Friday, March 30, 2007

Arguments @ the Factory

I truly believe that we have a good and decent atmosphere of professionalism at the toy factory. Mostly all of our employees try to work as a team and coordinate a lot of things with each other (This is called配合 peihe.) Although there might be some conflicts that come up from differing points of view, everything is done on a cordial level.

That being said, in the 6 months I’ve worked here, I’ve witnessed many big arguments in the office, while only participating in 1 of them. Although I would say, it’s much more interesting to be in the argument; nevertheless, they are extremely interesting to observe as well.


  • They involve at least 2 people to as many as 4 people.
  • The people involved are all high-level managers who are at least a department head, both men and women.
  • They start quiet and end loud…really loud.
  • They usually involve one or more of its arguing parties making outrageous comments like: Do you want me to jump off a building?...Because jumping off the building wouldn't get it done any faster. (I heard that today) And… I could do it faster if I were blind and mute. What disability do you have?
  • They can start in a flash, and can take place anywhere and everywhere in the office.
  • They have a halftime. This is when one of the parties attempts to walk away. After a 5 second break in the action, either the person leaving turns back, to continue the argument, or the person being left chases the person leaving to continue it.
  • The employees within hearing distance of the argument don't move. They are basically invisible and don't react at all to it. No one looks, no one talks. Everyone is quiet and steadfast.
  • The people who are above the arguing parties don't say anything either. They don't get involved at all.

I seem to be the only one who visibly recognizes that an argument is happening. And since my department is in my own room, I tell my secretary to close our door to the outside whenever I hear it escalating. To me, there’s no reason to get upset at work anymore…and I’ve been in the work force for only 6 months. Come on, it’s work.

Although I have never actually worked at an American company (I’ve only interned at companies), I would assume I would never see the same type of arguments in a US office. They might happen in the board rooms, or behind closed doors, but never in the open as they are here.

From what I remember of all of the meetings I had in college (from the clubs, groups, classes and fraternity), that NEVER were there people raising their voices. Everything was kept at a comfortable level. If any disagreement escalated to a high point, they would be immediately dissolved by the other people in the meeting, or by a superior. That definitely doesn't happen here.

I wonder what will happen when the current employees (who are patient and quiet) are put into managerial positions. Will they act the same way as managers do? Or Will they be less aggressive (as they are now)?

There are definitely more questions to ask, but I really need to get back to work...or else someone might start an argument with me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Business Ethics @ the Factory

It’s been 6 months since I started working at Toy State. Theres been highs, there’s been lows. However, today was the first time I felt disappointed in the ethics of how we conduct business.

Our company is a well-functioning, comfortable and has definitely a western feeling. People are relatively friendly, able and professional. The office is bright and clean (There is a strict no-smoking policy, unlike a lot of Chinese companies). People are treated with respect and the company, in general, cares about its employees. We’ve had numerous company dinners and retreats for our employees. We pay our workers more than the similar companies around us and have even constructed a brand new cafeteria building to make sure our workers eat in very clean and sanitary conditions. Although the company is far from perfect, it most definitely tries…which is good.

Every new project that we work on has specific packaging requirements. While a large amount of our toys are shipped in boxed packages, a growing amount of smaller toys are being packaged in plastic hanging packaging called “blisters”. Since it is my responsibility to arrange the packaging, I need to help implement the blister designs that our marketing team gives me. This means I need to work with a variety of blister companies.

When I started 6 months back, all of our prototype blisters sucked. They were dull, thin and generally, looked bad. In addition, the blister engineers that made them were rude, not attentive to details, and slow in their prototypes. We had a very bad working relationship, and every blister-making process was filled with annoyance and frustration on both sides.

After a while, we were able to find a new company that made blisters. After a few instances, we noticed that this new company was much better on basically all aspects. They were nice, professional and knew what they were doing. They were quick and efficient with their prototype development, and could basically meet any deadline given to them. Most importantly, their blisters looked good…like production quality.

For the past 3 months, we have been working with this new company in creating samples of all of the new toys we’ve been developing. They’ve been helpful, cooperative and a good partner to work with even though we haven’t given them any real orders or business.

Finally, in the recent weeks, we’re finally going into production on a major new toy we’re making that a lot of US retailers picked up. It was a great chance for these blister company to finally reap the rewards for their constant and consistent efforts for the past few months.

Just before we go into production on any new toy, we go through a process where the engineering department reexamines our packaging to make sure that they will pass all of the various safety and drop tests needed to make on it. In this process, it was decided that we would not use the current blister in production and we would need to redo it.

What made everything suck was that a different company was chosen to make the new blister arrangement. Now, this company was getting fucked over. After 3 months of hard work, they received no real financial benefit from our company. In addition, they were pushed to the side on a project they’ve worked on since the beginning. Blah.

