More Impressions from Beijing

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?

 

 

Impressions of Beijing

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.

6 tips traveling with kids in Asia

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!

Wealthy Chinese Table Etiquette

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.

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

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: Chinese Treasures

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.

Is it OK to call your travel agent at 3:30am?

“Absolutely NO.” is my immediate answer.  But, we just did.

A travel agent called WildChina’s US at 3:30pm EDT, which makes it exactly 3:30am in the middle of the night in Beijing, to tell us that her client just notified her that her flight from Guilin to Beijing was delayed from midnight, and now she’d be arriving at 5am in Beijing.

Could WildChina make sure someone’s picking her up at that early hour?

My colleague and I looked at each other, and answered her firmly, “YES.”  Because that traveler is a WildChina client, and there is no way that we are leaving our travelers stranded at the airport after a full night’s delays to wait another 3 hours before their car ride comes.

But, to make it happen, there is no option but to call our Beijing office colleagues. To our happy relief, the staff picked up the phone, and said that she had been monitoring the flights and have adjusted the pick ups already. Clients are to be picked up at 5am!

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but feel myself getting emotional from this. How often in the corporate world, do you find a staff more dedicated to clients than the staff of WildChina?

If anyone called me at 3:30am, I’d be really mad!! By the way, my father and husband included. They know to avoid calling after 10pm my time. But this? A phone call from an overseas office in the middle of the night about a car pick up for somebody you’ve never met? She took it with such grace and professionalism! Her name is Maya Ren.

I guess I got emotional, particularly because the day before another WildChina staff found out that there was misunderstanding about the deadline of a VIP travel proposal. It was due on Wednesday US time. She found out at 10pm Beijing time Wednesday evening – that means, unless she pulls the all-nighter, there was no way she’d be able to deliver. I was almost ready to call the client and tell them to wait another day, but she and her teammate told me to wait. They would work on it then, and sleep the next day.

At 2am Beijing time, 2pm on Wednesday afternoon in New York, the beautiful proposal arrived in client’s email box! Their names are Amy Sun and Sunshine Shang.

I was rendered speechless by the amazing commitment from the WildChina team in Beijing. Thank you!

Wedding Hike

For those of us with cross-border marriages, it often involves two weddings to cater to family and friends on each side. We had gotten married a year earlier in the States, but my grandma wouldn’t take the paper issued by some foreign government as my marriage certificate. It had to be done properly. Her granddaughter had to be married out respectably.

So it’s time to plan a wedding in Yunnan. The logistical challenges of organizing a wedding are many. Starting from the simple most, flowers and wines. I have always had a preference for a western floral arrangement rather than a rigid Chinese bouquet, same with wines. I’ll pick a glass of red wine over Maotai (the fancy Chinese white spirit).  So I ended up cutting out pictures from wedding magazines, and taking them to the flower market to find a talented florist to do them. Fortunately, Kunming is China’s cut flower center.

Then it’s the wines. It’s no longer an issue today, as  you can find many western wines in Chinese supermarkets. But back then, the only wine import channels was 5 star hotels. So that’s what I did.

The most fun part was designing activities so that my Chinese relatives and our western friends could mingle. We decided to invite our wedding party on a 9 day journey from theSalween River valley across the snow mountains to the Mekong River valley.  My husband’s best man probably didn’t quite expect the hike to be so rigorous at such high altitude (10,000 ft), so he didn’t waste his precious hours to prepare for it.  He eventually make it up the mountain top with the help of two Tibetan guide and a donkey.

This wedding hike was the first trip organized under WildChina’s brand name. The images from this adventure accompanied me through the first year of WildChina’s creation, as sales aid. It is now one of WildChina’s signature adventure travel to China product: Hiking the 19th Century French Explorer’s Route. It launched our local Tibetan guide into a successful lodge business in Dimaluo village near one of the most beautiful Catholic Tibetan Churches.

The wedding after the hike was probably the best party in my life. Also made my grandma happy.

Nowadays, I go back to Harvard Business Every year to discuss the case study on WildChina, and they ask me if I had any advice for future entrepreneurs. I always say, “Leverage whatever you can, your friends and family as your first clients, and your own wedding as your first product!”

Proof? WildChina now helps other people with their weddings at the beautiful Aman at the Summer Palace! This photo at the top is from a beautiful couple who are WildChina clients.  For more of their photos visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30359491@N08/sets/72157624138596972/

Lonely Planet China guide is good looking with mediocre content

I was very impressed by the beginning of the Lonely Planet China Guide book. “the Best of China” page offered a quick summary of the classic highlights of the country that one should never miss – The Forbidden City and the Great Wall of Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, etc. The photos are beautiful. I also liked the section that introduced the writers, bringing a human face to advice they are dispensing.  Then the Rural China, Eat China, Hike China and Red China pages all offered some interesting sites, and are very helpful for those who want to venture off the Yangtze Cruise to experience the real China.

