How we want to transact is important too: Chinese companies as market disruptors.

 

Market Disruption

 

Much continues to be made of the rising tide that is “CHINA”. Regardless of which lens you use to view this country, they are a power in every sense, and much of the current discourse focuses on how it will evolve in the next 50 -100 years.

This morning I read an article by the London Business School called: Making the leap into developed markets which discusses in great detail the process by which Bottom of Pyramid companies (companies who make cheap goods cheaply) have historically tried to disrupt the incumbents. In the context of this article the focus is on how companies in India and China might disrupt their Western counterparts in the future, as Japanese companies have done.

You can read the article for yourself to get all the details, but there was one aspect that wasn’t addressed and that is the psychology and philosophy of business and how we transact and more importantly want to transact. Speaking from personal experience, as I sit here in Guangzhou China, the primary focus of the vast majority of Chinese companies is to extract as much profit as possible while giving as little as possible in return…thereby maximizing profit.

Examples of this abound but here is a personal one: I paid 4000RMB for my gym membership. The gym opens at 10AM and closes at 11PM but management refuses to turn the air conditioners on until 5PM during the peak hours. The same applies to the lighting. They only turn 30% of the interior lights on during the day because from their perspective if the gym is only 25% full, they are wasting money keeping it cool and well-lit. The change room is always kept at a sweltering 29 degrees. Despite repeated complaints over a six month time frame, nothing changes because customer service isn’t viewed the way we do in West. They simply do…not…care…

This isn’t just a casual observation either. Driven by frustration after having attended two different Chinese owned Gyms I did a little research and found a report by Deloitte on the state of the Fitness industry in China which highlighted several problems.

The reality is that many gyms are in trouble, chasing short-term cash flow and churning members. All
too often in China, the default tactic for attracting members is to compete and differentiate on price.
This may bring short-term gains, but in the long-term damages the revenue model and erodes both
brand equity and member loyalty.

This is but one example, but the mentality of business owners is the same from the mom and pop level all the way to the biggest organizations. You could buy your fruit from a local vendor down the street on a weekly basis, engage in wonderful conversation, tell them you live just across the street and plan on recommending all your friends, and then find out that the vendor has been charging you 3 times the market price.

Yes I know as a foreigner this is part and parcel with the territory so maybe it isn’t the best example, but Im trying to get at the psychology of the matter. Rather than seeing long-term benefit from the fact that I live across the street, will become a regular customer and will tell all my friends in exchange for good service and a fair price, the vendor sees short-term dollar signs by charging me 3 times the going rate despite the fact that I now wont go back.

Now look at the global market as it stands today. Chinese consumers flock to Western brands because of the perceived quality and integrity of the products (as well as status of course). Whether or not its a conscious decision or not, the honesty and transparent way in which most Western companies operate surely helps. If you don’t like something, or it isn’t up to your standards, or you changed your mind about something, the industry leaders will go out of their way to make it right.

So, am I saying that things wont change or that Chinese companies wont adapt? No, more likely than not, they’ll hire foreign talent and expertise and attempt to adjust to what the foreign markets demand. The reality is however that when you buy something you get more than the tangible. You also get a story, a feeling, and a degree of service, things that are much harder to replicate when customer service doesn’t come naturally. Therefore any discussion surrounding the likelihood of disruption by BoP companies must also include a measure of philosophy if we are to get a proper understanding of the factors which lead to market disruption.

 

 

 

 

Teaching Tiananmen

One of my students is getting ready for his final year of High School here in Guangzhou, and like most Chinese youth his age, he loves three things: Basketball, Video Games, and Eminem. Also, like most youth his age, he knows only that which he has been permitted to know.

We had a two hour class this morning and the theme was Global IssuesI decided to show him the Kony 2012 video and one thing led to another. Soon we started talking about whether the Chinese population could ever exert the same kind of pressure on its government, as the Americans had with theirs (in the documentary).

Naturally, this led me to ask him what he knew about the most famous Chinese example of this, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. His friend had told him a little about it, but he hadn’t seen, read, or heard much about it at all. Since I have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) I am able to access the internet as if I was somewhere outside China and was able to show him these two videos:

We watched the videos and had an interesting conversation. He told me the official reason given for State censorship is that it is intended to ensure a “Harmonious Society”. He also told me that anyone born after 1990 would probably have no idea that anything had ever happened at Tiananmen Square at all. He went on to say that parents usually didn’t discuss it with their children, and students certainly didn’t learn about it in school.

