Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Old stuff - from my trip to China....

Day Ten:
Looking for the Shanghai Noodle
May 6, 2004

Good day all - as I start this note, I am sitting on a Shanghai Air flight from Wenzou to Shanghai. This will be our last stop on the trip. We spend the night there and it's basically a little time to go over everything we did work related on the trip and to enjoy a night in Yao Ming's hometown.

The airport in Wenzou was an old, old airport. Looked like something out of a black and white movie. We walked outside to climb the old staircase on the car to get onto the plane. Been a while since I had to do that one.

And on the note of flying, the flights on the China airlines have been fine. The planes aren't brand new - but then again neither is Delta's. Matter of fact, an attendant just handed me a gift. Little retractable phone cord for the computer to hook up to the phone. It's made in China - so I am sure it didn't cost them much to make .. But when was the last time a domestic airline did that one???

With that all said, I can't wait to see that 777 of Delta's at Toyko tomorrow. Can't think of the last time I was dying to see them. Matter of fact, when I get back to Atlanta, I will officially be a Gold Medallion with Delta. In a little over five months, I have put on over 50,000 MQM's with them ... just wild.

I am very excited about 36 hours from now when I touch down in beautiful Atlanta. Love to travel and this trip has been great. I have learned so much in this short trip, but I can't wait to get home and see the wife and daughter. It is the one downfall of what I consider to be the most rewarding and challenging job I have ever had.

This morning, we traveled all around Fanrong checking out many different factories. As amazing as I made YiWu sound, this city is better. Reason being is that there are all factories there - you deal directly with them instead of the showroom folks like in YiWu.

I met Mr. Sheng Hailin. He runs a woodshop factory in Fanrong. He makes all of the different things that Dean's company does with Home Depot. So he wanted to check the quality of the latest project. We then went to his showroom where he had just some killer closeout deals as well as regular goods.
He then took us to a few of his friends in town who have factories - man was this incredible. Some of the deals that are available to us are just mind boggling. Dean and I sat there with the incredulous look on our faces when we heard the prices on most of the things we saw.

Didn't have much time in Fanrong because we had to catch our flight. Mr. Hailin drove us there in his Honda Accord - which by the way cost 240,000 RNB (30,000 US). On the way, we saw our first car wreck - which I have to tell you is an absolute freaking' miracle. Wish you can see how nutty the driving is here. Anyway, the other thing I found out is that they don't believe in seatbelts here. The guy driving the car was taken away by ambulance by the time we got there, but he went through the windshield. Have to tell you, I think I slept with my seatbelt on here ... just to be safe.

The one thing I have to say is that I know many are not fans of public bathrooms in America. I will never complain about them again ... after what I saw in China, they are a dream. Only had to use them twice to pee, but it was the most horrific smelling, looking things I have ever seen. Enough said on that issue.

Well - about to go have dinner with the boys one more time. Then we'll go out for some drinks and look for the Shanghai Noodle .... Diamond, if she wants to "sexercise," I am going to bust a gut.

Early morning wakeup and flight to Toyko and then home.

For those of you scoring, I am down to five pack of Ritz crackers left .... made it with some to spare!!!

Until later ... JB

Day Nine:
Down the Backstretch
May 5, 2004

Morning all - hope all's well, "in your neck of the woods."

I start this note in the back of a Hyundai minivan on the way to Pharong from YiWu. We have a good four and a half hour ride on mostly bumpy roads and a two lane highway. Any of you that know me at all know that I am sitting in the back with The Grateful Dead going in my ears. Not much better than a little Jerry singing Ramblin' Rose as we ramble down the China highways or whatever they are called.

It's amazing how many people there are here in China. Small towns have a million people. Drive along and see all the people in cars, on bikes, walking - it is just surreal.

Have to tell you, feel like I am on tour with a band and we are schlepping all over the place to play shows. Constantly on the run ... but it has all been fun. Thankfully, we are coming to the end of this leg of the tour.

Well - after taking a short nap - I awake to find us totally lost in China. Our driver like most men, thought he knew where he was going and got us totally lost. Now instead of a four hour ride - it was a 6 hour ride. I thought I was going to hurl the whole way. Made a NY cab ride look like a walk in the park. He stopped 12 times for directions and he still has no clue!!!!

And speaking of driving ... my wife is all over me for the way I drive and sometimes she is right. BUT this country is full of the worst drivers I have ever seen. I don't understand why they have signs, lanes on the road or traffic lights. NO ONE pays attention to any of them. Twice so far we have been on roads where someone was going the wrong way on the road straight at us. I thought for sure I was dead and then they swerved out of the way.

The one funny thing they have here on their traffic lights are timers. It tells you how long until the light turns colors. Can you imagine this during rush hour in NYC? Be like one gigantic drag race. People revving up their engines at five seconds and flooring it at one - would be a total nightmare.

Spent the day in YiWu shopping. Would say that we "finished" but there's so much to see and buy that there is no way on god's green earth we could have gotten everything we needed. Odds are I am going to have to come back here at some point (Sorry E) for a week - just to YiWu and finish up some categories.

It's hard to just do with two of us and one interpreter. We probably would need two or three buyers and interpreters to really do this correctly in one week. Hard to explain how enormous this place is and how many different people sell the same or similar kinds of products.

Anyway, we are off to Pharong to visit a factory that Dean does some work with for Home Depot and look at a few other factories. Staying one night here and then go to Shanghai for one night to sleep and then depart for home.

Down to eight sleeves of Ritz Crackers. Think I can do that one in my sleep.
Until tomorrow. JB

Day Eight:
YiWu Two ...
May 4, 2004

Morning all - Tuesday evening over here in YiWu.

Just got back from another day at Commodity City. We started nice and early at 7:30 and we hit the road running.

Wouldn't have been so bad if we didn't go out for a little Karaoke for the third night in a row last night. It is UNBELIEVABLY huge here. Absolutely funny to listen to people sing in Chinese. Most of the American songs here are from 20 years ago if not longer. So freakin funny can't begin to explain.

Anyway - back to work, we were in the housewares side of the world today. Went crazy buying some great things for Little Bucks. Buy of the day ... tough one, we found so many great things today .. have to say the knifes we found were pretty solid. Great stuff.

Had a working dinner tonight to go over everything we bought and two things struck me tonight ... first off is service. The Chinese are just incredible at making sure dinner is an experience or any meal for that matter. There are people all over that as soon as I put my glass down, they are refilling it. Just something I can't remember happening in the US. I also did laundry - when it came back each piece was folded and put into a poly bag and it was all brought up in the wicker baskets and left on my bed with a note thanking me for using their services.

The second thing is that I found out that if you have more than one child in China - you have to pay $50,000 RNB or $6,100 US. Pretty wild to think about in our world no???

Back on the home front, The Davis Academy had its annual golf tournament today and raised in the neighborhood of $100,000. Another great golf tourney from what I hear - went to a new course this year and it had two courses where the players were split up on both sides and the rounds took less time and it didn't rain this year.
Another fun filled day on both sides of the world. Time to crash - sorry so short today. I am just spent.

Day Seven:
YiWu is Yi-Wow!
May 3, 2004

Well good morning campers - hope that today is off to a rousing start for a Monday.
OK - well today started at 7 a.m. with a 2 1/2 hour private bus ride for me, Dean, Mr. Wang, Lee (who runs Mr. Wang's factory), William Wang (our agent and tour guide), Jason and Scott (who do some work with Dean and have been with us for some of the trip). The bus was an old beat-up 15-seater. The one good thing I will say is that the air conditioner worked great on the bus. We arrived around 9:45 at a town called Yiwu - otherwise known as Commodity City. The reason it is know as such is that you can get anything here to sell in our kinds of stores. It is a huge convention center type of building and at least THREE time the size of the Canton fair. People have little booths that they sit in all day. Some bring their kids to work and it's just a family affair.

It is split up into different sections ... housewares, toys, giftware, seasonal, etc. But there are hundreds of booths with the same kinds of product. The same product can sell for five different prices for some reason. It was just nuts - we are only here for two days and there is alot of things we need to buy and look at. I think it would take two people a good week to work this area properly.

