Sunday, December 03, 2006

Naked Eye
Bopping -- although shuffling is probably a more apt description -- back and forth between Hong Kong and Shenzhen is almost always a study in contrasts and not just for the obvious differences such as:

1. Public toilets. Hong Kong (check), Shenzhen (Whaa? Oh, I mean, first bush on the right...)

2. Low prices. Hong Kong (No one here gets out alive) Shenzhen (A copy-cat BMW? No problem! Can I throw in an fake F-17 fighter jet and a phony Prada clutch bag for an extra 25 yuan?)

3. Crowds. No contest. Hong Kong (At about 7 million, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of some 6,400 people per square kilometer.) Shenzhen (11 million, most of whom are "unregistered." Still, there's still room to move except in nightclubs after 10pm and hot middle class shopping malls on weekends with a paltry 5,500 sweaty souls per square click.)

No, it's the little things I learn when I'm back in Shenzhen that keep me on the proverbial learning curve. C is the source for much of this, of course, as in a recent casual exchange regarding shopping pals.

I've long since boxed myself in as her Most Trustworthy Shopping Partner and it's not due to my wallet. Part of the initial courtship ritual involved a sensitive guy approach -- "An afternoon spent mindlessly staggering like drug addled zombie lab rats through claustrophic, deafening, identical malls offering merchandise available everywhere else on the planet, save Darfur or the Vostok Ice Station in Antarctica?

"To do something as spiritually and intellectually fulfilling as that? Especially with you, dearheart? Instead of swilling low cost adult beverages and mindlessly bullshitting with my licentious, dissolute expat male pals? Aw, honey. You're kidding! Why did you even have to ask?" -- that I've been increasingly unable to convincingly maintain the role and, as such, have begun gently nudging her oh-so-gently towards the concept of galpal shopping. Giggling, flouncing, bouncing like spring fawns through a magical mystical wonderland o' retail blingbling, leaving the guys behind to scratch their butts, fart, talk football and cranking up the AC/DC.

Brief asideAny female readers out there who fancy a new international shopping partner? (End of public service plea...)

"I only have a few friends to do that with and I don't trust their judgement," she said recently. "Except one. And her work schedule is not regular."

This part caught my attention. I pressed further. "She's an accountant," C explained. "But she only does 'fake books.'"

In other words she specializes in cooking the books for Shenzhen businesses. I expressed mild surprise -- much as I would if C had said she'd rather watch ESPN replays of a 10-day old NFL game or have me lead her track-by-track through the new Who or Dylan releases rather than try on prohibitively expensive shoes for 6 hours. She was equally mildy amused at my naivete, to say the least.

"It's very common. Many accountants here do it. Almost every business has fake books. They only trust their family or relatives to do the real ones and hire people like my friend for the fake ones."

It all reminded me of the time she'd told me she needed to help an ex-People's Liberation Army pal lock into some low cost office supplies for the Hong Kong PLA garrison. On the surface China is the world's next super power. Economy growing to the point of overheating. Big inroads into future markets like Africa's energy resources. A couple of manned space shots. Respected international negotiating partner for problem spots a la North Korea. Huge World Trade Organization aspirations. Further proof of international validity? The first McDonald's in China -- long since a staple -- was established, complete with testimonial plaque -- in Shenzhen.

Yet most of the books are cooked down to the most basic level and the world's largest army can't figure out in-house logistics for office supplies in one of the world's most populated, supposedly cosmopolitan locales?

It all looks fine to the naked eye, but it don't really happen that way at all.
I quess you wouldn't buy any stock in the newly stock-held companies emerging in China.
How about HSBC?
I feel for you Justin.

I too experienced a lengthy shoe shopping (done over 4 days slipped in between other activities) with my misses, and I was only 14 days in Shenzhen and it was only for one pair of shoes.

Ghod knows what would have happened if I were there longer?
Hey - try doing a 6 hour shoe shop in NYC! Wanna talk about expensive
HSBC on the mainland only has management ties with global HSBC, I had an account with them in Shanghai and learned the hard way.

I wouldn't put too much faith in the Hang Seng anymore either, not with knuckle-dragging commie bosses infiltrating the system. Other than that, HSBC is just another BRITISH bank.
You've been in China for 4 years and you were surprised that most companies keep 2 sets of books? Good that those actually on the ground there can keep us informed!
You american guy seems like very critical and picky. Maybe you should see the matters in positive way.Maybe american doesn;t have fake BMW car but american has too much enemies in the world which makes 9.11 disaster happened.
Thank you very much for your informative comment, Jess.
It's always nice to hear from someone who has no sense of humor, recognizes that America has enemies, yet is also astute enough to warn me that in poking fun at China's widespread piracy practices I am contributing to the potential for future 911 scenarios.
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