China LawyersI often internally cringe when listening to someone back from their first two week trip to China. Those people virtually always come back raving about the place and talking as though it is flawless. Some amazing combination of Paris and Fiji or something.  That’s fine, but what too few seem to realize — and which I am going to have to write about somewhat elliptically for this to stay up on the net — is that at its heart, China can be a risky country. I am not telling anyone to be afraid or not to go there, but I am saying that it ain’t Kansas.

Directly and indirectly from people who call the China lawyers at my firm and from friends who live in China and from what I read, I am sensing there has been an increase in foreigners getting into legal trouble in China. Criminal trouble. Yes, in nearly all of these cases these foreigners did something stupid . . . but still.

Let’s ignore fault and blame for now and get straight to practicalities. Do not contest your cab fare and then get into a an argument with your taxi driver in China. Because if you end up coming to blows, there is a decent chance you will end up in jail and there is even some chance you will end up in jail merely for not paying. I do not know what the odds are in either situation but I do know that it happens more than most people realize.

The same is true of bar fights. In many countries the police will take both inebriated fighters to jail and release them a day or two later. But in China it is not unheard of for the foreigner to face years of prison time.

What should you do to prevent these sorts of problems? One, let it go. You’ve been scammed out of ten dollars? Put that in perspective and move on. You’ve been dissed by some loser at a bar? Walk away. Disarm that person with humor. Be the rabbit. Two, if you are arrested and given an offer that will involve you quickly getting freedom, consider taking it, because it probably will be the last offer you get. And whatever you do, don’t believe it will all just eventually pass over, because if anything it will get worse. Your Embassy or Consulate will usually do whatever they can to help you, but that oftentimes consists of little more than alerting your relatives and giving you a candy bar or two. It’s not that they don’t want to help or are unwilling to help, it’s just that legally there is very little they can do to help.

Whenever we write posts like this we get comments and/or emails accusing us of deliberately scaring off people so as to pad our own pockets. Wrong. Our pockets get padded the more people go to China, not the less. No, we write posts like this because we do not want to see foreigners (mostly young foreigners) get into trouble in China. So don’t. Please.

There are all sorts of other ways foreigners can and do find themselves behind bars for doing things they never realized could lead to criminal prosecution, and the below posts detail some of them:

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: On a somewhat related topic, Foreign Policy Magazine just came out with a hard hitting article on hostage taking to ensure debt repayment, entitled, Hostage Taking Is China’s Small-Claims Court: Everyone in China — including the police — treats kidnapping as just the price of doing business. Wow.

Sinosure debt lawyersEvery month or so, one of our China lawyers will get an email from someone who is worried about going to China for some reason or another. Sometimes it is because the person has a criminal record somewhere else in the world. Sometimes it is because the person had some sort of problem in China the last time they were there. Most commonly, it is because the person was with a company that owes money to someone in China or was with a China WFOE that blew out of town, leaving debt in its wake. See A China WFOE Shutdown, Baltimore Colts Style.

The below is an amalgamation of the typical emails our China attorneys keep getting, along with our by now fairly standard response.

I am the general manager of an American based company which defaulted on its debts to Chinese suppliers. I signed my name in the sale contracts which were for the most part simple one page contracts.
I have been contacted directly by suppliers as well as by Sinosure lawyers stateside.
Although I am not an owner officer director shareholder legal representative I worry my name could be in a computer system for detention if I were to go to china then try to fly home from a major airport.  I am mostly concerned about this because Sinosure has my name as do suppliers.
I should have always used the owner’s signature stamp on the contracts but unfortunately I sometimes signed my name to them. I knew using my name could be an issue if the company later defaulted I could be listed as someone to detain.
I am now being hired by a completely unrelated company and they want me to travel to China. I am very worried.  Although I may not be an officer, my name is on those contracts and I know how it can “get confusing” in China when they just want to detain a debtor whether the correct one or not.
Can you advise?
Am I at high risk for being detained when Sinosure is sending me e mails and letters?
I refer them to the company lawyers and frankly it’s been over ten months and several Sinosure lawyers have given up because the company is insolvent.
I need this new job but need your opinion on my risk. I will pay your fees to talk with me.
Thank you
And the below is our typical response.
You are at some risk of being detained, more likely by a company owed money than by the government. How great is that risk? That will depend on the company(ies) to whom the debt(s) are owed, your exact role with the companies that owe the money, the cities you will be visiting and the amount of the debt.
About all we can do is review your factual situation and all relevant documents and then give you a very general risk assessment. The problem is that there is a 90+ percent chance our assessment will say that you are at some risk and it will set forth various ways you can try to minimize that risk, but in the end, I doubt it will say you are at no risk and I doubt it will say you will almost certainly be detained if you go. In other words, it will essentially just tell you what you probably already know.
What have you seen out there?

China LawyersLet me start with the following two propositions:

  1. I have zero inside information about Uber in China and about all I know about Uber’s business anywhere is that I love Uber and use it all around the world and I order my lunch from Uber Eats probably twice a week.
  2. I think Uber did the absolute right thing by selling most of its China operations to Didi. I base this less on what I know about Uber’s business and more on what I know about doing business in China.

The Washington Post, in its article, Why Didi Chuxing is buying Uber in China, has this to say about the deal:

Didi Chuxing, Uber’s archrival in China and the largest ride-hailing service in the country, is buying Uber’s China operations.

The deal has a lot of advantages for Uber, which is privately valued at $68 billion. The San Francisco company will receive a $1 billion investment from Didi, according to individuals familiar with the agreement. Uber, which will maintain its brand in China under Didi’s ownership, will receive a 17.7 percent stake in Didi, according to a press release sent from Didi. The terms are evidence that Uber put up a strong fight and that both sides had a lot to gain from a partnership.

