China trip

I’m going to China next month for a week, alone. I’ve never been anyplace in Asia. I’ve lived in Europe and in many big cities, and am pretty light on my feet (well, pedals — I’m bringing my Brompton!), but I have a feeling China will make me feel as if I were from Mars, if not another dimension.

I’m going to inspect my next shipment of Stokemonkey components — the ones that aren’t made here in Portland, Oregon. It’s my first large order, and Cleverchimp can’t afford to receive stuff with problems as in the past. I will meet my supplier face-to-face for the first time. We have corresponded via email hundreds of times since 2003, but as I’m long since out of the hobbyist/tinkerer category with this endeavor, it feels right to underscore my seriousness with a personal visit. I also hope, with the aid of hands, feet, a sketchpad, and props, to raise many questions and suggest areas for future development that seem to have been lost in translation with email, for years.

A correspondent and Xtracyclista who lives in Taiwan, Cara Lin Bridgman, asked how my Chinese was, and my guanshi. At first I supposed that guanshi was a Chinese dialect, but it means connections, clout. She clarified:

Guanshi is very important in any country, but it’s especially important in Asia. This means I hope you’ve got a relative, good friend, classmate, or colleague (someone whom you have known well for a long time) to help you during your stay in China. The fact you are showing up in person is a good thing. Are your wife and son going? That would be good, too (at least take pictures of them). Also, take some nice small gifts (something especially Oregonian or American) to present when you first meet people.

Another important word is Chabudwo (dunno about the romanization). This word is going to make you tear your hair out. This literally means ‘different by not much’ which translates into colloquial English as ‘good enough for government work.’ From all I’ve read about the development of stokemonkey, you are not doing things chabudwo, but want things to be Gangganghao (perfect). This is where it’s helpful to have someone in China who is related in some way to check on things for you. This also helps to explain why nepotism is so important in so many parts of the world (especially Asia).

Going to China (or a Chinese culture) is not like going to Europe or South America. It is not ‘just going to another country.’ It is more like going to another planet. It’s like being a baby again. Nothing will be recognizable and you’ll need help for almost everything (including finding out where the bathroom is).

So, expect it to be exhilarating, frustrating, fantastic, and crazy. Expect everyone to be very pleasant and to always say ‘yes’ (especially when they don’t understand you). You’ll love it and hate it and some of it will never ever make sense. You are in for a wild ride!

OK then! Fine Oregonian things? Check. Pictures and cards? Check. Bicycle? Check. Dried fruit and nuts? Check. Emergency toilet supplies? Check. Guanshi? Tenuous. Appropriate, tactful, productive ways to talk about chabudwo/gangganghao? Thinking about it. Suggestions? This is not my strong suite. Often I have trouble finding the middle way between confusingly indirect and offensively harsh.

Beijing is 30 (thirty) times as populous as Portland. I keep trying to walk through that mentally, stacking up the Portlands, but my head explodes at around 15. The whole country is the world’s most populous, with experts differing about whether there are 1.3 or 1.6 billion — that difference is the whole US population, and they’re not quite sure they exist? China is the world’s leading consumer of most resources other than petroleum, and the economy is expanding at rates approaching 10% a year. China matters in American daily life now, however transparently (they make almost all our stuff, and put it on our sky-high tab). China will matter much, much more in decades to come. Sure the civilization is thousands of years old, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. I can hardly wait to get an up-close glimpse.

8 thoughts on “China trip”

  • Chad

    Oh man, you really are in for a wild ride. Cara’s advice sounds excellent, and makes me think about how much help I had in Taiwan and didn’t even realize it. And it was still difficult and confusing and often felt more counter-productive than it was.

    On the cabudwo/gangganghao issue, I found it valuable to invoke the experience of our customers, who were the ones pushing for “perfection”. Getting everyone to understand the experience and expectations of the end user put me on the same side of the issue as the welder and factory manager, but ensured that the goal of higher quality was the object of the discussion. This also was a useful context to identify cost-saving opportunities.

    I hope you have a great time. I’ll be thinking of you (and looking foward to the pictures).

  • Al

    All best wishes for a wonderful trip. I’m sooooo jealous. And with a Brompton!! (now, if only a mini-Stokemonkey fit the Brompton). Please. Take pictures…make notes. This is a “once in a lifetime” trip. Please share it with us. Take a few extra innertubes, plastic tire irons and a tiny patch kit!

  • Jim

    Based on what I’ve heard, China has a booming bike theft/resale industry. I hope you’re bringing some nice locks for the Brommie.

  • Todd

    Jim, I don’t carry a lock with the Brompton because I take it in with me everywhere, usually just half-folded and scoot it around on its skate-wheel “elbows”, but all the way in 15 seconds more when that might cause a stir. There’s a little bag you can pop over it to make it indistinguishable from, say, an emergency kidney transplant transport case, a million in $20 bills, or similar item that nobody would suggest you leave outside or in some sketchy coat room. I’ll bring a lock anyway, just in case.

    If I remember not to forget, I’ll turn a Brompton-enabled grocery run into a post soon, with pics. I’m more and more impressed with how well these little bikes complement Xtracycles at the other end of the practical biking spectrum. They’re not compromised in some of the ways you’d suppose, either: . (this thread is a fun glimpse into london commuter culture)

  • Mike C

    > (now, if only a mini-Stokemonkey fit the Brompton)

    It’s been done, but you have to go to Glasgow to get it. Talk to Ben at Kinetics about a Heinzman:

    - Mike C
    (Bromptonista since 2002 and aspiring Xtracyclist)

  • Martina

    According to Todd’s wife, the monkey has landed in China. His first comments concerned the ambient Light quality (harsh and colored) and the internet/toilet paper situation in his hotel. She seems to conclude from this combination that he is ok!

  • [...] My trip to China is over. Briefly: it was a good trip. There’s so much to tell; I figure I should break it into chunks, starting at the start. [...]

  • John

    It’s a nice trip, you can view pics of mine on

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