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!

Why do I love traveling?

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.

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.

Adventure Travel World Summit Opening by Mei Zhang

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.

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.

Travels that changed one’s life

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.

What do you do with the brick of tea?

You know what I am talking about! – That brick or disc of tea in the velvet box! What do you do with it?

A few years ago, we were living in LA. My dear father came from Yunnan to stay with us in America for the first time. He brought a few bricks of Yunnan Pu’er tea (普洱沱茶) as gifts for people. Literally, they look like a solid disc or brick that if you get wacked on the head, you’d bleed.

I held him back, telling him that Laowai (Chinese endearment for “foreigners”) really didn’t know how to appreciate tea, and they wouldn’t know what to do with the brick.  Finally, we were going to dinner at this famous screen playwright’s house for dinner, my dad insisted in bringing one brick and presented it to the writer. The writer was very polite and thanked my father. I never went back to ask what he did with it.

Let’s face it, the brick of tea is packed so dense, that I wouldn’t know what to do with it. It’s too big to boil as one serving of tea; it’s so hard that you need a hammer to break it; it makes a huge mess if you do that! So, all the bricks I have collected still mostly sit on my bookshelf, until yesterday.

A big background on Pu’er tea, this is one type of tea that Yunnan Province in Southwest China is known for. They brew into a strong dark brown colored tea. But, historically, this tea was always packed on horse backs and carried by caravan trademen over dare-devil terrain onto the Tibetan Plateau. There, they transfer into the famed Tibetan Yak Butter Tea.  Honestly, I prefer drinking Pu’er tea by itself without the yak butter part.  Nevermind my personal taste, Yak butter tea is an essential form of calorie for Tibetans. The transportation route became known as the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road. National Geographic magazine ran a beautiful article on this road, but I was hugely offended by the article left out Yunnan.

People from Yunnan still prefer to store tea in the same condensed brick form. In fact, it is said that the older the tea, the more valuable it is. So, many collectors are in search for decade old tea. There are tea connoisseurs in China, as there are wine connoisseurs in the west.

Back in May, I walked into a tiny tea store in Heshun Old town in Tengchong, Yunnan. A young tea salesman told me that I needed a 解茶针,(needle for separating the tea). I had no idea that special equipment was available to do this job. He also explained that the tea brick was pressed together one layer at a time. So, adjust natural tendency to break off a chunk, one should carefully peel layers of tea horizontally.

I took the needle as a treasure and tucked into my purse. Hello?? How stupid is that!! I was caught at the airport security in Tengchong. To my amazement, the airport staff saw it on the imaging screen, and said, “Take the TEA NEEDLE out! It has to go in checked luggage. “Oh, no!” I groaned, knowing very well that I’d loose the needle, as no one had ever bothered to retrieve my check luggage for something like this.

Well, I was in for a surprise. People there knew that I couldn’t do anything with the tea if I didn’t have the proper instrument. So, they found my luggage, and now I have the tea needle in DC!

With tool in hand, I gave it a try yesterday, and was delighted with the result- now in a glass jar for future use. My son was busy playing with my iphone next to me. I tried to explain to him what I was doing, telling him about tea from mom’s hometown.  He simply ignored me. Never mind.

If anyone’s listening, WildChina’s tea journey with Jeff Fuchs is worth the experience.

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!