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I have a beautiful granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. She has enough challenges to face in her life and I want to make sure that finding appropriately fitting clothes will not be one of them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

China 2011 Day 6

May 14, 2011

I really need some American food!!!!  I’m not sure I can take one more plate of fried rice.  So I wake up early as usual and get myself ready for the day.  Today, Jacky is going to take us to his new office facility.  Not sure what time though and Yuan won’t be here for hours.  So I decide to venture out on my own…not real comfortable with this idea, but my need for something else to eat over rules my better judgment.
One problem I have here is the glares and stares and I get from EVERYONE when I walk down the street.  I don’t think there are too many blondes in China because of the way people look at me; it makes me feel like I have a big boil on my nose!  I’m not Asian which makes me unique to the area, but I think the blonde, curly hair must be the main cause for staring.  I’m actually getting a little upset with the glares because I start to give back dirty looks.  Not real smart on my part as I’m a little outnumbered. 

I know right where the McDonald’s is, it’s about 10 blocks away.  So I venture out for a tantalizing Egg McMuffin and glass of orange juice.  My mouth is starting to water as I think about the taste of something from Home.  As I get about half way there, I’m almost regretting my decision to make this walk on my own.  Even though it’s fairly early, the stores are beginning to open and people are everywhere.   I try walking faster so I can get inside and out of eyeball range. 
At last, I reach McDonalds and get inside as fast as I can.  Once I’m inside, it looks like every other McDonalds and the menu looks the same accept for one small thing…it’s all in Chinese.  The woman behind the counter hands me a picture page and has me point to my selection.   I’ve got plenty of Chinese money, so I get my tray, pay the bill and head for a seat way in the corner out of the way.  Ahhhhh, it tastes so good!  I can’t believe something so bad for me could taste this good.  At home, I would never stop at a McDonalds but today, it’s a piece of heaven! 

I sit for a while and enjoy my breakfast; I savor every bite.  When I’m finished, I’m already dreading the walk back.  But on the way back I duck into the little shops along the way and look through the tiny stores.  The clothes are too small, so clothes shopping is not an option; but I settle on a new pair of tennis shoes.  In Chinese money they cost about 250 RMB’s but in American money, it’s only around $35.00 or $40.00.  Not bad I think and I quickly head back to my hotel room. 
Back safe and sound in my room, I wait for Yuan to arrive.  He shows up about 11:00 AM and we chat for a while.  He’s such a dear friend, I really enjoy our conversations.  I’ve learned so much about China and their culture that I feel differently about this country now.  We hear and read things about their government, but actually being there and seeing for myself how they live their lives sheds a different light on how I think now. 

We waited for a few hours, but no sign of Jacky.  It’s about 1:00 PM and getting close to lunch; Yuan suggests we grab a bite to eat.  So, it’s back to the streets and the stares and the fried rice.  We finish our lunch at a local restaurant not far from the hotel and then go for a walk around the denim fabric market.  The streets all look alike in this section of town; denim shops everywhere.
Yuan explains that there are thousands of these shops here in Xintang, the jeans capital of the world.  I can’t imagine how so many denim shops all can stay in business but if you think about how many people there are in China alone, 1.3 billion, and they almost all wear jeans.  Then they also make jeans for the entire world here as well.  So I guess there is enough business for all of them to go around.

Jacky finally calls and tells us he can’t make it today and he will see us tomorrow.  So now what will we do; we decide to head for the local mall.  It’s quite a walk but finally we get to there.  This mall has about seven floors, so we spend quite a while walking around.  The top floor is a food market and Yuan wants to buy some fruit.  I don’t recognize anything too familiar in the fruit department.  There are some really strange looking fruits here.  But he carefully selects some funny looking items and he can’t wait for me to try them.  In the stores here, you aren’t allowed to walk around with packages so they have drop-off locations to check your packages.  It’s really a nice service because you don’t have to shop while carrying so many packages.  So after a long day, we head back to hotel.  We drop off the fruit in my room and guess what, its dinner time. 
Back out into the streets we go to find to another restaurant for dinner; oh nummy, another fine meal.  I’m really tired by this time so we go back to the hotel.  But, Yuan has been in touch with the factory and some of my samples are finished.  They have some questions about the waistband, so he suggests that we go there and talk with the sample maker.  It’s a hot night and I really just wanted to get into my jammies and relax, but I didn’t come here to relax.  So, we grab a taxi and go back to the factory.  After meeting with the sample maker we discuss the issues with the waistband.  Why are these jeans so difficult?  So many problems we have with them. 

