Yeoh Siew Hoon sees China through the virgin eyes of a global warrior and learns a lesson or two.
My friend, I shall call him Jacques – otherwise he may not be a friend anymore – is the epitome of what I call a "global warrior".
He holds two passports. He resides in a North American city but spends most of his life in planes and airports, and flying between continents, taking on project work.
He operates his business life (and I suspect, personal life as well) from a laptop and three handheld gadgets that he carries with him all the time – a Blackberry, and two Nokia phones.
When I ask him a question such as "should I get a Blackberry", his answer is, "Can you organize your life in less than 160 characters?"
Given that I am a writer who sees life in words, not characters, I reckon the Blackberry may not be my cup of fruit.
Jacques takes his e-life very seriously as he is in the e-business. He is today's equivalent of a mercenary soldier – he goes where there is work and where his expertise and skills are needed. In his hands, he holds the key to the future of online travel distribution.
He works from home and has access to a "virtual" alliance of more than 20 experts in the field, spread across the world. When he takes on a project, he calls in his e-troops. He has one condition for those in his alliance – that they have to be reachable 24x7x365.
Anyway, Jacques, like everyone around the world, is eyeing the China market and so he made his first trip to Beijing last week.
I write about Jacques here because I have to thank him for showing me China through virgin eyes.
It is easy for those of us who live in Asia, and who have lived through the pace of change in our region the last two decades, to take it for granted. It makes us almost blasé about the explosive pace of change that China is seeing these days.
For example, Beijing, as a city, has changed beyond recognition the last two years but most of us living in Asia take those changes in our stride. We have, after all, seen the same explosive changes in our own cities whether they be Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Seoul or Jakarta.
To Jacques, though, his first visit was a real eye-opener.
At the Great Wall, for instance, he was so excited when his Blackberry registered a signal. "Wow," he whooped with glee. "My Blackberry has a signal."
And he promptly sent an email to his Blackberry-ites to tell them so. "This is so cool, my Blackberry works at the Great Wall," he said.
You would have thought he had found the Holy Grail.
At the Shangri-La Beijing, he almost had an orgasm when he discovered the hotel had wireless. "I detected two signals," he said.
On the streets, he was amazed at the number of foreign cars on the road, the hundreds of gleaming skyscrapers, the plethora of modern hotels and the scores upon scores of shopping malls, restaurants and bars.
At the Silk Market, he was overwhelmed by the "genuine copies" he saw of branded goods.
And out flew all principles when he found DVDs of the latest movies (including Farenheit 9-11, the controversial Michael
(Moore movie) on sale at seven RMB (less than US$1) each. He bought 60 movies.
Sitting at a bar in the middle of a lake, drinking Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and listening to Chinese pop music in the background, Jacques mused, "You know, I have not heard the word ‘communism' mentioned once."
Jacques came expecting a China that existed in his head. He did not expect such an unabashedly capitalistic China, where conspicuous consumption is on over-drive.
Jacques also came to Beijing to share the Holy Grail of online travel distribution with China's main player. He knows he knows the answers. He knows he knows what they have to do. He is therefore anxious to share his knowledge.
In the Western world, in which he operates, he is used to logic and reason. If someone has the right answers and can explain why rationally, you listen to him and you buy his product and service.
Jacques left, realizing this reasoning doesn't quite work that easily in China.
On the way to the airport to catch his flight out to London, Jacques said, "This trip has completely changed my impression of China. I now understand its full potential. It has also taught me how to deal with developing nations."
Now there's a word I don't understand – ‘developing'. In the strictest sense of the word, all nations should be ‘developing' because no nation had ended its journey through history unless you count Iraq or Afghanistan, thanks to American help.
But I didn't want to argue with Jacques on this. So I asked him, "What has it taught you?"
"That it will take a lot of time and investment into relationships before we can get into China," said Jacques.
Within that lesson is buried another lesson – that for Jacques and all foreigners wanting to do business with the new China today, it is us who have to adapt to them, and not them to us.
Gone are the days when it was mainly the Chinese, hungry for commerce, who had to adapt to Western ways; today, it is the Western world, hungry commerce, that has to adapt to Chinese ways.
And therein lies the subtle shift in power between China and the rest of the world, a shift that took place perhaps in the last three years.
It's a lesson all global warriors must heed in today's world where the force of China can no longer be denied.
Now, that fits into a Blackberry.The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.
Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.
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