Before going to Shanghai, I picked up James Fallows’s Postcards from Tomorrow Square, a collection of his essays from living there 2006-2009. (Yes, he lived in the building that houses the hotel where our CCMBA cohort stayed.)
First, I’d like to call attention to page 76:
The easier America makes it for talented foreigners to work and study there, the richer, more powerful, and more respected America will be. America’s ability to absorb the world’s talent is the crucial advantage no other culture can match—as long as America doesn’t forfeit this advantage with visa rules written mainly out of fear.
Second, the book should be required of CCMBA students visiting Shanghai to complement Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which we had to read for our Global Markets and Institutions (GMI) class. In the essay “China Makes, the World Takes” (available at The Atlantic.com in shorter form), Fallows looks at the Chinese side of Livoli’s traveling t-shirt. Computer accessories, for instance:
The other facility that intrigued me, one of Liam Casey’s in Shenzhen, handled online orders for a different well-known American company. I was there around dawn, which was crunch time. Because of the 12-hour time difference from the U.S. East Coast, orders Americans place in the late afternoon arrive in China in the dead of night. As I watched, a customer in Palatine, Illinois, perhaps shopping from his office, clicked on the American company’s Web site to order two $25 accessories. A few seconds later, the order appeared on the screen 12,500 km away in Shenzhen. It automatically generated a packing and address slip and several bar-code labels. One young woman put the address label on a brown cardboard shipping box and the packing slip inside. The box moved down a conveyer belt to another woman working a “pick to light” system: She stood in front of a kind of cupboard with a separate open-fronted bin for each item customers might order from the Web site; a light turned on over each bin holding a part specified in the latest order. She picked the item out of that bin, ran it past a scanner that checked its number (and signaled the light to go off), and put it in the box. More check-weighing and rescanning followed, and when the box was sealed, young men added it to a shipping pallet.
By the time the night shift was ready to leave—8 a.m. China time, 7 p.m. in Palatine, 8 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast—the volume of orders from America was tapering off. More important, the FedEx pickup time was drawing near. At 9 a.m. couriers would arrive and rush the pallets to the Hong Kong airport. The FedEx flight to Anchorage would leave by 6 p.m., and when it got there, the goods on this company’s pallets would be combined with other Chinese exports and re-sorted for destinations in America. Forty-eight hours after the man in Palatine clicked “Buy it now!” on his computer, the item showed up at his door. Its return address was a company warehouse in the United States; a small Made in China label was on the bottom of the box.
Finally, a bleg: what book or books do you think, dear reader, should be required reading for visitors to your city? For example, I’d say Nelson Algren’s prose-poem City on the Make and Mike Royko’s Boss for Chicago. Thoughts?
This post originally appeared on The Daily Parker.