Saturday, October 27, 2007


By Stephen Crane
I looked here;
I looked there;
Nowhere could I see my love.
And – this time –
She was in my heart.
Truly, then, I have no complaint,
For though she be fair and fairer,
She is none so fair as she
In my heart.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


One day, a few months back, my driver walk up to me and said that he is resigning from his job because he plans to put up his own business with his wife. Specifically, he was planning to set up a “lugawan” or a small food stall at his parent’s place which happens to be conveniently near a public market. Of course, I allowed him to resign and even gave him my blessing. Fast forward to last month, my driver came back to me and asked if he could return to work for me this November. It is not that his business failed. Conversely, his business is quite brisk and is doing extremely well. The problem is he is tired of it! He complains that he works everyday even on Sundays and holidays when business is much more brisk. He gets up early in the morning usually 4 am and cooks the food to be served that morning and closes late at night and went to bed even much later because he has to clean up the place and wash the utensils as well as prepare the ingredients for tomorrow. He told me that he preferred to be a driver than an entrepreneur. While his income as a driver is meager, he only works from 8 till 5 every day from Monday to Saturday and could have a good night rest plus he is off during Sundays and holidays. And he doesn’t have to worry about anything at all. Upon hearing what he said, I tried very hard to suppress my laugh. I’ve heard of business going belly up because of poor sales. I’ve heard of business folding up because of short funding. I’ve also heard of business shutting down its door because of poor rate of return on investment or low profitability but I’ve never heard of business closing down because of TOO MANY WORK. This is the first time I’ve heard that. Coincidentally, one of new clients who used to be a driver of one of my existing clients is also complaining very much the same thing as my ex – driver (who by the way will be reinstated). Unlike my driver, this new client of mine is not planning to shutter down anytime soon. It is not that both of them had no help at all in their businesses. They do hire some helpers but like many start up entrepreneurs, they do most of the jobs themselves. In fact, they have to go to the distance and cover the short comings of their staff when the going gets tough. They have to work doubly hard just to survive, prosper and grow. And these are the things that you wouldn’t learn in business school. Hardwork, perseverance, patience, and keen observation and learning (of the trade). More than just business plans and hypothetical business models, these values are equally crucial to the success of the firm be it a small “lugawan” or a manufacturing plant. And this is the reason why some aren’t cut out to be entrepreneurs. It is not that they’re lazy or anything. It’s just they don’t have all the values necessary to make it in business even if they have all the funds they could get their hands on. Incidentally, I remembered a story, a Chinese folklore I read in a newspaper years ago about the “secret of success”. There is this poor young farmer once who envied his rich merchant neighbor. One day, he got the courage to ask his neighbor about the secret of his success. And to which the neighbor replied, “It’s actually quite simply.” “I steal, I grab, I cheat, and I lied” was the answer the young farmer got from his neighbor and instantly, his eyes lit and a devilish smile came to him. And so, in the next few years, the once poor farmer grew rich, filthy rich, richer than a king and he did so by steal, grab, cheat, and lie. Until one day, the long arm of the law catches up with him and he went away for a long time. During his incarceration, he began to search for the reason for his failed lot and came to conclusion that he has his neighbor to blame for all the ills he has now for wasn’t his neighbor who told him to steal, grab, cheat, and lie in order to succeed?” With this in mind, the farmer vowed revenge when he got out of prison. And true enough, on the day, he was set free. He went straight to his old neighbor to settle some old score. The rich merchant neighbor was actually quite surprised to his old neighbor coming to see him after all this time and inquired as to latter’s business with him. The farmer then told the rich merchant that he came to settle an old score with the merchant for giving him false advice. Surprised, the merchant asked him what advice did he given to the poor farmer then and why is it false. To which, the farmer turned robber replied, “you advice me that in order to get rich, I had to steal, grab, cheat, and lie which I did and looked what happened to me?” “I