Wednesday, August 29, 2007

chinese business practices

China's Business Practices Mirror 19th-Century U.S.
• THE BOSTON GLOBE -- AUG. 26

China's sometimes fast-and-loose business style doesn't necessarily reflect a distinct Chinese approach to capitalism. The U.S. itself once shocked the world with piracy, counterfeiting and food scandals, Stephen Mihm, an assistant professor of American history at the University of Georgia, writes in the Boston Globe.

Just as pirated DVDs and Harry Potter books abound in China, U.S. printers published British authors' books without permission or payment, provoking Charles Dickens to condemn the U.S. Hats, gin and paper made in the U.S. would be labeled as fine imports from Paris. An 1859 investigation in Boston found copper sulphate in pickles and watered-down milk bulked up with chalk.

When the U.S. became a major exporter, such practices scandalized Europe. In the mid-1880s, U.S. butter exports to Europe plummeted following the revelation that a lot of it was "oleo-margarine," made of beef fat, cattle stomach and ewe udders. In 1879, Germany accused the U.S. of exporting pork contaminated with cholera, leading several countries to boycott the U.S.

Prof. Mihm concedes there are many differences between present-day China and 19th-century America. China isn't a democracy, for one. But the many similarities suggest that what is happening in China today happens in most newly capitalist countries, as new technologies, expanding markets and wily entrepreneurs overwhelm systems of control designed for rural areas. If the U.S. in the 20th century is any guide, China's business practices will eventually improve under stiff international pressure, says Prof. Mihm. The landmark Food and Drug Act of 1906 was in part aimed at improving the reputation of U.S. food abroad. Also, just as U.S. copyright laws tightened as U.S. authors became popular overseas, Prof. Mihm predicts China will crack down on counterfeit DVDs if and when it has a significant movie industry of its own.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

china doll

Went to church this morning with my little china doll Sweet Pea. She has been here for the weekend and a lot of fun to hang out with. We let her run wild at SLU and there is always something to grab her attention there like squirrels, flag poles, puddles, flowers, and manhole covers.

Last night we had two-thirds (6 of 9) of the Blewetts here for a very nice dinner. We haven't had that many together since Easter when all nine were here. Off-spring #4 grilled steaks to perfection while his sister was in charge of hors d'oeuvres.

Just when I got down to my pre-China trip weight! Oh well, I can always do it again.

Tomorrow we leave for DC to move my little Hoya into college for the fourth and final time.

That will leave me Wednesday to begin to prepare my classes for the semester which starts on Thursday.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. You can double click the image for an enlargement.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

grasping the obvious

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

~ Proverbs 26:5-6 (ESV)


These verses have always puzzled me. They seem so contradictory yet since the verses are next to each other I can’t argue a different context or other typical ways to reconcile a seeming scriptural paradox.

How to handle the contradictory commands of Proverbs 26:5-6? I used to think that we needed discernment to know when to answer a fool according to his folly and when not to. However, that is too difficult to justify. There are no conditional statements or anything else to support this interpretation.

Then it came to me. Duh! This refers to a situation where there is no good outcome. No matter what I do, the result is bad!

For example I have had to deal with someone, a believer, with very twisted thinking, negatively interpreting actions and then believing the fabrications as truth. This sort of “insightful” toxic thinking is ungodly, a fool’s folly.

Do I address the person’s fabricated yet sincerely believed conclusions? Whether I do or I don’t, I lose. After an initial disappointment, I realized that these verses are actually quite freeing. This is a no-win situation! This freed me from agonizing over what to do, then blaming myself when things turn out badly; being weighed down by the second thoughts of “if only I had said it better.” God is pointing out there are times when the outcomes are going to be less than I desire.

Sometimes it takes me awhile to grasp the obvious.

Be blessed.
RB

Friday, August 24, 2007

blowing the cobwebs out of elizabethan drama.

