Monday, April 2, 2012

Starbucks, Sun Tzu, and Wei Chi

On my way back from a  three-day jaunt to Beijing (yes, I just can't stay away!), I sat across from an investor. He is going to America soon--to Seattle and LA--to see five companies. One of them is Starbucks.

Shenyang, a slightly larger city than Changchun, where I live, already has a few of these franchises. Beijing's most prominent Starbucks sits in a stunning building at the foot of Qianmen. Last week, the news was filled with stories about the ways in which Starbucks will seek to re-design its European stores in an effort to conquer the cafe culture. Now, are they about to invade China and replace tea with the little brown bean? The Wall Street Journal reports that they already have 10,000 employees here, but that number is about to grow.

Maybe they need to read SunTzu's The Art of War to get it right. I bought an English version at the Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore and ordered a second copy on-line that has the original Chinese text and an English translation. I also bought Peter Shotwell's Go Basics: Concepts and Strategies for New Players. The Game of Go is also called wei chi in Chinese and ba duk by the Koreans. In his introduction, he writes,
Beginning about 500BC, Taoist philosopher warriors such as Sun Tzu would have been managing the imbalances of yin and yang and the flow of qi that were coursing over the playing boards, as they thought these did in their wars, businesses, and the rest of their lives. On the other hand, the Confucians and probably the early Buddhists looked at the playing of Go as a waste of time and a corrupter of aristocratic youth because of the gambling involved.
Inspired by John Elder, my mentor and thesis adviser from Middlebury, who is so good he has to play people on-line, I wanted to learn a year ago, but nobody has been able to show me. Last spring, I went to Walmart (I know, I know, but it was cheap and it's buying local, after all) to buy the stones and board. Now I am going to get serious. The book even came with a CD-ROM!

Anyway, the fellow across from whom I was sitting, was reading a book of famous Chinese philosophers works. He told me that to understand Chinese thinking, I need to read Lao Tzu, which I have; Confucius, which I have; and Sun Tzu, which I am; however, he also claimed it can all be traced back to this one fellow whose Chinese name he wrote on one of my flashcards. I can't read it so I guess I will have to wait until I can to be enlightened!

My immediate strategy is to learn ba duk from a Korean math teacher friend and then maybe shift to wei chi with a Chinese friend or two. One piece of ancient wisdom is to lose your first hundred games quickly. I am off to begin my losing streak!