Mike Grehan says...

Random musings about search marketing, flying around the planet, networking and people watching.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That's China out of the way...

Now it's time to get ready for the last conference of the year, SES Chicago.
And finally... Nothing could be finer than to be in, er... China (the end!)

Sue Bratton and husband Tim had a wonderful idea to wrap up the first ad:tech conference in China with a trip to the ancient capital, Xi'an. A select group of people have banded together to form an official tour party to fly there.

We meet our tour guide at 6.00 am in the hotel lobby. From our hotel there's myself, Sue, Tim, Kevin Ryan and Bill Hunt. Our coach swings by another two hotels to pick up Roy De Souza, Rich LeFurgy and Dana and David Herscott.

We approach the airport in plenty of time and our guide hands out our air tickets and prompts us to put them together with our passports. Passports! Oh shit! I left mine at the hotel.

As I wasn't taking my laptop bag with me, I left it at the hotel to collect the following day when I head home.

So, it's a mad dash now, to get right across town collect the passport and see if I can still make it in time to check in for the flight. Our tour guide explains to the cab driver in Chinese that I need to be at the hotel pronto.

You may remember that I mentioned the Shanghai cab drivers earlier on...

When I arrive back at the hotel, I gesture to the driver (who speaks no English at all) that he should wait and then get me back to the airport. He grins a big grin, opens his arms and impersonates a flying plane. As I nod affirmative, he does the handbrake turnaround... Oh my God, I think... he's just turned into Jackie Chan in an action movie!

I get into the back of the cab, and sure enough - G force again! At various points I cover my eyes totally afraid to look as he tears up the motorway in any available lane and any speed he cares to travel. His foot is firmly to the floor and his hand is stuck firmly to the horn. I begin to pray.

With minutes to spare he gets me to the airport and screeches to a halt. If nothing else, I'm pleased that I still have a slim chance of making the flight and give him what could have been his biggest tip ever, as I simply pulled a wad of notes from my wallet and gave him the lot.

He actually punches the air, gives a quick "whoo!" and impersonates the airplane again, delighted at his own daredevil driving skills.

The tour guide has very kindly waited for me. And not only that, has arranged for me to be whisked through the first class lunge for a super quick check-in. I join the group at the end of the line at the exact moment the plane has started boarding. Whew!

So, I made it.

Here we are at the museum, where Dave and Roy show how much they've come to love each other in this short time.

We pay a visit to the old wal around the city of Xi'an. It's a filthy day. The weather is dull and drizzling and there's definitely a pollution issue going on.

The wall is huge and our new tour guide, Liu (AKA David) explains that each year a marathon takes place on the wall. As a tourist you can ride a bicycle around it, or even hire a golf cart.

The main reason for coming to Xi'an is to visit the famous terracotta army find.

Many of the figures are over 6 foot in height. All of the figures were broken when they wre found back in the 70s and all have lost their colour (those which have been restored). There are still thousands of figures sealed underground waiting for China to develop it's own technology to preserve the original colours when they dig them out.

And so, we headed to the airport and back to Shanghai. The following day Kevin Ryan and I share a cab to the airport where he heads off to LA and I head home to the UK.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Day 4 - Nothing could be finer than to be in, er... China.

Today I take in a couple of sessions in the morning and the rest of the day is taken up with meetings.

After lunch, I get together with Celina Chan, Regional Director with Microsoft, based in Hong Kong. And I'm also joined by Xu Jingyi who is Project manager at Microsoft's Advanced Technology Centre in Beijing. She's responsible for building MSNs new AdCenter and together with Celina, she gives me a fascinating insight into their new advertising platform.

Later in the day I meet up with my colleague, Jim Banks, of Web Diversity. My company just signed a letter of intent to buy Jim's company. Jim was resident in Hong Kong for 20 years or more, so he knows the territory. So, we'll be opening a new office in Hong Kong, in the new year.

We're sitting in the very large lobby, lounge bar and I hear one of my absolutely favourite sounds: the pop of a champagne cork. That's all the prompting I need to start the Moet flowing.

Some time later that I night, I make my way from the restaurant. and clutching the final bottle of Moet which I'm happily swigging from, I head off to the elevator and bed.

I have to be up at 5.00 am, as first thing in the morning, a group of us are flying to Xi'an, the ancient capital of China, to visit the site of the famous terracotta army.
Day 3 - Nothing could be finer than to be in, er... China.

So, this is it, the first day of the very first ad:tech conference in China.

