Monday, October 16, 2017

Letter to China Wife

Let’s face it.  After much thought and consideration, I’ve concluded Me and China Girl are not fit for each other.   I’ve written about this before(somewhere deep in the blog, I know not where), but all I can say is that experience tells me so.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing.  Maybe I’m simply blinded by the fact I’m with an old school, spoiled and very much self entitled China Woman.   Someone who freely admits “I’m glad I grew up without siblings, that way I got everything I wanted in life.”

I sit in a parking lot as I write this.  I have a two hour wait ahead of me.  I’ve just driven my daughter 25 miles to a Saturday SAT class.  Yes, she is now preparing(yet again) for a test still two years off in the distance.   Yet while I want my daughter to exceed and do well, will I really be upset if I can avoid paying $45,000 a year in out of state tuition?

I know which questions not to ask(“are there any white kids in the class?”)

Instead I go the surreptitious route:

“All Indians and Chinese, eh?”

“No Dad, just Chinese.”

I cringe at China Wife’s incessant efforts at fitting a square peg into a round hole which is my way of describing how China Wife tries to raise our daughter.

It’s hard being the offspring of a Chinese Mom.

You see, China Wife’s high school was and is different from yours and mine.
China Wife didn’t have a Homecoming Game.  Nope, didn’t have that Homecoming Dance either. 

 (You can guess there was certainly no Homecoming King and Queen, right?)

China Wife’s high school is surrounded by a wall and guards, like all schools in China are.  There was no Spirit Day.  No “Gear” to buy.  You take a test, and hope you simply get into the high school your parents want you to go to.   Then you study four years for the GaoKao.  That’s it.

No pep rallies.  No clubs.

In short, there is no “high school experience” in China.  Rather, it is a drab and dreary existence.  Sky blue sweat pants and a white shirt.   Sucks up get a red scarf.

But back to Me.

I wonder yet again and surely not for the last time am I in this position because of weakness?   Lack of fortitude and mental toughness?  I freely admit I am in this position because I want to be around my kids as much as possible, and like living in my big house thank you very much.  I lack the courage to do anything else.  And I marvel at those Men willing to walk away from the above.   I’m just not there yet, and I don’t know when I will be.  Tomorrow?  No.   6 months from now?  Who knows?

I live with a China Woman that has pretty much renounced sex.   Which is unfair because she’s still young and seems to like it whenever she falls into having it.

But I’ve digressed. 

I’ve yet again come to the conclusion I’m simply not fit for this job.  The job of Husband of Tiger Mom.  I don’t like this aspect of China’s culture.  As this post rolls into Sunday it is not an hour ago I saw my Father in law non chalantly kill a turtle on our kitchen floor.   He simply stepped on it.  Turtle Soup Night, you see.  

Please, must we kill things in the house?

(Turns out it wasn’t very good.  China Wife complained the turtle was too old.  They bought it for $10 at the Chinese market.)

I’m simply not built to handle the way of thinking that pervades the inner reaches of my realm. But China Wife’s friends are worse.  One attractive woman actually sent her kid to SAT class for 6 hours a day during the summer.  As a sophomore!  And he nearly got a perfect score.  I look at him, then my daughter, and I gasp.

I’ve been writing this blog for 5 years now(?).  I’m surprised myself I haven’t ran out of topics to talk about.  Yeah my writing is far and few between, but my posts longer.  (so there!)   But I don’t think I’ve spent as much time on this topic as it deserves.

When it comes to living within the Chinese community I find I’m the square peg in the round hole.  Like I’ve said in the past, the Chinese here don’t want to “hear” what I have to say.   If forced, Chinese want to talk to people that have never been to China.  Easier to control the narrative.  They run away from jaded laowai such as myself. 

They disdain the fact I speak Chinese.  They disdain my knowledge of them.  They approach me differently.  Warily.   China Wife has begged me not to go to dinner parties with her. 

 (“You mean I have to stay home alone and watch Netflix?  And not pretend to be interested in 
talking to your boring friends?  Well…..ok!”)

It’s gotten to the point where I’m having to constantly coach my children on how to approach China Mom.  Why is that? 

Because China Wife had no fucking clue on how to approach her own kids!  Note to China Wife:  as long as you use the same approach for each child you will have problems. 

I know I can’t win.  All I can do is skillfully retreat, as quickly and silently as possible. I’m good at that.  The latest blowup I could hear all the way from the backyard.

This time China Mother in Law witnessed the entire exchange between daughter and China Wife.   How did China MIL explain China Wife’s screaming at her daughter?

“She screams at you because she loves you.”


The Chinese have taken full measure of the West.  They see old buildings and ancient church steeples in Europe and think “how quaint”.   They see large cities in America(Houston and Atlanta come to mind) with their handful of tall buildings and they think “is this it?”.  

“Is this what the greatest nation in the world really looks like?  Seriously?”

(It is as this point one learns to read minds….”We can bully this country, too.”)

“Why doesn’t every city have a subway?”

“Why aren’t there 100 story buildings in Los Angeles or San Francisco?”

The Chinese are simplistic and cosmetic.  (“You’re rich. Let’s get married!”)

I’m constantly reminded of who’s child went to Harvard, or which family bought the new house in the new development. My subdivision has 3 Harvard kids by the way(read it and weep!)   I hear rumors about “who stole money from China?”.  etc.  I hear it all.    Sometimes I think I probably just married the crazy one.  And there’s a point to that.  Believe it or not, some Chinese parents are perfectly content to let their kids go to a local state school.   But we are not.  And from that, everything trickles down.

Still I’m tired of the judging.  And I’m tired of the neverending comparisons.  My family’s background compared to another family’s background.   It irritates China Wife she cannot brag about my family.   Married to China Wife is simply not fun.  It’s work.  The Fontenot Household breathes heavily with the expectations of success.   All I can say is sorry dear, this is not the Kennedy Household cum 1938.

The focus is on attainment of material things, rather than happiness and contentment.    The bigger house and the newer car.  The constant aspiration for new things.   Ensure their daughters marry a rich Chinese Boy of another Tiger Mom.  On and on and on. 

My biggest struggle is just ensuring I’m in the room to make a counterpoint.

“Now remember, you want to marry a rich man.”

“No you don’t, you want to marry someone based off compatibility, not wealth.”

“You need to work harder!”

“You need to work smarter.”

