Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fabrics, Buttons and Rain

Friday morning we wake up to the pitter patter of rain and the sound of vehicles and buses rushing past on the street below.

Looking up at the ceiling I notice a drip. At 50USD a night we’re not complaining though.

Helen knocks at the door at 9:00 a.m. and we make our way into the drizzle. Outside we are met by the myriad colors of hundreds of umbrellas.

After crossing the footbridge we head over to the China Fabric’s and Accessories Center.

Inside the 7 story center we find every type of fabric imaginable.

Today our focus is finding fabric and buttons for purses.

As Shelley and Helen head over to the China Agricultural Bank for a withdrawal to pay for our purchases, I head up to McDonalds for a breakfast sandwich. It’s surprisingly easy to communicate and order simply by pointing and nodding yes or no.

As I eat, a man, who’s obviously not Chinese, turns to look at me. “Where are you from?” He asks in broken English. “Haiti,” I tell him. He looks confused for a moment and then shakes his head. He’s never heard of Haiti.

I shrug and resume eating.

“I’m from Russia,” he tells me. “Do you speak Chinese?” I shake my head. “I don’t really speak English or Chinese,” he says and then rattles off in Russian. I can’t understand a word he’s saying so I shrug my shoulders. I’m really crossing cultures now being a Dutch Canadian living in Haiti and talking to a Russian in China! A minute later he bids me “Goodbye” and walks off. I quickly finish my breakfast and then head back to the bank with Shelley’s coffee.

With money in hand we chose and order a dozen different types of fabrics from three different shops. We then find a wooden button shop.

It’s a lot of fun to see all the cool buttons and imagine what the purses will look like when they’re finished.

After purchasing the buttons we head upstairs to a Chinese restaurant for lunch.

The food is delicious!

After lunch we head back outside. Waiting in the center sqaure are dozens of bike taxi's and fabric carriers for hire.

We take a car taxi to a logistics company and have a meeting with three representatives of the firm. Sitting in their fancy conference room I take notes about shipping options.

By 5:00 p.m. we have shipping logistics figured out but need to head back to the bead markets to order lobster and toggle clasps, crimpers and spacer beads.

At 8:00, walking from the taxi drop off location to our hotel, rain continues to fall. Feeling the wet drops on my face brings back memories of walking in the rain with my two Jays. I miss them.

All in a Day’s Work

Wednesday morning Helen, our translator, arrives at 9:00 a.m. sharp and it’s time to begin another full day of work. We catch a taxi to the same shopping centre from the day before and spend the morning examining, pricing out and ordering beads.

After a lunch of club sandwiches and french fries at the Greenery Café, we hit the streets outside in search of glass seed beads and elastic string.

It doesn’t take long at all to find a string shop, and Helen translates as we barter.

The next shop over has seed beads so with a sample list in hand, we find a spot for our stools on the sidewalk and spend the next half an hour picking out different colors and types.

All around us workers load boxes into vans and bicycle carrying carts for transport to warehouses.

Trying not to breathe in the cigarette smoke I soak in the city’s energy. All in a day’s work.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

High-Tech Fairs and Underground Markets

Tap, tap, tap. It’s 8:30 a.m. and there’s a knock on the door. I get up from my spot behind the computer to answer it. Opening the door a crack I spot Helen, our translator, and she’s right on time.

With our purses already packed it only takes a moment for Shelley and I to slip on our shoes and we’re out the door. This morning the hotel offers a free shuttle bus to the fair for all buyers and sellers so that makes getting there very easy.

Once we arrive we go back to the booths we had scouted out the afternoon before and begin looking at bead samples, prices, and shipping options.

By lunch time we’ve collected all the information we need so we decide to head to the bead market in Guangzhou that Helen’s friend recommended.

The shopping center where the bead markets are located is impressive. 15 stories high it towers above us and is equipped with numerous escalators and elevators.

With the help of a store owner we find an entryway between two stores and hit the basement bead markets.

Wow! Seeing the multitude of beads my breath catches in my throat. Turquoise, red, white, purple, green. Every type, colour, and size imaginable! It’s incredible.

We make our way through a maze of dark hallways past hundreds of tiny bead stores. Boxes are strewn everywhere and I watch as hundreds of workers fill them with beads.

Other workers then collect them and cart them up the stairs to waiting vans.

It’s a beehive of activity. “This is how it’s done,” I think to myself. “This is where the beads around the world come from. It’s so cool to see this!”

