By Jay Fidell
Last week I went to see the Hong Kong China Chamber of Commerce program Johnston Choy put on at the Plaza Club featuring Brenda Foster. I went because I know she’s a great speaker and the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Shanghai who’s at the center of business in China.
Our Shanghai to Honolulu exchange lawyer Xiang-Yu Zhang went with me. She knows who Brenda Foster is and how valuable this talk would be. She was not alone. Hundreds of people showed up.
Brenda was a machine gun of information and encouragement about business in China. She told us China is steaming ahead even in a global recession, with challenges of course, and that Hawaii business prospects are alive and well in Shanghai. The crowd was energized.
Then I began looking around the room and I realized this is a huge crowd with all kinds of demographics and one thing clearly in common – these are the people who can see Hawaii’s future with China, and with Asia. They know Brenda directly and indirectly and they know each other.
They were garrulous and brimming with enthusiasm for her talk and networking each other into a deafening commotion. You’d think you were in China. Old friends everywhere, a community of Sinophiles. I told myself that I have to convert, or at least join the Confucius Institute, soon.
Xiang-Yu Zhang liked it too – she must have exchanged 50 business cards and connected with a hundred people – just what she's supposed to do in her exchange program to Hawaii.
Sure, there are many if not most people in Hawaii who don’t know or care about this cross-cultural phenomenon, but it remains that the phenomenon exists and the people who are involved and who attend this affair are so excited to be on board.
Yes, there’s a bridge to Asia, and these are the people who are building it. The excitement fills the room. Are you going to get on this train? Brenda says watch what happens. Xiang-Yu Zhang says she wants to make an international practice. The crowd says all aboard. This thing is catching, and it’s great opportunity for Hawaii.
THIS WEEK THAILAND
That was last week. This week, the Kingdom of Thailand. Six hours west of Japan, longer than it takes to cross the Mainland. The Thais staff JAL alongside the Japanese. They are laid back, agreeable, gentle. But they are deeply involved in the New Asia. They speak English, and do great tourism. Watch out, Hawaii. They've charmed 8 million tourists a year on a population of 60 million. And they've got great shopping, with all the modern hi-tech gizmos you could think of.
Thailand does have its political issues, going on right now, but this is not the 1960’s. Bangkok is bigger now, with a vitality, literacy and sophistication that only comes with world awareness. There’s a beat in time to the rest of Asia. This is part of the modern world for sure, and by no means reminiscent of The King and I.
The traffic is robust, but not locked up. Our jams are noticeably worse, as far as I could see. And guess what, I looked and looked but I couldn't see any potholes. They may have to catch up with us in other ways, but not in road maintenance. Or in beautiful, attentive, creature comfort hotels - I'd take theirs anytime. And does it surprise you to find that their airport is way ahead of ours? Or that not all the cats are Siamese?
In the six hours between Japan and Thailand lies the future. Somehow it’s not only a serious competitor for Hawaii tourism, it’s also one big market for what Hawaii offers. We need to be part of this continuum – East meeting West. We’ve got to prepare for the Eastbound and become part of the Westbound.
If the world survives the current crisis, then this region will emerge stronger for the challenge, stronger than we thought, not only China but all the way to Thailand. Somehow the richness in between, which has had so much trouble over the years, can come together and be a center for the world.
So when you get the language tapes to prepare for the crowds of Chinese tourists we legitimately expect and hopefully deserve, take a look at the larger Asia, hungry and ambitious, emerging into the new century, probably their century. Just as we are them, they are us.
Find a way to be part of it. See Brenda, our pied piper beckoning us to China, when she comes again. In the meantime, read a book, plan a trip, get invested, It’s our past and also our future. It’s the new Big Apple, or should I say pomegranate, and we need to know about it and be part of it. If they can be world conscious, surely so can we.