Moving to China: Where Should You Set up Shop?

Travelling the Silicon RoadSo you’ve decided you need to have a presence on the ground in China. Or you’ve decided it’s time to move some manufacturing to China, or expand the sales offices you have there.

Then the question becomes where do you go in China to set up shop?

It’s a big question, and not one with the clear-cut answers it had just a few short years ago. At first glance, it might seem obvious: if you’re talking about electronics manufacturing, then Shenzhen, China’s richest city, is the place to go. If you’re talking about something farther up the food chain, say semiconductor manufacturing, then Shanghai is the place to be, right?

Well, if you’ve been following along as Electronic News has ventured down the Silicon Road this autumn, you know it is not quite that simple. There is some truth to those statements, to be sure. But the industry landscape in China – and foreign companies options – are considerably more complex, to be sure.

But lets look at that conventional wisdom first. Shanghai and Shenzhen are obvious places for a reason. Shanghai is a huge port city with plenty of natural resources, namely water, and an established infrastructure – this is why there are fabs here in the first place, including many that belong to the fourth largest chip foundry, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC). You’ll find the Chinese offices of many a U.S. and European chipmaker here in the gleaming new skyscrapers that dot the skyline.

Look at Applied Materials Inc., the world’s largest process tool vendor, and an old hand when it comes to operating in Asia – it’s literally around the corner from its biggest Chinese customer, SMIC, and its headquarters in Shanghai.

At the other end of the supply chain spectrum is Shenzhen, which has blossomed over the past two decades into China’s electronics manufacturing center. It was made a special economic zone for a number of reasons, but those reasons are similar to why Shanghai has exploded — and why Shenzhen is exploding.

For one thing, Shenzhen is a port city. Located in southern China on the eastern edge of the Pearl River delta, just across the border from Hong Kong, it is home to much, if not most, of China’s electronics manufacturing, and has the infrastructure to support that. In fact, it is probably the only place in the world to have a wholesale electronic components shopping mall located in an office tower downtown. That’s right, the SEC Electronics Marketplace: seven floors of components and finished electronic goods available wholesale.

Both cities have abundant human resources, not to mention prevalent universities, particularly Shanghai. In fact, Shanghai is so popular right now — particularly with Chinese engineer-entrepreneurs returning from abroad to take advantage of the advantageous business climate – that there are some 120 fabless companies in various stages of development in Shanghai, according to one chip startup I visited.

Plus, both cities have much to recommend them in the eyes of Western expats. Both cities are relatively clean and pollution free, and are very cosmopolitan; one could easily get by in Shanghai without having to learn Mandarin, or ever having to eat Chinese food, for that matter (why anyone would actually want to do that, however, I wouldn’t know – but I met Westerners in Shanghai who happily pointed this out).

Shenzhen, meanwhile, while much smaller and definitely more “Chinese” than Shanghai, is rapidly approaching that same level of international sophistication, and is so new and clean, it has been labeled China’s garden city. Indeed, the whole city seems at first glance to be sparkling and new, and compared to China’s older cities, green space is much more abundant.

But these very things that make Shenzhen and Shanghai such obvious choices may also serve to make them not-so-obvious choices. Shanghai, for example, is very expensive by Chinese standards – many people I spoke with, both Chinese engineers who had worked in Silicon Valley, as well as Western expats, pointed out that housing costs are approaching San Francisco/San Jose levels – and all of the attendant issues are starting to crop up in Shanghai, too.

“It’s not a problem for us yet,” said Kevin Sun, a marketing manager for Applied Materials China, referring to the high cost of living in Shanghai. “But of course they feel this pressure,” he said of Applied’s local Chinese employees.

It’s Not Just Location, Location, Location: Beijing vs. Shanghai

Another thing to bear in mind is that to do anything in China, you have to have established quan xi with the government – you have to establish and maintain the right relationships. For all of its cultural opening up, for all of its warm embrace of the free market, China is still a party where the Communist Party holds near absolute power.

And while Shanghai and Shenzhen may have a wealth of technological human resources, when it comes to finding brainpower in China, there is no better place than Beijing – which happens to be the seat of political power in China as well.

