Filed under: Asia, Travel
Hi Everyone —
Having just returned from a debaucherous Memorial Day weekend in Avalon, NJ, where I disgrace myself each summer, I’ve asked a colleague to guest blog on my behalf while I tend to my quivering liver.
In the past, Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president & publisher, and I have attended the Hong Kong and Canton shows held each year. This year, Rich took pity on me — and my crazy deadlines — and gave me a reprieve. Staff Writer Elaine Wong, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese and whose family hails from Guangzhou, attended the shows with Rich. (He made a wise choice in bringing Elaine, as the only language I speak fluently is Snark…). Not only was this Elaine’s first time at the shows, it was her first time ever in Asia. Read on for her recollections of and personal insights on the country and the shows, which are refreshingly less jaded than mine would be…
May 14, 2008
First off, let me apologize for my much-belated post. I’ve been out of the country for two weeks, you see, traveling to China and Hong Kong for a series of trade shows, and was supposed to blog about my adventures right after the trip. Especially since this was the first time I set foot outside of the U.S., and not to mention in my own homeland, too! (I originally hail from Guangzhou.)
As luck would have it, I came back to my desk the Friday after returning home and found myself knee-deep in assignments. Only now, after polishing off a few pressing projects, am I able to write this. (My editor, Michele Bell, by the way, graciously extended the deadline, and even suggested I tell the whole story through a series of photographs.) It’s a technique I once practiced in college, and so, what follows is photo after photo, each accompanied by a thoughtful — or in some cases, quirky — caption or two. In some cases, it may be a supplier I ran into while making my way around the more than 3,200 booths at the Hong Kong Gifts and Premium Show. Or a zany, hot-off-the-catalogs promotional knick-knack that caught my eye. (Trust me, there were plenty of those.) And finally, as photographs have the ability capture a split second in a lifetime’s worth of memories, here’s hoping you’ll find the snapshots below intriguing and in some cases, entertaining to say the least.
What the heck? Simply put, this would be a, um, toilet. No duh. But what surprised my boss, Rich, and I was the fact that the supplier, Hangzhou Freetron Industrial Co. Ltd., positioned their latest product in the corner opposite their main display shelf, which was full of ice cream scoopers. Why the heck in the world would a plastic manufacturer carry a freshwater toilet system full of fish? (Look real close in the upper left hand corner there and you’ll see what appears to be a reddish-orange platy, if I’m not mistaken.) We never really did find out. It was hard enough to get the girls at the booth to let us take a photo. But Rich, with his usual persistence, succeeded. And while I have no idea what some “cockamamie,” — to borrow Michele’s word — genius would do with this, I do, however, have the product’s stats: “Take a look at the new meaning of going to the bathroom. It surely will be the most eye-catching place in your house,” the catalog reads. This aquarium tank comes with a flushing system and fill value, holds 2.2 gallons at maximum capacity and is made from acrylic, which minimizes impact. Wanna know more? Visit www.freetron.net or call 86-571-64250800 for more information. And please, let us know if you actually purchase one. Does it really flush?
Get a load of this! Now this is one hot footstool. It’s made by Zigga Zagga Ltd., which manufactures plenty of these prototypes for Hollywood Promotions. I’ll have to admit I didn’t quite know what to make of it upon first glance, as I didn’t immediately put the stocking, heels and cushion combination together with the footrest. And look, there’s another one, too. The banana tree in the back. Wow, if you took off that bottom rim and the seat itself, you’d have one realistic-looking plant!
A look at factory life. These photographs were taken inside a factory in Shenzhen called Man Nin Shing, or MNS. The owner, Eddie Chang, appears to be in his late thirties, or early forties, I think and on this April day, he wears a pink-and-white striped Ralph Lauren button-down with rim-free glasses. (He speaks Cantonese fluently, and English as well, but with a slow and deliberate pace.) After our initial meeting, his staff shows us around the facility, and I have to say I have never seen a factory so neat, so clean, so meticulous in its adherence to workplace procedures. Before entering the uppermost computer chip assembly portion of the plant, we had to put on white lab coats and scrub hats and step into an airtight glass chamber, in which we were yes, blasted until we were dust-free. Ditto with the acrylic manufacturing parts of the plant, in which we had to cover our shoes in plastic before stepping foot inside the work rooms. And, you see those rows and rows of neatly-lined glass bubbles behind Eddie’s back? They’re acrylic timepiece covers, actually, a staple MNS regularly outputs. (They sell to higher-end retailers such as Restoration Hardware, as well as larger corporate budget incentive buyers.) But before they can get to their absolutely flawless, shiny state (and believe me, there’s not a trace of dust, much less a scratch, on those acrylic covers), the men pictured here must first dip them in a liquid-based and powdery-looking solution and sand it till it’s smooth. Grunt work, yes, but then again, these fellows work so diligently — they hardly paused to glance at the assembly of visitors who have gathered to watch — that one wonders if they are ever really bored.