With that said, Dean and I went to work and started attacking. The deal of the day ended up being Christmas trees. Last year we did a great promotion for 5 ft. silk trees - buy $100 worth of Little Bucks stuff and get the tree for 99 cents. Last year we paid $5 for each tree. This year - almost the exact same tree ... we can buy for $2.45. What an unbelievable deal ... best we had heard until today was in the $3.00 range. As if that wasn't funny enough, there is a shortage of taxis in YiWu ... so the people we bought the trees from gave us a ride back to the hotel. Dean, William and I got into this VW Passat with these two young women. We come to find out that the girl that is driving... it is her FIRST day driving!!! Well kids - guess who was in the front seat?? She was driving and I was holding on for dear life ... tad scary, but not to bad.

We are spending the next two nights at the Kingdom Hotel in YiWu. When we came back, not sure why, but there was a band playing right outside the hotel in fully uniform. There were two wedding parties standing next to each other and people were congratulating them as the guest came into the hotels. Dean of course walks right up to one bride and wishes her the best. Hotel is a five-star. Only thing that is great to me is that it has HBO! Maybe if I get lucky - the Sopranos will come on tonight.
After the long day, I passed on going out for a long dinner and came up to my room to do some work and see what is going on in the world when I got hungry. Well, I hate to say it, but I took a walk around the corner and walked into a McDonalds in YiWu!!!! First off, it was one of the cleanest restaurants I have been in here ... and it is cleaner than a ton of McDonalds in the US. I had a double hamburger, french fry and Coke for 27 RNB ... basically was $3.25 US. Have to tell you - food hasn't been that bad so far on the trip ... but this was a darn good hamburger! I needed that.

Down to 11 packs of Ritz ... had a couple for lunch today as we worked right on through.

That's all for now. Long day ahead tomorrow - so I am going to make it an early night tonight.

Four days till I hit the homeland ... can't wait to get back!

PS - Hey E - can we have GOOD chinese food when I get back on Friday night ... ??? HA!

Day Six:
One Word for You: Plastics Benjamin ...
May 2, 2004

Good day all. Live from beautiful Qingdao Airport as we sit and wait for our flight to Hang Zhou, I’d figure that I’d sit down and write my daily news and notes from Red China. It’s 6 p.m. local time – which is exactly 12 hours ahead of my beautiful home of Atlanta.

Last night’s hotel was nice – but the mattress was even harder than the Ramada from a few nights ago. Felt like sleeping on a brick.

This morning we woke up and went to visit Mr. Wong and the plastics factory. On the way there, Dean wanted to stop at a bookstore to try and pickup some postcards for Heather. It was a local bookstore in Wei Fang – while walking around a young girl and her father walked up to me in the children’s book section of the store. The girl couldn’t be any more than 5 years old – they walked right up to me and the father told the girl to say, “hello, nice to meet you.” She repeated the sentence and smiled the cutest smile with some teeth missing. They knew a little English and I talked to them as best I could so they could understand. As we were leaving, she turned and said, “have a nice day, bye-bye.” Was a cute moment.

Anyway – we get to the plastics factory and it is a little compound. Mr. Wong is building a new factory about six times the size of the one he has now and will be open in November. He was granted the land from the government it is a fifty year lease – only problem is that they reserve the right to take it back whenever they like. So he can build his buildings and get the factory all set – but you never know when they may come to him and ask for their land back.

The people who work for Mr. Wang make only 80 dollars a week. They live in a dormitory on the property and the factory runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can produce all kinds of ziplocks, plastic wrap and garbage bags for a good price.

Here’s your trivia question of the day – Mr. Wang drives a 2004 Toyota Camry – it is fully loaded and is a very nice car. Same as the one in the U.S. Question is how much does this car cost in China???? I will give you a hint … it’s a tad more than what you pay for it in the U.S. ANSWER LATER

After working, we go to lunch at a local eatery. We go upstairs to a private room. Most restaurants here have many private rooms for you to eat it. Tons of people waiting on us. When they ask us if we want rice, the answer of course for me is yes. Well in the all-time classic, we go to a Chinese restaurant where they have NO STEAMED RICE!!! Think about that statement for a moment, please. That’s like going to McDonalds and they run out of French Fries at lunchtime. Not a big deal, food was very good there.

We then drove to see the city of Qingdao. It is on the ocean and will be hosting the sailing regattas when the Olympics come to Bejing in 2008. We drove along the beach where there are many beautiful homes that cost around a million US dollars. Very pretty city. We saw many people who were getting married taking pictures along the beach.

