A first visit to China

What people are saying about Mulberry Fields
“I have read through quite a few of your blog posts and have enjoyed them very very much. We do business in China and face many of the challenges you describe. Much of what you write resonates with me and there are some very helpful tips” – a children’s apparel company in Utah.

A customer of mine is about to make his first trip to China, and I think his first visit ever to Asia. How exciting ! He is going to meet with a prospective supplier who approached him at the NYC Gift Fair this past spring. The samples he ordered have been good, the pricing is in line with what he wants to pay, the credit report he ran on the vendor turned up nothing of concern and now he is doing his last bit of due diligence, making the trip to China to see it all for himself. This is what you need to do when you do business in China. You simply have got to show up to meet the people whom you, and your customers, are going to be relying on.

Anyway, he skyped me last night with some questions, mainly about travelling and protocol.

1.) He will be arriving in Shanghai on 6/27 and then going straight to Ningbo. He said that for the adventure he would like to take the bullet train from Shanghai to Ningbo where the vendor is located. I told him to save the sightseeing for after his business is concluded. The most important thing for him is to get to Ningbo in as little time as possible. Taking the train from Shanghai to Ningbo takes 4 hours, not to mention the transit time from Pudong to Hongqiao. And trying to navigate Hongqiao Railway Station without Chinese would be an exercise in frustration. Going by plane, however, takes 35 min. I also told him that because Ningbo is only two hours from Shanghai by car, it is very likely his vendor will offer to pick him up. The Chinese are very hospitable and they will do this for you. He should ask his vendor about this before he makes his Shanghai-Ningbo plans.

2.) He will have only 3 days in Ningbo and in that time he wanted to visit another vendor we had been in discussion with last year. I told him forget it. Since he will have only 3 days – including two days which fall on the weekend – he should spend all of his time with the vendor he is about to give his business to. I advised him to see the other vendor on his next trip. I suggested he should script an agenda of his visit and send to his vendor for approval. This visit should include a visit to subcontractors so my customer will really come to an understanding out how his product is made.

3.) I told him he will very likely have to drink with his hosts. He said fine but that he does not drink spirits. I told him that will not work. He will likely have to drink “bai jiu” of which the urban dictionary has the following definition. “Pure distilled evil in liquid form. Chinese firewater that could be used to put a man on a moon of a planet in a far of galaxy. It tastes like a combination of the fires of hell, rotten Indian food and the after effect of China Syndrome. “ He seemed concerned about this and I told him to go to his local Chinatown there in Toronto and buy a bottle so he can get used to it and won’t pass out when it is offered to him in China. He seemed to think this was a very good idea. I actually have come to like the stuff. But it took me 20 years to get to that point.

My wife, who knows China as well ( she majored in Chinese in college and has been to China any number of times ) said basically he has to leave his common sense at home. Western common sense does not apply in China. Easier said than done but a very good piece of advice.

One thing that occurred to me during our call is that some cities in China are absolutely huge and transportation infrastructure leaves much to be desired. For this reason in some places and you can easily spend the better part of one afternoon going from point A to point B. Ambitious agendas therefore do not often work. It is better to have a limited agenda so you can be sure of accomplishing in China what you are going there to accomplish.




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