If I don’t write this down now, no one is going to believe me. So here it is.
Anyone who’s ever flown into China from the US knows the hell flight. It’s 15 hours (in my case last night, 17 including the problems with the “baggage”) here, then, normally, a two hour drive to the hotel. This all in a timezone 180 degrees apart from where I come from. I am a veritable zombie when I finally get to my room.
So last night I get to the hotel. I forgot to arrange who would pick me up, but luckily our super-efficient Chinese business unit had left a message for me at reception that Daisy would collect me at 07:30 this morning, along with her cell number.
Our Chinese business unit has moved location and I know that there was some staff turnover that was associated with the move. I also know that some of the Chinese folk chose their English name – something that appeals to them, or is a close phonetic approximation to their native Chinese name. So there are quite a lot of people in the unit I haven’t yet met.
I try not to let my hosts wait, so this morning I was outside the hotel at 07:28. A chap I didn’t recognize walked up to me and asked “Paul?” – exactly on time. I didn’t recognize him, and unsure of his English ability, I asked in slow English “Where is Daisy?”. He said “She not come”. No problem, just glad I got picked up.
Off we go. My sense of direction is quite good and I quickly thought that we were headed in a direction which was not at all what I remembered, but with all of the building and roadworks in this city, I have been taken on so many routes to our offices that I didn’t think there was too much wrong. Also, the hotel is built on a lake, so one sometimes needs to go in all sorts of directions to get to the office.
My driver’s English was a lot better than my Chinese, but there is always a difficulty communicating, especially with my South African accent which the Chinese are not as used to. We were excitedly discussing my flight from the US, the length, that I had flown through Chicago, the timezone difference and what we were planning to do in operations today. He seemed to know his stuff. All the while I was becoming more concerned about my internal GPS telling me that I “should make a U-turn when safe to do so”.
About 15 minutes into the trip, my internal GPS got the better of me and I tentatively, and hesitantly (like a child asking their parent about an upcoming outing that may be cancelled if the weather is bad) asked my driver: “Where do you work?”
The look of abject horror on his face made me think I had just caused another international incident. He ripped his name badge out of the glove box and showed me the logo of a very large American company, also present in this section of China.
I then ripped my business card out of my wallet and he again gave me that horrified look when he saw I worked for a company he’d never even of heard of.
Just as we were making the U-turn to go back to the hotel, his phone rang. He answered it, and yes, on the line was the Paul he’d originally tried to collect.
What are the chances that two Paul’s agree to meet their collective hosts at 07:30 in front of a hotel, that both hosts know a “Daisy” and that perhaps both hosts’ “Daisy” was ill?
Anyway, when I got back to the hotel I met and explained the situation to the other Paul, and went and greeted my real host, who had been waiting for 30 minutes for me.