Stan Helm Trip to China June 2010 Hello all, On my first trip to China several years ago I started writing letters to my sister so she could share the experiences with me. Some of you asked for copies of those letters over the years so I have continued to do them even though my sister is no longer with us. I enjoy writing them and find it kind of cathartic to report on the experiences here. The first summary of my experiences for this year is attached. Some of you (Don) asked where my apartment is located in comparison to the Bund (a common reference point). Google apparently does not save detail for China maps like it does in the U.S. but you can see a map by going to: maps.google.com (NO www) 333 Linping Road, Shanghai, China After you get the map, you can zoom out on the left and move my apartment location up by holding the mouse and moving it. Basically, I'm about 2 - 3 miles from the Bund and 1 mile from the cruise terminal. The cruise terminal is on the river where the map says Huangpu River and Hyatt on the Bund (not actually on the Bund) The Bund is the riverfront park below the bend in the river (assuming you moved my apartment up with your mouse) at the intersection of the Peace Hotel and the green line for a metro line. Stan 2010 Shanghai 1 June 6, 2010 9:15 p.m. Just had my first visit from the police department. They check on all foreigners, especially since the World Expo is in progress. He spoke no English and I spoke no Chinese. Fortunately, he had a sheet of paper with a few lines in English. One identified him as being from the police department and another asked for the name of my employer. As luck would have it, they gave me some paperwork at the university this weekend that had the university info written in Chinese. I got that for him and he seemed satisfied. I wouldn’t have known what to do if he had come a few days earlier, before I had the documents with the university info written in Chinese. Another form did not have translation but I could tell he was looking for the visa in my passport and the date-of-entry stamp so I grabbed the passport and he was again happy. If this year is anything like last year I’ll have at least 3 more visits while I’m here. Haven’t written anything yet this year for many reasons. First, the international edition of the textbook was not available in the U.S. so I had to do all my preps after I arrived. That, plus meetings at the university, kept me busy for a few days. Also, I guess that some of the things that seemed so new and different on the first few trips now seem commonplace and don’t make the same impact. When I walk through the parks I still see people ballroom dancing and exercising in the early mornings (7 – 8 a.m.). At 10:00 a.m., however, most of the park dwellers are hundreds of grandparents taking their toddler grandchildren out for a morning stroll. In the first year I wrote about the very young toddlers who do not wear diapers, but instead have their pants split open at the crotch so they can just squat and go when they need to. I saw an industrialized version of that on the subway this week when one of the little ones had to go but was not outside. Mom pulled out a plastic bag, had him go into the bag, and then wrapped up the bag to toss at the next train station. Reminded me of all the people who walk their dogs on the street in front of my condo, carrying their little bags to pick up after their dogs. This morning I took the bus down to the Bund, a historic and scenic area that was closed last year while they spruced things up for the Expo. The road and park are now reopened and just beautiful. Flowers everywhere and workers constantly cleaning the park and walkways. I was somewhat surprised to see it filled with several hundred (if not a few thousand) Chinese tourists at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. I can just imagine what the crowds are like later in the day. I supposed I should not be surprised at the early risers. China has only one time zone for the entire country. First light occurs here around 4:15 a.m. and sunrise is around 4:45. It has mostly been overcast since I’ve been here so I had to guess at the actual sunrise time, but the sky was clear this morning so I could catch it behind the tall buildings at 4:45. With sunrise so early, many people are up and about early in Shanghai so it makes sense that they would be downtown before 7:30. Sunrise is later in the country as one travels west. One morning this week I went to the university around 9:00 to drop off a USB drive with assignments and other documents to have uploaded to the web site. On my way back, I passed a brothel on a main street near the university where the women were actively soliciting business at 9:30 a.m. I’m no longer surprised by the brothels in China, but most are on side streets so I was surprised to see one on the main street so close to the university and with women plying their trade so early in the morning. I guess I never thought about brothel hours, but just didn’t expect an active early morning trade. What time does a brothel open, or is it a 24 hour operation? Do they put better looking women on some shifts rather than others? Do the prices vary with time of day? Do guys stop on their way to work or just take a break from their day job to go get a quickie? June 7, 2010 4:15 a.m. Still haven’t