China Travel-Blog part 3
By the time we got to Beijing, the famous food of Chengdu (Sichuan province) had caught up with me. It may have been the raw lobster or it may have been the uncommon amounts of oil and spice, but whatever it was for the next two days my diet was restricted to congee, water, and Chinese medicine, until my digestion was back to normal.
Beijing is home to the main offices of Kabinett, our Chinese distribution company. Li and I were to spend these two days in constant meetings with the staff, clients and sub-distributors, and in interviewing prospective PR companies. We told our story again and again as we led some groups through icewine tastings. We told of the beauty and ideal growing conditions of the Okanagan Valley, of the history, philosophy, and achievements of Summerhill, about the benefits of organic winemaking, the precious wonder of Icewine, and what the letters VQA mean. We realized that all of the staff at Kabinett, as well as eventually the sub-distributors, clients, and ultimately end-consumers, would have to know these stories well, and eventually would have to be able to tell them as well as we could.
After two days of meetings we had a day off. Li and I were invited to Yang Wei and Mr Yuan's home outside the city where the family was celebrating the engagement of their eldest daughter. We went with the two families to a nearby restaurant. The feast featured such delicacies as jellyfish, cow-stomach, and sea cucumber (a slug by any other name is still a slug, despite the appetizing cucurbit euphemism). After lunch Yang Wei and Mr Yuan, along with their four year-old son Rei-Rei, brought Li and me to the Great Wall for the view, sense of history, and obligatory photo-op, and then to dinner at a famous restaurant renowned for their contemporary version of Beijing's traditional Roast Duck. First small plates of duck bits and innards (feet, stomach, liver, and tongue) along with salads and pickles were presented, followed by the main course: two beautifully plump, golden-red birds. These were sliced to bites in front of our eyes, and served alongside rice crepes, crispy hollow sesame buns, and a tray of condiments, sauces, and julienne vegetables. The traditional first bite was dipped in sugar, and then the procedure was to fill the crepes or hollow buns with duck dipped in sauce, vegetables, and condiments, and prepare your own mini wraps and sandwiches. Totally delightful. Joining us for dinner that evening was Mr Yijun Song, trade counsellor for the province of Ontario, as well as a small group of musicians. Mr Yuan had told us last month in Canada that when we came to Beijing he would bring us to see the musicians who played traditional music for dignitaries visiting China, including American presidents. But as they weren't performing anywhere, and as Mr Yuan desired very strongly to keep his word, he brought them to see us instead. We had a private concert in our private dining room with two master musician playing the traditional two stringed Erhu and a Russian Bayan respectively. Well the sound of the Erhu was enough to bring me to tears. The depth and nuance of the articulation, and the ease and fluency of the player were breathtaking. The Bayan player was also a virtuoso, and little Rei-Rei came to bounce on my knee when she struck up a tango. The evening was accompanied by my first taste of home grown Chinese wine, which seemed to be Cabernet Sauvignon, and which was surprisingly acceptable. The vintage was 2001, and although the label instructed drinking it young, at 9 and a half years old the color was still medium purple and the flavours developing nicely.
The last day was strategy sessions with Yang Wei and Mr Yuan. Launching our brand in this new market will be like going fishing, they said. We joked that we ought to go with a boat and a net.
In the end there were a few things I never got used to in China, like the way no one stands in line. You must assert yourself to get to, let's say, the water-cooler. Or the smoking in restaurants. There were times when I'd inhale deeply after a particularly spicy bite, only to be suffocated and overwhelmed by the smoky air. But these things are minor compared with the positive things, chief among them the warmth of Yang Wei, all of her family, her employees, and most everyone we met. Even though wages are lower in China than in Canada, and the cost of living is perhaps almost as high, the people we saw, everywhere we met, seemed as happy. I was warned before I left Canada to only go shopping with Li, as I was likely to pay more if without a translator. In fact, when I wandered out to find an internet cafe, but failing that entered a small print shop and asked to use a computer, not only was I graciously allowed, but my money was refused.
It will require a significant investment to establish our brand here, especially in a burgeoning, not yet established category where we need to educate our potential customers. Myself and other representatives from Summerhill will have to come here multiple times per year, especially in this initial phase. And as we cannot quite afford a trawler, there are no guarantees that our fishing expedition will be successful. But we are fortunate to have great partners, and to have a great batch of stories to tell with a twenty year history. It is a golden (and red) opportunity.
No plans for more right now, but we'll see how things go, and there may be more when there is more to tell.