Nanjing, Mr. Qian Xuejian



Mr. Qian Xuejian is responsible for the catering services of a leisure center in Nanjing, the “Smile Culture Club”. The club is the Nanjing branch of a Beijing entertainment company, Smile. According to Mr. Qian, Beijing Smile, established in 1992, has earned a good reputation in the Chinese entertainment industry. It is famous for its organization of the annual lobster festival and all kinds of carnivals as well as its ability of inviting superstars to its performances.


This club not only functions as the branch company which organizes performances, but also provides catering and leisure services to performers who come to Nanjing. However, in order to make more money, it is open to all the consumers now. The average consumption per customer at the club ranges from 40 RMB to 100 RMB.


Mr. Qian asks us to guess his age. “Most of the people who are asked to guess my age think I am in my forties, but in fact I am already 59 years old and will retire next year ”, he smiles and says he is proud of his young appearance.


Mr. Qian had three totally different jobs in his life. At the age of 18, he joined the army to become a solider. For the next 21 years he remained in the army and was promoted to a lieutenant. As a cadre of the Communist Party, he says, he had to be transferred to different positions or locations every few years as a result of a policy to prevent corruption of officers who stay in one position for too long.


He did not like the frequent changes in jobs and locations and, almost forty, he left the army and began to work as a supervisor in the shipping industry. His main duty was to supervise sailors’ obedience to laws, rules and regulations. One focus was on sailors who revealed state and trade secrets. Mr. Qian was in charge of identifying the obstructions and to enforce disciplinary actions. The business of shipping iron, steel and other materials took him to the coasts of Australia, Korea, Russia, Taiwan and numerous other faraway places. He loved this job most. He did what is many people’s dream today: travel around the world.


Ten years later, he started his third career as a manager of a three-star hotel in Sanya, Hainan. He enjoyed this job as well, as it allowed him to communicate with guests from all around the world, to help solve their troubles and to try providing them with the best services.


Currently Mr. Qian is helping out a relative as a catering manager in the Smile Culture Club. Next year, when retired, he hopes to start traveling the world again. His pension, which he expects to be between 4000 and 6000 RMB per month, would allow him to do so.


He shows us pictures of his granddaughter. He enjoys making photos and suggests exchanging images via QQ, a Chinese instant messaging service. He explains that he chose a poetic QQ name that translates into in English in: seaman sailing on the foggy ocean …


Beijing, Recycling


Mr. and Mrs. Cheng have a business in recycling in the Jiu Xianqiao neighborhood no.6. It’s the kind of business you find in every neighborhood. They collect and sort out recyclable waste, like paper or plastic, and sell it to a recycling station. Typically they pay anyone who brings the waste and sell it with a small mark-up. For paper, Mr. Cheng tells us, he pays 0.7 RMB/kg and he sells it with a 0.1 RMB/kg margin for 0.8 RMB/kg. He can sell at least one truck of waste every day. Per month he and his wife earn more than 8,000 RMB.


Mr. Cheng has been recycling waste for 10 years and he’s pretty satisfied with his job. He works for himself and his working time is flexible. Mr. Cheng tells he earns more than people doing a normal job. He might even use some of his savings to take his family on a trip to Europe one day, he says.


Mr. Cheng lives with his wife and their eight-month-old daughter in a small one-story house next to the waste collection site. Originally they are from the Henan province. These days Mr. Cheng’s parents also live in Beijing, near Jianguomen. Still, they visit their hometown once a year, on Tomb Sweeping Day.


Mr. Cheng thinks that the policies of the Chinese government are pretty good; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to settle down in Beijing and live such a good life. He says that most people in Beijing are from other provinces and, thanks to the good policies, people are free to go to any place they want.




Beijing, Mega Mega Vintage


Liu Ke is the owner of store M&M Vintage (Mega Mega Vintage) at East Gulou Street. He sells vintage clothes.  Liu Ke used to be a member in a rock band called Linga. While playing for the band het learned, through contacts, about the vintage culture and he has been addicted to this very culture ever since.


Liu Ke opened the very first vintage shop in Beijing together with a friend. After a while they concluded that they had different view on how to run their business and Liu Ke opened his own shop. According to Liu Ke, there are six vintage stores in Beijing, and four of them are in the same street. M&M is the second vintage store in the city.  Liu Ke claims that he runs this business only because of his own interest and that he doesn’t care about profits.


Goods on sale at M&M are mainly imported from America, France, and Japan. There are indigenous vintage goods in China, but Liu Ke has no interest in them. No matter the materials or designs, he finds there is nothing special about this stuff. Foreign vintage, on the other hand, usually conveys a special spirit. For example, the work wear from the 1920s to the 1940s shows the respect for workers who created the world with their bare hands.


