China Week: Let’s Get Down to Business

I traveled to Beijing with AeroBalloon’s president, Doug, to get our 40-passenger helium balloons approved by the Chinese government. CSEI, the division that oversees amusement rides (along with cable hoists and boilers for some reason), sent two inspectors to examine our design: mechanical engineer Li Liang and civil engineer Liu Bo. Mr. Li reviewed the assembly procedure and working details of the winch pulley system, while Mr. Liu reviewed the components of my technical design report.

Speaking through a translator was a novel experience. Although the inspectors have strong English skills, it’s exhausting for them to keep up all day – both Mr. Li and Mr. Liu would leave lunch early to squeeze in a catnap. For more technical discourse they either spoke through our translators or wrote notes for them to convert to English. Occasionally we held a private meeting with the translators to help them convey our meaning to the inspectors.

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Doug uses props to explain the gondola structure to Mr. Liu.

Business customs seemed very American, with the main exception being the presentation of business cards. In East Asia you offer your card with two hands, pinching the top corners, accompanied by a slight bow. It’s a sign of respect. Each day we worked roughly from 9 to 17:30 with a lunch break at precisely noon, always a lavish affair. (I’ll write about the food next time.) Most evenings I met further with Doug to make additional progress, so we’d have revised reports ready for our inspectors by morning.

We left with unfinished business, but we know what we need to do for final approval. In a lighthearted moment, Mr. Liu admitted that every foreign business hates this process. (The Chinese are fully aware that their government is a royal pain, but that doesn’t mean they can fight it.) Doug and I will revise our design in the coming weeks, and perhaps I’ll join him when he goes back for final approval.

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