Anyone that knows me well knows my passion for coffee. In the past I have worked in coffee development and have opened a small chain of coffee shops in Sydney with its own blend of coffee (that I helped create).
The boys at CR Kennedy know that I am willing to travel to get good coffee. I used walk past about 4 coffee shops in Pyrmont (Sydney) to get to Talentino to get my coffee because they made, without a doubt the best coffee in Pyrmont - and quite possibly Sydney - go check it out for yourself (ask for Oscar to make it for you!).
So, people have been asking me how I am surviving and where is the best coffee in Shanghai. I am afraid that I have to report that the best coffee in Shanghai (that I have discovered) is right here in my apartment! I brought my stove top espresso maker and my own coffee - and its the best cup in town!
If I do find a good place, I will be sure to share the information.
How has China survived with an economy growing as fast as it has been with such a pathetic, incompetent and moronic banking system?
Chinese banks have some of the nicest branches of any banks I have ever seen. Leather seats, large screens with constant useful information such as exchange rates and interest rates, a very organised ticketing and `turn taking' system. I guess this is all to show how big and important they are and probably more likely how trustworthy they are. In my opinion its simply to try and placate you while they tell you `no' to every single simple request you have.
Today for example, we had a simple task to do; go to 3 banks (Bank of China, Bank of Communication and Construction Bank of China) and deposit money into the accounts of 3 companies. This was to pay for some sample products we had ordered for some customers as part of our China product sourcing business. Yes we do have a Chinese bank account, yes we do have Internet banking, no you cannot do a simple thing like transfer money from your own account to another persons account using Internet banking.
The first branch we got to was the Construction Bank of China at about 3.30pm and we took our ticket and sat down in big comfy chairs to wait (and watched the angry Chinese people yelling at the tellers). We waited about half an hour and couldn't even fill in a deposit slip to speed up the process when we got there - valuable things like deposit and withdrawal slips are kept safe and sound behind the thick bullet (and angry Chinese man) proof glass for safe keeping.
We got to the window and told the guy what we wanted to do. It seemed to be no problem and Sabrina filled in the deposit slip, signed and gave it back to him. He asked for her passport! WHAT? He said he couldn't process a payment without id. It was for an amount of about A$80. SO I had to walk back to the apartment to pick up Sabrina's passport. 10 mins later I was back in the bank, and Sabrina was sitting in the same chair in front of the teller, the teller was sitting there looking at all the people in the queue (hows that for productivity). Anyway, about 4.20pm we had successfully completed our deposit and were off to the next branch.
We got to the Bank of China at about 4.30pm (armed with 2 passports) and took our ticket and sat in the comfy chairs in the marble waiting room. At about 5.20 our number was up (I think a few people in front of us had to run home to get things). We told the teller what we wanted to do, and the answer was no, sorry you can't do deposits after 4.30pm. WHAT? He tried to explain that after 4.30pm they closed the accounts for deposits so they could do a reconciliation. Sorry, but what a crock! There were people transferring money, exchanging money, withdrawing money and using ATMs. Money was flowing in and out of accounts left right and centre. But, no, he was adamant - no deposits after 4.30pm. The bank was open to 6pm - he didn't seem to think that was a bit strange.
To make up for the fact that we had waited all that time, he allowed us the privilege of going to see the armed security protector of deposit slips, and we were granted permission to take 2 deposit slips home so they could be prefilled for easy lodgement in the morning. Oh joy!
All we were trying to do is buy things from Chinese companies, with Chinese money and have them sent to a Chinese address. But, it seems that even this simple transactional process must be delayed and riddled with bureaucracy, incomprehensible logic and outdated thinking and processes. Its wonder that the economy has done as well as it has and is testament to the patience and tenacity of the ordinary Chinese person.
Just imagine for a moment how fast the economy would be growing if it didn't take 2 days and 3 banks to make a payment for an order! Staggering.
We were very lucky this week to have Sabrina's old boss in town for a couple of days this week. Sabrina used to work for him in Sydney with a design business he was developing with some Australian partners.
Allen Felsenthal is a typical New York Jew - switched on, vibrant, full of ideas and he wants to change the world!
We sat listening to some great tales of excitement about what he has been doing and what he is up to now. He is involved in two exciting businesses at the moment.
