Friday, July 27, 2012

Dancing in the dark

Greetings everyone. I'm still in China, and desperately trying to get anyone interested in the Olympics. When it was in Beijing there was near universal frenzy. Now it's in some far off little island off the coast of Europe it hardly seems worth getting active about. The opening ceremony can't possibly compete with Beijing, and when I point out that we might not have cash to flash, but we are damn-sight more original, entertaining and artistic.. I might as well have insulted the national pride. But they declare emphatically as if playing a trump card we Chinese are just more energetic. And on this point I cannot argue.
I read in the Times that 63% of British people are classified as inactive. They are hoping the Olympics will inspire us to get off our lazy backsides and do the hurdles or long jump of an evening rather than slumped in front of the box watching Corrie. I don't know what the inactive percentage of Chinese people is but I'd like to bet its close to zero.
As far as I can see the average Chinese person is up early doors, breakfast in cheap cafe en-route to work, ten hours then a meal.. latest about 6.30pm in some hectic cafe on the way home. Whereas in Europe we like to linger after food, chatting, order another coffee, perhaps a brandy. The second they have finished eating its.. OK then we are off. Bill please. And what do they do after dinner, of an evening.. let me tell you 99% do dancing in the dark.
Really. Back in the UK parks are hardly occupied after dark, if they are we don't really want to know what goes on. In China, all over China after dark a billion folk have got themselves dressed nicely and hit the parks to dance. Flamenco, tango, classical, disco and some strange Chinese line dancing that they seem to love right now. In the park next to my apartment, I counted twenty dance classes, some with as many as 200 members. Young folk and very old, children and teenage girls. Its all very friendly and jolly. The foreign guy (me) is waved at and invited to dance, old ladies want pull me in. So much energy been expended it made me feel faint.
Each dance group has a sufu.. or master who will charge you about 1000rmb (about £100) for a years membership, but a night or two for free is fine. They bring the music, a blurry amp box and the cool moves. With some of the groups I really couldn't work out who was the sufu and what music they were dancing too, maybe if you just copy the person next to you it kind of evolves like a huge Chinese dancing whisper. I have a video from my phone to give you little idea of the nightly madness
All that surplus energy. Maybe it explains why China has done so well and the balance of wealth in the world is slipping east. Everyone is so worried about GDP and balance of payments, I think we should make everyone eat with chopsticks. It's worth a try.
Talking about energy, on a more serious note I was really moved by a TED talk I recently watched.Jane McGonigal is a game designer with an amazing tale to tell. By the way if you need a little extra positiveness (and who doesn't) I can recommend an hour or two on the TED website. :)
We are celebrating the Olympic opening with as much positive energy as we can muster.. in the form of a whole raft synchronised all dancing all singing special deals.
More good news: we had three containers delivered this week, from Indonesia, China and Thailand. See below.
Take care.. wishing you an happy and energetic Olympics.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Gathering Storms from the East

Hello everyone, last wee I was telling you about about an un-mistakable smell high in the mountains of northern Bali and those coffee cats. Since then I have been visiting suppliers in Java, spent one day in the city they call the Big Dorian - That's Jakarta - and like the Big Apple it is a modern high rise city, and like a Dorian it can smell disgusting, (but taste great).
The stock from Indonesia is beginning to arrive, and I'm delighted to see is selling very well. See below, for a new world of gifts. More containers coming soon!
Now I have landed back in China, and at the AW base in Yiwu city. I'm happy to be amongst the Chinese already missing the clean air and blue sky of Indonesia.
Yiwu is hot and muggy with a wane sun trying to break through the grey haze that hangs high over the city... Like a meteorological allegory: Exchange rates - the most dire for trade in recent history are starting to bite. I can almost feel it in the air. When the big bosses say that growth has slipped (to an obviously spun) 7% you know this country must be in under a cloud. Who knows what the real truth is. They tell me that trade is down badly , massively and in some industries drying up.
A further cloud is gathering - all the other Asian countries are ganging up. A major trade grouping is emerging, from Singapore to Burma. Including massive Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines. They are busy forming a huge trading block, like Europe but without the mistake of the single currency - and bigger. It will rival China, because that combined area contains resources that China is having to import. You might think that these countries don't have the advantage of the hard working industrious Chinese. You'd be wrong, because as much as 20% of the population of these areas is actually ethnic Chinese and usually the business people. Furthermore where China has choked off a young population with it's one child policy, these countries in ten years will be positively youthful.
As always the world turns, the cards fall and things change. China is a mighty place, but the cards are been reshuffled.
I reported the early signs here earlier. Luxury property at heavenly prices.. all but unsold, but still with monthly rising prices. All a bit Alice in Wonderland.
But under it all are the irrepressible ordinary Chinese people. Honest, hard working and accepting of any hardship. These good people underpin the Chinese economy, whatever happens as the tectonic plates shift you have to wish that they come out of it OK. At Ancient Wisdom we will do our best as elsewhere to support the small family businesses. With your help of course.
Enough.. gathering storms..
Back home as the Olympics kick off.. we have the deals.. Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Take care.
David (In Yiwu)
PS: If you have never ordered before...
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Un-mistakable smell

