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17 Nov 2011

中国人一定要购物,不愿意在酒店,餐饮和服务上花钱

Posted by yunnangirl. No Comments

“中国人一定要购物,不愿意在酒店,餐饮和服务上花钱!” 这是一个WILDCHINA的资深导游告诉我的。她特别期望WildChina开始做不同的出境服务,但是又很善意的警告我:

“中国人还是和外国人很不一样。我带过一些国内素质很高的客户,至少他们不再随地吐痰,大声喧哗,他们都已经不愿意参加那些欧洲10天8国游了,都在等着找点新的。但是,他们也还是要去大家都去的地方,买大家都买的东西,只是想别那么赶那么累,罢了。咱也别太新了,比如去了美国不去拉斯维加斯是不行的。而且,购物还是要有的,否则,等他们回了家,没买到什么珍珠粉,维他命,或者去趟德国,没买到德国的菜刀,他们还怀疑是不是去错了地方。为什么别人都去了的地方,我错过了?”

“我替朋友带团出国做领队,国外当地的导游都骂我,让我不能对中国游客那么好,对游客太好了是管不住团的。他们都说,一定不能听游客的意见。Wildchina的客户第一的服务精神拿来伺候中国客人,一定是不行的。“

她的这一席话让我感慨了很久, 主要有几点

  1. 我觉得这里描述的中国游客要参团,一定要在自由女神前拍照,一定要最实惠地多走几个地方,不是中国人特有的,而是世界特有的。这叫旅游的大众市场,是旅游金字塔的最强大的基石。世界上的很多发达国家曾都有这个市场,而且仍然存在。 美国1969年有一部人人皆知的电影叫:If it’s Tuesday, This must be Belgium. 翻译过了叫“今天是星期二的话,那我们一定是在比利时。”电影描写的就是60年代,美国人刚刚开始到欧洲去旅行,因为好不容易出次国,所以一定要好好利用这个机会,多走几个地方。他们当时的团才448.5美元-18天9国欧洲游!咱们中国人更不怕苦,所以可以10天8国 (当然梵蒂冈也算一国吧。)。 是随着时间的迁移,大家旅游经验的增加,才慢慢意识到,这种旅行真累!还可以参团,但是别那么赶。
  2. 旅游购物也是人之常情。 人旅行时喜欢买东西也是很可以理解的,买家乡买不到的。我自己就在乌兰巴托买了差不多一万元的羊毛衫,给家人朋友都买了一件。为了买东西,把去博物馆的行程都取消了。为什么,他们的羊绒质量特别好!昨天一个朋友说在美国发现了一个商店叫 WHOLE FOODS, 里面的东西好极了,全是质量可靠的有机产品,什么婴儿洗发水,维他命,之类的,一定得排到行程上。(其实这家店就是美国中上层人士的京客隆,以有机蔬菜水果肉类而出名。) 是啊,中国有机产品没人相信,也难怪大家都愿意在国外消费,LV 店里的包总假不了吧。
  3. 但是,我反感的是零团费的进折扣店购物。 我坚决相信,零团费的团,永远不能为高端市场服务。这个经济模式有一个最根本的问题,它本身在刺激导游引导你买不该买的东西,或者出更多的钱看什么无聊的秀。

    如果一个导游总在心里攒着怎么让客人多购物,那他很难把心思用来客服上。就好像不给医生付诊断看病费,而让医生从卖药来挣回扣一样。结果如何?有病没病,先开500块钱的药,打打点滴再说。感冒也打点滴?不该开的药也得给你开一大堆,不该照的X光也让你多照。 从此,因为大家都照了X光,而我不照就是亏了。

    美国的医疗体系,尽管有她自身太多的问题,但是医生收取高昂的诊费至少保证了他没有必要让我吃不该吃的药。

    当然,这也不仅仅是中国的问题。在很多国家,比如埃及,游客购物,导游拿回扣也是常事。在美国,导游从大峡谷imax影院拿到折扣票,全价卖给游客,也是常有的。旅游没有涉及到生死的那么大问题,但我觉得旅游行业过于激烈的低价竞争最终受苦的是消费者。

    再者,购物和附加演出都是很容易规模化,佣金化的旅游项目。这无疑产生了更大的经济动力鼓励旅游行业朝丽江模式发展吗?那么,对环境和资源消耗小一些的生态旅游和其他的可持续旅游,自然而然地就处于劣势。