Customers in this shop are all interested in vintage culture. Most of them have a job in art or the creative industry, such as art directors, actors and people working in the media. What these customers have in common is that they used to study abroad and know about the vintage culture; they understand how valuable these goods are.  For Chinese without a background in foreign culture it is more difficult to understand. In China it is not common to sell second-hand clothes, which makes it harder for most Chinese to understand the vintage phenomenon.


When Liu Ke started the store he got a lot of advice from an American friend who runs a similar store in Hong Kong. Now, he is in touch with many vintage store owners around the world and he frequently visits stores abroad when traveling. It is during these same journeys abroad that Liu Ke collects a lot of vintage goods.


For post-1980s clothes he finds that an increasing number has been made in China and the quality is not very good. He will not include such clothes in his collection, unless the design is very special.  For short term supplies Liu Ke relies on a friend in America. They make use of a good logistics company near the airport. The costs are high, but Liu Ke will be able to receive ordered goods within three or four days.


It is the story behind the clothes that interests Liu Ke most. He occasionally finds traces of previous owners such as laundry labels, shopping receipts, coins and paper money inside the pockets.

He thinks these traces are cool.  Liu Ke’s favorite theme of vintage is “cowboy”, while his favorite brand is SCHOTT NYC.


There is a hand-made (American) Indian bag in Liu Ke’s store, which is one of his most precious objects. According to him, the pattern on the front of the bag is an operational war map. There are pictures of three famous Apaches on the top of the bag, and one of them is the tribe leader of Ogra, called Red Cloud. It took three months to make this bag.


Another great object for him is a leather jacket from the U.S. Air Force. He found it in Japan. It’s made of wild horse leather. Liu Ke told us that it’s not a jacket for normal pilots; only the pilots who had shot more than 5 enemy planes down were allowed to wear it.









Beijing, Buying and selling 2nd hand wine

“Recycle wine with high price”

“Collecting all kinds of ageing wine”


This vendor sells and buys 2nd hand wine. Actually, what Chinese refer to as “wine” is usually a distilled alcoholic beverage called BaiJiu with ErGuoTou and MaoTai as the best know varieties. Most BaiJiu is made of sorghum, a kind of grass.


A bottle of BaiJiu is often presented as a gift. Prices for the bottles that are popular as a gift, especially famous brands of MaoTai, are high; on average around 750 RMB per bottle.


With such high prices for bottles that are usually bought as gifts, creating a 2nd hand market is a clever business idea …




Beijing, Hotel near the Military General Hospital of the Beijing PLA


There are always cheap hotels around hospitals in Beijing. Patients in Beijing hospitals come from all over the country. It is not uncommon that patients have to wait a few days before a bed is available in the hospital. Usually family members take care of their ill relatives by bringing them food or taking them to appointments with doctors.


In Cangnan Hutong, near Dongsishitiao, we find this hotel near The Military General Hospital of the Beijing PLA (People’s Liberation Army). The entrance of the hotel is on the street opposite to the hospital, the hotel rooms are in the basement.


According to the people working in the hotel, most people staying in the hotel are visitors of the hospital who need to accompany patients in the hospital, and they come from everywhere in China. Most of the guests in the hotel are poor; some of them peasants. The hotel is almost always fully booked. The average price in this hotel is around 40 to 50 RMB for one person per bed and per night.




Beijing, The JinLin Bathhouse


Jin Jun works in a convenience store in the LaiGuangYing area and Si JiaGui works in a bathhouse next to the store. These two places, together with a store for golf accessories, belong to the same owner.


The JinLin bathhouse opened around nine years ago. Business is not good anymore because many residential buildings have been demolished in recent years. Just a few customers are left in the area, but soon they also will have to move elsewhere.



Jin Jun lives in the area for over ten years.  He has no idea yet where he will go to when the bathhouse and the shops will be demolished.


During the daytime there are no customers anymore. In the evening they receive between 20 and 30 customers. It costs 10 RMB to take a shower or a bath.


The bathhouse has a male division and a female division. In the middle of the male division lies a big bathing pool. There are showers, a barrel for bathing, two tables for rubbing your back (or having it rubbed) and a sauna room. In the female division there is no bathing pool and bathing barrel. There is no toilet in the bathhouse. Customers who want to use a toilet have to go outside and use the public toilet.


Si JiaGui comes from Anhui and he has been in Beijing for four years. He says that, when business was still good in the bathhouse, they had over a hundred customers per day.


The bathhouse used to offer foot treatment and massage services, but it doesn’t have these services anymore.





Beijing, Wedding host training

Sound file of a vocal exercise during the training:

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Chen Feng works for the company XingFuYaoLan as a trainer. She trains her students how to become a (professional) wedding host and wedding planner.


