As with most business trips, we set off with a few goals last week…find new fabrics, work out the latest design issues and improve rapport with our manufacturing partners. After 18 hours of air travel, a 7-hour train ride, and a full day of working with our Chinese sampling team, my ‘happy go lucky’ self would have been happy to crash at the hotel. As congenial as he is, I was hoping to beg-off dinner with Leo, our long-time vendor in China. We had brought our son Greyson along, and I was afraid he would lose it if he landed at another business dinner with fish eyes staring him down from the plate. But we showered up, dusted ourselves off and headed out to be sociable.
The Chinese restaurant experience is unique. The culture favors tight-knit gatherings of family and friends, so most restaurants cater to that with private dining rooms. As Leo and Jimmy lead us to our dining room, we were surprised to find Leo’s wife and daughters along with other family friends and children already there. Hanna had brought loads of games for the children and had them set up around the sofa and coffee table. With a little persuasion, Greyson quickly adopted a tetras-like board game of layers and shapes that fit together, and he was thrilled to help the younger children learn some of his tricks.
Meals are family style and served on a giant turntable that covers most of the round dining table. As the platters arrived, we were elated to discover multitudes of new vegetables and familiar ones prepared in a new way. We learned there are about 50 ways to prepare the cucumber and we delighted in each new one we tried. One of our new friends teaches English and became our designated translator, but after many shared smiles and joyful responses to new and exciting flavors, language became unnecessary. The children laughed at their mutual diverse cultural habits and found ways to play without words.
Goals are great for setting us on a path, but sometimes the path can wander in amazing directions, and if we’re lucky, we’re brave enough to follow. I’m happy to report that we found some luxurious new fabrics and worked out a few design hiccups. I’m elated to report that we fostered new and intense friendships and trust that transcend the cultural boundaries that we sometimes believe define us.