This month me and my wife Chrissy finally made our long awaited trip back to Beijing with our daughter Kayla to see Chrissy's family and also for me to take care of some business. We had originally planned to go in April of this year, but due to pollution concerns in Beijing and Kayla only being 7 months at the time, we decided to delay the trip.
Plane tickets to China are dirt cheap and I HIGHLY encourage every reader to visit China at some point. Almost every trip to China I've taken I've been able to directly relate millions of dollars in revenue to the trip and I'm almost certain it'll do the same for you. This post is a more travel than business related but hopefully it gives you some inspiration.
Chinese Visa Woes
I have a 10 year Chinese visa (China now gives most Westerners a 10 year visa once you apply) and my wife is a Chinese citizen still, but our daughter Kayla still needed a visa. Normally getting a Chinese Visa is a fairly straight forward process but recently the Chinese authorities have been starting to be slightly more strict. Unbeknownst to us, Kayla had a typo in her passport (they spelled her middle name mea instead of mae) and the Chinese consulate rejected her visa application. This meant in less than 10 business days, we had to get a new corrected passport for Kayla and re-apply for a Chinese visa.
The good news was that the Canadian passport office and the Chinese consulate, two institutions not exactly known for their expediency, can be surprisingly quick! We managed to get a new passport and Chinese visa in just a few business days.
Flying Business on Air Canada to Beijing
Kayla was too ‘fluffy' to fit in the infant bassinet on Air Canada so we faced the choice of being crammed in economy with a rather large 15 month old baby on our laps for 11 hours or forking over the extra money to fly in business. We haven't traveled much since Kayla was born so we forked over the extra $4000 each for business (ouch). Worst of all, Air Canada has a bunch of promotions to China going on right now and you can fly to China for about $600USD round trip.
The cost of the ticket still makes me cry but it definitely made flying with a 15 month old MUCH more comfortable.
‘Foggy' Days in Beijing
Regular travelers to Beijing know that you don't check the weather forecast before you leave- you check the pollution forecast (seriously). Just our luck – the pollution forecast called for Unhealthy levels most of the time we were there, described as “Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion”.
There's many arguments for why the pollution in Beijing is so bad ranging from the obvious, like too much traffic and heavy industry, to the less obvious reasons such as the planting of trees in Inner Mongolia to avoid sand storms (again, seriously).
However, during our trip, the smog did lift for a couple of days and during these times we had a chance to enjoy the outdoors in Beijing. I used to dislike Beijing. Yes there's probably more history in Beijing than all of the United States. But once you get done the touristy sights, the glimmer fades. The city is inland and completely flat, it's spread out over huge distances, the only thing worse than the smog is the traffic, and it has a distinctly communist feel to many parts. However, during my last couple of trips to Beijing the city has really started to grow on me which I think is in heavy part to it becoming more developed. People are incredibly nice, especially to foreigners (and it's genuine niceness not the “look at the freakshow with white skin walking down the street!” nice). There's dirty, back of the alley ‘night market' shopping if you want but Western malls (and most importantly, Starbucks) are abundant as well. And there's culture all around you, whether it's Beijing's famous Hutong or elderly people doing TaiChi and playing Chinese checkers in the park.
Meeting with a Supplier Trying to Expand to the U.S.
While on the trip I met with a Supplier who runs a trading company in Qingdao selling gardening products. They sell about $5 million a year, mostly to Europe. As I've talked about before, almost every Chinese Supplier wants to expand to Amazon in the U.S. However, Chinese business people LOVE to have partners, especially Western partners (this is a huge opportunity for many of the readers of this blog). This Supplier wanted me and her to be 50/50 partners. Essentially she would supply all of the products and I would do all of the marketing and logistics in the U.S.
I'm very eager to work with her but unfortunately most of her products were very commoditized. While I'm sure we could have had marginal success with them on Amazon, the competition for the products was very high and it would have taken a lot of time and effort to get them ranking on Amazon (almost all of which would be my effort).
The Chinese Army in Our Hotel Room
My wife's grandfather is a former Army general who fought against the Japanese and helped the communists win the Chinese Civil War against the Kuomintang (who fled to Taiwan). Fighting Japanese and Kuomintang gives you god like status in China and subsequently retired army personnel gives you a multitude of benefits including having a member of the army drive you anywhere you'd like. In our case, we used this benefit to get a ride to the airport.
Not far from our hotel was our one stop for all our grocery needs: the local wumart (coincidentally with the exact same color scheme as the large American retailer with a similar name) which also wasn't far from everyone's favorite coffee shop, Stars n' Bucks.
If you've never been to China, hopefully this little photo log gives you some inspiration to make a trip to the middle kingdom part of your new year's resolutions.
Have you been to China? If so, what region(s)? What was your favorite city? Post in the comments below.