  4. 最后一点就是对服务的态度。中国人太多,愿意提供服务的人很多,所以人工便宜,大家都对服务提供者不用太尊重。大家都不觉得导游有太多的技术含量,所以在美国,可以把中餐馆里洗碗的叫出了,换件衣服,开个车,就是司兼导。其实,很多这样的导游完全生活在一个美国社会的华人圈里,对很多美国社会怎么运转并不是很了解。但问什么不能有一些对美国社会更了解的人做导游呢?价钱!又回到零团费或低团费的团,旅行商不可能按照美国的基本工资付导游费。中国的游客也接受不了按劳动小时付费的情况。结果,才会出现,导游和游客常常对立,对服务不满而纠纷。客导双方都有责任。

整个行业有改的希望吗?其他模式的旅行有存在空间吗?

 

 

15 Nov 2011

Impressions from Beijing – 6 experiences that surprised me in China

Posted by yunnangirl. No Comments

1. Beijing’s got blue sky. Here’s the proof on the left. 

  1. 2. Milk delivery and bill collection. My door bell rang at 5:40am this morning, I stumbled out of bed to peek through the keyhole, aha, it’s the milk delivery man.   I opened the door, and said, “That’s an early delivery.”. He said, “yes, but I am also here to collect payment!”.  “how much?” I asked. “RMB 840.” (USD 130) How was I supposed to have that much cash at this ungodly hour?  “I’ll pay you next week.” “OK” he said, and I closed the door behind me, and went back to bed.  I love the fact that I can get everything delivered at no extra charge, but what happened to online payment? Nope, it’s all cash upon delivery, at any hour of the day!

 

  1. 3. A permanent conversation topic – food safety It’s a safe conversation starter with any parents in China. where do you source healthy food items? Where do you buy chicken, celery, or milk.  Yes, the supermarket is stocked full with large varieties of these, but no one really trusts them. So, we searched, and found, Wonder milk (full or low fat), they don’t make them in skim or in cartons larger than half a quart.  Apparently, the organic chicken should come from BHG supertmarket. I had some super sweet chestnuts the other day, and wondered if they soaked the nuts in artificial sweetner ahead of time.  Eat, but keep on questioning.

4. A well thought through road sign.  This is the sign that’s in front of our apartment. My son discovered it.  Whoever made this sign gave it a lot of thoughts, and decided to lay out the letters from left to right to match the direction the sign was pointing to.  Reading from left to right, it says:  ”Beijing of Hospital Force Police Armed People’s Chinese” , but try it the other way. Genius!

5. Every Chinese is traveling the world.  Went back home in Yunnan the other day, and my aunt told me that she was going on a leisure trip to Dubai! She’s usually a good parameter on where the hot destinations are.  A selection of a few places she went in the past 5 years: America,  新马泰 (Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand on one trip.), Japan, 欧洲10国 (10 European countries), and Russia. I have no doubt she’ll be headed towards the Maldives, and Maritius soon.  By the way, the 7 day Dubai, air inclusive journey costs around RMB 7000. (USD 1100).

 

6. The automated verification process on Chinese internet.  Usually, on craigslist, you are asked to key in a few jumbled letters to verify that you are a human, not a machine.  In China, the process requires higher level of intelligence. For example, 16+20=?, please type in two numbers that’s the answer to this equation.  Example two, what’s the capital city of Russia: please input 3 characters to answer this question. (莫斯科 is the right answer)。

6. Kids study hard. “Ayi, it only takes me two hours to complete my homework!” a nine year old boy told me proudly.  I had to ask his parents to make sure that I heard him right. “Yes, it takes other kids 3-4 hours to do homework, so he’s very proud!”. WOW, how are the American kids going to catch up?

 

 

29 Aug 2011

Impressions of Beijing, 1

Posted by yunnangirl. 2 Comments

It’s been 2 weeks since I landed in Beijing, with the whole family in tow, pursuing my dream of another startup in the land of opportunities.

Welcome to Beijing

Since when, China replaced the United States to be the land of opportunities? I don’t think I am alone with this view.  Someone from Mars Bar candy company rented my house in the US, and as it happened, he just relocated to America after a 4 year posting in Beijing. He and his wife looked at me with eyes of envy, and said, “oh, you’ll love it there in Beijing.  There are so many opportunities; it’s a lot easier to make money there. The US is too mature and steady, hard to find a break in the market.”