It’s so hot, and I just want to go back to my room now.  Yuan calls for a taxi and I say goodnight; at least the taxi has air conditioning.   I’m really looking forward to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. 

It doesn’t take long to fall asleep, but about 2:30 AM, my Skype rings in.  It’s a call from home; it’s my husband!  What, how can this be him; he can’t even turn on the computer?  But he's been out to lunch with his friend and his friend shows him how to use Skype (there's no way he could have done this on his own).  It was really nice to talk to him and check on my cat, too.  They are both doing fine and have become good friends by this time.  I’m starting to get a little homesick now and I think I’m ready to head for home soon.  I go back to bed, but sleep is now not so good.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

China 2011 Day 5

A very busy day is planned; we’re headed to the textile market in Guangzhou.  This is the largest fabric market in the world. The population in Guangzhou is about 20 million people, I don’t know if there is any way to wrap your head around those numbers?   Jillian and Cara sent me here with swatches of fabric for our blouses, shirts, a jacket, pajamas, a skirt, casual pants and hoodies.  Jacky will help me find fabrics like the ones they have chosen.  I don’t expect this to be an easy task. The fact that this place is so big scares me.  Too many choices are more difficult than only having a few.  I will have to rely on Jacky’s expertise in this area to help me muddle through this enormous place.

But, this is Jacky’s specialty; with the type of business Jacky has, he has to know about all types of cloth, not just denim.  Denim is its own specialty and requires a different type of knowledge.  So it’s nice to have two experts to help with our clothing line.  Both have helped above and beyond any expectations I could have had.
Yuan arrives around 10:30 AM.  Jacky arrives shortly thereafter.  As Jacky drives and has his own car (a Buick) we don’t have to rely on anyone else for a ride.  The trip to Guangzhou takes about an hour and the traffic is unbelievable.  Surviving the traffic in China is a miracle in itself. 

When we get to the market, I’m absolutely overwhelmed.  There is building after building each about seven stories high.  On each floor are hundreds of little cubby holes that have different fabric shops; thousands and thousands of them…OMG…how do I even begin? Thank God Jacky takes charge and seems to know where to go.  He spends many days a week here choosing fabrics for his customers so he seems to know just which little shop to visit based on the swatches I have. 
We seemed to find most of the fabric the girls sent me to find.  But the one thing I really wanted to find the most, I just don’t see it anywhere.  One of the things I really want to make this year is Christmas pajamas.  I want to make pajamas in our “Down size” and then make the sibling sizes to match.  We hunted for almost two hours for flannel with a Christmas pattern.  I’m so disappointed; how can there be no flannel with a Christmas pattern on it in the biggest fabric market in the world? 

Jacky reassures me that he can have flannel printed with any design we want on it so I give up the hunt and decide to let Cara design our own Christmas pattern and have it printed onto the flannel.  It will make it even more special if we have our own design.  So we fight our way through the enormous crowd of people that are here and finally get back to his car.  The traffic leaving is even worse than when we came.  How can any human being survive on these crowded streets?  There is absolutely no traffic control whatsoever.  People pay no attention to traffic lights or laws or anything.  They drive like nothing I have ever seen in my life.  Jacky drives a beautiful car without one ding in it…HOW???

