Cab it over to Everbright Convention Center for a morning pick-up. David, the handler, is waiting in his car – a non-descript Toyata with a dashboard mounted LCD monitor which he uses to watch porno movies while driving in traffic. Chinese traditional musak is playing. Traditional instruments with bad synth background melodies.
We head out towards the South West. The drive is comfortable for about 1/2 hour. Then we are stuck in the road. Can’t tell what’s causing the traffic, but I keep my senses open; this would be a perfect location for a daring daylight ambush. The civilians and peasants in surrounding cars and trucks are getting out to stretch. Some grab socket wrenches to tighten their vehicle’s wheel-bolts; I wonder how they know that the wheel-bolts need tightening now that the cars have stopped.
David asks, “So what do you think about US attacking Iraq?” Uh oh. Here comes the ideology test.
“That’s a pretty big question David” I say slowly. “Can you be more specific?”
“Lets say that a year ago you could vote yes or no on attacking Iraq. What would you vote?”
“David, what have you voted on in your life?” I ask.
Silence. Silence is sometimes good. But this fails the test. “OK David,” I say. “I’m being a bastard. That was not a fair question.”
“You are not a bastard. I appreciate your directness.”
“If I had to vote on attacking Iraq or not, I would probably vote no.”
“So you think the war was wrong…”
“Again. I big question. I would vote no because its very expensive in terms of prestige, money, and lives to engage in war when we have not properly finished our mission in Afghanistan. But for the record, I’m happy the US armed forces have sent Saddam’s sons to hell.”
“You believe in hell?”
“No David. That’s just my way of speaking.”
“David, you are not happy with what happened. Most Chinese people are not happy with it”
“Right. I understand invading Afghanistan. But Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11 (which, by the way, I and every Chinese person thinks is a horrendous event). American president Bush lies and America rides roughshod over the wishes of others. It is an arrogant country.”
“Yup. We are an arrogant people.”
“I didn’t say you American people are arrogant. I mean…”
“I know what you mean. But I say we are an arrogant people. We believe we know what is right and wrong. At least, when we bother to pay attention to something, we have an opinion about it. Chinese people and Arabs, on the other hand, often seem very unreasonable to me.”
“We are the unreasonable people?! How so?”
“Example. You know about that tour group of 200 or so Japanese idiots who went to Zhuhai to have an orgie?”
“Yes. That made me so mad.”
“Well. If 200 Chinese people came to San Jose every week to buy prostitutes, I would be very happy. Supports the local economy.”
“This is different.”
“OK. But in China, every day several thousand…perhaps several tens of thousands…of prostitutes go to work. And every day they get lots of customers. I bet about 95% of those customers are Chinese men. Would you agree?”
“That is probably correct. Tens of thousands. And most of the customers definitely are Chinese.”
“But when a group of Japanese come to China to do the same thing (albeit, in a big, unseemly group…and you know those Japanese have to do everything in groups), Chinese people everywhere get mad. I know the real reason you get mad.”
“Because you don’t want to think about the failures of Chinese people and Chinese culture. Because you are really angry about not being able to fix problems here. Or, more likely, you are way way past being angry about what China is…you accept it and have little hope for positive change. And therefore feel little responsibility.”
David doesn’t answer. I knew he would not answer.
“And Arabs…they’re the same. Their culture and governments are messed up. So they blame America and the Jews. I know America and Israel does some very bad things. But I have little sympathy for the Arabs. At least, they didn’t have to go through a Great Leap Forward and a Cultural Revolution. They didn’t have a MaoZedong…and I say that as a good thing.”
Are conversation quickly shifts topics. That was enough politics for one day.
Traffic lasts 3 hours. We go straight to the restaurant. Girl in standard red greeter QiPao (with slit up the sides to maximize leg viewing) leads us to a private room. I’m introduced to Mr. Wang, the factory Director of Engineering. Big man in his 40s with big hands. Big glasses. Handsome, face. He has the face of a cop..I really hope the front team did they’re homework. The front team – the local manufacturers reps – are not impressive. There is Smoking Weasel Face, Peasant Girl Face, and Say-Nothing Driver-cum-lackey. They all know who I am, so at least we are somewhat on the same page. “Hello Mr. Wang! Gosh you are tall and smart looking” ,I say in English. David translates. Wang says he is so happy that I came out from Germany to meet him. David translates. I say he is an important customer and HQ wants to show our support. David translates.
