Days 15-26 – Pollution, street food, deadlines, Hong Kong and crossing the road in China

Day 15 fatty por and bok choy with garlic

Our founder, Mike Bellamy, who evidently doesn’t have enough WORK TO DO posted the Rick Roll the other day under my name. That was his hint that I should blog more often, so here goes. Sorry for the Rick Roll. Sorry for the absence. And sorry in advance for the length of this post.

More interesting articles:

The last two weeks have been insane. The pollution was unbelievable up until this past weekend, as bad as I’ve seen it in over a decade. I could taste it and feel it on my teeth. Blowing your nose was a bit of an adventure and made me wish for black handkerchiefs.

It has also been fun as the Great Firewall is now blocking Bloomberg completely and Reuters about half the time. Several IT guys we’ve worked with in the past have left China for Thailand because the Firewall is too big a pain in the neck.

Day 15 – Customer visits seem to to be an almost daily event. So far this trip we’ve had them one after the other from USA, France, Australia, etc. I was running late, so I hired one of the gypsy cabbies who hang out by our apartment complex to run me across the street to the office instead of taking 10 minutes to walk. He proceeded to pull straight out into oncoming traffic driving the wrong way down the main road and then cutting across 4 lanes of oncoming traffic to get to our side of the road. Such is life in China. After 10 years here, Mike still doesn’t drive.

Lunch was nothing special, though I am constantly amazed at how fatty the meat here is. In the USA, where nearly everyone can stand to lose a few pounds, fat is bad, horrible, terrible stuff. Here, it is where the flavor is. And hardly anyone is overweight.

Day 15 fatty por and bok choy with garlic

Day 15 lovely beef and mushrooms

At night I head off to Futian to meet an old friend who is now a rep for PassageMaker. He was born in Hong Kong but raised from infancy in the UK, so he speaks perfect British English. He moved back to HK on the day of the handover in 1997. He wanted pizza and beer, so we go to NYPD (New York Pizza Delivery), an outdoor place that serves the best American style pizza I’ve ever eaten. Really.

The owners are a couple American Born Chinese (ABC) from California who developed a dough recipe that is mind blowing. Crispy and soft at the same time, it kicks the pants of anything I’ve tried anywhere else in the world. All ingredients are flown in weekly from the USA. And the beer is dirt cheap, too. Across from our table was a skyscraper with a gigantic TV across the top 5-6 floors. We watched TV while we ate and chatted. My camera sucks in low light, so I couldn’t take a photo.

Sitting outside on a nice night, eating great pizza, drinking cold beer, watching a TV 5 times the size of my house and hanging out with an old friend, all for about 20% of the cost of a similar meal in the USA, I wonder why the heck I don’t live here full-time.

Day 15 nypd

Day 15 futian at night

Day 16 – Worked all day and well into the night. We didn’t leave the office until nearly 11 PM. Given the hour, Mike’s wife thoughtfully arranged for dinner – a meal of grilled tofu, potatoes and lamb skewers, washed down with copious amounts of cold beer. Oh, did I mention it was on the side walk, sitting on stools that would be reserved for a pre-school classroom in the USA and eating off a plywood folding table sized for a dwarf? It was bloody fabulous. It cost about $5. I love this place.

Day 16 eating meat and drinking beer on the street yang rou chuarday 16 eating meat and drinking beer on the street yang rou chuar

Day 16 eating meat and drinking beer on the street grilled tofu

Day 16 eating meat and drinking beer on the street our chef

Day 16 eating meat and drinking beer on the street delivery bike2

Day 17 – A full day at the factory. We are working on a big order that needs to go by the end of the month, and we are using this as the first test case of my ideas for operational improvements.

Day 17 view from our factory managers window buji an industrial suburb of shenzhen

Day 17 view from our factory managers window industrial park dormatories

Day 17 view from our factory managers window this is the new factory building opening soon. maybe someday the home of a united passagemaker

Day 17 view from our factory managers window every industrial park needs a decorative fountain

Day 17 view from our factory managers window every industrial park needs a decorative fountain

Day 17 lunch at the cafeteria

That night we picked up some prospective clients for dinner at my favorite Xinjiang restaurant. I’d gotten them hooked up with my old friend from Taiwan as a translator and we all had a great time. One item of note, we saw the world’s most expensive production car outside the hotel.

Day 17 a maybach at the 999 royal suites

Day 18 – Mike asked me to join him for lunch on Saturday. On the way down to meet him, I passed a ballot box – the apartment complex is having an election.

Day 18 our apartment complex held an election for the tenants association the ballot box

Day 18 our apartment complex held an election for the tenants association a banner exhorting the populace to vote

We head to an Algerian coffee shop in the center of Luohu. Both of us are in the mood for something other than Chinese food. The place has several things that rare in China – a separate smoking area and SILENCE. The Chinese, especially the Cantonese, are not quiet people. Going to a typical food court on a Saturday is like enjoying lunch next to a jet engine. You get used to it (by slowly going deaf), but it is a shock for first-timers used to the USA where typically people don’t shout in restaurants. We had business to discuss, so it was a good choice.

Day 18 lunch at an algerian coffee house seperate smoking area for the hookahs

Day 18 evidently algerians eat their gyros with french fries a north african primanti

Day 18 shenzhen skyline the bronze building two towers of the same structure has been tied up in a corruption scandal for years and has never been finished.

That night we head to Coco Park area for Brazilian barbecue and to later join friends at Club Viva. I love churrascaria and this one was acceptable. The ones in China just fail on the salad bars, which is a big part of the appeal for me in the States. However there were two items of note: camel meat and beer urns.

Day 18 roasted camel  meat very rubbery and fatty not something I will seek out again.

Day 18 the urn of beer is an idea america needs to adapt tiger beer from singapore no less my favorite

Day 19 – despite being Sunday, we go to the office to work most of the day. Not much of note, but a few photos nonetheless.

Day 19 accidental photo of the apartments across from our office

Day 19 this flower graffitti appeared today next to the trash bin no less

Day 19 fruit and sugar cane for sale on the street

The day ended with another wonderful dinner by Mike’s wife and the maid. Simply magic from such a small kitchen.

Day 20 dinner at mikes

Day 19 the chefs anita tang bellamy and the housekeeper

Day 20 – I woke to ghastly pollution. At first it appeared a lovely misty morning, but that soon turned into choking smog that persisted all week. That said, it was a great and productive day at the Assembly Center. The culinary highlight was a fabulous meal at a very upscale restaurant near the factory. The place was part of a large apartment development with Spanish style architecture, a welcome departure from the typical Chinese apartments.

Day 20 the mountains are obscured by smog

Day 20 I think this is a new factory mall where they make reproductions. I am making a point to visit before the end of the trip. it is a sprawling campus like the forbidden city.

Day 20 thats di wang da sha the tallest building in shenzhen through the smog

Day 20 sign for mission hills golf course supposedly a great course but hard to imagine playing in this pollution

Day 20 they literally tear down mountains here

Day 20 there is an army base across from our industrial park complete with vintage jet fighter tank and rocket on display

Day 20 a beautiful apartment complex with a spanish feel with many good shops and restaurants notice the planters in the road and the brick streets

Day 20 a beautiful apartment complex with a spanish feel with many good shops and restaurants notice the planters in the road and the brick streets 2

Day 20 a sublime dish of squash and mushrooms

Day 20 savory meat buns

Day 20 sweet egg custard dumpling this is hot and delicious

Day 20 sweet pumpkin and taro soup

Day 21 – Pollution continues and is even worse. Back early to the Assembly Center to start working on the line. We have a big rush order of a complex assembly, around 90 parts in the BOM, and an agonizing wiring step that takes around 8-9 minutes. No way to automate it, it must be done by hand.

