Thursday, October 1, 2009

Following the Food
by Edythe Huang

It's not that my father does not like to travel, because he does. But he has a great fear of going to places that don't have Chinese food. This fear has kept him from joining many trips abroad- so much so that I take pictures of Chinese restaurants wherever I go to show him that, next time I return to the same destination, he can come too, without the fear of being forced to eat the native food.

During one of my last vacations, I took more pictures of Chinese restaurants than I ever have before… and no, I was not in Asia. There were Chinese restaurants in the countryside of the Czech Republic and Austria, in the city of Ljubliana, Slovenia, in the small countryside towns of Postojnska, Slovenia, and even in northern Croatia. Chinese restaurants were everywhere in the Eastern European countries I visited.

Imagine my (non-existent) surprise when I got back to the office and the article "Chinese Investment in Europe: a Shift to Services" in the Chinese Business Review was waiting for me. According to Vanessa Rossi and Nora Burghart, the newer EU members from Eastern Europe are one of the new targets of Chinese Outbound Direct Investment (ODI). Although the UK and Russia receive most of Chinese ODI directed at Europe, the Eastern European countries of the EU are the latest place where Chinese hope to see a growth in exports.

Eastern Europe is not the only place that is seeing a rise in Chinese ODI. The Chinese Business Review issue dedicated to the topic cites Latin America as the next biggest new hotspot. Yet, Chinese restaurants have been in Latin America for years. Chinatowns in Mexico City, Havana, Buenos Aires, Lima, in San Jose and the Puntarenas area of Costa Rica that have been around for decades, some even over a century.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve and know where China is going next, look to the unlikely economic indicator: the number of Chinese restaurants in the area. In my experience, and without passing any judgment, Chinese business people tend to believe that Chinese food is far superior to any other food in the world. The statement is based on the many hours that I have spent listening to various "Uncles" and "Aunts" talk about how great Chinese food is and how much better it is than anybody else's food (when cheekily asked when was the last time they had non-Chinese food, many have been happy to tell me that they deemed to have Japanese food this past week. When asked the last time they had "Western food," the typical response was a cringe accompanied by some reference to the fact that he or she just can't manage to eat a potato). To many Chinese, the idea of going without Chinese food for even a week is a harrowing prospect. But, if they know they can get Chinese food while on a business trip, no matter how awful it is, they are happier to make the trip.

This information can benefit any wei go zen (non-Chinese), especially business people. If you are working with or entertaining Chinese people, make sure Chinese food, preferably "the good stuff," is available for native contacts or visitors. Don't be afraid to make recommendations of good Chinese restaurants, after all, most conversations in China revolve around what restaurants are the best restaurants in town or for a particular dish. And if you want to know where Chinese business is going to go next, remember, in many cases, Chinese business follows Chinese food.

Chi li ma?

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