David vs. Goliath (a.k.a my former employer) Part 2

                                                                                                               Do It Yourself

I had no idea that 2 little pieces of paper would take so much effort to obtain. You know in the beginning of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana has to escape the cave dodging darts, holes in the ground, sun triggered spikes, tarantulas, and that gigantic ball? I’m a bit jealous, that would be fun compared to the crap I had to do to get a couple pieces of paper. Obviously I’m joking, I’m not sure I’d handle the spider part without freaking out and running into, of course, the sun triggered spikes.

Back to point (sorry) but getting the documents needed was more complicated than it needed to be. As stated in Part 1, to switch my visa from my school to PassageMaker (PM) I needed a letter of release from my school basically saying I’m not working there anymore, and a cancellation letter from the Shenzhen government. For the past week I’ve been trying to get the visa lady at my school to go and cancel my stuff for me (so my visa could be switched) *Background- the lady at my school, whose job is to deal with foreign employer visas DOESN’T speak a word of English. Helpful I know, right?

China changes many of the rules regarding foreign employment. For instance last year, my contract finished in June, but my visa was good until late July (so I could travel). This year though, the government doesn’t want foreigners traveling on work visas so the amount of time from work finishing to visa expiration is much closer. For me my teaching contract ran through July 15, and my visa expired July 21. Now I finally got the visa lady at my school to cancel my documents YESTERDAY July 14th. Meanwhile wonderful, sweet, amazing Lydia here at PM has applied for me and gotten approved my employment with the government. AND she has potentially gotten everything ready for me to get my visa extended in about 1 week. Ridiculously amazing, YET it took 4 days of Lydia and I hassling my school to get them to do twenty minutes of work.

So the visa lady (believe me I want to use names, but have been denied) goes and cancels my stuff yesterday. Today I went to get my letter of release from the school which she refused to give me until ‘xingqier’ or Tuesday in English, the day BEFORE my visa expires, basically ensuring that I’d have to go to Hong Kong and get a new visa. I ask her to call the labor department for foreigners to see if I could get it. She refused. I ask for my letter again, she refused. I literally hop onto the subway and walk there in person, and am handed the letter 30 minutes after I get there. Amazing! If you actually make an effort you get things! She looked positively flabbergasted (I like this word! Don’t get to use it that often) that I got my letter when I showed up demanding my letter of release.

So this is just one tale, but it was a doozy. There’s more to come. I will say that it would have been helpful to be able to speak Chinese myself, but it doesn’t always work that way. Here at my company though, we have Chinese translation services available if you want to check on products, companies, etc on your own. Of course PM does this too (Quality Control, factory searches safety/inspection and translation) and you’d get my gratitude for helping to keep me employed by choosing us!

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 3

                                                                                           Always read the fine print folks

Within Part 1 of this series of blogs I mentioned my skill in reading and finding important stuff within law documents. Not only did I develop this skill, I also developed a knack for finding really crucial and important sh…, um STUFF in contracts (whether I’ve signed them or just reviewed) and so here is the 3rd part to this epic story (mind you these posts are all about the past 2 days) – “Always read the fine print folks” and I’ll tell you why:

My coworker and friend from the Dominican Republic, (I’ll simply just call him ‘V’) and I both decided to quit teaching and do something else (oh yes, all my previous posts written can be applied to him as well). Now Friday July 9, I was told that I didn’t have to come in this past week if I didn’t want to (no need since I wasn’t returning). But I had books to return and needed to clean out my desk so I said that I’d be in on Monday only. Now I have a strong philosophy that if you’re going to sign your name to something (contracts especially) you had better read it carefully. I have read my contract more times than I probably needed, but boy I’m glad I looked it over one last time on Sunday July 11th. I noticed and caught a huge clause in our contracts (V and I have the same contract, just signed at different times. We both used the same agent- more on that later).