ended up in jail.” “Now, tell me that wasn’t a false advice you gave me.” The merchant laughed upon hearing what the poor farmer said. Seeing this, the farmer got angrier and demanded an explanation as to why the merchant was laughing. The merchant then replied that it’s true that he did advice the farmer to steal, grab, cheat, and lie but the latter totally misunderstood him. The merchant explains that, “I didn’t give you a false advice at all for I myself practice what I’ve preached.” “I steal alright but what I’d steal is time itself. I woke up early in the morning and opened shop early while my competitors are still sleeping in order to get the early shoppers. I closed late at night when most of my competitors have already closed their stores so I can sell to the late shoppers.” “I do grab because I grab every opportunity that comes in my way whilst my competitors would probably give it up as a nuisance.” “And yes, I cheated.” “I cheated my competitors by opening my store at a better location, by offering better service and better products at lower prices. I essentially didn’t play “fair” with my competitors.” “And lastly, I’m guilty of lying for I lied to my customers.” “I told them that I cannot do what they requested and almost always manages to surprise them by surpassing their expectations. I under promise and over deliver to my customers.” “And that my friend is the secret to success, which are not secrets at all but basically one can manage to “learn” those things if he has hardwork, perseverance, patience, and keen observation and learning of the tricks of the trade.” And then, the farmer blushed in shame.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I was in China last May 20 – 24 visiting an industry trade fair/convention in Guangzhou (the Westernized name is Canton from which the famous Pancit Canton came from), Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong. It was my second time to visit Guangzhou with the first one sometime like 5 – 7 years ago. As it is now, I was visiting a trade fair back then, specifically, the twice a year Guangzhou Trade Fair (the Spring Fair in April and the Autumn Fair in October). The Guangzhou Trade Fair is China’s first, the longest – running, the most complete, and the mother – of – all trade fairs and although there are numerous trade fairs being conducted in China annually (one of which I visited recently), still nothing comes close to the Guangzhou Trade Fair not even Shanghai, which is fast becoming a venue of choice for Trade Fair/Convention hosting. Although strictly speaking, there is no “rules” in visiting China’s trade fairs nor was China’s trade fairs any different from trade fairs conducted by other countries but there are some nuances that a novice should understand and consider.
Guangzhou romanticized as Canton by Westerners is the first region in China to be opened up by the current government to foreigners and foreign investments. It is China’s or probably the world’s first Free Port Area/ Special Economic Zone. As such, Guangzhou has a high degree of urbanization. At first look, Guangzhou looks very much like Hong Kong in terms of urban planning and architectural style but with the exception that its roads are cluttered with elevated highways and overpasses much like any major American cities. Compared to Shanghai though, Guangzhou is so last century. Though Guangzhou has its share of skyscrapers, none of them surpasses Shanghai’s skyscrapers in size and majesty. Furthermore, most of the buildings are pretty “old” in Guangzhou with many built in the late 80s to the early 90s. There are numerous attractions in Guangzhou, mostly historical places like ancient temples and pagodas, revolutionary shrines (Guangzhou is the locus of the 1911 Chinese revolution and the seat of the Nationalist government during the Warlord Era) and also, The Tombs of the Yueh Kings ( the Yueh Kingdom is a minority tribal monarchy established during the Han dynasty circa 200BC). In spite of the numerous attractions, it is pretty doubtful that anybody would be able to find time to visit all those places and attractions during Trade Fairs considering that everybody would be busy attending the Trade Fairs. While it is not a requirement to join a tour group in order to visit a trade fair in Guangzhou, it is highly advisable to do so. For one, the trade exhibition halls are located in the suburbs and rather difficult and expensive to get there by yourself. Besides, with the huge volume of people visiting the trade fairs, getting a transportation out of the Trade Hall is a very serious hassle. Furthermore, hotels in Guangzhou are always fully booked during trade fairs and the rates are usually double than the standard rates. By booking a tour group, one eliminates the hassle of finding a place to stay in Guangzhou as well as locking in a “suitable” hotel rate plus transportation.
