Connecting the U.S. and China through entrepreneurship with Jeff Ji and Ken Wong
Entrepreneurs Jeff Ji and Ken Wong have used cultural activities such as Harley-Davidson motorcycle tours and badminton to bring people from the U.S. and China together.
Below is a complete transcript of the China Corner Office Podcast with Jeff Ji and Ken Wong;
Chris: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us today on China Corner Office, a podcast powered by The China Project, the New York based news and information platform that helps the West read China between the lines. I’m Chris Marquis, a professor at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. And today we’ll be featuring a recording of a live webinar discussion about how bridges can be built between the U.S. and China through entrepreneurship. My guests are Jeff Ji and Ken Wong from NavPac Advisors among other businesses involved in cross border entrepreneurship. We had a fascinating discussion of how different cultural activities and sports can be used as a platform to bring people from the two countries together. Jeff, for instance, has worked with Harley-Davidson on motorcycle tours in China to popularize the brand and the riding lifestyle. For many years, he and his partner in Knighthawk tours led a Ride to Confucius bike tour through Shandong Province.
They visited Confucius’s hometown of Qufu as well as other cities in the province like Qindao. He also hosted riders from China on Harley tours in the U.S. taking multiple thousand mile road trips through the mid-Atlantic states. It was really interesting to hear how these writers were able to connect with everyday Americans based on their common interests in motorcycles. From Ken’s side, he provides a number of interesting stories about his involvement in sports that connect the two countries. He’s the current chair of U.S. Badminton, which is traditionally a much more popular sport in China than the U.S., and has been used as a platform to bring the two countries, individuals, businesses, and even government leaders together. He sees exchanges through badminton as akin to the famous ping pong diplomacy that was influential in softening relations between the U.S. and China and the 1970s. Ken also discusses his work with Dragon boating in the U.S., and also advising president Bush on participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Thanks so much for listening and enjoy the show. Ken and Jeff, welcome to China Corner Office.
Ken: Thanks Chris.
Jeff: Thank you, Chris.
Chris: So first I’m going to ask Jeff a question, Jeff, I can see, I don’t know if the viewers can see you’re wearing actually a Harley-Davidson vest. How I got to know some of your work is through that the exchanges you’ve done between the U.S. and China on Harley-Davidson tours. So people from the U.S. going and driving around Shandong Province, riding the old trails of Confucius and also Chinese tourists coming to the U.S. riding Harley’s all around the mid-Atlantic Northeastern region. I know there’s a couple videos that I saw online of these Chinese tourists riding up Harley’s in a big line, through beautiful mountainous terrain with the Chinese flag on the back of their Harleys, waving in the wind. So really interested to hear more about this. How did this Harley tour exchange come about?
Jeff: Well, we’re fortunate to be located in Philadelphia area and the Harley factory is located in York, where 95% of final assembly are done. So one point of time I receive a call from our state government ask if there’s anything in Pennsylvania I like to showcase. So I think it’s a good idea to see the Harley factory. I think that’s unique. People go shopping, all kinds of things to see, but Harley is unique. So I put it together for a brief visit to Harley factory with a Lieutenant Governor of Shandong and it blew his mind. So he started asking, can we manufacture? Because Shandong is a province in China with a hundred million people. That’s about one third of U.S. Population. And he said, can we help manufacture Harley and we said, no, no, no, its an icon. This is American top five brand. We have to keep it here.
And he said, can we manufacture their clothes? I said, they’ve already have a channel set up. Maybe you already doing for Harley. And then he said, how about tourism? Then I thought this a great idea because I can bring a lot of parties together. I reached out to Harley-Davidson, the board and also the executive branch, create a visit all done with my business partner. We have a business relationship, but at the same time we are thinking we can putting something together for Harley corporate to help them sell more motorcycle in China. That’s where the story started.
Chris: Great. Really interesting. I know at least one of the trips or maybe all of the ones in China were headlined called the Ride to Confucius. Obviously Qufu, Confucius hometown is in Shandong. I don’t know if you went to Qingdao or Taishan or the other places. Can you say a little bit about the Ride to Confucius?
