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China; From Tragedy to Opportunity

23 Mar 2018
China; From Tragedy to Opportunity

Today I arrived at the Guangzhou Fabric Market in Southern China to find the emergency services in full swing. The normally manic market had notched up to another level as thousands of people had gathered around a cordoned area to watch – yes, just to watch – the misfortune of a young male that launched himself from a seven-floor building because life became too hard.  Death appeared to be a better option. No, I didn’t see the actual moment that this man chose to leap, (for want of a better word) but given the ripple effect in the market for the rest off the day, I felt as if I had. There was a period of time that the male lay dead waiting for the emergency services to arrive. This time afforded a plethora of people to video and photograph the dead man in his last public appearance and get it to the social media platforms, as well as replay again and again to interested customers, staff and family from their market shops. There is no dignity in death in this generation or this country. I am sure it has gone viral in the digital space. Who knows, maybe that was the intent of the subject given the extremely public place and dramatic way he chose to end his life?  Surely regardless of our choices death is the one time that we can be assured of a dignity and a respect that doesn’t make us the next social media star. Apparently not in China!

This country has a normal that is so difficult to get my head around; it is a chameleon of change. With a billion people, and growing, there is a culture of corruption that is hard to comprehend and continues to amplify. Taxis now negotiate the fare, so they can leave their meter off. Money is a priority yet there is a distance that occurs as you try to transact. I especially see this in the fabric market as I try to get the very necessary fabric references to design the collection. A pre-curser to ordering.

As I listen to the many challenges that my Chinese team member has with the system, she has just had another gorgeous baby with her new man (her second marriage and baby). Yet given a small technicality, she married him after the baby’s birth, so she is not eligible to register the baby as a Chinese citizen and get all the benefits of health, education and citizenship. Well she can, but it requires a massive fine (fee). These fines are eye-watering and match small home deposits in New Zealand. There is nothing people can do here but simply accept what is, pay the fine and get full citizenship and benefits or don’t pay and remain outside of the system as so many rural Chinese do having families of 6 plus children.

In a country that is so digitally switched on all our meals are ordered by phone as we sit at tables in restaurants and pay through WeChat. No need for people to take orders but certainly still a need to have employees available to despatch to the tables. In a country that is over populated, even with the one child policy (although this has now been relaxed) I marvel at how they all function, find work and advance themselves through life.

I witnessed a woman screaming at her small child in one of the wholesale markets but apparently this is the way they all converse and is certainly behaviour that has been handed down through the generations. Talking loudly or screaming to get a result, is normal in a place that is overcrowded and noisy and one has to be heard (surely this is not the case in the privacy of a home). Stress levels are high, angry words are a result of small altercations, fuses are short. No one walks away from confrontation, quite the opposite they amplify it. They seem to seek it, sweating the small stuff is a way of life. Pushing and shoving is normal here, there are no apologies as you find yourself slammed into a wall of fabric or your bag is clipped by a passing motorbike. In this country you manage your own safety, pedestrian crossings simply make you a target. Stress levels appear so high that I wonder whether cancer is prevalent here?

I have certainly witnessed a growing new wealth and an absolute ongoing desire and obsession for the latest product trends. The beauty of this is that they are available to everyone (rich and poor) given the huge “copy” culture that exists. So, alongside the Prada flagship store in a fabulous new mall will be the massive local market located a short distance away in another province that sells the latest Prada “knock offs”. I guess that’s what you get for using the Chinese factories and having the benefit of the pricing and materials that enable your brands extreme financial success.

China is the land of opportunity. They are certainly resourceful in their ability to make it happen and transact the deal. Their long-term relationships with the smaller customer are inconsequential, so be aware of the rip off and the con. Bigger customers become all about the relationship which is incredibly important to the Chinese.  That is why so many of our bigger juggernauts in New Zealand do so well in this economy although even they have not been without their challenges as China looks for the opportunity to increase the return at every turn.

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