What makes a city great?  I just got back from a week in New York and I just love the place.  I love that I can go to a place like Russ & Daughters, a Jewish food shop, staffed by South Americans and a Sherpa (yes a real Sherpa) who speak some Yiddish.  I love that I can go to a home-style Japanese restaurant where everyone outside of my immediate group appears to be Japanese or Japanese-American.  I love that there are literally hundreds of museums and cultural institutions.  I have a friend who has a friend who when he retired said that he would go to a different museum every day for five days out of the week for a year and he did.  I love the fashion and the stores.  I love that I walk just about everywhere, without ever getting bored.  I love the parks and the buildings.  I love the history. I love the humor.  I even love the cockiness. New York is a great city.

London is a great city.  Paris is a great city.  Istanbul is a great city. This is just my own list of places that immediately spring to mind.  What they all share is that three months is not nearly enough time to take them in.

Does Shanghai belong among the greats? I kept asking this as I read a truly great article on Shanghai’s development/history/architecture/urbanism, entitled,  “Head of the Dragon: The Rise of New Shanghai.” The article is an excerpt from A History of Future Cities, a very soon to be released book by Daniel Brook. The article on Shanghai is quite long, but also quite fascinating and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in China history, architecture or urbanism.

So is Shanghai a great city?  Maybe. Its sheer scale is amazing. The Bund is great. Xintiandi is special.  The Shanghai Museum is world class.  But is Shanghai truly a great world city and, if so, what makes it so, and if not, why not?

What do you think?


I spent 4th grade in a public elementary school in Aix-en-Provence, France, and my 11th grade in an Istanbul, Turkey, high school.  Since graduating from law school, not a single year has gone by where I haven’t spent at least some time in a foreign country.  Many times when someone of one nationality/culture/ethnicity complains about another nationality/culture/ethnicity, the complaint is based more on differences than objective quality.  But sometimes I (all of us?) need a reminder of this…

The Journey of Beginnings blog has a great reminder, entitled, I love you = Wo Ai Ni? (h/t to China. Hope. Live.) The post is about the radical (my word) difference between Americans and Chinese in their usage of the phrase “I love you.”

Take, for example, the usage of the phrase “I love you.” I have heard Americans say those three words to people they’ve barely met. I slowly learned not to squirm uncomfortably when I hear these words of affection thrown around like a greeting or more often a closing quip as companies depart. My American friend recently admitted to me sometimes she feels those words are cheapened by how freely and frequently they are tossed around in her family. Being Chinese I’ve had to learn this cultural phenomenon and I’ve observed the following three situations in the way Americans say “I love you”:

1. A semi-to total functional family who genuinely respect and support one another may express I love you frequently as a sign of authentic love for each other. They see the importance of leaving no room to doubt for their children or spouse to truly receive the heart behind the verbally spoken words.

2. I love you becomes an acquiescence to societal norms in an effort to cover up what’s really not-so-functional underneath. Imagine a parent who is never around and drops the L-bomb at the end of a phone conversation in order to soothe their guilt. Or a marriage whose passion has grown cold but continue the ritualistic “I love you-s” each morning as they go off to work in order to keep up the appearance of a healthy bond.

3. Sadly there are truly broken, perhaps even abusive, homes where family members have never been loved nor been told they are loved.

The problem arises when Americans encounter Chinese families who have never uttered those precious three words, “wo ai ni”. I’m afraid the American easily jumps to the conclusion the Chinese must therefore be a number 3 family. I’m even more afraid when Christian Americans make it their mission to demonstrate true love to Chinese families with the assumption they must not know how to love if they don’t say it. This is simply a false assumption! Chinese families know how to love fiercely. They do it through immense generosity, unwavering loyalty, and a lot of food. We love differently, not better, not worse, but definitely different.

This is not to say I don’t think there’s value in verbal expressions of love. Some non-traditional Chinese families are starting to freely say I love you to each other and I believe that can be a healthy development. But I do believe the community should decide for themselves when or how they want to exhibit the love without being judged for being unloving unless they express themselves a certain way.

I agree.  What do you think?

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Not that long after the fall of the Soviet Union, I, along with others in my law firm, had to spend considerable amounts of time in fairly remote places in Russia like Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Things were very uncertain in that part of Russia back then and we developed certain rules to protect ourselves. For instance, we always made sure that each person had at least enough cash to buy a last minute flight to Moscow and then from there back to the United States. Before leaving, we also would contact our Russian friends (including the spouse of a Russian Federal Marshall and a couple of Vice-Governors) to ascertain where they would be while our people were there (most did not have cell phones or email) and to confirm that we could contact them if anything would happen. In other words, we planned our escape route before we even went.

A few years back, I went to Papua New Guinea to recover helicopters for a Russian client. PNG (for the conoscenti) was in the throes of various insurrections at the time (I think this is nearly always the case) and I would be going to Goroka, which was fairly near at least one of them. I spent days planning the trip and set up all sorts of contingency plans. I even grew out a beard and bought a backpack to look like a hiker, not a businessperson.