This man doesn’t simply walk the show, he cruises through it, and literally, too. Meet Kyu. (He’s Korean, and his last name is Lee, by the way.) Kyu’s the owner of JMTek (asi/63053), a supplier based in Kent, WA. I have never, in my life, encountered a person who is so energetic, so conversational, and so outright funny at the same time. Seriously, he should be a comedian in another life! Kyu took us out to eat at Oscar’s, an elegant steak house inside the grand Holiday Inn, where piano music and soft Chinese vocals accompanied our appetizing menu of the night. Rich and Kyu ordered steak with a perfectly steamed baked potato on the side, while I stuck with my usual Caesar’s salad (but only because I am allergic to grilled foods). This we ate in between delicate sips of an extremely rich, Seattle red wine, the name of which I have scribbled down somewhere, but have somehow misplaced. (If I find out, I’ll let you know.) Anyhow, getting back to my original point, Kyu told us how he’d once attended the commodities’ exhibits at Yiwu, in China’s Zhejiang province, and how the show floor was so damn big he realized he couldn’t walk it all in a week, even if he tried. (In one day alone, Kyu estimated, he walked more than 11,000 steps, or, as he puts it, nearly six miles.) And so, the very next day, he toured the show on the back of a golf-cart-type of vehicle he’d somehow managed to purchase, and when the tire fell flat, he simply walked up to one vendor and asked if he could have a replacement as a sample. He did the same thing again when the motor on the cart started to overheat, placing a fan directly opposite the steaming unit until it eventually cooled down. In this way, he was able to see every single booth and product at Yiwu, which is known as a “shopper’s paradise,” according to those who have been there.
It’s important to work with a factory you trust, and here’s why. See the man on the left? His name is Billy Dolan, president of Camsing Global, and the woman he’s hugging is Ms. Yang. (She wouldn’t give us her first name.) They’ve worked together for as long as they can remember: Dolan, the supplier who distributes her bags, while Ms. Yang provides him with all the luggage and schoolbag and tote orders he can possibly need. Her factory, vCola, is in Guangdong, and the premises are very home-like, with dormitories nearby and a cotton tee and orange blanket pinned up on a neighboring clothesline. Ms. Yang runs the business along with her husband, and despite rising material costs and tough labor laws which make it a tough time for any factory in this industry, she says she likes it so much she cannot think of retiring. For one, she can’t bear to let down her customers, many of whom have worked with her for more than 10 years. And then, there are the employees, who come from faraway homes to work for wages of a little over $1,000 RMB a month. Which isn’t too bad, several workers interviewed said, especially when they’ve got a boss who treats them like family. One gentleman who managed the printing of bags on an upstairs floor, for instance, says Ms. Yang gave him money to build a house from the ground up, and he later paid her back. Another woman said Ms. Yang gave her her first full-time job in the city, when she worked several temp stints before stumbling upon this one. And, at the end of our visit, Dolan, before hopping into the van, turned around and waved to his “grandmom.” (She affectionately chided him.)
Looking for some low-priced finds? The Canton Fair is your best bet. It’s the trade show that few suppliers go to, as many prefer the nicely air-conditioned and neatly-organized Hong Kong Gifts and Premium Fair. But still, for those who don’t mind braving Guangzhou’s traffic-laden streets (where the motorists drive like crazy) and dumpling-infested alleys, this trade show is a must-see for the price-driven supplier. That’s because the stuff here is cheap, incredibly cheap. The pens, for instance, sell for anywhere between $0.11 to $0.40 cents. U.S. dollars, that is. Even the digital clocks go for as little as $2.90. It makes you almost want to get all your shopping done in Canton, if only for the discounts.
Oh, yes! I met Uncle Tangle! He introduces himself to trade show visitors as Uncle Tangle, and as far as Richie Zawitz, groovy, ultra funky inventor of Tangle Toys (asi/90534) is concerned, the salutation fits him perfectly. “Hi there, Richie. Are you busy? We’ll come back later. We don’t want to disturb the flow of the place,” two business partners chime in. “Oh, no problem. Come back later and we can schmooze,” Zawitz says, drawing out the final syllable with a wave-like gesture of his hand. Behind him is a massive, stainless steel Tangle, the toy that’s sold more than 50 million units internationally and just keeps on fascinating. Upon introducing myself to him, Uncle Tangle immediately opened up a box and slipped a blue twisty bracelet on my hand too, and to this day, I cannot get enough of it. “Can I take a picture with you?” I asked him. “Of course! I get to touch you!” he laughed. His level of energy is so infectious that it some of it must have rubbed onto me, because I found myself skipping away from his booth absolutely fascinated by the Tangle I now held at hand.
Party time! And, of course, what trip would be complete without swinging by the Polyconcept Party? Held at the Watermark Restaurant at Hong Kong’s Star Ferry Terminal which included live band music and generous slices of a giant, yellow fin tuna with carpaccio and sashimi topped off with a bowl full of rice. (And if you’re not a seafood lover, then oh well…)
(Left to right) Boetie van Geen, sales development director, PF Concept; Philippe Varnier, Chairman and CEO, Polyconcept; Rich Fairfield, ASI Publisher and Senior Vice President; Rutger C. de Planque, CEO, PF Concept.
ASI Publisher Rich Fairfield and Polyconcept CFO Yann Leca.
CFO Yann Leca and CEO Philippe Varnier,both of whom make Michele Bell swoon like a groupie, are the dynamic duo behind promotional product giant Polyconcept.