Those who come to China for the first time to meet with Chinese manufacturers won’t find transportation around the place hard to figure out. Train tickets in China have names of the stations you travel to and from written in English, so when I got to a cashier I showed the ticket for the train I missed pointing at my destination. The cashier turned the computer screen to me showing available times. I picked the time, paid $12 USD and went to the platform.
I didn’t know what to expect walking to the platform and was pleasantly surprised to see a very modern train, inside it was very clean, the seats and interior looked similar to the one in aeroplanes.
The speed of the train was around 200 km/h and it runs very quietly. During the trip, passengers were offered to buy newspapers, drinks and snacks. Overall the experience was quite pleasant. Along the way, I took a few photos of rural China.
When I arrived at Shenzhen I had to take a subway train to the train station that was close to the factory I was going to visit. My schedule was very tight so first I was going to go to the factory and only then to a hotel.
Easy navigation in subway
At first, I was a little puzzled when I didn’t see cashiers at the station, only the machines. When I approached to give it a try an old Chinese lady started helping me, she switched the screen to English language and navigated me through the process. I thanked her for her help by leaving some change.
They don’t have paper tickets in Shenzhen’s subway, instead they use plastic tokens which you drop into the slot for doors to open.
Trains are quite nice too, very clean and quiet. There are indicators inside the train of where the train is at particular moment, so you won’t miss your station.
The one thing you can count on when visiting the factory is that their representatives will go out of their way to make it as easy as possible for you to come and meet them. In most cases they will even pick you up from the airport or hotel and will definitely take you back after the meeting, so do not feel uncomfortable asking for it.
A warm welcome at the first factory
The factory was located in a 3 store building. When I stepped out of the car I tried to take notice of as much details of the place as possible.
When entering the office I saw a signage with my name on it, it was a pretty good move I must say.
I got introduced to the director of the factory who did not speak English and we went into the boardroom that had all the products they ever produced stacked on the shelves around the room.
We had a chat about what their factory is capable of producing, things like quality control, the output their machinery is able to deliver, timing of delivering the order from the moment of placing it, their connections with logistic companies, legal matters etc.
The whole meeting took about an hour, then I asked them to show me the factory and they took me to the manufacturing floor. Honestly, I was not impressed at all with the cleanliness of the place and with the overall lack of order, the place looked very disorganized. They said they are in the process of moving into this building, but I suspect it was not the case and the company is just poorly organized.
Once I had a good look at the place I was ready to finalize the meeting, we took a group photo and they drove me back to the train station.
Driving in China is a pretty stressful process, on the photo below we are trying to go straight but other drivers coming from all different directions.
Pick the hotel in the right location
I took the train to the nearest station to my 7 Days Inn Hotel which was supposed to be right at the beginning of one of the biggest shopping streets called Dongmen Pedestrian Street. When I arrived at the address it took me 30 minutes to find a little office of 7 Days Inn, the actual hotel was not there.
Girls at the office pointed me somewhere 2 or 3 streets away and off I went looking for it. I noticed a sign on the main road pointing into a little and very busy street so I followed. At every door along that street, something was happening, huge blocks of ice were being crushed, ducks and chickens were unloaded, little electric appliances and mobile phone accessories being sold and much much more.
At the end of that street I saw a 7 Days Inn sign but when I got closer I was not happy to find what was in front of me…
I knew I was paying only $35 USD but this was too extreme. I was also puzzled because when I booked a hotel online it looked decent and I saw nothing decent in this.
In my mind, I was already making plans to find a better place but decided to walk around the building to get a full picture. Once around the corner I noticed another 7 Days Inn signage on a nearby building and was relieved to realize that that is the hotel I was locking for. I was happy to see a nice reception hall and they even had one guy speaking English more or less well.
After taking a shower I went to have a look what the Dongmen shopping district had to offer.
For those who likes cheap shopping, it is the place to go. There are hundreds of little stores that sell fake brands and a number of big shopping malls.
On the street fried chilli squid on a stick is one of the best selling foods. I really wanted to try one but was kinda worried that my stomach wouldn’t thank me for it, in the end, I went for it and I must say – it was delicious!
Having gone through the whole shopping street I headed back to the hotel and that’s when I saw what real China is about.
Those little dirty streets around my hotel transformed into an authentic Chinese cuisine markets. It was not glamorous nor it was a restaurant type of food, but it was full of flavor and there was a great variety of it. Hundreds of meters of stands with food kiosks stretched in different directions hosting a never ending stream of people till late hours of the night.
Stands like on the picture below impressed me the most. All the food seems very fresh and can be cooked for you right there and then, just pick and choose.
