Local leaders presented us with banners with our names in Chinese
The rainy season is just beginning and we woke up to a good old Chicago-style thunderstorm this Sunday morning, our first morning in south China’s city of Guangzhou, population 14 million.
We began the day with a visit to the community of Panyu, population 200,000. They call it a community, but it is more like a ward in the city. A city with population densities that seem to me to be well over 50,000 per square mile. We visited their community center and a new 10,000 person residents complex. The local leaders presented our delegation with banners with our names printed on them in Chinese.
Guangzhou has a much different feel than Shanghai or Beijing. They were the first city in China to be permitted to open their economy back in 1979 and have been a good economic pioneer city for the rest of the nation. Most think they were chosen for learning “how to make money” because of their proximity to Hong Kong.
A rainy morning in Panyu District, City of Guangzhou, China
Training for a Dragon Canoe Boat Race on the Pearl River
While touring Panyu on this Sunday morning we saw a team training on the Pearl River for a Dragon Canoe Boat Race. The canoe races could be considered their version of our softball leagues. Up to 50 paddlers can participate on a boat in a race which is usually two kilometers. Dragon Canoe teams are fairly popular here we are told. This team was really moving and getting a great workout. They paddle in rhythm with a drummer beating a drum, which we could hear from the shore.
Vtrek Electronics conference room
Our second visit of the morning was to Vtrek Electronics. Vtrek manufactures home and car audio and flat screen TVs for several of the major brands around the world, including Sharp, Hitachi, LG, JVC, and Sanyo. Vtrek built products are exported to 80 different countries. Vtrek’s top management came in on a Sunday morning to tell us what they do and how they do it. The company has 3,500 employees, with 250 in research and development. The company has been around less than 20 years and has 14 assembly and quality control inspection lines. The company will make what their customer wants or invent something the company may wish to have the manufacturing rights to. I suspect many Oak Parker’s have some of the products in their homes. We were very impressed with how this company operates.
Guangzhou has grown as a manufacturing center beginning in 1979 when the doors to China began to be opened. Today 2 ,000 of the companies here achieve sales of over $5 million per year. They are doing so well that residents who have lived here before 2006 are eligible for a payment of about $1,500 per year from the government. Kind of like the Alaska fund, except Guangzhou struck manufacturing gold instead of oil.
Despite Guangzhou’s success, manufacturing is being dispersed around China and globally. So Guangzhou officials, several of whom we met, are working on diversifying its economy to include the service sector and high tech.
At Vtrek, like at many companies here, employees are paid the required wage of $180 per month for a regular work week. Dormitory style housing is available on or near Vtrek’s campus for those employee who would like or need to take advantage of it. Private sector business people we spoke with are realizing that a labor shortage has companies in the area facing increasing competition for good employees, which will probably spur an increase in wages. One of our translators told me that the overall average wage in Guangzhou has risen to about $500 per month.
If you have an audio or video product in mind these guys can help invent, build, and even help patent it with you. That’s their core business, the sales and marketing is all yours.
Vtrek let us try out their new 3D flat screen TV model. Pretty cool stuff.
Zhixin Medicine, an herbal medicine business
The Chinese electronics and manufacturing business is something, but the next stop of the morning was truly mind blowing. We had spoken to local leaders earlier about Guangzhou working to diversify its economy but little did we know we would see a thriving example just down the block. Zhixin Medicine is an herbal medicine business. They bought a former manufacturing building about ten years ago and they now employ over 1,000 people making herbal medicines and developing healthy ingredients for foods and drink.
The moment we walked in the door at Zhixin Medicine we knew this place would be interesting. It smelled good, was clean and fresh, well designed, and wow, we had guessed right. The corridors and test labs were spotless. There was an amazing, entire floor of preserved plants, insects, and animals from which some of the companies’ remedies or ancient wisdom comes from.
A wall of preserved plants, insects, and animals.
One of the most deadly snakes displayed will cause collapse within five steps after being bit. We were told by one of our guides that medicines which require an ingredient from one of the most poisonous snakes brings the highest returns.
Preserved snakes on exhibit through a display in the floor at Zhixin Medicine.
The inner sanctum, probably used as much for marketing as anything else.
The displays in the room included three stuffed deer as well as plants and powders.
A plant on display at Zhixin Medicine.
A pristine lab at Zhixin Medicine.
More display cabinets at the herbal medicine company.
The company is expanding and adding healthy herbal ingredients to alcohol drinks.
The young company is doing so well that they are diversifying and have opened a hotel and restaurant next door. We had lunch there this afternoon, this time featuring extra high quality health foods including soups, vegetables, tofu, fish, and fruit.
