Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beijing - 2010 - An Evolving City

For most Chinese citizens, a visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City is a once in a lifetime experience. It is a pilgrimage of sorts to a place that was shut off to the common citizen. I have had the privilege of visiting Beijing twice now, and saw some interesting changes in just the four years between trips. On the first visit in 2006, Beijing was preparing for the Olympics and there was a buzz in the air as construction cranes were to be seen everywhere, a gigantic countdown clock for the Olympics was running in Tiananmen Square, and massive change was sweeping across China as the economy was exploding. In 2010, it seemed that Beijing was exhaling, both from the after-effects of the Olympic Games and the slowdown of the economy. The hotels were more modern and prepared for foreigners, transportation had shifted (less bicycles, more car traffic), and the smog was worse. There were still people everywhere, but not as intense.

The main business lesson that I learned from Beijing was that doing business in China is not easy, but once a successful relationship has been built, the opportunities are far-reaching. From the challenges of IP infringement to learning how to “localize,” China throws at you many obstacles that a successful foreign venture needs to navigate. From all of the talks by guest speakers, the two that I enjoyed the most were our initial speaker, William Baker, from Mahon China Investment Management, Inc. and Joerg Wutttke from BASF. Both of these speakers brought great insight into the future possibilities in China, the challenges that foreigners face globally, and some down-home humor to boot. They had both “been there, done that.” Foreign entry is still possible in China, but it takes patience, trust and a whole lot of “guanxi.” A little Baijiu doesn’t hurt either, or maybe it does?

Overall, my expectations and goals for this trip were different from my first trip. I wanted to explore Beijing more and find the real China hidden behind courtyard walls and mobs of cars and tourists. Some of my greatest memories from this trip are experiences we had on off-hours, whether it was the great dining nights at Nuage, the Dali Courtyard, and Source, or the trip to the Lama Temple and the hike along the Wall. This trip reminded me of the love of travel that is in my soul. The class-bonding from a trip like this will last a lifetime and I am grateful to have experienced all of this in Beijing again.