Saturday, October 28, 2006

Flying the Friendly (yet still unsafe) Skies

I was in Aaron's office today. He said he wanted to show me something, so he picked up his computer bag and pulled out a large steak knife. He then told me that he had taken the knife from a restaurant when we were in France, placed it in his bag, and forgotten all about it.

This bag is Aaron's carry-on bag for flying. He flew through Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, through Dubai, and through Beijing to Yantai. At each airport he want through a security screening of metal detectors and x-ray bag examination, and not a single security officer caught a large, steak knife with a 4-inch blade!

And these incompetent morons made me empty out my contact lens solution from my contacts case in London because they thought maybe it was some type of explosive!!

Friday, October 27, 2006

WTH Conversations Part III

My company has sold a very expensive peice of machinery to a company in Eastern Europe. We are sending three Chinese engineers there to assemble the machine for the European company. The following series of conversations regarding the travel plans of the engineers nearly caused my head to pop like a giant zit.

Act 1-
Me: "Please check the email that I just sent you. I found a flight on Saturday for the engineers to take and have given you all of the details. Make the booking today on the phone. After we have the visas, send some of our Beijing staff to their office to pay for the tickets in cash."
RPIMA (begins with Royal...): "Ok, no problem. I will inform you when it is done."

Act 2-
Me: "I never heard from you yesterday. Do we have the tickets?"
RPIMA: "Yes, we have booked them. On Friday we will know if we have the visas. If we do, we will purchase the tickets with cash."
Me: "Sounds good, thank you."

Act 3-
Me: "Good news. We were granted the visas. Please purchase the tickets we booked."
RPIMA: "There are no more tickets on Saturday."
Me: "But we had reservations (Seinfield, anyone?)"
RPIMA: "Well, we did not reserve those tickets from Aeroflot."
Me: "What? Why not. That was very important. (The other company) has spent a lot of money based on our arrival on Saturday."
RPIMA: "Well, you know, (Chinese president of the company)'s cousin is a travel agent in Beijing. We wanted to give him the business so we called him and asked about the tickets."
Me: "Ok, then what about the ticket he reserved?"
RPIMA: "Well, he only gave us a quotation on the phone, he did not make an actual reservation."
Me: "Ok, lets call the airline he quoted. Which airline is it?"
RPIMA: "He doesn't know."
Me: "He doesn't know? How was he going to purchase the tickets for us if he doesn't know what company it is?"
RPIMA: "Well, maybe he has a friend who would buy them."
Me: "You mean, he isn't the travel agent? What, he just was going to make some money from this and pay the real travel agent?"
RPIMA: "Sorry, he doesn't know."
Me: "I don't understand how I could have been more clear as to what I wanted done. I gave the exact details of the flight. This was very important and a late arrival is going to cost the other company lots of money. Now, I have to deal with a very angry woman yelling at me on the phone because her boss is yelling at her! FIX THIS!!!"

POP goes my head!! And I wonder why I am balding at 25...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I (heart) Hong Kong

I (heart) Hong Kong. I want to marry Hong Kong. If I were a woman, I'd want to have Hong Kong's children. If the year were 1964 and Hong Kong were appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, I'd be one of the screaming fans in Hong Kong-mania. Well, I think you get my point.

I had to go to Hong Kong on Thursday to get my Z-visa finally taken care of. I need my Z-visa to apply for a residence permit in Yantai... something I had tried to do in London, but was unable due to lack of funds. Anyway, I took a two hour train ride from Guangzhou and...

... magically found myself in London. Not Fleet Street London, or Covent Garden London, but the are between Shaftesbury and Leicester Square; London's Chinatown. They even drive on the "wrong" side of the road (well, its not the right (hand) side, is it?)

I have been to Hong Kong once before, but this time it struck me how different Hong Kong is to the mainland. Don't get me wrong, I love living the the PRC, but it was very refreshing being in HK. It is all of the small little things, which together add up. Listed below are all of the reasons I (heart) Hong Kong:

1) It is clean. There is a distince lack of garbage and litter everywhere. At first I couldn't quite figure it out, but when I stepped into an elevator and read "This elevator's buttons are disinfected once each hour", I realized that Hong Kong keeps itself remarkably sanitary.

2) Almost everyone speaks English. And well. And with an English accent. Proper queen's English and all. Bloody fantastic!

3) The taxi drivers actually insist that you wear a seatbelt AND they don't drive like suicidal maniacs! They keep their own appearence neat and clean, and their cabs even moreso. They actually polish each taxi at the end of each shift!

4) You can go into any supermarket in Hong Kong and buy Heinz Salad Cream. And pickled onions. It is enough to make a grown man cry.

5) When I'm there I can pretend I'm Nathan Muir. All hail Spy Game.

6) To a degree, people actually have some freedom of speech. I saw people demonstrating with anti-PRC government posters AND THEY WEREN'T BEING VANISHED BY MEN IN BLACK VANS!