Trade and Exhibition Hall
When I first visited Guangzhou, the Guangzhou Trade Fair is housed in 2 separate huge buildings just outside the city proper. In my recent trip however, the Trade and Exhibition Hall is now located in Pazhou, 1½ hour bus ride from Guangzhou. The Pazhou Trade Hall is actually new with the second phase of construction nearing completion. The Trade Hall looks like a huge elliptical tunnel lying on its belly and is made of glass and steel. It is a 3 storey structure. The phase 1 hall is about 1½ - 2 times the size of SM Mall of Asia and with the completion of the second phase structure; one would be looking at a complex that is 3 – 4 times the size of SM Mall of Asia. Simply huge. Even with it’s behemoth size, the Pazhou Trade Hall is actually quite visitor friendly much unlike the old trade hall in my previous visit for the former has a lot of benches in its lobby for resting as well as several VIP lounges (free passes to the VIP lounges are given to visitors entitling them an hour or two of use). In the “old” trade hall, there were no benches to speak of and during lunchtime, it was a common sight to see bodies, warm bodies (mostly males) “littered” the lobby floor with most of them sitting upright with legs crossed and some even lying on the floor taking a nap. This is because the “best seats” of the house are all taken by then. By “best seats”, I’m referring to the floor space near the walls where one could press his/her tired backs against the walls and rest. In additions to the presence of benches in the new Pazhou Trade Hall, the new trade hall has a lot of decent dining areas not found in the old trade hall. Incidentally, I still vividly remember my first visit when my friend and tour buddy took me to this food stand inside the old trade hall. The queue was quite long (and is still is as of now) but the cost was quite cheap, around 15 – 20 RMB (more or less 100 pesos). For that price, one would get a 3 – viand rice topping with one viand stack side by side to each other in a styropor lunch box and a can of soda and nothing else. By nothing else, I meant that there is no table or chair available for you to eat your food. So my friend and I ate our lunch while standing with one hand carrying the lunch box and the other hand scooping the food with a plastic spoon and our can of soda on the floor in between our legs (I saw some ladies doing the same and there are some couples who take turn eating with the other holding the sodas and his/her meal box while the other eats). Now, if one thinks that this is nothing to fuss about. Well, imagine this. You’re eating a food that has a “curious” taste (a mixture of rice and 3 viands stacked side by side one to the other along with their sauces) while standing………… beside a foreigner whose food aroma and body odor tended to totally mask the “curious” taste of the food you eat. Talk about the “best” food experience one could have in his lifetime! And so, it is really a great relief to know that the new trade hall has a better dining facility than the old one. And though they still serve the rice with 3 viand combo that has a “curious” taste, it is heartening to know that one has an even greater food choices at the new trade hall. As a matter of fact, I had lamb chops with rice for lunch on my first day of the latest trip of mine. Besides, there is always McDonald’s. Thank God for McDo! Be warned however, to take your lunches early, preferably sometime around 11am. This is because of the huge volume of visitors to the place and all of them tend to take their lunch at the same time around noon, that is if you want to avoid eating while standing up beside a foreigner ………
Attire and Accessories
Strictly speaking, there is no dress code during the trade fair and one can actually wear casual clothing to the trade fair but then again, this is a business meeting and in a business meeting, etiquettes needed to be observed. Chinese businesses are known to be formal hence wearing formal clothing do actually help in the negotiations and transactions. It is a known fact that some Chinese sellers tended to ignore “informally” dressed buyers not unless of course, you are an American or a European. Well, of course, one doesn’t have to dress formal wear to the hilt. One can actually wear a pair of denim pants with a matching long sleeves polo and a pair of rubber shoes as long as he wears a business coat or a blazer on top of his shirt with ties being optional, which I did (ladies can wear pants but again it should look formal). The choice of shoes is very, very critical not because of etiquette concerns but rather due to practical needs. Imagine walking thousands of square meters of floor area for 8 hours straight for 3 days with a leather shoe, at the end of the day, your feet would be killing you. I know because it did happen to me on my first visit. This is the reason why I wore a soft “walking” shoe on my recent visit. Now, if one thinks that they can take the punishment of walking around with a leather shoe or in a 3 inch heels, well, be my guess but consider yourself warned. One of the most important accessories that a visitor to a Chinese Trade fair should be bringing is an empty luggage bag with rollers. This is because of the sheer number of exhibitors on display (there are hundreds if not thousands of them there), one would probably end up with literally hundreds of brochure. Imagine carrying all those brochures while walking on a leather shoe. Don’t worry however, if one “forgets” to bring a luggage bag with rollers for it is available for sale at the trade fair hall itself. Another important accessory that one shouldn’t forget to bring during the trade fair is that of one’s calling card. Well, you could always print out your calling card right on the spot at the trade hall but it is not only expensive but murderously expensive. And don’t just bring one calling card. Bring 2 – 3 boxes of it (assuming that each box contains 100 calling cards).