American Shakespeare Center's touring troupe (formerly know as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) will be doing it with the lights on again this October at SLU. Here is the schedule:

Monday, October 22, The Taming of the Shrew - 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, October 23, Henry V - 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 24, The Merchant of Venice - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, October 25 - day off
Friday, October 26, The Taming of the Shrew - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 27, Henry V - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 27, The Merchant of Venice - Midnight
Sunday, October 28, The Taming of the Shrew - Matinee at 1:30 p.m.

All shows in Eben Holden Hall.

Be blessed!
RB

i’m back . . . sort of . . . .

I awoke in Chengdu, CN at 5 a.m. Saturday and I arrived back in Canton at 12:40 a.m. Sunday after 32 hours of traveling. I slept maybe an hour or so on the planes, trying to stay awake so I could sleep at more normal NNY times when home.

Anyway, that was the plan.

Well, I did get seven hours of sleep until I awoke. Good news: I went to church and I only slept an hour on Sunday afternoon. Bad news: I was tired, grouchy, and extremely stupid.

I was asked to play tennis, doubles, Sunday night. I hadn’t played in 15 years, had eight hours of sleep in the past 48, and my body thought it was 12 time zones away. I gave it a go anyway.

It was not a pretty sight.

It was no surprise I had no serve. However, I had trouble hitting the ball. I had great form, but I was swinging the racket and missing clean by six to ten inches. On one of my first serves, I tossed the ball up, swung the racket, swished, and the ball came down, hitting me on the top of my head.

My play at the net was similarly impressive. There were a few times when I looked back to see my partner on his hands and knees in the back court. I thought maybe he was injured. No, he was laughing so hard that he couldn’t stand.

Despite my play, I had fun and we, the over-fifty guys, lost a close match in three sets (3-6, 6-3, 5-7) to the under-thirty guys.

I don’t remember Monday. I dozed all day and all evening. Of course, I had trouble sleeping at night. I have not had a really good, uninterrupted night’s sleep yet this week.

I managed our finances during the past few days. I spread work that usually takes an hour or two over three days. This pace was not in the plan.

I did put in a full day at the office yesterday, Thursday. I filled out an expense report for the China-trip grant. This was an intellectual challenge, not only due to my continuing jet lag but also because most of the receipts were written in Chinese with no English. Looks like I’m a few hundred over budget, which I probably will have to eat. I don’t feel too bad since the international and in-China airfares jumped by over $800 between the grant application and when we purchased them. It could have been a lot worse. We were saved by having a couple of wonderful Chinese women on the team who didn’t hesitate to argue and fuss over a couple of yuan (27 cents).

Maybe I’ll be able to sleep tonight . . . .

Be blessed.
RB

Friday, August 17, 2007

miscellany

1.  Last night (Thursday) XC and I were talking while having a late dinner after some interviews.   She knows the people we have been around are all believers and they have all been genuinely very nice.  XC mentioned that she noticed that I was more relaxed, and had no tension while in Chengdu.  She said something to the effect that I must feel in Chengdu like she did in Fuzhou when she was back home with all her family.

 

I think she gets it.

 

2.  Everyone here has continually commented certain CFC people who lived in Chengdu this past year.   They had a very real impact on people and really helped the Chinese.  This is genuine admiration and not just Asian politeness.

 

3.  If you can read this, or could possibly read this, I am not bringing you any gifts from China.  Sorry, but I did not come here to shop and I have had work to do.

 

4.  Chinese yell at each other a lot.

 

5.  I love "tapioca milk tea" with "frog eggs" (i.e., little purple, gummy rice balls) on the bottom.  My students joke that I am addicted to it.  It is hard to describe this drink in a meaningful way.  So I won't.

 

6.  At a large, upscale shopping district in Shenzhen I found an "all for 2 yuan" store (2 yuan = 27 cents).

 

7.  Asian Big Macs are good and quite different.  The meat is highly peppered and they replace lettuce with cabbage.  It is quite appropriate to eat one in taxi while rushing to the airport.