First thing is to head off to B&Q to buy some decent tools to cut down on assembly time as much as possible. For the February order I will get electrical and air tools to speed things up and allow for more people at the wiring operation, but today it is just decent hand tools. By upgrading the tools and teaching some Drum-Buffer-Rope practices, we complete the order 5 days ahead of schedule.

Day 21 bq is like the european home depot

Day 21 buying tools at bq

Day 21 how soon until this trend of patterned appliances and cabinets takes off in the states the refrigerator is on the left. my guess is no time soon

Lunch was at a North West style restaurant.

Day 21 I am sad this picture did not turn out these are some of the best preserved vegetables ive ever eaten vinegared and salted cucumbers and long beans

Day 21 you suck the marrow out with a straw

Day 21 the soybeans in the back were particularly good

Day 21 one of the little sheep restaurants I mentioned previously something creepy about itv

Day 21 the source of cherry

Day 22 – Another day at the Assembly Center. A good day with more smog. Ho hum. The highlight though was dinner with my old friend, my lao pengyou, Sabrina. She was Mike’s first employee 9 years ago and we have become close friends over the years. We always go for dumplings when I am in China. She is a wonderful project manager, a very tough lady who doesn’t take any crap from suppliers.

Day 22 my dear lao pengyou sabrina

Day 22 roast pigeon

Day 22 dumplings with sabrina

Day 22 wonderful sweet sour fish with sabrina

Day 22 you see a lot of this kind of laziness here

Day 23 – Another day at the factory, including lunch at the cafeteria. This time we invited members of the production staff and they played “gross out the foreigner” with the lunch order. Good natured fun and I am used to it. I’ve never yet backed down. Except for the waterbugs a few years ago, but I was already recovering from food poisoning. Oh and did I mention the pollution *cough*?

Day 23 pollution is ghastly

Day 23 a wonderful dish of tofu and pork the reason most people in the west dont like tofu is because theyve never had properly prepared tofu

Day 23 loaded with bones what is so hard about boning a fish

Day 23 pig liver soup with valves

Day 23 pigs large intestines with sweet peppers

Day 23 ahhh...hmmm

Day 23 every cafeteria needs a puppy

Day 23 this is a beer poster in our cafeteria a work dining hall that serves beer for breakfast lunch and dinner. why can we not have this in america

Day 23 our industrial parks cafeteria

Day 24 icky looking sweet pastries

Day 23 basketball court in front of dormitory

Day 23 the outdoor pool tables basketball court to the left convenience store and cafeteria on right

Day 23 another erosion control method is to pour concrete all over the hillside really looks nice with the pollution patina

Day 23 chinese construction site

Day 23 our building

Day 23 nice landscaping jarringly accented with fake plastic trees and shrubs in unnatural colors

Day 23 a plastic japanese maple why

Day 23 pollution turns the leaves gray with soot and dust

Day 23 the industrial park gate

Day 23 love the dragon turtles

Day 23 tearing down mountains yields a lot of stone everything is polished stone

Day 23 smog

We join Mike at the office and walk home for a late dinner. This involves Mike’s preferred method of crossing the street – sprinting across 8 lanes of traffic instead of the “long way” using the pedestrian bridge. Chinese pedestrians have no concept of jay walking. The only thing more dangerous than the air in China is the traffic.

Day 23 a late lite meal at mikes

Day 24 – We head out in the morning to pick up a prospective client in Futian at the Marco Polo. Dinner involves a trip out to Shekou for dinner at Tasca, a fantastic authentic Spanish tapas bar. Spanish food is the only thing I like better than Asian cuisines.

Day 24 futian skyline around coco park1

Day 24 futian skyline around coco park 2

Day 24 futian skyline around coco park 3

Day 24 futian skyline around coco park 4

Day 24 futian skyline around coco park 5

Day 24 tapas

Day 24 paella

After dinner we walk over to Sea World, an outdoor mall surrounding an old cruise ship. This was the ship where Deng Xiao Ping signed the papers to create the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which was sort of the real starting gun for the reemergence of China. They’ve since filled in the harbor, completely surrounding the ship. The place is now a “Little Foreign Town” catering to expats. My camera did not work with the lighting, so no pictures. I am sure you are heartbroken. We went to the original McCawley’s for a drink and then headed home.

Day 25 – It’s a glorious Saturday. The pollution is gone and it is deliciously warm but not hot. Mike’s in the mood for pizza and his wife and daughter want to go shopping. The car drops us off in the heart of Luohu, in the shadow of the “Empire State Building” of Shenzhen, Di Wang Da Sha. It is one of the best looking skyscrapers in the world, IMAO.

Day 25 di wang da sha

Scroll back up for the pollution shot of this building from a distance. If China adopts a better energy source – perhaps modern nuclear as in France and Japan – this a pretty attractive city. The clear days that you do get remind you of how awful the pollution really is.

Papa John’s is the choice for today, and like many US chains in China, they’ve gone upscale and adapted to local tastes. The dining area is an alcove of sorts, shaded with big comfortable chairs. Kind of like eating pizza on you covered patio at home. The recipe for the dough was substantially different than in the States, and while it was satisfying, it is no NYPD. Looking out from our alcove a gleaming new Gucci store dominates. A Mercedes festooned with wedding decorations pulls in to park. To the left is a brand new Hyatt and to the right the Huaan Conifer Hotel, a Chinese hotel that is by far the nicest place I’ve ever stayed in Asia. I spent 3 weeks there once and it is decadent. Next door to the Papa John’s is the most badass fast food restaurant on the planet.

Day 25 papa johns

Day 25 gucci

Day 25 just married

Day 25 the huaan hotel a pretty good summary of shenzhen

Day 25 the new hyatt

Day 25 chinese chain of healthy fast food restaurants featuring steamed food and bruce lee

After lunch we go to the Dongmen (“East Gate”) Road shopping area, which is a sprawling warren of narrow streets selling every consumer good under the sun. It was a mob scene. And lots of fun to see that many people out having a good time. We buy some movies and the ladies get squid-on-a-stick (they didn’t ask me if I wanted any, *sniff*) and take it easy instead of going out on the town.

Day 25 dongmen shopping street

Day 26 – Another beautiful day. I go across the border into Hong Kong with a co-worker, just into the New Territories, not the famous city center. We are going shopping for American style dill pickles (yes, really) for Mike, mainly an excuse to get out of Shenzhen and do something different. We cross the border at Luohu, and see something across the fence in Hong Kong I have never seen in Shenzhen – a grave yard.

Day 26 hong kong cemetary

Today also saw my first trips on the Hong Kong MRT and the Shenzhen subway system. So now I have an Octopus card for Hong Kong (which can be used to buy all sorts of things, not just riding the MRT, very cool) and a Shenzhen subway pass. I rock.

Day 26 hong kong mrt

Day 26 a small town in the hong kong new territories

First we went to a Chinese “wet market” selling an amazing array of fresh ingredients. The smells were powerful and it is not for the faint of heart. I thought it was awesome.

