China is grand. It’s majestic. It’s overwhelming. Highly saturated and a global powerhouse set to overtake the US by 2020 as the world’s strongest economy.
Exactly this time a year ago, My first trip to China was a family holiday, setting sights on tourist attractions, food and of course, shopping. But at this present time, I was privileged to return to China for a 2-week holiday and business trip.
My business partner, Serena, and I are currently in the product development stage of Lūmmi, a line of infant and adult organic sleepwear we’re creating based on a cotton bunny. It is a long but steady process that’s taken many months, days and hours to prepare. Amid all the discussions and rapid decision-making towards the end of 2017, this trip to China brought finality to our product. We just needed to pack our bags and go.
Why source in China? Well, why not source in China? Skilled and affordable labor work in their favour. More importantly, it’s the cherry on top when Serena has direct contacts there. Sourcing from China gave me a glimpse into the Chinese market. It is an opportunity for any foreigner like myself to further observe Chinese hospitality authentically with a native Chinese like Serena.
We left Melbourne on a sunny December morning. We made a stopover in Shanghai for one night before flying over to Beijing. From Beijing we drove to Tianjin, Serena’s hometown. The first few days were practically nice and easy days, walking to 3 cafes in downtown Shanghai, exploring her city, and taking a bullet train to Wuqing and Beijing for further shopping and art galleries.
Hungry Jack’s before boarding
Passing through immigration at Shanghai
Tianjin – the sister city of Melbourne. Looks quite similar.
Beijing 798 artzone
Bullet train to Beijing
Chinese pancake street food at 12AM in Tianjin
Dinner on Christmas Day with Serena’s family and they introduced me to this beverage. 53% Chinese alcohol. No further caption needed for this…
One of my favorite peanuts ever in the Tsingtao beer museum
Then the business starts.
Waking up in Qingdao on an early frosty but sunny morning, we met up with “Aunty Lummi”, our main contact for prototyping and batch producing our final product. We were first taken into a sampling room lead by the aunty which was situated inside a small commercial building block. It was a tight space with 4 lovely ladies who were responsible for sewing prototypes of our products. Surrounding the ladies were nothing but sewing machines and tables filled with piles of sample garments they had created for other clients. There was no space left and even if there was space, it would be immediately filled with more piles of fabric.
Making our way through the tight space, we walk into another small room tucked away in the corner of the sampling room. This was were we sat with Aunty Lummi to talk about amending our garment measurements. We wrapped up just around lunchtime and made our way to McDonalds. Not a bad choice huh? To our surprise this was Aunty Lummi ‘s first time having McDonald’s in her city. We treated ourselves with so much chicken, the Chinese McDonalds menu had an array of chicken options including a spicy chicken burger and a box of chicken. I must say, it’s tasty. We had warm milk tea to accompany our order too. We ate more chicken than you normally would in a KFC session.
After a few hours of lunch, Aunty drove us to our manufacturing facility to tour the full production line in action. Again it was in a commercial building but this time there was no elevators. About 376548 flights of stairs later we finally arrive at the entrance door of the facility. We were lead by Aunty Lummi and the manager of the factory who greeted us with tea. I noticed a little Hello Kitty canister on the side which was cute! PS the garments in the factory photos aren’t our garments being made, it’s a batch made for another client.
Piles of fabric before it gets cut into separate pattern pieces.
It was a relief to see there was enough natural light coming into the space these workers are working at. It was different to what I expected, in a much better way that is. I imagined it to be packed, noisy and rowdy. But this felt calm and wasn’t all that loud. An open yet confined layout, I found it pleasant to watch what seemed to be a close knit group of people rather than a warehouse of 1000 staffers where quality can’t easily be monitored. After walking around we got seated back into the manager’s office where he invited us out for lunch the next day. We accepted the offer and headed back home after quite an exhausting day.
Spending the rest of the night in the hotel, Serena ordered dinner, by dinner I mean fruits that were ordered through an app. Yeah we got fruits delivered to our hotel! That pretty much wrapped up day one in Qingdao.
Day 2 and it was the last day in Qingdao. In contrast to day one, there was a lot of smog in the air this time. As Serena said, “see, this is pollution”. To me it just looked like a Melbourne foggy day right in the heart of a cold winter. This was the first time this trip I had ever seen much smog. I still can’t complain about the weather, the forecast thus far has been clear with blue skies and zero rainfall at this time of the year! We headed towards an office building to check out a clothe hanger supplier. The two ladies who welcomed us with hot tea had a few different types of hangers that we could probably use in the future. The baby hangers are by far the cutest. Best of all they are 100% recyclable and very well made.
We reunited with Aunty Lummi outside the building where she drove us to a nearby complex to have coffee. China’s answer to Starbucks is their very own “Costa Coffee”. You’ll see this on every corner and it’s about time I finally try it. I’m not a heavy coffee drinker like many Melburnians but I do like a good latte with two sugars. My verdict on Costa Coffee: it tastes great! Put me in starbucks, I am happy, put me in costa coffee and I am still happy. Double the happiness. I find these are the only places you’ll find a good coffee quickly. There are also many cute boutique-y cafes in China serving great coffee but they don’t do take-out coffee.
Progressing into the day we had a seafood lunch hosted by the factory managers. Qingdao cuisine is packed with seafood as it is a coastal city. One of their signature dishes happens to be one of my favorite seafood dishes, spicy XO pipis. The whole lunch is paired with some refreshing bottles of Tsingtao beer, Qingdao’s famous beer invented by German settlers. I say refreshing because I find it less strong and more diluted than other beers. I’m no beer lover so don’t trust my judgement! But this beer suits me.
Day 2 ended there. Aunty Lummi picked us up from the hotel and dropped us to the airport the following morning where we departed for Harbin for the new year.
What 5 hours in a car looks like
Left the apple and water bottle overnight in the car. Next minute it freezes up.