Monday, December 11, 2006

Volume 29 - China - Intra-China flights

In my first addition China 'blog', Volume 28, I hadn't mentioned any of my intra- China flights, nor my three and a half hour flight flight from Beijing to Guangzhou after just flying fourteen hours from Chicago to Beijing, so let me describe this experience as well as others on airlines as China Easter, Dragon Air and China South.

The intra-China flight from Beijing to Guangzhou took place after 'immigration and customs', and as mention above, after a very long flight from Chicago. Needless to say not only was I tired from flying, but tired of the process involved in standing in lines, customs, immigration, and all the 'stuff' that takes place with security and traveling from one country to another, therefore I was somewhat hesitate as I boarded my first truly China commercial airlines, known as China Air.

I can only tell you that the first class upgrade was not only very timely but like no other airline experience. The attention given its passengers was almost embarrassing, it was so exceptional. The airplane was an Airbus A330-200, and as I was escorted to my seat another stewardess was placing 'slippers' (blue in color) along side my seat for my three and a half hour flight to Guangzhou. Although the only English spoken was during some of the pre-flight announcements, the hospitality was unequalled in all of my air travels. It was aboard this flight that I had my first Chinese beer, Yan Jing, ate fish over rice with 'real' silverware (not plastic) including the knife.

Four days later, I'm boarding a China South Airlines heading to Shanghai. A half hour before the scheduled flight everyone was boarding and getting situation for this three hour flight. Exactly on time, our Airbus was 'wheels up' and hundreds of people were on their way to Shanghai. Apparently, there was a 'fashion' show in Guangzhou for I was sitting with and around six individuals from Los Angeles as they prepared to meet other clothing manufacturers in our destination city. The young lady sitting directly next to me was a 'twenty-something' who had recently graduated from college, and now was working for this private LA label clothier, who had taken a number of people on this 'buying trip' visiting four cities over three weeks (nice job).

China South Airlines provided another excellent flight experience with authentic Chinese fare, including the chopsticks, which after four days I was getting quite proficient. The young fashion person next to me was not as enthusiastic as I regarding the 'sometimes unknown food', but nevertheless the service was perfect, on-time takeoff and arrival with courteous service. Approaching the city of Shanghai, one becomes instantly aware that a new experience was to unfold. The skyline of this city was simply magnificent. With its seventeen million people, the visual site of endless skyscrapers, construction cranes and freeways offered up a clue that this is a special city (more to come about Shanghai).

Four days later, I'm boarding another intra-China airlines, China Easter, heading to Taipei, Taiwan with a 9:00 a.m. departure. (As a side note, a thought to ponder is the idea of a 9:00 a.m. departure, meaning arrival at the airport by 7:30 a.m. after being out in Shanghai the night before. For future trips, this scenario will be remembered.) I was picked up at the hotel, at 6:30 a.m., by a 'transfer agency', an absolute must for traveling in Asia. China Easter, flight 701, departed 'on time' at 9:00 a.m. with the customary courtesies shown on other China airlines, heading for Hong Kong. Although my destination was Taiwan, one leaving the mainland must fly through Hong Kong, deplane and get checked through immigration/customs and board another plane onto the island of Taiwan even though it is part of the PRC; and even though mainland Chinese aren't easily granted a visa to go to Taiwan, whereas people living in Taiwan can readily obtain the necessary paper work to go to the mainland. I never stated everything was perfect within this country, as politics does show its bureaucratic side.

Two hours later, after the bureaucratic stuff was out of the way, I boarded Cathay Pacific Airlines, Flight 564 from Hong Kong to Taipei. The scheduled time of such a journey is approximately two hours. After being on the plane for only ten minutes, you desire the trip to take many more than the scheduled hours for Cathay Pacific is world class. The menu handed out start out by stating "The best Chinese restaurants have moved to 30,000 feet". They go on to state, "The best way to enjoy good Chinese food is with friends. So we are especially pleased to offer our passengers the best of Hong Kong Cuisine. To celebrate our 60th anniversary, Cathay Pacific is serving popular and signature dishes from some of Hong Kong's finest Chinese restaurants throughout 2006. We will be offering a variety of dishes and highlighting the restaurants that created them, so sit back, choose your favorite dishes, raise your chopsticks and enjoy. The best Chinese restaurants on the ground are now in the - only on Cathay Pacific." And if you think the marketing is good, how about the main course: "Braised Sea Bass Fillet with Preserved Gooseberry Sauce Steamed Rice and Chinese Mixed Vegetables"!!!