Now, for people not familiar with China – and perhaps more so for those who are only familiar with Shanghai – it’s important to understand that Beijing is the cultural heart of China, not just the political center. Geographically, Beijing never had much to recommend it, but in China’s distant past, as its dynastic rulers began to consolidate power across this vast country, Beijing became a strategic location, the crossroads of a growing realm. That is essentially why it became the seat of power for China’s emperors, which in turn attracted China’s intellectual and cultural elite, historically.

By and large, this is still the case today. Not only is it the seat of government, it is home to most of China’s premier universities – the Peking University, Tsinghua University, and the China Academy of Science, to name just a few — not to mention most of its millionaires, old and new, and its popular entertainment stars. It is also home to many of its brightest painters, musicians and writers.

And if there is a hot-button issue for the Chinese today – well, there are many, actually, but the rivalry between Beijing and Shanghai is one of them. Of course, the people that live in China’s other burgeoning high-tech cities have their own views on the matter, but most Chinese people in the tech industry in either Beijing or Shanghai, have a strong opinion with regard to the rivalry.

And the people that argue on behalf of Beijing make strong arguments. Beijing may not be a bustling port city, and may not have the infrastructure for manufacturing that Shanghai has, which the city’s proponents readily acknowledge.

If you’re just after cheap manufacturing, then by all means, go to Shanghai, says Liang Sheng, the section chief of the Department of Information Industry of the Beijing Municipal Government. “But if you want to expand your profits, you have to come to Beijing.”

And if you are looking to develop intellectual property (IP) tailored for the booming Chinese market, Beijing is the place to be. “Here we have our own IP,” he said, observing – as many Chinese officials did — that there was a reason SMIC built its first 300mm wafer fab in Beijing.

Liang likens Beijing to Silicon Valley; it is where a big chunk of China’s domestic chip IP is created. China’s only EDA company, CEC Huada, calls Beijing home, and of the 400 design houses in China, 85 are in Beijing. If that ratio isn’t good enough for you, consider this: out of the 16 design houses that achieve more than $100 million in annual revenue, more than half have their headquarters in Beijing.

Of course, there is no official distinction between Shanghai and Beijing when it comes Chinese efforts to lure the semiconductor industry there. Rather, it’s the result of a natural evolution: “it’s just what it is,” remarked Xu Xiao Tian, secretary general of the China Semiconductor Industry Association. “These two cities have their advantages and disadvantages.”

There’s More to China than Beijing and Shanghai

Some of those disadvantages in Beijing, aside from a comparable lack of natural resources, are considerable pollution and horrendous traffic. That is not to say that they aren’t problems in Shanghai, but in Beijing, they are particularly acute. While Beijing has a venerable, effective public transit system, there are still so many people in the city that its traffic jams rival the worst of those anywhere on the globe; it will be interesting to see how Beijing addresses this problem when it hosts the 2008 Olympics.

And it isn’t the only place to find superior human resources in China; consequently, nor is Shanghai the only place to find infrastructure and physical resources for manufacturing. As Xu observed, quite rightly, many companies both domestic and foreign, are looking at other cities around China – Chengdu, Xian, Shenyang, just to name a few. There are resources to be had elsewhere, often without the costs associated with Beijing or Shanghai.

One thing is common to virtually every significantly large municipality in China today: the local governments are playing to their strengths, and doing what they can to lure foreign investment. Wherever you go, whomever you talk to in local governments – as well as the local companies looking for foreign business partners – the phrase “win/win” comes up time and again; incentives are falling out of the metaphorical trees.

And each these other municipalities offers unique cultural environments as well, as followers of the Silicon Road blog know well, be it the food of Sichuan Province, or the warm subtropical climate of southeastern coastal China.

“I want all these cities to be successful with their semiconductor industries,” Xu remarked. “We’re paying attention to all of them.”

Electronic News Travels to ChinaIndeed, if one were involved in optoelectronics, Xiamen would deserve consideration. If software is your company’s forte, then Shenyang may be the place to set up Chinese headquarters. There are many places, places that we couldn’t squeeze into my Silicon Road itinerary, that are burgeoning high-tech and/or industrial centers in their own rights, or soon will be – Xian, Wuhan, Tianjin, Beihai and Guanzhou, just to name a few.

