Sunday, 20 July 2008


I guess many of us have an interest in capital punishment; including me.
I’m not sure why this is? Especially as I grew up in a country, which had abolished it as a form of retribution, long before I was born (or at least I thought it had!).
Perhaps it was the arguments that seemed to rage annually between political groups as to whether it should be reinstalled into the British judicial organization, or the fact that my father worked in the British penal system, or maybe even growing up during a time of 'The Yorkshire Ripper', Fred West, and Michael Ryan. Whatever it was, I was always interested in the argument both for, and against the view of ‘an eye for an eye’. Whatever your preference it seemed a futile battle to try and reintroduce a punishment that defied any idea of compassion or ‘social sophistication’ into what had become a country run by middle lane drivers.

My interest was reawakened after I decided to live in China; in fact what really rekindled my interest was a guy who came to work for me during my time at NAC MG. Hu Jin is a young (mid-20’s) product of modern China, born into relatively wealthy family with close political connections. They could afford to send him to Singapore, Malaysia and Finally England to finish his education and improve his English. Hoping to give their only son the chances they never had - they held high hopes for his return to China.

Unfortunately his better than average upbringing and relaxed lifestyle in the west had turned him into a ‘little emperor’ a modern Chinese phenomena where by the single child policy is spoiling children to a point where enthusiasm, hard work, drive and ambition is replaced by lethargic, expectant, and ungrateful kids who are happy to live on the hand outs from their frustrated parents. Needless to say they weren’t exactly inspired when he took a job working for a foreigner (me) for a manufacturing company!

Hu Jin taught me a lot about Chinese culture, but one thing stuck in my mind and is still referred to in many conversations I have with fellow westerners – the Chinese approach to the death penalty.

You see Hu Jins father had been the British equivalent of a High Court Judge. Based in Nanjing he would preside over the more serious of crimes in the city and the Jiangsu province. Jin told me of the times he would go to the court to watch his dad in action, and how is dad was relatively famous in the city, a well respected upstanding man of the community.
He also told me how his dad would take him to the weekly executions at the local jails, he recollects that he first witnessed an execution at around the age of 6 – a birthday present from his dad to show him how bad people were dealt with. The executions weren’t public, but those with the right connections could find a way to view the dozens that were put to death each month. Death was administered by the condemned kneeling with hands tied behind their back, and a single bullet fired directly into the brain, exiting through the face, it was quick, relatively clean and probably just as important - cheap!

He would go on to tell me that more people were executed in Nanjing in one month, than in the rest of the world added together over any particular year – his summation didn’t include the other cities in China – which had equal levels of capital punishment.

This may lead you to think that China is an extremely violent country? Well there is crime, and some of the crimes reported openly in the English press here are truly horrific, they have their mass murders, rapists, armed robbers, embezzlers, kidnappers and every other form of criminal – but I would hazard to guess no more than the UK.

I have personally never witnessed any crime in China (Unless you count horrendous driving, bad manners, spitting or eating dog’s as illegal activities?), however I know it goes on – I also know that the punishments handed out by the Chinese courts are as ruthless as the crimes themselves.

One story that prompted me to write this blog was an article in the Shanghai Daily, it went to detail how a man from Nanjing had been sentenced to death after stealing millions in RMB. His crime was to convince investors to buy ant-breeding kits, promising high returns for the sale of ants after just one year. Yes I did say ant breeding, and yes I had to read it several times thinking that it was a translation error – but no, apparently ants are used heavily in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and thus have become a lucrative commodity – they should come around to mine in the summer, all the ants you can catch – for free!
I guess we all have a button that pushes us into backing the call for capital punishment. Rape, murder, cannibalism, the ‘Phoenix Four’ (Only joking lads) but I bet none of us would march naked through city halls, to call for a bullet in the back of the head to those who take money from foolhardy people who can afford to invest in hair brained schemes? But it wasn’t always like that…

I came across data that wipes that holier than thou smugness from our western faces, those who think the Chinese are barbaric and uncivilized, need to look at their own record books on capital punishment before passing judgment.

Capital Punishment was only legally abolished in the UK in 1999, although this was theoretical, as you were unlikely to have seen the wrong side of a hangman’s noose for Treason, or Piracy, the last felonies with the ultimate of punishments. In fact the last person to die from legally enforced punishment was in 1964 (the simultaneous hanging of Peter Anthony Allen and John Robson Walby).
Before that the UK had a long record for hanging men, women, children and horses (or was that a Gene Wilder film?).
At its peak you could receive the death penalty for almost anything including the usual suspects Murder, Treason, raping horses and stealing women, but also for shoplifting, poaching, damage to forests or parks and of course being Scottish. The only rest bite for those destined to hang would be war and a fate worse than death – deportation to Australia. During both these events the death penalty was commuted, as it was felt death by a German bullet or Ramsey Street a far worse punishment.