Finally, China Wife turns and glares:

“You need to support everything I say to our children.”

“You can’t raise them through brute force.  Each child is different.”

In the Chinese mind, you can raise them through brute force.  All children are obedient.  The more obedient, the easier to mold.   Nevermind how they look at 25.   Stoic, exhausted and confused. 

As for China Wife, it is simple; material things, new things…..these all lead to happiness.  The spiritual? It cannot be seen, and cannot be measured against one’s peers.  Thus is of no value.  The Chinese do not ponder.  They do not reflect.  Rather, they gawk, and whisper.

They tell their children the goal of life is to attain nice… stuff.  Yet wonder why their children are successful yet eventually unhappy?   Yet completely miss the boat on the emotional fulfillment side of things.   We as parents need to ensure our children are emotionally able to cope with life.   My chief job is to prepare my own children for failure.   It will come.   Not everyone with a great SAT score will go to Harvard.  When the kids of China Mom get that rejection letter how will they respond?  Will they fall apart and lock themselves in their room for days on end, full of shame and inadequacy?

When one has never grown up in a country with Japanese cars, the unrelenting pursuit of happiness does indeed go through your local Lexus dealer .   It is the greatest of ironies that my biggest struggle with China Wife, with China Culture is that despite a 5000 year history(haven’t you heard?) I find the average Chinese still struggles on a daily basis with a sense of sophistication and context, ie Houston and Atlanta don’t have a lot of skyscrapers because all financial decisions are made locally, and well, the numbers need to make sense.   That doesn’t make those cities poor, or backward, just fiscally sound.

Rather, I find Chinese Culture is still and will be for quite a while an artificial pursuit of happiness. 

But maybe, just maybe I’m missing something?

In a land where there is no vote. No ability to own property, and criminally high import taxes on luxury vehicles, could it be that once Chinese go abroad those are precisely the things they pursue?

The first stage of development is the material worship of goods?  That “keeping up with the Joneses” is actually normal?”

The flaunting of wealth amongst the Chinese is unavoidable where I live. Not all Chinese are this way, mind you.  But enough to convince me to “skip” the newest home warming party.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


I think it’s time to write this tale, about a girl I knew.  Thus the delay on this particular post. Because writing what I want to write about, regarding China Girl is never easy.  Not short.  This will probably as such be a long post.   It was never a love story.  Yet how we met and what transpired will reinforce to many the stereotypes most folks have of both the laowai and China Girl.

I’ve wrote of Lin.   The outwardly conservative, very successful business lady who couldn’t find a man.

I’ve written of the emotionally abused girl whose mother used violence to channel her frustrations at her daughter’s unwillingness to marry at such a young age.

Now it’s time for the girl with no name.  Simply because I’ve forgotten it.   Yeah, her name was probably worth remembering.  And that’s on me. 

About a decade ago, a bit more, I went to a club called YES.  It’s in the Luohu district of Shenzhen.  It’s an older club.  It’s also a place for people like me.  Middle aged folks with jobs and cars and performance reviews.   There are no pretty people in this bar, but there are quite a few prostitutes.  All lined up in a row, talking with each other, their occupations well hidden by their very lack of beauty.
I was asked by a coworker of mine to show up to this particular spot, as a supplier would be there as well.  The unspoken but understood meaning was “Free booze”.    So he gave me directions and off I went. I rolled in around 10 or so I guess.  Early.  The place was still mostly empty accept for a simple table where both the supplier and colleague sat.  Yet the music was already loud.

I grabbed a drink and we made small talk.  My colleague of course didn’t speak Chinese.  It’s always awkward when this happens.  Things are so much easier in China when I can simply speak Mandarin. Having to be conscious of my coworkers not being able to speak Chinese always puts me in a bit of a bind.  First of all, it will without question eventually engender resentment. 

“Why are you speaking Mandarin?  You know fucking well asshole I can’t understand Chinese!  The supplier speaks English, you know!”

I’ve found from experience that is when the corporate plotting begins.  Either your company loves you or they simply can’t wait to get rid of you. 

The days are gone when American Corporations publicly loathe how Americans don’t speak a foreign language.  Those days are long, long gone.  And that boat ain’t coming back….ever!
When I learned Mandarin it was truly a cool thing.  And important.  I stood out.  Now, it’s

“Well we kinda expect a Chinese can fill this job”,


“All the factories have people that speak English”

Of course the only ones who don’t appreciate my readers’ ability to speak Mandarin are the Directors and VP’s of companies that can’t speak it themselves.   American companies, with their trillions in the bank(you know, the same companies asking for a tax cut?) utterly refuse to hire a young man or lady with experience on the ground in China, and treat it as an asset IF they also have to spend 6 months training that person.  (If you are an MBA grad fresh out of school that might be different.)

So I say again Young American with a future (I can only speak to my own country on this) don’t ever assume your Mandarin will get you a job.  It will only supplement your skill, not substitute for it.   And always be leary of speaking Mandarin too frequently in front of your colleagues.

The music was growing louder.

I made small talk with both the supplier and the colleagues…in English.  With drink in hand, I told them I’d walk around a bit. 

I didn’t walk far.

Not 10 feet from our table was another table that faced the dance floor.  Two women were sitting there.  They must have noticed me as I walked in, as one of them turned around right away and said hi.   I said hi back, and she started speaking to me in English.  You know, the simple stuff.  She asked for my number, and I gave it.  I mean, she asked right away.   Within 30 seconds of saying hi, we were exchanging numbers. 

I walked back to the supplier and the colleague of mine(who has since married a Chinese, has a daughter and lives in Nashville.)    

I said thanks for the drink and I left.  I don’t now recall what I did.  But I probably went to another bar.  It was Friday night.   I hadn’t stayed more than 15-20 minutes.
Sunday night I got a text.

It is these situations where good record keeping is important. Frequently I simply couldn’t hear the name of a girl from the din of the noise in the club.  Often I’d simply put down “girl from Yes”, or something like that.  Sounds bad I know.   (As if any of them could spell Fontenot, right?)
But it kept things straight in my head and was good for me.

But this was even worse. 

I’d thought I’d saved her number but hadn’t.

All I got was this text in English.  Bad, broken English.

Basically she asked if she could come over.

She reminded me who it was, a great relief to me.

I said yes.

Not too long afterwards there she was, in my 3 bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking the pool.

