Day 6 – Woke to steady rain after a fitful sleep. The Chinese believe in sleeping on hard beds, as it is supposed to be good for you. And when I say hard, I mean sheet of plywood hard. And how having your hips so sore you can barely get out of the bed in morning after tossing and turning all night is supposed to be good for you beats me. We will be upgrading the mattress shortly.
View from the apartment window.
And though it feels cold here because of the damp, it is about 62 F. Salem, VA was in single digits in comparison. The company apartment is decorated with Chinese art (Mike has good taste). We even have a life sized terracotta warrior.
he walk to the office takes maybe 5-6 minutes. The rain was coming pretty hard and the wind overwhelmed the umbrella. One thing you notice about side streets like ours is how poorly they are sloped to drain the water. Makes for enormous puddles.
Stopped at my snack shop for dumplings and a tea egg. I make tea eggs at home, and they are just that – eggs boiled in tea, dark soy sauce and spiced with star anise. The flavor is very subtle – it is 90% a regular hard boiled egg, but the last 10% makes all the difference.
Worked the morning in the office, and then had lunch at the restaurant around the corner. It has a few dishes that are wonderful, but is certainly not fine dining. The highlights:
Back to work until late in afternoon, then I head to Futian district to take an old friend from Taiwan to dinner at an Italian restaurant. We were the only ones there, so service was exceptional, as was the food, as was the wine, AS WAS THE PRICE. Dinner for two cost 7 times as much as dinner on the street the night before! Luckily she is bringing some of her USA friends to PassageMaker, it was a legit business dinner, but man it is easy to get spoiled by the cheap food over here. I figured we all know what Italian food looks like, so I’ll spare you photos of gnocchi and tiramisu.
Day 7 – A clear day, rain has stopped. It’s knocked the smog out of the air, so a bright blue morning.
Off early to our Assembly Center in Buji. I’m working on continuous improvement initiatives there as part of our new ISO 9000:2008 certification, something we achieved just last month. My background is in manufacturing, and since we are gearing up for what we think will be a very strong 2010, Mike asked me to come over and assist with introducing the alphabet soup of kaizen related initiatives – 5S, JIT, OJT, etc. Meet and greet the staff, which is dominated by women at the manager level. Only one man on the senior staff. You are seeing more of this in China, but my impression is PassageMaker is ahead of the curve here. On to lunch, which is fabulous as usual.
On the way out, we passed the fish tanks that hold the seafood fresh and alive until it’s time to cook it. Everything in China is prepared fresh.
Later that afternoon we headed back to the office to pick up Julien Roger of China Quality Focus, our sister company. Mike, Julien and I flew to Shanghai for the Global Sources trade show, a trip that wasn’t scheduled for me when I came over, but I’m glad I went. The show went well and I’ve never really been to downtown Shanghai before, just the industrial area around the old Hongqiao airport. We flew into the new Pudong airport and I am convinced the planning went something like this – “To demonstrate the greatness of the People’s Republic of China, we will build the longest airport in the world!”. We landed late at the last gate and walked for 10 minutes in a straight line down the terminal until we got to the baggage claim area. This is a seriously long building. And thoughtfully they included no people movers like the trams at the Detroit airport. Considering the late hour and the lack of other arrivals, you’d think they could’ve found a found a gate closer to the exit.
Heading to the hotel, Ibis, a chain of affordable hotels owned by Novotel, a French company, what struck me about Pudong at night were the vast highways. Six to eight lane interstate grade roads as compared to the cramped streets typical of most Chinese cities. Pudong was farmland just a few years ago, and it definitely has a planned feel.
Although they fed us on the plane (a 2 hour flight with meal service – haven’t seen that in the States in decades), Mike and I were still hungry, so we found an American bar, Malone’s across the street and had a very good hamburger while listening to a GREAT Filipino cover band. Every bar and hotel in China has a Filipino band, all playing English cover tunes, even when the clientele is Chinese. And nearly all of them suck. This was an astounding exception. They were tight and the covers were quite good, including good hard rock and heavy metal. The singer had some serious pipes.
Back at the hotel, I noticed the bathroom is a pre-fabricated assembly. Smart idea for a chain. It was one of the nicer bathrooms I’ve had in China.
Day 8 – After the best night’s sleep so far, up early to get to the show and set up the booth. On the way to the convention center, I saw this:
They switched us at the last minute to give us a corner booth, which meant we had to cut up the posters to make them fit. I think the booth looked pretty good, considering.
