Home > People, politics, Travel > Made in China, Part 1

Made in China, Part 1


China is a lot like a hot chick that is scheming to divorce you, take half of all your stuff and then sell it back to you at a profit.

Xenocrates

Over the last couple of months, I and a few of my colleagues partook in what I could best describe as part of a grander initiative by the Chinese government in opening up China to the rest of the world. Our seven week experience however, turned out to be an ordeal that gave the expression “Made in China” a whole deeper meaning – and I’m afraid, it wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.

Before I continue though, my lawyer had this to say:

[Edit: Xenlogic’s Lawyer]

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed herein are from the point of view of one person and does not in any way reflect on China as a whole. If you happen to visit the country, your experience will most probably be vastly different, and (hopefully) vastly more positive. This writer just spilled one too many vials of salt, walked under one too many ladders or stepped on one too many cracks.

China is a great country – and I’m not saying that because I’m of Chinese descent. Carry on.

– Xiao Fei Leung

[End Edit: Xenlogic’s Lawyer]

Yeah so as I was saying, if you ever have the misfortune of visiting China for more than 5 days, this post is for you. Depending on which city you land in first, (I landed in Shanghai), the first thing that will strike you is the architecture. So let me take a moment to get this thoroughly out of the way:

The major cities in China feature some of the most stunning works of art masquerading as architecture that I have ever seen. One thing is for certain, the Chinese can build anything. Now with that said, there are 10 critical lessons that you should probably take note of. This post documents the first 3:

1. China is a post Agrarian Society

Pudong, Shanghai, ChinaDon’t be fooled. Most of these buildings are empty office space.

When the Chinese government made the executive decision to open up China to the rest of the world, it was a great decision – but a decision that took far too long a time in its coming. As a result, the Chinese people are still largely xenophobic, having a morbid trepidation of, or fascination with foreigners.

While the rest of the world spent the last century and a half traveling the globe and meeting everyone, China was still living in its parents’ house, almost completely oblivious to the outside world. As a result, China is still largely an agrarian tea and rice society that has now suddenly been thrust into a world of globalization and indoctrination by western cultural standards.

They’re still coming to grips with it, so don’t be fooled by the skyscrapers.

The Chinese may know how to manufacture the hell out of an industry, but it’s like they don’t know what to use it for. They drive through traffic lights as though they were just there for decorative purposes, drive anywhere on the road (including on side walks where people are still walking), bounce you out of their way without asking, and cough and spit everywhere in the street.

And I do mean, everywhere. Don’t stand in their way, unless you want to spot a yellowish blob of phlegm rolling down the side of your pants. I kid you not.

There are hundreds of square miles of unused office space in buildings that look equally as fancy as they are uselessly designed. One building looked like a chisel with a bottle opener at the top and yet another looked like a tray with a tea bowl and  chopsticks – even though only 20% of the building’s space is habitable. In fact, Shanghai looks very much like a glass and steel sculpture.

It’s all very pretty to look at, even though I would never live there.

As a foreigner in a notably homogeneous society (China is about 90% Han Chinese), you stand out like a bull in a China shop, or a whore in a Sunday morning service, or a black man at a KKK rally – you get the idea. Speaking of black men, this country doesn’t appear to be quite ready for blacks just yet.

The Chinese have never seen black people before. So they stop and stare.

Our rather large party featured a decent number of people of African descent, most notably from the Caribbean, western, central and eastern Africa. I would estimate that there were roughly 20 or more black folks at the conference – and all got quite an education about the cultural perceptions of the Chinese.

When we went on the road, people would stop and stare at our party as though we were invaders from another planet. It doesn’t matter if they were walking or driving, a party of black men and women walking together in the streets of Shanghai quite literally stopped the Chinese economy for about 2 minutes while we crossed the street. This was a most unnerving experience.

You probably wouldn’t have that kind of experience in Europe, the USA, the Caribbean or even some parts of Africa – and that attests to how “young” China is with respect its perception of the world. Now to be fair, I’m not picking on the Chinese. They are only exhibiting a common function of human nature:

Xenophobia.

Either way, the black folks in our party had two very different experiences when interacting with the Chinese:

  1. They were called monkey in the local mandarin dialect (the word “Guo” was heard on occasion)
  2. They were embraced and called “Obama” in a strangely broken Chinese accent.

Apparently the Chinese can’t tell black people apart any more than they could differentiate between the Chinese themselves. That’s a reasonable expectation seeing that we were still dealing with humans. Many of the black nationals found it hilarious that they kept calling them “Obama”, particularly the Kenyans. It’s a testament to how well loved the US president is in China.

I wish Republicans were so open minded – but I digress.

Obama-mania aside, black folks staying in the country for an extended period may find themselves challenged by the bevy of new microscopic fauna for which they have no particular resistance. In our party, a “new” strain of pneumonia ravaged much of the group. Recovery was most forthcoming, thanks to the administration of excellent (if not curious) Chinese medicine.

Lesson Learned: Expect a massive culture shock if you should ever visit China. There are not many cultural parallels that exist in the country that one can use as a point of reference in the west. While westernization is very much under way, there is still quite a lot of it that is distinctively Chinese. It is therefore not for people who don’t possess an equally distinctive propensity for adventure.

You’ve been warned.

2. China is divided into two Cultural Apogees

Culturally speaking, China is divided into North and South. While the basic elements of Chinese culture are fairly ubiquitous right across the country, there is a vast difference between the China of the South and the significantly more modernised Northern cultural, political, educational and financial centers.

Northern China features the hot shots you always see on the internet. That’s where Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Tianjin, Hangzhou and other cities of interest lie – all of which are densely littered with sexy looking skyscrapers, complex highways and other highly sophisticated works of civil engineering.

There are obvious exceptions to this principle of course, since Hong Kong is in Southern China. However, Hong Kong was only recently liberated by the British Empire to rejoin mainland China. While it maintains its own government, Hong Kong still carries much of the cultural aspects of the south as you’ll soon see.

The China you hear about in the news (except when there’s an earthquake, as there was in Szechuan province) is usually in the North (Shanghai and Beijing are the financial and political centers of China, respectively). The China you taste in the restaurant however, is in the South. This distinction is most critical.

For the most part, in Northern China, Mandarin is the spoken language. Mandarin is designated the official language of China, which is not surprising since Beijing is in the north. Southern Chinese speak a different dialect, colloquially known as Cantonese. Same country, two very different cultures.

In fact, if you’ve ever studied Chinese Wushu (or Kung Fu for the slightly less initiated of you), you’ll note that there is a significant distinction between two schools of thought: The Northern and Southern Fist. One favours open handed combat while the other leans more heavily towards the use of weapons.

The Food

Sweet ‘n Sour Pork. In Shanghai, this dish does not exist on the menu. Anywhere.

Apropos, if you ever travel to one of the many cities of Northern China and expected to taste Southern Chinese food (which is what we are accustomed to in western civilization), you will have a rude awakening of magnificent proportions. I found this out the hard way on my extended visit to Shanghai.

At every restaurant that we visited, we were bamboozled by the fact that something as “common” as sweet and sour chicken was nowhere to be found. In fact, we struggled to find anything on the menu that we could order – so long as it had a familiar meat (like chicken or pork) that we could sample. Heh.

No such luck.

As it turns out (and we only found this out when we were leaving) culinarily speaking, we were in the wrong part of China. Due to the food crisis, between the lot of us, we collectively lost over 500 lbs – I loosing 20 lbs myself. Why did we loose so much weight? Because there wasn’t much we could eat.

Try to understand. When you open up a Chinese restaurant menu while in Northern China, (that is, the ones that have accompanying english translations), you will often see pictures of the dish described by the menu. Now, neither the descriptions nor the dishes looked even remotely appetizing.

Even the “safe” looking dishes looked dreadful. For example, I ordered one called “First Rate Chicken”. I’ve since learned that the Chinese eat their chicken whole. In other words, the head and feet are chopped up with the rest of it. Also, it is not cooked thoroughly for the slimy residue between the skin and the muscle tissue was still intact, along with bits of feathers in the skin.

