Brave Dragons: About Chinese Basketball, But Maybe Also About Your Job in China

I just finished reading Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2012) by Jim Yardley, an entertaining Pulitzer Prize winner. While the topic might seem very narrow to some readers, it may be one of the best books on the market to prepare for life and work in China, if that’s of interest to you. Even if you aren’t coming to China, it can help you understand some of the cultural barriers between China and the U.S. in spite of its very specific focus. It’s about one Chinese basketball team and an American coach’s experience in coming from the NBA in the U.S. to a lesser known Chinese city, Taiyuan. But so much of what he experiences and the setbacks and surprises he faces remind me of what many foreigners face when they come here to work or live. Definitely a good read and an entertaining one.

NBA coach Bob Weiss does a remarkable job of adapting to changes that would make many people give up in exasperation. For example, he was hired to be the coach of the Taiyuan team, but that changed when the owner suddenly made a Chinese man the acting coach to ensure that the team would run through constant fruitless drills to work the team to death rather than working on the skills and play development they really needed. He rolled with the punches and didn’t let pride get in the way. It helped that he really loved China and wanted to stay here, as it has helped for many foreigners here in related circumstances.

People coming to China for jobs often find out that the glorious position they were offered wasn’t quite as described, or that the benefits promised were withdrawn without notice, or that the work environment is almost the opposite of what they expected. In some cases, even the very job they accepted isn’t actually there. You need to come here expecting disappointment and setbacks, but determined to find a path through the craziness to make something precious and fulfilling out of your experience. Contracts here don’t carry the same meaning as they do in some parts of the world. There is much more emphasis on flexibility and renegotiating things when they prove to be difficult for one side (i.e., the other side). Important issues that you negotiated during your interviews might be eventually forgotten. Understand that and always ask yourself what you will do if an understanding doesn’t turn out the way you thought it was supposed to. Over-communicate,get anything important in writing or be prepared to abandon it, and be prepared to abandon it in any case.

While management in China can be quite good, in many businesses there are some huge differences in style that will surprise Westerners. The unfortunate management style of Boss Wang, the team owner, is  important to observe, but will probably  never encounter the extremes portrayed in the book. He tended to yell at his players for everything, sometimes an hour or more of yelling at them, constantly demeaning and harassing them for mistakes, and emphasizing excessive work rather than smart preparation. But the sudden last minute changes in plans and strategy that he would call from the top can be something you’ll see more often here than you might have seen before. Sometimes it works, but see for yourself in the book.

I recommend reading this book and contemplating how you might deal with related situations in your own journey in Asia or anywhere with new culture and rapidly changing rules.

For sensitive ears, there is some profanity as some of the players are quoted.

By |April 4th, 2014|Categories: Books, Business, China|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Tai Fei Ge (泰妃图) Thai Restaurant Opens at Hongyi Plaza Above East Nanjing Subway Station

Today I had lunch at the new Thai restaurant, Tai Fei Ge (泰妃图) above the East Nanjing subway station on the 6th floor of the Hongyi Plaza, directly above Exit 3 of the station. Wonderful place with good prices and service, plus delicious food. I ordered a shrimp curry set meal for just 32 RMB. A large serving of a delicious mild yellow curry dish with large shrimps and a good mix of veggies with a little pineapple, too. One of the best curries I’ve had in China, for my tastes. There was also some pretty good fried fish, a lilttle bowl of some limp greens, and a little serving of fruit. The bowl of rice that came with it looked more like Basmati rice or a real Thai rice and was quite good. A pleasant surprise overall.

The only disappointment was an herbal tea I ordered for 18 RMB. They served it in a regular glass and it was much too hot to handle. Needed a handle on a cup to drink this. Also didn’t have much flavor. This was a Chinese data and rose mix that didn’t have enough of the dates to contribute noticeably to the flavor. But it was certainly pretty.

Will definitely go back for dinner sometime, and certainly for lunch.

By |March 31st, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , , |Comments Off

Beyond the Clouds: Exposing One of Shanghai’s Fine Culinary Secrets

Beyond the Clouds

One of Shanghai’s hidden culinary gems is overlooked by thousands of tourists everyday in one of Shanghai’s most popular spots, the beginning of the East Nanjing pedestrian street close to the Bund where East Nanjing intersects Henan Road. There, hidden away on the 5th floor of the building that houses the bustling Forever 21 store, is a delightful Yunnan restaurant that most people don’t even know is there. And that’s a good thing, because lines would be way too long if they knew about Beyond the Clouds.  I’ve been there twice and didn’t have to wait to be seated, which is how I like it. Beyond the Clouds has pleasant, somewhat mysterious decor with excellent food at surprisingly low prices. Definitely worth a visit for some of the most interesting flavors in China.

The best deal are their set meals for lunch. Just two choices: Set Meal A feeds two people for 88 RMB, and Set Meal B feeds 4 people for 138 RMB. I took a CEO there recently for lunch and we had Set Meal A, which had more food than we could eat and was quite good. The yellow curry was perfect. The hongshao pork and bean curd skins were excellent. The greens were good and the pickled radishes were very pleasant. Soup was OK. I enjoyed the meal, but was surprised to hear my friend describe it as the best Chinese food he’s had in his time in China (total of a couple of months or so, I think). Well, the food is decent and prices are great.

The set meals are only available during weekdays. I went there today with my wife and we loved the stuffed pineapple rice dish, with a nice mix of sweet black rice and pineapple in a pineapple shell. Digging out the cooked pineapple was fun. We also had an interesting crepe wrapped around mushrooms and other ingredients that was spicy and strongly flavored. I loved it, though the flavors were a bit strong for my wife. Service was good. Definitely a place I’ll be back to for larger meals to further explore the unusual cuisine of Yunnan province.

Many say this is an imitation of Lost Heaven, and that may be fair. But it’s an imitation that may taste better and be more affordable than the original. Keep those improved imitations coming!

You can get to the restaurant by entering Forever 21 and going up the elevators tot he 5th floor. There are also little alleys behind and to the side of that building that take you to a mysterious elevator to ascend to the 5th floor. Give it  try!

By |March 8th, 2014|Categories: China, Food, Restaurants|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off