Then headed off to the airport where I now sit and wait for our next adventure. So far, this has been an unbelievable experience. The one thing I forgot to speak of is how the soldiers and military police are all around you here. Some carry guns – but they are magnificently dressed in their Army uniforms. Reminds you that you are not truly a free man in this part of the world.

Had one pack of Ritz on the plane - down to 13 for 5 days... gonna be tight!
TRIVIA ANSWER – The Toyota Camry cost $70,000 US or 560,000 RGB. The cheapest Mercedes Benz starts at $120,000 US.

That’s all for now, hope all’s well on the other side of the world.

Day Five:
Notes and Observations
May 1, 2004

Good Shabbos all – hope all’s well back in “your neck of the woods.” (Sorry – borrowed that one from Al Roker … )

This Shabbos morning – I woke up to pack and prepare to leave beautiful Hong Kong and the Shangra La Hotel in Kowloon.

Let me take this time to plug both of them. For any and all who love to travel, please make sure to put Hong Kong on your radar screens. It is such a beautiful city and the people here are just as friendly and wonderful as can be. It is one thing to see it on TV and in books, but to see Hong Kong in person is just like looking at a Picasso. Magnificent.

But as incredible Hong Kong is, the Shangra La in Kowloon is just as nice if not better. I have stayed in many hotels and I have to tell you, the service in this hotel is surpassed by none.

Dean has been coming there for 20 years once or twice a year – when we walked into the hotel, people where greeting him by name. When we got to the Horizon Club (the top two floors are Club levels) everyone knew him like they have been seeing him everyday for the last 20 years. Now obviously, it’s hard to forget Dean… even though sometimes I try, but as I watched the staff, they did that with ALL of their customers. Just unreal. That have a great club lounge that overlooks Hong Kong and the harbor – cocktail hour is from 5-7 pm every night and drinks are free as well as breakfast every morning. The view when the city is lit up is just phenomenal. The club level you have access to a butler that presses your clothes and shines your shoes every day. Great restaurants, bars, etc. You get the point. The club level runs about 300 US$ a night, but it is well worth it.

The one thing I have noticed is that the drivers and pedestrians here have no respect for human life or each other. They use turn signals less here than cabbies do in NYC. I mean I haven't been this scared in car - EVER! And if it was bad enough, these people on mopeds, scooters and motorcycles are just plain wacked. Saw three people on a scooter with no helmets... they make left turns from the right lane. Just unreal!

OK, back to our regular scheduled email, we had breakfast and took one last look at Hong Kong from the club lounge. We packed up and then took a last walk around Kowloon. As we did, I.J. called Dean with the news that we had done over $100,000 in two days at our brand new store in Gainesville and that we had done over $100,000 for the day in all six stores combined for Friday. Here we are half way around the world and we get some just awesome news instantaneously.

How incredible the technology is over here. Unlike the US, cell phones here are unlocked. Basically, what that means is that if you had AT&T Wireless and you wanted to switch services – all you would need to do is get the SIM card from the new company – not have to buy a phone. All the info stays in your phone without anything having to be done.

So any of you who know me, you know what I did …. I bought the new Motorola V600 phone with the Bluetooth wireless headset. Dean bought two – one for him and one for Paul. (YES ALAN, HARRIS, TIPPY AND DIAMOND – I really needed another phone!)

Anyway, when I did that I went and bought a local SIM card for 100 Hong Kong Dollars (about 16 US$) and put it in the phone. Worked perfectly – about to call home for about .08 per minute. So when I get home – pop in Cingular SIM and it’ll work just fine. Actually my US cell phone worked great from Hong Kong … just cost $2.50 per minute.

We then headed to the airport to board a China Eastern flight to Qingdao. What a huge airport Hong Kong is. Make Hartsfield (can’t say the other name… just a joke) look tiny. They have all kinds of shopping stores all over for us foreigners to spend our last dimes before leaving the country. There were 6 Starbucks in the airport – God Bless America baby … once again, this is what they all call “American Culture.” It’s right up there with McDonalds and KFC. Can’t tell you how many of them I have seen in the first five days …. Too many to count.

