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A Letter From Zhangzhou


Hi Michael:

Each day is a new challenge for me. To run a company here requires a completely different set of rules from what we are used to. Education is in short supply. 75 per cent of the population are farmers. Many have no more than a grade three education, so to manage them requires constant supervision. You can imagine what it is like for me, nice guy Ross, to supervise a bunch of rowdy kids. It is not uncommon to see four people riding on a motorcycle. How about in the dark with no headlights on! There are not too many street lights out here, oooh doubly exciting.

I bought a twenty-one speed mountain bike while on a trip to Xiamen. A mountain bike is unheard of in these parts. The one-speed, semi-durable local make is the standard. When I pass other cyclists on my ride to town there is often panic. Who is that foreigner in shorts wearing that odd thing on his head, wrap around glasses, gloves, and no flip flops? Fortunately, when I’m not on my bike I can blend in with the locals and wander about without eyes following me. When my boss and our production manager walk through town (they are two big white guys with beards) the crowds just gather and gawk. When our production manager starts talking in Mandarin an even more stunned look comes over their faces because he speaks so well!

The majority of the population does not yet have hot running water, toilets that flush, refrigerators, or TVs. From what I have heard, the interior provinces are in major poverty. It is normal to see several generations of one family living in the same house. I met a great grandmother of one of my co-workers.

She is 108 years old. She was wearing those small shoes you’ve heard so many stories about. From what I observed, the shoe forces the person to make short, gentle steps. Also on my visit, I met my co-worker’s grandparents. They, like many Chinese, sleep on a hard wooden bed with a matching pillow. A typical home is made of brick with tile roof and floors. Glass windows are an option. Mosquitoes, black flies, rats and geckos are regular house guests here. Villagers often share a common fresh water well. A typical family will have a cow, a couple of pigs, chickens, turkeys and ducks wandering around their front yard. Yes, that sniff, sniff mmm fresh country air.

People are now travelling about the country in search of work. If they move to another city or province to work they have to leave the police their ID and pay them five Renminbi ($1 Cdn) a month. The government here does not serve the people as much as they claim. They all operate as small profitable entities. They readily accept bribes. The political and legal system here is still in its infancy, it’s like the “Wild East.”

If it were not for my radio I would be completely isolated from the outside world. Currently my only entertainment is pirated movies. We get first run Western movies that are usually copied directly by video camera in the theaters, then put up for sale here for $4 Cdn.

I won’t tell you to work hard because I know you are. I am too. Get some exercise and have a cup of instant coffee because that is what I am going to do!

Your friend,


1998 Pacific Rim Cover. "Beating the odds." Cover Story. Image of rare horse breeds.

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Issue 1998

Beating the Odds

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