Further thinking after travelling in China

It has been the sixth year since I started my annual China Trip visiting existing clients and exploring business opportunities in general. I have written an article about “tips on travel in China” previously but thought it was time to write another article with an updated picture.
Train or Flight?
The train system in China is so well developed that you can get anywhere in China in under ten hours. Your ticket can be booked online, actually, it’s essential that you book your ticket online. People with Chinese national ID can collect their tickets through a vending machine in any train station and people with other ID’s need to collect their tickets at the window in any train station. I booked six train tickets during this trip and with one visit to the window in the first train station, I received all six tickets – I was super impressed by their efficiency.
Meanwhile, the airways in China gets so crowded that you’d be lucky to catch a flight without any delays. There are two tricks help you save some time:

  1. Always choose a flight provided by the local airlines of that airport. For example, in Beijing choose Air China, In Shanghai the China Eastern Airline, and in Guangzhou the China Southern Airline.
  2. It’s always better to book the first flight of the day so that there’s less chance of other arriving and departing delays pushing your time out.

The pecking order is train, flight of local host airline and then any others. ‘Ctrip’ is still my favourite online booking agent. It has an English version, accepts foreign credit cards and gives you access to all transportation and accommodation in China.

Where to go for private entrepreneurs
The restriction of making your own money was lifted from the Chinese people by Xiaoping Deng under the famous quote:

“It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black,
as long as it catches mice.”

Individuals who can think creatively and convert their ideas and skills to commercial deals have done very well. But overall Chinese business is still dominated by big Standard Operating Environments (SOEs) either controlled by central or local governments at different levels. Those SOEs enjoy the low capital cost and get easy access to project resources. Successful private business, once listed, will also seek funds from the government trying to become a part of that group. This unequal playground has squeezed private entrepreneurs out and pushed them to look out of China for good business and investing opportunities. Central government at the moment is supportive to this movement and encourage it by allowing funds out of China to creditable and legitimate projects. This flow of capital together with business insight and skill will have a positive impact.
Successful story of NZ business making money out of China
I was totally impressed by a business that was set up by a New Zealand company Alpha Group Holdings Limited. It was located in a third tier city Ningde in the Fujian province and is the biggest business in the city. The premise is a ten hectare industry park comprised of factories, laboratories, an information centre, staff dormitories and a conference centre. The business focuses on commercialising its funder’s Professor Yi Huai Gao’s research result, extracting essence from various type of plants and transforming it into healthy products, drinks and medicines. The business also has three islands in the same province farming the ingredients it needs for its product. The business provided the local residents with job opportunities and is doing very well. It will also provide its NZ shareholders with financial reward in the near future.
Foreigners living in and visiting China
Mariano is an Argentinian living in China. I first met him in an Accounting Association conference in Vietnam in 2013. He works for a consulting firm servicing foreign businesses in China. I was impressed by his fluent Chinese.
We met later in Beijing and this year again in Shenzhen. His story of immigrating to China is amazing. He met his wife in Argentina while she was working there and followed her to China. He did not speak Chinese and his English was limited. Now he speaks Chinese, English and a bit of French, and of course his mother tongue – Spanish. He showed up on CCTV as a crazy Argentinian fan during the FIFA World Cup. The girl he pursued over half of the world is now his wife and he has also won the heart of his mother-in-law. What he worries about now is how their kids can live a normal life either in Argentina or China.
In Taizhou city, Zhejiang Province I also had a very interesting experience regarding foreigners visiting China. One of my clients brought a group of NZ school principals to visit the Bureau of Education in Taizhou. Taizhou is a third tier city and the presence of five foreigners is a big scene. The government officer of Taizhou city was a bit nervous and they scolded my client for bringing foreign visitors without informing them first. If they were told, there would’ve been an official protocol to follow. Because of this unexpected surprise, the officers on duty decided to shout the visitors an excellent lunch. Five star dining is prohibited in China for government officials but due to foreigners being involved, the rule was loosened up a bit. I took two girls in the group to go and visit the local wholesale market and all were impressed by this experience.

