Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating a business relation in China or how I learned to love Baijiu

So, as I mentioned in the last post I'm opening a bar. This entry will be about business  dinners in China The key to any successful business relationship is trust. In my almost 4 years of living in Shanghai I've seen that the way the locals build trust is by getting completely shit faced drunk over a long dinner or a trip to a KTV. Oh, China...

Typically after you've got a solid business plan and investors you need to find a property in which to conduct your business.  Here, in Shanghai and I'd imagine most other places in China the next step after you acquire a property you need to meet up with the local government of your district and wine and dine them for specialty licencing

       (Hairy Crab, getting business done in Shanghai since forever)

Now, several things will happen at these dinners, there will be lots of chain smoking, oceans of Baijiu (a sorghum based alcohol) and rivers of red wine and or whiskey. For some reason that I can't quite understand most foreigners do not like Baijiu I however love it. It reminds me of burning hot firewater that takes a root in your throat, lights up your esophagus and warms up your belly. It's delightful and not for the faint of heart. It tastes of lychee and watermelon and bright faced exhilaration, after several shots served in tiny little cups it feels like anything is possible and my attitude and my paltry Chinese suddenly get much, much better. On the other hand though, if you don't like it then you'll probably puke. 

              (Chicken feet and cigarettes, the final thing I remember)

I've learned in China it's not the end of the world to puke or pass out at a dinner as long as you puke in the toilet and pass out at your seat. Being drunk is not a bad thing but being drunk at a business meeting when you're supposed to hold your own and is looked down upon. Yes, they will be trying to out drink you and yes you will be the host/victim of many toasts and shots but you can not falter. This is where I shine. As a beverage master for more years then I'd like to count I can hold my own with anyone from local government. That's when it starts getting crazy. Human nature is about competition, when it's two different nations being pitted together in the brotherly act of business drinking there only two options. Either surrender or leave the table of battle as equals. 

Every business dinner starts with a sizing up of the opponents. Usually, it's evenly represented - each side with an equal amount of people. Cigarettes are exchanged, with the heads of both parties receiving priority followed down the ranks. Then comes the toasting. I was once told long ago by a translator that if I don't like to drink I should say something like I'm sick or blame it on my religion. As a foreigner you'll be excused for these things. But, I'm not sick and my religion never held me back for taking out a table at a business dinner. 

Back to the order of events though, So the dishes are coming served family style,because this type of meeting with government always takes place at a Chinese restaurant that you're paying for. If you don't like Chinese food then don't eat much of it, but remember when your with government people the chances are that they've already ordered in advance. This is no problem if you have yourself a hardy before hand. Even if you like Chinese food, and I do, it still doesn't hurt to carbo load before you go in. Try to grab a huge dinner of rice or pasta, anything that will help you absorb the torrential rain of booze that's headed your way. 
After many interesting dishes made of things that you might not be comfortable eating do to moral, religious or textural issues the food is finally finished. Some fruit is served and the drinking begins in earnest. 

Someone told me a trick once where every time you cheers with Baijiu your supposed to take the shot and then chase it with a sprite or even water and actually instead of drinking your actually just spitting it into the clear non-alcoholic chaser beverage. This is for beginners and I've never tried this before. Why waste perfectly good alcohol. Keep in mind, these bottles are about 100 USD per bottle or even higher. When you're doing business with local Chinese government it's not cheap. I'm not going to say the "B" word here but this another form of it, hugely expensive dinners that foster business ties. If you want to do everything right, make sure all the forms are filled out, all the mountain of paperwork processed then these are the steps you need to take. Also, it's not my culture so I won't judge. I just know If I want a legitimate business then I need to go through the legitimate channels and these are them. It might be different if you're opening a flower shop but I sling booze and that's that. 

By now, everyone probably had a few shots and there is some etiquette involved. If your the head of your side you should make an effort to cheer the head governmental person. If you aren't the head of your side then it's the head of your sides duty to cheers the head government guy. It goes like that naturally with other people from the government side cheersing both you and your colleagues much the same way. Over and over and over again till the room is red faced and smoke covers the air, at this point there should be a few lesser governmental officials sleeping at the table. The toilets should be covered in puke and if you've succeed in not making a total ass of your self or being to drunk then the head governmental official will say that it's time to go. Don't make the lead government person loose face by getting him too drunk unless he's the one initiating it. If he stops drinking don't force the issue. Later, there will be an effort on their part to pay the bill. Whatever happens don't let them. Discreetly pay, also pay for their equally expensive take away items that they've already pre-ordered and then start saying your heartfelt good byes. After the dinner concludes both sides generally like each other much more and even though there is a huge ocean of language and culture for those few merry hours of complete alcohol overload the ocean turns to a puddle that's that's easy to hop over as long as you don't throw up. 

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