A Quick Guide To The Chinese Business Trip
First things first, it’s not America. Let me say that again, It’s Not America. Don’t be the kind of person who travels to a foreign country and then complains they don’t speak English. I know that sounds obvious but I’ve heard more than one individual comment, “This would be easier if they didn’t speak Chinese”. It’s China, get over it. You will run into a surprising number of people that know enough English to help do what you need. Larger hotels have staff that speak English and the factory surely will have someone if they do any business with American companies. People will want to speak to you in English either to practice or show their skill, just roll with it, if they want to shoot the shit in some form of English, smile and offer conversation. Be nice and try not to correct them unless they ask you to. If someone is trying hard to speak to you in English, the last thing you want is to make them feel stupid if they get something wrong. Let me also make something clear about the language. A Chinese speaker will switch words like “he” or “she”, or “lend” and “borrow”, this is because in spoken Chinese it’s the same word, it just depends on the context. If your Chinese colleague or the waitress makes a mistake like this, you know what they mean, you don’t need to point out the errors. Just move on with the conversation. Remember they can speak Chinese and a little English, how’s your Chinese?
Let’s talk about food. Chinese food in America is not Chinese food in China. Firstly there are the bones. Chinese (and myself as well) believe that meats and fish taste better when cooked with the bone in. So fish, chicken and pretty much any other animal is going to be cooked and presented with the bones included. This is not bad with beef or chicken, but can really be annoying with fish. People will eat the fish and spit out the bones onto a plate or on the table. Not the most attractive thing in the world, but keep in mind, your not in America.
Secondly, depending where in China you are the main carbohydrate is going to be rice or noodles and there will also probably be a lot of soup. Not Chunky soup, but more like broth. When Chinese think soup they think thin broth and a lot of dishes come in or with soup. There also seems to be an endless variety of vegetables and mushrooms. Most of these will contain some garlic in the recipe so expect that. Sea weed will also appear from time to time which seems odd but it’s actually pretty good. Corn is very popular across China and is even sold on the cob at street vendors. Sweet potatoes are very common and they are also sold at vending carts, but the baking potato is not as common as it is in the states, except in the form of a French fries. Tofu will probably show up in various forms and usually taste pretty good. The Chinese do eat a fair amount of tripe so it may appear in a few dishes as well, just to be fore warned. Condiments that appear on most tables will include soy sauce, vinegar, pepper powder and some form of chili paste. Learn to use chopsticks, it will make your trip easier.
Chicken is the most common meat with pork running a close second. Steak is usually reserved for restaurants and will probably come with a black pepper sauce on it. Don’t think Outback when a colleague mentions steak, think either top loin or bottom round and not that big. Your local steak place will not be serving an 18 oz T-Bone so don’t expect it. Now to be fair, most larger cities have great steak houses. I’ve been to an Outback in Shanghai and a Ruth Chris in Taiwan, so the places are there, but we’re talking factory towns where the average meal is $2.00. A little note about the difference between Taiwan and China. I’ve noticed that at most factory towns in China, there will myriad of small restaurants by the factory that the workers will go to for lunch. In Taiwan, it’s more common for the workers to get a Bien Dang (lunch box) containing rice or noodles, chicken, pork or fish and vegetables. Usually it will either be delivered to the factory or they will go get it themselves. It’s inexpensive and convenient. Everyone generally takes lunch at the same time so the factory will usually stop for the lunch break. Workers will eat in the first half hour then nap for the rest of the time.
Gan Bei (If you’re a man)
Drinking is different in China. Chinese workers generally drink to get drunk, otherwise they don’t drink. On more than one occasion I have been out with some Chinese business men and a bottle of scotch was put on the table and we were not leaving until it was finished. Gan Bei means “Dry your cup” and that’s what they mean. There will be a lot of toasting and you will be expected to Gan Bei on each toast. If you’re in this situation learn from my experience. Only drink when toasting, if you are having a glass of wine when the toasting starts you will be expected to Gan Bei the wine. Usually the toasts involve small cups so stick to them. Avoid clear alcohol. I don’t mean vodka, I mean a drink called Gao Liang which is moonshine. It’s very common but really could be a substitute for vehicle fuel, avoid it if you can. Chinese men drink warm beer with ice in small glasses. I don’t know why this is popular but it is. How much you can drink equals your manliness. Good news if you’re a woman, you are off the hook. The Chinese workers will not expect you to drink with them and they won’t ask you. In this case, sexism is good.
Don’t Drink The Water
With any travel overseas be careful with the water. Not that the water is going to give you any infectious disease or anything but your body will not be used to it and you’ll probably get the runs. You are already going to be eating lots of new things so try to stick to bottled water even when you brush your teeth. Most Chinese drink hot water and that’s not a bad idea because it has been boiled. Chinese generally think that drinking cold liquids are bad for your health, so just get used to it and drink the hot water. Keep in mind that even though you might order a Coke that was from a bottle the ice in the glass probably was not. I always try to bring with me a few familiar tastes from home, like granola bars I like or something of that nature. It helps on longer trips in case you can’t find any restaurants you like. I also keep a few Imodium’s and motion sickness tablets handy, just in case, I’ve been on some very painful road trips.
Think Like A Slide Show
If I have any wisdom to impart about dealing with smaller factories it would be this, keep in mind this is opinion only. I have found that most factory workers tend to think like a slide show, not a movie. That is, when a slide comes up, it gets reacted to when it appears, until then it’s not thought about. Unlike a movie where one scene leads to another so they must both be considered as they all flow together. I’ve had numerous conversations where products are to be shipped on Friday and when I asked some question related to the shipment the answer was “It doesn’t ship until Friday so we don’t need to worry now”. Just fair warning, this seems to be a common practice.
Another common practice I have come across is that the factory will generally wash it’s hands of responsibility as soon as the container leaves. Regardless of how the container was packed, the orders were boxed or any other possible mishandling, the factory will say “Everything was fine when we packed the container”. I’ve seen it myself, I’ve heard endless stories and seen countless pictures but it happens all the time and the only thing that will come out if is that you might get some discount on the next order. If your new to this part of the business try to remove any ambiguity in what you are requesting. Making things as clear as possible before hand is going to be your best bet of avoiding problems.