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June 16, 2005

Weekend in Nanjing

Terry and I just took another of our delightful trips. For me, as usual, it was a multi-task experience; for Terry, resting and a little action.

I worked Thursday afternoon. With my colleague and friend Liu Sheng, I am helping bosses Jim and Jamie Kaplan develop a long-term strategy in China for Harlan Global Mfg., as our company is now called. Terry got her CNN fix in the hotel and joined us for a nice Italian dinner.

I spent much of Friday doing research at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. This was the first post-1949 joint Sino-U.S. university program. It is still unique with respect to equality between the two partners. It also constitutes one-third of the subject matter for my dissertation reseach on private associations in U.S.-China relations. In the morning, I interviewed the Chinese and American co-directors. One of them gave me a free lunch ticket (the vegetarian cafeteria food was was pretty good) and turned me loose to line up my own student interviewees. I did that, interviewing two after lunch and another that evening, after Terry and I treated him to dinner. In between, Terry and I took a nice long walk to the Xinhua Bookstore, where we each compensated for an oversight. She brought a mystery she had already read, and I brought several tapes onto which I had already recorded interviews. (I should note here that I am blessed with a couple of very understanding bosses. They feel I'm working hard enough that they don't have a problem with my taking a few short research trips over the summer.)

Saturday morning, we headed for the lake that hosted our first Dragon Boat Race. A fewer larger cities have a race every year, coinciding with a holiday that has some complex semi-mythological origins that I don't yet fully understand. Watching the race was a lot of fun, as was strolling around the lake and through the park surrounding. Also a treat was spending the day with a Mr. Wang and his nine-year-old daughter, Wang Lina. We met them on the way in, as the little girl wanted to practice her 10 words of English with us and we needed directions to the ticket both. We enjoyed their company, and I got in lots of speaking and listening practice.

Sunday morning, we visited the Musuem of the 1937 Japanese Massacre, which commemorates the event widely know in English as the Rape of Nanjing. Over 300,000 unarmed Chinese were ruthlessly slaughtered over a period of several weeks. I had gone to the musuem before, but this was Terry's first visit. We also took Tao Ling, a colleague from Nanjing. She and I had for about six months been planning such a visit. The museum is moving, something of a cross between the Holocaust and Vietnam museums in Washington, D.C. I find it incredible that there are presently people in Japan trying to rehabilitate the war criminals that were tried and punished by an international tribunal at the end of WWII. The bright spot is that some Japanese have truly repented. Much of the funding for the museum, for example, came from Japanese citizens.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 02:27 PM

Buying a filing cabinet - I

China, for the most part, uses a different filing system than does the U.S.

Indiviuals, government agencies, and businesses typically use a series of ring or clip binders, lable the spines of these binders, and array them vertically on shelves. The system works just fine. I use it myself in a few cases. For most (non-electronic) file-and-retrieve situations, however, I prefer the drawer-and-folder system to which I've grown accustomed over the decades, at work and at home. And the focus here is at home. I am accumulating written documents as part of my dissertation research, and they are beginning to get unwieldy. On return trips to the U.S., I've picked up a few dozen of the Globe-Weiss "red rope" pocket folders that I prefer. I now have them filed in cardboard boxes lying all over the floor.

So, I decided I need to buy a U.S.-style filing cabinet. I haven't seen one in Nantong. An expatriate who has been here for a decade says his company bought all of theirs in Shanghai. We've dined a couple of times recently with our friends C.B. and Beulah Sung, who commute between California and China, and they confirmed that there is a manufacturer in Shanghai. Buying from Shanghai didn't sound easy, so I made one last effort at local procurement. My friend pharmacist Ji told me I could by a filing cabinet, and he took me to the department store that had them. What they have, though, is the typical Chinese version that actually has one U.S.-style drawer and then 80% other types of shelving and cabinets. But I can "ding zuo" (special order). Well, that sounds "mafan" (troublesome), too.

I was in Nanjing last weekend and noticed that our company's office there has several of the type filing cabinet I want to buy. They are all made by the same company in Shanghai, and my colleague Jiang Fan sent me a link to the company's website. I can buy a nice unit (two side-by-side stacks of two drawers with two smaller drawers on top) for about 1000 rmb. But the company won't ship. I would have to hire my own driver to go to Shanghai and bring them back! Not only would that add 50% to the cost of the cabinet, but it would be a real nuissance. So, I've arranged to "ding zuo" a similar unit for about the same price (but lots less for delivery) from the friendly woman in Nantong. I'm going to pay today and should get the cabinet in a few days.

Stay tuned for the results. Meanwhile, some might find entertaining a discussion of other expatriates' frustration on this issue: http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/index.php?name=MDForum&file=viewtopic&t=13798&highlight=filing+cabinet.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 01:59 PM

New Supermarket in Nantong

There are actually two new supermarkets in Nantong, but we've only gone to one of them so far.

The one we didn't go to yet is called Lotus in English. I'm not sure of the Chinese name or what the corporate nationality is. The one we did go to is the German-owned Metro (Mai De Lang in Chinese). I am sure it is a sign of things to come in mid-sized urban China. The store is all on one floor, like Wal-Mart in the U.S., rather than having speciality shops on the ground floor, sundry goods on the second level, and groceries on the third, like most Chinese supermarkets and the leading-market-share foreign supermarket, France's Carrefour.

The most striking thing is that there is a large, U.S.-shopping-center-style parking lot in front. So far, it is 80% unused. There are dozens of motorcyles parked along the side, and a few bicycles. There is only one bus, from the city center. This contrasts with the Da Run Fa, a Chinese-owned supermarket where we usually shop. The latter is at city center and is accessible by half a dozen bus routes. Plus, taxis and both the motorized and unmotorized 3-wheel taxis hover in front, awaiting passengers. (Not to mention beggars, shoe shine ladies, and unsavory guys offering rides on the backs of their motorcycles.) At Metro, the polite staff will call a taxi for you when you have completed your day's shopping. The Metro is located at the outskirts of the city, next to a huge lot that, according to the large signs on site, will eventually spawn a very large complex of upscale office and apartment buildings.

The inside of the Metro is full of goods, but not people. From the latest fancy appliances to daily necessities to an assortment of imported liquor and food items on a par with Shanghai supermarkets, the shelves are full. But customers barely outnumber the staff. I cannot imagine how this store can make a profit during its first five years. I assume, though, that the German owners have a long-term business strategy of locking in the loyalty of the burgeoning business and professional classes.

We walked to the store, which takes only about 40 minutes, since we live on the near west side of the city and Metro is toward the western edge. We returned by taxi, which costs only 10rmb, or a little more than a dollar. The only inconvenience is that the store doesn't supply the little handled plastic bags that everyone in China is accustomed to getting. There we were, having paid for our goods an pushed our cart past the cashier, and we realized that our groceries hadn't been bagged. An inquiry resulted in the opportunity to purchase a pair of duffle-bag-sized heavy plastic reusable bags. Oh, another very convenient amenity is local bank ATM machines inside the store.

Terry and I will probaby end up going to the Metro about once a month, to buy specialties like gnochi and olive oil. For routine shopping, though, we prefer the urban walk to the Da Run Fa.

-- Norty

Posted by now at 01:29 PM