The day has been completely exhausting.  Jacky drops Yuan and I back at the hotel.  We say our goodbyes and I thank him for all his help.  He instructs me that when I get home I must email him the corrected spec sheets right away so they can begin making the new sample T shirts.  If these are a good fit (and I think they will be), then he will make another set of samples with the artwork printed on them for my approval.  If everything is approved, we can begin production.  So much time is lost, but this is the process and it just takes a long time.  I’m sure most people have no idea how much time is involved in creating just one piece of clothing.
By this time I’m starving, it’s time to eat and Yuan and I look for a different restaurant to have our dinner.  Since most people have no kitchens they usually eat all their meals out. Restaurants are everywhere; so we pick one…mmmm what will I try tonight?  I decide to get really brave and try one of Yuan’s favorite hot and spicy meals.  Boy, I don’t know how he can eat these foods.  My mouth needs an entire fire department to put out the flames.  I must admit it really tasted good, but the pain in my mouth and on my lips was almost unbearable, I don’t know how he can eat this type of food on a regular basis; he must have a cast-iron stomach and a firewall in his mouth.  Yuan walks me back to the hotel and we say goodnight.  I know he’s headed back to his factory and will probably work late into the night. 

I can’t believe how proud I am of Yuan’s accomplishments since I first had contact with him back in November of 2009.  At that time he was the general manager of a jeans factory, he was 25 years old and graduated from one of the best colleges in all of China.  In China, only the cream of the crop get to go to college, but only a very small percent get to go the their best colleges.  He graduated from one of China’s top colleges in Beijing and learned to speak English very well. 

When I first started working with him and the factory where he worked, he was very proud of the company and I was confident that they would do a great job.  The company was owned by a woman and after I had been working with him for about six months, the woman’s husband came back from the army and came to work at the factory.  Well, this was a complete disaster for her business.  He didn’t know anything about the industry and came in like a tyrant.  Almost all the experienced people began to leave.  In less than a year about 90% of the staff had left and other, less experienced people took their places.  Yuan was really struggling to work there.  His dream was always to have his own factory, but he thought he would be older before that could happen. 

But, things changed for Yuan.  He and the production manager from the factory decided to open their own factory sooner than he ever planned.  So, in December of 2010, Yuan gave notice where he worked.  He worked through the month of January and when their Spring Festival came in February, he left for good.  During the holiday time, he and his partner set up their own factory.  It happened very fast.  By the time the holiday festival was over, their factory was up and running.  I’m so amazed at his accomplishment in such a short time.  I was so relieved that he would be in his own business with complete control of how it would operate.  His ethics and standards and beyond reproach so I know when we get our jeans from him, they will be the best they can be.  The production manager is responsible for the factory and Yuan handled everything else. 

Since I began this journey, the good things that have happened cannot be explained. Yuan having his own factory is another example of this.  Jacky is also a special gift.  He can have anything else made that we would need and I trust him completely.  What more could I ask for?  Both young men have given so much to help Downs Designs create its own standard sizing.  I really couldn’t do this without their help. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

China 2011 Day 4

Thursday, 5/12/11
Yuan said he would arrive at 10:00 AM today and I am pleasantly surprised that he actually does.  Our plans for the day are to meet Jacky, my other contact here in China.  He can have all other clothing made for us other than the jeans.  His factory is very different.  It’s very small and does everything but the actual sewing.  He explains why he does it differently; he says the most important part of manufacturing clothing is creating the actual paper pattern and cutting the pattern pieces.  The second most important part he says is packaging and shipping.  The sewing can be done by other factories very easily he says; so he has very little overhead doing business this way.
Our original plans were to meet Jacky around 11:00 but he calls to postpone the meeting until 2:00 PM.  So Yuan and I head out to the street to do a little shopping.  There are hundreds of clothing stores and a huge mall just around the corner.  I don’t buy anything though, but it was nice to spend a little time just walking around.