Day 26 know your butcher

Day 26 fresh fish

Day 26 now thats a cutting board

Day 26 live crabs

Day 26 chinese sausages these are awesome

Day 26 vegetable vendor

Day 26 tofu vendor

Day 26 dried sea food vendor thats dried squid

Upstairs they had a food court. As I mentioned above, these places are LOUD, but I feel right at home. This dynamic, barely controlled chaos, coupled with incredible food, is what attracted me to Asia in the first place. We have two 600 ml Skol beers and noodle soup.

Day 26 noodle soup with fish balls and crispy fried fish skin

Day 26 hong kong food court

Day 26 hong kong food vendor

After lunch we try a number of Western style grocery stores looking for the pickles. They are located in malls that are part of the MRT stops. Very sensible. Not sure which is the chicken or the egg, but it works well. The grocery stores are 100 times better than when I was last here, but they are still thinly stocked compared to your average Kroger and are positively claustrophobic. I can barely walk down the aisles without turning sideways. After an hour or so of looking, no pickles. We buy Cadbury’s chocolate for the office instead. Couple things caught my eye.

Day 26 imported beer is big in china a real sign of wealth and they acknowledge the superiority of european brands

Day 26 now you can buy whiskey and fine american wines in the grocery store

Defeated we cross back into Shenzhen at the new Futian crossing, a far more impressive building than the old Luohu crossing. Reminds me of an airport. In this place the Shenzhen River is much wider.

Day 26 the shenzhen river at the futian border crossing facing east

Day 26 the shenzhen river at the futian border crossing facing west

We take the Shenzhen subway to meet Mike for dinner. Very clean and efficient. Instead of a poster in the car showing the map of the lines, they have an electronic display that tracks the progress of the train. Very cool. We head to a Japanese restaurant that has the craziest deal I’ve ever seen. All the sushi and tepanyaki you can eat and all you can drink – juice, soda, tea, beer, wine, sake, doesn’t matter – for 150 RMB. That’s $22. I have no idea how they stay in business. By my count, I ate $100 worth of food alone, not even counting the beer. There is no restrictions – you can order anything off the menu. The absolute highlight was kobe beef sashimi – raw slices of rice paper thin beef. I ate at least 3 orders, each 45 RMB. It was fantastic. It is now my official favorite thing to eat in the whole world. Note to the FDA – it is far easier to control the diet and health of a cow than a wild fish swimming in the ocean. If sushi is legal in the USA, why not raw beef?

This restaurant is in the basement of one of the big malls in the area, CITIC Plaza. It is a bit of a maze, so we went round and around looking for it, including an elevator with the follow sign:

Day 26 this elevator circulates time1

Last item for today’s blog, the Japanese restaurant had cool bronze dragons on the table. I had seen these before in Korean restaurants, but had forgotten about them. I need to get some of these for my home in the USA.

Day 26 can you guess what this is

Day 26 very cool

That’s all for now…

Day 14

Day 14 hong kong border fence

Day 14 – Tuesday – Some interesting China article links to kick things off:

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.

Day 14 hong kong border fence

In order to get to work, you have to cross a foot bridge over the main highway. Chinese steps are instructive.

Day 14 chinese stairs

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.

Day 14 flatbeard

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.

Day 14 salt baked shrimp skewers

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.

Day 14 beef tongue

Day 14 japanese fried chicken and the cooked beef tongue

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.

Day 14 japanese potato omelet with bonito shavings not good

Day 14 japanese lamb chops pretty hard to mess up lamb

Day 14 japanese salad

Day 14 japanese fried tofu with bonito shavings

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.


Days 6-13 – Shanghai Hooters, Mao’s Revenge, and rotten cell phone companies

1 view from the apartment 1

Day 6 – Woke to steady rain after a fitful sleep. The Chinese believe in sleeping on hard beds, as it is supposed to be good for you. And when I say hard, I mean sheet of plywood hard. And how having your hips so sore you can barely get out of the bed in morning after tossing and turning all night is supposed to be good for you beats me. We will be upgrading the mattress shortly.

View from the apartment window.

1 view from the apartment 1

2 view from the apartment 2

And though it feels cold here because of the damp, it is about 62 F. Salem, VA was in single digits in comparison. The company apartment is decorated with Chinese art (Mike has good taste). We even have a life sized terracotta warrior.

6 this guy startles me everytime

4 love the screws

5 ill have one of these in va soon

Our apartment complex

11 the fountain

he walk to the office takes maybe 5-6 minutes. The rain was coming pretty hard and the wind overwhelmed the umbrella. One thing you notice about side streets like ours is how poorly they are sloped to drain the water. Makes for enormous puddles.

Stopped at my snack shop for dumplings and a tea egg. I make tea eggs at home, and they are just that – eggs boiled in tea, dark soy sauce and spiced with star anise. The flavor is very subtle – it is 90% a regular hard boiled egg, but the last 10% makes all the difference.

12 tea egg for breakfast

Worked the morning in the office, and then had lunch at the restaurant around the corner. It has a few dishes that are wonderful, but is certainly not fine dining. The highlights:

Day 6 lunch best use for broccoli

Day 6 best use for squid

Back to work until late in afternoon, then I head to Futian district to take an old friend from Taiwan to dinner at an Italian restaurant. We were the only ones there, so service was exceptional, as was the food, as was the wine, AS WAS THE PRICE. Dinner for two cost 7 times as much as dinner on the street the night before! Luckily she is bringing some of her USA friends to PassageMaker, it was a legit business dinner, but man it is easy to get spoiled by the cheap food over here. I figured we all know what Italian food looks like, so I’ll spare you photos of gnocchi and tiramisu.

Day 7 – A clear day, rain has stopped. It’s knocked the smog out of the air, so a bright blue morning.

Day 7 morning

Day 7 street-scenes

Off early to our Assembly Center in Buji. I’m working on continuous improvement initiatives there as part of our new ISO 9000:2008 certification, something we achieved just last month. My background is in manufacturing, and since we are gearing up for what we think will be a very strong 2010, Mike asked me to come over and assist with introducing the alphabet soup of kaizen related initiatives – 5S, JIT, OJT, etc. Meet and greet the staff, which is dominated by women at the manager level. Only one man on the senior staff. You are seeing more of this in China, but my impression is PassageMaker is ahead of the curve here. On to lunch, which is fabulous as usual.

Day 7 an even better use for squid1

Day 7 best use for duck

Day 7 i love these little fish

Day 7 man they do vegetables well

Day 7 you have to get used to your food staring at you

On the way out, we passed the fish tanks that hold the seafood fresh and alive until it’s time to cook it. Everything in China is prepared fresh.

Day 7 if id known they had had geoduck

Day 7 duck fish

Later that afternoon we headed back to the office to pick up Julien Roger of China Quality Focus, our sister company. Mike, Julien and I flew to Shanghai for the Global Sources trade show, a trip that wasn’t scheduled for me when I came over, but I’m glad I went. The show went well and I’ve never really been to downtown Shanghai before, just the industrial area around the old Hongqiao airport. We flew into the new Pudong airport and I am convinced the planning went something like this – “To demonstrate the greatness of the People’s Republic of China, we will build the longest airport in the world!”. We landed late at the last gate and walked for 10 minutes in a straight line down the terminal until we got to the baggage claim area. This is a seriously long building. And thoughtfully they included no people movers like the trams at the Detroit airport. Considering the late hour and the lack of other arrivals, you’d think they could’ve found a found a gate closer to the exit.