But, to me, it also demonstrated the lack of access due to language constraint. For example, the Hike China section is a bit limited. Having hiked most of the trails listed in that section, I beg to differ. For example, the Yubeng hike aka. Pilgramage trail to Mt. Kawagebo is among the most breathtaking and spiritual hike. WildChina team members first hiked in this area in the late 90s, and only now that trail is gaining some awareness among Chinese speakers. Not sure if the guide books’ outdated or the writer didn’t know about it. Either way, I think there could be a better guide on hiking ops in China.

Then I went straight for the section on lodging (called “Sleeping” in the guidebook) in Beijing. It is unfortunately written by a backpacker who is too well versed in adjectives such as “top notch”, “Elegance”, “gorgeous” “stunning”, “impressive”, “outstanding”, “splendid”, “enticing”.. I’ll save you the rest, but seriously, these words all appeared in 3 paragraph describing St. Regis, Grand Hyatt, and China World Hotel. You can basically randomly re-allocate these words, and the information you are getting won’t change a bit.

Obviously, the writer hasn’t stayed in any of these places.  I wish there is a bit more details like, The Made In China restaurant in the Grand Hyatt serves the best “Begger’s Chicken” and is one of the most interesting Chinese restaurants to dine in because of the open kitchen layout. You get to see the chefs tossing the greens in a wok alight with fire!  By the way, I think the Frommers Guide does a much better job with restaurants recommendations. Also, for families traveling with children, the China World Hotel Service Apartments offer the best option- with large rooms, ensuite kitchen, etc.

Also, among the top notch, I’d add the Opposite House for its zen like design and personal service. Not to mention the beautiful Aman at the Summer Palace. These are the more boutique hotels that really make Beijng an interesting destination to stay.

What got me most is the section on “Beijing for Children”. I have a feeling that the authors didn’t really travel to Beijing with kids. The hardest thing I found upon arriving in Beijing is how to kill the early morning hours due to jet lag. Two very important things for me: breakfast at 金湖茶餐厅 (GL Cafe Restaurant),and morning walks in Ritan Park. The Café is a 24hr Hong Kong style restaurant, very helpful at 4am when there is no other place to eat, and the kids are crying! They have branch locations next to the St. Regis and the China World. Hotel. And they have high chairs. Ritan Park is a major source of entertainment as it opens at 6am for the morning exercises- an entertaining place for the kids to watch others play badminton, or do taiqi. Maybe that’s me, but I need to have the jetlag bunch taken care off before I could think of ice skating in Beijing. A good source, follow @BeijingWithKids on twitter.

Taiqi lesson and fan making, are they tourist traps?

I saw a client email to my staff another day, requesting a series of changes to the itineraries we proposed. The clients email reads:

  1. There is a scheduled visit to the Temple of Heaven in the morning of the 3rd day, and it says learning Taiqi from a master. Please delete that, we are not interested in activities contrived for tourists
  2. There is a visit to a sturgeon farm in Yichang while I only want to go see the 3 gorges, and have no interest in sturgeons.
  3. Day 16 is a visit to Fuli. Fan making is of limited interest to us. What makes this an interesting place to visit?

As I read along, I knew we found the ideal clients – they are engaged, well traveled, and want to make sure they see the authentic China. Yet, I cringed, knowing very well that if my staff followed the email instruction to delete these activities, the clients will miss out exactly what they were seeking- the real china experience.  So I hopped on the phone.

Clients told me that they were seeking a couple of things: a/ a basic understanding of the history of China, b/contrast of the developed and developing parts of China to understand its diversity, c/ exposure to traditional China that’s unspoiled.

Why would WildChina staff arrange the guests to go to Temple of Heaven early in the morning to learn Taiqi? I remember the days when I lived in Beijing, one of my favorite activities is to go to Ritan Park at 6 am, and simply observe the Beijing residents do their morning exercises. Some would sing at the top of their lungs, some do fan dances, some would throw their bodies against a tree, some do Taiqi. It’s simply the best time to people watch and connect.

I went back to the park again with my 1 year old daughter strapped on my back in a carrier. Those old ladies in the park would walk up to me, grab my daughter’s thigh, and ask me in amazement? “孩子怎么这么胖?喂什么了?就喝你的奶呀?” (How can the baby be so fat? What do you feed her? She just drinks your milk?” I’ll save you the answer here, but the point is, these parks in the morning are the real china, fresh from a full nights sleep, people connect as real people, with little inhabitation or consideration of “cultural differences”.

