Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interview with Ramesh from Business Musings

Anyone who's ever clicked on the "Comments" section of this blog should be familiar with Ramesh from the blog, Business Musings. Ramesh has been reading and commenting here frequently for a couple years now.

Whether it's on his own blog or commenting on what I've written, I always enjoy reading what Ramesh has to say. His perspective - which comes from being an Indian with extensive work experience abroad in China, Europe, and the US - is one-of-a-kind. Add on to that point-of-view the positive and constructive attitude he brings (something that can be tough at times to find on the internet) and I'm really glad that I've been able to get to know him through his writing these past couple years.

I asked Ramesh for an interview several days ago. I wanted to pick his brain on a number of big issues and questions I've had about China, India, and the US.

His responses did not disappoint:

On China
Where did you work and how long did you live in China?

Ramesh: I lived in Guangzhou for 3 years and a bit.

What are some of the positives and negative aspects of doing business in the Pearl River Delta region?

Ramesh: Positives of doing business in the PRD were:

- Huge government support. I am in the outsourcing industry and Guangdong had realised that it was overweighted in manufacturing and underweighted in services. So the government was willing to do a lot to get services to grow. Professionally – not pork barrel.
- Talent availability and their proficiency in multiple Asian languages. China is unbeatable in sheer proficiency in every imaginable Asian language
- Great infrastructure as everywhere else in China
- Proximity to Hong Kong . We often underestimate the influence of Hong Kong in the economic growth of China. You see it for real in the PRD

Negatives of doing business in the PRD

- Surprisingly, educated talent from other parts of China don’t want to come to Guangdong. Climate, “funny language” (real quote !), miss home, all sorts of reasons. While workers are incredibly mobile in China, the educated elite don’t want to move !
- Unwillingness to go global. This amazed me as Chinese have traveled everywhere in the world. The worker still goes anywhere. The educated elite wants to stay – in three years I couldn’t coax a single guy to work outside China
- Too much factory mindset. Aptitude for the service industry is still in its infancy
- Not a specific PRD problem, but English is a huge huge challenge. This is where I don’t see China competing with India for the next 50 years.

Did you have a chance to work in any other regions in China? Do you have a feel for how business operates in Guangzhou compared to the rest of the country?

Ramesh: I think PRD has a much higher Hong Kong influence and hence much more global. The Canton fair is really one of a kind. Otherwise I think business up and down the Eastern coast is not very different. I have no experience inland.

Is there any advice that you would give to a foreigner moving to China for a new work opportunity?

Ramesh: Learn Chinese before coming !! I didn’t do that and really suffered in the first year. Otherwise an open mind and willingness to make the effort to accept the culture will do wonders. The Chinese are so friendly that its easy to get well settled.

What were the greatest positives and negatives you found in Chinese workers? Management?

Ramesh: While generalisations are never correct, I’ll attempt some anyway. Easily the biggest positive was the work ethic. Everybody works hard without supervision. It was easy to bond a team – much less distraction, politics, etc. There was a sense of pride in what they do; so easy to motivate.

Greatest negative was a real paucity of creativity. Innovation comes very hard and unless really driven , does not happen. But my biggest surprise was the difference between the factory worker and the educated elite. I noticed the educated elite starting to become soft. The virtues of hard work, ambition, drive all seem to be waning away. This was a shock to me ; totally unexpected. Maybe just my experience, but I could see it big.

On India

Where in India are you now? Are you planning on staying indefinitely?

Ramesh: I am now in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, famous for its IT companies. It has a population of about 5.5 million, has a big economy because of IT and is fast growing. Yes, I plan to stay in India for the foreseeable future – don’t think I’ll live in another country for at least the next 5-10 years.

Does India's growing economic growth trickle down to all? Or is opportunity limited to major urban centers?

Ramesh: The answer is a paradoxical Yes and No. The rich poor divide in India is extreme. For the rich and upper middle class it has been a bonanza time. The lower middle class has also risen, but compared to those above, less so. The challenge in India is the poor – both urban and rural. The benefits of growth are trickling down, but slowly. The problem is that the majority of the population is dependent on agriculture which hasn’t grown all that much. Having said that, there has been significant improvement for all; but human nature is such that it’s easy to look at somebody who has benefited more and feel having been left behind.

Why has China grown faster than India? Can India be competitive with China in the global economy?

