Category Archives: West Meets East

Culture Shock in my Own Country

When foreigners enter a difference country, they feel the culture shock. However, I found out that even in China, I sometimes feel the culture shock myself, from time to time.

Regional Culture Shock

China is large, and China differs a lot from region to region. The recent trip to Xi’an is pretty shocking in some ways – how people see entrepreneurs, and how people value their fixed income jobs – very different from Shanghai.

China is as big as an Europe, and the diversity is maybe at least as big as the european countries. There is no such a thing called China. It consists of so many provinces. The place I grew up – Luoyang, is very different with, even the neighboring cities, no to mention the cross province contrast.

System Culture Shock

What system means? It is the government and the party system. It is a very strong system with a very strong culture. I was completely shocked from time to time when I deal with the system. Something we care, they don’t. Something we don’t care, they care a lot.

For example, I was consistently educated by the government guys when we meet. They told me I should bring a notebook, and the book I brought the second time is too small to show respect. They complained the table to host the government guys were too small, and claimed that we should have the budget to buy bigger tables. Things like this.

Culture Shock is Normal

The more I see this world, the more I understand that culture shock is just part of this universe. Even in the relatively more melted culture like Silicon Valley, the culture shock between relatively very similar companies in the same industry is big enough – look at current Yahoo! v.s. Google v.s. Facebook v.s. Twitter – they are so different and I assume people transiting from one company can find it hard to fit into the other.

The nature of culture shock is really about finding people in another company/society/system/group sing highly of something that you hate, and try to kill many things you value…

This can be universal, and long lasting.

New Media from the State Department

I got an email from Philippe Reines, about the upcoming visit of Sectary Clinton to the Shanghai Expo site. Obviously I was just one of the many people he sent our his email to – bloggers, and other “new media” persons in Shanghai, and in China.

I was amazed by the message it sends – the State Department is engaging new media (bloggers like me) about the activities from the US government. Although I doubt the effectiveness of pinging each individual bloggers/new media about an update, it is a great move, at least a great attempt.

The effectiveness question I have in my mind is about the way they engage new media. Unlike traditional media, there are just few of them (well, I admit hundreds of them) that matter, and to briefing them is about 90% of the communication. Now, it is not only the increase influence of new media that attracts people’s attention, it is also the number of individual bloggers or participants of any SNS site. Is getting hold of individual like myself really matters? Shall we run programs (not just individual) to engage them?

P.S. I followed @StateDept on twitter.

Breakfast Meeting in Shanghai

Are you serious to have breakfast meeting in Shanghai? Think twice before you make the appointment.

I never really understand why people would think of the crazy idea of having breakfast meeting in Shanghai. I received the invitation for some times, but always rejected it.

Why Breakfast Meeting is Good in the Valley

When I am in the valley, I found it so nice to have breakfast meetings. There are some benefits:

1. Breakfast in many places are nice – especially the brunch along the University Ave in Palo Alto and a nice restaurant famous for its brunch in Berkeley. People enjoy the scrambled eggs and coffee in fresh morning.

2. Commute. The early breakfast is very likely to be at some convenient place along the way to work for both parties. They may drive and stop by a cafe, to have breakfast together – they will have it at home anyway, and then drive on to their own work place. If you raise early, the traffic are generally better.

3. Dinner, and Lunch are too time consuming. Compared to breakfast, which is like the time for a cup of coffee, it is perfect for catchup, instead of serious discussion.

Why Breakfast Meeting is Bad in Shanghai

1. Most of places does not serve breakfast in the decent way. In Shanghai, the popular place serving breakfast is soup, dumplings. The street eateries often does not offer seats, or the seats is very crowded, not a decent place to meet. Hotels offering continental breakfast are very likely to be full service and expensive. There are not many nice and lite places for people to gather. (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf started to offer scrambled eggs, which is good)

2. Transpiration is so bad. No matter how early it is, it is still in terrible traffic, that people want to avoid. Since in Shanghai, people basically don’t drive in downtown, and even people drive, the parking can be much more troublesome than park at free public 2 hour parking space in downtown Palo Alto, or Mountain View…

3. People prefer dinner over breakfast. The night life is actually the starting point for many people in Shanghai. The best meal in Shanghai is obviously in the dinner time.

Environment Matters

It is not the culture that makes the difference – it is mainly the history and the environment that shape people’s behavior.

Millionaire Country Singapore. China?

My reader Soon sent me an email about this topic:

Singapore is a country rises from rags to riches and become the 3rd richest country in the world. A fervent autocratic and capitalist country. Can China repeats the same feat? Can you put this in your blog and let your readers debate? (more)

What is your thought? Here is mine.

Don’t Compare China and Singapore

With all the due respect to Singapore, I just don’t want to compare China and Singapore. You can compare Singapore and Shanghai, or Hong Kong, or we can compare a system, but on the macro level, Singapore and China may not be the good subject to compare.

Why?

Simply because of the scale of the two countries.

Singapore is a country (or a city) with 4 million population. Hong Kong is much bigger, 7 million, and Shanghai has 16 million local residents, and 19 million population in total. Besides there, there are many difference.

Free Trade Zone

Hong Kong and Singapore are very like each other, since they are free trade zones. Correct me if I am wrong since I know little about macro economy here. A free trade cannot be too large since it must has a relative small domestic economy. I have never seen a free trade zone as big as China. There are some free trade zones in China, like the one in Dalian, and Shanghai, but to include any city in China except Hong Kong, and Macau may not be feasible. Not only China, all other trade partners may not want it. A WTO is an attempt to archive some type of free trade, but it is still very far from free trade zones.

Politics

To rule a city of several million is of cause very different than ruling a bigger country. Having said that, I never want to use the population as an excuse to debate against democracy, or other political system. On the contrary, a big country actually needs more wisdom in political system, like the democracy system can be a good option (please note: I am not 100% sure, because it has never been tested in China in the last few thousands years). If we are still OK to have a centralized government to rule a city (which is fine, and maybe the only cost-effective way to do it), it is too hard for a bigger country, if you want to run it well. For example, I don’t want someone in Beijing to make decisions for me about what my children should believe. So, there is huge difference here between Singapore and China.

Millionaire?

I don’t think China can be a millionaire country. I just want China to be a country without poverty or injustice. If money represents ownership of resources, it is not a big deal to the earth when everyone in Singapore is millionaire, but in China, that is impossible. I don’t know what it means for 1/4 of the worlds population to be millionaires. At that time, USD, or RM, or RMB, or EURO must have been hugely deflated. What I am saying is, I don’t envision everyone to be super rich in near future. To have everyone have a reasonable life (no starving), and receive education, and have clean water to drink are the most important mission for the people on this land.

Singapore’s Inspiration

Although I don’t think we can compare these two countries, Singapore’s success did give people inspiration. It is one of the few Asian countries to reach a very high level of economy success and social improvement. I visited Singapore in 2000, and many things I saw became real in Shanghai. For example, I took the subway to take the ring ride in Singapore, and reached the far north (near the Malaysia entrance), and impressed by people living far away from downtown but can still conveniently go to work. Now the same place appeared in Shanghai. It is called Xinzhuang.

My Conflict with Safe Guards

Recently, I found I often run into conflicts with safeguards – the safeguard at my residential area and the safeguard at the place where I had worked. Actually, this is very similar to the story of the mason in my post The World with Different Rules

The Story of the Safeguard

Many weeks ago, I went to Metro Tower to pickup stuff of Wendy. The safeguard closed the entrance to the load/unload area, and do not allow me to stop before the load area. He even ignored the fact that I just paid 30 RMB for parking at the parking lot, and just wanted to drive into the load/unload area.

I asked “Why as tenant of the building, why we cannot use the load area to pickup personal stuff – pretty heavy box”. This was his answer that drove me crazy:

“This is our company’s place. We do whatever we want. It is none of your business.”

The same situation happens with the property management company. The safeguards there obviously treat their manager’s order higher than any residents, and they think they are policeman, and the residents are people who they manage.

The “real” policemen in China, and government officials hold that kind of stupid attitude, and think they are the ruler, and all others are just fellow common people. I believe that takes longer to change, since it is definitely a political reform, and that cost time. But what surprises me is, in the private property like residential area, and office building, the property management company holds the same view.

Whose Place?

It is obviously not productive when I explain to them how it works – they just don’t listen and laughed at me “Who you think you are?” was the typical answer.

This is how I see it.

Take the residential area as example. The real estate development company pays the government (ridiculously high) price to get 70 years of usage right of the land. The real estate company borrow money to build the house. Then they sell it, and transfer the right of the land to the owners of the house (unlike in most countries, in China, house owners still don’t own the land, they just own the usage right of 70 years, and the land still belongs to the government, but this is irrelevant in this case). The certificate of that right is called “Big Certificate of Property” 大产证. Then each house owner has the certificate for their small unit, called “Small Certificate of Property”.

Simply put, the residents collectively are the owners of the whole area.

The owners hires the management company to manage the property, but all rights, including the car parking lots, and all the money in the bank account for maintaining the property, belong to the house owners. Not the property management company, and of cause not the safeguard.

The funny situation is, very few people really understand it. (Correct me if I am wrong here) I asked many of my friends (who are the house owners) and they cannot tell the whole story. I am not that surprised to see most of safeguards don’t know it.

So, that is the conflict. The safeguard thinks they are the Owner of the Place, and I think I am. When the two owners see each other, conflicts are inevitable.

The Future?

People are talking about political reform. But I am more concerned with the democracy on the residential area level. Before many people understand how private property works, and understand who are the owner, it is hard for people to really understand that the common people are the owners of this country, not someone else.

US Congressmen Visit Shanghai

It is pretty late after I left the Ritz Carlton Club on the 43th floor of Ritz Carlton Portman hotel. US congressman Rick Larson (Democratic, Washington) and Mark Kirk (Republic, Illinois) are visiting Shanghai (news), after they arrived in Hong Kong, and visited Guangzhou, before they fly to Beijing. With the two congressmen is the inimitable Steven Orlins (as we always used the interesting word “inimitable” after the tradition of usage before Chairman Mao).

I am still not very sure about the publicity level of a political figure like a congressman in US. I suspect that everything they said would be on-the-record, and Rick confirmed that the meeting can be blogged, but I am, well, still not so sure about the field I have no idea at all. To be honest, I don’t have too much sense of how politics works. I don’t have knowledge about it in China (as most people, and exactly as what the Party wanted us to be), and don’t know about the US. So, I don’t want to talk too much about the content of the meeting.

BTW, this is my second time to see Rick Larson (the first time was a sea food dinner at Pine Market in Seattle), and it was a pity that Mark didn’t came downstairs.

China and US is Opposite on North and South

I talked with a friend today and he always cannot relate Shanghai with finance and operational type of city, and relate Beijing with culture, and media center. I believe that is the tend of thinking for many people.

In US, north may mean economy centers, and mean people are more business oriented, and for south, the people is more straight-forward culturally, and it is not as business oriented as the north.

In China, the situation is just the opposite. South coastal cities are very active in economoy, and veyr strong in businesses, and people there tend to calculate things more carefully, and preciously. The north provinces is more traditional, and more arigculture driven, and on the culture side, more straight-forward, and candid in communication.

If you compare people in Taxas and people in the three north east provinces, they share pretty much common characteristics, and if you put Shanghai and New York together, they share something in common.

It is something called IA (Implicit Association) as shown in the IAT (Implicit Association Test) by Harvard – people in US associate financial centers with coldness, and people in China associate financial centers with warm and hot.

When I went to New York for the firs time, I cannot get used to it since how can a financial center be so cold, just as cold as north east provinces in China? The same question is asked by my friend: how can a financial center be as warm as Shanghai?

Why Use the Pedstrain Crossing?

I talked a lot about traffic rules, and people jaywalking on the street, and even how I drive in Shanghai. All the thought is based on two assumptions:

  • The international traffic rules are always the best laws possible
  • We should always follow the laws although in China, most people don’t do it

But after my visit to Xiamen, and to be more exact, in Gulangyu Island, I started to think twice about what I have believed for so many years. The key question is, why we need a pedestrain crossing in the first place, and why people cannot just go across the road as they wish? I know it is crazy ideas but let me explain more.

Life with No Cars or Few Cars

Gulangyu is a wonderful place where the small island don’t have any cars (basically). There are many coffee shops, nice villa, and wonderful small streets to wander around. They don’t have cars, and the streets are not designed to cars, or even bikes.

The life is great!

It also reminds me of the nice water town like Tong Li or Zhou Zhuang – especially when it is night.

Then I have to think again, and do some reflection about what we get from automobiles, and what we have lost.

Crazy Action of Beijing University

This echos to another piece of news from Beijing University. They started to pain Zebra Crossing lines in many roads, and ask all the students and faculty to cross the streets only via Zebra Crossing. That is ridiculous. A campus should be designed for walking students, and for bike riders at most, not for cars. Who are those people driving race cars on campus? Campus belongs to pedestrian, that is for sure.

Instead of enforcing speed limit of 5 km for cars or ban cars from certain “central areas”, they did the opposite. What is the point to force students to use pedestrians? Is it safer, like to say jail is the safest place for most people – no robbery, and not traffic accident?

A City is in the Middle

A city is not as a small town of Zhou Zhuang or Tong Li, or the island of Gulangyu, but it is not completely a car world. Cars have turned our city into a big machine with little life, especially in Shanghai. Why we should care cars so much and don’t care about pedestrian? Why don’t we move the needle a little bit toward the pedestrian friendly side, and put more constrains on cars, not pedestrian?

China v.s. developed countries

Most of my U.S. friends complained about jay walking and always list it as top of their culture shock list. BUT, wait a minute. Let me tell you this. Do you think a country with 44 cars per 1000 people should have the same rule as a country with 750 cars per 1000 people?

That affects the driver and pedestrian’s behavior in two ways.

1. Pedestrian has to use road crossing in US, since if they don’t, there are high chance to get hit by a car with so many cars. In China, let’s just put few cities like Shanghai and Beijing aside, in most cities, there are much more people than cars on the streets, and crossing is safer compared to US.

2. In US, cars yield for pedestrian simply because that is possible to do, but in China, there are much more people than cars, and if you use the same behavior, that is impossible to cross.

By noticing the small difference, I believe we should think about something that work better in China.

Disclaimer

I am a strong believer of ruling using laws, and believe everyone should follow laws, but I do have some problem with some of the laws we have – to follow what other countries have in place is easy, but may not be the best way. Back to the urban planning topics, I am a turned-environmentalist, and want to push to give lives back to people so people can live a slower, and more graceful life, than competing with cars for the right of the road. Hmmm… I am not talking about Shanghai – Shanghai is a different animal than most other cities.

P.S.

Met with MC today (as always, try to keep my friend annoymous) and spent 9 hours together. Very nice conversation and learn a lot. Sillicon Valley does have something so unique, exciting and it never lacks of inspiration. Great.

BTW, Byebye, April of 2009, and tomorrow is the first day of the May Holiday.

Customers Wants Service to be Bad

The day tour from Guilin to Yangshuo was by no means a pleasant trip. I don’t like the boat – with 100 people packed into the lower deck, and the bus picked us from the hotel to the pier turned out to be a tourist group, which means we were pushed into the sourviner market before we get on board the boat.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang. The boat – obviously, it is another boat, but ours is similar.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang. The lower deck of the boat

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang.

People smokes, and the free lunch is terrible. BTW, we didn’t expect it to be good when we got on board. Wendy and I had the same comments as we had in Xi’an many years ago: “Why they cannot make it service, the environment or both a little bit better?”

Before I seek for the answer, let me get a little bit off topic and talk about another similar phenomenon.

The Annoying TV Commercial

On TV, we sometimes see really annoying TV commercials, like those by Naobaijin 脑白金. Everybody hates the simple, ugly and silly commercial, but it is still on almost all TV station, just as it appeared 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the TV commerical also boasted the sales of the product like crazy.

Many experts request to ban the commercial, but all in vail. They are pointing figures to Naobaijin about the annoying TV Commercial.

Well. I think the other way. I believe they have been using it for 10 years, and the company is a huge success in China, that means the commercial has been very effective. Many different versions have been tested, and this version was proved by sales to be the most effective version.

If that is the case, it is the audience who are not maturely enough. We need to build a mature consumer base before we ask advertisers to change. I am very sure that if the audience grow more mature, the commercial will.

The Service is Bad Just Because Customers Wanted

It is the same. I am not happy, just because I am still not the mainstream tourists. Maybe I should still go to Sanya, not popular points of interest, like a boat on Lijiang in Guilin. The service level the boat provides must have been adjusted to the need. It takes time.

Now, Shanghai has better public transportation system than 10 years ago. It is not only the improvement of the public transportation companies, it is also the improvement of the riders that made the change. Think about the ticket price – from several cents to 2 RMB (1 RMB bus still remains relatively lower service level). If customers are willing to pay more, the service surely will improve.

The point gets back to the choice: Better service v.s. Higher Price. If the majority of people choose the later, the service quality surely will improve, but, it takes so long time, especially tourist industry. It needs the whole country to get richer, and richer…

I enjoyed the cruise in Sydney, and I liked the bus tour of Great Ocean Road in Australia – but think about the price we paid – much much higher than the cruise today.

So, I just want to stop complain and get back to the basics of understanding: It is not a service level problem. It is just an economic problem. When people get richer, most problems are solved.

P.S. Ironically, most of the people on the boat liked the trip. I chatted with someone, and he said the highlight of the trip was the sourviner market… See? Customers shapes the service, and I am just not a “typical” customer, and you, my readers, maybe are not, either.

Beer Can by the Highway vs Spitting

I guess one of the biggest “culture shock” on the first day for foreigners visiting Shanghai are two things: 1) Traffic Rules, 2) Spitting. At least this is what I heard from time to time from my friends, and this 10 Things You Love/Hate About Shanghai post comments. BTW, is there any others?

For this issue, I always take it easy and want to say:

1. It is embarrassing that the situation is still as it is, but there is a historical and reality reason behind it. It has nothing to do with culture, or morality.

2. I am more confident than anybody else that the situation will change. It takes time, but not as long as two generations.

Before I tell you more about what I thought, let me quote one interesting story I heard.

Beer Can by the Highway

Today, I had a nice conversation with Richard from Cornel University. When we talked about spitting in Shanghai, he mentioned a book called The beer can by the highway: essays on what’s “American” about America. The book basically researches on what makes American “American”. He studied the trends of ever-changing culture and behavior change, and found out a shocking reality: The coolest thing American think they can do is to have a can of beer on the highway, and throw the used can out of the window to the side of the highway. The book was published in 1961 by John Kuowenhoven, not far away from today.

The book talks about the two terrible behavior from today’s point of view: Drink and drive, and litter (not to mention about waste and environment protection).

Seat Belt?

Richard also told me another impressive story. When he was in Taiwan with his father, they rent a car without seat belt. His was very upset, and his father told him that “don’t worry. People don’t wear seat belt before 1960s.”. This also echos the fact that front seat belt was only introduced as standard configuration in 1964, and 1968 for back seats. The first legalization of mandatory seat belt only happens after 1970 in one state (src).

The point was, it was not that far away in the ages when people jay walk, spit, don’t wear seat belt, drink and drive, and litter in US. It takes time for the country to progress. Although it seems very slow from the perspective of a person (it takes a generation), but it is much quicker if you put it in the history perspective (just 20 to 30 years!)

China is the same.

Jay walking? It happens so often that my foreign friends joked “It is illegal to use pedestrian in Shanghai“. I also think when people learn to drive, they may obey traffic rules better – majority of people in China don’t drive.

Spitting? It is a normal process of urbanization. When more and more move into city, they cannot afford people spit around, but it is OK in villages, especially in most of villages where fresh water is not as easily accessible as in city. Imagine the situation where I was trapped into: A Jungle without a Toilet

Seat Belt? People just get used to cars, and it takes time to learn to use it right (unfortunately it takes time, and it is inevitable). Seat-Belt? Oh. No. Thanks!. This was people’s current reaction.

It is Not Culture Shock

After writing to this point, I realized that I shouldn’t have put all these bad behaviors too easily into culture difference bucket. It is not culture shock. It is just different stage shock – US has the same thing before, and China will be OK in the future. If someone was dropped to 30 years ago, either in US or in China, he/she will be shocked by his/her own country’s “culture”.

P.S. Jeremy told me that this favorite entry on this blog is My Boat Sunk in Dishui Lake. I didn’t realize that my little sotry can make him laugh for the day. :-) I am happy that the story makes people happy, although at the cost of a small lovely boat. I still didn’t buy another one yet. I really should.

International Events in Shanghai

I don’t know about you, but I feel that there are more and more international events in Shanghai. To be more exact, by international, I mean events organized by expat community (people not native in China), and use English as the main language, plus the international (western) style, and format.

Lunch 2.0

Let me give you some example. Tomorrow, I was invited by Gang Lu, blogger of www.mobinode.com/ and Calvin, founder of Qifang.com to attend an event Lunch 2.0 Shanghai (facebook page) in Dianping‘s office. It is not a surprise for Shanghai to have entrepreneur meetup, but from the RSVP list, I have a feeling that this event is very international. At least I am very sure there are some people on the list who don’t know anything about Chinese, and from the name and background, I am sure another 10 people should use English only. Hmmm…. I didn’t expect that. Shall I ask whether I should use English or Chinese in delivering this speech?

SXSW @ M1NT Shanghai

Another event is SXSW @ M1NT Shanghai. I heard about it from Elliot Ng. Obviously, from the speaker list, and from the attendant list, and the venue, you know two things. First, it should be an English centric community. Second, there is already a very big expat entrepreneur community in Shanghai already. Look at the successful companies our international friends have built here in Shanghai.

Entrepreneurs’ Organization – EO

Introduced by Alvin Wang of minfo.com, I started to notice EO – the Entrepreneur’s Organization. They have a Shanghai chapter. Alvin said many great things about the organization – it is all about thoughts sharing among annual 1 million USD above revenue company CEOs and founders. I checked the website, and to my surprise, it seems to be another English speaking community – I checked the photo gallery here.

More in the Past, and More to Come

There are some significant difference in these events and the Shanghai local events.

1. English speaking.

Of cause I suspect we speak a lot of Chinese, but insist to say Chinese unless you don’t really want communication, and want to provide an excellent chance for our friends to learn oral Chinese.

2. Western style.

Although the events happens in Shanghai, it is completely in western styles. The venue are in top places in Shanghai, and the expense is of cause pretty high. The decent bars, and social events are not common practice in Shanghai yet – we tend to go to a tea house, or more often, go to a big restaurant have setup some big tables of food.

3. Expense.

This also interesting. Lunch 2.0 charges 22 RMB, according to the previous event. SXSW @ M1NT Shanghai charges 100 RMB and 200 RMB at door. EO Shanghai charges about 20,000 RMB annually to be part of it (well, this is not the case of an event, but… still pretty expensive)… Charging for conferences, and events are common practices in US (which commercial conference is really free in US, or Europe), but it is still not the common practice in Shanghai yet (“Conference? Do they cover accommodation and flight? No? How come?”)

My 2 Cents

I think it is the good sign that Shanghai, after 80 years of isolation (I am counting from 1930’s), Shanghai is getting back to the international community. I noticed more and more international events are adding Shanghai as a stop along with San Francisco, and London. Hmmm… Good thing. I would expect the the local community may need some time to get used to this kind of diversity. We need to be more open about this, and let the both community to integrate together.

For me… It seems get English as a second language is getting more important. :-) and to be a bridge connecting the two side world is also meaning work to do.

Good luck to all the events, and communities.

A Jungle without a Toilet

I thought and talked a lot about the moral problems in China, and how and why people don’t follow rules, and why many times, rightousness fails. Here are some sample articles I wrote about.

What pullzed me was, why certain things worked like this (breaking of rules) and why it is not like that…

Let me tell my you my ineresting experience during the Spring Festival in Shanghai. This actually helps me to understand the gap between China and US on the understanding of morality, and rules.

In the Middle of No Where

During the Spring Festival, I drove my car (Goudaner) to west-most part of Shanghai. The car broke down on the road exactly near the Xicen Check-point. It is a policeman guarded check-point on the state road G318, which is a major road of Shanghai, all cars leaving Shanghai must pass this check-point, giving the police an opportunity to stop anyone who they don’t want him/her to leave Shanghai.

Since the car is completely broken, and I cannot start it, or move it, I asked my friends to pick up my family (yes, Yifan is with them) members who where are wanted to go, and I waited myself for the towing car to come. That was about 3 hours’ waiting time.

There are long roads connecting to the check point, nothing else. There is almost nothing along the road. You only see many cars running like crazy from and to the check-point.

Need to Find a Toilet

After 1 hour, I just feel that I need to use a toilet. I cannot see one, so I asked the policeman at the check-point:

Me: Excuse me. Do you have a toilet here?

Policeman: No.

Me: Hmmm… Do you kwow where is the nearest toilet?

Policeman: Go down west. There is one 5 km away in a factory, but I think they closes during Spring Festival.

Me: Hmmm… Is there any other places?

Policeman: No.

He saw me stood there, hesitating about whether I should try my luck to go there – it may take 1 hour to get there and back by walk, he came up and asked: “Do you just want to piss?” I said yes. He looked at me as if I were from Mars, and then said: “How come there are stupid people like you in this world.”, and left.

Me, left alone with my car in the middle of nowhere, realized what he meant. He, and everyone else just piss in the jungle. Embarrassed, I did the same.

Rules without a Facility Support

When people ask the question, why you do not follow the rules. There are many different situations, and many different answers. Among them, one of the situation is, there is no facility to help people keep the rule. In the situation where there is no way to keep a pretty high standard of rules, the rule itself is in doubt – it is maybe the wrong thing to have that rule in the first place, or people must make sure others CAN find a way to follow the rule.

It reminds me of my trip to Tibet. The first thing the tour guide taught us on the bus when we left Chengdu was, how to piss in the wild area – when car stops, all the men running to the left side, and women to the right. Sounds silly, right? The same behavior of pissing to the ground is not only neccessary in rural areas like Tibet, it is also moral to do it, isn’t it?

Taking another example of following rules: traffic rules. When you are presented in a situation that all the pedstrain sign are always red, will you just stops there for ever, or you walk at red lights. In this situation, it is no longer a moral issue to break the rule “no walk under red lights”, because we are talking about different thing.

In current China, the deeper problems are, there are so many situations that you cannot survive without breaking rules. There are definitely chance to fix it but we don’t have the political system to support it yet. What is your choice? Just like the red bag thta you have to give to doctors, or many other ugly things.

Understand First, Then Fix

So, my point is, I want to describe the environment we are living in and communicate it with my friends in other countries. Many times, the judgement standard is completely different (try to talk to someone who don’t have a toilet facility about do not piss on the street), and even it is the same standard, if there is no facility to support it, we should just talk about how to solve the facility problem, instead of pointing fingures to the person: “You are wrong. How can you do that!”.

At the end, let me quote the story of my favorite movie this year: Slumdog Millionare. You see a young man with integrity, with honor, with struggle and with hope – Jamal. I love the movie so much because the director put a good person into a tragic environment. He cheats, he steals, he is not professional at work, but meanwhile. he is still a good man. By changing the angle of how we see the world and from who eyes, we understand the world better. I would love to thank the director of Slumdog Millionare. At least, it taught me to love the beggar children on the street – they also have their love and hope. They are who they are today because of the lack of a better environment, just like lack of a toilet in the jungle.

Dinner with Mayors in US Again

This is the second time I host the dinner of US Mayor Delegate (see the

last dinner). As always, it is part of my highlights in normal daily life.

The dinner was again at the Lugang at the opposite side of the Jin Jiang Hotel. (This is the traditional place for NCUSCR gatherings.)

I am happy to meet with Sam Adams in person, the Mayor-elect of the city of Portland, Oregon. I am particular interested in Portland since I have a brother in Portland. He sits on the right side of me during the dinner. We also have David Everitt, the Chief of Staff of Office of the Mayor in Salt Lake City. The other mayor is Mayor from Northglenn, CO, Kathleen M. Novak, and Albuquerque, NM mayor Martin… (I hope I record everyone’s name correctly, and feel free to correct me if I am wrong).

Along with the mayors joining the dinner include Ken Rosenfeld, and Donald J. Borut of National League of Cities, and Katherine Forshay from NCUSCR (thanks for coordinating everything), and last, but not the least, my respected friend and leader, Stephen A. Orlins, President of the National Committee on US-China Relationships.

With their permission, I am recording the wonderful dinner, so maybe in the years to come, we can reference to this blog entry at least to remember who came. :-)

Here are some of the topics I feel interesting to discuss. I do want to write more about what we talked (a chance for me to share my thoughts about China issues), but it is already 0:10 AM, and I am flying out to San Francisco via UA858 (need to leave home at 10 AM) to catch flight, AND, I didn’t pack anything for my trip yet. So let me just record it with future articles on it.

  • What’s your view on pollution in China?
  • How do you view nationalism in China?
  • Why it is so hard for people in China to get to us?
  • If you are given a US passport, will you take it? Why?
  • Democratic implementation in China.
  • Generally, is there positive or negative expectation about the future?
  • Tell more about the education system in China? What is Hukou?
  • Do you think Expo can bring good to Shanghai? How about Olympics…

Again, for all my mayors and staff of NLC and NCUSCR, thanks for joining me in the dinner, and I enjoyed it a lot. I just hope packing my cloths and things for US trip is as pleasant…

Dos and Don’ts For Foriengers in China

My reader asked what is the dos and don’ts for foreigners (or America as he is) in China. Here is my answer:

@Pedro Godoi, don’t worry, just enjoy your trip and don’t care too much about the dos and don’ts. Just follow the common sense in America. Typically, people in China, and in Shanghai of cause, are very nice to foreigners, and they tolerate a lot if you cannot use chopstick, or don’t understand many local things. It is OK to be nature as in every where in the world. Most dos and don’ts here are the same as most places in the world.

If you do ask me for one don’ts, that is, don’t always think there is only one correct way to do things. Be open in mind and don’t be too quick to judge the country.

At a second thought, I may want to add the following dos and don’ts for my friends.

Dos

  • Do try new things in China. Many people come to see a world different from the world they live, so take the opportunity to try some new things, like walking out of the 5 star hotels to the street to learn what normal people do.
  • Do smile. People in China are generally very kind to visiting foreigners, so be kind to them.
  • Do make local friends. It is through friends that you understand the country better than wandering on the street. People in China love to make foreign friends, especially young people, since it is also a good opportunity for them to learn world outside, or at least learn English or other foreign language

Don’ts

  • Don’t think people staring at you as hostile. Most of the straight look is out of curiosity instead of discrimination, or hate. This is especially true in inner China where people don’t see many foreigners in their life before.
  • Don’t try to enforce your local rules. I saw foreigners yelling at local people claiming to send them to court, or get involved in argument based on the local rules, or laws. Show some respect, since there are other rules locally. Just try to understand it. If people cross the street at red light, give people time (in China, it means decades) instead of yelling at people.
  • Don’t misbehave. This is very general, but don’t misbehave just because you are out of your home country, and you don’t feel the pressure of laws. Or you may find many local people did something, like jaywalking, and you follow. Please don’t do it, since when you don’t know something (for example, you don’t know what is Qing Dynasty, or you don’t use chopstick), it is acceptable, and often welcomed. However, if you do some bad things that local people think is bad (no matter how many break the rule), they will think very badly of you (I do). Try to stay the bar high. I understand that China is still far from a modern country, even after a successful Olympic or enjoying high grow economy, but I don’t want to lower the standard I set for myself. Many local people do the same thing, that is the reason they don’t like people behave differently from the relatively higher standard in public places.

Anything you want to add?

Are American Economically Family-Independent

Maria and I discussed for a long time during and after the Culture Matters talk show, about the relationship in families in America and China. Her point of view is very interesting, and I tend to agree, but before I do that, let me check with my readers first.

Maria’s Theory of “Economically Independent from Family”

Maria talked about the change in U.S. in 1960s.

During the period of time, with the country becoming richer and richer, there are more and more support from the society, and individuals are actually support by the society, instead of family.

In most countries, like in China, family is not only an emotionally connected unit, it is also an economical organization.

As a child, he/she HAS to rely on the family to provide food, shelter, and education.

As an adult, to form a family is economically beneficial for couples, and many couples live together not just for love, but also for stability of their economical interest. For example, many wives will face financial challenge after devoice.

As an older person, they rely on their children to support them, and children have the obligation to do that.

There are of cause emotional connections, but the economical connection is also very important in people’s relationship.

In America, in contrast, there are lesser financial connection, since:

1. As a child, he/she is basically support by the society – education, food, and health care. When they need to go to university, although they need a lot of money to go to Harvard, but they don’t need too much if they go to state university, and family’s support is that that critical.

2. When people get old, they have their own social insurance, and their own doctor, who can help them when they need help.

Basically, Maria argues that although there is some economical connection, basically, America can be very independent from their family.

When People are Independent from Family

When people are independent from family, what they need from family is just emotional support. The sole propose of a family is to make them happy. If a family cannot make them happy, they leave.

The contract is, family in economically family dependent society, parents care about their children’s future more than the children themselves, since their future depend on the children. While in a family independent society, the parents care about the happiness of their children, much more than their achievement, since at the end of the day, the life when they get old is not dependent on the children.

Does it Make Sense?

It makes a lot of sense to me, but I am not that familiar with the American society. Anyone wants to give any comment?

Labor Day (May Holiday) Canceled

I know this is not news. That was announced last December. The interesting thing is the other day, I talked with my good friend from California in Xintiandi. He talked the T.I.C (This Is China) moment.

He asked his friend what they are planning to do during the May Holiday this year. His friend told him very easily: “It was canceled”.

“What? Canceled”, he was very surprised, “It is just like U.S government suddenly announce Thanksgivings is canceled, which is unbelievable”.

Well. It IS possible in China. Personally I do not think negatively about the change, and the quick move of the change, like this. I mean I think so personally. However, I know many people in travel and hotel industry really hate the news.

“I Will Follow All the Rules!”

Chatted with George the other day. George is my friend from New York who asked the wonderful question: Why everyone in China says “It is not impossible but difficult”.

When we talked about his recent relocation to Shanghai, we talked about the rules and regulations. George said: “I will try to follow all the rules anyway.”

This sounds so familiar. Li Hong talked about the same thing in the YLF dinner the other day. It was about the tax for foreigners. According to the regulation, any foreigners who stays in China for more than 183 days need to pay the local tax. Although it is not enforced, most foreigners tried very hard to follow, even the government official told them that it is OK to hold on and wait for some years. They just feel unsafe.

It is Sometimes Impossible to Follow

I smiled and said: “It is not always possible for you to follow all the rules.” Let me tell you why.

The first reason is, the legal system is a new system in China, and most of them were built in the last 20 – 30 years. This is also the period of fast-pace social and economic changes. There are conflicts between different rules, different laws, or regulations from different government departments. When I talked with friends from government, they are also trying very hard to solve this problem. They know that it is not consistent, but it takes time to solve this. The even bigger question to ask is, whether to publish a law that helps to address most of the problem while there are many potential conflict, or wait for 10 more years to solve all the problems and then publish a law, and at that time, the law may not be that useful, and there will be at least 10 years of absence of a law. That is a hard decision.

As in any fast changing system, only inconsistence can grow progress. That causes the problem that no one really can follow all rules, or laws.

So I said to George, although you try to follow laws in China, it is not always possible. It is just like the situation where you are standing at a cross road, and all the traffic lights are always red, while there is a “No Parking, or Standing-by” sign…. :-) You have to break a law, and it is your decision by common sense which one to break.

Having Law without Enforcing is a way to Manage

There are two types of scenarios for “Law without enforcing”.

Let me talk about a bad scenario. On a small street, there is a sign (or law) saying: “No Parking”. Let’s see how the person in charge can make money from this street. If there is no such a rule, the person in charge cannot fine anyone who parks there No money. No good. The opposite side is, when the No Parking law is enforced, and no one parks there at all, the person also cannot fine anyone. No money, no good. So finally, smart guy find out the trick is that only by having a law (by which they can fine), and it cannot be enforced (so he has someone to fine). That explains many places in China – the authority charges “protection fee” from vendor on the street, or people breaking the law, and that income was pretty stable.

OK. That is the bad scenario. Let me talk about the good scenario. China is not walking. It is running! In this case, any law may be out of date. Like the foreign exchange stuff, and other financial stuff, they have to have a strict guideline, so people cannot do many things, and at the same time, have some experiment (or special approval) to prove whether something works or not. This may not be the ideal case, but it is the way many people control risks.

In China, there are many cases like this. Hmm… I do feel confused (in China, who doesn’t) about what is the right direction. Enforcing a law is not always the best thing to do. You may be surprised to see I say so because it is politically incorrect. It is all about the quality of the law, the legitimation process, or the self-adjusting system for the laws. Without these, enforcing the existing law may cause a disaster – just like all reformers are all law-breakers. If the laws by Mao was enforced by violence, there will be no current progress of China. If we don’t give a chance for the current laws and regulations to be changed, or before they are changed, offers some flexibility, there will be no improvement.

P.S. To make the statement more politically correct, I would add: It is very hard to decide what kind of “breaking the law” is right or wrong. That is the role of law. So there must be some ways to improve the current status. That is all about the future of China.

Why Classified is NOT Popular in China, Yet

Today, when I talked with EnjoyChina‘s founder Daniel, I mentioned about my observation about why classified is not popular in China yet. It may also provide some hints to people who don’t know too much about China’s recent history.

Current Status of Classified Market

I am in the classified business in my professional life. Today, classified is still an unfamiliar word for most people. I bet 99 out of 100 people never posted classified ads of any kinds in their entire world – even in Shnaghai. Why?

The 30 Years of History

It is not fare to say, China don’t have classified. We do have a booming classified market in 1930s. I personally went to the Shanghai Library and found there are many pages of classified on the local Shanghai newspaper – Shen. People sent many marriage announcement, business opening, and all kinds of things there. If you bring that to people today, I believe they will be surprised about how advanced the classified industry in 1930s are. The newspaper exists from 1890s to 1940s, before it was closed by the “New China” government.

After 1949, the society went through many changes. The core is, it is prohibited to own private property. Since everything is owned by the “state”, or “the People”, basically people don’t own anything, trading simply distinct in the planned economy system.

1980 – the Opening Up and Reform Policies

At the end of 1970s, and early of 1980s, with the “Opening Up and Reform” policy, trading started to get back to people’s life. There are huge change during the last 20 years. In as short as 20 years, China changed dramatically and is on the way to get back to its original position in the world.

Daniel asked a very good question here:

Why all kinds of trading and business boomed, but not classified?

House

With the Opening up and Reform policy, many things changed, but house, for example, is still in the old system. It is as late as 1998 when the government stopped house allocation. Before that, most of the houses were built by “Unit” (you may think it as a factory, a company, or any kind of employer), and the “Unit” will allocate the house to individual. No one buys houses, and to be more exact, no one actually owns a house, even if he/she is luck to stay in a house.

In 1998, the reform reaches houses. The original house allocation system was abandoned, and “Unit” start to give money, instead of houses to their employees. It took a long way to today’s situation – many units don’t give people money for houses. There is only salary. This “house allocation” may sounds strange for foreigners, but it is true 10 years ago.

So, after 1998, people start to buy houses maybe for the first time after 1949. Very soon, real estate agents start to appear and boom. This is the history of Houses. That explains why there are no real estate classified before 1998. Today, real estate classified has already been a big portion in newspaper – although it is still published by real estate agents, not house owners.

Job

Job is also a big category on classified. Let’s take a look at what happened to job.

There are also job reform starting from 1980s. Before that, there were a period of time (called Culture Revolution) that all schools, universities were closed, and all scholars were sent to far villages or even sentenced to death. “Job? What does this word mean?”

At the end of 1970s, university resumed, and people start to enter university again. However, for a long time, all the jobs were allocated. When someone graduates, he/she will receive a letter to tell him/her to go to xxx provinde, xxxxx city, and xxxx factory. That is. You just need to obey the assignment. This kind of “graduate allocation” lasted for a long time. It ends as late as 1990s. When I entered my university in 1995, there are still people who graduate that year follow this kind of allocation process.

In this case, it does not make sense for any kinds of classified.

As House, after a series of reform, currently, at least in Shanghai, job market is similar to the other part of the world, and the good thing is, job classified starts to appear.

Car?

Car is not something impact by policy. It is very new since people just get rich enough to buy a car at the end of 1990s. 2000 is the year many people starts to buy cars – I bought my car in 2004.

So, no surprise, car classified started to boom, and second hand car classified will boom after 5 years of the first round of car boom, when people start to sell cars.

This is China

So, this is why the major categories of classified does not exist in China, and why they just started to boom. That is the reason I am so confident about classified business, although the current market is still in its early stage. It is not because China is not the place to start classified, or people don’t need it. It is just because of historical reasons and when the negative factors have been eliminated, it must have a boom.

This is China. So, there must be a historical reason for many things that many foreigners don’t understand. Some, like in this article, are because of the recent 100 years, and some, like culture stuff, are because of what happened 1000 years ago.

The Dinner – Part IV – Elected Officials

Let me break down the article into several parts to avoid being too long in one entry.

Elected Officials

If you ask me about a new word or new concept I learnt from the dinner, it will be a very normal and not-noticeable phrase – elected officials. I know this seems strange for people in U.S. Let me tell you why.

The dinner was of a lot of fun. We chatted many topics, and I didn’t notice significant difference from my chat with people from business world. People in the business world (I mean from U.S) talked a lot about politics, and people in the politics world talked a lot about business. :-)

I did the comparison between the “elected officials” and officials in China. We talked about democracy processes and how can it be, or is it feasible in China at all. The first step of democracy, as many people believe, is election.

I shared my experience about the only meaningful election I attended in China – the election of the Property Owner’s Committee in my residential area. (I did vote for some time, but it was a joke since I never heard about the names on the list, and it seemed every one didn’t know them, so the voting is a random vote).

In my residential area, like many others in Shanghai, we have residential committee who represent the resident to govern the affairs of the area. This seems a start of the democracy process in China. For me, this start is quite significant. Only after people learnt to exercise their democracy right within a small area (like a residential area of 10 thousand people) well, can we manage bigger elections. Let me tell you how did that go.

In my post named Democracy in Residential Area in April 2006, I described the election committee. Sounds good, isn’t it?

Later, whenever they have a community meeting, I will make sure I attend – just to witness how democracy practice in the area really goes, and form some basic idea about the direction of China’s future.

To my disappointment, I found there is still a long road to go for people to really understand, appreciate, and practice democracy well, even in an area as small as a residential area.

Fighting instead of Talking

The biggest issue people face in the committee was, There are two or three groups of people who both insist that the other one or two groups of people have to left the committee before they could move on.

There are people who represents people who refused to pay the management fee due to dissatisfaction about the management company. There are people who insisted to pay because they believe those who didn’t pay hurt their interest. There are people to believe the right approach is giving more clear standard to the management company for them to perform and keep the current company for the stability of the service, and the other group believe by getting rid of the current company is the only choice.

The form is a democratic format, but the problem is, after being educated in a non-democratic system that there must be only one correct answer to anything, not so many people really appreciate the different point of view, and they put their energy in fighting. In the last meeting I attended, they fight with each other – I mean physically fighting – hit people on the nose or head – just like this.

When I heard their talking, I found there are some representative’s mind is still as old as in culture revolution – they believe class fighting is still the most important thing. Not many people – I just saw one person, but I was astonished. I realized the physical world can change dramatically, but people’s mind, especially for massive audience as big as China, it takes not years, instead, many generations to change. I predict the change will eventually happen – just like it took me three years (since my trip in U.S. in 2004) to start to think about it – not fully understand yet. I know it really takes time.

Back to the elected official topic. For the whole government to be elected, there is a long way to go. The problem is, there are not enough research about whether it is feasible and what is the time table. “Election” is not as simple as election. It needs education, awareness, knowledge, experience, and tolerance – a lot of things to make it really work. How to archive it? I believe the democratic practice in a residential area is a good start. Maybe the only way to learn to follow a democratic process is to really do it. Although there is chaos at the very beginning, it seems the only way people learn about it.

What do you think?

The Dinner – Part III – Government or Party?

This is the part III of my dinner last night with mayors, city councils, and executives from city league and NCUCR…

During our talk, we realized when people tried to understand the politics in China, the major problem or source of confusion is about the structure of government, party, and legalization system.

People use the “government” to refer to anything that seems from the “government” – such as the government setup the great firewall, or the government issued this rule. The reality is, there is a distinct difference between the “government” and the “party”. Typically, the people holding government positions also holds party positions, and the two organization share similar people but they are still different.

Manuela analysed the constitution of China – I even really didn’t read it thoroughly yet, and pointed out that 2/3 of the representative in the People’s Congress can change the government head and appoint new people. There are two facts: 1. Do not follow the written rule is the real rule in China. 2. It only mentioned about the government, not party.

To understand this difference is the key to understand the different of government behavior and the differences U.S. and Chinese politics systems, I personally believe so.