One is the continuation of his work in design. His current company is called Point Design Inc. and they specialise in large retail store design, including some of the worlds leading department stores and shopping centres (malls). They have been extremely successful in the development of this business with 2 `World's Best Retail Design' awards in the last 4 years and it looks like they will pick up their third with the mega ritzy and upmarket Russian centre TSUM being completed shortly.
His other business is slightly out of character to what we would have expected, but, at 63 Allen is going into the world of QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) franchising with an innovative take on Chili and Ice Cream with the very popular and successful Global Chili Co. The Global Chili Co makes chili dishes, but with very innovative flavours and styles, and delivers it hot, fresh, fast and cheap. It looks like it is about to take off through Colorado and a few other states in the US and also into a couple of Asian countries. I put my hand up to try and work to get the business running here in China. He was very receptive to the idea, especially considering my extensive operations experience in QSRs and offered me to work out how to get a master franchise arrangement set up here. So if anyone has $2million to invest, let me know - we could open about 10 stores in Shanghai and then expand out around the rest of China.
Now, this opportunity came because we had the opportunity to spend more time with Allen than we had anticipated. Sabrina is a big believer that things happen for a reason, so if you read the article about where Allen was staying and then you combine that with the fact that all 3 of his meetings in Shanghai were cancelled, then I guess that I believe it too. The fact he was staying next door and had all his meetings cancel meant we could have 2 dinners and a lunch with him - and pick his brains! Very worthwhile time for us, and for the future of the Global Chili Co I hope it was worth the time for him as well.
No doubt - Shanghai is a huge city with 17 million people. What do you think is the chance of running into someone you know on the street?
The third day after I arrived in Shanghai, I was crossing a street when my arms were suddenly grabbed by someone. I was surprised and turned my head - there in front of me was one of my close friends! She stood there looking stunned - even though she recognised me on the street ,she still couldn't believe that it was me ALIVE in front of her! (I actually planned to give her a surprise by suddenly ringing her for dinner after I got the apartment sorted.) Brad had to drag both of us onto the footpath since we were standing in the middle of a pedestrian crossing with the other hundreds of people passing and staring at us.
So there out of 17 million people in Shanghai, I run into my friend on the street - what are the odds of that?
Today it happened again! A friend is coming to Shanghai from the US tomorrow. He rang me and told me the number of the hotel he will stay at ( he didn't tell me the hotel name because that is in Mandarin). So I rang up the number to find out the hotel name and address - to my deep surprise, the hotel is literally next door to my apartment! We just went there for dinner the other night with some friends from Australia.
So out of hundreds of thousands of hotels in Shanghai, my friend booked a hotel just next door to me (he has no idea of where I live)! What are the odds of that?
In such a big city, we are living in such a small world - it might mean that we are meant to live here.
"When you are in Rome, do what the Romans do" - this saying applies to food in Shanghai as well. According to my personal experience, to have Chinese food in Shanghai is much nicer and cheaper than to have Western style food.
We went to a Chinese Seafood restaurant just outside of Xintiandi Friday night. The food was very nice - fresh and delicate. We had some cod with crab meat, prawn rolls, chicken soup, fish soup and a Chinese vegetable dish. The total price was RMB190. We were so stuffed and satisfied after dinner. ( We didn't have any alcohol because the Chinese tea was very nice.)
The next morning (Saturday) I was craving for Banana Pancakes,so we decided to go to Xintiandi again to try our luck. Fortunately it didn't take us long to find a place in Xintiandi serving Banana pancakes and other western style breakfast. We ordered a Banana Pancake and a big breakfast. The drinks were free. The pancakes weren't very nice because they were made too thick and heavy and the flour they use wasn't too good either. Brad didn't like his big breakfast much either. When we asked for the bill, it was RMB150.
Comparing the previous night's Chinese dinner with the western style breakfast, we realised that going to a nice Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, you can get much better value and food than going to a western style restaurant . The food in those western restaurants always taste a bit funny ( un-genuine); it is like they are trying to cook to the western standard, but they just don't get some easy secrets of cooking. ( The chefs are normally Chinese to save cost.)
When I was in Sydney, I sometimes went to China Town to have some Chinese food. However I was never really happy with the Chinese food there - they just don't taste right!
So I suggest, when you are in one country, just go to the local restaurants. That's part of the fun of travelling, isn't it?
We went to the China Electronics Sourcing Fair in Shanghai Mart again today. Again we enjoyed it and found lots of interesting novelties.
One thing I was impressed the most with is that all the staff from the suppliers speak English and some of them speak good English!
