Thursday, March 08, 2007

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.


Anonymous said...

Interesting! That confirms my pessimistic view that any real cross-cultural understanding is a fallacy.

Mike, I love your post.

Mike said...

I think its important to define what your word "real" means.

A lot of people don't even have an understanding of themselves and their own culture. These people would have a hard time thinking about another one without passing some kind of imperialist judgment.