After one week in China, my son declared one morning. “I both hate China and love China! I hate China, because people drive insanely dangerously, and they don’t stop for you.  I love China, because China has awesome pools!”. Well, school hasn’t started, so the kids daily outing was to try out different fancy pools in different hotels/gyms before we decide which gym to join.  The pools all come with hot tub and fresh towels, and someone forever vigilantly wiping away water dripped on the floor.

Many Chinese friends from years ago have now prospered. Almost everyone has a car, and many have more than one child.  We went with one family to a fancy swimming pool in the CBD area. (Central Business District).  My 8 year old boy jumped into the pool like a fish, and went off with his laps.  He took off with butterfly stroke.  I watched him, with the smile of a proud mother. This is the whole summer’s work with the swim team in our local community pool in the US.

My friend looked at him, and said, “He’s pretty good, he’ll be able to catch up with the swim team after a few sessions.”.  WHAT????  My friend didn’t notice my shock at all, and simply went on to recommend the best swim coach in town.   We signed on with the coach immediately.

After a few training sessions, my son started to whine about going to swim practice, trying to wiggle his way out of it. “He makes us swim more than 500 (ft), and we couldn’t get out of the pool in between laps. We were in the pool the whole hour!”

“Hey, this is China!” I said. “There are a lot of people and you have to try a lot harder to compete.”

“I don’t like China, I like America better.  I like swimming in America.  It’s more fun there.” He continued.

“Well, that’s why China is beating America in everything.” I felt like a Tiger mom/China hater/panda hugger/radical, all at the same time.

I quickly changed the topic, leaving no impression that he could get out of the swimming.  Of course, I chose not to mention that Michael Phelps came through a similar community pool system in Baltimore.

Parenthood exists in muddy water; bi-cultural living is also in muddy water. I’ll let the water be, hoping it’ll clear up somehow, maybe with the force of nature.

13 Apr 2011

6 tips traveling with kids in Asia

Posted by yunnangirl. No Comments

One of the perks of my job is traveling with my kids. Over the years, I’ve saved up a few tips to share.

Fish Spa in Cambodia

1. Slow down the Pace and allow kids (and yourself) down time.
We tend to feel pressured to pack too many things into one day’s travel plan. The pressure is well justified as we are often talking about thousands of dollars of plane rides for the family, so get as much as you can.  But, in the end, kids get grumpy, parents are exhausted. To me, that’s a lose/lose situation.  So, I often plan just one major outing for each day, and have the rest of the time for hanging out.  Take Cambodia as an example, the temples can get repetitive really quickly.  So, I made a deal with the kids, one temple a day! That plus the time they spent watching monkeys in the temple grounds would usually take us to noon, then, we grab a nice lunch in one of the road side restaurant, back to hotel for the baby to nap, the older kids for an afternoon movie, while I get a massage.  Then it’s pool time, followed by excursions for dinner and ice cream in local markets.
2. Stay put in a place at least 2-3 nights before moving.
city hopping was driven by the same pressure.  I got to see everything! . Wrong. it burns out the kids and you. Stay at a place a little longer so they develop a sense of routine, which calms them down.
3. Try to take 1 or 2 kids on a special “date” trip with mommy or daddy.
We often travel as a whole family entourage for chrismas and spring break, but through out the year, I try to take the kids on separate trips to match their time and interests. The younger ones could afford missing preschool for long stretches at a time. So, I took them to China with me for 6 weeks, slow pace of travel worked great. We covering Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Cambodia.  Then I didn’t want the older child to feel left out, took just him on a cruise to patagonia as observing animals/hiking in nature was his love, while if we had the little ones, we wouldn’t have been able to do as much.
4. Choose a hotel or cruise that’s kids friendly and also with family clientele.

A lodge or cruise sounds great, until you discover that your kid might be the only child among large groups of baby boomers. That puts too much pressure on the parents to constantly provide entertainment. It’s best, when on a cruise, your child finds a pal to play cards, chess or watch movie with.
5. Whenever it’s affordable, take a guide, sometimes they can double as sitter.
I’ve found this often possible on my travels. Most guides in China, Cambodia are so eager to help that they are willing to spend time to help out with the kids.  I had 3 kids with me at the Great Wall, the oldest one ran fast, while the baby was still in my arms. So the guide willingly took the hand of the middle child and helped her up and down those steep stairs. Same thing as in Cambodia, I hired a guide for the day, but was done with touring by lunch time, so the guide happily played games with the child back at the hotel. It’s often fun to see the kids learning different games from different cultures.
6. Favor houses and villas over hotel, favor places with a pool.
I always needed a microwave to heat up milk at 6 am.  Some times kids want to climb into my bed.  Hotels just don’t work as well with 3 kids.  Houses always! Pool is always a lifesaver!

31 Mar 2011

Why do I love traveling?

Posted by yunnangirl. No Comments

In addition to the gorgeous scenery, pampering spa, exotic cultures, I believe it’s also because of the fresh feeling of “suspending my life” for just a few days.

Last night, I heard a good writer David Ignatius articulate the situation in Egypt. That, strangely enough, reminded me of travel.

“In January, there was a feeling of euphoria.  All of a sudden, the common people felt that they were living a different life; it was exhilarating in Tahrir Square. You could now take risks that you normally wouldn’t; everything was possible. Two months later, the square was littered with trash. The euphoria was gone.  Life returned to normal. I am still jobless, and there is no police, crime’s going up.”

It struck me that travel was just like a mini version of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, regardless of where I go.

One of my favorite things to do back in China was to go back to Yunnan, find a little village like Shaxi. Check into a little lodge, take my camera and wander around.  Take a walk along the beautiful stream running through the village; roll up my sleeves and offer to help the farmer planting rice in the paddy fields; sit down for a cup of tea in an old horseman’s house and learn about the traditions of the tea and horse caravan road; hike up the mountain to examine the fine figurines of Jianchuan Shibaoshan Grottoes.

In doing so, I relax, I smile, I get into a zone of “travel high”.

The question is why? Yes fresh air helps. More importantly, it’s because I put my daily duties of running a business, being a mom on hold. I forgot to fuss over how many people commented on my facebook posting. I stop to worry whether I weighed half a pound more or less than yesterday.

It was my mini-revolution. I could now, at this very moment, imagine being a photographer, a historian, a writer, an anthropologist, an explorer, an artist. Basically being in all the professions that I’ve always wanted to be, but couldn’t be.  Oh, there are many reasons why I couldn’t. I don’t have the talent; these professions don’t make money; or because I went to Harvard Business School.

So, I return to my normal life after a week, return to the routine of school pickups/dropoffs, running business, savoring the euphoria of travel.

A few weeks later, I take off again, for another mini revolution. This time with kids and family.  This time, I would suspend my daily life as a “do-your-homework-now” mom, and change for a week, into a loving, all-attentive, let-mommy-rub-some-sunblock-on-you-sweetie mom.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my daily routine, I have a great family and a great job. Travel is simply additive.

25 Mar 2011

Wealthy Chinese Table etiquette: Who should order at dinner?

Posted by yunnangirl. No Comments

I know I have become too American, as I allowed my dinner guests to order for themselves.

Back in Beijing, I lead a different life. Unlike the steady pace of office/school pickup/homework/dinner/bed routine, Beijing trips often are filled with a frenzy of meetings, lunch and dinner appointments.  This seems to be fitting with the pace of America and China, serves me just fine.

One day, I had lunch with a Chinese government-official-turned-businessman, and then dinner with a couple who loved traveling around the world.

Usually, when setting up the appointment, it’s somewhat indicated who 请 whom.  That means who is inviting whom. The Inviting party picks the restaurant and is usually expected to pick up the bill afterwards. It’s considered extremely embarrassing for Chinese to work on splitting the bill after a meal.

My lunch date made it very clear that he’s 请ing me.  So, he picked me up from my office, with a black Audi A6. I had no idea where we were going. He drove a short distance to Shunfeng, a hugely expensive Chinese seafood restaurant frequented by government officials and traditional businessmen.

The small parking lot in front was already packed with black Audis or Bentz. A young man was attentive directing us to the back parking lot, and escorted us into the restaurant. All the waitresses wear light makeup, bright yellow or red Chinese dresses, hairs put up high in a bun, with 3 chopsticks sticking out of their hair buns. They reminded me of peacocks.

My friend ordered for both of us, as I wasn’t even presented a menu.

“Could you please do not order any Abalone for me? I honestly don’t like it.” Knowing my friend, I had to speak up.

“What about sea urchins?” my friend asked.

“No, I don’t like sea urchins either. I am actually really happy with some good vegetable.” I insisted. Truthfully, I grew up in the mountains of Yunnan and never had much of a taste for exotic seafood.

