Getting Married in China, How to Move Back to the US

If you would like me to write up an entry on this painstakingly long task (of getting a green card and moving back to the US), let me know.

We finally got our exit interview in Guangzhou and will be back in the US in November.

In other China news:

  • Wikipedia is blocked again (at this point though, who cares, really).
  • It’s been raining for the last 7 weeks.
  • Here in Chuxiong, the amount of tourists went from zero to about 100 per day in the last year, pretty amazing. (Mainly domestic travel, but a few foreigners here and there).
  • They are expanding Yi Ren Gu Zhen to seven sections now (we were the first, then they added the second, now they are adding five more. Each section represents about 200 high-end houses and storefronts).
  • They are going to reroute the train track that cuts through the development.
  • They are displacing the farmers without any compensation, even when they protest. Don’t you love capitalism?
  • (When I say they, I mean the developers and the government.)

The Joys of Living in China, Part I

DDG-12 Standard Missile Launch.jpg

Or perhaps living in a new house, where your neighbor’s house is connected to your house. Via six or so inches of brick.

After going to sleep at 6:30 am, I got to wake up (at 10 am) to what sounded like Tomahawk missiles being launched from the USS Enterprise. Or perhaps, them landing somewhere.

In reality, it is a construction worker with a huge sledge hammer, slamming it into the wall against my head.

It kinda sounds like this.

Good morning!

Update: Lucky for me, this is going to go on for three months. (Time to move back to the Kunming place.)

Advice for Buying Property in China

sh-house.jpg

I can only speak for myself and my situation. After buying two houses and two commercial properties in China, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have not been ripped off or lied to (…yet), but I would say:

Do not by any property that is not built yet.

I did, and while the house was constructed without any major problems, I had an advantage. Specifically, we have a family friend who owns the real estate company, therefore, small problems we encountered were easily fixed. I assume most expatriates do not have this luxury.

This GoKunming.com interview sums it up quite well.

One, don’t invest in forward delivery housing – buying property before it’s finished or even begun to be built – the price may be a little cheaper, but the risk is much higher.

Why? Because you could end up with a house you cannot live in — you could lose your entire investment. Just last night, I watched a CCTV story about some Chinese families who bought into a new development and once the keys were delivered, they opened the door to their new house to see two inches of water flooding the living room, and the cement floor crumbled if you walked over it. They said no one will help them. (Where is the government agency to protect homeowners? Why do they have to resort to calling a television station to put pressure on these fraudulent companies?)

In our experience, we quickly realized all the windows needed to be replaced because they were constructed poorly. No one wanted to help and everyone started finger-pointing. Luckily, labor is cheap in China and it only cost us a few hundred US dollars to fix.

Two, make sure the area surrounding the property you’re considering has all the amenities and infrastructure you’re looking for.

We bought into the most affluent community in Chuxiong, Yunnan, called Yi Ren Gu Zhen (????, or YRGZ). Not having nearby stores is not a big problem as the community is only a mile away from civilization — but the 16-hour-a-day “Yizu” music that blares throughout the community “PA rock system” is incredibly obnoxious, playing the same tribe music, all day, every day.

Three, make sure you invest in a property that is managed by a reputable company.

This is, by far, the most important research you should do before handing over any money. And how do you check on which company is reputable? In our case, our company is reputable but the experience is still lacking.

For example, our “wu guan” (??), or property management office/team is a joke. I think it is to be expected, though, because YRGZ probably contracted out the cheapest management company available, along with a bunch of teenagers for our security patrol. The result is insubordinate behavior, lack of professionalism, and for us, no response or action to any comments or questions (and lots and lots of finger pointing). I am guessing this will be fixed within the next five years.

The bottom line is this — there are many properties that are already built in China. Go that route. You can ask the current tenants how the experience is, you inspect the quality of the property, you can talk to the property management company, and you can see the surrounding areas, the list goes on.

Yes, the value of our house went up by about 10% (but, who’s to say that is accurate?) because we bought it before the construction started — but the problems and annoyances we encountered (and continue to encounter) because it is a new development outweigh any monetary gains we may have achieved.

In retrospect, I would buy a flat in downtown Kunming, right next to that big ass mall and call it day.

Video: Closer Look into China, Chuxiong, and the Person who made your iPod

ipod.jpgI shot this video last year when our house wasn’t completely finished. If you are wondering what Chuxiong is like, or even Yunnan, then this video can take you in a little deeper.

