Day 5. Shenzhen - Beijing. Wed 24th Oct.
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Up at 6.30am. This was always going to be a big day of travel. The original plan was for it to be an 18 hour fast train trip from Shenzhen to Beijing, stopping in Wuhan for four hours, which would make the trip overnight as well. But plans change. Another company with energy storage capabilities contacted me, and I was impressed by what the representative said.
So the new plan was to:
Check out of hotel by 8:30am
Take a taxi to Luoho train station
Travel by train to Shi Song - a station near the company's factory by 9.30am (no they didn't have a car to pick me up from downtown Shenzhen)
Get to the factory at 10am
Meet, tour, and discuss opportunities until 12.30pm
Go with company for lunch until 2pm
Get dropped off at an express bus station at 2.30pm
Arrive at Shenzhen International Airport at 3:30pm
Take off for Beijing at 5.30pm
Arrive at Beijing at 9.30pm (with a hotel transfer bus waiting)
Arrive at downtown Beijing hotel at 11pm.
Go for a run if possible around the Forbidden City.
Bed at midnight.
Now I'm an optimist - but not THAT much of an optimist. I could see something going wrong there somewhere with a missed flight the result. So I checked out at 7.30am to ensure a stress-free day.
Stress-free ended soon after arriving at Luoho. There was NO signage or mention of Shi Song, and everyone that I spoke to (officials and public) had no idea. Finally a young bagboy said he knew it - but my spelling was wrong. It was Bai-Shi Song. Fair... enough. So I booked a ticket on the Metro system to that faraway station. I wasn't completely convinced so to be certain, at each of the many check gates I asked for confirmation and everyone agreed, it was in fact Bai-Shi Song that I needed to go to.
I entered a very busy train carriage with my backpack and suitcase. Yes I had my 20kg suitcase with me all day today with a broken handle by now. The train carriage was about as full as a peak-hour Melbourne train with everyone looking at their feet as normal. Then we arrived at the next station. Streams more poured in! Then the next station where still more packed in! By then I couldn't see my feet, and others had their bags stacked onto mine.
The whole time that I was traveling two company representatives were constantly calling and SMS'ing me to make sure I was okay and on the right train. I was grateful for the concern but also concerned that they were running my phone dry of its limited batteries! Also, I had to call & SMS them for directions as well and the credit on my Chinese Simcard was getting dangerously low.
I managed to get off at the correct transfer station and fumbled my way onto the train to Bai-Shi Long. By this time one of the reps was convinced that I was on the wrong train, but all we could do was for me to get to the station and hope that it was the one she was heading to. It was 9am. The new train was almost empty - meaning all the seats were taken but only a few people were standing. I hadn't eaten breakfast either - I was not game to take the time to do so. Feeling the pressure!
By 9.20am I was off the train and at Bai-Shi Long. The company rep rang and said she was still 15 minutes away, so I took the chance to soak up the (pollution heavy) atmosphere and get some breakfast at an amazingly good street-side dumpling cafe. Actually it was a tent on the footpath. The owners had no English whatsoever (spoken or written) but we were easily able to successfully communicate that I would have two large Pork dumplings for Y$5 (about AUD$0.70). I didn't realize but it also included a bowl of lentil soup - and was all very fresh and very good. By the way the surrounding area was what I'd come to expect in China. Staggeringly huge apartment high-rises everywhere and many more being built, along with huge roads and more raised railways lines. It's a cliche to say this, but the place really is a giant construction zone.
My rep rang again. She had arrived, and was at the exit near the taxi rank. Er sorry which one, there are FOUR exists here, and no taxi rank I said. It was confirmed - wrong station! What's more she had no idea where I could be. I said I'd ring back after having more of a look for her just in case. I walked past a military training camp and the young soldiers-in-training watched a very lost but not unhappy looking westerner in a semi business suit hurry past with a suitcase. I rang the rep and got a recorded message (Mandarin and English) back from my phone "Sorry, your Simcard has no credit. Please purchase more credit at an outlet convenient to you."
A few things:
There was no written or spoken English in the area that I could see.
There was no "convenient" phone outlet in the area that I could see.
Time was ticking very quickly now, with a flight to catch.
The company representative was waiting for ME to call HER!
I felt about as helpless and lost as I ever had in my life. I sat down and cried. No I didn't not at all. It was actually quite good fun! Plus I still had money, and still knew I could get back to Shenzhen even though it was over an hour back.
Eventually the rep got sick of waiting and rang me back. Luckily the Simcard was still active to incoming calls/texts and I explained about the phone. Im sure she must have thought I was an absolute idiot. She asked me to give the phone to anyone. Anyone at all. So I gave it to an old woman passing by. After a long battery-draining Chinese discussion the old woman handed the phone back. The rep told me she knew exactly where I was and that I needed to go back the Shenzhen train station and start again on the right train this time. For some reason I refused, and said a little arrogantly that other companies had picked me up from my hotel and that she should come to where I was and pick me up. She said she was about two hours drive away so couldn't do that... Oh. But would ring her manager for advice.
