Mark my words, I have nothing but good to say
If anything I write about China, and especially the Chinese government, seems negative, you may see blacked-out copy similar to the Allies’ communications during World War II. Not that I expect to write anything offensive about the Communist party, but then again neither did I ever consider they would ban my tweets.
While visiting China in November for the franchise trade mission, my tweets were consistently blocked. At first I thought I had a faulty app, but later learned the Chinese government believes in the value of censorship. Twitter is banned, as is Facebook, so don’t expect to see any selfies of me in front of luxury-brand stores or reading secret documents in Chinese.
This really is not that far-fetched. One member of our trade mission delegation was watching a news report about a political prisoner when all of a sudden the screen went black. Apparently a censor had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Just to show you how harmless my tweets would have been, my first one said: “In taxi in Beijing, you’ll never guess: █ ███ ███ ██ ██████████ ████████
Chinese youth most likely know how to get around this restriction by ██████████ ████ ████ ██ █████ ███ ████ ███████ █████ I have no clue of how to tamper with technology. After five trade missions under my belt, I am still struggling to pack the right plug adapter for my iPhone.
This was the mission that almost wasn’t because the U.S. government’s shut-down set back the planning process by several weeks. It cost us one city—Quindao—but in reality four cities in seven days were plenty to see.
I don’t know what I expected China to look like, but it didn’t fit my stereotypes. I think I envisioned a lot of red lanterns and pagoda-style buildings. Compared to the imaginative architecture of the Middle East, it was—dare I say it—dreary. Actually, compared to any big city it was dreary. The monotone-colored buildings looked as if the government had a really big 3-D printer and took one plain building and spit out six more just like it, lined them up, and then chose a similar plain design, say with four stories instead of three, and cranked out five more. And so it went on down the road. In the literature I read before the trip, I learned the Chinese traditionally do not value individuality or creativity. This was evident in their architecture. Apparently, they took the term “big-box retailer” literally.
The pollution in Beijing blanketed the city, making the monotone blurry. In the closet of at least two of the hotels was a gas mask in a can. The day we left for the Beijing airport, the winds had picked up overnight and blew away all the smog, leaving stunningly beautiful blue skies. A big disconnect from the previous day.
In fairness to China—I hope the government censors made it this far—I didn’t see any of the famous landmarks while I was there, such as the Forbidden City or the Great Wall of China. I did, however, see a pretty good wall around one of the upscale neighborhoods. But, alas, as everyone who has ever participated in a franchise trade mission knows, we do our best work indoors in hotel conference rooms.
We did, however, see some highlights. In Chongqing, we walked to the port area where a traditional Chinese market had been recreated, several stories down. That’s where we spotted the noodle maker who graces the cover of Franchise Times this month. He made the simple task of mass producing noodles into an art form. Like an Italian pizza maker who tosses the dough to fashion a disc, this noodle maker tossed the wet noodles high in the air, catching them in a handled strainer. And like the pizza maker, some of his dough ended up on the floor. I watched him kick it out of sight and I just hope that once we were out of sight, he didn’t pick it up and add it to the dough for a second trip up in the air.
We had an authentic hot pot meal in the private dining rooms of one of the more upscale-looking restaurants (see the story on page 26). This was not a place where moo shu pork or fried rice was on the menu. Most of the food was awful, I mean, offal.
Call me barbaric, but I like my food beheaded. The Peking duck served at one of the networking luncheons was delicious, but I had trouble looking the crispy ducks in the eye as they were hanging around waiting their turn on the chopping block.
I’m also not crazy about eating intestines. I know what mine do and I’m pretty sure animals’ intestines have the same function. And who knew pigs have elbows?
But I was humbled about my judgmental eating when one of the officials attending the luncheon in Dalian said that in a country with as many poor people as China it would be foolish to eat just certain parts of the animal.
On our last night of the trade mission in Dalian, we ate at Rivera Restaurant, which had wonderful French onion soup and fresh fish, along with hearty Italian dishes. Afterward, four of us decided to visit the little bar next door we had spotted from our hotel window. Two young women greeted us at the empty bar. The three guys ordered beer, but I was thrown once they told me they didn’t have wine. Finally, I ordered a screwdriver, forgetting this was not your hotel’s orange juice (I was reminded of that every time I ████ █ ███████) We stayed long enough to finish our drinks and then headed back across the street to the hotel. On the way out, someone asked the bartender if she used the set of stairs at the end of the counter to climb behind the bar. I looked up. The stairs led to a pole for dancing. One of the guys laughed and said he had noticed the bartender motioning to the other woman to cover up when we walked in. I wasn’t sure if I was a hero or a fun-spoiler. “Your wives so owe me a thank you note,” I chided.
Just think what might have happened if not for me: ███ ███ █████ ████ ████ █████ ████ █ ███████ ████ ██████