Posted by: yogmoney | January 25, 2009

My first trip to China

I’m on a plane on my way home from a two-week stay in China. This was my first ever visit to China and here are a few of my observations, including first impressions and departing thoughts.

China has a certain scent. It is reminiscent of a can of Glade air freshener. The scent was intense and lasted for the entire trip. I felt like a lab rat in the middle of some secret laboratory experiment. The objective was to see just how long one could take the smell before losing their ability to remember life without it. I’ve been traveling home now for more than 20 hours. I smell like China.

China is an amazingly beautiful place. As a westerner that has never been there before I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Said another way, I understood China as a concept. After spending a few hours walking the streets of Beijing I realized it was something different. I realized that I needed to unlearn everything that I thought I knew about the place in order to learn about it.

Music is universal. Although our tastes may vary, our love of it is something we all share. Everywhere I looked I saw young kids, discovering life through music. I saw pop music kids, rock & roll kids, and Chinese punk rockers. The independent spirit (and look) of the young Chinese punk rockers is no different than it is in London, NYC, Paris, or LA. Music is a beautiful thing.

I don’t think that Coldplay is very popular or famous here. This is one of my favorite things about China.

You can’t identify a lot of the food. That makes me uncomfortable.

They don’t waste any of the chicken. They leave no part behind. That too made me nervous.

China is like a giant wave in the distance. It is coming.

The Chinese people have a calm confidence about them. They have long been underestimated by those in the west. You can feel them taking it all in, patiently waiting for the right time.

China’s influence on global culture will only increase as time goes on. There is no denying their influence, scale, economic strength, and potential.

China shouldn’t be looked at as a threat. They will become a threat if we treat them like one. Our economy and theirs are inextricably linked. We need each other and without this understanding we won’t advance.

The government runs everything and you can feel it. I felt it more in Beijing than I did in Shanghai.

I had a ham & cheese sandwich in Beijing that was as good as any sandwich I have ever had – anywhere in the world. I won’t soon forget how good this sandwich was.

Shanghai feels open for business with the outside world.

The people here spit a lot. They hold their finger over one nostril and blow out their nose through the other. Yes, it’s pretty strange. You better watch your step. I’ve been slipping on the sidewalk all week. Somehow, this does not bother me. I have to admit to the voice inside my head that says it would be nice to do that sometimes when walking down the street in NYC. OK, not really. It is pretty disgusting.

The place is chaotic. A mix of cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. At any given moment it feels as if something or someone is going to get run over. It doesn’t happen. There is an order to the chaos. It somehow works.

I spent the day in a car with a driver. He took me around Shanghai. He listened to the soundtrack from the Little Mermaid. I think he was trying to make me feel at home. It was one of the oddest moments of my trip.

Reading the Chinese government, English language newspaper, the “China Daily” is a little bit like reading The Onion.

There are beautiful flower filled planters along some of the streets. They are gorgeous. Upon further review, the flowers (in many cases) are fake.

The people that I work with that came on this trip can’t dance. I can’t either. This is why I refuse to dance. I dance inside my head only.

The Chinese people are not the enemy. They are hard working and focused. The ones I met and the ones I bumped into on the street were very nice people.

Teach your children about China. Teach them the language, expose them to their ways, and find ways to help them to understand their culture. It will be our children who interact with the Chinese more than we will. Understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around the United States is an important lesson to learn. We should be friends with China.

Everything here is bigger than I expected. Many times in life when you get the opportunity to experience a place you’ve only read about in books or seen in magazines, its smaller and less impressive than what you thought it would be. In China’s case, its not the case. The size and scale of things here are massive.

China is bordered by 14 countries. Some of these countries have unstable governments. This causes China to be cautious. It has a lot of diplomacy to manage.

1.3 billion people in China. Yep, that’s a lot of people.

I’d rather have China as a friend than an enemy.

China is opening up. Young people are able to express themselves more than generations before them. This is inspiring.