All I can say is that sharing this piece of history with him was a powerful experience, akin to sharing  images of the holocaust with a German teenager who had never learned about it, or showing a documentary of the “Rape of Nanjing” to a Japanese student whose government still refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing.

In many ways, this is an example of why we should travel…and maybe even why we must travel. Because, despite all of the pressures, barriers, impediments, and limitations that governments, and institutions, may try to put on us, or place in our way, the power of human connection undoubtedly trumps them all.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Smoke and Mirrors: AvK White Guy for Rent

The following entry is the story of my 36 hours in Chengdu as a Rent-a-White-Guy. At several points throughout the trip I honestly wondered if I was in the middle of a dream. However as has been the case several times this past few years, you just cant script this stuff. It reads like a short story…because thats what it is. As with my last entry, I apologize for the length, but I think you’ll agree that the details make this story what it is. So wait until you have a few minutes to read this in its entirety. I hope you enjoy!

It all started when a coworker told me that a friend of hers was looking for a model, and if I was interested in some work (which I was).  The job was in Chengdu, Szechuan province, which is a two hour flight from GZ. I would have my travel and accommodation expenses paid for, and would be paid $400 for 2 hours of work. So far so good. I had the days off, and I welcomed any chance to see a different part of China.

I asked what exactly I had to do, and this is where it got a little confusing. They wanted me to bring my suit, but I wouldn’t actually be doing any modeling. There was some kind of presentation being done and they wanted me there for it though (Remember that people don’t speak english well here, so even basic questions seem complicated). So after ruling out a fashion show, photo shoot or any type of advertisement I figured that the event organizers wanted a token white guy, possibly to welcome guests.

Having been somewhat jaded by the industry, I asked for half the money to be paid in advance and that my tickets be given to me in advance as well. This was provided and on April 23, I was off to my first modeling (sort of) job in China.

I caught an airport shuttle bus that went directly to the airport with 3 minutes to spare (they only come every 30 minutes). As I was checking in, I was informed that the plane would be leaving two hours early, which meant that I had only 20 minutes to clear security. I managed to get through security, and grab a coffee (of course) and basically walked directly onto the plane. It couldn’t have been a smoother trip up to this point; and then we sat on the runway for 45 minutes, in 30 degree weather. I was where I needed to be though, and had a few back issues of The Economist and GQ to keep me busy.

Once I arrived in Chengdu, the plane was once again delayed for 30 or so minutes. Now at least I understood why we had left so early…because of the delays we would experience on the actual plane…such foresight…thank you Air China! While waiting to disembark, I received a text message from my translator and driver (who I was assured would take good care of me). “Pick-Up card to write your name in the station“, the message read. Well it wasnt the best english, but I think I know what he is talking about I thought. “Alexander“, I replied, being extra careful to state my full name so as to avoid any possible confusion.

Good hard you at the airport waiting for you!” he replied, followed by “Our exports in the second.”, and shortly thereafter, “we arrived in the country on the second export.” Oh I see, now I get it…

Alright, I’m off the plane, bag in hand, and looking for my “pick-up card”. Odd as this might sound, this was the first time I can remember being the only white guy around. So, you’d think I would be easy to spot, but there wasn’t anyone around with my name in hand. Strange given the clear instructions provided by my translator…

After 10 minutes an older man finally showed up with “Alexander” written on the back of a cigarette carton. “Great”, I thought, “At least I wont find myself stranded in another foreign airport.”

After driving for ten minutes it was clear that my translator/driver spoke absolutely no english. This was confirmed by the smiles he would give me whenever I tried to communicate with him. Kind of like a “I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re saying, but I’m just going to nod my head and smile…but honestly why are you talking to me…cant you tell I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re saying?!?” Then his phone rang, and he started screaming and yelling into it.

