Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's not your Grandfather's China - not even your Father's China

Earlier this month I dug a hole to China. Ok, not really. Actually I flew there to work for 3 weeks. My mission was to videotape our company's 8 factories spread from Mongolia/inner Mongolia to just north of Shanghai. Even 30 years ago I would have thought it was a very aggressive schedule and arduous task but I am very happy I took on the challenge. By the end of the first week my apprehension about my stamina, language differences and the cultural challenges melted away. If you have never been to China (like me) or have not been there in the last 5 years, you would likely be amazed. I traveled many miles by car - very comfortable and new SUV's - the new High Speed trains, and domestic flights. New interstate highways - some toll roads - connect all the major cities with road signs in both English and Chinese. The airports were all new, again with signs in English and Chinese. Beijing is the largest airport I have ever seen and quite easy to navigate. I was humored that the safety announcement on the domestic flights were spoken in both English and Chinese with me the only Anglo on any of the flights. The high speed trains are lovely with big comfortable seats generously spaced and as we flew down the rail there was a gentle side to side rocking motion. I saw miles and miles of farm land - endless flat land in some areas with beautiful rolling hills in others. As a business traveler whose visit was much anticipated, I had an experience that no tourist could enjoy and I may never experience again. Our company only recently purchased half of these factories and they are in locations that are not high tourist areas so I was the first or second American woman they had ever met and in most cases, the first with whom they had ever shared a dinner. As a result, they treated me like a queen and were most anxious to talk with me - through our interpreter. When I realized the dynamics, I felt a deep responsibility to not only represent the company in a good light but to represent all American woman. That part humors me because, as many of you know, I am certainly not a typical American woman. Each time I arrived at a new location, tradition dictated that they greet me with a dinner. This was always in a private room with 8 to 12 people seated around a large round table. In the center was a big lazy susan. The highest ranking host sat opposite the door. Across from him (all but one time a man) was his designated driver. To his right was his most honored guest. To his left was his second most honored guest and it worked out from there. Then dishes began filling round table - at least 10 courses - of the best local foods and they were pleased to describe each. Arriving there were always noodle dishes for luck. Leaving, dumplings to show that it was a good visit. Fortunately, I noted I got a lot of dumplings at the end of each visit. I have many stories to tell about the people, cultural differences and similarities, philosophies shared, foods, places I was, the music.... Just in case you cannot tell from the words above - I loved the experience and found the Chinese people kind and charming. Stay tuned - I'll be writing much more.

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