Jacky arrived right on time and we have a meeting about the all our problems with our shirts.  I learned so much from him about how to fix them.  It was worthwhile to meet with him.  I couldn’t have done this any other way but face to face.  This type of business cannot be handled over the internet.  Frequent trips to China will be necessary to keep the quality of our clothes at their best.  The experience of these people cannot be matched.  They are truly experts in their field.

Next we head to Guangzhou, about a one-hour drive, to see his small factory where the pattern pieces and samples are made; his pattern maker is there working on our samples.  He and the pattern maker explain the reasons our sleeves are not fitting properly; it’s quite an easy fix after he explains it to me.  Wow, I’m so impressed!

By this time it’s about 7:00 PM and we head back to Xintang.  He invites Yuan and I to dinner so once we arrive in Xintang we’re starving.  The restaurant he chooses is the same one we ate in last night.  I haven’t eaten all day, so I’m very hungry, but Jacky's food choices were not good.  I nibbled on a few things, but just could not get into this meal.  McDonald’s is starting to look good to me.

After dinner, I’m dropped off at the hotel.  I say my goodnights and its back to my room.  It’s now about 10:00 PM so I give the office a call.  The time at home is 10:00 AM.  I have so much to tell Jillian and Cara, I’m so excited.  They have good news for me too; they had two fittings today.  A little four-year old girl came in and they tried on the sample shirt and jeans.  She was adorable.  Another young man came in as well and they tried him in a T shirt.  They took pictures of both of them and sent them to me.   WOW, they looked so good.   The problem we’re having with the underarm is much better, but still needs more correction.  A little adjustment in the length is needed also.  After what I learned this week, I know the next samples will be correct, I’m sure of it.    

So, I work a little while longer and then crawl into bed.  But my sleep is restless so I get up about 3:30 and call home.   I check in with my mother and get an update on her day; the weather has been very nice for a change, so I’m happy to hear that.

China 2011 Day 3

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I wake up about 6:00 AM and I’m wide awake.  Yuan said he would pick me up at 9:00 AM so I have plenty of time.  I work on my computer for a while then I get ready for the day.  By 9:00 AM, I’m ready and waiting to be picked up.  I can’t watch TV here because there is nothing in English so I’m a little bored and hungry.  Well, I wait and wait and, of course, he’s late.  He calls at 9:30 and says he will be here in ten minutes and to wait in the lobby.  So I head down to the lobby and it’s very hot.  But I sit there for another 30 minutes and finally he arrives…late again!!!

I try to be mad at him, but he’s just too darn sweet.  It’s impossible to feel that kind of emotion towards him.  He apologizes many times, but I know the next time he will late again.  I don’t think he arrived on time last year either.  I think this culture is very different about punctuality.  Most are very casual and laid back.  Again he has his friend pick us up in his car and we drive to the factory. 

In, February, 2011, Yuan left the factory where I first met him.  He was the general manager of that factory, but he and another very experienced man in the industry started their own jeans factory.  He named his factory Jeansburg, and I was very excited to see his new place.  I'm so proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone and putting everything on the line to have his own business.  He is so honorable and has so many work ethics, that he didn’t feel other places met his high standards and the only way he could achieve his goals was to have his own jeans factory and be in charge of his own business.  It really gives me peace to be working with him and having him a big part of Downs Designs.  Without his help, we could not possibly have gotten this far.
Well, the early morning temperature here is very hot and it’s starting to climb.  The humidity feels like 100% but it’s not raining.  My hair is already a disaster and I know that as the day goes on, it’s only going to get worse. 

