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Thinking Back

Aug 03, 2011 by Thu Nguyen in Asia

Sometimes being home can be peaceful, yet mentally unfamiliar.

Especially when your life no longer involves that crazy early morning traffic in one of the world's busiest cities. Or some of that fatty and addictive juice from its signature xiao long bao for a quick answer to "Hey what do I want for a late evening snack?" On my last day of work, one of my coworkers asked me if I wanted to return to China after graduation. I said I have no such plan for the moment, but that is a great idea nonetheless.

Deciding where I want to be a couple years after graduation may turn out to be quite complicated. My junior year has been split between Montpellier, France (and a bunch of European cities I've traveled to), South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Shanghai, China. When you tuck in so much packing, traveling, places, and languages in such a short amount of time, you know life can offer pleasant moments everywhere, just in totally different ways.

Part of the chaos, but also the charm, about what the future holds for China is that it is changing very fast. Unbelievably fast. Even the Shanghainese sometimes have very limited knowledge about their city, which is constantly expanding and reshaping itself with new booming projects in practically every corner.

And that also applies to Chinese people and business. Here and there, you might have heard about China being stuck with its outdated economic growth model and political system, or Chinese companies madly cloning well-defined Western models, but this represents only one side of the story. The Chinese are changing, as the country grows more and more open to a Western style of living and consumption. Many Chinese companies appear chaotic, but the truth may be that they are still being formed, or in the process of adapting to the ever-changing Chinese market.

Sinomedia is also young and evolving rapidly. And for me (and probably for all future interns) it means that there probably won't be a well-crafted role for every intern, and throughout the internship each will pretty much decide on what projects they will be working on with their supervisors. I've done a lot of editorial, research, and writing work, but some other interns did entirely different things, as you would find out if you came here. I returned home two weeks ago, and even though I have started working in a much more traditional summer job, I sometimes miss the choice to explore all options available at the China Economic Review.

So goodbye Shanghai, just for now. One last thing for reflection: a regional profile that I contributed to in the August issue of Enterprise China magazine!

The Growth Story: It Is Not All Rosy

Jun 20, 2011 by Thu Nguyen in Asia

One of the most important lessons I have learned during my first three weeks at the China Economic Review is that it's not only us outsiders buzzing day in and day out about China's miraculous growth story. People here know very well that they are attracting a lot of foreigners' attention. And the sad reality is that some are abusing the magic of the China craze to dupe U.S. investors, as the June issue of my employer magazine—one that focuses on Chinese reverse mergers—revealed.

Even though I did not directly participate in the production of this latest issue, the conversation in my office about these Chinese reverse mergers—currently a hot subject in the financial world—never seems to stop these days. If you do not know what a reverse merger is, it is a "backdoor" method for a private company to go public by acquiring a public shell, i.e. a company that is already listed on an exchange like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the NASDAQ but does not run any real business. By pursuing the reverse merger process, the private company (in this case it is a Chinese company) can bypass many of the harsh requirements of the registration process as required by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

I frequently converse with my fellow interns in the research department about the reverse merger cases they look at on a daily basis to produce reports for our business clients as well as for general research for the magazine articles. Our conversations didn't usually give me the real-life demonstration of China's textbook growth story. Many of these Chinese companies only have very local (or even nonexistent) operations and few people in China know about them at all, but these businesses make up rosy revenues and deliver make-believe financial reports to U.S. investors. There are also small Chinese enterprises that cannot secure funding through the country's financial system, which still favors large state-owned enterprises, and have no choice but to go through the risky journey of seeking investors in the faraway United States. Almost all of them employ the same rhetoric of China's growth potential to lure investors looking for a return from the world's second economy. On top of those, there exists a long chain of investment banks, auditors, and overly confident investors who've helped promote this reverse-merger scam. Now this only awaits to be called a "crisis."

My informal conversations with people from different departments of Sinomedia, the parent company of China Economic Review, have often taught me things I didn't normally encounter in my Money & Banking seminar last spring. I now feel stronger than ever the importance of a strong and stable financial system and China's need to develop its current one in order to to pursue its impressive growth targets. In the next few weeks, I will probably try looking at a few reverse mergers, in addition to my editorial duties, to see with my own eyes how these incidents look on paper. I can't wait to find out.

