Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Factory Audits, a Tron Reference, and a Calm in the Travel Storm

So, interesting week thus far, and it's only Tuesday.

I had one of those days yesterday where I honestly didn't know whether to be sick to my stomach at the fact that I've moved to China, or to be incredibly grateful for having done so. In short, I was to do a factory audit yesterday, on my own factory for a major customer that wants a "western mind" looking after the factory. For whatever reason, I approached the day in a more astute manner than usual. Consequently, I noticed a few things that I hadn't noticed before, and these things most certainly not only made me be indescribably thankful for having been born in a country which was (at the time, anyway) the unquestioned most powerful and influential nation in the world, and for having had the most universal business language as my native one.

The day began routinely enough--I arrived at the office at 9:00am and had a car arranged to take myself, Jacky, and a handful of other sales team members to the factory. I have been driven out to the factory dozens of times. I've always noticed the ample farm fields outside the factory, and seen the farmers farming their strawberries, rice, and various vegetables. However, until yesterday, I had never noticed their accommodation in the fields. As it would turn out, the farmers are more or less living in tin shacks near their fields. Thinking about this, I sort of came to the realization--these farmers are literally working for their livelihood--they farm every day in order to have food to eat (or I guess, in order to have a harvest with some surplus of whatever they are growing which they can then sell in order to buy food to eat), but in short, they are engaging in what many international organizations correctly call "sustenance agriculture", that is to say, they are basically working to survive. All the while living in their tin shacks....


The morning consisted of meeting with the engineers (all in Chinese...) and discussing the feasibility of creating several new products for a major customer in the US. At 11:30am we broke for lunch (factory canteen....pro=free, con=bland food), and afterwards we resumed the meeting with the engineers. Following this meeting, at about 2:30pm, Jacky, Brian Bai (Quality Control manager at the factory, and an absolute legend), and I began our "factory audit". This was a shocker.

As I mentioned, I've been to the factory dozens of times. And generally speaking, I'll keep a relatively watchful, but not overly observant eye on what's going on. However, as this was a proper audit, my purpose in being there was to really watch out for any violations in terms of health, safety, human rights, etc. Consequently, when we walked into one of the assembly rooms, I saw some guy standing atop the assembly line with no shirt on. This was from around 200ft away. My first thought was "well, this is a violation of general workplace behavior...that guy should have a shirt on". Upon getting closer to the guy, I realized that his job was to lift this enormous, 30-40lb machine up and down all day (in the ~80 degree factory heat, mind you), the purpose of the machine being to polish the stainless steel on all products. The look on this guy's face, upon further examination, was one of absolute and total physical exhaustion, one which basically said "you could kill me now and it would be a welcome diversion". I didn't have the heart to tell Jacky and Brian Bai to make the guy put a shirt on, and thankfully, I think they realized my general horror at this sight, and didn't say a word.

Following the factory audit, we went to speak with some engineers and quality control guys. At this point, I noticed for the first time that you could pretty easily understand which ones had worked on the assembly line before, and which ones had not. The remarkably easy (and horrifying) way to tell this fact was to look at their arms. If they had horrible scars and burn marks at some place on their arms, odds are they have worked the assembly lines. Shocking.

So anyway, it was a day to remember. Again, a day that will make me on one hand wish I'd never moved to China, yet one that will also make me so grateful for having done so, for I can now properly ascertain how lucky I am for having been born in a developed country and speak English as my first language. Statistically speaking, at the time of my birth, no less than 2/3 of the world was considered "Developing". Furthermore, the birth rates in developing countries are substantially higher than those in developed countries, in general. Consequently, at the time of my birth, maybe as many as 4/5 children born were born into developing countries...which really makes you realize how fortunate most of the readers of this blog are to have been born in a developed country and have opportunities that 80% of the people born on your birth date could only dream of.

Anyway, now that the morbid factory discussion is over with, let's talk about something more pleasant--the return of photo of the day (at least, for today). I've passed this huge colony of buildings near Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center just about every day during my time here. The other day, I finally came up with an adept way of describing them--it's as though Shenzhen has stolen a scene out of the movie Tron: Legacy. Basically, at night, you have this formation of 4 buildings that are jet-black, but for green criss-cross patterns going up the buildings, making them look eerily futuristic. I decided to snap a photo of them the other night during a walk home from the pub to my apartment--

So a bit Tron-ish....

Apart from the factory audit and the Tron realization, things in South China have been interesting enough. Definitely looking forward to a relatively quiet few weeks in Shenzhen before things start getting crazy in early August, which will entail--some hugely important customer meetings the 2nd week of August, followed by heading to Chicago for work in mid-August, coming back to Shenzhen for about 5 days, then heading to Germany, before coming back here for about 2 weeks, then heading to Bangladesh for holiday for 8-10 days, then back to Shenzhen for a week or so before Canton Fair in Guangzhou. Should be a busy 2 months, needless to say my internal clock will be destroyed completely somewhere between flying over the Pacific from Chicago back to China and flying over Asia from China to Cologne...

Meantime, tomorrow I'll be heading down to Hong Kong for a mini HKU reunion with AlanKey, Paris, Matias, Iain, etc. The last couple of weeks have involved a whole lot of going to Hong Kong, with Elliott having spent a week there from 4-11 July, and with AlanKey and Paris having been there since the 4th as well. It was great seeing Elliott and Paris for the first time since May 2010, and AlanKey for the first time since the infamous fake ID night in Bangkok in January 2011, so it's been a nice few weeks in the catching up with old friends department.

Not a whole lot else to write about at this very moment, I'm hoping to try to get more consistent with posting photos on here again, as my relatively quiet last few weeks have really allowed me to explore this city a lot more, and the coming few weeks should be relatively quiet but for obscene workload, so be on the lookout for more photos! Until then, stay hungry, stay foolish, and take it easy, more news to come as it develops.

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