First Day on the Job

Well I started my first, full-time, non-temporary job today. For the first time in my life, I have to go to work 5 days per week for 8 hours per day and it’s not limited to a 3 month summer vacation. Today is really a momentous day in my life.

Unfortunately, this means I’m going to have to put my Shop My Shanghai business on the back burner for awhile…at least until I find a trustworthy bilingual girl who has time to take foreigners shopping Mon-Fri. (If you’re available, or know someone who’d be interested, email me.)

I believe starting a new job is a bit nerve-racking for anyone and involves so many new names, new faces, and information. This is even truer in a hotel where there are 270 employees and where you need to become familiar with the uniforms, locker room, public v. private areas, procedures, etc. Being that I’m in a Chinese hotel, it’s all the more complicated.

Though I will go through a 2-week rotation/training period to the different departments of the hotel over the next 3-4weeks, I spent my first day in the sales office observing. Much to my concern, they only had 4 desks with 4 computers (None with internet!) for 7 or 8 people. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. I can’t function without internet! I asked them what they do all day and they said make banquet/wedding sales/reservations, but they do it by waiting for the phone to ring. Much as the Irish Operations Manager indicated, they lack a proactive approach to sales. He also said it has improved since he got there; I can’t even imagine what they did before!

In 1 week and 2 interview later, I went from being a minimal experience, recent college grad to Assistant Sales Manager, 3rd or 4th in line after the GM at a 4* hotel, having about 6 people under me, including a couple of 30-year old women who’ve clearly worked there longer than I have. Talk about a quick boost in status.

An easy way to recognize most the male managers on the property is by their purple ties. It’s interesting to me that even the senior level managers wear uniforms (though they are suits). At the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, the employees aspire to wear their own suits because it indicates they are managers and no longer staff. That’s not the case at this hotel–even at my position I’m required to wear a uniform, as is my boss. That means I’ll have to wear a skirt and nylons everyday, ugh! Well, at least it saves money on dry cleaning and buying new suits. And I’ll also be getting used to wearing and standing in heels all day long again.

I think spending a year plus working in a Chinese (government-owned) company, surrounded by only Chinese employees (there are only 2 other white men employed there) will be a very profound and unique experience.

So, as you may guess, between a full-time job, mandarin classes 2 nights per week, plus trying to start a new business with Rola, keeping up my Shop My Shanghai business, and exporting items to the US (and looking for a boyfriend 😉 ), I’ll be rather busy. As such, I will likely not write on a daily basis anymore.

In other news…today I stopped a pick-pocket. As I was walking home a girl and a woman were walking towards me, then abruptly, the girl turned and started following the lady on the bike in front of me. I thought that’s a bit strange. Then the girl started getting closer to the bike lady…then she started trying to unzip her bag. And I was like, what the…! So I screamed ‘hey hey hey’ and to the girl, ‘what are you doing!’ She gave me an evil look like ‘get off, what do you care.’ Guess it just goes to show pick-pockets really do come in all shapes and sizes, and are in every city.

Shopping in Shanghai

On Saturday, my roommate and I went to the Shanghai Foxtown Outlets in the Songjiang District, the first by the Swiss group outside of Europe. After about an hour’s drive plus RMB25 in tolls we arrived at a rather stark, featureless white building. For all the advertising that’s been done, it was rather empty. She and I soon found out why. There weren’t very many stores and the prices were hardly those of factory outlets. For example: Adidas sneakers were about US$60 and New Balance running shorts were about US$25. I complained these were the full retail prices I’d pay in the US. My roommate explained that international brands are about 30% more expensive in Mainland China (as compared to Hong Kong) and therefore, these are actually discounted prices. However, I felt I could have gotten a better deal just going to places in Shanghai retailing these brands during the sale period. Another thing we found strange about the place is that we were in a store sellingvery high end brands, including a combination of Prada, DKNY, and a few other high-end designers when I pointed out a Furla purse to my roommate. As she used to work for Furla, she looked at it and then commented, ‘I think it’s probably fake. Furla doesn’t have any retailing agreements like this in SH. I don’t think it’s real.’ Not that I’m the expert on Furla purses but it looked pretty generic, like those seen at the markets and not like the Furla bags I’d seen in Singapore. After I started thinking about it, the Prada wallets looked pretty fake too. All-in-all the trip to the outlets was a bummer–we spent more time stuck in SH traffic than we did at the mall and neither of us bought anything. Hopefully, Foxtown will be able to get more brands to lease space in the mall and actually price stuff at factory outlet prices.

There’s another outdoor outlet mall on the outskirts of Shanghai that I’ve also heard has difficulty pricing according to the concept of ‘outlet mall,’ but based on the report, it sounds like it has a few more (international) brands and therefore may be worth the drive some other time.

On the way back home, I asked my roommate to drop me off at the Gubei Carrefour so I could buy a duvet for my bed, as its starting to get cold. Before I went to Carrefour, I walked around the mall a bit on a (seemingly never-ending) quest for a nice wallet and knee-high boots. For those ladies looking for larger shoes in Shanghai, I would recommend you check the stores around Gubei Carrefour. Although I didn’t actually ask about shoes, they seemed like they carried a few larger size shoes and also, other people have recommended looking there, too.

When I was looking for a duvet, I was completely overwhelmed and had to call my friend for advice. First of all, I’ve never purchased a duvet before and second I had forgotten the size of my bed. Without me even asking, the sales lady comes over to help me choose one (wow! service in Carrefour, its amazing). She kept recommending the ones that were the most on sale (ie originally RMB599, on sale for RMB199, so a discount of RMB400). I thought, ‘how is this good for sales at Carrefour?’ And she kept recommending wool, but after feeling the wool and calling and asking my friend, I knew I didn’t want wool. Both my roommate and friend suggested I spend about RMB200, so at least she was in the right price range. But she also kept telling me, ‘we’ve all bought these ones,’ ‘these are the ones we bought.’ After she said that, knowing the way my preferences differ from Chinese, I knew I definitely was not going to get that one. Aaaaaaah! Lost in an aisle of duvets that just don’t seem right, with the store lady making me touch all of them. Finally, I struck upon something that seemed right: a duvet filled with down! Again, she helped me touch that one, oh yeah! Down feels so nice. Yes, I like this one. I want this one and it’s even in my price range! But the lady insists, no, that’s not a good one. Don’t get that one. You have to get the wool one. Well, I was done with her advice; down it is, on to something else.

I’ve been searching for a yoga mat and since many of my Chinese friends recommend I do yoga, I figured yoga should be popular so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a yoga mat. Well, its more difficult than I thought. So today I decided I’d make the trek to 1 of 5 Decathlon stores in & around Shanghai. I chose the one at the Brilliance West Shopping Mall.

I’d been to this mall before and thought to myself how American and home-like it felt, despite the fact it was way out in the dirty, dumpy, 老百姓 part of town. It definitely felt like a mall from southern California (though it doesn’t really have many American stores, only Nike, Lacoste, Starbucks, and Papa John’s pizza), with its open-air style, wide spaces, and plaza/performance area in the center. As I was looking on the internet trying to figure out the bus to get there, I stumbled across another blog who explained why it felt so American: it was designed by someone from Las Vegas. And apparently I’m not the only one who appreciates and enjoys the feeling of this mall, this guy(!) just raved about it, too. (He has pictures, too, and recommends one of the restaurants). Despite the fact there’s not much I want to buy there (although I did buy a coat last time), its a nice place to hang out in good weather and would be a nice place to go eat with friends if it wasn’t so far away. And there are other white people there, so you won’t be stared at like an anomaly. The Brilliance West Shopping Mall is at Jianhe and Xianxia West Road. But I don’t recommend getting lost around there because the area is dirty and unappealing.

If you’d like more information on shopping around Shanghai, please visit my other website: Shop My or contact me.

Old Cars in China

It’s very curious to look around Shanghai and marvel at the fact the cars are all old. Well to be accurate, the cars themselves aren’t actually very old. Since there weren’t many passenger cars in China before the 1970s or 1980s, there aren’t (m)any truly old cars. It’s just that the body styles are very old and the engineering is rather outdated. The body styles of cars here remind me of cars from the ’80s, with very square corners and box-like appearances. The interior/dashboard area is no newer–old radios with turn dials (unless the driver installed a new system). The only very new cars I’ve seen, I expect have been imported, such as a BMW convertible and a few Audis.

As I observed this, I thought to myself, why is this? (Can you tell I ask ‘why?’ a lot?) My reasoning is that car manufacturers don’t want to give away their newest designs. Let me back up and discuss some of the history of business in China. Prior to China’s accession to the WTO any business in China had to be part of a Joint-Venture (or a few other legal forms, but Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises were definitely not allowed). The government made these requirements so that during the partnerships the foreign company could transfer technology and expertise to the domestic partner. In doing so, the government hoped local companies would use the technology and knowledge to build up local expertise and eventually undercut the foreign companies. As foreign car manufacturers were trying desperately to get into China’s market they agreed to these terms. They received benefits as well: low-cost labor and knowledge of and distribution in the domestic market. However, knowing the risks, foreign car makers wrote a provision into the contract that said their local partner (in the case of VW and GM, Shanghai Automotive Corp (SAIC)) couldn’t launch its own brand within a certain period of time. (I believe the period has elapsed and SAIC plans to launch its own brand within the next 6-12months). Now, my guess is, to further protect their interests, foreign car manufacturers decided to build outdated models of cars here. So that the local partner wouldn’t rip off the newest, most advanced technology, reverse engineer it, manufacturer it, and sell it for less on the global market, the foreign car makers only brought old styles here that weren’t being sold in any developed countries anymore. This seems like a genius plan to me. ‘Let’s give them engine technology and body styles that are from the 1980s and it will still seem fantastic for the poor, backward Chinese, while protecting our newest international models.’ It would not surprise me if some manager in those foreign car companies thought exactly that. It is my understanding, though, that the foreign car companies did fix defects that were in the originally released cars from the 1980s before they brought the technology to China; this way they would not be subject to any liabilities resulting from design defects.

Now the situation gets tricky. There is new legislation that has emissions standards set at a level stricter than those in the US (though, to my understanding, not quite as strict as the EU). You’ve got to wonder, is the government finally starting to care about the environment and the pollution? Or is this a legislative attempt to get more advanced technology from the foreign car companies just as the domestic companies plan to launch their own brands and sell on the international market? I would be curious to know how the foreign car brands are reacting and what they will do. Will they bring in newer body styles as well as more advanced engine technologies when they lower emissions? Or will they make only the most minor modifications to lower emissions?

Night Sky

Tonight as I was walking home, I was noticing how bright the sky was and I couldn’t help but wonder, why…  Since it was cloudy enough to be lightly raining, I knew it couldn’t be the brightness of the moon.  And since it was already 9:30pm, I knew it couldn’t be sunlight (in eastern China).  So I started looking around and realized that was light pollution!  The two tall, very brightly lit towers know as Grand Gateway (about 20min walk from my apartment) were lighting up the whole sky due to their reflection by the low-hanging clouds.  It was so weird–it was like twilight.  Or like a solar eclipse.

Happiness in a Cultural Context

Today I was reading my email and received a ‘FW:…’ Normally when I receive those emails I just ignore them because its usually something I don’t have time for and neither do my friends when it says ‘Forward this to 7 friends for good luck’ or something like that. The other risk is, sometimes viruses are hidden in these types of emails.

However, today I decided to read one entitled ‘FW: Natural Highs.’ This email listed 45 things that make us feel good. As I was reading it, I realized some of them were very culturally Western (or even American) and others were more universal. I believe a look at the list will show that some of these ‘natural highs’ only make sense within their cultural context:

