Our hotel was comfortable, modern, and clean, and the service at the hotel was excellent. However, we could not safely drink the tap water. I also had trouble reconciling these facts.
Within a few blocks of our hotel we could visit car dealerships for some of the world's most expensive cars. When I left the main street, and wandered into some urban neighborhoods, I viewed abject poverty. These extremes made me uncomfortable, and a little puzzled.
My first impression was that these enigmas and contrasts were unique to China, and unlike anything else in the world. Upon reflection, I came to believe this was not true. I think all civilizations are replete with puzzles and irreconcilable extremes. China may be a work in process, but this is true of all civilizations. We do not need to travel beyond our own U.S. cities to view the wide spectrum of the human condition. It is possible to be distracted by the unique characteristics of each civilization, and obsess on the unfamiliar, but the similarities between civilizations are much more common. Weeks after seeing the Kung Fu show in Beijing, I attended a performance of KA by Cirque du Soleil at the MGM casino in Las Vegas. The two shows were amazingly similar. KA was a larger production, and it incorporated more engineering and technology, but the substance and style was very close to the Kung Fu show in Beijing.
One of my favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard said, "People commonly travel the world over to see rivers and mountains, new stars, garish birds, freak fish, grotesque breeds of human; they fall into an animal stupor that gapes at existence and they think they have seen something." I believe that if we are mindful of what we see, we will be less distracted by the oddities, and more able to observe and appreciate how the fundamental elements of our lives are not reinvented as we cross political boundaries. I believe that doing business in China demands a respect for what is different in China, but is this very different from business-as-usual? As we do business with our own vendors and customers, shouldn't we respect their differences? I believe the fundamentals that serve you well in business in the U.S. will serve you equally well in China if you don't become too distracted by the differences.