When I was a kid, I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, for around fifteen months. At the start of my stay there, everything was great, but during our last month, there was a military takeover and it was a bit jarring to see two blank-faced 17 year olds from the villages on my buses holding machine guns. i can remember my parents meeting with consular officials to plot out an exit strategy if things turned for the worse.

One of the things I have always liked about China is that none of these sorts of thing are really required.

Or are they?

It seems like every time I talk with serious China people these days, they want to talk about what is going to happen in China regarding treatment of foreigners and governmental oversight (a euphamism). I have no idea, but I do get the sense that both the media and foreigners with a business stake in China are downplaying things. In fact, I think this almost has to be the case. I say this because the media are overwhelmingly in Beijing and Shanghai and because cognitive dissonance or sheer self-interest would cause the businessperson to have those views.

Be that as it may, I am not sure one needs to believe in some sort of imminent change in China to believe it at least makes sense to be ready for it. I can tell you that virtually all companies big enough to retain risk consultancies are doing so. Frankly, I am always amazed people do not think about these sorts of things more often.

Many years ago, I had a long-time client call me to ask for my assistance on an Iraq deal he would be doing. This was not long after the fall of Saddam. I told him I wanted no part of it and that I thought he was crazy to be planning to go there. I strongly suggested he would be better off staying alive for his children than making a few more million dollars. He was initially irritated with me but called me back a couple of weeks later to tell me I had been right and he was done with Iraq. I swear it was only days later that I learned of American businessperson Jeffrey Ake (who I had heard speak in Seattle only days earlier) go missing in Iraq. Mr. Ake remains missing.

The greater the risk, the greater the money. But the greater the risk, the greater the risk.

So good for Joseph Sternberg of the Wall Street Journal for writing this article (the title to which I dare not mention) on the need to be aware of and prepare for China risks. It is just wrong to assume and act as though things cannot and will not change. As Sternberg notes, “four months ago, no one would have predicted imminent mass unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen or Libya” and he warns companies to “consider managers trying to evacuate staff, safeguard physical property or keep supply chains operating as smoothly as possible.”  He then provides “a brief guide to keeping your business afloat if China goes kablooey”

  • First, “recognize that it really could happen. Human nature is to assume the status quo will continue indefinitely.”
  • “Understand where your vulnerabilities lie.” You may already have “a detailed list of expat staffers in China, their addresses and dependents, to aid in a worst-case evacuation” but you should also “track executives who might be visiting, in case one of those should happen to be in town” when something series goes down.
  • Think about your specific risks. “Are your factories identifiably ‘foreign’ and is that likely to be a sore point in the eyes of local residents? Have you previously stirred controversy for hiring lower-wage workers from other regions instead of locals? Are you in a controversial industry, such as a heavily polluting one, that could make you a target…?
  • What about China’s role in your supply-chain? “The key is to diversify supply chains, a practice some—though by no means all—companies already have adopted. This is not necessarily cheap. But those companies that invest in a little excess factory capacity in another country or buy insurance against supply-chain disruptions may one day find the additional expense a price worth paying.”
  • Think ahead as to how you will “respond to varying degrees of disruption. What events would trigger a factory closure for a couple days, or a reduction in factory hours, or moving workers’ dependents to another area, or in the worst case an evacuation of expat staff entirely? Who would make those decisions, based on what sources of information, and how would the decision be communicated down the line. And so on.”

Say what you will, I say there is nothing wrong with being prepared.

Because of my need for excessive euphemisms here, I urge you to go read Mr. Sternberg’s entire article here. I also note that I am going to need to be doubly careful regarding comments and warn that we may have to edit some of them. That being said, what do you think?

I spent 11th grade in Istanbul, Turkey, attending Robert College (a high school).  In Istanbul back then, for some truly unknown reason, Maverick jeans were the jeans to have.  As an American, I would never have been caught dead in Mavericks.  I mean, they were being sold at K-Mart in the U.S. and and about the only people I knew who wore them were from Vicksburg.  However, because they were so desirable among the Turks, I arranged for a friend of a friend to bring me ten pairs (at a total cost of $50) and together we leveraged those ten pairs into a beautiful leather coat for the both of us.

This taught me that coolness is location dependent.

Seems Tang is China’s Maverick.  Yes, that Tang — the disgusting powdered fake orange juice drink I am proud to say I never liked. The one the astronauts drank.  Bet you have neither seen that drink nor thought of it for at least ten years.  Until today.

For it seems Tang is making a comeback.  In China.

Crain’s Chicago Business recently did a story entitled, “The Tang Dynasty: China loves it,” [link no longer exists] on Tang’s fast rising popularity in China and elsewhere outside the United States. Made by Kraft Foods, Tang sales grew 7% last year, with all of that growth coming from “places like China, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.”  U.S. sales are down 75% in the last four years “where it went from the pinnacle of 1960s cool. . . to the depths of 1970s derision as the choice of ‘Saturday Night Live’ nerds Lisa Loopner and Todd DiLaMuca, played by Gilda Radner and Bill Murray.”

Tang’s China sales rose 12% last year and in an effort to create its own Tang Dynasty, Kraft will be introducing Tang with Milk and Tang Fruit Tea.  There is even talk of trying to revive the brand here in United States some day.

I would love to hear ideas for more Tang like products out there that would do well in China.