7) The amount of respect they give the British is great. At the visa office I asked them how long it would take to process a Z-visa on my US passport. My question was met with a nasty, snippy response from the visa officer of, "It will be ready end of tomorrow. You come back then, no earlier!" When I presented my UK passport for the application, her tone totally changed and I got a nice, "Oh, yes sir. Please come back in 1.5 hours to pick up your passport."

8) Did I mention they have pickled onions?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

100th CECF

I am attending the 100th China Export and Commodities Fair in Guangzhou. Well, I today I am not... today I am stuck in my hotel room, unable to stray more than 10 meters from a toilet. Since my laptop computer is within that prescribed distance from the loo, I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch up on some blogging.

For the past 5 weeks or so I've spent approximately 3 days at home (strange calling Yantai home). Most of my time has been spent attending trade shows. I've been to the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hanover (Germany), the Paris Auto Show, and a show for Leisure Vehicles (motorhomes and trailer homes) somewhere in the outskirts of Paris.

With all this time spent at tradeshows, I've made many observations, particularly relating to the differences between Western and Chinese shows. I thought I'd try and sum them up here.

  • The shear number of people first of all. The Chinese have a nack it seems for stretching fire code max capacities to a new record (if they have them at all). This point is best illustrated when visiting the McDonald's on-site. Average in size, there are (and this is not an exaggeration) approximately 200 workers behind the counter taking your order, preparing your sandwich, and collecting your money. It is so congested that most of the staff cannot move and merely turn into a human conveyorbelt, passing your Big Mac from one person to another until it reaches you. Even though this is the busiest McDonald's I have ever seen in my life (they have workers who take your order with a wireless palm pilot while you are in-line), there are frequently more people working behind the counter than there are customers.
  • Considering the first point, the second one is really quite scary. The Chinese have an insatiable desire it seems to control where people can and cannot go. At the CECF, a portion of the show is outside, and most is indoors. The Chinese police who seem to run the event, have locked most exit doors with chains! Despite being incredibly dangerous with that kind of crowd in a building, it is also incredibly inconvenient. You are often standing 20 meters away from the company's booth you want to visit, but you are forced to walk a good 1/4 mile before you can find an exit that is not chained up!
  • In Western trade shows, companies often spend a lot of money on models to stand there at their booths and look gorgeous. Since a vast majority of tradeshow-goers are men, this strategy typically works wonders. While a few of the bigger Chinese companies do employ this strategy also, the prefered method for getting people to your booth involves physically assaulting anyone who even dares look in the general direction of their booth with their catalogue. It is thrust into you hands, and before you know it you are the proud new owner of an electrical transformers catalogue. Woohoo.
  • One great thing about Chinese companies is that the name of the company almost always starts with the city they are from. Yantai Special Vehicles Factory, Lijiang Citric Acid Corp., Zhejiang Rubber Products Limited. If you are only interested in doing business with people from a particular area, you merely have to glance at the company name as you walk.
I know I haven't been writing so much lately, but I haven't had that much time to do so. Tradeshows take a lot out of you. My feet hate me for bringing steel toed shoes, my throat isn't speaking (literally) to me because I spend all day extolling our products to customers, and my insides are waging war with themselves because I seem to have eaten some funky Cantonese food. Oh well, thats tradeshow life.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Should've seen that one coming...

My boss and I learned an important lesson in Chinese business culture a few days ago. It was one of those things that looking back on we both said, "D'oh, should've seen that one coming!" For all of the books about business in China that we have each read, it was really a stupid mistake, although it was also exasperated by the actions of someone else.

Two of our staff flew to Europe for the purpose of learning about trailer design and manufacturing. On their second day in France, an inventory count was being conducted. Now, I won't go into all of the details, but the inventory was done very poorly, at no fault of the Chinese staff. The problem with them came when at the end of the inventory count, they were asked to sign a document that they did not understand.

The reason I am writing about this (and why it is interesting) is WHY they were upset. Yes, it bothered them a little that they were signing something they didn't understand, but the main reason they got angry about it was because it was not their place to sign. They had been sent to Europe for product design, not to conduct business. As soon as they touched pen to paper, even for something as small an insignificant as an inventory count, they were conducting business on behalf of the company and that is not their place to do that. That is the place of the manager for the company.

Until we had a full understanding of the situation, and realized how symbolic this was to them, everyone was quite miserable. The mood in the car was somber and some heavy arguments broke out. Despite our best efforts to explain that an inventory count is a very very minor thing and that their signature is not important, we couldn't understand the extreme level of dissatisfaction. Finally, one of the staff translated a Chinese saying, "There are no big problems, there are no small problems, there are only problems." This told us that, even though in our eyes this was a very minor issue, the Chinese perceived it as a major one.

The situation was finally solved when my boss made a very big, theatrical show in the middle of dinner of tearing up the document that they had signed. It was amazing. The Chinese staff all applauded and instantly everyone was happy. It was as if someone had pushed a "smile" switch.