I tried to fight it. I tried to convey how good these guys were and how important they were to my department in regard to our packaging efforts. It didn't matter how many people I talked to. Nothing is being changed. There are some hidden stuff going on... i dont know what.

However, what it means is...not only is it going to be that much harder to meet my deadlines but we just screwed over a great company that’s been the best for a long time. They even gave me a nice calendar for the Chinese New Year.

AaahhhHH!! This sucks.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Shenzhen TV is also talking about Melissa Theuriau

Shenzhen not only has installed LCD monitors in its Taxis, but also have installed 11” LCD monitors in city buses as well. Mass media and marketing is spreading everywhere.

On my commute today, I saw something interesting being reported on Shenzhen Television Channel 1’s daily news broadcast. In an amazing display of the fusing of online media and traditional television, 深圳电视一台 was doing a report on the popularity and beauty of French reporter, Melissa Theuriau, online. Theuriau is a popular anchor in France that has been worshiped for her looks. The compilations of her reports on have nearly 1 million hits. Amazing popularity.

Shenzhen TV gave Miss Theuriau not only a 2 minute feature that included pictures, videos and quotes from various blogs. There was also extensive commentary from the news anchors, celebrating her complexion and skin color. Awesome.

Although some interesting stories discussed online should be brought over to traditional media, random mass-culture centric television reports from the premier Shenzhen TV news channel is just awkward and unexpected…especially on a subject matter relatively far from China. I guess there are just not that much interesting stuff going on in Shenzhen today.

Well, I guess she is incredibly hott…

ESPN's take on the 2008 Beijing Olympics’s Jim Caple recently published an article on called Beijing or Bust — Beat Olympics Traffic, Get Here Now, regarding the upcoming Olympics being held in Beijing in 2008.

One of the interesting things Caple mentioned was about the reason behind the quick and ahead of schedule construction on all of the venues.

After he described the various different attributes of China’s preparation for the Olympics. Caple started on the incredibly fast transformation of Beijing’s skyline:

How fast is Beijing changing? In just my two days there, the building next to my hotel was condemned, torn down, replaced by a 10-story Starbucks, then torn down again to make way for a 50-story Best Buy. I'm exaggerating, of course. The Best Buy store will be in Shanghai.

…and then the “awful” and increasingly worse traffic situation:

Taking a ride out to the Great Wall, we hit some of the worst traffic I've ever endured. I counted eight rows of cars clogging a highway that had only six official lanes, and we were all being funneled into a mere four lanes. Worsening the choke point was an accident blocking one of the four precious lanes.

You know that opening scene of "Office Space," during which Peter is stuck in traffic and notices he's being passed by an elderly man with a walker? This was worse. In 20 minutes we crawled perhaps one kilometer. And all the while, my driver squirmed in his seat and listened to the Mandarin equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. I have no idea what the broadcaster was saying, but he sounded so angry I can only assume he must have been bitching about the traffic.

I definitely recommend this article as an entertaining piece from a not-so-jaded American’s time in China. It’s a quick bit of what China’s about.

At the end of the article, Caple described something in Guangzhou that I had already seen in Shenzhen, and wrote about it in Cab Advertising:

In addition to being very inexpensive, cabs in China (at least in Guangzhou) sometimes come with flat-screen TV monitors in the back seat. As I rode in from the airport late one night, I watched a news report gleefully showing members of the Taiwanese parliament throwing shoes at each other during a heated session. I could just imagine the commentary: "See? This is what the imperialist running dogs give you with democracy. We can give you the same thing just by opening up a Nordstrom's." It is also a very strange feeling to be riding through Guangzhou at six in the morning and watching a replay of Fish-O-Mania XIII.

I guess these LCD Taxis are spreading…

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Personalizing Shenzhen

So far in this blog, I have tried to combine personal experiences and observations to talk about different issues that I find interesting about China, whether it be relating to culture, society, the economy or politics.

The thing is, it is very difficult for me to maintain this kind of blog. I have a demanding job (that is very computer oriented) and an active social life. Add them together and it’s difficult to find 1-2 hours of free time to concentrate and write a post.

Today, I will add a new element to this blog. I will take more about my personal life. Don't worry, it wont be one of those “I had a good time at work today, I got off early and went to play basketball” blogs. What it will be is a Chinese American’s experience in Shenzhen. My plan is to hopefully write about a little bit more experiences on top of the current observations. These things will include dating, food, night life, expat community, ect… basically sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Of course, everything I talk about will be in the cultural, social, economic and political context…but it will also be less consuming for the reader and hopefully, easier to write for me. Hopefully, it will be a cross between China Law Blog and the Shanghaiist.

