I just this weekend returned from a one week Tokyo bizcation (business and pleasure), where I got my fill of great food, great temples, great cherry blossoms and Chinese tourists. But rather than me go off and tell you what I saw of the Chinese tourists, I will instead discuss how the Japanese are reacting to them, starting with this article from The Nanfang entitled Chinese Tourists Rampage Through Japan’s Cherry Blossoms.
“Paranoia is just having the right information.”
― William S. Burroughs
The lawyer’s job is to discern risk and help their clients to avoid them. Put another way, we are both trained and paid to be paranoid.
Years ago, when I was in Tokyo on a particularly sensitive matter, I left my hotel room as I had done pretty much every day for the last 7-8 days and starting walking to my subway stop. Then for some reason I got a strange feeling about having left my laptop computer in my hotel room and I decided to return. When I did, there were two very well dressed men wearing black suits and ties looking at my turned on laptop. I immediately asked them (in English) what the ____ they were doing in my room and one of them responded in shockingly good English that they were with the hotel and just checking on my internet. To this day, I have little doubt that they were with Japan’s Secret Service.
I just read a lawyer-written article, Privacy Tip #15 – Protecting your privacy during holiday travel, that provides some good tips for maintaining your privacy when you travel. The article lists out the following, with my comments in italics:
- Don’t leave your laptop, tablet. USB drive, other removable media or mobile phone in your car trunk. I never ever ever put anything in the trunk of a taxi or other car. I take it all with me and put it on the seat.
- Don’t leave your laptop, tablet or mobile phone unattended on a plane or train. Agreed. In addition to this, you should make sure to constantly remove sensitive data from your devices and store it elsewhere
- Use complex passwords on all devices so if you forget them or they are stolen, your data is not immediately vulnerable and accessible. This should go without saying.
- Be careful not to store or leave your devices in the seat pockets of airplanes or trains. This is indeed a good thing to guard against.
- Destroy your travel documents (including boarding passes) when you are finished with them by shredding them. I rip mine up in the airplane and give half to the flight attendant and dump the other half in the first garbage can I see upon disembarking.
- Lock your laptop and other mobile devices in your hotel safe. Hotel safes are not as safe as widely believed. Which is why stripping your devices of confidential information and using complex passwords is always critical.
- Wipe your laptop before and after you travel to high risk areas such as China, Russia, the Ukraine, Iran or Iraq. Agreed. Just not sure there are any low risk areas.
- Use your VPN connection any time you are accessing your company information and not free wifi. Agreed. When I am out of the country, there are certain websites I will not check under any circumstances. I instead request that other lawyers or staff go to those sites for me and report back or I ask them to send me what I need.
- Frequently update your virus and firewall protections. Good idea.
When going to China and to many other countries as well, I assume my hotel room and my phones (including my own cell phone) is bugged and my internet is monitored. I assume the worst and I take every measure I can to be careful. I have plenty of stories to tell involving people who were not careful about their data.
1. Many years ago, I was staying on the business floor of the Hotel Lotte in Pusan, Korea. Back then this floor had a couple of computers for its guests. I got on one of those computers (to read the news) and the first thing that popped up was a letter written by a Seattle company revealing information I know they would not have wanted me (or anyone else) to see. Someone from this company had written this letter on the computer (in Word format) and simply left it there. Not smart.
2. Many times I have gotten on the internet at an airport computer and been let right into someone’s webmail account. Not smart.
3. I once found a memory stick in the desk drawer of my hotel in Shanghai that contained an incredible amount of information on a European plastics company. Another time, on the floor of my hotel room in Los Angeles, I found a USB stick from a leading fashion company, listing out who at the company should be kept and who should be laid off. Not smart.
3. A stockbroker I know was sent an email by a rival stockbroker, urging my stockbroker friend to oppose some proposed law that would strike hard at those with massive net worth. The stockbroker who sent out this email cc’ed it to a half dozen or so of his clients and my friend figured these were people with the requisite massive net worth and he cold-called them for their business. He ended up getting a great client with this tactic. Not smart.
4. Many years ago, a client of ours discovered one of its employees was running a rival business within my client’s business. My client then arranged for this employee to bring his two company laptops to the office and then when the employee went out to lunch, my client locked him out. You would not even believe the stuff we found on those laptops. I am talking both business and personal. Very, very personal. Naked photos with mistress personal. Not smart.
