this post), the final statement on the evening from our young student being, “I’ve learned more in the last nine hours than I have since I started school here!”. Mission Accomplished.

That is how we roll at PassageMaker and it is the reason I am so passionate about what I do. At 1:00 PM on Thursday, I thought lunch would be over by 2:00 PM. By 3:00 PM, I knew I’d found next year’s #1 intern candidate, and by 7:00 PM I had a new client with a product that will shake its industry to the core – an industry in which I have not one iota of experience, but the difference is I know how to learn and learn fast. That is core of how PassageMaker operates – it has to be as our clients are so diverse – and I will credit USC with helping us hone that most critical of skills. And by the 4:00 PM Friday, I had investors interested enough to schedule a meeting to meet the inventor with less than week’s notice.

Get an MBA to climb the corporate ladder? Nah, not for me. Specialization is for insects.

Ennui, information overload, and Happy Birthday Shenzhen!

I have become ferociously bored with blogging of late. Part of it was summertime, with its combination of oppressive heat and other, more enticing diversions. Part of it was (and is) the absolute avalanche of business we’ve been getting – there is a bad economy out there, but people still need help in China. And part of it was (and is and I fear always shall be) the crush of sheer stupidity gushing out of Washington daily. It just is more than I can take most days. It says quite a bit when the business climate is more stable in an ostensibly communist country than a nominally capitalist one.

However, when the IT team is motivated to re-post a sales brochure to freshen up the homepage, I guess that is a sign I best get moving on the blogging front.

I will try to re-establish my blogging discipline, with at least a few posts per week.

In the meantime, here is the article that got me off my duff (hat tip to Dan Beach, aka, “Canada Dan”):

China’s ‘miracle’ Shenzhen marks 30 years. I first visited Shenzhen in 1994 and at the time never imagined it would become my second home. How different it is today than the ugly, gray city 16 years ago. China has a long way to go, but the distance it has traveled has been astonishing.

Other fun stuff:

  • There Are Now Enough Vacant Properties In China To House Over Half Of America – bubble, anyone?
  • Obama Added More to National Debt in First 19 Months Than All Presidents from Washington Through Reagan Combined, Says Gov’t Data – hmmm…wonder how the Chinese feel about that?
  • China’s UN diplomat in drunken rant against Americans – well, at least we are clear on how China’s UN ambassador feels about it.
  • Report: Castro says Cuban model doesn’t work – reaaaaaally, you don’t say. As unsurprising as this is, imagine if Cuba tries a “Shenzhen Special Economic Zone” 90 miles off the coast of Florida to turn things around. Another interesting interview with Castro (nothing to do with China, but very interesting what he has to say about the Jews, Israel and Iran).
  • You Know The US Is Screwed, When China, Gambia, And Jordan Have Better Property Rights – I’ve felt this in my bones for a while. The USA has been acting for some time as though it didn’t want to be an economic powerhouse, and this is just another example. More on America’s competitiveness here.
  • Buck Up, America – for a much more optimistic take. The points he makes about China and India strike me as valid.

More blogging soon, I promise. I really mean this time. Seriously, quit laughing.

The Big Fish

There is a great chain of Japanese restaurants in China called Tairyo, in Chinese, 大鱼, dàyú or “Big Fish”. I love Japanese food and DaYu has a simply insane deal – all you can eat, all you can drink (including beer, wine, sake, fresh fruit juices, etc.) for 150 RMB. Or about US$22.

To put that in perspective for those of you who don’t like sushi and teppanyaki, my last trip to our favorite place here in the States ran over US$100 for a very modest date night meal.

I know I have eaten and drunk over 1000 RMB worth at some of our gorge sessions. As I have written before, I have no idea how they stay in business.

What puts this in mind was this powerful piece by Reason TV, How to save a dying ocean from overfishing…, which primarily discusses the Japanese and USA role in overfishing. Those roles are well documented (for two great books on the subject, read Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and The Big Oyster).

What is not mentioned at all – and I find it quite curious – is Chinese overfishing. This has been reported on for years (see here, here and here for examples going back nearly a decade), so I find it very curious that they were omitted from the article.

In any case, I am sure the next iteration of this study will have to involve the seafood appetites of the growing Chinese middle class. One of the things I love about being in China is the exquisite seafood dishes. While a great deal of the seafood is now farmed, I know I’ve eaten wild fish, usually the daily special.

I like the concept of a market based solution as proposed in the article, and modern China is so thoroughly capitalist that such a plan would work well.

China’s Mexico is inside China

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This analogy has a number of problems with it (like most analogies), but I got the point the first time I heard Mike Bellamy make it.

Too many American industries rely on illegal labor to remain cost competitive, thus the constant drama on the border issue.

The China nearly every Westerner sees is the coastal veneer. The majority of China still dwells in the poor, mostly agrarian interior. Their source of cheap labor in internal.

And as this article in Slate by Brett Edkins points out, in a sense, many of those Chinese migrant workers are “illegal” anyway. Key paragraphs:

The United States could begin by conceding one of China’s principal arguments: Human rights are not just about individual liberty, but also economic opportunity. The Chinese “economic miracle,” which lifted 500 million people out of poverty in just one generation, is itself an unprecedented human rights achievement. Yet it gave rise to other pressing human rights concerns, including an issue that threatens to destabilize China’s Communist regime—growing discrimination against the roughly 200 million Chinese citizens who left their rural homes to find jobs in China’s booming cities.

In many ways, these rural migrants resemble undocumented immigrants in the United States. In China, they provide indispensable labor for vast urban construction projects and work in menial jobs as guards, waiters, cooks, or barbers. They are often mistreated by employers, generally live in poor conditions, and receive few social benefits and limited protection from the police. And their children are regularly denied public education.

Chinese newspapers, “Netizens,” and even Communist officials are calling for reforms. Their main target is China’s 50-year-old household registration, or hukou, system. Began as part of China’s state-run economy, the hukou system labels individuals as “rural” or “urban,” indicating their proper place of residence and binding laborers to the land. Today, rural residents are permitted to travel to the cities, but they can still be fined or forcibly returned home if they are caught working or living outside their designated hukou. Obtaining a temporary urban-residency permit from the police is beyond the means of most migrants, requiring a fee and employment documentation. Permanently changing one’s hukou by attending university or joining the military or the Communist Party is similarly out of reach.

Life for a city dweller with a rural hukou is difficult. Their hukou denies them urban welfare and access to public housing. It also excludes them from publicly funded health-insurance schemes. Since fewer than 3 percent can afford health insurance, most avoid medical care altogether. City judges often impose harsher sentences on rural migrants, and employers frequently withhold wages, knowing undocumented workers cannot complain to police without risking exposure.

I will admit I not a fan of the author’s wording, “undocumented migrants”. If you illegally cross a national border anywhere else in the world (including Mexico), you’ve broken the law. Only in the modern American journalist and politician world does that deserve an obscurant euphemism.

However, the point of the article is that despite the rapid advances, parts of the Chinese state are stuck in the Maoist past. One good thing about dealing with PassageMaker, you know our employees are treated well and legal. As a foreign owned firm, the government would come down on us like a ton of bricks were it otherwise.

Regardless, I am happy to see people in China, including members of the Communist Party, start to address the problem.

Some miscellaneous articles

Feeling lazy today. Sometimes the juices ain’t flowing. In no particular order:

Maybe get to some travel blogging tomorrow. Or not. You’ll have to check back to see.