Chinese Lingerie Merchants of Egypt

 Chen Yaying and Liu Jun, who go by the names Kiki and John, in their lingerie store in Asyut, with their Egyptian assistant Rahma Medhat.Credit Photograph by Rena Effendi / INSTITUTE

Chen Yaying and Liu Jun, who go by the names Kiki and John, in their lingerie store in Asyut, with their Egyptian assistant Rahma Medhat. Credit Photograph by Rena Effendi / INSTITUTE

I’m a huge fan of Peter Hessler’s writing. Author of River Town and Country Driving,  Hessler knows China and Chinese people like few others. Now based in Egypt, he  wrote an article in the New Yorker about Chinese businesspeople there who, oddly enough, have carved out a niche in the lingerie market.

His article explores how the pragmatism and fatalism of Chinese merchants—they’re there to make money, not to change anybody’s ideology—allows them to be flexible and adaptable in the face of political upheaval in the Middle East. It also delves a bit into China’s presence in Africa as a whole, something few Americans consider.

On a personal note, having lived in China during the repressive era when even to wear a skirt was considered a bit risqué, it’s amusing to consider a Chinese farmer-turned-lingerie-merchant nonchalantly selling thongs and transparent negilgées to Muslim women.

It’s a fun and informative reading for anyone with an interest in China and Chinese people. Link to the original article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/learning-to-speak-lingerie

Time Travel: Want to Understand China of the early 1980s? Visit Venezuela Today!

 

Buying Spinach

An article in today’s Business Insider sounded eerily familiar. Venezuelans now have difficulty finding and buying toilet paper. And the article made references to shortages of soap and matches in the waning days of the Soviet Union.

http://www.businessinsider.com/venezuela-reaches-the-final-stage-of-socialism-no-toilet-paper-2015-4

For months in 1981 it drove me nuts that we were unable to find matches even though there was reportedly a factory in our city that made them. The shelves in state-run food stores were bare. People waited years to buy a bicycle. Centralized economic planning combined with corruption was a sure-fire recipe for consumer headaches.

Fast forward three decades. I chafe at income inequality in the United States, our regressive tax structure, and an increased reliance on contract workers who can be let go at a moment’s notice.

Moderation is about as unsexy as it gets, but the big lesson I’ve learned is neither capitalism nor socialism run amok serves its people well. We need to walk the tightrope between market forces and citizen protections.