MCBC Steps Way Out
Mike Violette, Washington Labs &
"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
(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
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.
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
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
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
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
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"
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
The Maryland booth had a great draw. Several interns from
Xiamen University provided eager interpretation and necessary
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
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.
"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.