Trust in the US vs. China : lessons learned during a night in a trailer in LA

a story about losing trust in a trailer

Chenyu Zheng
Apr 21, 2016 · 5 min read
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Today I wanted to share a personal experience that in my mind demonstrates the sheer contrast between US and China with regard to trust. This has implication for any US company who are eying to enter China. Because the Internet landscape and ecosystem in China are drastically different from the US that only the most fierce companies can survive.

This story comprises of a night in an outdoor trailer, identity theft in China and a fear of losing trust in a particularly vulnerable environment that accentuates the contrast of internet ecosystem between US, Europe and China.

A few weeks ago, I stayed in a trailer / scamp in LA, a sanctuary of an airbnb host that I have befriended over a few stays. The 13'G trailer was parked in the driveway, which technically means between me and the road, there was no fence nor door (only the door of the trailer, whose lock is not one that gives me full sense of security).

It happened to be a cold and damp night for Los Angeles and the trailer is a little chilly despite the comforter. I was sleeping in the tiny bed that just fit my 5'8'’ body.

As usual, I was looking at my phone before sleeping and a worried message popped up from my mom that my QQ account (China’s largest social network, equivalent to FB,now more active among millennials ) got hacked for the 3rd time within 2 weeks. The hackers messaged all my contacts acting as me and asking for $$ because “I need to pay for urgent debt” of some sort.

“3rd time in a row and the same message? why are there so many bad people on earth? ” I asked myself.

A few weeks later, I have forgotten how damp the night was nor did I recall how many cars were driving by the road near me. However, I vividly remember how I felt when I was staying in that vulnerable environment — a tiny shelter (trailer) on a host’s driveway (somewhat stranger). But I felt safe and trusted until the moment when my mom alerted me of my identity theft thousands of miles away.

My train of thought kept going “Wow. I need to spend more time in China to feel the reality. The longer I stay in the US and in California, the more I take everything for granted — the blue sky, the venice beach sunset, drinkable tap water, fresh avocado / fruits / kale, brussels sprouts etc , trust between people.” An online system for trust and rating system is what Airbnb pride themselves in — designing a system that overcomes the stranger-danger bias . But can the same trust & rating system work in China?

In contrast, trust among people in China is so thin in the air. That is why one of the biggest obstacles to overcome for US companies to enter China is FRAUD, both for Uber and Airbnb. Chinese people are street smart, hardworking, relentless and resourceful. I have to confess that we (Chinese) always manage to identify loopholes in a system and break the trust (abuse the trust) to get something out of it. This includes at one point, friends would help each other to game the Uber subsidy system to order each other’s car and take no real passenger; or a user who registers many fake accounts on Airbnb to maximize referral fee.

Do you know one of the most common content shared in WeChat? “spam” from your soon-to-be former friend who started to be a micro-merchant & sell facial masks, jewelry or overseas luxury brands. Some people blast their WeChat moment (similar to FB timeline) 24 times a day with product info. This shows you how e-commerce is ingrained in Chinese people’s DNA.

It is scary to think but we can’t totally blame China for what’s happening because remember that China is just transitioning from surviving to thriving, from everyone wanting to have mass produced products to more hand-crafted items. This is what I call an era of lifestyle boom in China.

Going back to that night staying in the trailer parked in the driveway, my most vulnerable self felt emotional about why “there are so many bad people on earth who try to steal your online identity?” Just last night, I was having dinner with a British friend who has resided in LA for 10+ years. He commented on how in the US, he finds there are less trust among people. For example, hitchhiking is so common in Europe that people don’t think twice before taking up a stranger on the street. His observation between US & UK is completely different from my observation between US and China.

Afterwards, I came to conclusion that the reason we need to travel and live in different cultures is to not take things for granted and view with world through multi-cultured lenses.

This is my humble suggestion for all US companies who try to establish a presence in China:

1. Hire someone with China background early on into your company, build trust with him / her over time so that he / she can embody the core& vision of the company, and have him or her go back to China to lead the effort.

2. The sheer contrast of trust I experienced in the camper just showed that when US companies are ready to enter China. They need to be tough, decisive and willing to fight with fraud of any format. They also need to realize that the US companies have grown up in greenhouse environment, while Chinese companies survived out of alkaline land.

3. Don’t sleep in a trailer on the street in China nor drink water from the tap. Don’t run on the street outdoor in Beijing (I once did and everyone stared at me & reminded me of the pollution). Always wear your backpack in the front when taking public transportation.
Stranger = danger still holds mostly in a developing country although I have also experienced kindness from stranger who found my ID and returned to me.

good night! I hope your night doesn’t include fear of losing trust that stays with you for forever.

Instead, you would wake up with a teddy bear & smile.

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if you are interested in China & the Internet, feel free to get in touch.

Email: apple5812 [at]gmail

WeChat: apple5812

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