I went to the top of the Park Grand Hyatt, the tallest building in China (perhaps the world – I will check with the research department). After regaining a normal heartbeat when I got to the top I experienced an unforgettable view of Shanghai. I could almost see Boston from up there.

You can learn a lot by closing your mouth and walking around. I learned that one of the pair of kicks I brought was a half size too big.

The Chinese people do not hate their Communist government.

It gets super cold here. I’m not joking about that.

There are vast differences between the “haves” and the “have nots”. You can look up and see the most beautiful modern skyscraper and then look down an alley next to it and see places of great despair. The contrast is overwhelming.

The Beijing Olympics was perhaps the most important cultural event of our lifetime. It was a symbol of China’s re-emergence; its strength and its focus. They are very proud of the face they showed the world.

Wow, think about contrast between the Beijing Olympic games and the Atlanta Olympic games. The Forbidden City, T’Square, The Great Wall, the bird’s nest stadium, the cube, the opening and closing ceremonies VS bar-b-q, t-shirt stands, and an organizer named Billy. OK, I admit it. I used to live in Atlanta. The BBQ there is pretty damn good. But, an organizer named Billy?

The portrait of Mao outside of the Forbidden City is eerily reminiscent of the Colonel Sanders logo for KFC. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t know.

There are a lot of KFC’s in China. Every time you turn around the Colonel is staring at you. Yes, Colonel Sanders is watching you. Beware.

They have an emerging (and important) art scene developing. It is through art that civilizations advance. In time, the modern art of China will become more and more important to the world. The contrast and tension in the art between its past and its future is inspiring.

China is not an emerging market. China is re-emerging. It has a long and rich history. We can learn a lot from their past.

Chinese people are a lot smarter than westerners think they are. This will hurt the west over time. Do not underestimate the ingenuity, intelligence and creative power of them.

We need to be willing to co-architect the future with China.

The modernization of China does not mean the westernization of China. Don’t make this mistake when thinking of China.

China must be considered and involved in the future.

We can not simply take marketing programs from the west and adapt them for China. We must start the process with them in mind.

Successful brands tell authentic stories.

The “bird’s nest” stadium is pretty impressive.

The “cube” (the Olympic swimming venue) looks like a cube. Mission accomplished.

Did I mention the scent in the air? I will never use air freshener again.

The Great Wall is bigger, longer, more impressive than you can imagine. It is thousands of miles long and is the world’s best example of focus, commitment, innovation, problem solving, and dedication. More than a million people died making it. You should see it, stand on it and look over the mountainous countryside before you die.

As I reflect on my experience at the Great Wall I am reminded of my American way of thinking – always looking for the short cut. I stick with my first thought that it would have been a lot easier to build a fence.

As I sit in this seat on this plane I am left with a sense of awe and a new-found love for a place I had never been before. I will be forever changed because of this experience. My hope is that I will take the learning from the past two weeks and put it to use to make my own world a little better.

Thanks China. I will be back.


  1. Just found you through AlphaInventions and have had an enjoyable read.

    China is on my list of places to visit. ‘The Major’ and I are hoping to go to Syria in a couple of months time.

    Toodle pip


  2. Interesting insight on China. China has an amazing cultural duality and very humbling.

    A great read: “One in a Billion” by Sandy Thompson at Saatchi & Saatchi.

    Kim Rohm

  3. Very cool insights to China – if you go there again and want a personal guide of the entertainment scene – check out and let me know when you will be there.

    The owner – Iris, is a close friend and would love to show you around.

  4. Great post!

    I lived in china for a while in the late 90’s learned the language and had many of the same feeling you expressed then as well.

    The part about the punk rockers made me smile. I work in interactive music events currently, but when I was in china, I was still just getting into the music scene in general. We would go out to eat at the open air markets and there was inevitably one group of punk rockers that we saw everywhere we went. They were still getting heavy sneers at the time, but they just went ahead and did there thing. It was like freedom personified.

    When we would talk to them, all they wanted to do was play music, skateboard, just do whatever they wanted. It was awesome.

    Anyway, great read!

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