Posts Tagged 'business'

True or not?

We get a lot of hearsay from the foreign community. We band together, after a fashion, united by the common purpose of navigating a strange and sometimes unintelligible society. Sometimes the rumors are baseless, others turn out to be true.

For example: Shakira will play a New Year’s Eve concert in Nanjing. That one turned out to be true! Wish we had heard in time.

But a disturbing new rumor, substantiated with online news reports: Skype may be banned in China!

If this one turns out to be true, we’re going to meet a whole new level of hassle trying to stay connected with family and friends back home. Or at least, a whole new level of expense. China wants to protect its own telecom business, and with the authority of the government behind all business regulations, there can be an executive decision to shut down a global website like Skype if they feel it will benefit their interests.

Skype was working fine today. It may not be tomorrow! If we don’t answer, don’t take it personally.

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Life Is Different

So it’s been about five-hundred years since my last post.  At least it feels that way!  And it also feels like our lives in China have fast forwarded quite suddenly as well.  This is likely because in the last year, I’ve had a baby (and boy does that fill your time!), gotten a new job, moved (across the street, but still), traveled throughout the US for two months, and to top it off, I am now a full-time working mom.

Our lives look a lot different than they did last year too, which is another reason it likely feels we’ve fast forwarded.  We are both working full time, and formal time as students of Chinese has come to a close.  Which is not all bad, since being a student is rather rough on the pocketbook.  Leo is in kindergarten, and is speaking Chinese all day either in school or with his nanny.  JM continues his full-time work as a teacher, and I am in an office all day, with mostly Chinese colleagues and some other Americans.  Rosie is at home with our nanny, a new ‘ayi’ that we hired to work all day from 8-5pm while we work.

We live where I work, as the company provides housing for the foreign employees.  This makes for the world’s shortest commute.  Our apartment is nice, and we are enjoying some creature comforts we’ve gone without the past few years – like a bathtub, carpet, a built-in oven, a clothes drier, central heating and air, and filtered water from the tap.

Lest all these perks fool you into thinking we have suddenly hit easy street :), know that I am working hard for the money.  I am separated from my children a LOT, but we are adjusting and managing.  I am working in education administration, and one of my favorite things about the work is that I work with mostly Chinese colleagues.  I enjoy my American colleagues, for sure, but it has been a great opportunity to use my Chinese far beyond the market, the playground, and the home. I am now using it everyday in a professional setting, and that is great.

So our lives have, over the course of almost three years, settled down here in China for the time being.  Life feels much more normal now than it has ever before.  We have some routines now that we haven’t had in the past, and it’s not as difficult as it used to be to navigate our everyday life.  And I count that as a blessing at this point!  I don’t have to look up new vocabulary words every time I walk out the door.  My newer challenges include things like getting to know an entirely different office and business culture and balancing two small children with a very busy work life.

For instance, I just returned from my first business trip away from my kids here.  I was gone for five days up in Northeast China.  I had the opportunity to meet a lot of directors of different educational programs, and it was a great trip all around.  One funny thing, although while I was on the road I worked about a twelve-hour day each day, my days seemed exceedingly relaxed in comparison to my days at home.  I practically didn’t know what to do with myself (but I figured it out eventually – time to read a book over a glass of red wine quickly became a fulfilled vision, as did an eight-hour night of sleep).  I had time to think and make phone calls; I even trimmed my cuticles.  That being said, I was glad to scoop my kids and husband back into my arms this past Friday afternoon.  There really is no place like home – sloppy wet kisses, snuggles, and sweet funny babies really make my days and nights.

So here we are, living this very normal/abnormal life here – on the one hand working and raising our kids, and on the other hand doing it in China.  It’s still exciting, it’s still exotic at times, and it’s still challenging in many ways.  But it’s a very different life than we’ve led over the past two years.

Unexpected treasures

(JM) I stopped into a local DVD store today which was brimming with cheap copies of every movie imaginable, from old, hard to find classics, to Avatar, just a few weeks old and still in theaters. Just over one dollar per disc, or even less if you feel inclined to bargain.

I found the music section, and was stunned to find a whole shelf top to bottom of classical music CDs. There was the same copy of Mahler’s Second Symphony with New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein that I bought fourteen years ago through BMG mail order. For two bucks it would have been a lot cheaper than the twelve or so I probably paid at the time.

Poring through all the top-notch recordings of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music, I came across a disc that brought me to a dead standstill, so unexpected that I found myself speechless. A 1992 RCA Silver Seal recording of Erick Friedman on violin, playing showpieces along with orchestra. Not so out of the ordinary, at first glance, but Erick Friedman never garnered the following of a Perlman or Menuhin or scores of other famous musicians on the shelf, so his recordings are much more difficult to find.

For me, however, the find was all the more poignant since Mr. Friedman was my own violin teacher. I was a member of his last class of violin students in New Haven when he died in March 2004. Hearing him on the CD now brings back to life all the lessons he gave us, a window into the not so distant past of the giants among violin virtuosos.

