Tag Archives: 中国生活

Slow Internet Speeds In China

I recently came upon an article by writer Frank Hersey on Technode which presented a study made by Cable.co.uk comparing 189 countries internet speeds in Mbps. According to this study of 189 countries, Singapore has the fastest internet in the world, while Yemen has the slowest.

Upon finishing the article, I was somewhat taken aback. I had always thought of South Korea as being the country with the fastest internet speeds. However, it did not even place among the top ten, ranking 16th at 22.9 Mbps.

But what about China’s internet speed? Certainly that is what we should be focusing on here, given the nature of the blog. 

There are so many things I love about China. The crazy English sayings people wear on their shirts, rich and diverse cuisine, a challenging language, the list goes on and on.

However all countries have problems, and China is definitely not the exception. Pollution, corruption, and irksome crowds are all examples of what people have to put up with here. But aside from these hardships, there is another, slightly more insidious problem: internet speed.

Internet Speed in China Is a Serious Problem

According to the study by Cable.co.uk, China ranked 134th out of 189 countries at 1.55 Mbps.

Yes, China’s internet is incredibly slow.

Now, I could give you anecdotal evidence all day of me, bashing my head against my router while fiddling with my VPN in hopes of increasing download speeds. The startling frequency in which I switch to 4G on my phone because a landline simply won’t load the web page fast enough.

When you consider just how “developed” and “sophisticated” people talk about China is, especially in terms of it’s technology, this becomes slightly shocking. Of course, for Chinese and people that work on Mainland China, it’s not shocking at all. We have been struggling with slow internet speeds the whole time.

As someone who works on his computer from 9-5 everyday, usually employing some type of internet service, this is a massive problem. It also affects areas outside of my professional life (such as this blog- hello upload times).

The Deeper Implications of Slow Internet

While I can complain all day about how long it takes for me to boot up a VPN to get through the firewall, then sit through the slow download speeds on my favorite Youtube music video, there are perhaps larger, more important things that we can take away from this study.

The impact of slow internet creates ripples of negative effects in China as a whole. First, it effects workers in the knowledge sector, who rely heavily on IT and network connections to exchange information and use web-based services. Second, it limits a company’s potential to develop internationally, lessening their appeal to international talent and handicapping their headquarters on the mainland. Of course, these two problems are intertwined, but still different enough that they deserve their own individual mention.

Internet Speed Impacts Knowledge Worker Efficiency 

There is no doubt that sluggish Mbps drastically reduces worker efficiency in the knowledge sector. For those of my readers who aren’t clear about how internet speed could negatively impact one’s work, I thought up a metaphor using construction tools.

Think of it this way, when you are building a house, you often can employ power tools such as nail guns and drills to conserve energy while increasing your speed of production. Now, you can do the same job with hammers and screwdrivers, but it will take much more time and energy than if you had the power tools.

For people that rely heavily on the web, using quality power tools is a lot like having a lightning fast connection to the internet. It makes their work more efficient and allows them to focus their effort in the areas where problems really lay.

So, at the micro-level, slow internet really hampers a knowledge workers performance. 

But who cares about that right? A lot of us on the web are old enough to remember the times of dial-up internet connections. We all turned out fine, didn’t we?

Slow Internet Weakens A Firm’s International Competitiveness 

It’s actually a very big deal. Most jobs today, outside of IT purists, rely on using the web in some way. Moreover, some of today’s most profitable and dynamic companies employ strong technology strategies.

Knowledge workers with slow internet speeds become bogged down, and this negatively effects a company’s bottom line. Whether it means the employee needs to work harder, or a department needs to push back it’s deadline, slower internet hinders a teams ability to complete tasks.

Here is important to make the distinction between domestic and international organizations. Competitively speaking, ranking low in this survey is not as important for domestic firms because they are all working in similar conditions and the playing field is level. However, in the international space, this becomes a major disadvantage.

Not only will international companies have this problem, but they will also find it increasingly hard to attract international talent. While this is important in all sectors, it is particularly important in companies that hope to use new technology, as those with expertise often come from outside of the country.

Final Thoughts

While not necessarily a “deal breaker”, internet speed is certainly a big factor for individuals and larger corporations alike. While we could all probably do with less time in front of the internet, it’s important that when we need it to work, it works.

