Dale Says

July 29, 2008

Understanding China’s Youth

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 1:55 pm

With the Olympic Games getting underway in Beijing, we are learning a lot about China – about its size and growth, the efforts to compete globally, and the challenges the country is facing as it becomes a global player. But we don’t read as much about China’s young people. These youth, who are now becoming adult consumers, were raised under different laws than their parents and many of them have different values than previous generations. And those beliefs could greatly influence how they feel about the U.S.

China’s Gen Y: Smart and Receptive

China’s Generation Y includes a huge generation of China’s youth (around 200 million) who were born between 1980 and 1989, just as China was opening to the West. Today, many of them are educated, receptive to brands, and tech-savvy – and many of them have generally favorable attitudes toward Americans and American products.

These Chinese youth, who are now becoming adult consumers, were raised under China’s “One Child” laws, which produced a generation without siblings. As a result, many of them have been overprotected and somewhat spoiled. Sometimes referred to as “Little Emperors,” they are used to more material things than their parents, and an easier life.

China’s urban teens have grown up with television and computers and they are influenced by what they see on TV and the Internet. They like foreign goods, which they view as superior to those made in China, and many of them are receptive to brands and advertising.

China’s Generation Y youth also have complex relationships with their parents. They are highly dependent on their parents and are expected to care for them in their old age, but different values have caused a generation gap, and many Chinese teens are rebellious and independent.

Education is crucial to China’s Generation Y, whose focus is on learning and succeeding. For many of them, career success entails earning large sums of money in white-collar occupations.

Many of China’s youth are used to having and spending money. Between what they will make and what their parents will give them, they will have enough funds to be a major force in the Chinese (and global) economy.

China’s Teens: Optimistic, Rather than Happy

(From an interview with Michael Stanat, author of China’s Generation Y: Understanding the Future Leaders of the World’s Next Superpower, Homa & Sekey Books, 222 pages, $17.95).

In your book, you give readers a look into the lives and minds of China’s Generation Y. Who are they and what are they like?

They are made up of around 200 million young people born between 1980 and 1989, largely comprised of single children. They have seen many rapid changes in China since their births (economic, social, cultural, etc.) and they are trying to absorb these changes. Unlike their parents, China’s Generation Y tend to embrace technology and consumerism.

Are China’s teenagers happy? What aspirations and dreams do they have?

I would characterize China’s youth as optimistic, rather than happy. That optimism can be represented by their music, by their desire to explore the world outside China, and by their pride in a changing China. There is also some unhappiness, caused by the pressure to be successful in school, by the high rates of unemployment in China, and by expectancies that they will take care of their parents and grandparents.

Most Chinese teenagers were raised under China’s “one-child laws,” which has introduced an entire generation without siblings. Your book talks about how parents are overprotecting these “Little Emperors,” as they are sometimes called. How has that influenced their behavior, and what affect do you think it will have as they age?

This policy has left China’s teens without their parents as their only support system. They are the only source of attention, and they don’t have to share – which is much different than what their parents experienced. They are dependent on their parents for guidance, and have been somewhat spoiled by their parents, generally receiving better health care, education, and brand name toys and clothes. Some Gen Y children in China receive generous allowances from their parents – larger in some cases than comparable US teens. In some cases, between costs of education, food and clothing, and spending money, Gen Y children take up as much as 50% of their parents’ income. The long term effect will probably include a focus on their parents and grandparents. It could also translate into some interesting spending and savings habits as they become adults.

Your research found that Chinese teens believe there is a significant generation gap between them and their parents. What do you think has caused that gap, and how do you think it is influencing the relationship between them and their parents?

I believe the generation gap is caused by the rapid changes in China since the 1980s. The parents of China’s Generation Y were raised in a closed “we” society where the good of the whole is more important than that of the individual, and they experienced very difficult economic times. In the early 1980s, as Gen Y kids were born, China was opened to the West, and since then TV and the Internet have since been widely introduced. China is still largely a “we” society, but the teens want more. These are different values than their parents were raised under – more concerned with fashion and more individualistic. And those different values are not well accepted by parents. That’s causing a generation gap between them and their children.

