Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shenzhen YouTube Models

I'm sorry for not posting recently. I've been really busy with a number of projects. I've also been traveling a lot on business trips. Blogspot has also been re-blocked by the great firewall sooo... ugh.

Anyways, to kick back posting, I wanted to show everyone a Shenzhen video on Youtube. While there are normally thousands and thousands of videos from the west, Chinese content is rarely posted. This is definitely a needle in a haystack...

Talk about Shenzhen "model" culture...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Olympic Tickets

When I first moved to China, I promised myself that I would go to the 2008 Olympics. I have a lot of friends and family in Beijing and it seems about right that I go for the festivities. Not only will there be awesome events, it's a great way to celebrate China's growth and revival.

A few months back, I applied for tickets online. A couple of days ago, i received confirmation of the tickets that they're going to give me. Out of the 10 different events I wanted to go to, I didn't get anything in ping pong, basketball, badminton or swimming. Those tickets were already lottery-ed off. I going to see fencing, beach volleyball and a event in the National Stadium, though.

There has been rumors that not a lot of foreigners are going to come to the 2008 Olympics. I dont believe this. I bet there are going to be a ton of travelers coming for it, and if they don't come, Chinese people will just have to take all the seats.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Inside the toy recalls: Mattel's sins

It's been a few weeks since the Mattel toy recalls first started. Since then millions of toys have been taken off the shelves all over the world, a Chinese factory owner hung himself and the "Made in China" name is being dragged through the dirt in the US media.

Just about everyone in the US has jumped on the hating. There have been countless examiniations into the saftey of everything China makes and an unseen fervor has developed. Democrats and Republicans alike are attacking China as the now "irresponsible" global production machine.

While I can not make any statements regarding food recalls or underware, as a person who has worked in the toy industry (my job was to liason between the factory and the US design staff), I see this situation really clearly:

It isnt really the Chinese company's fault!

During the design process, there are a lot of considerations for safety. Only certain materials could be used for certain aged kids and the spacing between motorized parts had to be a certain width. Above these basic restraints, all of our toys had to pass a RoHS standard. This applied to the entire packaging, the paint, the materials used, the parts, everything. Before being able to ship any toys, we had to submit them for testing at a hong kong third party. Only with certification from this third party could we ship to Walmart, Target, ect.

In order to pass these tests, we had to control our supply chain. Every shipment of materials were individually checked by our on-site Quality Control team. If anything was wrong with the shipment, the QA team would not accept the entire stock and demand the sourced company to redo it.

In essance, there were atleast 4 different levels of quality assurance: During design, supply chain, manufacturing and third party testing before shipment. Of course not all shipments were perfect and things did slip through the cracks, but no products were recalled when I worked there. None.

So with my own first hand experience, I was terribly shocked when I heard of Mattel's recall. How could the biggest toy company in the US allow so many millions of toys be shipped? What happened to all of the different layers of testing and retesting. Also, why didnt the US media find the real reasons for the problems instead of making China the scapegoat?

Well finally, someone did. Only in today's NY Times has there been any mention of the innate problems within Mattel's business.

Mattel has been manufacturing in Asia far longer than many companies (the first Barbie was made there in 1959). That led to long-term relationships with certain Chinese contractors, many spanning decades. Paradoxically, that appears to have contributed to Mattel’s problems: the longer it outsourced to a factory supplier with good results, the looser the leash became.

During Mr. Eckert’s tenure, the company has scaled back the number of companies it uses and the fraction of Mattel toys that they make, but it allowed its more reliable suppliers to do their own regular toy testing — with spot tests by Mattel only every three months.

The two contractors that caused this month’s recalls were among the most trusted. Lee Der Industrial, the supplier involved in the first recall, had worked with Mattel for 15 years. The Early Light Industrial Company, the contractor that made the Sarge cars in the second recall, has supplied toys for 20 years.

Mattel became so confident in their China production that it basically gave all control to their subcontractors. Instead of making sure they had final say of what toys were being shipped, the left it up to their Chinese counterparts. What responsible company would decide to do that? No smart company would ever think of giving all control for their products to someone else.

Still Mattel execs want to refocus the blame on the Chinese:

“I think it’s the fault of the vendor who didn’t follow the procedures that we’ve been living with for a long time,” Mr. Debrowski said.

I guess Mr. Debrowski has never worked in a Chinese factory (like I have). Maybe if he worked there for 2 weeks, he would see that Chinese employees need constant attention. Only micromanagers with attention to detail can actually confirm that any processes are used. Without this oversight, any "procedures" are just random words on paper.

All in all, the real issue is money. The real reason why Mattel gave so much autonomy to their contractors was because they wanted higher profits. In order to have their own staff oversee and manager the production, QA and other processes, it would cost Mattel much more money. Instead, they calculate the cost and overhead of the Chinese manufacturer, add 15% for the Chinese company's margin and not worry about anything else. For a toy that costs the Chinese company $1.20, Mattel sell it for $4.50 to Walmart. That's quite a profit.

Whey they're making that much money, who cares about a little lead in the paint?

Ultimately, no one is really blaming Mattel for this. If you read the NY Times article, you can see that the underlying tone of it is pro-Mattel. Even the title, After Stumbling, Mattel Cracks Down on China, shows the bias.

The US (and world) media will continue to attack China while the real culprits enjoy their high profit margins. I guess it's just another symptom of globalization.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chinese Version of the "Birds and the Bees"

I was hanging out with a friend a couple of days ago, just screwing around, wasting time. My friend has a belly button ring, so I was joking around that she was hampering her reproductive organs.

This might not make sense for my western readers....but in China, when kids ask the world-wide question: "mommy, where did I come from", they are told, the belly button. This answer, although weird, seems like a very natural choice now. This is what my parents told me when I was young.

When this topic came up, I continued to ask what my friend's parents also said to her. She responded with: They told me that they found me in a dumpster. (我是在垃圾里面检出来得。)

What?! What are Chinese parents thinking? I know it is hard and uncomfortable to talk about sex with a kid so sometimes, flat out lying is not too bad.

However, Chinese customs have gone way beyond this. Parents, instead of doing the "birds & bees" story tell their children that they were adopted. Not only were they adopted, but their previous family threw them out into the trash, only until your parents rescued you.

What a fucked up thing to say.

Come to think of it, my parents told me that I was found in the trash too...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

China & Morality

One of the most interesting things about living in China is the underlying sense of morality.... or the lack there of.

From my time living here, I really believe that anything and everything can happen. Although the vast majority have a decent sense of what's right and wrong, a lot of people clearly don't have it.

Business ethics? Who cares.

Insider Trading? Common place.

Cheating for self gain? Standard.

One recent event that shows the turbulent and frequent questionable nature of what is real/fake and right/wrong occurred in journalism.

The west often accuses Chinese journalism as censored, government approved and basically propaganda. Although everyone and their grandmom knows that there is a natural sensitivity for the government on certain issues (like falonggong, protests) on the national scale, journalism on the local level is more open than I had previously thought. There are definitely news reports, on the radio, in TV and print describing corruption, crimes, and other unsavory events. Although there is a vail lifted over the average Chinese person, it's not as thick as everyone thinks.

Well, about a month ago, a Beijing journalist described a very interesting story about food vendors putting cardboard and other undesirable materials into food. This scary story caused a stir in local and national headlines and was quickly picked up by CNN international sources.

The whole country was in outrage. Police and health inspectors started checking everywhere. Foreign press lamented and criticized China, ect. ect.

And all the while, the story was fake...

As CNN reported through Reuters:

Beijing police have detained a television reporter for allegedly fabricating an investigative story about steamed buns stuffed with cardboard at a time when China's food safety is under intense international scrutiny.

Beijing authorities said investigations had found that an employee surnamed Zi had fabricated the report to garner "higher audience ratings", the China Daily said on Thursday.