Walking further my eyes begin to burn and I can’t help but cough. Although there are ‘No Smoking’ signs posted everywhere the narrow hallways are thick with cigarette smoke. Discarded cigarette butts litter the floor between packing boxes, used tape and garbage. This place really has an underground feel to it.

In the stores the air is better, so we start to scout around to see what types of beads we would be interested in purchasing. By the time we’re finished it’s almost 5:00 p.m. so we head back outside to find a place to eat.

Music, mingling with the murmur of thousands of voices fills the outside square. Lights twinkle and flash, as food vendors call. Slowly twirling in a circle I try to take it all in. China is incredible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Green Tea and Teriyaki

Sky scrapers flash by at an almost dizzying speed as the bullet train races down the tracks.

We’re traveling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and after an hour and 20 minutes we’re quickly approaching our destination. With Shelley to talk to, this final leg of our journey has flown by.

Now we’re almost there! Guangzhou,China, it sounds so foreign and exotic!

Ten minutes later the train comes to a halt and we disembark and proceed to customs. So far Chinese customs has been a breeze and this time around is no exception to what is quickly becoming the rule. With the correct visa and paperwork, gaining entry is not difficult.

Once Shelley and I have both cleared customs we head to the information desk to contact our translator. At the desk we make a quick phone call and are then directed downstairs where Helen and her boyfriend, Mark, are waiting.

Helen, we quickly learn, is a 24 year old Chinese college student who has studied English in school. Not only does she translate for us, she swiftly becomes an invaluable source of information; she knows everything about which bus to take, how to get subway tickets, what the costs are for taxis and how to find and check into the hotel she reserved for us.

An hour later, after depositing our suitcases in our hotel room we walk through the streets of Guangzhou.

The scent of green tea and teriyaki swirls through the air as buses and taxis zip through traffic. Exhaust fumes, although not overwhelming, add a familiar tinge to the city’s air.

At a hole-in-the-wall restaurant we stop for some traditional Chinese food, and I impress myself with my ability to eat with chop sticks.

A duck missing only its feathers and feet hangs from a thread over the kitchen area where the food is being prepared. Drying beside it looks like what might be an armadillo. I check the brown pieces of meat on my plate to make sure it really is chicken before I resume eating.

When all four of us have finished lunch we make our way back out onto the busy street and head down to the metro station. At the station we place the correct coins into a machine which then spits out tokens that allows us to access the metro via a bar code reader. A few minutes later we’re boarded and on our way. Easy. Quick. China is the epitome of efficiency.

At the fair, it takes no time at all for professional looking buyer badges displaying our full names, photos and a scan-able barcode to be printed. Coming from Haiti this is just unreal.

Walking through the entrance way I can’t help but marvel. China’s Import and Export Fair is indescribably huge.

Beautifully displayed vendors fill exhibition buildings, each easily the size of Canada place. Walking through them, it doesn’t take me long to realize that EVERYTHING is ‘Made in China.’ It really is incredible to see.

At a loss of where to start to looking we approach a trade matcher info desk which includes a computer and type ‘beads’ into the search engine. Within seconds a list with company names and area location numbers appears. We jot them down and then locate them on our vendor map.

We spend the next two hours literally walking our legs off as we head from one booth to the next!

From China

By 5:30 we’re all exhausted so we head up to the McDonald's inside one of the exhibition buildings for a quick dinner.

Dog-tired we drag our bodies back to the metro station and then walk the final ten minutes to our hotel.

Hardly functioning anymore with the few hours of sleep I’ve had over the last few days, I force myself to shower.

Before I fall asleep I silently thank God for his Fatherly care and protection over Shelley and I and pray that Jason and Jayden, on the other side of the world, may experience a special measure of His presence and love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


After stops in Georgia, Atlanta, and Tokyo, Japan, we’re only 1 hour away from our final stop Hong Kong, China.

On the previous flight to Tokyo we’d experienced a fair amount of turbulence and even a lightning strike as we flew through a rain storm, but this final flight has been relatively smooth so far.

The cabin is dark and I’ve lost all track of time. Since this flight was very empty, Shelley and I found separate spots with empty seats around us so we could stretch out a little. Now shifting to get more comfortable, I take a peek at the Japanese man sitting at the end of my row. He’s older, maybe in his fifties or sixties and smiles and makes a small bow when I make eye contact. So far everyone has been very polite and friendly.

All the meals that we’ve received have been very Asian too; fried rice, beef teriyaki, shrimp, green tea.

“I’m really going to enjoy experiencing the Asian culture,” I think to myself as the plane wheels touchdown.

We’re here! China!