The flight is about 2:55 minutes and we are headed north east from Hong Kong. Funny, Dean and I are the only two Americans aboard. And the only two sitting in the eight seat first class. Difference in the classes is 23 US$ … how many back home would pay $23 US to move to the front of the bus???? Well not here. Flight has been a bit bumpy, but not too bad.

We will be visiting factories and trying to set up some basic programs that we can buy container loads of things such as plastic bags (aka Zip-locks). We will be meeting with another one of Dean’s friends William Wang. He lives in Taiwan, but travels all over the Orient and knows it well.

For those of you scoring at home …. (God whatever happened to Keith Olbermann??? Bad move to leave SportsCenter. And speaking of which, they have ESPN International on here … haven’t been missing SportsCenter – just seeing a lot of cricket and soccer highlights) – I ate one pack of Ritz on the plane today. So I am down to 14 packs for 6 days left. Dean tells me that the food won’t be the same until we get to Shanghai on Wednesday. Vegas has me on the board at 5-1 to finish them before I hit Delta 56 on Friday.

Well, that’s enough rambling for now. Hope all of you are enjoying these as much as I am. Love when I can paint the picture of what I am seeing for all of you. Wish you could all be here with me to see the incredible things, both good and bad, that I am seeing. Once again, any questions, comments and concerns are always welcomed …
Talk to y’all soon.


Day Four: S
lowboat to China
April 30, 2004

Good day all - today started out at 4 am for me as I finally slept for 6 straight hours. Stayed at the Ramada in Gwan Xho. Slept on the hardest mattress ever invented .. funny as heck. As funny as this may sound, the Ramada is considered one of the best hotels in Gwan Xho.

It was fine ... but I know some people (whom I married) who would have been looking at me with a third head if I brought her there. Anyway - got an early start at the Canton Fair on the last day of the fair. Found many great factories that we are going to pursue working with. Some incredible products as great pricing. We will see how it all works out - but it is a very promising start for Little Bucks in China. Lots of great dinnerware, coffee mugs, flatware...

After the fair - we couldn't get a ticket on the direct train to Hong Kong. So basically - we travelled with the locals. Wasn't bad - just didn't have air conditioning. Not an issue if it isn't SUMMER! Can I tell you that the smells on the train reminded me of the garbage strike in the summer some years back. Yikes.Took that train for an hour before having to change to another train to get to Hong Kong. The direct train takes 90 mins door to door - the local way took over 3 hours. Oh well, such is life .. but it made for a long day.

Back at the Shangra La where I am waiting for Dean to come back. Having dinner with our hosts Samuel and Diana at the hotel and then I think we will be packing and going to sleep early as we leave to head towards Shanghai and Mainland China for the rest of our time here. Monday starts Labor Day holiday here in China - most people are off for the whole week. We will be visiting factories all over the Shanghai and other surrounding areas. Well - on the Ritz Update - haven't had any today. 15 left with 7 days left ... so far so good!Until Day Five ... JB

Day Three:
Soapbox and My Day
April 29, 2004

Well good day all. Hope this note finds everyone doing well.
Sorry to do this, but today’s note starts out with me being on my soapbox. I am not one to do this often, but when I get to a point in life where something just hits me the way this day has started, I need to share a little philosophy with y’all (Southern term of endearment that I STILL don’t get… damn Yankee!)

I start this note as I sit on a double-decker high-speed train heading to Guangh Xho to go to the Canton Fair. I am traveling with John Tam who is working with us and we are on our way to meet Jimmy and walk the fair and see what we can buy for Little Bucks. As I travel to Mainland China for the first time, I am looking out at the surroundings. As I do, there are many beautiful pieces of scenery. Gorgeous mountains, green grass and tress for miles and miles – it is just spectacular (and real!).

As the train moves quickly by, we go past many villages that look like they have been around for a long time and small cities with brand new buildings that look totally state of the art. But it’s the small villages that are striking my fancy this morning. I can’t help but looking at these people working in the fields or factories and living in these “sub-standard” ways of living. When I say “sub-standard,” it is said in an American tone. Being the “little, spoiled, Jewish kid from New York,” I looked out at first and thought that there’s no way that I could survive the lives that these people lead. And then it hit me. It could just as easily have been me – “BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I….”