"Zi had provided all the cardboard and asked the vendor to soak it. It's all cheating," the paper quoted a government notice as saying.

After I read the original report, I spent a while thinking about the stuff I put into my body every morning before going to work. I also thought about the other crap that could be in the foods out there. I was almost freaking out.

So while I, and many other people were freaking out (like me), while the whole country was in outrage investing food processes, standards and regulations, and while the international community criticized the Chinese government and its standards as another example of inept corruption of the "communist regime," the story turned out to be fake.

So, creating this panic and international incident was just a chance to get higher ratings, and a future promotion. Wow.

This is China.

The reporter has since been tried and sentenced to 1 year in jail and a fine. Good times.

Before leaving this topic, there is another issue that is involved here. I would not be surprised if the story was true and the reporter was telling the truth. Instead, the culprit could be the authorities who are trying to damage control. Different agencies could have ordered that the reporter be the scape goat so that the government could deny these accusations with more footing to foreign trade partners... what if...

Ultimately, no one knows what the hell is going on. It doesn't matter if you believe one side, or the other. They are all playing with the same, cheating deck of cards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chinese Thieves Revealed

This is an issue that everyone who lives in a big city has to deal with. It's something unpleasant, disgraceful, kinda sad, and ultimately just sucks.

Yes, I’m talking about thieves, pick-pockets, purse snatchers, whatever you want to call it.

As a relatively forgetful person, I’ve had many encounters with people taking my stuff. The first time was probably in the 1st or 2nd grade when someone stole my bike in Ohio. My BMX "Batman" bike was great but some kid probably saw how cool it was and rode it away when I didn’t lock it up tight.

During my time in China, I have always been warned by my friends and relatives to be careful of thieves. They often recount horror stories they hear on the news: A guy walking around is stabbed for a cell phone or wallet, and guys on motorcycles drag a yuppie for a ways while trying to snatch her purse.

There are other stories about gangs of people working as a pack (ie. Ocean's 11 or Gangs of NY). I believed that these stories were true, but I had never experienced it myself.

Tuesday Morning, 7:10am, 东门中 bus stop.

I was waiting at the bus stop to go to work in the morning. Suddenly, a bus stops in front of me. Out jumps 2 guys followed by an angry women yelling and screaming, kicking 2 guys. You assholes, you tried to steal my cell phone!!! Fuck you!!

After her rant, she got back on the bus and it drove off. I watched this episode play out right in front of me. I had nothing else to do and it was kinda funny. Before I went back to sending a text message, I took a quick glance at the 2 guys as they walked away. No big deal.

5 minutes pass and I get hungry. I'm still waiting for my 106 bus, but I wanted to grab some breakfast nearby. I start looking around my stop to search for street vendors, and I immediately see one of the guys on the other side of the bus stop, creeping around.

I cant believe it, these thieves were going to work my stop!!

Different scenarios immediately popped into my head. Did I want to beat them up for being thieves and be the savior? Did I want to pretend I didn’t know what they were doing and try to be a "victim" of theirs? I finally decided on passively observing their interactions and how they operate.

As I watched them work, it seemed clear that they were not "professionals." When “professionals” come to mind, I think of Matt Damon pulling some guy's wallet on the bus in Ocean's 11, or the train snatch in Ocean's 12. These guys, although they probably did it for a living, were not that good. They didn’t have the look, feel or skill of a professional. What they did have, was the balls.

These two guys operated as a set. One guy (thief1), the one in the white dress shirt with black, cross shoulder bag pretended he was a regular guy going to work. He definitely looked the part. He walked around the stop, looked at the bus schedule, huffed and puffed and pretended to be late. At other times he would bust out his cell phone and pretend to start talking on it like he had important business to attend to.

Good concept, bad acting.

It was ultimately his job to locate the target, start talking to the target and work that avenue.

The 2nd guy (thief2) in the team of two was the guy dressed in all brown and his arms crossed. He stayed back, leering at different people and waited until his partner to make the initial move. After the thief1 started talking to someone, the thief2 would slowly move up behind the potential victim and set up shop. Again, the picture above shows them in action targeting a young guy in the black shirt (who's talking to thief1).

I observed thief2 much more than I did thief1. What I saw was that thief2 was very blatant in what he was doing. He would stay back and hang out to let his partner initiate the contact. However, when he was standing there, instead of being discreet and relaxed, he started looking around, almost too excited to maintain secrecy.

Whenever someone passed him, he immediately looked at their bag, wallet, cell phone, ect. There was no discreteness at all. It was like a fat kid looking into the glass of a cake store. Half the time when he was staring at everyone's bags and cell phones, almost drooling at them, I wanted to grab him, beat him up and then give him a lesson about covert operations. I'm no thief/pickpocket, but I bet I could do it a lot better than he could!

Ultimately, after these guys stayed around for 10 minutes, they didn’t see many good targets so they moved on to a different stop.

What's funny is that on 2 days later, I saw the duo again working the bus stop. However, after I got there, they immediately got onto a bus and left.

From my observations of this duo, the easiest way to recognize a thief is to look into his/her eyes. Most of the people doing petty theft are amateurs from the countryside. They are usually too greedy and too stupid do be discrete.

The eyes reveal all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sex and China

A couple of weeks ago, I was with a bunch of friends and cousins at KTV place in Shenzhen, singing kareoke. Although I dont do that much singing (i'm a drinker at these things), I did notice something very interesting.

In between when songs are played, there are different ads and commericals displayed on the monitors throughout. These are usually promotional material for various drinks or cars. However, one really stood out to me.

It was a 10 second ad that featured, what I thought, was a cartoon figure shaped like a condom with disclaimers. At first, I didn't really understand it, but after conferring with my Chinese cousins, I figured out what was going on.

It was an ad for condom use and awareness for HIV/Aids. The ad basically wanted everyone to use condoms, and stated that the KTV places would distrbute them for free to any of its patrons.
Wow, I thought... some KTV.

So, it looks like it's working.

When issues of human rights, politics and censorship comes up to westerners, many use the argument that more trade with China will not only open up the country and its 1.3 billion people as consumers, but also help change the society and culture with it as well.

Well, i guess its partly working... in the form of a mini sexual revolution.

By no means am I refering to a trend that more people are having unprotected sex with a side of drug use (like in the American 1960s). What I am seeing is the quick and rapid development of a more open understanding and acceptance to sex and human sexuality.

A recent International Herald Tribune article entitled "A People's Sexual Revolution in China", describes the current explosion of sexuality in media.

Even five years ago, mainland books and magazines were banned from showing pictures of scantily clad models or publishing content that was deemed offensive or morally corrupt. The only sexual content to be found was in sex education pamphlets or books of nude Chinese women sold as "art works" at big city airports.

Today, however, with the Chinese economy booming and the government loosening its hold on the personal lives of everyday citizens, magazines are beginning to publish soft-core pornographic photographs, sexual fantasies and even clues about where to pick up call girls.

This change in sexuality has also been seen in the governmental policy towards HIV/Aids and condoms.

A few years ago, there were very few places where condoms could be bought. The Chinese government also denied the existence of HIV/Aids in China as well (kinda like the Reagan years in the US) Fast forward a couple of years and condoms can be bought everywhere. In every supermarket and convenience store, condoms are displayed and sold at the cashier next to the Peanut M&Ms. Recent reports by Reuters confirm that various government ministries have

has ordered all hotels, holiday resorts and public showers to provide condoms, part
of nationwide efforts to fight the spread of AIDS.

What I originally thought of as a progressive KTV place being responsible for its patrons has actually turned out to be a nation-wide campaign that not only helps prevent STD/STIs, but also, in a sense, further liberalizes and modernizes Chinese conceptions/stigmas regarding sex and sexuality.

