After a long day cranking through our 1st day of research and brainstorming, we decided for a change of pace. The decision was to hit up a Japanese restaurant (we have been eating Chinese cuisine pretty much every day, all day.) for once. Our interns recommended one that specialized in ‘Hot Pot’ and took a cab into the city.
Dinner was great (Sushi not the same as others that I have had, but beggars can’t be choosers) and the layout of the hot pot ingredients was fantastic. Mushrooms, beef, greens, flowers, pork and tofu were scattered about the table. Individual pots of boiling liquid were placed on a mini stovetop, integrated into the table. (I went for spicy, as usual)
After the feast (and I mean FEAST) we headed out to a street that Winky suggested that we ‘had’ to see. It was called ‘Specialty Street’ (Official translation pending)
This street was chock full of vendors selling everything from Durian fruit to sparrows, to vast assortments of live seafood. I personally only tried a mild sugar cane water, bit the selection of offerings was astounding.
With this being said. I cranked out a quick video from my iPhone yesterday (Very basic editing) and posted below – Apologies on the quality, but will hopefully get better at filming, editing and of course actually speaking.
Check out the team blog at: http://cscchina16.wordpress.com
The last time that I was in China was in 2007, right before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. At that time, Beijing was undergoing a complete overhaul both physically and culturally. The country (and organizations) were pouring money into economic development – especially into construction projects. I can still remember the sea of scaffolding spread across the city.
With the new, out goes the old – and in concert with this change for modernization comes a destruction of sorts of the old culture. The hutongs of Beijing were being bulldozed to make way for new and more modern buildings and neighborhoods. Some hutongs still remain, but are shadowed by a sea of high-rises across the city. All things must at some time change, but we must make sure to preserve what we can from our history and our heritage. (China has now begun to preserve them)
Since I wrote last, I’ve moved from the tourist mode to the data warehousing marketing work mode in Beijing.
I have never been to the IBM office in Beijing, but had a number of meetings scheduled on my way over to Nanning for my Corporate Service Corp assignment. I have recently gotten better at navigating the subway in Beijing (although it is a bit jarring being the only foreigner on the train) and decided to use it to get to the marketing office at Pudong Plaza.
Getting out of the subway, I was greeted by the 2008 Olympic Park and the giant birds nest-like stadium that became so famous. It was very cool to see all of these buildings that were so commonplace in the media – yet in reality these buildings were all much larger in person.
Turning to my left, once into the Olympic Park – I was able to see the very unique IBM building at Pudong Plaza. The main (and satellite) office buildings are built to look like a Chinese dragon, moving along the earth. This was very cool – and to think that this was where I would be holding meetings this week.
The meetings and enablement activities actually went very well. I understand the financial importance of virtual meetings, but there is something to be said about face to face – especially when you are using different languages. On the phone, we would be disconnected – not always sure that we understand one another, but after these meetings – I came to realize that just one meeting in person would have staved off much chaos and confusion. Perhaps I need to quantify the opportunity cost of it all.
At the end of the week, I met with one of our premier business partners at their office in Beijing. This partner, ADM, has been successfully building (and selling) their own custom business analytics solution on top of our Smart Analytics System 5710 in the China market. We had recently agreed to work on a series of case studies and videos together and I was stopping by to meet with them to brainstorm on the concept – and gain final approval.
It had been since my trip to Tokyo, Japan last year that I had to use a translator for a meeting – But the translator was one of our own lab services employees and did a wonderful job making the discussion as seamless as possible. I know that the month in Nanning will require even more assistance from a translator (a team of 8+ university interns to be exact) – but I’m starting to get irritated that I am completely helpless with the Chinese language. I need to figure at least a portion of this out to communicate.
I’m on the flight now to Nanning (China Air got WAY better since last time) and I’m not sure what to really expect. Beijing had grown into a very accessible, very major city from the last time I visited. Will Nanning offer the old China? The type of China that we read about as children with tea plantations, wonderful cranes and array of beautiful nature and scenery? (No offence to Beijing – but you are a very ‘concrete’ city)
Very excited for the unknown. Very excited for this adventure.
Here is a clip on Guilin from the Guangxi Autonomous Region – in the same area where I will be for the CSC program
Right off of the bat, I have to admit that the full first night sleep in a plush, oversized bed was divine. It was so refreshing that the first thing that I did on this Sunday morning here in Beijing was head to the gym for an hour on the treadmill. This may have been my mental demise for the rest of the day as with my biological clock not necessarily in check, I started to fade fast throughout the day.
I met up with my cousin, Liz (and her friends) quite early in the day. Crazy to think that one of my relatives was out here for a fun trip, but very cool to have the opportunity to see the city together.
