This series has offered some insight into the business culture of China from a three-week trip I took exploring companies in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Please view earlier posts to learn more about business cards, the importance of language and my findings traveling as a black American in China.
I highly recommend taking public transportation in the three metropolitan cities. While cabs are plentiful and easy to hail, my colleague and I also had the chance to navigate all cities via the underground and buses. The undergrounds trains, including the Shanghai Metro, Beijing’s Urban Rail and the Hong Kong MTR, are cheap, very clean and easy to navigate. There are plenty of escalators, well lit areas, and customer service booths (as well as cool shopping areas for snacks and other goodies).
The bilingual signs surprised me in my underground travel and above ground. Many of the well-trafficked areas (including many train stations) have signs posted in both English and their Chinese equivalent. While it gets tricky as you move farther from the center of town, a good map can help you navigate when you are speaking to customer service agents.
In Hong Kong, I was spoiled because you can view maps inside the subway to locate the nearest exit to many destinations. They list main buildings and tourist attractions and assign a specific location for your exit – e.g., A4. So instead of wondering which exit is the best to leave from to get to Des Voeux Road or Chater Road, you would simply look at the map for the exact exit sign.
I would also recommend traveling on the trains because it allows you a real picture of daily life in China. It’s very easy to stay on the outskirts and be segregated from people and their daily lives (i.e., how they cover their mouths when talking on the phone, the Chinese character keypad on phones, daily fashion, reading materials, etc.). You’ll get a better understanding of the culture if you spend some time on their public transportation.
One aspect, though, of daily travel that was consistently hard to adjust to was the Chinese sense of direction. When someone is pointing out a direction in the States, they do so with an imaginary straight line. In China, my direction skills were tested as people would point in the direction – but meant to veer right or left before you actually reached your destination. Tricky!
Another element was developing a sense of direction for finding the main entrances for buildings. It’s not always obvious and I recommend allotting extra time. Generally, in the United States, when you see the building’s sign, you have found the entrance. That’s not always the case in China and Hong Kong. I found myself entering through a side alley or back entrance on several occasions. Once, in Beijing, the cab driver let us out and pointed out the building. We walked for close to 15 minutes before we found the entrance – while we were speaking on the phone to the director’s assistant. And we couldn’t ask anyone in the immediate vicinity because everyone spoke Mandarin. So allot extra time between appointments and don’t be afraid to get your directions in Chinese along with a map of the exact location. And no, Google Maps is not going to help in all cases!
Have any additional travel tips for business travelers in China? Or any other country? Feel free to post them below!
Stay tuned for my next post about dealing with bureaucracies. It’s a daily reality for doing business in China and there are plenty of things that you don’t want to take for granted when planning.
Malla Haridat, the founder and CEO of New Designs for Life, is a nationally recognized expert in the specialized field of entrepreneurship education and has trained over 1,000 students. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States working in partnership with companies developing creative solutions for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. A dynamic thinker, strategist, and speaker, Malla now works with a wide variety of organizations applying her creative talents to the challenges of business transformation. Her company was awarded the 2005 New York City Small Business Award of the Year by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has been featured in publications like The New York Times and on Martha Stewart Radio.