1. Falling in love
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts
3. A hot shower
4. No lines at the supermarket
5. A special glance. // After living in China, its hard to say what ‘A special glance’ is. I get strange glances from Chinese people all the time, but they just make me nervous.
6. Getting mail
7. Taking a drive on a pretty road. // When I read this one, I thought of a drive we took through the Chilean countryside and it did make me smile just remembering it. But I wonder if Chinese people (or Westerners living in China) would have the same feelings of fondness for this one. Even driving down pretty roads in China is, to me, marred by the constant honking that goes on.
8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio
9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside. // If you’re from Seattle or some other place where it rains constantly, is this still enjoyable?
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer. // I like this one. Too bad there are no dryers in China, so I doubt many Chinese could have experienced the joy of this one.
11. Chocolate milkshake.. (or vanilla or strawberry!)
12. A bubble bath! // Few homes in China, and even fewer in Hong Kong have bathtubs. Ours, for example, is not big enough to sit in. I wonder if homes in Europe have bathtubs (I know my apts in Spain did not). Therefore, this too may be a strictly American enjoyment.
13. Giggling
14. A good conversation
15. The beach // If you live in Shanghai, I don’t know that the beach is that much of a pleasure. But I do know that even though Chinese and Japanese people don’t like sun, they do still like the beach; they just prefer it in the evening when they won’t get sun.
16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter. // Well since the largest Chinese note is RMB100 (~US$12), that’s not likely to happen in China. But hey, $12 is still good!
17. Laughing at yourself. // Can/do Chinese people laugh at themselves?
19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours
20. Running through sprinklers
21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all
22. Having someone tell you that you’re beautiful. // After (being me) living in China, this one starts to lose its luster. When people (both males and females) are constantly telling you, ‘you are beautiful girl,’ ‘you are pretty lady,’ or ‘hey beautiful girl, come here, come look at this’ it starts to feel like irony, like that found in The Canterbury Tales.
23. Laughing at an inside joke
24. Friends
25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you
26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep
27. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner)
28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones
29. Playing with a new puppy
30. Having someone play with your hair
31. Sweet dreams
32. Hot chocolate. // Although, probably tea in the case of China. 😉
33. Road trips with friends. // I think this one must be very American. Although a few Europeans do take road trips, I’d say most Europeans, like most Chinese, would connect better with ‘Train trips with friends’ or ‘Vacations with friends.’ I was glad to share a road trip around California and Arizona with Chinese (HK) friends and European friends. Now we can all enjoy this one together. :)
34. Swinging on swings
35. Making eye contact with a cute stranger
36. Making chocolate chip cookies. // This one is very American. Definitely don’t think any Chinese people (except for my Taiwanese roommate, Annie, who lived in the US for 8 years) have ever done this. I would also guess very few Europeans have done this either, as ovens are not very common in European households and chocolate chip cookies are even less common.
37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies. // Since no one has an oven in China, guess they don’t send any homemade desserts. I wonder if they do this in Europe? I guess in China store-bought Moon Cakes for Mid-Autumn festival are the closest they get.
38. Holding hands with someone you care about.  // This one almost seems non-American as many other cultures tend to be a lot more touchy and affectionate than Americans.  For example, in China, female (and even guy) friends often hold hands or link arms as they walk down the street.  As these people all must be on natural highs, maybe they know the real secret to happiness and closeness.
39. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (good or bad) never change
40. Watching the expression on someone’s face as they open a much desired present from you
41. Watching the sunrise
42. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day
43. Knowing that somebody misses you.  //  Since I’m so far away, I think that means a lot of people miss me…
44. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.  // Looking forward to Mom, Bob, and Grandparents’ arrival.  Will expect big hugs from all of you then!
45. Knowing you’ve done the right thing, no matter what other people think.  // This one is perhaps the most culturally limited of all of them  In the US, we can appreciate ourself when we do the right things.  However, more often, in China, its better to protect your family and close friends than to do the right thing.  In China, what other people think is far more important than doing the right thing.  This is because ‘face’ is sooo important in Chinese society.

I enjoyed this list and I hope you will enjoy it for its emotional boost, too.  I hope that then you will take a second look and see how much of it is rooted in American culture.

To my Chinese friends, I would love to hear what small things make you happy.  What is culturally significant that gives you a natural high?

Shopping, Bargaining, etc in Shanghai

Today I decided to go shopping. No, not ‘research,’ actually shopping. And I’m not sure why I decide to cause myself frustration as I go to the same place to look for shoes in my size when multiple times previously they haven’t had my size. I kinda feel like the ugly, gangly step-sisters in Cinderella trying to fit into the too small shoes. Just a little more, maybe if I just squish my heel in, or stretch out the shoes, or well, lets just cut off a few toes. Haha. It wasn’t actually so bad. I did buy 2 pairs, but I must have looked at thousands of pairs and asked about 20 and tried on at least 6 pairs. And this is even after I know the likelihood they’ll have my size is minimal, at best.

I was very pleased though as I think I figured out a new, more effective way to avoid being followed around and asked: ‘What you want to buy lady? Shoes? Watch? Bag? Louis-Vuitton, Gucci, Prada? DVD? I got it for you. … What you look for missy? … Lady, I your friend. I help you find it.’ Ignore them! and look completely exhausted (or seem deaf) when they talk to you. They get over the game real fast when they realize they’re talking to themselves. I found this method to be much more effective (at this location, at least) than telling them, ‘不要。 我不要买。 我不要你帮我。 我 不要你陪我。’ Basically, I don’t want it. I don’t want you to help me. Although, after they’ve been following me for about 30-40minutes and I get so fed up that I start yelling loud enough and in good enough Chinese that other shop keepers can hear and then the follower loses face. So they don’t continue to lose face in front of others, they disappear very quickly. What’s the point of having these touts offer to find you stuff and then drag you around the shopping area? It defeats the purpose of shopping and enjoying looking yourself. Anyway: IGNORE THEM! Good plan.

Today as I was paying for things I had bargained pretty aggressively for, including walking away multiple times, I was told ‘阿,你很厉害。 你比中国人很厉害。’ That means you are very fierce or you’re very strong. Basically that I bargain hard. On lady even told me that I bargain harder than Chinese people. Yay for me! Guess that means I got a good deal. 😉 All the more reason you need me to help you Shop My Shanghai! In the early stages of learning to bargain in SH, you feel that when the woman starts out at over RMB 400 for a pair of shoes, there’s no way she’ll ever get down to an acceptable price range (RMB50-120). But after my experience at Yu Garden, I know it’s possible. (Yu Garden: Offered ‘Two Ming Dynasty, hand-painted bowls’ for RMB400 each. After leaving and walking around for another 45minutes, then casually passing the location again, I was offered them for RMB10 each. What a discount!) Eventually the shoe lady did get down to a reasonable price range, but by then she had tried my patience too much and I wasn’t going to support her attempt to rip off foreigners.

Its funny being a foreigner who speaks Chinese because you know when they’re talking about you as you understand key phrases like ‘lao wai’ or ‘waiguoren’ and then your ears perk up. As your Chinese becomes more advanced, you can actually understand what they’re saying about you. I can’t wait till the day when I can understand the entire conversation and give more than just a look but rather a full, accurate, curt remark. Until then, I’m stuck saying, ‘Yes, I’m a lao wai. I’m from the US. I speak Chinese.’

It rained over the weekend, which is always nice because after the rain, the air is cleaner and the sky is clearer. This time, I think we made a serious turn towards winter. Today, despite a very sunny day, there was a definite chill in the air. People were donning everything from t-shirts to full winter jackets and scarves. I admit I wore a sweatshirt for the first time since arriving and it was quite nice.

Enjoying the cool weather, my new purchases, my Mandarin ability, and my lihai bargaining skills…

Shanghai Pictures (3)

Lujiazui, Pudong, Shanghai

This is the third set of my pictures from Shanghai. This set ranges from September to October 2006 and includes many dinners with friends, specifically Derya’s farewell dinner, Mid-Autumn festival dinner with colleagues, and many others. During this period, I also went to Yu Yuan Garden for the first time and to Qibao watertown. There are also pictures of Pudong, namely the traffic of Lujiazui and Jinmao Tower.

Shanghai Pictures Part 3 – Sept-Oct’06
Pictures from SH Flickr Meetup – Oct’06
Shanghai Pictures Pt 2 – July-Sept’06
Nanjing Pictures – Aug’06
Black Eyed Peas Concert in SH – July’06
Shanghai Pictures Pt 1 – July’06

Interviews & Employment Contracts for Foreigners in China

Today I interviewed with a Chinese company, and not just any Chinese company, a government-owned, Chinese run, 4* hotel.  As you might expect, it was not like any everyday, American-style interview.  First, a guy came found me when I was standing outside, trying to tame my hair after the rain messed it up (oops, that’s embarrassing).  Then I got a property tour (common in hotel interviews).  Then I found out this guy has nothing to do with the hiring, he’s just the greeter and a translator.  Then I met the female assistant (don’t know whose assistant).  Then I met the boss of the consulting company.  He only spoke Chinese.  He’s worked in hospitality for many years and now has been hired as a consultant by this hotel to improve their staffs’ service level and also hire foreigners so that in the next 2 years this hotel can move from a 4* hotel to a 5*.  After I drank tea and chatted with these 3 for awhile, a 4th guy showed up.  He didn’t say anything, so I didn’t know if he spoke English or Chinese or both.  Then I was called into the General Manager’s office and the 4th guy turned out to be the translator.  A GM who doesn’t speak English when over 60% of the guests are foreigners?  How does that work?

At interviews in China, where the Chinese person is interviewing a foreigner to work in a Chinese company, the foreigner is well-regarded before the interview even starts.  The interviewer typically holds foreigners in high-regard and so tends to judge them less than an interviewer would in the US.  This helps to put the interviewee at ease, initially, until the interviewee realizes s/he then has to live up to these standards.  Indeed, there seems to be greater expectations of foreign candidates than of local candidates, so foreigners are required to perform.  However, the curious thing is the interviewer talks for about 70-80% of the interview.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an hour-long interview and talked so little.  I’m not sure if this is because of the translator, or the preoccupation of the Chinese person with himself, or simply the attempt to impress the foreigner.  I’m not basing this story solely on my experience today, but also on my previous interviews and reports from other foreigners who interviewed with Chinese companies.

For companies specializing in teaching English or other (Chinese) companies that are used to hiring foreigners, the interview process is slightly smoother, though in many ways just as curious.  Depending on the company, situation, and position, you may find your interview as casual as a meeting at Starbucks, or as formal as a full-scale presentation to the company on your strengths and where you can contribute.  In China, you’re much more likely to meet ‘the boss’ during your first interview than you would in the US.  This is because employers or ‘the boss’ usually take a very hands-on approach to management and consider each person on their staff part of their family.

So my advice for interviews in China is, don’t expect to talk much but be ready to impress and exceed even the highest expectations when you do get your chance.

As for employment contracts (of course, teaching excepted), almost all contracts in China (at least for foreigners) come with a 3 month training/probationary period.  Generally this is also true for everyone in Hong Kong, as well.  During this time, you will likely receive only a portion of your agreed salary (in my case, 80%).  After the 3 months, assuming both you and your employer are satisfied, you will continue working, but start receiving your full salary.

There’s also an interesting twist to the employment contract discussed for me today.  I have to pay 50% of 1 month’s full salary within 3days of receiving my first paycheck to the consulting company.  After asking a number of local and foreign friends they all agreed it’s rather strange for the employee to pay the consultants fee.  The consultant explained it as the compensation for him finding us the job.  But even with head-hunting firms, the employer who has signed the contract with the head-hunting firm pays the fee, not the new employee.  The employee only pays if they hire a personal consultant to help them improve their package, marketability, and select appropriate employers. I’m not sure how it works with temp agencies, but I would still doubt that the new employee pays a fee to an agency for finding them an employer.

In my current teaching contract, there’s another interesting clause which says the employer will withhold 10% of my salary until I have finished the teaching contract; therefore this accumulates each month.  This seems reasonable to me as it’s a very small percentage and it encourages you to finish the contract and not force them to change teachers partway through the teaching period. But it’s still frustrating when you expect a certain income each month and then feel shortchanged when you get 10% less.  But in the end, it turns out to feel like a nice little bonus for completing a job well done.

Anyway, in accepting employment contracts in China, beware of these clauses that may shrink your monthly salary.  Make sure you know the company will actually pay you before you start working and make sure there’s mutual trust so that issues can be resolved.  With very little employment law, and even less enforcement of contract law in China, you have no recourse should something go wrong.  Therefore, mutual trust is the only way you will get what you are owed.  (Note* This primarily applies to working for Chinese owned and managed companies, and not for MNC)

Shopping Malls & Luxury Retailers in China

This article about shopping malls and luxury retailers in China both confirms and counters some of the statements I made in my post entitled Business in Shenzhen. This article from the International Council of Shopping Centers, titled THE HIGH-END ROAD TO CHINA: Western luxury retailers are finding a fertile market in China’s wealthy consumers asserts that the Chinese are indeed consuming luxury goods, contrary to the article about Shenzhen:

Jewelry from Cartier is hot. So are Burberry coats, Armani suits, Prada bags and just about anything made by French luxury juggernaut LVMH. There is demand even for the flat-out frivolous: Bejeweled Vertu cell phones — at prices ranging from $5,000 to $90,000, depending on their degree of ostentation — are selling briskly. … China is now the third-largest consumer of high-end goods in the world, accounting for 12 percent of the market, says a report by Goldman Sachs. By 2015 that could rise to 29 percent, the investment bank says.

Actually neither article is necessarily wrong. The Shenzhen article talked about consumption by the middle class, whereas this passage talks about consumption of luxury goods, only those items afforded by the truly wealthy. When these distinctions are made, both are articles are indeed correct. As the article indicates, China has a class of newly rich (from tech stock and other IPOs to real estate to the selling off of government assets):

[T]he number of millionaires [is] rising fast (Merrill Lynch estimates that there were just under 400,000 of them at the end of 2004)…Ernst & Young published a report last year on the Chinese luxury market that says 13.5 percent of China’s consumers can afford luxury items. Most of these are between 20 and 40 years old and have a “spend now and worry later” attitude, the report says. The most active consumers are men.

This is indeed true. When you look into the very high end stores it is almost always a man purchasing something for a lady. Rarely does the lady shop by herself. And they are buying, not just browsing.

The nouveau riche may be into luxury purchases, including $200,000 Ferraris (according to the article), but general consumption is typically driven by having a larger middle class. But China still lacks a substantial middle class. This is why some of the more mid-range malls, including those featuring brands such as Nike and Nautica (as mentioned in the Shenzhen article), aren’t selling much. But as China’s economy continues to grow and become more modernized, it is expected that China will develop a larger middle class, will spending power equal to or greater than that of the US. Thus hundreds of global companies, from retailers to clothing brands to restaurants to beauty and health care products have entered China in full force. Those who can build a successful brand name, protect their IPR, localize themselves in the culture, develop customer loyalty, and compete in this hyper-competitive market may still be able to find profitability over the next 5-10 years on the eastern coast and 10-15 years for places farther inland.

Chinese Attitude toward Japan & Taiwan

As a follow-up to my blog about the Chinese people’s serious lack of interest in international relations, I’d like discuss an exception to that: Chinese people always have a very definite response to and opinion for questions about Taiwan or Japan.

Once I casually suggested my Taiwanese friend as coming from a different country than China and I was met with some serious furry from my Mainland friend who insisted the two of them were from the same country.  In Mainland China its a well-known fact that Taiwan is part of China.  It is not even possible to argue with a Mainlander (especially one who has never left China) that Taiwan is a separate country.  But then I ask, how can Taiwan citizens and Hong Kong people and residents of Macau have different passports than those of Mainland China?  (Of course, the HK & Macau situation is much different than that of Taiwan, but its still an interesting thought…) As was discussed with the confiscating of the Lonely Planet-China books, China bans any news or materials that might suggest something other than Taiwan firmly being a part of China.  Because of this, it’s impossible to question a Mainlander about the country status of Taiwan.  To some extent, the Chinese people have again been brainwashed into believing that Taiwan is unquestionably a part of China.  It’s taught in schools, it’s reinforced through censorship and media, and it’s asserted daily through Mainlanders telling any Taiwanese they encounter, ‘No, you’re not Taiwanese.  You’re Chinese.  You’re one of us.’  In fact, just yesterday, I read something in English that said Taiwan is the largest island of China.  If, to Mainlander’s knowledge, Taiwan were to suddenly become an independent country one day, I believe all hell would break lose.  Either it would become painfully obvious to all Mainlanders the government had been lying to them for years and would seriously destabilize the government or China would move very quickly to reassert its authority over Taiwan to prevent western Chinese provinces from making moves similar to Taiwan’s.  Let’s just hope this situation can all be managed smoothly without daft action on anyone’s part: Mainlanders can remain in naive nationalistc bliss and Taiwan can remain (mostly) independent.
Mention Japan to a Mainland Chinese and get ready for an earful.  They’ll spout off opinions ranging from blatant hatred to uncomfortable distrust to honest admiration.  The official party line is that Japan perpetuated war crimes against Chinese people (during the Second World War, for example the Rape of Nanking), but the more problematic issues are that Japan is trying to revise its history book, and (until the election of Japan’s new Prime Minister) Japan’s leaders were still visiting a war shrine erected to honor those who committed the crimes against Chinese people.  This last part, of course, requires its own separate condemnation, but can the Chinese government really continue to pollute the heads of its children into thinking all Japanese are bad?  How do you encourage positive relations with one of your neighbors when you are leading your children to be racist on the grounds of something that happened more than 50 years ago?  Let’s consider one of the worst episodes of genocide recorded in modern Western history: that of Nazis over the Jews in Germany.  You don’t see the Jews telling each other all Germans or anyone of German descent is bad, do you?  You don’t seem them creating propaganda to teach hatred of an entire race of people.  What about the Turks and the Armenians? Well, maybe that’s not a good example.  Destructive periods of history are meant to be learned from, not carried throughout generations to continue to perpetuate hate.  When, through the school system, the Chinese teach the youngest members of their society to hate, what are they hoping for? Retribution? Prejudice?  Whatever the government seeks (mostly an apology and for Japanese govt officials to stop visiting the war shrine, as well as its destruction), won’t come through teaching their children hatred.  Fortunately, many better educated Mainlanders have been able to see beyond their narrow-minded education; they understand the importance of tolerance, respect, and communication with their largest trading partner.

It is interesting to consider the strong feelings Chinese have toward the Japanese in light of the success of and affinity for Japanese products.  Everything from electronics to cars to anime to clothing styles to Japanese food is very popular in China.  Obviously, or else how would Japan be China’s biggest trading partner?  However, purchasing or enjoying Japanese-made items is not without its consequences.  For example, my roommate owns a Honda and some of her friends criticize her for owning a Japanese product, scowling at her for supporting the evil-doer.  And in the end, they refuse to ride in the car.  Although my roommate is well-educated and open-minded enough to be willing to buy Japanese products (she also has a Sony laptop), she still has no friendly comments for Japan.  She understands what’s history, versus what are well-made goods but I believe she too, has been too indoctrinated in the Chinese education system, and so she does at some level still seem to hold a grudge against the Japanese.  (Love you Jocelyn, nothing personal, just commenting on the education system.)  It is interesting to note that if you ask anyone who has traveled outside of Mainland China, the most often visited location after Hong Kong is Japan.  Many school trips travel to Japan each year.  I wonder what they tell the students on the trip?  Here are the savages who killed 30million Chinese during World War II?…  It is also a curious fact that the 2nd most common foreign language taught in China (after English) is Japanese.
Over the weekend, I was chatting with a couple of Japanese ladies who live in Shanghai.  One commented (with only a slight hint of humor) that China is a dangerous place for Japanese.  And I responded that I could see that.  The other Japanese lady, however, disagreed.  She said that Chinese people were smart enough to know that what the Japanese government (did) does is not a reflection of Japanese individuals.  Based on my conversations with Mainlanders about Japan, I would say they may be smart enough to separate the government from the people in their mind, but too much education and govt propaganda has overruled rationality.

As Japan seeks to alter its textbooks to indicate it was the true victim of World War II, there has been a Chinese out-lash against Japan.  Perhaps, its just that I’ve arrived in China during a turbulent time, when tensions between the two nations are running high and emotions are readily converted into opinion, but it seems both sides are going down the wrong path.  Teaching hatred in school will never turn out well, neither will paying homage to a violent past.  Unfortunately, I can’t control what is taught in schools in China or in Japan, but only hope that influential leaders in both of those countries will see the error in teaching hatred or false victimization and instead teach open-mindedness so that their children can build a better, more cooperative future with their important neighbor across the Japan Straight / East China Sea.

(I wonder how long I can keep writing these types of blogs about China’s censorship and other issues before I get my website blocked in China.)

Can China handle North Korea? China’s Role in Global Affairs

As the situation with North Korea gets murkier, you have to wonder, what is China really doing? China’s usual response is, ‘China hopes for a good resolution to the matter.’ But when their own neighbor is supposedly testing nuclear weapons, can China really stick by such a non-committal answer?

