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

Day 26 honey hebe are horrified that bees were ordered 1024x768

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.

Day 26 honey hebe are horrified that bees were ordered 1024x768

Day 7 donkey meat 11 1024x768

Day 7 donkey meat1 1024x768

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 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.

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.

McDonald’s, also known as the “Get-Out-Of-China-Free-Card”

A friend and classmate of mine had a terrible time with the food in Beijing 11-12 years ago. Food poisoning was a weekly event.

He began hitting McDonald’s almost daily to give his stomach a foundation to get by on. Having had my share of food poisoning in China since then, I agree. When you’ve just spent the last 12 hours on the “China Rapid Weight Loss Program”, you are NOT in the mood for more Chinese food. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese is the most welcome sight on earth.

He started referring to McDonald’s as his “Get-Out-Of-China-Free-Card”. What a perfect name.

It has nothing to do with PassageMaker or China Quality Focus – except that if you come visit us and get sick, we will make sure you are well cared for – but it is a reality of China travel that you will miss food you would never eat when you are home. When I am in the USA, I cook Asian food 3-4 days a week. When I am in China I crave hamburgers and hot dogs. The grass is always greener, I guess.

Anyway, here are three crazy articles from ChinaSMACK about McDonald’s and the impact it has on modern China.

Chinese Netizen’s McDonald’s Happy Meal Rotting Experiment

Chinese Grandfather Eats McDonald’s For The First Time

Pretty Chinese Girls Run Into McDonald’s & Begin Dancing

On the last one, you see this kind of stuff regularly in China. What a place.


Blogging is hard work

In less than a year I have gone from daily blogging to forcing myself to find something to write about once a week if that.

Since my return from China two weeks ago, I have been working like crazy trying to bag all the new business raining down on PassageMaker and China Quality Focus. The world economy is not out of the woods but we are definitely seeing an explosion of new RFQs, led by Australia. They are booming exporting the raw materials for China’s industry. Let’s all raise our glasses to Australia! More on that later…

I have been picking away at the travel log in my minimal spare time, but here are some interesting articles (some a bit old, but nonetheless).

  • Nixon wasn’t so bad after all – USSR planned nuclear attack on China in 1969 – and Tricky Dick stopped World War III. This is the kind of stuff you do as President that you can’t talk about, you have to hope historians get it right.
  • From Instapundit, a link to great blog about Japan, Ampontan. Today’s post is called Lame and Shameless, about ridiculous Western reporting on Japan. I am reminded of Andrea Martins, our representative in Brazil, who was actually born and raised in Beijing, the first and only Caucasian I’ve met who truly speaks native-level Mandarin. She told me once that if you visit China for a week, you can write a book. Stay for a month, you can write an article. Live there for 25 years, you have nothing to say.
  • Every once in a while you need to remind yourself how utterly insignificant you really are – Jupiter loses one of its stripes and scientists are stumped as to why.
  • Every once in a while you need to remind yourself how great your life really is – N.Korean women up for sale in China: activist. Tragic and terrible. I hope China steps up.
  • Interesting article from Mother Jones. Yes, really. The Last Taboo.
  • The New York Times finally realizes that many jobs aren’t ever coming back – The New Poor: In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind.
  • Speaking of vomiting…U.S. posts 19th straight monthly budget deficit. (hat tip to Dave Learn)
  • Dear God, let’s hope so – N.J. gov. sets tone for US – I have heard Christie speak, and it is QUITE refreshing. He sounds like a no-nonsense CEO sent in to save a company on the ropes. Math doesn’t lie. There is no money tree. You have to cut spending. However, if you could just raise taxes on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and leave the rest of the state alone, I think you could sell that. My God, what tacky people. The rise of China should be seen as largely a good thing, and maybe the Chinese economy will grow larger than the USA’s, but that was never a foregone conclusion. Our current political leadership across the board seems hellbent on making sure it happens ASAP though. As someone who has business interests in both USA and PRC, I just wish the USA would quit shooting itself in the foot. We businessmen would be just fine if we knew from one day to the next what was coming out of Washington.
  • Globish – I love it. What a great word. And the author nails it; I have had similar experiences many, many times in the Chinese-speaking world.
  • And finally, I can’t resist – Dog on the menu for Chinese astronauts. Actually, dog is pretty tasty, though I’ve only had it prepared in Korean restaurants in China, so I haven’t tried the Chinese version. Have to put that on the to-do list.
Back soon, hopefully with some travel blogging.

Random dreck

For crying out loud, it has been an insane week. I landed in Chicago from Hong Kong last Sunday 1.5 hours ahead of schedule due to a swift tailwind and was able to arrange a better connection to Roanoke. Result was home 6 hours ahead of schedule and the opportunity to take my wife and kids out for our 12th anniversary. Thai food, of course. It is Roanoke, VA after all. Aren’t we known for Thai food? Red Jasmine is really worth the time if you are ever in the area.