Wherever you decide to set up shop in China, I can say one thing is abundantly clear after spending a month investigating China’s tech industry: now is definitely the time to be there.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

Where in China, Indeed

Travelling the Silicon RoadWhere should you set up shop in China? What about where I would set up shop in China? Well, being a telecommuting journalist, I can, within reason, live wherever I want.

Theoretically, if I have high-speed Internet access and a phone, the world is my oyster, or some such metaphor.

Many of the friends I made while in China would often ask me where I would live if I moved to China, or, out of all the places I visited, which one I liked best. Well, realistically, to cover the semiconductor industry, I’d probably have to call Shanghai or Beijing home, or at least home base. But if I could live anywhere in China — as to my favorite place so far, that is difficult to say.

It’s like trying to decide my favorite place in the United States; I can’t narrow it down to just one.

I loved living in the Bay Area of Northern California, but I gave it up for the wilds of West Virginia, to be closer to family, and because I love West Virginia, too (hard for you Left Coasties to understand, I know, but it’s true). Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas and Santa Fe, NM, are on my short list of places I’d love to live in the United States, as is Athens, Ohio (went to college there).

Now that I think about it, you could tack on Flagstaff, Ariz. to that list as well (I actually did live a half-hour away from Flagstaff, once upon a time). I also loved the two years I spent living in Cleveland, believe it or not; it’s one of the best large American cities, in my humble opinion.

And anyplace near water automatically has something to recommend it, as far as I’m concerned.

As for China, it’s an equally difficult task to decide where I would live, if I were given carte blanche. If I could only take the culture of Beijing and the food of Chengdu — oh, the food of Chengdu — and put it in downtown Xiamen, without making it any bigger — that would be ideal. But I must admit, I enjoyed every place I visited in China, and could be happy in any of those places on the original Silicon Road itinerary.

Plus I’m sure there are many more places I will discover when I return.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaJust as I will discover similar places the next time I go to Europe, or visit the places I haven’t been to yet: the rest of Australasia, and the Middle East & or poking around my home continent, for that matter (New York city; Portland, Maine; Athens and Savannah, Ga. and Key West, Fla. all have yet to be explored by yours truly). Then there is South and Central America, and Africa — I’d love to visit it before more of its ecology is destroyed.

You know, having the travel bug is a mixed blessing. Part of the joy of traveling is returning home to the familiar: sleeping in the same bed every night, and seeing friends and family. Yet I haven’t been home two weeks, and already I’m somewhat restless, thinking about where to go next, memories of language barriers, intestinal distress, jet lag and pit toilets not withstanding.


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

at 11/23/2005 12:47:40 PM, Scott O from Ohio said:

I have been following your stories for the past several weeks and think your writing is fantastic. I am a Manufacturing Engineer and I have traveled between Ohio and Shanghai several times this year. I am returning to Shanghai again for two weeks after Thanksgiving. I can really relate to your stories and your point of view… Keep up the good work! I am looking forward to your next article!

Editor’s Note (slight return): D’oh! Once again, when I downloaded the Silicon Road microsite, Adobe Acrobat managed to grab only one of 10 original comments that were attached to this blog entry – it grabbed more than a thousand other pages (most of them empty; I guess it’s an inexact science), but not that one. Damn.

Startup Vies for Opto Market with Homegrown IP

Travelling the Silicon RoadXIAMEN, China – Startups and entrepreneurs are popping up all over China and this southern coastal city, which is also a center of the optoelectronics industry in China, is no exception.

Chinese optoelectronics has a bit of a head start over its silicon semiconductor device industry; one of Xiamen’s opto device companies was founded more than two decades ago. But then it also plays host to Xiamen UX High-Speed IC Co. Ltd.

UX was founded less than three years ago by a handful of engineers, including Chinese — one of them local — as well as a couple of natives form the United States and Canada. They put in some time at familiar names: Cypress, ON Semi, Epson and Texas Instruments.

It is somewhat familiar story by now in China: UX’s founders felt they had learned all they could learn abroad in business, so they returned to China to start the company because the time seemed ripe, according to company president and Chinese native Xu Ping, who put in six years in Silicon Valley himself before returning to China.