adjusted to the 12 hour time difference. Seems I never get more than 4 hours sleep any night and usually wake up between 2 – 3 a.m. I’m sure at some point the body will give up resisting and sleep for 10 – 12 hours. Waking up in the middle of the night wouldn’t be so bad but the apartment does not have satellite TV this year. The explanation is that it was a pirated service (as many things here) and the satellite company did something to zap the box so they have to find a new pirate company to have it again. Nobody ever thinks of paying full price for any kind of technology or intellectual property. The English language Chinese TV station has 4 hours per day of programming that they play six times throughout each day. I don’t watch much TV but usually have it on in the background while reading. Might be nice to have something different at 3 a.m. though. The news is somewhat limited on the Chinese TV but thank goodness for the internet. Can read the local newspaper and check all kinds of news from the U.S. What a great time to be alive. At least one program on the Chinese TV every day is a “Dialogue” program where they have a moderator and people on two sides of an issue to discuss it, much like watching Fox or MSNBC where the moderator has someone who supports his/her position and a buffoon for the other side. Sometimes the other side here is a buffoon both in appearance, as well as in responses. Very good choreographing to make their points. If by chance the buffoon makes any cogent points, just like in the U.S., the moderator takes over and just talks over and in place of the buffoon. At least in the U.S. there are both Fox and MSNBC for competing views. Here there is one view. Only one view. The people here seem to have a love/hate relationship with the U.S. On one hand, they want the Western knowledge, technology, fashion, culture, diet and other accoutrements. On the other hand, the news and dialogue shows seem to use the approach of jealously criticizing and trying to bring the U.S. down as a way of advancing China. Selected some new vegetables in the market yesterday and have cooked some at the apartment with no ill effects . . . yet. Strangest thing here, there are no sharp knives. No sandwich knife or paring knife or butcher knife. I looked in 4 stores since I’ve been here and could not find any. Forget gun control, these folks seem to have knife control. They do have table knives (and forks and spoons) so I use one of those for all my cutting. I don’t recall the knife issue in prior years, but maybe it’s because I’m coking and experimenting with more foods at home this year than in prior years. Going to the World Expo today. Was going to wait but a student told me Saturday that the Chinese high schools and middle schools get out this coming Friday and all the students and their parents will be flooding into the Expo starting next week. On one hand, I’m looking forward to going. On the other hand, I’ve heard from many that the lines are 2 hours long to get into most exhibits. That’s worse than Disney on its busiest days! I did notice some security changes already (aside from the police visits). Now, all bags are searched whenever you enter a subway station. Police and military are everywhere at the subway stations, with extra coverage near the Expo and in heavily populated areas. They also closed all newsstands in the subway stations so people don’t bring boxes in or out. If you want a paper or magazine now you have to buy it on the street before going downstairs to the subway. June 8, 2010 Went to the Expo today instead of yesterday. The university was going to have a briefing on the Expo yesterday for some other students flying in from Beijing. By the time they flew in, finally arrived, and then the briefing it was past 10:30. The main thing I got from the briefing was that it was a 2 – 4 hour wait for each exhibit. At the rate they were going, the group would not arrive at the Expo until after 11:00 and then probably move slowly as a group. I decided to wait until this morning and tackle it early since I’m usually up by 4 a.m. anyway. The people at the briefing mentioned a bus that stops several blocks from here and runs non-stop directly to the Expo. They said it started running around 6 so I was at the bus stop by 6 sharp. The sign there said the first bus comes at 8:25. I didn’t feel like waiting at the bus stop for 2 ½ hours so I want across the street and caught the subway to the Expo. When I got off at the appropriate stop, I noticed people start running toward the exit. I thought maybe some were late for work. Upstairs I saw looks of panic on peoples’ faces as they ran for the Disney-like serpentine queue for the Expo. Young and old, especially the elderly, shoved and shouted in panic stricken voices, and dashed madly for the lines, afraid they would not get an adequate place in line at 6:30 a.m. The gates don’t open until 9:00. At 7 o’clock, the guards finally opened the outside gates and again people took off in wild dashes for the many more serpentine queues inside, under covered areas where we waited for another two hours. Some people had purchased toddler size folding stools that they sat on until the inside gates opened. When the security screening section opened at 7:00, it was another frenetic mob with people from the back pushing madly to try to