Herbal teas like you’ve never seen
Along with an amazing lunch of extra healthy food we were served delicious herbal teas. Probably why I am able to stay up and write this blog at 3:00 am in the morning!
In the lobby of Zhixin Medicine’s hotel and restaurant giving thanks for another wonderfully healthy meal and lots of lively conversation with local leaders, including Bin Tan, Director of Panyu, i.e. Village Manager.
A street in the Guangzhou Manufacturing area where individual shopkeepers make parts. The city used to have many of these small stalls as they entered into the manufacturing world. They are slowly disappearing as bigger shops and redevelopment occurs.
I am especially enjoying Guangzhou because it seems a bit more real, like where I grew up in Detroit during Detroit’s boom times. True Guangzho’s free market economy just began 33 years ago, but unlike Detroit, they have had the good sense to diversify their economy, not relying entirely on manufacturing. They plan here in China, maybe the legacy of the old communist “five year plan”. But they do plan and follow their plans, which most recently have included building 8 modern subway transit lines, high speed rail, and most recently (last year) hosting the Asian Games. Many Chinese have lived with hardship and poverty for long periods. But life has been getting better for most here as they strive to keep what is best from the past while embracing a unique socialist-capitalist-hybrid vision for the future.
Guangzhou is also striving to maintain its agricultural base, a part of which we saw adjacent to a manufacturing district. The warm, nearly tropical climate allows them to be a major exporter of some fruits including bananas.
After lunch we drove past the new high speed train station that recently opened. The train takes folks 600 miles inland in three hours by sustaining speeds of up to 300 miles per hour.
Our afternoon was spent on a guided tour of the recently restored Baomo Garden, yet another big municipal government project. The garden is full of acres of ponds, ancient sculptures, jewelry, calligraphy, pottery, bronze, and beautiful trees and gardens.
This is an example of just one of the majestic trees found at Baomo Garden.
This statue of the turtle and the snake particularly caught my eye. If your not familiar with the story behind it, here it is.
Mr. Snake approaches Mr. Turtle on a river bank and asks Mr. Turtle for a ride across the water since he can’t swim the river himself. Mr. Turtle politely refuses to oblige, reasoning that if he were to give Mr. Snake a ride across the river, he would surely be bitten. Mr. Snake protests saying that it would be foolish for him to bite the one carrying him, since it would result in him perishing also. Mr. Turtle considers the argument, then agrees to ferry Mr. Snake over the broad river. When they are half-way across the river Mr. Turtle feels a sharp pain and realizes he has been bitten by Mr. Snake. As the venom is beginning to take effect, Mr. Turtle sadly and resolutely asks Mr. Snake why he bit him, since the biting will also result in Mr. Snake’s demise. A wry smile came upon Mr. Snake’s face. “I bit you because I am a snake Mr. Turtle; that is my nature.” Despite this turtle’s bad luck, the turtle symbolizes longevity in Chinese culture.
A clowning Buddha indoors at the Baomo Garden.
We wrapped up our time at Baomo Garden with a midday tea and mini Chinese opera performance before leaving the truly magnificent gardens for our evening tours, dinner, and the circus.
One of the three white tigers who live at the Chimelong Hotel near the zoo, water park, and circus venues.
Our last stop of the day was Chimelong, a massive entertainment complex or ‘kingdom”. Chimelong is a partnership put together with a former farmer who opened the White Tiger Hotel. We toured the expansive, very popular, eight-year-old Chimelong Water Park. Next to the water park is China’s largest, extremely well kept Chimelong Zoo.
We fed the elephants bananas by tossing them at their open mouths as the zoo was closing. The monkeys, flamingos, antelopes, and hippos are all here, even panda bears.
The circus acts were breathtaking and thrilling.
After dinner at the White Tiger Hotel we headed over to the Chimelong International Circus, the worlds largest permanent circus.
We weren’t expecting much, and after a long day were longing for our hotel, but wow! This is starting to sound like a broken record, but Jim, Dave and I all felt this was the coolest, most creative circus any of us have ever seen. The specially built facility, with a moat of water ringing the stage, was equipped to provide a great light show and music to compliment the dancers and gymnasts and the several high wire acts.
Have you ever seen flamingos at the circus? They paraded right in front of us.
The Circus integrated several of its acts with many of the zoo’s animals including hippos, a variety of monkeys, a camel, bears, flamings, pigs, zebras, even birds to go with the horses and elephants. Clever, crisp, and highly entertaining and represented to us just how bold, creative, effective and strategic the Chinese economy has become.
The cast of the circus says goodnight.
Time to call it a day.