As I did on my last voyage to the Middle Kingdom, the post written on my last day consists of a miscellany of random thoughts thunk and observations made over the past little while.
Driving: After my 120 km/h cab ride down Conroy on the way to the airport, I shouldn’t really be too critical of Beijing drivers. In fact, I admire them! They drive like rabid maniacs – but controlled rabid maniacs. I have yet to see an accident on the main thoroughfare between the hotel and the building where the meeting are held. And when you realise that in a driving environment where a near miss is when two fenders only just brush against each other at 80 klicks, there are very few dented bumpers or others signs of collision – well, that’s pretty good!! In fact, 99% of the vehicles are in immaculate shape. No rust, of course – no salt and little rain. But the overall shape of Beijing’s vehicle fleet puts that of any North American fleet to shame.
Food: Again, I am obsessed by and impressed by the variety and quality of the food here. There really is something for everyone, though if you are a vegetarian, your chances are a bit more limited. And cheap! My colleague and I grabbed a simple dinner at a noodle place behind the hotel and the grand total was 62 Yuan – about 9 bucks… beer, noodles and dumplings included…
However, I think that like at home, when in Rome, don’t eat Greek. Would you order a Chinese stir-fry from a road house? No, right? You order a burger and fries. or maybe fish and chips. It’s something they know and likely do fairly competently.
That being said, I’ll maybe grab a slice of pizza for lunch before the bus comes to fetch us tomorrow afternoon. I’m told that it’s pretty good!
The Built Environment: I think I noted last time that everything here is so damned over-the-top BIG! And much of it is visually appealing from an aesthetic standpoint… at least in my uninformed opinion.
To the Chinese, image is paramount. So much so that functionality might be surpassed by appearance. But man, they are really good at appearances. About 3/4 the way up a 50-odd story building on the side of the street across from the hotel a square concave area of about 30m by 30m that actually changes colour somehow.
The Language Barrier: This is huge. Yes, one’s lack of knowledge of Chinese can be largely supplemented by the use of sign language and pointing, but the language barrier does come into play every single day.
This is apparent at the market while negotiating a price. But most of the salesfolks with whom I have interacted have had a passable version of English – at least enough to haggle. But it is a different case when engaged in complex and technical negotiations. We use interpreters, yes, and they seem to be very good at what they do. Yet from time to to time, I get the sense that something is being lost in the translation.
Negotiating: Remember the Ferengi from the old Star Trek series (I forget which one)? They were masters of negotiations and unabashed embracers of the the profit motive as a basis for every day to day decision. Now imagine those ugly, big eared Ferengis as cute little Chinese sales girls. And yes, they are 95% women. THAT is what you deal with when negotiating a price for a given good in one of the markets. You are flattered, smiled at, and cooed to. The price starts at something outrageous, makes a quick nosedive after initial resistance and then you haggle over the last 20% or so. Depending on what kind of money you’re talking about, the 20% may be worth dickering over, or not. Twenty percent of a 50 Yuan gap is only a coupla bucks.
For example – here’s how it went for my custom-made pants:
Start – 350
Me – 100
Them – 250
Me – 150
Them – 200
Me – I started to walk out, then she grabbed my arm and said 175. To which I countered 165. And we were done. That’s about 24 bucks. And it all took about 5 minutes. Not bad.
That’s all from China this time around. I’ll likely pen the next post on the flight to Vancouver and publish it while in the airport lounge.