PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China. It costs too much for them to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Steve, March 14, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org https://getting2knowyou:china.com
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But before I made the plan to return to China for the chunjie holidays—the Spring Festival or the Chinese New Year fell on February 8, 2016, according to the lunar calendar—I attempted to purchase a new car, under constant pressure from my nephew, who once worked for Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, near Seattle, not to be stingy with my savings but to have the best reliable car.
“You should drive a good car with all the modern equipment and throw away your twenty year old Buick,” he told me, time and again. “My Buick? There’s nothing wrong with my Buick,” I replied. I felt insulted, protective of my car, like you would if someone should attack your child. He was insistent, “Your Buick is aging and will give you troubles. You need a new reliable car to drive, ok?” He warned me and sounded like the Old Testament prophet of doom. Next time I should avoid sharing with him some symptoms of my aging but dependable Buick, which has served me well and faithfully for over two decades. Yes, I did recently notice the car would flash some red lights, while I was driving it, and they would disappear before I could do anything about them. It reminded me of my body, once in a while feeling certain minor sensations, but vanished as quickly as they had appeared, without any prolonged suffering, to warrant a call and a visit to my personal doctor. Red lights usually indicate some things are not working right, like some pains or discomforts appearing unannounced somewhere in your body, saying quietly to you all is not well with your health. Or your aging body and bones. Now I had decided I would not share with my dear nephew anymore any unusual red-light flashings in my car to reduce his further bitching about why I should be driving a new, safe car. Imagine, he warned me, stopping in the middle of the highway if the old engine should suddenly give up its usefulness. Why would you want to gamble with your safety and life with this old car?
And my usual response to his constant bitching: “You talked like I do not know how to spend my money.” The money that I am spending to send Chinese students to study in Chinese universities and American universities—if only I have the heart to tell him—could buy me a few luxurious American cars, but instead I choose to invest in the future of some of my favorite Chinese students. The future of some of the young people in China is more important to me than the comfort of a better car on the road. Not all of them hail from wealthy families.
I did buy a Japanese car, though my dear nephew would prefer I drive a BMW or a Volvo.
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I arrived home safely, and parked my new car inside the garage, knowing I would not be driving it till after my return from my trip to China. My nephew and his family came to visit me that weekend before my departure for China. I avoided mentioning of or showing him the new car, parked silently inside my two-car garage, but I knew he was dismayed with me, because I had spent half the amount of money he had suggested for me to acquire a new car. To him, the more expensive a car, the better its drivability, longevity, safety, functionality, and durability. He is not one for ostentatious display of personal wealth, or status in society, or keeping up with the Joneses. He wants to make sure I will live to enjoy the fruits of my years of hard labor, and not expose myself to unnecessary dangers driving an old, unpredictable car.
He wants me to have not just any car in the market. He prefers I own an expensive foreign car, like a Volvo or a BMW. A foreign car? I remember many people avoided a Kia or a Hyundai when it first appeared on the American roads, but now they have models that are way beyond the reach of some Americans’ bank accounts. I have just acquired a Toyota and I know he is not happy with my decision. An average American is not looking for a cheap car, but one that has a good driving record and reputation, preferably foreign if they can afford it. Toyota is foreign enough for me. It looks foreign, and it sounds foreign. Sorry, it is not a BMW or a Volvo!
We are still waiting for Chinese cars to appear on our American highways. Recently, Americans were asked in a survey whether they would be willing to buy an American car made in China. “No” was the overwhelming response. I could not believe it. Here is the irony of it all. Many Americans rush, like chased by a ghost, to Walmart stores each day to buy and buy cheap Made-in-China products, making their living rooms, basements, attics and every available empty space jammed with cheap products. Now China has many competitors from Asia and South America with their products proudly displayed side by side on Walmart shelves. So it is difficult to understand why the majority of Americans surveyed would not buy an American car made in China, while they continue to consume voraciously Made-in-China products at Walmart stores everywhere in USA.
