VIP Treatment in Xiamen

I'm writing from Xiamen, where I was invited to give a speech about my insights into the US tea market. After a long flight, I was greeted at the airport by two young volunteers with a big sign and a bouquet of flowers. Needless to say, the sight of the cheerful young women with flowers immediately gave me a positive view of the city and the trade fair where I'm speaking.

Upon arriving at the hotel I was treated to dinner. I could barely keep my eyes open after over 40 hours without sleep and thankfully, the volunteers soon took pity on the old guy and left early. I all but fainted from exhaustion, and before I knew it, it was 7 o'clock in the morning. I was supposed to meet one of the volunteers, Shirley, at 8:20 so I could participate in the opening ceremony at 9. Being a VIP means you have to arrive early, then sit in the VIP room and wait to be guided to the ceremony. It's an oddly helpless feeling. I would have preferred getting more sleep and then walking to the conference on my own!

Finally it was time for us speakers, along with Xiamen's leading government officials, to walk on stage. There were fiery speeches and then with a big bang a bunch of confetti rained down and the Second Xiamen International Tea Fair was underway! After the opening, we VIPs toured the expo and then assembled for lunch. A big meal is never far away when you're a guest of the Chinese!

The lunch dragged on with lots of toasts with bad wine. Then we were put into another VIP room to prepare for the tea forum. Each speaker had about 30 minutes, followed by Q&A. The hosts provided simutanious translation in English and Chinese. They asked me to give my remarks in English, so I met with the interpreter to clarify some of my points, and then at last, the show was on.

A friend told me to make a Powerpoint presentation and I confidently responded that since the speakers were a bunch of old goats like me, there probably wasn't a projector available. But what do you know, onstage was a state-of-the-art AV system, including a huge screen. One of the other old goats actually did do a Powerpoint! I hate it when others are right again, and I'm glad that the rest of the old goats were just like me and simply spoke from notes.

I was the final speaker and after several fact-filled but somewhat boring performances, I kept my talk brief and to my shock, it seemed to go over well - if only because I wrapped up before the audience expected. In any case, the Forum was attended by a lot of pros, including growers, exporters, and wholesalers, as well as authors and other food and beverage authorities. As a result we had a great Q&A session. I was surprised by some familiar Northern California faces, including Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers and Cecilia Chang of Mandarin Restaurant. At 92 Cecilia looks like my younger sister! I don't think she's aged a day in 30 years!

The Forum was supposed to end by 5:30; at 6:30 we finally had to tell the audience it was time to go home. They reluctantly started to leave, but not until the newspaper and TV folks had a go at all of us. I ran out of business cards and just as I was ready to make my escape, a couple of tea shop owners from Argentina invited me to come speak in their country! So I guess my speech went better than I feared.

The next couple of days are open, so I can spend time at the show and visit some of the tea businesses here in this important port of departure for Fujian tea. I met a lot of local business owners at the Forum and many were anxious to chat. I warned them that I only drink the best tea and a lot of it - but since no one backed down, the next few days are looking busy. After the conference winds down I'm heading for Wuyi Shan to finalize arrangements for my next tea tour, in April 2012.