Taking care of business in China and getting a real ‘taste’ of the culture…
Having spent some time in Beijing, I’m often asked about the main differences between living in communist China and the West. Besides the language, at first glance there really isn’t much difference at all to be honest. To debunk popular myths, yes you can freely watch western TV programs like CNN and the BBC, watch all the major films (pirated dvds cost no more than $2), browse any website on the internet and buy pretty much any western good at the local stores. Ok, buying books and magazines in English is a little tricky, but if you must you can most likely track down the most popular mags at the airport or at major hotels. For nightlife entertainment, there are plenty of expat bars and clubs that will play just as good if not better music than here in NY AND without the annoying hassle of either having to ‘know’ the bouncer / doorman or suffer the humiliation of waiting in line in the freezing cold. Just walk in my brother; most clubs are free anyhow and without the silly dress codes. Furthermore, like most cities in the world (except for only a few select cities in the USA), there isn’t an open container law in Beijing that prevents you from walking down the street while sipping on a cold one. In fact, there are places that will sell you draft beer ‘to go’ in a plastic bag – why you’d want to do this I’m not sure.
So what is the difference and isn’t this a food blog? I’m getting there soon, promise. One difference between China and the West is something that was brought to my attention from a good friend of mine who currently owns and runs a club in Beijing. Originally from Germany, he’s been living in China for 6 years and is by far one of the most successfully assimilated Caucasian westerners I know. I say this especially because he has learned and mastered the peculiar ways of conducting business in China. I have a feeling it’s a little bit different from what you would expect in the West and he’s since become somewhat of a master of it. Unlike in the West, most business deals in China are not discussed in the conference room at the office, the golf course nor at a sporting event. It’s done first at a restaurant then a Karaoke TV bar or KTV. As my friend tells me, the main secret to success in these business deals is really to go along with the flow – and anything goes for that matter. Chain smoking cigarettes and doing shots of bai jiu (grain alcohol) is a requirement. You will not only lose the deal but ‘face’ if you turn down a drink that is offered to you. Singing at the KTV is also necessary, although thankfully it’s the effort that counts and not the ability. What’s a KTV bar? Remember the massage parlor scene in Rush Hour II when Chris Tucker was asked to choose among a few dozen beautiful girl hostesses he’d like to pair up with? It’s really like that (from what I hear) and everything is behind closed doors if you know what I mean. Going along with the flow also means eating what they order and serve you. My friend told me on the dining table at a recent meeting with party officials from a local seaside town was 狗肉or Gou Rou. (For those faint of heart, I’m warning you — look up the meaning HERE). If you remember my posting about eating Guinea Pig from Peru, you’ll surely know that I would not survive so easily conducting business deals in China. And it gets even more hairy from there – not only was there Gou Rou but there was also Gou Rou Gao (number 5 on the list)on the table for that matter.
Ok, to set the record straight, 狗肉 gou rou is rarely on the menu at restaurants in China. You seriously have to hunt for it because it is more of a black market item than anything. It’s also rare at business meetings (it was his first and only time) but nevertheless you just have to be prepared for whatever gets thrown at you. My friend is also in the nightclub and party promotion business so it’s safe to say that a majority of business is done the traditional Western way these days. In anycase, for those of you out there who want to get a real taste of the culture, just be prepared what you are asking for! Oh how I love China. Just try to find a place in the West that can match that!