My Final Business Trip to Beijing

My company no longer needs me in China.  This is a good thing.

I’ve made seven trips in the past 12 months, including this one, but our plan of establishing the business and transitioning to a local team is nearly complete.  Appropriately so, there is no place for someone like me, who isn’t a deep technical expert and doesn’t speak the language.  Thankfully, we are also exploring other areas, and I already have two projects in two different countries.

Visiting Beijing so often, on trips ranging from four to sixteen days and visiting Shanghai and Hangzhou in addition to Beijing, has been fantastic.  I made it to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  Like many business travelers, I suspect, I will need to come back as a tourist to fully appreciate the country and its culture.  Even with the business meetings and the feeling some days that I might as well be in Akron, it’s been fantastic and many things will stay with me.

When traveled in younger days, the ubiquitous American phrase across the globe was “Big Mac and fries.”  You went to McDonald’s, and you were home.  Now the phrase is  “Grande Latte,” at least in China.  Starbucks is seemingly always just around the corner and tastes the same.  Starbucks would be smart to put more items like mugs in  Chinese as souvenirs.

"Grande Latte" - Now a Global Phrase

China is no longer the remote place it might have been in the past.  It’s a major global city with full connectivity.  With the Internet, an iPhone, and satellite TV, you are never really that far from home.  As I write, I’ve got an ESPN Gamecast of Yanks-A’s in a separate window.  While Twitter is blocked by Chinese authorities, it comes through on my iPhone and through my company’s VPN.  Our apartment has CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg for news.  The local English paper, China Daily, is good enough.

The iPhone has been indispensable on these trips.  I’ve got language applications and an application with restaurant and bar reviews for Beijing.  Of most help, however, has been Google Maps.  The application works here just like it would at home, and the maps show place names in Chinese.  I’ve used it to show cab drivers exactly where I want to go and to find my way to a subway station on a cold, rainy night in February, when I was completely lost.

I’m going to miss the haggling in the local markets for knock-off clothes and purses for my daughter and electronics for my son.  I’m going to miss the 11RMB or $1.61 cab rides across the city.  I’m going to miss that “wild west” feeling I get from time to time when you realize you are having a nice meal and glass of wine overlooking downtown Beijing or Shanghai.  I will miss handing over business cards, keys, money – literally everything — with two hands and a slight bow. I will miss getting jammed into subway cars on my 2RMB or $0.28 ride, where, at 5’6″, I can see over most people.

I can’t say that I will miss the pollution and the smog.  (I was asked if a recent thunderstorm drove out the smog.  I said yes, but added that “replacement smog” came right back in.  I won’t miss the traffic jams on the ring roads 24×7.  I won’t miss the rock hard bed here in our corporate apartment that just ruins my back and leads me to my Advil bottle every four hours or so.  I won’t miss the agonizing slow speed with which documents are saved to or retrieved from our corporate servers back in the US.

In one year, I climbed the Great Wall in the snow.  I got my daughter more “Juicy” items than she can handle.  I got a knock-off iPhone, and may get a knock-off iPad in the coming days.  I ate duck tongue, pig’s ear and donkey.  We’ll see if the next country can live up to this.  It will be tough.

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Random Thoughts from Beijing

I’m in closing in on my fourth night of my sixth trip to China since September.  I tweeted tonight with a photo of Spidey next to a PapaJohns box.  It’s been that kind of trip.  Working all the time requires comfort food once in a while.

As I told a colleague via email the other day — life with an international team can seem glamorous – and it can be, but it often isn’t unlike a trip to Denver or Phoenix or Albany.  Personally, I love traveling.  I like the experience on the airplane.  I like the different cultures.  I also like the challenges of starting up businesses in new places.  International business is what I studied years ago, and now I’m getting to use it again.

But the trips, even to a places like Beijing, are becoming less and less of a hardship.  Let me tell you about my day today.  I didn’t have any meetings in our office, so I decided to stay in our apartment and work.  It started with a 6:30am run in our club, which has about 15 treadmills, full weight equipment, sauna, steamroom, whirlpool, etc.  Yes, that’s a hardship.

Next was a bowl of Frosted Flakes – just like home.  As I ate, I watched the Caps and Canes via Slingbox, simultaneously checking NCAA tournament scores on espn.com and participating in a Caps chatboard on Japers’ Rink.   All this time, I’m connected wirelessly to the Internet.  Again, big hardship.

I did work, rest of the day in the apartment.  I got a lot done.  I left the building only once today —  to walk a block to a Starbucks, where I said “grande black coffee” and got one 18RMB later.   In many way, this day could have taken place in Akron or Richmond or Boise.

(The best part about China may be the time zone difference for U.S. sports.  East Coast U.S. games start at 7:00am here with the 12 hour time difference.  I never have to stay up late to catch multiple overtimes!  I caught the Yankees winning the World Series at 11:30am.)

I’m hoping against hope to get out somewhere in Beijing tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I know tomorrow starts with sleeping late, but after that, it will be a challenge to avoid work.