People to People Technical Communications Professional Delegation to China—Day 11

Today was our last "professional day" on the trip, and after the usual breakfast buffet, which I ate gloriously alone today, we were off to our morning visit with the Strategic Delivery Organization, Greater China, Accenture, where our Meeting Agenda noted at the bottom: "The washroom at the meeting venue is western style with toilet paper available."

This is the company that one of our delegates, Ann Backhaus—who’s one of my favorite delegates—works for. This meeting was in a somewhat cramped conference room, but we managed just fine.

Accenture is quite famous in China, perhaps globally. It’s one of the "Big 5" in the global consulting industry. In China, they have more than 3000 employees, specializing in four areas: Consulting, Outsourcing, Solutions, and Technical Support.

Our hosts were very gracious, and all three of them, though Chinese, introduced themselves with English names—Simon, Jeff, and Robert. All three were in senior positions in the company.

Simon has about 20 years in I/T and software development. He worked for about two years at IBM in a consulting department. He’s been an executive at Accenture for about a year now.

Robert works in the technology consulting area. His group specializes in solving some of the issues currently faced by China CEOs. He graduated from University of Maryland at College Park. He has worked for EDS, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, and Freddie Mac. Of course, with the recent global financial meltdown led by the U.S., and with Freddie Mac recently taken over by the U.S. government, everyone groan-laughed at the mere mention of it. Someone in our delegation said, "So you’re the one!" Laughter all around.

Jeff was the junior manager in terms of time at Accenture, starting about six months ago. Before that he worked for Unisys on their outsourcing team. He’s a local person, born in Shanghai, lives in Shanghai, and spends his vacations in Shanghai. His specialty area is outsourcing.

The meeting started off with Simon asking us two questions: (1) For how many of us was this our first trip to China, and (2) What have our impressions been of China during our time here? As usual with our group, there was no shortage of people wanting to answer the questions. 🙂

Then we asked them some questions:

Jenny: As businessmen in China, what is your main source of business information?

Linda: When you write plans, proposals, and policies and procedures, here in your office, who does that, and what is their background?

Debbie: Do you get involved with RFPs, and if so, how does that work?

We talked about other topics and observations about the similarities and differences in our cultures:

  • China’s "learning from a master" culture.
  • How the long history affects the rate of change in China.
  • Engaging employees—both their minds and their hearts.
  • "Creative" and "people" work versus "logical" and "machine" work.
  • What today’s employees are looking for—not just the salary, but the complete package including the benefits and the company’s culture.
  • What hiring managers are looking for in potential employees, and how to retain employees once they’re hired.
  • Hiring professional coaches for executives.
  • The best way to train, leading to a discussion on visual communication, and "culturally loaded icons." 🙂
  • A copyright protection discussion, which mostly centered around Microsoft’s actions against piracy of its software in China. It’s estimated that 50-60% of its software is pirated. It has reacted by launching an anti-piracy tool targeting Chinese computer users to ensure they buy genuine software.

At about 20 minutes into the meeting, Jeff announced that free wireless was available in the room, and gave us the SSID and key.

Though I was the minute-taker for this meeting, I did take a few minutes "in the background" to send my final LiveJournal updates to my friend Casey for posting—which really took a load off my mind—as I wanted desperately to post them before leaving, which meant I would have had to either break down and pay the $20 (rip off) that our hotel wanted for a 24-hour period of Internet access, or try one of the Starbucks nearby to see if they offered access cheaper than that.

Casey, thanks again, a million, for helping me out during this trip!

As usual, we concluded our meeting with a certificate presentation to our hosts. Here’s Linda presenting to Simon:

We met our guests—meaning the son, daughter, and spouses of the delegates, who are always having "culture days" with the local tour guides—for lunch, and invited our Accenture hosts along, too. We met at Tai Lake Boat Cuisine Restaurant, and had our by now usual family style Chinese food. Lazy Susan. Beer and soft drinks.

I asked the guests if on the days they met us for lunch, which I think was only two days of the trip, or maybe three, if it was the highlight of their day. No one said no. But, then again, no one really said yes—without sarcasm anyway.

Set straight that it really isn’t all about us, we bid our guests and the Accenture folks adieu, and we set off to our afternoon meeting, which was with HP-China, specifically their Global Delivery China Center (GDCC) in Pudong.

Surprisingly, to me at least, this was the most awkward visit of all of our visits. The room was quite stark, and it was set up theater style—just rows of chair facing a screen, on which was projected a couple of PowerPoint slide presentations. All of our venues up until then had been chairs at desks, in nice conference rooms, often with an audio system so we could hear each other better, and usually with our names in placards on the tables.