How important is education to China’s Gen Y? What are their long-term educational goals?

Education is highly valued in China – parents see education as the one thing that can make their children successful. It’s also the most important thing in Chinese teens’ lives now. For the most part, they embrace that. Some are obsessed with obtaining a quality education and their career goals, and many believe that college is the way to the future for them.

In your book you say that “career success for China’s Gen Y entails earning large sums of money and is predominantly envisioned as a white-collar occupation requiring a university degree.” How many of them will wind up in white-collar jobs, and what differences do you foresee between them and the ones that don’t?

I’ve seen estimates that there are around 5 million white-collar jobs in China with international exposure, which will increase to around 75 million by 2010. When America’s Gen Y graduates from universities, they will find that their counterparts in China and other countries will have taken 25 percent of all American Information Technology jobs, especially in manufacturing, software and engineering. That’s a tremendous increase, but still not very many jobs for 240 million people, and the competition will be intense for those jobs. Therefore, getting into a big name university is very important to them. Chinese who obtain a white-collar job can expect to make somewhere around US$8, 830 per year, versus around US$2,000 per year for those who don’t get those jobs. That’s a significant difference, which would mean quite a different lifestyle. Some Chinese teens who don’t land white-collar jobs will likely become entrepreneurs (e.g., own their own small businesses, or work in engineering, medicine, etc.

Your book describes some surprising trends among China’s Generation Y such as increasing obesity and higher rates of drinking and drugs. Most Americans probably wouldn’t associate those behaviors with Chinese youth. What is behind them, and do you foresee long-term affects from them?

These problems are largely confined to China’s urban areas (where teens tend to have more spending money), and they are a minor problem. Drinking and drug use, I believe, is much less common in China than in the US, for example. But they are on the increase, and I think it shows that China’s teen are looking for ways to cope with the changes and stress they are experiencing.

I think these trends bear watching. The Chinese government is watching them and is launching anti-drinking and anti-drug programs.

What is the attitude among China’s Generation Y toward the US, and more specifically toward US products? Do you foresee a change in those attitudes as teenagers become adults?

Chinese teens can separate their product preferences from their overall feelings about a country, and they have a generally favorable attitude toward American products. Many of them view foreign products as higher quality than Chinese products, and they expect to pay more for foreign products. Some of the US products that are “hot” with Chinese teenagers are clothing (e.g., Nike shoes, NBA clothes), and food (e.g., KFC, McDonalds).

In your book, you suggest the Mandarin language should be more widely taught in the US, and we are now seeing some movement in that regard (e.g., the National Security Language Initiative and the Confucius Institutes). Is enough being done by the US to understand and communicate with China?

No. The US needs to take more steps to help its youth understand and communicate with China. We should start teaching Mandarin in schools when children are young, for example, or we will reduce our own competitiveness.

July 20, 2008

Cycling the Dalmatian Islands with Ana

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Travel — Dale @ 11:12 am

Note:  This article was published in  InTravel Magazine in November, 2008.


Ana just might be the hardest-working tour guide in Europe. During the week she led our cycling tour around Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands she rode with us, entertained us, educated us, and watched over us – from breakfast until we were safely tucked in bed at night. Because of her efforts, we were transformed from a group of strangers into a cohesive group of friends … and in some respects into her temporary family.

An attractive, strongly-built woman in her mid-30s, Ana has athlete written all over her. Shoulder-length highlighted brown hair and an angular jaw frame her determined brown eyes and slightly freckled checks. Large, square sunglasses perch on top of her head and a first aid pack is strapped to her waist … just in case. She’s tough and capable of taking care of herself – and of a group of cyclists who don’t know the language or their way around. Ana loves being outdoors, and in addition to being a tour guide she is also a lifeguard and ski patrol; all activities that put her in charge – and in a position to help others. She enjoys being around people, perhaps because she doesn’t have much family. She lost both parents while she was young and now lives with her brother in the family home they grew up in. She seems to miss her parents, and gets misty-eyed when talking about her mother.

