Saturday, July 01, 2006

A quick trip to China ... and those lingering myths of business travel

In Shanghai again (sigh)

Well, I find myself in Shanghai again. Cathay Pacific, The Four Seasons Hotel… I know what you’re thinking. “Alors, how does Michael stand it, the utter ennui of trans-Pacific travel.” Just a good attitude, I guess. With a positive h a-tee-tude I can find my highest AL-tee-tude. Etc.

I’ve come to help facilitate a big corporate event for Leaders Quest, the organization I went to China with in March. Only this time I get paid. And once again I find myself confronting one of those indestructible myths of travel, the ones that you swear you’ll never forget and then do exactly that.

Let's briefly review some of the leading ones:

Myth #1: “Since I’ll have a lot of time on airplanes, I should bring along one of those books that I’ve never been able to read, but feel I should, like Jude the Obscure or Beloved.”

Myth #2: “I’ll work out every day and come back in better shape than I left!”

Myth #3: “A business trip is a great opportunity to really enjoy myself, relax AND get paid for it.”

This last one is the relevant one today. It turns out that working overseas actually involves a lot of WORK. And precious little time for shopping, exploring charming new neighborhoods or working on my exciting new novel. Oy!

Still the life coach to the stars

Back-patting is in order, however, for what I did yesterday. I modeled good life-balance behavior. What did do to merit this?

I went to yoga! In Shanghai! On my business trip! And I even took a 90-minute class, which is a major time commitment for me given my rather short attention span. Go, Michael!

I found a place on the internet called Y+, which turned out to be a gorgeous, internationale, sumptuously appointed yet spiritually open studio. A single-class pass cost what I assume is someone’s monthly salary, but it was awesome.

Quien es mas obnoxious?

When competing for the title of Ugly American overseas, businessmen are the perennial favorites. Shuffling from country to country, cramming their wheelies into your overhead rack space, talking stock prices on their cell phones while dribbling sandwich crumbs onto their laptop PCs … you get the picture. However, there’s a new contender for the crown--those self-absorbedly cool, post-college, Asian-wannabe hipsters whose every atom goes into the process of broadcasting their unique (not) identities. (Of course, I was never that way.)

Here’s a picture of the guy who stood behind me in Starbucks: mid-20s; soul patch and goatee; wearing black kung fu pajamas and sandals; punching out text messages as he ordered his drink; and dragging a high-end longboard (a four-foot skateboard) behind him. In Starbucks Shanghai, I should repeat. He repeated multiple times that he wanted skim milk several times. Or at least I THINK that’s what he said because his Chinese, that he was so insistent on speaking, had no tones! I wanted to slap him! Or at least expose his uncoolness. Which I'm now doing, because no one hides from the blog.

To review:

Speaking Chinese well or just being culturally open: cool
Speaking Chinese without tones and pushily insisting on skim milk, while dragging a longboard around Starbucks and wearing kung fu pajamas and having a gross goetee: NOT cool!