Friday, December 19, 2008

Shenzhen: The Posterchild of China's Economic Development

Yesterday while riding back to my apartment on the bus after Thursday night basketball with team 老外 (Lao Wai), I saw a new report about China's government meeting to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the opening up policies of Deng Xiaoping. In these 30 years, China has gone from a tremendously poor country to the world's 3rd highest GDP. It's no doubt been quite a transformation.

In this time of celebration of the opening-up policies, Shenzhen has been on the forefront on the conversation - a figurehead of sorts of China's transformation.

Recently, I have been looking for a new apartment in the downtown area. Here is a view of the Shenzhen skyline from one of the places.

Here's a CNN video discussing change in Shenzhen:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Expat Frustration in China

China is a frustrating place.

There i said it. Everyone is thinking it. You know you are too.

I would like to first state that I love China. I was born here and have been living here for more than 2 years. I have family here and a lot of friends too. I feel a incredible pride of being Chinese in the current state in the world as well as understand the burden of its history. I really do understand. It's in me.

As much as I enjoy living here, I have found China to be an incredibly frustrating place to live. People from the outside would make general arguments for this fact... ie. the water is dirty or the air is polluted, but the real frustration comes from all of the little things. These little things cant be seen or even understood by someone who hasnt lived in China. It builds up slowly until one day, you know you have to just get out of here.

When one first moves to China, everything is new and exciting. It can even initially be fun and interesting as something that is embrassed. However, given the right amount of time, these things become less fun/interesting. It's ok to laugh it off for a little bit of time, but after actually living with it everyday.... things change. Of course all of these little things can be properly explained and put into context of cultural difference, social development, a large population, ect. As a visitor in any new country, one has to accept the local society and its customs. However, that doesnt make day-to-day life easier.

So what are these little things? Here's a list:

1. The inability to just relax. The sheer number of people in China makes it so that is are people EVERYWHERE. I have never been anywhere where it was just me and no one else - where I can take a deep breath and get away from it all. 就不能安静下来. Even in places like your own apartment, the bathroom or anywhere else private, there are tons of ambiant noise caused by all of the people.

2.The horrible service. Although the general service is improving, it still lacks a huge amount to a solid benchmark. Examples include:
  • Waiting for hours in line at the bank where there is only 1 teller serving dozens of people
  • Any small mistake on any form will mean redoing that form
  • The amount of BS paperwork and incovenient transaction materials for just about any service including banking, general utilities, phone, ect.
  • Really long waits for any service at restaurants where a question or request can be left unanswered for more than 15 minutes
  • Some employees telling you the wrong thing while managers tell you the right thing
  • Basic lack of common sense where the idea that the "customer is right" doesnt exist
  • General inefficency
3. Lack of common courtesy by (not all) people. This issue depends on city and location, but it definitely happens just about everywhere. It is worst in a place like Shenzhen where there is a large migrant community. Although not all people are so bad, the small percentage of 1.3 billion is a lot. Some examples are:
  • Spitting on the street to spitting on the floor indoors and even airport terminals
  • Blatent littering when trash cans are close by (I've found myself picking up after other people)
  • Smoking in McDonald's or other non-smoking places
  • Not waiting in line for anything and pushing your way through to the front
  • Really loud disturbing conversations in restaurants or on cell phones
4. Life threatening transportation. With more and more cars on the roads everyday, the streets are not only more conjested but even more dangerous. Some basics are:
  • Taxi drivers swirving left and right in and out of traffic
  • Drivers sometime ignoring red lights or going in the wrong way on a street
  • Cars parked waiting for someone along the side of the road that blocks off traffic for
  • People standing in the street for buses
  • Jaywalking on really busy 8-lane intersections
  • People dragging carts along the street filled with random stuff.
5. For people not of Chinese decent, they get stared at all the time and approached with hi's, hello's and impromptu conversations. That's cool for a while but it gets annoying too.

All of these isses and problems all combine after a certain amount of time to build up incredible frustration in just about everyone I know. Good people become the epitome of the "ugly American" with this built up in their system.

I was talking to a friend of mine who is the nicest girl you would ever meet. She told me a story of how she just flipped out at a taxi driver after he said he couldnt take her to her destination becuase he was about to go off duty and had to return the car. She felt horrible afterwards and felt bad for the taxi driver who was only doing his job. That didnt prevent her from venting out yelling at him. That's something I would never expect from her.

Even my mom agrees. She has lived 60% of her life in China and 40% in the US. She comes back on business trips every year and loves it for a while. However, she would never be able to live here for an extended amount of time anymore.

I've seen myself become increasingly frustrated over time as well. After a while, you just cant help it but to be chippy douche to people, even friends. It's just one of those things. Maybe this is why all of the Chinese rich people are moving out to places where there are less people.

The only remedy is to get out of China for a while and go on vacation. The key is to get back to a place where these small things dont exist, or that they exist but are interpreted by a tourist mindset of acceptance, not a constant annoyance. Thank goodness Shenzhen, is so close to Hong Kong, Macau and SE Asia. A couple of days on the Thailand beaches really does wonders. Bali, here I come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sex, Love & Money in China

Anyone who knows anything about Shenzhen knows that it is the "wild wild west" of Chinese capitalism. Although some would argue Shanghai or Hong Kong as the major financial centers, Shenzhen is the real place where all the most able and capable entrepreneurs go. Maybe in 10-20 years, Shenzhen will develop into a international city, it is still currently a culture-less metropolis with a specific focus on money and everything money related.

I like describing Shenzhen as a melting pot of the most able people in China. The young worker in the factory is usually the eldest and most responsible or able in his/her family while the company owners are hotshots from every part of China. It is certainly a weird and unique place with a young population that like to get ahead.

One of the more interesting and somewhat unfortunate aspects of his money-hungry city is its hidden cultural intersection between sex, love and money. Here's the rule: those who dont have money will do a lot to get it. In this case it has led to a system of mistresses and

In a article published online by entitled "China girls: 'The only luxury we can't afford is love'", it describes the current and growing issue of 2nd wives and "concubines" in China. It follows a variety of individuals who are in this community of "二奶 [ernai]" and discuss the various social, political and personal issues that are involved.

Anyone who lives in a major city in China can see the various signs of this system. It is as simple as going to a club/bar on a weekend and seeing all of the 40 year old guys sporting the beer belly with a young and attractive girl in her 20s.

Even yesterday as I rode the elevator down from my apartment building at dinner time, I chatted with a really pretty girl in her 20s. I noticed that she was wearing expensive jewlery, clothing while radiating Channel purfume. As we parted ways outside of the building after some small talk, I saw her go directly into a high priced Mercedes waiting for her, driven by a 40-something guy.
Most 二奶 receive "rental on a fashionable penthouse in one of the city's dazzling white apartment blocks, plus a 5,000-yuan (about £350) monthly budget for clothing, haircare and skin-whitening treatments. That's more than double China's average monthly income."

In turn her 'husband' - a successful industrialist whose factories stud mainland China - entertains Little Snow once or twice a month. The nights are raucous, but the sex lacklustre, to Little Snow 'a function no different from brushing my hair or drinking a glass of water'. He's up before the sun rises, sometimes leaving a rose on the pillow.
Is this wrong? Is this right? I don't know. However, I do know that this is all created by the income disparity that exists between people from the countryside and those from the cities, between the young and old, between women and men.

As long as men in China have most of the wealth and the distrubution disparty between the different classes are so large, this system will always exist. As the Telegraph article states:'
The country has changed rapidly; but Chinese thinking hasn't caught up with this new reality,' says Yang Erche Namu, aka Namu, one-time mistress to a diplomat and now a postergirl for modern Chinese feminism, whose ballsy bestselling books urge Chinese women to pursue emotional and financial emancipation. 'Some men are getting very rich, with cash to throw around, but at the same time the wealth gap is widening and the countryside is full of young girls living in poverty. So it's natural that love becomes a transaction - it's a simple case of supply and demand.'
In addition to the young 2nd wives, there are also 2nd husbands, gigalos or 鸭子 [yazi] in Shenzhen. While this usually occurs less frequently, it is still a part of the culture. A recent Malaysian article described a young, 22 year old Shenzhen man blackmailing his 50 year old wife for 1 million HKD.

This just shows that its all about the money in Shenzhen.

Note: Many people have written about the issues relating to prostitution and brothels in Shenzhen and other Chinese cities. I have been recently reading China Inc. by Ted Fishman and it gives a great summary of the situation for girls who go into the pay-for-sex industry and its links with economic and financial struggles.

Also, just to show that Sex & Money is related in every culture, below is a recent ABC News report describing the growth in the US brothel service in the current bad economy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

China Takes Action. US Hangs Out

For the past few days since Barack Obama was elected President, I've been trying my best to keep up with the news about his presidential transition and the economy. Although it has only been a few days since the historic election, there has already been a lot of politics and fighting between the various interest groups in the US.

The main issue currently in the US is the economy. As GM is almost going bankrupt and more people hit the unemployment lines everyday, the country has sought a change from the current status quo and is looking to Obama as the savior. It seems that most people want him to start doing things right away and try to pursue his policy direction he laid out during his campaign.

Obama has announced his desire for middle class tax relief, help in healthcare and unemployment insurance for the poor as well as investments in infulstructure and public work projects all over the country to stimulate the economy. The issue right now is that:

1. He's still not the president. He only becomes president in January.
2. Even though he has a "mandate" from the election, he has to get past the lame-duck congress and lame duck president bush to see any of his proposals become law before he's sworn in.
3. Even when he is officially president, he will still have to play the politics game back and forth with congress to get anything done. As we've seen the $150 billion in amendments and pork addes on to the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, there will definitely more of the same to any new stimulous package.

So in the midst of an economic crisis for the ages, the US government cant act because of procedural issues and infighting.

On the flip side, look at China. Just before I went to bed last night, CNN reported that China, in all its "red, commie" glory, has announced a $586 Billion spending plan for the next to years to bolster its economy in this downturn. Without too much debate or infighting, China has acted urgently to combat this crisis.

And surprise surpise, the investment is for "infrastructure and social welfare" projects/programs. I guess this is what Obama was thinking about doing in his plan. Now lets see how long it takes the US to do the same exact thing as China.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Unity in the USA and China

I spent last night with a couple of fellow American friends to watch the complete and full election coverage on our little 3-monitor setup here in Shenzhen. After a rather quick electoral landslide, Obama will become the next President of the USA. This almost improbable moment just years ago - in a country with a racist and problematic past, the US voted for change.

Even though I am on the other side of the world, watching what is going on through video monitors, I could still feel the great aura of the moment. I could almost feel the excitement and sheer awesomeness felt all over the US. Many friends emailed, texted and even called me talking about their excitement, where they were and what was going on. Some partied in the streets of Harlem on the 125th and some were present at his acceptance speech with 70,000 others in a Chicago park. Just a great moment.

This moment, that brought together millions of Americans created a new communal feeling of togetherness and unity that has not touched the US for such a long time.

In actuality, this moment resembles a lot of the past few years in China. Yes its true. As much as a lot of people criticize China for "autoritarian gov't" and other "non-democratic" ways, it is a place that has this collective conscienceness.

Thinking back, I remember when China was awarded the 2008 Olympic games way back in 2001. I was in China for a few days and saw the millions of people celebrating in Tiananmen Square and all over the country. I remember the Sichuan earthquake and how that brought the Chinese people together. I experienced the sheer awe-inspiring 2-week Beijing Olympics and the subsequent liftoff and the 1st space walk of the Shenzhou 7 mission. All of these events (among others) are underlying reasons why China has been able to become what it is today.

Again this feeling of community, the collective idenity and conscienceness creates a great feeling of unity. With the looming economic crisis increasing in scope, this is exactly what the US needs. Just as it united the USA after the attacks of 9/11, it will make the country resiliant and powerful again. Even though i'm over here in China, i'm proud of my country and see a bright future ahead even with the problems that will come. For a country to be able to build the A-bomb and go to the Moon, nothing is out of reach.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shenzhen's Greater Plan: No Manufacturing, No Problem.

There has been a recent plethora of news regarding the effects of the global recession on the Chinese export industry, especially in Shenzhen. Many articles have been devoted to bigger factories that used to produce toys, furniture, other consumer products while employing thousands and thousands of workers closing down. One even says it will cost the Pearl River Delta area "millions of jobs".

In reality, this situation has been going on for a while now. The downturn in the US economy many months ago changed the dynamics of manufacturing. With changes in regulations and demands, rising RMB vs. the Dollar exchange rate and other factors, previous factories that employed 100-200 workers couldnt maintain cash flow and pay for their workers.

While talking to managers at plants, some said that it was better for them to go idle than to manufacture something because the things they made was almost always at a loss. Other factories didnt even have the convenience of deciding to manufacturer or not. Once booming factories couldn't get any new orders from their clients in Europe and the US. No orders = no work = no jobs = plants closing down. Fast forward to the present and we see factories with 2000 workers collapse. That's intense. I've seen recent stats that more than 50% of all toy companies in Shenzhen have closed down.

The thing is, as much as this economic downturn in the globalized economy has hurt a lot of export-driven businesses, and its workers in Shenzhen, it's really helping Shenzhen transform itself to what it wants to become. For the past 2 years since I've been living here, there has been a constant trend and push by local officials to develop Shenzhen as a city dominated by high-tech research rather than lower value-added manufacturing. It wants to go from labor intensive, basic and easy things like the toy industry to industries higher on the totem pole of innovation.

As much as Shenzhen was able to get its start from being that factory town "across the border" for Hong Kong businessmen, its goal is to move away from that persona into an international city of something other than toys, eye glass frames and furniture. It wants to be a city on the same scale as Beijing and Shanghai, or better than Singapore.

So while Shenzhen has slowly tried to shed its own manufacturing persona (these are well documented and that I wont go through), it has done many things to promote innovation, whether its opening a office in NYC or being ranked a leader of innovation in Asia in a recent study. Other things include:
  • Establishing favorable policies for high tech industries - this includes lower taxes and cheaper office buildings (among others)
  • Attracting more and more Chinese people back from overseas, whether its recent graduates or seasoned professionals and intellectuals.
  • Maintaining a high education work force. Supposedly more workers in Shenzhen have advanced degrees than any other city in China. I'm sure most of these are in fields of engineering, mathematics, ect.
  • Increasing its financial clout. Shenzhen has developed the Nasdaq-style exchange for SMEs (adding to its current Shenzhen Stock Exchange) while more and more investment banks and financial companies are established here.
  • Promoting greater cooperation with Hong Kong (which is definitely an international city). This work might culminate into a "mega city" metropolis of 20 million people that combines both cities.
  • Investing in an amazing, state of the art Terminal C at Shenzhen Airport.
  • There has been recent emphasis on art, music and culture in the predominantly money-hungry and business rich environment.
  • Focusing on the legal industry. Peking University recently opened a regional campus in Shenzhen as the 1st American-type law school in China. They even invited Justice Anthony Kennedy from the US Supreme court to give the Keynote at the dedication ceremony.
Shenzhen already can be considered one of the most expensive Chinese cities and its development for the future looks bright. Even with the global economic downturn, UPS has just started construction on its new Intra-Asian hub in Shenzhen and it has been ranked 10th on the list of "most powerful emerging cities in the world."

I don’t think anything will stop the development of Shenzhen into the international power city it wants to become. As long as there are no unforeseen problems with the unskilled laborers who have been getting laid off at factories. If you want to get in on the Shenzhen story, better buy a house now before the prices start going up again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

China Related Links

I've recently come across many interesting, in-depth articles related to both Shenzhen and China. While I would love to post reactions to all of them, there are just too many interesting things to say. See for yourself.

A Massive Migration - describes the life of the typical migrant worker with interviews, statistics and current developments of migrant issues

The New American - An interesting yet sometimes ignorant Esquire magazine article relating to entrepreneurialism in China for young American expats.

Shenzhen Starts Spreading the News - An Australian perspective on the development of Shenzhen, its future and entrepreneurialism.

Silent Busts - An Economist article analyzing collapsing Chinese companies in recent months and the insufficient Chinese bankruptcy laws that govern them.

Keeping it Green - An Newsweek article focusing on the environmental success of the Beijing Olympics and how the city can keep recent gains regarding environmental quality.

China Sneezes, Latin America Catches a Cold - An article describing the interdependncy of the world economy and how China's slowing economy will shake Latin America

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The NBA Pushes on in the Chinese Market

The NBA is making a bigger play within the China market. It has announced a venture to build/renovate/create 12 NBA-caliber arenas in China over the next 20 years. There are only 2 NBA-caliber arenas in China currently, the Wukesong Basketball arena in Beijing (host of the Olympics basketball events) and the arena in the Macau Venetian hotel.

As reported on
The NBA has formed a joint venture with Anschutz Entertainment Group to design and develop about 12 multipurpose arenas in major Chinese cities.

"We think of this over the next 20 years, not the next year or two," he said, adding some would be new arenas and others would be created by renovating existing facilities.

"You're going to see a combination," Leiweke said. "Most of them will be built and designed from the ground up."

"Where feasible, the arenas will be developed in conjunction with surrounding cultural and entertainment districts potentially comprised of restaurants, retail outlets, cinemas, hotels, residential areas, sports training facilities and smaller live entertainment venues," the NBA said in a statement.
The NBA already has a considerable footprint in marketing itself in China.
  • Basketball is officially the most popular sport in China.
  • US Basketball team members at the recent Olympics made a big marketing push in China to promote the NBA & USA Basketball
  • It also has 3 Chinese-born players in the league, Yao Ming (Rockets), Yi Jianlian (Nets) and most recently, Sun Ye (Lakers) - all in big markets.
  • "The NBA currently has relationships with 51 Chinese telecasters, including a partnership of more than 20 years with national broadcaster CCTV," the NBA says. This means NBA games are on all the time on Chinese TV.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Healthy Eating in Shenzhen

Ever since I returned to Shenzhen from my incredible Olympics trip to Beijing, I have put myself on the Mike-diet/exercise plan. It is a strict regiment combining working out, health living and healthy eating. When I implemented my plan back in college, it worked wonders. I lost weight and increased my muscle mass - perfect for spring break at the beach.

One of the most difficult things to keep up with during my diet is eating healthy. Back in college, although John Jay dining hall and all the other Columbia University places for food wasn't overwhelmingly great, they still provided a lot of options for low-calorie diets. I could go in, pick up some grilled chicken at the salad bar with some egg whites. In restaurants, there were always options for meals that were more healthy - low in cholesterol, low fat/oil and low calories.

Food in China is much harder to deal with. Unless I cook the meal myself, I really don't have too much confidence in the contents of food... healthy-eating wise. Don't get me wrong, Chinese food is clean, really delicious and cheap, but on the oil usage side, it leaves something to be desired.

With the price of food skyrocketing in recent months, its only logical that small restaurants would want to conserve costs in every way possible. This presents even more problems with a healthy-eating lifestyle.

Here are some of the issues I've been experiencing.
  • Often times dishes are covered in oil and are high in salt content. Salty foods makes you want to eat more rice = hidden calories
  • Lots of dishes are smothered in thick, rich sauces. While these sauces taste awesome, they are another source of hidden calories.
  • The price of pork has increased by more than 50%. This means restaurants use more fatty pork in their dishes than they would traditionally to reduce cost.
  • Restaurants sometimes use old cooking oil that has been used in friers. As with the same problem in McDonald's fries, repeated use of the same oil is unhealthy.
  • Eating at Chinese restaurants can be problematic with regard to portion. After having a little bit of a lot of different dishes in a potluck/communal way, its really difficult to measure how much you are eating.
  • Only relatively healthy American establishment is Subway. Since I live more than 5 miles away, it's not a viable option.
The only main restaurant I order food from is a local Korean restaurant. The selections are cheap and diverse while carolie and fat content stays low. Kimchee soups only cost 20RMB with starter dishes and rice. Not a bad deal. Other than the Korean restaurant, I usually cook at home. While I make just about the same things as local restaurants make, I can better control the quality. By using olive oil (100RMB/liter), less salt and sauces, it's the best way to eat healthy in Shenzhen.

Here are the main foods that I rely on available at the local supermarkets:
  • Boneless chicken breast is available everywhere. Although Chinese people generally love pork, for some reason, stores sell chicken breast too. For about 6RMB, I can get a healthy portion that I cook on the George Foreman grill after marinating it in soy sauce.
  • Canned tuna is widely available as well, but a little expensive compared to the US. Individual cans go for about 11-14RMB at the foreign foods aisle.
  • Salads are big for me. Since veggies are relatively cheap, its a good way to eat healthy. The only thing is dressing selection is limited. This means, I buy dressing every time I'm back in the USA.
  • The availability of cheap sandwich meats have been a recent phenomenon. Pastrami, ham and beef ham cost about 7RMB for 10 circular slices. Place that in some mutigrain bread with some mustard and it kind of feels like the US.
  • For drinks, I stick with Dole OJ (16RMB fora typical jug), water and the recent introduction of Coke Zero to the Chinese market.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Changes to the One Child Policy

I just got back from Shenzhen after an eventful weekend in and around Chengdu. I went with a friend to her cousin's wedding back in her hometown. We hung out with her huge extended family and had a wonderful time. Even better, this trip has given me a lot of interesting topics to write about for my blog.

One of the more interesting topics I stumbled across was a new regulation regarding the 1 child policy. Officially adopted in the early 1980s as a way to control population growth in China, it stemmed from the fundamental belief that society is a big stakeholder on everyone's life. Given China's huge population, in a person's life, not only does he/she need food and shelter, but also the opportunity to go to school, find a job, have health care, ect.

It's not only a family decision to have a child, but a big part is society's ability to support this person throughout his/her life. In a country dominated by overpopulation and not enough resources even more people is a big problem. While there were some exceptions made for ethnic minorities, people in rural areas and people living in mountainous habitats, the rule was otherwise strict. Violators faced fines and other actions, sometimes including sterilization (reported).

Due to the importance placed on having a son, the government also placed strict laws against families finding out their baby's sex until he/she is born. This would prevent families wanting to abort the pregnancy after finding out they are having a girl instead of a boy. Although this policy can be circumvented through some back-door guanxi at the hospital, it's proven relatively effective.

The 1 child policy also changed the basics of family dynamics in China. As an only child myself, I didn't have any brothers or sisters. My mom was the oldest of 3 while my dad was the 2nd of 5. My grandparents were both the youngest of 7. Traditionally big families all over the country were now only allowed one child. No more brothers and sisters just cousins. In a country where family is really important, this is a big deal.

There have also been bigger problems that have come out of the 1 child policy. In a disturbing report by Al Jazeera, child abductions have been more and more frequent.

I personally agree with the 1 child policy. Although western "human rights activists" oppose it, the 1 child policy has been one of the reasons China is not at a 2 billion population right now. While having a child can be considered a right, the ability for this child to live in society is just as important or even more important.

It seems like the rules have been modified a little bit. From my conversations with numerous people on this trip, it is said that if a couple are both the only child from their respective families, this couple can have 2 children. I don't know if this is absolutely true across the country, but my friend confirmed this fact. (She and her husband just had a baby girl 5 months ago).

Although this doesn't seem to be much of a concession, it feels really big. It gives couples more opportunity to have the boy they sometimes greatly desire. It also signals a shift in the belief that China's society can support more people in the future given its economic development. Maybe its also the need for more young people in the future to support the aging population. Whatever it is, it's a big change.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Volunteers EVERYWHERE!

Immediately after the closing ceremonies, there were nonstop coverage by the Chinese media on the end of the Olympics. As every event completed its final game or match, the final medals had been handed out and the crowd had left, only the volunteers were left.

After a month's long work as an Olympic volunteer it was a perfect time to relax and unwind at the venue they had worked so hard in. People were running around the bases in the baseball stadium and taking pictures in the beach volleyball sand in Chaoyang Park. Everyone was enjoying a job well done and a successful Olympics.

The number of volunteers that were employed during the Beijing Olympics was unbelievable. Not only were there thousands of official volunteers selected by the city, there were also local mobilization of citizens. At all of the major tourist sights, in the subway stations, on the streets, in the small neighborhoods and everywhere in between, there was someone to help out. All of these people were constantly looking over Beijing - making sure it was safe, friendly and welcoming to both the athletes, coaches and tourists from all countries.

As my mom’s friend in the China All Women’s Federation said: Just give these volunteers a T-shirt and arm band and they’ll mobilize together. These old people in the neighborhoods constantly gossip and know just about anyone. Terrorists? Yea right.

Here are some of the volunteers I came across:

At Wangfujing - these people know 4 different languages

A girl got lost in the metro station! Here come the volunteers.

China Mobil Volunteer station near the Beijing Military Museum

Old People hanging out

Young People hanging out

Everyone's an volunteer.

China Mobile Volunteer Stand near the Guo Mao area

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Craigslist Enters the Shenzhen Online Community

While browsing online yesterday, I noticed something new to the Shenzhen online landscape.

For people who don't live here, most people go to for just about everything including applying for jobs, parties, classifieds and apartment hunting. It is the most dominant site in the area. While there are some issues with its graphics, interface and user-friendliness, it is a useful platform that just about everyone embrases.

In recent months, has developed a nice, more interactive site in the Shenzhen online community with it's Ning platform for social networking. This site has personal profiles, fictures, blogs, news and message boards. It has become a hit for both expats and English-loving local Chinese. While sometimes it is more of a place for weird white guys to hit on random Chinese girls, it does create a interesting interactive community.

Recently in response to this more interactive community, Shenzhen Party has started its own Ning-created network to comepete with Shenzhen Stuff.

The newest addition has been the addition to Craigslist. Originally started in NYC, it has now spread to China to 6 cities - Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Although Craigslist: Shenzhen has very posts and relatively few users currently (it's only been online for a few months max), it creates an interesting new addition to the Shenzhen's expat market. I wonder if Craigslist has or will be opening up a Chinese language version of its services soon. That would be a much better investment with a possibly much greater pool of potential users.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shenzhen Opens Office in NYC to Promote Trade & Relations

In a recent press release published online by Marketwatch, on Oct. 27, 2008, Shenzhen will officially opened a office in New York City.

The City of Shenzhen, China announced today that it will be hosting a luncheon ceremony on October 27 at the Marriott Marquis in New York, to celebrate the opening of the New York Representative Office of Shenzhen and to discuss key economic developments as well as business opportunities between Shenzhen and the U.S.

The opening ceremony will not only include government officials and representatives of Shenzhen and the Chinese consulate in NYC, but it will also include prominent leaders of major electronics and financial firms based in Shenzhen.

What seems most likely is the continued expansion of ties in the financial and high tech industries. Shenzhen has already planned a NASDAQ exchange for small and medium sized companies that can supplement the already existing Shenzhen Exchange. It is also focused on decreasing the number of value-added companies (that produce toys for example) and promote the high tech industry. This would push it away from just a factory town to a city of innovation, design and creatvity.

Great move by Shenzhen. Silicon Valley anyone?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chinese Health is Trending Towards Obesity

China is getting fat and less healthy. It's true.

I first wrote about this problem more than a year ago with my analysis of McDonald's in China. Others have also ventured into this realm.

A USA Today article written more than a year ago, Obesity of China's kids stuns officials, described the shocking changes in Chinese children.
New figures from the Health Ministry show that urban Chinese boys age 6 are 2.5 inches taller and 6.6 pounds heavier on average than Chinese city boys 30 years ago.

The average 6-year-old in Beijing or Shanghai weighs nearly 47 pounds and is 3 feet, 10.5 inches tall, ministry figures show. The average American of the same age weighs just over 50 pounds and also is 3 feet 10.5 inches tall, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chinese children have a lot of factors working against them in the battle against bad health and obesity:
  • Children are traditionally considered more healthy (and better) if they are fatter.
  • Due to the 1 child policy, Chinese children are often spoiled by parents and grandparents - meaning more trips to fat-happy places like McD's.
  • The demands on a child's academics is such that some kids start going to after school classes when they are as young as the 3rd grade. More classes = No playing outdoors after school.
  • When students do have time on their hands, its often spent online playing games like CounterStrike, WoW or chatting on QQ. This not only results in muscle atrophy but also a decreased people-skills ability.
  • There are very few, if any, outdoor clubs and organizations to join. In the US there are basketball, soccer, football teams, little league, boy & girl scouts. In China ... I've never heard of any.
  • When kids get into high school, academics is still the end all be all preparation for the College Entrance Examination (高考). School sport systems are very rare and active lifestyles really disappear.
Even after kids grow up, there are many other things working against them.
  • More meat and dairy products are available due to increased economic development. Many Chinese enjoy strictly eating meat almost exclusively. This is even worse when meat is usually prepared with a solid layer of oil/grease.
  • When graduates enter the workforce they usually find white collar jobs. Instead of physical labor, people sit next to their computer day in and day out.
  • With more and more cars on the road, people are travel less by foot or bike and more by car.
  • It is very difficult to eat healthy.
Due to all of these factors (and others), it is not surprising that Chinese people are getting less healthy and more obese.

I can state from personal experience that this is occurring. My cousin in Harbin is 18 and is starting college next year. He grew up as the "little emperor" and was a cute, chubby kid. My extended family obsessively fed him while focusing stringently on his future academic prospects. He was decent at school, but he was aided with constant help and review classes beginning at age 10.

My cousin never really played any sports nor did he even go out to hang out with friends. (I honestly dont know if he has any friends). The only things he does is stay home, go online, study and eat. The expectations on him by his parents and grandparents are to study. I dont know if he even does chores around the house.

