Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taiwan culture: Have an internet connection, can start a business

Taiwan has something like the highest percentage of small businesses per capita of any where in the world. They also didn’t worry too much about renting a spanking new office; if you can plug a fax machine in you can start a company.

When I first arrived I taught business English and it was a revelation how it worked.

The address of the client was 3rd Floor, No. 17, Alley 168, Lane 26, Ho-Ping East Road, Section Three. I drove down the main road, Ho-Ping East Road, and saw a new office building at the intersection with Lane 26. Exactly the sort of place i used to expect to find the office. But i had been doing this a while now so I didn’t bother to park up and go and ask the security guard if this was the right place. I headed into the lane ignoring the fact that these were residential buildings, that the lane snaked and twisted and I had been driving ten minutes already, in the opposite direction of the main road, where an office should be. The alley was one-way and one lane wide and, if I was in a car, a visiting client, I would have to drive around, possibly for hours, trying to find a parking space. Still, I didn’t turn back or phone the agent because a company simply couldn’t possibly be here. The door at the bottom of the building was a mass of peeling red paint. I squeezed past the motorcycles and bicycles and walked up the dirty grey stairs to the third floor, holding my nose as I passed all the shoe closets and slippers outside each door; the sweat starting to come from my brow. At the third floor, I saw the silver colored plague for Lucky Honor International Trading Company just outside the apartment on the left. I wasn’t surprised but I did smile because they had invested in the solid silver aluminum door instead of the usual one with metal bars.

“Hello. Welcome,” said the middle-aged woman who answered the door in casual clothes. I took off my shoes and went in through the mosquito net doors. It was another apartment-cum-office.

Taiwanese should be able to patent the concept, I thought.

Granny was sitting on the sofa watching TV with her knees tucked up to her chest even though there was two meters of space in front of her. A little girl opened a bedroom door and poked her around just long enough to shout - ‘Hello, how are you?’- before going back to practicing the piano.

“Sorry, I am so busy.” The mother asked me to sit down in the living room across from granny who got up in a panic and headed to the kitchen.

Josh picked up a brochure from the coffee table next to me, Lucky Honor Hose Pipes International. Taiwan was a nation of people who knew how to get things made. Whenever I sat waiting to teach, Josh would always pick up the magazines on coffee table, and they would be for the International Bicycle Water Bottle Trader or Power Saw Monthly – or similar. Whether it was being made in Taiwan or China or somewhere else in Asia, they knew about it, and could find it and get it to a discount store somewhere in your country, quicker than anyone else.

Then granny was back with a plate of watermelon and guava, and a cup of Jasmine tea, pushing it in my face.

“I am so sorry. We are very busy at the moment,” said the mother, gesturing to join her behind the office cubicle partitions behind the sofa. There, on the two desks was the million dollar business that was Lucky Honor International Trading Company (…or it could be Forever Strong International Trading Company, I had forgotten now).

And it was a million dollar business because she then told me about her two children who were studying in America, which was costing the family fifty thousand US a year. But it was worth it she assured me because the children would complete the tricky act of coming back speaking English and thinking independently and creatively like a westerner - as the stereotype went - but still follow blindly what their parents said? - Hopefully, even take the business out of the living room, into a spanking new office with a couple of desks.

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