Jeff: Yes. Total ride is about 1200 kilometers and starting from Jinan, we went to Mount Tai, we went to Qufu, we want to Weifang which is a kite capital of the world, and we end up in Qingdao. So the total is about 10 days, but we are not riding a lot, back 10 years ago, the road wasn’t as great as having now, but all the people have a lot of fun. In fact, back then Harley just started the business in China. They have 12 motorcycles, but not licensed on the road. So the Harley CEO said to me, ” Hey, Jeff. If you can make it straight legal, that’s all yours.” And in addition to that, they gave us a budget. They gave us a lot of gift. So we started our journey starting with visiting the Qingdao dealership. This is a third dealership in China. As of now, 25 already. Bikes in China are sold out by August. Dealer have to survive on the accessory and the closest. So because they have a different regulations, Harley make specific model for China and that sold out very quickly.
Chris: Okay. Very interesting. Again, let me turn to Ken. Ken, I think you’ve gone on some of these rides. I don’t know if they have the rides in the U.S. Or in China. Can you just share your experience on those a bit?
Ken: Sure. So I was involved with the rides here in the United States and Jeff does such a great job in teeing this up here in the states because making sure that anybody that wants to come to the United States to do a Harley tour, that they’re actually qualified. Jeff goes to great extent to make sure that all the riders know how to handle a motorcycle, the size of a Harley, and that they want to make sure that all the safety measures are taken to ride through here in the United States. And what I find is that the, just the excitement that the riders from China have when they get here, one ride we had them come in to Philadelphia and we set them up at a beautiful hotel in Center City. And we had some time to kill in the morning. We all know that tourists from China loved the shop.
So we made a short phone call to Tiffany’s right around the corner from the hotel. And they said, they’re not open yet. I said, “Well, could you possibly open up a little bit earlier for us? We have some folks from out of town that are very interested in shopping.” So the manager, she accommodated us and we walked over to Tiffany’s, and as soon as we walked in, the folks from China just converged on all the countertops and we only had a few translators. So the translators were running back and forth, running back and forth. And I think in less than an hour, this group spent close to a hundred thousand dollars in purchases. I’m not sure if it broke a record for Tiffany’s with what was spent in less than an hour, but everybody was very happy.
Some of the people were actually even calling back to China because it was mid-morning, which would been later in the evening in China. They were calling people, their friends back in China, telling them that, “We’re in a real Tiffany’s jewelry store. Is there anything you want us to pick up for you?” It was a sight to be seen and it was funny standing there watching all this happening.
Chris: The interesting juxtaposition is at least in the U.S., the Harley rider are typically, they’re wearing the leather, they’re rough, and I’m picturing, this was the start of the tour. I don’t know if anyone, they were wearing their Tiffany accessories with their Harley jackets. Is that right? Ken, is that what they were doing?
Ken: They, you know what, when they walked in, you would’ve looked at this group and said, that’s the last group of people I would picture on a Harley-Davidson riding through the highways of Pennsylvania. But when Jeff told them we were going to go to Tiffany’s jewelry store, they were so excited. It was a very short walk, and then when they got there, they certainly knew what they were doing.
Jeff: Well, the proof is Ken and I both get gift from Tiffany saying when they’re coming back again?
Ken: When we set up this tour, Jeff made accommodations to have enough motorcycles for all the riders, some of the wives and spouses, they rode on the back of the bikes with their husbands, but some of the ladies were perfectly fine not riding on the bikes. And so we set up a luxury motor coach for them. So originally we got a motor coach that could seat 52 people. We only had 20 something people on the tour and only maybe half a dozen of the ladies rode in the bus.
So the bus company said, “Well, you don’t need a bus that big. We can certainly give you a small 15 passenger vehicle.” And we said, “no, no, no, no, no, no. Just leave it at 52.” And our hunch proved out, we filled the entire bus with packages and goods that they purchased. As a matter of fact, Jeff reminded me just earlier today that we had to stop at UPS a handful of times to box up and ship things back to China on their behalf. But the folks that came certainly made great use of their money to buy gifts and buy souvenirs and all sorts of things here in the United States.