As moderator for ad:tech sessions, you become very much the manager. It occurs to me that, I was moderator at an excellent session at ad:tech New York and didn't blog anything at all. Not just about the session, I mean the entire conference (which was HUGE!).

So I should pop in a quick thanks to my panel which was trimmed down to two, on the day. Greg Sterling from the Kelsey Group and Dana Todd from Sitelab International. Both extremely professional speakers and both did a marvellous job.

Okay, so, here we are back at ad:tech, Shanghai. As I mentioned, as moderator you become manager of the session. So there's a lot of background work which involves a number of conference calls before the event.

This one has been the most difficult to organise because of geographical locations. For part of the time, I was in the UK. James Mi, Google's head of Asia Product and Strategy is a panellist and he's in California. Harry Tsao, founder of Smarter.com is already in China (opening his new office) and Stephen Noton, my other panellist is in Singapore.

Trying to get us all on the phone at the same time is a nightmare. Eventually, after a few short conversations with Stephen Noton, at midnight or some other ungodly hour in Singapore, I decide to give up and go for a physical meeting in Shanghai.

Our session is on the first day, so I arrange for us all to get together for breakfast. This turns out to be very convenient as James Mi had arranged to meet Johnny Chou, Google's newly appointed President, Sales and Business Development, Greater China, at breakfast, also.

My close pal Bill Hunt, of Global Strategies (and author of Search Engine Marketing Inc - buy it NOW!) also joins us. This proves to be very useful too. As both he and Harry Tsao feel that they are on the wrong panels. Harry spends a fortune on paid search, so he should really be on Shak's panel. And Bill is one of the world's leading experts in search engine optimisation.

So, I have a quick word with Vicky Wong (conference organiser) and the delicious Susan Bratton (conference chair) and we're sorted. Harry joins Shak and Bill joins my team.

Shak's session on paid search is before mine.

I can't really blame Shak directly for letting his session go a full ten minutes over time (and eating ten minutes into my session). But I wish he'd had the umbrella to hook around the neck of Terrance Ou, of search marketing firm, Zunch.

Not only did Terrence decide to do his presentation in Chinese, he turned it into a non stop commercial for Zunch services, both paid and organic. Of course, Zunch was one of the major sponsors, so I guess he felt he could get away with it!

Maaan, I almost fell asleep.

So we glide through my session. I started with a little gag about the Rolex men being employed by the Shanghai local authority to roam the streets looking for foreign visitors to give them free welcome gifts, such as Rolex watches, DVD players and even a free massage.

I notice from the look on the faces of the English speakers in the audience, that they get the joke. However, I'd completely forgotten that the conference is very much united nations style, with non English speakers wearing headphones listening to instant translations. The bemused look on those faces tells me to drop the gags and do this one straight.

The session seems to have been a great success. The speakers were excellent and members of the Microsoft/MSN contingent are keen to gather together in the corridor for an extended Q&A.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Day 2 - Nothing could be finer than to be in, er... China.

I'm being picked up by Shak, at 12.30, to go for lunch and talk business, Shanghai style. This involves being taken to the flashiest restaurant in town. We go to the Shangri-La Hotel where they have 10 kitchens serving one dining area with food from around the world. It's a buffet, and the whole place looks so splendid and the food so delicious, I think we could be here for days.

Shak has already impressed me by tackling the Rolex men in a very different way. The minute he sees one coming, he either says yes, yes, yes, to everything they say, which completely confuses them because they're so used to no, no, no.

Or even more impressively, he speaks to them in Chinese and tries to sell them his own watch. It's art! Pure theatre.

As you can tell from the picture below, he's so relaxed in his new home, they could be calling it Shakhai soon!

Of course, knowing the best places to eat and the best places to shop, he insists that I buy my wife a gift from Shanghai Tang (Chinese designer David Tang). Not only am I able to buy my wife the most wonderful silk scarf, Shak presents me with a wonderful gift of a Shanghai Tang leather passport cover, sporting a red Chinese star. Note my shopping bags!
Now it's time for the real Shanghai surprise. The old town.

First stop is an old Buddhist temple. It's incredible and houses two jade Buddhas. Hence the reason it's known as the Jade Buddha Temple.

The monks are extremely patient as they continue about their prayers and daily routine with cameras flashing all around them.
Following the visit to the temple, I make my way to the old town. This an incredible contrast of the ancient and the modern. Even American saints are recognized in this ancient place. Note the temple of St. Arbucks in the background.
From here I find my way to the wonderful Yuyuan Garden (garden of peace and comfort). Dating back to the fabled Ming Dynasty, It is quite beautiful and no doubt, back then, a most tranquil place.

