The Great Wall Experience

The majority of our final week in China was spent in Beijing. We reached Beijing in the afternoon, and, after we checked into our hotel, we worked on our project. We planned Friday of that week to visit the Great Wall, so it was important that we finished as much work possible. I was really looking forward to this visit to The Great Wall. It has been on my list of places to see for some time now. I’ve heard so many things about it, such as you can see it  from space! It turns out this was a myth. Think about it: There are no lights surrounding the area; therefore, you won’t be able to see anything from space.This point was highlighted by another traveler when we visited the area.

We visited a section of the Great Walls situated 70km from Beijing. The area is called Mutianyu. It is less touristy than the other parts of the wall that are located closer to Beijing and this worked well for us. We left the hotel around 8:30am accompanied by two additional local friends of Xiaoran and Lucy.

The drive to the Great Wall was fascinating to see. We drove through small towns, almost village-like places along dusty roads. It was very cool to be exposed to a different environment than the cities where we have been living. We reached the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in an hour and a half. We took cable cars up to the wall area, and the minute we reached the top, I was in awe! You can see the wall in both directions with rolling green hills surrounding it and many watchtowers are still intact. These watchtowers served as an observation area for the military back in the day. We spent two hours climbing and walking in the area. There was one area that was so steep and had so many steps, that once I reached the top, I felt as though I had just completed an intense session of a StairMaster workout! But, the views were stunning.

The whole gang. :)
The whole gang. 🙂

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Visiting the Great Wall exposed me to more of the historical side of China, the side that I didn’t get to experience much in Shanghai and Nanjing. We wrapped up the day with an afternoon visit to the Summer Palace located near the famous universities of Beijing. The Summer Palace was equally beautiful to The Great Wall. We headed back to proper Beijing in the evening, exhausted but thrilled by the experiences we had during the day.

Reflections on China’s Business Culture

From a business perspective, there are a few things that I learned about the culture of China that I would not have immediately expected, as well as some things that really made the China portion of our project much easier.  To begin, similar to most everywhere else in the world, much of the business that is conducted is extremely relational.  This means that it would take multiple sit-downs with potential distributors and partners to really work out whether a deal could be done for the long-term.  Why? Businesses in China want to ensure that there can be a long-standing relationship between the different companies, founded on a trust that cannot be built or determined through one or two meetings before moving ahead.13239115_1633755823615606_1461617674719669404_n

Additionally, the importance of relationships to setting up meetings and moving them along quickly was massive.  I did not expect the fact that simply because the former co-worker of one of our teammates, who knew someone at a distributor, who worked with someone, who was in our industry, would actually establish the initial trust in us as people, and in the business that we were representing.  However, that is exactly what it did.  We had many meetings based on these loose relationships that were accelerated because someone in the line of people connecting us to the distributor or partner had vouched for one of our team members.  This is in stark contrast to much of the work that I have done in other countries, and it really gave us a huge advantage in completing the project as a whole and setting up, what we believe, could be fantastic business opportunities for both our client and for the partners in China.  We were able to make these connections and set up these meetings because of loose connections to contacts. However, I know that other teams struggled to make these connections because the business culture of the countries that they were working in were not the same as the one that we saw in China.

Wonderful Trip in Nanjing and Beijing

This week was amazing! We traveled from Shanghai to Nanjing and then to Beijing. The bullet train in China is FAST; it travels at a speed of 300 km (186 miles) per hour. The train is clean and tidy, and the seats are comfortable. Additionally, the weather has been good on these travels days, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful view of rural areas of China during the trip.

