Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Mr. China: A Memoir" by Tim Clissold

This one was reccomended to me by a fellow expat colleague back in 2008; finally got around to it, and it's a real gem. Before I go on about how the difference between East and West can cause problems, confusion, misunderstanding, (as well as wonder, fascination and reflection) I'll come right out and say it now:is a cliché. I know. But it is critical to understanding why certain things happen.

Put it this way, were it not for 'misunderstandings' Tim Clissold would be at the helm of a massive empire in China right now, and this book wouldn't exist. Everything they'd dreamed of and planned bumped up against this pervasive, ancient, unshakeable culture. This book is about their attempt to go ahead with their plans and how it all turns out.

This story is about a foreigner, who, like hundreds of thousands who followed him, had a fascination for the exotic, mysterious, richness of Chinese culture, and did everything he could to get 'over there.'

What usually starts off as flirting (traveling around for a week or two, hitting the Great Wall, picking up a book on learning/writing Chinese) turns to full on dating (move to China, get a cool job) and aspirations for a shared future (confidence in culturally and linguistically maneuvering throughout the cities and countysides, with the intent to settle down for good).

Our hero, Tim Clissold, is relentless in his desire to get into China and do something huge. He explains how he got a few lucky breaks, but did what it took to get money ( and lots of it) into China long before anyone on CNN was talking about it. He got in early, which meant, as a trailblazer, he had to be the real liason between East and West. We get firsthand insights on the big bosses in the developing Chinese economy. Just fascinating stuff.

The book turns into a series of Anecdotes about ways in which he dealt with 'the Chinese mind' by way of a handful of clever, tough, and sneaky Factory Managers, as well as navigating the Chinese political structure to not get fleeced in the Middle Kingdom.

I'll admit, the symbolism on the front cover (with a classic Chinese dragon 'biting' a mans head) is a little ominous. "Did he lose his shirt?" "Did he turn to bribes/backdoor deals?" It turns out that neither of these were really true. But his team of investors didn't 'take over' China at all. Not by a long shot.

What you will absolutely adore about this book, besides Tim's astute insight into not only the language and culture "challenges" but his 'case studies' are priceless. Somewhat unbelievable, almost always hilarious, he goes down the list of amazing stories of his mixed bag of Chinese investments. In many cases, the way his Chinese partners attempted to 'get the best of him' was very clever, and the followup is even better.

Come to think of it, the Dragon symbolism is befitting: by the end of it, the dragon doesn't bite his head clean off, it just takes a chunk out of his ego. I think they call that wisdom.

1 comment:

zero said...

do romams do~it's really hard~~and i agree that it's easy to get in when you travel a lot in China~