run to the front. After passing the airport-style screening, the people were off in another dash for the turnstyles to enter the Expo area. I had three people trying to push in front of me and two trying to put their card in the slot before me even though they were behind me. On an individual level, Chinese people are great, but the make and extremely unflattering impression in group situations. Inside, the running crowds were forming another line forming at each exhibit. I got into one line and had to wait just over an hour until finally getting in for the 10 minute IMAX show. Fortunately, I took a Baldacci novel with me to read at each of the long waits (thank you Christine). The only solace after waiting for an hour after the 2 ½ hours already that morning was that I could see the lines behind me were at least the oft-cited 3-hour wait. Just over 2 hours at the next exhibit and 2 ½ at the next exhibit before I decided I’d had enough of standing in lines. Actually, the Expo is basically Disney’s EPCOT, transported to Shanghai. The section I was in today had exhibits much like those at the entrance to EPCOT. I have two more day tickets that I can use any time to see the country pavilions that I understand are similar to the country pavilions at the back of EPCOT. Hard to get enthusiastic about standing in line 2 – 4 hours for each of those. I saw on TV last night that the lines are much shorter at night so I might go late when I check out the country pavilions. Before I left today I noted pushing lines of tens of thousands (literally tens of thousands) of people waiting for the buses to transport them across the river to the other side where the country pavilions are located. Attendance is running 300,000 – 400,000 daily this week and is supposed to increase when kids get out of school. If this is the light time, I can’t imagine what next week will be like when the kids are out of school, especially if they might lack the “manners” of their elders who attend this week. Travel in China is always an adventure, even if it’s only travel across town to the Expo. 2010 Shanghai 2 June 9, 2010 Interesting news reporting here. There was just a report that the government will not tolerate any news agency reporting that there is inflation in China. Apparently, some agency reported that baby formula and some other items had increased 10% in price last month, and that is contrary to the government’s official position that there is no inflation. Accordingly, no news agency will be allowed to report any price increases in the future. That report was immediately followed by reports of decreased produce prices. (Yes , it’s getting into the peak of harvest season and one would expect prices of fresh produce to drop but that part is not reported.) That’s one way of handling inflation – just don’t let anyone talk about it and therefore it doesn’t exist. Before coming over I remember reading t that attendance at the World Expo was actually half of what the government projected for the first couple weeks. The government immediately issued an edict that no journalists were allowed to report any attendance numbers unless they were specifically provided by the government. They only provide numbers when, like the past few days, attendance is over 400,000 people per day. Nothing like a state-controlled press. A couple of you looked at the satellite image for my Shanghai address (333 Linping Road) as well as the map. I had not done that earlier so I guess I have to explain. It appears the location on the map is about 3 blocks to the right of where I actually live. I read years ago that China provided false addresses and coordinates for satellite mapping by companies like Google. If you look to the left of the address you will see a collection of tall buildings in a U shape. I’m in the back building on the left, next to the canal. The place at the address shown on the map has various shops upstairs, and downstairs has a supermarket like a Super WalMart where I buy most of my groceries. June 10, 2010 Was just going to go out for my morning walk but it’s raining again. It rained most of the day yesterday too and was unseasonably cool. The real rainy season apparently starts within a few days with high heat and humidity every day. June 12, 2010 Just got back from my morning walk. The cleaning lady must have come while I was out. She usually comes around 11:00 but it’s 9:10 a.m. now and she’s done the dishes, laundry and scrubbed the floors. I usually have class on Saturday so maybe she thought I was gone. Today is actually a work day and class will be held on Monday this week. Apparently Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are some holidays so most businesses and schools are open today and tomorrow to give people Monday & Tuesday off. This is a Dragon Boat holiday. I asked a woman yesterday if they eat fish heads for this holiday also, like they do for some other holidays. She replied, “No. Families eat stinky rice for this holiday.” “Sticky rice?” I tried to clarify. “No, stinky rice.” Yummm! Fish heads or stinky rice. I think I prefer turkey and ham holidays. The news reports came out yesterday with a government-reported Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase of 3.1% last month. Remember that that is NO inflation in China (according to the government) so the news shows