They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Beijing doesn’t need a second chance. The first word that comes to mind to describe China is 'impressive.'
My wife Kelly and I arrived a day earlier than most of the FPA delegation that is traveling in China for a week-long educational exchange with Chinese financial planners [see AdvisorOne FPA in China home page for more coverage of the trip and China news and anlysis], giving us a chance to get acquainted with Beijing. Even before entering the capital city, however, we were impressed. We connected in Guangzhou where the airport is a mind-blower. China has become a hotbed for innovative architectural designs and this spectacle is on full display at the country’s major airports. Man has been trying to impress others by building bigger for centuries but the Chinese have taken this to a whole new level.
Many Americans think this ‘build it big’ approach was spurred by the 2008 Beijing Olympics and this is partially true. However, they’ve been at this a long time. The gates to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are simply massive - fitting for the home of the Son of Heaven, as the Emperor was known. They were designed to impress and intimidate and they succeed. Today, everywhere you go in Beijing you find buildings with jaw-dropping visual impact.
In order to get a sense of the real Beijing, we enlisted the help of Brad Greer, an FPA member and software developer who lives about an hour from Beijing when not back home in Albuquerque. He took us for some lunch, to a couple of markets, and taught us how to navigate the subway. The cultural differences between the States and Beijing take some getting used to.
[See a 2008 presentation by Greer to the FPA Asian Pacific Focus Group on wealth management in China.]
The traffic here is every bit as awful as I had been told. Crossing the street is an adventure in itself. Car, bus and bicycle traffic continues even after you get the go ahead. Pedestrians do not have right of way. When it is time to go, forget tipping your hat and saying “after you.” Just go.
Beijing cab drivers rank up there with the craziest cabbies in the world. Can you imagine a bus making a U-turn on 5th Avenue in New York? One of our cabs got cut off by just such a maneuver. That’s common over here.
Most things here are inexpensive. If you don’t like a price, you can probably negotiate a lower one. Watching Brad bargain in Mandarin for a handbag my wife wanted was worth the trip in itself but I didn’t come here just to shop.
I and my fellow FPA in China delegates have many questions. Our first meetings with Chinese planners are coming up soon. What does a typical planning engagement look like in China? How do their clients plan to provide for their future? What could derail the Chinese economic freight train? What do the Chinese think of our government deficits and debt? What are Chinese planner’s views on how globalization is affecting their clients?
A number of our delegates will be sharing their thoughts on some of these issues in the coming days. I am looking for this trip to further my understanding of the Chinese and their understanding of us. The adventure has just begun.