She continued speaking to me in English, and I swear this is where it got awkward;

It went something like, and I paraphrase;

“I think you’re a nice man.  Can we have sex tonight?”

I nodded.

The actual conversation took about 5 minutes and was in English the whole time.  I couldn’t understand 90% of what she said. 

“Ok, I go take a shower now.”

Her accent was so thick I could only guess at what she was trying to say. 

She walked off down the hall.

I sat there trying to mentally interpret what she had just said.  I had thought she had said the words 

“sex” and “shower”, but I really wasn’t sure.

Then I actually heard the water running.

My head yanked up and I decided to walk towards my room to see what was going on.
Sure enough China Girl was showering. I poked my head in.  I could see red panties.

Were we having sex tonight

How do I play this? 

My first order of business was to not look bad in this whole affair.  But could I be blamed for thinking the way I did?  I mean, there was no dinner, no movie.  Sure wasn’t much foreplay.  Definitely didn’t have a date.

I felt awkward and uncertain.  Yet wasn’t I about to have sex with a beautiful woman?

Oh yes…the physical qualities!

She was tall. Probably around 5.9’ or so.  (1.7m?)

She had dark skin.  Not one of these crazy white skin at all cost types.  Long hair.  Skin wasn’t great but not too bad either.  And in jeans her ass looked really nice.   In short she was a bit of an Amazon.   And like most Shenzhen girls she was from Hunan(Henan?) 

And I had no clue what her name was.  But she was in my apartment taking a shower.

Finally I realized what my problem was;  I had no control of the situation.  I certainly didn’t have the initiative.   As such I was uncomfortable with this whole thing.  Confused.

Then I realized what was almost certainly going on.

She simply wanted to use my shower!

I felt better now about things.   After all, when I first came to China and lived in the dorms this was actually common practice.  Albeit only the daring China Girls did this.  I had a Japanese classmate whom I shared a bathroom with, that sometimes would have a sudden Chinese female visitor come by, shampoo and all in tow, with the simple purpose of using our supply of hot water to take a shower.  Because in 1990 China simply didn’t have a regular supply of hot water to use.   A few times a week hot water would be turned on and all the University Girls would line up to wash their hair, etc during this time period.

The above was a simple enough explanation and also the perfect example of one being self delusional.  I realized this when I saw her in my bed.

Within a second I played it off as best I could and showered as well in the other bathroom.
Then I walked over, got into bed, noticed her towel still on( gotta keep some face!), and just like that we had sex.    And just like that it was over.   Now there are few things I’m perhaps better at today than a decade or even two decades ago.   I think I can run nearly as fast.  I still have my basketball shot.  But I know without a fact I’m a much better lover today than when I was 20.  Or 30.  And yeah, probably 40.

But for all those girls still fortunate enough to have hooked up with me when I was younger I am sorry.

But on that Sunday night while I was no thoroughbredI was definitely no pony.   I didn’t disappoint.  But still….

After disposing of my condom and jumping back into bed, she suddenly sit up, and with my sheets held to her chest she spoke her first sentence of Chinese to me:


Thus began our relationship.

Unlike most others though it was inverted.  There was no buildup. We had sex right away, got to know each other later.    And in retrospect probably the closest to a Chinese nymph I ever came across.   She never spent the night, yet would make the appointed rounds on regular visits.  Middle of the week…weekends. 

Right away the factory I was stationed at heard about her.  How? From my fucking gossipy driver of course.    The word got back she was “tall”, and within a few weeks even the female staff was teasing me.  The driver had spotted her, upon dropping me off, well before I had.  She of course didn’t have a key to my apartment, and as such stood out as she slowly walked back and forth outside the gate waiting for me in her long cowhide coat.   Then of course the driver upon dropping me off would follow her gaze to me, and well after that, I made a mental note for her to never wait outside the gate again.

My main rule with China Girl(all of them), was never to go clubbing with them.  I honestly considered clubbing my private time.  I could sit at the bar, surrounded by the drunks, the couples, the groups of all sorts and usually be left alone.   No one thought I spoke Chinese and as such I was frequently ignored.  And that was fine by me.

But when me and “cowgirl” were together, I noticed right away how “open” she was. by now I hope you realize this will not be a 2 part post   So here we go:

China Girl liked to masturbate.  No sin in that.  But to date she is the only Chinese Girl I’ve ever been with that has masturbated either in front of me or during sex.  The only one. 

The first time I saw it was like this:

We were on my sofa making out when suddenly she pulled her jeans down and red panties(more red panties!) and started rubbing herself.  I was completely in shock.  I just sat there dumbfounded, fully dressed.  I decided to stand up.   I watched.  Her eyes were closed.   She climaxed within 60 seconds, guttural sounds and all.   And it’s at this point I’m feeling rather helpless.

Throughout our relationship this trend would continue. Sometimes to my detriment. Once when giving her oral sex on the sofa(on the sofa, yet again!), she suddenly pushed me away and continued the job on her own.  And again she climaxed.

It’s hard to remain confident in one’s abilities if your sexual partner is always masturbating.  I wondered where she developed the habit?  Probably some bad former lover, I surmised.  All the same she was obviously insensitive to what her male sexual partner might think.  
The funny thing about China Girl is she always wore red panties.  Which if you know your Chinese culture tells you she was around 24 or 25 ie marrying age. 本命年  Of course I knew nothing about this sort of thing then.

Both men and women wear red underwear.  Many of the women wear them nearly every day.  Every twelve years, it is considered good luck to go out and buy yourself lots of red lingerie!  I thought it pretty cool until my assistant, a male, bought them to wear as well.

I began to realize yeah, it just might be hard to sexually satisfy a girl so used to stimulating herself.   I noticed a few more things about her.   One, she really rocked in jeans, but once she was out of the jeans, her ass sagged.   And it wasn’t that attractive.   That is a mean thing to say.  But it wasn’t her fault. 

Eventually we began to have sex at least twice each time she came over.  She was very fit, and once after having had sex twice, then gone out to dinner, she had walked with me a mile back to the apartment.  I wanted her to stay the night, because quite frankly I was feeling horny again and I wanted another go round.  I remember how I kissed her goodbye somewhat tenderly as the taxi driver waited.

Then off she went.

I wondered why she wouldn’t spend the night, and knowing the answer, still asked the question.  The unanimous reply was “she’s living with someone”.

I remember her direct reply to my question: 不方便。 “Inconvenient”

One problem I had with China Girl was that she was always pestering me to have sex with her without wearing anything.   I was worried about this of course, because the last damn thing I wanted to do was get someone pregnant.   Until the end of our days this always, always irritated her.   I thought it best I wear something, as I would last longer.  She thought it best I not, as she would orgasm quicker.   Of course her penchant for not wanting me to wear a condom should’ve told me something right there.

I really liked China Girl’s personality.  She was without question a unique individual.  I discovered she liked to wear wigs.   I thought it amusing.   There were days she wouldn’t come by, and I’d get angry with her, and text her as much.   She’d simply reply to remind me to dress warmer as Shenzhen was growing colder.

Then one day, and I don’t recall why, our conversation turned a bit.  Maybe I brought it up. But I remember very distinctly what I said:

“I won’t date you if you have a boyfriend.  And if you do, I don’t want to know.” 

I honestly felt that way at the time.   She didn’t say much in return. 

China Girl was all business. She’d come by, we’d have small chat, then we’d go right back to my bedroom and get at it. 

But on this night I took her out to a nice restaurant over at Coco Park, a nice trendy part of Shenzhen, very new at the time, yet very near my place.   It was busy and we got put literally in the middle of the restaurant, with tables surrounding us on all sides.   Many easily within eavesdropping distance, should the assholes so wish to do so. 

While at restaurants I knew damn well many a bored Chinese customer knew exactly where I was sitting and with who, as long as a Chinese girl was involved.  That’s what bored people do right?  

Simply look at other people!

I didn’t like the attention, but was used to it.  As such, I always countered by having as innocuous a conversation as possible with whoever I was with.   Pretty much “nothing here to hear, move along”  to the next laowai table you can eavesdrop at.

Well, China Girl probably took what I had said earlier about my own “principles” a wee too seriously, because she chose her timing well.   That is, in a restaurant, during a meal surrounded by dozens of people, thus forcing me to just sit there and smile throughout her entire story.   She probably felt I’d be upset or angry.  I dunno.   All the same she had me where she wanted me.

Her story started with the ominous,

“There’s something I want to tell you.”

I listened only halfheartedly, too busy getting my money’s worth at the dinner table.

“I have a boyfriend.  But I don’t like him, and I don’t know what to do.  I know you’ll be angry but I thought you should know.  I’ve been with him since I was 20.  We were originally engaged.  He was 25 at the time.  He even brought me back to his hometown during Chinese New Year.  But over time I lost interest in him, and don’t know how to break it off.  He has a key to my apartment, and I never know when he’ll show up.  He comes by a few nights a week and stays over.”

While she continued in a steady, I'd say mildly defiant clip, the confusion of it at it all began to clear from my mind.  Deceit had been involved from Day One.   Which strangely enough didn't bother me.  I would continue to find deceit along the way, with others.   Sometimes I felt I was simply a toy put in the closet for later use when the boyfriend was gone.  

“We argue a lot.  I tell him he’s changed, but he simply replies I’m the one who’s changed, that he’s simply stayed the same. He’s 31 now.”

She had a wistful air about her, as I listened to this.  Kind of like a “so what are you gonna do?” look on her face as she told me this story.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

She simply replied,

“I know you didn’t want to know, but I thought I should tell you anyway.”

“He’s just not in my heart”, she said.

I didn’t get up and leave.   I simply continued my meal.  I don’t recall what we did later that night.  We’d probably already had sex at my apartment before going out for dinner anyway.
But I recall anger in myself that quickly dissipated to mere disappointment.

Was I really gonna break up with this girl over this?

Of course not I instantly decided.  And in a way that made me feel bad.  I wondered what principles I had left?   I simply told myself they were out of love anyway. 

She told me how the guy was under pressure to get married, and she of course was as well.  He was ready NOW to get married.  Simple as that.  His family kept asking about her.   All she knew was that she needed a way out, but had none.  Instead she was sleeping with a guy a couple of nights per week that she had no emotional attachment to.   I immediately felt empathy.   She wanted an escape where she felt there was none.  Her unhappiness ran deep.  

As I write this later I have to wonder if he was the one paying the rent? 

I asked her why she didn’t simply change the locks?

“That would make him angry”, she replied.

That night was the turning point in our relationship.

It’s hard not to be a cad in China.  If one speaks(or even doesn’t) Chinese, likes his drink, and likes the atmosphere inside a club, it’s inevitable one will come across women.  Or even outside the club.  Sooner or later a man in China will have his opportunity.   If I wasn’t half as shy I would’ve come across even more.  Perhaps it was this accessibility though that made me devalue my relationship with her.  Upon reflection I’d say this was definitely the case.

And I didn’t want to be involved in a triangle.  Nevermind the eventual countless affairs I eventually had with married women(all in the future!), at that point in my life I just wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster my future portended with her.  Maybe her speaking to me, revealing these things to me was therapy on her part.  But I didn’t want to come along for the ride, dude.   Uh oh.  Not me.  No fucking way.

So things began to wind down shortly after that.  I’d come back to China and not tell her I was here. I stopped texting here.  Stopped thinking about her.   Like I said.  Accessibility devalues relationships.  That’s why it’s hard for the laowai in China to commit.  Either he has to change, or he has to really meet someone special(both happened, at the right time, but I’m not ready to tell that story).

Finally one night I was in the club, leaving the men’s room.  I received a text from her.  We had been going back and forth. 

“I’m not in your heart, I know”.

I didn’t reply.  I simply deleted her number, and went back to my drink.  And we never spoke again.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Another business post rant

A few days ago I was directed to a supplier’s website.  I took a look.  Some of the products were quite nice.  Their selection quite broad. I was interested.  I contacted them.  I requested a look at their company catalogue.  To my surprise, I was told I needed a password to gain entry.  Having already seen some of their product, my appetite whetted, I told them a bit about my company background. 

I got the password.

Upon “entry” I was quite impressed with the range of product.  Working under the old adage, 

“Chinese know Chinese”, I could see why a password was required.   And if I were in their shoes, I’d do the same.

A few days later, having caught my breath, I began ordering samples from them.   The response I received surprised me somewhat;

“Out of production”

“Out of stock”

“No inventory”

WTF?  Seriously?

I couldn’t help but ask the question: 

“If it is out of production, why is it still in the catalogue?”

First to even have a password was unusual.   But I get it.