What began as a promising kid is now a rather fat, unmotivated, friendless and people-skills-less person who grew up like many other kids in China. I honestly dont know how he's going to survive in modern society.

Of course, China isn't standing still waiting for this problem to expand. There has been not only government initiatives to step obesity but also private sector developments. Re-examinations of the educational system and parental responsibilites are also occuring.
  • Fat camps have popped up all over the country for obese children. TV programs similar to the US "The Biggest Loser" are also appearing on TV.
  • Chinese people, while getting more lazy and less active are still relatively more active than counterparts in other countries. The use of public transportation and walking in China helps this cause.
  • Chinese people for some reason enjoy climbing up and down mountains as weekend functions of fun. That definitely helps.
  • Some more affluent Chinese families are promoting a more healthy and active lifestyle for their kids. This includes more traveling, more exercize and joining clubs
  • Basketball is increasingly popular meaning more people are excercizing everyday.
  • Preventative health is big in China. People often eat vitamins and stay away from pain killers and antibiotics.
  • In my opinion, however, the biggest development has been the huge expansion of exercise in cities among the urban population.
Hopefully all of these factors can help the Chinese people develop in a healthy and sustainable way.

Monday, October 06, 2008

China Mostly Immune to Global Financial Crisis

For the past few weeks, I've been engrossed with the current US election. As a person who has volunteered for campaigns, canvassed in low income neighborhoods and helped register people to vote in the US, it has been an interesting election season so far.

The main issue this year has been the economy and the current financial crisis affecting the world. As a friend who works for McKinsey Consulting told me more than a year ago... "it'll be really really bad. Just wait, Mike." I guess he was right. Another one of my friends who used to work for Lehman in Hong Kong is looking for a new job.

(Yep, the Dow Jones just went under 10,000. This is getting even more crazy.)

What's great news in China is that the main Chinese banks are largely unaffected by the crisis plaguing the rest of the world. It seems that Chinese leaders didn't really understand financial derivatives back a few years ago. Since they didn't understand them, they didn't invest in them. This act of conservative and cautious investing has greatly benefited the Chinese economy. Even though the Chinese stock market has taken a hit - as have just about everyone, the "robust" Chinese economy is said to be able to muscle through while the rest of the world struggles. - CNN.

I guess I'll just have to put my Bschool plans on hold and stay in China for a little longer. It's really the only place where there are jobs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Expat Exodux = Easy to find a Job in Shenzhen

In the past few months, there has been a huge exodus of foreigners from Guangdong province. Due to the Olympics, China employed a lot of regulations that could help control the flow of foreigners into China. Not only was it much more difficult to obtain a visa but it was almost impossible to get a visa in Hong Kong.

Also, foreigners who were living in China and working on Tourist visas were shooed away. This usually stemmed from police approaching expats on the street to see adaquate identification. For people who were employed, he/she faced increased scrutiny in applying for a work visa. While most of these regulations were a surprise to expats, they were all on the books but werent really enforced until recently.

All of these efforts led to a huge decline in the expat community in Guangdong. As a friend of mine described to me, supposedly as much as 90% of the foreigners in Guangdong had left before the Olmypics started. That's just crazy.

Just walk around the Shekou area and you can see the effects. Once filled with foreigners from all over the world, Shekou is now mostly empty. Business is down for both restaurants and bars. I went there on a night out with friends this past Wednesday and there were barley anyone there. Woah.

Another side effect of this exodus deals with jobs. Many foreigners working in Guangdong were employed as project managers for various trading or manufacturing companies - usually under tourist visas. Since most of these people have left China, it has created a vaccum of talent for people seeking jobs. It is now incredibly easy to find a project management job in Shenzhen that pays a very attractive salary. I would assume this is the case as well in other cities like Beijing and Shanghai. It was always easy to find English teaching jobs in Shenzhen, but it's definitely even easier now.

As the US economy tanks and the world economy goes into a recession of sorts, I see China becoming an increasingly attractive place for young people to come to. Recently, another 100+ newly college-grad English teachers have deceded on Shenzhen through the CLTC Program's deal with the Shenzhen Government Education Bureau. Students are arriving every semester to study Chinese at different universities all over the country from places like the USA, Europe, South America, Mexico, Korea and Japan. Even people who have gone back to the USA are returning to China for round 2.

If you want that job, get over here early.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

WWE Wresting is in CHINA! WHAT?!?!

As I'm writing in my blog right now, I have the Guangzhou sports channel on (Channel 67 on Shenzhen's local cable). To my surprise, the programming being broadcasted right now isnt a European Champion's League soccer game nor is it a replay of an 2008 Beijing Olympic event - that has been often on TV recently. It's not even a boring strategy guide of Chinese chess.

No. It's WWE's Monday night RAW with John Cena wrestling in a 2 on 1 event.


Yes. You heard it here. The World Wrestling Entertainment is here in China. As I've noticed in the brief time I've been checking the show out, it seems like unedited segments of the live events broadcasted in its natural form. The viewer can hear the English broadcast, plot lines and music but the entire production is voiced over by a Chinese commentator. This guy explains each wrestler's history, their technique and special moves, the plot lines, situations and almost a play-by-play of the matches. I wonder how these commentators made up the Chinese vocab for a Stone Cold Stunner...

Best Quote: "[In Chinese] Don't do these submission moves at home, kids."

What is with WWE events being broadcasted in China of all places? What are they thinking? Although I dont know if fake wrestling is as popular here in China as it is in the midwest and south in the USA, I do know that the WWE is making a play at the China market just like the NBA, MLB, NFL (not to mention just about all other western companies).

In my opinion, it's incredibly funny that this is on TV here in Shenzhen, China. If Chinese people actually watch this programing, what would they think about how crazy US sports are. I wonder if the China version shows the girls wrestle in skimpy bikinis too??

Monday, September 29, 2008

Shenzhen Gov't Make Arrests After Deadly Fires

In the past few days, the Shenzhen government has taken action and arrested more than 2o people in association with recent unexpected fires in the SEZ.

The first action, 13 people were arrested for the fatal fire that killed party-goers at a Longgang night club a week ago. As China Daily reports, Investors, club workers and founders were all taken into custody for their involvment and neglegence in the event.
As of 12 am on Friday, family members of 31 victims of the fire had signed compensation agreements with the local government, according to the Longgang district authorities.

The Longgang district government is paying kin of those who died 250,000 yuan.

The property of Wu Wang Club has been frozen and the lawsuit over the fire is expected to take a while. Family members of the victims can file a suit and claim for compensation from the frozen club property. The club will pay back the government after the court ruling, said Huang Wei, spokesman for the Longgang district government.

Some 43 people injured in the fire are still in hospital. Four of them are on life support. Medical experts assigned by the Ministry of Health said the injury to their nervous system as a result of suffocation is most likely beyond recovery.

Despite a citywide drive to preempt such incidents following the nightclub fire, a fire broke out at an old factory of a Taiwan-funded company in Shajing of Shenzhen's Bao'an district around 4 am on Friday. It was put out in five hours. There were no casualties.

On the following day, Xinghua reported the arrest of officials allegedly involved a factory fire that happened back in February in Shenzhen.
Nine people including four government officials have been arrested in connection with a fatal factory fire that claimed 15 lives in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, in February.