Chris: Great. Really interesting. And I think one of the things that I am thinking about, I’ve seen some of the videos and maybe we can circulate some of those, but people can Google Knighthawk tours, VOA, and they get some of these very interesting videos. But what many of the participants were talking about is how welcomed and warm they felt that other Harley writers were. This idea of creating bridges between people in different countries is so important. And my guess is they were also from very different socioeconomic demographic situations. Given what you’re saying right now, because of this common interest in Harley’s, even though they all had Chinese flags flying off the back. There was something that bonded them with Americans. Can you say a little bit about that? About maybe some of the interpersonal exchanges between the two groups of people?
Jeff: Yes. There were six dealers in the Philadelphia area when people all over the region came to join the events ride. They ride at least a short distance to very first because when they go back, they can say, I had a chance to ride with the Chinese riders. When we visit Williamsport on route six, which is maybe 20 miles and about 50 motorcycles waiting for us at Williamsport, which is about a hundred miles away from the destination, they are sitting at McDonald parking lot, just waiting for us to be there. So you can see enthusiasm on the U.S. part for those rider. They’re so welcome to ride, they appreciate opportunity to ride with Chinese riders. The same thing when we were in China also, when we were at rally, I saw Jinan which is Shandong province. Jinan has a group of riders.
They’re not very good at group riding, they’re excellent at the personal riding, but because they cannot follow us in time for our speed while we’re riding in China, because those 10,15 rider from U.S., they’re top notch in terms of riding skill. So they say, even allow us to accompany you to the gas station so that we can brag about, we had a chance to ride with the U.S. riders. So lots of signs, names, and friendship gift they’re all over. I just feel that this is a lifestyle that China is like powerful wood, you can touch that the flame off very, very quickly. So this is a bond created by American product.
Ken: As so many of us know, developing those relationships between the United States and China for business, even in the areas of diplomacy, when we can find and create that platform where people have a common passion, it transcends language. And at some point in time, it transcends the differences in the culture we have because when you get two parties from pathway around the world, having the same interest in something, whether it’s Harley-Davidson motorcycles, wine, sports, all of a sudden, the world becomes that much smaller. And it really sets the table for further conversation which could very well be business, or politics or whatever it may be. But it allows the parties to become relevant to one another and common theme to one another. And it makes that conversation moving forward that much easier.
Chris: Yeah, really great insights. I think, hopefully we’ll have more of those opportunities once the pandemic ends. Jeff, one of the things you said earlier really stuck with me, I wanted to follow up with you about it again. So you mentioned ideas like street legal bikes that are produced in the U.S versus specific products that are produced for the China market. Can you say more about what can actually be ridden in China versus not? And then also some of the expansion you mentioned now there’s 25 dealers.
Jeff: Well, the standards are different in China. So the exhaust pipes, they have to make the sound decent, in a way. So when we’re out of the hotel, we started the motorcycle, but Harley made for China, we saw something mechanical issues. Luckily one of my members who own a Harley-Davidson dealership and he volunteered mechanics, he said he was at York Harley-Davidson, and he said, there are no problem. So, all right. So this is a different. But the funny thing on that is we’ll have to go through all the legal trainings, all the transportation, vehicle motorcycle trainings, get a temporary license of months, 20 days in order to write that legal. So we immediately before touch the motorcycle will have to go through the courses. And of course, Shandong police are so friendly.
About 900 of them sealed every intersection, at lunch, 30 police officers, eating on a separate table at every lunch, we were able to go through the controlled area, like a record long bridge in Qingdao, no motorcycle ever allowed, but here we go. So people are so welcome. They gave us a lot of a special treats. We were able to see the beautiful, beautiful scenery in Shandong. Now people from Germany, Harley rider from Germany, from Korea after they see us, Shandong become a tourism destination. So there were a lot of Harley-Davidson or other brand motorcycles riding in Shandong now.
Chris: Very interesting. You mentioned that they sealed off. So it was like they were the U.S. President, or it was like the roads were cleared. Is that right?
Jeff: No, actually they closed intersection for an hour also because it is very hard to control our speed. But we feel bad about it, but 10 years ago, people are saying leaders from Beijing come over the road closed for 20 minutes, but how come we close for an hour or two just for you. Local decision, we just feel bad about it. That’s why whenever it can pass by, we would quickly pass by. But you can see the Harley-Davidson as a brand in China. People like seeing electricity at that point because Harley is a style motorcycle is not regarded as a means of transportation, but a lifestyle.