For clarification, when I’m talking about “check your facts, bro, Mr. SF Gate” — it is in reference to this San Francisco Chronicle article where Kathleen E. McLaughlin writes about how bad the Chinese workers have it in Shenzhen, China, building iPods with a monthly salary of a mere $80 USD per month. It turns out her article addresses the farmers in western China, and admittedly, her “facts” are correct.

I was simply pointing out that there are many other people in China who have it much worse, and don’t have the benefits provided by those factories in the bigger cities (specifically, discounted rent and canteen.)

In the video you can see someone cleaning and sweeping the sidwalks of this rich community in China, Yi Ren Gu Zhen, and she makes 300-400 RMB a month (roughtly $40 USD).

While I don’t agree with the current trend of US companies exploiting the cheap labor of Chinese citizens (which is seemingly condoned by the Chinese government), it’s a fact of life here. It’s an opportunity. It’s more money than picking carrots.

A lot of the people who work in those “sweat shop” factories come from the “nong cun”, or rural areas of China. They migrate to the eastern populated cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen and take jobs where they can make 2-4x what they can make on the farms. Some send the money back home, some don’t.

I’m aware of this because, well, I live in China, but also because my wife (who is Chinese, and is from the “nong cun”) has a relative who currently works making clothes, books, and even made iPods, all to be shipped to the USA.

Here, let’s make it personal, she’s the 19-year-old girl in the photo, back left (blurred so she doesn’t get fired.) On average, she said she works 12 hours a day, trying to accumulate as much over-time as possible.

My point is, China is a populated place, and when people start ranting about how bad it is for the people who make iPods, I say, take a look at the people who work in the fields and make up to 10x less.

Should iPod makers be making competitive wages? Yes! Should Apple kick back the huge profit they make on these iPods to the people who make them? Why not!

The problem is, it is not in line with the current economy in China, and if Chinese workers who made iPods were suddenly making more than local doctors, well, that’s a problem in and of itself.

Just another prospective on this issue. Do one of two things – pay them more, or cut the price of an iPod by 75%. Or stop buying iPods. And then we have ‘that’ discussion again.

Click here to watch the video.

Paying the Power Bill in Chuxiong

Title Power Bill
Video 1024k, 2vbr
Audio 112 AAC
Dimenions 640×320
Format QT H.264
File Size 11 mb
Length 0:36
Sound? Live Narrative
Rated G – ALL

OR

Try the SUPER DUPER CRUNCHED VERSION!
20 kpbs video
50 px wide enlarged to 640 px wide
0.1 mb

Okay, that’s a bit much, but I just ran a bunch of tests and found out that my current settings (1024 video kbps ,etc) is way overkill. Also, audio can be set at the very lowest (mono, 8bit, etc). I just did a test at 300 video kpbs, cut the dimensions by 75%, and it is almost the same as this 11 meg file in terms of video quality, but the file size is 1 meg (of course you have to resize the QT file back up, but for 90% off the file size, I’ll take it.)

-BOB-

Sunday

We entertained over twenty guests today from 1 o’clock to 11 o’clock. For dinner we went to a restaurant (this one, actually) and ate lamb hot pot. You all know what hot pot is. It was hella good. I have to say, before Cirque and China, I never had lamb. Or maybe I did but I don’t remember. Probably because we were poor East Oakland folk who only ate mashed potatoes and meat loaf, with ketchup on top. Okay I’m joking, we had our share of Cheeto’s and Top Ramen, oh and don’t forget Eric’s “Rice, Tuna and Peas” creation in the plastic Tupperware bowl with the “big” spoon. (I copied that one a few times in Boston.)

So after the delectable hot pot we all walked to the house and everyone continued to play hours of mahjong. I was on tea duty and poured over 100 little cups of tea for everyone. We served Pu’er Cha (poo-‘ARE), a Yunnan specialty that is very difficult to find outside of Yunnan. (My sources tell me that it sells for 10x the price in Beijing.) It’s fermented tea, comes in green and red, and has a unique production process (involving steaming and “compressing”). The green version is caffienated, so take it easy on that one.

It was a fun day and the weather was just a touch under 70. Right now I’m going to watch a little of the 15th Asian Games with Chun Mei and then go to sleep, with hopes to get back on a normal sleep schedule. Jimmy, thanks for the call last night, you are the first one to randomly call me on a phone in China! (Sorry I was alseep! I loved the, “ALLLLLL-RIIIIIIIIIGHT!! IT WORKED!” Made me laugh today.)

-BOB-