Monthly Archives: September 2014

From Farmington to Factories

I grew up in a house that was located near the corner of 160th and Farmington Road in Beaverton, Oregon. One of our many neighbors was the Hauth family. A family of 7 boys.

With 8 kids in our family and the Hauth boys, there was plenty of trouble and some great memories to share, but I’ll save that for my memoir.

One of the Hauth boys, Jerry has worked at NIKE forever. His 35+ years includes opening most of NIKE’s footwear factories around the world. Jerry has lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, Taiwan and India.

I’ve known Jerry my entire life. I grew up with him and his brothers. I was the babysitter for his kids when he was first married, and of course we’ve stayed in touch while working at NIKE. So when Jerry emailed me to say he was coming to China for some factory visits and would I like to meet up with him and his team, I, of course, jumped at the chance.

Meredith, our youngest daughter was spending July with us in Shanghai. This fall she enters her final year at the University of Oregon School of Journalism. She’s writing her thesis on sustainable manufacturing so with Jerry’s offer I made it a family trip and Greg, Meredith and I headed to the cities of Qingdao and Ningbo, China to meet up with a friend from the old neighborhood.

We flew from Shanghai to Qingdao where we were met by a van that took us directly to the first factory where NIKE footwear has been manufactured for close to 20 years. Jerry met us at the door and introduced us to his team who traveled with him from NIKE and the team from the factory.  We learned about the running products produced at that location and took a tour of the facilities.  Always impressive to see, as I’ve been to factories before, but it was really exciting to see it with Greg and Meredith and to have Jerry as our expert tour guide. We learned and witness how the manufacturing process has evolved and changed over the years and the team in Qingdao continues to look for ways to make improvements in the process.

After the tour we were led back to the conference room where lunch had been set out. Big Macs and Pizza for the Americans and bento, boxed lunches for the locals. Not feeling all that adventurous and concerned after reading recently that McDonald’s in China was using questionable meat products and not sure what the “pepperoni” was, I chose the bento box. I picked out and ate the rice and the cooked, green vegetable, bok choy. Greg went with the Big Mac and I think Meredith had a bottled water.

IMG_2080Before getting into the van, Meredith and I headed to use the facilities. As we entered, I was quickly reminded that I’m not in Shanghai anymore. In Shanghai, I’ve identified all the best bathrooms in the city and have scheduled any market travel around always using the bathrooms at the IAPM mall. They’re fabulous.

Meredith and I both stopped and stared into the open stalls in the bathrooms at the factory. Staring back at us was the common bathroom fixture of China. We both stood there and flashing through my mind was the fact that we had not used the “facilities” since leaving our apartment some six hours earlier and we would be in a van for 2 hours before arriving at our hotel.

Meredith, with all her confidence says “let’s do this.” So I rolled up my pant legs and headed in. I asked over the wall, “do we face the door or the back wall?” Meredith, not knowing the answer but having spent a lot her childhood camping with family and friends, coached me by stating, “face the door, squat like you’re in a NIKE Training Club class and just go.” All good. I left that pair of shoes in the hotel room.

The next morning we flew to Ningbo, China to see our flyknit manufacturing process. The drive to the factory was beautiful as the factory is located in the rolling hills and green countryside. The manufacturing process? IMPRESSIVE. And for reasons I’m sure you can understand, I was not allowed to take any photos.

The van took us back to the city of Ningbo where Greg, Meredith and I took China’s own, innovative fast speed, “bullet” train to Shanghai. A great way to travel. Easy, clean and more room than an airplane seat. I highly recommend it.

A quick trip to meet up with a friend from the old neighborhood. A long time NIKE employee. A historian of footwear manufacturing. Sharing his knowledge with a college student looking to the future.

We’ve come along way from Farmington Road. Thanks Jerry.

Problem Solved

We all have problems in our daily lives and we all have our own way of solving them.

I laughed when I first saw this set of International Guidelines for how different cultures go about solving problems. You can decide for yourself based on your own experiences but let me tell you what I’ve learned after living in China for a year.

There are no problems in China. It’s a very low drama kind of culture. “They” approach things with a very, lets not get all worked up kind of attitude. Let’s deal with what we actually have control over and leave the rest to… well, let’s just not talk about it.

There is no national 24 hour news feed that fuels people’s anxieties or opinions. There is access to western news channels like CNN and BBC but if they broadcast anything that may cause or stir up any “drama” the TV just goes black. No problem.

Air quality issues? Not a problem. We have an app on our phone that we check each day to see what the air quality index is in Shanghai. Most days you can see the pollution. Some days you can taste it. And other days, you should just stay inside.

The app shows 2 updates – one posted by the U.S. Consulate and the other from the City of Shanghai government. Almost daily, the Consulate post 20 to 30 points higher, using language like Very Unhealthy where the local government post Moderately Polluted. No problem.

I’ve noticed when talking with people who have limited english in their vocabulary, that they have standard, scripted responses to any of my questions. “No problem.” “It’s Okay.” and “I know.” Here’s an example, “Do you have tonic water?” response, “No problem.” The store clerk will point to sparkling water on the shelf, in the aisle where I’m standing. I try again, where they state “it’s okay.” I explain in my most obnoxious, American, let’s send in the drones, way of louder and slower “T-O-N-I-C  W-A-T-E-R” to which they respond “I know. No problem. It’s okay.” And you know what? They’re right. They do know. It’s not a problem and it will be okay. We’ll drink the gin straight.

There’s nothing more evident in the No Problem zone than transportation. This country has it nailed. IMG_1874You need to move your furniture from one apartment to another? No problem. My buddies got a bike and we can just stack it high and he can ride it through the streets of Shanghai during rush hour.

IMG_2053“What’s that?” “You have an antique piece that’s been in your family for centuries?” “No problem.” “I’ll load it on top of the mattress for protection.”

You want some house plants for your apartment? “No problem.” Don’t have a way of getting them from the store? “I know.” Not sure which one will fit and I may want some smaller ones as well. “It’s okay.” “I’ll bring the entire store on the back of my bike.”

And before you go getting all high and mighty while gnawing on that strip of IMG_2067bacon, these little piggies are indeed headed to market. We do, in the good old U. S. of A, also transport pigs. Ever been to Arkansas? It’s just here in China the truck is an open trailer where in Little Rock, the product is in an enclosed container with holes drilled in the side for ventilation. Square Melons, but I’ll move on.

But there’s nothing better and more brilliant than the restaurant home delivery service known as Sherpa’s. One can login to Sherpa’s, view take out menus from hundreds of restaurants from all around the city, place an order and within 30 to 45 minutes the food shows up at your door. Motor scooters with bright orange boxes fly around the city picking up food and delivering to your apartment. Same price as ordering at the restauranIMG_2108t and remember there’s no tipping here.

Oh and by the way, they’ll deliver beers as well, with or without your food order. I wonder if they have tonic water? I’ll need to check.



So whatever your need. No problem. Whatever you perceive as a problem. It’s okay. China’s got you covered. I know.

Happy Anniversary

I know. I know. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a blog about our adventures in China. Well I decided to take a summer hiatus from writing. You know, like your favorite TV series. Just a break while I regroup and come back with a fresh new outlook and new experiences. Don’t worry. We haven’t stopped with the adventure and I’ve got plenty to write about.

This weekend marks our 1 year anniversary of working, living and exploring in China. Can you believe it? The year went super fast for me. Greg? I’m not so sure. That’s a promotion for the upcoming season of Square Melons. Stay tuned as I resume writing this weekend.

In the meantime. Here’s a re-post and reminder of why I branded this blog Square Melons. Enjoy.


Ever heard of, seen or purchased a square watermelon? The topic came up at lunch while chatting with some co-workers. As we typically do, someone at the table Googled “Square Watermelons” to find that the Japanese began in 2001, growing watermelons in square containers so they would fit better into a typical Japanese refrigerator.

The conversation got me thinking. Isn’t it interesting how something as familiar as watermelon can become “weird?” The fruit taste the same. The color, texture and pattern on the skin is all the same. So what’s the big deal? Why does this one change in shape make it so strange? Why does it take you outside your comfort zone?

As Greg and I begin our Asian Adventure with a move to Shanghai, China we’re going to take advantage of all the “weird” experiences. We’re going to explore the differences and celebrate the things that are familiar. We’ll look for experiences that just might be the same with perhaps a different twist.

Square Melons. A phrase to remind ourselves to look for what’s familiar in a world that seems so different.

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