There was also a yellow-reddish fluid seeping out of the chicken’s now decapitated head, which sat squarely in my plate. I mean seriously? What the cuss was I supposed to do with that? Who eats the head of the chicken when you have a chicken meal? Needless to say, I promptly had my meal returned in exchange for something that was properly and thoroughly burned in fire.

I don’t want my meat walking off my plate – if you know what I mean.

The other items on the menu were horrific to say the least. One item in particular is permanently burned into my consciousness because of the gross factor: ‘Chicken blood in Hot Chili Sauce‘. I kid thee not. That was an actual item on the menu. We all had a collective pseudo-barf when we first read it.

The Northern Chinese dishes probably never made it across the Pacific because of Western culinary tastes. As it now turns out, the following dishes with which we are most familiar in the west are only popular in Southern China, particularly in Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) and Hong Kong:

  • Sweet and Sour Pork / Chicken
  • Mala Chicken
  • Kung Pao Chicken
  • Special Fried Rice
  • …and you know the rest.

This would explain why when I first learned Chinese, most of the local Chinese retaurant operators didn’t quite follow the language I was using (Mandarin). They speak Cantonese, which, if you listen very carefully, sounds like a very crass version of Mandarin. Ah well, who cares. Besides, their food is dope.

Lesson Learned: Shanghai may be a beautiful city. However, if you get hungry, just make sure that you stick to McDonald’s and KFC and you should be fine. You can still find some southern Chinese restaurants in northern China, but they are few and far between and the food is not quite as good.

Lastly, you may also want to learn how to use chopsticks. Most restaurants won’t cater to our need for a good old fashioned fork. If you manage to learn the language (as I did – it was either that or starve), don’t go into a restaurant asking for a fork in Chinese. Not only will you loose face, but most waiters don’t know what a fork is (even if they have them in the store room).

3. There is a HUGE Black Market

Yu Garden – Shopping district and Black Market Central

Remember what I said about China being an Agrarian society that has had technological age forced upon them? Well, it gets better: China also has absolutely no appreciation whatsoever for the concept of “Intellectual property”. The idea is something of an in joke – especially in Shanghai.

Where else can you get anything from replica Rolex watches, to knock-off electronics with the brand name logos and everything intact? I’ve never seen a place where there have been so many fake BlackBerry’s, iPhones and PlayStations (yes! FAKE PLAYSTATIONS!) all on conspicuous display. They even have versions of Windows 7 on sale – which we examined to be burned DVDs.

You can get cheap toys, imitation versions of popular clothing brands like Armani™, Dolce & Gabbana™, Dockers™, Timberland™, Rolex™ and a plethora of others. When we visited a place in Shanghai called Yu Garden, we were assaulted by a horde of people hawking fake crap. They even followed us into the McDonalds restaurant, trying desperately to sell their garbage.

The cops walk around inside these stores and no one is getting arrested. Like I said, it’s an epic joke. This one guy tried to sell us an Armani suit for 75 USD – a suit that would normally cost 3,000 USD. No matter how many times we declined, this persistent fellow followed us everywhere we went in Shanghai.

Everywhere we turned, more Chinese people wearing backpacks filled with cheap imitations ran up to us, and they were all saying exactly the same thing: “Watch? iPhone? Massage?”. It was as if they all went to some cheap Chinese English class where they taught them a few phrases and nothing more.

Now you know where those spam e-mails about Replica watches are coming from. Yes, that’s right. They all originate from China. The spam is so bad on my office’s domain that we’ve gone ahead and blacklisted the .cn top level domain. That means any mail coming from China will be treated as spam.

What’s worse, is that when you walk into these stores, there are no prices. That’s because you have to haggle for almost everything. They give you a price (and since there’s a language barrier, they type the price on a calculator and show it to you) and you specify a price (using the same calculator), until you both can agree on a price. That’s how it goes almost everywhere we’ve been.

The formula though is to offer a price that is one quarter of whatever price they give you and hold to your guns. They’ll eventually come down if they want to sell – either that, or a member of the Chinese triad (i.e., the Chinese equivalent of the Italian Mafia) will come in and get wicked on the store owner.

