Friday, September 29, 2006

Understandable, to a degree...

(sorry, this is a long one)

Well, I am in the middle of France about 200 km South of Paris. The last week or so has been both exciting and very stressful. I thought I would take a few minutes out of the day to breathe before my head explodes, and also to post so that I don't fall of the CBL top 10! Haha.

After our bomb squad experience in Frankfurt, we took the train to Hanover for the IAA exhibition, the worlds largest commerical vehicle (trucks and buses) exhibition. This was the start of a bad trip.

The three of the four Chinese guys with us made the trip to Europe for the purpose of going to this show. Unfortunately, almost all of the companies that they saw two years ago were not in attendance this year. This was disappointing for them, but the show was still interesting (well, about as interesting as truck containers and buses can be). Oh well... at least the Mercedes booth included a huge light and show production with singers and dancers.

One of the Chinese staff has been in a terrible mood this trip. One the first day he broke his glasses, making it nearly impossible to see. We tried to get him new glasses but we were told it would take at least one week, so we couldn't. After a few days he stopped leaving the guesthouse hotel (really just some lady's house where we stayed). Things got worse for him when he left the frames in the hotel when we left, and then two days later his cell phone broke!

Apparently many people in Europe are rather hostile towards Chinese people in the manufacturing business. The general feeling is that they copy and steal western designs, thereby stealing jobs from the US and Europe. At the show we were insulted by quite a few people saying, "god damned Chinese copiers", etc. This negative attitude was taking its toll on everyone, but especially the Chinese guys... what a personal insult!

After four days in Hanover we drove the length of Germany and crossed into France, near the Swiss border. We were visiting a company that we are in the process of purchasing, but the owner was insistant that the Chinese staff not enter his factory until the deal had gone through because he was scared they would just steal the designs and then we'd run. Consequently, three of the four Chinese staff had to sit in the car for the entire day! I would go out to check on them occasionally, and you could tell they were fed up. They couldn't even go for a walk because it was pouring.

Our next stop was Saint Amond Montrond (where I am now) in the center of France. We were planning on using this place (a company belonging to a friend of my boss's) as a staging area to visit many trash truck factories and garbage processing facilities (I know, doesn't it sound interesting?) around Paris that would be of interest to the Chinese guys (half of our company makes these trucks.) The appointments had all been made, but much to our surprise they were ALL canceled one or two days before! The reasons were never really given, but it was understood by everyone that it was because the factories were having second thoughts about having a group of Chinese walking around inside. One of the main reasons for these guys making the trip had now just vanished.

Since we couldn't take the Chinese guys to the factories, we brought them with us to the offices while we worked. Sitting around an office is a lot better than sitting in a car, but after six hours the guys needed to get out. They went for a walk outside, and wandered onto private property of the factory next door. Before you knew it, we had a very angry owner pounding on our door, demanding that the Chinese guys delete the photos they had been taking or he would have them arrested for trespassing on private property!

It was then that things got really bad. One of the cameras was handed over, but the other guy (the guy already in a bad mood from above) refused to acknowledge that he had a camera. I was yelling at him to give it to us so that we could avoid anyone being arrested (and causing bad problems for my boss's friend), but he just played dumb even though he clearly had a camera in his pocket.

The whole incident ended when I (furious at this point becuase I was just trying to help him) launched myself at him, restrained his hands, and struggled with him for the camera! I finally got it out of his grasp and I handed it over to the factory owner for deletion.

As much as I didn't like it, I understand his reaction. After 1.5 weeks in a country where clearly no one trusted me, and would not even conduct business with me because of my ethnicity, I think I would be slightly pissed off also. He had reached his breaking point and didn't care anymore.

We decided to put the Chinese guys on a train today to Paris so that they can spend the rest of the trip sight-seeing in Paris. At least its a whole lot better than sitting around an office all day doing nothing!