Good job, China. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Chinese Bus Inspection

I hate working on Saturdays.

I’ve said it once; I’ve said it a thousand times. Working a half day on the weekend really changes my whole routine…and it’s probably one of the more annoying parts of my job.

However, every time I commute to work to work on a Saturday, it seems that I see something interesting. Last time I wrote Shenzhen: Diversity of Languages that was initiated from my Saturday bus ride. On my most recent Saturday commute, I saw something interesting regarding regulation of buses.

I have a lot of choices for buses going from my apartment to the factory. Although there are direct buses that do the job, when I’m pressed for time, I take more frequently occurring buses and transfer later. I would take the first bus about 90% of the way and get off at the 沙弯海关 stop. I would then wait for a Shenzhen mini-bus (which is still allowed to operate outside of the main city limits) to the front of the factory.

On this particular day, I was waiting at the沙弯海关 stop and saw a group of 3 men in official uniforms, hanging out at the stop. I didn't make that much of it at first, but when a minibus finally arrived, it got pulled over. One of the men in uniform boarded the bus and asked for the workers to get off. From a distance, I could see the officer examine the interior of the bus. The bus driver quickly and very “graciously” showed the officer all of his proper paperwork for the vehicle as well as the necessary worker permits for the employees.

Although I thought the inspection was interesting, I was initially more annoyed than interested. My boss at work gave people shit for being on time. If you were late, he would castrate you in front of everyone. With this in mind, I was constantly waiting for other buses that would take me the final few stops.

During my wait, 3 buses came and went without stopping at the designated stop. Just as these buses were slowing down, the driver would notice the minibus being examined by the officers and speed off. When I noticed that no one wanted to be inspected, I just had to find out more of what’s going on.

As I walk back towards the minibus to talk to the 2 officers on the side, I noticed that the examining officer was now onto the bus exterior. The officer walked around the minibus, checking out the bumper, the sides, license plates, everything. It was definitely very thorough.

When I asked the officers what was going on, they explained that this was a standard inspection that takes place every 2 months. They are looking for anything that violates safety and regulatory standards for buses. There were also supposed instances where some buses were “fake”. These black buses were not registered and were impersonating real buses. (Anything is possible in China).

The minibus ended up passing the inspection which took about 8 minutes total. And since no other buses were stopping, I quickly got on. As we left the stop, the driver quickly got onto his cell phone and radio intercom to warn other bus drivers that an inspection was happening at the沙弯海关 stop. I guess everyone wanted to avoid these safety exams.

I guess it’s just another day in Shenzhen, China.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chinese Firing @ the Factory: Power to the People

Since I’ve been working here in Shenzhen, there have been a lot of people that have been fired. While I haven’t yet witnessed the firing processes in American companies (for myself), I think I have a good idea of how its handled and the necessary customs. In my experience, the Chinese process is…let’s just say, different.

As I’m writing this my secretary is in the process of cleaning off her desk and gathering her personal belongings. The head of the R&D department just fired her at 8am on Monday right after she came in for work.

To tell you the truth, I never really liked my secretary from the beginning. Although she was a smart girl and proficient in computer work, she was lazy and forgetful. It seemed like that she was always sitting at her desk (which is right in front of me), doing nothing while other people were running around. She had no initiative in doing anything. I personally would have never hired her (but our hiring process for my department sucks too).

From my sideline view of this current firing, and other ones previously, I have noticed 3 distinct parts: the before, during and after.

The Before

Before a person is informed of his or her firing, everyone else in the office already knows. It spreads like wildfire. Before my secretary was fired, there were mummers of it for the previous week. “Oh, the manager 马上要赶走她,” my costing engineer whispered to me a few days ago. All of this is talking is done quietly in the background. People whisper the info back and forth until just about everyone knows. Well, everyone except the person getting fired.

In reality, it is pretty well known who is going to be fired a long time before it actually happens. For subordinates and lower ranking members of the staff, their fate is always controlled by their boss. If the boss doesn't like you, there is a good chance that you’re going to get the ax sometime or another. The only complication to this is that sometimes your boss does not have the authority to fire someone (like me). So when my previous project engineer, Thompson, was fired in December, I had no say. Instead, my boss did it. He didn't consult with me or any members of my department on anything. He thought that Thompson sucked and needed to leave… so he acted on it. Simple as that.

For higher-level managers, the process is more secretive, but just as clouded and immediate. Just a couple of weeks ago, the 2nd highest ranking person at the factory (who was in charge of all of the production) was let go. Her firing was a surprise to many of her subordinates, but not to the higher ups. I had heard a conversation between the owner and COO about the possibility that she was “skimming off the top” more than 5 months before the event. That’s a long time to be working when your boss already knows you’re going to be gone.

Although there are “justified” firings, most are just a play for power. Anyone and everyone is expendable at any given time. No reason needed. The thought of what is right and wrong goes out the door. Power is the only thing that matters.

The During

After a person is informed that he/she was fired, he/she are immediately on an island. It doesn’t matter if it is the highest manager or a low subordinate; everyone is somewhat frustrated, embarrassed and quiet. No one talks to the person getting fired.

In reality, what does one say when they’re friend was just let go and told to clean off their office? I don’t know. Instead of getting involved with the person and having compassion, everyone goes right back to work. The person that was fired is left to his/her embarrassed/shocked/angry state before going to HR to collect their pay before they officially leave. It is a miserable time.

This process of collecting one’s stuff and filling all of the paperwork takes atleast 2 hours. Due to the extended time this takes, in some instances, the fired person’s replacement is already on the job before he/she leaves. That’s just not cool. Not only does the company blindside you, but they’ve been preparing for it for a while. That’s the only way they have your replacement all ready to go. Awesome feeling.

The After

After the person officially leaves everyone basically returns back to normal. They start talking again, reminiscing about the firing process and how the company sucks for doing what it did. They talk about how just or unjust it was. This standard tradition is always in the form of shallow whispering.

Almost immediately after the person leaves, a notice is sent to all relevant departments, informing them that certain processes (that the fired person was in charge or apart of) will be altered. There is no fanfare or nostalgia from the company. Business as usual.

As a partial observer of this always ongoing drama, one thing has always bothered me. 65 years ago, the communist revolution in China brought power “to the people.” The proletariat and the peasants got all the power from the oppressive and corrupt land owners. How is it that now, in a still “communist” society (whatever that means), the people at my factory, have no power… or any semblance of power.

There is no collective action or unionization. There are no negotiations for worker’s rights, wages, benefits and working conditions. There is only silence.

Whenever someone is fired, no one speaks. Even if their firing was an awful display of corruption in the most unjust manner… nothing.

Just silence.

A few days later, 2 guys in the prototype department were let go. This time, it really did come out of the blue. No one knew what was going on. They were called in, and told to leave immediately.

When I asked the rest of the proto department what had happened, they were silent. Each and every person just looked down and went about their business. The 2 guys had been working in that department more than 5 years each. They were great buddies with everyone, consistently going out, eating, drinking, playing basketball and working together. Now they’re gone and no one could (or would) do anything about it.

This is the state of Chinese communism.

Power to the People.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Challenges ahead for the iPod & iPhone in the China Market

In college it seemed like that I was the only one without an iPod. Everyone had one. Not only did consumers in the US embrace the iPod, Shuffle, Nano, ect., they also bought up the Powerbook laptops, G4s and now.. iPhones. Everyone.

In China, its a different story. Apple has very little presence here. Although all of its products are manufactured in the factories in Guangdong province and Shenzhen, no one actually has them here. When I have my iPod out on the subway or bus, everyone stares at it. They've never seen it.

What Chinese people have seen are the generic iPods. Since everything is produced here, there are hundreds of small factories and software houses that have copied all of Apple's products. These generic mp3s, and mp4s (with color video capability) have been out on the market for many years. It's possible to get these wholesale for less than $10... and Chinese people have been buying them. Apple and its products have little, if any presence here.

