Bringing home a bit of home

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 8, 2003, page B3; Written by Brad Wong.


In about a week, Jason Liu will pack his dark suit, tie and black dress shoes.

He wants to look his best when he arrives in Guangzhou, China, strolls the aisles of the southern city’s trade fair and meets with businesspeople.

Liu also will squeeze in one more adventure on China’s backroads: He will visit Shandong province, the birthplace of Confucius and home of Tsingtao beer.

In an earlier era of globalism, some European businessmen started the famous brew for thirsty German soldiers, who occupied the area.

The province borders the Yellow and Bo Hai seas, providing Liu with an ample chance to jump in the sea, literally.

Since the 1990s, the figurative act of ‘jumping in the sea,” as it is known in China, has been a popular pursuit for many who have stood in the world’s most populous country

Adventurous Chinese citizens fled the “iron rice bowl” — or state-run jobs that offered cradle-to-grave stability — to pursue heady dreams as entrepreneurs and joint-venture employees.

These days, Liu, 25, is following a similar path with China’s market in mind.

But he’s doing it from the Northwest, thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

Liu runs Washington Distributors Co., a one-person importing business, out of a one-room, 250-square-foot office in Seattle’s International District.

Similar to many Chinese citizens, he hopes his endeavor and company which imports bandannas, picture frames and artificial flowers, will catapult him a long way — and give him the good life.

Two years ago, Liu did what some people would consider unthinkable.

He left a well-paying and stable job as a Cingular Wireless accountant executive. At the time, he enjoyed generous benefits and training and advancement opportunities.


The jump worried his parents.

The entrepreneurial novice dug into his savings, ran up credit card debt and figured out how to survive.

But he wanted to have ties on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

He knew his ancestral homeland could provide a different type of comfort — a type the Seattle area lacks.

In China, on an earlier trip, he had seen a sea of black hair. He experienced a boisterous street life. And he gazed at numerous signs in Chinese script.

- Many Chinese citizens also immediately viewed him as a brother, cousin or friend. And he realized that when people eat big, communal meals, they do so just like his family does in the Northwest.

It’s not that Liu had an impoverished childhood in Seattle and on Mercer Island.

In the 1970s, his parents moved from Hong Kong to pursue educational opportunities at the University of Washington.

As a boy on Mercer Island, Liu enjoyed excellent public schools, clean streets and relaxing lakeside ‘news.

Description: Jason Liu

Jason Liu!

But after graduating from Whitman College, he yearned for an overseas adventure.

He ended up teaching English at Northwest Polytechnic University in Xian, near the home of the imperial Terracorta Warriors, in central China.

On his first day there in 1999, as rain fell in the ancient city, something clicked as he explored the crowded streets.

“Just the vibrancy,” he says. “You could feel things happening and changing.”

It was that kinetic street life — a feeling similar to what people experience in bustling, stateside Chinese restaurants. Merchants hawked compact discs. Food vendors lined the streets.

There were constant crowds in the mornings, afternoons and evenings.

In Xian, he taught rural college students. He noticed many were driven to help their families survive and to avoid an arduous peasant life.

“I got the sense from them that advancement was important,” he says.

That determination and those memories, including his backpack journeys to Tibet, Shanghai and one birthplace of Chinese martial arts, stuck in his mind.

After he returned to the Northwest, he knew he wanted to remain connected to Seattle’s good life and China’s rapid economic --changes and that lively street culture.

Oh yeah, he’s a savvy businessman, too.

He knows some Seattle-area residents are critical of unfettered free trade.

When he can, he notes, he visits factories to ensure product quality and good working conditions.

He understands that China’s free market has pitfalls. His business also has grown.

He used to rent a truck or borrow his dad’s van to personally deliver goods to Puget Sound-area stores. These days, he ships his goods directly to a larger distribution company

This year, he expects to import the equivalent of six 18-wheel truckloads of goods, including plastic baskets, ceramic bowls and binder paper. That’s 12 times the volume of what he did when he started.

And in the coming weeks, as he deals with Chinese businesspeople and hits the dusty backroads, he will know once again, that he can call both countries home.