It then gives us the obligatory company quotes about how the two companies working together will be able to achieve so much more than had they remained apart and how their deal will set the “mobile transportation industry on a healthier, more sustainable path of growth at a higher level.”

Yada, yada, yada.

Many years ago, I spoke at a high level conference in Hong Kong for a particular industry. My talk was on what these companies needed to do from a strictly legal perspective to get into China. I talked about the logistics of going into China as a joint venture, as a WFOE, and by staying outside of China and simply licensing their brand names and technology to Chinese companies. I was originally supposed to speak for around 45 minutes and I prepared my talk accordingly. But about an hour before my talk, the organizer asked me to do whatever I could to “stretch it out to 75 minutes” because one of the speakers scheduled for later that day had fallen ill. I had no problem agreeing as I speak without notes and always adjust the length as I go by adding or subtracting examples or by riffing more or less on a point.

So this day I would obviously need to riff more and I did. Oh how I did. Whoops.

At one point, I started riffing on the differences between joint ventures that work and those that don’t and on how joint ventures tend to fail as soon as the Chinese side believes it no longer needs the foreign side. Then after I said that, I decided I would use this particular industry as an example and as I started doing that I starting musing out loud on how I did not understand what it was that Western companies in this industry had to offer Chinese companies and that when I had asked Western companies what would allow them to to outcompete their Chinese competitors, their answers were vague at best.

This did not make the audience very happy at all, and after my talk a handful of participants rushed me to give me the same weak explanations I had already heard — all given with near religious zeal. As far as I know, no Western company has succeeded in this industry in China yet and it is looking like one never will.

Why do I bring up that event in this post? Because Chinese companies will almost always (though not always) be able to maintain lower cost operations in China than a Western company and so Western companies without other advantages generally don’t succeed in China. For some of the reasons why this is so, check out Buying A Chinese Company? Why China Deals DON’T Get Done.

Is this what happened with Uber?

Uber founder Travis Kalanick pursued the China market fiercely, and has made dominance in China a top priority. He visits the country frequently — attempting to woo everyone from local government officials to city police forces, which had cracked down on ride-hailing services (China legalized ride-hailing services in July). His first call in the morning was to his colleagues in China, the individuals said. The company entered the China market in 2014.

But the battle with Didi was costing both companies huge sums of money. Uber reportedly spent $1 billion last year. In China, they were neck-in-neck in a race to the bottom, frequently lowering their prices to lure consumers and constantly raising money to outdo the other. In the end, neither company was profitable in China.

At some point, it looks as if reality set in.

If true, Uber’s sale was both brilliant and timely. Uber gets a stake in China’s ride hailing service without taking on massive risk. Equally importantly, Uber gets to contribute and profit from its core expertise, without having to so much get into the muck:

Selling itself to Didi was a way for the company to stay competitive in China without burning through its cash. The merger will tie the fates of the two companies, both of which have global ambitions, together. As part of the deal, Baidu and other Chinese shareholders of Uber will also receive a 2.3% economic interest in Didi Chuxing. Under the agreement, Didi Chuxing will also obtain a minority equity interest in Uber. Cheng Wei, founder and chairman of Didi Chuxing, will join the board of Uber. Kalanick will join the board of Didi Chuxing.

One big benefit Didi may get from the deal are software algorithms that Uber has developed. For far longer than the four-year-old Didi, Uber has invested in hiring data scientists and engineers who write code to match drivers with passengers, essentially triangulating people’s locations in real-time and then predicting supply and demand. Top talent in data science is still hard to come by, said Didi Vice President Stephen Zhu, in a recent interview with The Washington Post. To help identify and recruit talent, the company announced a $100,000 prize in machine learning — a branch of computer science associated with artificial intelligence, prediction, and data mining — in the U.S. earlier this year.

In the long term, Didi’s success will depend on its artificial intelligence algorithms, Zhu said. “Every user and driver have their own preferences and patterns — and we have to match them all in a second,”he said. “The core is artificial intelligence, in essence, the pattern of how people move around in big cities.”

I guess all I am saying is that companies — especially SMEs — should not be so quick to demand “full control” over what they do in China (via a WFOE or a Joint Venture), and should think longer and harder about how they can stick their toes into China via licensing deals and distributorships. See Negotiating with Chinese Companies: Distribution Agreements with no Joint Venture Required.

Our China lawyers get calls all the time from America, Australian, and European companies seeking our help in getting them out of China by extricating them from their joint venture or by helping them close down their WFOE. But I truly cannot remember an instance where we have been called to help a company get out of a well crafted China licensing agreement or China distributor relationship. Of course, the lack of these calls may be due in equal parts to the fact that getting out of a contract — especially one at the end of its duration — is usually a piece of cake, but still.

Just something to consider….

Chinese Tourists

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.

Continue Reading Chinese Tourists and China-Japan Relations

“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.

When traveling to China, you must protect your data.
When traveling to China, you must protect your data.

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.

The New York Times did an article a few years ago, Traveling Light in a Time of Digital Thievery, detailing the steps Kenneth Lieberthal takes before going to China:

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?

 

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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.

How to achieve Global (and China) dexterity.
How to achieve global (and China) business dexterity.

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?

Fong’s Cat. Des Moines, Iowa. Photo is from Fong’s Website at www.fongspizza.com
Fong’s Cat. Des Moines, Iowa. Photo is from Fong’s Website at www.fongspizza.com

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?

Ben's China Blog
If you were wondering, Ben is the tall White guy.

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.