Well, i guess Apple is attempting to change that. In recent months, there has been a significant and growing presence of Apple marketing. Not only are they opening more specialty shops in the most glamorous malls, but they are also putting up ad campaigns on the street.

2 days ago, I also (finally) saw an iPod commercial on Chinese TV. It was the same exact one that Steve Jobs showed off at this year's Apple convention (where he introduced the iPhone)... instead it had Chinese subtitles on the bottom. Good start.

We'll see how the Chinese market develops for Apple and its wide range of products. It's success here is far from certain, however, as many people have discussed the issues of it. A great post on Silicon Hutong called "The iPhone is not for China" has already described a hard market for Apple to tap into. This is probably why a Chinese company has already made an alternative to the iPhone. Only time will tell.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Chinese College Entrance Examination - 高考

June 7,8,9.

Every year, these 3 dates are the most important dates for millions of Chinese students (and their families and friends) taking the annual Chinese College Entrance Exam.

The Contra Costal Times has a great article titled "College exam impacts all of China" that accurately describes the test process that influences soo many people each and every year.

College admissions in China is strictly based on the score from the test.

Unlike the U.S., where standardized test scores are just one factor weighed by universities, how Chinese students do on the "gaokao" determines everything. Students list their top three schools and their major and hope their score is high enough to win a place.

Extracurricular activities do not count, and neither do high school grades. And forget writing about volunteer work; there are no essays to persuade admissions officers.

Every student is tested in 5 different areas. Each student is required to take the Chinese, English and Calculus test. The final 2 areas are different depending on the student pursuing a Bachelor's of Arts or a Bachelor's of Science degrees. They take History and Social Studies versus Physics and Chemistry, respectively.

Each test is scored on a scale of 150 points for a maximum possible of 750 points. Each university has a low cut off point. The top universities like 北京大学 choose first and pick the best students. Students with more than 600 points are considered. Those who were not chosen are then available for the next schools. This process goes on until all of the spots in every university are filled.

This process is accurate for the vast majority of students in China. A few percent of students go to school in other ways. These might include going to a specialized school where the student was recruited. Just as schools in the US recruit for sports, Chinese schools recruit for sports, as well as other areas of study.

Chinese gaokao has been such a important thing that kids are tutored and nurchered at a young age, to be ready for it. College exam impacts all of China describes a mother waiting for her daughter to finish the test.

Li Yukun gripped a bouquet of pink roses, a gift for her 18-year-old daughter who has been tutored every weekend since middle school.

"These 12 years have been so hard. These roses are to show her that I care, it's been so hard for her, not one day of rest," the mother said.

Due to the importance of the test, high school in China has also become a "breeding ground" and very different than its US counterpart. The typical Chinese high school lasts 3 years. In the first 2 years of high school, a student takes all of the classes as a normal US high school student with new material. In the 3rd year (senior year), high school transforms from a place of learning to a place of preperation. Instead of learning new material, the entire year is used to review and focus on the old material (in order to be ready for the entrance exam). Students prepare with extensive study sessions, mock tests and outside tutors.

Years of study, hope, investment and hard work all comes down to the exam. Make or break. Win or go home.

June 7,8,9.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shenzhen Restaurant Sanitation

When I first moved to Shenzhen almost a year ago, one of the first thing I adjusted to was the food. It is very well known that different areas of China have vastly different cusine... which means that I wasnt initially used to the soups and the seafood.

One of the things I didnt expect to see was a difference in pre-meal practices. In Shenzhen, before any ordering or eating is done, everyone washes their bowls and utensils with tea. The process goes something like this:
  • First the hostess pours tea in the customer’s tea cup
  • The customer swirls the tea back and forth in the cup so that the tea touches all sides.
  • After doing so, the customer pours the tea from the tea cup into the bowl in a process that also passes the tea by the chopsticks and spoon.
  • The customer swirls the tea inside the bowl
  • He pours the tea into a communal bowl depository, which the hostess takes away and discards.

This process is supposed to help clean the utensils and make them more sanitary to eat from. (I don't know how effective it is.) It is definitely an established tradition that everyone here in Shenzhen participates in.

Recently, there have been increases in the number of restaurants that send their china and utensils out to be sanitized. After cleaning the china with their heavy duty machinery, the sanitizing company then sends the cups and bowls back in convenient and individually wrapped plastic. This is to ensure that all of the materials are clean and sanitary. Restaurants usually charge the customer 1 RMB for this service.

Although many customers do not think this charge is a big deal, the majority of Shenzhen is talking about this outrage. I recently heard talk radio programs condemning this unjust charge. Here’s their argument:

  • It is the restaurant’s duty to provide clean and sanitary china and utensils for their patrons.
  • Because it is the restaurant’s duty and responsibility, (many believe that) any cost for this should be within the operating cost of the restaurant and should not be directly charged to the consumer.
  • If this charge is to be charged to the customer, then it should be done in a fair way. The average cost for a restaurant to perform this sanitation service is only 0.40 RMB. Why are restaurants charging 1 RMB for the service?

This issue has been debated and talked about for the past weeks on the internet and different radio shows. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, keep a watch out for the nicely packaged china and utensils at a restaurant near you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Future China/US Trade War?

There has been an abundant amount of coverage on the possible US sanctions towards Chinese goods if China doesn’t appreciate the yuan at a faster pace than it is doing currently. Paulson: China must implement reforms describes current US Treasury Secretary’s view of what’s going on.

Paulson said there is agreement in principle between the U.S. and China on the need for greater yuan flexibility. The discussion is about "the pace" of change.

"They're moving, but they're not moving, in my judgment, quickly enough," he said. "China is by far the largest" economy that doesn't have a market-determined currency, but enjoys the benefits of the global economy."

In a 4/21/07 article entitled Paulson Says China Must Yield `Tangible Results' on Yuan, Trade, Paulson described the possible consequences and repercussions if China doesn't act quickly.

"The American people are concerned, Congress is concerned and there's a lot of protectionist sentiment'' toward China, Paulson said in an interview on the ``Charlie Rose'' show on PBS television following his speech in New York." The more tangible reforms we see, the easier it is for me to deal with Congress.''

"There will be some, I believe, unattractive bills that are voted on in Congress,'' Paulson acknowledged. "I think the Chinese are very well aware of this -- I think they should be aware of it.''

Other parts of the Bush Administration have also taken action by imposing import duties on Chinese glossy paper and by filing 2 complaints to the WTO for copyright infringement and piracy.

The feeling of uncertainty in Chinese and US relations changed 2 days later in another Bloomberg piece by Matthew Benjamin. In his story, called Paulson May Be Unable to Get China, U.S. Off Collision Course, Benjamin painted a grim picture if reforms in the Chinese currency doesn't happen soon.

Without steps to allow a significant increase in the yuan, which most economists consider unlikely, Paulson may not be able to continue holding off moves in Congress to punish China.

"After years of talk and bluster, protectionism no longer seems like an empty threat,'' says Stephen Roach, chief global economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. "Trade sanctions against China are now all but inevitable.''

These increasingly real threats come with the backing of Congressional democrats who maintain that they would achieve “strong and effective legislation is likely to pass with a veto-proof margin.”

Although it might seem that the appreciation of the yuan is all but unavoidable, Benjamin also shows the hidden side of the currency struggle, relating both US and Chinese workers and businesses.

When China allowed a small rise in the value of its currency in 2005, Hangzhou food-company executive Wang Yuzhou saw his profits squeezed. Any further move threatens the livelihoods of his 1,000 workers and the 5,000 rural households that supply his plants, he says.

