Monday, June 18, 2007

A Learning Experience

Over the weekend I went on a sudo-business trip. I thought I was going to check out a trade show, but the situation turned out to be much more complicated. I don't want to mention the people or place I was in, but we were misrepresented as American investors to a province seeking to stimulate its economy. I was told not to say I was a student or give them my business card with my school name. We met with governors, mayors, entrepreneurs with business plans, etc. The meals were lavish, the rooms were decorated presidentially, we had one translator per person, a TV channel following us around, and I could not have felt more uncomfortable. My feeling is that the middlemen were actually at fault. They lied to their superiors telling them that we were investors, and then the superiors lied to all of the hopeful business start-ups telling them that we were an opportunity. After the first day, however, I found a way to sneak out of it with Adrian and we got a little touring done instead. You can imagine that I learned a lot, but it was also one of the most stressful things I have done since I have been here. Here are a few of the key points that I took away from it all though:

1) China is impossible to navigate without flexibility. Key phrase of this weekend was "Go with the flow." The difference between people that have lived here for some time and those that have never really sunk their teeth into the culture is painfully obvious. It is the difference between an understanding, smooth attitude and a complaining, argumentative one.

2) Things are not what they seem. Situations, things, people, all need more investigation than they do in the States. It comes from a combination of indirect communication, saving face, collectivism, and thousands of years of history. There is less respect for directness, "putting your cards on the table," or using an external system instead of a network of friends to get something done. So as a Westerner, my goal is to sift through all of these layers and figure out what it is I am looking at, and respond appropriately. Easier said than done.

3) The concept of "face" (gaining it, saving it, and losing it) is extremely powerful and increases in importance as you move up the chain of command. The higher the status or position of a person, the more face plays a role in every move that is made. Dealing with government officials on this trip was sometimes very frustrating because things are sometimes done in the hidden name of "face" and nothing else. As an American, if I don't see any mutually beneficial outcome or productive result, I just assume not do it. Here, again, is where flexibility comes in.

And just for fun, a few of our playing pictures! We took a boat ride to wander around an island for an afternoon, and this was the coastline of the city:

On the island, there were deer that we bought food to feed!

One night we saw an amazing song/dance show put on by hundreds of people. This type of thing would never happen in the States, as one dance company could not afford to pay 400 people, but China pulls out all the cards to impress. It just makes me wonder, WHAT will happen for the long-awaited opening ceremony of the Olympics?

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