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A monthly column from a Malaysian expatriate in San Francisco
Saturday morning... Cold, dark and so sleepy... El Nino is still pounding away like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum trying to get attention...
Well, he got his attention all right because residents up and down the coastlines of California are busy bagging sandbags. Construction crews are enhancing property structure in all shapes and forms in order for the properties to stabilize against the lands which are by now, soaked and softened by the torrential rain...
Good Morning my dear diary:
I muscled up all of my internal energy and determination and put on a robe to go downstairs. I put the teapot on and gathered the usual breakfast ceremonial "stuff"... fork, knife and spoon... Jif extra crunchy peanut butter and Smucker's Sweet Orange Marmalade... Country Crock fat free butter... hmmmm... A piece of banana for this morning... A pinch of Jasmine tea leaf in my mug... Well, I got to wait for the water to boil before I can go on...
A co-worker asked me about my opinion on the Asian crisis. I said "It's business and it's part of the cyclical event." Now, of course I have a lot more to say than that but I am not willing to spend any more time speculating on such significant event on mere gossips. In addition I have tons of work to do before I leave the office for the weekend. What do I think about the crisis? Well, first of all, it is not a crisis but a glass bubble cracked prematurely. And thankfully it was cracked or else it could be a lot messier later. Before we talked about how foreign investments pulled out as if a swimmer out of shark infested water, we need to look back on how they poured into and saturated the Asian markets like El Nino on California.
Opportunity, investment and growth are like Siamese triplets. They go everywhere and anywhere in unity. Asian economic has been the talk of the street for years and I am not surprise at all if some analysis proved that the entire region's growth was the result of all these "upbeat talking." In fact, reputable economists and analysts of the world are still befell over the rise (and the fall) of the pacific economy. You may attribute the achievement of the region on the hardwork of the people, the enormous labor force, the sophistication of the government and therefore you may now legitimately blame the latest crisis on, what else, the corruption of the government, the overspending of the general population and the still vast but assembly-lined mentality of the people. Whatever you say and where you point your finger at, there are always supporters and foes for your theory, or, the lack of it. Needless to say, my point is that the business environment and market are merely a mirror image of the state of minds of those operating them. Trying to put blame on certain people and theories only explain our human side of dealing with problems, it does little in solving them. I think there was enough said on the philosophical and analytical part of the Asian business drama, what I would like to mention here is the opportunity that this crisis has created.
Every and any western businessperson can quote you on the "rituals" of doing business in Asia. From where to sit at a Japanese tea ceremony to how not to talk about business deals at your first introduction to the Chinese community. They all seem so well educated in the do's and don't's of the East and so ready to conduct business there. But do they, really? If you consider yourself a savvy business development person and that you truly and fully understood the word "GuanXi," do you, then, know and realize the enormous opportunity this crisis has brought before you? Asians, in particular Chinese, remember and value those who stood by them during hard times more so than those who brought them wealth during the golden days. Try not to analyze this to death because it is culture and it is the way people are being brought up in this part of the world. (Plus we do have tons of scholars doing that kind of analysis right at this moment. Let's not ruin their fun of getting thoroughly confused). There is no logical explanation to this. IT JUST IS. Something westerners find extremely difficult to understand and accept.
Ever heard of the Chinese businessperson who chose to give a deal to a partner who gave him less royalty and future returns but who shared with him a family secret to a pot of good Oolong tea? Well, my father did. He may or may not have made the best choice in that business deal but to him, someone who shared such dear and heartfelt tradition with him is a good friend of the family and therefore a trustworthy business partner. Now as a smart and savvy businessperson as you are, you are incline to say that it is ridiculous to conduct business that way. But, the person got the deal from my father, did he not? And is not closing the deal the ultimate of conducting business everywhere? Anywhere? For the foreign investors who closed down and pulled out during this crisis, it will take them double the effort just to come back. And you can bet on the fact that Asian market is still just around the corner of more explosive growth. However, this time around, other than coming back with loads of great ideas and investment opportunities, those who left have another obstacle to overcome - trust.
GuanXi does not mean relationship you build right before and during a business transaction. It means years of understanding and immersing yourself into the culture and the lives of your Asian business partners/hosts; It means celebrate and share the good old times but stand by your friends and partners in times of needs; It means attending family celebration and sorrow moments. You are not expected to do anything, just being there is plenty enough. Ever heard your Asian business partners talk about his/her family problems? Or share with you how hard it is to earn enough to support his/her families? Or that his/her teenage son is so much alike yours? If not, then you do not have the GuanXi you think you had with them. We all talk up a good time but when and to whom we spill our hardships? Does not take a Ph.D. in Psychology to figure that one out now, does it?
Well, you may ask, then, what makes the Asians so different from the West? We value our family and friends just the same and we stand by them through thick and thin. Ah... But will you risk your own welfare and financial stability just to help a friend or a business partner in crisis? THAT, my friend is the gap dividing the East - West business mentalities. It broils down to the difference of individualistic versus societal values, the Western versus Eastern priority. Remember the Michael Fay incident? There has never been a clearer display of difference in social norm than this teenager's crisis. Translate that into the Asian business environment, you will understand how those foreign investors who fled are considered spoil-rotten and only care about individual gains and will sacrifice anything to preserve their very interests. Those that stay back will be accepted into the inner circle because they have displayed their loyalty and willingness to live and breathe the Asian way.
What most foreign investors have shown to their Asian counterparts were the true color of how westerners view the value of their business relationships. It is all good and sunshine when things are smooth and money is easy to get. That, my friend, is not only a very shortsighted vision but also a deadly attitude when conducting business in Asia. Now, after all is being said and done, one might ask "Are all Asians like that?" Of course not! That would be saying that all westerners are exactly the way I have just described them. There are always exceptions to the rules. But the culture and upbringing make it the rule observed and obeyed by the majority. Also, do not forget that Asians conform to a society norm readily and more willingly than before they entertain any individualistic viewpoint. For those who packed and left, I wished you have not left a mess behind or else you have just bought yourself a one way ticket out of the Asian business market. But for those who stayed or those who are still looking for future opportunities, proceed with caution and do your research well before you leap. But, the bottom line is that you are still there and if nothing else, you have embraced the true meaning of GuanXi. For that, you will be rewarded.
Now, you do not think my co-worker will stand there and listen to all of the above now, do you? That is why I did not bother to respond truthfully. The water is ready (and if you think it took all this while for the water to boil, well, you need professional help my friend) and I think I will stop here to enjoy my cup of Jasmine... till the next time, drink up my dear diary...
A very cold and wet February... in San Francisco
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© Orient Pacific Century 1998
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