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Now one takes stock. While there's no substitute for being there, the scale of this report and who participated might have conveyed the scope of the event. Particularly attractive were the choice of venue; the fact that no off-boarding was tolerated to keep all exhibits under one roof; and the option to sleep in the same hotel for the utmost in convenience. While clearly catering to its domestic market to make Western attendees the rare exceptions, Chinese manufacturers hoping for Western interest would do well to provide English business cards and brochures or pamphlets at this show. English web pages in a globalizing economy are essential as well.

What remains confusing are the various OEM and sub branding activities certain manufacturers engage in. For every Audixun by Melody which clearly indicates the originating design house, there are countless other brands which deliberately obscure these matters. While there are solid business reasons for this, it's also true that many Chinese brands have encountered a mixed reception in the West. On that front, upfront openness is certainly more helpful than any perception of obfuscation no matter how ill-earned.

From a design perspective, one must remain mindful of cultural differences as well as the relative youth of this market. A fascination with bling and material excess is simply part of the growth curve and many companies showed products whose cosmetics were already maturely restrained. One of the biggest remaining hurdles returns us to the opening bit about unauthorized parts substitutions - what falls under the general header quality control. Companies in the West, whether buying Chinese-branded products or their own OEM units, look very unkindly on any changes to their goods, no matter how well intentioned or seemingly justified by practicality. Just because one major access road shuts down due to construction to make a different parts vendor more convenient does not mean it's a good idea to replace one maker's capacitor with another's even at the same value. Or reverse-engineer recognizable Euro parts with homegrown copies to pocket the savings. And so on and so forth.

The stories are legion of immaculate opening orders with Chinese suppliers which lead to confident market expansions by the buyer only to end in sour frustration when subsequent orders - ahem, change. On the other side of the table hunker expectations (or promises) for certain sales volumes. If not met, they can make the sellers feel justified to sanction certain measures that violate contracts. To develop and sustain new brands in mature markets like Europe or America takes time - more than most Chinese could be willing to accept, believe or be able to successfully cope with if they really understood it going in. Compared to the Chinese market, all else is small fry after all.

But these are matters for the relevant parties to work out. We in the press merely observe, report and render the occasional opinion or well-meaning advice (for whatever the latter may be worth). What remains for this report are a short brush against Chinese history via a photo essay on the Chinese Cultural Village in Shenzhen; and some city shots of this 27-year old colossus across the waters of Hong Kong which sports 4-lane main streets, houses the majority of Southern China's industry and is home to the world's largest 216-hole Mission Hills golf course.

Tight clusters of apartment high rises form villages next to villages. They turn into city-block townships. Those turn into sectors. Those turn into a sprawling machine seemingly intent on relentless expansion that makes Manhattan seem small by comparison. It would take an aerial view or top-of-the-tower panorama to convey this reality. Alas, our visit had us securely on the ground floor as it were. During our stay in Shenzhen, we boarded at the Italian-styled OCT village in a service apartment. This idyllic Euro environs was replete with its own artificial lake and early morning Shaolin katas.

For a virtual tour down the Chinese ages, visit this Side Bar. For a few photos of Chinese hifi stores, click here.
Despite the punishing flight times, I would encourage other members of the American and European audio press to visit a Guangzhou AV Fair installment in the future. As Frank Zappa would say, it's quite the attitude adjustment for the jaded executive (though he meant Bulgarian wedding music). Thanks to our wonderful hosts Allen and Alex Wang and Laura the translator, we had a terrific time and are excited to return for seconds in 2009...

Postscript: For the obligatory in-flight entertainment, I bought and read in one gulp Khaled Hosseini's celebrated second book. It chronicles the lives of two women from different walks of life in Afghanistan against the brutal realities of war and oppression. This book is another attitude adjuster of the first order. Put differently, most of us in the West are far more privileged than we fully realize. Many of our concerns and obsessions are mere luxuries in the bigger scheme of things, trifles of vapor and dust. It's good to occasionally step out and learn a bit more about how 'the other half' lives...