This is a direct quotation from my contract- #11 from the Appendix of the contract states “If party B (me) works the full year, Party A (Goliath see above) will pay the agency fee. If not, Party B will pay the agency fee.” The same thing is stated in Chinese in the same space. Now right below that, the owner of the school/headmaster and my signatures are there along with the official stamp of the school. (Everything official needs a red stamp, no stamp, not official, and therefore not binding)

So I call up V and say “hey look at your contract #11 and tell me if you’re thinking what I’m thinking. See V and I (and all other teachers who use the agent) paid the agent via a salary deduction, equaling half of 1 month’s pay. We certainly weren’t too thrilled to give up that kind of cash (to V and I that was 5,000rmb apiece), but we needed the job so we took it in stride. But wait! There was clause #11 saying that the SCHOOL will pay the agency if we work the whole year. Of course the school didn’t tell us about this. But we paid it, so now we should get reimbursed for this right? It was certainly cut and dry to V and I. So Monday morning first thing, we went in and asked about this. The conversation went like this:

Me-“we’d like to talk to you about this clause in our contract saying that the school will pay the agency fee”

My boss- “no we don’t give you that money. We never do this for any foreigner, we told you this (they never mentioned this) we don’t do this”

V and I- “Well ok, we’re going to the Foreign Labor Bureau and we’re going to report this to the government”

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 4

                                                                                                   The Great Fapiao quest of 2010

So after V and I tried to professionally discuss issue #11 (as we called it), we did as promised and went to the Foreign Labor Bureau to see what could be done for us to collect this money owed to us. There was more shuffling between places going on than in a casino in Vegas (just came to me, great right? I know!) V and I finally though got sent to the correct place to make our grievance and see what could be done. We explained our story, (pretty cut and dry, they owe us money, the contract says they would pay something we paid, therefore we are owed money) and had the Bureau employee help us contact the school on our behalf. Heck even SHE said that it was very simple, and that they should follow the contract. But of course with this school nothing is that simple, and so they told us that if after a follow up meeting to sort this out, our next course would be arbitration.

So now it’s Wednesday July 14, V and I meet together to call the school to set up a dialogue with the owner/headmaster, or to collect our money owed. 3 phone calls and 5 text messages later we STILL had heard nothing. The office told us that our boss (who should call the owner/headmaster) was in a meeting. Meanwhile another coworker (I’ll call him K) said our boss was not only in the office but that she just ignored my call. We sent a final message saying, meet us or we’re going back to the government. Within 10 minutes (I like how I have to be a prick to get an answer) I had a response saying, be at the school for a meeting at 9. We said we’d be there at 10:30 and began preparing for them saying no and subsequently going to arbitration.

10:30 yesterday (Thursday July 15) we show up, our boss is in the office waiting. “About the money, its ok, but you need to get us 5,000rmb worth of fapiaos (a tax receipt). And if we didn’t get the fapiaos we wouldn’t get the money, but we had time to gather them up. Initially we’re like ‘ok’ and she leaves really quickly. After calling Mike asking for a fapiao and explaining things, he explains that what they’re doing is illegal. (Mike and PM in whole are pretty knowledgeable about tax laws here. Just look at the section on about VAT and you’ll get an idea)

So basically in a nutshell they were asking us to spend 5,000rmb in order for us to get 5,000rmb owed to us. Meanwhile they’d take our fapiaos and get tax breaks/refunds from the government. That’s big time illegal, so we were doing our best not to oblige. Next came the fapiao quest. V and I are calling friends, asking for fapiaos, and our friend K suggests going to the agent. We think yea, that works, that’s 5,000 right there. We go there talk to the guy for a while, and get back with what we think are fapios in the amount of 5,000rmb.

So we take these to the school, and they’re immediately rejected, b/c they’re apparently ‘just’ receipts and NOT fapios…..

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 1


Well the day has come. I’ve finally started my internship with PassageMaker (PM) and China Sourcing Information Center (CSIC). As I said in my introduction I’ll be writing about my life here in China, and the subsequent issues that come with living (especially living in China). Boy o boy I’ve got a hell of a whopper to tell! It’s filled with so much b.s., controversy, triumphs that I may have to separate these into a few posts. The back story-

I went the route of many Poly Science majors in college thinking that I’d eventually end up going to law school. With that in mind, I took a lot of classes focused on early American politics along with Middle Eastern politics with the idea of doing international law. Now in the right group, I’m an expert in both of these fields. I also took some law classes and excelled at nit-picking my way through case law to find the R.O.L (rule of law) and other pertinent things. Fortunately this skill came through for me in the clutch! Now the meat of the story and truly a remarkable/unbelievable/ (insert cheesy Dennis Miller wordage and you get an idea) experience.

My first year in China I worked through a group called CTLC (highly recommend them if you’re interested in teaching in China) [ß shameless plug I know, but I owe ‘em one].