The guy that was designated as our host, whose name was Tim, was quite hard to understand, and he gave us a brief welcome in the small auditorium we were in, and then took us into the hall, where he showed us the history of the GDCC from standalone wall boards with all of the information printed on it. He basically would take a moment to read a date-associated blurb (which we all did along with him, as it was in both Chinese and English), and then he would tell us what it said.

After that, we took a short tour of the first floor of the building we were in, where on our first stop, we peered into a room full of machines, which was a server farm. Next, we moved into a big room cordoned off in quadrants where the workers sat at their desks, mostly at laptops. It was a little warm in there, but no where near like the other rooms we’ve seen workers in. I did note one person with a jacket on, however.

After walking around the room, Tim said, "Basically in this complex, we have four building, each with three floors that all look like this one," ending the tour.

We returned to the conference room, where we had a brief welcome and introduction from a VP and General Manager, who actually "got" technical communication. It was a welcome anomaly on our trip so far.

Next Tim gave us a presentation that started off with some interesting facts about their organization, including that 24% of their employees have Master’s degrees and 0.8 have PhDs. He then whipped through about 15 slides detailing the 13 industries they engage in, and each of those had several bullet points listing on the left side of the slide, their capabilities and skills in that industry, and their applications in bullet points on the right side of the slides. The 13 industries are:

  1. Communication, Media, and Entertainment
  2. Healthcare and Life Science
  3. Consumer Industry & Retail
  4. Energy
  5. Financial Services
  6. Manufacturing
  7. Transportation
  8. Government
  9. SAP Service & Solution
  10. Testing Service & Solutions
  11. Standard Service Architecture
  12. BTO-based Service
  13. BQS (Business Quality Service) & Solutions

I’ll spare you (and me) the capabilities and applications of each.

Next, we had a very stilted conversation with the manager of their Technical Competence Center, during which we eventually ascertained that his group was so far up in the design and development cycle that they had no interaction, or understanding apparently, of the documentation used to communicate with end-users, which is what we do. Things that make you go, Hmmmm.

After he left, we were left alone with the three technical writers that work at this location in China HP, and only then did we have a very fruitful conversation. The team consisted of two Chinese women and one "Western white boy" named Terry.

Here I am at the entrance of the building under a sign welcoming us, which you can’t read in the photo. It was snapped as we were leaving:

After about an hour to freshen up after returning to the hotel from our final meetings, we headed out to Yat’s Restaurant for our farewell dinner. From this restaurant, we had a great night view of Pudong, and could actually see it in spite of it still raining. As it turned out, it rained the entire four days we were in Shanghai.

This dinner turned out to be very, very nice, even though for me, it was my least favorite meal. It was more of what I’d call a "high end" restaurant, and a good portion of the dishes involved fish, which I didn’t want to eat so close to our long travel day home. A nice surprise was that at the end of the meal they brought out this unbelievably huge birthday cake for Vaughnea, as tomorrow is her birthday.

We sang happy birthday to her, and then Shawn taught us the Chinese version of Happy Birthday. So, all of us sang Happy Birthday again in Chinese. Then Nadine, who’s French and joined the delegation from Belgium, sang Happy Birthday in French, for which in addition to myself, the Toronto contingent joined in. Then, someone knew Happy Birthday in German, and they sang that. And finally, even though none of us were Spanish or Mexican-American, a few people eked out Happy Birthday in Spanish. It was all quite fun, and Vaughnea absolutely loved it.

The staff cut the first piece of cake, and it was so inordinately large that we made them give it to Shawn, or National Guide, and all around great guy, as he usually didn’t eat with us, and when he did, he ate like a bird.

We had a touching round of thanks to Shawn, who everyone couldn’t say enough good things about. When taunted for a speech he said, "I’m not going to say a lot of mushy stuff, because I don’t want you to think, ‘Yeah, he says that to all of the delegations,’ but this group really was different in that most of the delegations that I work consist of a majority of men, but this group was mostly women. And most groups don’t tease their guide mercilessly, so that’s been a lot of fun." He said it almost with a little sarcasm, but you could tell that he had enjoyed that part of our time together.

Linda thanked him profusely, and offered the floor for others and several people said very nice things to him. I liked Vaughnea’s words, where were to the effect of, "Thank you for your patience, for your wisdom, for your sense of humor, and for being you." Tell it, sistah!

Our farewell dinner:

All the way back to the hotel, I went back and forth about going out tonight. I have been talking about going to a gay bar the entire trip, though Shanghai was the place that I really had intended to do it, as an IBM colleague of mine had been here a few years ago, and had recommended a bar that he’d actually been to and said was nice, as well as safe.