I’ve been to a fair number of trade shows over the years. Heavy truck shows are dull unless you really like trucks and truckers, car shows are fun, and motorcycle rallies are a blast. But in every case before, I was selling a product. If the guy’s got a Road King we have something for him, but not if he has a Dyna. We’re on this model of Peterbilt, but not that one. But now that I’ve done it, nothing beats selling a service. EVERYONE doing business in China needs Quality Inspections, Product Testing, Sourcing Feasibility Studies, Vendor Coordination, Intellectual Property Protection, Logistics and Assembly Inspection & Packaging. The industry doesn’t matter, they all needed at least one of our services. This was a gift and clothing fair, but it is the same at every show. It’s like we are selling beer at a NASCAR race. We got business cards from USA, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Israel, Nigeria, Iran, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.
Mike is a featured speaker at every Global Sources trade show (including Dubai, Hong Kong, Mumbai and South Africa this year), and he gave a two-part presentation spread over the first two days of the show. He did a great job and it was extremely well received by the standing room only audience. Rather than a canned sales pitch, he tells it like it is, barely mentioning PassageMaker or China Quality Focus. The soft sell works and many attendees stopped by the booth afterward to tell us so. They figure anyone with enough confidence to NOT shove his company down their throats must have it going on. And they are quite right. We do.
Julien Roger is also a tremendous salesman and very knowledgeable. I learned a great deal from watching his methods. Selling China Quality Focus’s services is easier, as Quality Inspections are very straightforward compared to PassageMaker’s services, but the combined message of the two companies meshes very well. We often have the same customers.
The convention center is still under construction and gigantic. As with the airport, the point seems to be making you walk as far as possible to get anywhere. Despite the impressive size, they apparently forgot about effective HVAC. It is unseasonably cold and I packed for south China. Day 1 of the show had no heat at all, which made it a real grind. Day 2 was a little warmer, but still uncomfortable. By Day 3 they’d gotten it going to the point it was now actually hot inside. HVAC needs some work for sure.
They also have very little in the way of food. The restaurants inside looked just plain bad, serving cold rolls and sandwiches wrapped in plastic like a vending machine. However, there was a McDonald’s right across from our hall, W2. It turned out to be the world’s smallest McD’s, about the size of a broom closet, with one little girl selling horrible looking “chicken sandwiches” out of coolers. I put that in quotes, because they were actually pork. Menu says chicken, she will say in English it is chicken, the box says chicken, but she insisted in Chinese that they were pork. We passed and were directed to the other McD’s at W5.
W5 is an international airport runway away from where we were. In 30 F weather, I was not interested in the walk, but there was nothing else, so walk we did. Entering W5 was a shock as it was still under construction, freezing cold and reeked of paint fumes. The McD’s was even colder than the rest of the building. It was a huge McD’s, brand new and manned by an army of eager young staffers in winter parkas. McDonald’s can’t heat their own place. It was also completely deserted. We were it for customers stoopid enough to walk that far in the cold for genuine simulated food. Our “food” in hand we sat down to eat our rapidly cooling cheeseburgers (with cucumbers instead of pickles) in 25 F comfort, huffing paint. Then the staff helpfully turned on the Backstreet Boys at headache inducing volumes to entertain us, because what lao wai doesn’t love the Backstreet Boys? We’d shout over the music to tell them to turn it down please. And they would, just a little. As it was the only food around, we ate there all three days of the convention. Our experience was exactly the same each time, including the yelling over the music to turn it down. Note to China: the progress over the last 30 years has been astounding, but build convention centers with decent places to eat and heaters.
The interior of the McD’s was just as bizarre.
With the first day of thee show successfully behind us, we head out into a bitterly cold Shanghai sunset.
For dinner, we are off to meet friends at Shanghai Hooters. Yes, really. This turns out to be loads of fun. Mike, Julien and I meet up with one of our sales reps, Dan Welygan, who worked in our Shenzhen office for about 4 years. Also in our quintet is a classmate from the University of South Carolina now living in China. Many, many wings and beer later, I have a new found appreciation for Hooters. It was a bold decision to open this restaurant, as typical Chinese girls lack the requisite body type required of a Hooters waitress. And they have to be attractive and be able to speak English. A pretty small labor pool. Our waitress was very good, spoke solid English and really new how to work a room. A very bright young lady, she has a future in sales for sure.
Day 9 – Second day of the show went as well as the first. Part two of Mike’s seminar was very well received and many of the attendees have stopped by the booth, several 2-3 times. After the show, we meet our web developer, a French graphic designer living in Shanghai, at a trendy coffee shop for sandwiches. This place was in a glittering new mall, still decorated for Christmas. My cameras does a poor job in low light, so my apologies for the quality of the photos.
So far no Chinese food in Shanghai. After the meeting, off to meet another USC classmate at The Boxing Cat Brewery, the nicest brewpub I’ve ever been to. As I was once in this business, that is quite a statement. It was in a 100+ year old home in the old part of Shanghai, beautifully refurbished. The brewpub was 3 stories, with a bar on the 1st and 3rd floors. It felt exactly like a British pub, with beer selection and menu to match. Since we had already eaten we did not order anything, which now that I know the chef was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I heartily regret. I have a feeling it will not be my last trip. My, how far this country has come in just a few short years. However, even The Boxing Cat has moments that confound.
Day 10 – Last day of show, and the pollution is pretty bad today. Traffic is light, and some exhibitors start packing up almost from the opening bell. We stayed until nearly the scheduled end at 5:30 PM, though we give up when they start dismantling the booth around us at about 5:10 PM. Global Sources has been good to us and we thought it the honorable thing to do to stick it out to the end, though honestly the show really ended around noon. Off to Pudong airport (which is even more gigantic from the outside and has the coolest road system connecting it I’ve ever seen) to catch our flight to Shenzhen. Our first Chinese meal of the trip is some very good Cantonese cuisine at the airport.
Day 11 – Worked all day to get caught up from the show. Verizon’s data service here stinks, a pale comparison to my old AT&T service (of course, that is reversed in the USA, which is why I switched). Many emails did not come through to my blackberry. I also discovered that Verizon is charging me $2/minute to RECEIVE CALLS. This was one of the specific questions I asked before adding the “China plan” for this trip. I have already written about how woefully trained their salespeople are, and this takes the cake. Since the trip began, I have been receiving calls from clients, family and friends – including a call a 3 AM from a client who had missed I was not in USA. My team in the USA is having words with Verizon about this, but let’s just say, it was a cute phone bill. China Mobile by comparison, charges nothing to receive an international call. Heck, their rates to MAKE an international call are less than Verizon. So, if you want to get in touch with me, send me an email and I’ll give you my China Mobile number.
I join Mike and Adam Supernant for dinner at a local place in Liantang.
After dinner I was invited to join some of our Chinese co-workers at a nightclub. I was flattered to be invited and went along. After several hours, I had my first run in on this trip with the dreaded Mao’s Revenge. I am trying to tell it like it is for those of you who don’t travel overseas, and if this strikes you as TMI, it isn’t. You need to know what you are in for.
While western style “sitters” are becoming more common, squatters still dominate. In a sense this is good, as sitters are not as sanitary ( I mean, everyone else is sitting there too). But when you’re in an emergency situation and you are not used to squatters, this can get dicey fast. My advice for survival in these situations:
- Wear sensible shoes with good rubber shoes – I prefer Blundstones.
- Wear jeans. Avoid khakis – not the color issue but the way the pockets are cut. I always keep everything – wallet, keys, passport, phones – in the front pockets of my jeans.
- This is a very uncommon position for a Westerner. I have pretty strong calves and thighs, and have learned how to balance, but if you never done it before, try it and hold the position for 2-3 mins. It takes some getting used to and you don’t want to find out the hard way you can’t do it. Luckily the squatting position is more conducive to the situation at hand, and so things tend to go quickly.
- Carrying a small packet of tissues is a good idea. Toilet paper in a public restroom anywhere in the world is never a given. Handkerchiefs and socks (single use of course) will do in a crisis.
- Carry a bottle of prescription Lomotil or the generic. I always do and there is no OTC medicine that comes close. It WILL stop the drama.
My evening cut short, off to sleep. Day 12 is Sunday, market day in Liantang, and Mike and I head to Mian Dian Wang, or “Noodle Snack King”, my favorite fast food chain in the world. 14 line cooks actually making the food by hand. Total cost of the meal is about 60 RMB, or less than $9.
That evening, Mike threw a dinner party at his home. It was great to see old friends and an even better meal. Simply the best food I’ve ever eaten in China. Mike’s wife and the maid did all the cooking.
Day 13 – Monday – Last night there was a little too much “medicinal wine”. Whenever you hear that phrase, run screaming in the other direction. After such an amazing meal, we needed something basic to calm the acid seas, so off to Subway (yes, really). A steak and cheese later and all is right with the world. With some lingering Mao’s, I head to the apartment to work from home. It was a glorious day, 70 F and clear blue skies with a light breeze.
Later Mike asked me over to finish up the leftover ingredients from the dinner party – there was no left over dishes, just raw materials. This is the modest result.
Two customer visits tomorrow and time at the factory.
All for now…