January, 2007

Jan 07

some china thoughts

I’m doing a series of posts on our China trip — some that are particularly politically or partner sensitive are behind the MoCo firewall — but I want to repost anything that’s not company or politically sensitive here to my personal blog. Here’s my first re-post (with some slight edits from the original, mostly in terms of voice):

Chris, Gen & I just got back from about 10 days in Beijing & Shanghai, which we were visiting to sort out what Mozilla’s status is there, what our prospects for making a difference there are, and to start reaching out to folks who can help us there. It was a very interesting & productive trip — lots and lots of thoughts that I’m going to try to do a series of blog posts here about. A lot of it I’ll repost externally, as it might be interesting to our broader community as well.

So the first thing I’ll note is that China is a big place. 1.3B citizens, something like 100 cities with a population of over 1,000,000. Land area that’s very nearly equal to the United States. Something like 2,000 major universities. 137M Internet users, which ranks the country second after the United States.

But China also displays a remarkable unity, stemming from it’s government over the past 60 years, certainly. There is a single written language (Simplified Chinese, so called because Mao instituted a single, unified written language across many, many different spoken languages/dialects including Mandarin, Cantonese, etc, and in comparison to Traditional Chinese, still used in Taiwan) and a single time zone (Beijing Standard) across the whole country. And their approach to planning is pretty unbelievable, ranging from things like the Pudong (literally “new area” in Shanghai) that they’ve constructed from nothing over the past 10 years or so after moving out 100k+ former residents to things like their series of 5 year plans/themes. As an aside, it seems that they really do work and live by their 5 year plans — at one of the ministries that we visited, the guy actually mentioned that they were doing something because they were in the middle of the 11th 5 year plan (do the math). Pretty interesting.

Not to mention that the intent of the government there is also to have a single (very large) point of connection to the Internet, all going through a system that locals call “The Great Firewall of China” — a system that seems to block certain sites & types of content. Our experience there was that the Wikipedia was always blocked, as was the Google cache, and slashdot was often blocked, seemingly dependent on content of particular pages. Our experience was short, and clearly impacted by the Taiwan earthquake in December, so it’s not authoritative. (I’ll post some notes about their unusual Internet infrastructure later, too.)

Jan 07

Starbucks, with Chinese Characteristics

IMG_0848.JPG“With Chinese characteristics” was a phrase that we heard a lot in China — as in, they’re embracing Capitalism, but with Chinese characteristics, or, they’re building an open source software industry, but with Chinese characteristics. Ultimately, it means that as a nation they’re doing more things that the Western world has done for a while, but in a way that may appear Western, and use the same words to describe it, but ultimately is something different.

In Shanghai I was struck by the intense consumerism: there were Ferrari & Mercedes dealers everywhere, there were legitimate high-end fashion stores on both the street and in 10-story shopping malls, and, of course, there was a Starbucks (with Chinese characteristics) on every corner.

The Starbucks stores were notable in that they sell basically the same set of stuff as everywhere else for food & drink, have the same set of coffee mugs & travel mugs (often manufactured in China for sale around the world), and everything sells for essentially the same prices as they do here in the States. A latte is 24 RMB (about $3). A travel mug is about $12. Presumably a Mercedes costs a lot, too, although I didn’t check. (Fun fact: Audi A6s were everywhere in both Beijing and Shanghai — actually they were A6 Saloons, or A6L (for long) — I understand that the A6L plants are primarily in China.

And every one we went to or walked by (a lot of them) was packed. Much more crowded than any I’ve ever been to here in the US.

I think that’s somewhat emblematic of my experience in Shanghai — relative luxury items, priced at US prices, with extremely high demand. (There were plenty of fakes markets as well — which also had a lot of folks — but not as many as the legitimate vendors.)

It’s a strange thing, though — I think twice before paying $3 or $4 for a cup of coffee (which doesn’t keep me from doing it regrettably often), but I’m pretty sure that salary ranges in China, even in the cities, are nowhere near what they are in Japan, the US or Europe. (There was a newspaper report while we were there that Guangzhou (I think), one of the major cities in the South with more than 5M people (which makes it bigger than Toronto, Philadelphia or San Francisco) just crossed $10,000 USD in annual per capita income.)

It seems to me that this will inevitably drive wages higher (and thereby costs of doing business in China), which has been widely reported, with tech companies moving manufacturing to Southeast Asia for lower costs. But more than that, it seems to me that this is a major impediment for China to create what popular press is terming as the largest middle class in the world. If wages don’t accelerate to catch up with prices, being middle class won’t exactly mean what it does here. (Related obvious thought: being middle class here in the States isn’t what it used to be either. Coffee at $3 or a tank of gas at $50 should illustrate that point quite well.)

Jan 07

The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos

I’m not generally a big mystery reader — not like my mom or grandmother, certainly, who devour the genre. But I was given this book for my birthday a few weeks ago, so took it on my trip to China so I’d have something to read. Short version is that it’s a very good book. Slightly longer version is that Pelecanos is a writer for my favorite TV show, “The Wire,” and this book really reads like an episode of The Wire watches. Great dialog; complex, intertwined story lines; a lot of open-ended threads. It got a little confusing in places, but that could have been my fault because of jet lag & such. Anyway, Pelecanos has been writing for a long time, so if you’re into Law & Order type crime drama, you should check this one out.

Jan 07

moving to wordpress

okay, i’ve decided to move from typepad to wordpress (hosted at dreamhost, which seems fantastic so far), and am making a few decisions. my experimental blog is here for the moment, but it’ll change. (the hardest part so far seems to be finding a domain name. yikes.)

anyhoo, the thing i’m wrestling with now is where to store pictures. kathy’s put a ton of sam’s pictures on sam’s typepad-hosted blog, but that’s part of the reason we’re moving — their options are super-limited for how you display photos. part of me thinks we should just put everything on flickr or photobucket and link from the new dreamhost site — but part of me thinks we should host all our own stuff, as there’s really no practical size limitation on dreamhost’s plans, and then use gallery or some other photo sharing server software.

anyone have thoughts?

(incidentally, i’m thinking that getting all our photo links moved over from typepad, and the photos as well, is going to be a big pain.)

Jan 07

posted some pictures from shanghai

on my .mac site