My first time with Singapore Chicken Rice

Yes, more food-borne analogies to ruin your day, dear reader. Hey, it’s Sunday.

My first 24 hrs in Asia in 1994 changed my life. I knew instantly I was hooked on Asia’s dynamism, the very excitement of just walking down the street in a part of the world so obviously on its way up, but it was the food that sealed it. Prawn Mee Soup with fish balls was the first meal I had on that summer night 15 years ago, and I still eat my homemade version at least twice a week.

But the signature dish of Singapore is “Singapore Chicken Rice”, more properly Hainan Chicken Rice, hǎi nán jī fàn, 海南鸡饭, from the Chinese province where the dish originated. And while I have it regularly whenever I am in Asia, I had never braved it on my own until a couple weeks ago. Now I must admit I cheated and used a box mix given to me over a year ago by my friend, a professor in Singapore. Despite under-cooking it the first go round and having to re-poach it (which made a colossal mess), despite using the wrong kind of rice, it was… not terrible. In fact, it was pretty darned edible!

So emboldened by my partial success, I pulled out the cookbooks with the dauntingly complex recipes. What had before seemed impossible now made sense. I tried it from scratch this past Sunday, no spice mixes or packaged sauces and everyone loved the results! I’ll keep trying different types of rice and with each attempt refine ‘my’ recipe, but I am no longer intimidated.

One of the reasons I enjoy cooking is the creative aspect, but as an operations guy, I also enjoy the process. A recipe is essentially a set of work instructions, usually poorly written. They leave out steps, get seasoning wrong, cooking times off. I usually have to make something 2-3 times before I know how it should work. The cookbooks are only the roughest guide.

One of PassageMaker’s greatest strengths is our ability to write solid bi-lingual work instructions that capture those critical nuances that make an assembly process actually work. The differences between a successful product and a warranty claim are minute – a torque setting here, an adhesive application there – but they are critical. When your money is on the line, don’t you want a team that knows how to cook and write a good recipe?

October is Global Sources Trade Show Month!

With the China National Day holiday behind us, the trade show season starts and Mike Bellamy will be in Hong Kong hosting Global Sources’ China Sourcing Fair’s Buyer Education Conference as well as holding separate seminars on issues of Vendor Coordination and Intellectual Property Protection. You can find information on Mike’s seminars here and here.

PassageMaker and China Quality Focus will also exhibit at the following booth #’s on the following dates:

10/12 to 10/15 PassageMaker booth 5B34

10/20 to 10/23 PassageMaker booth 10L38

If you are in the area, please attend a conference and visit our booth. Also, we encourage all clients to take a half a day and pop across the border to visit to our facilities in China. Seeing our offices and Assembly Center will be much more rewarding than a quick visit at the show. Let us know if you need assistance making travel arrangements, and hope to see you in Hong Kong!

80% of success is just showing up

A famous quote from Woody Allen, and 100% true.

When Mike Bellamy started PassageMaker, he was working out of his living room. He had no work force, no infrastructure, just his own willingness to work and work and work until the job was done. He showed up, plain and simple.

PassageMaker made plenty of mistakes in those early days. But Mike kept showing up, over and over, and he learned from his mistakes. He listened when a client (like me) told him what he was doing wrong and how to do it right.

And I listened and learned as well. Mike’s great innovation was to separate the service offerings from a set base of vendors. It was not an easy sell in a world dominated by the trading company model. It took real guts and vision to chart a new path and stick to it.

Since that epiphany, PassageMaker has added our Assembly Center in Buji, including the precision Medical Assembly Center, and has grown from 3-4 people working in the founder’s living room to a company with around 150 employees worldwide. Still small enough to care about the success of each of our clients, but big enough to provide the depth of services our diverse customer base requires.

Mike and I and the rest of the PassageMaker Team showed up and the success of the PassageMaker Model of Trust & Transparency speaks for itself.

No, it’s a want to issue

Cogitating on the 60th anniversary of the PRC, one cannot fail to consider the current state of the USA, and as a microcosm, our domestic automotive industry.