“I ordered plenty of vegetable, but you should have some Abalone. It’s good, particularly baby ones cooked in a porridge.” My friend insisted, and pushed ahead with two orders.

The dishes came. Excellent plain boilded shrimp, and outstanding vegetable and fish. The only dish I didn’t like – Abalone Porridge. The worst of all, I drank the porridge and left the baby abalones in the bowl.  Thinking back, I probably insulted my host to an unbelievable degree. The abalones I left in my bowl probably cost a migrant worker’s monthly salary! And I just left them for the sewer.

I never saw the bill, and vaguely remember we talked about high-tech investments.

Learning from my plight at lunch, when my guest took charge of the dinner menu, and said, he knew what his wife liked, I let it be.

This time, it was more or less understood that I would pay.  I chose the Chinese restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel because I was staying there.  I met them at the hotel lobby.

He picked a few dishes, a plate of tea-smoked chicken, a serving of pig ear salad (yes, real pig ears, marinated, and slow cooked, and sliced so they didn’t look like ears anymore), a green vege dish, and something else I don’t remember.  The only thing I remember was that the chicken wasn’t very good.  But, we were too busy talking; I didn’t pay any attention to the food.

They just returned from their skiing trip to northern Japan. So, I wanted to know all the details of how they survived the earthquake. They said they didn’t feel a thing, and the flights were normal as well. Conversation went on to how to find the hidden lodge in Chile, or scheming a time to go skiing in Vale.

Whenever we talk about travel, I can’t stop talking. Never did it occur to me that maybe I should have ordered more dishes or ordered some fancy dishes.

Late at night, I picked up the tab, RMB 585 (USD 90).  (That in Beijing is considered a fairly small amount for treating guests.) This couple bundled up and walked home.

Only later did I realize what my dinner guests had done. They knew that I wouldn’t let them pay, so they took charge of the ordering and kept the dishes to a few simple dishes. If I were a true Chinese hostess, I should not have allowed that to happen. I should have taken charge and ordered exotic and expensive items to show my respect for them.

I didn’t. The dinner guests knew me well enough to know how much I respect them.   I know they eat simple meals everyday. I also know they read with a ferocious appetite, and know every piece of classical music intimately well. They often walk, leaving their expensive Volvo SUV at home.

They are one of the very few wealthy Chinese who would do so.

11 Feb 2011

WILDCHINA 的旅游精神是从那里来的?

Posted by yunnangirl. 5 Comments

昨天跟中国日报英文版的一个编辑作了一个访谈。讲旅游的新趋势,等等。在采访快结束的时候,记者问我什么时候到美国居住的。 “5年”我说;她又接着问,“那以前就没有到过美国吗?”我又加了两年,把以前念书的时间也算上了。 她再次仔细地确认,“那您一共在美国7年?”。

我还在奇怪她为什么对数字那么感兴趣,她就接着说,“那能不能说您作WILDCHINA的旅游观,是受了美国文化影响才形成的?”

这个问题让我非常不高兴。我第一次到中甸是1990年,那时候得从昆明坐两天的公共汽车才到。我住在藏族朋友的家里,自己打车去了纳帕海。那里唯一遇上两个外地人,其中一个是现在蛮有名气的野生动物摄影师奚志农。如果我问奚志农他排野生动物是不是有美国文化的影响,一定得把他也给气晕了。

我不明白,WILDCHINA的精神在于,深度旅游,强调回归自然,强调与当地村民的进距离交流。这不用到美国学习。她问我动力来自那里。 我告诉她,动力来自本身对自然和人文文化的好奇,强烈的求知欲,还有,就是中国传统文化的熏陶。

抬起头看见我办公室墙上挂着的毛笔字,是一首李白的诗

问余何事栖碧山

笑而不答心自闲

桃花流水然去

别有天地非人间

这样的修身养性的意境,跟WILDCHINA所追求的意境是非常相似的。追求的是接近自然,欣赏自然,借自然的力量来疗养身心,已达到自身意境的提高。从自然出发,我对旅游的偏好更倾向走访小山村,寻访当地的文化艺人,或者是徒步外人没听说过但当地很有名的寺庙;去这样的地方给我带来的愉悦远远超过到纽约这样的大都市。比如到大理南边的巍宝山,跑到山顶,跟那里的道士一起喝杯道家茶,聊聊天,我觉得那是最幸福不过的一件事。

可能在很大程度上,我对旅游的个人嗜好在WILDCHINA 的基因里。物以类聚,人以群分;自然而然,WILDCHINA吸引了一批对旅游有同样体会和嗜好的客户和员工。

让我困惑的是,为什么这样的旅游方式被诠释为美国进口文化?是从什么时候开始,中国人的旅游等同于旅游大巴,进店,团队自助餐,啤酒可乐瓶子满地,游客吵吵嚷嚷,大大咧咧,走马观花。而WILDCHINA追求的,跟古诗和山水画描述的旅游意境一致的旅游确被视为舶来品?