Woke the next morning at 7 AM get the munchkins breakfast and start my day. No jet lag, I’ve been doing this too long for such silliness. At 2 PM I meet one of the academic stars of our local university, Virginia Tech, to be the capstone speaker to his class of 165 students who’ve spent a semester studying international business. It was very flattering to be invited and it was great fun. David Denny was in attendance and he sat in the back. He said he even saw students close FaceBook and shut the laptops to listen to what I had to say. Wow. I didn’t know I was that good.

Actually, yes I did know. I am that good. Just ask me.

I will do a retroactive travel log of this just completed month long trip, I swear, but it takes so long to catalog hundreds of photos and videos, I have just not had time. Swamped with all the fine folks from around the world pounding on our doors trying to give us business. Oh, the horror.

I have a poster that says, “Maybe if we the ignore the customers they’ll quit bugging us”. Bloody customers.

Of course I am kidding. This is the most fun I’ve ever had. The PassageMaker message resonates. The China Quality Focus message resonates. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Like selling beer at a NASCAR race. Ahhh, beer…

Now for some articles:

More on the trip and more topical stuff on actual China business later. Stay tuned.

Day 37 – Home

Day 37 huanggang border crossing

My Blackberry Storm 2 from Verizon Wireless has been progressively crapping out on this trip. It is not a good device, and the longer I have it, the less impressed I am. In addition to the outrageous charges to receive calls – I practically had to hang up on a few clients to get them to shut up so I could call them back on my China Mobile (Verizon US$2.00+ to receive; China Mobile US$0.05 to make = VERIZON SUCKS) – this Blackberry has been regularly crashing, repeatedly uninstalling the browser which now doesn’t work at all, losing its data connection (everyone around me has full data and my China Mobile has 5 bars) forcing me to remove the battery to restart it and see if it can reacquire the data signal.

So I guess I should have known that it was not reliable as an alarm clock. Suffice it to say I am an experienced enough traveler that I don’t cut things close, so I had planned to arrive 2 hours earlier than needed. Despite the fact that the alarm failed, the sun woke me and I showered, shaved and “packed” in about 25 minutes. I say “packed” because I made the decision some days back to leave most of the clothes behind as I will be back in about 6 weeks and didn’t see the point. Because the driver is waiting and I want to get through the Huanggang border crossing before the Chinese New Year rush hour starts, everything I wanted to take got unceremoniously shoved in the bag – couple small gifts for the kids, some movies and books and medicine and out the door.

It’s a glorious morning, blue skies and lots of fast moving clouds. It is warming up fast and very humid. We head to the main Luohu border crossing, Huanggang, which I am fearing will be a mob scene. Although the official Chinese New Year doesn’t start until Saturday, many factories and offices are already closed. Around 450 million people travel inside China during the 2-3 weeks that cover the Lunar New Year season. That’s 1.5 times the entire population of the USA. And we bitch about travel around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year the blizzards in China had over 250,000 people stranded at the Guangzhou railroad station for days. I’ve been there on a normal business day, and it is no wonder they had to bring in the police to maintain order.

So I am not surprised that Huanggang is in fact a mob scene. The company driver drops me off at the stand where they sell tickets for the mini vans that run you across for 150 RMB. I usually get a limo for 700-800 RMB, but decide to try this less expensive method. In the future, I will be using the limo again, more on that in a minute.

Photos inside are strictly forbidden, and I did not feel like taking the risk 4 hours before my flight, so you will have to visualize the chaos of maybe 3,000 people with their luggage squeezed into a room designed to hold perhaps 500. There were 30+ lines for Chinese and only one for Foreigners, so getting through took a long time. They were really being critical this morning, usually passport control for a white guy takes 30 seconds, but today he looked through every page of the passport and spent several minutes looking things up on his computer.

If I had hired a limo, I would have been able to go through passport control in my own lane, never getting out of the car. 700 RMB (cost of the limo) – 150 RMB (cost of the van) = 550 RMB = US$80. That savings is looking less important all the time.

Outside I find our van and it appears I am the last man. I expected as much, due to the 3rd degree from the border patrol. Except the driver insists I am not the last, he says we are missing one. When we buy our tickets, we are given stickers with the van’s number on it so the driver can keep track. The van seats 7 passengers – 3 in back, 3 in the middle and one riding shotgun. I did not look in the back when I boarded, but I take it on faith that he is correct – they would never run these things across a passenger light, certainly not on a day like today. In the van with me are a Singaporean man, four Taiwanese men and one Taiwanese woman. The Singaporean is mighty worried about missing his flight, and after 30 minutes waiting for the missing passenger in the 80 F warmth and bright sunshine, he is starting to get hot, as in pissed. The driver placidly insists he can’t leave the 7th (which none of us can exactly remember) because he paid too, we have his luggage, and if we leave he will be stranded, as there is no way to hire a car on this side. The driver is quite right…in theory.

