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Texas Tavern Wisdom

“WE DON’T CASH CHECKS OR PLAY WITH BUMBLE BEES”, so says the sign next to the cash register at the Roanoke, VA landmark Texas Tavern. It’s been open every day, 24/7 (except Christmas) since 1930. No credit, no checks, all cash. A true money-making machine. I’ll have two small cheeseburgers all the way, a bowl with and a sweet milk, thanks.*

Now, anyone who knows the Texas Tavern might infer that my analogy implies that dealing with PassageMaker will leave a foul taste in your mouth, give you gas and make you reach for the antacids. Not so, though if you choose to visit us in China and have a desire to stretch your culinary boundaries to say, Sichuan cuisine, I am not responsible for the results.

Whether hot dogs, Cheesy Westerns** and chili are to your liking or not, the Texas Tavern serves good honest fair quickly and efficiently, available all hours of the day and night, for affordable prices. The food is cooked directly in front of you, nothing fancy, and all transactions occur at the time of sale, in cash.

This is in fact a perfect analogy for The PassageMaker Model of Trust & Transparency in China. There are no smoke and mirrors and our success is dependent on our performance in full view of the client. Our three basic service offerings – Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination and Assembly-Inspection-Packaging – were formulated to provide a simple honest solution to the typical problems people faced doing business in China.

“Now if it’s so darned honest, why demand all payments in advance? Don’t you trust me?”, you ask.

Whether I trust you or not is immaterial. We insist on cash-for-services for very simple two reasons:

Reason #1 is that China as a whole operates on cash. You want me to be open tomorrow? Then pay me cash today. Chinese vendors actually use your deposit to buy the raw material for your order. It is the credit trap that contributed mightily to the death spiral of the US automotive industry – when you have to finance your customers for 3-6 months, the system is broken and the relationships are poisoned. PassageMaker, like all China vendors, requires at least partial payment in advance. Having seen both systems up close and personal, cash in advance is far more direct and far more honest an approach.

So Reason #2 is to maintain the honesty. If we don’t allow the moral hazard of credit, everyone stays happy. Expectations are clearly defined and can be easily met. The debtor is not slave to the lender. And I’m not up at night angry because you owe me money.

PassageMaker can introduce you to banks, to venture capitalists, or to angel investors. But we’ve found that being the low cost source of China services does not mix with playing the deep pockets. It crosses the streams, if you will. Just like the Texas Tavern will not alter its menu or offer credit, we offer our simple and elegant service, take it or leave it. And if you want ketchup with that, please get out now.***

Translations for the uninitiated:

* Two small (biscuit sized patties) cheeseburgers with raw white onions, pickle relish and mustard, a bowl of chili (beans mostly) with (chopped raw onions) and a sweet milk (as opposed to the default buttermilk). Heaven for around $5 (and for around 30 minutes before you need the aforementioned antacid).

** Cheesy Western = large cheeseburger with fried egg, over easy on top, all the way of course. Health food is wildly overrated.

*** No ketchup is ever served at the Texas Tavern. May it always be thus.

The importance of food (and drink); or learning to love Pig Brain Soup

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Business books aplenty have been written on the importance of guanxi or relationships in China. And most of them are boring, so I won’t add to the pile.

From my personal experiences over the last 15 years in Asia, as a round-eye you build relationships by eating anything put in front of you and drinking too much. And bringing Purchase Orders.

Thankfully, I like nearly everything I’ve eaten in China. I’d traveled extensively in the USA, Mexico, Europe and Africa before I ever set foot in Asia, but my first night in Singapore in 1994 changed my whole life. And the food was what really hooked me. Prawn mee soup, jumbo prawns cooked in a banana leaf and Tiger beer at 2 AM in Newton Circus. I’d never seen any of this food before, didn’t know it existed, never seen a Chinese spoon, never used chopsticks, yet it was all like mother’s milk. I learned to use chopsticks in about 30 seconds, and to this day I eat noodle soup for lunch at least 3-4 days a week. Tiger is still my favorite beer.

From this experience, I’ve become a more adventurous eater (and drinker) than you’d expect for someone raised in Salem, VA. That adventurousness has served me well in China. When you visit a supplier, it is de rigour that you be hosted for a lunch or dinner banquet. Chinese street food is generally light and nutritious (oh, how I miss the vegetable dishes at the little restaurant around the corner from our office), but the banquet dishes are lavish, heavy and designed to show off and feel you out. Oh, and get you blind drunk in the middle of the day. The Chinese eat darned near anything, especially the Cantonese, so get ready for offal, strange ingredients and powerful flavors and scary textures.

If you hold up under this onslaught of unfamiliar cuisine and frankly toxic baijiu, you pass the test and provide your hosts with some entertainment. If you wind up in the hospital from food or alcohol poisoning, it is even more entertaining for them. But if you flat refuse to partake for anything other than religious reasons, you establish yourself as a wet blanket not to be taken seriously.

So what to do if you just cannot summon the courage to drink snake wine or eat pig brain soup? Option 1 – stay home and let the PassageMaker team deal with the vendors. Option 2 – come to China but let us arrange your trip and we’ll make sure you are not exposed to the scarier fringes of Chinese cuisine.

PassageMaker wants to make sure you enjoy your experience dealing with China, even if you never visit. And I frankly want to keep my record for days on an IV and days hungover after a banquet (4 and 5 respectively) intact.

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P.S. – It’s really delicious. One of my favorite dishes. I’m serious.