Saturday, July 26, 2008

Business Travel

I'm out of town at a business conference. It's evening. I am here in my room, in a 13 story hotel a block from the convention center. I have attended 4 sessions and one keynote address today; I have been fed continental breakfast, and reception goodies sponsored by a beer company. "Food stations" are the new event trend, and I have nibbled delicacies ranging from lollypop lamb chops served with wild huckleberry chutney to Thai papaya salad served in little boat-shaped cups made of wood fiber ("sustainability" in disposable serving ware is also the new event trend).

Folks in my organization tend to dress casually. I saw a lot of Hawaiian shirts in the sessions today, and khaki Docker pants on attendees of both genders. There were also a lot of polo shirts, with the embroidered logos of everyone's company. Some women wore business suits or dresses; the men were more casual, some even wearing cargo shorts and sandals.

My industry is still a man's world - a large percentage of the attendees were large beefy white men with brush-cut hair dressed with pomade. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

We're not the only group holding a meeting here; this morning when I slung over my shoulder the black nylon messenger bag stuffed with goodies and the conference schedule and imprinted with my orgnization's logo, I noticed a lot of other people with blue nylon messenger bags imprinted with a different logo, walking toward the convention center with their attendee badge placards hung on lanyards round their necks. They were in the northern wing of the complex, while we were in the south, so I passed their entrance before mine.

What a sight, and what a contrast with our khaki-clad attendees! Clustered together for group photos were dozens of Asian women wearing traditional costume. High-waisted puffy-skirted Korean garb, or elegant cheongsam, or sleek Ao Dai complete with embroidered crowns! Pastel colored Filipina dresses with the bell-shaped cap sleeves! Men in brocaded jackets in jewel-toned silk! What was it all about? They clustered together and shouted in unison at the moment the shutter clicked.

The convention center must have some plan to stagger schedules to avoid lunchtime conflicts, because when we broke, I did not see the Asian conventioneers. I attended seminars in topics such as "Ecologically sound practices for your operations", "New technology in our industry's future," and "Maximizing sponsoriship opportunities." At the opening reception for the Trade Show, I wandered through the exhibits eating hors d'ouevres and sipping Merlot, and picked up giveaways like imprinted pens and glow-in-the-dark keychains. I saw exhibits for accounting software, the latest in basketball equipment technology, banner stands, stackable chairs, flooring material, and popcorn machines. I encountered people who I knew ten years ago, people who knew people who I knew ten years ago, people I went to industry retreats with, people who knew my boss ten years ago.

Then I went back to my hotel, bought a glass of wine at the bar and brought it up to my room. And here I am. Sigh.

I Google the name that was on the blue bags of the other convention. It is a direct sales company headed by a Taiwanese businessman. They sell herbal health supplements. This is their Grand Convention.

My hotel, thankfully has real windows, and I have the slider to the balcony open to get some air. Children are shouting and playing in the pool patio at the lower-priced hotel next door.

The world-famous amusement park is just to our north. Each evening, they set off fireworks and tonight's display has begun, fiery chrysanthemums blooming and bursting in the sky.

I can hear slider doors opening above and around me. The Chinese conventioneers come out on their balconies to look at the fireworks. Their voices rise and fall, clanging raucously, communicating not only in words, but in tones and contour. They laugh and shout at one another, calling from balcony to balcony, up and down the face of the hotel, as the sky darkens and the sparkles light up the night.

Just another night in an Orange County hotel.


mikey said...

Love it. I live in a small condo complex in an overwhelmingly Taiwanese neighborhood. The strip mall across the street has no english signage, has at least a dozen different resaurants from tiny noodle houses to taiwanese and shanghai to a new phillipino place I can't wait to try, even though I have no idea what to order. It's anchored by a humongous Lion market, where nothing is labeled in english and it's great fun just to take ten bucks over there and buy a few unidentifiable things.

Evenings are like this around here in the spring and summer, without the fireworks of course. But the sense of community that comes through in the impenetrable tones of the language makes me feel warm inside.

g, you have a gift. You write both eloquently and artfully, managing to communicate the concepts while still finding a way to let me "see" the scene.

I'm glad I found you over here...


Anonymous said...

Its nice to know about the business travel. I think that you have made a good schedule for your business travel to get successes.