There are some things in China you have to experience to understand it. I can tell. I’m learning and experiencing new things everyday. Hopefully I can use my undercover-ness as a Chinese born, Chinese speaking, Chinese American and bring these experiences out into the open.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chinese Firewall Blocks Blogspot

I’ve been reading a bunch of articles about Chinese Internet activism lately.

It all seemed to begin with Starbucks getting kicked out of the Forbidden City. Now it has spread to a variety of different aspects of life, including public opinion – agreement and outrage over government/business/other countries’ actions, political, economical and social as well.

Just when things seem to be getting better and more open, something happens. Blogspot gets blocked by the Great Firewall. It’s cool though. No biggie. I’ll still try to post from HK.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chinese Random Roadside Construction

I read recently that the average commute time for a typical person in a major US city is 35 minutes. The major news magazine shows have even featured new neighborhoods in California that are specially designed for airplanes. Instead of sitting in traffic jams, commuters to Silicon Valley or San Francisco fly to and from work. How cool is that? Check out stories about that here, here and here.

Like any modern person, I have a commute as well. Typically I take the bus 106 from my 东门中 stop to 南岭村. The trip usually takes about 25 minutes in the morning without traffic and 30+ minutes in the afternoon, depending on traffic. In general, it is a pretty good ride. One stretch of the road is a narrow highway next to the Shenzhen Reservoir. The early sun shining on the water is a pretty sight.

One of the recent things I’m noticed are big mounds of dirt on my route. Everyone who has been to China knows that there is constant construction everywhere. New buildings are appearing every 5 months. I’ve heard of a stat saying that China has 1/3 of the world’s construction cranes. Crazy stat. If you look at the Beijing skyline, it is filled with cranes.

After 5 months in Shenzhen, I have rarely seen any big construction cranes. I’ve only seen big mounds of dirt and road construction/repair, particularly outside of main Shenzhen city (深圳关外 instead of 关内, my work is located just outside of Shenzhen city).

The 30 minute commute in the morning and afternoon has now been extended to about 45 minutes. There are not more cars on the road. There are just, what seems to be mom & pop construction jobs going on everywhere. Here are the characteristics:

  • New road construction projects (I’ll call RCPs) can pop up anywhere and everywhere. It doest matter if it’s in the middle of a parking lot or in a major intersection.
  • RCPs are dug out with complete disregard for pedestrian or car traffic.
  • Most RCPs happen outside of the main part of Shenzhen. The suburbs, in general, are crazy (很乱). Higher crime rate, prostitution, ect. I guess that also applies to road construction.
  • The Chinese workers for these RCPs all work at night. You never see anyone working during the day.
  • There are no signs to warn you. There are no detour routes or anything else to direct traffic. There is only a small little makeshift gate or fence around it. (Think about this happening on your local highway in the US. Just unimaginable.)
  • The dirt dug out of the ground goes everywhere. There are mini dust storms almost like ones seen in old westerns with John Wayne.
  • Contracts to work on roads are very competitive and lucrative. The profits from getting a construction projection from the gov’t are huge!
  • Quality is iffy.

For now, I just want to thank China for making my commute longer. You can be blamed for me being late to work today. I'm also blaming you for my dirty shoes too.

Addition 2 (3/26/07): To respond the the 2nd comment made my Anonymous... In my opinion, it is important to look at the public face of China and differentiate it from its private attributes. The Shanghai Pudong airport is a state of the art airport in what is considered the most modern and "best" Chinese city. This means that the Pudong airport is a national treasure. This is why it is important that there was a international design competition and very international press on it. The same is true for the new buildings in Beijing, such as the National Theatre (Egg-shell), new Olympic Stadium (Birdnest) and Olympic Water Sports Arena (Water Cube).

My question is: does anyone know what company was has been hired to not design it, but actually construct it? As well, what was the bidding process behind that.

Addition 1 (3/22/07): To respond to the comment made by Anonymous, China's large road construction projects are indeed very competitive to obtain. This competition isn't direct or indirect bribery. It exists almost in the form of traditional US competition. There are many bids and proposals for the project and one is chosen. The only difference is that the bidding parties in China need to have some kind of high level connection (关系) in the local government to successfully bid. In the US, you need to have huge resources, a reputation and track record to successfully bid.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Entrepreneur Spirit: Part 1

Recently, I had a conversation with a couple of friends on the possibility of starting a business. (I don't want to get into the specifics since my friends might still want to do it).This business idea was something that I thought was a viable option for a good and profitable business a while back. I liked it enough that I even wrote up a Western-style business plan of what was needed to do to get it started; what the minute details were to make it successful, how to get other people on board, ect. However, since I didn’t have the energy, time, connections and capital, I kind of just let it go and moved onto other things.

A few days ago, a couple friends of mine came to me wanting to do the same idea, I was happy that they wanted to pursue it and felt I could contribute a lot to the process.