Heading to the hotel, Ibis, a chain of affordable hotels owned by Novotel, a French company, what struck me about Pudong at night were the vast highways. Six to eight lane interstate grade roads as compared to the cramped streets typical of most Chinese cities. Pudong was farmland just a few years ago, and it definitely has a planned feel.

Although they fed us on the plane (a 2 hour flight with meal service – haven’t seen that in the States in decades), Mike and I were still hungry, so we found an American bar, Malone’s across the street and had a very good hamburger while listening to a GREAT Filipino cover band. Every bar and hotel in China has a Filipino band, all playing English cover tunes, even when the clientele is Chinese. And nearly all of them suck. This was an astounding exception. They were tight and the covers were quite good, including good hard rock and heavy metal. The singer had some serious pipes.

Back at the hotel, I noticed the bathroom is a pre-fabricated assembly. Smart idea for a chain. It was one of the nicer bathrooms I’ve had in China.

Day 7 pre fabed bathroom


Day 8 – After the best night’s sleep so far, up early to get to the show and set up the booth. On the way to the convention center, I saw this:

Day 8 just bizarre

They switched us at the last minute to give us a corner booth, which meant we had to cut up the posters to make them fit. I think the booth looked pretty good, considering.

Day 8 our booth

I’ve been to a fair number of trade shows over the years. Heavy truck shows are dull unless you really like trucks and truckers, car shows are fun, and motorcycle rallies are a blast. But in every case before, I was selling a product. If the guy’s got a Road King we have something for him, but not if he has a Dyna. We’re on this model of Peterbilt, but not that one. But now that I’ve done it, nothing beats selling a service. EVERYONE doing business in China needs Quality Inspections, Product Testing, Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination, Intellectual Property Protection, Logistics and Assembly Inspection & Packaging. The industry doesn’t matter, they all needed at least one of our services. This was a gift and clothing fair, but it is the same at every show. It’s like we are selling beer at a NASCAR race. We got business cards from USA, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Israel, Nigeria, Iran, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.

Mike is a featured speaker at every Global Sources trade show (including Dubai, Hong Kong, Mumbai and South Africa this year), and he gave a two-part presentation spread over the first two days of the show. He did a great job and it was extremely well received by the standing room only audience. Rather than a canned sales pitch, he tells it like it is, barely mentioning PassageMaker or China Quality Focus. The soft sell works and many attendees stopped by the booth afterward to tell us so. They figure anyone with enough confidence to NOT shove his company down their throats must have it going on. And they are quite right. We do.

Day 8 mike is featured speaker

Day 8 mike giving his presentation

Julien Roger is also a tremendous salesman and very knowledgeable. I learned a great deal from watching his methods. Selling China Quality Focus’s services is easier, as Quality Inspections are very straightforward compared to PassageMaker’s services, but the combined message of the two companies meshes very well. We often have the same customers.

The convention center is still under construction and gigantic. As with the airport, the point seems to be making you walk as far as possible to get anywhere. Despite the impressive size, they apparently forgot about effective HVAC. It is unseasonably cold and I packed for south China. Day 1 of the show had no heat at all, which made it a real grind. Day 2 was a little warmer, but still uncomfortable. By Day 3 they’d gotten it going to the point it was now actually hot inside. HVAC needs some work for sure.

They also have very little in the way of food. The restaurants inside looked just plain bad, serving cold rolls and sandwiches wrapped in plastic like a vending machine. However, there was a McDonald’s right across from our hall, W2. It turned out to be the world’s smallest McD’s, about the size of a broom closet, with one little girl selling horrible looking “chicken sandwiches” out of coolers. I put that in quotes, because they were actually pork. Menu says chicken, she will say in English it is chicken, the box says chicken, but she insisted in Chinese that they were pork. We passed and were directed to the other McD’s at W5.

W5 is an international airport runway away from where we were. In 30 F weather, I was not interested in the walk, but there was nothing else, so walk we did. Entering W5 was a shock as it was still under construction, freezing cold and reeked of paint fumes. The McD’s was even colder than the rest of the building. It was a huge McD’s, brand new and manned by an army of eager young staffers in winter parkas. McDonald’s can’t heat their own place. It was also completely deserted. We were it for customers stoopid enough to walk that far in the cold for genuine simulated food. Our “food” in hand we sat down to eat our rapidly cooling cheeseburgers (with cucumbers instead of pickles) in 25 F comfort, huffing paint. Then the staff helpfully turned on the Backstreet Boys at headache inducing volumes to entertain us, because what lao wai doesn’t love the Backstreet Boys? We’d shout over the music to tell them to turn it down please. And they would, just a little. As it was the only food around, we ate there all three days of the convention. Our experience was exactly the same each time, including the yelling over the music to turn it down. Note to China: the progress over the last 30 years has been astounding, but build convention centers with decent places to eat and heaters.

Day 8 holy crap this place is big

Day 8 holy crap this place is big 3

Day 8 holy crap this place is big 2

Day 8 this is the smallest mcds in the world

Day 8 why put the real mcdonalds as far away as possible

Day 8 w5 under construction

Day 8 way to plan fellas

The interior of the McD’s was just as bizarre.

Day 8 mcds posters wtf

Day 8 mcds posters wtf 2

Day 8 mcds posters wtf 3

Day 8 rarest sign in china

With the first day of thee show successfully behind us, we head out into a bitterly cold Shanghai sunset.

Day 8 shanghai sunset

For dinner, we are off to meet friends at Shanghai Hooters. Yes, really. This turns out to be loads of fun. Mike, Julien and I meet up with one of our sales reps, Dan Welygan, who worked in our Shenzhen office for about 4 years. Also in our quintet is a classmate from the University of South Carolina now living in China. Many, many wings and beer later, I have a new found appreciation for Hooters. It was a bold decision to open this restaurant, as typical Chinese girls lack the requisite body type required of a Hooters waitress. And they have to be attractive and be able to speak English. A pretty small labor pool. Our waitress was very good, spoke solid English and really new how to work a room. A very bright young lady, she has a future in sales for sure.

Day 8 our waitress elva

Day 8 hard to find hooters in chinaDay 8 hard to find hooters in china

Day 9 – Second day of the show went as well as the first. Part two of Mike’s seminar was very well received and many of the attendees have stopped by the booth, several 2-3 times. After the show, we meet our web developer, a French graphic designer living in Shanghai, at a trendy coffee shop for sandwiches. This place was in a glittering new mall, still decorated for Christmas. My cameras does a poor job in low light, so my apologies for the quality of the photos.

Day 9 christmas decorations

Day 9 first of two ferraris in 2 minutes

Day 9 yep thats a christmas tree

Day 9 this is what irony looks like

So far no Chinese food in Shanghai. After the meeting, off to meet another USC classmate at The Boxing Cat Brewery, the nicest brewpub I’ve ever been to. As I was once in this business, that is quite a statement. It was in a 100+ year old home in the old part of Shanghai, beautifully refurbished. The brewpub was 3 stories, with a bar on the 1st and 3rd floors. It felt exactly like a British pub, with beer selection and menu to match. Since we had already eaten we did not order anything, which now that I know the chef was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I heartily regret. I have a feeling it will not be my last trip. My, how far this country has come in just a few short years. However, even The Boxing Cat has moments that confound.