Public hangings were common, as were multiple hangings the most on record being 23 in 1649. The punishment itself was almost always a rope around the neck, although the method changed over the years from strangulation (The short drop method) which would take up to 5 minutes, to (hopefully) a neck break after 1872 when the long rope and short drop was brought in as a more humane way of disposing of criminals.
The most gruesome of punishments during the Great British Empire period, was the wrongly sequenced ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartering, the actual process involved being ‘Drawn; through the city streets behind a horse on fence pole bed, being Hung by your neck until you almost dead, and then the nice bit – you would have your genitals removed (not surgically) followed by disembowelment, which then led to your organs being burned in front of you (although I cant imagine too many survived up to that point), and finally the Quartering - your head, arms and legs would be removed. Your head would then be par boiled and placed on a spike for all to witness – the par boiling was to preserve the head for longer.
Capital punishment fell out of favour with the British judicial system and the public at large during the early part of the last century, probably due to the fact that most of the young men being subject to government sponsored genocide, or the first and Second World War as it was more commonly known.
There are still many countries where capital punishment is still the favoured discipline for the worse crimes, although it seems that the US prefers to keep people facing a lingering punishment before finally putting the ‘Quarter’ in the electric meter. It takes on average 11 years on death row before the switch is finally flicked.
The country that seems to have the most effective capital punishment is the one I am heading to whilst writing this Blog – Singapore. A former British Colony it’s not surprising that this country has a tradition of imposing the death penalty.
Favouring hanging, Singapore on average sentences 3-5 people per year to death; unlike the US they are all punished very quickly with a 100% death penalty rate following appeal. This, observers will tell you leads to reduced stress on the victim, the assailant, everyone’s families and a more effective deterrent to those wishing to carve up a neighbour.
People know that that if they murder or smuggle drugs in Singapore – they will end up dead when caught, no ifs, buts or maybes – just dead. One example of this is that there are very few armed bank robberies in Singapore; those villains that do decide to steal from banks have the common sense to do it when the bank is closed – thus reducing the risk of killing an innocent bystander. In fact crime is at a much lower rate than many countries in the world – a reason to promote capital punishment?

So is capital punishment good or bad? Well on one hand it does seem barbaric and against the message of forgiveness to end a person’s life to the hand of man, and not the hand of nature. But then denying a person freedom, and a reason for living, is surely more barbaric. If a wild animal is captured we see it as ‘inhumane’ to cage them, and endure them to a meaningless life, favouring a quick and painless death seems to be more acceptable to us when it comes to animals. I know we aren’t animals, but when people resort to ‘animal’ behaviour should they not be expected to be treated like said animals?
The prisons are full, and the UK spends more in keeping people who will never see the light of day again in prison, than it does on aid for the third world, renewable energy sources, environmental protection and politicians Taxi bills put together (Ok maybe not the Taxi Bills).
Does it reduce crime? Well perhaps in the US model it doesn’t, but if the punishment is quick, precise and unquestionable than the statistics suggest that it does – one thing it certainly does is take those committing the worst offences off the streets – for good.
What about mistakes? True mistakes do happen, but modern forensics have reduced the chances of this immensely, and our judicial systems have matured exponentially because of this, crimes of doubt can be commuted – crimes without doubt can be dealt with effectively.
And what of our man in China committed to death for selling ant breeding kits to greedy investors – well I say commute his death sentence, and put him in charge of “How to Sell Snow to the Eskimos” seminars for Fortune 500 companies until he has repaid his debts.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

A Day In The Life......

If you look on the back page of most ‘showbiz’ or ‘entertainment’ magazines you see an interview with a semi-famous celebrity, in the form of an hourly account of what happened on a particular day – of course picked entirely at random! Well although I don’t profess to being even mildly famous, I have often wondered what it would be like to do this – and would anyone care or be interested in the goings on during the somewhat mundane and boring lifestyle of little old me?

Well I guess to answer my question, I must do just that and document an ‘average; day in the life of…. However before I do, and to somewhat pre-empt my conclusions. The answer must be a resounding “Yes”. People are interested in what other, ordinary people do – if they weren’t why would painful shows like “Big Brother” or “I’m a has-been celebrity somebody shoot me” do so well in the TV ratings? And why would “Facebook” and “Friends dying to prove I did better than you Reunited” be so popular?

We seem to have a fascination with how other people lead their lives and what they get up to. Is it because our own lives have become so boring? Or is it that we seem to be nurtured on a “grass is always greener” mentality? Have we simply become more inquisitive (what used to be called nosey)? Or is it simply that we live in such an open society bombarded with CCTV, Nudity, paparazzi, exposés and calls for more openness, transparency and “freedom of Information”, that we don’t feel our lives are private any more. So if our own lives aren’t private – why should anyone else’s be?

To put this into context of my own experiences, whilst working in China I have had my movements watched, and monitored, phone call's I take logged and every email sent or received scanned prior to reaching me or the intended recipient. Some of this is down to mistrust, some down to security, and if I ever ask why, I would be told that it was for my own safety and security!

It is something you learn to live with. The recognition that you are living almost a “Truman life” existence is very difficult to get used to at first, but like baldness, ageing and weight gain - you become accustomed and acclimatised to it.

So to keep the censors, unpaid body guards and officials who see me and the rest of the foreign contingent as a threat – take a break, have an extra jar of tea – because I have already written your report for Tuesday 2nd July.

6.00am I reach to stop the Alarm before it goes off, In fact I can’t remember last when my alarm went off with me still asleep? A Quick Shower, cup of Tetley Tea and a Bowl of Kellogg’s Cornflakes all done while downloading the latest BBC world news podcast to listen along to on my way to work.

6.50am A quick glance at emails sent over night and jump into my car for the drive across Shanghai, plug in the headphones and relax for my favourite 50 minutes or so of the day! The drive takes me around the outskirts of Shanghai, and on the main highway between Shanghai and Hangzhou, my destination is the HuaPu Factory just at the Zhejiang provincial border with Shanghai District. No incidents today, but its not unusual to see at least one crash on the journey, and at least once a week a vehicle fire rages uncontrollably.

7:45am Climb the stairs to the 3rd floor of the office building we occupy on this enormous manufacturing complex. Shanhai Mapel (HuaPu in China) vacated a large section of office and manufacturing space, following the building of brand new facility on the enormous site owned by Geely Automotive Group (Owners of Maple and major share holder of the SLTI JV). Open the door to my office, people are starting to trickle through the doors for the 8.00am start, cup of coffee to start the day and switch on the computer to catch up on emails.

9.00am after reading and replying to some emails sent overnight, my first meeting of the day is with my HR manager to discuss the continuing recruitment drive, and to review some new starters to the company. When I began 12 months ago, we had around 18 people working for the company; we have about 140 at present and are preparing to employ almost 300 by December of this year.

10.00am I need to review a new design of Door Mirror, due to new European regulations we have had to change the original design to incorporate a larger field of vision. I walk through 36 degree heat, to our pre-production workshop where the suppliers and engineers have developed some sample parts and fitted them to one of the first prototype vehicles build here in Shanghai for me to look at. Due to the size of our vehicle and the position of the drivers seat, the mirrors have to be extra large to give a large enough field of view down the side of the vehicle – this is where function over form comes into its own, I discuss the construction, functionality and serviceability of the mirrors as well as assessing its design and the quality of the fit to the body – however after all of that our hands are tied in red tape we guidelines and European regulations to abide to.

11.00am My second cup of coffee for the day and a discussion with one of the Chassis engineers sent from LTI to help us with development of the tooling and manufacture of our own chassis. Some very positive feedback which helps with the team’s confidence and means that we are heading in the right direction with quality. A couple more emails answered, grab some business cards and a few vehicle brochures before heading back downstairs to my car.

12.00 noon I turn on the car along with the aircon, shut the door and return to the office foyer for 5 minutes. The temperature inside the car was hot enough to melt the plastic access card I had left on dash board. The journey to downtown Shanghai can take anything between 1 hour and 4 hours depending on traffic, and I have to be at the centre of Shanghai by 1:30pm, luckily today the roads are clear(ish) and I get to the JW Marriot Hotel just in time.

1.30pm Standing in the bright sunshine the doorway to one of the best hotels in Shanghai, is a beautiful (always in the eye of the beholder!) Black London Taxi. I had convinced the British Consul General (A very nice lady called Carma) to let me highjack some the visiting VIP’s time to try and gain some exposure for our plans in China. A quick check of the car, a nod to the doorman and a briefing to one of my guys from our sales department and we were ready – only to be told that the visitors were behind schedule and would be delayed by 15 minutes.