The Chinese was fast and very heated, but it seems the Singaporean insists there is no 7th, something none of us can confirm. The Taiwanese woman who was also in the back seat, says nothing and refuses to answer when asked. Very strange. He then opens to back and starts counting luggage. He points to different bags and the various passengers chime in to claim ownership. When he points to mine, I say “我的”, “mine” which makes him actually do a dramatic double take that the laowai can speak Chinese. It appears the mysterious 7th has no bags, so we double count, and indeed all the bags on board are accounted for by the six of us. The driver sees that the luggage is no longer an issue, but still insists on waiting. The Singaporean in now in a rage and calls over another driver from the same company who just pulled in. He loudly explains the situation and the other driver agrees to find the missing 7th, who may not even exist, and tells our driver to roll out.

Back in the car, for the the first 2-3 minutes the Singaporean loudly berates the driver, who must be a Taoist, as he is completely at peace and does not get the slightest bit ruffled under this assault. Finally the Singaporean realizes the futility and quiets down. I find the whole episode educational and an example of what fascinates me about Asia. Singapore is wealthy and sophisticated city state (I lived there in 1994 and loved every minute), and this guy acted like he was a typical rich snob from good side of town. The driver must have a special permit in order to cross the border so regularly, but my guess is he is from the Mainland. People on the Mainland, especially the older generation, have been raised to just take it. I’ve seen Singaporeans, Taiwanese and Hong Kongers pull this stunt on Mainlanders, berating them publicly, because they know they can get away with it. One of my rules for life is to show as much respect as you can to the people who wash your clothes, cook your food and drive you around, etc., because they are the ones who make your life easy. They deserve more respect than this guy got.

Day 37 huanggang border crossing

Day 37 huanggang so many chinese drivers have these awful perfume dispensers in their cars note the tiger for the year of the tiger

Day 37 huanggang when you are using a porsche cayenne for your border crossing van thats just showing off1

Day 37 huanggang shenzhen skyline

Day 37 huanggang to hong kong

Hong Kong is one of the coolest places on earth. The drive to the airport is always amazing but is especially so this morning with dramatic and fast moving clouds with occasional bursts of sunlight. The natural setting is glorious and dramatic, hundreds of mountainous islands covered in verdant green rising out of the harbor. The cities and towns are built to work with the land, unlike the wholesale flattening of the hills that takes place in Shenzhen. The bridges that connect to Lantau island and Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) are brilliant – one each of suspension and cable-stayed – and the whole setting reminds me of a scale model too perfect to be believed. My camera stinks, so this is the best I could do.

Day 37 views of hong kong

Day 37 container ship

We arrive at HKG with less than two hours before my flight, far less than I normally allow. I know before I even get to the airport that there is no chance of getting better seats, not so late and not on the Thursday before CNY. Nevertheless, even though I checked in online last night, I head over to the United counter and chat up the very attractive lady at the counter (in Asia it is still OK to hire public relations personnel who are good looking – it is often part of the job description) and she tries every trick in the book to get me a better seat. Nothing doing, flight is booked solid. Oh well, I appreciated her efforts and gave her a business card (she didn’t believe that I’d been in Asia for 5 weeks with no luggage so I told her to check the blog), so if she’s reading this, thank you very much for your help!

Day 37 hkg entry hall

Day 37 hkg entry hall 2

I head through passport control and security, and get accosted by the eager young folks who are always there taking a survey of foreigners to find out how much time and money you spent in Hong Kong on this trip. I am in a hurry, but I take a minute anyway to talk to them. Yes, I absolutely love Hong Kong. I would move here tomorrow if my wife would come with me. I’ve been here many, many times and will be back again soon. It’s awesome and now I have to go.

Five minutes for a quick bowl of noodles and to buy some candy bars (paid for in 1 second with my Octopus card – love it). Then up and down the seemingly endless series of escalators with the train ride to the other terminal in the middle and on to the gate. It is very humid and pretty warm and HKG, like Shanghai Pudong, is built to be big and impressive which means by the time I get to the gate, it is now officially sticky uncomfortable. It is February, so I don’t think they have the AC on, but this not how you want to board a plane. The security is far tighter than the USA, with every bag searched.

I am in a aisle seat in Economy, which means the next 14 hours will only be mildly tortuous. My seat mates speak not a word and neither do I. Both sleep through the entire flight. Just as well as I’m not in the mood. United is sticking with the 4 movie format, but at least they are good – The Invention of Lying, Where The Wild Things Are, My One And Only, and The Informant! The food sucks and is even sparser than last time. Thank God for candy bars.

Land in Chicago exactly on time, and after a pretty thorough grilling by passport control, out into the airport. For some bloody reason you have to go back through security again, which in O’Hare is less than fun. Security in HKG is MUCH tighter than in the States, but nothing for it, so shoes off and laptops out. My flight to ROA is out of one of the commuter terminals, to one with no good restaurants. Lunch at McD’s. blech.

I sit down to read the Wall Street Journal Asian edition they gave me on the plane and wait the two hours for my flight. There is a great article on Chinese Intellectual Property law that I would love to be able to concentrate on, but instead I spend this time listening to an astoundingly annoying woman tell the lady across the aisle from her nearly every detail of her life and recent travel history, including how her underwire bra sets off the metal detectors EVERY TIME (I feel so much safer now knowing they actually work). I know this because despite the fact that she was about 100 feet away, her voice was SO LOUD everyone in the terminal heard her. At least when people in China are loud and obnoxious, they are all loud and obnoxious at the same time, so the result is sort a loud silence. They all just drown each other out into white noise. Oh, how I wish I were back in China.

Bumpy flight to ROA with the annoying lady talking only intermittently during the flight. I think she was airsick. Thank God for turbulence.

Finally, almost exactly 24 hours after I woke up, we land at Roanoke Regional Airport. Out into the cold and snow covered mountains. 24 hours ago I was in 80 F weather, now below freezing. Yipee.

Day 37 roanoke regional airport

Day 37 clear and cold at roa

It’s been a great 5 weeks, but when I see the family again, I know where I belong.

Happy to be home.

Days 32-36 – Wrapping it up

Day 32 1 dongmen shoping district

Day 32 – After recovering from the party the night before, Adam Supernant and I pick up a couple of our clients for a shopping outing to Dongmen. It is actually quite brisk – south China this time of year can go from the 80s to the 50s in one day – and neither of them are feeling 100%. We head to Ajisen, a Japanese noodle chain. Service is atrocious, but food is good. Like McD’s, it’s always the same, which makes me wish we had Ajisen in my part of the USA. Oh what I would give for good noodles here…

Day 32 1 dongmen shoping district

Day 32 2 dongmen shoping district 2

Day 32 3 dongmen shoping district 3

Day 32 4 dongmen shoping district 4

Day 32 5 a micro mcds that only sells ice cream in dongmen

Day 32 6 chinese new year decorations in dongmen featuring disney knock offs

Day 32 7 dongmen kobe skyscrapers faux temples and a giraffe

Day 32 8 chinese breakdancers

Day 32 9 yes thats a dunkin donuts in dongmen and no i did not have one

Day 32 10 the incomplete building across from di wang da sha it has been this way for years

That evening we head out to meet [name redacted at the request of her employer on 7 April 2011], aka Banana (adopted from China and raised in Germany and Hong Kong – yellow on the outside, white inside – her term), and one of our Endorsed Service Providers, Ms. Li Yan of the JunZeJun Law Firm. Li Yan and I have been referring people to each other for a while now and she’s done an exceptional job with our clients, 8-0 on IP cases. It was nice to finally meet her face-to-face. We dine at the Da Yu (Big Fish) the crazy teppanyaki place with the all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink special for 150 RMB. The place is packed to the gills for CNY celebrations. Ultimately we are seated and have a spectacular meal.

Day 32 dinner at da yu 2

Since we were one of the last tables to eat, the chef used our grill to make a massive batch of egg fried rice for the staff’s dinner.

Day 32 dinner at da yu 7

Day 32 dinner at da yu 8

Day 32 dinner at da yu 9

The group breaks up after dinner, though some of us go for a few more drinks – Erdinger at McCawley’s (my favorite German beer). Banana is with us and says I’m pouring it wrong. That may be so, but I’m pouring it the way I like it. Besides, my way is more fun for entertaining the wait staff. No way to describe it, just have to show you the next time I see you. Starts raining which sort of kills the fun sitting outside. Head for home.

Day 33 – rained hard all day, forcing us to cancel our trip to Hong Kong and Macau. We did nothing except sit inside all day working and watching movies. When the rain finally started to abate, headed out to get some KFC. Yes, I know, but sometimes you feel lazy. We pay for it later with wicked acid indigestion. KFC is much spicier and greasier than in the US. Later in the evening we head out to Shekou to get rooms at the cruise ship so we can watch the Superbowl live in the morning at the sports bar downstairs. We take our clients to dinner at Tasca, the Spanish tapas bar and have a grand time. Early to bed.

Day 34 ship hotel room at seaworld

Day 34 – Up early to watch the Superbowl. I don’t care about either team, but fun nonetheless. Our clients head out early via hydrofoil ferry to HKG, which is much quicker than crossing by land (the “business” excuse for our trip to Shekou – have to take care of those customers). This is the first time I’ve been to Seaworld in the daylight in years, and after the rain it is a gloriously clear morning.

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 4

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 5

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 8

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 2

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 3

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 6

Day 34 seaworld in shekou on superbowl morning 7

Day 34 merry christmas in shekou in february

Because it’s Monday (China is 13 hours ahead of the east coast of the USA, so Sunday night is Monday morning), after the game we head to work. We have to stop by B&Q again.