I swear after 6 months in this country I still have no idea when someone is screaming in order to be heard, or out of anger, or shock or maybe a hearing impairment. I’ve just concluded that this aspect of China is as nuanced as the language itself (same word with many tones and multiple meanings). Anyway this guy started going off into his phone, and then shoots me a look far different from the smiles I had become accustomed to. This one looked like he had seen a ghost and I really didn’t know what to think when he handed me the phone.

A woman on the other end asked me if my name was Alexander and whether I was German. I said yes my name was Alexander and that my father was German. Id like to ask you, the reader, what the probability would be of there being two Alexanders of German descent showing up at the same airport in Chengdu China at the same time? Whatever the odds, it happened, and I was in the wrong car. I was dropped off back at the airport and thankfully my real translator and driver were there within seconds. How did I know? Well, my name was spelt “Alexander Uonkaldenberg” and only getting one letter wrong is pretty good even by Western standards.

Now I was in the back of a nice Benz getting to know my new friends. My translator (whom I’ll refer to as Mr. Google from here on in) it turns out, didn’t speak a word of english but did know how to use Google translator on his phone. This explained the cryptic messages I had received, but meant there really wasnt going to much conversation, or accurate translation taking place.

We spent three hours in that car driving and I dosed in and out of sleep, not knowing exactly where we were going or how long it would take but finding the scenery a nice change from the sprawl of urban GZ.

We arrived at our hotel that evening and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a brand new room with a king sized bed. I was asked to stay put for a few minutes until it was time for dinner, and that I’d be escorted to dinner. For those of you who have never been lucky enough to experience a full on Chinese style dinner, let me explain, and for those of you who have, please forgive the explanation.

I’ve been to HK a few times, grew up in Richmond, dated a Chinese girl for 2 years and have lots of Chinese friends, but this was by far the most authentic experience I’ve ever had. We were led into a room and I waited to be seated. Once seated, plates of food were brought out one after another and placed in the middle. It was all very delicious and the dishes included, cat, dog, and bison balls etc…just kidding…they didn’t serve cat and dog = ). Anyway, I thought I was doing quite well navigating my way through the feast, when Mr. Google offered me a fork and knife. Slightly offended, I declined, but moments later they appeared anyway. I soon understood why though, because they had prepared a special steak for me without my knowing. This was a little embarrassing because now I felt like a stereotype but I appreciated the gesture.

I should also mention that there were two glasses in front of me. A large wine glass and a small glass about the size of a sherry glass. I thought it was obvious that the large glass would be used for red wine and the small one for some sort of liquor, but I was wrong. They filled the big one up with almond milk and the small one with 2-3 oz. of red wine. From here on in, someone would stand up and say something like “Mr. Aliccce nice to meet you!” and then shoot their wine and expect me to do the same. An attentive server standing on the perimeter would then refill my glass. This happened all night and I even got up and made a few “xie xie’s” and “hen hao’s” of my own. At one point it seemed like the entire room was in a state of constant up and downs from all the toasts being exchanged. When the staff was really on, they anticipated the toast and pulled your chair back from you and put it back when you were about to sit down again.

English was only used a little, as nobody seemed to speak it, but despite this I really enjoyed all the food, just being in the moment, and watching all these businessmen conduct themselves. I was brought into the conversation at one point though, when one of the gentlemen asked me how many wives I had. Apparently he had four wives dispersed throughout Asia and was a huge advocate of the lifestyle.

Post meal festivities were going to include KTV (karaoke) and I was asked if I wanted to come along. I told the table that I didn’t know any Chinese music, but was reassured that it wouldn’t be a problem because we could all sing “The Titanic Song” together. Having heard all about in Karaoke in China, I decided that it wouldn’t be the best idea to drink my face off at an all-you-can-drink karaoke bar, before I had even figured out what it was I was even doing here in the first place. Thankfully Mr. Google chimed in on my behalf and before long I was back in my room.

