MCBC Steps Way Out

Mike Violette, Washington Labs & ACB

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today". --Remarks by Secretary John McDonough at the Anhui Botanical Gardens

Homecoming: Hefei, Anhui Province

A sapling of the Southern Magnolia, or magnolia grandiflora, planted during the last years of the Qing dynasty would still be producing large white blossoms with their sweet fragrance even today. The species, native to the US, has been cultivated all over the world and represents a special link between the US and Anhui for many years. Apparently, the story is that an "agent of the US" presented a magnolia to the Empress Dowager Cixi, who passed the tree to her assistant, a native of Hefei, where it was cultivated. The magnolia tree is now a symbol of that ancient central city, capital of Anhui province.

During our visit to Anhui province, we planted more than a sapling to commemorate the 30 years of friendship between Maryland and Anhui. The lush Hefei Botanical Gardens, in the center of the city of 4 million, was the scene of ceremony and sweat as we rounded off the muddy edges of the prepared planting ground.

(Working for a living? This was not in the promo material.)

Considering the general condition of China thirty years past, one can appreciate how much faith the early pioneers on both sides of the ocean--and across the arc of the political and economic spectrum--had in a common future.

Our tree-hugging delegation believes the same thing, the diverse group of individuals representing a cross-section of Maryland industries (with just a touch of Kansas for good measure). IT, Health Care, Shipbuilding, Legal Services and Construction are all represented by the (mostly merry) band of Marylanders.

By now, half-way through the mission, we have grown cohesive and can feel the momentum moving us through the meetings and fetes with the Anhui government. This stop proves to be mostly ceremonial and officious as the prior nightís welcoming banquet proves.

Sierra Silkman, Carol L. De Rosa, The Secretary and Annette Smith-Rich do it Union Scale.

Milt Dougherty, Dan Boccolucci, Lydia Chao and Winston Chan. Where are your shovels, folks?


In the garden we also got a rock, inscribed with words of friendship and the dates of our association, to remember our friendship, begun by then-governor John Hughes and Wan Lei, whom we honored in Beijing a few days before hitting Hefei.

Weíre really not aware of all the preparations that were made prior to our visit, but they were certainly significant. Along the way, we were shuttled and schlepped and hosted at several locations, the exact spots a fragmented memory at this point. What was quite memorable was the welcome dinner by Lady Vice Governor Hua, who presented a super-sized ink drawing of the iconic Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan).

The Huang Shan region of Anhui (an hour south of Hefei) is iconic in its Chinese scenery. Having toured Guilin (further south), it is not a simplification to attest to the vivid and otherwordly landscapes around China. The area reportedly was one of the natural areas that inspired the work of the fantasy film Avatar. Three-D or no, the real thing is better in person. Marylandís latest Chinese panorama is a detailed pen and ink drawing of the mountains and villages and steep topography. It is a modern rendition, too. The buildings and vehicles reflect the contemporary state of Huang Shan, so it will serve as a "placeholder" in Chinaís evolution. Perhaps when the magnolia tree blooms its last, future generations will be looking at the painting getting an understanding of China from 2010.

Our delegation reciprocated with a colorful painting of the Annapolis State House, exchanging gifts a long tradition.

The exchange of art was a pleasant surprise for most of the delegation, again, one of those behind-the-scenes activities, but it created a joyous mood (or was it the gan bei?). The Annapolis painting was commissioned by our Winston Chan, he of organic restaurant fame. It depicts the Maryland capital and part of the historic downtown Annapolis against the backdrop of the Chesapeake Bay.


The city of Hefei is a "second tier" city, as opposed to Shanghai and Beijing. The so-called second tiers are areas where intense development is occurring as prices rise stratospherically in the coastal cities and the central government focuses its attention to the massive work to be done on the cities away from the water. The impact of this focus is clear: cranes are commonplace, construction trucks rumble through the streets, scaffolding grips concrete towers.

In Hefei, we signed a letter of agreement to cooperate on education--a key part of the US-China evolution. The technology sectors are of critical interest; there is also a great deal of interest in management systems, and business operations US-Style. Some of the best-selling business books in China are US texts, the transformation from centralized planning to distributed management has created a vacuum, of sorts, in this space. The agreement is wide-ranging in its scope and opportunities for US firms exist.

The Secretary and his counterpart inked the deal and then we went to lunch, of course.

Hotels and office buildings are springing up around the city and the good people at the Gentlefolk Hotel welcome guests coming from the airport, although we settled at the State "Guest House," a sprawling complex of buildings built around a small lake.

The Guest House is stately, well-staffed and a bit undersubscribed. There is often the clear sense that many hotels have been built in anticipation of great hordes of guests, but dark lobbies softly echo with just a few hushed voices. The *five-star* hotels in second tier wont for guests. Iím not sure what the vacancy rate at the Gentlefolk Hotel is; the two and three star hotels get most of the traffic, with rates in the $30 to $50/night range, typically.

Hefei, though, is a working city: industrial and gritty. The push throughout the first and second tier city is to "reduce the reliance on energy-demanding industries." This will require transformation of China to a service-based economy. A long view and a ways out, perhaps, but the US went through the same transformation in the 1960s and 70s, when the trickle of manufacturing jobs going overseas grew to a flood in the 80s. My good friend Bob A, who has lived in Asia for the past three years has a continuing worry shared by many that, without manufacturing, the US will lose its competitive innovative edge. "You have to build THINGS to innovate." I tend to agree. How to do? If the development trends continue, though, expect more edifices to rise. As for our magnolia, it should be around for a few more generations. The Rock? Quite nearly forever.

