Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: Managing the Dragon

One of the greatest challenges of doing business in China is that the country and its laws are constantly changing. The greatest challenge to anyone who writes about doing business with China is that once the book is written, the country and its laws have changed. However, Jack Perkowski does a very nice job of balancing his experience and advice with the ever-changing business landscape of China in Managing the Dragon. Even some of the laws he mentions have already changed in the year since this book was published. Fortunately, he spent enough years in China to see the changes for himself, and he's willing to share his experience with readers.

It's difficult for me to comment on specific business advice that Perkowski provides in his book because I'm not a businessman and I don't know all the laws in China. But, much of his advice can be applied to those who intend to spend an extended time in China. He mentions that the first time he saw a Chinese factory he thought, "[W]hat we need here is some good old-fashioned U.S. management to get these places organized and cleaned up!" Unfortunately, many people have this thought when living and working in China. Perkowski makes it a point that one can't change China or impose American-style management so easily.

Perkowski provides specific examples of the processes he and his partners went through in creating a successful company. He describes the business end of every step of the process as well as the cultural. As with creating any business, he makes clear that it's not easy and requires careful planning. While there is plenty of advice that should be obvious, he also includes his plan to create a high-caliber local management team--another tremendous challenge considering the lack of managerial talent in China compared to the much larger need.

One of the highlights of Managing the Dragon is that Perkowski doesn't focus on the negative or the positive--he balances all of his anecdotes. He admits to some serious problems, and discusses how he and his company fixed them. He also shares experiences that were amazingly positive even though he didn't have that much to do with the outcome. He shows readers the extremes that one might encounter--personalities of the managers and workers, landscapes and accomodations, and anything else he's experienced in more than 15 years in China.

Managing the Dragon is a great guide for anyone who wants to do business in China. But, it's also useful for anyone who plans to work there. I would even recommend this book to English teachers who will work in China, because it helps explain a lot of the attitudes and managerial techniques that one may encounter.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Jia has now been in the states for a little more than three months. Everyone has been asking how she's adjusting to life here (of course, they asked similar questions when she visited for the first time last year).

I'll admit that it hasn't been easy, but my wife is adjusting to the differences of life in the US. Of course, the process would be easier if we had full-time jobs and our own place to live--with any luck that'll change soon. Fortunately, we have the support of my family.

One of the biggest adjustments for Jia has been that she's learning to drive. She took a few weeks to review the New Jersey driver's guide (I made her read it in English instead of getting the Chinese edition), and she passed the written test easily. Practicing driving is another story--just because you know the rules doesn't mean you know how to operate a vehicle. I signed her up for lessons, but those weren't quite enough. She admitted that she expects things to jump out from the side of the road, and she's surprised when other drivers follow the laws and actually understand the right of way. Traffic doesn't run the same as it does in Shenzhen.

What she enjoys most about living here is the amount of green she sees. My hometown is fairly small and there are some wealthy neighborhoods nearby--and plenty of small parks. And she certainly liked our short hike through the Delaware Water Gap last week. Though she is frightened by the number of black bears we've encountered--one was a little more interested in eat garbage when she went out for a walk on her own.

She's also enjoying the food here. We have a great Asian market where she can get the ingredients she needs to cook (and she's learning to cook quite well). Plus, I've been introducing her to foods that were extremely difficult to find in Shenzhen. Jia keeps wondering why these foods don't exist in China. For some reason she now wants me to introduce her to American junk food (like Drake's cakes). And yet, we've both lost weight since moving here--part of that is due to our regular visits to the gym.

I just hope she continues to enjoy her time in the states. And I hope we can move somewhere that will make it easy for us to go without driving much--I think we'd do pretty well with just biking around a place like Jersey City.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I miss my day trips to Macau. It was easy to get there from where we lived in Shenzhen--a twenty-minute bus ride to the ferry terminal and a little more than an hour to Macau (or we could've stopped in Zhuhai and walked across the border). I'm not big on gambling, but it was fun to walk around the casinos and see the difference in culture to that of Atlantic City (no one was getting drunk at the tables in Macau). I enjoyed wandering the colonial streets and parks. I always seemed to have good weather when I made those trips.
Of course, the first trip to Macau required me to take in all the tourist sites. One of the first stops was the ruins of St. Paul's. It is a rather impressive facade that remains, and the view from the steps is really nice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Felt Like a Holiday

The sun came out yesterday. It was a pleasant surprise considering the forecast has been calling for rain almost everyday for the last two months. It was supposed to rain yesterday too. Thinking that it wouldn't last, we took advantage of the first sign of summer and headed out to my favorite place in New Jersey--the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Unfortunately, we got a late start and didn't get to spend too much time hiking around. But it got us out of the house for half a day, and that's what we really needed.

I forgot the information center was the opposite way off of I-80, so we didn't have a map of the park or a trail map. We stopped to pick up both on our way back home for the next time we head a little westward, which I hope will be soon.

It's definitely more pleasant to head out to the Delaware Water Gap during the week when very few people are around. However, more people serves the purpose of scaring the black bears away from the trails.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Love That Food

I just can't get enough of foods I couldn't eat in China (either because they were prohibitively expensive or impossible to find).

As an early Father's Day dinner, we headed out to Clifton, NJ. Because my brother has had to visit Clifton on business, he was introduced to Toros by his customers. If I thought last month's adventure in Turkish cuisine was good, this was exponentially better.

The place was packed when we got in--I think I was the last car allowed in their small parking lot. They had live music (one guy playing some traditional Turkish music), which was unfortunately right next to our table, making it difficult to have any conversation.

We ordered some Turkish beer and appetizers (some yogurt and herb dip, stuffed mussels, and red bean). I can't quite remember what everyone ordered for dinner--it was difficult to choose because everything sounded good...and everything was great. The tenderness of the meat, the flavors and spices, everything was better than I've had at other Turkish restaurants. Although we were stuffed, we had some dessert that was extremely sweet. And we ended with some great Turkish coffee that wasn't overly sweet like the last time we had it (though I should've asked for a little less sugar in mine).

My biggest complaint about Toros is that it's too far from home--they need to open another one closer to me. Restaurants like this make me want to travel to Turkey and do nothing but eat.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Heavenly Sight

The Temple of Heaven is my favorite tourist site in Beijing--probably because it's the only place I didn't get excessively harassed by hawkers selling all sorts of cheap souvenirs at inflated prices that I could buy just about anywhere in China. It also helps that the two times I visited the Temple of Heaven the weather was great, albeit extremely hot (the sky was even blue the second time around). And the massive park surrounding the main structures never felt crowded, though I'm sure there were plenty of people spread out around the place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: Waylaid

The title has a dual meaning that can make you laugh and cringe at the same time.

Ed Lin's Waylaid focuses on the life of a vulgar, yet intelligent adolescent who is forced to live and work at a sleazy motel at the Jersey Shore, because his parents own it. The unnamed narrator has an obsession with sex and getting laid at an early age. He's exposed to these thoughts by the Bennys (city dwellers from the North Jersey/New York area) and the johns that frequently rent the hourly rooms at the motel.

Fortunately, Waylaid goes deeper into the narrator's life (as Samuel R. Delany once told a class, "Hell is having to read other people's pornography."). Lin deals with the concept of being "other"--the narrator is the American-born son of Chinese immigrants. While his parents still embrace their Chinese heritage while assimilating into society, their son is very Americanized (he doesn't even eat Chinese food). One of the challenges they face is that they are the only Chinese family in the town. To complicate matters, the narrator has to cope with being the kid whose parents own the sleazy motel. All of this means that he has next to no social life outside of school.

The narrator, like many adolescents, resents his parents for controlling his life. He also brushes aside almost any adult who shows him kindness--he tolerates talking with them, but hates to listen to what they have to say.

Lin writes about racism toward Asians, but he doesn't include a serious tone when writing about it. Most it comes off as being comedic--it sounds so unbelievably ignorant that some might laugh at the characters' stupidity.

This novella (it's only 168 pages) lives up to Lin's description of it being his "dirty book." If it wasn't for his humor and bizarre situations (it is the Jersey Shore after all), this would be trash. If you can get past the profanity of the adolescent narrator, this is an amusing read.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spontaneous Combustion

China Digital Times reports that a bus in Shenzhen spontaneously combusted. Fortunately, no one was injured, which is much better than what happened in Chengdu.

The bus that caught fire was number 320--a route that I don't recall ever taking. However, bus routes (that I am aware of) that are 3xx run from Bao'an district to other parts of the city that are in the Special Economic Zone. Such buses usually get beat up pretty quickly because of the long routes. One's I've been on are 331, 305, 355, 301, 311, 319, and 361.

From the photos of the charred remains of the bus, it appears that it is one of the more recent models (though not the newest buses).

While I was fortunate enough to have never encountered such disasters on a bus in Shenzhen, I did have some close calls. On more than one occasion passengers were worried about the amount of smoke coming from the bus, even though the driver assured everyone that it was OK. I've also been on a few that broke down, forcing everyone to cram on another bus.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Translated Advertisment

My wife pointed out an amusing little ad while she checked her gmail account (makes you wonder what Google accepts as advertising).

美国生子=美国公民 一人公民=全家移民
一万美元=百万美元 多子多女=心想事成
Give birth in the US = American citizenship. One person as a citizen = the whole family can immigrate.
Ten thousand dollars (cost of giving birth in US) = $1 million (American citizenship). Have lots of sons and daughters = your wish will become true.

Hate to burst the company's bubble of claims, but this is no longer true because the US altered its immigration laws.