My second year here I didn’t get back in the group and so I went out on my own. I hired an agent (mistake #1 of many to come) and in turn they got me a job at a poorly run school whose name shall not be revealed [slander’s a bitch I’m told] in Futian district. There are 9 districts in Shenzhen btw- Luohu, Futian, Nanshan, Yantian, Bao’an, and Longgang being the main ones; {Luohu being the home of myself and PassageMaker}.

Everything seemed okay at first as it does with any job you have (crossing my fingers that the honeymoon here lasts forever because already it’s night and day in comparison between the two). Now for foreigners, to work in China we must obtain a working or Z visa. You have the Z visa, and your life in China is gravy. You don’t and you can have some real problems. Through a lot of trials and such, I finally got my visa for the school in early April (another blog of explaining needed to explain the debacle that was getting my visa).

Fast forward to June; Mike has hired me to be an intern for American owned and operated PassageMaker, and I’m thrilled to be joining PM, a company you can trust with true communication and transparency. I chose PM, over local alternatives for the same reasons you should too (seriously). I notified my school of my intent to not sign another contract with the school in mid June, within a week after getting hired by Mike. They said they were sorry to see me go (I was jumping for joy- just not at that time b/c that’s just mean). I asked for them to help with getting my cancellation letter* and they said ‘sure no problem’ hahahaha! Well let’s just say, it sure was a problem

*In order to switch jobs and visas, an employee must get a cancellation letter from the government and a release letter from your old employee. This allows your new company to get you a working visa with said company

David vs. Goliath (a.k.a. my former employer) Part 4 cont’d

                                                                                             The Great Fapiao Quest of 2010 cont’d

Just for clarification. A fapiao is like a tax receipt. Basically the Chinese government has some difficulty in getting businesses (especially restaurants since they can open and close so quickly) to pay taxes to the government. So the government created the fapiao/lottery system. You get fapiaos at restaurants that have a scratch off section and you can potentially win money (I’ve yet to win money yet). But how it is a tax payment is- you ask the restaurant for a fapiao and they bring you the equivalent amount to your bill. But when they run out of them, they have to buy more from the government. So they pay their “taxes” by purchasing fapiaos. And the system is overall the same with any business (i.e. a company has to get fapiao sheets from the government).

What my school was wanting was fapiaos from us, so they could in turn get a tax break by saying that they gave us the money as a reimbursement expense. Anyways, the accountant has rejected our receipts which led to me getting A LOT of practice with my minimal Chinese. V and I were livid! The school called the agent explaining things and then in turn the agent talking to us. Turns out, the agent gave the school OUR (V and I) fapiaos. So the school took our fapiaos and told the government that they paid us this money without telling us! So they defrauded V and I of our money and the government! My pre law background kicked into high gear. I told the agent off! Those are our documents, and sometimes police or anybody else who gets curious can audit us at anytime and without fapiaos as proof we can get in serious trouble. I threatened legal action against the school AND the agency for this move. Surprisingly they didn’t budge.

By this time, V and I are exhausted and are nearly ready to quit. BUT we had gone too far, so we went fapiao searching. Fortunately I had enough to cover us both (as V was quite short) and 6 hours later we had our money. Money mind you, which was OWED to us.

So it’s been an interesting few days to say the least. There was lots of crap to deal with even with me giving my old school a year of my services. One has to be careful who they choose to deal with in China. My example is probably quite tame to some of the things that other foreigners have had to deal with. If you’re going to be working or doing business in China, please pick someone reliable. Yes that takes time, effort, and some money, but you won’t regret it. PassageMaker has had some clients for nearly a decade. China is all about the “guangxi” or connections. With PM in your corner, you have more than connection. You have reliability, product confidentiality, rebates (see VAT on our site and trust. Trust is something not to be taken for granted here. Trust me; you DON’T want to go through the ringers like I did, ESPECIALLY if you have shipment deadlines or a certain budget to follow.

By request, my recipe for Singapore (Hainan) Chicken Rice – soon to be world-famous!

img00017 20100524 1918

An email from a client:

Hi Whit!

I am no longer receiving the PM blog.?? I only have my iPhone as I have been in *********. Hope to reconnect soon.

My, I feel like a heel for not blogging more often. Blogging should really be a team effort, and so I am happy to announce that our new intern, David Bruns has started a Sourcing Blog to document his experiences learning the China sourcing game in the trenches.