Day 9 were the heck do you want me to put it

Day 10 – Last day of show, and the pollution is pretty bad today. Traffic is light, and some exhibitors start packing up almost from the opening bell. We stayed until nearly the scheduled end at 5:30 PM, though we give up when they start dismantling the booth around us at about 5:10 PM. Global Sources has been good to us and we thought it the honorable thing to do to stick it out to the end, though honestly the show really ended around noon. Off to Pudong airport (which is even more gigantic from the outside and has the coolest road system connecting it I’ve ever seen) to catch our flight to Shenzhen. Our first Chinese meal of the trip is some very good Cantonese cuisine at the airport.

Day 10 shanghai pollution

Day 10 always a bad sign when the gates are in triple digits


Day 10 cantonese food chinese airport food is much better than usa

Day 10 cantonese food chinese airport food is much better than usa 3

Day 10 cantonese food chinese airport food is much better than usa 2

Day 11 – Worked all day to get caught up from the show. Verizon’s data service here stinks, a pale comparison to my old AT&T service (of course, that is reversed in the USA, which is why I switched). Many emails did not come through to my blackberry. I also discovered that Verizon is charging me $2/minute to RECEIVE CALLS. This was one of the specific questions I asked before adding the “China plan” for this trip. I have already written about how woefully trained their salespeople are, and this takes the cake. Since the trip began, I have been receiving calls from clients, family and friends – including a call a 3 AM from a client who had missed I was not in USA. My team in the USA is having words with Verizon about this, but let’s just say, it was a cute phone bill. China Mobile by comparison, charges nothing to receive an international call. Heck, their rates to MAKE an international call are less than Verizon. So, if you want to get in touch with me, send me an email and I’ll give you my China Mobile number.

I join Mike and Adam Supernant for dinner at a local place in Liantang.

Day 11 chinese donuts I like the fried ones steamed ones not so much

Day 11 gross

Day 11 very common to have fire at the table

Day 11 quite tasty tofu and pork

After dinner I was invited to join some of our Chinese co-workers at a nightclub. I was flattered to be invited and went along. After several hours, I had my first run in on this trip with the dreaded Mao’s Revenge. I am trying to tell it like it is for those of you who don’t travel overseas, and if this strikes you as TMI, it isn’t. You need to know what you are in for.

While western style “sitters” are becoming more common, squatters still dominate. In a sense this is good, as sitters are not as sanitary ( I mean, everyone else is sitting there too). But when you’re in an emergency situation and you are not used to squatters, this can get dicey fast. My advice for survival in these situations:

  1. Wear sensible shoes with good rubber shoes – I prefer Blundstones.
  2. Wear jeans. Avoid khakis – not the color issue but the way the pockets are cut. I always keep everything – wallet, keys, passport, phones – in the front pockets of my jeans.
  3. This is a very uncommon position for a Westerner. I have pretty strong calves and thighs, and have learned how to balance, but if you never done it before, try it and hold the position for 2-3 mins. It takes some getting used to and you don’t want to find out the hard way you can’t do it. Luckily the squatting position is more conducive to the situation at hand, and so things tend to go quickly.
  4. Carrying a small packet of tissues is a good idea. Toilet paper in a public restroom anywhere in the world is never a given. Handkerchiefs and socks (single use of course) will do in a crisis.
  5. Carry a bottle of prescription Lomotil or the generic. I always do and there is no OTC medicine that comes close. It WILL stop the drama.

My evening cut short, off to sleep. Day 12 is Sunday, market day in Liantang, and Mike and I head to Mian Dian Wang, or “Noodle Snack King”, my favorite fast food chain in the world. 14 line cooks actually making the food by hand. Total cost of the meal is about 60 RMB, or less than $9.

Mian dian wang

Day 12 mian dian wang

Day 12 mian dian wang 2

Day 12 mian dian wang 3

Day 12 mian dian wang 4

That evening, Mike threw a dinner party at his home. It was great to see old friends and an even better meal. Simply the best food I’ve ever eaten in China. Mike’s wife and the maid did all the cooking.

Day 12 two women in this kitchen in about 2 hours..

Day 12 two women in this kitchen in about 2 hours.. 2

Day 12 made this

Day 13 – Monday – Last night there was a little too much “medicinal wine”. Whenever you hear that phrase, run screaming in the other direction. After such an amazing meal, we needed something basic to calm the acid seas, so off to Subway (yes, really). A steak and cheese later and all is right with the world. With some lingering Mao’s, I head to the apartment to work from home. It was a glorious day, 70 F and clear blue skies with a light breeze.

Day 13 our apartment complex

Later Mike asked me over to finish up the leftover ingredients from the dinner party – there was no left over dishes, just raw materials. This is the modest result.

Day 13 a light meal

Two customer visits tomorrow and time at the factory.

All for now…


Days 4-5

The best dumplings in the world

Another quick note on Facebook being blocked in China, thanks to all of you who have commented on these blog posts, but I can’t reply. Such is life behind the Great Firewall. No YouTube either. Sucks.

While I was writing yesterday’s post, I had a snack of the best dumplings in the world. They are made by a small chain restaurant, each shop about the size of a typical college dorm room, and each equally as filthy. However they make these lovely little culinary wonders. Notice the delicate “knitting” where they seal the dough around the meat filling. All done by hand. Ten dumplings for 3 RMB, or $0.45. They have two types of sauce, a savory peanut and a very hot sauce. As you can see, I like them mixed. I eat these nearly everyday.

The best dumplings in the world

I also stepped into the “convenient” store next door to the office and was thrilled to discover they are now carrying Pabst Blue Ribbon, in six packs no less! You get so used to the standard 600 ml bottles of Kingway and Tsingtao here that a 12 oz PBR is a nice taste of home.


After working until nearly 8:00 PM, off we go to join a group of expats for dinner. One of the fun things about traveling overseas is people you meet, because typically the boring ones stay in their home country. Expats are memorable folks. In this group were several good old boys from Southwest Virginia and Tennessee, a retired Canadian Football League lineman, a young lady from my old home of Taiwan, etc. I had been told we were going to the Mongolian place, but last minute change of plans results in another Xinjiang meal (oh darn), this time at an outdoor street restaurant. We had all the wonderful standard dishes, but had one I’d forgotten about. If you look at the dish in the middle of this photo, what looks like meat and potatoes is actually meat and a special type of fried bread. It is crisp but still moist enough that it feels more like a root vegetable than a crouton. Really amazing. I’d love to know how they make it, but the owner is a shrieking banshee and I was not inclined to ask. This place serves Sinkiang (the old romanization of Xinjiang – like Peking for Beijing) beer, a very good black beer in 12 oz longnecks.


Outdoor xinjiang restaurant

After a very long dinner which kept getting longer as more and more people showed up, off we went to the grand opening of McCawley’s Pub in Futian. The event was arranged by Brent Deverman of, a great guy and good friend of Mike’s. A very good turnout. Highlights included 500 ml glasses of Hoegaarden, my favorite beer, and my first sighting in China, a well faded duck brown Detroit jacket, worn proudly by a guy from Texas. I almost brought my Detroit jacket, but opted for the waterproof ski jacket instead. Darn.