In my room, Mr. Google handed me a piece of paper with a whole lot of Ch-English written on it. Grammar and vocabulary issues aside, I was addressing the conference as the “U.S. Representative” of Mr. Google’s company. As I was reading this, there was an internal monologue going on that sounded something like this, “hahahahahahahahahaha”. I told Mr. Google that I’d tweak it a little, but that it wouldn’t be a problem. I cranked the A.C., made a quick good night call to Ellen and then passed out…

…Until 2:30AM when the power went out , and i awoke to the hotel’s alarm system. Now, usually in these situations you assume it’s a false alarm and wait it out, which I did, but after a 5 minutes my mind started to wander. Chengdu was devastated by an earthquake in 2008 that killed 68,000 people. What if this was an early warning system, or what if this was a carbon monoxide alarm, or what if, what if, what if…I was completely isolated here and would have no idea if this was a false alarm or not. Anyway within 15 minutes it was all over, but it was interesting to see how my frame of mind shifted.

I woke up the next day and spent the better part of the day in the restaurant reading the news and editing my speech. There was a distinct buzz about the hotel and staff were coming and going preparing for the conference. As I was walking through the hotel lobby I swear I literally did a double take when I noticed that my face was blown up and plastered on 6 foot posters throughout the lobby and corridors. I played it down, but at this point my inner monologue sounded something like “holy shit this is unreal”. I couldn’t discreetly make out exactly who I was or what my credentials were, and the only english words listed said “MIT, Harvard, and UCLA.” Maybe that explained why the staff of the hotel had been treating me so unbelievably well!

At 2:30 I was lead to a table in the banquet hall where my dinner friends from the previous night were already seated. This was the VIP table, but as I was now aware that I had graduated from Harvard, MIT, and UCLA, I half wondered why I wasnt at my own table…Mr. Google leaned across the table and showed me his phone. “You do the 1 hour talk ok?” I picked up the phone and typed, “The page you gave me will take 5 minutes.“, he smiled and said “ok, ok“.

We watched a video that flashed images of celebrities (President Bush, Lucy Loo, Hu Jintao, Ashley Judd), medical diagrams and research labs, and then speeches were made. I gather I was something of a “closer” and following some dramatic sounding music (deep bass) with heavy beats (think Star Wars) I was introduced.

Though I was in my High School plays and have had as much experience public speaking as the next guy, I have to say that I was a little nervous. Not extremely nervous, but just enough to get my pits a little damp, but not nervous enough to stop me from wondering if I’d be able to give my Uncle George Bush a shout out and if anyone would even notice. You can see the intro to my speech here: Rent A White Guy.

Following my speech I was whisked away to the airport. Behind me i noticed a few promotional materials sliding around. They included the same 4 pictures of the VIP experts, only in these I looked decidedly…older…and wearing a noticeably photoshopped pair of glasses

Note how the glasses on my Doppelganger are photoshopped.

In the airport I found myself at coffee shop call “UBC” (which are the initials of my university). I ordered a Kronenbourg but was promptly brought a TsingTao. I tried to point out that this was not what I had ordered. I pointed to the picture, and tried to communicate, but was met with a blank stare. Apparently, just another example of how in China, nothing is as it seems, and a fitting end to what was an unreal 36 hours.

If you want to read another account of a similar situation, The Atlantic did a story on the Rent-A-White-Guy phenomenon that you can read here.

Escape From Greece

Lycavittos Hill, Athens

This is an entry from my journal a few months ago. I didn’t post it sooner because I was disputing a charge with my credit card company. Now that it has been resolved I’d like to share this story with everyone. It’s a little long, but I think you’ll find it entertaining nonetheless!

Night on the street (2005?).

February 25, 2012 Athens, Greece

What is it about Athens that has me always leaving on less than ideal terms?! I was here seven years ago with my friends, Jackie, Jason and Blair, and because we were in the middle of our European backpacking adventure, we were very cheap. Because we were so cheap and ill-prepared, we ended up spending our final night in the port suburb of Patras, where we would be catching a ferry to Italy the next day. To be clear, we spent that night in a park, next to the ferry, with homeless men and one of my friends woke up to discover he had been sleeping on an ant hill. The morning of our departure we showered using bottles of water and boarded the ferry to Italy. None of us have ever forgotten the night we spent with homeless men and Greek ants.

Water bottle shower

Fast forward seven years, and I’m back in Athens. That’s seven years wiser, more prepared but probably comparably cheap. Unfortunately, I now find myself in similar circumstances on my final night in Athens, because I’m at the Airport a full 17 hours before my flight. What follows is the three-part story of how I made my way from Athens to China. It plays out like some weird reality show hybrid that might be called “The Real Lives of Aspiring Models: Project Athens”, and combines Project Runway/The Real World/Prison Break. In the next few posts, I’ll explain how I was screwed by X-Ray Models in Greece, my experience with ex-KGB members, and what I thought of Russian hospitality.

Part One: ATHENS

Situation Greece

By all accounts, the situation in Greece seems to be on the up and up, rewind 6 weeks however and its future was quite a bit bleaker. The demonstrations, violence, and burning buildings you saw on t.v. were only the tip of the iceberg though. Clearly, despite its reputation for developing international models, this was not the best time to be strutting my stuff in Athens. It was against this backdrop, and the knowledge that there wasn’t much work available, that Ellen and I decided it was time to move on.

It was a Friday when I spoke with X-Ray Models (my Greek agency) and was given consent to leave, and to book my flight. Saturday morning however, I awoke to a casting call. The job wasn’t going to take place for two weeks, and would be for a “Look Book” being shot in Paris. I figured the professional thing to do would be to show up, even though I had no intention of working the job should I get it (I know better now). Keep in mind that I had now been modelling for 6 months with limited success. In my mind the odds that I would get this job seemed fairly small. Not to mention that this was the first time in 6 months that I had shown up hung over for a casting, looking very casual, and far from well-rested. So, my history didn’t offer much hope and neither did my present state.

I left the casting with the same impression I usually got. They seemed as interested as they always did, nothing special. I relayed this information to X-Ray Models and they told me that it was ok for me to book my ticket out of Athens which I proceeded to do.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. On Sunday morning I received a call informing me that I had booked the job. What are the chances that my first big job in six months since leaving Vancouver in September would be the one job I couldn’t work (and in Paris of all places!). I had already made travel arrangements however, and I was expected in HK and Guangzhou.

X-Ray Models was none to pleased that I was unwilling to change my plans. I tried explaining that it wasn’t a matter of being unwilling, rather, that I was unable to do so. The job in Paris wasn’t going to pay much and if I were to stay another two weeks, I’d lose the money I spent on the tickets and have to support myself another few weeks with no income. After a few exchanges I thought they were resigned to the facts. It was final. I was leaving with their blessing. Another lesson learned: Hell hath no fury like a Greek fashionista shunned.

That evening I went to the concierge to inform them I would be checking-out in the morning.They however informed that there was now a problem. You see, the agreement between X-Ray Models, elite models and myself, was that I would pay my airfare, and they would cover my accommodation. Suddenly X-Ray Models had a change of heart and wasn’t going to cover my one month stay unless I stayed and worked the job.

This put me in a tough spot, but ultimately I wasn’t going to pay for something they had agreed to pay for. All I could do was leave. So Ellen and I packed our bags in a hurry and prepared to sneak out. This is where it gets a little funny though. We were staying at a hotel which is commonly used to house models, most of which we had since befriended. After catching them up on what was happening we came up with a plan to get us out of the hotel (which is small!) It actually almost backfired on our first attempt. With 6 pieces of luggage making its way down the halls and elevators, the manager came into check on us. the 7 of us had to scramble back up to our room and one piece was left downstairs in the entrance so I had to go downstairs and pretend that I was doing laundry hahaha. Our second attempt 20 minutes later was successful and we made it outside and into a Taxi. With any luck nobody would be the wiser until the next day when we would be long gone.

So once again, 7 years later, my departure from Athens wasn’t pretty, but it sure was going to be memorable. At the time with 17 hours until my departure and sitting in the airport, I figured we were home free. Little did I know that we were only 1/3 of the way there.

Please make a note: NEVER WORK WITH X-RAY MODELS!

Part 2: MOSCOW

Oh my gawd. This evening marks the culmination of what has been the most stressful and frustrating trip of my life. My previous entry left off when I was in the airport in Athens having just snuck out of the hotel. Lets pick up there.

Having settled into our seats and trying to pass the 17 hours we had ahead of us until our flight we juggled Facebook, reading and watching movies. It was via Facebook at around 4am that our friends from the hotel told us that the hotel had discovered that we had left the hotel without paying and had informed the police, who were now going to stop us from leaving the country because they had our passport information.

