Good day today. Rainy. It came down most of the day like it does in Seattle, witth occasional un-Seattle-like downpours.
I got up very early to try getting online so I could post my blog, but had trouble finding an internet cafe and instead got led by my stomach to a baozi shop. Baoizi is a steamed roll with different types of meat and vegetables inside. The only had shimp/pork/mushroom buns, so that was my breakfast. I saw that coffee was only 5 yuan per cup, so I ordered one to discover it was a 3oz cup of coffee with freeze-dried nestle instant coffee masked by sugar and non-dairy creamer. The baozi was very good.
I went back to the bus and joined everyone else for our first speaker, and expatriate from California named Cory Grenier who worked at Lenovo, China's largest computer company, who bought IBM's PC arm a few years back and caused a controversy because the US Security Council then voted to use other computers in their embassies and consulates.
Cory discussed the expatriate lifestyle, and talked about words that we will be hearing a lot over the next few weeks. One big focus of his discussion was the concept of Guanxi. Guanxi means "connections" or "relationships", and is really a way of life. If you have good guanxi with a business contact or the government, you can pull strings and call in favors occasionally. Businesses are built on the idea of guanxi. When I was an English teacher in the city of Chongqing a few years back, I was often asked by a friend who owned a small advertising company to go with him to business dinners with government officials. He did a lot of advertising for the cities traffic and public safety bureau. At these dinners I introduced myself as his English language expert and assistant, which gave him face because I was a foreigner and he had a smaller-sized company. I wasn't really expected to sell anything and none of us spoke with one another about business at any of these fairly regular "meetings" at upscale hot pot restaurants, but as long as my friend Tong Zhi Hong continued to keep the relationship going, he assured himself of preferential treatment when a new contract came due.
Mr. Tong had a lot of these dinners with a lot of different business and government leaders. I never saw or heard much, if any, talk of a contract. Once a good relationship was formed, it was relied upon.
This is a large barrier to doing business in China for US companies. We go over and try to sit down at a business table on day one, because we're in a hurry and want to take hold of a good business opportunity. The Chinese are more interested in forming a relationship that can be benefitial to both parties for a long period of time. They shy away from complicated contracts that spell out the terms of the marraige.
Our second business presentation was with Terrance Tseng. Terrance was the head of ASEA television in Hong Kong, one of the largest stations in Asia. He also discussed guanxi, but also delved into the reasons that US and Asian companies sometimes fail to find their full potential when engaging in cooperative business agreements. He talked about the differences between Confiucionism as a basis for eastern thought and protestant conservative values as an underlying set of principals for western business operations. He discussed the fact that we are always encouraging others question authority, and that goes over poorly in a country that has never experienced the type of revolution and celebrated the forms of free speech and individualism that we as a nation grew up with. It's just not the Chinese way. And it flows through their culture and their heritage.
In the evening, our tour guide Jenny Pan acquired tickets to the Bird's Nest for the day's track and field events at the Paralympics. The stadium was amazing, and the olympics exciting. Especially the final race of the evening, the men's blind 5000 meters. Each runner holds hands lightly with a sighted guide who runs by their side. And they run fast. The guides need to be Olympic level athletes themselves, with at least one runner switching guides halfway through the race because the sighted guides did not have the athletic ability to run 5,000 this quickly.
The Chinese qualifier, Zhang Zhen, was in second place the entire race and being cheered racously by the roughly 70,000 in attendance. As he rounded the final turn he turned it up three notches and sprinted by the Kenyan leader as if he were standing still. The stadium erupted and I think everyone there felt their hair stand on end.
After the Olympics, Professor Chen and I took the subway back to the Beijing Hotel. Along with the other 70,000 people who had been in the stadium. It was a great day.