In Nanjing, we stayed at the best hotel – Jinling Hotel. It is located in the center of the city, right above a crossing subway station. For our first dinner in Nanjing, we went to an authentic restaurant which serves extraordinary local food. The salty duck and duck soup are unique to Nanjing and taste delicious. Courageously, Sahil and Vlad even tried the fertilized eggs in which you could see the chicken embryos. The second afternoon after meeting with a contact, we went to Xuanwu Lake. We walked around the lake, enjoying the beautiful view. It was very relaxing. That evening, we went to the Confucius Temple where, during earlier times, people used to study Confucianism and take national exams. Beside the temple, there is a river called “Qin Huai River” known as the cradle of ancient Nanjing. The night view was quite beautiful. Nanjing is famous for its crawfish, so on the third evening in Nanjing, we went to a local restaurant to taste it. Sahil and Nat had never tried crawfish before, but after tasting, they immediately fell in love with it. On the last day in Nanjing, we went to the tallest building in Nanjing and the 7th tallest building in the world– “Zifeng Tower”. We had a few drinks at the bar on the top floor and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Afterwards, we had a wonderful dinner at “Song He Lou”, a restaurant that serves very authentic and the best Suzhou food.

Our trip in Nanjing was fruitful. We met with one contact who is the distributor of JD and TMall (the two largest B2C online retailers in China). They are interested in doing business with us. Also, we met with Suning, the biggest offline retailer in China. We went to Suning’s HQ located in Nanjing. It’s huge and impressive.

In Beijing, we stayed at Novotel Hotel, the same as the other two teams in China. It’s near Wang Fu Jing, a traditional commercial area in Beijing. On the first night, we went to Hou Hai and Nan Luo Gu Xiang where we ate many local foods and enjoyed the beautiful night view of the old city. Sahil and Nat even tried some fermented bean milk. The taste was very strange to them and the funny looks they gave us after tasting it made us laugh for a while. On our way back, we had an unpleasant experience. When crossing a street (even though we were with a green light), a driver who was making a right turn shouted  “Fxxx You” because we were in his way. It was terrible; I guess rude people are everywhere. On the second day, we had many wonderful (amazing and different) snacks in Fang Fu Jing. Sahil ate scorpion, Vlad some bugs and Xiaoran lots of stinky tofu. That evening, we walked along the wall of the Forbidden City to Tian’anmen Square. The night view was beautiful.

While we didn’t met any contacts in Beijing, we did get in touch with two very important ones at JD and Baozun, which is the biggest brand partner in China. The rest of our time, we stayed in the hotel lobby and worked on our final presentation slides.

The past week was wonderful and the next few days will be even more exciting-  we are going to the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City!

Doing business at the tip of your thumbs

Mind if I get your contact information so that we can keep in touch?” Xiaoran asked one of the contacts at the end of our meeting.

Absolutely.” The head of the investment department replied, while taking out her phone, “Swipe me.

Swipe me? What does that mean? I quietly chuckled, picturing how a non-native Chinese may think of this conversion, if it were to happen in English.

Our contact was talking about WeChat. By “swiping”, or scanning a QR code her phone generated, we added her to our contact list. Even self-redeemed as a semi-proficient WeChat user, I was still shocked for two reasons:

  1. a WeChat QR code has almost replaced business cards in less formal meetings (instead of learning the proper business card handling techniques, we should be learning the navigation of this app);
  2. WeChat is now the unofficial, but most widely used communication method, for businesses, in addition to its personal uses.

Imagine a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, and PayPal – that’s WeChat. Next, imagine sharing all these accounts (in combination) to a person you either have never met or have just met for business purposes. Now, conduct a networking conversation with this person via text messages, emojis, and occasionally audio messages. That’s one of the characteristics of Chinese style business conversation.

Modern Chinese business style can be summarized in these two words: Intimate and Instant.

It’s intimate – no matter how good you are with finding information on Google, you still wouldn’t get into that person’s WeChat account. In other words, getting that WeChat info is crucial to building a modern business relationship. Because of our team “insider (Xiaoran), we managed to get in touch with a number of strategically crucial companies, ranging from Suning, the electronic devices retailer giant in China, to various third party operation companies who showed interest in setting up meetings with the client directly after we return.
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It’s instant –  I haven’t found anyone else this dedicated to work almost 24/7. In my personal experience, it took me 90 minutes to go around three level of contacts (friend of friend of friend) to reach the person who can potentially help us, and six hours later, when I got off the train ride from Nanjing to Beijing, I walked away with a notebook full of the information I was looking for.