You’ll want to memorize what the Chinese triad tattoo looks like. It’s helpful to spot them before they spot you trying to out haggle one of their store owners. If they do, no haggling can happen and you either take the advertised price, or they throw you out on your ass. Literally. Those triad thugs don’t play.

Piracy and Copyright Infringement

Xujiahui is lined with stores where you can get knock off electronics of major brands for dirt cheap.

Now everyone, including the organisers of the conference we were invited to, were using pirated software, and they talk about it like it’s no big deal. Yes, you read correctly. These people are conducting an entire conference with over forty participating nations using pirated software, knock off electronics and a million other copyright infringements that I probably haven’t discovered yet.

And it’s so pervasive, that you can walk into virtually any company and see the same blatant piracy going on. For example, we visited this cartoon animation company, only to discover that they were using Maya 7 – a software tool that costs over 75,000 USD per license, being used to animate their cartoons.

To give you a sense of scale, Maya is the same software they use to make the photo realistic special effects in every modern movie from Terminator 2 right back to Transformers. It’s that powerful – and these jokers are using it to animate cartoons. I would bet my year’s salary that they pirated all 24 copies.

When you mention the idea of “intellectual property” to the Chinese, they usually either turn their heads sideways or they laugh at you in scorn. I suppose there’s a very good reason for that, as I soon discovered when perusing the shops in Yu Garden and the Science and Technology museum.

When companies like Microsoft, Intel, AMD, General Electric, Panasonic, Sony, Research in Motion (Blackberry designers), [insert major conglomerate here] have their products mass produced in China because of the cheap labour, where do you think the schematics for their products reside? Exactly.

So when these factories employ workers for mere cents on the dollar, my suspicion is that the workers take a little something for themselves (i.e. the designs), manufacture the cheap knock offs for the same minor fraction of the price and sell them through the Chinese black market controlled by thugs.

Then foreigners from all over the world (we were the most exotic of the lot – most were Americans, British and European nationals) come to places like Shanghai (I suspect that Shenzen is also a popular black market city – since that’s where these knock offs are manufactured) and purchase these knock off items, everything from clothes to jewellery, to electronics, for a negligible price.

Then they fly back to their respective countries and sell the knock offs at standard local prices, often earning profits in excess of 800%. So clothiers get rich quick. Plus, you can’t tell the difference between the authentic product and the knock off, since they’re both manufactured at the same factories in China.

In the case of items like the iPhone for example, the only difference between the Chinese knock off and the original US model is the software that sits on it as well as the memory configuration. Aside from those two qualities, the two iPhones are physically identical – with the ‘i’ missing from the Chinese version.

This is a $99 Chinese iPhone knock off. It sports not one, but TWO SIM card slots.

China pirates everything and anything and because they’re one of the most powerful manufacturing nations on earth, they don’t give a flying circuit board who wants to give them grief about it. Indeed, nobody can, since when you look at the back of most of the stuff you’ve bought lately, what does it say? Made in China. That’s right people. China owns your soul and your pocketbook.

To the MPAA, RIAA and BSA

Dear Copyright watchdog entities, going after a few kids pirating Avatar or Taylor Swift’s latest CD is chicken feed. It’s a waste of time. If you guys were able to successfully bring an international lawsuit against the entire Chinese government, you could pay off the US national debt to China in a heartbeat.

Lesson Learned: China is a lot like a hot chick that is scheming to divorce you, take half of all your stuff and then sell it back to you at a profit. Maybe getting involved with that chick was a bad idea in the first place – especially when the suitor is a country with such a strong anti-communist foreign policy like the USA. Unfortunately, horn dogs and corporate greed have a lot in common.

That’s why China is now one of the most powerful nations on earth and everyone else is getting worried about how fast their economy is booming. Now that they have nukes, a space program, and are expanding like bacteria (pardon the simile) into every business sector in the world, it won’t be long before we’re all speaking Chinese and eating sirloin steak with chopsticks.

Ok, I’m probably being hyperbolic. But still, have any of you seen the Sci-Fi series “Firefly”? Yes? Well how do I put this nicely: Hmm… if the current mutation of China’s economy should continue, the back story of that TV show won’t be science fiction for long. You might want to brush up on your Kung Fu.

End of Part 1

Even though I’m safely back in the Democratic west, the culture shock and the culinary situation still have me a bit shell shocked. But that’s not the only thing that went bad. China has a few other problems that really pissed me off, to the point where I’m still paying the price for my visit.  More details to come in Part 2 of this epic of one foreigner’s near disastrous ordeal in the great Red.

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  2. Anon
    July 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    The spitting on the ground sounds better than the dog shit on the ground, that you have dodge in all over Europe (France especially). Just about eveything you ranted about is better than the niggers in Africa who rape babies to try to cure HIV. Talk about dirty streets, look at the predominantly black cities in America and you’ll see liter and cockroaches all over. Sick niggers.

  3. Lily
    April 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I am personally Chinese-American, and I’ve found everything you’ve said in your “Made in China” series to be true — except for the two cultural apogees and food aspects.

    I fail to see how cultural diversity can be seen as something negative and exclusive to China. In the U.S., the border between the Midwest and the East Coast is relatively rigid. The border is generally referred to as the state border between Ohio and Pennsylvania. But if you talk to anyone from rural Pennsylvania, they’ll argue that they’re Midwestern because being so close to the Ohio border and culture-wise they associate themselves with the Midwestern. The official border is determined geographically, but the cultural borders may be slightly off due to certain towns in rural Pennsylvania being so close to towns in Ohio. I assume these cultural changes were made after state borders were assigned and changing the borders just because of that would be pointless.

    Most Chinese food you can find in the Western hemisphere exist only because they’re in West. If the Chinese offered specifically authentic Chinese food, they’d go out of business. Chicken feet, for example, is considered a delicacy to the Chinese. You can find these in predominantly Chinese communities in West but they’ll never appear on a menu in a Chinese restaurant that caters to Westerns.

    My parents love dining at Chinese restaurants but are often disappointed by the poor selection here in America. I’m sure Chinese restaurants in America (and wherever you’re from if not the U.S.) started with authentic Chinese food: probably the stuff you found in the restaurants you ate in China. But when more and more Westerners started dining at said restaurants, they had to rearrange their menus to offer meals that wouldn’t be as frightening or obnoxiously different.

    And that’s why you were only exposed to a small segment of Chinese cuisine where you live, which was also whitewashed to suit your desires. So when you went to China to eat Chinese food, it’s no surprise you experienced a major culture shock.

    For future reference (although I doubt you’ll ever be going to China ever again since you dedicated three entire posts to your hatred of the country), look for restaurants that’re designed for tourists. That’ll probably be the easiest way to find a restaurant that has food similar to what you’re used to eating. I’m not surprised you didn’t find dishes such as kung pao chicken because it’s supposedly not “authentic Chinese food” or whatever. That’s what my relatives say to make fun of my whitewashedness, at least.

    Oh yeah, the Chinese are generally manipulative, greedy, success-hungry piranhas. Most of my Asian friends have parents that put extreme pressure on them to succeed. And by pressure, this usually means abuse: emotional and physical. I have personally seen this result in suicide and/or homicide. If you walk into an airport with free hand sanitizer machines you’ll usually find a crowd of Asians fighting each other for some free foam. If you talk to an Chinese salesperson, they’ll usually start off with some speech about how Chinese people are “vehwy twuswoosy” and mention something about silk in ancient times and how Chinese kept the secret safe for x number of years. And then they scam you like hell, and you’re left with nothing but an empty wallet and respect for Chinese people (ex: my parents have been scammed multiple times but still acclaim the Chinese). My Chinese friend’s mother once complained about how she hated buying things from Chinese people because they were constantly trying to scam her: making it difficult for her to scam them.

    Most of ^ only applies to people who just got out of China or currently reside in China. If you talk to Westernized Chinese, they’ll be considerably different.

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