Sidenote: Domestically hosted sites inside of the firewall are significantly faster than those coming from outside. Not really an Eisenstein-like comment, but something you might not appreciate fully unless you have spent some time in China. 

Original Study: https://www.cable.co.uk/blogs/2017/08/09/cable-co-uk-worldwide-broadband-speed-league/

Technode Article: http://technode.com/2017/08/10/chinas-internet-speed-comes-in-at-134th/

A Very Particular Period of Chinese Language Studies

When I first started learning Mandarin Chinese, I relied heavily on a series of Pimsleur courses. I found these very helpful in learning the different sounds and tones of the language, as the Pimsleur method places heavy emphasis on repetition (quite useful for speaking Mandarin).

It has been four years since that time and here I am: still working on the basics.

As part of my journey to pass the HSK 5 I am trying out some new techniques and experimenting with using new material. In particular, I have been very interested in using material from the US government’s Foreign Language Institute.

Today, I actually got around to downloading and listening to one of their tapes. You can find that tape here . (Please note that this site is not affiliated with any government entity and is privately owned).

Now, it doesn’t say exactly when the course was created, but on this particular website it uses the words “many years ago”. After listening to the tape, I realized that they were not exaggerating.

The two speakers I heard on Unit 1 Tape 1 spoke not only very quickly, but also with a heavy Beijing accent. After listening to the tape I found it very curious indeed how people were able to learn Chinese twenty or thirty years ago.

The tapes are interesting from a cultural perspective. They harken back to a time when people in the USA and China did not know very much about each other. I imagine that many of the more experienced China hands I know today learned Mandarin using similar materials.

PS: I could not find a record of the first US student to study Chinese in Mainland China. I would love to know who this person was and their story. If you know, please drop me a line.

Wikipedia Background Links

US-China open door policy and 1978 opening to foreign investment
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Door_Policy

Brief history of Chinese language studies
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_as_a_foreign_language

Riding Electric Scooters in Beijing

When I first came to Beijing I used to commute to work for an hour and a half each way on the subway. That meant most of my time was spent either at work or in the metro.

I think it was in one of those early morning commutes that I vowed to myself that I would never knowingly accept such a commute again if I could help it. In order to make good on that promise to myself I needed to find another job and minimize the time spent commuting.

Since those early days I have switched jobs a few times and apartments as well. A big part of my solution to the original commuter problem is to live in an apartment located nearby my office and to ride an electric moped.

Riding a moped into work is not perfect, (early morning traffic still gives me anxiety), but it definitely beats taking the bus or metro. In fact, the utility I have found in owning a scooter is one of the biggest reasons why I like my job and life in China.

My Current Scooter Set Up

Throughout my time in Beijing I have had two scooters. The first was a beat-up model with wide handlebars that navigated the hutongs more like a boat than anything else. Ever though it was old, it was still useful to commute from the room that I had rented in the city center to my job a few blocks away (this was post first Beijing job).

That bike had many problems and eventually I ended up selling it to a local repair shop for 300 RMB. Considering that I had used it for the better part of a year, and bought it for 800 RMB, I considered it a good purchase.

I purchased my second and current scooter upon getting a new job in a different district and moving nearby the office. In this area, it was very hard to find a good apartment close to the subway, so buying a scooter was a way for me to get around while still living somewhere nice.

While people often go for style when purchasing scooters, I chose a slightly different tact. For me, the most important feature was utility as I was using it as a tool to both commute to work and park nearby the different metro stations. That meant I was concerned primarily with the scooter utility.

When judging a scooters utility there are two important factors: batteries and safety. I decided to go with a very basic, large black scooter and lead batteries for 2500 RMB based on these two criteria.

Battery Life

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six pack lead batteries

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battery price list from local shop

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outside of the lead battery pack

As noted above, perhaps the most important quality of a scooter is its battery system. In China, there are many different kinds of batteries to choose from, ranging from cheap lead, to higher quality lithium.

Lead batteries are of poorer quality. This means that they will wear out much faster and weigh much more depending upon your desired range than lithium. However, because they are less valuable, they are also less likely to be stolen. A box of six lead batteries can cost from anywhere between three hundred to one thousand RMB.

Lithium batteries are much better. Generally speaking, you will only need one lithium battery to power your scooter with excellent range. They are lighter and also last much longer than their lead counterparts.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of lead batteries is the difficulty in charging them. If you plan on using your bike for commuting anything more than a couple of kms, then you will need more than one in your bike. (For the record, I commute 9 kms every day and have placed the entire pack of six batteries in my bike).

To charge lead batteries, riders either pull them out of the bike and lug them up to their apartments, or literally bring their bikes into the elevator and wheel them into their apartments.

The advantage of using lithium batteries is that you can simply pull the battery out and easily carry it up to your apartment. It’s simple, convenient, and incredibly light in comparison to lead batteries.

However, I chose to power my bike with lead batteries because I am honestly too afraid of a lithium battery being stolen. I myself have had two bikes stolen from me in Beijing (one I was watching for a friend) and do not relish the idea of going through this again with a lithium battery bike. Lead batteries allow me to leave the bike nearby the subway and worry less about the costs should it be tampered with.

Safety

Aside from batteries, the safety of one’s scooter is also very important. We can judge safety mostly in terms of how well the parts work: most importantly its wheels and brakes. The size of the scooter is also very important.

My first scooter in Beijing was second-hand and very unsafe.

Looking back at it now, I understand how the poorly maintained brake pads caused me to get into an accident. That … and a lack of concentration.

In order to hedge against poorly working parts I decided to buy a brand new scooter. This was a good way to ensure that everything was as new and safe as possible.

Also, like any good American, my desire to optimize safety led me to purchase the largest scooter that I could find. This idea was put into me at a very young age when my siblings and friends got their first cars to drive. That is, if you get into a crash, the largest car will always come out on top.

For these two reasons I went with a brand new model of the largest scooter I could find. This ensured brand new brakes and tires, as well as something large enough to make sure that I was a presence on the road.

Conclusion

Overall, I am happy with the purchase. It lets me cruise into work safely, and if something happens to the bike then I am not at a terrible financial loss. The size has proved well worth it while riding to and from work and I have not had a problem so far leaving it parked in various places.

However, I think if I were to purchase another bike I would seriously consider upgrading to lithium. As most of my distance gets put on between my compound and place of work, I find that actually I don’t need to worry about parking it that often. Once complaint that I have is that bringing my scooter into my elevator and then apartment multiple times a week is a hassle. I would definitely consider paying a little bit more to solve this problem.

What do you think? Are my scooter criteria aligned with your own? How do you make commuting to work more enjoyable?

Useful  Vocabulary
electric scooter: 电动车 (diàndòngchē)
battery: 电池 (diànchí)
wheels: 车轮 (chēlún)
second hand: 二手 (èrshǒu)

What Makes IKEA Successful In China?

IKEA’s success in China shows that it is possible to succeed and even thrive in China as an foreign company.

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IKEA in Beijing

Many business people see entering the Chinese market as a very difficult, almost impossible task. To these people, the idea seems incredibly exotic and shrouded in mystery. The very idea of “entering China” becomes akin to starting an opium war or engaging in some political espionage worthy of Henry Kissinger.

While there is plenty of ammunition for such claims, (certainly mainstream media is not helping), the model for succeeding in China is quite simple. Successful businesses in China possess strong business acumen and take the long term view. One example of understanding these principles and succeeding in China is the Scandinavian furniture retailer, IKEA.

Refurbishing My Apartment

My own personal connection to the topic comes by way of living in Beijing and recently wanting to refurbish my apartment. Whereas in America there are plenty of decent options for furniture on a middle class salary, these options dwindle abroad. In many ways, my time spent living and working in Beijing over the past four years has effectively turned me into a Chinese consumer (with cultural caveats, of course).

This past Sunday I traveled by bus across the fourth ring road, from Wudaokou to Wangjing in order to visit one of the two IKEA stores in Beijing. Again, I was reminded by the hordes just how dominant IKEA is in Beijing. My original goal was to purchase a sofa, but the crowds inside the store were so much that it was nearly impossible to actually inspect them.