Chris: Right. Got it. Just a quick question. So you mentioned with the pipes, do the Harley’s in China make the same loud rumbling noise as the Harley’s in the U.S.?
Jeff: No. No. It’s much quieter.
Chris: Okay. Excellent. So one of the things that I also want to talk to you about was, Ken has been working a lot on the Chair of U.S. Badminton. We talked before about this badminton diplomacy, like ping pong diplomacy back before Nixon went to China. So, can you say a little bit about your role in U.S. Badminton and how they’re actually working with China on this badminton diplomacy idea?
Ken: Well, I’m the chairman of the board for USA Badminton and we are the national governing body for the Olympic sport here in the United States. So we grow the sport here and we are responsible for all the participants that participate at the Olympics and all the other international events, like the World University Games and so forth and so on. So it crossed my mind that, again, going back to what I said earlier, trying to find that platform, the platform that we can start at in the areas of a conversation. And it just reminded me of back in the Nixon era with Mao, so when they started the conversation, and again, they were looking for something, that we have two different cultures, two different types of government halfway around the world. And all of a sudden somebody back then thought, well, you could utilize ping pong as a platform.
You don’t need language and the way they played or in China is the way you play it in the United States. So there’s a commonality there. So right now badminton is the second largest participant sport in the world behind soccer, hugely popular in Asia and growing rapidly here in the United States. So Jeff and I have actually had a conversation with the Chinese Consulate in New York about utilizing Badminton as a means of diplomacy, and right away the deputy of consul-general said, “Just like ping pong diplomacy.” I said, “Exactly, you got it.” So we’re hoping to further that concept and have some friendly matches here in the United States and in China. But again, it would create a platform that would allow not only our diplomatic leaders to come in and have conversation, but also our business leaders in both countries to support something like this and be able to utilize this platform as a means to start a conversation for business.
Chris: Yeah, no, I can imagine. Through sponsorships and events and exhibitions, having Chinese Badminton players come over and vice versa, I can imagine. I don’t know, but my guess is the Chinese skill is much higher than the U.S. skill, but I could be right. I know just a lot of people, a lot more people in China play badminton. So I don’t know if that inference is right, is that correct, Ken?
Ken: It is. And our best players in the United States happen to be Chinese. So, but we have very good young and up and coming players, but you’re right, right now in Southeast Asia, China, Indonesia, India, some of the top players in the world come from that part of the world. But again, it’s having good competition out there. The players are there to as players. They’re not there as business people. They’re not there as political diplomats. So just having a good competition is what the players are looking for. And also too, if you want to get better, what do you do? You play people better, and that’s how you get better.
So I think it’s of great interest here in the United States to see that sport played at the highest level. It’s the fastest string racket sport in the world with the shuttlecock moving at speeds up to 120 miles an hour. It’s very fast. And I think people in the United States who think of it as the backyard barbecue event to play realize that, oh, this is really different. This is really fast. So it’s something that we look forward to pursuing further as another means of connecting the two worlds together.
Chris: Yeah. What you said really resonated and made me think. Obviously we have Harley or wine, common cultural products, but sports in general can really play such an important role in bringing countries together and in sort of a platform for commerce, as you’re saying. And I know we know just the Olympics in Beijing and I think you were involved in some of the earlier Olympic or planning as far as the U.S is involved. Would you mind saying a little bit about your experience with that? And I think you were advising president Bush. Is that right?
Ken: Yes. Yeah. So from 2004 to 2007, I actually served in the White House as an advisor to the president on economic affairs for Asian Americans and Pacific islands here in the United States. So in 2007, I had the fortunate experience of actually going to the International Sport Accord Conference that was held in Beijing in 2007, the year before the Beijing summer Olympics. And it was just fascinating seeing everything that I saw and all the venues and being treated like royalty because we were there for the Olympics. We were guests of the Beijing Olympic Committee. So coming back to the United States, at that time the United States is preparing for the summer Olympics in 2008. And there were some factions here in the United States that felt that the United States should boycott the Olympics because it was being held in China.
