Today I went with a couple friends to ZhuJiaJiao (朱家角) which is a small historic town about 45 minutes drive outside of sh. Like many of the small towns around sh, it aims to preserve the historic structures and culture, and is a popular for small day trips. This particular town is known for its freshwater seafood (people seem to differentiate quite vehemently between river seafood and ocean seafood). Here are some pictures you can enjoy.
It’s no secret that American fast food has infiltrated the far corners of the world. I mentioned before that starbucks is even in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Well, even a small town like ZhuJiaJiao is not safe from KFC.
It’s amazing to me, but I hear that KFC has twice as many outlets as McD’s. They are wildly successful here. I think that Chinese people just really like fried chicken. Me included. I’m really not a fast food guy, but I must say that I’ve eaten at KFC now a handful of times. I hear that the chicken is fresher than the ones in the US – I’d believe it. I think the meat seems better, but it may just be purely psychological.
Eastern vs Western Approach:
At lunch in ZhuJiaJiao my friends and I got into a discussion about the different approaches that Chinese people take when tackling a problem vs Westerners. I think it’s best summed up as the Chinese takes a more holistic approach while Westerners take an isolationist approach. This is best illustrated by an example of how a serious headache is treated. In the US, the first thing we do is conduct a battery of tests to try and isolate the problem area into smaller and smaller pieces. Sorta of like a logical scientific experiment. When we get to the ‘source’ of the problem – we prescribe something to correct it. I, myself, totally operate this way. I was an engineer and a consultant so I think this approach of breakdown problems into smaller digestible pieces is ingrained in me forever.
But in contrast, the Eastern way is to look at the problem holistically. They might look at the body as a whole and say that even though you have a headache, the reason is not because of what’s going on in your head, but maybe because something is wrong with your feet. They see the body as a whole as a complex set of intertwined relationships that can never really be pulled apart and isolated.
These are two fundamentally different approaches and have their pros and cons, as with anything in life. The downside of the isolation approach is that sometimes we can get trapped into thinking something is the source when it may really just be a symptom. In contrast, the holistic approach can sometimes be very unmanageable in identifying casual relationships and may easily be misapplied.
In practice, what does this mean? I don’t believe one is inherently better than another, but if I am cognizant of both approaches, I am better off for it.
China giving up too much of its history?
With all the construction and development going on the debate over whether china is tearing down too much of the old to make room for the new is very timely. I think it helps to take a step back and see how rich China is in history versus the US. We’re talking about 1000’s of years and with not a ton of changes until the last 100 years as opposed to the US where it’s only 200+ years in entirety. Obviously in the US we regard anything over 30 years as ancient, here, not so much. So the question is is China tearing down too much to make way for the new stuff? I am not really qualified to answer this question by any means, but I think at least they are a bit more progressive than the Europeans. I say that because when I went to Europe for a month a few years back, I felt like all the cities I went to were filled with incredible history. But that was just it, everything was focused on preserving the look and state of the city as it was during the height of their dominance. While I am sure there is some focus on progress, I didn’t get the feeling like it was very forward thinking and saying “ok, now what? How do we move ahead?” Obviously, I am painting with extremely broad strokes but at least that’s the feeling I get when I compare the 3 regions.
Chinese perception of Chinese goods and brands:
We westerns always talk about how cheap Chinese goods are and wish how we had access to all these knockoff brands. Take for example, the first things that we do when we arrive in sh is to descend upon markets like XiangYang (which no longer exists…sorta). The interesting thing is that Chinese people really don’t like Chinese goods even though it’s cheaper. They all want to buy foreign brands. I am sure I haven’t seen a representative sample, but I feel like brand influences people’s purchasing decision even more so than in the US, even if it’s not justified. It again may be due to a lack of transparency or information, but I think the Chinese are so focused on brands because it’s about trust. Maybe they’ve been burned too many times, but they feel like they can trust the foreign brands and the quality will be up to par and they won’t be cheated out of their money. Obviously there is also some status symbol aspect to it, but what’s interesting is that this applies even to goods that no one will ever see in the public.
So what does this mean? It means that doing business in China is not just about price even though it is a very competitive place. Branding may even be more important in china because if you have a great brand, people are willing to pay for it.
People talk about low transportation costs as one of the reasons that the US is so developed and such an economic power. Well it seems as though the gas prices here cheaper than the US prices by about 30% as of now. From the consumer standpoint if you take into account of wages, it’s probably more expensive per se, but for Chinese people who can afford to buy a car, they are probably fairly insensitive to gas prices. But from a commercial standpoint, having prices 70% of the US certainly helps the economic development engine.
Why is China that attractive?
I was thinking about this the other day. Why are so many people flocking to China over other developing countries with low wages? Aside from the obvious large market potential I believe it comes down to the fact that it has a pretty good infrastructure coupled with a highly educated and reasonably skilled workforce. I think these things set it apart. I think the one thing holding it back is the language barrier. If the English mastery was equivalent to what it is in India, I can’t even begin to imagine how much faster China would be growing above its already current blistering pace.