5. Many years ago, I was going to a particular city in a former Communist country and my client and I agreed that, above all else, I should completely avoid meeting with or even talking to “Oleg” [made up name here]. I had to go to this city, but I was going to be there for only two days. I fly in, walk into my hotel lobby and, before I can even check in, two people come up to me and say that Oleg will be coming by to take me to dinner at 7:00 pm. I felt I had to go at that point and when I asked Oleg how he knew of my arrival, he said that he gets emailed the list of all foreigners as soon as they arrive. Oleg runs a very successful private business. The moral of this story is that you should never assume that you can go into a country completely unnoticed.
He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”
What do you do to protect your data and your privacy when you travel?
As regular readers know, I love when someone else writes my blog posts for me. Ryan McLaughlin, an old China hand, now living in remotest Canada (is that redundant?), did that honor for me the other day via his Facebook page.
A couple weeks ago, I listened to a Sinica podcast staring Bill Bishop. For those who don’t know, Bill has been writing Sinocism since forever and anyone who is anyone with respect to China has been reading for that same amount of time. I do not distinguish myself at all by saying that it is one of the first things I read pretty much every day.
Sinica describes the BB episode as follows:
As anyone who reads the Sinocism newsletter knows, Bill Bishop is among the most plugged-in people in Beijing with an uncanny ability to figure out what is actually happening in the halls of power. But as casual readers may not be aware, he is also an excellent podcast guest due to his habit of bringing first cupcakes and now amazingly smooth bottles of Japanese whisky to our recording sessions before trading the latest gossip about the goings-on in Zhongnanhai.
On today’s show we mark Bill’s departure from China and his return to the United States where he plans to live for the next few years with his family. While not exactly your requisite “Why I Am Leaving China” blog post, this show gives Kaiser Kuo and David Moser the chance to talk to Bill about the reasons behind his decision, and explore why he sees an increasingly strained relationship between China and the United States over the next few years.
Like I said, I listened to this podcast a few weeks ago. And at the end of it, I thought about writing on it so as to encourage others to listen to it as well, but not being so good at rapid and concise summarizing, I ended up punting. Until now, upon seeing the following on Ryan’s FB page:
Finally got around to listening to The Sinica Podcast’s recent episode with Bill Bishop. It should be required listening for anyone with even a remote interest in China. Gives a fantastic Reader’s Digest version of the past two decades of China, and does a decent job explaining where things are at today and why…
And something about Bill leaving China.
That’s about it. Oh, and I too recommend that you to listen to it.
Clients doing business in China often ask our China lawyers what they should read “to prepare for China” and our answers to that question usually vary with the client and the circumstances. How is that for a lawyer answer?
But for clients with little to no experienced with conducting business overseas, I have of late been recommending the book, Global Dexterity: How to Adopt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process, by Andy Molinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at Brandeis International Business School. I was reminded of that today when a friend sent me a link to a Fast Company Magazine article by Molinsky, entitled, Master the Art of Adapting to a Foreign Office Culture.
This article starts out with a situation in which pretty much all of us who do business overseas have encountered:
If you have ever lived or worked in a foreign culture, you have likely confronted situations in which the natural, comfortable “default” behavior from your native culture turns out to be ineffective for a situation you find yourself in within a new cultural environment.
In each of these situations, you don’t just struggle with understanding cultural differences. Rather, you struggle with the far more challenging task of actually changing your culturally ingrained behavior. I call this ability global dexterity—the capacity to adapt your behavior, when necessary, in a foreign cultural environment to accommodate new and different expectations that vary from those of your native cultural setting.
Molinsky then discusses the tension between changing so as to conform to your foreign surroundings so as to end the discomfort, but not changing so much as to become “inauthentic.” I personally can relate to this tension and I often hear others expressing similar concerns. You want to adapt but at the same time retain your “core.” And it is not just people that face this tension; companies do as well. See Explanations For Apple’s China Success, where way back in 2010 I talk about how Apple’s China success is due in large measure to its having “stuck to its knitting.”