Next, you wanted a list of my credentials to gain entry to your “selection” of product.  Ok.  A bit of shameless grandstanding if you ask me, considering there are a hundred factories just like yours, making similar product, but fair enough.

But to have the gall to then tell me with a straight face that you don’t even have the product listed in your catalogue is simply beyond logical explanation.

But I kept asking for samples, and they kept telling me the same.

Finally, I gave up.  I eventually only found about 20% of what I was interested in.

The supplier then sheepishly admitted,

“We haven’t updated our catalogue since 2012…….”

Once I read those words I simply bust out laughing, alone, in my office.

All these “factories” are basically nothing more than assembly shops.  Some mysterious guy builds the key components, only ships them in red and black, and everyone else uses them to assemble their final product in their own “factory”.  

To me the definition of a “factory” is the ability to build your own parts, regardless what you may do with them later on.   Usually final assembly, but not necessarily.  Even better though if you have your own tooling factory as well. 

Turns out the same product I’m seriously looking at buying right now is the same product many other factories have as well.  They even use the same material.   Plastic on the body, zinc on the tip.  The same design, the same material….even the same color.

“You can have it any color you want as long as it’s red or black.”

When people talk to me about innovation in China, this is only one story I counter with.  The herd mentality.   I’ve tried to ask them, beg them, to use other material.

Mag alloy for instance.  Mag alloy is lighter than zinc.   Why not use mag alloy? 

“Too expensive”, is their reply.

This technology, to make matters worse, is two years old. 

What gives?

Many customers are just like me; we will give you an idea, never a drawing(which will be stolen, or copied), and you will create the design from that.

The Chinese are expert at new designs, or new ideas off a previous concept.  Most foreign companies, as a result, especially the small ones, rely exclusively off the product expertise of their Chinese supply base. 

“What functions are best? Ask our Chinese supplier!”  The Chinese are quite often the best to bounce ideas off of.   Giving insight as to how to cut costs, or speed a product to market.

The Chinese are now even respecting patents. 

“We’d love to sell you that model.  You know the one in our brochure that you really wanted….but 

I’m afraid it’s under patent to another customer!”

Oh really?

“Mind explaining then why it’s in a brochure?”

So why the hell, after all the good I’ve said above, am I complaining?

Because every factory in the damn province has the same design as the other guy.  There is little differentiation, or building upon a model to make it progressively better.  No improved functionality.

I have firsthand experience regarding Chinese innovation.   Every time I see a laowai Wumao on LinkedIn extolling yet another Chinese achievement I want to roll out a huge fucking grain of salt into his sandbox.   Innovation exists….it’s just not continuous.  More often they are waiting on the laowai customer to bring them something to the table. 

Problem is we laowai have gotten lazy.  Everything is in China.   First we said we’d only take production there to bust the unions.  Then it was in order to avoid bankruptcy.  And finally US companies have just come out and said it;  because American workers are a pain in the ass, with their 60 minute lunch breaks and HR niceties.   Nevermind if the Chinese counterpart wears sandals, is 19 years old and only has a 9th grade education.  He knows how to operate a CNC machine just as well as the guy back home with a mortgage to pay and a kid to put through college.   My guy over here in China hasn’t even had a girlfriend!  And yet he makes in one month what YOU make in 3 days!

Well…the above is still true, but sadly not as much as you may think.  Smaller companies yeah it’s everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  But American companies in China have standards too, and trust me, they have nobody wearing sandals and nobody with only a 9th grade education running a CNC machine. And the Chinese they do have working for them are all pretty fucking smart, up and down the line.  But I’ve digressed in a big way. 

We laowai are all lazy now.  Once the factories shut down we told ourselves “we’ll still keep the designs”, but once the American Senior Managers realized along the lines of, “hey, the Chinese know how to run Auto cad and Solidworks, too!”, those designers back in America took a beating.
And now we’ve basically given up on ideas, too. 

The Chinese have the ideas,  man.  We’ll just go to tradeshows and tweak what they have to suit our needs.

That is, America is now nothing but a country of clerks cutting purchase orders.  The engineers are gone, only the accountants and lawyers are left. 

And that all makes sense until we go to the trade show….and see every booth has the same damn thing!

And a thousand different factories have it.  And for Me and You, that’s a good thing, cause now it’s a buyer’s market.  And the Chinese know it’s a buyer’s market.   And there is nothing they can do about it.  And that means we can save money right?

But at the cost of what?

Remember my Socks Analogy?

Is it really worth taking a way a guys’ job just to be able to say you’ve cut the price of a pair of socks at Wal-Mart .25 cents?

The Chinese themselves are overrated.  China has prospered so quickly all the world thinks every Chinese is a founder of Alibaba.

Anyone that says China is good in business, and more clever than the laowai should actually go to China and try to actually buy something.  Being able to copy a Coach purse doesn’t make one clever in business if 50 other shops within 5 minutes’ walk have the same damn thing.

Today I received the samples I was expecting.   Nearly identical to what I have now, except a different color but with a hook on the end.  Not bad.  And it’s plastic rather than zinc.    And that is the extent of the innovation.   

And my boss loves them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Update on the Inlaws and their apparently overpriced retirement accommodations.

Since I wrote this post, there is an update to be made.  The Chinese inlaws have applied to have their monthly rent lowered from $150 to $65.  I found this out just before the Chinese mother in law went on a cruise in the Caribbean. (First stop:  San Juan!  She studied up on Puerto Rico.  I told her not to worry, they speak English.)

No, the boat did not sink.  She had a whale of a time by the way.

She went with another elderly Chinese lady from her HUD apartment complex.  Apparently her son owns 8 houses within the local area.  Not sure why he just doesn't put his mom up in one of those....I guess because he could never evict her if she didn't pay rent.

I just shake my head at the lunacy of it all.  I have nothing left to say on the matter.  Unless, that is, they managed to bring the rent down lower still.  Surely HUD has rules against rich people living for free.

The irony of it all is my Dad, should he ever decide to sign up, would have to pay about 5 times higher rent.

The original post is case you missed it(I doubt you did)....

One wintry day in Hangzhou I decided I needed a haircut.   I walked behind the dorm, past the pile of coal dust to what apparently was the campus barber.  My cut was rather cheap.   I think it was 5 yuan.  But having lived long enough in China, and coming from a society that just doesn’t brag about how cheap haircuts are, I simply sauntered back to my dorm room.  Upon reaching the top of the stairs I came to our gentlemanly “gate keeper”.   He who ensured our guests were all signed in.  As well as responsible for our comings and goings.