Last night during dinner, we sat around the table eating Mongolian bbq and slowly discussed (谈一谈) the business. After 5 minutes of conversation, I knew we were not going to get anywhere. After the initial exchange of “wow, this is a great idea… I think we could make so much money,” I wanted to get down to the important details of the first step of concrete tasks needed to be done. All we had at the time were broad generalizations.

As I listed out the issues that needed to be addressed for me to succeed (on my end), I was given a feeling of hesitation and almost annoyance. My friends didn't want me to talk about the details. They just wanted me to say “yes, I’ll be awesome and everything will be taken care of.” In a perfect world, that would be the case. I would love to make a grandiose statement of what I will accomplish immediately without worrying about actually performing. However, in the real world, I want and expect to discuss the weakness and threats of the idea as well as the strengths and opportunities (thank you SWOT analysis).

Well, this didn't fly. So, instead of having a productive business meeting (in my eyes), we were all halfway annoyed and disappointed in the other side. Before finishing up this issue, my friends described how they approached business.

“You need to learn on the fly while you are doing your business. Forget all the details, worry about them when they appear. Go for it.”

Although I would agree with the adventurous spirit, as well the how useful learning by experience is, (I talked about this briefly in Money Money Money), one can only get so far with that approach. When a large amount of time, energy and capital is invested in a project, I will absolutely attempt to find all the potential problems and iron out all of the details before I get too far.

After I tried to explain this mindset (and hopefully other people’s mindset as well), I was still greeted with hostility from my friends. They didn't need or have to do this. It was almost like it was their destiny to succeed and be successful. They were unwavering and had the utmost confidence in their ability to deliver in whatever venture they set out to do. Nothing could and would stand in their way.

This got me thinking:

  • I can not believe how confident my friends were. Even though they were all relatively successful businessmen, isn’t too much confidence just cockiness?
  • Is their confidence real or fake? Chinese people, particularly northerners, (and especially my family… I was born in Harbin) love to boast (吹牛). We love to exaggerate when talking. It’s just how we do it. My friends that I was talking to were all northerners as well.
  • Is it just too easy to make money here in Shenzhen? If its true that 10% of Shenzhen people between 20 and 60 want to open up their own business in the next year, they must have a lot of success in doing business to give them the reasons for starting businesses. It could be the chicken and the egg.
    • Entrepreneurs come to Shenzhen to start businesses.
    • Business is good.
    • More Entrepreneurs come to Shenzhen.

I’m going to let this one marinate a little bit and come back with a couple of examples in part 2.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Want Delivery!

I really like my Shenzhen apartment. It is nice, clean and just the right size for me. It has all of the appliances and furniture that I need and even a nice sized gym on the 5th floor (I live on the 27th). It is a 10 min walk to the pedestrian-only shopping area (老街) and the bus to work stops immediately outside the building. Oh yea, I almost forgot… check out the view.

My only complaint about my apartment is the lack of restaurants downstairs. There are a couple of mom & pop noodle places but that’s about it. To get any selection of restaurants, I need to walk at least 5-7 minutes away. Most of the time, a 5 min walk in China isn’t a big deal. However, when I’m hung over and don't want to get out of bed (like most Sundays), I just want something, anything.

Solution: Delivery.

Before living here in China, I had thought that delivery did not exist here. I have a lot of family who live in Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai. I have never seen any of them order delivery and/or even have delivery menus. I was pleasantly surprised that it at least exists in Shenzhen. Because labor is so cheap here, many restaurants have a couple of people specifically for delivery purposes in the neighborhood. Although I don't imagine it to be Justin-Timberlake-popular, like it is around the Columbia University campus (oh how I miss eating Chinese Wai Lee) it is still most definitely needed.

Every couple of days when I’m walking in and out of my building, I see delivery people bringing food in. As a relatively new resident, without any knowledge of which restaurants deliver, I make an effort to talk to these delivery people and get a menu from them. What’s interesting is that after talking to delivery people on more than 40 different occasions, I have only obtained 1 menu.

Only 1. That’s it.

What are these people doing not carrying menus around when they’re fulfilling an order? I don't understand it. In a selfish sense, I want the added convenience to get some food without getting out of the apartment. But from a business perspective, how can these restaurants not require these people to carry tons of menus on them. This would not only be a good way to market their restaurant, but it would give the non-cooking population somewhere to order from.

Above all, how has any restaurant owners recognized that no one else is doing it and they can almost corner neighborhood market for delivery? My neighborhood has 4 buildings, 26 residential floors in each building and 12 apartments on each floor. Assuming that there are 2 people living in each apartment (a low estimate) the total number of people is 2500 in this building complex alone. Combine the 5 other complexes around me together, and it’s a sizable customer base for a small restaurant.

As a veteran of Columbia University fast food, I can only describe the competition for take-out as a war.