Here is a headline in the New York Times of January 28, 2016: “Chinese-Made Cars Arrive in US Showrooms”. Reporter Lawrence Ulrich wrote: “A peek under the hood of three new cars from Volvo, Buick and Cadillac will not reveal a Made in China label. But those cars are breaking new ground in the auto industry, becoming the first to be manufactured in the People’s Republic and exported to the United States.” The reporter quoted Duncan Aldred, Buick’s vice president for sales, as saying that “ultimately, American consumers were more interested in a product’s design and performance than where it’s assembled”. Furthermore, the reporter also
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quoted Michael Harley, editor in chief of AutoWeb, as saying: “Germans are building cars in South Carolina, but no one says you’re driving a South Carolina BMW. It’s still a German car, and as long as quality is equal or better, consumers aren’t going to care.” In his thinking, American consumers are buying a brand, not a country where it is manufactured.
Both gentlemen, Michael Harley and Duncan Aldred are talking about famous brand name cars in the world; though assembled or manufactured not in the countries of origins.
But not one Chinese-branded car has cracked the American market. Why is that so? According to one reporter: “The biggest hurdle for Chinese automakers entering the US market has always been meeting safety, emissions, and fuel economy standards that are growing ever stricter.”
“When Hyundai first brought Korean cars here,” according to Michael Harley, “they didn’t realize the scrutiny Americans would put on them, and the poor quality almost destroyed the Hyundai brand. Today, companies like Volvo and GM know they have to build a world-class product to present to American consumers, and there’s no getting around it.”
If history is any consolation to all of us because in the beginning many people behaved the same to Made-in-Japan products, deriding them as poor imitations of American products, calling them poor copycats, and of poor and low quality. Slowly and inevitably, people began to change their thinking about products made in Japan. Now many Japanese products—the envy of the world—rank far more superior than most products emanating from many parts of the world. I am curious. The world is curious. Everyone is curious. Will China follow Japan’s lead in producing some of the best products in the world? One name comes to mind easily. Huawai is a “leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider”. Huawai, not Microsoft, is the leader in telecommunications in the world! Unfortunately, the United States government does not trust Huawai to spread its wings across America, accusing Huawai of working secretly hand-in-hand with the Chinese government because its CEO once worked inside the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. If only the “recluse” CEO would talk to reporters, all suspicions could be abolished. But he is a man of few words, including his reluctance to respond to the American government, accusing him of collaborating with the Chinese communist government.
Truth be told, in China, I had bought five alarm clocks made in China within seven
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years, each one falling apart literally after a short period of use. But the alarm clocks made in China for the American markets are of a superior quality, because they must meet certain American standards or criteria in order to be sold in America. I would have to assume it would be the same with American cars made in China. In order to appear in American automobile showrooms they would have to meet the high standards of American built cars, and that means, installation of additional electronic devices for comfort, safety, pollution control, and thus jacking up prices of Chinese made cars eventually if they are to be sold in the American markets.
Chinese cars, at the moment, are a serious source of pollution in China, though Guangzhou and Beijing—two of the highly populated and congested Chinese cities—are trying to limit the availability of cars to the general public, one way to discourage the public obsession with cars like the way many young Chinese went after the iPhone or other smart phones when they were first introduced in China. Singapore tried but failed in raising car taxes to discourage the public from owning cars, adding more to the headaches of congestion in major roads and streets in the small island.
With cash as plentiful as the sand by the oceans, it would be difficult, like trying to stop Chinese youth from playing with sex, to deter people from owning their own private cars. The adults in China want their own toys, no matter the price. Recently the Chinese government attempted to raise cigarette taxes to discourage smoking but only to fatten their deep pockets because only the Chinese government has the sole monopoly in the production of cigarettes in China. In major cities, honking now has become a major irritation and has added to the noise pollution, causing some sleepless nights if your apartments lined along major city streets.
This is China.