I’ve had many readers of this blog tell me to get back to food and travel blogging (yes, I still owe you the photos from the April trip) and to post some more recipes. So since it is summer and I REALLY don’t feel like working, I am going to give you one of my favorites, “Singapore Chicken Rice”, more properly Hainan Chicken Rice, hǎi nán jī fàn, 海南鸡饭.

img00017 20100524 1918

Now before I get into the specifics of the recipe, understand that I have developed a system that reuses the stock from each iteration for the next dinner. The roughly 2 gallons of chicken stock I use is by now a treasured resource, having had dozens of chickens cooked in it. To call it rich is an understatement. If there’s a house fire, get the family out, grab the photo albums and the chicken stock from the freezer. You will not be able to buy stock that flavorful in a store, so your first attempt at this recipe won’t taste like mine. By the 10th or 12th time, you will start to understand why my children clamor for my chicken rice over pizza or hamburgers.

If you want to start with something close, here’s how I make a pot of stock:

  • at least 4-5 chicken, turkey, duck, goose, etc. carcasses, broken or cut apart
  • smoked ham hocks (these are usually available in the meat department of a grocery store, usually packed out at about a pound), and any other pork bones you may have (ribs are great)
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • two white onions quartered
  • handful of pepper corns
  • 2-3 large carrots washed or peeled and sliced in half lengthwise and chopped coarsely
  • 3-4 large celery stalks washed and broken or chopped coarsely
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 12 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
  • 1 bay leaf
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 large boxes of chicken stock from the store (yes, really)

I crush the garlic with the flat of my knife and cook in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a big stock pot. When the garlic is fragrant and before it burns, pour in the first of the chicken stock. I was always taught to make stock with stock, so if this is your first pot of chicken stock, you’ll need to buy some. Note there is a BIG difference between chicken broth and chicken stock. The broth is flavored water, the stock has collagen extracted from the bones and herbs / spices and is the better choice. If your store carries no stock, use the broth, as it is better than water.

Start adding the bones, breaking or cutting the carcasses into smaller pieces. Add the peppercorns, onions, carrots and celery and remaining stock and top off with enough water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam and scum that will develop. Reduce heat and boil for about an hour, regularly skimming the scum / foam.

Reduce heat to a simmer and add the bouquet garni of leek, thyme, parsley and bay leaf, tied together with butcher’s twine, or you can throw in loose. Top off with water or more stock as needed to keep the bones submerged. Cover and simmer for at least 4 hours, and you can really go as long as you like. By 8 hours, the bones should break easily in your tongs, as all the collagen has been extracted.

Filter through a wire mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth and freeze for later. Now that you have about a gallon or two of frozen stock, you are ready to actually make the Singapore Chicken Rice.


  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs
  • 10-12 cloves garlic
  • 6-8 green onions
  • large piece of ginger, 3-4 inches long
  • 1 small jar minced ginger
  • kosher salt
  • sesame oil
  • dark soy sauce paste
  • chili sauce
  • short grain rice – I prefer Tamaki Hiaga or Tamaki Gold
  • 1 bag of ice (10 lbs)
  • 6 pack of Tiger beer (or Tsingtao or Harbin or Anchor or whatever – just get some beer)


  • two large stock pots – I like Cuisinart – with lids
  • one smaller pot lid that will fit inside the stock pot
  • small frying pan with cover
  • Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker – this is an indispensable piece of equipment. If you don’t have one, get one. If you won’t get one, follow these instructions. And then go buy the rice cooker.
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Regency Soup Socks
  • tongs
  • cooler
  • bottle opener

The first step is to put half the bag of ice in the cooler. Put the beer on ice. Make sure to save half the bag of ice (about 5 lbs) and keep in it the cooler or in your freezer.

The stock should be frozen, so set it out to thaw. The chicken fat should have separated into a layer on top. Scape this off into a bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chicken in lukewarm water in the sink and remove the organs and neck from the cavity. I also cut the tail off at this point as well. These pieces can be discarded or kept in the freezer for the next time you make chicken stock. I always have a trash bag in the freezer to save up fowl and pig bones and scraps.

In one of the two stock pots, brine the chicken. That is, submerge the chicken in warm water with plenty of salt. I use a handful of kosher salt to start and add more until it stops going into solution. Let the chicken brine for 30 minutes.

Put the frozen block of chicken stock in the other stock pot and start melting it over medium heat.

Now for the rest of the mis en place,

  • take 5-6 cloves of garlic and crush roughly
  • take the other 5-6 cloves and chop fine
  • rinse the green onions and trim both ends, but otherwise leave whole
  • peel the ginger and slice lengthwise into thin (1/8″ – 1/4″) strips

Rinse the rice – I usually make 4-6 servings using the Zojirushi measuring cup – in the fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Put the drained rice in the rice cooker.