I was planning to be a full-time interpreter for Brad before we went to the show, but as soon as we walked in, I was so suprised to find that the staff understood Brad's questions and could also communicate with him without problems. Only occasionally I explained some specific questions Brad asked.
I was really impressed!
Most of the staff are between 22-35 years old. I think this is thanks to the compulsory regulations of Chinese universities about English ability - a student has to pass Level 4 or Level 6 to be able to obtain a degree upon graduation.
This also reminded me of the recent experience in KFC. Brad wanted to practise his Chinese and went to order some icecream. But as soon as the staff at the counter saw him, they started to speak English to him so that he had no chance practising Mandarin!
When more and more Chinese speak English and are making effort to communicate with the outside world, and at the same time more and more westners are starting their Mandarin lessons everywhere as well! I think that's a good sign! When more people can communicate with each other, there is more understanding in the world!
Brad and I had this discussion the other day: our new experience in China will greatly benefit our relationship because by living here and learning my language, he will understand my culture and my background more so that we have less misunderstanding related to the fact that we were born and raised in different cultural backgrounds.
Have been back to Shanghai for over 10 days now - everything is still overwhelming to me. It seems that I have had more culture shock than Brad has so far. Brad teased me by calling me Banana (yellow outside and white inside), and I secretly agreed.
I have a shortlist of the things that have overwhelmed me over the past days:
huge commercial demand and consumption
yelling and spitting
One thing I have been doing persistently from arrival until now is negotiation. Everything here is negotiable and everything, big or small, needs to be negotiated. From apartment rent to printer, from custom clearance to Internet and phone installation, I constantly haggle, discuss, and even sometimes argue with people in order to get things done properly. Since there are no rules to play by, you can't expect too much from people and can't expect them to do the same as you would do if you were them. So the only thing you can do to get what you want is negotiation.
You have to be determined, tactical and humorous when negotiating so that you can both get what you want and have fun at the same time. Otherwise you might end up with nothing and become annoyed as well.
I found price gauging very annoying. Most of the time, as soon as people see a white person, the price at least doubles. So when we found this apartment we are living in now, I didn't take Brad with me, but inspected and signed the contract myself. It is just too hard to haggle price when Brad is there.
Wow, 2 weeks without the Internet is a seriously strange experience - what did we do before e-mail, web sites, messenger service, Skype and blogs?! How did we survive?
Anyhow, we are back on-line, we have a lovely apartment and a number of projects demanding our time and energy (which is good fun).
As Sabrina said yesterday, we were at the Shanghai Electronics sourcing fair and will be back there tomorrow. We have 12 customers with requirements for all manner of things electronic, so in these early days of us being in Shanghai we are working on being sourcing agents/brokers to get a bit of cash flow moving in the door.
The apartment is fantastic, its in the Huang Pu district on XiZang nan lu (Tibet Road South) in Puxi. It is a short walk to Huaihai Lu and Nanjing Lu for the shopping, and a short taxi ride to the Bund or Pudong. It is quite big with a large living area and 3 large bedrooms, a nice bathroom and a pretty funky ensuite (with weird glass separating the bedroom and ensuite - typically Chinese, no privacy). But above all, we love the view! We have a great sweeping view from Puxi across to Pudong where we can see the Oriental Pearl Tower and Jinmao Tower. Last week during National Day holiday, we also had a clear view of the interesting light projections onto the buildings across the way from the Bund.
So we got the apartment fully furnished, including the office furniture for the home office, for 6,800RMB per month (AU$1,150). We were pretty pleased with that, we know we could have gotten cheaper but this suited Sabrina with its location and me for a bit of space and peace and quiet. Its pretty quiet at night, and you don't need an alarm to wake up, just wait for the 7am horns at the intersection below, and hey presto - time to get up and put the stereo on!
We also finally got the phone put on and we both have mobile phones - so life is slowly returning to a sense of `normality'.
Once we have caught up on all our correspondence and phone calls, we will start to chronicle the information we have absorbed here and what is required to set up. But one thing I will say, it must be bloody hard for people who don't know the language and don't have anyone to support them! I was fortunate to have Sabrina with me who did all the negotiations, partook in all the arguments and directed everyone we were dealing with - I couldn't imagine trying that on my own with no language. So anyone contemplating the move, get yourself some local support - it will things easier and will undoubtedly save you a lot of money!