At 10am I was in the Silk Market being accosted by hoards of Chinese women pushing silk scarves and an assortment of fake products at me. Usually I would be invigorated at the frenzy of negotiation and noise, but today I was tired, …reserved, and overly passive. I just kind of smiled at it all. I wanted so bad to hit the watch counter – but I could not muster the strength to bargain.
Liz had been here for over a week and was in the throngs of it all. Her and her friend Ali were playing off one another to grab better and lower deals. They did well. Yet I could do better. I was the master at this . Yet for some reason, I was DOA.
We toiled around a bit more in the market and then hightailed it to their other friend’s apartment and then off to the local food market.
This food market was a new experience for me.
I have been to open air markets around the world – from domestic farmers markets in Pennsylvania and North Carolina to famous markets in Greece, Spain and Singapore. Two things stood out for me in this market that surprised me.
- The amount of beautiful fresh produce that I would not have expected for a Beijing market. Absolutely beautiful array of colors and selection of fruits and vegetables. Add to that the stalls that had fresh noodles. (durian and mangosteens in full effect – still need to try them both… Hopefully Nanning will deliver)
- The lack of refrigeration for the meat shops. Birds, beef, pork and lamb were opened up, butchered and spread across wooden counters… Fresh, yes – looked great. Yet, the shelf life had to be about 24 hours. It was warm in there and I had to keep forcing my self to forget that I most likely would be noshing on food that was butchered and sold in this manner. It was cool to see blue hens on display (random)
I unfortunately have no pictures of the establishment, but we hit up a dumpling house for a late lunch snack. Phenomenal. I’m actually craving the condiments more than anything else – Fresh garlic, dried chili in oil and an assortment of soy and vinegar to douse in. After the dumpling orgy, we hit up a Chinese shoe store. I looked and looked and could not find an 12 or 12 and ½ size shoe anywhere in sight. Crazy women’s shoes galore, but no Men’s past the 10 or 11 mark. (I would have to import my shoes if I lived here)
A great close to the night was a trip for some Peking Duck. Years ago when I was in Beijing, we visited Li Qun for a rustic, yet delicious meal. This place (name missing) was on the spot as well. An actual highlight was the Chinese eggplant – I could swear the there was Ketjap Manis in it (Sweet Soy Sauce). All in all a great meal and a great night – with locally brewed Swartzbier to boot (another killer highlight).
As I wished my cousin good bye (her trip had come to an end) I started to get that feeling I was expecting from the start. It’s great to have family and friends when you head out on a trip, but it does add to the withdrawal when you hang out with them when you first land for a day. You get used to having camaraderie – and then hits harder when you walk out in the street and realize that you are the outsider. You understand that you are alone.
Heading to Nanning with the CSC crew will most likely curb this feeling – but it is important to point out. Taking the subway to the office alone in Beijing during rush hour is a different kind of experience. The sheer number of people is one thing, the fact that you yourself are the spectacle is another.
As stated in the last travel post, you have to learn how to adapt pretty quick here. I have been fortunate enough to have been reading Scott Seligman’s book “Chinese Business Etiquette’ before and during this trip. This has saved me a number of times already – and I will most likely quote certain sections over the next month.
It’s closing in on mid-late week and I have a moving meeting with a major business partner – as well as a presentation/seminar with the local team here in Beijing. Day one felt long, yet now that I have become a bit more comfortable, I sense the days just whizzing by. I’ll try and post prior to leaving for Nanning and my CSC assignment on Friday, yet the next two days are chocked full of work activities so not really sure at this point. Time to clock off.
In postscript – Uber fast internet at the hotel here has allowed for great video chat (FaceTime) with the family. This is something rather new to me travelling internationally (quality of it all) and it totally reduces the strain of being away. I surely hope that this works for the time in Nanning as well.
Getting ready for a trip of this magnitude is never an easy task. I’ve been planning for this event for over a month, so much of the gear and paperwork had been accumulating in proper form in my home office – Meticulously packing the Kata backpack to handle the camera, the laptop, the snacks, etc. All in all this advance planning should support a relatively smooth transition.
One must understand (for those of those ‘with’ kids totally understand this) that handling two children (one at the upper limits of 2 and the other at 2 months) is quite a handful. My wife is the master-in-charge 24×7 catering to each and every request, every cry, every whine, every dirty diaper. This is of course until I open my office door and walk into the kitchen at the end of the workday (or if my eldest son barrels through the door pre-maturely on a hunt to find and capture my iPad). From that point in time until the morning, we are a parental tag team. I’m on toddler duty, Nina is on infant control, each and every day.
The reason that I mention all of this is that two days ago, my wife came down with a bug/illness that left her operating at 40% or less. This does not facilitate extra preparations for an extended international trip. To add insult to injury here, our air conditioning decided to spring a leak (thank God it is still under warranty) at the same time, adding an element of NC muggy warmth to an already irritating situation. Without getting into more excruciating details, I had to leave for the airport a bit unprepared. I had done my planning ahead of time – but something was off… was not sure what it was, but something was not right.