She tells that she graduated in 2000. During her college life she was an excellent singer and worked as a host at the same time. After her graduation she continued to be a wedding host. Four years ago she became a trainer and a wedding planner.


Next to the training (of future competitors), her company takes care of all aspects of a wedding. The photography and the video recording of the wedding, the make-up of the couple and the decoration of the environment; the organization of the wedding party, including a professional host; and flowers are important. Recently she had a client who liked elephants, so they arranged for a big elephant made of flowers.


These days weddings in China are mixed in style. They have both Western style elements and traditional Chinese elements. Less than 10% of the clients still want a traditional Chinese wedding, of which the costs are much lower by the way.


Normally they plan the wedding according to the client’s request, but the wedding planner takes into account what is most popular at the time and, of course, what budget the client has given them. For the biggest weddings they charge around 100,000 RMB and for the average wedding between 10,000 and 20,000 RMB. As a wedding planner you will have a small basic salary and commissions on each wedding project. A project can last as long as half a year, so planners work on several projects at the same time.


As a trainer, Chen Feng teaches her trainees how to become a wedding host. The training takes half a month, from morning until the evening. 80% of her students come from other provinces and want to learn about the latest wedding styles as Beijing is more fashionable then cities in the provinces. Not all trainees join the training to become a wedding host. For instance now she has a student who wants to improve his skills as a sales representative. He will learn how to make better use of his voice, improve pronunciation, how to tell a story or make announcements and how to use the right body language.


To stay up-to-date, Chen Feng reads a lot, not only about current developments but also about the ancient Chinese civilization. The interaction with her students helps her also to further develop and to recognize new trends.









Beijing, Cooking oil



Disclaimer: the photos in this post show the cleaning of an cooking oil production site and this site does not necessarily relate to the practises described in this post.


Labelled as “gutter oil” or “swill oil” by the Chinese, the reuse of cooking oil was, and food safely still is, a hot topic one year ago. Cooking oil can be divided in three types:


First, in its most narrow definition, it is oil that is being extracted from leftovers in restaurants and hotels, including what can be extracted from swill or from the floor. It also includes oil that can be extracted from the sewer. The second is the oil made from animal fat, mainly from pork. The third type is the oil that has been used for frying food.


Various scandals related to bad quality and contaminated cooking oil have made headlines in recent years. In addition, the frequent use of overcooked and too often reused cooking oil is said to cause cancer. In July 2010 the government issued an order to crackdown on the black market trade of illegal cooking oil and at the same time invest more in the recycling of cooking oil for other (industrial) purposes.


Apart from the use of cooking oil at home, the typical lifecycle of the oil starts in restaurants. At higher end restaurants, the oil is not used for too long. There is a market for this cooking oil: when collected it is refined and sold to lower end restaurants. The same goes for canteens in factories and schools.

Once the cooking oil is not deemed fit for human consumption it can be used for producing food for livestock. Other uses can be found in the mining of minerals and at chemical plants.



The collection and return into the food chain of “swill oil”
In cities, people often see this scene: a farmer driving a small truck full of swill (slops), moving slowly in the streets, the swill is dripping all the way and spreads a rancid smell. The content of the truck is collected from the waste water reservoirs in restaurants and from the food left overs. It contains, next to cooking oil, all kind of other ingredients like detergent and food remains.

After dinner time, “swill trucks” can be seen in front of hotels and restaurants for this collection. The swill is transported to the outskirts of the cities for further processing into an oil extract. This oil extract is sold to clients who use it to produce cooking oil for the market again. It’s said there are thousands of such installations on farms in the Beijing area.


At many places in the city the oil extracts are turned into cooking oil for the market again. Some of these businesses exist for several generations. According to one owner, the sales have been especially good over the last 10 years. The production of a barrel of recycled oil, based on the oil extracts, takes about three days. The selling price is around 5,000 RMB per ton, with a profit of around 1,000 RMB per ton for the producer.

Some producers hide the origin of the from swill extracted oil by blending it with one third of salad oil and one third of palm oil. This is then sold as genuine cooking oil.


It is estimated that in China the amount of wasted cooking oil that returns to the table is around 2 million to 3 million tons per year. The total consumption of cooking oil extracted from animals and plants is around 22.5 million tons a year. In other words, around 1 in 10 meals is prepared with cooking oil that has been recycled from waste.







Beijing, Mr. Yang Bo’s DJ Studio



Mr. Yang Bo used to work as a DJ and mixed CD’s as a sound engineer. Three years ago he started the AC/DC DJ studio, where he teaches his students how to become a DJ. Other businesses of his studio include sales of DJ equipment, organizing DJs for parties and clubs, audio editing and mixing. His students are between 16 and 28 years old. Most of them dream of a career as DJ, some follow the training just for fun. More info (in Chinese):