And I remember back in 1980, when the United States boycotted the Olympics in Moscow, what the experience was like then, and I remember having a conversation with president Bush and just saying, “Sir, the only people you are going to hurt by boycotting the Olympics, are our own U.S. athletes, who’ve trained their entire lives for this one moment, this one moment to perform and compete at the highest athletic stage in the world, which is the Olympics. And China is only the host of the Olympics. They don’t own the Olympics. Nobody owns the Olympics. And I encouraged him to consider going and supporting the American athletes in Beijing when they competed. And I don’t know whether that was a conversation that helped him make his decision, but we did not boycott the Olympics, president Bush went to Beijing and sat in the stands and cheered on the American athletes, just like every other American that was there or watching on television did.
So again, sports is a great platform. I’ve competed internationally at sports where they’re competing against the Iranians, or the competitors from Iraq. There’s no politics involved. It’s a good sport that we’re there for good competition, fair competition. Sometimes I think leaders of our country should take a lesson out of that.
Chris: Sure. That’s very, in some ways different than the discourse that we’ve been hearing recently, and I’d like to actually learn a little bit about what some of the responses to some of your business has been both in COVID and then also the rising nationalism in China and also from the U.S. side as well, a lot of anti China discourse. So Jeff would love to turn it back to you. What’s your sense in these last few years about these cultural exchanges obviously limited by COVID, but as far as the receptiveness on both sides for talking to another.
Jeff: Well, from what Ken, I have seen that even though pandemic limit our travel, but communication with our China client continue. Not as good as if we were there, but our friendship are able to maintain. And so the project still going have delayed, but still going. We cannot wait till the travel ban lifted. Ken you want to share with some of your thought we discussed this morning?
Ken: Yeah, sure. Chris, you mentioned earlier that with COVID things have slowed down, and I can honestly say that things really didn’t slow down for us here at NavPac Advisors. We just found different avenues of keeping the channel of communications open to continue to working with our clients, to make sure they stayed relevant to the folks in China and vice versa through open lines of communications. It’s amazing the amount of technology that we’ve learned to use over the last couple years due to COVID. Actually, I think it’s made us more efficient, but we continue to keep the conversations going with our clients, both in China and in the United States, because we’re dealing with certain things such as healthcare. One of the medical universities that we’re working with, the programs they have for healthcare for China is touching in areas that China is still in its infancy stages.
So knowing that improving healthcare in China is a very, very important priority for the Chinese. And we have a resource here in the United States that can help raise that level of care. We’ve kept that conversation going. We’ve been able to do as much as we can, and then developing an online program that can be offered to China. So not knowing what the future will bring with this virus. We worked with the university to develop this online program, so we can still deliver to China what we need to deliver, but if it’s got to be done virtually, then that’s what we’re going to do.
Jeff: Yeah. I want to add a quick point if I may.
Chris: Sure. Please do.
Jeff: That American product. The quality of the reputation is so high people looking at American product and service and standard of services as a gold. If they so many Chinese enterprise want Americans to actually involved with them, they’re working on an air cleaning product for China, but it just sold out through the jd.com Jingdong sold out. There is more order have to be to produce. People in Philadelphia have to expand their manufacturing facility in order to get those product. There are a lot of opportunities, there is a limit, but also we still we’re seeing, there are so much potential for two countries to work together on the economic, on the trade.
Ken: I think. Yeah, I think there’s almost like two messages out there, Chris. There’s the rhetoric that we hear in the media and that’s being bantered around, but then we have the opportunity to talk directly, with our clients and with the folks in China. And their interest is doing business with one another. They’re not interested in all the politics because it just garbles the message. There really is a strong desire for both countries to want to do business with one another. And as Jeff said, American products are still the gold standard in China. And that our trade with China keeps a lot of people working in the United States and vice versa. And we have a huge amount of investment in China by major corporations, which helps to keep a lot of people working back here in the states. So global trade is very, very important for us. We, from a nationalistic or patriotic perspective, global trade is important to keep our economy going. So we can’t do one without the other.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. Very deep roots. This is in the complexity of this, is something that’s come out on a lot of these shows and I think you’re right. I mean, the media can present one story at a relatively 30,000 foot level, but these items that you’re talking about where the commerce is continuing, surveys of the USCBC, who’s one of the hosts of this program today, the surveys they’ve been doing actually point out that 90% of businesses that they work with in China actually have expanded in the past year. I was just talking recently to someone who has a job similar to yours. And they were saying that actually one area of their business has really expanded, is people in China selling through Amazon, interestingly enough, and that’s actually been a real growth business. Whereas some of the other businesses that are more in the media shutdown have actually contracted, but they found other business because like you said, people are actually continuing to want to do business during this period.