 

8.  Lay's potato chips come in the "classic American" style as well as other flavors such as beef, chicken, and my personal favorite, cucumber.

 

9.  Saw DVD's in Shanghai for sale for 16 yuan ($2.14) with plastic case or 7 yuan ($0.93) in a cardboard sleeve.   Titles included Die Hard IV, the latest Harry Potter, Spiderman 3, Transformers.   Some of these films are not even in theaters here.   I wanted to buy a bunch but came under conviction.

 

10.  When I ordered a "green tea frappacino" in a Shenzhen Starbucks, the clerk was very impressed and pleased that a foreigner would want a local favorite.   I must have scored points because later she gave me some free samples of other drinks to try.
 
11.  I just put XC in a taxi for the airport (fey gee chang).  I leave early tomorrow for Shanghai in order to take the world's longest 45-minute flight to Chicago.  I leave a little after 4 p.m. and arrive before 5 p.m.

 

Be blessed!

RB

i'm blogging blind here

[Note: this was written yesterday but I was unable to send it out]

 

It is Thursday afternoon.  I am in an internet cafĂ© in Chengdu, CN.   Blogger is blocked in CN so I must post by email and hope for the best.

 

Half our crew left this morning so it is just XC and I.  XC leaves Friday evening and I leave Saturday morning so tomorrow is our last day of work.   We are dealing with a very sensitive subject and it is especially sensitive here.  I think that is because the problem is even worse here than in the industrialized cities on the east coast.   Basically no one wants to talk to us.  The only people who will see us are believers connected to other believers who I know.   However, these contacts have been quite excellent.  We have learned much and expect to learn more tomorrow.

 

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning I took the students to the Panda Research Centre.  Neither of our two Chinese women had ever seen a live panda.   So I thought we could not leave Chengdu without them seeing their own national treasure.  We saw adult and juvenile giant pandas but the real treat was visiting the baby panda nursery.   We saw a 20-day-old baby with the distinctive black and white fur as well as a twice as large 40-day-old panda.  They were in plastic incubators like you would see in an American hospital's neo-natal unit.   There was also a tiny, two-day-old hairless infant in a third incubator.  It was covered with a towel to keep it extra warm but we could see it squirming around under the towel.   We could also see its little pink tail and little pink feet sticking out.

 

I am especially blessed to be surrounded by believers here in Chengdu.  I have had a very good trip and the students have been wonderful.   However, after two-plus weeks without fellowship, I found I miss being with brothers and sisters.  Sometimes you don't realize you miss something until you have it again.   Anyway, I find it very peaceful and relaxing here.

 

I have been trying to stay away from coffee for the past month but today I have had three cups, the last one with CFC's very own Jeff S.   He is doing quite well and if anyone knows his mom, please assure her that he is not only quite healthy, but thriving in the Middle Kingdom.

 

After all that coffee, I really must go now . . . .

 

Be blessed!

RB

Sunday, August 12, 2007

friday in shenzhen

I was out of internet contact for six days and I have been very busy and/or too tired to post anything.  I'll post something later on the missing week (August 4-10).

Shenzhen is located on the border with Hong Kong and is China's richest city.  It was a fishing village before being designated a Special Economic Zone in 1980.  Now it has a population of over 13 million, over 11 million of these are migrant workers and the vast majority of those are women.  That means they are not local residents and do not have certain rights like schooling for their children.

Being a young city it really has no soul and zero charm.  There are only three things it is known for:  fake brand-name goods, the best foot massages in China, and hordes of prostitutes.

Friday we visited a factory and went out to dinner with two factory owners and a broker that connects factories with buyers like Walmart, Costco, BJ's.  Then a dark side of Chinese business social life was exposed.  They brought out shot glasses and a bottle of 104 proof Chinese version of white lightning.  The men down the shots at one time, quickly getting drunk, trying to prove who is the better man by how much they drink .  I have heard about this before.  They seemed to reluctantly accept that I did not drink any alcohol anytime and that they shouldn't take it personally.  Poor DM took a couple of shots then wanted no more.  It got a little ugly as they really pressured him to drink.  DM got a little peeved at the pressure and absolutely refused to drink any more.  Then they gave him a beer.  He probably would have had the beer except he resented how they tried to force him to drink it.