John Walker says China's currency policies have already cost 100 jobs at his Lewisburg, Tennessee, die-casting company. He wants the U.S. Congress to do "whatever it takes'' to force an increase in an undervalued yuan that he contends gives an unfair advantage to Chinese competitors.

Citizens on both side of the Pacific Ocean have money, family and livelihoods at stake. It is often easy for Americans (me included) to jump into the US perspective (of John Walker) while being ignorant of Wang Yuzhou’s plea.

But what can China do other than to appease the US on their currency appreciation wishes? The answer lies in a recent 4/18/07 NY Times article. China Leans Less on U.S. Trade describes the readjustment of China’s global trade strategy.

At booth after booth at China’s main trade fair (Canton Fair) this week, the refrain from Chinese business executives is the same: the American market is not as crucial as it used to be.

Instead, Chinese producers of everything from socket wrenches to sport utility vehicles say, their fastest growth these days lies in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere in Asia — in other words, practically anywhere other than the United States.

So it is throughout China. With ample support from the Beijing government — including a flurry of trade missions to Africa and assistance with trade fairs in Germany, Australia or someplace in between — Chinese companies are poised to expand into the markets of many of the world’s rapidly growing economies.

By placing the focus on new markets for the abundant amount of Chinese goods (produced in cities like Shenzhen), Chinese businesses are beginning to hedge their profit margins and risk.

The government and companies across China increasingly see a danger in becoming too dependent on a single market (USA). So they are stepping up efforts to sell to other countries, particularly those outside the industrial world.

This change in direction is a small but important step for China. Maybe in the future, they will not need to be so dependent on American politics and their tariffs.

On the other side: what would happen to the US if cheap Chinese goods start decreasing?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Shenzhen Driver Licenses for Newbies

A lot has been made about the Auto Shanghai 2007. A Shanghai Daily article entitled China shows prowess in clean-fuel vehicles describes the situation:

China topped Japan as the world's second-largest car maker last year, with sales up 25 percent to more than 7.7 million units.

Homegrown brands increased their share of the passenger car market to 30 percent last year from 25 percent in 2005.

This year an unprecedented number of homegrown brands showed off their latest efforts to embrace the cutting edge of automotive technology.

Chinese car makers have been increasing efforts to develop new designs and build their brands into household names since last year, but the car show is the first major opportunity for them to showcase their research and development on the vehicles of the future.

Early last year, Shenzhen media announced that there were 1 million registered cars in Shenzhen. Although this may be a surprise for everyone driving on shenzhen’s streets (since it seems more like 10 million), it’s true and will soon get worse. Officials projected that by 2010, the number of cars will double to 2 million.

The potential growth in the market and the optimism for its future development is slowly being clouded by the situation on the ground. Traffic jams occur every day in every city. Cars are impossible to park and the streets are becoming more chaotic. It might even feel like the social fabric is slowly unraveling. (Check out my post, Blackout Shenzhen? Felt like it. for more.)

A recent Shenzhen Daily article, Driving license scam exposed, sheds new light on the increasingly worse situation.

Nearly half of all new drivers in Shenzhen obtained driving licenses from other cities without undergoing proper training…[where] local training schools arranged for one-day tests in other cities, including Shanwei in Guangdong and Ganzhou, Ji'an and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi.

Some schools simply "sold" driving licenses issued in other cities, the paper said. Such driving licenses are usually issued three months after 4,500 Yuan (US$582) is paid, and no test is needed, according to the report…

[Just] before the Spring Festival this year, up to 2,000 trainees of a Shenzhen driving school took dozens of buses to Jiangxi to take part in one-day tests. Most trainees passed the test in the first attempt. The few people who failed initially all passed in the second attempt, the paper said, implying that the school bribed the authorities to make it easier for its trainees to pass the tests.

It is almost expected that scams like this would occur for obtaining drivers licenses. With the increase in the Chinese middle class combined with the increasingly high costs just to go to a driving school and obtaining a license, “entrepreneurs” are taking advantage where they can. I even recently saw a post on one of the Shenzhen expat forums where one person was offering a similar service for foreigners. For 1000 Yuan, this person would walk you into the test and tell you all the answers for the driving test. Quite a deal.

Hopefully the Shenzhen government can do more to prevent untrained drivers from getting on the road ASAP. Otherwise, ill be sitting on bus 106 for another 90 minutes just to get to work.

CNN Revisiting Chinglish

Bad English.

Everyone’s seen it. It’s everywhere. No matter where you go in China, you’ll find signs like these.

As a Chinese American, who has been on many trips with other Americans to different tourist places in China, seeing a funny sign is…well, funny. In preparation for the Olympics, the Beijing Government instituted a program where Beijingers and foreigners in Beijing are encouraged to help find and correct such signs.

This initiative was first instituted in late 2005. Xinhua had an article on the problem entitied English signs in Beijing "lost in translation". The blog, Danwei had a detailed post; Beijing cleans up its own sign translations, on the subject. In my recollection, I remember this being reported in multiple Chinese media outlets and different western papers.

On April 19th 2007, posted an article on its website called Chinese officials crack down on bad English. This article basically reiterated what Danwei and Xinhua talked about more than a year and half ago.

How did CNN miss the boat on this for almost 2 years? Why are they writing about old news? Can anyone give me a good explanation that doesn't involve the China Olympics/Sudan issue that has recently came up?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Shenzhen Bar Exclusivity

Last Saturday night Jason and I went out to Richy bar. It is in the Lou Hu district beside the Lushan Hotel, next to Face (another well known bar. 深圳市庐山酒店Face Cafe). We had heard some good things about it from our friends, so we wanted to check it out.

Typically, Chinese night life starts around 9pm, while in NYC, it would start around 11pm or midnight. Instead of taking a break between dinner and going out, Chinese people merge the two into one activity. By midnight a lot of people are drunk and ready to go home. Also, a lot of clubs and bars completely close at 2am.

This early go-out time usually means that all of the cool bars and clubs are completely full by the time my friends and I get out
unless we go to Ubar, the typical western bar in Luohu.

Jason and I arrived at Richy bar at around 11:30pm. We assumed that we wouldn't get a place to sit, due to our tardiness, but we fully anticipated on mingling around the bar and hanging out.

After we got out of the cab, Jason led the way and walked towards the entrance. Next to the entrance were a group of 6 female hostesses as well as a security guard. As Jason was moving past the security guard, the guy grabbed him and asked him where he was going. When my friend pointed inside, the guard responded that there were no more tables available. I responded that we would sit at the bar or not even need a seat. Both suggestions came up empty. The guard refused us entry.

This was an extremely weird situation considering that this never happens in China. Of all the clubs Ive been to in China, in more than 15 different cities, I have never been turned away at the door. The Chinese bars do not have a line to get in or a small, exclusive capacity. They are designed excessively to maximize revenue. Anyone and everyone is allowed in.

As we walked away, we rationalized being turned away because this place was probably that cool. It was soooo incredibly trendy that it was already full. We gotta check this place out!

Before we walked 2 blocks, my friend Simon called me from inside Richy bar. He had just gotten in a couple of minutes before with my other cousin, Annie. . They stated that even though there were a lot of people, it was not at capacity.

With this revelation, Jason and I quickly ran back towards the club, assuming that a large group had just left. We also asked Simon and Annie to come out and get us. This time when the 4 of us attempted to get in, Jason was the last one in line. The 3 of us Chinese people didn't get hassled at all. Jason was stopped again.

Security Guard: You cant go in.
Me: Its cool, hes with us.
Security Guard: Does your friend know how to speak Chinese?
Me: Of course he does (talking slowly so that Jason could follow suit).
Jason: 我当然能说中文.

The guard looks him over again and finally lets him in.

We only stayed for a little bit inside. The music was good. The girls were hot and the ambiance was nice. It was, however, too crowed and difficult to get drinks.

When we walked outside and stood by the door, deciding where to go instead, Jason got a chance to talk to the security guard.

