My last day at the offices of Xiandai started much the same as the previous days. Once I got to the office our working group dived right back into the details of the design. The work went on much as it had previously with no apparent plan or organization. Having given myself over to the process I was content to let things proceed in this way.
I had not gotten around to giving out my business cards in the previous days so I did so Wednesday morning. It was a big hit, thanks to Katrina for her hard work in getting my cards printed on very short notice with the Chinese translation on the back. I also want to say thanks to Haifeng Bi a customer and friend from San Antonio who provided the translation. Everyone accepted my card in a very formal way and all seemed genuinely delighted to receive it. Delighted may seem like a strong word but it is not an exaggeration. In turn I received their cards in the same fashion and treated the cards with the proper respect.
We were getting very close to finishing up when Mr Fang announced that it was time to go to lunch. Ann Lee, Mr Fang, Mr Zhou, Mr Lu, Alfred and myself drove across town to a large and apparently famous restaurant. This turned out to be the Tianjin branch of a famous Beijing restaurant that is known for its roast duck. The story is that the Great Leader (their words) Chairman Mao ate at the original location in Beijing and was so impressed that he granted the restaurant perpetual concession to operate. The food was good but the service and facilities seemed lacking and my hosts did not seem particularly pleased. My impression was that like many very famous establishments it was operating on its reputation. Again I used the chopsticks and with some more coaching my skill was much improved.
Sitting around a large round table with a very large lazy suzzane in the middle we enjoyed a feast. Plate after plate of food was put out until nothing more could fit so as one dish was emptied a new item was brought out to replace it. Each person had a small bowl and might put a bit of food in it to eat but mostly you are expected to pick up pieces of food from the serving dishes and eat them directly. There was beef, lamb, tofu, jellyfish, steamed vegetables, river carp and many others. When the duck was served I received instruction from Ann Lee on the proper way to eat it. Small round, very thin white flour tortillas (for lack of a better word) accompanied the duck. You put the “tortilla” in your hand and using your chop sticks take pieces of duck and vegetables dip them in a sauce and load it up. After folding you eat it as you would a burrito. Everything was great and we all ate until we were full . Then they encouraged Mr. Lu, who is young and can eat as only the young can, to finish off all the remaining food. The conversation being mostly in Chinese left me with the ability to concentrate on my chop stick skills and for this I was thankful. Eating and using the chopsticks while trying to carry on a conversation after a bit of beer would have been nearly impossible. My hosts seemed to think it was important that I have beer so I gave in to their wishes. Unfortunately I left my camera at the office so I have no pictures of the event.
Upon return to the office we spent a bit more time completing the last details of the design. When we were finished having established we would not be coming back to the office the next day I passed out the small gifts I had brought from home. They all seem extremely pleased to receive a gift and as expected they did not open them in my presence so as to reinforce the idea that it is the thought that counts. As with the business cards the reaction was much greater than expected and I have to thank Sharon for having organized the gifts and the wrapping.
After the gifts were distributed it was time to say goodbye to everyone except those who would be going to the factory with me the next day. After zaijian (goodbye) all around Alfred and I went to a shopping mall where everyone seemed to think I might buy clothing with Chinese writing on it. It turned out to be a multi story building with dozens if not hundreds of individual vendors selling very stylish clothing to young people. Styles being what they are it is very difficult to find items of clothing with Chinese script. After much searching we found what I was looking for and once back at the hotel Alfred was kind enough to translate my purchases for me.
Ihad my hands full with my purchases when I took the pictures so they are a little tilted.