Unlike my previous year in Guangzhou, where I was constantly trying to sneak my girlfriends in without having to sign away their educational future, there was nothing of the sort like this in Hangzhou.  I was already in love with a local girl and though we must have had close to twenty or so male laowai students on that campus not a one had a Chinese lover.  

No one to smuggle in.  No one to sneak out in the dead of night.
So our elderly, grandfatherly “gatekeeper” really didn’t have much of a job.
Yet as I reached the top stair I can tell he had been waiting for me.  A wry, slight smile on his face.    

He was really a nice guy. 

你付了多少钱“, that smile on his face was quite amusing.  He rarely spoke to us, because quite often, none of the young laowai had any real interest carrying on a conversation with him.

With all the cool persona I could muster, I kept a straight face.  I knew I had gotten a great deal.  I was proud of the fact I was the only student “ballsy” enough to go to a “Chinese only” barber.    

Except it wasn’t “Chinese only”.  Anyone could go.  There was no sign on the door.  You simply had to know where it was, and you simply had to be able to speak Chinese.   And that was the catch.
While most of us had learned the basics in class(courtesy of Gubo and Polanka, shout out if you know who I mean, future post in the making), for some damn reason there was never a chapter on “how to get a haircut” in University.
As such, knowing how to properly speak the haircut lingo was a major flaw none of us had mastered, and as such, almost all the laowai went outside the gates to either a hotel or just took along a translator to some salon in town, getting stared at all the time in the process by gawkers peering through windows on the street.

Going to the University Barber was a source of pride for a laowai.  It showed he could speak Chinese!

All the same, it was quite the letdown.  I was the only damn guy in the place, and my barber hardly said a word.  He was a gruff old man with a buzz cut himself.   It was over in minutes.

Alas, I could still claim to having had the nerve not only to go to a barber without need of a translator, but to having by far received the cheapest cut of any of the laowai.   Just another notch in my “why I’m more of a badass than any of you” belt.  

Today it’s all the rage to be “McQueen cool”.   But I’ll be honest.  There was no such phrase in the Western World to my knowledge in 1991.   But I was “laowai cool”.  Because I knew what the Old Man was gonna say, I mean he just couldn’t wait to let it out,



And Boy oh Boy was I tired of hearing Chinese throw that phrase in my face.

Because the meaning was clear, oh so clear.

“You are no ‘中国通!’”.

That aura of superiority all Chinese have over the non suspecting laowai would never fade.  As long as you paid more for something than a Chinese did, you were nothing but a 2nd class citizen dude.   A wimpish amateur that still hadn’t figured out how to get the same price for the most basic of commodities!

But not today.  Not this day, grandpa.  Sorry, because…well you want to know why?  Because as soon as I turned to reach the top of the stairs and I saw that thin smile on that kindly face of yours I knew what you were gonna ask.   And you know what?  I wasn’t gonna rub it your face!   You see, it’s bad form to make a nice man like yourself look bad.  So I was just gonna give you a casual wave, glance at the floor, wear a stoic look like “been there, done that!”, and cool as a cucumber just glide back to my room with the moldy walls, thin mattress, and squeaky box springs.   But you were not gonna get the better of me today.   No fucking way, Kindly Old Man.  You can ask that shit to some just off the boat laowai, but not to the baddass laowai I damn well know I am.
五块钱 “I mutter without breaking step.   About .50 cents at the time.

Grandpa breaks into that smile, and flashes five fingers.

I knew exactly what he was gonna say….

Something along the lines of,


He’s flashing those 5 fingers.  That smile on his face as broad as Westlake.

His gaze is steady, his smile true.


And that folks is what I want to talk about today.

This driving cultural need to not only get stuff for free, but to brag about it afterwards.  And if you can’t get it for free, than to simply try and get it for a lower price.  And then brag about that, too.

My inlaws finally moved into their HUD apartment.

For those of you outside the United States(Cambodia, Peru, Bahrain etc…)
HUD stands for Housing and Urban Development.

It is “America speak” for housing for “poor and old people”

If one is elderly and wants to move into one of these apartments there is usually a two to three year wait.   There is no such thing as simply walking into a government office and signing up.   The HUD apartment my inlaws live part time in(they are still here on weekdays) is probably 75% Russian and Chinese.   I only occasionally see a person born and brought up in America living there.

My inlaws both have a pension in China.  They own a fully paid for 1700 sq foot apartment in China that is worth probably just south of $1 million.  They recently paid $120k in cash for a condo near my residence, which they promptly put in my wife’s name and which they rent out for over $1000 a month to a retired teacher. 

Their rent with HUD is $150 a month.

The metric in case you are asking is one third of one’s “declared” monthly income.

Meanwhile, what proof does one need if you are a green card holder?  A signed affidavit will suffice.
My wife takes a simple one paragraph document to the local bank certifying her parents’ income.  She signs it.  The bank notarizes the document.  Done.   No pay stub, no need for “verified” source of income.

Meanwhile if my father wants to get a HUD apartment it is two parts both painful and yet easy to verify.  There is no notarization necessary.  They simply track his Social Security.   As such, he would pay triple my wife’s parents.  An American citizen would pay more for rent with the HUD than somebody that can’t even speak English and maybe has lived here off and on for a few years.   Their only connection being that they have relatives here.  But make no mistake, they are neither in body nor soul “American”.  Their just here to take advantage of all the free stuff.

One set of elderly Chinese parents don’t even have children nearby.   Not even in the same state.  Rather, they are “floaters” who simply found that the South is less competitive ie less Chinese competing for “seats” at the gracious table of The American People’s Ignorant Generosity”.

The apartments have new carpet and a fresh coat of paint.  They have central air(of course).  They are one bedroom setups with a living room and a full kitchen with both oven and refrigerator.  One has to pay for laundry.  These apartments are unfurnished.  Still, I think its a pretty good deal.

But some are simply never satisfied when they hear of somebody else‘s deal.

A few weeks ago an elderly Chinese fellow appeared at the front desk and asked for a cut in his rent.  He claimed his monthly stipend had been cut and he could no longer afford the $120 monthly rent he was currently paying.  

