Received a good comment to my Ctrip post last week talking about the money flowing into China. It reminded me of my impressions of my first tourism visit to China in 1997 versus my experiences on a business trip in 2004. I was overwhelmed by the mixture of state control and outright hard core capitalism.
On my tourism visit I took two days to explore Guangzhou - the former Canton and nearest provincial capital to Hong Kong. Though a very large industrial city, Guangzhou has a number of large and beautiful parks and monuments. After half a day of sight seeing I noticed a trend - none of these moments or parks was dated earlier than 1949. I then upped the pace but no matter where I went all of that I could find was dated post communist revolution. There was commerce, industry and growth all around me but the cultural underpinning was all state controlled.
Contrast this to my first business trip. I was in Beijing for a Friday night and asked one of my local colleagues to take us out for a drink etc. She asked us where we would like to go. "Where ever the locals go" we replied. So she took us to that bastion of consumerist celebration TGI Fridays where "every day is Friday". It was here that I saw capitalism in the rawest form ever. Much like a bar anywhere else in the world, TGI's in Beijing has waitresses. However here each individual waitress is sponsored by a beer company. There was one in a Heineken t-shirt, one dressed in Corona, one in the green of Carlsberg etc. They all approached us on mass - jumping around the table promoting the benefits of each. Nothing lecherous or sexual but certainly employing forceful sales techniques. We ordered Carlsbergs and the Carlsberg waitress celebrated. It turns out that these waitresses work exclusively on commission. They share a piece of every sale they make - sell nothing, get nothing. As we approached the end of our beers they began to circle again looking to take a piece of the next round. Truly they were human pop up ads working on a CPA basis. We began to see more and more of this across China. Sales teams working exclusively on commission and therefore stopping at nothing to make sales - accommodation staff for eLong and Ctrip working the aisle of trains between Beijing and Shanghai handing out loyalty cards and dim sum staff bombarding you with food if (like some auction room from a romantic comedy) you raised your hand the wrong way in a conversation.
Made us "born and bred" capitalists look pathetic.