我想了半天,想出两个可能,但是,并没能最终解决我的困惑。

1。 我们目前的客户大多是讲英文的外国人。为什么没有中国客户呢?第一,我们的收费高。往往,我们的客人一天的最低收费都在2000人民币左右,而在中国人在国内旅行,自己觉得不用花那么多钱。我们服务的卖点,细致入微的量身定制,我们很环保的操作,带客人去他们自己去不到的地方,请当地知识最丰富的导游或专家作向导, 24小时的服务。 因为有这样的服务,我们的外国客户还真不少,好莱坞巨星罗伯特 德 尼罗, 前任联合国主席科菲 阿南; 还有最近美国脸书facebook 的CEO 马克 撒德波格。但是,在国内旅游提供类似的服务,好像没有什么市场。

为什么呢?首先,国人对高端旅游服务的认可程度尚在初级阶段,往往把旅游和简单的买机票,订酒店联系到一起。愈演愈烈的价格竞争让人忽略了对服务和旅游体验的关注。 一提及旅游,大家往往想到的是去携程网找折扣,那什么都可以预定。 其次,为了凸显个人人际网落,去旅游总是喜欢找关系, 再高端的酒店,或许一个电话找到它的投资人,打个5折,这才显得我的重要性。 第三,时常为了彰显身份,去旅游还不得办个政府接待?动用地方关系,专家,村民表演一应俱全,但往往劳民伤财。WILDCHINA几乎就没有存在的意义。

国内旅游还是处于初级阶段。初级阶段的旅游主要目的还是“某某到此一游” 的精神,图的是名——我去了多少多少地方,以此作为向亲朋好友炫耀的资本。这才导致了一周七国游类似的旅行线路。这个阶段旅游服务需求只是基本的吃饱喝足,最好有朋友一起热热闹闹的。跟徐霞客和李白主张的旅游境界是大相径庭的。

旅游的更高一阶段,就开始追求对旅游目的地的更多了解,放慢旅行的速度。可能出行前还有可能对目的地先研究研究。 最高阶段,才是李白诗里所描述的境界——自身意境的提高。旅行是为了探索心灵的更深处。这时候,往往愿意一个人去徒步环绕岗仁博齐神山,有时间思索。或者是去一个意大利骑自行车,晚上把车子一停,住在一个历史悠久的古堡里,仔细品味葡萄酒。或者,到东非的某个村子里,帮助那里的孩子修修学校。作所有的这一切,都不是作给别人看的, 是为了提高自身。用国内比较难听的话就是,提高自己的素质!

我期待着更多的中国游者能尽快走上旅游的最高境界。这样别人就不再说WILDCHINA的旅游精神是美国进口的了。

11 Oct 2010

Adventure Travel World Summit Opening by Mei Zhang of WildChina

Posted by yunnangirl. 2 Comments

When I first came to the Adventure Travel World Summit in Quebec last year, I didn’t know anyone. I was one of two people from China. And the other person, I didn’t know either. So I had no idea what to expect. I was feeling a bit like an outsider.

Then I went on the beautiful adventure day hike, donned on my comfy Eddie Bower down jacket. On the hike, I met my best friends since, Judith Fein, and Andy Levine (@Duvine) We shared the joys and pains of running your own business, and shared tips on how to crack open the Travel + Leisure A List. I was feeling like, hey, I like this. This is a bunch of hiker/business people that I could hang out with. It’s sort of like my tribe.

Over the next few days, I met more people; shed tears over other people’s travel stories. And most importantly, fell in love with adventure travel business again.

I don’t know about you, but for me, when back at home base, I often get bogged down by the mundane details of a cancelled flight, a 3am client phone call or the balancing act of figuring out staff year end bonuses. The business often became just another business, with the glamour and fun of adventure already worn off.  It’s at times like this, I asked myself why I was in this business. It’s a lot of work and it doesn’t pay much. I could be a venture capitalist in a different life.

Then I come to an event like this one, and realize that I just love connecting with people. I love the great outdoors and enjoy sharing with others what I love. How lucky I am to be able to make a profession out of a hobby? And, even better, there are a lot of us like minded people here. We are the lucky bunch, and we just love what we do!

So, when Shannon invited me to join the ATTA advisory board, I was delighted. Now I have more excuses to go on adventures, connect with like-minded people. Just like last night, I met Frank Murphy from Tahiti. How often do you get to meet someone from Tahiti? Not to mention someone with an Irish last name (@tahitimurphy)?

The them of this year’s Summit is Share & Inspire. I want to remind us all that sharing and inspiring is a two way communication. Everyone has a story to tell, and a simple story may inspire another person in a way you didn’t expect. So, I want to encourage all of you to extend your hand and meet the one next to you. Share your story and enjoy the conference. And who knows, next year, you may be on stage doing what Praveen and I are doing right now.

29 Jul 2010

If this is your first and only time to China, where should you go?

Posted by yunnangirl. 2 Comments

A twitter post responding to WildChina’s message prompted this blog piece. @Chinaandbeyond said:

I would trade Yunnan for Gansu or Sichuan, personally RT @WildChina: First and only time to China? This is The Trip: http://bit.ly/csCDGq

Let me decipher this for those who don’t tweet: WildChina recommended a trip that goes to Beijing, Xi’an, Yunnan and Shanghai for those who are traveling to China for the First and only time. That link is a condensed link that goes to our website with the trip details.

Then @Chinaandbeyond account’s owner Ms. Jessica Marsden shared WildChina’s recommendation to her followers. And she also added her own commentary that she would trade Gansu or Sichuan for Yunnan.

What can I say? I am biased! I am from Yunnan, with a virtual identity called @yunnangirl! Everytime when a client calls me, I talk about Yunnan. That’s home to me. I can smell Yunnan if farmers burn the remaining rice stocks in their fields; I can hear Yunnan, even when I overhear visitors at the Smithsonian speak the local dialet; I can taste Yunnan, when I cut up mustard greens to make a jar of Yunnan Suancai pickles. It is in my blood.

And, I happen to be a lucky Wendy Perrin China Specialist, so I get to advise people who are interested in seeing China. Naturally, carrying the tradition of Yunnan hospitality, I want people to visit my home town, visit those villages where I grew up, and taste the spicy and sour cuisine, hike the mountains that I still dream about. More importantly, I want them to meet people of Yunnan.

How would I describe people of Yunnan? 纯朴,勤劳,善良。I am struggling with English equivalents here.  Down to earth – hard working – and kind. The word has a 纯朴 connotation of being on the simple side in Chinese. But, I don’t take offense at that.

People in Yunnan grow up land locked. Generations of locals from various ethnicity carve out their living in small patches of land in between mountains and rivers.  So, either they farm, bent over their knees in the watery rice paddy fields, or they tilt the corn and potato fields on the steep mountains sides. Life in Yunnan has always been hard. The only wealth accumulated there is from trading, with Tibet, with Myanmar, Laos, and Viet Nam. This goes back hundreds of year, and the horse caravan trails lay witness to that.

For some reason though, in places so poor, the locals learned to cook these incrediblely tasty meals. Since the province is tucked between Sichuan to the North, and Laos/Thailand to the South, its cuisine is a lovely blend of those two. Spicy, but not numbing; Sour but won’t quite make your mouth pucker. Fresh vegetable and wild mushroom are god-sent blessing.

Hospitality is another side of Yunnanese that I love. Just recently, I traveled to a small town in Henan Province as a guest of the local government. Upon checking in, the hotel staff said that my ID wasn’t enough but insisted on me identifying the organization that invited me. I didn’t get the full name right, and she wouldn’t check me in. This was 2010?? The concept of party/government affiliation trumping personal identity is still in practice in northern China.

While in Yunnan, they hear my dialect, they’ll watch my luggage for me while I go out to pay the taxi; they’ll fish out my luggage from the behind the conveyer belt so that I could put my tea needle in the checked luggage pieces. I talked about this in my earlier blog.

The local villagers in Yunnan still greet you with this, “ 吃了吗?来家里坐!“ “Have you eaten yet? Come visit my house!”

