Monthly Archives: December 2007

Added A FeedBurner RSS Feed

To make the blog more accessible to people that use newsreaders to track blogs, I’ve added a feedBurner RSS feed. You can get a hold of the feed here or by clicking on the FeedBurner chicklet at right.

J.

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Filed under Cubicle/Nerd Culture

Some Interesting Geek Links

I think Christmas and New Year tends to bring out my inner geek, since I spend a lot of time reading and on the net during the holiday season. Here are two interesting links I think you should check out:

  • Cory Doctorow reading Alice in Wonderland: the up-and-coming Scifi writer has recorded himself reading Louis Carroll’s classic and placed it online in a free-downloadable MP3 format.
  • If you don’t plan to go out on New Year’s Eve then check out Radiohead’s live streaming concert. Information is here on the precise links. For those of you in Asia like me, there’s about an eight hour time difference so you can wake up to this early on New Year’s Day.

Enjoy
J.

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The Poor State of Chinese Building Materials

After I read Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter’s account of the collapse of a radio tower outside his apartment on Christmas Eve — and the death of the migrant worker that it caused — got me thinking about the poor state of building materials in China and how they have gone down hill over the last couple of years. Enough that I mentioned it to Adam in the comment section his post.

When Adam replied to me he mentioned a couple of reasons:

  • Corruption (people skimming money off the top by using cheaper materials)
  • The rising cost of materials

The rising cost of materials is a big issue. Particularly as the fact that costs are rising dramatically while the cost of labour is not.

Last year, my company did an interview with the head of B&Q Asia and he said that one of the biggest barriers the company has to growth is the fact that there isn’t a cost-savings incentive driving China towards a DIY culture — it’s still cheap enough to hire a labour to renovate a flat than take the trouble to do it yourself. So the way that B&Q is making money in Asia is through design consultancy and contract sales.

B&Q is a high-end store in Asia, so I know their guys aren’t skimping money off the top but some of the smaller firms probably are. And these renovations are so inexpensive that most people — in Shanghai at least — redo their homes every two years or so. That can be seen in the last two apartments I lived in where the plaster started bubbling, cracking and falling off the walls and ceilings after I lived in them for about a year (I lived in my first place for about 18 months and my second place for two years).

I’ve lived in my current place for about nine months and so far everything is okay — if that’s due to the fact that it was just renovated right before I moved in I don’t know. I hope it’s because my landlord, who is a great person, got better materials. If the system is going to change any time soon is also another question we don’t have the answer to. I think it’s really only going to happen when money makes it more worthwhile to drive the creation of a DIY renovation culture in China (though I am not sure if this will drive labourers and contractors to spend more money on building materials).

What about anybody else who’ve lived in China or other countries? Do you also have stories like this?

J.

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Filed under China Business, China Society

Top Ten Lists

I hate writing Top ten lists, but I love finding and reading them — and I discovered two beauties today:

Anyone else find any other interesting top ten lists?

J.

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Filed under China Business, China Society

Across China on Foot: Study of A Changing China at A Very Exciting Time

across-china-on-foot.jpg

One of the things I did on my Christmas vacation was finish Edwin John Dingle’s Across China on Foot— one of the great books in China Economic Review’s CER Classic series.

Dingle decided in 1909 to walk across Western China to learn about the country and particularly its mysterious interior. He decided with a friend to take a boat from Singapore — where he was living at the time — to Shanghai. From Shanghai he then traveled up the Yangtze River by boat to the city of Chongqing. But from Chongqing on, Dingle decided to give up the boat and walk across the country into the province of Yunnan and eventually into British-controlled Burma. It took him about a year and half — a delay was caused by a life-threating bout of malaria.

As Paul French’s blurb on the front cover says Dingle does follow in the steps of the British gentleman traveler. But for me, it was Dingle’s anthropological study of the people in an area that was — and still pretty much is — untouched by the wealth and progress being made on China’s eastern coast.

You can also tell that writing this book had a deep effect on Dingle. After writing this book, he stayed on in China and founded the journal that later became the Far Eastern Economic Review. Dingle’s life after he left China is a little bit stranger — he went onto found a meditation and sex cult based on the idea of “Mental Physics” in the 1920s that kept him alive until the ripe old age of 91.

J.

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Filed under Reading List

Merry Christmas

Well Christmas Day is here and it’s time to say Merry Christmas to everyone. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve decided to take Christmas and Boxing Day off to enjoy the holiday season. Therefore I’m taking a break from blogging for those two days as well. I hope your Christmas will be just as relaxing and enjoyable as mine is.

And just in case you haven’t finished Christmas gift shopping yet here are two recommendations:

  1. ¬†Check out Phantom Shanghai by Greg Girard. It’s got amazing photos and great writing by author William Gibson and photographer Leo Rubinfien. I’ve bought it for somebody on my Christmas list but I won’t say who!
  2.  And this was sent to me by a good friend in Ottawa. From TechCrunch:


Rachel Ray Gets Shangby’d

via TechCrunch by Nick Gonzalez on 12/20/07


shangby.pngOne relatively young startup, Shangby, has been receiving national coverage this holiday season. Rachel Ray’s cooking show covered the Austin based company before we got our hands on it. The site is like an online Home Shopping Network for goods made in Shanghai.

On most nights they host a live video exhibition from 6PM PST / 8 PM CST. During the broadcasts, viewers can call in to 1-866-212-0875 to ask questions about the products and even haggle over prices. You can also buy items on the site based off of a recorded cast.Live video really captures the look and feel of a good in context, where thumbnails and galleries can be misleading.

Although the company started with Shanghai because of the low prices (price comparisons), specifically around the pearl business, you could imagine the concept working for other locales with low prices, but where shops don’t have an online export business. Mix this idea with a Justin.tv-style head cam and you could have an army of personal shoppers.

Merry Christmas

J.

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Filed under China Business, Personal

Art is Now Just Part of the Chinese Production Line

I read a really interesting post today by James Fallows, the Atlantic’s China correspondent. Entitled, “Workshop of the World, Fine Arts Division”, it details Fallows’ visit to a fine arts “village” outside Shenzhen. But instead of being an artists’ colony like you would see in Europe, the US — or even Beijing, it’s a series of factories were they mass produce almost every type of art — from European Old Masters to the latest in hip Chinese art — you can imagine by hand!

It just makes me go WOW! It’s like Andy Warhol’s Factory team that used to mass produce his silk-screen series of paintings, but on a much larger scale. And I pretty much guarantee that most of this art is being bought by new middle class Chinese who are looking for something to decorate their living rooms (Fallows’ post didn’t say). Part of the reason, I say this is because I’ve tried to mail Chinese art to my parents in the past and ran into a lot of problems getting it cleared through customs — so much so that I didn’t send the piece and will try to bring it with us when Winnie and I come home in June.

The other reason is that as the Chinese middle class grows and gets wealthier, they are willing to spend money on very non-essential items. That doesn’t just mean buying a second TV or a flashy car (and it’s debatable if those items can be considered essential or not). It means doing things like taking vacations aboard and buying art. Just like most Chinese are going aboard for the first time in large chartered tour groups, matching baseball caps, flags and all, their first experience buying art is buying prints like those Fallows’ describes in his post.

How long that will last though is anyone’s guess. Those Chinese with more money are already buying a lot of contemporary Chinese art at high prices at Hong Kong auctions and even though foreigners are getting in on the trend right now, I think it’s Chinese people that are going to keep the industry growing long-term.
I am sure this will spread to other industries as well as Chinese people have more money to spend and as quality demands go up. Evidence for this comes from another blog post I read this morning. It’s by Andrea Learned of the Marketing Profs website and she was talking about Western men’s buying habits becoming more like women’s, but I think this quote can apply to the Chinese consumer as well:

“it seems society may have reached a point where men are considered no less masculine if they pay good money for a nice sweater, a facial or a safer car. We live in a world of abundance, and EVERYONE now expects/demands much more relevance and higher standards of service from brands. And, brands have to listen, because they are now scrambling to keep, let alone grow, their markets.The way I see it, men are discovering what women have long known and acted upon as consumers. Any brand that saw this coming, and spent time to learn more and become relevant to women, now has a serious advantage. Kudos to those that did.”

Replace the men in the above paragraph with “Chinese” and I think you get the point. Brands that offer quality and added value to the growing Chinese middle class — and effectively demonstrate that to consumers through their marketing campaigns — are going to be rewarded later once that market grows to become an even significant force than it is today.

J.

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Filed under China Business, China Society