Jason: Why didn't you let me in before?
Secruity Guard: I didn't want any trouble.

I never knew that Jason was that big of a threat

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Chinese Hiring @ the Factory

I’ve been working in China for 7 months now. It’s weird how fast the time has flew by.

When I arrived at Toy State, I worked with 2 other project engineers, working and maintaining all of our new/old projects. In December, one of those engineers was fired. Within one day of being told that this was going to happen, Thompson had already cleared off his desk and left our company. It was a pretty quick turnover.

After Thompson left, I took on more and more responsibilities. Instead of hiring a new person, I wanted to work with my partner, Rosson. I believed that we could handle the work load of our fired colleague. As I got into gear what exactly the job needed, I was able to create different processes and make our efforts more efficient. Within a couple of weeks, we were completely up and running…effectively doing a 3 person job with 2 people.

In the past month, something interesting has happened. After the Chinese New Year, the toy industry effectively starts preparing for the next selling cycle. We have begun a large marketing campaign to develop tons of new projects. This year we were projecting to do130 new projects compared to only 45 last year. This effectively means that the 2 of us have to not only manage a 3 person job, but are now doing 3x the amount of new projects as before. Quite a challenge, ill say.

Realizing the potential need for extra man-power, our higher up management told me in early February that we were going to add 2 project engineers into my department. More than 2 months later, we still don't have any extra people hired. In turn, I’ve been juggling more than 2x the amount of work I’ve had previously.

Human Capital

A week ago, we had a few people go through the interview process. A female graduate student and a male college graduate came in. I was mostly ignorant of the whole thing. For some reason, I had been no role in their interview process or decision of future project engineers (even though I was going to be their boss…???).

After being somewhat confused and having a feeling of disrespect, I approached our COO (a relatively Americanized Chinese with good English skills who used to did my job a year ago) who was spearheading this search: This interaction was spoken in Chinese

Me: Hey [COO], what’s going on with the search? We’re getting swamped over here with all of the increased work load.
COO: It’s going. We interviewed a couple of people last week and really liked a girl. She came in, did the interview thing and we liked her. Before we could sign all the paperwork, we got hung up with her salary requirements…so we didn't hire her.
Me: Oh really? Do you think it will be resolved?
COO: I don't really know…we’ll see.


Me: I was wondering, for future interviewees, can I have an opportunity to sit down and talk to them for a while. Since the members of this department are going to work extremely close with any future hire, I want to have a feel for the abilities and personality before they are hired.
COO: 不用了, 要不行就让他走. (Translation: No need, if he/she is not good, we’ll just ask them to leave [aka fire him/her])

Our factory boss’s response surprised me incredibly. I originally had the notion that there was a sense of disrespect towards me in not letting me have a say of who I was going to have work under me. Instead, by his statement, all feelings of disrespected disappeared. It was replaced with amazement.

When I went through the job search as a senior in college, I developed (what I think is) a pretty clear perception of the relationship between the employee and the company. I feel that companies look at their hires as investments, or human capital. These individuals, with their skills and potential have the capabilities to help the company with their knowledge, ideas, know-how, ect. with proper training from the company. Since a lot of time, energy and money is spent on training these people so they can succeed in the future, companies try their absolute hardest to make sure the candidate is as strong as possible. This is why there are multiple rounds of interviews and extensive review processes at most places.

I admit that our company isn’t the big corporation with tons of resources for hiring people. I do think, however, that there are a lot of small things that can be done to do a thorough job of whatever we can to make sure anyone new will be successful here. If it is so easy for the company COO, who is relatively westernized, to say…hey, if it doesn't work out, we’ll just let him/her go, then he definitely has a different understanding of what human capital is.

Colleges and its Graduates

A couple of weeks have gone by and still nothing. The previous candidates who were possibilities were not able to resolve their contract negotiations…meaning I’m stuck with an overflow of work in a relatively quiet time in product development.

Seeing a potential for “disaster” if we didn't get someone in here soon, I have recently made a revived push for locating new hires. I have talked to the HR department, their boss, my boss, the COO of the factory, just about everyone I can think of to help in this pursuit of someone new. If we don't get this person soon, we won’t have enough time to train him/her for the next round of high demands and tight deadlines.

After talking to the HR department, I realized that we could change our description of skills/requirements so that more people would apply. Currently, we’re requesting college graduates who have backgrounds in engineering and a high aptitude in English. As an Mechanical Engineering graduate, I can say that technical knowledge and background isn’t as essential to the job as English skills are. I think that if we found anyone with a good English background, they could successfully learn the more technical stuff on the job.

I approached the COO about this and he said he would consider it and see if we could find more people to come in for interviews. We then had an interesting conversation about the state of the Chinese job market. Again, this conversation was spoken in Chinese.

COO: Did you know that we have been trying to find good candidates for project engineering jobs consistently for the past 2 years? It is really difficult to find good prospects.
Me: Wow. Is that true? What about the millions of jobless college graduates I keep reading about in the media?
COO: That population isn’t reliable. Colleges and Universities are everywhere and more and more people are going to them. However, it is hard to judge what these students learned when they were there. While these graduates have questionable academic backgrounds, they are also demanding higher-paying jobs and more respect from possible employers because… they graduated from college and they spent a lot of money there. We’ve interviewed 50 people since December. As you can see, none of them have been hired.
Me: I guess we’ll see what happens with the change in job requirements then. Hopefully we’ll have more people coming in for interviews when we change it.
COO: I don't know if it will be successful. If someone is good in English, they have a higher likelihood to work for one of the big western corporations that are expanding into China.

Higher education in China has become a big business. New schools are popping up all over the country…many of them without any good faculty or educational standards. Some of these schools have formed alliances with more brand name schools. The new school requests to be a separate campus of the well known school. This means that the new school will have a good name (ie. Beijing University in Shenzhen) and their students (at some schools and not at others) get the same diploma as students at the regular campus.

Affluent students who don't score high enough on the national college entrance exam to get into the school on merit can then go to a good university. They are considered “private” students and pay higher tuition. Through all of this, it is still unclear if there is an academic standard of the separate schools or a governing body who monitors and accredits it. Of course, not all of these schools are bad, but the current practices are chaotic without conformity in standards.

I don't know who knows about this in the western media. I do know that there are countless and reoccurring stories about college students not finding jobs. This is probably one of the causes.

With this understanding in the questionable quality of the Chinese graduate, I think it’s even more important to push them through a detailed and involved interview process. I don't know if the other managers see it that way.

That being said… what matters is that I still don't have another project engineer working under me. Therefore, it is becoming more and more apparent that I will be overloaded at work for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Shenzhen Public Transportation Entertainment (updated)

LCD monitors are everywhere in China. They are in random mom&pop shoe shops in back alleyways... playing music videos and lobbies and elevators constantly showing advertisements of a guy wanting to help me better learn English.

I’ve written about the increased use of LCD monitors in Shenzhen’s public transportation before with my posts Cab Advertising and Shenzhen TV is also talking about Melissa Theuriau. In the past couple of days, I’ve noted a couple of things regarding these LCDs in taxis and buses.


  • LCDs only come on when a customer enters and the price meter is started. This means that now it doesn't annoy the hell out of the driver during the entire day, looped to the same stuff.
  • The LCD content for viewing is very eclectic. There are very few commercials, current events and information about the city (as I would have expected). Instead, a huge amount of its content are funny cartoons, British hidden-camera shows and music videos.
  • The mute button has been upgraded. Before, a passenger could mute the display so that he/she didn't need to listen to the programming. Now, the mute only works for one segment only. After the segment is over, the sound comes back on automatically. I’ve had to hit the mute switch 10 times on some of my taxi trips.


