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Made (Kosher) in China: The Business Experience in the Far East: Made (Kosher) inChina

Rachel Bachrach

It used to be that a businessman couldn’t get a kosher meal in the Far East for all the tea inChina. Today that has changed. It’s possible to eat well, daven well, and, of course, do a little business in the country that has become the manufacturing center of the world.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There’s a reason Chinais known as the workshop of the world: More than one-fifth of globally manufactured merchandise is produced in Chinese factories. Manufacturing stateside is significantly more expensive than offshore, so many businessmen prefer developing and producing their merchandise in theFar East, where costs are lower, workers can be found in abundance, and quality doesn’t have to be compromised.

While Jewish businessmen have been taking advantage of doing business in mainland Chinafor centuries and in Hong Kong since the 1850s, frum business travel to the Far East took off after World War II, with the main thrust escalating in the ’70s. The early pioneers faced challenges like lack of kosher food, spending Shabbos alone, and davening without a minyan, but now it’s a different world with a host of amenities for the frumbusinessman. Major cities and commerce centers have shuls, restaurants, and kosher grocery stores, and some even have yeshivos and mikvaos.

Shiya Zeitman has been traveling to theFar Eastfor almost 35 years. When he started, he worked for Lenoxx Electronics, which produced merchandise inTaiwan, but after the Taiwanese revalued their currency, many businesses moved to Hong Kong andChina. Mr. Zeitman, who is now the COO of Creoh Industries, still travels to theFar Eastevery other month. His home base is in Hong Kong, which is an hour’s travel fromChina, because that’s where many of the agents and middlemen conduct business.

Mr. Zeitman’s offshore manufacturing experiences of the ’70s and ’80s are very different from those of Eli Sitt, the principal of children’s clothing company Baby Togs. Mr. Sitt, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, began traveling to theFar Eastat the turn of the millennium. Baby Togs recently set up an office inChina, and Mr. Sitt travels there several times a year for seven to ten days. He likes to stay inShanghai.

Here, the two men share their stories, comparing the Jewish experience in theFar East30 years ago to today.

 

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