It was an eventful day with one factory down and 2 more to go. I bought a cold beer and some food and went back to the hotel to have some rest. One thing I didn’t mention about hotels in China is that there are not enough English tv channels, some had 2 or 3, some just 1, so I was lucky to catch some good movie on.
Off to the next city by air
My flight was departing at 6pm next day. At midday, I went to the shopping street to buy some souvenirs and then headed to the domestic airport via subway. At the train station machines with blue signs took only 1 and 5 Yuan notes and coins and the ones with red signs only 50’s and 100’s. There is a lady sitting in a booth that will give you change should you require some.
To get to the airport I had to catch a shuttle bus from the final train station. When traveling in China always give yourself enough time. When I got to the airport I was in for a surprise. Shenzhen airport turned out to be an absolutely unreal place.
I have never seen an airport that beautiful in my life. It was like being inside a piece of designers art. The place was simply stunning. It had boutiques of all the biggest brands and many nice restaurants.
The airline I booked the ticket with was China Eastern Airlines and the ticket cost me $196 USD. When we took off and dinner was served it was the first time when I’ve seen flight attendants offering excess meals to whoever wanted them. Maybe it is not a big deal but if I was really hungry I would appreciate the gesture.
When we arrived at Taizhou first thing I noticed was how polluted the air was. I was also surprised with the size of the airport, it was very small. Later when I asked the factory representative why the airport building is so small he said that there are only 7 million people in Taizhou and they don’t need a big airport, he said people mostly use trains. “Makes sense,” I thought “only 7 million”.
I booked Mannilai International Hotel, the room was only $35 USD and once again was quite nice.
Second factory was clearly at another level
Early in the morning, I was picked up by representatives of the second factory. The drive to the factory was 30-40 mins. One of the guys I knew from the Canton Fair, his name was Francis, studied in the states for a number of years so his English was pretty good.
On the way, we passed a huge exhibition center where the manufacturers of everything made of plastic present and sell their goods, the guy driving me said Taizhou is known for having a lot of factories that specialize in products made of plastic.
When we arrived at the factory I was pleasantly surprised to see an opposite to what I’ve seen at the first factory.
The building was about 5 times bigger than the one of the first factory and was quite modern. I was taken into a meeting room that looked very stylish and similar to those at big corporations. I was introduced to the owner of the company who also did not speak English and after a few pleasantries, we started going through the points of our possible cooperation.
After the meeting, we went to see their showroom that resembled a high fashion boutique. I was very impressed with the standard of the company.
Next, I was shown the manufacturing floor. You could tell they work by industry standards and on a very big scale. The place was clean and very well organized.
After that, we went to see their engineering department. Then we went outside where they showed me their own basketball court where staff plays at lunch breaks. I really liked what I saw.
After another hour of detailed discussions, we finalized the meeting. I was pretty happy with what I heard and seen and was very impressed by their standard. It seemed to me that my trip to China started to worth it.
Third Factory and last days
I had to travel to another city on that same day and meet with the representatives of the 3rd factory.
At the train station I bought the ticket to Ningbo for about $8 USD, it was about 1-hour interstate train ride. Once again I was pleased to see a very clean and spacious train station and a very modern train. Another pleasant travel experience.
One hour later I came out at Ningbo station and caught a cab to the office where representatives of the third factory were waiting for me. It turned out that the office is in the city and the factory itself is about 3 hours drive away and we could not go there that day. So after we went through all the points in the office I headed to my hotel.
I booked a NingboAirport Xiangyue Hotel with only 5 minutes walking distance from the airport. The room was quite good and cost $50 USD.
I had a pleasant feeling of an accomplished task. Next day I started my trip back to Sydney.
I had to fly with a stop over at Shanghai where I had almost 10 hours to myself before boarding a plane to Sydney. I thought since I’m there I might as well do some sightseeing. I took a Maglev train from the airport that travels 32kms in 8 minutes at a speed of 440 km/h on a magnetic field. The experience was quite cool, I never went that fast ever in my life.
In Shanghai, I walked through one of the biggest shopping streets, went to see the Oriental Pear Tower and fully exhausted headed back to the Airport.
So what can I say about visiting China for business purposes for the first time.
In seven days I managed to visit a Canton Fair exhibition, meet three potential manufacturers and travel to five cities. Having a translator is convenient but not essential. The cost of travel, communication, hotels and the food is cheap. It cost me less than $1000 USD for the whole trip excluding international flights. I could save another couple of hundred dollars booking a cheaper hotel in Guangzhou. Commuting is safe, clean and easy.
It had been an interesting adventure which gave me a good understanding of the country and introduced me to Chinese manufacturing. I was happy I made the trip and was ready to progress with product development from Sydney. It also helped me think and release my mind. It was a learning adventure in my new entrepreneurial journey which I hope will become part of one successful entrepreneurial story.