Ramesh: China has grown faster because it started reforms earlier and has implemented them far better. One major difference is the public vs private ownership of land. China has financed much of its growth from government ownership of land. Its far more difficult to do so when faced with private ownership in India. India and China will compete and in some areas where there is natural competitive advantage India may score. But by and large my belief is that for the next 20-30 years, China will be significantly ahead of India. After that, who knows !

Do you feel India's democracy in anyway puts it at a disadvantage to China? I've heard pundits in the past say China's "decisiveness" has helped put it ahead of India. Does India's leadership put the country in a position to succeed?

Ramesh: Yes, India’s democracy does put it at a disadvantage when it comes to economic growth. China can implement better. India for example struggles with getting big factories up and running, because there is always opposition to land acquisition, especially in agricultural communities. Land being privately owned, there is always opposition, so starting a factory takes much much longer. Another problem with India is that there isn’t a single party government, but a coalition. That’s the worst case scenario for reforms. I believe democracy with a single party in government is the ideal solution for India. If that happens, then democracy will not be a major deterrent to growth. Unfortunately that’s an unlikely situation given the fractious nature of Indian democracy.

On the US
When did you work in the US and for how long?

Ramesh: I have been on and off to the US for the past 15 years. Never lived permanently, only a few weeks and months at a time, mostly in the East coast. I have probably been to 20 out of the 50 states.

In the past, on posts on your blog and on comments on my blog, you've spoken very optimistically about the US and the entrepreneurial attitude of its people. Could you expand on this a bit more? In a globalized world, is there still something that sets the US apart from other countries?

Ramesh: I could go on and on. The US is in my opinion unique in the world. There is an absolute meritocracy that I haven’t seen anywhere, and I’ve worked in Europe too in addition to Asia. It’s the easiest culture in the world to assimilate in or do business with, because most Americans respect people for their ability, not their background. The US is the freest country in the world to do business in and that’s why it attracts the best talent in the world. Work ethic in the US is miles ahead of Europe and on par with Asia. For sheer creativity no country even comes anywhere close.

Its reflected simply in one undisguised fact. Ask anybody where he would live, if not in his own country, most people would say the US. The Economist once carried a brilliant piece. Covering street protests in Iran against the US the reporter said – the chants were Death to America, Privately the protesters asked him – How can I get a green card !!

What are some differences you found doing business in the US as a foreigner compared to China?

Ramesh: There is almost no comparison ! In the US, I came and simply did business – the system is familiar, the language is familiar, the business practices are familiar, what you see is what you get, I am not a lao wai, and there isn’t a stacked deck when competing against a local company.

In China, I had to learn to do business. And by the time I left, I don’t think I learnt half of what I had to !

I want to thank to Ramesh for taking the time to share his thoughts with me. Be sure to keep up with his blog here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011 Review and 100,000

Josh at the blog just posted a really nice review of my book.

Here's a snippet of what he wrote:


A good portion of this book focuses on Mark’s trip to Xinjiang with his brother. During a planned trip to Tibet with his brother in 2007, certain events in the region caused a government clampdown on travel.

“Taking into account the increased costs and needing to have a guide to go anywhere outside of Lhasa, we decided to go to Xinjiang instead. We didn’t have to hire any guides in Xinjiang and, since I knew some Chinese, we were able to be much more independent. We felt that Xinjiang totally took care of the “crazy adventurous” part of the trip that we had originally planned on going to Tibet satisfying.”

My brother and I were floored by what we saw in Xinjiang. I’m really glad everything worked out the way it did. I’m not sure I would’ve made it to Xinjiang if the circumstances had been different.”

I just did a quick count of my book and twenty of the eighty or so photos in the book are from Xinjiang. Seeing how many photos from China's far west ended up in my book compared with how long I was there (just a little over two weeks), it should be obvious that I was completely floored my experiences in Xinjiang.

I'd strongly recommend traveling in Xinjiang to any adventurous traveler in China. The scenery (the numerous mountain ranges, deserts, and oasis towns), the culture, and the history are some of the most exciting things one can see in China.

Josh's site,, is a great resource for anyone planning a trip or wanting to learn more about Xinjiang. Josh, like I am, is living in the US now after a multi-year stay in China but is still continuing to write and read about the part of the world that has changed his life. Bookmark his site/add him to your RSS feed so you can see his updates. And explore his archives if you're new to the site.