all had government officials explaining that the 3.1% number is only just barely over their 3% projection for the year, that the difference is only a “carryover” from earlier months when it was below the annualized 3% rate, and it is an anomaly that will not be repeated in future months (even if they have to change the calculation to keep it from happening again). In addition to the 14 International Relations students from Beijing that were in town earlier in the week, there were also 3 MBA students from Holland and a professor visiting this week. I got to tag along on their visits to Tyson Chicken’s Asia headquarters on Thursday and a Giant Bicycle factory in Kunsan yesterday. The Tyson visit was at their corporate headquarters in a glass and steel building in downtown Shanghai. Not much to report there, except they are apparently having trouble importing chicken feet from the U.S. The U.S. government slapped tariffs on tires and steel pipes so China retaliated by slapping a huge tariff on chicken products. It really only impacts Tyson since they send scrap chicken feet from the U.S. to China where they are a delicacy. Except now they have warehouses full of them in the U.S. Surprisingly, they ship chicken breasts from here to the U.S. because Chinese people do not like chicken meat that doesn’t come with a bone in it. We took the high speed train to Kunsan, traveling at over 140 miles per hour but feeling like we were barely moving. Kunsan is a typical factory town and much different than Shanghai. Actually, Shanghai is probably NOT a good place to bring students for the Chinese experience because it is so different from the rest of China. Shanghai is China’s showcase with amazingly beautiful architecture for commercial buildings, lavish and expensive apartments, new cars everywhere, high-end shopping and clean, bustling tourist areas. It makes New York, London or Paris pale in comparison. It is the financial center of China and rapidly replacing Hong Kong as the financial center of Asia. (The Chinese government thinks those people are still a bit too emancipated in Hong Kong so they want to bring things to the mainland.) The cost of living in Shanghai is much, much higher than anywhere else in the country, and more expensive than New York City or London. Shanghai is a coastal city so it gets an ocean breeze that (usually) clears away much of the smog that envelopes the rest of the country. The rest of China is quite different. While there are some beautiful areas in China, much of it is like Kunsan where multiple pillars of ugly, communist-style apartment buildings suddenly protrude upward from the flat, desolate prairie. Few, if any trees decorate the landscape. Cars are rare because most travel is by bicycle or a few scooters. Visibility is limited to a few blocks because of the gray smog that covers the country. The factory was also typical Chinese. There were several large factory buildings, probably built in the 1950s and not improved since. Many of the 2,000 workers live in the factory dormitory while others commute to work by bicycle or an occasional scooter. There were no employee cars at that plant. Our guide would not disclose their average wage, but I would guess it to be USD $1,200 - $1,800 per year, perhaps less. Almost everything is done by hand. Pipes are bent to shape using a machine, but then they are welded manually and other workers constantly check the measurements to ensure welds are accurate. Employees have welding masks but typically have them tilted up instead of covering their face and eyes. The plant is noisy and dirty. Many of the jobs are dull and menial, such as just doing one weld after another all day or passing one piece from one person to the next person. As we toured the plant, I thought that in the U.S. we would probably have the system entirely automated where welds were done by robots with incredible accuracy and parts were moved along by machine rather than people. But I kept my thoughts to myself. We were guests and they do things differently in China. It was interesting to get the experience and it actually makes a great example for discussing break-even analysis in class. The MBA students from the Netherlands apparently thought the same thing about automating, but were not as diplomatic. One had a translator ask our guide if they employ lean manufacturing techniques. He was just a junior-level plant tour guide and didn’t know what it was, and besides it doesn’t make much sense for China. They have 1.34 Billion people to keep occupied, not to think of ways to use fewer people. Labor is extremely cheap and flexible. Most Chinese people are overjoyed to have those menial jobs. From the business standpoint, just add more hours if demand increases or send people back to their villages if demand decreases. Looks like a pretty good business model to me, especially for their situation. But these MBA students boisterously carried on about how backward the plant was and how there was no investment in automation, blah, blah, blah. I know our guide did not speak English, and I’m not sure how much he understood from hearing it, but the two Dutch guys were very clear in their tone and dogmatic approach. I was embarrassed but only tagging along so I dealt with it by putting physical distance between myself and the loud whiners. I thought though, that if I had been the director (listening to their tirades) or their professor, I would have pulled them aside and used the moment to teach something most important in those situations but, unfortunately, not taught in MBA programs— manners, diplomacy and respect for other cultures. Just because they learned something in a textbook or employed it in their particular companies does not mean that every other culture is backward if they don’t employ the same techniques in every situation. Granted, it might have been nice if the university could have arranged a tour of a more modern plant, but what we saw reflected much of the manufacturing style in China. What I saw at the plant was very appropriate for the Chinese culture, and was glad to get the experience, but these guys didn’t have a clue. They certainly would have received a low grade for NOT learning much from their visit if they had been my students. One of them had also caused an embarrassment when we boarded the train yesterday morning. Somebody was sitting in his assigned seat when he got on so he started shouting and motioning wildly at the guy to toss him out. Chinese trains always oversell the seats, leaving some passengers to stand, and they invariably try to take a seat until someone comes in, just in case there isn’t an assigned passenger until a later stop. No big deal. I’m sure the guy would have exited the seat promptly with a smile and a show of the ticket. I was thinking this morning that the sad part is that they were all speaking English, and there were some of Americans along with the group, so the Chinese people probably think it is Ugly Americans rather than Ugly Dutch people. On my walk this morning I took a stroll down a new side street that had an active vegetable, fish and critter market. Was surprised that right in the middle of this bustling marketplace was another brothel with 4 women, open for business at 8:40 a.m. Get your early morning vegetables, eel and a quickie? I saw another one Thursday when I took another new side street (unplanned turn) and discovered a temple that I never knew was nearby. I first saw and smelled the incense shops on my side of the street so I guessed there was a temple nearby and then saw it across the street at the next corner. More incense shops on my side of the street in the next block, and a brothel right in the middle of the block between the incense shops and across the street from the temple. I guess it’s just a question of what one worships. In Chengdu you would find 15 – 20 brothels grouped together, much like car dealers or furniture stores in the U.S. In Shanghai it appears that every neighborhood has its own brothel. I guess I wouldn’t notice so much but the government makes such a point here of making sure there are no suggestive pictures in magazines (Cosmo covers have women in turtleneck shirts) and banning any kind of porn from the internet, but they have more brothels than McDonalds. And the brothels are next to grade schools, fancy restaurants, Buddhist temples and in the middle of busy markets. There were some government officials on TV this week explaining the new white paper just released by the government on how the government is encouraging “open” internet access with free speech for everyone. But their titles are kind of like out titles for legislation—sometimes perhaps a bit misleading. Their explanation of “open” means they want everyone to be able to have physical access to the internet. Most urbanites now use the internet but access is still rare in rural areas. And they want “transparency” in use of the internet and rules regarding use. “Transparency” means everyone has to use their real name and address so things can be traced back to them, and transparency in regulation means that the government will tell you up front what is allowed. Free speech means they encourage every kind of interaction except what they don’t approve. Porn is naturally blocked. They will also block use of the internet to attack ethnic minorities, and block “criticism of the government.” There was a brief pause there, and then one of the drafters explained that blocking criticism of the government is an “international” standard that they recently discussed with colleagues in the U.S. who said the U.S. government was planning to adopt a similarly worded standard. What?!? It’s amazing what one can learn from being in another country. Should be interesting to watch the proposed internet regulations in the U.S. that should be coming out this fall. June 15, 2010 Had class all day yesterday. Good students here although the associate director did try to tactfully broach the issue of how I was going to deal with copying which is rampant in China. I assured her that I had it under control. When I go for my morning walks, I often take the bus or subway to an interesting area on the other side of town to check it out and then walk back. But I heard on the news this morning that more than 6 million people flocked into Shanghai for the 3-day holiday period this week causing subways and commercial/tourist areas to be clogged. Decided I would not take the subway or bus anywhere today. Set out from the apartment with plans to follow another major street and loop back. Had to take some side streets to get to the other major street. The only trouble with side streets is that they loop in many directions so I never did get to the street I was seeking, but enjoyed the journey through all the side streets. The main roads are actually pretty quiet today since it is a holiday, but the side streets were packed with the sidewalk markets selling fruit, vegetables, turtles, eels, fish, chickens, etc. Will stick to local walks and reading until the visitors all return home after this holiday week. Stopped at the store to get some things on my way back. There was a big display out front where they were selling bottles of tea. I noted that the price was about the same as the price in the store so I decided to buy two on the way out. The cute girl in the short-skirted outfit gave me a free sample and then asked something. I didn’t know what she said so I just smiled and nodded. I had planned to buy 2 bottles but the next thing I knew she said something to the guy behind the display table and they pulled out a plastic bag with 5 bottles, plus 3 boxes on top with the sippy straws. Oh well, I was only going to get 2 bottles but will drink the other bottles of Jasmine tea while I’m here, plus I apparently got the 3 boxes for free. Always a surprise here when you don’t speak the language. 2010 Shanghai 3 June 15, 2010 Holiday weekend in the middle of the week here. I see in the supermarket they have stinky rice for sale for those who do not have time to make their own. It comes in individual servings wrapped in bamboo leaves. It seems somebody gave me some on my second trip to Chengdu several years ago but I didn’t realize that it was a holiday or that the dish had holiday significance. The supermarkets also have a lot of chickens and meat as people must eat more with the holidays. One table heaped with ½ chickens and another table heaped with hunks of beef. Not steaks or particular cuts, just miscellaneous hunks of beef in assorted shapes and sizes. One person picks up a ½ chicken or hunk of beef, squeezes it, examines it and then puts it down to pick up another. Another person then does the same thing, then another, then another . . . . It’s a wonder that disease doesn’t spread more around here between all the meat and poultry on the tables at room temperatures all day, plus all the customers handling the hunks with their bare hands. I reported last year that the Chinese government had banned giving out plastic bags at stores. You either have to take your own bag or purchase plastic bags at check-out. The shopping bags I left last year disappeared during the year (cleaning woman?) so I had to purchase bags when I first when shopping. The first time the cleaning lady came I noticed that she took one of the purchased plastic bags to line the trash can. At first I panicked, then I thought: Stan, quit being such a cheapskate! Reusable bags, which are heavier than typical grocery bags, cost 4 – 6 cents each depending on the size. If she uses two per week for the entire time I’m here the total cost will be less than $1. I think I can handle it. I thought about the bags because I just saw on the news that the government in India tried to impose a similar law but all the merchants just ignored it. People don’t ignore laws in China. When I was out for my walk the other day a couple guys tried to cross a major street before we had a green light for pedestrians. The policeman at the intersection met them at the middle island, chewed them out, walked them back to the other side, and then made them wait for the next green pedestrian light. You don’t mess with the law in China, no matter how minor. I mentioned the cleaning lady earlier because I think she might have her own bonus plan. Last year I left a fabric shopping bag, an umbrella and other items for the apartment and for other professors to use. They weren’t here this year. It could be that one of the other professors took them but I’m more inclined to think it might be a bonus plan for the cleaning lady. I know that she usually takes left over cleaning supplies at the end of each term. At first blush it bothered me, then I shrugged it off. The amount for the items is minor in our overall scheme of life. The amount we get paid for per diem while here is more than most Chinese people earn in an entire year, plus we get the apartment and utilities for free. Then they pay us for teaching at the end of the term. (What a racket! At least by Chinese standards.) The cleaning lady probably thinks we’re rich, especially from the food we eat and the trash we leave. I can understand how some of the minor things for us would be a significant amount for her. The fabric grocery bag was only 75 cents and an umbrella is less than $6. No big deal. I did see, though, that one professor apparently bought a plastic box and left some of her things in it to make sure they don’t disappear from one year to the next. I brought two pairs of slippers this year that I was planning to leave. Everyone in China removes shoes when they enter and apartment and wear slippers. Needless to say, they don’t have giant size 12 slippers here so I brought a pair for the apartment plus an extra pair to take with me in case I go visit anyone. Both made in China but I had to bring them from the U.S. Will probably have to buy a box like the other professor and leave them in the spare bedroom although I’m not sure what the cleaning woman would do with size 12 slippers.