Is It Spring Yet?

New Jersey has been experiencing some rather mild weather for June. We had some hot days last month, but lately it's been in the low 70s--though I'd rather have this weather than consistent 95 degrees plus 1000% humidity days in Shenzhen this time of year (OK, I exaggerated the humidity a little, it's only about 250%).

This time of year reminds me of my usual time for a weekend visit to Hong Kong. My uncle is there at the moment, about the same time as every year (though last year was later to coincide with my parents' visit).
Walking through the streets of Central provided relief from the summer heat--the air conditioning was blasting winter temperatures out the doors of every shop. I'm convinced that when passing through the border at Luohu, the Hong Kong side is a few degrees cooler.
Fortunately, this time of year can be really good for some photos. The summer rains that never seem to let up, combined with typhoon winds, blow a lot of the smog away. It's definitely the right time of year to head up to Victoria Peak for a great view of the city.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dear Prospective Employers

Why do you insist that I use your online application forms that don't work properly? Perhaps you should hire programmers that can create quality online forms.

The first problem with your forms is that I have to provide you with my resume three times. Is that really necessary? I have to copy and paste a plain text version in so your program can incorrectly parse it into the required fields that I have to retype anyway. Then I have to upload the document. Then I have to enter all the information into the fields that you require while I click through fifteen pages online.

That last part is the second problem. Why do you need my former employers' phone numbers? I know you want to check to make sure I'm not lying about my employment history, but isn't that why I have former bosses and co-workers as my references? And why must I use the American standard format of (xxx) xxx-xxxx? That doesn't work when trying to enter a phone number in China. I can't just give you a fake number, because that would disqualify me from employment if/when you decide to call.

If you really want to hire quality candidates, you might want to consider the old fashioned way of accepting cover letters and resumes via the US Postal Service--I'm sure they'd be very happy that you forced applicants to spend a dollar on postage. Or you could turn back the clock a few years and just accept applications via e-mail.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Humming a Chinese Tune

It seems that the all-American gas guzzler is soon to be made in China. Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. is expected to purchase the Hummer brand from GM because GM has followed one of the worst business models over the last twenty years or so.

This is not a done deal and I won't speculate on if the US and Chinese governments approve this sale. Although, US military contracts come to mind for reasons to veto the sale on this end. But, what would it mean if Hummer were made in China? It would probably be cheaper for Tengzhong to produce the behemoth in China and ship it to the US, therefore I'll go with such a scenario.

The majority of Hummer owners in the US are conservatives. How will they feel if they walk into a dealership to purchase another Hummer that is no longer made in the US? Will they trust a car made in China? That last question depends on the person--there are plenty of Americans who are becoming more protective about products that are made at home, and there is a lot of skepticism as to the quality of Chinese-made products.

So far, no Chinese car companies have broken into the US market. If we look at Japanese and Korean car makers, it took them some years before the American public bought large numbers of their vehicles. There are also fewer people buying gas guzzlers because of high fuel prices, not to mention the SUV price tag. How long is Tengzhong willing to wait before the American public begins buying its Hummers?

Tengzhong can probably depend on high demand for the Hummer in China. There are relatively few around Asia now. The Chinese are beginning to lean toward the mentality that bigger is better when it comes to cars (wonder where they got that idea?). So, it seems that there won't be a shortage of buyers on the mainland. But how many of these enormous vehicles can the roads in China hold? Traffic is bad enough right now; a few thousand Hummers will just make it worse.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Up the Yangtze

It's not often one finds an insightful documentary about China that isn't overtly political (Wild China comes to mind), but director Yung Chang achieves just that Up the Yangtze.

Chang opens his film reminiscing about his grandfather's stories of life in Sichuan province. He wants to see the China that his grandfather lived in. He embarks on a luxury cruise up the Yangtze before the Three Gorges Dam is complete--he encounters plenty of Western tourists on the cruise who "are here to see an ancient version of China that doesn't exist anymore."

Chang shifts his focus from the travels of the tourists to two employees on the ship--one is a 19-year-old boy from the city, the other is a 16-year-old girl who lives in a shack on the river. The aspirations of each is different--the boy, Chen, wants a high-paying job rather than going to college, while the girl, Cindy, is forced to work because her parents can't afford to send her to high school.

There are also scenes mixed in about the cities and towns along the Yangtze being affected by the flooding. He speaks with a shopkeeper who is trying to sell everything before he is forced to move--he breaks down talking about how he's not being compensated or treated fairly. Outside the store, residents complain about harassment by thugs and not receiving the proper amount of compensation. As the shopkeeper says, "China is too hard for common people."

However, Cindy's family is optimistic about the future because they have food and a roof over their heads. Cindy begins her career on the cruise with slouched shoulders and a constant frown. But, as she is helped along by co-workers, she opens up and begins to smile and enjoy her work.