When asking the average inhabitant of Shanghai, ‘what do you think of the situation with North Korea and the UN?,’ you are met with blank stares. When asked, ‘what do you think of China’s moves in the UN?,’ Shanghai inhabitants have no answer. Or ‘what role do you think China should play in peace-keeping in Asia?,’ Or ‘What role should China play in the global community?’ Or ‘How should China manage its increasing importance in world affairs?’ All are met with no response.

Why do inhabitants of Shanghai find it so difficult to even muster a response, let alone a concrete opinion? As far as I see it, there are two main reasons. First, press is–as well all know–tightly regulated. There’s not much information available about the situation. There’s no political commentary from editorial writers. There’s no difference of opinions to generate discussions. Simply put, there’s no opinion to have. For the most part, the citizens of Shanghai are happy to agree with the government’s official opinion: ‘China hopes for a good resolution to the matter.’ It’s a positive, but non-committal response that all Chinese can get behind. The second reason, as explained to me by my roommate, is that those in Shanghai only care about money. Everyone in Shanghai is primarily concerned with the economy: they all want more money, a better life, more time to shop, and further economic development. But to what extent are these actually the people’s wishes? Of course, who’s going to complain about more money or more opportunities to shop? But at some level, the people want this because the government tells them they want it, because the govt pushes for further economic development, because the govt tells the people, you are Shanghainese, you must lead the way to economic prosperity. Therefore, when considering these two reasons together, it seems that despite the fact that Shanghai is a long way from Beijing, the government, through media controls and policies, actually exerts a lot of influence on attitudes and opinions in Shanghai. Is it possible that in a city of 17million people, so few have thoughts of their own?

To continue with the North Korea (DPRK) topic and the US’s attempts to pressure Beijing into complying with the UN Resolution that they recently signed, which would require all nations to inspect cargo ships entering or exiting DPRK…The Shanghai Daily reports:

[Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao] said China is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK and determined to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula peacefully through dialogue and consultation.

I’m pretty sure we did the ‘dialogue and consultation’ thing for a very long time, and no one (especially not China, nor North Korea, two very stubborn countries) could agree on anything. And yet, we find ourselves, months later, facing an even more imminent DPRK nuclear threat, while the Chinese want to wallow in their meekness, as “Liu said China hopes the resolution will peacefully solve the issue.” A resolution does not peacefully solve any issues. A resolution that includes definite sanctions that are fully enforced, may impact the situation, but a resolution itself will certainly NOT ‘solve the issue.’ By comparison, at least these 2 countries aren’t spineless:

Japan and Australia promised yesterday to enforce the sanctions immediately and said they were considering harsher penalties of their own.

The China Daily, at least gives Liu and China a little bit more credibility through showing his direct language:

“China resolutely opposes the DPRK’s nuclear test, insists on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, objects to nuclear proliferation and insists on the peaceful settlement of the issue through dialogue,” Liu said. […]

“We appeal to concerned parties to keep calm and be cool-headed, take a prudent and responsible attitude to jointly prevent the situation from worsening and break the stalemate, so as to resume the process of the Six-Party Talks as soon as possible,” Liu said.

Prudence is definitely a good thing, as no one wants to piss off–in the words of Luke–a bratty child, with nuclear capabilities. Nonetheless, China, through the voice of Liu, still seems very wishy-washy. And may I ask, what incentive does the DPRK have to rejoin 6-party talks if they are a nuclear power when China can’t even get the guts to screen cargo ships? I think China needs to coordinate its voice on the issue:

Liu said the resolution will solve the problem, while Wang said the sanctions are not the final move. Well it doesn’t really matter since both of them are wrong: sanctions don’t make any difference without enforcement, and even then, the effect is mild at best.

On the other hand, given the impetuous nature of North Korea, taking a mild approach perhaps is necessary, as Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said ‘that if the United States increases “pressure upon the Democratic Peoples of the Republic of Korea persistently, the DPRK will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of war.”‘ In light of this, the US (and other countries) may be best, at least initially, to follow the clause written into the resolution that insists that nations “refrain from any actions that might aggravate tension.”

Despite the need for caution with the irascible North Korea, China needs to get itself fully on-board with the resolution, including sanctions and enforcement, in order to present a unified front that could actually peacefully influence North Korea. Let’s just hope China is a conscious and responsible enough nation to do so, such that Condoleezza Rice’s words may be true:

“You cannot underestimate how big a blow it is to North Korea to have all of the neighbors now, including what has been its strongest supporter, China, fully united behind sanctions against its nuclear program,” Rice said.

Like China, I too, hope for a satisfatory resolution to the issue.

Business in Shenzhen, China

When I was looking up a new mutual fund on Morningstar yesterday, I saw this article headlined:

The World’s Biggest Investment Opportunity?
A quick take on the Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen.

Although the author makes it clear that he was only there for a week and therefore is no expert, he makes some very accurate observations. For example,

Speaking of consumption, I pity the American (or European) consumer goods firm that thinks its next big growth leg is coming from hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers. I visited one reasonably upscale mall filled with name brands like Columbia COLM , Nike NKE , and Nautica, that was thronged with shoppers. Unfortunately, very few had bags–they all seemed to be there for the experience and the air conditioning rather than the products.

Unfortunately for those consumer goods companies, this is true in Shanghai as well. As Shanghai is generally considered the richest city in China, followed by Shenzhen, if people aren’t buying American brands in these cities, there not buying them anywhere in China. However, I believe the theory is to go into China early, even as it continues to go through the process of economic development, to start creating brand recognition and association, so that the people have something to idolize and aspire to buy. That way when the masses do have the money, they will already recognize the American (or European) brand names.

The other problem with this situation is the soon-to-be overcapacity of shopping malls in Beijing and Shanghai. Mall developers see the glitz and glam of stainless steel & glass structures as well as upscale stores and so they take cheap loans to build build build. This creates a ripple effect as people are displaced, land becomes more expensive, citizens become angry because they can’t afford new homes, and either developers are disappointed when merchants don’t sign up, or merchants are disappointed when people don’t buy. To limit this, the government has started regulating loans for real estate development, but even that can’t curb the investment and speculation. But some do still suffer the hard way: the largest mall in China, and perhaps the world, was supposed to be built in Hong Qiao (Shanghai), but the developers ran out of money, so now it stands half-built, a blight in the area. Land speculation is big business in China, but as with anywhere, and even more so in China, due diligence is necessary, especially regarding the government’s recent attitudes and regulations.