The new pub is beautifully done with wood and fittings imported from Ireland, but the opening night service was poor. The staff needs some practice. Well lubricated with a liter or two of good beer, we migrate around the corner to a night club owned by another friend of Dave Learn’s. The owner was there, a very nice Chinese fellow. Turns out he’s started several of the hottest clubs in town, all of which I’ve been to over the years and this is his latest effort. Highlights of the debauchery that followed include meeting an old friend from South Africa (we once had this conversation – “hey Whit, I haven’t seen you in so long, did you move to Shekou or something?”, “no, I live in the USA”, “WHAT?!” – I used to travel A LOT), three different types of moonshine from a Korean female alcoholic psycho (she carries them in her purse), and Taiwanese tequila shots, which means you snort the salt or something like that. I’m little fuzzy on the details, but I know I did mine straight. Salt and lemon are for sissies.

After a good night’s sleep, it’s market day. I left most stuff behind since I prefer to carry on and the company apartment was not properly stocked for my arrival (we’ll be discussing that on Monday). Also the refrigerator broke, so we had to get a new one. But first, lunch with Mike’s wife and her cousin at a Cantonese style diner. Much hilarity ensued when the very helpful waitress asked me if I wanted a fork.

Fish fat with vegetables rice and black chicken medicinal soup

Bai qie ji fan

This is nasty. dont drink it

Liantang Road is the local market street, lined with shops and sidewalks crowded with vendors. There is also a big grocery/department store. Great selection of local and Western foods and goods.

Typical traffic on liantang road

Street vendors

I love these trees

I love duck

Delivery trike

Mikes wifes cousin our driver and his chevy yes really

Kfc delivers

On a bike

Granite curb stones

Yes the street signs are in english

Street level view of the mountains note the patterned block sidewalk

Chines department store

Everybody loves chocolate

Delicious shelf stable milk blick

Real milk

Who doesnt like dried fish

This is actually better than any chinese breakfast

Sugar cane juice seller

Chinese wines

Prepared sliced meat for hot pot

Frozen yangrou chuar

For some reason this reminds me of doc hoppers fried frog legs

So after buying the food, time for the refrigerator, which takes us past a stand promoting a new line of shoe polish. So I get a free shoe shine. Notice that the salesmen have cut off the corner of the tube rather than use the dispenser. That’s a metaphor for something, just not sure what. You have lots of such experiences in China.

Thats what the caps for

Chinese stoves

Chinese washing machines guess they missed the front loader memo

Demand water heaters a much better way of doing it

Designer air conditioners

Why wouldnt you want a beijing 2008 olympic logo on your air conditioner

Every year the refrigerators get bigger but they are still tiny compared to the usa

I dont think ive ever felt this way about vegetables or do I just have a dirty mind

Nothing like sports nationalism to sell refrigerators

Chinese cinema and tv is dominated by historical dramas

Later Mike Bellamy and I met for dinner at a Dongbei style (“Northeastern”) restaurant.

Sanitary place setting plate bowl tea cup spoon chopsticks wrapped in plastic they sterilize them and seal them to avoid contamination.

That said it is still traditional to wash them with hot tea.

A teapot with a beer logo. why not

Now thats a grill

Dongbei style potatoes

Dongbei style grilled buns very very tasty

Dongbei style grilled chicken wings and potatoes

Dongbei style grilled corn better than I expected

Dongbei style eggplant with garlic tastes like garlic flavored snot

Golden needle mushrooms lovely

Mike bellamy and lazy what real man has a dog with a sweater

Dinner with seven 600 ml Snow beers was 110 RMB, or $16. On the way home we stopped at our apartment complex’s convenience store for supplies.

By the way, Mike asked me to redact my pet name for The House of Mao restaurant. It shall henceforth be referred to as Joe Stalin’s Snack Shack.

More tomorrow…

Days 3-4

100107 xinjiang cai

A note on these blog entries – if you are following this on Facebook (which is blocked rather effectively by the Great Firewall of China), if the photos don’t load properly go to my blog page –

In yesterday’s post, I failed to include one very important photo of the single best vegetable dish in all of China. This is from the Xinjiang restaurant on the night of my arrival.

100107 xinjiang cai

What you see in this picture is not a plate of noodles. Rather it is a potato cut into incredibly thin, consistent strips that mimic the look of noodles. This is all done by hand. I do a fair amount of cooking, but I cannot even imagine the time and skill it must take to make this dish. Quickly stir fried with chiles and chile oil, just so the potato begins to soften, this is one of the most elegant dishes I’ve eaten. Costs about $2.50 at this upscale restaurant.

Now last night for dinner we went to Mao Jia, The House of Mao, for excellent Hunan food. Mike’s wife is from Hunan, and it is one of my favorite styles of Chinese cuisine. Some photos – getting hungry again just looking at them.

Maos favorite dish basically pork fat and a lovely green bean dish

No wonder the great helmsman was fat I practically had a heart attack just looking at it

Cold beef with chiles cilantro and cucumbers

Pork with red chiles and beef with mild green chiles and mushrooms

This is only about half the food

Crepes filled with strawberry jam yes really

Soft shell shrimp with chiles you eat the shells one of my favorites

Pork shanks awesome

The best mushroom dish ive ever eaten

A dish of a very delicate and delicious green with pork

A very nice potato dish

What a meal

Afterwards, I went out on the town with Dave Learn to a local nightclub. The music was so loud you felt it in your bones. A very good time despite the limited conversation. Afterward, we went to get a massage at about 3 AM. This is not as strange as it may sound. It is quite common for saunas in China to operate 24 hours a day, and the place was well staffed and quite elegant. Dave was in charge and so I am not sure what type of massage he ordered but it was at least two hours long and hurt like hell. I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been on the losing end of a bar fight. I got the crap beaten out of me by a 90 lb girl. That said, it’s even money I’ll have another one in a day or so – at about $15, you can’t pass it up.

Despite getting home at dawn, after a few hours sleep, I was ready to go again. Meeting Mike Bellamy at his new home for a lunch meeting, I was blown away by the view from his terrace.

Panorama 2

Panorama 3

Panorama 4

Panorama 5


Lunch consisted of fast food Japanese noodles for me and a Subway meatball sub for Mike in a mall food court. Go figure.

At Mike’s building is a fire safety sign in the lobby. He pointed it out to me because whoever made it used a computer translator “robot” to get the English. Every expat has a book full of stories about terrible English translations, but this takes win, place and show in the international competition for world’s worst translation.

Fire sign

What the fire sign does not say

This a great example of why PassageMaker is in business. The robot picked up a character, 朝, cháo, that is commonly used to abbreviate North Korea, but also means “towards”, as in “move towards the exit”. Maybe someday they will make a translator that really does the job, but until then, you need experienced capable human beings.

We spent the rest of Saturday working at the office. Tonight we are meeting a visiting friend for Mongolian food (I get hungry just writing those words) and then out to the grand opening of the new McCawley’s Irish Pub in the Futian district of Shenzhen. The original McCawley’s is way out in Shekou, about an hour from the office, and it will be nice to have a good pub closer to the office.

More tomorrow…


Days 1-3

5 weeks 2 bags

This trip to China started in auspicious fashion. I spent my last day with the family (wonderful time) and got everything packed the night before. As is always the case, I travel light. This is my luggage for a 5 week trip:

5 weeks 2 bags

They don’t call it a “Chinese laundry” for nothing. PassageMaker is a relaxed place, as is most of southern China. It is too damn hot in the summer to wear a suit and in the winter everyone bundles up, so you can get away with very casual clothing. I go with black as much as possible, as China is a dirty place and it hides stains.