Day 34 i was thrilled to see this tool trucks that deliver make plant life in the usa much easier and it is a good thing this in now available in prc

On the way home from the plant, we see a VW Santana with a big involved graphic across the back of the trunk lid. It says “SOCCER” and has a picture of some famous footballer. Only one problem – it’s backwards, a mirror image of what it’s supposed to be. You see this kind of stuff all over the place here – English words on t-shirts, handbags, advertisements, etc. that are misspelled or upside down or backwards or just thrown together at random. My wife has a t-shirt from our time in Taiwan that says “I’m Fine Muck”. Yes you are, sweetie.

We are interviewing a Filipino process engineer to work with me at the Assembly Center. He looks like he’ll be a good fit. He’s got loads of plant level experience working for major global companies and has lived in Shenzhen before. He has family in Dongguan up the road. He tells us a harrowing story about his last time in China when he was kidnapped and robbed at knife point in broad day light. I have heard these stories about SE Asians in China, but never about a Westerner. I guess the gangsters assume the police will care less about the SE Asians. Sadly, they are probably right.

Day 35 – Last day at the Assembly Center. We hired the process engineer, Harold Roman, this morning and he’ll spend today and tomorrow with me reviewing our kaizen agenda for the next couple months. I intend to return for the month of April, but don’t want things to go cold after CNY.

The last lunch is celebratory, the first lunch with beer since I’ve been here. Had I been doing the factory visit two-step, every vendor would want to treat me to an alcohol-soaked luncheon. I was not here for that, but in this case, a couple cold beers in the afternoon is an appropriate reward. Only problem, no cold beer. No problem, we’ve got ice. Iced beer. That was honestly a first for me.

Day 35 the chicken was exceptional

Day 35 sizzling black pepper steak

Day 35 the chicken feet were not eaten by the ladies because they were too small

Day 35 1 landscaping a street in an industrial part of town. The new china takes civic beauty increasingly seriously

Day 35 typically traffic on a chinese sidewalk

When we get back the postman is delivering the mail on his green China Post motorcycle with saddlebags. Very cool. We get back to work until Julien Roger of China Quality Focus calls and asks me to join him for a business dinner. The schedule requires me to wrap things up early and head back to Liantang. We have our closing meeting and say our goodbyes. I’ll be back in April, but will miss these folks in the meantime. A good team all around.

Day 35 chinese postman

Day 35 our team at buji. wonderful folks

On the way home I finally get a not-completely-blurry photo of the “staircase street” we pass every day. They are not good, but this is a very cool little oddity of Shenzhen.

day-35-i-tried-everyday-tO take a photo of this staircase street which we passed daily on the way back from the assembly center these are the best two very cool 2

Day 35 I tried everyday to take a photo of this staircase street which we passed daily on the way back from theassembly center these are the best two very cool

When I get back to Liantang, the driver drops me at the end of the street. Our street is private, meaning that you have to pass through a gate and take a ticket to get in. If you stay on the street for more than a few minutes, you have to pay to get back out. We have a parking spot outside the wire, so this is typical. Nearly every shop is already shut down for the Chinese New Year, a bit of a ghost town. I come across one scene outside of a restaurant that is very cute and hugely disturbing at the same time.

Day 35 this is a lot less cute when you realize that the bunny is dinner

Julien and I head out to meet up with Renaud Anjoran of the Quality Inspection Blog at a northeastern style restaurant. I love this style, and was wickedly disappointed by the last place I tried, so I went in hoping for a good experience. Julien said this was his favorite place and I see why. It was excellent across the board.

Day 35 this is the best salad in the world warm onion and cilantro with peppers

Day 35 this is by far the best fish I ate boneless deep fried and sweet sour whats not to like

Day 35 a light meal for 3 people with 9 beers total of 178 rmb or us26

After dinner, I go for my last massage of the trip. I have a bad back, had to wear a back brace when I was a teenager and am used to regular pain and discomfort. On this trip, I have definitely been spoiled by the affordable and effective massages. My back feels better than it has in years. The woman tonight is in her 40’s and her experience shows – she is an expert and despite the momentary thrashing when I wake up in the morning I feel like a million bucks. Total cost around $25. Love. This. Place.

Day 36 – Last day at the office. Beautiful morning. We battle the usual chaos before the CNY, mainly problems with customer payments clearing in time to release goods to get a berth on a freighter. Customers often can’t envision the traffic at the ports during this time of year, and think that if they get the check out on the last day that that will translate to goods on the water. To clarify, no it won’t. If you are one of these customers reading this blog, it is nothing personal and trust me you are not the only one, but in the future, send the money early. The earlier the better. The Chinese have been celebrating CNY for 5,000 years. It’s not like you weren’t warned, and trust me, there is NOTHING I can do about it.

Day 36 last morning beautiful

Our favorite local restaurant is still open and so we have our final lunch there. All the favorites plus this that I’d not had before.