I was using the excuse of it raining yet again as a good reason not to go, when I knew darn well it was the idea of taking a taxi, which I hate, and the only thing worse being, taking a taxi to a place you’ve never been before, and particularly on top of that, doing so not being able to speak the language.

After finally "sucking it up" and "just doing it," I set out. After a few minutes wait in a short line, the bellman called up the next cab and asked me where I was going. I handed him the address, written in Chinese for me on Tuesday by Leo and the concierge, and the bellman told the address in Chinese to the cabbie.

The cab ride was incredibly long, and the only thing that kept me from not starting to get very worried was that Leo had told me that it should be about 21 yuan to get there, which is between $3.00 and $4.00. I’m quite sure this cab ride would have been between $50 and $100 in the States. It was so far, but I kept watching the meter, and when it hit 23 yuan, the driver pulled to a stop.

And then the panic started as he pointed around and asked me a question, which of course I understood not one word of. I looked around where we were and we were not at the front door of a place called Eddy’s, which was the name of the bar I was going to. He veered the taxi off the road into this area that wasn’t a parking lot, but sort of an island between two roads that met in a V, and said something else.

I started getting this sick feeling, and I thought, "If I don’t see this bar before I get out of this taxi, I’m just going to have him take me back to the hotel. This is not the kind of place that I’m going to go looking down side streets or back alleys, which are not unusual locations for gay bars even in a country where they’re not so frowned against."

I got out the piece of paper that was written in Chinese that the bellman had read to the cabbie, but that he hadn’t seen, and I handed it to him. He was so gracious. He looked at what was written, focusing on the 1187 street address I think, and looked all around for me. And then he made a noise of recognition and pointed over to the second business on the right down one of the streets meeting there in that "V" intersection, to a red, neon light in the window that said, "Eddy’s." Thank goodness. I Xie-Xied him profusely, gave him 30 yuan, and walked over to the bar.

It was a dimly lit quaint little bar, not very big at all in terms of square feet, and cool music playing, but actually a little too loudly for my taste. I did what I do in American bars, which is to say, stood along the wall taking in the scene and not talking to anyone. Though it was a small bar, they had two or three guys walking around taking your drink order if you preferred that to going up to the bar, which was in the center, with three sides being seating, and one side containing bottles on display.

I said, "A beer, please," when one of them asked me if I wanted anything.

"Will [some Chinese beer name I couldn’t discern, of course] be okay?" he asked.

"That’d be great," I said, having no idea what kind of beer that was.

"30 yuan," he said when he returned.

I moved around to three or four spots on the bar, checking out the scene. I’d say there were about 30 people in the place, maybe 8-10 westerners, and four ladies, whom I assume were Lesbians, but only because they were in a gay bar, not because they "looked like" Lesbians, whatever Lesbians look like, especially in China.

While I stood in one spot, these two guys came in and they came and stood next to me. One was a white guy, and the other a Chinese guy. The white guy said hello to me, and I just stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I’m John."

"I’m Jack," he said, "And this is Dean." Jack was from Singapore and flying back tomorrow. Dean was very outgoing, and as it turned out, he knew a lot of the people in that bar, as several came up and said hello to him.

One was a cute, Chinese guy, whom Dean introduced to Jack and me as Carter. We talked for about an hour. He was a young kid, still in university, in a pre-MBA program. He’s never been to the States, but would like to move to NYC next year. His English was quite good, but we were often standing right under the speaker, so I had to ask him to repeat things now and again.

He told me that I looked like the actor on The King of Queens, which of course I’ve never seen. He couldn’t remember his acting name. Anyway, he said that he thought that the actor was very handsome, which was very sweet. (Turns out it was Kevin James.)

He asked me how old I was, and I when I said 51, he said, "No way. You look 35." Who could not like this kid? 🙂 He asked me how old I thought he was, and I said, "Oh my god, you’re just a kid. You can’t be more than 21 or 22."

"21," he responded making a very brief facial expression that said, "I’m not that old!" as if 21 or 22 was way off and so much older than he actually was. Ah, youth.

I asked him if this bar had ever been raided or if there is ever any trouble with the police here. He assured me that there wasn’t, as the bar pays the government to make sure it stays that way. Pays them monthly.

I was glad to have ventured out on my last night in China to end up having a little time with people like me. Gay people all over the world having similar experiences. Carter talked about not being out in his life, his wanted to be assured that he can "pass as straight," and his plans to tell his family only after he has graduated, has a job, and his own place to live.

There’s always that fear of being disowned, which is most likely heightened in China due to the one birth rule. After all, you know the parents who have been lucky enough to have their male offspring, are probably not going to take to well to the fact that their son is probably not going to produce the heirs they want, and need, to perpetuate the family name.

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