But for sale on a shelf at the back of a Chinese DVD stall in Nanjing?? This just drives home yet again that to walk on the street in China is to inhabit the most peculiar nexus of our current world. The dirt and grit of labor and pollution mingles ever so seamlessly with all the trappings of advanced industrial society, a place where platefuls of greasy dumplings are sold just a few feet away from cellophane wrapped cultural gems like this music. China is full of contradictions like this, and somehow the 5,000 years of culture provide enough berth to accommodate them. It’s not up to we normal folk to try to reason it out. This is just the way things are.

My teacher never would have dreamed his labors would be peddled in this way. In some strange and unforeseen way he actually hit his target market, posthumously, with the appearance of a violin lover heading back from eating dumplings in a Chinese pedestrian alley.

Coming soon.. sooner than everywhere else!

I walked by our streetside DVD vendor two days ago and saw a new X-men movie for sale. Strange, I thought, I hadn’t heard about a new Wolverine movie having been released. Liking the X-Men series, I brought a copy home.

Taking a closer look at the cover description, it stated the movie was to be released in UK and Australia April 28th and 29th, and in USA May 1st. Wow, I thought- my first chance at a movie pre-screening.

The DVD was excellent quality; this wasn’t a movie theater recording on a camcorder. In fact, this must have been leaked directly from the movie studio, because the product was still unfinished! Some scenes were simple computer-graphics silhouettes which were obviously intended to be replaced with fancier special effects, like airplane flights and complicated fight sequences. And we chuckled at the wires still visibly pulling the actors through the air, giving us a glimpse at how some of the effects were staged.

It still amazes me that this kind of pirating continues so openly here. Selling this kind of a DVD in America would probably land you in jail. But laws regulating copyright in the US simply are ignored here, despite some talk in official circles about cracking down on the practice more heavily.

In case you’re wondering about the movie, I thought it was a good one despite the poor official reviews. It’s entertaining, which is about all one could ask for from a comic book movie. But the stakes for my screening were much lower: $0.75 to own a new release is a lot less of a gamble than forking over $18 for two movie theater tickets!

Asian Americans Need Not Apply

Racial profiling is alive and well in some parts of this world.

Teaching English in China has been a surefire source of income for those on temporary stay here from many different parts of the world. Americans, Brits, Aussies and Canadians, but also French, Russian, African, and Middle Eastern foreign students with English ability are all quickly hired at a good salary to teach Chinese students the English language.

Yesterday JM chatted with a fellow American student who comes from Las Vegas. He complained about failing to find any teaching leads that panned out with actual work offers. He said:

“I’ve tried like seven different places, but they all won’t take me.”

“Why not? Your English is perfectly fluent!”

“It’s because I’m Chinese, dude. It’s the parents- they don’t want someone teaching their kid who doesn’t ‘look’ like a foreigner.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Sh*t rolls down, man. Sh*t rolls.”

Wow- imagine being a member of the majority ethnic group in a country, but still end up being treated like a minority. For us of Euro descent, at least we get our discrimination head-on. We can’t imagine what it’s like to face this kind of discrimination by one’s own ethnicity.

More on the Tainted Milk

The number of sick children has risen to over 53,000 here in China, as a result of melamine added to milk (amongst other things – animal skin and urine being common additives to boost the protein content). The New York Times has reported that there have been massive dairy recalls all over China. Yet, when Liz went to the supermarket today, she saw aisles full of dairy products marked down for sale. Friends have reported seeing similar sales on dairy products at other supermarkets. Remarkably Liz saw plenty of people, including a mother with an 18 month old, eagerly buying the unusually underpriced products. We are not yet able to read the newspapers in Chinese, but it makes us wonder how publicized the tainted milk scandal has been and if people are taking it seriously! People also drink plenty of boiled tap water here without a thought, when the levels of toxic substances – like mercury and lead, which can not be removed by boiling – are unacceptably high.

Our Ayi has told us that mothers stop nursing their babies here by “at least 8 months old, because otherwise that’s all they ever want.” This is not surprising, since women typically only have one child and most women work in environments that we can’t imagine would be friendly to a mother who needs time to pump breastmilk! If a woman is going to have a second child (which can be done for a sum of money paid to the local authorities), she can be legally fired from her job on that basis alone. So it’s not a surprise, in the midst of this environment, that few women breastfeed beyond a certain age. Unfortunately, the alternative – feeding their babies Chinese formula – can have deadly consequences.

Money and money-making, as anywhere else in the world, are very very important here. Sometimes, it seems more important to make money than to worry about many thousands of children becoming very sick. We are hopeful that the government does more than sack a few higher-ups to make positive change in the dairy industry and in all their manufacturing sectors. Before we left for China, we read a statistic that 15% of products on any given grocery-store shelf in China are contaminated in some way. We don’t have a hard time believing this, and we consume with a great deal of care.

We hope that some kind of justice is done here for the many children and families suffering as a consequence of the tainted milk.

Lesson of the day

Today’s lesson learned:

Don’t threaten to go over a middle man’s head when the middle man has already paid off the man over his head.

And on a side note:

Don’t allow a middle man to negotiate for you if he earns more based on how little he negotiates for you.

We’ll be sure to keep these points in mind for all of our future business arrangements. Right now, however, we’re chalking it all up to a ‘learning experience.’ Chinese business has some distinct differences from how we’re used to things. Enough said!