Embarking on the Silicon Road

Travelling the Silicon RoadDear Gentle Reader,

You should know something about me first thing before we proceed any farther and delve into China, both literally and figuratively. This will tell you volumes about me, really, and what you are in for in these electronic ponderings and mental wonderings.

The first thing I thought of when Steve Drace, Electronics News’ publisher, approached me about traveling China for a month, the very first thing to flash through my brain was this: “I’ll get to eat Chinese food every day for a month straight! Cool!”

Yosemite Sam: He Dug Clear Through to Chinee. Of course Warner Bros. holds the copyright on this long-eared galoot.The second thing that flashed through my brain, a snippet from a long-dormant neuron that climbed up out of the nether regions of my id, was a bit from a Bugs Bunny cartoon viewed years ago in my long-lost childhood. I don’t recall the exact pretext, but it involved Yosemite Sam — suffering from one of Bugs’ nefarious machinations — digging a hole in the Earth, digging and digging and digging some more, maniacally, all the way through, to where he pops out of the ground upside down, to be confronted by someone who is clearly Asian: “Oh no!” Yosemite Sam exclaims. “I done dug clear through to Chinee.”

It wasn’t long before I was in my suburban Ohio backyard attempting to replicate Sam’s feat. Not sure why; it would be years later before I was exposed to the delights of Chinese cuisine and culture. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to China.

But I digress. These were the first two things I thought of. Not what an incredible opportunity for me professionally, as a journalist, to be charged with trying to separate the rather sizable myths from the realities involving China and the semiconductor industry. Not what a wonderful opportunity it was for me personally, as one who loves to travel to foreign lands and has never been to China. Not what a fascinating time it would be to travel to China, one of the oldest cultures and the largest country in the world, not to mention the last significant bastion of Communism — a country that is in the midst of economic and cultural changes of historical proportions.

Nope. All those thoughts came shortly afterward, of course, along with more mundane issues, like the fact that I don’t speak one word of Mandarin or Cantonese. The first things that I thought of were food and childhood cartoons, in that order. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about me and what this means, dear Gentle Reader. But consider yourself warned.

Copy That, Mission Control,
We’re (Finally!) Going with Throttle Up

Electronic News Travels to ChinaI should also mention the relief I felt, too. When your boss’ boss sends you a terse e-mail that simply states “please call me as soon as possible; I have something I need to discuss with you,” well, it either means really bad news, or really good news. Fortunately for me, it was the latter. I was to be charged with the rather Herculean task of traveling to China for a month, and finding out “what’s really going on” there, particularly with regard to the chip industry.

That was nearly nine months ago; it was back in January when this plan was hatched. Why so long? Well, when your trip involves a large media conglomerate, outside marketing as well as internal advertising and marketing efforts, outside sponsors and its own Web site no less, things get complicated. When your trip is a professional endeavor, involving daily work, i.e., daily postings to a blog on said dedicated site, as well as news stories filed from the other side of the planet … well, logistically, sometimes it seems as if it is almost akin to flying to the moon.

For someone that likes to travel light, and even at age 36 has trouble sleeping the night before even the smallest trip because of excitement and the urge to hit the road, it’s been a little irksome. I’ve hung up after more than one conference call over the past nine months and hollered: “Jeez! It’s not rocket science! It’s China, not Mars! Why is all this taking so long and being such a complex pain in the tuckus?” And sometimes I would hang up the phone, close a related e-mail and think, “I’d get there faster if I went out in the backyard and started digging.” Or think that it would, indeed, seemingly be easier, logistically, to fly to the Moon or Mars.

The Historical Silk RouteBut it seems that the time is finally here. After a lot of efforts both within Reed Business Information and its subsidiary eLogic, which handles all our Web stuff, as well as from those of us here at Electronic News, my embarkation on what we’ve termed the Silicon Road (that’s a pun on the Silk Road, for those of you not paying attention back in world history class), is at hand. Soon I’ll be setting out to try and separate the Western business and cultural myths from Chinese realities.

If there has been one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s that sometimes you find what you expect to find, but more often than not, even when you do, you also find things that you didn’t expect. Sometimes this can be good, like an uncharted hot spring literally in the middle of nowhere on a four-day backpack trip in the Eastern Sierras. Sometimes this can be bad, like when it’s Friday night, you’re down to your last 20 euros in cash, there is only one ATM in all of Leuven, Belgium where your Bank of America ATM card actually works, and it’s out of cash.

But there is certainly a lot of myth surrounding China, both in general and when it comes to the semiconductor industry and the corresponding domestic market. And we’ll save that for ensuing entries.

Until next time, Jeff

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

9/30/2005 1:32:44 PM, Tom Gutowski said:

I’ve been to China a couple of times and am amazed at the difference between the number of people it takes to make a hard disk in China compared to Malaysia compared to Ireland. Oh well if you have a few million extras might as well keep them employed and cheaply at that. And by the way that Chinese food, you won’t get any you recognize in China, except maybe the white rice. Good luck on your trip.

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