Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On China's Nationalism

In my conversations with Stone I sometimes find that he can come off as rather demeaning. Not that he is a physically imposing person (in fact, he's quite the opposite), but he's eloquent and has a very harsh tone sometimes that appears a bit condescending.

"You don't know Chinese history, you need to understand Chinese culture." etc.

I don't understand Chinese history or culture? I am Chinese! But am I? Being born and raised in California, I didn't watch CCTV growing up or study Confucius, rather, I grew up on the X-Files and reading Time Magazine/ Economist. But as I grew older, I began to study and appreciate Chinese language, history, and culture. Also, my parents and grandparents raised me with a healthy dose of Chinese culture just by being who they were (immigrants from Taiwan). Surely I know something about China, right?

Over meals we debate Chinese history, politics for hours at a time. I like to interject Stone's purely-Chinese viewpoints with contrasts derived from my perspective of American history. With 5,000 years of history, Stone indeed has a deep well of information to draw from. When the smoke cleared, however, we came to the consensus that Chinese people indeed do have a right to be proud of their history and culture, but the problem with current society lies with those in charge of the country. Are they willing to make the sacrifices necessary to empower the rest of the country, to share their power so that others may also thrive? Or will they continue to hold on their power, make promises of changing things, and then do not a whole lot about it (or even the opposite)? This is the fundamental question.

Given my beliefs, I often tell Stone that the biggest difference between China and the US is America's historical belief in God. Americans historically have tended to believe in (and hence follow, or worship) God, while Chinese people have gotten away from this belief in 上帝 (the ancient Chinese term for God), especially in recent years.

If we are to believe that:

1) God is all-powerful and the creator of all things
2) He loves us and cares for us
3) He sees and knows all things
4) He especially guides and blesses those who choose to love him

then I don't see how my postulate couldn't possibly be true. If you are an unbeliever reading this blurb, then of course this entry probably doesn't make a lot of sense to you. But as a believer, my thoughts are that if indeed God is all-powerful and willing and able to bless others, then its pretty clear a society where the majority adhere to these beliefs will be more 'blessed' or 'civilized' than a country where the majority do not. And these results manifest over time, in many different ways: from prosperity, to innovation, to our ability to help other countries, to culture, to the ways we treat each other.

And that is the fundamental difference between the U.S. and China. At least for now, anyways. Who knows where we'll be in 50 years...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Finally in the Heartland

I touched down in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, two days ago.

The "Iowa of China"

Someone told me that out of China's 32 provinces, Guizhou is the 6th poorest. As such, I came prepared- while in Beijing I purchased a box of tasty beef jerky in case there wouldn't be enough meat to go around.

How wrong I was- the streets (at least in this college area of Guiyang) are very lively, with lots of students, meat, and even alcohol. The most noticeable differences between here and Beijing is that it is very green, hilly, and unfettered here. The ambience keeps the weather cool and pleasant, not too hot.

(I can't wait until retirement)

I was greeted by Professor Ye at the airport, who teaches econometrics and enterprise management at the University of Guizhou School of Management.

I will be working primarily under him on this project, but as he is busy teaching courses and has several other graduate students working under him, he has assigned two of his to help me in the meantime.

Their names are Stone (he doesn’t have an English name, and his last name literally means 'shi' or 'rock') and Sophie. Sophie’s family lives about an hour outside of Guiyang, while Stone’s family lives further away.

(Mai on the left, Sophie in the middle, and Stone on the right)

Just to be clear, my project here will be to help Guizhou’s organic tea farmers to market and brand their tea for export to the world’s primary organic markets, focused especially in the US and Europe. In addition to assistance from China's universities, I am hoping to leverage support from the local governments here. I am staying on-campus at Guizhou University.

Prior to coming to Guiyang, I did a decent amount of research, including speaking with students who had previous experience working on organic farms or in advertising with large organic retailers such as Whole Foods. I also visited a number of tea cafes in Ann Arbor and San Francisco to see what it takes to get product stocked on their shelves, as well as data on the type of customers that frequent their businesses and purchase organic consumables.

Yesterday, Stone and Sophie took me to a village outside of Guiyang, about 30 minutes away. The village is a popular tourist destination for locals. I’ve attached some videos (with translation) for your entertainment and edification.

Stone introducing the village we visited, Qing Yen

Sights and sounds of the village market

Eating pig feet with an excitable Sophie

In the meantime, I'm working on putting together a business plan of sorts to hopefully get their tea to market. It is difficult because this region isn't known for tea-growing, but rather for Bai Jiu, aka Mou Tai, aka expensive, Chinese hard liquor.

Hopefully these videos will help. A big challenge will come when I finally get to go out to the 'real countryside' to see how these farmers really live.

Update from Beijing (Originally published on 6/16/10)

My WDI internship officially began on June 1, 2010. Prior to that, I was in Bandung, Indonesia, working on a sustainable agriculture project involving dried mango exports with four other Ross MBA students. It was a fantastic experience and I’m hoping the lessons learned about the difficulties of running a social enterprise will carry forward onto my other projects.

My internship is divided into two parts. The first component was a 2 week-project with the Asia Foundation (my previous employer), where I helped the Beijing office to create a project to train green energy entrepreneurs on how to start a clean tech business. Involved in the creation of the project was the determination of which industries we would train the entrepreneurs in, how the trainings would be structured, how the project would be funded, and who the strategic partners might include.

Very useful to beginning this project was the fact that there’s a number of other Ross MBA’s who are currently working in Beijing, many of whom are involved in green energy projects. I set up various dinners and meetings with my contacts to see who was working on what and who could be involved. One of the most important contacts was with one of my associates at JUCCCE (Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy), who happens to be the program manager of the Mayoral Training program, which has trained hundreds of mayors in China on clean technologies. I was able to get an extra ticket to this conference for my contact at the Asia Foundation (cost ~ $500).

Classmates and fellow energy compatriots

It was decided by the office that the money for the project should come from private funding. Based on my research, I came to the conclusion that there are four key greentech areas which the trainings should be focused:

Green Building, Green Industry (i.e. waste -> energy), Biofuels, and Clean Water.

The main reasons for selecting these industries include:

1) The Chinese government has yet to make significant inroads in these areas, so the market is less mature
2) The Chinese government has ambitious goals to increase energy efficiency stemming from these projects
3) The doors are more open in these industries for private companies than, say solar or wind power, where Chinese companies already dominate the market
4) Innovation in these industries would significantly help to improve the environmental situation in China

Separately, I also identified a listing of 80 companies who would potentially be interested in sponsoring such a training program.

The Asia Foundation Beijing office was very receptive in collaborating on this project, and I’m hoping that future collaborations are also possible.

My next blogs will hopefully be more frequent as I am leaving Beijing for the rural countryside on Sunday to begin my main project working with organic tea farmers. More pictures, and hopefully videos, to come. Attached is a random picture of some guys I played basketball with at Beijing University.

And hanging with my cousin Mars