Here are the details:

  • Basically all of the restaurants post on online menu websites like,, so that people can have quick access to their menus.
  • Some places even list on services like where the order can be made directly online, quickly and easily.
  • Restaurants advertise on billboards, newspapers, ect.
  • Every order has at least 1 menu in the delivery package.
  • Some restaurants even use their menu as an invoice/bill for the customer with the ordered items highlighted.
  • All delivery people have menus with them at all times. They place these everywhere, especially at the outside door to an apartment building.
  • Rivalries and aggressive tactics were used by the 3 local Chinese delivery places. Every time one place made a delivery to a dorm building, they would take all of the other 2 restaurants’ menus and replace them with their own. Talk about cutthroat.

All of these practices in Columbia University and NYC in general are geared to maximize the exposure of the restaurant in a competitive landscape as well as make it convenient for the consumer to order delivery. This is life in a mature marketing environment.

Now if only any Chinese companies can take a hint and figure stuff out, I might be able to order from them instead of going to McDonald’s.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

McDonald's: Super Sizing the cute Chinese Kids

I love McDonald’s. I have since I was a little kid. I can still remember my mom taking me to the McDonald’s on High Street right next to the Ohio State University campus as a little kid. Tuesdays, 19 cent hamburgers, 29 cent cheeseburgers. MMmmmm.

Fast forward 15 years later.

I was a little sick yesterday so I took off work and stayed home for the day. When I was young, it seemed that every time I was sick and went to get McDonald’s, I would get better immediately. That has now transformed into a tradition. Instead of having Chicken Noodle Soup when I’m sick, I have a Big Mac extra value meal with a sprite. Conveniently so, there is a McDonalds within a 5 minute walk from my current Shenzhen apartment (I can actually see it out of my window) when I can maintain this habit.

Although I do eat fast food, I do not consider it to be as bad as what’s made out in the 2004 documentary Super Size Me. In this documentary, a guy eats McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 days straight as an experiment. The results were surprising and interesting. To briefly summarize, after 30 days, the guy became depressed, had lost his sex drive, gained 20 pounds, and had liver issues, ect. (Please check out this documentary if you haven’t seen it. I own it on DVD (not even bootleg) and have watched it more than 5x.)

In my opinion, eating anything each and everyday could have adverse effects on the body. Many vegetarians and vegans don't get enough protein. People in China don't get enough calcium in a typical Chinese diet. It is important to have a complete diet with a variety of foods. Like my mom says: Eat at least 15 different types of foods a day (beans, rice, beef, carrots, ect.) and everything will be ok.

So back to the story,

Yesterday, I walked over to the place at about 12:30pm. I saw something very interesting before I arrived. This McDonald’s is right next to what I call a “spider overpass” (the 4 corners of an intersection is linked by 1 common overhead walkway) There were 2 young McDonald’s employees handing out discount coupon sheets on this walkway. Of course, for anyone who knows China, these discount coupon sheets are very common. Various companies and restaurants give them out very often to promote as a marketing too. What was interesting about this marketing drive was that it perfectly coincided with the lunch break of an elementary school less than 50 yards away.

(A little background: In Chinese secondary education, it is normal to have school be divided into 2 parts, a morning and afternoon session. Students are allowed to leave campus for lunch to eat at home.)

Of about 90% of the students leaving for lunch walked on this “spider overpass” to get to various destinations. The 2 employees had a stack of coupon sheets at least 10 inches high. They knew exactly what they were doing and made sure that every one of those kids received one.

In Super Size Me, one of the main things they narrated was the strategy of McDonald’s and fast food in general. The ultimate goal was to get the kids hooked on this stuff. Examples of this included a scene where 20 elementary school kids were shown pics of various famous people and Ronald McDonald, the McDonald’s mascot. Of course, everyone knew who Ronald was and no one knew anyone else. Another scene described the design of McDonald’s and its playground area and success in birthday parties as ways to lure kids in. Just look at the happy meal. McDonald’s invented kid’s meals.

I definitely believe in this hypothesis.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
  • China creates a good opportunity for this because more kids are responsible for their lunch. Yesterday in the McDonald’s, of the 200 people there, over 80% of the consumers were under 25, at least 60% wore the little blue/white school uniforms. Many of these kids were carefully browsing the coupons they just newly received. I guess this strategy is working.
  • Another good strategy for fast food companies like McDonald’s in China is to give away student discount cards that last for a year. These cards give about a 20% discount on selected items for the student.
  • I didn't see KFC representatives out in force like the McDonald’s employees. Even though KFC has a bigger market share than McDs in China, I wonder what their kid strategy is and its importance. I do know however, that they give away student discount cards as well.
  • McDonald’s creates such a fun and embracive atmosphere, that kids love it. Yesterday, I even saw a few kids help the hand out the coupon sheets to their friends. That’s just marketing at its best.
  • I guess I’m a product of the “luring of kids”. I was lured in as a little kid and I’m still a consistent McDonald’s consumer as a yuppie.
Although I have been "lured" in, I have an athletic background and try to watch what I eat as much as possible. As a disciplined adult and someone with a diverse palate, I would never go on a Super Size Me-esque binge. I will however, enjoy a Bic Mac or 2 once in a while.