He espoused the same logic many do here: China’s chip market is booming, in part because of domestic demand and in part because of the government’s encouragement to develop a semiconductor manufacturing base. Even if China’s domestic chip production capacity grows exponentially, it will be decades before that capacity comes anywhere close to fulfilling the domestic consumption.

“It does need a lot of technology and people,” Xu remarked of his native country. “Right now, most Chinese companies can only do simple chip designs,” he continued. “We feel like we have more growing room in China. After two-and-a-half years, we feel we can continue to do well.”

Xu estimates that to start UX, which now has a team of 18 people, most of whom are dedicated to R&D, the start up cost in China was about one-fifth to one-tenth of what it would have been in the United States.

The company right now is looking for second-round funding; like many startups here, it is looking to foreign venture capital (VC), namely that in the United States, to find it. While UX enjoys support from the local Xiamen government, and just closed the terms on a low-rate loan, the domestic Chinese VC scene is still nascent, that’s why so many companies like UX seek out foreign VC firms.

As for products, UX right now concentrates on high-end mixed-signal/RF IC chips, transceiver chips for front-tend fiber optic network communications applications, such as transimpedance amplifier, limiting amplifier and laser diode driver chips. Like many startups in China, the company is concentrating on high-end applications, where it has a chance of capturing some market share, rather than the crowded market for high-volume, low-end applications, such as consumer — a particularly crowded domestic market in China right now.

While the company originally set out to develop 10gigabit per second (Gbps) chips, it decided to focus in the short-term on the mainstream market for fiber communications, meaning 155megabit per second (Mbps) chips. It already is in production with IBM/Chartered Semi as its foundry partner with two 155Mbps chips, which it has begun selling, garnering interest outside of China as well, Xu said. The market for 1.5Gbps and 2Gbps is also developing rapidly, he noted.

Xu suggested that his company has an advantage over its competitors, in that while many of them are moving their fiber module manufacturing to China, most of their chips are still being exported out of China. As a domestic fabless company whose foundry partner is in nearby Singapore, and whose chips are packaged by a backend company here in China, UX is poised to grab market share in China, and in the future go head to head with its competitors beyond the country’s borders.

He noted that one of the chips that it has in production right now, a 155Mbps laser driver, can attain speeds up to 311Mbps, and is manufactured with standard low-cost CMOS, rather than BiCMOS or bi-polar technology, more commonly found in optoelectronic apps.

But the company is nevertheless still pursuing advanced technology and its own intellectual property (IP), according to Xu. It has developed and produced chips with 0.13-micron designs, as well as silicon germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS technology, in addition to standard CMOS.

“We’re one of the first companies to use SiGe in a BiCMOS process,” Xu noted. UX has also garnered two patents concerning indium phosphide technology, and has two other patents in the final stages of examination, while it has applied for three additional ones.

He agreed that developing domestic IP is an important issue for China right now. With so many engineers coming back to China, and so many other positive factors in place to foster startups, there is no real reason why China can’t foster its own IP, Xu suggested.

Electronic News Travels to China“I think in China, at least some of these [new] companies should have their own IP,” he said. “I think it’s important to come up with a good product.” Up until recently, China has relied mostly on modifying designs from foreign companies for the domestic market, meaning much of the profit leaves China; this has been one of the significant barriers to IP development in China, he acknowledged.

“First you have to have the people, and then you have to have the technology. If you don’t have these, you won’t get money,” he continued, either in the form of profit or investment capital. “Right now, the engineers are the most important things.”

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

Xiamen: A Bright Light in China’s Tech Industry

Travelling the Silicon RoadXIAMEN, China – If you’ve bought a set-top box recently or perhaps a new appliance – or if you’ve used a remote control in the past decade – there’s a reasonable chance you were utilizing one or components that came from Xiamen Hualian Electronics Co. Ltd.

Or if you’re a Wall Street analyst or venture capital firm trying to finger the few start-ups among the multitudes in China that will be successful, or if you compete in the optoelectronics device market, you’ve probably at least heard of a few of the companies, old and new, here in this sub-tropical southern coastal city. While Chengdu in the east may have its backend manufacturing, Shanghai the front-end fabs, and Beijing may play host to much of the R&D taking place in China right now, Xiamen is a Chinese center for optical technology.