The four officials, identified as Huang Hanguang, Zeng Hongbo, Lin Guozhong and Yi Rao, were from the city's fire fighting bureau and environment protection bureau. They were arrested on charges of neglecting their duties and misconduct, said the press office of the Shenzhen government on Sunday.
As I have seen personally in the past few days, hopefully this kind of attention will bring greater awareness for fire safety in the city.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shenzhen Clubs Adjust to Fire Safety

Last night I spent a night out in Shenzhen. As I posted before, ever since the deadly fire and stampede a week ago in Longgang district, a lot of changes have been made to Shenzhen nightlife.

Here are some of the stuff I noticed:
  • Chocolate, Ubar, Yellow, InClub and Rox were all closed. No lights were on and no people were around.
  • Popular hang outs like Soho, Face and Richy were somehow open.
  • Since all of the other clubs were already full, Soho had a huge line outside trying to get in.
  • At Face, there was much less people than there are usually.
I spent the majority of my time at Richy, the typical high-scale hongkong and shenzhen elite hangout. While there were no lines, it was much more difficult to get in than usual. A lot of people were being turned away at the door due to the limits on the amount of people inside. More foreigners than usual were being turned away as well.

After going inside Richy club, it only looked like it was 70% capacity as it used to look before the incident. The dance floor was gone while at least 8 tables next to high traffic areas were taken away. This left huge spaces for people to walk around. Some of the VIP sofas were also removed in favor of wider paths for club-goers. All of these measures definitely walking around earlier but a lot of the ambiance was destroyed. Now instead of a packed, really intimate feel, it felt like it was 9pm and people were just kind of hanging out.

Things were definitely different than before.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Shenzhen Gov't Takes Action After Deadly Fire & Stampede at Club

Almost a week ago now a fire at a nightclub in Longgang district in Shenzhen left at least 43 people dead and another 45 people injured. During a show, fireworks ignited the ceiling tiles overhead causing a fire. While the fire was relatively small, it ignited panic that caused a stampede out of the club. News outlets from China and all over the world covered the event.

I personally have never been to the Longgang area. It is as far and different from my Luohu and Nanshan clubs as the Bronx would be for Meatpacking district Manhattan. (So thank you to all of my friends who messaged me asking if I was ok).

Fire safety awareness in China is very lax. Whether lack of awareness is from ignorance or intentional I dont know. It is, however a big reason why a lot of fatal fires have occurred in China's public places (To be fair, fires in NYC clubs have been frequent as well). While there are proper stairwells and emergency exits, most are not maintained well. Poor lighting and using it as storage are the major problems. While there are solid and concrete laws on the books, the implementation and enforcement of these laws are lax until an event like this takes place (again, just as i've seen in NYC). Also, Chinese clubs really try to pack people into a small amount of space. Even for really big bars and clubs, there are soo many tables and chairs that walking around is incredibly difficult, not to mention any kind of reaction to a fire.

Since the fire, local government have taken action. My friends have mentioned that popular bars like Ubar, Yellow, Face, and others all over Shenzhen have shut down temporarily due inspections for safety. While some opened back up immediately, others that don’t conform to standards are still closed.

Bars and clubs are not the only issue either. These fire safety problems are present in office buildings, hospitals and other facilities as well. My hope is that the Shenzhen gov't will actively address all of these issues in light of the recent event.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shenzhou 7 is on Final Countdown

We are on final countdown till the next group of Chinese taikonauts go into space. Tomorrow night, 9/25/2008 at around 9:50pm, Shenzhou 7 will lift off for a mission in space. This will mark the first space walk ever by an Chinese astronaut, or 太空人.

I've been reading about the imminent launch recently on CNN and Google News, however, I haven't looked that much into it. Talking to a friend a few days ago, the most important and interesting aspect of China going into space is that the technology was basically all developed in China. Although some of basic designs were originally taken from the Souez of Russia, it has been extensively re engineered and redesigned. All of the technology necessary for the life support, power, communications, operations, everything has been made in China. This is because Europe and the US will not give China any help in anything space related.

After getting back to my apartment from the gym today, while surfing the channels, I saw a CCTV News channel special feature on the mission called 中华看神舟. Hosted by news anchors from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. This feature included the dedication ceremony held by officials in the space agency as well as personal profiles of the astronauts.

One of the features of the Shenzhou 7 mission is that all 3 astronauts are from northern China - 2 from Heilongjiang province (where I was born). Both came from humble beginnings in relatively poor families. The leader of the mission and one of the alternates for the 1st manned mission into space, his grandmother sold sunflower seeds as snacks to help put him through high school. Only though dedication, luck and hard work did the astronauts get to where they are now.

Interesting other parts of the program includes: 中华看神州
  • The 3 astronauts still do not know who will make the first Chinese space walk yet.
  • All 3 were born in 1966.
  • The main training compound for astronauts is located ini the suburbs of Beijing. The astronauts stay on campus from Monday through Friday and have all activities, meals and facilities on campus. Only during the weekend can they leave campus.
  • After the interview, the program showed an extended graphic of the mission which included the preparations, liftoff, separation, orbital patterns crew working, crew compartments, preparations of the space walk and the actual walk - all in 3D graphics.
  • During the interview with one of the taikonauts, although he wanted to be the person who did the first space walk, he quickly reiterated the importance of this mission and the collective pride of all the astronauts who were chosen for this mission and their dedication to it.
  • There was no doubt in the astronauts' mind that the mission would be successful.
  • There are more than 200 reporters and correspondents on site at the launch pad.
  • The launch pad complex has more than 20,000 people living there, complete with schools, restaurants, offices and entertainment.
I'm going to try to watch the lift off with my extended family here in Shenzhen. It's going to be quite a show.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shezhen Investing $200 Million in Vietnam

For the past year a lot of factors have been hurting Shenzhen factories manufacturers.

1. Huge increases in the cost of commodities, from plastics to iron and everything in between
2. Inflation in China
3. Appreciation of the RMB - making products less competitive when exporting to the US
4. New worker standards in China = higher wages for the same jobs
5. The inability to pass the rising costs to the clients overseas
6. Tax breaks and customs tax rebates to Chinese companies exporting internationally have been repealed

All of these factors have severely hurt once profitable businesses into lagging money-losing enterprises. The owner of my new apartment i'm renting in Nanshan is a part owner of a factory who does business with western clients like Walmart. He said that every month he loses 400,000 RMB on workers salaries and factory overhead costs. However, if he actually worked on any orders, his loses would INCREASE to 600,000 RMB. He loses money if his factory makes product. This means that the factory stays idle while he and his partners look for new sources of income.

In the west, companies are already exploring other sources of low cost labor. Vietnam is supposed to be the Next Guangdong province. A lot of foreign companies have already left China for greener pastures in Vietnam. Realizing this trend, Shenzhen is taking action. In a recent Thanhnien News article, Shenzhen is reportedly investing $200 million in a economic trade zone.

The park, 125 kilometers from the Vietnamese capital, aims to attract 170 Chinese manufacturing companies in the clothing and electronics industries to take advantage of the country’s cheap labor and the government’s preferential policies and tax incentives...

So it seems, not only are western companies leaving Shenzhen for more inland provinces and other southeast asian countries, so are Shenzhen factories themselves. Maybe in a few years, the same factories will be doing business with the same clients only in Vietnam instead of Shenzhen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Comparing US's NBC and China's CCTV Coverage of the Opening Ceremonies

I finally came back to Shenzhen after staying in Beijing for the Olympics and post-Olympic festivities for about a month. After a few days of movie watching, video games playing and takeout in my new apartment, I finally decided to venture out into the local neighborhood in the Nanshan district.

At the local bootleg 5RMB bootleg DVD stand, I was able to get the new Mummy 3 as well as a great version of the Iron Man and Batman movies. (Note: Although the government has definitely cracked down on the sale of bootleg DVDs for the past few years, they are still found in different neighborhoods sold by a few people.) To my surprise I also found the DVD with the full version of the NBC broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. Wow.

After watching the live ceremony in Ditan park in north Beijing with 5000 people and rebroadcasts on Chinese TV multiple times, I wanted to see the NBC version. (My friend actually interned for NBC during the Olympics and helped edit and translate footage for different events.) I wanted to see how the US viewed the opening ceremony and the games. Remember back in 1996, Chinese people in America protested Bob Costas for his comments about Chinese athletes.

Overall, the coverage was very positive. Here are some of the things I saw:

  • NBC did an excellent job with the political issues surrounding China hosting the Olympics. They showed China in a pretty positive light with only a few comments referencing political issues. You could even see the commentators tread lightly on the political issues.
  • NBC camera work during the artistic portion at the beginning was better than the Chinese CCTV coverage. CCTV spent a lot of time focused on specific performers during each stage while NBC used many more wide-camera angles to get the big picture.
  • Bob Costas and Matt Lauer “warned” the American viewers about the sheer size and scale of the ceremony before it started. They also commented during the initial drum performance that viewers might consider it “awe inspiring and perhaps somewhat intimidating.”
  • In his post Opening Ceremony press conference, Jiang Yimou explained that the entire cost of the ceremony was less than the previous opening ceremony of the Doha Asian Games held in 2007, held in a oil rich Arab country. He wanted tog et the maximum effect for the least cost.
  • A huge amount of emphasis was put on the importance of the Olympics in China and the “overwhelming sense of pride the Chinese people in the days leading up to it. The same amount of importance was also on the idea of “harmony” in the Chinese psyche and the theme of the Olympics.
  • Commercial interruption on NBC really sucks for an event like this. No commercials in China. FYI, the transitions were pretty flawless just like the rest of the ceremony.
  • Quotes by Bob Costas: “Woah” (when Li Ning was lifted up to light the flame) and “When it comes to opening ceremonies, retire the trophy.”
  • NBC invited their China expert to co-host and give more perspective on the games. He did an excellent job with the symbolism invoked in the performance as well as more interesting tidbits into Chinese history. A lot of the political issues were also put in a historical context, something a lot of Americans lack while looking at China.
  • A great explanation of the combination of people doing "karate" around a group a school children was just an example - a harmony of man with nature is the only hope the children of the future have to solve all of the problems in the world.
  • There were a lot of shots of the members of the “Redeem Team”, the USA Men’s Basketball team. With a lot of star power and constant presence, Lebron James, Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant were repeated shown to be taking pictures with other athletes from different countries.
  • While CCTV commentators were part of the event, reading scripted material that aided the audience in every piece, the transitions and symbolism in very Chinese artistic language, the NBC trio was very spontaneous, joking and dumbstruck by the show. This was probably because they weren’t “in the know”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NY Times is Beginning to Like China

During the entire Olympics period, the NY Times has many more "objective" articles regarding China. Recently however, they've taken it to another level - basically suggesting that the US should learn from China. Previously it was the interesting pros of having an authoritarian government and the benefits of being a communal society. Now its the inward focus and own-nation building.

In today's NY Times op-ed article A Biblical Seven Years by Thomas Friedman, China's emergence in its 7-year preparation for the Olympics is compared to the US and the 7 years since 9/11 and translated into an election contest between Obama and McCain.

Without even getting into the article itself, it is quite amazing the amount of "good press" China has gotten in the past few weeks because of the Olympics. It seems that the success of these Games have given China a better platform to showcase its achievements. Even though the human rights and Tibet issue is always raised in any general article, at least it is moved down further near the end of the article.

Here's the complete NY Times text:
After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harmony and the Dream: The Difference Between East and West

In the 2nd semester of my sophomore year of college, I was honored to take a class with professor Jeffrey Friedman entitled Liberalism, Communitarianism and the Good. POLS V3027 was a political science class focused on theory and the development of political beliefs based on various factors, cultures and influences.

Not only did the class have an interesting focus, but it was taught extremely well. I can say that my life has been visibly changed since taking his class. These were some of the comments that students made after taking his class on CULPA.
Professor Friedman is the best teacher I've had. He is brilliant (you may think you've had brilliant professors before but this experience will make you re-evaluate that), intellectually rigorous (what do you say about a teacher who is able to tie all the tangents together), challenging (you WON'T find anyone who thinks like him and he expects you to think for yourself as well) and compassionate (really listens to students and seems to care). I have also never taken a class with such devastating intellectual and political implications.

He made people feel self-conscious about the quality of their comments in class. But, I will be forever grateful that I took this class because I got over my fear of public speaking and it really opened my mind and challenged me to think constantly during the class. He comes off as opinionated, but I think that's just because he knows he's right :). He really took the discussion to places I have never before nor since traveled to in any other class here. Always challenging us NOT to assume things, not to be lazy in thinking liberal ideology is always right, to read critically - to have our "bullshit detector" always on.

He's simply mind-blowing, funny, and the smartest person I've ever met (and that's genius level, because I like to think I'm pretty smart myself!). His democracy class was the best class I've taken at BC-- the readings on public ignorance and human fallibility were so compelling that I can no longer read the NY Times in the same complacent way I used to. Really, he should write a book and change the world.

After his class, it has been has almost been impossible to find worthy reading material on the NY Times ... until now.

Going through all of the NY Times daily emails that I had forgotten about during the Olympics, I found an amazing article entitled Harmony and the Dream written by op-ed columnist, David Brooks. It describes the basic difference between individualistic and collective societies (exactly like my liberalism and communitarian class) under the auspice of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where the idea of friends living in harmony was a central theme during the Games.

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

This concept translates further than just the Olympics. It is embodied in politics, business, society and even personal friendships. It is the small, yet overarching difference between the East and West. And I believe it is the key for mutual understanding between the different worlds.

David Brooks should continue this train of thought and help Americans and the western world examine and reexamine its view of China. There is much more to be written and seen.

Here is the full text of the article:

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.

The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.

Researchers argue about why certain cultures have become more individualistic than others. Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes back to microbes. Collectivist societies tend to pop up in parts of the world, especially around the equator, with plenty of disease-causing microbes. In such an environment, you’d want to shun outsiders, who might bring strange diseases, and enforce a certain conformity over eating rituals and social behavior.

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.

The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.

Scientists have delighted to show that so-called rational choice is shaped by a whole range of subconscious influences, like emotional contagions and priming effects (people who think of a professor before taking a test do better than people who think of a criminal). Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.

2008 Beijing Olympics: It's OVER! Onto London 2012

The 2008 Beijing Olympics have officially come to an end. The stadiums are silent. The medals have been given out. The athletes have left. I cant believe the Olympics are already over. After spending soo long perparing for it, the 16 days quickly passed and we're now at Post-Olympics Day 2.

Walking around the streets of Beijing, I feel like there is something missing. For the previous 2 weeks, my first instinct when I woke up in the morning was to turn on the TV and watch Olympic coverage. While there are still some coverage on the local stations, and some rebroadcasts of certain events, it definitely feels like i'm going through some type of withdraw.

At this current moment, i'm watching a rebroadcast of the closing ceremonies. It was a great way to end a specactacular games. There was glamor, spector, symbolism and feeling put into every bit of it. My favorate part of it was the 3 athletes who unfolded the scrool and thought about the memories of the 16 days of competition, ending with the Olympic song and the putting out of the Olympic flame. Just awesome.