On a separate note, I want to mark a (somewhat) historic event in the history of this blog. My Sitemeter counter hit 100,000 visitors this week (the page views are at about 140,000).

From what I gather, Sitemeter is not considered to be the most accurate counter for websites. Google Analytics seems to be the more popular method to tabulate traffic these days. Sitemeter counts search engine spiders and that kind of stuff as legitimate traffic. Those sorts of things pad Sitemeter's numbers.

On top of that, Sitemeter straight tells me that a huge percentage of my traffic comes from Google search queries. It's great having a high PageRank, but "organic" traffic (people who come to the site sans search) is always something bloggers strive for.

Saying all that, I'm really proud to have hit this 100,000th visitor milestone. It's been a great two and a half years on this blog. Writing my thoughts, discoveries, and rants about China here has been a special and important part of my life. I'm not writing as much right now as I have at other times, but I plan on posting as much on here as I can. I'm not going to let this blog die.

I'm so happy to have had a group of people who've kept up with me throughout the years. Thank you! Things have definitely progressed from my 15-Sitemeter-hit-a-day Xanga blog back in 2006-2007.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Watching the Chinese Dating Show 《非诚无扰》- “You Are the One”

Qian and I are watching a lot of\ the Chinese dating show 《非诚无扰》-"You Are The One." Here is the premise of the show from (h/t
The basic concept of the show is that 24 girls will stand in a line, each atop a podium with a light hanging over their head. Facing them is one boy, who will at first secretly choose one of the girls to be his date. Then, he reveals some basic information about himself, after which each of the girls will decide whether he is ‘date-worthy’ or not.

If a girl doesn’t like him, she will turn the light above her head off. If all 24 lights go off, the boy loses. If some lights remain on after the boy’s introduction, the boy may choose two or three of the girls for ‘future communication’. He also has the option in this case to choose a girl who turned her light off.

Finally, with three girls left, the boy will ask another round of questions, after which he will make his final choice. If the girl accepts, they may walk towards each other, join hands, and head off into the sunset for a future date and possible romance.
This show is enjoyable for me on many levels.

First, it's great for me to watch Chinese TV for language practice. Qian and I speak Chinese a bit, I speak with her family a bit on Skype, and I'll chat with Chinese friends on Skype some, but I'm really not doing anything to better my spoken Chinese or listening living in the US. I don't want to lose what I have and feel like engaging with Chinese shows - especially one that uses simple language - is very helpful.

Second, I like to see the reactions the 24 women on the show have to each male contestant/potential date that the producers roll out on stage.

Some of the ladies looking for love

《非诚无扰》is essentially a public trial of the guy standing in front of the twenty four women. The viewer gets hardly any information about any of the women who've come to the show looking for love. At most, each one will get in a few sentences and answer a question or two.

The man, on the other hand, is needled incessantly by the women and the hosts. Any physical shortcoming or personality deficiency that comes to the surface during the interview is investigated thoroughly. The guys, understandably, squirm at times. It can be pretty awkward. It's a good awkward, though; reality TV at its best.

And third, I like to think that I can glean some sociological information about what Chinese women are looking for in potential boyfriends/husbands.

The host (who is quite good) with a contestant who's choosing the girl he thinks is hottest after giving them a once over

The women on the show are very blunt. This man is too short. His clothes are shabby or out-of-fashion. He seems weird.

I've talked before on my blog about the difficulties facing twenty something year old men in China. For most urban-dwelling young bachelors to be deemed marry-able, they have to own an apartment, have a stable job, own a car, and come from a respectable family/city/region of the country (being from Henan Province is a disqualifier for many girls' parents).

I find this criteria fascinating. Especially when taking into account the general male/female ratio problems that China faces. Those ratios aren't that out-of-whack at this point in 2011. They'll be much worse when the children in China now start dating in the next fifteen to twenty years. But it's still tough for young men today. I met plenty of guys while I was in China who felt they had no prospects for ever finding a girlfriend or wife.

I don't want to get too carried away with reading into the show, though. I'm not going to try to say that 《非诚无扰》should be studied in graduate school courses or anything. It is, in the end, still a trash dating game show.

But if you understand Chinese and have some free time on your hands, I recommend checking《非诚无扰》out (here's a link to some episodes on It's a fun time.