“You should visit the Yakeshi Factory in Foshan,” my friend Richard said. “They make really good products, and after every one of my visits, they send me back to my hotel with two girls for company.”
Richard was a competitor of mine, but we often shared information. Doing business in China is challenging, and having a friend with similar interests and insight was beneficial to both of us.
We were sitting in a bar in the Shangri-La in Luo Hu, Shenzhen. The hotel is misnamed, as it is quite run down and shabby. I sometimes stay there, though, as it sits on the border of Hong Kong and the train to the almost western civilization of downtown Kowloon.
Two girls (or any girls) is not my thing, but the factory sounded interesting as they made inexpensive amplifiers and CD players. I made an appointment and was not disappointed. The products were well-made and the prices terrific. Visit over, Mr. Chung, the owner, and Robin, the manager, took me out for a Chinese banquet. The Chinese often like to impress western merchants by lavishing food on them, and that night was no exception. Meal over, they dropped me off at my hotel. No girls.
A few months later I bumped into Richard.
“How are you doing with Yakeshi?” he asked.
“Fantastic factory. Thanks for the recommendation,” I replied.
“My pleasure. Did they set you up with the ladies? I was just there and the girls were amazing. Let me tell you about one of them…”
“No,” I quickly interjected. But I’m glad you had a good time.”
My next visit was exactly the same: factory visit, dinner in the evening, then back to the hotel.
I did find it curious that Richard was always offered women and I was sidestepped, but it didn’t really matter, as the factory always provided great products.
My third visit was in the morning, about a year later. Business and lunch over, Mr. Chung said to me,
“What are your plans today?”
“None,” I replied. “I kept the day free in case we went beyond lunch.”
“Would you like to see something interesting?” he said with a glimmer in his eye. I have a place to take you to that I’m sure you will love.
Finally, I thought.
“Sure.” I replied, “What do you have in mind?”
And as if to add some mystery to it, he added, “You’ll soon see.”
I sat in his lavish, brand-new BMW as he drove me slowly towards Shenzhen. Because of the volume of traffic in southern China, cars rarely speed. The scenery in Guangdong Province was once beautiful. But now, due to the massive expansion of industry, the air is polluted, the buildings are utilitarian, and even though crops grow everywhere they can, a gloominess hangs over the landscape.
After about an hour or so, I began to wonder about our destination. Should I tell him I have no interest in meeting women? Would he be offended if I refused? But as he had piqued my interest, I decided to stay silent and see where this led. At one point, we turned into an open space and a sign read “Lian Hua Shan Park.”
He stopped the engine and got out. He led me on a steep path, up a hillside, and as we progressed up the hill I was beginning to get a little winded. Where could we possibly be going? At the top, the path widened into a large plaza, and in the center was a giant statue of Deng Xiaoping, who seemed to be striding forward with his head held high. Deng was instrumental in opening up China, and is really the man responsible for the economic clout that China today exerts all over the world. Fascinating as it was, I was bewildered by the statue.
Mr. Chung and I surveyed the vista of a sprawling Shenzhen laid out in front of us.
“Just think,” Mr. Chung said. “Thirty years ago, there was almost nothing here, and now look at it. Isn’t that interesting?”