The broth should be completely unfrozen by now and the chicken fat should have melted as well. In a small frying pan, heat the chicken fat over medium heat, and when hot, add the finely chopped garlic and at least one tablespoon of the minced ginger (I eyeball it). Make sure to cover the frying pan so it doesn’t splatter everywhere. Cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan constantly until the garlic and ginger are fragrant. Pour the contents of the pan on top of the rice in the cooker. Carefully ladle the chicken stock from the stock pot in to the rice cooker to the fill line. Start the rice cooker.

Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and fill the cavity with the crushed garlic, green onions (fold them up so they fit) and the sliced ginger. Put the chicken in the Regency Soup Sock (what a great invention) and add it to hot chicken stock, breast down. I use another smaller pot top to keep the chicken submerged. Cover and bring to a boil. When you reach a boil, reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Boil for 10 minutes per pound.

Wash out the stock pot used for the brine and fill about half way with cold water. If you have room in your freezer, put it in there to get really cold.

A couple minutes before the chicken is done cooking, add the remaining ice to the cold water in the stock pot. Carefully lift the cooked chicken from the hot liquid and plunge it into the ice bath. You need enough ice water that the chicken will be completely submerged without overflowing the stock pot. The ice bath stops the cooking and congeals the fat under the skin, which is critical to proper Singapore Chicken Rice.

Let the chicken rest in the ice water until cool to the touch inside and out. Lift from the ice bath and drain well. Remove the Soup Sock, discard the herbs from the cavity and pat dry. On a cutting board, rub the chicken well with sesame oil. Then carve the meat, taking care to keep the skin intact. I do not follow the Chinese tradition of cutting through the bones, as I like my teeth the way they are, so I joint the legs and wings, discarding the wing tips, and carve the breasts off whole and cut into manageable pieces across the grain of the breast.

Let the chicken stock cool and strain and refreeze for the next time. I prefer using one BIG plastic container rather than a bunch of smaller ones – I recommend Rubbermaid.

I usually serve with Pai Huang Gua and my stir fried greens.

Give each diner a small dishes for dipping sauce. I make mine of roughly equal shares of sesame oil, dark soy sauce paste and chili sauce. You can also add black vinegar if you like. Serve with a bowl of rice (make sure to fluff the rice well when cooking is done) or make a bed of the rice and lay the chicken across it for each diner.

Each bite of chicken should be dipped in the sauce. If you didn’t overcook it, the chicken should be just done, even a bit pink – this is how it should be. Done right, this is the most tender chicken you will ever eat.

Finally, open an ice cold Tiger beer and enjoy!

Late night article dump

So everyone in the office has been riding me to post more often. Of course, no one wants to do any of the heavy lifting and help. That would be too logical and…helpful.

The last two weeks have been full to the brim with visitors from central China, Hong Kong and Germany (yes really, here in Salem, VA), sales calls, and computer crashes (my God, does Microsoft suck – Apple, I’m comin’ baby).

I have some great food and travel blogging drafted, but it is 3:15 AM, and I’ve been going since 7:00 AM yesterday, so you get some random dreck, DJ-style, like the great Instapundit (and yes that’s me hoping for some linky love). I’ve been saving these up for a while, but they are still current and topical.

