Although there’s been a lot to mention it’s been a while since I’ve kept a record of particularly busy and exciting weeks however the week just gone was more exciting than most with a trip to Beijing and Guiyang in China. The trip formed part of the China Big Data Collaboration Trade mission organised by the China-Britain Business Council and supported by the Department for International Trade. The mission was design to explore new possibilities with businesses in China and also see how Chinese technology may be possible to implement in Europe however I also built in a couple of days to take in some sights and the local culture in Beijing.
The trip got off to a bad start for me. Leaving home at about 4PM I got onto the dual carriageway and hit standstill traffic straight away due to a lorry with a blown out tyre. Luckily this didn’t take long to clear however about 15 minutes further on I suddenly realised I had forgotten my suit which resulted in going all the way back home, past the traffic we had queued in to pick up my suit and head back on the same route again. As I was travelling in rush hour I had allowed an extra hour just in case so eventually reached Heathrow at 6:30 which still left me with about an hour to enjoy the airport lounge and settle down a bit before my flight.
If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I’m an avid British Airways fan however this time around I flew Air France primarily because of the available flight times which matched up better with my schedule in China. My first flight was from Heathrow to Paris with what was meant to be an hour connection however with a late departure from Heathrow and an extremely slow security check in Paris it ended up being pretty closed with the gate saying it was closing and me taking a fast walk to the gate. Taking off at just after 11:30 local time I watched the greatest showman, which is one of the best films I’ve seen recently by the way, had dinner, and then got down to a pretty good night’s sleep of about 7 hours.
The quality of flight was fairly similar to BA however I would say BA still had the edge with more favourable food and a more comfortable seat but Air France won on the contents of the wash bag! The service on the flight I by far prefer BA, whether that’s just the British service that I like or if there was something more specific I’m not certain on my thoughts. I did get missed out at dinner at first but they couldn’t have apologised enough no matter how many times I said it was ok.
Arriving in to Beijing at about 4PM I was quickly through the fingerprinting process, customs and then out to baggage reclaim in what was one of the more efficient airports for arrivals. Onwards to the taxi rank and the plethora of unlicensed taxies trying to get you to go with them, even to the point I was already in a licensed taxi and still being asked, and I quickly realised there were no seatbelts! If we were going to be crawling along this wouldn’t have been so bad but at times we were going pretty fast weaving in and out of traffic. A quick Google about seatbelt laws though led me to find that even when they are present the drivers can see it as an insult to their driving ability if you use it! All being said I must admit that they are much more aware of the cars around them than in the UK and you don’t get people cutting in at the last minute or coming into your lane regardless of how little room there was so this did at least provide some, if what little, reassurance.
After getting to the hotel and checking in I had a quick dinner via room service, caught up on a few e-mails and headed off to sleep as I was still tired from the journey. As you may have read in one of my previous posts I have travelled a lot in my career but at many places not really had the time to go out and experience things properly however this time I managed to book a couple of days sight-seeing with a guide. The first day we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City followed by the great wall and the Summer Palace the following day. A private guide is definitely something I would recommend and use myself again in the future as it makes things far easier to get around, see what interests you and have things explained in more detail instead of following the masses on a coach tour.
Moving on to Tuesday and time to get to work first with a few hours of catching up on e-mails and completing day to day tasks coming up back in the UK with a quick workout in the gym in between. Later on in the day I met up with my fellow delegates for a bit of dinner, a few beers and introductions to the companies we represented. It’s always great meeting new companies especially on these types of trips where the products and services can be particularly innovative and seeking venture capital. I must admit, some of the technical talk around Artificial Intelligence went a bit over my head especially when a number of the other delegates had experience in data science and were spin-outs from universities such as Cambridge and Imperial. It was a fairly early finish and time to get some sleep as it was a 6AM start the following morning with jet lag to take into the equation still!
So an early start on Wednesday morning, catching up on a few e-mails and then heading for a quick breakfast before an early departure on the bus to the UK-China tech collaboration seminar where we met with a number of companies and gave our first pitch of the week on what we were looking to do in China and who we were looking to meet or partner with. I found it particularly interesting as I have done on previous missions that the time spent getting to know the other companies on the mission is just as beneficial as the companies in China and on the first day came away with a few contacts who I’ve aimed to meet up with back in the UK.