Our friends told us stories from their experience where models had done what we had done and had gotten caught. In short, they really thought we should pay our bill before trying to pass through customs. In fact X-Ray Models was not just ripping us off, they were also “renegotiating” other contracts as well, and making models pay for things which they had not agreed to, but couldn’t avoid…like say, your hotel bill.

We faced a dilemma. Do we call BS and try to board the plane as usual, or play it safe and pay. After some debate and consulting with family via Skype, we decided to pay. The prospect of not being able to board the flight, and having to book ANOTHER flight in addition to the hotel bill was just too much. So I called the hotel and settled, explicitly saying that there better not be any issues from here on in.

After another few hours of waiting and a bit of cursing, it was finally time to board. In the past 6 months, we have flown nearly 6 times and know what to expect at check-in. Ellen doesn’t pack light, so we know that we’ll have an extra piece of luggage to pay for. Even with that piece checked though, there is still lots of stuff, but we usually get away with it. This time as luck would have it, we weren’t so lucky and had to check another piece of luggage. The 17 hour wait in the airport, having to pay for the hotel and two extra bags were all reminders that I never seem to leave Athens gracefully.

OK, so we are now on the plane. Well there is a reason these are the cheapest tickets I could find, and that’s because Aeroflot really is a no frills airline. No individual entertainment, old school leather seats, and very, very, very bland food. At this point however, no complaints because you get what you pay for. Things go sideways during our stop-over in Moscow though.

For some reason, our flight scheduled for 7:30pm (1.5 hour layover) isn’t scheduled to leave until 5am! I’m not sure how many staff we spoke to from this point onwards, but we spent the next 5 hours navigating a huge airport (absolutely FULL of duty-free stores…literally 95% of the stores) arguing with airport personnel and Aeroflot staff. Absolutely nobody cared about us (passengers) and the way everyone worked was so painfully inefficient. They wrote everything down by hand, using handwritten lists that were constantly being rewritten. Our entire flight, as well as all the other flights were being managed by 1 lady who was using this system in an office with a tiny window.

We were promised a hotel and meal, but by the time we got everything sorted, it was midnight and we only had two hours to sleep! When one of our fellow passengers had the audacity to ask when our flight would depart, the Aeroflot employee simply said, “I don’t care” and walked off…NO JOKE! That epitomizes our experience in that airport.

The time we spent in the hotel was something I imagine jury duty/prison being like, only with a Soviet/KGB feel to it. Heavy cigarette smoke, snow, a 1980’s design for everything, and older burly Soviet men in suits who escorted us to and from our rooms.

At 3:30AM we were escorted back to the airport where our flight was set to depart at 5:00AM. Things got better from here. I slept for 8 of the 9 hours we were airborne and once we landed, I was able to book a $60 hotel in Wanchai while on a bus, that dropped us literally directly in front of the hotel I had just booked 10 minutes prior (god bless wi-fi). We were in our beds and sleeping within an hour of leaving the airport.

Please make a note: NEVER FLY AEROFLOT!

Part 3: HONG KONG

Alright, now its Wednesday morning and we are up at 7am for another big day. First things first so we grab a quick breakfast and coffee (on this visit to HK I was able to fully enjoy my HK style breakfast of instant noodles, egg, hot dog and milk tea because I was relaxing the strict diet). From there we went to the photo shop for visa pictures and then straight to the travel company that would process our same day visas. We were told to come back at 6pm.

We then booked our train from HK to GZ and our train was set to depart at 7:20pm. This was the last train of the day, and since our visas wouldn’t be ready until 6pm, it was going to be tight because our baggage was checked into the hotel and it would be rush hour. We decided the best way to go about all of this was to take our luggage to the train station via taxi and avoid the MTR during rush hour. I would then come back and grab the visas, and then go back to the train station.

A few minutes into our journey, having heard our predicament, the taxi driver offered to help us out by assisting Ellen with all the luggage. This meant I could hop out and go straight to the visa office. I arrived right at 6, but had to wait. It was then that I realized that I had given Ellen the money for our visas (I tend to not trust myself with large amounts of cash and/or important documents). So I had to run to the nearest ATM and hope that I hadn’t already withdrawn my daily limit (which was a real possibility given the 48 hours I’d just had). My heart was beating mighty quickly at the prospect of not being able to pay for our visas…and having to spend yet another night on the road…but it worked.

At 6:20PM in HK you can’t do much running because it’s wall to wall people. Since I had literally spent all day using the subway I had my route memorized and I was able to quickly get myself to the train station within 30 minutes. I got there at 6:55pm and Ellen had never even realized that she had ALL our money on her, or just how close we had come to missing both our train and our interviews (scheduled for Thursday AM).

The terminal was full of people at this point and we were winding our way through the customs and security. It really felt like we were leaving the West behind again. We had departed Athens, been held hostage in Moscow and spent literally one entire day hustling our way through HK…but when Ellen very vocally threatened a 70-year-old Chinese woman and her 20-year-old grandson who were being extremely rude and pushy, I knew we were back in that very special place called China, a place we would soon be calling home.

Now sitting here on the train drinking my Johnny Walker straight from the bottle, I can only hope that the surprises are over and that our path through customs will be a smooth one. What a 72 hours it has been, and how odd it is to be so excited about my return to GZ.

Guangzhou –> Athens

Written Feb. 7, 2012

Guangzhou and Athens, two cities I never thought I’d ever work or live in. In fact I’d never even hear of Guangzhou before I arrived here. Today I say goodbye to this city though; A place where I only spent 2.5 months but which seems to have taught me much about myself.

Im sitting on the roof of my apartment block sipping my morning coffee and trying to just take it all in on last time. I still cant get over how huge this city is (13 million people), and how given its size I had never heard of it before. From up here it just stretches as far as my eyes can see. The old mixed in with the new, though it seems the new is beginning to replace the old. I’m not being overly sentimental, just stating the obvious. I think that’s why I like Hong Kong so much though. It is such a mix of old and new, east and west. You can be amongst the smallest, oldest lanes observing locals live in ways you couldn’t imagine, and then emerge onto a busy street which is serviced by double decker English style buses and within seconds be amongst the most modern apartments. It is seamless. Here in GZ there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis placed on conserving the old.

Buildings go up in weeks not months, and renovations take days, not weeks. We’ve all heard about how cheap labour is in China, but you may be surprised at how entrepreneurial the people are, and I’m not just talking the Chinese. There is a large and growing West African community as well as an Arab community, and theyre all in the business of making money.

It seems that 80 percent of the people I met here (other than models) were themselves entrepreneurs of some kind. They owned restaurants, corner stores, dance studios, clothing lines and cafes. Even Mandy, an english teacher from Australia who I met, split her time between teaching and her web design business.

I came to this city hoping to model, but it’s no surprise perhaps, that I am leaving with a better sense of who I am and what I want professionally, modeling aside. Somehow this city has inspired me by introducing me to its people. Ill miss them not because we became the best of friends, but because being around such people is so inspiring. They see opportunities everywhere, and love what they do,

As I leave for Greece, I know that the coming weeks are far from certain. What I do know is that I’ve been presented with an opportunity and for the next two weeks I’ll be doing everything I can to make the most of it. Thats all I can do, and it’s what my friends in GZ have taught me to do.

Beijing Airport

Written February 8, 2012

A day spent in transit, en route to a city which will determine my future as a model. It seems odd that it should come to this, but I have trouble viewing it in less than all or nothing terms. I mean, during this next two weeks I’ll either nail it, or I won’t. I guess I could fall somewhere in the middle. X-Ray (my Greek agency) will either decide to keep me or cut me within that time, the ultimate decision rests with them. Strange as it may seem, I’m actually thankful to be in this situation.

Ultimately I don’t decide whether or not I get work. For a while I fooled myself into thinking that what I wore to a casting, or the shape I was in, or how hard I networked would be key factors in getting work. Now I see the truth though, and it’s liberating. Appearance, attitude, and aptitude play their part, but so do timing, competition and politics. Those may even be of equal or greater relevance in certain scenarios, and they are completely out of your control.

I really beat myself up for two full months in China, but eventually have come to this point where I’m not going to hold my breath until I pass or shine my shoes until they grow dull again.

So, as odd as it is to know that something is going to happen in the next few days, I’m not letting it get to me. I’m prepared for failure, planning on succeeding, and just praying I don’t end up somewhere in between.