Day 36 last lunch very good sizzling beef dish

We have a very productive day and then select Mao’s House for the final dinner. How I love those chili shrimp skewers. We have at least 4 plates between us – Mike Bellamy, Brian Garvin, Adam Supernant, and Harold Roman of PassageMaker and Julien Roger and Ludovic Larry of China Quality Focus. Much later we head out to meet up with Dave Learn at Viva, running into Banana and other friends on the way. How bizarre it is to have such a dual life. And how exciting as well. I am looking forward to being home and seeing my family, but I will miss this place when I am gone.

Home at a reasonable hour and to bed. Early day tomorrow.

Day 31 – 恭喜发财 – PassageMaker’s Chinese New Year party!

Day 31 flowers for the new year or so i assume

恭喜发财, gōng xǐ fā cái, wishing you a prosperous new year!

More articles and weird stuff:

Day 31 – I awoke early and found that our apartment complex had been decorated with live flowers and orange trees for the Lunar New Year.

Day 31 flowers for the new year or so i assume

Flowers for the New Year

We had a productive morning at the Assembly Center, working on streamlining and improving our process documentation. I have a manufacturing background and enjoy working on such kaizen initiatives. Where I wear out is the day-to-day scheduling and personnel management. I can do it, but it quickly becomes tedious, especially HR (which is admittedly less of a problem than in the USA). For the next year we will have so many opportunities to make improvements, I don’t see myself getting bored anytime soon. It also helps we have so many new assembly-inspection-packaging projects rolling in, each of which needs process engineering to get it started. 2009 was actually a strong growth year for PassageMaker, with 19 new assembly projects launched. Selecting tools, writing work instructions, designing jigs and fixtures, laying out the line and setting the Drum-Buffer-Rope targets is the fun stuff. I really have an awesome job.

The managers and I head to the cafeteria for lunch, which is notable for a couple reasons. First, they order Coca-Cola. Now in the USA I might go six months without drinking a soda. I don’t particularly care for them and I have alternatives I prefer in the States, such as iced tea (unsweetened with lemon, if you please). Not so in China, where I know that sodas are safe to drink, and no one has iced tea without a pound of sugar in it (and then usually only in rare SE Asian restaurants). So I drink sodas pretty regularly in China, but I am the one who orders them, not the Chinese. More important to this anecdote is why my co-workers ordered the Coke.

The cafeteria was out of tea.

Being out of tea in China is like being out of wine in France or out of whiskey in Lynchburg, TN (Pop. 361). It doesn’t happen. It’s a sign of the apocalypse or something. I felt like walking outside to see if the sun was going nova.

They didn’t even have any 开水, kāi shuǐ, boiling hot water, which is also commonly drunk, the concept of sanitary cold (bottled) water being a recent innovation. This was truly bizarre. So we drank Coke from tea cups.


Day 31 how can a chinese restaurant in china run out of tea. we drink coke instead.

How can a Chinese restaurant IN CHINA run out of tea? We drink Coke instead.

Lunch was also memorable for four dishes, one I can’t wait to try in the USA.

Day 31 beef with sweet peppers.

Beef with sweet peppers – I don’t eat the peppers, but the flavor they impart on the meat is subtle and exceptional.

Day 31 spicy pork wood ears.

Spicy pork & wood ears. This was great – keep in mind this is like getting excellent food at your high school cafeteria.

Day 31 tomato egg soup.

Tomato & Egg soup – actually very good.

Day 31 bitter gourd omelet awesome.

Bitter gourd (also called bitter melon, 苦瓜, kǔ guā) omelet – this was absolutely exceptional – one of the best egg dishes I’ve ever eaten – the gourd tastes a bit like cucumber and matches beautifully with the egg – I can sometimes get 苦瓜 at our local Chinese market and I am going to try this at home. Awesome.

At around 4 PM, things start to wind down and everyone migrates about 10 minutes away to the banquet hall, because tonight is the joint PassageMaker, SafePassage and China Quality Focus annual Chinese New Year party! These companies have grown rapidly over the last few years, and we had about 160 people in attendance. I tried to capture the event, but my camera did a relatively poor job. Apologies in advance.

Day 31 1 we had an upstairs room at this banquet hall

we had an upstairs room at this banquet hall

Day 31 2 downstairs a much larger company was doing the same thing

downstairs a much larger company was also having their CNY party

Day 31 3 their stage show was far more formal than ours

their ‘stage show’ was far more formal than ours

Day 31 4 our banquet had 160 people total

our banquet had 160 people total

Day 31 5 each table prepare with drinks and snacks

each table prepare with drinks and snacks

Day 31 5 this is about a 3rd of the refreshments for the evening

this is about 1/3rd of the refreshments for the evening

Day 31 6 our emcees christina marc

Christina Feng, our Office Manager, did an exceptional job organizing this party. She and Marc Yue, Production Manager of the General Assembly Center, acted as our emcees

Day 31 9 candy teresa our very effective purchasing team

Candy Cheng & Teresa Chen – our very effective purchasing team. Teresa also serves as Mike’s right hand for company-wide operations. Again with the hand signals.

