I am by no means a storyteller or a person trying to write an autobiography. I am sharing my story to support a project I am working on which I am planning to launch on a Kickstarter. I believe the project has a potential to be a success taking me one step closer to my goal. I also believe my story can be of help to those who dare to follow their dreams no matter what and be interesting to those who would like to share this journey with me as it will be unfolding in front of their eyes....

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

First business trip to China, part I

There is one thing I want to say - China is awesome.

I arrived to Guangzhou airport late at night. First thing I needed was a cab to get to the hotel. 
I walked to the side to avoid queuing up and saw a cab driver running towards me. I expected to pay not less than USD $60 for the trip but the guy asked for USD $30 only, when I said 'ok' he grabbed my bag and started running. His cab was parked right on a highway, to get there we had to cross 2 roads avoiding fast driving cars and jump a 1.5 meter barrier. 

At Guangzhou airport
When I got to the car I saw 3 other passengers waiting for us, they were going to other hotels on the way. There were no seatbelt buckles for the back seats in the car, I noticed nobody cared so I just relaxed. Once the cab driver started driving he lighted a cigarette filling the car with smoke, a thought came to my mind: “I might like it here”.

After dropping off the first passenger the driver decided to drive through the middle of a one way road in an opposite direction. At that moment I wished the seatbelt buckle was there. The road had 5 lanes and we seemed to have used all of them trying to avoid incoming cars. A few hundred metres down the road he found an exit and we continued on our trip. A few more minor dangerous situations later the driver delivered me to the hotel.

In Guangzhou I stayed in Yingshang Fanghao Hotel, it cost me USD $100 per night. The room was decent. When choosing the hotel I wanted to be as close to Canton Fair as possible, this one was one of the cheapest 3 star hotels in the close proximity to the exhibition. I booked it for a few nights only, I knew I'd make my plans as I go.

There are options to pay USD $25 per night, but prepare for longer trips to and from the exhibition and don’t expect much comfort.

In the morning I had a breakfast and went onto catching a cab to the exhibition centre. Most of the cab drivers won’t turn the meter on if you don’t look Chinese, instead they’d just tell you how much money they want. I couldn’t be bothered bargaining on the first day and paid USD $8 to get there, the trip took about 15 minutes.

First you need to go through a registration to get your buyers badge. The process is pretty simple. You'll need passport sized photos, but you can take them right there for USD $2.3.

The exhibition is impressive in its size and they way it is organised. There are 3 main sections, each section has 4 levels.

Section A
Sections A & B

I went straight to the section I was interested in and spent next 6 hours walking through the aisles. On the first day I went through all the halls I had to visit and spoke to a number of factory representatives. I took brochures from those I was interested in for further assessment.

Upon return to my hotel I set myself a challenge to buy a SIM card. Hotel staff didn't know much english and couldn't point me in the right direction. It took me over an hour to find a small kiosk where I paid USD $16 for China Unicom SIM card. Later I found out it usually cost around USD $3. If you are lucky to see one of the wending machines that sell them, don’t think twice.

SIM card vending machine
My next challenge was to find a store that sells food as there were no cafes in the area and the hotel's restaurant was not really good judging by the breakfast I had.

I don't usually eat fried rice in the morning but apart from rice, fried and boiled eggs I couldn't eat anything else. The meat didn't really taste like meat and had a weird color. All drinks were offered hot. Milk, orange juice, apple juice, all served hot and tasted like they were made from powder, which was probably the case.

I asked guys at the reception where I can buy food and this time I was pointed across the road. When I got there I was happy to see people coming out with bags. The supermarket was huge. The only problem is that everything was written in Chinese.

The only simple section
Salads with unknown ingredients
Live fish
Frogs and turtles of different kinds to your liking.
Looks delicious but I didn't dare to try.
I was glad to find a section where a lady cook was stir frying food for people. Despite my efforts to point at noodles and using gestures explain that I want it done for me she kept saying something I could not figure out. That battle I didn't win.

Not a very friendly lady cook.
I ended up buying a precooked meal with extra duck, some grapes, buns and a warm beer. For the whole thing I paid USD $12.

My dinner set
The next day I went to the exhibition to talk to companies that offer their services in logistics, legal matters, quality control etc. Their booths located in the long corridor that connects main sections.

Booths are on the left
At the exhibition centre you can also buy airplane and train tickets. Those who sell them speak good english and can answer all questions you might have. I purchased a train ticket to my first destination there. Two hour travel on the intercity train cost me USD $12.

The taxi on the way back cost me only USD $2.6 because lady driver turned the meter on, so it is worth a try pointing at the meter asking to turn it on.

In the cab
My third day I dedicated to planning of my further travel. It was a little tricky as I had to visit 4 different cities in 4 days. I needed to plan for both intercity and subway train trips, for two domestic flights and for three hotel bookings in convenient locations.

The good thing is that you can book and pay for it all online. To book hotels I used www.agoda.com, it has all the information and great discounted rates. Domestic flights I booked through chinatour.net and the timetable for trains I checked on english.ctrip.com.

Another important point to note is that the hotel might not have an option for you to make international calls. To change my tickets I had to call to Australia but figured that I can't call from the phone in the room. I had to top up my SIM card to call from the mobile. SIM card top up can be done online through www.HandyCHN.com. Alternatively you can use online calling services if the internet in the hotel is strong enough, mine was quite bad. Keep in mind that Facebook and Google don't work in China, but if you want to use them just download the VPN app.

So my travel shaped up like this: 
From Guangzhou I’d take a two hour intercity train to Shenzhen to visit the first manufacturing plant. Next day I’d catch a domestic flight to Taizhou to visit the second factory the morning after. After the second meeting I'd catch a one hour intercity train to Ningbo to have the third meeting on the same day. Next morning I’d fly off to Shanghai, spend a day there and depart for Sydney in the evening. 

I had return tickets for two weeks after the date of my arrival, but I managed to fit all I needed to do in one week. I paid a few hundred dollars to change tickets and was happy to be able to come back to Sydney sooner . The truth is you can’t really plan anything until you visit an exhibition and speak to factory representatives.

On the forth day I went down to the reception to return the room key. Young hotel workers were not in a rush to attend to me signing other people in. As a result I missed my train and needed to buy a new ticket at the station. The timetable did not promise much help.

Guangzhou Train Station timetable
I hoped purchasing the ticket from the cashier will be easier than talking to a lady cook in the supermarket.

To be continued..