I got up early Wednesday morning to start the 30+ hour odyssey that is the trip from Salem, VA to Shenzhen. I was looking through my passport and was amazed at just how many times I’ve made this trip. 13 PRC Visas, many of them 12 month multi-entry. The number of trips is hard to gather from all the jumbled stamps, but it is a bunch. Rolled out at 4:45 AM for a 6:00 AM flight to O’Hare (ORD).

Even though I had checked in the night before online and had my boarding pass, I chatted up the nice folks at the check-in counter and was able to secure an “upgrade” to the “the cheapskate’s business class”, an emergency exit row aisle seat by the rear galley. Most legroom and right next to the food and water and away from the bathrooms.

As with many things in life, the food is instructive. I had what turned out to be a very nice breakfast at the Roanoke Regional Airport (ROA), an egg & cheese bagel. I’d expected some nasty microwave thing, but instead got a beautifully cooked egg that was so hot off the grill I actually burned my mouth. Good start to the day!

American breakfast

Whenever I travel, I try to keep it filling and bland. Acid indigestion is a bitch at 35,000 feet. Nothing but water. Alcohol and flying don’t go well together in my book.

The flight to ORD was a little bumpy at the outset, as it always is when clearing the mountains around Roanoke, but we had a strong tailwind and arrived 25 minutes early. Then had to sit on the plane for about 25 minutes while they got the gate ready for us. Oh well.

O’Hare that early in the morning is pretty quiet, so I was able to get to the Red Carpet Club (RCC) without fighting the crowds. The RCC is definitely on the list of things in life that don’t suck. I had several hours to kill before my flight, and if you have to spend a morning at a busy airport like ORD, the peace and quiet is priceless. What is also priceless is the clean restrooms. As someone who has traveled the world, a clean restroom is one of the under-appreciated joys of life that is easily taken for granted.

I once gave a toast at a relative’s wedding that included the line, “if you still love each other as much as you do now when 40 hours only gets you to Wednesday and your 3 favorite restaurants are in airports, then you will know you found the right person”. That was off the cuff when I said it, but it has become one of my tag lines since then. I was speaking from personal experience. There was a time when that was true for me. One of those restaurants is the SaladWorks in the Jazz Food Court in the C concourse at ORD. I always enjoy a Newport Salad before I board a flight to China. Since you are going to be stuck in a metal tube for 16 hours eating some of the worst heartburn inducing slop on God’s green earth, better eat something good before you board.

Newport salad

I also stock up on Twix bars and nuts before the flight, especially when I am flying economy. They never feed you enough and the only thing that sucks worse than heartburn is being hungry at 35,000 feet.

Boarded and met my seat mates in the emergency exit row, both of whom pretty much slept through the whole flight. I’ve actually made friends on planes in the past. The best flight to China was in 2007 when I met an American expat working for an huge multinational who now lives in the Philippines and a young Vietnamese girl who lives in Minnesota. We chatted through the whole flight, much of it in Chinese. I still correspond with them regularly. Not so on this trip, but at least it was quiet.

I fly United exclusively because they have the best straight shot to China. And also because I have so many miles it is pointless to fly anyone else. Despite their deficiencies, they do a pretty good job taking care of their Premier customers. ORD to Hong Kong (HKG), 15 hours of flying time sounds terrible, but in reality it is far preferable to other flights that break up the trip with layovers in Japan. When I am trying to get to HKG, I want to go straight there. Having a 3-4 hour layover when you are already tired stinks on ice.

One disappointing thing about this flight though was the movies. We only had four (4) with some TV re-runs thrown in. Some of the TV shows were interesting (Treasure Quest and Building Da Vinci), but 4 movies in 15 hours is a bone headed decision. Want the flight to go smoothly? Show the cattle some more movies! As to the movies we did see, Love Happens was only worth seeing to look at Jennifer Aniston, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs was great, Four Christmases was Vince Vaughn talking too damn much and 500 Days of Summer was delightful.

Another disappointment, for which we have to thank the Christmas Bomber, is that they disabled the map and flight info that is usually displayed between films. I am an admitted geography geek (I can name the capital of most countries in the world – try me sometime) and I enjoy tracking our progress. I guess it is sort of valid that you don’t want to give the terrorists all the info they need to time the bombing over the airport, but how the maps did that when there are WINDOWS in the plane is beyond me. It is not for nothing that the TSA now stands for The Stupid Agency.

So anyway, flight landed precisely on time and I got out of the tube early. Managed to be one of the first to get to passport control and was through in under a minute. This is something, because I’ve spent over an hour in that line before. Since I carried on and had nothing to declare and don’t look like a member of the Religion of Peace (I saw them checking the bags of several Middle Eastern men), I walked straight out into the arrival hall of HKG, which is still one the coolest places in my world. I practically grew up in airports and they say a great deal about a city. Americans often miss this or are too utilitarian in their thinking (LAX for instance is a national embarrassment), but the Asians GET IT. HKG is a beautiful airport, well laid out, with soaring interior spaces and great restaurants. You know you are someplace worth being when you land at HKG.

I caught the bus to the ShaTouJiao border crossing which is near our office and nearly forgotten about. This is a very good thing, as the last thing you want after traveling for 24+ hours is another line to schlep through. I’ve crossed at the main LuoHu border crossing when I swear there were 10,000 people trying to get through at the same time. Number of people in front of me at ShaTouJiao? Zero. Perfect.

Out into the cool, damp night air of Shenzhen, my second home. There are many reasons to knock Shenzhen – it ain’t pretty – but when Dave Learn said “welcome home” he was right. If I can’t be with my family (who prefer to live in USA), this is the place to be.

Off we went to the now etched-in-stone traditional Whit’s-first-night-in-China-meal of Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is called China’s Wild West and while I’ve never visited, I love the food. Good spicy lamb dishes, and despite being a Muslim restaurant, they serve ice cold beer. When people say “Chinese food” I always smile, as that is really like saying “European food”. There are so many different regional cuisines, it is really kind of silly to lump them all together.

100107 xinjiang cai 2

100107 xinjiang cai 4

100107 xinjiang cai 5

After dinner, back to the company apartment and off to bed, well deserved after 30 hours of travel. I sleep very little on these flights, and I always strive to arrive at dinner time so I can have a big meal lubricated with plenty of beer. When you go to bed and wake up the next morning, you’re right on schedule with local time and no jet lag. Maybe a hangover, but no jet lag.

This morning, up at 8 AM and feeling fine. After a call home to talk to the kidlets and the lovely Mrs. Kelly, Brian Garvin and I headed over to a friends house to watch the NCAA National Championship game. Roll Tide! Great game and an interesting group of American expats. One interesting thing was the decor – as a Virginian, it is good to Robert E. Lee represented in PRC.

American in china

His apartment was on the 19th floor (I’m not much for heights), and the view was quite interesting. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Chinese apartment building architecture, but it is amazing how they squeeze so many people into these developments. This is what the “forest of Shenzhen looks like 19 stories up.

19 floors up

Shenzhen forest

After the game, off to the office. I had not been back since the recent growth spurts have required many new staff to move into our offices, necessitating a big renovation. The place looks awesome, decorated with Chinese traditional wood carvings. And the new sign looks great as well, though I’m not quite sure why the old one is still up. The new logo is a big improvement over the old, I must say.

New sign

New logo old logo

Renovated office 2

Rrenovated office1

Renovated office 3

All in all, a great start to the trip. Tonight, dinner at Mao Jia, the House of Mao, a Mao themed chain of very good Hunan style cuisine.