What is difficult to see is how Chinese kids will be able to control themselves. These kids are being sucked in every single day. Let's just hope that McDonald's don't form an alliance with the schools and make it mandatory for kids to stay at school for lunch.

Has anyone tried their new mini Chicken wraps? Those are hella good too.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Perfect Red Storm

In my February 24th post entitled Money Money Money, I attempted to discuss Shenzhen and its unique-ness. As everyone might already know, Shenzhen was a fishing village 20 years ago. Now it is one of the biggest cities in China with an average income comparable to that of Beijing and Shanghai.

With a combination of a favorable political environment, location and local culture, Shenzhen has become a bustling metropolis that is comparable to just about anywhere in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Bloomberg article:

World's Factory

Shenzhen became the world's factory because Deng, then the paramount leader, selected it in 1980 as the launching pad for his open-door policy. Driven by his vision, the municipal authorities put in place the key amenities long before international investors took the bait.

What in 1979 was an agrarian backwater of 300,000 people is today a bustling metropolitan city of 11 million.

Shenzhen now has the world's fourth-busiest container port and China's fourth-largest airport. Expressways connect the industrial areas to a vibrant downtown. A subway system became operational in 2004. New towns are constantly being built, distances are getting squeezed.

This description of Shenzhen (as well as others like it) is just the tip of what Shenzhen is. In a recent Shanghai Daily article, Shenzhen was mentioned again. This time it was compared to Shanghai.

The Shanghai Labor and Social Security Bureau surveyed 23,000 city residents aged 16 to 64 in their homes last December about their attitudes towards starting a business.

The number of respondents who had opened their own company by the end of last year - 5.01 percent - was up slightly from 4.9 percent at the end of 2005.

By comparison, only 3.42 percent of respondents to a similar survey in Beijing said they had started a business, while a whopping 10.49 percent of those surveyed in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, had opened their own company.


Shenzhen’s population is 2x more likely to start a business than the people in Shanghai, and almost 3x more likely than Beijing. It’s amazing what the last 20 years has done here in the Pearl River delta.

Here were my thoughts on Money and Shenzhen:

  • I often try and think/develop business ideas. Moreover, I have a few possibly successful ideas that I’m working on.
  • This is why Guangdong province is so incredibly successful in the world stage. This is not only where Chinese people who want to make money (whether it’s migrant labor trying to get ahead, HK businessmen with capital, ect.), but it is where the world is coming as well. Of course its location and proximity to HK has something to do with it as well.
  • I wonder if the culture is similar in the Shanghai region as well. Can anyone who knows about Shanghai add their 2 cents?
  • This entrepreneurial spirit feels like pure excitement. There are so many opportunities in China for anyone with a good idea. It is the ability as a person to take advantage of these opportunities. This is a big difference from the seemingly repetitive life of the US and even NYC.

I guess the Shanghai Daily article partly answered my question. Even Shanghai, the financial capital of China, can't compare to Shenzhen when it comes to the entrepreneurial spirit.

Just to repeat this point and beat it over the head:

Shenzhen is a place like none that has ever existed in the world. Its unique combination of culture (or lack there of), government regulation, people, location, resources, ect. have created a place where capitalism is existing in an almost pure form.

It might as well be the Perfect Red Storm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chugging Wine

I went to KTV last night. Awesome times.

Chinese people (or maybe Asian people if you include short Japanese businessmen) love to sing. They just love it.

Without getting into all of the absurdity funny and interesting parts of Chinese KTV, I wanted to briefly talk about what we drank.

As some of you know by now, the wine industry in China has grown at a 30% rate for the past 2 years. That's incredible. The normal observer would guess that the reason behind this growth has been from the new middle class, eager to get their hands (and lips) on clique western lifestyle-esque things.

The argument usually goes something like this:

As more and more people in China are making more money, this new middle class craves more luxuries. One needs to look no further than the auto industry or Louis handbags (real ones) to see that this is most definitely true. If the wine industry is talked about with this framework, it would be: Chinese middle class consumers, who are trying to become more and more western are driving this expanding market. This growth, of the wine industry shows that they are drinking wine to adopt a higher-class lifestyle.

Last night at KTV, I finally realized that wine is very different from this classic model.