And from my previous blog, to answer the question about Shenzhen’s population (it is far less than Vietnam):

Consider that Shenzhen had about 300,000 residents in 1980 and now has around 12 million, and the local economy has seen compound growth at something like 25% to 30% annually. (For comparison, the fastest-growing city in the U.S. over the same time period was Las Vegas, which merely tripled in size from about half a million to just more than 1.5 million.)

With that kind of growth in the economy as well as population, it’s disappointing more people aren’t buying genuine brand names. But then again,

it’s a very young city–I barely saw anyone over 40 during the week I was there.

This is generally true of the eastern China boomtowns. The young and able, but often poorly educated, leave the countryside in hopes of earning just a little more in the big, fast growing cities. And any extra money they do earn is sent back home to their families. China is also one of the largest saving nations in the world, so they’ll choose the cheaper alternative whenever possible. This partly explains the next phenomenon he discusses:

[T]he commercial neighborhood I visited the next day–which had lots of small shops selling locally branded or knocked-off goods–was mobbed with people actually spending money (judging by how many had shopping bags). From fairly bad iPod nano knockoffs for $20 to pretty decent fake Patek Philippe watches for $40, it was all there. … As the availability of $20 iPods and $40 Patek Philippe watches (both of which I was offered) might indicate, there’s not much hesitation in leveraging Western brands. I saw a local restaurant chain with a logo that looked suspiciously like an Asian Colonel Sanders, and in the lobby of the state-owned hotel where I stayed, there was a store called “Gulao & Shark,” which appeared to be a copy of an apparently popular sportswear manufacturer called “Paul & Shark.”

Gotta love the readily available fakes in China and the willingness of non-sophisticated consumers to buy them ::sigh:: Where’s some IPR protection and respect for brand names when you need it?

Starbucks, on the other hand, has been very successful in China, despite the fact that,

you can buy a good lunch for $1.50, but Starbucks SBUX coffee costs more than it does in Chicago.

Of course, Starbucks is always expensive, but I would expect Starbucks to tend to price according to the living standards or the country. Maybe Starbucks is trying to go SUPER-premium in China? Well, despite outrageous prices, Starbucks certainly has a lot of shops that are nearly always full in Shanghai. Wow, the success they have had, truly amazing. But definitely, you can get a decent lunch (assuming you don’t mind the service or the atmosphere) for $1.50. Although, even this price range is becoming harder to find in Shanghai, but it still certainly exists outside of SH & SZ.

This is an astute observation, as I discussed at length in my Xanga blog:

Almost without exception, the stores I saw were overstaffed by a factor of two or three compared with what we’re used to here in the States. Enter a store and you’re swarmed with polite folks eager to help. Why have so many employees help customers to buy so little? Because they’re so cheap it doesn’t really matter. After buying some beer at Carrefour, I asked which aisle had the bottle openers, and one employee scrambled to dig a (free) promotional opener out of a box somewhere while four others supervised and offered helpful commentary.

The difference is, he actually got service. Most of the employees I encounter in Carrefour just chat with friends, play on their cell phone, or twirl their hair.

To put this whole article in perspective and to make it more universally applicable to greater China, Pat Dorsey discusses:

how Shenzhen seems to be a microcosm of China’s development path as a whole. The city was one of the first parts of China to tap foreign capital eager for access to low-cost labor, so the first couple decades’ worth of growth were fueled by labor-intensive industries with relatively low value-added content. But wages have surged in the past several years, pushing some labor-intensive businesses further into the Chinese interior where costs are much lower. So, the local authorities are doling out financial incentives to tech firms and financial-services operations that can push the local economy up the value chain.

At the end of the day, this is the same challenge facing all of China over the next few decades. While there’s still plenty of infrastructure to be built, and large portions of the country that have barely industrialized at all, the country’s long-term future lies in creating things, not just assembling them. How well Shenzhen manages this transition from a labor-based economy with cost advantages to a knowledge-based economy with skill advantages could be one interesting leading indicator for the country’s development challenges as a whole.

What has been done in Shenzhen and Shanghai, will definitely set an example for the rest of the country. Let’s just hope the govt can learn from the mistakes and make improvements on the system as the rest of the country goes through its own regional economic development.

Will China’s transition to a knowledge-based economy built on skilled labor and value-added products surpass the US’s own capabilities?

Evaluating Life in Shanghai

Often I get asked, ‘how’s life in Shanghai?’ ‘Why Shanghai?’ ‘What are you (with the implied what the heck are you, a white girl) doing in China?’ Obviously I’m not here to find myself a petite, subservient Chinese wife. Nor am I an overseas Chinese returning to my homeland. So people are all the more intrigued by my presence, and are curious to know the answer, but as with almost any question in China, the answer is long and complicated and people rarely want to stick around long enough to hear the whole answer.My standard educational history/interview answer to the why China? question is: in college, I took courses in Chinese language and history, tutored Chinese students in English, and spent 7 months in Hong Kong, so I was already familiar with Chinese culture. Then as graduation neared, I evaluated my options and found nothing intriguing Stateside, so I thought I’d follow the big opportunity that is China and go there to see what’s possible and improve my Mandarin along the way.  As for the answer to the why Shanghai? question: 1) My friend Irene invited me study language at SH Jiaotong Univ, 2) I’d already spent significant time in HK and knew I didn’t want to be there, and 3) The best opportunities for business and employment with a foreign company are in SH.

These are all valid and honest and pretty good reasons (I believe), but there are also deeper issues here.  I have a certain need to be surrounded by a foreign culture.  I need to learn about other cultures.  I need to find out how other people live.  I want to learn what other societies and other governments do better, and this type of stuff can’t all be taught in an academic environment.  In some ways, I am a true wanderlust.  I need to be out and about, out of my familiar environment.  Traveling helps me clear my head, helps me see myself and my life with a refreshed view.  This concept of voluntarily leaving my own culture and familiar surroundings may sound absurd to the provincialite, but to those who know what I mean, its a common feeling.  The more removed from your own culture you choose to place yourself, the more profound your life experience will be.  From this perspective, China actually sounds like a reasonable choice: culturally very removed from the US, yet relatively easy to travel in, as well as already possessing some ability to communicate.

When you put the standard reasons and the deep emotional reasons together, what the heck is the white girl doing in Shanghai? makes sense.   I came for adventure, opportunity, life experience, and to become fluent in Chinese (so if anyone can recommend a good Mandarin teacher, please let me know).