More tomorrow…

Stomach of Iron, Liver of Steel (I wish)

As I look at the possibility of returning to Asia for an extended trip in the near future, I can honestly report a piquant combination of excitement and fear.

Excitement because it has been too long since my last trip, and I have missed China and Singapore.

Fear because I am not sure how much abuse I can take. I’ve mentioned the mixed pleasures of the Chinese business banquet before. You really can’t escape them forever.

I don’t drink coffee, can’t stand sodas and am no fan of hard liquor or wine. On the drink front, that pretty much leaves me with bottled water (suspect in China), hot tea (perfectly safe due to the “rolling dragon boil” required to brew it) and beer (bottled, carbonated and alcoholic = safe to drink).

For health and productivity reasons, when in the USA I tend to stick to decaffeinated iced tea and non-alcoholic beer. It’s a party a minute around here, but there are no such drink options in Asia.

Add to that the food sanitation and spices, and I’m pretty certain to be in for some “rapid weight loss programs”.

Don’t get me wrong, I am almost quaking with excitement at the prospect of seeing old friends and eating all my favorite dishes. Whenever I am in Asia I feel energized like you just don’t get in the USA. But I don’t stay in upscale hotels or dine exclusively at Western restaurants. Life is short and you’ve got to dive in to enjoy it, damn the consequences.

So heavily laden with Lomotil and Pepcid AC, off I head to my favorite part of the world. Now if someone would just tell my digestive tract.

The “Sweet & Sour” China experience

Andrea Martins, our sales representative in Brazil, lived in China for 25 years. She makes Mike and I look like amateurs when it comes to the crazy China stories.

She has my favorite term for dealing with China – “Sweet & Sour”, like the famous pork dish. During our regular calls, she will say such-and-such a potential client has had a “sour” China experience and wants our help to get to “sweet”. More food-borne analogies, I know, but this time it’s not my doing! And she sounds wonderful saying it in a Brazilian accent, so there.

Recently, a potential client decided to visit us in China without letting us know in advance. They dropped in to see us towards the end of their trip, thoroughly dispirited with their journey thus far – didn’t like the food, bad hotels, creepy new Chinese “friends” approaching them on the street, etc. They were desperate for someone to treat them right and handle their requirements in China with professionalism.

I have no idea why people assume that China is going to be easy. What, did you think you could learn Chinese on the plane ride over? There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of words printed daily on the challenges China poses, and yet we regularly see otherwise savvy clients naively blundering about as though nothing bad is going to happen. After the inevitable does happen, we are happy to help get things moving again, but it is so much simpler to do it right the first time.

And now, because Sweet & Sour Pork is one of the very few dishes that appears on “Chinese” restaurant menus in America in something close to its original form, here’s a link to a pretty good recipe. Enjoy!

Why I don’t brew beer (anymore)

20 years ago I wanted to be a brewmaster. The American microbrew movement was just taking off, and it was a good time to get in. I attended beer festivals, visited breweries, did research (in the days before the internet no less), etc. Ultimately I had two banker’s boxes full of information on techniques, equipment, business models, etc. Today this would occupy about 5% of the free flash drive you got for opening your checking account last year, but this was 1989, and paper was still state of the art. And I still have all this information, thank you very much.

I used this copious research to sell the idea of a brewpub to two entrepreneurs opening a new restaurant in a location I had long had my eye on. It was tremendously exciting being even obliquely involved with the start up and I enjoyed working there as an assistant brewer. As great learning experience all the way around, and should either of those entrepreneurs read this, thank you sincerely for the opportunity.

And what I ultimately learned from that experience was I did NOT want to be a brewer anymore. Beer from the store is just fine thanks.

Now, onto the tortured analogy section. Many of our clients are new to doing business in China. Many have done awesome amounts of research, days spent on sourcing websites like Global Sources, and they are totally jazzed about this new experience, much as I was 20 years ago. They want to travel, try new things, etc. Then they realize that the China trade is work, and the fun wears off quickly.

There are brewers who get up every day excited to go to work and make beer. I admire them and wish them well at their chosen craft. Thanks to them, I get to have a drink without all the scalding water, acids, caustic sodas, foul-smelling slime and general hard-work-nastiness that goes into making beer.

The PassageMaker Team and our friends at China Quality Focus are a collection of such dedicated “brewmasters”. I know I wake up every morning happy and enthusiastic about my chosen field. Our Sourcing Feasibility Study, Vendor Coordination and Assembly-Inspection-Packaging service offerings are all designed to help our clients have a successful experience in China. Most importantly, we want to take care of things on the ground in China so our clients can stay at home with their families, instead of spending $10k every other month traveling back and forth to visit vendors. When you do choose to come to China, we want you to come for a relaxing guanxi tour, not to fight fires. We’ll even help you with your travel arrangements and buy you a drink!

How to make a BLT

Years ago I saw a cookbook in Taiwan, written in Chinese, that taught our intrepid Taiwanese housewives how to make such standard American fare as the BLT (that’s Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches for the non-Americans) and the PB&J (Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches). It had never occurred to me that anyone in Taiwan would (A) require instructions for such basic American fare or (B) want to cook it. I can’t really remember why I didn’t buy it – probably my student budget – but I regret that decision often.

Regular readers of this blog know I study food. Cuisine is the most basic cultural art form. Every culture, no matter how primitive, develops its own distinct cuisine. You learn a lot about someone by trying their food.

Asking an American how to make a BLT provokes a guffaw, but I’ve had exactly the same experience in reverse when I ask Chinese folks how to make the core dishes in their cuisine. BLT is every bit as literal as my favorite Chinese dish, 拍黄瓜, “banged up cucumbers”, which describes how you use the flat of the knife to lightly crush the cucumbers*.

Cultural assumptions greatly complicate international business. Foreign expectations of how things are in China are nearly always wrong. PassageMaker has studied the culture in China for more than an decade and our company exists to help our clients be successful in China.

We developed the Sourcing Feasibility Study to identify a wide range of capable vendors. Our Vendor Coordination services can be customized to support almost any task the client requires. Our Assembly Center was started to bring the critical Assembly-Inspection-Packaging functions in-house where they could be managed exactly to the client’s requirements, as documented in the Product Quality Manual.

While exploring foreign cultures – especially through cuisine – is one of the great adventures in life, it is a bad idea to try to learn the business culture of a foreign country on the fly. When your money is on the line, you need an experienced guide like PassageMaker.

* – Pai Huang Gua – “Banged Up Cucumbers”

4 small pickling cucumbers, washed and chilled – make sure to use fresh, crisp cucumbers

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 tsp pickling salt

3 tbsps black vinegar (available at Asian markets, substitute white vinegar if unavailable)

2 tbsps sesame oil (3 tbsps if no hot sesame oil)

1 tbsps hot sesame oil (optional – available at Asian markets)

1tsp hot sauce, preferably Chili Garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek (optional – available at Asian markets)

Wrap cucumbers in plastic wrap and using fist, cutting board, rolling pin, flat of a cleaver, etc., smack the the cucumbers until they split. Unwrap and coarsely chop into large chunks. Salt the cucumbers and garlic in a bowl, drizzle liquid ingredients one at a time in order over the cucumbers and gently mix with a spoon. Do NOT cover and shake or otherwise try to completely blend liquid ingredients. You do not want to create an emulsion, but rather a layered sauce. Serve immediately as a cold appetizer.