We had a total of 5 bottles of wine between the 8 of us. At 180 yuan a piece (buy 4, get 1 free), we enjoyed our Cabernet…with ice, sprite and orange slices.

Yea. If you have never seen this, it is most definitely a sight to see. Just as Chinese people love mixing good whiskey with green tea, they enjoy mixing ice, sprite and red wine.

This was actually the first time I’ve seen it myself, and I realized a few things:

  • After my initial hesitation, the combo was actually pretty good. It tasted sweet and yummy. Imagine the Chinese version of Sangria
  • Wine wasn't drunk to be savored. It was drunk to be chugged. At no point in the night did anyone buy me try to savor and taste of the red wine itself. Everyone else just played dice with it.
  • As my friend Jason has said: Chinese people love the sweet drinks. Adding sprite, ice and orange slices to a bitter wine definitely achieves that objective. Now let’s see how successful coffee-flavored coke becomes.
  • Chinese people love transforming foreign things and make it their own. Look at McDonald’s, TVs at restaurants and traffic laws.

The Chinese “enjoyment” of wine is currently non-existent. There is only a very small population of people in China that know anything about wine and how to drink it. The movie Sideways was definitely not a hit here.

Everyone else has moved wine from the high-cultured place it holds in US culture to a basic mix beside beers and whiskey-green tea. Now, instead of people drinking beer or whiskey at the local bar/club/ktv, some of them are ordering wine. This is where the massive growth of wine comes from (combined with the fact that it wasn’t really in China before).

China: creation by destruction.

Friday, March 09, 2007

American Hospitality

I just got back from a week-long business trip in the United States. It was a fun, eventful, yet tiring 6 days traveling from Hong Kong to New York City to Boston and all the way back again.

After arriving on the Amtrak Acela train at the Rt. 128 station just south west of Boston, something interesting happened. I lugged my luggage with me into the elevator and pressed the wrong level of the parking structure to get off (for the taxis). After the elevator door opened at floor 2 (the wrong floor), I leaned my head out to look for taxis. Realizing my mistake, i quickly came back in to wait for the next stop. When I came in, I was greeted by 4 complete strangers asking me if they could help me find my way. These people, who were getting back home from a long day, made the effort to aid me in my search for the taxis. They exerted diligent efforts to help me figure out where I wanted to go, asked if they could help carry my luggage for me, and even asked if I needed to use their cell phone. In a 2 minute conversation, I felt that they cared.

In my perspective, however, instead of sincerely thanking these people for their efforts, I gave them a cold shoulder. Even though I acknowledged their aid, I didn't move to be engaging or even that considerate. Instead, I had this unrelenting annoyance towards these people for not minding their own business. Why were they bothering me with help? Thanks but no thanks. I don't need your help.

In retrospect, I know exactly where this annoyance came from. Although people in the US are independent, they are often nice and helpful to strangers. Although there are a few bad apples, most people are very accommodating. This is entirely different compared to my experience in Shenzhen.

When I first moved to the Dongmen area of Shenzhen, the vibrant pedestrian only shopping district, I tried to ask people a lot about where I wanted to go. I would walk up to a group of 3 girls. They were about my age and were having a fun conversation with a lot of fun and laughing. When I walked up to them, saying “excuse me, can you help point me towards [insert location],” they looked at me in a strange contempt. Most people would not answer and would quickly walk away. Others would roll their eyes and speak in a quick and detached way to get rid of me. Sometimes there seemed disgusted and showed it with cold, hateful stares.

Maybe it was me, but I was usually dressed well and didn't look like a creepy guy from the country side who could’ve been a thief. Maybe it was my Chinese, but my mandarin (putonghua) is very standard without any dialect. Although I have had good experiences of people being helpful in Shenzhen, a majority of people have developed a similar sensibility as I displayed in the elevator. Just leave me alone and I’ll do it. I don't need or want to depend on any of you.

I am kind of annoyed with my attitude and hope to change it. I also hope this change sticks and it will ultimately bring a little bit of “American Hospitality” over to China.

However, after talking to a fellow expat in Shenzhen last night, I realized I not only needed to focus on cross-cultural differences (ie cultural shock), but also cultural assimilation/adaptation. Each and everyone of us are becoming a little more Chinese everyday we are here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day.

This means women all over China are currently home playing mahjong, shopping or hopefully doing various other activities they enjoy. Work wise, women usually get either a half day or a whole day off (for us, it’s half day). At SOE jobs, they are usually given different gifts and prizes for just being them. Women. At home, they are pampered by the men in their lives. No cooking, cleaning, changing diapers. How great! Think the world’s version of the US’s Mother’s Day, but with more benefits.

From a work standpoint, 世界妇女节 means that I have nothing to do after lunch. Of the 2000+ employees and 300+ staff in my company, more than 90% of them are women. Before they got their half day break, I asked the women who work under me what I was going to do without them.

