I Forgot my Visa

Convinced that I was a shopping failure, I decided to visit the local sites. The hotel hooked me up with Bob Chan, a local guide, and we went to see the Forbidden City and Tian’amen Square. Both are on the main street that runs through the center of Beijing. Thestreet has six traffic lanes (in each direction), a separate bus lane (on each side), parallel bicycle lanes and several plant-filled islands to provide visual relief. It’s 40 kilometers long and it is the street that the tanks used during the Tian’amen Square crackdown.
Bob told me that he had been on this street and on his bicycle when the tanks arrived.
“Really?” I replied. “What happened then?”
“The army told me to go home… so I did.”
“Good plan, Bob.”
Like everything in this country, Tian’amen Square and the Forbidden City are huge. I also went to see the Lama Temple and its 65 foot tall Buddha. They were interesting, but I also enjoyed talking with Bob – for while. It was cold and icy and, it turned out, Bob had a cousin who was an art student. Part of the job of the student is to ‘present’ art from the professors. I saw a lot of Chinese Art.
Bob, and most people I talked to, were happy about changes in China. The most common thing I heard was “You can buy anything; before it was even hard to find food.” In fact, one of the local HP engineers told me that he had visited North Korea on a tour and “it looks like China 20 years ago; the people have nothing – not even food.”
On the food front, I found a few good Restaurants. The local food is really good: In fact, I bet someone could make a lot of money opening up Chinese restaurants in other parts of the world.
The city is vibrant, booming and busy. It is easy to believe that there are 1.3 billion Chinese. (And they’re
all trying to sell something.) But, to tell the truth, Beijing didn’t seem nearly as crowded as Hong Kong. And, although everyone I talked to seemed happy, they wouldn’t directly criticize the government. [Bob did tell me about the people in Tibet. “It’s part of China now and the people like that,” he said with a wink.] There was oblique commentary especially of the ‘one child policy’. I asked what would happen if you ignored the ‘policy’. This concept (do not do what you are told) was not easily conveyed, but it turned out that a second child cannot get ‘papers’. This means they can’t be educated.
The next day, I learned more about my miscues at immigration. Not having a visa is a
major faux pas in China – especially for those arriving in Beijing. The police told the HP managing director that they were going to “detain” me at the airport overnight and then expel me from the country on the first flight the next morning – unless “he is an important person”. Fortunately, HP told them that I was a “very important person”. The situation was a lot more dicey than I originally thought. (And, I originally thought it was pretty bad.)
The conference was very well attended. 1300
[1 thousandth of 1 percent’ people came to my talk and there were several hundred more in an adjacent room watching on a live video feed. It was impressive – I was standing in front of four giant TV screens and my talk was simultaneously translated. The CEO and CTO of BEA, an Executive VP of Intel and I did keynote speeches. So it was an exciting conference for me.
Alfred, the BEA CEO, invited me (and several other ‘very important people’) to a reception after the conference. The local staff had decided on a ‘water’ theme (something to do with Chinese poetry and art.). They had an ice sculpture of the corporate logo and had hired two blond models to pose as mermaids in front of the logo. The local managing director asked me what I thought “about the mermaids”.
“Not local, eh?” I politely replied.
“You’re right. How’d you guess? They’re Russian students. We were going to have them pose topless, but the Communist Party refused our request. And..”
“… we appealed, but to no avail. Would you like to have your photo taken with them?”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
As I circulated, I realized how awkward it is to be in the Far East without business cards. (My Compaq cards were gone, and HP had put a hold on orders as they awaited finalization of new jobs, new job titles and, finally, new telephone numbers.) Everyone (well,
almost everyone) had an encyclopedic stack of cards that were handed – no ‘presented’ - with two hands and a small bow. I looked like a bumpkin, a look that I perfected in China.
The next day I went to see the Great Wall. The tour starts about 100 kilometers from Beijing. My guide was a student studying English literature. Obsessed with cars, he knew everything about the latest models and complained at length about high excise taxes. The Wall itself was stunning. About 5000 kilometers long, it rides the crest of the mountains. In the place I toured, it was 7 meters high and about five meters wide. It’s also at least 700 years old with some parts even older. Because it sits on the crest of the mountains, parts are very steep. After climbing to the top of one of the watch towers, my legs felt like I had walked the entire 5000 kilometers. Amazingly, my European mobile phone not only worked in China, it even worked on the Great Wall.
At the Great Wall, I finally found the stores that sell Chinese goods. A cacophony of “
Hellos” dogged every step. They were selling everything and I’m sure it was a good deal because, as they all said: “Best price for you, sir.” If I ignored them, they chased me so I finally made a few purchases.
The visit to the Great Wall was serendipitous. I had finally found a working
ATM machine, so I had a bit of local money. I had time for the trip because my round-the-world airline flight called for an early Thursday departure to Japan. And, although the HP office in Japan wanted me to come earlier, that wasn’t possible. The global carrier that arranged my round-the-world flight didn’t have an earlier departure. The Japanese office had offered to purchase a one-way ticket, but, if I didn’t fly on Northwest from Beijing to Japan, then my entire ticket would have to be re-priced. In short, it would have cost me 6000 Francs to not fly from China to Japan. So I had an afternoon free. (Perhaps we now understand why the airlines have so many problems.)
I made another quick pass through the local shopping district. (Interestingly, all the nicest jewelry shops featured huge salt-water aquariums.) I also mailed a bunch of Christmas cards. (The Chinese put the stamps over the seal on the envelope, not on the front of the envelope.)
Exiting the country was easier than entering and I flew on to Tokyo and its “conveniently” located international airport a mere 2-hour train ride from the city center. It’s like placing the Boston Airport in Hanover, New Hampshire. The taxi driver that picked me up at the Shinjuku station didn’t speak English. Luckily, I had a map.
The people at the office in Japan were ready. They had a 96-slide PowerPoint presentation of their plan, several components of which required investment from “your budget, Dan.”
They really don’t understand HP,” I thought – budgetless.
We went to a dinner featuring raw fish and something that looked like giant insect legs. The dinner ended at 10:30 PM; they went back to the office to check email, I went to the hotel to sleep. (I had wanted to check out the local electronics stores, but I was in Japan for less than a day and it was not possible.)
I arrived in Switzerland as the family assembled for the holiday. It was raining. According to Nazy, it had rained the entire time I was away. Moreover, it rained the entire month of November (and most of October) as well. The entire family was in Switzerland and Switzerland was wet and gray. What a difference a week made. “
The Sun doesn’t set on The Martin Family” had become “The Sun isn’t seen by The Martin Family”.
Weather aside, Christmas was a success. Although I didn’t buy all the tea in China, I did get some for Mitra. I found a necklace for Melika. I got a map for Darius; it has China in the middle and North America (way) off to the side. Nazy was also excited.
“This silk robe is great, Dan.”
“Thanks, Nazy. I know you like red and I got a
great price. In fact ‘best price for me’. And how do you like the paintings?”
“They’re very pretty. I’m surprised you took the time to scour the art scene.”
“Well, dear, my friend Bob Chan helped.”
“Did you get anything for yourself?
“Yep. See page 47 of my passport: a very expensive visa.”