Molinsky’s prescription for resolving the tension is to first learn the cultural rules, or what he calls the cultural code. He defines the cultural code as each “situation you face—whether it’s learning to give constructive criticism, make small talk, negotiate, participate at a meeting, or ask a favor of your boss—has certain rules for appropriate behavior in a given cultural setting.” He then portrays them in terms of six dimensions that capture the expectations that others have for our behavior in a foreign setting”:
These six dimensions represent key aspects of communication that differ across cultures, and that previous researchers in psychology and cross-cultural communication have shown to predict important personal and professional outcomes. Of course, there are many potential dimensions of communication style, and these six features are not the only dimensions that exist, or that differ across cultures. However, in my experience, this particular set does an excellent job at capturing cultural differences in a succinct, but comprehensive manner:
Directness: How straightforwardly you’re expected to communicate in a particular situation. Are you expected to say exactly what you want to say, or to “hint” at something in a more indirect manner?
Enthusiasm: How much emotion and energy you are expected to show when communicating. Can you express how you feel, or is it more appropriate to hide your positive feelings?
Formality: The amount of deference and respect you are expected to display with your communication style. Are you expected to show a high level of respect when communicating with someone in a particular situation, or can you be more informal?
Assertiveness: How strongly you are expected or allowed to voice your opinion and advocate your point of view in a particular culture and in a particular situation in that culture. Should you be forthright in expressing yourself, or work at hiding or sublimating your point of view?
Self-promotion: The extent to which you can speak positively about yourself in a given cultural situation. Should you actively promote your positive qualifications or be more self-effacing?
Personal disclosure: The extent to which it is appropriate to reveal personal information about yourself to others. Should you be open and forward in expressing details about your life, or is it more appropriate to hide these personal details?
Each situation you encounter in a foreign setting will have a specific cultural code for behavior along each of these dimensions. When motivating workers in India, there is a certain level or amount of assertiveness that you will be expected to show as a leader. When bonding with work colleagues after hours at a restaurant or bar in Japan, a certain level of enthusiasm is expected, which is quite different from how enthusiastically you are expected to behave in other situations that you might encounter in Japan.
I know the above sounds complicated, but I do think that just reflecting upon these sorts of issues can help one to better navigate business in foreign countries like China. And hey, even if it doesn’t, it certainly can make for interesting discussions.
Do you agree?
According to yet another highly scientific and thoroughly researched study, Beijing was just named as the world’s most livable city. No big surprise there, what with its recently cleaned air, its friendly cab drivers, and its overall friendly and polite vibe. The fact that it has such pure drinking water and low rents no doubt aided in this choice. Paris came in second, which makes complete sense, particularly if you are Jewish and have no problem living in a city where large swaths are no-go zones. It also may be the only city in the world with cab drivers as pleasant as in Beijing, and its citizens match Beijing’s really one for one in both friendliness and politeness.
And rounding out the top three — again no surprise here — is Des Moines, Iowa. If you doubt this choice, I have two words for you Fong’s Pizza.
How do you rank the world’s cities on livability?
Way back in 2007, in a post entitled, Promising China Blog: Ben’s Blog Is Certainly “Cutting Edge,” we highlighted what was then called Ben’s Blog: A Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom. At that point, Ben described himself and the purpose of his blog, as follows:
My name is Benjamin Ross and I am an American originally from Kansas City. I finished college in 2003 and came to China the following year. My reasons for coming to China were that I wanted to experience a lifestyle completely different from my cushy life in the “burbs.” I wanted to be shocked and isolated. I also wanted to learn a foreign language and actually have the chance to use it. For this reason, I did not want to go to a major city like Beijing or Shanghai. Rather, I found a job in Fuqing, a small town located in Fujian province in Southeastern China. For a year and a half I worked there as a University English teacher, until I moved to Fuzhou (the provincial capital in Summer of 2005. My current gig is doing ethnographic research for Pacific Ethnography.
I am also an amateur writer and photographer. Unless otherwise noted, all of the photography on this site was done by me. While in China I have also worked as an interpreter, TV extra, regular game-show contestant, and token white guy. Interesting (and often humorous) things happen in China all the time, so this blog is where I try to keep people up to date of what’s going on in my little corner of the Middle Kingdom.
What made Ben’s blog unique, however, was his foray into hair cutting (hence the incredibly witty title of my “cutting edge” post). Ben worked as a trainee at a local barbershop for less than $100 a month to get a better feel for China’s working class:
As an American living in China, I have spent the last three years of my life enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of a country which is far wealthier than the one in which I reside. I travel around town by taxi. I drink at expensive bars. I eat sushi. I take trips across the country, and when my apartment is dirty, I call a maid to clean it up. My life is not that different from the other several hundred Westerners who call Fuzhou home. We all come to China for the “China experience,” but we still live our lives with the advantages of being Westerners. But what is it like to be one of the 6 million Chinese residents of Fuzhou, especially those of the working class? For us China is fun and relaxing. It’s a place we come to expand our horizons, to learn a culture, to spend our copious free time studying Tai Chi and Chinese cooking or picking up girls at the bar. But for Fuzhou’s working class, there is no such fun and relaxation, no time for hobbies and no money for Tsingtaos at the pub. Work is a way of life and a means for survival.
Tomorrow I will begin a one-month stint as a ?? (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.
What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month? How will this put into perspective my life in China as a foreigner, or my life in America as an American? How does the other half (or in this case 99.9%) live, and how do the respond to a foreigner trying to do the same? I hope to find the answers to these questions, and hopefully have a little fun doing it. I will be keeping my blog updated daily for the next month, so check back regularly for updates, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.
I loved Ben’s blog back then because I loved Ben’s observations regarding the people with whom he worked and their industry. But Ben left China in August 2007 and eventually pursued a Ph.d in Sociology at the University of Chicago.
But for reasons of which I am not aware (and having just learned this from Facebook) Ben is back in China and blogging again about the business of hair in his inimitable style. The first post I read from his latest China trip is entitled Why has everything in China gotten more expensive…except for haircuts? and that post as well as anything that I have read anywhere encapsulates the brutal cost increases and competition that pretty much all companies — foreign and domestic — face when trying to do business in China. If you are interested in China from just about any perspective, including business, I urge you to start reading Ben Ross’s Blog (it’s current name). Take advantage of it while Ben is there as this is likely to be a limited time offer.
The China Holiday Schedule 2015 infographic below comes from Ryan McLaughlin’s consistently excellent and important Lost Laowoi Blog. Use it and you will not have to wonder why so and so is not picking up the phone on such and such date in 2015 or why nobody can meet with you between February 18 and February 24.
As most everyone who flies around China already knows, flight delays are maddeningly common there. As anyone who has been doing much flying around China in the last few months already knows, those flight delays are becoming even more common and even longer.
And now Business Week tells us that things are only going to get worse. In China’s Horrible Flight Delays Are About to Get Worse, Business Week’s Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts informs us of the following:
Those who fly China’s not-so-friendly skies are about to spend even more time grounded. “Passengers in east and central China will face mass flight delays until Aug. 15, the China Daily reported on July 22.
China’s official English language paper cited as its source a report by news.cnr.cn, the website of China National Radio. National radio reporters, in turn, spoke to China’s civil aviation authority, which confirmed that delays are expected at Hongqiao and Pudong airports in Shanghai, as well as in major cities nearby, including Nanjing, Hangzhou, Hefei, Wuxi, Jinan, and Qingdao.
Great. Our China lawyers are already having to adjust. Just last week, one of them was to go to from Beijing to Wuhan to meet with a client at 5:00 p.m. Rather than risk her being late, we decided to fly her in the day before. Guess what happened? The client’s flight was delayed and the meeting did not take place until the following morning. Either way, we sprang for an extra night in a hotel and all because we cannot rely on the flight schedule.
Hardly any foreign companies doing business in China have not already or will not be impacted by this. What are you seeing out there?
I wish it were not so, but I have apparently developed quite the reputation for complaining about service in Chinese hotels. See e.g., Beijing Sheraton Great Wall. China Writ Large Or Me Just Being Petty? Prior to my Great Wall post, I would typically point out one or two examples of bad service at a China hotel that would be incredibly unusual anywhere else.
I just got returned from a couple of weeks traveling on business through Asia, and while there, two people emailed me to say that they hoped my China hotel experiences would be better this time.