One of our audience members has a question, which relates to this, which is interesting. One thing though that has seemed to separate a bit is the media environments. So over the years, we talked about this great YouTube video, the Chinese riders, on their Harley’s riding through Virginia or Tennessee, I’m not sure where it was a really nice smokey mountain type scene. However, that was on YouTube, which actually you can’t watch in China. And the question that came in mentioned, with these very different social media, in some ways, environments, is that a challenge for your business at all, where you have to advertise or communicate with people with many, many different platforms and many times maybe sending different messages through Facebook and YouTube on one side, and then maybe WeChat and Kuaishou, TikTok on the other side, how are you managing in some ways technology split.
Jeff: In fact, we have converted the VOA video into Youku. So in China you can see, right, but also at the same time, our company also help Shandong Province to manage the social media web to showcase the tourism. So as long as this is not political, China have a pretty open mind about, because they have to tell China’s story in a way that Westerners can understand. So as far as trade, as far tourism, as far as the social media, we have seen the limitation, but so far we’re managing to get our message across
Ken: That’s one of the key things that we do at NavPac is to be able to help with that translation. Sometimes it’s just the usage of the English language and using relevant terms and ideas to get people to understand. And so they can relate to the concept, but we try to be that bridge. We take a client and look at what their mission is, what their goal and objectives may be. And then we assess it to help them to understand what’s the best way to deliver their product, their goods or services to the market in China and vice versa. And then we create that bridge. We make sure there’s nothing lost in the translation. People understand what the objectives of each of the companies may be so that we can deliver it properly and in the right light and with the right intentions in the right format. So this way we can be effective for our clients.
Chris: Yeah. I’m interested as well. We talked about taking Harley to China and vice versa. And I know you’re involved in some other aspects of actually trying to bring some Chinese cultural elements to the U.S. I think one example is I know Ken you’re very involved in dragonboating. Another example is I think you’re working with, is it Harbin to bring some ice festival to different cold weather environments in the United States? Maybe I’ll start with you Ken on the dragon boat and Jeff, then we can talk about the Harbin ice festival.
Ken: So back in the late seventies, early eighties, Hong Kong was trying to promote more tourism, trying to figure out how do we get people from North America and from Europe to come to Hong Kong. And so somebody had this idea that, well, we could build something out around our big dragon boat festival. Hong Kong has these dragon boat festivals in Hong Kong Harbor that may have three or 400 teams there. It’s a huge event. So they thought, oh, what a great idea we can invite Westerners to come to Hong Kong to compete in the dragon boat event. The only problem is that nobody ever heard of dragon boating in North America or in Europe. So they sent a team of people around the world to garner interest in this great sport.
So they came to the United States and they went to the NCAA, which is the governing body for collegiate sports because rowing is handled by the NCAA and the NCAA had no idea what to do with these folks because it really wasn’t rowing to North Americans, it was paddling. So they sent them to Philadelphia. At that time, the famed boathouse row in Philadelphia was where a lot of Olympic rowers were developed in a hugely popular sport in Philadelphia. And they sent them to boathouse Row and they met with the leadership of boathouse Row, and they were wondering what are these people from Hong Kong trying to get, because we row and they’re talking about paddling. And then somebody from the delegation from Hong Kong said, “Now, if you could put together a team to come to Hong Kong, we’ll provide your team an all expense paid trip to Hong Kong.” Well, of course that they understood.
So they put together a team to go to Hong Kong for the dragon boat races, and unfortunately, rowers are usually quite tall. Imagine a group of guys that were 6’4 and taller in a dragon boat that was really designed for somebody that’s about 5’10 and shorter. So I wasn’t involved with the team at that time, but I was told that they never got a chance to cross the finish line because the boat filled up with water and swamped before they got to the finish line. But since then we figured out the dynamics of the sport and then we’ve won two World Championships since then. Primarily with paddlers from Philadelphia. So Philadelphia is really the hub for dragon boating here in the United States now. And we continue to have a great success with the sport, and we get a lot of people involved in it, but I look at it as a chance to share the Chinese culture with folks that are interested in the sport, because it does take teamwork.