Day 31 10 hebe honey teresa

Hebe Wang, Honey Wu & Teresa Chen – I worked with this team (and others) on streamlining the format of our Product Quality Manual. I’ve got to find out about the hand signals.

Day 31 11 jesse pramod and adam

Jesse Chang, Accountant and Master Drinker; Pramod KC from Nepal, head of Project Management for those projects that have moved into regular production (“Vendor Coordination-Export & Logistics” in our parlance); and Adam Supernant, Project Manager from Michigan. And more hand signals. WTF.

Day 31 12 the buji team

Most of the management from our General Assembly Center (the precision Medical Assembly Center has a separate team). My lao pengyou, Sabrina Liao is on the far right. I caught them by surprise, so no time for hand signals.

Day 31 13 distinguished guests

L-R – Dave Learn, head of Project Management for those projects still in development (“Vendor Coordination-Product Development”; once they go to production, they transition to Pramod’s team). Our distinguished guests – Mike Lopez of Campus Emporium, Tyson Daniel of LimbGear, Collin Peel of Camrett Logistics, and Brian Garvin, Director of New Project Development, my sales counterpart based in Shenzhen.

Day 31 14 brians wife ada

Brian’s wife, Ada, who also does hand signals. A wonderful lady.

Day 31 15 buji staff enjoying a day away from the assembly center they typically work 6 days a week well into the night to prepare for cny

Buji staff enjoying an evening away from the Assembly Center – they typically work 6 days a week, well into the night to prepare for CNY. All of them would be back at work by 9 AM the next day, a Saturday. Whenever I hear Americans bitch about “all the Chinese holidays”, I kind of want to tell them to shove it. This is one of the hardest working groups of people I’ve ever met. In the foreground is Josephine Ji, Manager of the Assembly Center and a very competent woman. Sadly, this is clearest photo of her I got all night.

Day 31 17 hunan cuisine many of our employees are from hunan the province to the north

Hunan cuisine – many of our employees are from Hunan, the province to the north

Day 31 16 hand knotted noodles in duck soup very elegant

hand knotted noodles in duck soup – very elegant

Day 31 18 mike and teresa give the annual address and announce the new profit sharing program to raucous applause

Mike and Teresa give the annual state of the company address and announce the new profit sharing program to raucous applause. Most of our employees are farm kids from the provinces. The idea that they were going to be able to earn a piece of the action blew them away. The party really got rolling after that announcement.

Day 31 19 can i get a witness

Can I get a witness? Mike had the crowd going.

Day 31 20 mike presenting a hong bao

Mike presenting a 红包, hóng bāo, literally “red bag”, a small red envelope containing money. Typically these are token sums, perhaps as little as $0.05, meant to foster luck and prosperity in the new year. Ours had real money and each one that was awarded had more than the last. The final hong bao had over US$100. Everyone also got a bonus hong bao for the New Year.

Day 31 21 julien roger of china quality focus was a big hit with his french accented mandarin

Julien Roger of China Quality Focus was a big hit with his French-accented Mandarin.

Day 31 22 one of the top prizes was a limbgear t shirt and a very generous hong bao

One of the top prizes was a LimbGear t-shirt and a very generous hong bao from our guests.

Day 31 23 jesse toasting an honored guest tyson daniel of limbgear

Jesse Chang toasting an honored guest, Tyson Daniel of LimbGear.

Day 31 22 all the lao wais were asked to speak draw names hand out hong baos drink

All the lao wai’s were asked to speak, draw names, hand out hong bao’s & drink…

Day 31 24 everyone drinks

…everyone drinks…

Day 31 25 and drinks

…and drinks…

Day 31 26 and drinks

…and drinks…

Day 31 27 and drinks some more

…and drinks some more.

Day 31 28 all are rapt with attention as the grand prize is announced

all are rapt with attention as the grand prize is announced

Later things got a little crazy, with dancing, card playing, and for some bizarre reason, arm wrestling. I was reminded of the Festivus Feats of Strength.

Day 31 29 jesse referees the arm wrestling

Jesse Chang referees the arm wrestling

All in all, it was a wonderful evening. Our guests were impressed by the camaraderie and team spirit and by shear amount of fun everyone was having. Having seen the USA go through the politically correct wringer in the last 15 years, during which all forms of corporate sanctioned fun were done away with and replaced by silly and useless “team building” exercises, aka “manufactured fun”, it is nice to be someplace where “corporate bonding” means cutting loose and eating and drinking and dancing and, you know, having fun. I left the automotive industry because the lawyers and the accountants and the buyers had drained every ounce of enjoyment and excitement out of it until it became a soul-draining slog. Life is to be lived and thank God the Chinese understand that.

I recently re-connected with an old friend from B-school living in Switzerland and he is much better networked with our class than I am. He tells me nearly all of our classmates have taken dull domestic jobs. What was the point of getting a degree in international business, he quite rightly asked? I know I did it to get out and see the world, to live a life less ordinary.