Scheduling the Trade Fair Tour
Trade Fairs in China usually started around 10am (or was it 9am?) and ends around 5pm. The trade fairs in China usually lasts for four days to a week but for the Spring or Autumn Guangzhou Trade Fair, the entire fair is about two weeks separated into two main events each with 4 days of exhibition time with a 3 – 4 days break in between events. However, when you joined a tour group, you are usually given three days to visit the Trade Fair and quite frankly that is enough time for someone to tour the trade fair. Actually, one can finish “walking” through the entire trade fair in a day if one has a strong calf muscle. But then again, trade fairs were never an exercise of the calf muscle. What is the point of going to trade fair and do just walking without examining the wares and products on display, inquiring about the price, and trying to negotiate a “mutually advantageous” deal even if one is just simply “looking”? The “deal” about trade fairs is to look for possible items for trade and as such one doesn’t simply “walk” but also “look” around, analyze, and “talk”. And this is why one needs to schedule their tour of the trade fair because if one is going to simply looked into every stalls and booth in search of a “vague” deal, then at the end of the day, one wouldn’t find anything at all and it would be a big waste of time plus a sore foot that is going to kill you. The first thing to do before one even consider joining a tour group to a Chinese Trade Fair is to set an objective on what one would like to look for (raw materials, finish products, foodstuffs, etc). After that, look for the appropriate trade fair to join. Again, there are many trade fairs in China and most of them are timed near the Guangzhou Trade Fairs. Once you gotten cleared that, schedule your visit. My advice is that on the first day of the trade fair tour is to visit the section of the trade fair that interest you the most or the section that offers the products that you are looking (as set in your objective). Don’t hurry. Take a leisurely walk down that section on the first day. On second day, continue the “walk” of the first day if you haven’t finished it and began “exploring” other sections after you have done with the previous section. Again, don’t hurry, take your time. If you can’t finish on that day, continue on the next day. Now, if you fail to cover the entire trade hall on the three days allotted to you, don’t feel bad because you already covered the most important parts of the tour already.
Bargaining and Negotiating
If you are looking for the proverbial dirt cheap Chinese products that is on sale in 168 mall, well, you are looking in the wrong place because you can’t find any of that in any Chinese trade fairs. The participants in the Chinese trade fairs are usually companies that has export license. And a prerequisite of getting an export license in China is product quality assurance although there are some companies that could export their products out of China even without a license. There are 3 – 4 price/quality levels in China. The first price/quality level is the domestic quality level. This is the cheapest and yet the worst of all product quality levels that China has to offer and they are usually sold locally (although some manage to export it). This is because consumerism or consumer welfare advocacy in China is still in its infancy. And because of intense domestic competition, price has becomes the primary focus of most manufacturers. This in turn led to the subordination of product quality to a company’s pricing policies. The second price/quality level is the export quality level. By export quality, the standards are usually at par with other Asian export qualities. Prices of this quality level are of course higher than the domestic quality level but they are at the lower end of the price range of that comparable Asian export product. The third and fourth price/quality levels are those of Western and/or European quality levels. These are the products that meet the stringent standards of Western countries like the US and the EU. Their prices are of course the most expensive of all the Chinese products but are comparatively cheaper than similar EU or US counterpart. Usually, what is on display in the trade fairs are the second to fourth price/quality level products. One cannot see any dirt cheap domestic quality level products on display during the trade fairs. During the negotiations, Chinese sellers usually offered their best quality and their “best” price and that is usually where the price haggling starts. It is a common tactic among Chinese sellers to offer their best quality product first and upon intense haggling would substitute their best quality product with those of the secondary quality products (the third or second price/quality level) just to capture the deal at the desired price of the buyers and further haggling would result to substitution of a lesser quality products (usually the second price/quality level, rarely would this companies offer the domestic quality level on the world market especially nowadays). This is because Chinese businessmen subscribe to the motto, “one class of product, one class of price.” You pay more, you can better quality product. You pay less, you get less also. In short, you get what you paid for. Therefore, it is imperative to keep an eye on their product quality offering and not to solely focus on bargaining or getting