Yesterday, it was announced the deal with Penske to buy Saturn fell through, and so dies another GM marque. In this case, I have a personal interest, as I drive a Saturn. I bought it on one gruesomely hot day years ago. I remember the day quite clearly, as at the time I was traveling quite a bit and had rented a series of then-current Detroit iron to evaluate the offerings. I had settled on a Dodge product (yes…I know), and due to the repairs required to keep my very old Ford running, we could delay no longer. So with pregnant wife and little girl in tow, we went car shopping.

Before you cut in to to ask why Mr. China, Mr. All-Things-Asian here has a problem with foreign brands, just don’t. It’s complicated and irrational bordering on schizophrenic. Just stick with the story.

And before you interrupt again and ask why Mr. Captain-of-Industry drives a Saturn, here’s why – cars, like horses, are for riding. For basic transportation. When one dies, you get another one. If you need to a car to show the world how cool you are, you’re not. If I show off anything in this world, it’s my wife.

But I digress.

Now, I’ve lived in Singapore, Taiwan, and spent considerable time in South China. I grew up working summers in Virginia factories without A/C. I cut my teeth as a manager in a South Carolina metal stamping plant that (surprise) got hot in the summer time. I can handle the heat, but the parking lot of that Dodge dealership reminded me of the scene from Lawrence of Arabia where they have to cross a stretch of desert called “The Anvil of the Sun”. My daughter, not yet 3 if I remember, just wilted. I thought my wife was going to have heat stroke. The BEST part – the part that still informs my concept of customer service to this day – was that I could see the entire sales staff in the air conditioned office, drinking sodas and looking out the window at us – the only customers in the place – in-between telling jokes to one another and calling their girlfriends on the company phones.

After 10 minutes of cooking my family and waiting for someone to bestir themselves to come sell me a car, i.e., do their jobs, I loaded the family into the wife’s Oldsmobile (yes…I know) and drove 300 yards down the road to the Saturn dealership. One (1) hour, several bottles of cold water and snacks to reconstitute the toddler in the A/C, later and I had a Saturn. Yes..I know. It’s not a great car, but it is fast enough, gets decent mileage and is (apparently) invisible to radar. 100k+ miles later, and it is still going strong. In that time, the dealership has always been friendly and professional. I will sincerely mourn seeing these hardworking and decent people lose their jobs. They have done nothing wrong other than sell and service a decent people-mover at a fair price.

And the Dodge dealership? It got its franchise revoked by the Obama administration. Now when you drive by its empty lot, you are greeted with huge banners saying “YES, WE’RE STILL HERE! PARTS DEPARTMENT STILL OPEN!”. I won’t comment on the political or economic wisdom of that move by the government but as far as it applies to this particular dealership?


All this was put into sharp focus by this brilliant piece by the about Cadillac’s attempts to return to the top of the heap. As the article points out, Cadillac’s recent product offerings are excellent, but after so many years mediocrity interspersed with chunks of mind-blowing awfulness, the recent successes only get you back in the game. You have to maintain this level and build on it for at least a decade or more before you have a chance of getting back on top. And the author, Peter M. De Lorenzo, fears as I do that Cadillac won’t. Here are the key paragraphs:

Because it will take an all-consuming passion of total commitment – a relentlesswant to, if you will – on the part of the entire organization, something that currently only appears sporadically and only in some quarters of the division.

It will take a clear understanding of who they are and a clear vision as to where they want to go (an idea that perhaps sounds a bit too simplistic, that is until you’ve been inside some of these organizations and realize how difficult it is to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction).

It will take a focused consistency in their design and engineering regimens and particularly in their product execution. What does that mean? If Cadillac is to be Cadillac again, the people toiling in it need to understand that the division’s recent resurrection to respectability is only that, respectability. It’s not a ticket to “the club” yet. Yes, the CTS-V is an incredibly outstanding machine, but it shouldn’t be the culmination of where Cadillac wants to be, because it’s just the beginning. Every single new Cadillac must bristle with the kind of creativity and executional excellence that’s evident in the CTS-V if the division is to attain real greatness.

