Towering construction cranes dot the
skyline at night like stars forming the Milky Way leading into
Shanghai, the Chinese financial mecca of 24 million people.
As far as the eye can see, massive
developments fill former rice fields and land that once housed
millions of people in low, shaky structures.
Some of the new
buildings can house up to 10,000 and they are built in clusters
competing with the “older” skyscrapers built, maybe, one or two
years previous. The developments are staggering in scope and amazing
This was our introduction to the glitzy
showpiece of one of China’s most famous cities. By the time we made
it to the downtown core, the oohs and aahs had subsided and were
replaced with head shaking and one word, “unbelievable.”
Days earlier, we flew into Beijing, the
dusty capital of the People’s Republic of China and spent our first
few days in one of the world’s most populated cities visiting
historical sites that have defined the Chinese for decades.
We climbed the Great Wall of China and
visited Tiananmen Square, where we felt the chill from its past creep
into our psychic as our tour guide pointed out that one third of the
“visitors” in the square were actually soldiers, on guard for any
We had already noticed the highly
visible security cameras attached to every pole and structure as far
as the eye could see and we were cautioned that security was very
tight in this, the political hub of China.
I was part of a 60-person
delegation from the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and we were
joined by hundreds more chamber members from southern Ontario and
many American cities to visit cultural and select industrial sites in
The tour guides for the group I was in
were excellent ambassadors for China: fluent in English, warm,
wonderful personalities, caring individuals with a sense of humour
and deep wells of knowledge about their country.
We stayed in the best hotels, toured
four cities — Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai — and
visited industrial sites that were tied to China’s heritage. The
well-orchestrated industrial tours were buffered by visits to
showrooms where we were romanced by some of the most persistent
salespeople to spend money, whether we wanted to or not.
These “tours” included a
government-owned and operated pharmaceutical plant where Chinese
doctors were available for medical consultations and for providing
prescriptions for those of us convinced that Chinese “natural
remedies” would help with our Western ailments.
The plant supplied all of the necessary
medications to fulfill the prescriptions, and included a document to
help us clear customs with our medicinal purchases.
The same procedure followed at each
carefully planned commercial destination: tea plantation, silk
factory, embroidery factory, jade factory, etc.
displayed at their stations labouriously starting or finishing
projects. It was all part of the demonstration process, watching
workers at their various crafts, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds
of gawking business people filing by on their way to the showrooms.
The real manufacturing factories
stretched out over miles and miles of former farmlands on the
outskirts of the cities, with their only distinction being their
green and red-coloured flat roofs.
We didn’t get to see those
facilities. It was hard not to notice the numerous Mercedes Benz and
BMW showrooms or the miles of yellow backhoes, forklifts and
tractors, filling the yards of huge industrial plants along the
A few familiar names jutted out of the
business skylines, including Vale, Royal Bank of Canada, and Metro
We were told the Chinese worker retires
at age 50 with pension in hand. This makes way for the younger
generation to have jobs. Apparently, there is almost full employment
We later learned that the retired
workers look after their grandchildren in their golden years so their
children can work. There are no daycare centres to be found, or
retirement homes for that matter.
Education is free, as is health care.
There is a one-child-per-family limit
in China to help curb the burgeoning population, but the ratio of
males to females is unbalanced due to years of “select” births,
favouring boys over girls.
Many young Chinese girls are marrying
men 15 years their senior because the older male has had time to save
money, buy an apartment and car, and be more financially stable.
The Chinese are very competitive
people. Everyone we meet, from the government scientist at the tea
plantation to the doctor at the pharmaceutical plant, is skilled in
sales and marketing.
That could be their competitive advantage, along
with the 24-hours-a-day of production in their manufacturing plants.
They all sell. They are all masters with their pitch and they are
aggressive in their pursuit of the sale.
Maybe that’s the real lesson we
learned on our trip from Sudbury to Shanghai. There is always a sale
to be had if the price is right and the pitch ignites the desire.