Now the sturgeon farm near the Three Gorges. I was delighted to know when my staff first added this visit to the itinerary. My distaste for the Yangtze Cruise is well known at WildChina. I even spoke about this at the New York Times Travel Show earlier this year. There are better places to see the Yangtze River, but it’s most interesting to understand the environmental and economic challenges brought about by the dam. Visiting a sturgeon farm, for me, is a time when I get to meet the local entrepreneur to understand how their way of living changed because of the dam. When did they start the business, who do they sell to? How has that changed with the dam? To understand the real China, one has to get to these places that are off travel industry route to find out.

Now onto Fuli village near Guilin. The potential clients have never heard about this village, it’s not in tourist guidebooks, as most tourists on the Li River Cruise would bypass the village. That’s a blessing for the villagers, who still live a very traditional agrarian lifestyle, while hand make Chinese paper fans as a side business. Seeing how the local artisans carefully paint those fans is almost a Zen moment for me.

I remember when I was little, people told me that westerners pay more for hand-made things and less for machine-made things. I couldn’t understand why, because I was eager to trade in the cotton-soled shoes (棉底布鞋) that my grandma made under a dim light for a pair of pink plastic sandals! Now, I am willing to pay whatever to have one more pair of her 布鞋,if she were still around.

Strange how time changes, and how I long for the China I grew up with.

Yes, I am the sales person

These days, I seem to be doing a lot of traveling and a lot of talking. The traveling unfortunately does not take me to the mom and pop pickle store in Dali or breathtaking valley in Shangrila, but rather New York or Boston. The talking is less about traveling to China, more about why choosing travel as a profession. People tend to be very curious after they learned that I have a Harvard MBA and used to work for McKinsey as a management consultant.

Just last week, I took our young intern, Sammie, in the DC office along to Boston, because I was the guest speaker in the Harvard Business School classroom, where the MBA students were to beat up the WildChina case, and Sammie was eager to see what a famed MBA class looked like. I don’t know what she got out of the classroom, but I got something out of the journey.

I pre-warned Sammie that I traveled light, a carryon suitcase and a purse. No checked luggage. She came prepared. Well done, I thought, till we got to the security line. I breezed through the detector and was putting on my boots at the other end. Two people cut in front of Sammie, while she was busy removing her metal bracelets, belts, laptop, digital camera… She was obviously getting frazzled. I smiled at her, and told her she should watch “Up In the Air”.  George Clooney’ Ryan definitely got the airport system worked out, and that comes with repetition.

The Blue line subway station at the airport didn’t seem anything new to Sammie. She was used to subways rides in Beijing, where she studied at one of the top universities. “Downtown Crossing” stop was an eye opener, “ WOW, 美国的地铁怎么那么破呀?´ (Wow, How can American subways look so shitty!) Yes, the walls were dirty and covered with dust accumulated over the years, the lighting dim, and there was a musician playing guitar in a corner.  Her shock was well justified, who’d have expected to see subways of this condition in America, after riding the brand new lines in Beijing. The subways stations in Beijing all sport bright lighting, with colorful ads for the newest model of cell phone and nike shoes.
“Mei jie (sister Mei, that’s how she calls me), you walk so fast, you do this all the time? Is this what an entrepreneur does?”

I told her that the English word of “Entrepreneur” glorified my job. Entrepreneur is often translated into Chinese as 创业者,or企业家,but the version I like best is 个体户-single-unit-entity which sounds like GE-TI-HU. GE-TI-HU often reminds me the dumpling vendor in the old alley way not far from my apartment in Beijing. It was a husband and wife stall. They got up at 4am to start making the fresh dumplings for the day by hand. The first clients would arrive around 6:30am, and the last ones left around 8 or 9pm at night.  They mixed their own dough, cleaned all the tables, and washed all the dishes themselves. And they made a grand total of RMB 3000/month, about $350 in those days. They had a baby and thought they had the best lives, compared to their relatives back at home in the villages near Shanghai. I went back to look for them again last year, they were gone. Where their stall was is now the construction site of a new apartment building. I just hope they have a similar stall in other parts of Beijing, or back home.

On the trip, I told Sammie that my job is, “搞业务的” – Sales or Business Development in English. A long time ago, I never really understand what 搞业务的means in Chinese. Often, it conjures up the image of a young male in cheap suits, holding a fake leather case, handing out business cards with a huge smile on his face. After years of airport travel, subway rides, and rental car rides, I finally came to terms with this title for myself. Yes, 我是搞业务的。 I am a sales person, because I am proud of what I am selling – a different experience in China.  www.wildchina.com

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