Pondering the Environmental Question

Jun 13, 2011 by Thu Nguyen in Asia

Have you ever seen a bike rack like this anywhere else?

At first blush, the verdant (and quite artistic, I think!) idea of flowers blossoming above bikes and mopeds seems to indicate the city government's commitment to render the public living space greener. Yet after my first three weeks in the office—much of which has been spent perusing past issues of various Sinomedia publications, including the China Economic Review, to familiarize myself with its overall style and content—I have come to grasp the fact that this is only a very tiny green bit of China's environmental picture, an increasingly complicated issue of the world's fastest growing economy.

Several weeks before I arrived, Shanghai observed a record level of air pollution. Not surprising, given the city's sizzling industrial development which has exceeded its capacity to contain its problems. And even though the rainy season has arrived in China's economic capital, experts say that this will be the driest Shanghai summer in 138 years. The last few days have been either sweltering or extremely slippery, thanks to the notorious Shanghai's rain, which can literally last all day (and thank god that it did bring down the heat quite a bit).

The idea that Shanghai would ever become this dry, however, seems quite new to me. The city belongs to the Lower Yangtze region, China's leading economic engine. The Yangtze River Delta is known to be lush and people are able to grow wet rice here too. And the consequences of water shortage hardly stops at unbearable weather: China will face electricity shortages this summer, because the drought is close to exhausting the too-famous Three Gorges Dam's capacity to discharge water for producing electricity and, unfortunately, 85 percent of the country's primary electricity generation comes from hydropower.

The drought has livened the debate about the validity of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest and probably most controversial hydroelectric dam in the world. It is expected to provide as much as 10 percent of China's energy, yet the dam has been blamed for causing more severe weather patterns, such as droughts and floods.

I know it would be too much for a single blog entry to address China's current drought, let alone to figure what the future of its environment will be. While I am just as closely watching how this situation is going to play out (as are many Chinese citizens here and observers out there), I believe we need a lot more more bright and green bits to calm the world's worries about China's environmental problems.

Settling In

Jun 07, 2011 by Thu Nguyen in Asia


Zao shang hao (早上好), Shanghai! I've been sailing Shanghai for just two weeks, but I know that from now on those three words to me will forever conjure up the full bustling energy and chaotic sounds that the city greets me with every early morning when I go to my office at the China Economic Review.

After my 20-hour flight, I was finally able to do away with my sleepwalking state thanks to my daily navigating through the crazy public transportation system.

People's Square subway stop

Believe it or not, even the busiest moment one can experience on a New York City subway can give you very little idea about the congestion at the gigantic People's Square subway stop (it's literally the center of the city, where three major subway lines cross). And everywhere, a lot of people cycle, ride on mopeds, hop on buses, and drive to work. The atmosphere is definitely very busy and it's easy to understand why. The Shanghainese themselves are famous for being smart, dynamic, and eager for opportunities, and migrants, who constitute a large portion of people living here, also position themselves perfectly in that tradition. Seems like I'm seeing how these people have built China's No. 1 city, in terms of economic development, right here before my eyes!


Golden Bell Plaza, where I'm working

So there it is: My office lies on Huaihai Road, the second most famous shopping street in Shanghai. With the banks, shops, restaurants, and the never-quiet-Shanghai traffic, it's hard to imagine yourself every single moment not being immersed in that busy stream, even if you have endless opportunities to indulge yourself in distraction. My current project is to look at thousands of tables and charts presented in a book on the Chinese economy, a publication that the China Economic Review provides for its readership who're interested in business in China. Small challenge: Can you give me a number about China, other than that they have the world's No. 1 population and No. 2 economy? Basically that's what I'm working on! 

I'm excited about what will be happening in the next few weeks, and I can't wait to tell you about it. In my next entry, I will talk a bit more about the environment and the current drought that is attracting a lot of Chinese media attention.