Five minutes later she rang back with a new plan. Listen carefully. I was to go to a nearby train station which was also a fast train station. I could take a fast train to another station reasonably close (one hour) to the factory, and she would pick me up from there. She would speak to locals for me in Chinese at every step and call me every five minutes for updates. And that's exactly what happened. The fast train was... fast! 300km/h which meant I got to the station way before my rep and her driver could. I waited twenty minutes for them to arrive. Did I mention it was incredibly hot? I was VERY overdressed for the heat and had to be careful to move slowly enough so that I didn't break into a huge sweat.
She called again. They were at the station! She was a typical Chinese solar representative. University educated, with very good English and still in her 20's ...and probably a better understanding of solar & electronics than I have. The driver on the other hand was... Well he got lost - constantly. He drove down the huge freeways against traffic - often. And ignored all traffic rules - always.
Our one hour trip took 90 minutes, and we arrived at the factory at 1.30pm (3.5 hours late). We had one hour maximum including lunch.
The factory was located in a secure industrial estate of small & medium scale industry. The solar factory itself was the smallest of the companies I had yet visited with about 100 workers. All lived inside similar to the other larger factories, but alongside other company workers from other companies in the estate. The factory itself looked quite new and clean, and like the huge factory yesterday had a big LED "Welcome Peter from Keppel Prince!". Again - Nice. I was introduced to my rep's manager and her manager as well. They got straight down to business. "We need to get you to the airport in time for your flight, so our agenda has changed considerably. Here is the new agenda". It has stripped out all of the fluffy things and centered on business discussion. Lets go.
We went to the conference room and I got a short sharp intro to the company. They were primarily a solar panel manufacturer and contract out other components to other companies. Damn - exactly what I did NOT need. So I cut straight to the chase and told them that. Then I gave a brief intro to Keppel Prince and a brief version of my explanation of the current state of the Australian residential market and the need for energy storage. They took it better than I thought and said that they would put together a solution consisting of a case, inverter/controller, and batteries for us to be ready to connect to the grid and ready to connect our own panels to. She asked about target price and I went through the $15k-$18k limit for selling 5kW systems, and working backward with expenses, showed her that the case target price needed to be approximately AUD $7-$9k. She felt this was a very worthwhile and achievable and would get straight onto it. They would adapt their operations to include products like this if this is what the available western market required. Yes I was impressed!
We then had a very quick (almost running) tour of the factory. As my reps manager said all in-house production was on panels but they had a whole floor of the building for what she called "custom systems" where they would call in externally produced components and put together whatever their clients wanted.
We had a quick photo and it was off to lunch. The managers could not come as it would have to then become the trip to the bus station from there, so my direct representative and I went with the driver. The driver got lost over and over again, again. The rep had to ask for directions for him. And we went against traffic, etc all over again. By the time we hit the bus station there was no time for lunch so after she booked my ticket for me, my rep ran across the road to get me some KFC for me to eat on the bus. Yes I was being spoon-fed, but under the extreme time-frames I was very happy to have her there!
Oh one other thing, while in the meeting, she also went and recharged my Simcard with her credit card (I insisted on reimbursing her for it). Now THAT is how to do great customer relations!
So should Keppel Prince use this company as a supplier? The brutal truth is probably not - they are perhaps too small and a risk with the state of the World market which is making life very difficult for smaller Chinese solar companies. But I was impressed with their adaptive attitude and will be keen to see what they come up with. They deserve to succeed and I hope they do.
The bus trip was uneventful, and getting through the absolutely MASSIVE Shenzhen International Airport was so smooth I ended up getting to the Gate with a full hour to spare. My rep of course kept ringing and texting to see if I was okay and I think was a little surprised that the idiot westerner actually was able to get through without needing more help. I'm obviously getting better at asking for help from non-English speaking Chinese now it's a learned skill.
The flight was also uneventful apart from me falling asleep and finding my mobile phone missing when I woke! I had everyone around me standing up looking for it - and while I was busy pulling my seat apart a guy found it on the floor right under my seat. Whew - sorry everyone.
After landing I had a bad start to Beijing - my hotel transfer did not turn up and after waiting an hour I took a taxi to my hotel which turned out to be VERY hard to find as it was in an 13th century Mongolian-era alleyway in a network of similar ancient alleyways. I got changed and went for a walk (not run as planned) to check some of them out. It turned out I was staying in what can only be described as Beijing's Thamel or District 1 or perhaps even Kuta Beach. Pubs and bars amongst souvenir shops and the places packed with hordes of westerners out for a good time. I immediately disliked the place and wanted to be back in Shenzhen, even though the setting was incredibly historical and beautiful. I DID have a beer in one of the bars though, oh and DID buy some souvenirs at a shop, so shouldn't say too much. But will look for other places to go to tomorrow after the meeting which is with friends. My existing Inverter supplier (KLNE).
Bed at 12.30am
Day 6. Beijing. Thursday 25th Oct. >>