And just like that …. I was back, in China.
My China Southern flight landed with a bump and we rolled along the runway. Out of the tiny oval window, I could see that familiar muddy grey haze stretching out, almost touching the maze of concrete highways in the distance.
I grimaced. I’d forgotten just how gloomy it can look after basking in Australia, with its high definition backdrop for 15 months.
Yes it’s been that long since we left Xi’an, so the opportunity to come back and co host the Cross Border Summit in Shenzhen was too good to pass up.
I wanted to soak up everything ‘China’ … my writing mentor excitedly urged me to take notes, on everything, thus I was armed and ready!
Stepping into the airport, oddly I felt nervous. I definitely wasn’t as gung ho or nonchalant as I had been by the time we left China after 2.5 years, living it. Cautiously I eyed up the police in buggies and the military guys with their guns, watching from every corner.
I stood in line in customs wondering if my Chinese would come back to me.
The minute I was through with my luggage, strangers approached me from every direction… “Taxi? Taxi? You need taxi?” “Bu yong xie!” i found myself automatically saying. “No need.” Phew, I still had some Chinese up my sleeve.
I was getting picked up, or so i thought. After standing conspicuously in the middle of the airport for about twenty minutes, twenty ‘bu long xies’ later I realised I did need a taxi after all. I knew better than to take up one of the random strangers hovering close to me and headed to the rank. At least they’d put the metre on.
Stepping outside, I inhaled….ahhh that smell. Each country has it’s own unique smell, doesn’t it? Just what was China’s? Describing it has always perplexed me, but in the name of book research, I was determined to nail it. Stale cigarettes mixed with a hint of steamed noodles? Someone mentioned that, yes, that mixed with a whiff of decomposing food that sits outside restaurants.
And definitely a dash of unwashed arm pits. Hmmm..still, something else?
The drive was erratic, the horns constant and the buildings looming. Everything covered in a fine coat of dust, even the cars, I mused.
I was busy taking it all in… until it appeared my driver was lost in his quest to find the Day Hello hotel. Suddenly I was back in Xi’an, with a driver who couldn’t speak English and no Sat Nav.
I’d given him the address in Chinese, but it wasn’t enough. Construction and a wall along the main street meant we were going in circles. He started speaking quickly in Mandarin to me. Ugh… nope I don’t understand. “Ni zhi dao ma?” Do you know, I asked? Hopefully.
Then I got something. He wanted me to call someone.”Ah Dui, Keyi.” (Maybe I should keep up those weekly lessons.)
Meantime, he stopped the car in the middle of the road and got out to ‘take a look’…. I called one of the conference volunteers and handed my phone to the driver. Phew! Turns out we were just around the corner. I handed him 100 kuai — even the cash was dusty.
The Day Hello hotel was impressive. Luxurious even… but English was limited, which surprised me a little.
Shenzhen is one of China’s first tier cities, just across the border from Hong Kong. Until recently it was the fastest growing city in the world, an IT hub, filled with ideas, creativity and money!
The front desk sent me to the first floor, lugging my own bags….even though my room was actually on the 9th floor.
As I soon as I entered my room, the door bell rang. There stood a lady with a trolley full of loose oranges. “Ni Yao ma?” Fruits! Sure! The epitome of luxury in China.
Bags dumped and it was on for young and old. I had the VIP dinner to attend, in an effort to get to know my fellow conference goers. From that moment on, for three days, I didn’t stop.
Walking to the conference venue, I remembered the friendliness of the street cleaners and security guards. They all gave me that silent nod and a smile as I walked by.
The Chinese music bellowing out of restaurants and shops and this nation of people that can sleep anywhere, any which way.
At the summit, I met people from all corners of the globe…and admittedly whilst at the beginning I knew nothing about ECommerce or cross border selling…. by the end, regardless, I was enlightened and most definitely inspired.
We were a mixed bag, but everyone carried that common thread – a lust for life. And I realised, I’d missed the diversity.
There were the expats who’d come to China on a wing and a prayer for a different way of life, a chance to pursue their passions. I could see the same sense of adventure in their eyes as they told me their stories. That unmistakeable urge to step out of your comfort zone and really live. The thirst for Asia and it’s unparalleled energy. I felt it, and I remembered it. Oh the addictiveness of Asia.
There were the speakers. At least forty of them (including me) talking on everything from international branding to Amazon selling, marketing, manufacturing, technology and the media (me), even cultural differences.
China’s biggest YouTuber…from South Africa, Winston Sterzel, otherwise known as SerpantZA told us how he’d ridden the length of China on a motorbike. His stories were beyond your wildest dreams, his one million followers, among the most dedicated. Look him up!
The young ‘dude’ from Minnesota who’s obsession with UFC boxing now sees him run a squillion dollar business selling boxing paraphernalia on Amazon and makes him an FBA Mastermind. The entrepreneurial skills of this 24 year old were mind boggling.
The former UK DJ, now podcast and Amazon guru Danny McMillan, broadening our horizons with all guns blazing; the young and gorgeous Russian girl who blew everyone away with her enthusiasm and knowledge of China’s social media. Watch out for her! She’s going places.
The Chinese lady who runs a shipping company, alone; the Aussie guy importing much sought after western food into China. (By the way, thanks for keeping me going for three days on your muesli bars)!
The serial entrepreneur from Poland and the Israeli with ten years in China wowing us with his inside knowledge.
It was like a United Nations meeting of business gurus.
The dedication of these people was palpable. By the end of it, people were buzzing and so was I – not just on the cheap ‘bai pu tao jiu’ (white wine) at the after party either!
Oh and while it’s no secret China moves at a rate of knots, I wasn’t quite ready for the fact that cash is barely used anymore. I’ve even written a post on the possibility of China becoming the first cashless society and it seems to be well and truly on the way! The bar staff were dumbfounded when I handed them cash, and then disappeared out the back for ten minutes, scrounging for my change.
We celebrated on a rooftop balcony overlooking Shenzhen and I knew I’d met friends for life.
Taking an Uber back to the airport the next day, I was on a high….and when the driver opened the door and spat on the road at the toll gates, I didn’t even flinch.
I was back.
China, still a land of many contradictions, but a place where anything is possible.
This is China.