The social abuse, the power trips and bullying is something you wouldn't even see among US frat boys.

After dinner our host wanted to take us by his factory then out to a club.  We didn't have time for the factory tour but agreed to go to the club.  One of our women wanted to go and the other felt she had to so as to not offend our host.  DM had been before to this sort of thing, told them what to expect, and absolutely did not want to go.  I decided we'd all go due to the sketchiness of it all.  I wasn't about to let the female students go there by themselves.

It was opening night for the club.  Very pretty girls would escort you to a room with loud music where a bunch of drunks and pretty women (prostitutes) were playing cards, doing business, karaoke, and more drinking.  There were also some waitresses with forced smiles whose purpose was to keep the beer flowing.  I had the honor, I later found out, of sitting next to the owner, a local mafia leader.  I smiled a lot, did not drink toasts but made the OK sign frequently.

I was doing pretty well until the female students left my side to karaoke.  Then after a few minutes a couple of professional women descended upon me.  I tried moving a bit further away but they just moved closer to me on the couch.   They were quite social despite our language differences.  They kept yelling "What is your name?" I answered but they either couldn't hear or couldn't understand me.   I soon excused my myself to tell YW, "I'm making some friends I really don't want to make."  We soon left a little while later, explaining we had appointments in the morning.

A funny thing happened to DM.  He was trying to be polite by having a beer with the boys but then received a cell call.  He went out in the hall to answer it.  It was his mother calling from Nepal.  As he was talking with mom a handful of prostitutes encircled him asking for his name.  It was to say the least an awkward situation.  DM can really tell a story and we were both doubled over with laughter when he later recounted his tale in our hotel room.

Only DM and I seemed to understand what a potentially bad situation it might have been had the women students gone by themselves.  Let's just say, mafia types aren't known for asking for permission.  There were a lot of drunk guys and the only other women socializing in the place were prostitutes.

I think our purpose there was to be trophy American friends of our host.  DM heard him tell someone earlier in the day that he couldn't talk because he was with his friends from the States.

The rest of our stay has been more pleasant.

Be blessed.
RB



 

Thursday, August 9, 2007

update

It is Friday morning. I am alive and well in Shenzhen.  I have internet access!  I have learned to say my first full sentence in Mandarin:

I am not Yao Ming.

After checking 100-plus emails, I'm going back to bed.

Be blessed!
RB
 

Friday, August 3, 2007

the dream team

I'm down to eating one meal a day and I'm still gaining weight. Yesterday, Friday, I had a plum for breakfast, no snacks, and an orange and a Coke for dinner. Lunch was a bit different. We went to visit two factories, one a small machine shop with maybe a little over one hundred employees and the other a little larger than produces derricks for oil drilling. The owner of the first factory took us out for lunch at a very nice restaurant. We had our own private room. The table had the typical tree-foot diameter lazy susan. I keep forgetting that even though the lazy susan is filled with dishes of food, it is only round one of maybe three or four rounds. So for round one I eat a substantial amount, then repeat with round two, etc. Most often the food gets better with each round! It was a long 10-hour day with the first hour and the last two hours spent in traffic jams. The conversations were mostly in Mandarin or Shanghaiese. I'll ask YW, our only Shanghaiese speaker, to fill me in.

Today DM needs to move out of his apartment and YW needs to pack for the rest of our trip. XC and I plan to visit the Shanghai Museum then meet up with the others at the Maglev station about 6:00. The Maglev is train that levitates over the track due to opposing magnetic forces. It goes a couple of hundred miles per hour and you do not feel like you are moving. XC and YW have never been on it so we decided to take it to the airport for our flight to Fuzhou. The train takes only 8 minutes rather than 45-60 minutes driving. Plus, it is a lot cooler.

The other night we had dinner with the director of the program in Shanghai to which we send our students. DM took us to a Nepali restaurant where you take off your shoes and sit on pillows around a low table. Excellent food, close to Indian food but a bit more spicier. DM is easy-going, funny, generous, personable Nepali, and incapable of any guile. I think he was a favorite of the director when he attended the Shanghai program last fall. DM later told us that after the dinner the director, an American, told him how he is more and more impressed with SLU. First of all, we send him good, low maintenance students. Second, SLU funds students to travel with professors over the summer. This is very rare. What most impressed him was our interaction. At dinner he was expecting the students to be very quiet in the presence of their professor, trying to not make any mistakes, etc. Instead, we all had a fun time, making jokes and teasing each other, more like friends rather than what he usually sees with students and professors.

It is so good to hear things like that. It reminds me of what a very special place SLU is and how blessed I am to be there. It is all too easy to take things for granted. I need a wake up call every once and a while.

It also helps that I am traveling with my dream team. They are great students and great people.

Be blessed!
RB

Thursday, August 2, 2007

ramblin' bout thursday

Baghdad won an amazing, lopsided upset victory over Shanghai yesterday. I made the classic mistake of confusing a forecast with reality. We were in a small, hole-in-the-wall eatery yesterday at lunch when a huge thunderstorm hit. Very hard rain for an extended period and then light rain for almost an hour. The rain lasted long even to cool down the pavement and remove the sauna effect. (This is where the rain hits the sidewalks and then steams back up.) According to her, Shanghai may have lost to NNY as well.

We went our separate ways after lunch and I was going to head back to the hotel to catch up with some work, when I realized how really pleasant it was. The air temp was down and the pavement was cool -- the nicest weather since being in China. So I walked along Nanjing East Road. A very long section of this street near People's Square has been turned into a pedestrian mall with very high end, high fashion, mostly western stores. (A bit a irony there: People's Square anchors the most excessive of Western elite consumerism around.) Anyway, I love walking in cities and continued until I felt the temperature raise to more normal levels.

That morning we visited Bao Steel north of the city. Actually it is its own city or at least surrounded by a city serving the mill and its workers. We rented a seven-passenger SUV, which in China is a GM minivan. A very nicely appointed Buick, so we toured in the lap of luxury. Our guide, hired from the Bao Steel's travel agency was a woman who had worked in the mill for thirty years before retiring to the tour guide business. She talked a mile a minute in Chinese. Our Chinese speakers had trouble keeping up with her. YM was very sweet and tried to help me out by translating, but she was overwhelmed by the task. I got well less than 1% of what was said. I guess our ladies can fill me in later.

Bao Steel's works are vast, covering an area larger than Macao (a former Portuguese colony near Hong Kong) and they have 15,000 well-paid workers and four blast furnaces. They even have their own port for ocean-going ships. We went into a mill where we saw a rolling eight-inch thick slab of golden yellow steel become a roll of thin gray metal used to make stoves or washing machines. They cooled it down using the same process as later cooled down the streets of Shanghai.

Steel mills are pretty much the same everywhere: big, ugly, hot, polluting. However, only the Chinese could make a steel mill aesthetically pleasing. The main roads were more like four-lane boulevards. Everything was beautifully landscaped, even the smallest or most isolated access roads. Flowering tress, palms, shrubbery. The buildings were ugly, there is not much you can do about a steel mill, but they were often obscured by the landscaping. This was way over the top.

In the evening I took a break and was able to explore the neighborhood around the hotel for the first time. The weather was the most pleasant of any evening so far. To explore I head out in one direction for several blocks then turn around, then head out in another direction. It is easy to get lost since the streets are not laid out in a typical metropolitan grid. However, the down side risk of getting lost is a $1.50 taxi ride back to the hotel. (I carry business cards from the hotel with its address in Chinese.) I discovered the hotel is surrounded by apartment towers, many 40 stories high, with more being built. In my wanderings I also found a food bazaar, an area the size of a modest US grocery store with dozens of sellers of vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. The chickens are quite fresh: you buy them alive.

I later bought fruit from a regular store. This morning I noticed from their little labels that the kiwi is from New Zealand and the orange is a Sunkist. Only the plums appear to be Chinese. That is alright. We're here to study the effects of globalization.

Be blessed,
RB

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

shanghai bests baghdad

I just checked the weather forecasts for Shanghai and Baghdad today.  (This is Thursday morning.)  Baghdad is supposed to reach a high of 120 degrees while Shanghai's predicted high is only in the high 90's.  However, if you make the adjustment for humidity, it will feel like 124 in Shanghai.

We win!

After having spent a nearly a year in northern Nigeria, believe me, once the temp gets above 113 or so, it really doesn't matter any more.

Our big plans for today are to visit a steel mill of the largest steel manufacturer in the world.  Steel mills are not known for being air conditioned.  As I often tell my students, and I will need to remind three of them again today, you have to be tough to be an economics major.

Enjoy your temperate climate.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. Shanghai's Bao Steel is not the largest steel company in world. The largest is an Indian company that recently bought up some European producers.

slu's email

This is from a campus-wide email sent out about an hour ago.

Campus users may have experienced slow response when trying to send email message starting on Monday of this week.

This problem has been resolved and the cause has been identified as a dramatic increase in the number of spam message being sent to campus. 

For those that are interested in some information regarding spam and message delivery:
  • We typically deliver around 50,000 legitimate message per day during the summer and around 120,000 during the school year.
  • We typically deal with around 500,000 spam messages per day.
  • On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we encountered nearly 2,000,000 spam messages or double the usual load.
  • We are on pace to exceed 1,000,000 spam messages today.
I am amazed at the volume of emails and spams sent to just a small college with only 2,000 students.

RB

rb makes today's wall street journal

From THE CLUB FOR GROWTH

In 1930, Congress passed and President Hoover signed into law the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. At the time, this protectionist measure was vigorously opposed by 1,028 of the nation’s top economists. They rightly predicted the tariffs would devastate the economy. And, in fact, the country subsequently plunged into the Great Depression.

Now some in Congress are considering ways to enact similar protectionist policies against China. Once again, 1,028 of America’s top economists, from all 50 states and top universities, have signed the following petition sponsored by the Club for Growth in opposition to protectionist policies against China. In addition to many other prominent and well-respected economists, signatories include Nobel Laureates Finn Kydland, Edward Prescott, Thomas Schelling, and Vernon Smith.

Here's the 1930 petition (PDF) as it ran in the New York Times.

Here's the 2007 petition (PDF) as it ran in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

PETITION
Concerning Protectionist Policies Against China

We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about the recent protectionist sentiments coming from Congress, especially with regards to China.

By the end of this year, China will most likely be the United States' second largest trading partner. Over the past six years, total trade between the two countries has soared, growing from $116 billion in 2000 to almost $343 billion in 2006. That's an average growth rate of almost 20% a year.

This marvelous growth has led to more affordable goods, higher productivity, strong job growth, and a higher standard of living for both countries. These economic benefits were made possible in large part because both China and the United States embraced freer trade.

As economists, we understand the vital and beneficial role that free trade plays in the world economy. Conversely, we believe that barriers to free trade destroy wealth and benefit no one in the long run. Because of these fundamental economic principles, we sign this letter to advise Congress against imposing retaliatory trade measures against China.

There is no foundation in economics that supports punitive tariffs. China currently supplies American consumers with inexpensive goods and low-interest rate loans. Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment. Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war. American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.

We urge Congress to discard any plans for increased protectionism, and instead urge lawmakers to work towards fostering stronger global economic ties through free trade.