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Bali is every Australian’s cheap vacation spot. It’s only about a 3.5 hour flight from Perth and was quite an amazing experience.

Bali 1

How to do Bali:

Step 1: As you arrive at the airport, there will be about fifty local Indonesian guys asking if you need a taxi. Do not say yes or they’ll charge you 100,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah). This is a rip off here in Bali. A taxi should only cost you 10,000 IDR (approximately USD 73 cents). As you will learn, everything is cheap in Bali.

Step 2: Become a millionaire. Exchange $100 USD for ~$1,371,740 IDR.

Step 3: Stay in a hostel in Seminyak or Kuta and meet a random group of travelers. Hire a motor scooter for a day for 50,000 IDR (~$4) and drive south to Uluwatu to enjoy a day on the secluded beaches and watch the sunset at the Uluwatu temple.

Step 4: Don’t forget to refuel your motor scooter at a local shop. They’ll sell you petrol for 10,000 IDR and pour it out of a 1 litre Absolut Vodka bottle (the vessel of choice here in Bali). Be careful on your motor scooter; your life is at risk with every turn. The locals drive with their whole families (husband, wife, kid, groceries) on one motor scooter like it’s a walk in the park.

Bali 2Step 5: Travel up north to go scuba diving at Tulamben, a quiet village on the northeast coast of Bali. Tulamben is one of the best dive sites in the world, complete with its own shipwreck, the USAT Liberty.

Step 6: Do some bargaining with the locals in Kuta. Buy a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses for $4.

Step 7: Stay in a four star hotel for ~$50. Sit poolside and relax; you’re in paradise.

Bali 3I call Bali a third world paradise because you’ll have opportunities to sit on beautiful beaches, relax poolside, and enjoy the natural beauties of Indonesia, but you’ll also experience a culture shock. The locals live a different life than what some people in the States are used to. The people may seem poor and underprivileged and they will definitely haggle you for a few dollars. This is because they rely so much on tourists spending money so they can feed their families. Even though you may see them as deprived, the local people are some of the happiest people I’ve met in my travels, which is truly amazing. Bali is known for its tourism and over the years, the growing population in Bali has caused an excess of garbage pollution in landfills, the streets and beaches. If you’re keen on a trip here, I would go soon as Bali is slowly dying because of tourism.

By Lonnie Bloom, MBA | 609.520.1188 | lbloom@withum.com

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This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Israel for 10 days through Taglit-Birthright. The Taglit-Birthright Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides financial support to the Birthright Israel program in North America. The program provides a free, 10-day educational trip to Israel for young Jewish adults between the ages of 18-26. Funding for these trips comes from many donors across the world, including small groups of committed philanthropists, individual donors and the Israel government. The program has sent over 400,000 Jewish young adults to Israel since they were founded in 1999. My experience in Israel was nothing short of amazing.

Israel 1As we all saw and read about in the news, I was traveling across the world to a country in the middle of a heated war, and needless to say, my family and friends were a little worried. Even though there were rockets flying from Gaza, I did not feel as though I was in a war zone. The trip was not meant for us to be in danger or to brainwash us into joining the military. Instead of feeling pressured in any way, I only felt a sense of excitement, culture shock and enjoyment. My group consisted of 22 Birthright travelers, three tour guides, an Israeli security guard and four Israeli military people. The group was originally supposed to have 40 travelers, but because of the situation in Israel, many people backed out. Not only did I meet new friends and experience a new culture, but I experienced some of the beauties of Israel that I will share weekly in my next five posts.

By Lonnie Bloom, MBA | 609.520.1188 | lbloom@withum.com

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Located just an hour drive north from Central Hong Kong, Shenzhen (in Guangdong Province) was the first (and most successful) “Special Economic Zone” in China.  This special status allowed western industrialization — more than US$30 billion in foreign investment has gone into both foreign-owned and joint ventures initially in manufacturing but more recently in service industries as well.  One of the fasted growing cities in the work, it is a teaming with a population of 15 million — and all of the traffic that goes with a population that expands faster than infrastructure.  Because of its proximity to the capital markets, legal system and economic stability and diversity of Hong Kong, Shenzhen is the logical first step for many foreign companies into China.  Shenzhen is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, is one of the busiest container ports in China, and has the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies.  Once established in Shenzhen through a representative office, use of a contract manufacturer, or operation of a factory, moving further into mainland China is the next step.

 

300px-Shenzhen_CBDDespite being in Shenzhen for less than 24 hours, I met both with colleagues at HLB Wu Zhou Song De and with a client.   I saw two offices and toured my client’s R&D and Quality Control operations.  One cultural business difference I learned was of “rest time” over the lunch break.  Chinese workers are given about half an hour to rest after lunch.  In one office, this meant turning off the overhead fluorescent lights and literally putting your head on your desk to relax.  In another office, space was found for ping-pong tables, and office-wide tournaments are held daily.

 

HLB Wu Zhou Song De in Shenzhen has worked with over 35 Chinese publicly traded companies.  The firm has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years — what in China hasn’t?

 

To my eyes, Shenzhen had all of the energy of Hong Kong, without the upscale retail shops and overly expensive hotel rooms.