Up the Yangtze shows the complexity and contradictions of China. It doesn't mention anything about the environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam, but rather focuses on the human cost--in some cases improving lives while ruining others. It also portrays views of tourism--from the poor English phrases the ship's crew is taught, to the propaganda tours, to manufactured traditional shows.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Counterproductive Censorship

It's the run up to that all-important anniversary of the event that never really happened in China 20 years ago. I'm not surprised, and most others aren't either, that the government decided to "harmonize" a great many Web sites that could endanger the harmonious socialist society with Chinese characteristics. Those Web sites include Twitter, Flickr, Hotmail, Youtube, WordPress, Blogger, and the rest of the decent half of the Internet.

I won't get into the seemingly random Great Firewall that blocks harmless sites but leaves others with more detrimental information open (they still have some pornographic sites open). The more important question to ask about the Great Firewall is what does it really achieve? Does it preserve this harmonious society ideology?

The information that the Chinese government wants to hide from its citizens are those that include voices of dissent--human rights advocates, environmental activists, anti-corruption activists, and democratic reformers. Blocking information from such groups will keep much of the population in the dark, but most of those people wouldn't care about such information to begin with. Students who are indoctrinated in the CCP propaganda brush aside dissent without ever considering the purpose behind it. And the common Chinese citizen doesn't give much thought to politics.

Those involved in dissent are also not hurt by the Great Firewall--to them it's more of an inconvenience. There are plenty of ways around the blocks--VPNs and proxy servers. If they want information, they can get it. If they want to spread information, they will find a way.

The greatest problem for the government this time around is that they blocked access to Web sites that the common Chinese Internet user uses. There are many people there who use Twitter and Hotmail. To these people, it's more than an inconvenience. These people may not have cared about online censorship previously, but now it affects them. If anything, it can turn a politically apathetic person into a vocal critic. It's the small curbs that can do the most damage.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Review: Fugitive Pieces

A beautiful, yet painful story told through poetic prose is rare find in mainstream contemporary literature. Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces is a wonderfully engaging novel with poetic language that continues through every page.

Jakob Beer is rescued from his hiding place in a swamp in Poland by Athos, a Greek geologist, who adopts the child. He stays hidden in Athos' house in Greece until the end of World War II, and they decide to emigrate to Canada. Over the years, Jakob attempts to integrate in society and cope with the loss of his family that he barely knew at the hands of the Nazis. Athos and his friends become Jakob's family and help understand the world around him. His memories of his parents and sister slowly unfold through the years. The work he does with geology, poetry, music, and translation help him to find the connections to his past.
"I tried to embroider darkness, black sutures with my glinting stones sewn safe and tight, buried in the cloth: Bella's intermezzos, Athos's maps, Alex's words, Maurice and Irena. Black on black, until the only way to see the texture would be to move the whole cloth under the light." (164)
Even after his death, Jakob helps others understand the loss of their parents. Though his parents survived the Holocaust, Ben, who was born in Canada after the war, has difficulty communicating with his parents, and doesn't cope with their passing until after going through Jakob's work in Greece.

Anne Michaels creates characters that impress the reader through their faults--their inability to express themselves is what shapes them. Her skill as a poet shines through the prose as the paragraphs become almost musical.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hard Labor

Jia and I were talking about summer jobs, spurred by the article in today's Star-Ledger about dwindling opportunities for teenagers. I told her about my time mowing lawns and other yard work, manufacturing, warehouse work, and other adventures in temporary labor. Any difficult or boring labor I endured was easily topped by my wife's tale.

From high school and on into university, Jia joined her classmates and worked the fields of Xinjiang--they needed students to do the work because they didn't have enough local or migrant laborers. Most of those expeditions involved picking cotton, though she also had to harvest barley. Sometimes it was just for a weekend, other times it was for two-week stretches. The students slept on hay in a barn with rats running about. They drank from dirty plastic barrels of water that were dragged out to the fields by exhaust-spewing tractors. And they drank thin soup and ate bland mantou (steamed bread).

Jia said they had no running water--just a large trough in the field to rinse the dirt from their hands. And the field was their toilet. It wasn't so bad when the work was only on the weekends, but for the longer stretches it was difficult to live without a shower.

Early into her time at university, Jia and her classmates staged a protest--the upper-classmen told the younger students to stay in their rooms when the teachers came to take them to the fields. When they were finally dragged to the farm, they refused to work. They wanted to at least eat some meat if they were to work so hard. In response, the farm slaughtered a single pig to feed the group of hundreds of students. Jia doesn't recall even seeing meat in the soup that day.

For their hours of hard labor, the students were expected to meet daily weight goals for their harvest. Those who didn't meet the daily goals were fined. This led to some students adding water or small rocks to their sacks. Jia says she lost money every time they made her work in the fields.