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On the Fourth Ring Road

When I got back home from shopping, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Just why was IKEA so popular with the Chinese? Upon further online investigation I found some interesting points about the company.

What Makes IKEA Successful in China?

IKEA has taken a long view of doing business in China. They have done a spectacular job of monitoring and adapting their business in alignment with new information.  One such adaption that has undoubtedly helped them is their price point reduction in 2003 which led to 35 percent raise in sales (China Business Review).

IKEA has a strong tradition of creating product catalogs which focus on the culture of target customers in a given country. This focus on adapting to cultural differences has helped them do well in many international markets where others often fail.

IKEA has also invested significantly in an online business model. This will be crucial as e-commerce becomes more and more popular.

IKEA’s proactive attitude and subsequent success shows that, yes, it is possible to run a successful operation in China. Of course, IKEA also has deep pockets and experience in international markets which has made their ride smoother than many others who looked on jealously.

I want to make a point of IKEA’s large capital reserves here. It’s important to note that doing international business is inherently more capital intensive than setting up shop in domestic markets. You need to hire lawyers and buy plane tickets if you want to be more than a simple cog in the supply chain. A lot of the time it doesn’t make sense for companies to try and make the leap until they have a strong base at home.

Wrapping Up              

Some other companies that I have been particularly impressed with in terms of adapting to the Chinese business landscape are Starbucks, Apple, and Coach. They are also very useful to look at as case studies.

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My IKEA Bounty

Sources:

https://www.chinabusinessreview.com/ikea-with-chinese-characteristics/

Additional Reading:

http://www.chinalawblog.com/?s=setting+up+in+china

The General Consensus Is Better Air in Beijing

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Here is a panorama shot I took on my smartphone. I was lying down on a bench at the time of the shot. That’s the kind of weather we have been having here lately: mid seventies and blue skies. What more could a guy ask for?

It seems like the pollution is getting better in Beijing. At least, that is what you hear anecdotally. I had dinner with an old china hand last night that was passing through town. He remarked on how clean the air seemed.

While that person doesn’t live in China full-time anymore, and any one person’s opinion on such a large-scale problem hardly seems reliable, I think that it’s safe to say that his comment reflects the general consensus.

We still get very bad smog here, but it does seem like the stretches of good days are getting longer and longer.

I like these days because it puts everyone in a better mood. I spent most of the day around my apartment waiting on the property management to come by and I didn’t mind it at all. Everyone was smiling – even the property management people.

After everything was taken care of, I rode out of my compound in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals – thinking about what I might have for dinner under the sashay of summer’s green branches.

In the end, I decided upon Xingjiang Barbecue (串儿). A summer night classic.

 

Chinese Markets

Don’t be confused by the architecture or the language or the way others look. We are all actually a lot similar than we might like to think. We all need the basics; food, shelter, water, love. We all worry about the future and the past.

But, sometimes, the color of one’s flag tends to confuse people. It can make us think that we are a lot more different than we actually are.

American exceptionalism.

Chinese copy-cats.

It’s all hot air.

In reality, the differences between our achievements come from how our societies are constructed and the resources which are available to us at a given time.

Americans aren’t necessarily “better” than everyone else. We have just consciously cultivated a place where cooperation, learning, and meaningful work are encouraged.

Chinese aren’t copy-cats by nature. It’s just that their educational system and this particular model suits their country at this point in time. And as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Throughout past four years living in China and coming to understand it, I have fluctuated between wildly outlandish, racist notions, and a more realistic grasp of how basic societal differences shape the people. 

The best way to understand China as a market is to understand the details, while at the same time not letting these perceived differences intimidate or deter you. Yes, living and doing business here is very different from many other places. But, no, it’s not impossible.   

Cross the river by feeling the stones.

Looking outside for desirable things –

day dreaming about Caribbean beaches and sleek sports cars –

thinking about what could happen in the future – or what could have happened in the past.

We indulge ourselves in fantasy.

But what if we focused on making the things we have better, instead of thinking about far away places? Things like our relationships with other people, our daily crafts, and the way in which we go about our lives.

Just like the late Chairman Deng Xiaoping said: we must “cross the river by feeling the stones (摸着石头过河).”