Business tips over steamed tortoise
“Indian! Indian!’’ the Chinese shouted. To a bystander it would have sounded almost like a warning.
The Chinese organisers were just being helpful, leading us past a baton-waving policeman who halted traffic as the Indian business visitors to Nantong crossed the street and glided in a boat down the Hyderabad-sized city’s Haohe waterway.
Here on a riverbank in east China’s industrial heart, after drifting past unexpected landmarks, one translated by the guide as ‘audit museum, a-u-d-i-t,’ surrounded by middle-aged and elderly Indian businessmen and one celebrity MP, I bumped into this blog’s reader.
“Have you read my comments? I am Inchin Closer.”
Inchin Closer is Nazia Vasi, a young Mumbaiite who moved on from journalism in India to study Mandarin, teach English and head a tax and consultancy firm in Shanghai. After three years, she returned to Mumbai and set up her own India-China business consultancy aiming to help Indians and Chinese understand each other through their own perspectives and backgrounds instead of the ‘foreign/western view’.
Over the next chaotic two days, including an instance of the Chinese plonking enormous whole steamed tortoises in front of vegetarian Indians pecking at watermelon, Inchin Closer and I chatted about how Indians and Chinese could work better together. It’s important to pay attention to the nitty-gritty of work culture on both sides, but you may not learn how to do that in a textbook or a diplomatic speech espousing bilateral trade.
Indian companies need to realise that a Chinese department manager in a state firm has the control to make decisions, unlike an Indian manager, she said. “A Chinese department head recently came to India for a few meetings and realised he wasn’t being taken seriously. It was only when I explained to the Indians he met that he can decide whether or not to bring foreign investment from his Chinese company to India that they started taking him seriously.”
Most Indian businessmen don’t study Mandarin before moving to China to set up or run new factories and companies — and pay a price for it. “Some Indian companies that I dealt with in my earlier company in Shanghai got duped because the translation of the contract into Mandarin was contextually incorrect,” she pointed out. “Since the written word is considered paramount in court, Indian businessmen need to whet the essence of the contract completely before signing on the dotted line.” She suggests that Indians study Mandarin by writing characters in Hindi Devnagiri script — I used the method during a Mandarin course in Mumbai to get the pronunciation and nuances right.
Don’t get so carried away that you forget the basic tricks of the trade. “In their hunger to do business with China, many Indian businessmen tend to rely on online reports, traders they know through friends or acquaintances or contacts made at trade fairs,” she said. “Somehow they forget what they already practice in India — getting to know the company thoroughly, doing their homework and visiting the factory or meeting with company officials.”
Two days after our chance encounter, I was in Shanghai when I impulsively called up Inchin Closer to ask for directions. “I’m in Xintiandi, the old French concession,” I said. Inchin Closer was there too, and popped up five minutes later. It’s simpler to find her in a crowd of 20 million. Inchin Closer seems to be blocked in Beijing.