  • There are about 2 LCDs on each bus, one right behind the driver and one right behind the back door.
  • The LCD display and content is linked to the bus’s audio speaker system. This means that it can be projected throughout the bus so that all customers can hear. It also means that when announcements are made on the intercom regarding stops, safety, ect., it is projected instead of the music video.
  • The content is just as random and diverse as in the taxis. I’ve seen funny stuff, serious stuff and news.

The coolest part about the bus LCDs is that it can tune into live TV. Chinese news broadcast is the same everyday. The CCTV national news comes on at 7pm followed by the Shenzhen local news broadcast at 7:30. On a recent trip to my friend Jason’s house in Shekou, I was able to watch both shows live on the bus. How cool is that? I’ve seen it only a couple of times in different people’s cars. It’s supposedly done through satellite or wireless technology, but the quality is perfect. This is such a conveneient feature for the fast-paced Shenzhen life.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Chinese Radio: Loveline

Every time I go back to the US for a business trip, I’m lucky enough to go home and bring some stuff back to me to Shenzhen. Familiar DVDs, old family pictures and past books have made my Shenzhen apartment feel more like home.

One of the things I’ve recently brought over from the US that I thought I needed is my Alarm Clock/ Radio. I’ve had this thing since I was in middle school and I’ve used it on my bed stand ever since. I’ve definitely felt a void not having it here in Shenzhen with me. Currently I only have my cell phone to tell time and to wake me up in the morning. My clock would do a better job of those 2 functions while simultaneously giving me access to the radio airwaves. Yes.

So after I lugged this thing across the ocean, bought an extra power cord and power adaptor for it, I discover it didn't work. The clock would be progressively slow. For every hour of time that went by, the clock only showed 55 minutes went by. I tried a couple of other clocks and the same thing happened. For some reason, the US alarm clock just can tell time in China (I think it’s a current problem…anyone want to help me fix it?). I could only use the radio.

I’ve been to listening to the radio a couple of nights a week before bed. On top of that, i've had other opportunities to tune in while taking taxis (Shenzhen taxi drivers love talk radio) and on the bus, commuting to and from work. Although still limited in my exposure to radio in China, I have found many interesting things on the air waves.

This interest has made me decide to add a new category to my blog, “Chinese Radio”, in which everything will stem from radio content that I hear.

A few nights ago, I was restless and unable to sleep around midnight. Bored and annoyed with myself, I decide to turn on the radio and hopefully doze off with it acting as the background ambient noise. The radio didn't help. Instead, I grew incredibly interested in a show I just happened to stumble upon.

Imagine a women-specific version of Loveline, Chinese style (without the mentioning of drug use and without Adam Carolla’s antics

At the beginning I didn't know what was going on. I couldn't exactly understand all of the technical language that was spoken. But as it wore on, I got into the grove of it and could understand about 90% of what was being said. I just used context to guess at the last 10%. All in all, the hosts seemed to be enjoying themselves and the subject was entertaining. Here are the details:

  • There were 3 different female voices on the air. I’m assuming one was the host and the other two were experts/doctors.
  • The doctors answered questions on a wide range of topics, including sexual health, physical health, and mental health.
  • The doctors spoke in professional language, and from what I could understand, had a decent grasp of female health issues.
  • Questions were asked in many different forms, including direct calls, letters as well as text messages. There seemed to be a lot of text message questions.
  • The hosts all spoke in very good mandarin.

One of the more interesting calls that came on was from a 26 year old. In a nervous, slow and heavy-accented speech, she asked a question regarding having unprotected sex and the likelihood of pregnancy by using the “pull out” before climaxing method.

The experts calmly explained (correctly) that the “pull out” method was not a good way to prevent pregnancy because there would guys sometime ejaculate semen before actually climaxing (or pre-cum). Instead of doing this, she should either use some type of birth control, including male/female condoms and contraceptive pills. They were very comforting and accepting in their explanation and attitude to the caller.

When the inexperienced girl questioned how she could get the medication, the experts gave her a hospital location in proximity to where she was explained the procedure.

Success! The potential for one less Chinese baby!

Listening to this program got me thinking:

  • I’m actually not surprised that a show like this is on the air. While Chinese people, I would say, are sexually repressed, they feel decently comfortable about it when it’s done in professional and medical terms.
  • The text message questions are a good way to receive questions. Text messages are not only cheaper than traditional phone calls, but they negate the nervousness and awkwardness of the first-time caller. Chinese people might be ok with talking about health and sex, but they’re definitely always nervous.
  • This show is a really good idea for Shenzhen.
    • Population: As everyone already knows, Shenzhen is filled with tons of migrant workers, in which a majority of them are female. (My factory’s assembly line of more than 2000 is 95% female.)
    • Education: Most of the migrant workers are from the countryside and have relatively little education. Most have never been to high school. People often get word-of-mouth advice from just as ignorant friends.
    • Hospitals: Public health services are not keeping up with Shenzhen’s growing population. Also, health care costs are rising throughout the country.
    • Income: Migrant workers are paid relatively little and are saving up for their family. If something is wrong with their health, they often ignore it or try the least expensive treatment possible.
    • Combine all of these together and this show should be a great success.
  • The Chinese listener didn't seem that knowledgeable about the most basic bodily stuff…not just sex. Just about everything that was being asked seemed to be from high school biology/anatomy class.
  • One of the questions was about mental health and depression. I wasn't able to get a good read on it due to the technical language… but I do wonder what kind of training and experience the doctors on the show have on that.
  • I wonder if they have this in other cities. It has to be in the 1st tier cities. What about the 2nd and 3rd tier? It’s definitely a good resource.

Let’s only hope that these girls from the countryside have radios in their factory dorms to take advantage of programs like this. Maybe they should go buy a clock radio and see if it tells correct time.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chinese Children Get Married at an Early Age

Work has been very busy lately. The toy industry never seems to stop pushing and I’ve been cought in the middle of it.

Because of the job, I’ve been neglecting to read all of the Google Alerts on China and Shenzhen that I receive daily. Today while reading articles from the last few days I came across an interesting story from the Shenzhen Daily (web edition) entitled Kids’ Virtual Marriages Causes Concern.

Interesting. That title itself just drew me in.

It turns out that elementary school kids in Shenzhen have found a new hobby. Instead of collecting Pogs, like I did, these kids are getting married…online.

A survey by the newspaper of 49 pupils at a primary school in Luohu District showed that 24 percent of them had virtual "marriages", and 14 percent of them had even "married" twice.

Not only did the children get married (kinda like Vegas, but better, and 24 hours)…but they also

…"giving birth" to virtual babies online…

While some people questioned the game and its possible influence on the kids’ future love life…

Parents and educators worry that the virtual marriages would lead the kids into misunderstanding the reality of marriage.

…for teenagers, it's much easier to blur the line between real and virtual marriages. A junior high student identified as Guo Guo said many of her classmates had acted as if they were really in love with their virtual spouses. "In the game, the virtual husbands and wives claim to love each other so much. How can you say the virtual love will not influence your real emotions?" argued Guo Guo.

…others asked why marriages are put into online games in the first place…

"I don't understand why game developers put marriages into the games. With children marrying and divorcing so easily online, they may become irresponsible when they do marry in reality," [a mother] said, adding that children may get upset if their future spouses are not as prefect virtual spouses.

There are many other interesting tidbits in the article. You have to read it for yourself!!

My biggest concern regarding this game is that some might get the notion that getting married or into serious relationships will increase your points in life…

About 37 percent of the kids polled by the Shenzhen Evening News said they had virtual marriages to "increase their credits in the game," and 28 percent of them said they did it for fun.

…and we all know that’s not true.

I wonder how long it will be that a similar game pops up in the US, becomes popular, gets embraced and chastised by the religious right, then reported on CNN. Any bets?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wal-Mart Bringing Sexy Back to Chinese Girls

I love Wal-Mart. If you are able to look past their contributions in the deterioration of small communities, aid in shutting down mom & pop stores, as well as not giving their employees livable wages, you find a place with “everyday low prices, always.”

