JISHOU, HUNAN — I am now doing product endorsements. I hope someone at Kellogg’s is reading this post.
Here’s how it came about. I use QQ a lot to chat with Chinese students and people who are not even students. One of my QQ pals is Elektra, who is a senior at Jishou Normal University. She has a part-time job working in town for a start-up company selling educational software to parents and schools. [The words “start-up company” and China are no longer mutually exclusive, you know.]
A few days ago, Elektra invited me to visit her workplace, a medium-sized office in the local government complex on Zhouzhengfu. With four-day weekends now, I have plenty of time, so we agreed I would come by yesterday around 5:30 pm to meet with her and her boss, Mr. Hu.
Elektra’s English skills are actually very good, but she was initially nervous that she would not be an effective interpreter for me and Mr. Hu. We sat in the waiting room, while Elektra explained the goals of the company and its primary product, a 2600 RMB software/hardware package that restricts schoolchildren’s access to a computer and the Internet, while providing a secure chat, blog, and instructional platform.
Normally, I oppose net-nanny measures, but in China children are often left alone at home (or with non-technological grandparents) until their parents return from work. Elektra and Mr. Hu said that probably 10-20% of China’s hundreds of millions of school-age children are addicted to surfing the Internet and to playing computer games, including the violent kind. So, the company’s founders, with support from the national government, developed the e package.
It includes a USB keylocker/keylogger for the parents or school to use, and a set of programs that give access to the Internet through the e portal, and provide instruction in a variety of subjects at a variety of levels to the child using the computer. Elektra demo’ed the package, and I had to admit I was pretty impressed.
The e package is being used in other cities, but only recently has the company begun marketing it here. The Jishou branch piloted the e project at one of the private primary schools in town, which has a fairly well-equipped computer lab, about three months ago. [This, by the way, was the first time I learned that Jishou even has private schools.] The Jishou branch of course wants to market it to the rest of the city’s parents and schools.
And one way to help market it would be to get a product endorsement from one of the local foreign experts, namely me. Elekta and Mr. Hu politely asked if I would be willing to write a short statement extolling the virtues of the e package for their office bulletin board to show prospective buyers, and to pose for photos holding the logo. So, I did, carefully leaving out any mention of my employer, Jishou University.
After six months here, I have learned that whenever a Chinese person who is not a close friend asks for a big favor, or is about to ask for one, the request is invariably followed or preceded by a nice meal. So it was we (the now ebullient Elektra, Mr. Hu, his teenaged stepson, and two other workers in the office, and I) adjourned to the local Mao Jia Restaurant. Mao Jia Fan Dian is a chain of restaurants in China (and elsewhere — the USA, they are known as Hunan Mao Jia) with a Chairman Mao theme. Patrons are given little red-and-gold pins with the leader’s profile; the decor depicts Mao, his hometown in Hunan and his family; and the menu includes his favorite dishes.
Dinner was great. [No baijiu this time, if you have been keeping score.] I learned more about Mr. Hu, who in many ways represents the new capitalist China. A graduate of Jishou University, Mr. Hu, who is 40, majored first in the music school then in the law school. He taught for a while, then with his wife opened a furniture shop selling hand-crafted, Imperial-themed items from manufacturers in Shenzhen. After getting involved with the e package, he has since turned over the daily operation of the store to one of the young men who works in his office. Mr. Hu’s wife, Ms. Jiang, still continues as the buyer of the store. He wants his 15-year-old stepson to go to university abroad, and he wishes that the Chinese educational system was more like that of the USA.
After dinner, we adjourned to the furniture showroom, where I was further impressed. The pieces have a traditional look to them, but with clean modern lines. It’s hard to describe without any photos to help, but suffice it to say that the pieces would be suitable for any well-to-do Chinese family’s upscale home or entrepeneur’s trendy office.
In other words, I can’t afford ’em.
We ended the evening with Mr. Hu serving fragrant tea from Fujian Province in the traditional manner on a table shape liked an ancient Chinese coin (the kind with the square hole in the middle) made from faux stone. After more pleasant conversation and several rounds of some of the best tea I’ve ever had, Mr. Hu gave me an ashtray from his store’s stock and some of the tea, and we made our farewells.
Had Michael Phelps been caught with a bag of green tea in his ashtray, his life would have been so much happier.