Tuesday, April 16, 2013

5 Tips for First Time Business Travelers to China

I had a number of friends contact me over the last year about my experiences in China to get advice.
A formal dinner table in China in a private room in a restaurant.
Note the beautiful Lazy Susan.  This one was very fancy in that it was
electric and rotated slowly to allow guests to select food as it passed
in front of you.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
 They are going for business and wanted to know what to expect and how to prepare.  So, I thought I would share with you some basic tips for first time business travelers heading to China for a few weeks.

1.  Packing.  Pack light.  You don't need to pack a ton of clothing.  There are laundry services everywhere and you can get dirty clothes cleaned within a day or two.  You should have one or two professional suits for formal occasions, casual business clothes for day use, and very casual clothes for traveling or chillaxing.  The grocery stores in China have all of the basic toiletries, so if you are going for a long time, you really just need travel sized items and you can go shopping for larger sized products like shampoo when you get there.  If you are staying in a hotel, they will have basic supplies in the room just like an American hotel.

2.  Business Relations.  Expect formal greetings when you arrive such as tours of facilities, introductions, or a gift exchange.  Have plenty of business cards ready.  Your gift should be meaningful and represent your organization.  Appropriate gifts include things such as a company or organizational product or something representing the area where you are from.  It should be in a beautiful bag or easy to open box.  Also expect a dinner or lunch.  Bring smaller gifts for individuals you become friends with.  Give these informally before you leave.  These should be more meaningful than expensive.

This is a more casual meal I had at a beach restaurant with
friends.  There is still a lazy suzan, but the meal was more
informal.  Note the fresh coconut.  Yum!
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
3.  Eating Out.  When you eat out in China with a group, the host will order the food for the group.  In most cases several dishes are served on a large lazy suzan and you can try whatever you like.  It is a bit like family style dining in American restaurants.  Someone may put some special food on your plate as a sign of friendliness.  If you have any special dietary needs, tell the host or the host's assistant in advance prior to ordering.  Your dietary needs will be accommodated easily.  There will certainly be unusual options on the menu, but only eat what you are comfortable eating.  I tried most things and found the food delicious. There are always vegetarian options but make sure that the host knows if you wish to eat vegan or vegetarian.  Vegans will love China because cheese and other dairy products are not used widely. There were one or two things that didn't appeal to me, but folks were not offended if I didn't try them.  Also expect plenty of toasts with wine, beer, or juice.  The drinking water quality varies across China and most business travelers drink bottled water.  I loved going to the grocery stores and markets.  You can also find American style fast food restaurants in most larger cities if you get homesick for a burger.

This was a cool robotics lab at Qiongzhou University
in Sanya, Hainan China.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
4.  Language.  In many areas of China, English is not very common.  Learn some basic phrases and take maps and an emergency sheet in Chinese script with your address to give to a cab driver in case you get lost. I used Rosetta Stone and found it very helpful.  Most Internet sites are available in China, but you will find that some sites are not.  For example, Google is unavailable, as is the Google blog platform, Blogger, that I use for this blog site.  There are some work arounds, but you should be prepared for this issue.

You will likely make good friends during your travels.  I know I did.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann
5.  Relax.  China is a beautiful country with amazing people.  While the culture is certainly different, you will find the people overall very similar to people here.  You will meet some very nice people.  Enjoy their company.  Take them up on invitations to visit or travel with them.  You will see a side of China that most will not see on a cursory visit if you get off the beaten path.  You can practice your Chinese, learn new things about the country, try new foods, and make new friends.

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