A trip to China and a 20-mile bike ride put everything into perspective.

I’ve been travelling to China for business for over 20 years. We have our factory in Qingdao (yes, the same city where the famous beer, Tsingtao is made), and we have clients in Shanghai that sell our brands. This year, after doing our usual business – for the first time, my wife and I decided to see and get a feeling of the countryside, the agricultural part of China; rice paddies and all.

We biked with a guide and interpreter for 20 miles through magnificent villages, each with their own distinct character and crops, customs and dialect. The common denominator among all of them is extreme poverty. But don’t tell them, because they certainly don’t think they’re poor. They eat from their land. They raise their own chickens and ducks, and even get to sell some extra rice to other villages. Roots are sold to Chinese medicine men, while left over shoots and twigs become firewood; there is no heating other than the central fireplace in the living room. 

Two events from this bike tour made a very big impression upon me. 

In one village, we saw a farmer spreading out on his front yard a large amount of special brown roots – something ginger-like. He had just cut them from the ground, and was dicing them, and preparing them for a local medicine man, who uses them as part of a tea to cure common colds for children. I hear that it is nearly 100% effective – overnight. The amazing part was that these roots take 2-3 years to mature in the ground. And the farmer waits and waters them devotedly all this time, finally selling them, after all that time and effort for what we consider a pittance. But he does his work meticulously, and with great pride and joy. A lesson in doing something right – because that is the only way to do it.

Takeaway: Do the job right, and take pride in it. There’s no greater satisfaction than creating beautiful diamond jewelry, and starting a family legacy that can last generations.

We witnessed quite a contrasting scene in a neighboring village. Almost all the houses were one family homes, three stories tall. The odd thing about this village is that all these families had only one child, and they had no need for a three story home. Even stranger, almost none of them had bricks for the second and third floors. The top two floors were empty structures of nothing more than wood beams. I asked my guide to explain this strange custom. He pointed out one finished building of 3 stories. He then explained that once one villager had a three story home, all the villagers needed to have 3 story homes, or they would feel poor. So they all put up structures of 3 stories, but can only afford bricks for the first floor. Someday they hope to have the coveted three floors. An incredible, but true example of “keeping up with the Leeows (actual common name in that town)”.

Takeaway: Everything is in your attitude and outlook at life. We often chase rainbows for no reason. In this New Year and new decade, let’s make the right choices.

It’s going to be my mantra for 2020.


Keep the comments coming. I love to read them. Email me directly at hertzh@hasenfeld-stein.com.