Day 17: Final Meetings in Hong Kong

Wednesday November 17, 2010

We have come full circle. Back in Souzhou, we met with a biotech company that is based in Hong Kong with financiers based in Beijing. Since we were going to be flying out of Hong Kong on the last leg of our trip, we made an appointment to meet with this company at their premises and to tour their labs. At the same time, one of us knew someone in the Hong Kong Science Park. So we booked a meeting with people at the Science Park as well.

It’s been a long trip, and it would be easy to just ignore these final meetings. The CEO in my group is anxious to get back to his family, and this is the longest he’s been away from them. I also just want to get home. The amount of follow up I have to do is already starting to feel daunting.

However, scouting for leads and building relationships is an art. Effective business development is also about who is able to make this extra effort.

The meetings turn out to indeed be fruitful. It is now no longer surprising that I learn more new things about what is going on in China and Hong Kong through these meetings.

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When it comes to language, there is a key difference between China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

In China, the language is Mandarin, and written text is in a form called Simplified Chinese (simplified for easier typing and texting).

In Taiwan, the language is Mandarin, but the written text is Traditional Chinese. My print materials were all in either Simplified Chinese or English. I didn’t realize this difference about Taiwan while I was preparing for this trip, so I didn’t ask the marketing team to create any slides or brochures in Traditional Chinese text. So in presentations in Taiwan, I just went with the English material. Simplified Chinese is not understood here. The nuances of good etiquette is that it would be inappropriate to even show the Simplified Chinese materials here, because it would be incomprehensible, and the audience would know that I was not initially planning to meet with Taiwan companies.

In Hong Kong, the language is Cantonese, and the written text is also Simplified Chinese. So again, I just used the English presentation materials.

It’s little details like this that I always need to find out on the fly as I travel across different countries.

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In the evening, I am on my own again. I take the opportunity to go up to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island to have a look at the city at night before I fly out tomorrow.

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Hong Kong by Day and Night: Pictures

My delegation members are all off with other meetings or personal appointments today, so I have today off.

A major feature of the downtown area is Hong Kong Park. This is a lush tropical park in the middle of the business district, popular with tourists and photographers. There is a conservatory with all types of plants as well as an aviary with over 2000 birds. It is the first time I get to see coffee beans, cocoa pods, and star fruit in an unpicked setting.

There is no shortage of watch and jewelery stores everywhere. In one mall, there is a tall set of escalators that travel over ten stories to the top of this massive atrium.

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Taipei to Hong Kong

Monday November 15, 2010

We are finally on the last leg of our way home. Today we fly out of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Hong Kong, where there will be one more day of meetings.

The Taiwan airport is… interesting. It has cute features like animation figures hanging overhead. Our departure gate has a children’s theme. There is another departure gate that features plants and a relaxation area.

I spend the last of my Taiwan dollars on a bottle of red wine at the duty free.

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For the next few days, I will be chilling in Hong Kong awaiting my final meetings. Hence, the bottle of red wine I picked up in the Taipei airport.

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Day 14: Sunday Day Off

Sunday November 14, 2010

We spend our Sunday outside of the city. The subway takes us far out of Taipei, into the sea side town of Danshui (also called Tamsui).

The place still looks quite industrialized with old buildings lining side streets. It is explained to me that these buildings are over 50 years old. They are owned by individuals, which makes it difficult to purchase whole blocks to redevelop the area.

As luck would have it, there is a celebration of Taiwan-Canada relations at a current exhibit at Fort San Domingo. Reverend George Leslie Mackay from southwestern Ontario, arrived in the area in the 1870s and spent the rest of his life doing missionary work here.

The fisherman’s wharf is also nearby. The landmark is the Lover’s Bridge. This is a popular place for people to go on weekends, and for romantics to see the sun set over the Taiwan Strait. A ferry connects Danshui with Bali town on the other side of the Danshui river. There are long paths along the waterfront in Bali.

It is a day spent doing what locals do on a Sunday.

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My most enlightening moment today was listening to what the company CEO, who was with me this weekend, had to say about his experience of going to church in China. He told me that compared to Canada, everyone in the Shanghai church was full of energy. They were really engaged in the rites of mass. The procession was full of energy, everyone was singing enthusiastically, and the priest was dancing as he encouraged participation from the assembly. He said he has never experienced anything like that in Canada. He thinks that this enthusiasm is because there are many people in China who yearn for spirituality and meaning.

It was all amazing for me to hear about such a different experience. I recently read a feature story in a Toronto newspaper about persecution in China of people who practiced Catholicism. I asked him whether people in the church were afraid of this happening. His reply was that this was not the case at all. People were free to practice their faith, so long as the church does not make any reference to politics. He then explained that the Catholic church in China does not have ties with the Vatican, and this is a way to avoid problems.

It was also amazing for me to discover a different side to the story that was written in that Toronto newspaper. I am glad to be reminded that you can’t get the whole truth by reading a local newspaper. You have to go find things out for yourself, and that’s what makes the truth so precious.

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Day 13: Saturday Day Off

Saturday November 13, 2010

Our trip is almost over. We have to kill a weekend in Taipei. The CEO who is my guide for this part of the trip wants to see the city a bit, so we go out for a walk around town.

I forgot to mention that Taipei is very orderly. People stand in orderly lines to get into the subway cars. Even when it is packed during rush hour, no one butts in. They find their way to the end of the line. The CEO tells me that his theory is that in Asia, the more resource constrained a place is, the more orderly people behave to have a society that can overcome the constraints. So people in China are quite disordered in public, Japan is more ordered publicly, Taiwan is more so, and Singapore is at the extreme. Interesting theory.

The only annoying transportation hassle that I find here is that there are small motorcycles everywhere. Millions of them. When I speak with anyone who has ever been to Taipei, this is the one point they all remember. You can hear them coming up behind you on small streets and walkways, and you have to sidestep to get out of their way.

We make it to the Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world. The elevator is the fastest in the world at over 1000 meters a minute in a pressurized capsule. The ride takes less than 45 seconds to the 89th floor. This tall building is in an earthquake zone. The building has a 660 ton ball suspended in the middle of the tower to act as a vibration damper to keep the building from swaying too much.

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Day 12 in Asia: Final Day of Meetings in Taipei

Friday November 12, 2010

Today, it will be just myself and the CEO delegate. He is the CEO of a Toronto biotech company that does a lot of work in Asia.

The pace has changed quite a bit since we left China. A noticeable difference between Shanghai and Taipei is that people in Shanghai walk faster. As Joel notes, in China, they are always in a rush to get somewhere. It is an experience that has to be felt, and best done while walking amongst the crowds in a subway or walking along any street.

The other difference is between my guides. Joel knows the pace and the pulse of these cities well. We are always rushing from one place to another. I think we will be late, but we always make it to appointments exactly on time, right to the minute. We always make it to train stations and airports with 15 minutes to spare. This is quite an impressive feat of timing.

By contrast, this CEO is always early. We arrive at meeting locations 15 to 30 minutes early, and we are never rushing. I guess one thing about being CEO is that you can’t look like you are rushing.

We have three meetings today. One is with a holding company in the downtown area. It invests in eight small health care and biotech companies.

The next meeting is with a medical device company at the other end of town. It is also a major outsource manufacturer (also called private design manufacturer) for private label medical devices sold in over 42 countries.

Our final meeting of the day is with the Taiwan Biotechnology Office. This is a major department established by the government of Taiwan. It is located in a hi tech center consisting of several buildings.

We have one final task: the post office. I have a bunch of extra marketing materials as well as papers received from the companies we have met through this trip. We need to mail these back to Toronto because I have no room in my luggage to carry this back. It’s a major hassle to package this stuff and to find a post office, but this is a key part of traveling light on a long trip.

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Taiwan is an interesting place.

Taiwan is a major original equipment manufacturer for computers and other products for the global IT industry. We see products from Taiwanese companies like Acer and Asus in computer stores all the time. Foxxcon, the infamous company that makes Apple’s iPods and iPhones is also based in Taiwan. But there is little evidence of these companies around the places we visit. Upon further checking, I find out that many of these contract electronic manufacturers have their manufacturing plants elsewhere, like in mainland China.

I also find out that that apart from these large computer parts manufacturers, most of the economy is made up of small and medium sized companies. 1 in 7 people have their own business.

Taiwan was also under Japanese rule for a large part of its modern history, up to the end of the World War II. I now understand why Taipei and certain food preparation and cultural practices appear to have Japanese influences.

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The CEO is a frequent guest of the hotel where we are staying. The hotel owner’s father lives in our hotel. The CEO calls him “grandpa.” Tonight, the CEO is taking me and “grandpa” to dinner. “Grandpa” is 85 years old. We walk to a local neighbourhood restaurant. It is a simple place, with dumplings and noodles costing $10 (Canadian dollars) for the three of us. Over dinner, I hear little parts of “grandpa’s” life that the CEO translates from Mandarin for me. He has never left Taipei, and never even taken the subway. During the war, he had to serve in the Japanese army, where he stayed in a defensive army post. Each day he goes for a walk around the neighbourhood, and he gets to know a lot of the hotel guests.

At the end of the dinner, there is some flavored soy milk left in my cup. I left it there because it was not a particularly appealing flavor . “Grandpa” waves a gesture to the cup. I take a deep breath and drink the rest as we get up to leave.

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Day 11 in Asia: Mediphar Expo in Taipei

Thursday November 11, 2010

When one manages a delegation where all of the team members all pay for their own way, there needs to be flexibility in accommodating to their needs. Today, Joel and the CEO in our delegation (essentially, my entire delegation) need to go off and do their own thing. So I am on my own.

The delegation of life science companies from the province of Ontario (the same group we met in Shanghai) have also moved on to Taipei. They are now at the Mediphar Health Care Expo in Taiwan. The Canadian trade commissioner service has invited their Taipei area contacts to a special seminar to showcase Canadian companies.

Again, I have been asked to give an overview of the life sciences industry in Canada and Ontario.

So I am off to the Mediphar Expo. It is being held at the Taipei World Trade Center. This is in the heart of Taipei’s business district. The world trade center is a complex of office buildings featuring the landmark tower, the Taipei 101. This is the second tallest building in the world (the Burj in Dubai is the tallest).

The session starts very formally. There are Canadian consular staff there as well as heads of various Taipei science and technology organizations speaking. I come next. I recognize that there is someone from the province of Alberta presenting as well, so I have to be diplomatic about how I position the Canadian life science industry.

This is one of those moments where improvise my talking points: give recognition and thanks to the Taipei officials, and introduce the industry in Alberta to set the stage for the Alberta person, before launching into my presentation. It’s been years since I’ve been in Toastmasters, and this is one of those moments when draws on the basics taught in things like that.

It’s a long session followed by one-on-one meetings with the attending companies. By the time I finish, it is 4:00 pm. Then it is on to the convention floor to look at what is going on there.

I meet up with Joel in the evening for dinner. He asks me what I think of Taiwan. As we walk to a local restaurant, he is telling me some of the background on Taiwan. There are many influences from Japan. That is when I notice that the side street looks very much like ones I walked along in Japan in my trip last year.

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