We drive into what appears a nicer part of town; the buildings look very new.  Of course, everything here is small square footage per floor, but with multiple floors; his factory has five floors.  The place is buzzing with activity and we head into his office.  NO air conditioning anywhere, not even the small office where he spends his day.  In this office there are four small desks; one desk is for him and then a desk for a young girl named Lisa, who he is training to be a contact person.  A contact person is someone who is a sales representative for the company.  Lisa also speaks a little English and is very nice.  His partner, the production manager also has a desk here and there is another desk that appears to be unused so I sit down and set up my computer.  The room is merely a place where work is done; there are no fancy offices for the owners with fancy desks and secretaries.  Here they don’t feel the need for status; they come to work every day and focus on all the things that matter.
Their day starts early and ends late.  Yuan usually arrives around 10:00 am and works until 2:00 or 3:00 am.  Their lives are very different in this culture and they work hard.  But the factory workers take many long breaks during the day.  They take several hours for the lunch and several hours for dinner and they are free to leave if necessary.  Their rooms and meals are provided by the factory owners as well.  They make various wages based on their skill levels and are paid a fair hourly wage.  I do not see unhappy people working.  Music is playing and people are laughing, so I feel good about the environment in his factory.

We first work on selecting fabrics for the men’s jeans we are remaking.  Then we decide on the denim for the children and youth size jeans.  He has swatches brought in from a local fabrics store with the fabrics that I suggested before I came.  I’m very happy with the look and feel of the fabric and choose the ones I like the best.  The quality is very good and they feel great, very soft and stretchy.  I only hope Jillian and Cara are happy with my choices.

Last week Jillian and Cara made a trip to New York City to visit some friends.  While they were there, they went to a store called Mood.  It’s a huge fabrics store where they were able to bring back swatches of the type of fabrics they want me to select for many of the items they are designing.  Because I’m not an expert in this area, I let the girls decide the type of fabric needed for the different clothing items we are making.

By about 2:00 pm we finally get out for some lunch.  We go to a local restaurant and finally cool down, this place has air conditioning.  Lunch here was not so good, they had no fried rice, so I had some sort of potato or squash, not sure what it was.  We walked back and I couldn’t believe the fabrics stores, literally thousands and thousands in this area of nothing be denim shops.  Like I said, this town is the jeans capital of the world and if you can imagine the need for jeans factories that produce jeans for the entire world, you can relate to what they do here. 

We came back to the factory and the heat is nauseating.  With no air conditioning anywhere in the factory, there is no relief from the temperature or the high humidity.  But, I finally get a tour of his new business and I’m amazed at what he has built in just a short time.  The second floor is the cutting room where the fabric is stacked and cut into pattern pieces on a huge metal table.  The next two floors are sewing floors where the pattern pieces are sewn together.  Most workers are not working now because they work in different stages.  Each person specializes in a different part of the jeans so unless they are swamped with orders not all sewers work at the same time. 

At 7:00 PM we are picked up by his good friend and have been invited to join his friend for dinner with about 40 other people.  The bank where his friend works is celebrating a good sale and have all been treated for dinner.  People here celebrate everything around food.  Food is abundant here despite what you may think.  They live in such small dwellings that most do not have kitchens.  So eating out in restaurants is their way of life.  In large groups, food is served in a family style fashion.  Dish after dish after dish is brought to the table with every kind of food you can imagine. Each table has a huge lazy Suzan in the middle and the dishes are passed around.   I don’t mind tasting new foods, as most are very delicious, but if the food looks back at me, I’m just not interested.

After about two hours of meeting new people and not understanding one word of any conversation, we head back to the factory.  We meet with the patterner late but at least it’s much cooler.  What a great guy he is and very knowledgeable.  He speaks not one word of English, but, as usual, Yuan is my translator.  We’re working out a huge crotch problem in the men’s jeans and he guides me with his skillful advice.  They will remake the samples with the changes we have made and the children’s and the youth size problems are also discussed.  I hope this next set of samples is finally correct.  I don’t want any more mistakes this time so I am being much more cautious with my decision on when to start production.
It’s now about 11:00 PM and we finish up our meeting and now it’s time to eat again.  The production manager, the patterner, Yuan and I are now head out to another restaurant at this late hour.  It’s their culture here!  We walk to a small outdoor restaurant around the corner and they order a few dishes.  Wow, this meal was really very good.  I can’t believe how different they can make food taste.  I really enjoy their company even with our lack of communication.  They try to teach me a little Chinese but have a good laugh as I struggle to pronounce their language.  I think Chinese is probably one of the hardest languages to learn.  I’m not sure I could every master it. 