I know, sadly, Lijiang is changing. See our WildChina blog piece on this. That’s all the more reason to visit the hidden treasures of China before they disappear.

26 Jul 2010

Travels that changed one’s life

Posted by yunnangirl. 2 Comments

I was munching on my chicken salad sandwich when my colleague popped into my office, “ Oh, sorry. Here you go. Conde Nast Traveler Magazine issue you’ve been waiting for!”.

I probably didn’t look my best in my small office in an old house on East West Highway.  At least, the munching image didn’t quite live up to the dream brought alive on the cover of the magazine:

“135 Travel Experts who can change your life (Trust Us!)

“FANTASTIC GETAWAYS! Living the Dream in Italy, India, Kenya, Eypt….”

I wiped away the crumbs, and turned the magazine to page 120.  Yes, there I was, for the first time, chosen by Conde Nast’s Wendy Perrin as one of the travel experts for China.

“Zhang wants to show you the “authentic China” beyond anything you’ll read about in guidebooks, and—as a Yunnan Province native, Harvard MBA, and former consultant for The Nature Conservancy—her vast Rolodex of in-country experts in nearly every field can make this happen…and get you farther off the beaten path than any other company can. Her cultural connections run deepest in Southwest China—Yunnan, Szechuan, and Guizhou provinces—where you might find yourself having tea with a practicing shaman, catching a private Naxi music concert at the home of the village head, or camping in luxury mobile tents on the Tibetan Plateau ”

This news reached me last week by email. So, the initial excitement has since settled, but never the less, the pride brought by this listing is still ringing.

It was exactly, almost to the date, 10 years ago that I started WildChina. At that time, I was a couple years out of business school, still owning a couple of black suits that I wore to glassy office buildings in Hong Kong, New York and Beijing. Still was quite used to flying business class.

Somehow, Travel changed my life. I took some time off McKinsey to travel around the world. Puff, 4 months was gone without a blink. I was sitting in the cabin of an oil tanker truck (only choice for a hitchhiker), rocking my way up to the Tibetan Plateau from Kashgar. We rocked and rocked, I fell asleep and woke up. Wow, a whole night was gone. The snow-covered landscape replaced the desert where we started. But the milestones said, 125 km!! A whole night, we covered 80 miles in distanced, but close to 15,000 feet in elevation.

My heart started to beat faster, breathing became more labored, the landscape increasingly looking austere and moonish. The Tibetan antelopes galloped in the distance. I started to cry, for no reason. One was just touched by being so close to pristine nature. I knew there were risks, for me, being the solo woman traveler on that route. But I knew I was one of the lucky few, who had the money, the time, and the right passport (Chinese) to travel to these remote corners of Tibet.

Sometimes, I, woke from sleep in that rocking truck, stared out the window, and asked myself, “What if the truck tumbled over the edge? Is there one thing I would regret for not doing?”

The answer came back loud and clear, “Building my own business”.  That was the beginning of WildChina.

Travel, somehow, has had magic powers over me. I met my husband hiking the sacred pilgrimage trail around Mt. Kawagebo in Yunnan, I took my wedding party to hike from Salween River to the Mekong.

Then travel helped to change other people’s lives.  Recently, two clients got married on a WildChina trip. Two clients got engaged on a WildChina trip. We’ve helped families retrace the Burma Road commemorating their father’s journey in WWII.

After all the years of traveling, I think I am starting to understand the magic of travels. Somehow, when one’s on the road, one’s attention is so outwardly focused, that all you notice are people and things around you. After the outward focus, the inward reflection of oneself is much gentler, and not so judgmental of whether my office is in an old house or a shishi building downtown, or whether my munching is embarrassing.

Travel elevates one above the daily routine, and allows one to see the beauty of other people’s daily routine. One of my favorite moment recently was jogging in front of Shangrila’s Songtsam Lodge, while watching the Tibetan farmers shepherding their cattle to the fields. I am sure they didn’t think of their life was poetic and charming, as it was just hard work. But as a traveler watching them, I was loving that moment. That’s the illusion of distance- distance of reality, distance of geography, and distance of time. That’s probably the art of travel.

Anyway, back to my sandwich. I didn’t think my munching a sandwich at desk was any bit poetic, but more embarrassing. But, I know, give it another 10 years, I will reflect back on this moment, as one of the defining moment of launching WildChina in America.