Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Life and Times of Big Ell

A few weeks ago, I was in Hong Kong for a trade show. Over the past nine years, I have been to Hong Kong at least a dozen times . However, this was my first visit that was not for a visa, to visit family, to procure porn or pirated software, leading a tour or as a gateway to other places like Macau or Mainland China. I was operating a booth for four days at the Asia-World Expo. Here are some brief observations on Hong Kong and the trade show.

The air quality in Hong Kong gets worse with every visit. Angry letters to the editors fill the editorial page of the South China Morning Post. The HK government claims to be addressing the problem. However, some critics believe the governments isn’t doing enough to deal with homegrown pollution. Other critics claim that the real problem lies north in the Pearl River Delta where they argue that unchecked economic expansion has created the majority of the pollution. All I know is that the air is filthy and I highly doubt Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang has the authority or power to do anything about it.

The following picture was taken from Greenpeace. I assume from the picture that Greenpeace is handing out gas masks to the poor citizens of Hong Kong to combat the worsening air pollution. A more cynical person could argue that they are using this picture to increase contributions to aid there already well tooled direct marketing machine. The girl on the right to the back even appears to be smiling.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the population crush in the morning and early evening in Hong Kong and Kowloon. It just seems like wave after wave of people moving forward quickly, in an orderly fashion, but moving very quickly.

It is nice to be in a city with fast, convenient and reasonably priced public transportation. I guess that is what Taipei is like, but nothing what Taichung is like.

Even though I have only been to a handful of trade shows, it is especially nice when people take the time to visit a booth and disparage my products. Especially when they don't even sell similar products. It makes all the hard work worth it and puts me in a super duper good mood.
Me: Can I help you with anything?
Buyer: No, not really, I am just looking.
Me: Can I get your business card, maybe ...
Buyer: No, I am not in the bamboo business.
Me: Oh, well, maybe you're interested in expanding your product ...
Buyer: No! I am not interested your products, they don't look very good anyway. Good luck.
Me: Thanks, do you still want a brochure?
Being one of the only white guys manning a booth at a Chinese Trade Show leads to the following: potential buyer walks by, stops, looks at me, looks at the sign, looks at me again, starts shaking his/her head and then walks away. Kind of like walking around small town Taiwan when people wave at me, yelling hello waiguoren (foreigner). Actually that isn't the best analogy.

Being a white exhibitor also turns normally boring businesspersons into hopeless humorists. Some of the highlights: You sure don’t look Chinese/Taiwanese. You are way too big to be Chinese. I didn’t know Chinese/Taiwanese people have blue eyes. You can’t be a Chinese/Taiwanese company, you’re white. I was quicky with my Ed McMahon/William B. Williams guffaws and a good time was had by all.

Another excellent byproduct of exhibiting in Hong Kong is getting to travel with your Chinese/Taiwanese partners. In other words, you get to stay at a shitty hostel run by an ex-Taiwanese and eat Taiwanese food 24/7. Mind you I was able to convince them to sample some excellent dim sum.

I even shared a room with a person from our factory in Fujian province. It was Mr. Wong’s first trip abroad and he was very excited. He loved to cook food in our shared room;a wizard with a hot plate and water boiler. He also really loves singing along to the latest Mando pop on MTV. He also found the Taiwanese variety shows available on Hong Kong cable TV wildly amusing, laughing and snorting at all of their antics. I did get my revenge as a massive head cold increased the decibels of my snoring to rock concert levels.

The booth next to ours was a Chinese company that manufactures and sells all sorts of retro designed fans. The main salesperson was guy named Ken who was incredibly nice. He liked to complain about the prices in Hong Kong and said that all he was eating was instant noodles and drinking the free bottled water from the exhibition. This leads me to assume that he was not given much of a per diem. He did not have much to say about politics or current affairs apart from this gem “Money is my religion." He does love soccer, especially Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. He went on and on about his favorite Czech national. Then I told him about this clip (watch the first 1:35) of Cech getting his head fractured. Once he figured out what fractured means his eyes welled up and he started crying. I was speechless. I mean I bawled like a baby when Thurman Munson died but I was 8 years old at the time.


Brad Tastic said...


Also: I have to get the hell off this island.

Red A said...

Trade show tip: never approach a browsing buyer too soon...they will look to you if they are really interested.

Tip 2: Be brutal about any browser who you think is a competitor...I have kicked out lots of them.

Yes, you will get the buyers who won't do business with you because they think no white guy could have a good price, etc. (happens to Taiwanese too)

I cannot believe you didn't go eat foreign food in Hong Kong. Dim Sum is for CHINA, Hong Kong is for Lebanese, German, or American food.

BigEll said...

Red A,

Thanks for the tips, they are very useful. I usually feast on foreign food in HK but didn't have the time, which is what made me bitter.

Karl said...

Ell, what business are you in?

And to top Red A's exhibition shenanigans, I kicked competitors out of my booth, and then the next day walked into their booth and examined every single tool on their shelf.

But you know us hand tool guys, all hardcore and shit. Not like furniture doodz.

Big Ell said...

We manufacture and are trying to sell bamboo housewares and are not that succesful.

Anonymous said...


You are a wannabe. I cruise into the comps booth, hand 'em my fake name cards, and pretend not to speak Chinese.

I cut their prices even though I ain't buyin' just spyin'

The Foreigner said...

You're right - the girl with the gas mask DOES look like she's smiling.

Now, what would really make the shot would be if they were all flashing the little "V-for-victory" gesture.