It’s not the only city in China to place an emphasis on optical device manufacturing, and other cities have their share of domestic opto players. But Xiamen embraces the technology wholeheartedly here, as has the central government. In fact Xiamen, located in the Fujian province, has even adopted the moniker of “Light Valley.”

Actively seeking high-growth industries, Xiamen has actively recruited companies like Hualian, said Fan Yu Bo, the company’s president and CEO. The city provides a lot of support, in the form of yuan and specific policies for companies in the optoelectronics industry, among others.

“At the same time, Xiamen is a nice place for hiring … so a lot of high-tech companies would like to reside here,” Fan said. In addition to a nice climate, the city has two other key ingredients, according to Fan: infrastructure and human resources.

Thanks to local and central government support, optical chip technology is one area of high-tech that China actually has a head start on, relative to the rest of its domestic semiconductor industry – although its development is still behind that of other parts of the world. It began developing its optoelectronic manufacturing capability two decades ago, and is already one of the world’s largest producers of light-emitting devices.

Now it is trying to head the rest of the world off at the pass, so to speak, much like Taiwan did with its semiconductor foundries, becoming a center for global silicon chip manufacturing in the previous decade. On the one hand, China’s dedication to its optoelectronics industry is thus economic; on the other hand it is driven by environmental and social necessity: the country is a power-hungry place.

In 2003 the total amount of China’s electricity generation capacity was about 1.91 trillion kilowatt hours, about 12 percent short of actual demand, according to figures from China’s National Solid-State Lighting Engineering Program Office. It estimates the shortfall currently between domestic production and demand from its 1.3 billion citizens and various industries to be as high as 28 percent to 43 percent. By 2020, China’s electricity consumption, based on current demands and current economic growth predictions, could range anywhere from 8 trillion kilowatt hours to 9.5 trillion kilowatt hours.

But the government estimates that it could reduce its electricity demands by as much as 30 percent if the bulk of lighting applications in the country switch to solid state light emitting device technology. It also reckons that the switch could measurably reduce its airborne pollution emissions, given that 80 percent of its electricity comes from coal and oil.

It’s these ideas that drove the creation of the Solid-State Lighting Engineering Program in 2003, a coalition of central government ministries, research and development organizations and local governments.

Xiamen Hosts Old and New

Today China has more than 10 optoelectronic chipmakers, and some 200 light-emitting diode (LED) packaging companies.

Xiamen, specifically, is home to one of the veterans of China’s optoelectronics industry, as well as some of the newest players.

It is host to Xiamen San’an Electronics Co. Ltd., for example, created in late 2000. A partially state-owned concern – its Chinese parent company is involved in steel, iron and electricity production; its other investor is a state-owned capital investment firm – Xiamen San’an is now one of the largest manufacturers of LEDs in China, and it has an optoelectronics R&D program established here as well; the R&D center one of the central government’s goals for establishing the company in the first place.

Xiamen is also home to the aforementioned Hualian Electronics, a company first established in 1984. Today it has two main product lines: optoelectronic semiconductor devices, such as infrared modules for remote control systems, opto-couplers, LEDs and sensors; and optoelectronic-based control and remote control devices, such as infrared remote control emitters and receivers for appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, microwave ovens and TV set-top boxes.

Unlike many players in China’s semiconductor industry, much of Hualian’s revenue comes from exports, around 40 percent, according to CEO Fan. Many of its international customers include brands recognizable to Western consumers: Panasonic, Yamaha, Emerson and Electrolux among them.

But like many high-tech companies in China today that were around before the turn of the last century, Hualian is a mixture of state-owned and private owned as well. Half of it is owned by a state capital company; the rest of Hualian is owned by a parent company that is itself publicly owned and traded.

Fan naturally sees China’s Solid-State Lighting Engineering Program as a good opportunity for Hualian; the company is currently investing some $16 million (150 million yuan) more into R&D on low-power LED devices.

Over the years, a company like Hualian has seen a lot of changes, from the time it was founded when China was just beginning to open up, to today when it is aggressively pursuing economic growth and a conversion to a free-market driven economy. Both central and local governments naturally tend to lend more support to companies that prove successful in the market place, said Fan, and this, along with China’s economic growth, has lead to chances for the company’s growth.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaAbout the time it began exporting products in the 1990s, it began to realize the importance of developing its own intellectual property, as did the Chinese government. In the past, the government didn’t stress the importance of companies like Hualian developing their own IP, but that changed when China began to actively seek international trade, Fan acknowledged.