In addition to being an interpersonal communication application, WeChat also doubles as a marketing tool. Multiple contacts suggested that we consider WeChat as a promotion/marketing/research tool.

Now I wonder: is it the Chinese business style that created WeChat? Or is it WeChat that created the new Chinese business style?

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China: New Beginnings

Nee-Hao from China! Sitting in the apartment in downtown Shanghai is an experience in itself. The China market seems interesting and starkly different from what I have experienced in India or America. The sheer amount of focus on brands and advertisement is amazing. There are progressive advertising banners on set intervals between the stations, which looks like a video ad when the train runs (imagine pictures coming to life in a flip-book!). There are huge billboards everywhere, and everyone seems to be in a hurry. The food is surprisingly different from the Americanized Chinese food that we get in Columbus. It is slightly sweeter everywhere in Shanghai, apart from the spicy Sichuan food, of course! The retail stores are single-brand owned stores, and there are no superstores that sell multiple brands. The apartment that we live in is comfortable, but we faced a few issues with our internet connectivity in the first few days. The weather is pleasant- misty rain almost through the entirety of the days as this is the plum season. My team members are diverse with their experiences. Xiaoran has been setting up very helpful meetings through his contacts, while Lucy has been a great translator, bridging the gap created by the language barrier.

Conducting business and entering the market here is easy and difficult at the same time. The brand name sells. No matter the material or the utility- if the brand is big overseas, the product will sell at a huge premium (~200 %!). The market is huge which means that there will be buyers for any product that you can get out there. There are 25 million people in Shanghai alone. There is a big possibility that someone will like your product!

But how to enter the market is the big question. How can our client enter the market with a mid to premium segment product in a country that is known for its notorious piracy and duplication? The answer to this question is our team’s challenge. We are hoping for some insightful days ahead that will help us learn how to conduct business in this mystic land of dragons.

In the Heart of Shanghai

Our first week in Shanghai has been a great experience. I was very impressed with the house that we rented, although, from the outside, it looked less than inviting. Overall, the amenities have been very good, and basically what I expected (and what I would expect in a country of China’s level). The neighborhood where we are located has been interesting as well. It is close to the large shopping areas, the old French colonial quarter, and the famous Shanghai skyline. The biggest surprise for me with our house (and buildings here in general) is the lack of centralized AC in a place that has proven to be relatively humid. Most buildings rely on fans, or nothing at all. In fact, there have been several days where the outside temperature has been a lot more pleasant than the air inside due to the lack of ventilation. This tends to give me the impression that I am outside and exposed to the elements regardless of whether I am outdoors or not. Overall, this isn’t a huge issue, but something that strikes me most times that I leave the United States.

One other surprising thing I’ve noticed is how little English the locals speak. Is not that I expect people to speak English in the countries where I travel, but it has been inevitably true in most other places. And, I don’t mean that  speaking English is meant purely to cater to Americans, but English more generally acts as an intermediary language between most international travelers that I have encountered. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, and in most business settings, it still seems like English is understood and accepted. However, it does act as a reminder to not expect anything when travelling abroad, and to be as well prepared as possible so that you are not left fumbling in the event of a minor road block. In other words, it’s important to consciously plan for all the ancillary day-to-day tasks that are outside of the strictly business-related activities that we are here to work on.

More generally, this boils down to the importance of being flexible – something that I have grown to embrace during my time at Fisher in general. It has been the most noticeable when working in groups and trying to coordinate schedules with teammates who all lead busy lives. A big part of adjusting to this has been limiting procrastination, which has been a common indulgence of mine in the past. By doing work immediately as it comes up, it is a lot easier for me to be flexible with meeting times and project deliverables because most of my preparation is complete ahead of time. And, that takeaway continues to serve me well both in the classroom and outside of it.