“我需要你们. 没有女人这么办?” I asked. (What are we going to do without women? We need you).

Everyone laughed. No response.

It’s true though in many different areas.
  • In modern society, men really need women to function. Whether you look at the stats that say men live longer when they are married or issues of sexual fulfillment or procreation or even knowing where I left my keys last night, women are very important.
  • In a practical matter, how am I supposed to do my job without women? With 90% of the workforce in our factory gone for the afternoon, what do the other 10% hope to accomplish? I can’t even fill out an expense sheet without my secretary!
  • Talk about Chinese work efficiency!
  • Why am I even at work pretending to work!? If I can’t do anything without them, why am I sitting at work right now writing this blog?

I suggest that for the next International Women’s Day, both men and women should take the day off while celebrating women. That way, instead of pretending to work in the office where women are even more vital then men… we, as men, could make it our sole duty to pamper them for the entire day. That would be a thought.

Wait, on second thought, this almost seems too good to be true. This is like a guy’s night out (golf outing, what have you) in the afternoon. I bet there are at least a million men in Shenzhen alone, sitting around the work place playing cards right now.

三八妇女节快乐 Mom!

Exotic. Erotic.

I’m lucky.

This is my 3rd week-long business trip in the 5 months working at company. Not only do I get to travel from China to the US, I also get to see my family, some friends, hang out and also, eat some good chicken parm. Professionally, the best part of the gig is actually going to these meetings. For the week, I am essentially in a board room with the owner, president, VP of Sales and Marketing, and other Directors. With the total of 9 people in the room (me being one of them), the 8 others have a combined 168 years of experience in the toy industry. That’s no joke.

In the span of 2 week-long strategy sessions went over different things from the goals of the company to the new products that will be going through R&D, from M&A possibilities for the companies to sales and marketing goals and objectives for the following year. How cool is it to be in that room, especially with my young age. Awesome.

In the week of meetings interesting things happen. There are cool perks of the job, nice business dinners, disagreements between colleagues, cool ideas for the future and times when I just wanted to shoot myself in the head. All in all, it was a exciting, tiring and useful experience.

One of the most interesting parts of it relates to the theme of my previous post, an American’s view of China.

All of my colleagues in the US office have a lot of interaction with China. Hong Kong is a hotbed for International toy companies. It is one of its biggest industries. My colleagues have all traveled back and forth, to and from HK and China. However, even though their travels give them glimpses into the Chinese way of life, it is very hard for them to see things outside of labor and the factory.

I was often asked how I enjoyed living in China. (Again, I was born in China and have lived in the US since I was 6, only visiting China occasionally during the summers.) When I tried to explain how it felt almost the same (subject of a previous as well as future post) as living in NYC, my colleagues were very surprised.

For all they knew, China was just the few experiences that they had themselves; stories that are told over and over:
  • Going for cheap messages given by young girls from the countryside
  • Buying bootleg DVDs/ fake Polo’s/ fake (insert brand name)
  • Enjoying their commutes where no cars are following traffic lawsSeeing many poor and disabled begging on the street
  • General mayhem
My mom would call it the west’s erotic, exotic and narrow vision of China (sorry if I got that wrong, Mom). I would argue that it is just being overwhelmed in a strange place.

All of my colleagues are good, smart and interesting people. As much as they have experienced China, in reality, they are only scratching the surface. I recently read a story about the members of congress who wanted to pass a huge tariff on Chinese goods going into the US. After they finally visited China, they were overwhelmed. It was sensory overload. They had no idea what was going on in China, whether it is the growing middle class or the unrest in the countryside, whether it is the mixing of Confucian culture and capitalism or the modernization of thinking. They only saw the surface (stuff that is shown on CNN and ABC News). Now after seeing a little bit more, they returned home and quickly tabled their bill.

With all of their resources, if people in the US government are that clueless on China, it is easy to imagine how my colleagues (who go to China for a week to work at a factory) could get their views.

China is exciting, mesmerizing, and a splendid place. It can also be frustrating, hurtful and haunting. That’s what makes China, China. That is why I am here… to experience it first hand.

It makes me understand why I’m writing this blog…to not only help my colleagues with their titanium driver purchases, but to hopefully help make China just a little bit easier to understand.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Colbert Report

Before leaving the US, I got a chance to watch the comedy central duo, the daily show and the Colbert report. I was fortunate enough to catch an interesting rerun of the Chinese New Year edition of the Colbert Report. Danwei posted one of the segments previously, here, but the episode was so funny, interesting and accurate on different American feelings of China, that I just had to post the entire thing. The main theme of the episode was defining China as a "frenemy," someone who is both a friend and an enemy.

First Segment: The Pulse

2nd segment: The Word

3rd segment: Interview

I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I do. Good times.