Today, for companies like Hualian to compete globally, not only does it have to create its own IP going forward, but respect those of the companies it competes with on the global stage, Fan said. That’s why in recent years, the company has put a lot of funding into R&D programs, and begun applying for patents.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

The Best Laid Plans: Part II

Travelling the Silicon Road
XIAMEN, China — Well, we hit the first serious snafu of the journey last night trying to leave Xiamen for Chengdu. Serious enough that as I write this, it is a little before noon of the next day, and I’m still in Xiamen.

There is one nice thing about being in a foreign country: you can swear out loud a blue streak of every English curse word and phrase you can think of at the Air China employee in front of you, smiling and nodding the head the whole time as she complicates your life, and she is none the wiser.

Although I did shock a few people in line behind me, who understood at least part of what I said, and the thought occurred to me that I wasn’t being a very good ambassador of the West at that moment.

But when it looks like your luggage is going to go to Chengdu without you — and that’s the only flight to Chengdu — and you are beginning to wonder if you and your interpreter are going to spend the night in a gulag, well, diplomacy goes out the window in favor of satisfying, albeit not very helpful, four-letter words and colorful phrases.

The problem stemmed from the fact that the American Express travel service Reed Business uses issued the plane tickets for my interpreter, a Chinese citizen, and me. Naturally, the tickets along with Tony’s name (Tony is his chosen English name), Che Zihke, were printed in English.

So when we got to the ticket counter about 20 minutes before boarding time, the woman at the Air China counter suddenly asks to see Tony’s passport. Tony has never traveled outside China; up until we flew from Shenyang to Shanghai a week and a half ago, he had never even traveled by plane, and has no passport, just his Chinese ID card, which naturally is in Chinese.

To make a long story short, the crux of the matter was that Air China employees refused to honor the ticket because Tony had no identification with his name spelled in English. Never mind that another domestic airline had honored Tony’s Shenyang/Shanghai ticket with no problems.

At one point, Tony disappeared after a lengthy discussion in Chinese with the lovely ticket counter employee, who proceeded to check me in without a word — she merely glanced at my passport and didn’t even check my visa — and tagged my luggage for the flight and sent it on the conveyor into the mysterious depths of the airport.

Then Tony reappears at a dead run, sweating and cursing in Chinese, switching to English to tell me that there is a “serious problem” and that “they are being very strict.” Keep in mind, I’m from the post 9/11 United “terror alert orange” States, and one of those people that once made a smart-ass joke during a random search at a U.S. airport and subsequently found himself having a little chat with the very non-humorous U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s finest.

Plus, I’m an American national in a communist country, so all sorts of unpleasant thoughts are running through my head upon hearing “serious problem” and “very strict.” Fortunately all this meant was that Air China was hassling us about the ticket, there were no law enforcement types involved.

So after retrieving my luggage — at one point of course, they said they couldn’t find it — we set out to fix the problem; I wasn’t about to leave poor Tony to fend for himself, he’s not used to travel of this sort at all, much less Air China’s shenanigans.

This was all complicated by the fact that 1) my corporate American Express card wouldn’t work on the system at the airport, and 2) my U.S. cell phone, which works in other parts of China, doesn’t work here, and my Chinese cell phone doesn’t have international access. And you can’t just walk up to a public phone and bust out a credit card and start dialing here in China, you have to buy a smart card. Needless to say, by the time I had everything all straightened out, I was less than enamored with some aspects of China.

By the time we checked back into the hotel we had checked out of three hours before, and we had bought Tony a ticket at the ticketing office at the hotel, where American Express cards work just fine, he asked me what we were going to do that evening, now that we had time on our hands.

Well, one of the upsides of the ordeal was that we got booked into the hotel at the normal rate, but they had overbooked the normal rooms, so we got placed in high-falutin’ VIP suites at the top of the hotel, complete with high-tech toilets that have eight buttons and a list of instructions (you’ll read more about this in a later entry, I promise, along with the high-tech shower). Included in the Crowne Plaza VIP room package is free happy-hour drinks — music to a stressed-out journalist’s ears.

