Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Amazon orders

Oops...committed another act of book-gluttony again.  Just sent an order for the following books from

"Collected Stories" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


"The Congo and the Cameroons (Penguin Great Journeys)" by Mary Kingsley


"Simon Bolivar (Simon Bolivar): A Life" by John Lynch


"A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present" by Jan Rogonzinski


"Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures" by Fredrik Hiebert


"Dominican Republic & Haiti (Country Guide)" by Paul Clammer


"The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific" by J. Maarten Troost


"Latin America's Wars Volume II: The Age of the Professional Soldier, 1900-2001" by Robert L. Scheina


"Latin America's Wars Volume I: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899" by Robert L. Scheina


"Lonely Planet Venezuela" by Thomas Kohnstamm


"From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti" by David Nicholls


"Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola" by Michele Wucker


"A History of the Pacific Islands" by I. C. Campbell; Paperback


"The Vanished Kingdom: Travels Through The History Of Prussia" by James Charles Roy


"The Spanish American revolutions, 1808-1826 (Revolutions in the modern world)" by John Lynch


"A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny" by Mark Kurlansky


"Khon Muang: People and Principles of North Thailand (Beautiful & Educational Books on the Peoples of South China)" by Andrew Forbes


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Some of my orders from Amazon last year

Travels in West Africa (NG Adventure Classics) [Paperback] by Kingsley, Mary
Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China (Studies on China) [Hardcover]
Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in Chinas Cultural Politics 
Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China
Shore of Pearls by Edward H. Schafer
Guizhou Province, Second Edition (Odyssey Illustrated Guides) 
The Hybrid Island: Culture Crossings and the Invention of Identity in Sri Lanka
China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia
Waugh Abroad: The Collected Travel Writing (Everyman's Library)
This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis [Paperback] by Maier, Karl
A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria
The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia [Paperback] by Reid, Anna
From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Thwe, Pascal Khoo
Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology (Oxford World's Classics) 
Themes in West Africa's History (Western African Studies)
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma
Down the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers
Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone
Meeting the Invisible Man
Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil
Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature 1870-1918 (Oxford World's Classics)
The Making of Great Men: Male Domination and Power among the New Guinea Baruya 

Quotations from Evelyn Waugh

"I did not really know where I was going."
"As happier men watch birds, I watch men.  They are less attractive but more various."
"But why British Guiana."
"I was at difficulties to find an answer, except that I was going because I knew so little."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An American company plans to buy a stake in a Chinese restaurant chain

Story about the Little Sheep 小肥羊 group of restaurants in China, which serves excellent mutton hotpot. I love it and have gone to its restaurants many times during those times when I worked "in" China. I kind of miss the authentic mutton hotpot now...

Hot investments in China

Mar 27th 2009
From the Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

An American company plans to buy a stake in a Chinese restaurant chain

On March 25th Little Sheep, a Chinese restaurant chain, announced that Yum! Brands of the US will buy a 20% stake in the company for HK$493m (around US$64m). One of China's largest restaurant franchises, Little Sheep wants to take Mongolian hotpot, a local speciality and winter staple in northern China, global. Already flush with cash after a Hong Kong stockmarket listing in 2008, it is eyeing further expansion in Hong Kong, Japan and North America. Yum!'s investment is a huge vote of confidence in the quirky restaurant chain from Inner Mongolia.
Little Sheep already has more than 350 restaurants across China and some two dozen abroad. Its success has rested on clever marketing, an eye for innovation and strong customer service. For example, Little Sheep's signature hotpot broth is an unusual, Mongolian variety, and other offerings include specially developed soups based on green tea or medicinal herbs. The restaurant also offers over 200 choices of meat. This allows Little Sheep to charge different prices for prime and ordinary meat, improving its profit margins. In 2007 the chain earned HK$146m in net profits on revenue of HK$1.4bn.
Little Sheep does things differently beyond the menu. By the time a group of customers is seated, the waitress or waiter has input their approximate ages and the size of their party in a small portable computer. After customers leave, company headquarters digitally registers how much they spent, what they ordered and how many tables the staff member was able to handle simultaneously. Little Sheep analyses this information to tweak its management and track staff performance. Keeping detailed accounts of customers may not be new for Western chains, but it is unusual in China where most restaurants tend to be small and family-run.

Open approach

Little Sheep has also taken a more open approach to management than most Chinese enterprises. Rather than a top-down flow of ideas, top management encourages employees and franchisees to suggest innovations. Those with the best ideas receive prizes. Other management and customer-service features also set Little Sheep apart from its competitors. For example, in a culture without tipping, customers are encouraged to put a sticker on the uniform of their waiter or waitress to show satisfaction. This motivates staff and improves positive interaction with customers.
Most importantly, to ensure better quality, Little Sheep has brought much of the food delivery and processing in-house. Food safety remains major concern in China. The revelation in 2008 that Chinese baby-formula producers added melamine, a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics, to falsify protein content alarmed many people. But even honest food companies sometimes find it hard to maintain consistent quality at a reasonable price amid natural disasters, such as severe droughts, and government price caps on food items that can affect supply of key ingredients such as meat, eggs and oil.
Little Sheep has taken pains to assuage food-safety concerns. Its mutton, for example, comes from sheep raised on the relatively unpolluted Mongolian plains. To show its attention to hygiene, the chain has replaced the wall to the kitchen with a window in many of its restaurants so that patrons can see their food being prepared.
Little Sheep's efforts to improve operations are in preparation for its next round of expansion beyond the domestic market. To ensure higher standards are met, the company has been buying up franchises and directly managing more restaurants in China's first- and second-tier cities. Investors seem to approve of this strategy: Little Sheep's Hong Kong-listed stock has risen almost 45% since the beginning of the year.
The restaurant chain's future growth is likely to be slower than before, given that it already commands 6% of China's dining market. But Little Sheep's willingness to test new products and ideas, while boosting customer service and improving quality, makes it stand out among Chinese firms. And this remains a good recipe to follow.