If Cadillac wants to get back – all the way back – to the reputation it once enjoyed and thrived upon then it has to put its stake in the ground and understand that the raison d’etre that once propelled it to greatness, that brand image that was seared in the consciousness of consumers for decades has to not only be renewed, it must be embellished and enhanced for this new age.

Laughable? Not from where I sit. This isn’t a technology issue or a talent issue, because Cadillac has everything it needs to succeed as a luxury-performance automaker.

No, it’s a want to issue.

China was once the top of the heap. 1000 years ago, anyone visiting this planet would have taken one look at the Middle Kingdom and decided that was the place to be. And then they stumbled, became complacent and fell far behind. Now they are charging back. And there is no question in my mind that they have the want to part of the equation figured out. Frankly, sadly, I’m not so sure about America anymore.

As I’ve said before, China is back, and saying so isn’t anti-American or pro-Chinese. Mike and I saw this coming more than 15 years ago and planned accordingly. We realized then, as I cautioned students at my alma mater last month, there are easily 3 billion people on this planet who want your job. The world is an intensely competitive place. If you want to succeed you have to get the want to part down.

PassageMaker has grown in 10 years from one guy with one customer to a company of 150 people with customers around the world. Mike and I and the rest of the PassageMaker team have the bricks-and-mortar and the technical capabilities, either in-house or through our Endorsed Service Providers to make your project a success if China sourcing is required. But most importantly, for us, want to is not an issue.

Sick of China

I’ve been an expat several times in my life, from studies in the UK to stints in Singapore, Taiwan and China. All were relatively short, so my sense of excitement and wonder never wore off. For that I am grateful.

I’ve known expats who stayed away for 15 years or more, and many were counting the seconds until they could return home. They were “Sick of China” (or India, or Mexico, or Japan…you get the idea). The thrill was long gone and the tedium and irritations of daily life – amplified a hundredfold due to their surroundings – were sadly all that remained.

In the last few years PassageMaker has picked up a wide variety of new clients, but the ones that make the biggest impression on me are successful mature companies who have been doing business in China for 15 years or more. Why would a profitable company with that many years under their belt turn to a “sourcing company” like PassageMaker?

If we were just a sourcing company, that would be a valid question. But PassageMaker brings real bricks-and-mortar to the equation and provides a much wider range of services than just sourcing. Our core services – Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination, Assembly-Inspection-Packaging, Logistics, Factory Formation – are so flexible that we can easily tailor them to suit a client’s requirements, whether providing quality control for millions of dollars worth of electronics or creating a consolidation regime to control VAT and shipping costs. These mature clients see our services as not just a cost-saving move, but as a hassle-saving move. When you talk to them, you can hear that they are sick of the day-to-day attention success in China requires. They just want to go home and have us handle it for them.

Mike Bellamy has been in China full time for 12 years and is happy right where he is. PassageMaker is NOT sick of China, and we will be happy to take over for you whenever you wish.

Why I love the circus

One of my favorite things to do is take my family to the circus. I like them all, but my favorite is Cole Brothers under the big top, the way a circus should be.

I love circuses because you can’t fake it. Everything is live, and it all depends on the elegant combination of individual skill and teamwork.

PassageMaker has grown in a decade from one guy (Mike Bellamy) working in his living room after his day job with one customer (me), into a company with over 150 employees and a global sales force. We serve clients in nearly every conceivable market segment; we participate in supply chains ranging from global OEMs to the next hit on DRTV; and even in this recession, we continue to grow. Our facility in Buji includes a highly sophisticated medical assembly center that specializes in sterile manufacturing, assembly, inspection and packaging of certified medical products used around the world (“clean room” doesn’t really sum it up).

There are a million trading companies in China, all who claim to be the right partner for your business. But there are things you can’t fake. When you work on the high-wire without a net, you’d better be for real. Our track record proves we are, so sit back and enjoy the performance.