1.45pm Never a dull moment in Shanghai, while we are baking under the boiling sun, a car decides to set its self on fire right in the middle of one of the busiest junctions. The journalist and camera men who up until then had been happily snapping away at our Taxi, ran off to get some pictures of what was causing the clouds of black smoke quickly developing and filling the almost blue sky.

2.00pm A familiar Jaguar rolls up and a very distinguished grey headed man clambers out (Nothing like leaving a London Taxi!) and heads straight into the Hotel – oh no delays have altered the plan, and all our preparation has been thwarted. I catch the eye of the consulate and she heads over to me, I await the words that will scupper our plans. No she informs me that despite delays she has agreed with the VIP to have a photo call around our vehicle in 15 minutes.

2.15pm And I am greeted by the best that London can offer, Alderman David Lewis, The Rt Honourable The Lord Mayor of London (Not to be confused with Mayor Johnson). A charming gent who stood and chatted with me for over 15 minutes while the photographers snapped merrily away, I managed to encourage him to get into positions a mechanic would have been proud of and he looked as if he was interested in everything I said, and everything he saw – the act of a professional statesman.

2.45pm The Lord Mayor held a press conference which I joined out of interest more than anything, he was here to open a new office dedicated to the ‘City of London’ in Shanghai, designed to help investment in London and build relations with a fast growing financial sector in the Pudong area of the city. I had merely thrust my agenda onto his proceedings, so when the first 3 questions to the Mayor were all about the London Taxi – I have to admit to feeling embarrassed and guilty, after all he was here to talk about the merits of institutions that turnover billions of pounds in minutes and employ some 300,000 people in London alone. He was here to talk about investments, currency exchange, risk management, bulls, bears and hedges – not roof heights wheel chair access and turning circles. I could feel the eyes of his aides burning into my neck, but darned turn to look – thankfully the next question was about protectionism in the financial markets or something – which turned the audience back onto aspects of financial management, and the Mayor back into his comfort zone. I felt this was as good a time as any to disappear.

3.15pm Got back into my car and headed for home – what only half a day Paul, well no the decision I had was to either go back to the office (at least 90 minutes away) or do some work from home before hosting a meal later that evening, I plumped for going home and saying hello to my Children before heading out for a late nights small talk.

4.20pm Arrived home to find the house empty apart from the Dog, which seemed strange as I rarely have the house to myself. Then the phone started to ring and the blackberry started to buzz – ah ha the UK has woken up. One of the aspects of working for a JV is that you have to operate on two time zones, the local one and your foreign partner’s time zone. For those with UK partners it means work starts at 8.00am in China, and then again at 4.00pm (9.00am GMT) when people get to work in the UK.

6.00pm the kids arrive back from swimming, just as I leave to go to dinner – so much for trying to grab some time with them. I have been to the restaurant once before, and hope my memory and instincts help me find it again. The restaurant is in a place called Thames Town (Insert Blog link), which is a surreal development in a new town called Songjiang about 50kms from Shanghai. With its Churches, Cricket Pitches, Duck Pond and Mock Tudor housing you could be forgiven for thinking that it is popular with foreigners – however most don’t know about it and those that do, don’t live there because of the lack of international schools and its distance from downtown Shanghai. The x dwellings remain empty and the whole place is like a luxury ghost town. The restaurant is a glass sphere, which cooks plain and simple Chinese food. I was meeting several Chinese colleagues and treating 5 guests from the UK to meal to say thanks for their support to the project.

After a meal consisting of stinky Tofu, Ducks Tongue and hairy crab, lots of speeches and some rotten jokes from our Taiwanese contingent the meal ended at about 9.15pm

10.00 pm Managed to find my way home, and settled down to watch a re-run of “House” with a cup of Tetley in one hand and my Blackberry in the other. I answer a few emails and start the final job of the day – mosquito hunting. The recent heavy rains (part of the plum rain season) combined with temperatures in the 30’s have helped bread mosquitoes in there billions, all desperate to suck the blood from my family. In China you can buy these fantastically dangerous electric shock tennis bats, which you swipe at the inflated bugs and watch them explode when you send dozens of vaults through their tiny skeletons. Much more fun than Wimbledon.

11.00pm and bed

Well was Tuesday 2nd July a normal day? Well I cant admit to meeting a Lord Mayor everyday, but it not unusual to be hosting one form of diplomat, hedge fund manager, government department or potential importer such is the interest in the project. Was my diary for the day interesting? Well if you’ve reached this far it must have kept you interested for at least 5 minutes – or was that the pictures?