Tag Archives: China

Go here to see your comrades in a bathing suit

22 Jul

There is a coastal beach resort in China called Beidaihe.  It’s  a summer retreat for top Communist officials. While vacationing, they seek alliances and plan political strategy for their big fall conference.

The resort was featured in a New York Times story today. It brought back memories because I once was there.

Years ago, before China got rich, I was living and working in Beijing. I traveled extensively in China and Beidaihe was the first town I visited that made me feel as if I were no longer in China.

Beidaihe may  have been somewhat seedy. but it was also bright, colorful and cheerful.  I liked it very much. In a way, it reminded me of the Jersey Shore.

At that time, few Chinese went on vacations. Evidence of this was the little stands in Beidaihe where visitors could rent bathing suits for the day. The women’s suits, if I recall, were very modest and dowdy.

The Times story points out that Beidaihe is known for political intrigue. The town is connected to the tale of Lin Baio, a top leader that some expected to replace Mao Zedong. Indeed, Mao is said to have sanctioned the succession by publicly telling Lin, “With you in charge, I’m at ease.”

But it was determined later that Lin may have been planning a coup. He tried to escape to Russia in a plane from Beidaihe. The plane crashed and all were killed. To this day, many consider the crash suspicious.

So, while in China, it was a common joke among the foreign workers to voice support for each other with the ironic, “With you in charge, I’m at ease.”

It always got a laugh.

I wish I could use it in the states, but it just won’t work.

Anyway, that’s my little story about Beidaihe.

The end of privacy

11 Feb


Digital technology brings the world to you and you to the world.

It tracks and records you, follows you around, knows where you have been, what you like, who your friends are. It can predict what you are likely to do.

There is a story circulating that a person with good credit was denied a mortgage because his friends in the digital world were un-creditworthy. You know, birds of a feather.

True? Don’t know. But certainly possible.

Now it seems people with information to protect are taking great steps to secure it when they go abroad. The New York Times this morning describes the precautions taken by a China expert at the Brookings Institute when he travels to that country. The account says such measures are now commonplace for government and business officials.

He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings ‘loaner’ devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”

At home, the average person’s privacy is compromised for marketing purposes. Someone wants to sell you something. It’s not a pleasant idea, but most can live with it. If it ever becomes political and used as a repressive tool of government, we’ll have quite a lot to worry about over a simple game of Angry Birds.

Am I’m being naïve by saying “if it ever ….”?

Manufacturing: Ain’t what it used to be

25 Jan

When we think of manufacturing, we think of jobs. Unfortunately, that notion is outdated. Thomas Friedman, in his New York Times column today, repeats a joke about modern textile mills. Here’s the joke:

The average mill has only two employees, a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to keep the man away from the machines.

But even without many jobs, America should still seek to lead in manufacturing. On a sort-of bright note, we probably have more manufacturing than most people realize. Here is an interesting tidbit:

A Chinese company called Wanxiang Group controls dozens of factories in the U.S. that serve the auto and mining industries in Indonesia, western China and – hard to believe – North Korea.

We’re not out of it yet.

Why America loses jobs

22 Jan

Jobs fair in China (NYT photo)

A noted columnist recently said that young Americans would like a 35-hour work week, as compared to young Indians, who would like a 35-hour work day.

The willingness of those in the developing world to labor hard and long is no longer commendable. In many cases, it represents an acceptance of a new form of servitude.

The New York Times today reports on why Apple can’t assemble its products in America. As an example, it mentions a case where last-minute design changes were made to iPhone, which needed to be on store shelves in two weeks. According to an executive interviewed by the Times, this is what happened at a Chinese plant.

“A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.”

The executive said: “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking.”

My question: Will those workers eventually become more like us, or will we become more like them?

A Workers State No More

18 Dec

China once prided itself on being a Workers State. Now, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, extreme worker dissatisfaction is widespread. A professor at Tsinghau University in Beijing said in 2010 there were 180,000 riots, strikes and protests.

I worked in China back in 1985, for the New China News Agency. The first day I walked into my dusty, dingy office I was handed a month’s pay – in cash. “I haven’t done anything yet,” I told my supervisor. She answered, “In China we pay you for work you will do; not for work that you have done.”

That suited me fine.

At the time there was a great surplus of labor so we didn’t work very hard. It was a six-day work week but we could have done it all in four. You were allowed time off if a relative died and women could stay home during their periods. As an expected result, fathers sometimes had multiple deaths and females on occasion menstruated twice a month.

No one cared.

When there were beer shortages in the summer, the Agency got us beer. For those who didn’t have showers or bathtubs at home (there were many) you could take a shower in the company washroom while on the clock. (I once naively asked a co-worker: Why is your hair all wet?)

Food in the dinning hall was heavily subsidized. If you donated blood you got three days off to rest and coupons for free milk and meat. If you were sick, you went down stairs to the company clinic to be treated, for free, of course.

In the heat of summer you ate a quick lunch and slept for two hours. (In winter it was only an hour.)

Pay was low, but people paid minuscule rent, if any. There were few regular expenses and from what I saw, it was clear the disposable income of Chinese workers was actually higher than that of some Americans.

I think most of this has changed.

Today, companies in China try to take land from people and towns, causing protests. They will try to relocate factories to areas where labor is cheaper, causing riots.

Someone at a demonstration ought to stand up with one of those old books of propaganda about the supremacy of the worker and ask, “Hey, aren’t we a Communist country?” and see what happens.

Jail, probably.

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