I spent time in Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Korea. And I spent two nights in Beijing on a 72 hour (free) visa that I picked up at Beijing Capital Airport. Just as an aside, it took me all of about 45 seconds to get that visa; it is great!
I was traveling alone and there for only two days and so I decided I would go upscale. So I stayed at a very well known, very expensive, very swanky Western-owned five star hotel. The hotel is gorgeous in every way and in most respects, the service was amazing.
Nonetheless, I once again experienced an incident that again makes me wonder what the hell is up with service in China.
But before I tell you about that incident, let me note that it was only at my Beijing hotel that I had any complaints about my trip. I spent five days at a $100 a night Sheraton in Hanoi and it was great. All I really want is decent service.
So what happened at the Five Star Beijing Hotel? My first morning there I went down for a buffet breakfast. The breakfast room is gorgeous, with marble floors. I loaded up my plate, to include two tiny ears of corn and I was walking to grab some bread when I slipped and fell. Somehow, and truly amazingly, I was able to catch my fall while keeping the plate balanced; the two ears of corn flew off, but that was it. Two Americans right there clapped.
Some guy from the hotel ran over, clearly worried about my fall. I insisted that I was fine (I was) and I pointed out a puddle of water maybe a foot long and a foot wide where I fell. I then looked around and noted and pointed out another puddle maybe ten feet away. The guy who had run over to me started quietly yelling at an elder woman who immediately wiped up my puddle. I went back to my seat, ate a bit and then decided to come back for more.
What did I see? You guessed it. Three small puddles spaced around the breakfast room, including the one ten feet from the one that tripped me up. The cleaning staff had cleaned up “my” puddle but nobody had looked around for more puddles or cleaned up the other one I pointed out. It is unbelievable to me that neither the guy nor the woman made any real effort to make sure that the floor was completely safe. It seems all that concerned them was impressing upon me that they were fixing things.
After breakfast, I met with a China lawyer friend who has been in Beijing for about a year and told him what had happened. I asked him whether my always “seeing” things like this in China was because I was being unfair or hyper-critical or what? I asked him why it was ALWAYS China. He immediately said it’s China and not me. He said that he deals with stuff like this all the time.
He then told me of how at his son’s Chinese emblematic school the kids were told of how they were going to start playing baseball. They were to buy uniforms. His kid was thrilled and my lawyer friend went out and bought the uniform and some equipment for his son. A baseball coach was brought in and for a couple days he taught the kids some skills. On a Saturday or a Sunday, a bunch of schools got together and everyone played a game. The kid loved it. The head of the school and various government functionaries all spoke about sports in the schools, etc.
And then that was it. Just the one game. No more practices. No more games.
The China lawyer said that this was emblematic of China. The whole baseball thing was done simply to say that it had been done. It was done to look good. It was done to check something off. It was not done to inculcate the kids with baseball skills or baseball knowledge. According to this lawyer, this is what caused me to slip. China does not really concern itself with quality. It concerns itself with appearances. The goal is to be “good enough” not “great.” He said this, not me.
So again, I ask, what is going on here?
We started a China Law Blog Group on Linkedin with the goal of creating a spam-free source for China networking, information and discussion. We now have nearly 8,500 members and, more importantly, a number of lively discussions.
We have had some absolutely terrific discussions, both based on the numbers (a number of the discussions have received around 100 comments and some have gone over 200) and on their substance. Our discussions have ranged from practical (such as, how do I open a China bank account or what are the best practices for a China Joint Venture or what is the most important thing to do for doing business in China) to deep think (such as, what is the future of rule of law in China? or what are the differences in how Chinese companies and French companies are run).
What also boosts the group is its diversity of membership. We have a large contingent of members within China and without. Some members are China lawyers, but the overwhelming majority are not. We have senior personnel (both China attorneys and executives) from both large and small companies and a whole host of junior personnel as well. We have students and we have professors. This mix only contributes to the high level of discussions.
I am most proud of how (at least as far as I know) no spam item has yet lasted on the site for anything even approaching 24 hours.
If you want to learn more about China law or business, if you want to discuss China law or business, or if you want to network with others doing China law or business, I suggest you check out our China Law Blog Group on Linkedin and join up. The more people in our group, the better the discussions.
We will see you there. Click here and join us.