So, after dinner Yuan walks me back to my hotel and we say goodnight.  It’s about a 20 minute walk but the streets are still alive with people.  I’m not afraid at all here in the city streets this late at night.  Because the punishment for crime is very high and no guns are allowed, the streets are very safe.  I have learned that everything we read is not necessarily true.

Back in my hotel room now, it’s time to check in with the office and see how things are going.  Skype is such a great tool and saves lots of money on phone calls.  I spend about an hour with Jillian and Cara discussing the day’s events, answer a few emails and check my Facebook page.  Here in China, Facebook is blocked, but with remote access, I’m able to connect to my office computer in Mentor and get online there.  I never thought about that method when I left home and thought I would be out of touch on my Facebook page.  I love posting our events and sharing our progress on Facebook.  So far there are 1,100 people who have joined my Downs Designs page.  I think it’s important for those who are interested to know exactly what we’re doing and how we are coming along.  Finally about 2:00 AM I get some sleep.

Headed Back to China

Monday, May 9, 2011, I’m off to China again.  This year’s trip has a huge agenda.  We have so much work to do and so many decisions to make.  I’m traveling alone this year; Jillian and Cara have sent me off with swatches of fabric to choose.

At 3:30 AM I’m awake and start getting ready for the long journey ahead of me.  I have everything packed and ready to go so I shower, double check my list, kiss my sleeping husband goodbye, hug the cat and I’m out the door by 4:30 AM.  I arrived at the airport about 5:30 AM and head for the gate.  The plane is on time and I’m in the air by 6:40 AM headed for Toronto, Canada.  I catch the long flight to Hong Kong at the Toronto airport at 10:00 AM.   It’s a 15 hour flight, so I have plenty of time to relax.    

The flight was uneventful and I even caught a nap or two.  I arrive in Hong Kong at 1:10 AM (US time) on Tuesday, but it’s now 1:10 in the afternoon in Hong Kong.  It’s hard to believe I’ve lost a whole day!  I get through customs very quickly.  I make my way to the exit where I catch a cab to the train station.  I arrive at the train station in Hong Kong just in time to catch an earlier train than I took last year by two hours.  I couldn’t believe the luck.  But I think the fact I knew what to do this year helped make the process go much smoother.

My friend, Yuan, will pick me up in Guangzhou after the two-hour train ride.  Once I travel out of Hong Kong get into China, my cell phone picks up a signal so I call Yuan to tell him I’m arriving two hours earlier than we planned.  He says he will be there to pick me up.  I also expected a long line at customs, but I was through in 10 minutes, what a break. 

After traveling for two days, I couldn’t wait to get to my hotel.  BUT, Yuan is late!!!  I waited for about an hour for him to show up.  Finally, I see him running my way and then, OMG, he runs right past me.  I yelled but he didn’t hear me.  I couldn’t believe it, he didn’t even see me…the only blonde in China.  Finally, he calls my cell and I tell where I’m standing.   At last, there he is.  I’m so happy to see him that I forget to yell at him for being late.

Yuan does not drive, but he has a friend drive him to the train station to pick me up.   He’s made reservations for me at a hotel near his factory so I’m anxious to get there.  About an hour later we arrive at the hotel.  Its right across the street from the one we stayed in last year so I’m at least familiar with the area.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The room was large and very nice, but it was not a non-smoking room.  This is a problem for me; in China almost everyone smokes and you can’t escape it. (Thankfully, Yuan does not smoke.)    

I quickly freshen up and Yuan and I are off to dinner.  We walk to a familiar restaurant that we ate at often last year.  I love the food in this restaurant.  It’s very flavorful and the fried rice is awesome.  Yuan orders his usual…hot and spicy something or other!  After dinner he walks me back to my hotel and says good night.  After checking some emails I collapse into bed completely exhausted.