Frank O'Hara & Marion Raycheba in China
We didn't lack for fine dining.
(With our host David Liu and his wife Linda)
Xi'an, in northwest China, is a middle sized city, by Chinese
standards - about 7 million people. This was the beginning of the ancient Silk
Road and the locale of the first efforts to unite all of China under one
emperor. There is much to see including, of course, the Terra-cotta Warriors.
My wife, Marion and I were invited by the government of Shaanxi province to
give instruction in such things as sales training, small business management,
effective meetings, western etiquette and about ten other subjects that arose
after we arrived.
The crowds in Xi'an are typical of Chinese cities.
They have to be experienced to be believed. The main streets of Xi'an have very
wide sidewalks as well as special lanes for bicycles (millions of them),
motorcycles, peddled and motorized carts and several lanes for car traffic in
each direction. The very modern main roads have all been constructed within the
last ten years or so, as have the excellent highways leading out of the city.
However, if they add as many cars in the next year or so as they have been
doing recently they will have world class gridlock. Traffic patterns are
interesting. At a corner with traffic lights (not all corners have them) the
vehicles, cars, busses, motorcycles, motorized carts, bicycles don't even
hesitate at the red light to make a right turn. To get to our office each
morning we had to cross 8 lanes of traffic in one direction and then 6 in the
other. We often took two lights to make it across. Fortunately, there was a
wide median behind which we could cower. Our technique was to get downstream of
Chinese pedestrians. Cowardly but effective. At corners where there are no
lights the traffic somehow melds with everyone managing to squeeze without
hitting either other vehicles or people. Marion calls it the "squeeze style of
traffic". Somehow the traffic proceeds and I only saw only a few fender benders
and only two bodies on the road.
Our hotel was like an up-scale Holiday Inn. Our
room even had a high speed connection to the Internet. With my notebook, Marion
and I kept in touch with email almost as easily as if we were still in Toronto.
The hotel connection was faster than the one at the office where we worked,
even though they had ADSL through their LAN. However our ADSL connection at
home is about twice as fast.
The afternoon temperatures reached mid 20 Celsius,
even in the Fall. Flowers were still in bloom and quite a few palm trees in
evidence; so the winters are obviously a lot milder than Toronto's. Of course,
summer temperatures reach the mid 40 Celsius.
Marion gave lectures on Communications - how to
prepare a professional report, how to meet new business acquaintances, how to
plan and give a speech, how to conduct effective meetings, etc. I gave seminars
on how to attract foreign investment, how to retain key staff, and sales
training. I also gave advice on Website design.
I met with the section of the Hi Tech Development
Zone that looks after attracting foreign investment. This followed my formal
presentation on the subject. I guess I sounded like an expert. Maybe my regular
reading of the Globe and Mail and the Report on Business coupled
with my less than satisfactory attempts to raise capital for my own company
stood me in good stead. One of the definitions of an expert is, "an SOB from
out of town"; since I was from far out of town I suppose my expertise was
beyond reproach. In any event, it went quite well. One of my suggestions was
that they get the mayor to send out thousands of letters to prospects in the
West. They felt that he would agree to do so. Of course, they will do all the
preparation and print his signature on the letters. I also gave them tips on
how to find prospective investors. On another subject - I also reviewed the
business plan of a company. I've prepared lots of business plans over the
years. All the banks except for a Hong Kong one, as far as I could determine,
are wholly owned by the government.
We had a meeting with the woman who is head of the
Xi'an Hi Tech Incubator Center. They have over 300 incubator companies - an
increase from 100 in 2 years when I was last in Xi'an. One subject we touched
on was the difference in culture. For example, in a training session it is
difficult to get anyone to ask questions. Obedience/paying close attention is
their strong suit. We had a little success by bribing them with Canada flag
The government put a lot of money into the economy
this year to counteract the effects of SARS. One of the companies with whom I
worked got a loan equivalent to ½ million USD. It seems they got it
without preparing a really serious business plan. No wonder this economy is
The Hi Tech City where we worked is only one of
several "Hi Growth" (hi-tech, aeronautical, chemical, electrical, etc.) areas
in this city (53 of the largest cities in China have this arrangement). Xi'an's
is the fourth most successful. The Xi'an Hi Tech City has expanded from a start
ten years ago to 5 sq. kms when I was in China 4 years ago to 12.5 sq. kms now.
They have allocated land for further expansion - 65 additional square kms! We
used to think that Americans thought big. They are pikers in comparison with
this. The Hi-tech Development Zone includes living accommodation, schools,
parks, hotels, etc. in addition to businesses. They plan on adding 1,000 new
businesses a year - not in the whole country or even in the city of Xi'an but
just in the Xi'an Hi Tech Development Zone. While the US is showing its
military muscle China is doing some interesting "set-up" exercises. I wish I
could live long enough to see the eventual results.
There was a well-written article in the first issue
of a new magazine "Walrus" about the effects of SARS on China and how it has
fostered a more open society. I have a much more positive appreciation of where
this country is headed having read the article. You may find a bit about it at
www.walrusmagazine.com. They are still on the alert for SARS. We both had our
temperature taken on entering our hotel. They do it on a random basis with a
small device that they hold close to your neck. There was also a thermometer in
our room with a note (in Chinese!) with, I suppose, instructions on it's used
for self-diagnosis. The airports do a thorough screening of every passenger
arriving or leaving.
On our last Saturday morning Marion and I
had a meeting with a company to help them arrive at a Mission Statement. It is
wonderful what you can accomplish despite limited experience in a subject when
people believe you can do it! If I do say so, in a couple of hours we did a
great job. They then treated us to a sumptuous lunch - one of very many that we
I had KFC chicken for a working business lunch one
day - a treat because it was so different! It is much like in North America but
with a more spicy coating on the chicken - not too much for my delicate palate
or maybe my tongue was turning to leather like everyone in China seems to have
developed. The chips were soggy but nevertheless a change from noodles and
rice. One serving of KFC was enough, though.
Silk, if you have someone to show you where to
shop, is ridiculously cheap as is tailoring. So we went on a spree and had
dressing gowns made for my 2 daughters, a caftan for me and Marion and a
smoking jacket for me (very fancy). When I get home, I might even indulge in
the occasional cigar with a good cognac - to complete the picture.
Our last 6 days were in Shanghai for some
welcome R&R. Seeing the sites on our own was not as rewarding as when our
hosts showed us the Xi'an area but we managed quite nicely. It is reputed to be
the fastest growing city in China and the skyscrapers and rate of development
are certainly impressive. We stayed at an attractive small hotel in the former
French quarter. Originally it was a fabulous mansion. Downtown there is a
building with a plaque commemorating a meeting of the Opium Dealers Association
in 1909. Could that be how they paid for their mansions?
Returning from China is to experience serious jet
lag. A small price to pay for a scintillating experience. Our pictures will
remind us of our time in China and our memories of Chinese hospitality will
remain without any prompting.
We had fun assigning English given names to those
who didn't already have one. So, on the last day in Xi'an they assigned us
Chinese names (including new family names.) I am now Ou Fu Lai (O foo lie) and
Marion is Lei Moli (lay Mawlee). My name is translated as "Good luck comes" and
Marion's is "Fortune comes when jasmine blooms". Here's my chop: