On MBAs, MFAs, and Selling Soft Pretzels in China

House of Cards China+ The hilarious misadventures of a Wharton grad trying to sell soft pretzels in China make for a fun read, especially now that someone has had the bright idea to try again.

Knowing a Guy is extremely important when dealing with Chinese regulators, and though Lin was born in Taiwan, he’s a U.S. citizen, wasn’t completely fluent in Chinese at the time and had few connections in mainland China. So Lin’s second shipment of 42,000 pounds of pretzel mix was quarantined for weeks on suspicion of contamination with a bacteria found only in dairy products, despite the mix not containing any dairy. The same year, he had to destroy 1,300 pounds of caramel sauce.

On top of that, The China Twist describes get­ting shaken down by thugs, home invasions by groups of angry employees and questionable food supplies. In one scene, Lin screams at one ingredient supplier thusly: “You son of a bitch! … What the hell did you sell me?! Did you know that your crappy, poisonous products blinded half my employees?! We have over 20 people right now who cannot see!” (They got better.)

+ The Times, btw, does not include Wharton on its list of M.B.A. Programs that will take you where you want to go. Its recommendations: Duke –> Apple, Indiana University –> Procter and Gamble, Northwestern –> McKinsey, and so on. Any MBAs want to weigh in?

+ While we’re on the subject of master’s degrees, it has been proven now beyond a reasonable doubt that we will never stop talking about whether MFAs are worthwhile. Every argument goes the same way: 

“Workshops are too white and anyway they’re too expensive.”

“Actually, more and more people from diverse backgrounds are getting to tell their own stories; isn’t that a win for everyone?”

“Workshops are a tax on people’s dreams!”

“I didn’t do it to get rich. I did it for The Art and The Community.”

“Workshops flatten out and homogenize Art.”

“If you want Art and Community, move to New York.”

“No, travel the world! Have something to write about!”

“Don’t think you’ll be able to teach after, either. There were just over 100 open tenure-track positions in creative writing in the whole country last year.”

“I didn’t do it to get rich. I did it for–”

“Chad Harbach! Gary Shteyngart! Karen Russell!”

“Emily St. John Madel! Colson Whitehead! Jonathan Franzen!”

“If you bring up Jonathan Franzen, I’m bringing up Hitler and invoking Godwin’s Law.”

“THE ART AND THE COMMUNITY THE ART AND THE COMMUNITY I’M TITLING MY SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL LYRICAL LITERARY NOVEL THE ART AND THE COMMUNITY.”

“Oh yeah, and the time.”

“Tolstoy didn’t need an MFA.”

“Tolstoy had serfs.”

And on and on and on.

That horse has been killed, sold in part for meat and in part for glue, buried, and prayed over, and we’re still beating it.

Here is all you need to know on that score: “Short answer: yes with an if; long answer, no with a but.

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