It takes 20 people to move a boat that size. And that, it’s good health, it’s great exercise for you. Yeah. So I just returned from Florida, was down there for the week for a training camp. We did two a day workouts there. So our season’s getting ready to start.
Chris: And you do those in the open ocean. Is that right?
Ken: No, it’s usually in, right now, we used to race in lakes and on rivers. But now, because of the current inner river, many of the races now are held, at least the international competitions are held in controlled environments, usually Olympic rowing venues. Where the water is controlled.
Chris: Just a quick factual question. So, I see the dragon boats have these big elaborate, very large looking, beautifully decorated boats. And I see typical crew boats are very sleek and minimalist, what else is different? Is it the way you row different? Is it the way the teamwork works different? Can you just compare and contrast a little bit of that?
Ken: Dragon boating for the most part is the sprint sport. So you’re doing a 200 meter, 500 meter, 1000 meter, and a 2000 meter distance. So for example, in a 200 meter event, you may go up to about 105 strokes a minute. Now you’re figuring there’s 20 people paddling 200 strokes a minute together for 49 seconds which seems like forever. Where rowing shell, if your stroke rate is 32 strokes a minute that’s very, very high in a rowing shell. So imagine going over three times that amount. Even in a 500 meter of you’re going at 80, 82, 83 strokes a minute, so still a lot quicker than a rowing shell. And you can’t see where you’re going rowing. You’re going backwards. I don’t understand that. If I was going backwards up and down to river, I would be hitting every bridge.
Chris: Yeah. I got to have a good, I don’t know if the coxswain, I don’t know who the person is that directs them. The last question on the dragon boats, sorry for all these details, but is there any coordination that the 20 people, is there like there would be in a typical crew?
Ken: Sure. You have your stroke pair which is the first two people sitting up front, they’re setting the rate together. And then you have a drummer which is like a coxswain, that’s communicating with the stroke pair and managing and calling the race out during the course of the racing. And now utilizing a lot of technology, paddles used to be made of wood now they’re made a carbon fiber while the communication is done electronically. We have speaker systems in the boat and we’re using a lot of various training techniques to improve ourselves at various distances. So I’ve been competing for the last 22 years in this sport. It’s a great sport, relatively short learning curve, but we have various types of paddlers out there that all come together to race in a dragon boat. We have Outrigger paddlers, we have marathon canoe paddlers, kayakers, but it’s all paddling. So we bring everybody together and get on to one specific technique for that particular type of vote. then we compete together as the U.S. team.
Chris: Yeah. Really interesting. Thanks. Another example I want to show or discuss is this another cultural product in some ways from China is this idea of the Harbin ice festival. And I know you’ve done some work on trying to bring similar, maybe working with the folks in Harbin to bring similar ideas, to maybe Yellowstone or maybe even Philadelphia itself. Jeff, can you say a little bit about actually work on the ice festivals?
Jeff: Well, actually this is a project me and Ken working together Ken take a lot of lead. And one of the area is Harbin festival. They’ve been done this for 20 years and draw so many visitors. So they actually have expanded abroad work with Canada, Montreal, for this and every year, but to Philadelphia, one of the challenges is the temperature. We don’t have that, and also the wind. So that’s why you have to work with the professionals in Harbin to see what are the things that we can overcome. So in China, Harbin ice festival becomes so popular that in many places that become all year in the summer, you can go into the controlled room and to see the Harbin, it become a language for you to showcase local culture.
So Ken I work with Harbin, Ken work with a lots of, we’ve been there a couple of times, Ken has been to Yellowstone more times than I do. I did only one time. Well, I think the goal is to, because Yellowstone in the winter is, unless you have four wheel vehicle, there’s no revenue. And so they’re hoping to bring more visitors. And so as Philadelphia also, so Ken you want to share some of your thought?