I am not the mostly overly religious person. But I am spiritual in my own way. I look at these shacks that people live in with no indoor plumbing and no stoves and think that no Jewish man/woman I know could live in these conditions. I mean for god’s sake – I struggle when the damn Tivo doesn’t record something I was dying to watch! Sad isn’t it … ???? This is what is important to me … Tivo?

My father and I always joke about my autobiography that someday will be written. I tell him that my working title is, “The luckiest white boy on Earth.” As I ride this train, it still stands to that title. I realize as I ride on the train that I am lucky because of the “Grace of God.”

I grew up with a wonderful family. I have a wonderful wife (most days - KIDDING!), brother-in-law, in-laws and extended family. I have made some incredible friends. Make sure you tell someone you care today ... never know when it will be your last!
SOAPBOX OVER - back to the work phase. The Canton fair is in this convention center that is just massive beyond control. Looks as if you can fit THREE football stadiums inside of it. We walked around all day and saw everything that you can imagine can be made in China. Walked from 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. with a quick lunch break (BTW - first pack of Ritz Crackers went at lunch...15 to go). AND we still didn't get to see more than 70 percent of show. Just wild.

Went to dinner tonight with about 12 people from a company Dean knows well and we are starting to work with at Little Bucks. Ate at a Brazilian steak house - was very good. Just got back to the room to find out that our 6th store is open in Gainesville. We had 400 buggies there for the shoppers - only problem is that we had 1,000 in line waiting to get in. "And the hits just keep on coming...."
Back to Canton fair tomorrow and then back to Hong Kong for tomorrow evening.
Until Day Four.... JB

Day Two:
Two Heads are Better than One ...
April 28, 2004

Hello all - survived first full day here in Hong Kong. What a blast - took the train around town and walked around this morning before getting down to work with our agents.All was going splendid and then we went to lunch. We walk to this beautiful and jammed packed restaurant and sit down in the beautiful back room. Lunch is surved on Lazy Susan's and then you share. No big deal. Our hosts William and Diane ordered for us, but they asked us what we liked, so I wasn't worried. Next thing you know the appetizers shows up and there are a few things I have eaten before ... tried some new things and everything was crusing along. The main course comes ... and there is chicken on the table ... I look closer and not only is there chicken breast that looks great ... the chicken HEAD is on the plate with the breast!!! So - most of you who know me ... know I was dying on the inside, but I didn't want to insult our hosts so I just kept my mouth shut and smiled. As if that wasn't bad enough - they then bring out Chicken Feat. Folks - that's where I drew the line. I couldn't do it!!!

Got through the lunch and I was thankful the first meal was over. This being said - Ritz crackers are still intact. Haven't opened them yet. Off to the Canton Fair tomorrow - odds are may have to break them out tomorrow. Staying the night there before coming back to Hong Kong for Friday night ... then off to mainland China for the rest of the trip.What a great city - our hotel is in Kowloon and overlooks Hong Kong and the harbor. Had cocktails in the bar overlooking the harbor and it is just a sight to see.Hope all's well. Until tomorrow.JBPS - ANSWER TO YESTERDAY'S TRIVIA - - a few of you got it right ... scares the hell out of me that a few of you are as dimented as I to know World Famous Wei Wang. The headline from USA Today Online during the 1996 Olympics .. "Wei Wang Won!"
Day One: In Search of Wei WangApril 27, 2004Well - it took 27 hours, but I have landed in Hong Kong. Checked in to the hotel and I am spent .. what a pain in the butt it is to get over here. Never mind, Delta held us on the ground for two extra hours in Atlanta ... did I tell you how much I love them???

Hong Kong looks to be a beautiful city. Am about to go out and have a beer with my travel partners and them come back and crash hard.....I will be here for two days and then off to the Canton fair and then to Shanghai and beyond. If you have any questions or comments, please send them and I will do my best to be a travel agent.
We are taking bets - I have 16 packs of Ritz Peanut Butter Crackers ... the question is when will I run out of them? Anyone who knows how picky I am as an eater .. factor in that the hotel has a Ruth Chris Steakhouse in it.
BTW - dad is home and doing well after his surgery. Thanks for the thoughts and wishes.

Until Day two ... Sionara... (SP?)


PS - Bonus points to anyone besides the USA TODAY gang who knows who Wei Wang is.... Dave Reed - "this must be my Kim Lucky Day!"

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