Having given myself over to the flow at work I started to take the same approach to the traffic. When you are out walking you have to become part of the flow. It is difficult but once you start to become one with it things get better. After getting back to the hotel Tuesday I allowed the flow to move me along to the Ancient Cultural Center. This is an area several blocks long and a couple of blocks wide where you are supposed to be able to learn about ancient Chinese culture. What I learned is that it is an ancient tradition to sell cheap trinkets to tourists for high prices. I had practiced up on my “how much does it cost” and “Thank you” phrases so I was prepared to bargain for what I wanted. No one is insulted when you offer 50% of their asking price. From there you bargain back and forth and end up in the middle somewhere. Most of the shops were already closed for the day but I was able to make some small purchases. On the way back I noticed a WuMart a block off the Ancient Culture street so I went in to take a look. That is not a typo it is truly a WuMart and it is very much like that American store. From the fact that the store stocks a little of everything to the inferior quality of much of the merchandize to the uniformed greeter at the door. I went in and wandered through 3 floors of questionable quality items and purchased some drinking water.
So that my hosts would know I can learn from my mistakes I dressed to fit in Tuesday.
Mr Fang picked me up from the hotel again and we had a chance to talk about many things on the ride to the office. Xiandai’s offices are in a commercial building about one half an hour from my hotel by car. The offices are not at the factory and once the discussion of the design is finished I will get to tour the factory which is maybe one hour by car from the offices. We passed new residential towers that he told me were selling for 30,000 Yuan per square meter. I worked this out to roughly $400.00 per square foot. Average people are being priced out of the market for apartments.
We started in again on the design and I was slowly coming to the conclusion that much like the traffic the unstructured approach works. Surprised again I gave into it completely throwing my inhibitions about the process to the wind and let it wash over me. We tackled the most difficult problems of the design and by late morning it became clear that there had not been a real understanding on their part of exactly what I was trying to accomplish. When they did grasp the basic concept right before lunch it seemed they were saying it could not be done. Needless to say I was a bit concerned but having given myself over to the process I decided to let it work itself out.
Pizza was ordered and at first I thought it was for everyone but it was just Alfred and I for lunch as everyone else seemed to have made other plans. I had a chance then to talk to Alfred one to one about many things not related to work including his family, life in the big city, and the history of Tianjin.
I was wise to not have worried about the problem with the design since it seemed to have worked itself out over lunch and all was well. We hammered out details until a bit after 5:00 PM but even though the number of items covered was low the quality of solutions was good.
Late in the day I asked if I could get a picture with our group but instead everyone from the office came in and an outside recruit was found to take the picture so what I got was a group picture with the whole office (below). Everyone greeted the opportunity for a group picture with enthusiasm with none of the foot-dragging and complaining that you might expect if this was a similar situation in the US. I later got my working group to sit still for the one which I posted yesterday.
On my right is Ann Lee and to my left is Mr.Zhou. In the back left to right is Chris Xiong, Alfred Gou, Guang Wei Lu, Miss Du and Mr. Fang.
Six PM Monday I was washed back up at my hotel. There was a lavish western style wedding in progress in the hotel lobby. I decided to see what was within walking distance. I was surprised to see constuction everywhere I turned and I was starting to see a trend. China surprises you at every turn.
Cranes, cranes everywhere cranes. I know these are not the most interesting pictures but I have no other way of impressing upon the reader the magnatude of the building boom going on here. All these pictures were taken at the red bridge shown in one of the shots. This is just one spot. Everywhere in the city is like this and the city is huge. Miles and miles of cranes.
I passed under the Tianjin Eye. I walked into what I found out later is the wholesale market district. Everything seemed to have closed but I found a small alley with food stalls where cooking is done over trays of charcoal. This in the shadow of 50 story bank buildings. It turns out the banks are there to supprot the wholesale trade and the food vendors are there to support the bankers.
I attempted to buy but the proprietors didn’t know what I wanted and I didn’t know what they were selling. When the proprietor could not help me a succesion of people would come out of no where to try to help the foreigner decide what he wanted. They took turns guesing what I wanted and I tried to guess what they were saying. Everyone was freindly and tried to help but the language barrier was too great.
View of the hotel from the river.
View from the Eye of Tianjin.
I did manage to purchase some bottled water since I knew the word for water. I returned to the hotel and was treated to a fireworks display out in front of the hotel that would put the Fourth of July to shame. Another surprise. I found out later it was for the wedding party. And I was thinking they really are glad I’m here.
