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