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In Shandong province, I had the opportunity to visit the provincial town of Jinan — a town of 8 million.  Jinan is known for its springs — underwater aquifers feed 72 named artesian karst springs at a public park in the middle of downtown Jinan called Baotu Quan Gong Yuan.  The most famous of these springs is the 3,500 year old Baotu Spring.  The park is also the ancestral home of one of Shandong’s most beloved poets, Li Qingzhao (1084 – 1151).  Her life story is presented through life-size dioramas in the rooms in her home.  The waters of the Jinan springs are said to be “softer and sweeter” and contain health-affirming properties.

 

While in Jinan, I spent an afternoon meeting with HLB colleagues at HLB Baicheng, a large tax consulting firm with offices in both Jinan and Shanghai.  In addition to learning about Baicheng’s practice and preparing for a conference the next day, we were treated to a “Chinese Banquet.”  I was honored to be received by the head of Shangdong ‘s institute of certified public accountants as well as two members of the international division of the Chinese Tax Authority.  The evening began with toasts (4 by the host, 3 by the co-host, 2 by the protégés of the hosts and then 1 by each of the guests).  The meal included all measure of Chinese delicacies — seafood soup with sea cucumber, eel, chicken (including the head, comb and feet).  How lucky was I to sit next to the host and not have to chose what to eat, but to merely eat what was put on my plate by my host?

 

The next day, my fellow HLB International Tax Committee members and I presented at the Annual Shangdong Tax Conference, co-sponsored by the Shandong institute of certified public accountants and HLB Baicheng.  We presented an overview of the tax systems of the US, Germany and the Netherlands to almost 600 delegates (shown below).   For the first time, I had to work with a simultaneous translator — our presentations were in both English and Chinese, and our translators were excellent.  After one afternoon, they were able to handle complex tax concepts in both English and Chinese.

 

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When I was in grade school, I had a social studies project researching (albeit in encyclopedia NOT on the internet) a country and presenting it to the class.  I chose Hong Kong and all these years later, all I remember is that the old airport was right on the water in the middle of the city and it was the place on earth with the highest population density.

Hong Kong has been long used by multinational companies as a regional base to manage their businesses in the Asia Pacific, particularly in the Chinese mainland.  Based on a government survey in Hong Kong in June 2009, there were 3,580 regional operations of overseas companies in Hong Kong, an increase of 44% from the previous decade. Of these regional operations, 83% have operations related to mainland China. Nowadays, Hong Kong also provides an international gateway for mainland companies wishing to explore financing opportunities, within or outside Asia.

There are many reasons for this success, but probably the main reasons are as follows:

  • A stable government dedicated to the encouragement of free enterprise and opposed to regulation or intervention unless deemed absolutely essential.
  • A respected, independent, legal system based on transparent Anglo-Saxon principles.
  • A free press that is widely-owned, independent, and vocal.
  • A good blend of entrepreneurial skills and a stable, talented, adaptable and hard-working labor force.
  • A complete absence of foreign exchange controls and only minor import duties on a small number of items.
  • Very low levels of taxation by international non-tax haven standards.
  • No restrictions on foreign investment.
  • Superb communications and banking facilities.
  • A location at the geographical center of Asia.
  • The willingness of its businesses to diversify according to international market demands and react quickly to changing trends.
  • The complete range of high quality professional services.

Hong Kong is more than just Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  It is a series of XX islands and since July 1, 1997 is a “Special Administrative Region” within China.  Having only a morning to “see” Hong Kong, I got only the highlights — beginning with Victoria Peak.  The morning was somewhat overcast, so the pictures are hazy and not the brilliant sun and sparkling harbor as in the postcards.

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Eight days, three office visits and two tax conferences.  I met tax professionals from all over Asia and the Pacific Rim, and delivered a National Geographic Map of the World — that world that got quite a bit smaller over those 8 days in Asia– to colleagues who are now a lot more than an e-mail address or a name in a directory.

Gift giving is an essential part of business in China. You should obey the rules to make certain you don’t offend. The value of a gift can be tricky business — a lavish present could cause embarrassment.  Also, don’t give sets of four, because the number is considered unlucky.  Senior people must always be given gifts that are perceived to have a higher value than those given to junior staffers.  Offer gifts, one at a time, to recipients with both hands, but don’t expect them to be opened in your presence.

Avoid overtly extravagant gifts that could embarrass or negatively affect your business dealings.  Specifically, skip gifts known to be associated with death, like clocks, knives and scissors.  At first blush, a fine writing instrument may seem an ideal present, but if it contains red ink, you’ll offend the person you’re trying to win over.  Presents must be gift-wrapped when presented to business associates in China, and the color of the wrap is another deal breaker.  Red is a lucky color.  Avoid black, white and blue paper, as these colors are also associated with death.

Before the HLB International Tax Committee departed on our recently completed China Tour, we had lengthy discussions as to what gift to present at these meetings — something big enough to be meaningful, but not overly large or ostentatious.  I have to say, we made a very good choice and the pictures below turned out quite nicely. . .

 

 

1.         HLB Candor, Taiwan.  Presented to Rex Lai at the 2012 HLB Asia/Pacific Rim Regional Conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.         HLB Hodgson Impey Cheng.  Presented to Raymond Cheng and Jonathan Lai in Hong Kong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.         HLB World Sound (Wu Zhou Song De.  Presented to Jessie Jessica and Linda in Shenzhen, China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.         HLB Baicheng Tax Consulting Service.  Presented to Ziyong Zhu and Ada Gau in Jinan, China.

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