Friday, June 7, 2013

Oh, China!

What a strange, interesting, and slightly alarming trip to Guangzhou!  It was like seeing all of the clichés I've been hearing over the past couple years come true. 

Enormous booth

We left Hong Kong Wednesday evening with the big boss herself, Anita, her driver, Sean, and Iris, one of Anita's employees.  We get to the border where I am removed from the car and led into a concrete room to wait while I am processed.  My name is Lauren and I am an overstayer.  A quick 3p minute fine and some paperwork later (paid for by Anita thank you) and I am allowed to return to the vehicle. 

SIDENOTE: So I guess I haven't been in a non-taxi/van car for a while and I was super impressed with Anita's car.  It was an Audi SUV and had little trays on the back of the front seats, blinds that you pulled up the windows, and the softest leather I have ever felt in a car. 
cartoons to market wine.  great

Anyway, we finally pull in at 12:30 to middle of nowhere China to this humungo hotel.  I was pleasantly surprised at my room.  Large, clean (although the ashtrays everywhere made me a little nervous), and a huge bathroom with tub.  Well done, Grandly Pacific (my client). 

Wake up ridic early the next day, have a 'Western' breakfast in the 'Western' hotel (I've never seen congee in the breakfast buffet in Gladstone) and were off for the 40 minute drive to the expo centre.  I should note at this point that there are roughly 10 of us.  Sean and myself, Anita, Andy (my client), Darren, Karen, Iris, Michelle, and some other people whos names I never caught from Grandly, and 2 Spanish guys- one a winemaker and one a supplier to Anita's other business, recyclables (that's where all the $$ is from- def not from the wine). 
In casual conversation it comes up that Anita has purchased the dress that Iris is wearing.  Strange.  And then in the car it gets even weirder.  Anita starts talking about how her son (19) asked her for makeup one day for 'Cos Play.'  For those of you not familiar, cos play is when boys and girls (men and women) get dressed up like anime characters, run around the streets, and have other people take their pictures.  I kid you not. Some dude got the idea when he went to a Star Wars movie in the US and saw people in the audience dressed up.  Brought it over to Asia and obviously manifested it x 1,000,000.  You see these people running around Stanley on Sundays....

Anyway, so she didn't know which color foundation to buy for her eldest son, so she just bought one of each, and then gave the leftovers to the Michelle and Iris who are in their early 20s.  I passed piles of makeup from Anita's bag to the girls in the back.  Piles.   I'm beginning to sense an almost Godfather-ness here.

Just one tiny piece of the massive expo conplex
The expo was ridiculous.  This convention plaza has got to be the largest in the world.  It's the size of Giants Stadium x 15.  We finally find our way to the right hall and to the booth, which again is ridiculous.  It's by far the largest booth in the expo, complete with full bar, tables, VIP room, 2 men dressed up in inflatable wine bottles, and 6 models, oh and I should mention like 20 staff in varying outfits from uniforms to truck driver hats and tanks (on the men). 
Me, winebottle man, Sean
No one at this expo except the winemakers and export managers speak English.  None of the people know a thing about wine, and no one wants to stop and talk to me.  I got the occasional photo request, but that was it.  I sort of wandered from the front to the back of the booth about 400 times, and finally Anita told me to either walk around, take a rest, or just take pictures with people.

Whole fish
I walked around and discovered that the level of wines present was very low.  Mass produced bulk wine :(  I had fun talking to the winemakers, even found some Marsala and Sherries, but was overall disappointed at the selection. 
Felix and advertising for his wine at the 'office'

This makes me laugh
Darren, Andy, Sean, Anita
Apparently we did ok.  10 containers sold in one day!  Apparently.  You can never tell who's telling the truth, or what version of the truth is being told.  I should mention we went to get lunch late and as a consequence were left with the shit rice lunchboxes.  Rice.  Slime.  Pork.  I had about 3 bites of rice and quit.  We left the expo at 6, totally starving, and then were told to reconvene in the hotel lobby at 8.  We FINALLY went to dinner, where Anita dictated where we all sat.  Then the food started coming as it was ready.  A soup here, a soup there (to Anita first of course) and then silence except for slurping.  Slurp, slurp, slurp. All I could think the whole time was that my mom would be horrified.  I can't tell you how many times I heard 'stop slurping' growing up.   Then mid-meal, which is a free for all, spin the lazy susan left, then right, then back, etc.  Anita stands up and declares 'Gambe' to which everyone stand up and chugs their beer.  Not a full mug, but a full cup for sure.  Are we at a frat party? PS is this not a wine company?  Why are we drinking 50 cent TsingTao and not wine?  There's a winemaker at our table for crying out loud!
The big bosses 'office'
More office
These are all things I had heard go on in China, but thought were exaggerated and maybe only once in a while things.  No, these are everyday things that happen at every dinner, especially when the big boss is involved.
Fancy dinner
Special Eggplant
Filet cooked in Sake
Don't be fooled, that's beer in my wine glass
The next night was more of the same.  Although first we were made to go on a tour of the 'office' of the local Chinese company's business.  This place was ridiculous.  Marble, gold, ivory, this looked more like a music video than an office.  Once everyone was convinced that we were all impressed we were ushered to dinner.  Same restaurant as the night before, but upstairs to a private room,.  We all had tea and then sat down to an incredible meal.  One thing I will say about Chinese that I don't like is that it all comes at once.  Everything is loaded onto the table and you just go at it.  I kind of like the idea of courses where there's a build up.  What's coming next!? 

The food was all great, but nothing I would really want to eat again except for the salmon sashimi.  Yum.  3 or 4 beer chugs later and it was time to head next door to the kareoke.  This was a first for me in HK/China, and wow.  Everyone was just so happy and relaxed and was genuinely enjoying this totally weird to me environment. 

We're brought to this hige room with chandaliers and big sofas, and we have our own staff who keep refilling the chicken feet (seriously), Budweisers, and screwdrivers.  All the meanwhile people are playing dice and singing to the TV.  Me and the Spanish dudes sat together in awe, and I just kept thinking, 'where is the wine!?'

My new friends who spoke 0 english

Eventually the singing stopped, the music became a little louder, and the lights were dimmed.  Everyone jumped up on a table and started dancing.  Everyone.  Boys with boys. Boys with girls.  Boss with minions.  We had our own private Grandly Pacific club going until the ripe old hour of 1am.  This is a school night!
Karen was the sweetest!  Want to put her in my pocket
7:45 we all meet up the next morning as per the request of big boss.  Why, I'm not sure.  We all sat at breakfast tired.  And sat and sat until about 9:15 when we finally left for the last day of the expo.  Saturday at the expo was dead.  Half the vendors had packed up, so Andy the girls and I walked around trying whatever was left.  Finally we were off to the trainstation for the 3 hour journey home.  One hour to Shenzen. Through customs and onto the MTR for another hour and half until I was back.

Til next time!  Me, Andy, Karen, Michelle

Back in sunny Hong Kong.  How I missed thee,  the land of sandwiches, salads, and good wine. 

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