Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shopping in China at a Different Time!

I am currently back in China to shop for ChinaSprout again! Unlike previous trips, this time it has been more difficult to find new products. It seems that we have already carried most of the Chinese themed products that are suitable for our long standing customers. Besides a few great porcelain tea sets and bowls, and some dresses and shirts, I am not finding any new crafts, toys, stationery and other products.

I asked suppliers why they aren’t developing more new products as they have before, and they told me that they have developed almost all Chinese themed products that they can, and they don’t have any more new ideas. Some overseas customers sent them some samples and it turned out that they have already done similar products, so all they could do is change the fabric patterns (which also became a problem, as there are not may new patterns developed). Secondly, the Chinese have felt the impact of the economic downturn. Many overseas customers limited their orders and there are fewer overseas tourists coming to China too, so there is no motivation to develop more new products. On the other end, suppliers feel the domestic demands have increased, and more and more Chinese are purchasing products with Chinese traditional themes. Because of this new demand, they have been developing products aimed at the domestic market.

In contrast, Chinese publishers have been publishing new books on a monthly, if not a daily basis. There are different kinds of great new books that I would have never expected to be published in China before. For children's books, they have been translating popular American and European picture books as well as books about science and social studies. I used to be able to only source these type of books in Taiwan, but now they are also available in China (in simplified characters). In addition, Chinese publishers are now publishing picture books illustrated by Chinese artists, an art that was not previously familiar to Chinese artists and readers. All of these books help children not only to learn about the subjects that they study in school, but also to learn about social skills and creativity through stories and illustrations. Of course, these books are great for schools in the U.S. that have Chinese language or Chinese immersion programs. We will soon introduce these new books on our website.

I will continue looking for new Chinese themed products that will be of interest on our Culture site, while adding new books for our Education site. If you have any special wishes for a product that is still not available on our site, feel free to let me know!


Sunday, August 02, 2009

What Should Travelers to Asia Expect this Summer?

Do you plan to travel to Asia this summer? If so, be prepared to have your temperature taken on airplanes, at customs, or in hotels. (In some hotels, you're not even welcome if you freshly landed from the U.S.) Why? Because many Asian governments have implemented strict regulations to control the spread of the swine flu (H1N1 Flu), and officials pay special attention to travelers from the U.S.

When I went to Singapore in June for an annual book fair, I was surprised to see all the flight attendants wearing masks. As soon as I walked to customs, my temperature was taken. At the book fair, all visitors were asked to fill out a form with their travel routes and contact information. I said I didn’t have a phone number in Singapore because I'd just come from New York -- and suddenly there were five people asking me when I had arrived. I realized I shouldn’t have said that and just told them, “Don’t worry about where I came from.” The next day I read in the local newspaper that two passengers on a flight from New York to Singapore had swine flu (luckily, it was a different airline). Then I realized why people were so concerned when they heard I was from New York. Two weeks later, a Singapore publisher told me that they had to cancel a trip to the U.S. in November. They'd registered for a national foreign language conference a year before, but Singapore government discourages all delegations from traveling to the U.S.

Then I learned friends in the U.S. who'd traveled to Beijing and Shanghai had similar experiences. Before they got off the airplane, their temperature was taken by health officials wearing outfits like space suits. Wherever my friends went, they told people they'd been in China for more than seven days even though they'd arrived just a day or two earlier, because the Chinese government warns citizens that seven days is the critical spread period. One of my friends went to China to visit her hospitalized father, but after four days the hospital didn’t allow her back, even after her complete test for swine flu was negative. I even heard that some American high school students went to China for the summer study program and couldn’t stay in the Beijing hotel they'd originally booked because the hotel worried someone had swine flu. Some publishers in Beijing also told me that they had to cancel their trips in the U.S. because of swine flu worries.

Now I am back in China, and I didn’t experience the same precautions as I did on the plane to Singapore. Very few flight attendants wore masks, and nobody came on the airplane to take temperatures. But we all had to fill out a very detailed health form. Besides questions about our health condition and contact information, we were asked where we'd been in the past seven days and where we'd be in the next seven days. There are automatic temperature gauges set up on the route to customs, so everyone had their temperature taken as they walked through. As soon as I was back home, everyone asked me how serious the swine flu was in New York and if I knew anyone who got it. Then I saw signs in public places and restaurants about how to prevent swine flu.

Why are China and other Asian countries so sensitive about swine flu, and why do they believe so many people in the U.S. have it? What role have media played in this anti-swine flu campaign? This reminds me how U.S. media reported on the Sichuan earthquake last year; the stories we heard in the U.S. were so different from the ones told in China. And now Chinese people are experiencing the same. They believe what the media tells them about swine flu in the U.S. and worry that travelers from the U.S. will bring it to their country!

Nevertheless, don’t be discouraged by my experiences. All I want to say is don’t be surprised when your temperature is taken or you're asked to fill out that long form about your personal health condition and travel plans! Enjoy your trip to Asia!