This was Ana’s first time to lead this tour and we could tell she was nervous. She spent a lot of time reviewing the itinerary and checking our position and got very concerned if any of us were separated from the group. She generally rode in the lead, scouting the course, but she also cycled and visited with each tour member. She was assisted by Kristo, who had not been on the ride before, and Boris, who drove the support van and bike trailer. (Boris, we later found out, is missing his toes, due to frostbite suffered during a mountain climb). But Ana was clearly in charge.

Meeting the Group
You never know what you are getting into when you sign up for a group bicycle tour and we were a little anxious as we waited at the Split airport to meet our fellow cyclists. There were four in our party (middle-age Americans) and we were joined by two other Americans, four Irish, and six Brits. Everyone had previous cycling experience and all were good riders. Ana greeted each of us with a smile and warm handshake and checked us off her list. Eleven … twelve … thirteen … wait a minute, there were supposed to be 16! Where are the rest?

Croatia and the Dalmatian Islands
Croatia is located in Central Europe, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. It’s roughly the shape of an upside down horseshoe and is surrounded by other former Yugoslavian states including Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The fair weather, natural beauty, and gentile people have made Croatia a vacation destination for decades and Europeans have long traveled there to sail, enjoy the great beaches, and swim in the Adriatic Sea. In the 1990s, Croatia was involved in a civil war which devastated the country and curtailed tourism. Now, the war is history, the country has been restored, and Croatia is once again a remarkable country to visit.

The people of Croatia are generous and gracious hosts and they make visitors feel welcome. We felt comfortable and safe everywhere we went and we were greeted by friendly and helpful people throughout the country. The Croatian language is difficult and we had problems mastering even simple phrases, but the locals speak enough English to understand your needs, and they went out of their way to help us.

Getting to Croatia isn’t direct, but it’s relatively easy. It’s basically two flights from the U.S., with connections to Split and Dubrovnik through London, Dublin, Vienna, and other major European gateways. We flew San Francisco to Dublin to Split.

Split: A Great City for Tourists
Our cycling tour started in the historic city of Split, circled three Dalmatian islands (Hvar, Korcula, and Mljet), and wound up in the ancient port city of Dubrovnik.

Split is a great city for tourists; it’s historic, compact, and easy to navigate on foot. Of special interest, the outdoor fish market features dozens of locals selling seafood, each calling out the benefits of their sardines or octopus versus that of their neighbors. The Split night life is active with several reasonably-priced restaurants and bars.

After dinner, we climbed on a ferry for a 1½ hour ride to the island of Hvar. Aboard the ferry Ana resolved the issue of the three missing group members. She found out that Peter, from the U.K., had mistakenly gone to the London airport with his daughter’s passport instead of his own, and he missed his flight and would join us the next day. Two women from Ireland hadn’t appeared in the Split Airport, or at dinner, but when we boarded the ferry, there they were. Ana chided them for not meeting the group at the airport, but they assured her they were never lost – they knew where they were the whole time, and here they were. Ana was perturbed, but also relieved that two more of her charges were in the fold.

When we arrived at Hvar, Ana escorted us onto the bus, then into a hotel in the seaside town of Jelsa, our home for the next two days.

Circling Hvar
Hvar is a good place to start a bike tour; it’s historic (having been populated at least since the 4th century BC), has a mild climate and good beaches, and an abundance of lavender, vineyards, and wildflowers.

We woke the first morning to sunshine and birds singing outside our hotel room. We dressed and headed down for breakfast and there was Ana, dressed in a bright bicycle jersey and sipping tea from a giant cup. She greeted us with a cheery smile and enthusiastic “Good Morning!” Her instructions were to meet in the hotel lobby at 8:30 AM to start the tour. Not wanting to be the last to show up, we were in the lobby in our cycling gear at 8:20 – a little sleepy, slightly nervous, and ready to ride. As we waited, Peter arrived, waving his passport in the air. Ana greeted him and he quickly stored his luggage, changed into his cycling clothes, and joined us.

We were off – through the city to the coast and along winding country roads toward Hvar Town and Stari Grad. We enjoyed views of the sea and surrounding islands, and noted mounds of rocks, in rows, lining the hills from top to bottom. Over the years, generations of Hvar residents moved those rocks by hand to clear the land for crops and now rows of lavender and grape vines grow between the mounds.

Hvar is also known as “Lavender Island” because the graceful plants grow in profusion throughout. Vendors sell it in packages, soaps, and oils and we bought some from a stand in Stari Grad; that night the pleasant, comforting scent filled our room.

We had an excellent thin-crust cheese pizza for lunch in the plaza at Hvar Town, and then rode north to Stari Grad and east to Jelsa.

Dinner that night was in the village of Jelsa. We sat at an outside table, ate local seafood, and challenged Ana to call us by name. She did well, correctly identifying 14 of the 16 of us. She seemed pleased with herself, and shrugged off her two misses.

On to Korcula
We were getting used to seeing Ana at breakfast in the morning with her giant cup of tea and cheery smile. She seemed genuinely glad to see us and eager to get on with the day’s ride.

The second day was cloudy and cool – just right for cycling – and we rode through the walled city of Jelsa, enjoying sweeping views of the surrounding bays, blooming wildflowers on the roadsides and hills, and gardens of peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.

The morning ride was easy, but after lunch the weather turned misty and cloudy and the route was mostly uphill. I rode with Ana, straining to keep up while we talked about our lives and anticipated the “brow” of the hill and a downhill coast.

At Sucuraj we took a ferry to Dubrovnik and another to Korcula, our home for the next three nights. On the ferry we drank beer, told stories, and listened to Ana and Boris sing traditional Croatian songs. We didn’t understand the words, but the harmony was nice and the bittersweet meaning of the lyrics was clear.

The views of Korcula as we approached on the ferry were amazing – a 600-year-old city surrounded by ancient stone walls as durable as it had been for hundreds of years.

Fresh Mussels on Mljet
Our tour schedule indicated a day off in Korcula, but Ana offered us a side trip to Mljet as an alternative. We took her up on it and she arranged for a local boat to take us (and our bicycles) to the island.

In ancient times, the small island of Mljet (pronounced Mee-yet) was the holiday resort of Rome’s wealthy. They built holiday villas there, and it’s easy to see why, as the tree-covered hills and salt water lakes present a calming beauty. Today, it is accessible by charter boat from Korcula, Split, and Dubrovnik.

After breakfast we put our bicycles on top of the boat and headed across the bay for the 2½ hour ride to Mljet. We docked near the small fishing village of Pomena, and then cycled around two salt water lakes. The waters are incredibly clear with pools of azure and swirls of teal.

Lunch at a small seaside café in Pomena consisted of mussels pulled directly out of the bay then cooked for us. They were amazingly fresh and delicious! After lunch, we reloaded our bikes on the boat and sailed back to Korcula.

Marco Polo’s Home Town
Korcula is one of the longest islands in the Adriatic Sea and we spent two days exploring it on our bicycles. The island is hilly and covered with forests of pine, cypress, and oak. It has been populated since prehistoric times, and has been occupied by Romans, Byzantines, and Venetians, among others. Our ride started in Vela Luka, passed Prizba, Brna, and Smokvica, and then headed to the scenic village of Pupnat where we had a fabulous lunch at a small café which consisted of huge platters of antipasto and three desserts – a chocolate cake, flan, and deep-fried local pastry.

After lunch we got back on our bikes and rode to the town of Korcula, where we shopped and explored. This ancient walled city is the home of Marco Polo, and the house he was born in is being turned into a museum. Walking through the narrow streets and passageways feels like passing through history, and you can sense the presence of centuries of townspeople, soldiers, and royalty.

One of Ana’s “ducklings” was missing at dinner (he decided to go out on his own) and Ana was so concerned that she waited for him for nearly an hour, then walked all over town until she found him at an outdoor cafe. She scolded him (for not letting her know) and she was still upset about it at dinner.

After dinner, she calmed down enough to entertain us by singing a romantic local song. It was a softer side of Ana that we hadn’t seen before, and I thought I saw a hint of tears in her eyes as she sang.

Korcula to Ston
The ride from Korcula to Ston consisted of three parts – a quiet morning jaunt on narrow gravel roads, a ferry ride to the Peljesac peninsula, and an optional afternoon ride to Ston on a hilly paved road. At one point that morning, a few riders went ahead of the main group and took a wrong turn. Ana chased them down and brought them back. She was panting when she rejoined the group, but she didn’t complain; she had all of her charges back in the fold.

Half of the group did the afternoon ride, which was 12 miles, mostly uphill. It was tough, and Ana rode with us, straining against the hills and cursing the wind. As we rounded the last curve and coasted downhill into the ancient walled city of Ston we cheered and gave each other high fives. It had been a tough ride, and we were proud we finished it.

Ston is a unique city. More than three miles of stone walls, built prior to 1000 AD, surround the old town. The walls are in amazingly good shape despite being bombed in 1991 and hit by an earthquake in 1996, and are one of the largest man-made structures on earth. After lunch in Ston, Boris loaded our bikes onto the trailer and drove us to Dubrovnik.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik
Fortunately, we had been forewarned about the throngs of tourists in Dubrovnik or we might have been disappointed in this otherwise beautiful and hospitable city. It’s a popular tourist destination, renowned for its monuments, beautiful and generally-intact walls, and welcoming atmosphere. During the day, cruise ships anchor in the harbor and discharge thousands of tourists, who mob the streets and gift shops. But at night, it’s a different and much quieter place, and walking the ancient streets feels like walking through history.

We found a café outside the walls (and away from the tourists) and sat, enjoyed a peaceful drink, and admired the views of the city and the sea.

Saying Goodbye
It had been a wonderful week in Croatia and we were sorry it was coming to an end. Our group had gotten along amazingly well and the tour guides had been helpful, entertaining, and educational.

Ana saw each of us off, and seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. It had been a long and demanding week for her, but I think she had grown as attached to us as we had to her. And in many ways, we had been her family for the week. She gave us warm farewell hugs and whispered something special to each of us as she said goodbye. We miss her friendship and guidance, and I think she misses us, too.

About the author:

Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer, editor, and documentary video producer. Dale is a regular columnist for Competitive Intelligence Magazine and his articles have appeared in a wide range of publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Italian Tribune, inTravel Magazine, WomenOf.com, American Legion Magazine, Road & Travel, and Western RV News and Recreation. He can be reached at 415.602.6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

July 1, 2008

Rafting on the Colorado River

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 10:12 am

For seven amazing days in June 2008 we rafted on the Colorado River in Arizona. This trip through Marble Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Lake Meade left an indelible impression and has given us a greater appreciation of our world and lives.

It was not a comfortable journey. We were restricted in what we could take and we slept on the sand, peed in the river, and pooped in a can. The days were long, the nights short, and the weather so hot that a drenching of ice-cold water from the many rapids actually felt good. But the views made up for the inconveniences. Day after day we floated through majestic canyons, hiked to beautiful waterfalls, and lived in union with nature in one of the most unique places on earth.

We were fortunate to share this experience with a group of friends who loved it as much as did we – people who pitched in to help make it a shared journey of discovery. We were also lucky to have guides who love the river and who shared with us the history and lore of the land and of those who came here before us.

This was an amazing and wondrous trip for many reasons and it has held our focus since we returned. I’m proud of us for braving the elements, casting aside frills, and spending a week of our lives with the earth. And I’m pleased to have shared a week with a group of old and new-found friends. There is now a permanent bond between us that is rare and wonderful. We loved our guides! Their passion for their work and their love of the river made a lasting impact on us. Most of all, I cherish the opportunity to have gone below the surface of the earth and back a million years to view a slice of the world we live on.

Life can be complicated and times are a mess. But for seven days in June, on the Colorado River, life was reduced to its bare essentials – no more complicated than being with friends and living with the world.

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