  • Reuters – Google phases out Microsoft Windows use: report – GOOD; Vista is a war crime and the entire Office 2007 suite should have resulted in public hangings in Redmond. How do you screw up Excel with stoopid menus? I swear they could mess up a calculator.
  • Financial Times – Rival tablets ready to bite into iPad lead – and they’re not even talking about the knock-offs you can buy on the streets of Shenzhen.
  • The Anchoress – Witnessing the heart as it cracks – UPDATED – this is now quite dated by all the other bad things that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. I only post it here to make the point whether you like Obama or not, having a President in the White House who the entire world (especially our Chinese creditors) see as an incompetent fool is not a good thing.
  • New York Times – Virus Ravages Cassava Plants in Africa – This is quite sad, as Africa has enough problems. I will be interested to see if the new colonial masters, the Chinese, come to the rescue with either aid or a scientific solution. Somehow I doubt either scenario, but I sure hope I am wrong.
  • AutoblogGreen – Study: Mass adoption of EVs in China will lead to tremendously higher emissions – It took me several minutes to stop laughing after I read this. That Law of Unintended Consequences really is a bitch. I love it when the local tree-huggers tell me about all the green technologies in use in China. I wish I had a clear photo of the street lamps on a showpiece stretch of highway from Liantang to Buji. The bulbs are fluorescent and the lamps have solar collectors and windmills! They should be totally awesomely green, right?! Except there is no consistent wind, the smog blocks out the sun and the bulbs are all broken. Other than that, they are on the right track.
  • The Telegraph (UK) – Chinese hiding three million babies a year – I know far more young people in China with siblings than the One Child Policy would suggest. Anyway, as Mike is famous for saying, “there are 1.3 billion people in China – people be ****ing.” Speaking of which…
  • The Sun (UK) – Saying Sorry to China with Sex – Well, I for one applaud the young lady for trying to heal such old and deep wounds. I mean, what have YOU done today to atone for the atrocities in Nanjing? On a similar note…
  • Good**** – China’s looming woman shortage: 5 possible consequences – this blog post is safe, but please note the site itself is NOT SAFE FOR WORK as the blog title suggests. Despite the location of this post, the point is very valid – such an imbalance (India is said to have a similar problem) is a huge flash-point as Beijing tries to control China’s rapid ascent.
  • Walter Russell Mead – Marx Awakes as China Rises – an erudite end to this post. If you don’t read Mr. Mead regularly, you should.

Actually, I have to end with some key words to boost our SEO, since that’s the original reason for this blog in the first place. So here goes:

Contract Manufacturing, Contract Packaging, Contract Assembly – rah, rah, rah, sis boom bah! Please feel free to contact me about our contract capabilities!

4:00 AM – good night, Irene.

Not (entirely) Safe For Work weekend post

ChinaSMACK is a window into the bizarre world of the Chinese internet. I regularly link to the oddities found therein. And while it is a window into a foreign world, it only provides snapshots that titillate and excite conversation on Chinese chat-rooms. Thus it is often the equivalent of watching helicopter footage of police car chases in LA. You might deduce something useful about life in LA from what you see and the insightful (*snort*) commentary of the reporters, but more likely it is just mindless entertainment.

This article appeared on ChinaSMACK today, Naked Chinese Girl Mentally Ill, Traumatized, or On Drugs?

The frontal images are pixelated, the rear images are not. I would argue that this is harmless, but you judge the culture of your office. WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I post it for the following reasons:

  1. The event takes place in Shenzhen. I swear this is Luohu district. The background looks so familiar, I bet this is near our old office.
  2. Notice the way she just walks through traffic and then hops the barrier fence – the one designed specifically to keep people from walking out into traffic. This is not a sign of mental illness. EVERYBODY does this in China.
  3. Notice the barely controlled chaos – the masses of people, the traffic, the noise. This is not because there is a pretty young woman running around naked. This is all day everyday in Shenzhen and every other place I’ve been in China. Most Americans cannot imagine the demographic density of Asia.
  4. Notice the unguarded construction site. While major digs with have walls built around them, it’s very common for smaller projects to be completely wide open, with people walking right through the middle, dodging around the construction workers.
  5. In my experience, the Chinese gawp at anything that outside the norm, including tall, fat white guys walking down the street. You should see some of the looks I get walking through Liantang.
  6. They are also charitable and helpful in my experience. Maybe it is because I am a lao wai, but I don’t think Kitty Genovese would have happened in China. There is a genuine effort to help her.
  7. The bare feet. The Chinese know that the streets in the major cities are beyond filthy. EVERYONE wears slippers around the house and would NEVER walk barefoot on the street. This is sure sign this is not a stunt. Even if she were a model paid to act crazy for some bizarre promotion, I am confident she would have retrieved her flip flops. That’s why the camera pans down to capture the image of the abandoned footwear.
  8. The omnipresent and yet soft police presence. Cops are everywhere in Chinese cities. Yet, I have never seen them bestir themselves for anything. I mean look at how the cop DOESN’T react when she climbs from the back seat of the cop car into the front seat. That would be impossible for a dozen reasons in an American police car – handcuffs, barriers, cops tasering you and then beating the crap out of you to name a few. I am almost convinced that as long as you don’t murder, rape, steal, sell drugs, or criticize the government, you can get away with anything. Jaywalking, reckless driving, spitting on the sidewalk, littering, public drunkenness, panhandling – those are all just fine. Indeed, it can be argued they are integral parts of Chinese culture.
  9. She’s naked. I mean, come on…

Have a great weekend!

Blogging is hard work

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

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

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

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

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.