We ate here.

We drove by here.

But we stayed here.

Not far from here.


Xiamen: "Gate of the Grand Mansion"

Situated at the same latitude, and 100 miles west of Taiwan, the city of Xiamen is a vibrant and light-filled city, a perfect fourth-corner of our Trade Mission to China: Shanghai is the urban juggernaut, Beijing the cultural and planning nerve center and Anhui, an ancient culture and emerging economic stallion. Xiamen is a jewel.

We hopped a ferry to the no-motorized-vehicles (except authorized electric trams) Gulangyu Island. The island boasts a number of cultural sites, including a 100 piece piano museum and an art school. Five thousand people make their home on the island, commuting to Xiamen or working the tourist and other commerce trades on Gulangyu proper. Itís worth a day to walk around; we got the motorized tour, not having recovered from the workout we got planting the magnolia.

Renee Samuels, representing Baltimore Mayorís office and John McDonough, the whole of Maryland (with a nod to Annapolis) ride the stern of the good ship Washujiang.

The city has a long history of international engagement, voluntary and otherwise. The Portuguese, finding a well-protected harbor and a friendly climate, founded (or intruded) and established a trading center in 1541. The city was called "Amoy" for a number of years and control was ceded to the Europeans after the first Opium War was ended by treaty in 1842.

The coastal cities of China all figure into her often exploited past. The sometimes disjointed rulers of the crumbling Qing had a difficult time marshaling the coordination to repulse the military advances by the resource-hungry Europeans. After each defeat China would cede more rights at one or more of her ports along the coast.

Xiamen went to the Portuguese and in due time over the next sixty or so years, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Macao went to The British Empire, Germany and Portugal, respectively. Regardless, the more recent history, say the last 25 years, is under a more cooperative framework with the "foreign devils". The Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City relationship has been blooming since our own Fontaine Bell joined then-Mayor William Donald Schaeffer to seal the ties between the two cities. Not sure what was going on in Gulangyu Island-- nestled next to the island city of Xiamen--on the day we visited, but it promised to be colorful, and probably a little noisy.

View of Xiamen from Gulangyu Island

Renee Samuels and The Secretary

What do you get when you cross the World Expo with a Shopping Mall? CIFIT

Join 100,000 of your friends from all over the world for the 14th China International Fair for Investment and Trade, opened by China Vice President Xi Jinping.

The fair was one of the reasons to come to Xiamen this time of year. The BXSCC committee makes a regular trek to the trade fair, keeping the BX relationship firm.

"CIFIT has the following major contents: investment and trade exhibition, the International Investment Forum and serial seminars on hot investment issues, and investment project matchmaking symposia. CIFIT not only comprehensively showcases the investment environments, investment policies, investment projects and corporate products in all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government in mainland China." The spiel from the website text is dwarfed by the over-the-top uber marketing at the show.

We caught up with numerous technology concerns looking to advance the state-of-the-art in clean energy. There was a lot of home-grown innovation and big projects in waste-to-energy conversion, solar, wind and, as they say, a few lightbulbs went off too.

Suffice it to say, every mode of commerce was present (save for bullets and bombs), enticing investments in futuristic high tech parks to really enticing investment possibilities at boating marinas. Iran had a huge pavilion.

The USA pavilion featured our fair state as well as some private companies focusing on investment and visa services.

My buddy Steve and I wandered the show for a few hours taking in the sights and a few snaps as the rest of the fair had a carnival atmosphere, with slice-em dice-em hawksters selling the latest in kitchen gadgets and some "only in China" attractions.

This young lad (no more than 5 years old) was an elastic gymnast trained in a Shaolin monastery, so I was told. He amazed the crowd while focusing the gathering on the hot tubs that were for sale. When bikini-clad models donít do the trick, bring out the big guns.

The Maryland booth had a great draw. Several interns from Xiamen University provided eager interpretation and necessary interface.

Joining in were members from the delegation, Baltimore, the Secretary, and other friends of Maryland. Itís like old home week out here and, as Dan Green says: "Doing business in Xiamen is safe." Whatsay?

The network that has developed over the years provides a safety net and a business network for Maryland (and other) companies. Given the high-level attention paid our home state, should something go awry or a little "push" be needed, the BXSCC committee has the prestige, pedigree and passion to move honorable agendas forward. Give Ďem a hand.


The Chinese Navy has changed a LOT.

So have light bulbs!

A Farewell Celebration: 25 Years of BX Friendship

"When we have water, we must thank those that dug the wells."

After two weeks of touring together, there is either supreme harmony or mutiny. Fortunately for us, we had the good General Fontaine to keep us in the former mood. The evening of the 9th of September was an affair to remember as we gathered at the chi-chi-est hotel in Xiamen, one of the first hotels to open to foreign visitors.

We were greeted by slides and pictures from the first encounter these may years ago. "When we have water..." well we had more than water, we had a spirit of harmony. The finest moments were individual, the funnest (is that a word?) moments were the public, as our very own Taylor did an outstanding karaoke to a Chinese pop song, in Mandarin. The pipes were true and, from what one could tell, the phrasing right as young ladies swooned and Tom Jones was "in the room."

Speeches and dinner were followed by a ballet performed by our long-time friend in Xiamen, Madame Wu.

Accolades to the organizers on both sides of the Pacific. The heavy stuff in the media is mitigated by a bit of getting out and getting around.

But tempes fugit and all. Iím looking forward to getting back to the US. But Hanoi & Saigon next.

Mike Violette

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad.