April 26, 2011
From Counselor Senior Writer Dave Vagnoni, our guest blogger who’s reporting from the land of China …
My second full day in China began with a cab ride from my hotel to the Star Ferry. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought I was involved in a car chase. The driver swerved, then stopped. Sped up, then slammed on the brakes. I found myself holding onto the seat in front of me just to keep my balance. Picture a cab ride through New York City with narrower and curvier streets.
When the thrill ride ended, I walked to a lower port terminal to take the ferry across Victoria Harbour to Wan Chai. The fare was incredibly cheap – $2.50 Hong Kong dollars or roughly a quarter in U.S. money. The boat was filled with people – many with newspapers or cell phones in their hands – on their way to work. The five-minute ride left me within a block of the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre where the large gift show will begin on Wednesday. Attached to the Centre is the Renaissance Hotel where I met the amazingly helpful Danielle Ruiz and Randee Horwitch from Dard.
While Danielle went to her office for some meetings and show prep, Randee and I, along with our translator and tour guide Polly, took a van into mainland China to visit one of Dard’s factories. The trip was mostly along three-lane highways and the writing on the road signs gradually changed from a mix of English and Cantonese into Mandarin-only. We drove through Shenzhen to Dong Guan (Dongguan), whizzing by impressive buildings, fruit and flower stands and tons of construction workers. The roads are well maintained and the infrastructure is much better here than in cities farther inland.
The factory wasn’t what I expected and the quality of life for the 300 workers is better than a naive Westerner might think. The average worker earns 3,000 RMB or yuan (about $500 U.S.) each month, but has room and board provided. Workers live in a dormitory adjacent to the factory and receive three meals a day. They typically work from 8:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and can leave the gated factory space at night to go into town. The factory grounds also have a soccer field and basketball court.
We watched as workers put together, at various stages of production, items like ergonomic mice, pedometers and music players. Every step of the production process is done here – from molding to printing. You can read much more about my factory tour – including my sit-down interview with a worker and my first time eating dried fish and an egg popsicle – in an upcoming issue of Counselor.
And now, for the highlight of the day. On our way back to Hong Kong, we, of course, needed to pass through customs and immigration. No big deal, right?
At the third of three checkpoints, we (our driver, a factory manager, Randee and I) found ourselves waiting an awfully long time for clearance. The light ahead of us stayed red. Other cars on our right and left were being let through. Not us. Every so often, a customs agent peeked his head out of a small sliding glass window. The factory manager, a man named Michael, assured us nothing was wrong. Then, all of sudden, another agent came rushing up to the side of our car. A siren blasted behind us. The agent asked to board our van so he could escort us to another checkpoint area where we’d be searched. Randee – a bit unnerved as it was– was forced to practically sit in my lap to make room in the car for this customs agent, who didn’t speak English and didn’t have anything close to a smile on his face.
We arrived at this other checkpoint and were told to get out. Our belongings were taken out of the back of the van. By now there were four or five other agents walking around us. Imagine what I was thinking. They’re going to confiscate the camera, smash the memory card and break the tripod in half. Turns out my mind overreacted a bit. We were, though, taken to an X-ray room where all our things were put on a conveyer belt. That apparently wasn’t a convincing enough inspection because we were then taken to a small room with white walls, four chairs and a table. The agents again opened our bags. Poor Michael had everything inside of his suitcase taken out and displayed on the table.
After this part of the search was over, we were told our van was going to be driven through a giant screening machine. We were asked to sit in this little room and wait…and wait…and wait. Finally, handed our bags, were given the OK to leave. Everything was intact except maybe our sanity.
The entire screening process took 45 minutes and the agents thanked us for our patience. Of all of the hundreds and hundreds of cars passing through customs and immigration on this day OURS was the vehicle chosen for a thorough screening. We must’ve been part of a glorious training exercise. Lucky us.
At least I’ll always have a good story to tell – one that I’ll be sure to embellish over the years. Hey, how many other people can say they were detained at the China border? I’ll have much more on my trip tomorrow with coverage from the Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Fair.