Some reading this will think our company frivolous. If you get that impression, I’m sorry you missed the point. PassageMaker, China Quality Focus and SafePassage all provide professional, affordable and reliable services in a timely fashion. Our Endorsed Service Providers do the same. A big part of the reason we are able to do our job so well is we still have the joie de vivre that keeps us excited about our work of helping our clients succeed. So have a drink and Happy Chinese New Year!


Days 27-30 – Plenty of hard work and plenty of visitors

Day 28 yes our assembly center includes a clean room assembly facility with sterile packaging equipment

I’ve already returned to the States a few days ago, but the last couple weeks in China were so hectic, I am filing these posts late. Days 31-37 to come shortly.

Articles, articles, articles…

A little random tidbit from Dave, who is going on another Asian adventure for the Chinese New Year. Airlines are just no damn fun anymore (from the terms and conditions on his plane ticket):

– Guests can no longer carry guns and/or ammunition on flights to or from Indonesia


Day 27 – A client from the USA arrived today, one of a group of three we were expecting. The other two were delayed by fun winter weather in the USA, so they will arrive tomorrow. After a long day at work, I met the client for drinks at our preferred corporate hotel, the 999 Royal Suites. Nice rooms for a very reasonable price. The bar caters to foreign businessmen and they have the standard Filipino cover lounge singers. Some have been there for years and it was catching up with old friends. The Filipina hotel day manager, Queenie, looks great and I am glad to see her rising in her career with the 999. I once spent 5 weeks living at the older 999 hotel across the courtyard, so I got to know the staff pretty well.

Day 28 – We have visitors today from [company name redacted 7 April 2011], a German 3PL based in Shanghai with offices in Shenzhen [and no sense of humor apparently]. The head of the Shenzhen office is a self-described “banana”, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. She was adopted from China as a baby by a German family and raised in Germany and Hong Kong. Very interesting young lady. We have a great lunch and then they head off to tour our facilities. Here they are with Mike heading into our medical assembly center with clean room and sterile packaging capabilities.

Day 28 yes our assembly center includes a clean room assembly facility with sterile packaging equipment

L-R – Mike Bellamy, founder of PM, and anonymous employees of an anonymous German logistics company that no longer wishes to be named in this blog [as of 7 April 2011], prepare to enter our Clean Room Assembly Center. Too funny.

Later the rest of the clients arrive and off we go to the traditional first-night-in-China Xinjiang dinner. Great time. The highlight was the staff practicing their traditional dances out in front of the restaurant late at night. I’ve seen them do this before, and really don’t understand it, because none are from Xinjiang and they don’t work in local costume and don’t perform at the restaurant. But this is one of my favorite scenes from China. I’ve tried before to take photos and this is the first time they were any good.

Day 28 dance practice

Day 28 dance practice 21

Day 28 dance practice 3

Day 28 dance practice 4

Day 29 – Very productive day of meetings with our clients from LimbGear and our Endorsed Service Provider, Camrett Logistics. They have a great new family of products and I expect we will see great things from them in 2010. At night we head out for a Northeastern style dinner, normally one of my favorite styles, at a restaurant called 东北人, dōngběirén, literally “northeastern person” or “northeasterner”. We were told it would be awesome. It wasn’t. The food was a warm cup of OK, but the service was bloody atrocious. After waiting more than 10 minutes I actually had to get up to go find a waitress and mildly berate her for leaving us sitting so long with no tea. She was embarrassed enough to come immediately and take our drinks order, but the service stunk throughout the meal. This is extremely rare in China, where most of the time you have almost too much service. If you are in Shenzhen, Dong Bei Ren near King Glory Plaza (GuoMao station on the subway) is one to skip.

Day 29 its not mons beer.

Day 30 – Another day at the Assembly Center. I am starting to feel the end of the trip and have so much to do I eat lunch at my desk. When I lived in Taiwan, I loved the lunch boxes (bien dang in the local dialect). Today’s take out was not the same (bien dang are more complete rounded meals) but it reminded me a bit. A good light and healthy lunch all the same. Now if I can just get my TrekDesk (one of our clients!) set up in China, maybe I could actually LOSE weight on these trips.

Day 30 lunch at my desk better than 95 of american chinese foodday 30 lunch at my desk better than 95 of american chinese food

On the way to dinner, we saw one of the more memorable sights of this trip. We are fast approaching the Chinese New Year, and families stock up on fresh produce to last through the long holiday (1-2 weeks). And when I say fresh, I mean live.

Day 30 m r ducks actually 3 chickens and 2 geese for chinese new year

Dinner was one of the best of the trip, which is really saying something.

Day 30 personal hotpots chicken broth seasoned with garlic ginger thousand year old eggs you add green onions cilantro miso paste and chiles to a soy dipping sauce

Day 30 raw beef sashimi with soy + wasabi dipping sauce this is the best thing in the world

Everyone’s tired and a little lubricated, so early night. More adventures tomorrow!