I round off the day with a final walk through the market place and take a vista of Shanghai old and new.

Of course, there are not many places in China you can go without seeing an image of this guy.

OK, tour over, I go to the hotel, get dressed and go to dinner on my own to a beautiful small, French restaurant. Dining on ones own is an art form which can only be perfected through much practice. Travelling as I do, I now have it down to a fine art.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Nothing could be finer, than to be in, er... China.

Day 1

It has to be retrospective blogging at this time. Not for the usual reason that I keep forgetting to maintain or update my blog. But because Blogger is blocked in China.

I tried a proxy, but still couldn't get signed in.

Of course, I should have read my buddy, Shak's blog for the
Ad:Tech tip sheet he posted. Too late for almost everything!

I had a wonderful flight courtesy of Royal Dutch KLM. They certainly know how to look after you on those long-haul flights to the east.

This was my first time in China. The process coming through the airport was rather similar to entering Russia. My visa was in order and I'd filled the correct forms. So pretty much a breeze.

However, there is an extra medical card which needs to be completed on arrival, where you have to declare your state of health. The guy behind me who was coughing so much I thought one of his lungs would land on the floor was escorted away at first sight.

I'm not a doctor, but I think I could detect that his problem was more to do with the 60 cigarettes a day he obviously smoked more than it could have been bird flu.

I was completing the health card in the immigration hall when a Chinese lady carrying a baby came to use the same desk. She laid the baby on its back and then realised that there was no pen.

She left the baby and went to the other side of the hall where she began to complete her card. The hall was the size of a football field. I couldn't believe it: The baby was simply left gurgling at the ceiling. No harness - nothing!

Even though my own card was completed I couldn't join the line for customs because I was so afraid the baby would fall off the table. I waited for "Mom" to return. She eventually returned and without even a nod, she picked the little thing up and headed for the line.

I have a feeling that, when baby grows up, he won't approach a table and sit at a chair like us, he'll probably just flip onto his back!

I really, really should have read Shak's blog. I got my cash and headed for the taxi line and found the city cabs. Shak was right - my cab driver spoke not one word of English. Fortunately, I had printed the details of the hotel from the web site. So I had a picture of the hotel along with the name written in Chinese below the logo. So I get the thumbs up from the driver. And off he lurches... I've never felt G force in a car before!

I was pinned to the back seat of a car driven by a man seemingly on a death wish. Nothing can prepare you for the total and absolute impatience of a Shanghai cab driver. Any speed in any lane, with hand firmly keeping the car horn pressed down!

Although Shak's tip sheet says "strictly no tipping" in China and even though my cab driver nearly brought on a coronary, it's my habit to tip.

The delight on the cab drivers face was a picture and after he got my case from the trunk, he looked at me, smiled and actually shook my hand!

The conference centre and hotel look splendid. I took a shot from the Bund side of the river. It's the building which features the two globes, one at either side.

Having travelled from New York to Shanghai, via the UK, in the same week, I am completely jet-lagged and disorientated. So I head straight to bed. It is 10.30 am.

I awake later in the afternoon and look at the wonderful view of the Bund that I have from my bedroom window.

I then remember that I have not completed my ClickZ article and that Erin, my editor, will fly to China and beat me severely with a hair brush, or something, if I fail to submit on time.

Of course, travelling through time does have its benefits. Erin is in New York and 15 hours behind me. So I relax, pour some tea, put my feet up and gaze out of the window while I decide what to annoy... er, delight, my readers with this time.

I decided to take a quick wander around outside to get my bearings as they say. No sooner had my European head passed the hotel doorpost when "they" arrived. They are the "Rolex men" and they are like flies.

You buy Rolex? You want DVD? You want massagee? Yes, massagee means exactly what you think it means!

I was polite to begin with, explaining to each and every "Rolex man" that, I already have one, or yes, I'll let you know about the massagee another time.

Eventually, I decided on a phrase which transcends all borders and languages: "Fuck off!"

That seems to do the trick.

Oh, and I managed to get this night shot of the TV tower (which is just behind the hotel and conference centre).

And then, I went back to bed again. Lunch with Shak, tomorrow.
Michael is on the mend...

My son is physically better now. But, of course, after that kind of experience, you can only imagine the trauma.

This blog has been sadly neglected since his attack. So, it's about time I brought it up to date.