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Moungar 423...my new business in China.

Posted Saturday, October 24, 2009, at 2:04 AM

View of the 1st store at night
There are all sorts of reasons to be in China, whether you're visiting, living here permanently or simply investigating it for future uses. I'm one of those that have finished investigating and have moved on to the problem of how to make a decent living here. I've seen 60 year old English teachers but I don't really have a retirement plan as I'm quite a bit younger than that. This leaves me with the problem of...how to live in China while not teaching?

It's truly a pendulous question. It's quite difficult to even obtain a visa without a school to help you out since most companies can't legally obtain a visa without going through a ton of work and legal hassle first. We can understand why they'd rather leave that well alone. I'd been to small tourist cities where foreigners opened their own business -- bars, coffee shops or English schools. I guess none of us are more creative than that and, unfortunately, I've fallen into one of these categories as well.

I currently live in Changsha, and the city is in the midst of one of those stretch-yawn moves where you reach your arms into the sky and moan gutturally for 2-3 minutes. Changsha's doing that. It's in the wake of a truly monstrous yawn, and right after it finishes...it's going to blow people away. The government is pumping huge lumps of sum into this region to further promote the ancient 2nd-tier city as the leading commercial area in Hunan -- this makes it a terrific place to try and start a business.

I'd heard about a terrific little coffee shop from my ex-girlfriend, who was a Changsha native, nearly a year and a half ago. I went there with her and was amazingly surprised at the shop called Moungar. Being one of the first shops on Renmin Lu, directly off of Changsha's infamous Walking Street, it carried what I can only describe as a sweet country American charm with little dashes of European elegance thrown in. The first floor was sprawling sunshine with white chairs paired with cornflower blue paint, and cute, happy waitresses that spoke English and asked which coffee I'd like best.

If it were only this floor I'd have been happy, but they directed me towards a second floor. While walking up the steps I noticed artistic writing scrawled on the walls in unique floral patterns and a shelf containing framed movie posters. I was elated to see Braveheart and The Matrix...even Toy Story. When I reached the peak of the stairs I was invited onto a floor which would have been perfect near a fireplace. Shelves of various English books and classics lined all of the walls while the color scheme changed to a more mature tone. The details were amusing and varied to the point that you'd love to spend 10-20 minutes just searching around. I soon found the two small turtles that lived in this paradise and greeted them warmly.

The third floor was more of the fresh-air getaway as it contained the small balcony which provided terrific views of the street and seemed like a place I'd love to throw water balloons off of...yet still haven't. The bathroom has classy red tile and the entire building simply seemed well thought out and executed with terrific care. It is a place that you can simply relax in for 5 hours while writing a paper or doing some homework or having a chat with friends.

As I was sitting there, a man began speaking English to me. I was surprised at how natural it sounded. He soon introduced himself as Jeff from Taiwan and he was the owner of Moungar. I told him how I loved the place and how it reminded me of home, and that it was comforting to find a place like it while being so far away from home. He beamed at that, and told me that I could come to his restaurant if I had time and that it was newly opened. We chatted for a short while but at that time I was nervous talking with the owner of such a fine establishment and he seemed rather busy.

A year later, I met him again in the store. It was around 8pm and although I'd been there several times since, I'd never run into him. To my astonishment, he still remembered me. We caught up on things and discussed various topics for almost two hours, and I eventually told him, mildly, that since I liked his place so much that I would be interested in doing some business with him sometime in the future. I said it fairly haltingly, as I figured dozens of foreigners had mentioned the same thing to him with dismal results. "No, you're the first American to ask me that. I never thought an American would want to do business with my wife and I." Jeff said he, his wife and other investors were wanting to start up a series of Moungars around Hunan and, God willing, a national franchise -- but they would be needing investors. Some of their long-time staff were even investing small amounts but I was invited to invest as much as I felt comfortable with. The only question I had was...where do I sign?

Showing comments in chronological order
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Congrats Nate,

I hope all goes well.

-- Posted by npwinder on Sun, Oct 25, 2009, at 2:11 PM

Thanks nick.

-- Posted by natejames on Tue, Oct 27, 2009, at 11:55 PM

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Nate James
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