We’ve come full circle, folks. It is now Geoff’s blog to which I occasionally make a guest contribution. So here are a few observations I’ve made in the last while.
It is cold here in Jiaxing. Maybe not cold as in eastern ice storms or prairie winters but cold nonetheless. One morning as I head to the bus stop, I see a man warming up his car. He gets out, holding the ubiquitous thermos of tea (don’t leave home without it) and has a look at his frozen windshield. Sip of tea–spit on windshield; sip of tea, spit on windshield. Okay. TIC. Why turn on the defrost — the car gets too warm inside for the 5 layers of clothing worn daily. How do I know it’s 5 layers? Because that’s how many I wear every day to stay comfortable at work!
The hot fashion item for women this year is the skater skirt, as in ice skater. Think very short, cut on the bias, ultra flared. I mean very short, like 1″ below the bottom of the bum. How do these girls stay warm? (Ed. note: I DEMAND she get one – who agrees?) By wearing super thick, sometimes plush-lined tights. How do I know? Because I have a couple of pairs. NO, I do not have a little skater skirt over top! (Ed. note: Again, I DEMAND she get one!) Warmth trumps style for me. I do think these tights will come in handy for winter golf, though. I remember freezing on the course in Hemet one Spring day–never again, with these.
Regular blog followers may remember our tales of the great (Chinese) New Year’s party the school threw last year for all the staff. Good food, lots of booze, karaoke, prizes and fun! We were really looking forward to it but we had it confirmed that it is not happening this year because of the federal government’s new policy of “no frills” for government or big company employees and employers. The new president is trying to combat the image of corruption with some people living high on the backs of the tax payer — think Harper with Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy. In addition to going without our party, we have noticed that the gifts of food are also less frequent. No lucky fish for the New Year. New policies are enacted quickly in China. The local authorities are called up and the new edicts go into effect. Responsive government in action, but then it is easier to do when the provinces can’t trump decisions. (Ed. note: How come it is always the little guy, who doesn’t get a lot anyway, who has to suffer? Bet the big boys still get their perks!)
Just to set a little perspective, I counted the motorbikes and scooters as I waited for the bus on the way to work one day. Within 5 minutes, 65 bikes went by. In Canada, only the very hearty (some would say fool-hardy) ride their motorbikes everyday, including winter. Here, one puts their hands into thick gloves that fit over the handle grips, puts on an extra coat back to front to keep out the wind chill and away they go. It’s a good time to be on the back or, as a child, wedged in the middle.
The perspective on the numbers of bikes will be tested when we arrive in Vietnam tomorrow. Something tells me 65 is a paltry number.
We had an interesting morning yesterday. Our friend Tim took us on a tour of the Cone Denim factory here in Jiaxing, where he is the general manager. In 600, 000 square feet (Ed. note: How big is that? Well, a Canadian football field without the end zones, is 110 yds by 65 yards – or 93,000 square feet. This plant is more than 6 times that!), they take bales of raw cotton and turn it into denim, largely for the western market. A great deal of the finished product is shipped directly to manufacturers of jeans in China and Vietnam before it shows up in shops at home. He told us that GAP and J. Crew now mention Cone on their labels but most of us have never heard of Cone, even though they have been producing denim for 120 years. Levi is one of the major clients as well as some high end brands and many in between. (Ed. note: He also told us that the difference in price for the denim between $25.00 jeans and $500 designer jeans is — about $15.00).
The various machines in the plant are computer operated, some with robots that automatically monitor and fix thread breaks and it is fascinating to watch them at work, sorting, cleaning, carding, spinning, dying and finally weaving these fibres into fabric. However many machines there are, the plant still needs a human eye to maintain quality control, monitor the machines and of course, kept them fed with raw materials. Chemists work on new colour and treatment formulas to meet specific demands of designers for different slubs, finishes and tints, and of course, many people are needed in quality control where they test each batch of finished cotton by washing and drying samples to check for shrinkage and colour change and compare batches. The plant employs 750 people.
Cone seems like a pretty good place to work. All employees work in teams and are paid on an incentive system based on the quality of their work (what do you mean, we can’t do that in Canada?). Additionally, they are provided with a small apartment that has both hot water and AC/heat (Y40 per month, about $8), a cafeteria and games room. The hot water is a big deal because, as Tim pointed out, MOST people in China do not have hot water in their homes. And I complain about the sketchy heating system!
(Ed. note: Despite the attractive benefits etc., there is such a demand for labour in China that each year, Tim has to hire 500 new employees to replace the 350 that annually leave. The extra 150 or so leave after a week or two.)
The witch-hazel is in full bloom in our complex–Spring must be on the way.
We have a nice long winter holiday now and were looking forward to sleeping in this morning when the firecrackers started at 6:50 am and ran for a solid minute and a half. We have not been here for Chinese New Year and although it is sure to be interesting, we are not sorry to miss it! Restful it would not be! So we are packed to head to Vietnam tomorrow — Joe and Sam are meeting us in Hanoi on the 25th to travel with us for a week. Am I excited? You bet!
- The other day I am at the office and I hear a buzzing that just doesn’t stop. When I look around, I see one of my regular office mates (an interior designer) holding a mirror and shaving with an electric razor! Come on…
- As we approach Chinese New Year, I am sure you are all familiar with the traditional red envelopes used to give money. Well, I am at the Shanghai-Hongqiao train station last week and as you purchase your train ticket, the agent gives you your change, the ticket and a red envelope. No, nothing in the envelope, just with your stuff. They slide all of it through the little opening and people then just leave the envelope on the counter. Every few minutes a janitor/custodian comes along, knocks all of the envelopes onto the floor and sweeps them up. There are thousands of people who go through there every day – the waste is astronomical.
- I don’t know how much money is in Jiaxing, but the other day I look out and an Audi, BMW and gorgeous red Mercedes convertible are all parked in a row right outside the Starbucks window. I asked Tim about the early thirty’s women who drive them and he says it is generally Daddy’s money buying them for Daddy’s little girls.
I don’t know why Terry didn’t mention how we started our holiday. Friday we went with “the boys” to a restaurant which specializes in donkey – and other stuff. We had four dishes with various parts of the donkey – tail, liver, other…
- It also serves
The Shoe Blog
And just to show that Geoff is not the only one who can spot cool, weird or beautiful boots, here’s a pair that I spotted at the hair dresser’s.