Let me set the stage. I work for a multinational company in China. I started about 3 months ago. We have invested over a billion dollars in China.
The Hangzhou City Government, which is a village of 8 million people, wanted to sign a MOU with my company. They requested that there be serious corporate presence on our side. Word went out and it turns out that the only Corporate VP (in our company, a VP is a big deal and not a dime a dozen like some places) visiting China at that time was the head of my group.
I’ve met the head of my group a couple of times. He barely knows who I am.
I worked with our local people. Said that if you make it interesting, my boss, who is pretty adventurous, would probably agree. They raised my conditions to the Hangzhou government, and those conditions were accepted.
I juggled schedules and meetings, and long story short, we flew from Beijing to Hangzhou on the first morning flight earlier this week. We were met at the airport by 2 reporters and contingent of government people and a few of our own people. We were ushered out to two black limo’s. The 2 police cars assigned as our escort pulled out and our “motorcade” of 3 cars followed. It was pretty cool but slightly anti-climatic as we followed the two cars flashing their red and blues. I dunno, I kinda expected more like angels or something.
Drove like this through light rain into town. Briefed the VP on topics he should cover at the MOU signing ceremony. Settled into the ride. Then we got into town and traffic started to get bad as only traffic in China gets. We slowed to get through the first major intersection. I thought I saw something but wasn’t really paying attention. The next major intersection and there it was – police in the middle of the intersection stopping all cross traffic. Holy bat shit. Yep, here’s another intersection, and there are a couple of cops stopping cross traffic, with another cop on a radio phone calling ahead that we were coming. This was way cool. Then the sirens started blasting to clear the road in front of us. Cars reluctantly pulled over to allow our motorcade to pass. Even cooler.
Finally, we get to the entrance of the State Guesthouse. You don’t even get in here unless you have connections. I could see at least a couple of hundred yards of opposing traffic stopped by police so we could make an uninterrupted left hand turn. Pulled up under the awning, and probably 20 staff waiting to greet us along with 2 TV crews and about 8 reporters and photographers.
We were ushered into the meeting hall previously favored by Chairman Mao. Introductions were made. The city government people all sat in one row, my company people all sat in an opposing row. The leaders of both sides sat in the middle of what looked like a big U with two translators sitting behind. They made speeches. We learned many facts and figures about Hangzhou, and that Mao had stayed in this guesthouse 27 times. My boss, looking and acting 100% statesman-like, made a speech. I corrected the translators a couple of times. The TV crews and reporters recorded the action.
We went to another room. The walls were covered with photos of Chinese dignitaries from Mao and Zhou on down to Jiang Zemin. One long row of people standing in the background to witness the signing of the MOU. We all shook hands and took group photos.
Special golf carts took us through the rain to a dining room. There were big glass windows overlooking West Lake, which Marco Polo called the most beautiful place in the world. We were maybe 10 feet from the edge of the lake. The table settings were exquisite western style China, the spoons were made of gold (I was tempted but did not steal one). We had a banquet that really was indescribable. I lost count of the courses after 10. Many toasts were made. Hands were shook and many photos taken.
My boss casually mentioned that he liked tea. A trip to one of the most famous tea farms in all of China was arranged 2 minutes later. Gifts were exchanged. I personally came away with some really expensive and awesome tea, as well as a set of silk pajamas (Hangzhou is famous for both tea and silk). Hands were shook and photos taken.
We then had a police escort to some tea fields. Hands were shook and photos taken. The police escort took us through serious traffic, often in the opposing lane at 60 mph, and then up the wrong way of a freeway off ramp. At the toll both out of town, hands were shook and photos taken, we got our of the limo’s and into our van, and became again one of the masses returning by freeway to Shanghai.
Let’s just say that was an incredible experience.