Thursday started late. Apparently the group that was picking me up was delayed waiting for something to take with them to the factory. When Alfred arrived he was accompanied by Mr. Zhou and Miss Du. The trip from the hotel to the factory was more than one hour, much of that spent in traffic in the city.
Once out into the country we made good time on decent secondary highways. We passed miles of farms that consisted of greenhouses made of sheet plastic held up by wooden bows. Being fairly far north this area depends heavily on these greenhouses to extend the growing season for vegetables. There were also many fruit trees, mainly apple and pear and some grape vines. We also passed a huge auto assembly plant where a local brand of economical small car is assembled using Japanese technology from Toyota. There were many other factories along the way. Some giant steel mills and some no more than a garage size assembly area for some unknown product.
Conversation turned to family; Mr. Zhou has one daughter born in 1978 who is as yet unmarried so he has no grandchildren. Everyone I spoke to was an only child and had no more than one child. This is typical of city folks but apparently in the country people continue to have children until they have at least one son. I showed them a picture of Bryce on my phone and explained the circumstances of his birth. They were all very impressed by his obvious turn around. Mr. Zhou said something which made everyone laugh. Alfred said that he had said that in China the son of your daughter is called “Wolf”. I was able to get no more of an explanation. Like so many things something was lost in the translation.
I also showed them a picture I had of our house taken in the snow storm we had last winter. When I explained that I had built it myself Mr. Zhou repeated a compliment he had given me a couple of days earlier. He said in English” You are a very good engineer”. I consider this very high praise indeed considering the source and I tried to be humble as it is the custom in China when you are complimented to deny the compliment.
We arrived at the factory a bit before mid day. It is located on the equivalent of a farm road in Texas. Mostly fields all around but on the outskirts of a village which is in turn on the outskirts of a city. The city for which I did not get the name is known as the “Castle Town” of this area having been literally a castle in ancient times. Everyone spoke of it dismissively the whole of the time I was there so I had expected some hole in the wall at the back of beyond. Turns out to be a city with roughly the population of Austin with a major downtown business district with high-rise buildings. Compared to Tianjin or Beijing it may not be much but by our standards it is a real city.
Being prepared for the worst I was surprised to find the factory if not modern as it is named (Xiandai means modern) at least decent. Working conditions appeared to be no worse than one might find in a similar operation here. The buildings were a bit worse for the wear and much of the facilities seemed unused having obviously been inherited from some previous unknown operation. The workers were mostly young but obviously adults and more than 50% women. They are mostly farmers and farmer’s wifes who live in the village close by. While we were there they all left to go home for lunch.
They have quite a lot of foreign-made machinery mostly Japanese of which they are quite proud. By asking questions I discovered several things that are important to issues we have had with the product. I had to press some points to be sure there was a real understanding of my concern and I noticed that universal tendency to pass the buck. When I continued to pursue these subjects I was met by all the usual excuses including “That is not my department” or “I am not in charge of purchasing”. I made sure that they at least understood what the problems are so that when I bring it up to the bosses I can point to someone who understands.
On the way back we discussed many things including broader economic conditions and how people there may be affected by policies a half a world away. There is a local steel industry around Tianjin that has been hurt by changes in our import rules concerning steel. Many people are out of work and I do not pretend to know who may be right or wrong or if there is such a thing but the bottom line is that things here do affect real people there. I also found that Alfred had spent his whole career until the last 3 years working in the cereal grain export industry. China had been a net exporter of grains until recently. China now imports grains from the US, Canada and Australia. While we have concerns about China as a trading partner including the balance of trade issues and currency issues they must be a bit concerned about being dependent on us for food. While we might do with out the things we import from them it is hard to do without food. Again I don’t know about right or wrong but as usual there are two sides to every story.
Plastic Mold Shop