Frank O'Hara & Marion Raycheba in China October/November, 2003

We didn't lack for fine dining. (With our host David Liu and his wife Linda)

Click here to see a 20 minute video of our trip.
(For adequate results a broadband connection is required)

Xi'an, in northwest China, is a middle sized city, by Chinese standards - about 7 million people. This was the beginning of the ancient Silk Road and the locale of the first efforts to unite all of China under one emperor. There is much to see including, of course, the Terra-cotta Warriors. My wife, Marion and I were invited by the government of Shaanxi province to give instruction in such things as sales training, small business management, effective meetings, western etiquette and about ten other subjects that arose after we arrived.

The crowds in Xi'an are typical of Chinese cities. They have to be experienced to be believed. The main streets of Xi'an have very wide sidewalks as well as special lanes for bicycles (millions of them), motorcycles, peddled and motorized carts and several lanes for car traffic in each direction. The very modern main roads have all been constructed within the last ten years or so, as have the excellent highways leading out of the city. However, if they add as many cars in the next year or so as they have been doing recently they will have world class gridlock. Traffic patterns are interesting. At a corner with traffic lights (not all corners have them) the vehicles, cars, busses, motorcycles, motorized carts, bicycles don't even hesitate at the red light to make a right turn. To get to our office each morning we had to cross 8 lanes of traffic in one direction and then 6 in the other. We often took two lights to make it across. Fortunately, there was a wide median behind which we could cower. Our technique was to get downstream of Chinese pedestrians. Cowardly but effective. At corners where there are no lights the traffic somehow melds with everyone managing to squeeze without hitting either other vehicles or people. Marion calls it the "squeeze style of traffic". Somehow the traffic proceeds and I only saw only a few fender benders and only two bodies on the road.

Our hotel was like an up-scale Holiday Inn. Our room even had a high speed connection to the Internet. With my notebook, Marion and I kept in touch with email almost as easily as if we were still in Toronto. The hotel connection was faster than the one at the office where we worked, even though they had ADSL through their LAN. However our ADSL connection at home is about twice as fast.

The afternoon temperatures reached mid 20 Celsius, even in the Fall. Flowers were still in bloom and quite a few palm trees in evidence; so the winters are obviously a lot milder than Toronto's. Of course, summer temperatures reach the mid 40 Celsius.

Marion gave lectures on Communications - how to prepare a professional report, how to meet new business acquaintances, how to plan and give a speech, how to conduct effective meetings, etc. I gave seminars on how to attract foreign investment, how to retain key staff, and sales training. I also gave advice on Website design.

I met with the section of the Hi Tech Development Zone that looks after attracting foreign investment. This followed my formal presentation on the subject. I guess I sounded like an expert. Maybe my regular reading of the Globe and Mail and the Report on Business coupled with my less than satisfactory attempts to raise capital for my own company stood me in good stead. One of the definitions of an expert is, "an SOB from out of town"; since I was from far out of town I suppose my expertise was beyond reproach. In any event, it went quite well. One of my suggestions was that they get the mayor to send out thousands of letters to prospects in the West. They felt that he would agree to do so. Of course, they will do all the preparation and print his signature on the letters. I also gave them tips on how to find prospective investors. On another subject - I also reviewed the business plan of a company. I've prepared lots of business plans over the years. All the banks except for a Hong Kong one, as far as I could determine, are wholly owned by the government.

We had a meeting with the woman who is head of the Xi'an Hi Tech Incubator Center. They have over 300 incubator companies - an increase from 100 in 2 years when I was last in Xi'an. One subject we touched on was the difference in culture. For example, in a training session it is difficult to get anyone to ask questions. Obedience/paying close attention is their strong suit. We had a little success by bribing them with Canada flag lapel pins.

The government put a lot of money into the economy this year to counteract the effects of SARS. One of the companies with whom I worked got a loan equivalent to ½ million USD. It seems they got it without preparing a really serious business plan. No wonder this economy is expanding.

The Hi Tech City where we worked is only one of several "Hi Growth" (hi-tech, aeronautical, chemical, electrical, etc.) areas in this city (53 of the largest cities in China have this arrangement). Xi'an's is the fourth most successful. The Xi'an Hi Tech City has expanded from a start ten years ago to 5 sq. kms when I was in China 4 years ago to 12.5 sq. kms now. They have allocated land for further expansion - 65 additional square kms! We used to think that Americans thought big. They are pikers in comparison with this. The Hi-tech Development Zone includes living accommodation, schools, parks, hotels, etc. in addition to businesses. They plan on adding 1,000 new businesses a year - not in the whole country or even in the city of Xi'an but just in the Xi'an Hi Tech Development Zone. While the US is showing its military muscle China is doing some interesting "set-up" exercises. I wish I could live long enough to see the eventual results.

There was a well-written article in the first issue of a new magazine "Walrus" about the effects of SARS on China and how it has fostered a more open society. I have a much more positive appreciation of where this country is headed having read the article. You may find a bit about it at They are still on the alert for SARS. We both had our temperature taken on entering our hotel. They do it on a random basis with a small device that they hold close to your neck. There was also a thermometer in our room with a note (in Chinese!) with, I suppose, instructions on it's used for self-diagnosis. The airports do a thorough screening of every passenger arriving or leaving.

On our last Saturday morning Marion and I had a meeting with a company to help them arrive at a Mission Statement. It is wonderful what you can accomplish despite limited experience in a subject when people believe you can do it! If I do say so, in a couple of hours we did a great job. They then treated us to a sumptuous lunch - one of very many that we have enjoyed.

I had KFC chicken for a working business lunch one day - a treat because it was so different! It is much like in North America but with a more spicy coating on the chicken - not too much for my delicate palate or maybe my tongue was turning to leather like everyone in China seems to have developed. The chips were soggy but nevertheless a change from noodles and rice. One serving of KFC was enough, though.

Silk, if you have someone to show you where to shop, is ridiculously cheap as is tailoring. So we went on a spree and had dressing gowns made for my 2 daughters, a caftan for me and Marion and a smoking jacket for me (very fancy). When I get home, I might even indulge in the occasional cigar with a good cognac - to complete the picture.

Our last 6 days were in Shanghai for some welcome R&R. Seeing the sites on our own was not as rewarding as when our hosts showed us the Xi'an area but we managed quite nicely. It is reputed to be the fastest growing city in China and the skyscrapers and rate of development are certainly impressive. We stayed at an attractive small hotel in the former French quarter. Originally it was a fabulous mansion. Downtown there is a building with a plaque commemorating a meeting of the Opium Dealers Association in 1909. Could that be how they paid for their mansions?

Returning from China is to experience serious jet lag. A small price to pay for a scintillating experience. Our pictures will remind us of our time in China and our memories of Chinese hospitality will remain without any prompting.

We had fun assigning English given names to those who didn't already have one. So, on the last day in Xi'an they assigned us Chinese names (including new family names.) I am now Ou Fu Lai (O foo lie) and Marion is Lei Moli (lay Mawlee). My name is translated as "Good luck comes" and Marion's is "Fortune comes when jasmine blooms". Here's my chop:chop