After the mornings events we headed for a quick lunch in Starbucks where unfortunately my order went a little astray but I had no way of asking for it! Luckily, eventually in-between the language barriers eventually we came to a conclusion without really communicating that I was still waiting and managed to get my food. In the afternoon we then travelled to PeopleNet and Timeloit who gave us tours of their facilities and products and I was astounded by the technology that China has to offer that were not seeing in the West yet. Security products in particular were of interest to me and they were in abundance but it would definitely be great to see some of them starting to emerge into viable products for us in the UK particularly as a security integrator as one of our many roles.
After a long day and the Beijing traffic we headed back to the hotel for a well needed beer and a burger in the American bar opposite the hotel. Very integrated with the local cuisine and culture I know, but this is coming from someone how ate at TGI’s everywhere I visited in the early stages of my career! Best of all they served Goose Island IPA which is my drink of choice so I was more than happy!
Continuing the trend, it was an early start the next day as well off to the airport to catch an internal flight to Guiyang which is where the big data conference is held. It was about a 3 hour flight where I had no choice but the middle seat of 3 in economy so I was pretty uncomfortable to say the least, extremely tired and not able to sleep as the head rest was half way down my back being way above average height in China. Arriving in Guiyang we were met by other members of the DIT and CBBC teams and then headed for a lunch reception in the Guiyang free zone where we treated to a very passionate speech about why we should chose Guiyang for our China hub and if I’m honest I don’t think I’ve ever been more convinced from someone talking as to a place that I needed to do business!
After the lunch and a tour of the local area we headed to our hotel for the next couple of nights the Kempinski which is a hotel I’ve stayed at before and has absolutely magnificent views and a German beer house on the roof! We headed out quickly for some street food which is one of my favourite styles of Chinese food and then for a few more beers in the German beer house. Our numbers had dwindled down to 5 or 6 but it was still great getting to hear business stories from other people and seeing who we could link up with back in the UK again. More than anything spending a lot of time with other business owners starts to give you some ideas around your own business and ask questions of yourself in comparison so if nothing else it got the business creativity flowing.
Into the final day of the mission, Friday, and with a comparatively reasonable start of 9AM we headed off to Guizhou big data comprehensive test area demonstration centre where we were treated to another tour of the local facilities for big data companies and some of the technologies being produced. In the afternoon we headed to the Big Data Expo with the first event being the UK-China tech collaboration seminar and time for our 2nd pitch of the event. The nerves and anxiety got the better of me for the first minute but once I settled in I managed to give a more thorough pitch than the earlier one in the week and I was particularly happy with how I had presented the group of companies. Following the pitches we then headed to a press conference session with local media companies where we had a Q&A session although being rather late in the day and with the language barrier the questions were somewhat limited to the basics. As the final appointment of the day we headed to a dinner reception for a couple of hours and met some local delegates with some wonderful food and lastly a bit of general networking.
So the business end of things was complete for the week, we headed back to the hotel, a quick change and then to the German beer hall again. It was the last night for me so I felt somewhat relieved and relaxed and able to take in the sights and atmosphere more than the other days. We also experienced the storm that was arriving whilst on the roof top which lead to some of the other delegates having their flights cancelled til the following morning. Originally I was planning to leave on the Friday so it was lucky I changed my plans as I wouldn’t have been leaving anyway with the storm! After a few beers I said my goodbyes to people and exchanged final contact details to catch up back in the UK and headed off to bed about 1AM.
It’s Saturday morning and time for my long journey home to finish up the trip! Leaving Guiyang at 10:30AM with my first flight to Cheng Du where I had a 2 hour transfer and then a 10 hour flight to Amsterdam. The return leg was with KLM and the service was exceptional, perhaps even better than BA in some aspects but they may have tipped it with the free bottle of Bols liquor in a miniature house. These are apparently quite the collectables amongst frequent KLM fliers with there being a variety of different models and some being rare than others. Arriving in Amsterdam about 7PM I had a short break for a quick coffee before boarding my final flight back to London completing around an 18 hour journey in total taking into account the time difference.
This was certainly one of the busier trips but it was great to combine a bit of business and leisure but all in all it was hugely successful and I can’t thank the help of DiT and CBBC enough for making it a success. This will also be the last of my travels for a few months with the baby due at the end of June and a pause on travel agreed until September when conference season starts up. Although I enjoy travelling it will be somewhat nice to have a break and pass on the baton to other employees for the next few months at least.