Unfortunately I only spent two nights in Taipei full of meetings and factory visits and didn't get to spend anytime seeing this beautiful island. Two days later I'm at Taipei's International Airport boarding my final intra-China flight, in another great China airlines, Dragon Air, flying to Hong Kong. Another five star restaurant in the sky with breakfast being "Scrambled egg with tomato and cream cheese, potatoes and broccoli or Fried turnip cakes with Oyster sauce, and Chinese Dim Sum." During this rather short flight of approximately two hours, I was further amazed at the simple courtesy of everyone connected with the flight. From the efficient security to boarding to the ease of 'smiles' that were so apparent throughout this great adventure. There maybe many improvements that must be made within the country of China, but when it comes to cell phones or the airlines, nobody does it better!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Volume 28 - China - the first 72 hours

After spending almost three weeks in China, Beijing-Guangzhou-Zhongshan-Dongguan-Shanghai-Suzhou-Taipei-Hong Kong, one might expect to hear about the fourteen (14) hour flight, the food, the traffic, the pollution, the population, the government, emerging markets, one child per family rule, poverty of workers, the civilization of bicycles, or other 'television produced ideas' of what 'China' is supposed to be so let me attempt to state what I wasn't prepared to witness.

I didn't witness an emerging market, I witnessed a country that already has emerged. I witnessed a nation that has been undergoing a huge commercial and creative upheaval, entering the world market. I witnessed a country emerged in a spirit of entrepreneurship that reminded me of what the United States was before we promoted 'socialism' under the guise of 'liberalism'; before we paid workers to sit on their 'butts' without working. I witnessed a 'pay as you go society'; if you couldn't pay, you worked until you were able to (purchase).

I witnessed construction cranes that worked seven days a week, in the creation of breathtakingly spectacular skylines that rival New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. Construction involving highrise office buildings, apartments, airports, hospitals, malls, and hotels. The creation of jobs for millions of people that earn them a spending power they have never known and are eager to exercise. I witnessed crowds of people working, shopping, and dining in an international environment.

I had the privilege of working with two interpreters, Chinese citizens, both bright and act as independent contractors, entrepreneurship at its best, who were given the assignment of being with me not only in a work environment but after dinner, socially in their environment. We walked the streets, ate at 24 hour diners, drank and socialized with their friends at bars, talk about every subject imaginable. We discussed politics, religion, America, 'change', security, crime, food, and a multitude of other subjects without rules or censor. By the way, it should be mentioned that they (the interpreters) and other Chinese females are unable to obtain a visa to visit the United States. These two professional individuals as well as three others met, two other interpreters and an educated Hotel middle manager, are unable to obtain a visa to travel the United States because 'we' don't permit single female Chinese to enter this country. I'm embarrassed that my country has such rules toward what may be our best future ally (future blog subject) yet we permit an onslaught of Middle Easterners, and South Americans to cross our borders seemingly at will.

Driving two and half hours outside of Guangzhou, a city of ten million people, to the city and surrounding area of Zhongshan, a city of three million, to visit my first two factories, I saw terrible air pollution, driving conditions that makes the 10 and 405 in Southern California look like a sensible highways. I also saw many small motorcycles, with occasionally three people seeking transportation on one vehicle. But I also saw people working in factories that smiled, when you made eye contact, no dirt floors, no armed guards, and none of the 'TV' conditioned 'Chinese factory'.

The following day, my drive to the third factory was less than an hour to a five story building within Guangzhou which housed 3-4 different factories. Our particular factory consumed four floors, and other than the walking up and down the flights of stairs, and the lack of 'flow', so promoted by US companies, this factory was full of energy from the managers of the company to the 'forming process' workers through the software creation department, to the circuit board production, molding processes and another dozen departments all the way to shipping. Energy and pride of work emanated from the factory floor to the Chinese owner, who has twenty-three patents on his products.

That's only the first 72 hours, and I don't desire to get caught up into reporting a daily schedule but to discuss in the next blog, along with some travel, and manufacturing tours my impressions of another world that has two millennia of history, a newly found entrepreneurial spirit possibly unrivaled, exceptional freedom for the female gender and a growing sense that Chinese destiny is being returned to a higher place in the world of today.