Hello, right now I'm in Java, Indonesia discovering some new suppliers and checking one one or two existing ones. 
I also had to take a trip to the relatively undiscovered north of the island, To get there you have to cross over the volcanic ridge that rises over 2000 meters in the centre of the island. I have to say it is not only a fantastic trip with grey monkeys, glassy lakes, dramatic drops and awesome volcanic feature's but really botanically interesting. The road takes you past every kind of plantation, orange groves at lower levels, then past vanilla and coffee plantations. Everything seems to grow here in this lush land; Chilly, Cinnamon, Coffee, Coriander, Cumin, Garlic, Ginger, Lemon-grass - I lost track.. Along the way you are invited to stop and enjoy the views whilst sampling some of the worlds finest coffee. Cevet coffee (Kopi Luwak) is the best and most expensive, I learned not to ask for the best coffee.. not because of the price. Because, well it is produced in a pretty unorthodox way. The cevet is a small cat/weasel like creature that loves to eat fresh coffee beans. It has a nose for sniffing out the very best beans, however it doesn't digest them totally and they pass through the little creature somewhat enhanced and partly fermented. These specially processed beans make the best coffee. You have been warned.
Over the top of the volcano past the temple in the lake, built after the last eruption you descend through lush rain forest complete with dense green trees stretching out for miles like super tall and rather regal privet bushes. With the window down I could smell something distinctive and faintly nostalgic. But could I place that smell wafting on the warm breeze? In small villages long plastic sheets filled every available sunny spot sun drying something dark brown. On the side of the roads were long bamboo poles made with cross sticks.
On the edge of the road some guys were bashing one of the tall trees with the bamboo pole and like amber rain pods were tumbling. Turns out on investigation that this is a clove forest and we were there in the midst of the harvest. A lucrative business Ringo (our agent) told me, cloves fetch around £4 a kilo from traders, vastly more than rice and with far less work.
Somewhere here, I thought, must be someone distilling beautiful clove essential oil.
I'm working on it..
Then the smell came back to me.. yes I know that aroma.. it's "Old Spice" circa 1985.
More news next week.
PS: If you have never ordered before...
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Friday, July 6, 2012

In the wood carver's market

This week finds me in Ubud, Indonesia. My third trip this year, and like a good book Ubud gradually unfolds its secrets. Before I tell you this weeks trade secret, I must tell you about the celebration days in Bali. Basically almost every day has some kind of celebration attached, upon arriving the skies were full of kites, some as large small cars, diving and swooping, small children running up and down the mud paths between the paddy fields engaged in serious competition. Kite flying day in Bali.
The day after was "bless my small appliance day", which included cars and motorbikes. From early in the morning bikes and cars are been cleaned, mirrors fixed, scratches polished. Everything must be perfect for the local holy guy to do blessing and attach palm leaf decorations to your vehicle. Time to be grateful for these possessions and then ask for safety for the coming year. Or at least the next 220 days.. because they have four separate calendars here each with a list of holy and high days. Each calendar has different systems and numbers of days in a year, so you can see that some days come round more than one time (in our year).
Then on top of all this they have been taking the Euro football very serious here, even in the most remote mountain villages great silk flags float in the hot breeze denoting the country a particular household is supporting. Staying up all night to watch the footy, it's a wonder anything gets done.
But they do, this is a very industrious place. Ringo, our man in Bali had discovered an early morning market where wood carvers go to sell unfinished work to traders. Traders finish it off to the clients specifications and then pass it off as their own work. Interesting.. I wanted to see this market, and since it started at 6am (when the best deals are struck) I had to get up jolly early.
Maybe, Ringo thought, we could trade direct with artisan families.
We found the market on the edge of a small village, little more than a cattle shed, on arrival almost dark but for the morning light cutting through the holes in the roof and slanting through the rising incense. It soon brightened up and became quite busy, a regular hive of activity. I love markets of all kinds. Like a deeply furrowed field great mounds of carved wooden items were plied high, each stack with an old lady making offerings for harmony and good trade, and ready and more than able to make a hard Bali bargain.
Turns out that it is the wife's (or Grannies) job to sell the stock, while the husband sits and carves his particular speciality at home. Just about anything you can imagine is carved in about six varieties of available wood. I had to learn very quickly, the pluses and minuses of all the woods, (now I'm checking on the back story to the various types). These ladies are no push over, they know the value of the stock can make a sales pitch (with limited English) and take great pride in the workmanship of their stock. What's more they will (for a fee) finish off pieces in any finish you want; dark stain, high polish, gold filigree.
It crossed my mind at how old the traders were and if this is in away a dying profession. The younger generation, better educated want a life other than farming and carving. Supplies are sorely limited, try negotiating by offering a large quantity, and you get a sigh and open hands, "sorry we can only make 300 pieces a month, I can spare you half that". Thus prices are rising and therefore giving a little more money to these hard working artisans and that's not a bad thing.
More news next week.
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