the lowest price possible. It is advisable that while negotiating for the price, one constantly “reminded” them of the “desired” quality of the product in question. Never assume anything. Of course, it is possible to get a great product at a bargain but such are few and it takes a person of experience in the trade to identify one. Conversely, there are also high priced products that have a “lousy” quality. And the best way to avoid such a trap is to inquire about the brand, the corporate history (which is why brochures are important), and if possible, their client list (if they’re willing to divulge at all). One more thing about negotiating during the Chinese Trade Fair is that most businesses there are after the big purchase order. Chinese businesses are basically volume driven. The minimum these businessmen are willing to “discuss” about is a volume that will fill one 20 – footer container van be it just one machine or 1 million pieces of paper clips. Less than that volume, chances are they’ll ignore you if not dismiss you outright. By contrast, if you’re buying “a lot” (as in more than 1 container van), you can negotiate for a volume discount which they’ll be “happy” to oblige but watch out for quality. A trick during the negotiation is to inquire if the seller has available stocks or inventory of the item you want to purchase at the desired quality. This is because one can usually get a discount from the seller wanting to “get rid” of their “excess” inventories. Again, watch out for quality. Prices are usually quoted in terms of FOB (Freight On Board; sellers pays for the transportation of goods to the port of origin plus the loading costs, buyers pays for the freight costs, marine insurance costs, unloading costs at the port of destination, taxes plus transportation to the end destination). One should be very wary of these quotes however. Because one may find out rather belatedly that by adding the freight charges and taxes, the costs of the product in question would not only be “less profitable” but also “uncompetitive” at all. Therefore, it is highly advisable to negotiate price based on CIF (Cost, Freight, and Insurance; sellers pay for the transport costs to the port of origin, the loading costs, the freight costs, and the marine insurance as well; the buyers on the other hand shoulders the handling cost at the port of destination, the unloading and transport charges plus taxes). Now, if one is not really sure of the product in question and is hesitant in committing a large purchase order, well, ask for a sample or samples and they’ll be willing to oblige. Or if one is in a “hurry to buy”, one can always request for a plant visit of the said seller if the site is nearby and they’re willing to take you to it (by that point, the seller would be gracious enough to even treat you to lunch or dinner during the plant visit). In a Chinese trade fair, language was never an obstacle to a negotiation. In my first visit to Guangzhou, very, very few of the sellers could speak English. The few who can speak at that time, majority of them only speaks basic English. But again, as I said, language was never a problem for I saw an Indian national negotiating with a Chinese seller through a calculator and they still were able to close a deal. Nowadays, most Chinese companies hire Chinese graduates major in foreign language usually English and Japanese and hence, language is no longer a problem but just in case, if one encounters a “language problem”. Well, there is always the calculator.
Safety and Security in the Trade Hall
Security in the Trade Hall is quite strict with metal detectors in strategic locations and security personnel all over the place. However, due to the sheer number of visitors to the place, there are instances that petty thieves and hawkers were able to get in. Some hawkers were even brazen enough to occupy an empty booth and posed as a legitimate seller and sell their wares. The only way to distinguish them from the real sellers is that they are willing to sell you by pieces instead of by bulk as the usual practice of the real sellers. So, it is prudent only that one is careful and possesses some practical “street smartness” inside the Trade Hall. By far, the most number of “unwanted intruders” in the Trade Hall are the pamphlet or leaflet or flyer distributors advertising a local dining restaurant, local products, etc. Unless one is overburdened with brochures, getting one of the flyers maybe “informative”, who knows, you might get a good bargain.
List of Trade Fairs and How to Get an Invitation
In order to find out which trade fair to attend in China as well as get an invitation to the trade fairs, visit the Chinese embassy. They are more than willing to give you an invitation for free. An invitation letter however is not a visa and you still have to apply for it once you decided to go.
Tour Guides
If you happen to join a tour group and is handled by a Chinese tour guide during the trip, beware of his/her money making schemes and antics. The most common schemes are bringing the tour group to a store usually a Jade store or a Tea store or a Chinese medicinal herb store. Another scheme would be bringing you to a river cruise down the Chu Jiang river, over priced you, and let you stayed at the bow of the boat and let you get a lot of “fresh air”.
By The Way…
The next Guangzhou Trade Fair, the Autumn edition will begin in October 17 and will most likely finish by end October.