The last couple of weeks have been as hectic as ever, and as usual full of ups and downs. I have met some interesting people, been to some fascinating places, eaten some bizarre foods and even managed to avoid being arrested.
It all started last week at a dinner hosted by the Shanghai Consulate in honor of David Millibrand’s visit to China and the city of Shanghai. I wouldn’t normally attend these events, but seeing an opportunity to be wined and dined by the British Government was an opportunity too good to miss. The event was held in a very swanky restaurant on the famous Bund area of the city (Wai Tan in Chinese), they had hired the whole place, and bused in people from the four corners of Shanghai (and beyond) to welcome him to this fantastic city. In usual style he was several hours late, which gave me good opportunity to get drunk on government, sponsored red wine.
Not a great mix – a megalomaniac with a tendency to be a bit outspoken after a drink, and an ‘important’ VVIP! I managed to barge my way to the front of the awaiting crowd and thrust my business card into his hand, then berated the poor guy on how all of this was a complete waste of tax payers money, and how the hell did he hope to get a real understanding of China, by flitting from one immaculately arranged engagement to the next. Not my finest hour perhaps – but it made me feel good for the 30 seconds that it lasted before his aides came to his rescue!
My next appointment with the famous was something that had been arranged for a while, and something I wasn’t really looking forward to. The UK Trade and Industry department had organized a series of seminars in China to promote the British Motor Industry (Stop Laughing, Britain really does have a thriving Motor Industry – its just owned by someone else!). I had promised to support the seminars, and even agreed to sponsor a dinner for the 15 strong group. That was before I was informed that the keynote speaker was non-other than Professor Garel Rhys CBE.
I had never met the guy before, but knew him very well through his writings about the motor Industry, for those who don’t know – he is probably the most quoted person in the UK when it comes to the car business, and has chaired Select Committees of the House of Commons and House of Lords; the European Union; the United Nations Industrial Organisation; the UK Government; and many companies and agencies. He is outspoken and confrontational, and loved by the UK media because of this.
The reason I felt uncomfortable about his visit? Well I once wrote him a damming letter in response to an article he wrote about Nanjing’s purchase of MG. He never replied, but I guessed I had burned a few bridges!
So you can imagine how uncomfortable I was when I found my self sitting at the same breakfast table of a hotel in Chongqing! It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while an opinion formed about someone can change.
I found him extremely pleasant, enthusiastic, incredibly well informed and one of the most generous men I have ever met. I spent several days with the delegation that included government officials, and the heads of the good and great British motor industry (MIRA, VCA, Millbroook, APR etc.) all touting their service to the Chinese motor industry. The seminars and subsequent factory visits included 70% of the larger indigenous vehicle manufacturers in China, all were very generous with their hospitality and welcoming to the UK visitors and they listened intently to what they had to say – were any deals done? Any contracts signed? Any Joint Ventures agreed or any strategic alliances formed? Well no, but the seeds have been sown and awareness made. The delegation was here to explain how difficult it was to design, engineer, homologate and sell vehicles in the European market – and how they could help now or in the inevitable future when they decide that the rich pickings in Europe are too tempting to ignore.
Amongst all of this I needed to do some of my own work and carry on with my day job – Ie bringing the Iconic London Taxi (sorry but I’m contracted to use the word ‘Iconic’ whenever I mention the London Taxi!) to Asia. We are deep into our project, and planning our presence at the Beijing Auto Show in April. We desperately needed some new advertising material, and some local shots of the vehicle to adorn our brochures, posters and advertising material in general.
As we would be trying to position a vehicle in front of some of the most famous tourist spots in Shanghai, we needed to gain permission from the local authority’s. Whilst not impossible to gain the correct permissions, it’s probably easier to cycle to the moon on a unicycle made of butter. So for this reason I decided to flout the law and get my people to cut some corners into getting the best shots of Shanghai and London Taxis as possible.
Wrong! Several hours into their shoot – I get a call from one of them that the Pudong police force have arrested them and impounded the vehicle. I then spent the next 4 hours trying to persuade the officials that we meant no harm and we just didn’t understand the rules. To be honest they weren’t particularly obstructive, or angry. They were very interested in our project and went to lengths to tell me the official rules and practices! After completing a thousand forms and paying numerous fines we were allowed to go. Our crime I found out wasn’t a photographic one – but driving an unlicensed, unregistered vehicle and then parking it in an illegal place, it seems we were victims of our own success, an enormous crowd had formed around the vehicle which led to the police becoming interested and to them asking for the necessary paperwork!
At least we managed to salvage a few good pictures before the crowd and the police appeared – I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor?