Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Crazy, Crazy 2 Months

Oh boy. It's been one of those 2 month periods when I blogged absolutely nothing. Generally times like these indicate either having an enormous amount of work, or alternatively living a lifestyle characterized by intense highs and lows. In the first instance, I simply don't have time to write. In the second instance, I don't really feel like writing during the peaks, as I feel like I'll come off like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic,  and don't feel like writing during the troughs for fear of coming off like Leonardo DiCaprio in the prison scene of Catch Me If You Can (couldn't find the clip...unlucky!)

This particular 2 month stretch had a little bit of both, incidentally. So my last blog post came from my Qingming Festival trip to Kuala Lumpur. Since then, I've gone to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, Las Vegas, nearly took a job in Hong Kong, nearly left my job about 4 separate times, and ended up staying at my job due to a ridiculous set of circumstances.

So the Canton Fair. It was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. Basically, imagine literally every single manufactured item you've ever bought from China. Anything you own that says "Made in China" on it. Think about the incredible variety of these items. And think that (more or less) every single one of those manufacturers was at this trade show. Around 50,000 booths. Selling EVERYTHING. Everything from hairdryers to lightbulbs to action figures to pottery to busses, construction equipment, and everything in between. They even had Tuk-Tuks! I'm pretty sure I even saw some kids for sale. That was a lie, and probably not very funny. But oh well. Also noteworthy about the Canton Fair was the McDonald's in the Guangzhou Convention Center. How noteworthy can a McD's be, you ask?

Well picture this--24 counters. And no menus, per se. Just meals A, B, C, and D. Big Mac, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Fillet of Fish, with fries. And no drink orders. Just pre-poured, relatively warm, melty-ice Coke. And imagine it being about the size of a 16-car garage. With lines going out the door all the time. We had about 15 people in front of us in line when we walked in. And within about 4 minutes, we were served. Also of note, the meal was 45RMB, or about $7. This might not sound THAT crazy, until you realize that ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF CHINA, a meal at McDonald's costs 15RMB, or about $2.50. Price gouging for the win. I would have taken pictures, but when I took out my phone to do so, an employee more or less tackled me saying "NO PICTURES ALLOWED!!!" Is that all? You'd think it would make for good free publicity....

The Canton Fair also amazed me with its diversity. We had people from, among many others, the following countries come to our booth requesting information for product importing: Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa, Kenya, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mauritius, Kosovo, and one very outgoing and awkward man from the "Armenia-China Friendship Council". It made the United Nations look like the Tokyo Metro at rush hour. After 8 days in Guangzhou that included my first ever experience with real Chinese Hot Pot (pictured below), we returned to Shenzhen. After a few weeks of working in Shenzhen, it was time to head to Vegas for the National Hardware Show.

So Vegas. We went to Vegas during late April/early May for a trade show. Fortunately, one of my best friends from childhood/high school/college, Dan Gannon, lives in Vegas (this to the surprise of my colleagues, as up to this point I've had a friend in literally every single city we've travelled to for work with the exception of Guangzhou). Anyway, so we went to Vegas for a trade show. In short, it involved a ton of working, and hanging out with Dan a fair bit. I got to meet Dan's best friend in Vegas, former World Poker Tour Champion Joe Bartholdi, who I can honestly say is one of the most genuinely hilarious and genial people I've ever met. Definitely the kind of person you'd like to hang around as much as possible, just a really nice kid (I say kid despite his being 32...shocking). He also happened to write a hilarious song called "Fat Chicks" that he performed in a bar. If I ever get a dying wish, it will be for him to upload it to YouTube. One of the funniest things I've ever heard. Vegas involved a fair bit of gambling (on the trip I was up about $150US, which was excellent), and a fair amount of shopping. Funny side note--one of my bosses wanted me to come with him to the Louis Vuitton Store in Las Vegas. I'd never actually been into a LV store.

"Are you going to get your wife a gift from here?", I asked, with some surprise. It should be noted that this guy definitely makes pretty damned good money by China standards, but as most LV handbags/products don't go for less than like $1,000, it still seemed excessive.

"No, I need to get the gift for a friend of my wife's sister."
"Well that's interesting. Your wife's sister's friend must be very rich"
"No, they're not. They are having me buy it for a local government official as a bribe to get their child into the best school in their province"

Welcome. To. China. In the 21st century. Bribes no longer are limited to just cash. Louis Vuitton merchandise is now considered perfectly legal tender for the perfectly illegal act of bribing Chinese officials.

The per capita GDP in China is around $5,400US. The bag cost $1,300.


I returned from Vegas about a month ago today, and what a month that's been. I had an interview for a pretty interesting job opportunity in Hong Kong, and nearly left my job here to pursue other opportunities until my boss made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Around 20 May, time had come for my "6 month salary reevaluation", or some such thing. I went into my bosses office and reminded him of this, and he bode me to take a seat. Overall, it was a pretty excellent conversation--we spoke first about the fact that adjusting to life in Mainland China had been a bit more difficult than I'd expected, how there had been several times that I'd nearly left work here to return to the US, and the like. At one point I asked if I could start to go home at Christmas.

"Of course, I'm happy to pay for you to fly back to Chicago at Christmas for about a week or so."

Well that makes things a bit easier.

We then got to the point where we were going to talk about my future here. Regarding salary--he made a solid raise offer. I asked for an asinine amount more than that. Basically, I asked for what I'd be making in the US. Only I'm working in a country where, as I mentioned a moment ago, the per capita GDP is $5,400. Not $47,000, as in the US.

He was a bit taken aback by this request, and asked if he could think about it for a few days and get back to me. I said that was just fine. We continued to chat for another 5 minutes or so, at which point he asked me

"Well, if I give you this amount of money, what are your future plans? What do you want to do?"

"I suppose I'd stay here and work for you guys in China for a couple more years, then go work for you guys in the US for a couple years, then around age 28-29 go get a masters then a PhD then go into academia"

Something about that answer must have really pleased this very heroic and very wealthy Chinese man, because his next sentence was

"Well, I've thought about your raise request. And really, the money means nothing to me. And since you've started working here, I don't know why, but I've always liked you. Even when you've acted unorthodox, I've always thought it was interesting. I've always thought that you've been a very good addition to the office. So I'm OK with it."


The next day he decided to give me some more work responsibilities. I am now completely in charge of our company's expansion into the Australian market. I am going to be heading to Australia about twice per year (this coming year looks to be October and February), and will be setting up our entire operation there. This, in addition to the 3 times per year to the US and once to Germany means I'll be racking up a sadistic amount of frequent flier miles (probably around 100,000 per year), and will be able to take occasional much-needed breaks for living in the PRC. Overall, could not have gone better.

So that's about where I'm at now. A long post, surely, but it's been an eventful 2 months. A week from tomorrow, we leave for a 5-day company holiday to Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, a trip where I'll get the chance to see a couple of friends in Shanghai, which will be nice.

Also random recent note--was able to spend this past Saturday night in Hong Kong with none other than Martin "Luther" Zech, an old friend from HKU who just finished a dual masters degree program with Sciences Po (Paris) and Fudan University (Shanghai), and Ben Don, another friend from HK/my trip last summer to Thailand/Cambodia. Martin brought 2 of his cousins to HK, and we showed them a night on the town, involving Wan Chai, trying to break into the Wan Chai Haunted House, and 3am dim sum (photo at right of Sir Ben Hibbert's favorite dish, whatever it is). Overall, an excellent trip town memory lane with a couple of old friends.

On the travel horizon, apart from next week's company trip, I'm hoping to sneak away to either Tibet or Bangladesh sometime in the next 3 months or so, before heading to Cologne, Germany, in September, then Sydney/Melbourne in October. Should be good.

Below are some more random photos from the last couple of months, including a gentle reminder from the phenomenal translators at the Canton Fair, a horribly iPhoto-edited shot of Shun Hing Square at night, and some other shots of Shenzhen. Cheers if you've read this stupidly long update, will try to be more consistent!

You'd better enjoy it in 2 hours.

Shun Hing Square. Must say, the building is starting to grow on me.

Shenzhen Metro. Don't even think about bringing on balloons. Don't even think about it.
Shenzhen City Hall after a rain. My office is the middle skyscraper on the left

Really interesting actually, there was a book in the Shenzhen Central Book Mall titled something to the effect of "The History of the World In 100 Objects", the book had been put together by the British Museum (without question the greatest museum in the world, and with a whopping $0 entry fee, also certainly at least tied for least expensive!) using 100 objects in their archives to show the history of the world. #100 was a solar-powered lap and charger manufactured in noplace other than....Shenzhen! 

Area around Masjid Jemak RapidKL Station, Kuala Lumpur, from 2 months ago. I enjoyed it.


  1. I love foreign sign translations. I love them so much. This one is my favorite:

  2. It makes me happy that I can read some of the Japanese, as they share a lot of characters with Chinese :-)

    Also, absolutely hilarious and brilliant sign