Wang orders beer to go around. A cold Shanghai crab is waiting for each of us on the table. SH Crab is probably the most overrated food in China. Its the only famous dish with the Shanghai brand name on it (although there are lots of famous dishes from suburb cities, like “Ningbo Roast Ham” for instance.) Lots of toasting. Wang chats with the locals about girls, food, and foreigners. He toasts me more. I toast him.
“Jesse, you are German. You can drink a lot of beer, right?”
David translates – we are maintaining pretenses. I say that, although many of my ancestors on my fatherâ€™s side are Russian – who can drink even more than Germans – I am the only German in the entire world that gets drunk after drinking just two beers. So lets drink slower.
Waitress comes, grabs the soup bowl out of my hand to refill it, and spills hot soup on my hand. I say in Chinese “What are you doing?”. Weasel Face skips a beat. Waitress says “What?” I say “Gansheta frankenstein vicken doing?” David translates; “You spilled soup on him. And please don’t bother refilling his bowlâ€¦he can do it himself”.
Brunch concludes. We drive to the “Water Factory”. David notes that it was a close one with the waitress, but Mr Wang doesn’t suspect a thing. I have my doubts.
The Water Factory is on the edge of a farm. It supposedly supplies water for 100K people. I am keeping my eyes open for the tell-tale yellow and red barrels that contain nerve agents. We get the tour. I ask the right questions; how old is the generator? Have their been problems with the existing electric actuator valves? Does that penstock ever jam up? Is that where the new plant will go? I can fool anyone into thinking I am an expert. Being an expert is mostly an act anyway. Unless you are a doctor or something like that.
After the tour, we go back to the office. Cold concrete room with no decorations. No heater. Cold, damp river air permeates everything. 10 year old computer sits on a desk at the side – no dust.. its still being used. Fluorescent lights. Hot water canister for constant green-tea refills. Dirty windows. Wang pulls out the schematics of the new project and lays it on top of the pile of papers on his desk. I point to objects and say “thatâ€™s the generator.” “Valves will go along this line, right?” â€œHere is where a penstock will go.â€ David translates. I’m 100% correct.
Mr. Wang then asks questions. David answers most directly. What is the local service policy? Who are other customers in the South of Yangze/Shanghai/SuZhou/Hangzhou region. Who will be the correct contact person? What type of air compressor will be needed? David answers most directly. Then he translates. Then I answer the same, as I heard David say it. Then David translates, giving the impression that David and I are on the same page…I’m just a little behind because of the language barrier. All the while, Wang looks at David like a cop who’s looking to spot inconsistencies during an interrogation. I know this look well. I believe it is my look.
Meanwhile, Weasel Face is smoking and Peasant Face is making little high-pitched comments that Mr. Wang does not understand (because her accent).
Then its my turn. “As you may have been told, Krautworks has been making valves since 1871…” I go on about the corporate profile. Then I give the sales pitch I developed. “There are four factors where pneumatic actuators are superior to electric actuators…Overall Quality, maintenance costs, operations costs, and purchase costss…” David translates. Wang writes it down. He’s heard the spiel before. But now he is getting it from a HQ man.
Wang then has David go over a diagram of how a pneumatic actuator actually works. Finally… “Because of the esteamed guest from Germany, I’m convinced we need to use pneumatic actuators. Now I need to show these results to the company president. And we need to look at some of your competitors as well.”
My closing comment; “I’m so happy that you have come to see the advantages of pneumatic actuators. Please feel free to investigate the competition. Although our competitor is a German company, I know that in recent years they have become more like a trading house, sourcing their valves from Poland and the Chek republic – which, of course, will not have as good quality as German valves.”
He thanks us profusely. I welcome Mr. Wang to visit me in Germany, where we can drink some good beer together. Everyone is happy. My ass is freezing cold and I feel sick, but its mission accomplished. I sleep on the ride back home.