The week that was…26-30 March 2018
Singapore, Weekend 31-1st April 2018
After hardly a day in the office on Monday, quickly catching up with my team, it was off to Shanghai the next day and with this Friday being a public holiday, that was the rest of my week done. I flew to Shanghai for a long overdue design coordination meeting and site visit for our Xitang project, that had kindly been postponed in consideration of our Frankfurt trip. For those who do not travel often (to China) for projects, let me share some of the typical experiences that were on show this trip this week. For some of you this may bring a smile of recognition on your face…
First let me state that we are lucky with this project client, he respects our expertise (we are the only foreign consultant!) as we were brought on board on recommendation of the interior designer with whom we have completed several other projects successfully (recently our award winning Alila Yangshuo project). The client takes care of my business class flights, pays the full hotel bill, makes sure you are well fed and provides a driver for all transportation needs. Everything is really well take care off, which does make you feel respected and appreciated as the lighting expert.
One note to make is to be careful having your client pay directly for your flights. While it makes sense from administration point of view (no upfront costs) you have to realise you relinquish control of your flights. It has happened to me before that my client wanted me to stay longer and unilaterally (without even consulting!) change my return flight! No complaints with this client here though.
Expectations and anticipation
With the high recommendation also comes great expectations. As a “foreigner” the rest of the Chinese team looks at you expecting some special magic and “big” deliveries every time you present or utter your opinion. I have learned my lessons in the past, even if you have not much to present or update, make sure that whatever you bring along or present is well prepared and more then they expect. For that reason, we did spent the little time we had on Monday putting together a neat presentation, spruced up with some “never before seen footage” 😊. China is very much a country of quantities and quality is often measured by the quantity of your delivery.
Meetings and the blame game
Knowing what the client and the team around the meeting table expect is half the battle won. While our design update was not much I felt grateful my team had put together more than was expected even attracting some applause at the end of our presentation. By anticipating their expectations, we had delivered right on the dot.
Chinese meetings can be pretty nasty and weak presentations are pounded on directly. Two reasons why that happens, first because people like to show off, so being able to find fault in others somehow shows you as knowing what you are doing. Secondly, focussing on others weaknesses diverts attention from yourself if you know you have not done your “homework”. By anticipating and preparing well you can avoid being “blamed” for poor deliveries.
In these “Chinese” meetings specifically hierarchy is very important. The boss comes in last, when every one is seated and should the bosses’ boss come in later on, we duly start back from the beginning. The more important you are the closer you sit to the boss. Often there are second rows of subordinates sitting behind their project principals. I have often questioned about why they are there then being there to see how “important” their boss is. That the boss answers his mobile phone in the middle of your presentation is a show of his superiority. It is not difficult to see how inefficient these meetings can be. Add in my case the translation aspect (adding extra time to translate back and forth from English to Chinese) and you will have no problem understanding that we needed our two full days in meetings, including the regular summaries and recaps 😊
Sneaky ways to save money
Money is a universal human driver around the world but in my view never so prominent as in China. Anything for a dollar I have said before. It is always on display when they ask us to approve samples. The contractor is normally the one trying to save money and he will lure you to approve the cheapest light fittings. We were asked for the same during this trip as well. We had done some value engineering prior and were expecting to see all options, but when we were shown the “samples” we were only shown what looked like the low-end range. This also tends to happen in mock up rooms were they sneakily install the cheap alternative hoping you will not notice and approve it 😊.
What was touted as IP65 or so rated fitting did not look like it. On questioning their testing procedures, we were told it was done inhouse…ah, I see, ok so it has to be ok then…I have seen these tests in Chinese factories…I can tell you its not a certified test!
Wining and dining
Finally no trip is complete without wining and dining, a part of the culture even though it has been under heavy scrutiny by the government. We had our fair share of that as well with bottles of expensive wine and Moutai going by the dozens! There are techniques to survive that, but these are stories for another time!
Have a great Easter weekend!
Here are some impressions of our trip. The project will complete in December but already some parts are looking good…