Immediately after the Closing Ceremonies, focus has been put squarely on the London 2012 Games. The concensus is that the spectacular performances have put a ton of pressure on London in what they can come up with. Even the IOC has stated that London souldnt look at it as a compentition to top Beijing's extravaganza.

I just received a email with the response of local British citizens after the closing ceremonies. They are already embarassed and worried about 2012.

"The Chinese did it again the closing was amazing. First class and out of this world. The one negative was the London Show what in the heck was that. In Athens when the Chinese did there welccome to show it was amazing and you knew you where going to get something special in Beijing. I hope that London does better than what they showed to-day."

"It has been a long time that I felt embarrassed for 8 long minutes. I really hope the organizers get there act together for the 2012 Olympics in London, because whether we like it or not the Chinese did a wonderful job from beginning to end. Whether true or false, let us hope the Red Arrows will do a fly past at the opening ceremony in London because that will be something worth watching, unless of course Boris has something up his sleeve to surprise us all."  
-Rose, Bicester

"The Chinese showed their rich heritage and history in a dignified and beautiful performance. Us? We showed just what a farce 2012 will be. Our country's heritage (prior to the last government!) is one to be proud of. We have customs and a richer history than many others. So why are we showing a logo from the 70's (I'm a designer, it's shocking!) and a display of ageing rock, one-hit wonders, chavs and only modern London? I'm proud to be English, but in 2012? I may be moving..."
-Angela, Chesterfield

Good Luck London. My mom and I will be there in 4 years to cheer the Olympics on! 奥运加油!

Monday, August 25, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Rampant Ticket Scalping

My first Olympic event that I went to was the Men's basketball preliminary game between the USA and Angola.

After receiving a free ticket to ride the metro - all people with a ticket to any of the day's event had free access to any of the public transportation, my mom and I arrived at the Wukesong stop.

Before walking over to the beautiful and state of the art basketball arena, we had to walk about 500 yards. In that single stretch, we were constantly approached by ticket scalpers either looking to buy "tickets you were refunding" or to sell the tickets they had just acquired. I personally saw or came across 50-100 ticket scalpers in that general area.

Without thinking too much of it, my mom and I proceeded into the arena to see the game. It turned out to be a wildly entertaining and overall solid performance by the All-Star NBA cast on the "Dream Team 8" or aka "Redeem Team."

A couple of days later, my friend Dave somehow got his hands on some USA v. Greece men's basketball tickets. He said it cost him about 2000RMB (285USD) each. I won the same ticket in the ticket lottery for 100RMB a ticket. That's a difference of 1900RMB or a 20x increase over the face price. That's ridiculous.

I was later told that tickets to the men's basketball prelims were the toughest tickets to get. They were sometimes going for 4000RMB for some games and even 10k RMB to 20k RMB for the China v. USA game. Tickets for the swimming & diving events in the Water Cube, the track and field events, the gymnastics events and all other events that China was supposed to do well were going for crazy prices as well. The primary locations of this included the area just outside the basketball area (where I was) and the subway entrance to the Olympic Green - where the bird nest, water cube and many other venues are.

There was so much extraordinary demand for tickets from Chinese people that these prices were maintained throughout the Olympics. It was a quick way to make money for everyone who did it. Even foreigners got involved. Only after more than 11 days of competition did the police start to crackdown. My Chinese friend explained, "It is soo hard for us to find tickets to buy that we'll buy at just about every price. Can you help me find some tickets?" On August 18th, Beijing police arrested more than 200 ticket scalpers. They placed anti-scalping signs in visible places just to deter further scalping.

It didn't work. On August 19th, when I went to the Bird Nest to watch track and field, I was still approached by scalpers who wanted my ticket. Some were offering 500RMB. Others were offering 1000RMB. The face price was 200RMB. All of them were doing it in front of anti-scalping signs. While I saw a few people being arrested, there were still more than 20 people out there. I thought about selling my extra ticket, but my friend who came along would've been really pissed.

I thought about joining in the scalping fun. The ticketing website, was constantly selling tickets that had not been bought up by foreigners during the initial ticket selling phases. They were offering these tickets to only westerners in Beijing through their online system. No Chinese could buy from them. At the end of multiple tries to obtain tickets - I almost got my hands on 6 tickets for the final swimming event (cost 500RMB that could be scalped for 2000RMB) - I gave up on the pursuit. Those tickets could've paid for my entire trip! I guess that's why so many others were doing it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cultural Captialism: Modern Dance Festival in Beijing

Last week, my friend and fellow Columbia Alum, Gigi, invited me to a modern dance performance in Beijing. I personally jumped at the opportunity since it was almost 2 years since I had been to a dance performance. As we all already know, Shenzhen is lacking in culture.

As Gigi reminded me in a text message: "Modern dance is supposed to play with the idea of free association of body movements and break the rules of traditional aesthetic styles"....blah blah.

The JK booking Dance Festival Beijing 2008 was held at the Nine Theaters in Chaoyang District. had a total of 8 total numbers with 5 different groups from both the US and China. The US participants were Odyssey Dance Theatre from Salt Lake City and Kim Robards Dance from Denver. Their Chinese counterparts included the Beijing Modern Dance Company and choreographers from the National Ballet of China and TAO Studio,

The dance performance was very impressive. The Chinese performances were displayed in interesting cultural costumes and backgrounds. The American performances were mostly in a traditional western context. The Odyssey Dance Theatre even performed "The Factory", a hip hop piece (I was at one point brought onto the stage and proceeded to dance with the performers for a few minutes). 2 of their dancers were even finalists on the American show, So You Think You Can Dance.

At the end of the performance, Gigi and I stayed for the discussion with the various directors. Most people in the audience asked about specific pieces that they enjoyed. What was the inspiration for it?

As a relative novice in art and dance, my question for the directors reflected on a overall view of the development of modern dance in China as well as how it felt have this kind of cross cultural collaboration.

All of the directors responded positively. They discussed the honor of being able to perform together with Chinese groups and the amazing expansion of modern dance and art in China in the past few years. They also talked about collaboration and learning from each other.

The most interesting comment came from Director Derryl Yeager from the Odyssey Dance Theatre. He discussed his excitement for his dance company and the future possibilities for more traveling tours and performances in China. He enthusiastically wanted to do more of these performance festivals in China.

By spending so much time in Shenzhen and Guangdong province, my primary experience has been associated with trading goods and services. This usually revolves around using cost advantages in one place to arbitrage in another. With my education company, it involves giving students the opportunity to experience another place through travel - almost a trading company dealing in people, instead of physical things.

At no point did I ever consider the idea of trading in culture or "cultural capitalism." All of the American directors had the expressed goal of promoting their own group in China. Just as the NBA and the MLB are heavily investing in China to further expand their market, or multinational corporations expanding their operations in China to expand their own market, these dance companies are in effect doing the same. They are using their time and energy to promote their own art.

These dance companies are also proceeding in a similar way as their business counterparts did. To begin tapping into the Chinese market, western corporations began by established joint ventures with Chinese counterparts. This was not only the only way they could get in at the time, but it was the best way to understand how to navigate China. This is almost what this festival was.

Also just as corporations passed on certain technical aspects or management ideas to their Chinese partners, so did the American dance groups show off their techniques and creative intensions.

What is most interesting is that it seems that there are truly a huge number of people who are interested in China's potential other than for business. Collaboration in academics, art, law, sport, society, culture and other areas are just as important as for pure business.