From totalitarianism to individualism
Economically wise, the conversion from totalitarianism to individualism has happened automatically. Individuals are rewarded financially by thinking creatively and applying the thinking to business ventures and processes. The open door policy offered people choices and now individuals can choose where to live in the world – depending on the immigration policy of the country of choice. This has brought forward the transformation from totalitarianism to individualism in different aspects of people’s life. Social media has also brought all sorts of raw information, opinions and assertions adding confusion to what used to be simple minds. The struggle with comprehension of new ideas, the joy of reconciling with thinking, the confusion and feeling lost are all mingled together. It is such a fascinating process. And for people who thought themselves living in a free world their whole life, who can say this is not also part of their daily struggle? The totalitarianism is everywhere trying to grab as many minds as it can and it will definitely come back sometime in the future.
Amazing Middle Class Domestic Spending Power
The domestic spending power can be felt mostly in a tourist city like Hangzhou. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and has a beautiful West Lake with its history going back more than a thousand years. It is also the end of an ancient great canal. It cultivated corporations such as Alibaba and Green Town. I like walking around the lake whenever I visit Hangzhou, it’s a total delight. It does however take careful planning to try and avoid Chinese public holidays – either start walking early in the morning or late at night. Every day from 7am to 7 pm, West Lake is crowded with people from all over China admiring and worshiping the beauty of the lake. The hotels in Hangzhou from five-star to economy are packed with tourists. During public holidays, the bank of the lake will be packed.
From Five-star hotel dining to company canteen
The business dining culture has changed significantly in the past two years. Driving by Chairman Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and food safety concern, businesses that used to entertain their guests in five-star hotel restaurants have moved the playground to company canteens. Reasonable sized businesses build canteens inside their business premises and hire five-star chefs as their in-house chef. The cooking ingredients are sourced from trusted supplies and the chef can cook-to-order from the owners’ hometown. This type of canteen dining provides the guest with a big family feeling and is truly an interesting movement. On the contrary, any government officer’s car appearing in luxury restaurants will be regarded as corruption and photos will be taken anonymously and serve as evidence.
Wild delight among one of the world’s most crowded city and the subtle suffering of Hong Kong
Walking the 100km Maclehose Trail in Hong Kong was the highlight of my trip. The trail starts from the east coast of New Territory and ends in the west. It traverses through dozens of mountains ranging from 300 to 900 meters. Hiking in Hong Kong is more about working out than enjoying the nature. During weekend, I encountered group after group of young people with light day packs walking at 5-6 km per hour. On the weekdays, the young people disappeared into the office towers leaving only the elderly exercising. I was the only one on the trail carrying a 12kg backpack and I camped for three nights. Hong Kong’s camping grounds are well designed with toilets and picnic facilities but are significantly under used. The grasslands are occupied by wild dogs and bulls.

“One night, I heard grass chewing sound next to me and when I politely asked the bull the go away, it took offence and rearranged my tent fly – luckily it was easy to fix.”

Another night, I miscalculated the distance and didn’t reach the next camping ground until after it was dark. After walking in dark for an hour with headlight, I found a small paddock next to the trail on top of a hill and camped there. I was rewarded by a stunning night view of Hong Kong.
Outside the wildness, Hong Kong is undergoing a little punishment by central government. The protest asking for direct election of chief office was not successful and was now regarded as an ungrateful gesture and the mainland Chinese have been encouraged to boycott Hong Kong by not visiting or shopping there. The boycott is taking away those who do not really understand Hong Kong anyway and leaving those who love Hong Kong to enjoy it better. Without the crowd, it feels really good. I chatted with many Hong Kong people on the way and my mainland Chinese accent did not bring any hostility.
I hope the central government can leave Hong Kong alone as they are more than capable of looking after themselves.

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