Instead he wanted to cut his rent to $40 a month.  Why that number you may ask?  

Another tenant rubbed it in that was what he was paying.  

What are the odds if we were to follow this elderly man's own son home to his house it wouldn't be a penny less than 700k USD?  Too many Chinese urban professionals simply use HUD as a dumping ground for their parents.   It's win-win.  Either the wife or husband gets rid of the inlaws, and the elderly parents get to live in what has basically become an urban Chinese Senior Living Community where they get to play mahjong all day.  Who loses in this arrangement?

Oh yeah, my dad does.   And every other American that has to wait in line.

Afterwards to my extreme disdain my wife’s parents insisted they apply for food stamps.  The ones with the million dollar apartment, don’t forget, and money to spare to pay for a condo in full.  If you recall from a post I wrote a year ago my response was basically along the lines of “I’m not fucking taking your parents to apply for food stamps!”

So my wife did it.

She understood the sentimentality of my thoughts.   But she was under great pressure to do so.
All the other Chinese tenants had food stamps you see, and well, they were pretty much rubbing it in China Wife’s parent’s faces.  

Just like the grandpa and his wumao haircut.

They had to have those damn food stamps.

What irked me(though I shouldn’t have been surprised) was that China Wife’s parents showed no shame, remorse or even tinge of embarrassment asking, applying for and receiving food stamps.

Now why is that? How can it be a family so obviously not short of money would have no qualms whatsoever taking something free from Uncle Sam?

Because that is The Chinese Way”, friends.

Elderly Chinese…children of the 60’s, have grown up under the thumb of the government.  The Socialist, maternal hold of the government still reigns supreme in many of their minds.  It is the Government’s responsibility to take care of them, even if the reality Today is so much different. 
The greatest Irony today is that these benefits are simply not available to China Wife’s Parents today in China. 

Remember, they come from a society where jobs were assigned.  Majors were not randomly chosen.  One’s apartment was not “bought” but the work unit assigned one a place to live.  The government gave one ration coupons.    People simply could not live without the Hand of Government involved. 

And now they’ve found that even as the hand of Hand of Government slips away in China it is still strong in the West.  I am almost positive the same thing happens in Australia and England, etc.
Why?  Because civilized People’s are not prone to let people live on the streets and go hungry.  But surely there is no trend anywhere as prevalent as “Here” in America.

China Wife’s Parents receive $300 a month in food stamps.  On top of that I was surprised they receive more free food from the local food bank.   All willingly and happily taken by the inlaws not with shame or sense of inadequacy but rather as recipients of what a just and proper government should naturally do towards its citizens.

Except these folks are not American citizens.  

China Wife was quick to counter my scorn.

“Americans were there waiting in line, not just Chinese”, she said.  As if I was the one out of touch.
She told me of all the other Chinese grandparents that were living in HUD.  All of whom had sons or daughters living in spacious $700 or $800,000 homes with 4000 square feet. 

None of whom show any concern about the social conflict of living Monday through Friday in one place and yet spending the weekend in another.   Sometimes I think the Republicans are right; it’s not about “needing more” housing as much as it is about simply “governing better” with the housing we do have.

More, now than ever before,  the people living in HUD are not “desperate people”.    Rather, the inlaws and children simply agree they cannot live together.    We recently had friends from Shanghai come and pay us a visit.  The wife is Cantonese.  A stay at home wife.  She constantly bemoaned how she could not get along with her inlaws(I’m not the only one)

Then there was the “Obamaphone”.

“What’s that?”, I asked the social worker in the HUD building.  I could sense her mentally rolling her eyes at me.

“It’s a free smart phone with 300 minutes a month”, she replied.  

The Grandparents wanted one, I was told.   I told China Mother in Law she already had an Apple 6+.  So did China Father in Law I pointed out.

“Yes, but it’s free and the others have one too”, she countered.

The Chinese are at times nothing but a bunch of 5 year olds.   Bragging about what they have while dissing those who don’t have the same thing they have as “just too stupid” to go out and get it.  So of course those lacking what others have, like any typical 5 year old would do, rush out to get one themselves.

My inlaws even get discounted satellite TV.  Yep.  To better watch their Chinese programs.  My inlaws currently pay $9 a month.   My know it all Chinese Mother in Law promptly bragged about what she got to her neighbor, an elderly Chinese lady with no one to help her out and thus stuck with $40 a month cable.

Once again I have China Wife’s voice ringing in my ear,

“What a Great Country for the poor, rich and elderly……”  knowing full well how her sentence will end…

“but a terrible place for the Middle Class.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My Wife, the Millionaire....

When I first met my wife in the 90’s she lived in a 5th floor nondescript apartment building reserved for high ranking officials.  There was no elevator.   Yet lived by foot only 7 minutes or so from Westlake in Hangzhou.  The building itself had a covered, enclosed bicycle garage.   The family an actual working phone.  The year was 1991.

Soon after marriage we had a crisis on our hands.  The rumor was that the government was going to raze the building (which they eventually did).   The parents wanted to buy a home, because by ’96 apartment blocks were beginning to rise in Hangzhou.   The Taiwanese, and overseas Chinese in particular (Indonesia, Malaysia) were beginning to see this and suddenly Hangzhou was being looked upon as a nice place to have a 2nd home.  That is, the wealthy Chinese were all flocking to the defacto retirement getaway of Mao (whose villa by the way, unlike that of Lin Biao, still hasn’t been opened to the public.  I tried to bike in once when I was a student, as nonchalantly as possible, and the guards stopped me.)

China Wife’s parents were freaking out.  Quite frankly, they were worried of being kicked out with no place to go.  Simple as that.  The government offered them $10,000 for their place.  They took it.  And well, the rest is history.

It was a one bath, two bedroom, plus an office.  From memory it was probably around 90 meters or 900 square feet.  I’d say for $10 grand, the Chinese government got a good deal.  They probably in turn “sold” the land for a higher number. 

From there China Wife’s parents bought an apartment, of which I contributed 20% of the money for the deposit (which my wife claims was paid back, but who knows?)   But I believe they flipped it before moving in, and then over a decade ago bought another apartment. Yet upon my visiting I decided it was in a decidedly more run down location.  The parents claimed it was only a ten minute walk from Westlake, but I can tell you that’s bullshit.  However, by bus it’s only 2 stops away.  Fair enough. 