“Tony,” I said, bearing those happy-hour drinks in mind while clapping him on the back, “after our stressful and complicated experiences this afternoon, I think it’s time for a drink. Remember, alcohol solves none of life’s problems, but a little lubrication makes swallowing those problems a whole lot easier.”

This explains why this was filed at noon Wednesday, local time, and not Tuesday night.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaJeff’s China Travel Tip of the Day: This tip is applicable to any trip, not just China. Want to make your luggage and most of your clothes smell minty fresh? Just don’t screw the cap onto your mouthwash bottle very tight and stow it in your luggage before you get on a plane. By the time you reach your destination, voila!

Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day: Gentleman, whatever you do in China, don’t lose your razor. Chinese disposable razors were not meant for laowai beards, at least not those of laowai of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day, no. 2: If you get put up in a fancy suite, don’t experiment with the high-tech toilet with eight-buttons while actually sitting on it. Unless you like surprises. 😉

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

Original Comments

at 10/26/2005 1:34:40 PM, David SCHUERMANN said:

Jeff, HaHa…I experimented with one of those toilets in Japan, there should be a warning that if you don’t know anything about it, dont push any buttons while sitting on it!!!!! Yes, there will be a surprise (and if you don’t allow time for the water to warm is a cold surprise!!)!!! My travel tip….put your shaving cream in a plastic bag….my clothes smelled of shave cream when I got to the room…what a mess!

at 10/27/2005 2:25:41 AM, Joan said:

On Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day No.1 – yes, it’s true! Quite a few of customers from our private tour guide service complained on this problem. Very interesting observation.

at 10/27/2005 1:11:59 PM, Victor S… said:

A good air travel trip is that zip-lock bags are your friend. Good for shave cream, hair spray, mouthwash, shampoo and anything elsem you’d rather not soak your clothes in.

at 10/28/2005 7:41:11 AM, George Smiley said:

Part of the excitement in traveling, Old Boy, is to expect the unexpected. The anger and making the scene would not get you anywhere in heavy bureaucratic and non-consumer emphasis society. The mess up was caused initially by AmExp. Blame either the AmExp and Reed, as well as yourself for not catching the problem before hand.

The clerk in the ticket counter had his/er duty to fulfill to weed out the discrepancy in case some radical boarded the plan with bomb or incendiary material (happened more than once) to endanger national property, security and passenger. (Yes. That’s their thinking priority!) Your bad manner and temper would only strengthen the image firmly rooted in their mind of arrogant and self-imposing representative of Western Imperialism, and making your fellow travelers and expatriates harder to absorb the local culture and being accepted!

From your writing, I guessed you never had the chance to venture into local market with local delicacy. Should you insist on Big Mac and KFC, as well as some buffet for “affluent” people, I’d advise you to stay in the States and not venturing out to “Gook” countries! Should you decide to cut short your trip and return to the States, I’d advise you to get hold a copy of “Ugly American” by William Lederer. After all these years&..!

at 10/28/2005 9:57:21 AM, Jeff Chappell said: Hi Jim/George Smiley … Tell me, did you not bother to read the rest of my blog entries, and react off-the-cuff? Or are you that clueless? Read all my entries on my trip to China, before you judge me. You automatically assume because I had one rough spot in my trip, and chose to make light of it, that I’m some arrogant, narrow-minded racist bastard, when if you had actually bothered to take the time to read the stuff I’ve written and take it as a whole, you’d find the truth lies elsewhere.

I find it interesting that I only have gotten these types of comments from Westerners, LOL. Cracks me up. Tell me, have you ever even been here? BTW, you can ask Air China yourself, the issue was the fact that the ticket was in English, his ID was in Chinese. We saw a Malaysian traveler have the same issue at the Air China ticket counter the very next day. As I mentioned, if you had bothered to read the whole post, other domestic carriers don’t have a problem with this …

at 10/28/2005 1:14:14 PM, Mjackman said:

Jeff, As a journalist who did a similar electronic junket for a scheme called “almostEverest” I want to say I appreciate what you’re doing and I wish you the best of luck! Great job so far! – Michael Jackman Writer/Morehead State Public Radio essayist/Lecturer (English) at Indiana University Southeast