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More Chinese lessons...

If impossible-man can ride his non-magic bike through the busy streets of Shanghai, just to get bags of cement across town, imagine what we can do with our open spaces, freedom of just about everything, and our talent.
Sometimes it takes a trip to another part of the world to remember why you do what you do.

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Sometimes it takes a trip to another part of the world to remember why you do what you do.

Simon Young reports back from China with lessons for life and business.

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Armed with just a few Chinese lessons, we did our China trip in December. It was mindblowing, and full of lessons for life and business.

Rather than try to string them together in some coherent narrative, I'm going to throw them at you ... a bit like Beijing traffic!

  • In China, traffic lights are suggestions. "Negotiating traffic" is not just an expression, it's a reality. You don't depend on the lights or road signs, you depend on your eyes and ears. It's a very good idea to follow this rule in business, whether in China or anywhere else.
  • The horn is just another navigation/negotiation tool. There is no emotion involved with the car horn, only information. Save your emotional energy for things that matter more.
  • We only saw one traffic accident in our 10-day trip. And only saw an indicator used once.
  • Personal space among strangers is nonexistent (especially on the subway), but among friends and associates, it's actually pretty big. Unless you know them well, then you just hug, cultural differences be damned!
  • Speed is everything. From the tailor's shop that took 3 inches off my trousers in roughly 10 seconds, to the hotel staff who delivered our mountain of drycleaning in just over 2 hours, to the skyscrapers and shops and ... just monuments of human activity that are going up at dizzying pace, all over the place.
  • Western culture is actually pretty weird, when you view it through a Chinese lens. Think about why we say "excuse me" when we mean something else, or why Christmas has Santa Claus, and you can see Western Culture is as arcane and mysterious as any.
  • Impossible is only a temporary state of affairs. 
Actually this last point deserves its own story. 
On the last day of our trip, from the comfort of our taxi we saw a man attempt the impossible. He was old and skinny, on an old, skinny bike with a trailer on the back, full of bags of cement. About a dozen bags.
Step by painful step, this man stood up on his pedals and moved that bike forward, holding up traffic in the process.  When his legs could no longer move the bike forward, he got out and pushed. Across an intersection. (See traffic notes above)
What he was trying to do was clearly impossible. In some ways, his is a sad story of poverty. But we were inspired. 
In New Zealand, where we enjoy good living conditions, freedom of just about everything, a mild climate, and wide open spaces everywhere, it is easy to go soft.
I have a friend from China who admires how we live. She says we work to live, while Chinese people live to work. (Chinese people also make generalisations). 
I agree, but I also see the need for us kiwis to learn. If impossible-man can ride his non-magic bike through the busy streets of Shanghai, just to get bags of cement across town, imagine what we can do with our open spaces, freedom of just about everything, and our talent.

 

Written by

sy social media consultancy

20 Jan 2011

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