As to the question, ‘how’s life in Shanghai?’ or ‘how you like SH?’  What am I going to say?  It sucks.  I hate Shanghai.  And I cry myself to sleep every night hoping that my mom will let me come home?  Heck NO.  Sure there are good days and bad days and SH is far from the perfect city, but that’s true for anyone, anywhere.  Some days I do think, what the heck am I, a white girl, clearly in the tiny minority, doing in a city of 17 MILLION PEOPLE, where I don’t really speak the language and don’t have any family?  What was I thinking when I decided to move to China?  I have no purpose, no business here.  What am I doing?  But other days… it seems completely natural to get up and take the bus to work and meet friends for dinner or attend a networking happy hour event.  I can do all the same things here I’d do in the US or any other country.  I’m just as much a part of the city as any recent Chinese immigrant from the countryside.  Of course I look different, and people notice and comment as I walk down the street, but that’s all part of the experience.  That’s part of the adventure I came for, of the life experience I came to get.

Sure, China’s not for everyone, but with the right attitude and a deep commitment to the language, culture, and people, China’s an exciting place to be during such a dynamic and fast-paced time.  Best of luck to my fellow half-pats and ex-pats!  I hope you enjoy your time here, I know I am!

Random facts about Shanghai & China

Well I got up very early this morning and so don’t feel like writing much tonight and think I’d only get myself in trouble if I made too many comments on the USC-Mayor of L.A. Breakfast Meeting I went to at the Portman Ritz-Carlton this morning. So on to other randomness…
Tonight I was reading some other blogs about China and came across an interesting situation. From fiLi’s blog on Lonely Planet:

tourists going to travel in China with the latest Lonely Planet book were asked to hand in their very expensive book at the border-crossing due to its ‘political nature’ showing maps of China which color Taiwan in a different color suggesting that Taiwan is not a part of China.

This report on the ban of the LP China books was further confirmed on Marc van der Chijs’s blog:

Ever tried to buy a Lonely Planet guide for China in China? Forget it…China it is not allowed to sell the Lonely Planet guides for China, Beijing and Tibet.

In my opinion, it’s rather annoying and extremely ridiculous, but not altogether surprising, especially considering some of the other things blocked/banned by the Chinese government. For example, (where I got this blogging software) is presumably blocked by the Chinese government, as is, (this one’s certainly not surprising), and (don’t understand this one). In addition, Shanghaiist discussed the AP article about blocking the Jay-Z concert:

China’s Culture Ministry has nixed a concert this month by rap artist Jay-Z at Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium, citing a need to protect local hip-hop fans from nasty lyrics

I’m going to have to agree with Shanghaiist on this one, did the Culture Ministry approve the Black Eyed Peas concert? Did they attend the concert? Maybe so…maybe that’s why the Jay-Z concert was banned. I have to admit, both Irene and I were shocked with how racy the Black Eyed Peas concert was! So sad Jay-Z’s not coming. :( Oh well. Just don’t take my Lonely Planet!

From an Asian Wall Street Journal article about development and the economy in China:

If Shanghai were a country, it would be among the 40 largest economies in the world. Its economic output last year of $114B was bigger than the Philippines or the Czech Republic. Shenzhen, Southern China, has an economy much larger than Vietnam’s.

Of course, these comparisons are impressive when looked at out of context, but when you consider Shanghai has 17million people, compared to the Czech Republic’s 10million, you’d expect the economic output of Shanghai to be greater in order for the per capita output to be on par. The Philippines, on the other hand, is just disappointing. With 89million people and the densest city in the world, Manila (yes, I was surprised it beat HK, too), its no wonder Filipinos are becoming the world’s new service workers. Vietnam, too, is in a disappointing situation like the Philippines with its 84million people. Though I don’t know how many people are in Shenzhen, I’d guarantee far less than that. So it seems that those 2 countries can and should improve their per capita economic output. In this case, perhaps China can be the model. As my mom mentioned in her comment on my previous post, indeed, the Chinese government’s focus has been on economic development. And based on this information it seems the govt has been very successful at developing the economy and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). (Of course, I could devote multiple blog posts to this topic alone). 84 and 89 million are both certainly less than 1.3 billion, but I’d still guess there’s a market in those countries if only companies would be willing to invest (Intel already does) and those govts would provide the right incentives and mechanisms to aid their own development. Again, perhaps both Vietnam and the Philippines can look to China as a guide.

As Ceci has proudly informed me multiple times (based on her chats w/ the jewelry makers at the Pearl City), 90% of all Freshwater Pearls are in China. I keep looking at this figure and trying to come up with a way to make money off of it, say, exporting either raw pearls or finished pieces of jewelry, but it seems, someone has already beaten me to the punch. Damn those enterprising Chinese…grrr.

Though I’m not sure if the statistic is correct, I believe the Mayor of Los Angeles said that 43% of all the US’s ocean-based cargo goes through the ports of Long Beach & Los Angeles. His goal is to increase this to 70%. I was extremely skeptical of this for many reasons, but at the most basic, because the logistics of it would never work! In my opinion, in order for that to work, the US would have to seriously reduce its ocean-based international trade, which with its increasing dependence on China, India, Vietnam and others for cheap imports is never going to happen. As we increase ocean-based int’l trade, logistically those 2 ports are never going to be able to handle it all, so increasingly ships will be diverted to Oregon and other places around the Pacific as well as the Gulf of Mexico (for ships coming from other places). Well, no more comments on this as I really didn’t want to comment on the mayor’s speech.

This fact is also a bit old, but I would guess it still holds true and perhaps is even more true now than when I first heard it:

More people are learning English in China than in Great Britain.

The mayor also commented on this issue today (though perhaps only because of my excellent question). He indicated that in his official visits around China, he went to middle schools where the children greeted him in not only their native tongue, but in 3 languages, namely Mandarin (a given), Cantonese, and ENGLISH! Let me just state the obvious: if a Chinese delegation went to any place in the US, they would not be greeted by school children in 3 languages! If they went to Alhambra/Monterey Park areas in CA, they would probably hear Mandarin & English. If they went to the old Chinatown in LA, they would likely hear Cantonese & English. If they went to a Mexican immigrant barrio in LA, San Diego, Phx, or any city in the southern US, they may hear Spanish & English. Well this situation plus the US students’ poor math and science skills reflect badly on our school system. If the US’s education system doesn’t improve dramatically, there may be a day very soon when the US plays second fiddle to China in nearly everything. Let’s just hope the US can hold onto its edge in R&D and innovation and let the Chinese continue to play copy-cat. (Yes, I know this goes counter to what I said in one of my longtime-ago Xanga posts, where I hoped the Chinese could improve in R&D to produce products and services that would make the world easier and more efficient and in doing so improve IPR protection in China. While I still believe this, at heart I am a true nationalist, ie patriotic American, and I wish the US peaceful success in the global community.)

Well, I hope I have provided you with enough random facts on China & Asia for now and so at the next cocktail party you can impress people with your useless knowledge. If you have any random facts regarding China, please add them to comments as I love to impress my friends at bars with the pointless things I know about China. 😉