Business books aplenty have been written on the importance of guanxi or relationships in China. And most of them are boring, so I won’t add to the pile.
From my personal experiences over the last 15 years in Asia, as a round-eye you build relationships by eating anything put in front of you and drinking too much. And bringing Purchase Orders.
Thankfully, I like nearly everything I’ve eaten in China. I’d traveled extensively in the USA, Mexico, Europe and Africa before I ever set foot in Asia, but my first night in Singapore in 1994 changed my whole life. And the food was what really hooked me. Prawn mee soup, jumbo prawns cooked in a banana leaf and Tiger beer at 2 AM in Newton Circus. I’d never seen any of this food before, didn’t know it existed, never seen a Chinese spoon, never used chopsticks, yet it was all like mother’s milk. I learned to use chopsticks in about 30 seconds, and to this day I eat noodle soup for lunch at least 3-4 days a week. Tiger is still my favorite beer.
From this experience, I’ve become a more adventurous eater (and drinker) than you’d expect for someone raised in Salem, VA. That adventurousness has served me well in China. When you visit a supplier, it is de rigour that you be hosted for a lunch or dinner banquet. Chinese street food is generally light and nutritious (oh, how I miss the vegetable dishes at the little restaurant around the corner from our office), but the banquet dishes are lavish, heavy and designed to show off and feel you out. Oh, and get you blind drunk in the middle of the day. The Chinese eat darned near anything, especially the Cantonese, so get ready for offal, strange ingredients and powerful flavors and scary textures.
If you hold up under this onslaught of unfamiliar cuisine and frankly toxic baijiu, you pass the test and provide your hosts with some entertainment. If you wind up in the hospital from food or alcohol poisoning, it is even more entertaining for them. But if you flat refuse to partake for anything other than religious reasons, you establish yourself as a wet blanket not to be taken seriously.
So what to do if you just cannot summon the courage to drink snake wine or eat pig brain soup? Option 1 – stay home and let the PassageMaker team deal with the vendors. Option 2 – come to China but let us arrange your trip and we’ll make sure you are not exposed to the scarier fringes of Chinese cuisine.
PassageMaker wants to make sure you enjoy your experience dealing with China, even if you never visit. And I frankly want to keep my record for days on an IV and days hungover after a banquet (4 and 5 respectively) intact.
P.S. – It’s really delicious. One of my favorite dishes. I’m serious.