Hangzhou today has changed markedly in three ways.  It is the host of Alibaba, the influx of “outsiders” is so severe that the Hangzhou dialect is no longer as prevalent as it used to be(especially with taxi drivers), and the cost of real estate is ten times beyond the cost of maddening.  More than most cities, Hangzhou has suffered from its fame as both a scenic destination and a well known center of Chinese History.  Its temples are at all times of the day, uber crowded with out of town peasants and travel groups. 

Still, despite its well known rule banning factories within the city limits, the overwhelming buildup of China’s manufacturing base in and around Hangzhou has still left a mark.   Unlike twenty odd years ago, one can now hardly see across the lake to the green hills beyond except on a really good day.

The inlaws today have a 170 square meter apartment.  they have two solid bedrooms, two baths, an extremely large living room, a fair sized balcony and a decent sized office that the father in law uses as his bedroom(he sleeps on the floor), whenever their glorious son in law(that’s me!) arrives.  

And they have an elevator.

If one opens the window to below one can see a fairly ugly parking lot.  That’s it.  In sum, nothing special about this location.  Except that it’s in Hangzhou.  And as for Westlake itself?  Well, I’m here to tell you on any given day the well laid out concrete banks of Hangzhou continue to be filled with lovers, locals out for a simple stroll, and of course those damn flag waving tour guides.  It’s as busy as Tiananmen or the Forbidden Palace.   It’s a big time tourist attraction. 

Upon buying the apartment the inlaws promptly put their daughter’s name on the note.  (sweet!) Because since this apartment has been bought it has gone up in value 7 times.  (I wish I could say something cool like “quintupled”, but I just don’t the phrase for “7”)

At first we oohed and ahhed when it doubled.  Then tripled.  Crazy!

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And I still am. 

Of course in legalese, the apartment does not really “belong” to China Wife.  All property belongs to the state.  And all “owners” of housing have “only” a 70 year lease.  

China Wife only recently in an unguarded moment of hers told me the per square meter value of the property.   I calculated it at 1.5 million dollars.  Contrast this with a 100 sq meter apartment in the middle of Shenzhen at less than $1 million USD. 

I’ve told you all(all 12 of you) that my wife greatly regrets missing out on the China boom.  In short, her father was a generation too soon.  If he had retired a generation later, he’d be a millionaire many times over.   Recently one of my Chinese friends retorted “but he’d be in jail”, which is something I’ve uttered a few times as well. 

Well, turns out all that doesn’t matter. 

One day China Wife came home talking about how “we” should by a condo.  She’d obviously been talking to her China Friends.  It irritates me so when her friends have more sway over our family decisionmaking then I do.   Which is easy when you live with a person so keen to keep up with the Joneses’.

I heard it out, then said “no”.    I was politely blunt. 

We don’t have the money I need to plan for the kids’ tuition, etc.  All the usual excuses.

But China Wife insisted. 

Then she announced her parents would buy the condo.

And like any good honest Chinese, they would pay for it in cash.   


It would only be $130 grand or so.   I was astounded to hear this from China Wife.  After all, where would her parents get the money?

To this day, I consider China Wife’s father to be the most honest Chinese government official  I’ve ever met.  His breed is quickly going the way of Beijing’s City Walls.  Within a decade or so his Kind will be gone, and people will reminisce about his ilk in the history books.

(Quite some time ago I wrote a post about a particular corruption case in China before the rise of Deng.  Here it is. )

Still, when China Wife told me this, my first thought wasn’t “where will they get the money?”, but “how dare you try and shame me by getting your parents, of such modest means, to spend so far above their budget just to satisfy a selfish need of yours!”

China Wife calmly looked me in the eye and said,

“Of course they will pay in cash.”

Why do we love Chinese Consumers again?  

It took me a bit to process this information.   Today, with the crazy rise of real estate in China, many an undeserving person is wealthy beyond their dreams, all before they complete their first year of high school.  I mention again my wife’s best friend in Shenzhen.  Their house has “only” quadrupled in value, but they’ve also bought a house in semi-nearby Huizhou, which itself has doubled in value, all without going through the hassle of actually “renovating” it.  That is, not laying down carpet, or painting the walls, or even turning on the power. 

This lady along with her husband have long since fallen out of love with each other, yet are bound to each other by their only child.  A very smart, mature young lady, that will someday be very disinclined to start and develop a career on her own.   And there are millions of other Chinese Kids just like her.   Simply waiting for the peach to fall from the tree.

To this day, I still wonder how China Wife’s parents have the means to pay for a condo in cash.   And I do not have an answer for that.  Initially, my impression of my father in law took a hit.  But then  I realized the money couldn’t have come from him.  He simply retired too early.   Yet I didn’t pry.   But now I can’t help but wondering exactly how much money do my China inlaws have? 

I can’t help but contrast them with my own parents.  My father hasn’t owned a house in decades, and only collects a meager pension.   Still I don’t pry.  The note is in China Wife’s name.   She claims some day we will use it to pay for our children’s tuition.  I don’t know.   I wonder what else China Wife’s parents have up their sleeve.   I conservatively estimate my wife’s parents are worth around $2 million.   But who knows?

Unfortunately, according to Chinese law, so I’m told, one cannot pass property down to family.  So eventually my wife will have to sell the property, probably in her 80’s or something.  As such, my kids are already taken care of.  I think.

Still, my wife has already announced come her 60’s she will be spending 6 months in Hangzhou and 6 months in America. 

Meanwhile I struggle with my IRA, my 401(American retirement accounts).   I have 8 years of continuous college tuition just around the corner and well, I’m freaking out.  I’ve prepared.  For them.  But not as well for myself.  Unfortunately we live in an age where one family in America with both parents working only just cuts it for expenses and then a bit more.   An upper middle class nightmare where ones’ kids go to all the proper schools, and check off all the boxes, with the aim of getting into some sort of college that will be a springboard worthy of the effort for future success. 

Slowly but surely, like the noose millimeter by millimeter tightening around one’s neck, I find myself working not for enjoyment or fulfillment but for the sole purpose of ensuring I can afford what’s coming less than a thousand days from now.   As such qualities I once had in abundance, such as ambition, and the need for self fulfillment are slowly crowded to the wayside.   Conformity has begun to creep in.  It’s inexorable grip slowly tightening around my soul. 

Meanwhile I can’t help but wondering what else does China Wife’s Family have up its sleeve?