January 15, 2008  
(Mis) Adventures in Travel Pt 3

We were in the Hong Kong airport, on a line about to pass thru security, when the security officer said “Please step out of line, we have some questions we’d like to ask”…Of course they wanted to know how I, an American, was traveling with a passport originating in Hong Kong. This was to happen many, many times over the next 30 days. I quickly explained what happened and we briskly walked to our gate.
We then approached airline personnel, flashed our tickets and were told to stay in the boarding area at gate 3. I mentioned to Daryl that I thought it was strange that we were not assigned seats. The incoming plane landed, people deplaned, and as the announcement was made to board our plane, people rushed to the line and began pushing each other into the plane. Hey, “Just like the N.Y. transit”, I whispered to Daryl. We chuckled as we boarded and did get two seats together. From this point on everyone spoke Chinese. Chinese food, Chinese signs, Chinese pilot, stewardess and a Chinese movie in flight, who could ask for more? I realized that this was how my Mom felt when she came to America and couldn’t read or speak English.

Shanghai Shenanigans

We landed in Shanghai, picked up our bags from the baggage area and looked for a sign with a picture of a taxi. We hailed a red cab, the cab driver put our bags in the trunk and asked us in Chinese where we were going. “The Palace hotel”, Daryl responded. The driver got out of the car and began removing our baggage. “Daryl, what did you say that’s making him do this” I asked. “Wait, show him the card with the name of the hotel in Chinese”. Daryl did just that and the cab driver loaded the baggage back in the trunk. When we reached our destination we were advised that our interpreter had checked out. I realized that this might be a good time to learn how to speak Chinese.!!!
The next morning as we entered the hotel dining room we were handed menus and escorted to a table. The menu was written in Chinese so we walked around the dining room and pointed at food that other people were eating. I think we ate lunch for breakfast. When we returned to our room a message was waiting that our interpreter and sales manager were going to meet up with us shortly.

We met up with everyone and continued our journey, and here’s the rest of the story…

Observations in Shanghai

Shanghai is a huge city with very, very tall skyscrapers. The military are everywhere all carrying weapons. From Mc Donald’s with Ronald sitting in a Buddha position to gourmet food, restaurants are plentiful. Contrary to popular beliefs there is a Synagogue in Shanghai. We were passing a building and heard the sound of davening. The people were singing …O Seh Shalom Bim Ro Mov…so, naturally I entered the building. There were about 75 Chinese men each wearing a tallit and kippa. I sat down in the rear and stayed for the service. Afterwards I approached the rabbi who stood by the doorway shaking hands with those leaving the congregation. We shook hands and he asked me “Are you Jewish?’ I replied “Yes I am”. He then responded by saying, “You know something, you don’t look it”.

Traveling the countryside

We visited a factory in the countryside; in fact, after driving for four hours we realized we were in the middle of nowhere.
Lin, the owner of the factory, drove with us in his chauffeured Mercedes. Most people were on bicycles, cycling slowly to there destination, a very peaceful and quiet way of transportation. The driver of the car would lightly tap his horn to alert them to move out of the way. Cars were sparse and stop signs, street lights or people directing traffic were non existent. This resembled a small town in America during the turn of the 20th Century. I felt as if I had gone back in time. I saw very few stores and occasionally someone selling a product on the street on top of a box. They offered very few items of what they sold; this is the beginning of free enterprise. There were no huge skyscrapers but many smaller buildings. Some apartment houses seemed to be abandoned in the middle of construction. We later found out that the money promised by the government was not available at this time to complete the housing. All around were guarded compounds where people worked and lived. There were large walls around them to prevent strangers from entering. I thought it was to keep the people in. Many had American corporate symbols on them. I recognized the Nike logo.

We arrived at the factory compound we were to visit, the car stopped and the guards saluted Lin. Saluting back, he proudly said to us “I have three Mercedes Benz cars with three drivers that are available to me 24 hours a day”. As we entered, we were greeted by people carrying large welcome sign with our Company name.

The factory

The manufacturing facility employed, fed and housed 1500 people. Lin is in partnership with the government and has government officials inspecting frequently. We spent the day touring the facility. Wood, metal and resin products were in production. The factories were clean, well lit and well ventilated. The employees concentrated on their work and did not look up when we entered. Most of the work force consisted of young women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. It was well past six o’clock and everyone was still working. I asked how many hours per week his employees worked, and Lin responded by saying “thirty-five, like in America”. The next day we worked till 8:00 p.m. and all the employees were still at work. We noticed that some employees worked in uncomfortable positions, i.e. on their knees or bent over a barrel mixing chemicals. We asked if employees are rotated to do different jobs, the answer was no. I noticed the same way of thinking in Hong Kong towards the wait staff. This was similar to Henry Ford’s production line, I’m sure this will change over time.

By the third day we were pals and he felt free to talk to us and our conversations became candid. I began to refer to Lin as General, everyone was saluting him. He explained that he and his employees worked many long hours, since he started an hour before and finished an hour after the work day began. The work day lasted 12 hours with an hour off for lunch and an hour for dinner with two fifteen minute breaks, one in the morning and one the afternoon. He provided food and housing. The labor force came from the poor farming areas. The employees would send eighty percent of their earning home to aid in support of their families. Lin’s wife, Carolyn, instructs and teaches them about hygiene when they arrive; many of them don’t know how to use the toilet. In some instances, this is the first time some sleep in a physical bed; some have never even used chop sticks to eat. The toilet in the facility is a stall with a hole over which one squats.
Many hours are spent caring for and instructing the women and men on simple things which we take for granted. Lin allowed us to see the employee sleeping area with bunk beds, bathrooms, and kitchens. Everything was spotless. He provided food and clothing for everyone.

Visiting Lin’s apartment

Lin also lived in the compound and invited us to join him and his family for lunch. We removed our shoes upon entering and were given slippers. We were treated to a five thousand square foot apartment where Lin lived with his entire family – wife, children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. He gave us a full tour of his apartment including bedrooms, which included a bed, night table and lamp. It was austere, with cold tile floors, no carpeting, and no photos or hanging pictures of any kind on the walls. He lived just as his employees lived… simply. In the living room stood a fifty-two inch TV with the cable news channel blaring; he was very proud of his TV.  Lin offered us bottled water and said that he also owned that company as well. The General had a home in Hong Kong that was really very, very elegant and another in the United States, “That’s where I’m going to retire” Lin told us.

China is a very large country and it really is awesome that they have found a way to feed over one billion people daily. The Chinese have a very strong work ethic and industrialization is creating positive changes. We felt good about our contact with General Lin which led to a long term business relationship. He proved to be an excellent supplier and a man of his word.

In the twenty-four days that we traveled around China not once did we find a Kosher delicatessen, but we certainly did get to visit Chinatown!!!!

Keep warm, have a Healthy New Year and Eat Kosher.

Mel (the fat guy)


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