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Second impressions of China

Dscn0946I am enjoying my visit to China. Unfortunately my ignorance of the language makes it difficult to escape the protective bubble in which I am living. The organisers of the conference I am attending bussed us to a way-too-cool for me night club last night. It will probably never recover its reputation after being taken over for an evening by real estate "suits".  I also had my first experience of being trapped by the Chinese language when they failed to provide transport back to the hotel. I could have found my way back to the hotel on foot, I guess. I could see it on the other side of a rather wide river. Or I could have swum the river. But I could more readily have performed heart surgery than obtained  a taxi home.

I didn't feel in any danger. I don't have that impression of Shanghai at all. My heart merely sank at the thought of a long walk home in the dark with the aid of an hotel concierge's freebie map.

Dscn0941Fortunately I had been chatting to a nice young bi-lingual American who provides commercial P.R. services to the Chinese Government.   I have always relied, dear reader, on the kindness of strangers. He placed the all-important call for me and gave instructions to the taxi driver who duly arrived.

While we were waiting, he performed similar services for a group of young expatriate ladies who had been invited to join a friend in the club, but could not get past the monoglot bouncer. When employers back home baulk at funding drivers for expatriate employees and their families, these are the sorts of thing they are failing to imagine.

I am dining in the hotel tonight rather than taking the river cruise. Sadly, I was engrossed in work and missed the bus. What a shame. There are few better ways of seeing most cities than from their river; London being a spectacular case in point.

I have not learned that much about the real estate business in China at my conference. I follow the industry press quite closely and have talked to clients who are active here. Frankly, I could have given most of the speeches myself. It's as well I didn't, however, as I always like to inject some humour and business is a deadly serious matter here. The occasional Brit who ventured a joke walked off to the sound of his own footsteps.

Chinese people are clearly not without humour. On Sunday I heard family groups uproariously enjoy themselves over food and drink. Last night I witnessed a strangely relentless enjoyment of dancing and music. In my 16 years abroad, I had already learned that few nations share the English compulsion not to "take themselves too seriously." Often, in fact, others take it as an invitation not to take us seriously either, though those who know us best (the French) will wincingly acknowledge what we are up to. An Austrian audience will smile politely if a Brit cracks a joke at a conference podium; even if they would never do it themselves. The assembled Chinese, Singaporeans etc. simply didn't react at all. Is this where the inscrutability myth comes from?

To be continued...