Thursday, January 23, 2014

My intro to Chinese businessmen: "Doodies" and the story of Jiang Xiang Zhou

I last saw Zhou delivering bean sprouts to the Chinese grocer at the Adelaide Central Market. Walking past that shop reminded me of him.

I was selling expensive plastic packaging in the mid 90s. Our phone sales person said "I have this person on the phone - I can't understand him but he has a horizontal form fill/seal machine and wants to oack 'doodies'".

As a good sales rep I decided it was better to meet him face to face. That's when I first met Jiang Xiang Zhou from Guangzhou. Zhou (as he told me to call him - pronounced 'chow') had bought a heap if equipment to grow bean sprouts, a container of Tofu, and some rice noodle manufacturing and packaging equipment.

Zhou's heavy accent meant that I was hearing the word 'doodies' when he was talking about noodles. Embarrassment and loss of face. My bad.

As Zhou persisted through one setback after another (Australia can be a tough place to do business) I came to see him as a friend. And he me. I ate my first durian with Zhou and his brother. They offered me some sage advice not to overindulge in durian and beer at the same time - the fermentation can explode your guts especially if you sleep on it. Perhaps not, but I've always been wary.

Then I left Cryovac and never did business with him again. But he seared a respect into me for Chinese businessmen and the "can do" attitude I saw.

So when I saw Zhou at the Central Market four years ago it was about meeting an old friend. And given that almost everything I do these days involves China in some way, I owe Zhou a debt of gratitude.

And my subsequent hundreds - no, thousands - of students with Chinese roots have benefited.

I think Zhou moved the business to Sydney soon after I last saw him, and quit manufacturing. But I'm glad I met him.

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