The traffic in Tianjin is, as I alluded to earlier on an order of magnitude worse than anything I have ever witnessed. I am surprised by how well it works, in fact I am amazed. It works like a flowing stream not by rules or laws. It ebbs, flows, and has currents . Every kind of vehicle plus pedestrians flow through the streets without regard to lanes , traffic signals or any discernible rules, but you rarely sit still and surprisingly nobody seems to get hurt.
So into this flow we went pulled along by a tide of traffic until we were spilled out at the offices of Xiandai. Here I met the people I would be working with. From sales Alfred, and Anna who I had met previously in Las Vegas. From engineering the chief engineer Mr. Zhou, his assistant Miss Du, and the draftsman Mr. Lu. We immediately started the discussion of my new product design, but much like the traffic it was unstructured. No body was in charge, there was no agenda and Anna the only person who seemed the least bit interested in imposing any order soon left. We discussed the overall design, components of it and minutia at length. Sometimes there was as many as three different topics being discussed at the same time. We might discuss a small detail of one part of the design and then jump to a completely unrelated item and then back to the first or on to the overall concept. If I had not known better I would have thought the discussion was about religion or politics, such was the enthusiasm and passion with which they proceeded. At times I thought they might come to blows over a tiny detail of the design. By lunch time I was a bit unnerved and completely worn out.
For lunch we all went to a local Chinese restaurant. My host Mr. Fang ordered for the group and we shared a very large assortment of foods, many of which no one could think of a name for in English. I tasted everything and enjoyed most of it. Noticing my lack of skill with chopsticks they had the waitress bring a fork but I resisted the temptation and stayed with the sticks. Each person offered advice on their use and each was different. It seems with chopsticks there is no right way, each must find his own way. The best advice was from Mr. Zhou and I told them that was because he was the engineer.
After lunch we nominally turned the discussion to the individual details having in theory covered the larger concepts. In reality we proceeded much as we had in the morning and by 5:00 PM it was either leave or run on my sword.
Our working group
Rise and shine early Monday morning , I open the curtains and to my surprise there is a huge city that was hiding in the dark last night.
Time to go to work. Based on everything I read busines dress in China is very conservative so I dressed accordingly.
So I was quite surprised when Mr. Fang came to pick me up wearing cargo pants and a tee shirt.
And then surprised again when I walked out to see this no more than a quartermile from the front door of the hotel.
This is the Eye of Tianjin. It is bigger than the one they built in London and sits on a bridge where some ancient emperor led his army across the river to defeat some enemy.
I arrived at Beijing airport Sunday evening. After the expected long lines at Customs I was met by Mr Fang and Anna from the factory. I impressed them right away with my only Chinese phrase “Ni hao” which means hello. We had an approximately 2 hour trip to Tianjin and the last part was interesting to say the least. Once off the major toll road from Beijing we crossed Tianjin, a city of over 10 million, on surface streets. There was miles of wide boulevard choked with every type of vehicle imaginable. Cars, trucks, busses, bicycles, motor bikes and pedestrians all competing for the same space without any apparent rules. The horn is used much more than the brakes or steering so the trip was memorable.
We went deeper and deeper into a part of the city that began to scare me and I started to contemplate how to tell my hosts that I did not want ot stay in that part of town. Suddenly we made a turn, went a few blocks and we were at the Holiday Inn. This is not your father’s Holiday Inn but rather a beautiful modern high rise overlooking the junction of three rivers.
Once settled into the hotel the traveling was over but the adventure was just beginning.
The rooms is nice and well equiped for a traveler’s needs. Everything you might need but forgot at home. The closet has an iron, ironing board, slippers, robe, umbrella and what is this?
A closer look.
I am not sure what to worry about. Is the air quality really bad enough that you might need a gas mask? Are we on the brink of chemical warfare? If you eat the food will you need this to enter the restroom?