There is nothing like living in New York City. After 12 years, the only disagreeable part is the sub-freezing winters. Otherwise, I’m fat and happy on the concrete island of Manhattan.
But now, as in eight years ago, it’s a necessary transition to a (much) more provincial setting. In 2006, it was a move to Medellin, Colombia. This year, at the top of 2014, it’s Zhangjiagang, China.
In 2006, the move involved developing export business from Colombia, which was working until the currency of the dollar fell hard in 2007 against the peso. From one month to the next, export prices rose by more than 20% from exchange value only. Several factors came together putting heavy pressure on Colombian exporters trading for US dollars, the only exempted item was a little green leaf turned into white powder.
In China, a similar confluence is doubtful, although after years of super-strong growth, the cost of living has risen significantly. Not that everyone is well off, but certainly millions have been lifted out of a poverty level and into a well-to-do level. Time will tell if that dramatic change will effect overall population health.
Still, the costs to manufacture in China are attractive. In fact, the Colombians have been coming here for clothes since their peso strengthened so well.
But the point of the post is moving back to a province. Cosmopolitan Zhainjiagang is not. If fact, wherever I go most people stare at me as if I’m an enigma. Just like the barrios around Medellin, I’m a strange white guy glaringly out of place, except this time I can’t yet speak to them, only smile and point, wave and shrug. There are other round eyes but in a village of 1.3 million, we rarely pass on the street.
A week into this project, and I was fortunate to get back on a borrowed bicycle today and get lost in the nearby tiny villages for a few hours before I really got lost. The smart phone gps wasn’t too smart today, or maybe the user forgot to pin his home base. Lots of blank stares when I asked for directions, which had me peddling in circles as the sun started its daily drop.
But after one short week, I can tell the village and I will get along just fine.