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Day 37 – Home

Day 37 huanggang border crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 37 huanggang border crossing

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

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

Day 37 huanggang shenzhen skyline

Day 37 huanggang to hong kong

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

Day 37 views of hong kong

Day 37 container ship

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

Day 37 hkg entry hall

Day 37 hkg entry hall 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 37 roanoke regional airport

Day 37 clear and cold at roa

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

Happy to be home.

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

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

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

Articles, articles, articles…

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

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

Killjoys.

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

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

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

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

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

Day 28 dance practice

Day 28 dance practice 21

Day 28 dance practice 3

Day 28 dance practice 4

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

Day 29 its not mons beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

 

Stupid ads solving non-existent problems and other bad sales pitches

I’ve been cogitating recently on some of the marketing campaigns out there that seem almost designed to not sell the product or otherwise turn off customers. What the **** were they thinking?

The creepy plastic faced Burger King ad campaign has won awards in the ad industry, but resulted in a declining market share for the client. I refuse to take my kids there. The food is nasty anyway.

Microsoft’s TV ads for their new “decision engine” Bing show people experiencing “search overload syndrome“. Apparently, people using those other plain old search engines get too many random results and become confused. It’s never happened to me, or anyone I know, but let’s do a little test.

Google “china assembly and inspection“. PassageMaker is #1 and #2 on the natural results.

Yahoochina assembly and inspection“. PassageMaker is #1 and #2 on the natural results.

Askchina assembly and inspection“. PassageMaker is #1, #2 and #3 on the natural results.

Now Bingchina assembly and inspection“. PassageMaker is #1 and #2 on the natural results.

Wow. Do you think they can ask the advertising agency for their money back?

Although Bing is prettier and it is nice to see our friends at China Quality Focus at #4 in their natural results, their ad campaign turns me off. If you have to tear down your competition to sell your product, you don’t have much of a product. To the folks in Redmond, how about making amends for the twin travesties of Vista and Office 2007 by givingaway the upgrade to Windows 7 instead of charging $200, before everyone calls it quits and switches to Mac?

What’s next? Ads warning everyone away from that horrible Firefox 3.5, now that it has taken 25% market share? Not bad for a free browser developed by an not-for-profit foundation. Oh, and it’s the best product on the market. That’s got to hurt.

I switched to Firefox after buying a new HP laptop earlier this year with Vista (yes, I know). I had no choice as the old XP machine was nearly dead and wasn’t ready to make the running transition to Mac (though after 6 months of Vista, I am now). The default security settings made Internet Explorer 7 completely unusable – after 3 or 4 days of trying to figure out how to configure the security settings to allow normal browsing without constant warnings, blocked pages, etc., I installed Firefox and I will never go back to IE. They lost me for good.

US Cellular is aggressively promoting their new “battery swap” program with radio ads in my area. The idea is you forget to charge your battery, so you drive to the store to swap your perfectly good but temporarily depleted battery for a fully charged one. I guess they figure if you are in the store anyway for such a reason, you might just be dumb enough to renew your contract ahead of schedule, buy a new phone when the old one still works, etc. The first thought I had when I heard this campaign was “boy, business must really stink”. Are uncharged batteries a problem requiring a multi-million dollar as campaign? I have a charger in my car, in my office and a spare in my brief case. Methinks poor phone sales are the problem, so how about reducing the prices on the plans or offering better phones?

Yesterday my wife told me about a phone book salesman (I still can’t stop laughing at that one) who came into the boutique where she works and tried to renew the ad for this year’s yellow pages. This was the second salesman from the same company that day to visit with the shop owner trying to get this ad. The owner says no, she’s launching her website this month, she’s well established, premium location, and she doesn’t need the print ad anymore. The salesman responds with “everyone who cancelled their ads last year went out of business”. What?! That is the worst line I’ve ever heard, even if true! How about encouraging her to buy the ad to promote the new website? Keeping the ad for her older clientele or new students at the local colleges? There apparently is a rung lower than used car salesman.

Now Apple is trying to charge $1000 in China for an iPhone that is Made in China when in the USA it costs $600? My first impression was maybe I need to reconsider that Mac purchase. How is charging nearly twice the price not trying to alienate the PRC market? There are many other options for smartphones in PRC than the USA. I mean, why not just post the “ no dogs or Chinese” signs (supposedly an urban myth, but you get my point)! Dan Welygan, one of our sales reps and formerly a project manager in our Shenzhen office tells me this is common practice, to charge outlandish prices to capture the cream of the market. I am sure he is correct, but considering it lacks wi-fi, and the Hong Kong versions have been available on the gray market for 2 years, this is not exactly a new device. I’ll be watching to see what happens with Droid or some other iPhone killer when it hits the China market. My gut tells me this is a mis-step for Apple.

The primary reason why I joined PassageMaker was because it was a positive environment and a positive message. We sell Trust & Transparency – the services themselves are almost incidental. Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination, Assembly-Inspection-Packaging, Logistics, VAT Planning, Factory Formation , etc., all provide solid value to the client, and are so flexible and fungible that we can do pretty much whatever the client needs.

I tell all our sales reps that they don’t need to talk down our competition. There are other good companies doing business in China. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. We don’t need gimmicks or mascots or incentives. We are selling exceptional service, fair pricing and peace of mind. What more do we need?

The truth shall set you free.

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?

good.

All this was put into sharp focus by this brilliant piece by the Autoextremist.com 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.

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.