The flight to Detroit was uneventful and I made my way for my 3 hour layover to the Delta Sky Club. As for an annoying Friday airport lounge, it was on the better side and I made my way to the corner to build my travel nest to kill a few hours.
Not knowing what my connection speed (or access) in China will be, I planned on using this time to download all of the additional large files that I would need – ie manuals, presentations, whitepapers, etc. for my assignment (and week of meetings in Beijing). As I power on the laptop, I start to think about my plans next week in Beijing. I’m going to have to figure out where the local office is for meetings. I wonder if my ID will work, or if I will need to get local permission to access the facilities.
My heart sinks and I feel a blanket of despair envelop my body.
My ID card is not here. My ID card is at my house. My ID card is not coming with me to China. I am screwed.
Panic ensues and I immediately start connecting to all of the possible websites for shipping services. Can you overnight to Beijing? What is the cost? What is the time? It all looks like a stretch – with most of the services offering the ability to get there by Thursday. That will not do. I leave Friday for Nanning and I’ll be darned if I am going to take the risk.
It is unfortunately Friday night right now and nothing is open – I place a call back home to Nina to see if she can check in the morning with FedEx and others to see if something can be done. We both think that something else might have to happen. What are the other options? I’m going to have to live without it in Beijing, but Nanning will have me in the office on a more regular basis – I don’t want to deal with having to re-issue one in China . I don’t want to even think of that ordeal.
I’m now officially tired, frazzled and dreading this trip. 30+ days and I’m not even sure what else I forgot.
Not looking forward to the 14 hours in coach
But as it look dire for yours truly, Karma swings back and forth a bit as well. As I’m about to lose it getting on the flight from Detroit to Beijing, the friggin gate agent stops me in my tracks. “Um, looks like we have a problem. Please wait here Mr. Weber.”
Huh? Are you kidding me? After all of this I don’t even have a seat on the plane? As I start burning up, ready to punt this entire trip – a new attendant walks over to me with a slip of paper.
We are very sorry for this delay with your boarding
Being a Delta Diamond member, you have been upgraded to business for the flight.
Here is your new ticket. Thank you for being a Diamond member.
Karma swings back. Friggin Sweet!
What next occurred post a 2 hour bohemian feast of short rib and Bordeaux was 10 hours of full uninterrupted, full recline sleep. It had been so long since I had slept for more than 4 hours straight.
Perhaps this all is getting me ready for this trip. The ebb and the flow, the yin and the yang. Understanding that I can never be 100% prepared and that I must learn how to roll with the punches and accept things as they come.
I start to stow my gear in the overhead and prepare for my arrival in Beijing. I know that this first leg of the trip will be lighter on the cultural challenges than the latter (Western hotels, exec lounges, fast internet access, etc). My cousin is out here for a trip as well (for vacation)– so am looking forward to connecting with her before she heads back home.
I’m ready to put a close to Day 0.
It is starting to sink in that I leave for China in under a month. I’m not sure that I’ve been away for 36 days away from home since my time living abroad in Spain during my undergraduate days years ago.
For those not aware, I am participating in IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program and will be acting as a goodwill business ambassador in Nanning, China for about a month. Information on IBM’s CSC program can be found in this link here and I have attached a video below.]
Considering that I have completely slacked on my Mandarin training – I’m starting to get a bit concerned with my immersion. In most countries with languages based on the Germanic or Romance-based languages, I have picked up enough to get by – Yet remembering my last trip to Beijing and Xian, I remember being completely lost with the language and intonations, etc. No rest for the wicked, right?
During my trip, I will be branching off a separate section of the blog focused on my travels and business experience in country. I have invested in a new video camera and will be attempting to publish a regular video blog in concert with this one. (Yet am a complete neophyte with the camera and editing suite, so apologies on jerky camera work in advance)
As I get more material on the assignments, I’ll outline them here – use it as a forum for not just my experiences in the CSC program, but also for doing business in China. At the moment I have three major clients that I will be focused on:
Agri-Business / Ecotourism: A regional sugarcane plantation that is looking at expanding not only it’s current business, but also wants to get into eco-tourism – Looking at advanced sugarcane mechanization
Consumer Products (Alcoholic Beverages): Company that is a Maotai distiller looking at new marketing ideas and business growth – Corporate governance, branding and intellectual property rights (…yes, as a home brewer, I’m quite excited about this one )
Guangxi University: A wide variety of items here, but a focus on developing an overall student career development strategy and how to infuse greater levels of innovation in the university curriculum.
More to come as I get geared up to head over to Nanning, and I welcome you to follow along in the journey… Just click the sign up button on the top right of the page.