Look, they even got the #1 Ranking on the CNN Fortune 500 List of American Companies with $351,139,000,000 of revenue in 2006.

While I have never gone to Wal-Mart as much as it’s shown on Paris Hilton’s show, The Simple Life, many people go there for everything. This trend has now spread to the Chinese market. Wal-Mart and its comparable hypermarket brethren, Carrefour, Trust-Mart and Tesco are dotting the Chinese urban landscape. Cheap and (usually) dependable products have made shopping at these hypermarkets are very popular.

Recently, at the factory, I have seen many of my colleagues wearing a different variety of English t-shirts. Since we are without a standardized dress code in the office, many people come to work in random and interesting attire…most usually from Wal-Mart.

Today, I held my weekly meeting regarding new projects with members of various factory departments. A good friend of mine, 阿花, who is usually decently well dressed, came into the meeting with a very interesting t-shirt on. The white girl t-shirt had “I (heart) backseats.”

What?!... I immediately burst out laughing...while everyone at the meeting looked at me strangely. Of course no one knew what it meant or the connotations behind it.

After the meeting, during lunch, I was able to ask阿花 about what she was wearing. It turns out that she bought the shirt because she liked the sparkly accessories and the red heart. She had bought the shirt at Wal-Mart with a few other friends. She knew the basic meaning of “backseat” but didn't know the connotation behind it. After I explained it to her, she promised to never again wear the shirt.

While thinking about it, I can’t imagine what Wal-Mart was thinking in selling these sexually-provocative t-shirts to a population who is 1. considered sexually repressed and 2. have no idea what they are wearing. In my 6 months in China, I have seen many other girl shirts that have “slut”, “bitch” or “hot stuff” on it. Maybe they were all bought from Wal-Mart, maybe not.

I would like to personally thank Wal-Mart for giving the Chinese population more subliminal sexual undertones while pursuing their profits. Maybe in the near future you can convince Chinese people to get random English words tattooed on them like current Americans are doing with Chinese characters.

That will be the day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

China's Initiation into the World (Cat) Economy

I call it the live-too-close syndrome.

Whenever I live at or near a interesting place, I never take advantage of it. This happened during my 4 years at Columbia University…in which I didn't go explore New York City close to enough…and it’s happening now in Shenzhen. I have such a great opportunity to explore China, Hong Kong, Macao, countries in S.E. Asia…but I’m just not doing it.

This past weekend, when asked to accompany my friend Simon’s wife into Hong Kong, I took a step for exploration. I was committed to go with her to the HKCLS 11th Championship Cat Show.

Yes, a cat show.

I personally don't like cats that much and I don't think they particularly like me. I’m a dog person through and through. I guess it’s just the pack mentality of the dog versus the independent cat. The other reason could be that my family just has an awesome dog, Niuniu.

During our day-long HK excursion, we ate 4 different times (Simon’s wife is pregnant), bought a ton of cat supplies to bring back to China (cat food, supplies, litter, ect.), walked around the streets of Hong Kong and most importantly, went to the cat show.

Held in the B Hall of the Hong Kong International Trade & Exhibition Centre, the show included hundreds of cats. Here are the highlights:

  • Simon’s wife loves Himalayans and has 4 championship caliber cats at home. She recently got first place in shows in Beijing and Shanghai (out of more than 600 cats). With her success, she has been able to build an extensive network in the cat community (how we got into the show as exhibitors). She was in Hong Kong to network with owners of the American Himalayan champion.
  • The show room had about 20 lines of tables set up for cat cages. All of the cages had different medallions and award ribbons on it showing off the caliber of the cat inside.
  • There were 6 “rings” in the middle of the hall where the cats were judged. The 3 American and 3 Japanese judges took great care in their handling of the cats and had their own rubric and evaluation standards.
  • When the cats “competed” in the rings against each other, groups of different exhibitors stood by to watch the judging. While seated by our friend’s cat cages, I would hear periodic applauses when awards were given out.
  • There were a few “world-famous” cats that everyone knew at the show. These cats (with a reputation) were definite locks on first place “best of breed”.
  • Cats were given points for finishing in different places. Cats with more points are ranked higher in the world stage.
  • There are entry fees to the competitions but no prize money. Owners spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on their pets without any ROI.

For the most part, the CAT show was a half-way interesting event. It was very much an insider sport where only seasoned veterans knew the intricacies of what was going on. However, in this mundane, small community of the rich-girl hobby, there were many interesting plots and subplots that developed.

  • There is no real rubric for judging the cats. Personal relationships with judges are a huge factor. Owners would proudly strut into the ring to place their cat into the competition, while simultaneously giving a head-nod to the judge.
  • Location is a big part of the judging too. If a judge graded a cat to be the best in breed at a show in Malaysia, they might change their mind and not place the previous winner in the top 5 when they got to the Hong Kong show. There is definitely home court advantage.
  • The “national champions” who had already won top prizes in the US, Canada and other competitions were locks for the best in breed. No judges wanted to go against a consistent winner that had been judged by numerous other judges previously. That would make them lose all credibility.
  • Newcomers to the community are usually ganged up on and ignored. However, if somehow this person slowly gets recognition and top 5 awards for their cats, they are immediately loved and included. Talk about 2-faced people.

From my point of view, the most interesting part of this cat show community is the sense of competition and how it relates to globalization and trade.

One of the underlying rules of cat shows is that anyone and everyone can enter. There is a popular notion that there should be fair and equal competition for all. This has recently been tested.

In the past few years, Chinese involvement in this hobby has risen greatly. The Chinese nouveau-riche has begun spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy famous genetically strong cats to compete (as registered on the CFA) with the established cats. Even though rules stipulate that anyone and everyone can register for competitions, Chinese cats can only realistically compete in events held in China or South East Asia.

Recent laws regarding the quarantine of pets in United States, Hong Kong and other countries (where the most famous competitions are located) have, in effect, stopped Chinese cats from competing. Stringent documentation of shots, vaccines and immunizations are needed for participation. On top of that, since China is a "3rd world country", all Chinese cats are placed in a 3 month quarantine upon entry. No owner has a realistic ability to wait it out. This means that foreign cats can come into China to compete but vice versa. Above that, if anyone is caught competing with illegally immigrated cats, he/she is immediately reported on by the local participants and effectively banned from the community.

I really believe that the current state of cat dynamics between Chinese and US/Hong Kong/Western Countries shows how the international economic system works.

  • Western society creates a rich-man’s game of notoriety and prestige. (Capitalism and Cat shows)
  • Everyone is encouraged to join in the game in which competition is embraced as part of the culture (free market economy and embracing competition)
  • When new communities begin actively participating in the game and finding success, indirect rules are made to prevent their involvement. (US and European farm subsidies as well as textile quotas and tariffs are a few examples of the “quarantine” in the cat world.)
  • Any violation of these rules comes with immediate consequences of punishment from the game. (WTO sanctions & devaluation of credit ratings and expulsion from the cat community)

In the end only time will tell how the system plays out. In this story, the Chinese cat owner in Shenzhen specifically bought a Hong Kong apartment to house her cats so that she could legally and effectively compete with local cats. She had enough money and desire to achieve that. In the HKCLS 11th Championship Cat Show, she was able to get the highest prize in multiple breeds, finishing immediately under the “national champion” cats. In one year she has gone from the very bottom to the top tier. This transformation has won her "respect" and "acceptance".

It ultimately seems that the system of rules, quarantines and community dynamics is just a fraternity-esque “initiation." Only after initiation can the fresh meat join the brotherhood. We'll just have to see how much hazing they have to endure before getting initiated.