Back from my trip to Asia

November 30 2007 by Ellen Roseman

Apologies for the three-week silence, but I’ve been on a trip to China and Japan. Since it’s hard to get foreign newspapers in either country, I’ve also been on a media diet, starved of local stories. So, I missed the CBC Marketplace coverage of Bell’s customer service problems, which several blog contributors have referred to. I’m glad to see someone else take up the cause.

While I was away, my blog went down for a couple of days. Not sure what happened, but the pseudonymous Bylo Selhi sent me an email suggesting that Bell might have had something to do with it. I don’t believe it, but you never know. Anyway, I’m back and so is this blog.

China is an amazing place to visit, because it has made so much economic progress while living with a Communist government. The free enterprise spirit makes you uncomfortable as a tourist, since you’re accosted at every famous spot by sellers pushing fake Rolex watches, Gucci bags and Montblanc pens. They bargain non-stop, cutting prices to almost nothing. But the fake goods are flimsy, which I found after buying a knockoff bag (Le SportSac). The lining had sprung leaks in several places by the time I hit Japan last weekend.

Journalist Ted C. Fishman has a chapter on counterfeit goods in his book, China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World. Here’s what he says about how China’s disregard for copyrights, patents and intellectual property has boosted its growth:

China’s failure to police intellectual property, in effect, creates a massivle global subsidy worth hundreds of billions of dollars in its businesses and people. Seen another way, China’s vast counterfeiting schemes act on the rest of the world the way colonial armies once did, invading deep into the economies of their victims, expropriating their most valued assets, and in so doing, undermining their victims’ ability to counter. As China grows into a great power, the wealth transferred into the country by stealing intellectual property will propel it forward.

But should China be blamed for behavior that robs the rest of the world of wealth it has spent generations accumulating? Perhaps. Yet perhaps the rest of the world also needs to examine itself. China is merely acting as other nations do when presented with the chance to increase their wealth and power. So far, pilfering intellectual property has cost China little and benefited it tremendously.

His conclusion? Foreign investment into the country has made the world’s best technology easily available to China’s infringers. So, if there’s blame to distribute, blame the U.S., Canada and Europe for helping assemble the biggest, most sophisticated and most successful illegal manufacturing complex in the world.

Reverse colonialism, how sweet it is.

Are you buying goods from China? Or are you boycotting them, as author Sara Bongiorni tried to do? She wrote about her efforts to bypass these cheaply-made foreign products in her book, A Year without “Made in China”: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy. Not only did she have trouble finding alternatives, but she couldn’t always tell where things were made since the components didn’t always carry labels on their country of origin. It’s a fun read.

7 comments

  1. A A Smith

    Nov 30 2007

    A bit melodramatic about the way China’s failure to police copyright infringement affects the world. As far as I can see, so long as the fake goods are restricted mostly to China, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference. I doubt, in any event, that genuine Rolex buyers would be taken in by the fakes, etc.

    As China joins the community of worldwide traders, it would be in their interest to put a halt to this, and most likely they will be forced to do so for business and other reasons.

  2. Bylo

    Dec 1 2007

    Welcome back Ellen,

    > So, I missed the CBC Marketplace coverage of Bell’s customer service problems

    The story was actually about high speed Internet ISPs, including Bell and Rogers, who have an uncanny habit of promising far more than they can deliver. You can watch it here.

  3. FourPillars

    Dec 1 2007

    Welcome back! Where are the photos?

    Mike

  4. Ellen Roseman

    Dec 1 2007

    Mike, I hope to post a few photos as soon as I figure out how to do it. I just bought my first digital camera before leaving for this trip and I took 850 pictures, so I have lots to choose from. They’re not all good, of course, but that’s the beauty of digital photography — you can snap away and just pick the best.

    If I had to pick my favourite experiences, here goes:

    –Taking an overnight sleeper train from Beijing to Xian, after our flight was delayed because of fog, and having to sleep on the top tier of a three-bunk bed (six people to a room) and hoisting our luggage up to the third level as well.

    –Climbing the Great Wall of China at a spot that involved navigating masses of uneven stairs. After getting winded, I was delighted to find someone at the top selling T-shirts that said I climbed the Great Wall (and bought one, of course).

    –Seeing the profusion of limestone hills and deep caves at Guilin, a resort city in the south of China, then coming out to confront masses of aggressive ladies hawking souvenir postcards.

    –Finding out that China does not have a government-supported health care system and hearing from a local guide in Xian that people who get a cancer diagnosis go home to die because they can’t afford the cost of a hospital stay.

    –Watching people ride bicyles and motorized bikes in China on well-marked bike paths, but feeling shock at how few wear helmets, and fearing for my life in Japan where bike riders all use the sidewalk instead of the road.

    –Staying at a Tokyo hotel near the Shinjuku railway station, one of the busiest stations in the world. It’s crammed with commuters as late as 11 p.m., since people work late or go out for drinks and dinner before heading home.

  5. Dale

    Dec 1 2007

    Ah, memories of Tokyo! I lived not far from Shinjuku station for several years and recall that it was (could still be) the largest/busiest station in the world, with well over 100 entrances/exits. Natsukashii!

    Re: Chinas copyright infringing not really affecting the world .. problem is that it does, with the Chinese counterfeiting everything from aircraft parts, tires, auto parts to obscure items such as Canadian Icewine.

  6. Andy

    Dec 1 2007

    I recall during the 1950s and 1960s [when I was very young] that Japan had the same problem as China now does with cheap products. The idea that a product was made in Japan was scorned upon. I recall a story [don’t know if it was true or not] of a company in Japan establishing a city in Japan called “Usa” so that they could stamp “Made in Usa” on their products.

    It didn’t take long for Nikon, Canon, Toyota etc. to turn that around. I would imagine the same will happen with China. Anyone think I’m wrong?

  7. Esme

    Dec 19 2007

    I can imagine it would very hard to live without things made in China. We were at lunch today and the Japanese beer that we ordered was actually made in China.

    As for the quality of fake goods, one shopkeeper who carries the Super A grade fakes told me there is less money to be made from good-quality fakes. That’s why most of what’s available is bad-quality stuff.

    When we are on work trips in China, as a frequent traveler I am always asked to take my travel companions to these stores. More than once, I’ve been offered commissions for any business I bring in. Apparently it’s the same with restaurants and clubs. As this is likely against business ethics, I always refuse. So I have never been able to figure out how much those commissions are. It would be interesting to know.