Ken: Yeah, it’s just said, in Philadelphia, the challenges that we can’t sustain those below freezing temperatures for extended periods of time. And so what they do in the long beach California with a nice festival that they do is they have literally indoor controlled environment, which is very, very expensive. So when we were out in the Yellowstone, once the winter time hits there, they sustain cold temperatures for a period of time which can make the festival viable there. And as Jeff said in the winter time, there’s only one, the Northern gate of Yellowstone is open in Montana. So we visited that town on a couple of occasions, they were very interested in the prospect of maybe a smaller version of the ice festival because the ice festival in Harbin is like the size of a small town with ice carvings that are the size of buildings.
But the opportunity is there. It’s just a matter of figuring out the logistics of the artisans and all the equipment and so forth and so on, because once it gets cold in Montana, it stays cold for a while. So that’s not the problem. In Harbin it’s a city of about maybe 7 million people, but during the, I think it’s 45 days or about a month to a month and a half of their ice festival, they’ll draw 11 million tourists into Harbin from all over the world. It absolutely is a destination point, and even though the temperatures are minus 30 degrees, it doesn’t keep people away. As a matter of fact, I was dumbfounded one evening, it had to be a good minus 30 degrees outside. And I saw a line of people waiting outside waiting to buy ice cream. So I guess the good thing about buying ice cream when it’s minus 30 is you don’t have to rush to eat it because it won’t melt in your hands.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the poor little kids you see with the melting ice cream down there. Exactly. Well, someone mentioned your discussion Ken, of the dragon boats was very evocative and someone mentioned actually they want to get involved in dragon boat events. And so maybe on our follow up, we can send some links to everyone because does sound like a really interesting sport. And as you mentioned, also in the chat, there’s many dragon boat clubs throughout the U.S., So that’s great. We’re running short on time. So if anyone has any questions, you should please put them in the chat and we’ll try to get to them in the last number of minutes before ending, the one other topic I want to discuss because the work you guys do on connecting the U.S. and China through these cultural events is really so creative and interesting to me. And I know you’ve been involved in your work in Shandong, I guess Sun Tzu is from Shandong, I believe, a town in Shandong. And you’re thinking of starting, is it a business strategy academy to tap the principles of Sun Tzu for executives? Is that correct?
Ken: Yes. Yes. When we were there on our project for the Shandong tourism bureau, we had an opportunity to visit the Memorial Park that was there. And as we were going through the different, the pavillions which represented a different chapter in Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War, it dawned on me that these are the same relevant principles that you would teach business student how to deal with your competition. How do you deal with your allies? How do you deal with your strategies? So we gave it a lot of thought, Jeff, and I, and thought that what a great opportunity to utilize this as a means to teach business strategies to students.
Where that students could come from the U.S. and we could not only do a program with the Sun Tzu’s principles, The Art of War, but also to have these students connect with business students in China and allow them to develop a relationship and develop some dialogue because, aren’t we in a global economy to begin with. And these could very well be future business allies to these students that they meet now, while they’re in school, fast forward a few years edit, now forward. And it could very well be the same people that they’ll do business with. They are with their respective companies and employers sometimes down the future.
Jeff: Yeah. If you tour, UK at every bookstore you go to, Art of War is everywhere. Many of those books are textbooks for business school, or for military academy become so popular. I think people’s exchange at some level can sustain and can thrive and that’ll bring the two countries together. That’s one of the venues. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Really again, the creativity that you guys have of trying to leverage the Chinese culture in the U.S. and vice versa is certainly quite inspiring. The one final question I usually ask, and I would love to get both of your comments on this. So you’re involved in U.S. companies trying to operate in China, Chinese entrepreneurs harping and coming into the U.S. market, helping create those exchanges. So for those two groups, Chinese interested in operating in the U.S. and the U.S. trying to operate in China, maybe Jeff we’ll start with you, what are the two or three key recommendations you would give to each of those groups?
Jeff: Well, one quick thought is, identify a win-win opportunities. Believe or not, my riders from China are Harley riders, they were business people when they come over to United States, ride motorcycle and someone pointing at a trash can in a city hall of Philadelphia, they’re saying in China, we don’t leave the trash like this. We collect them, we process them. We make money out of those. So I have seen lots of investors, people invested by the building, by the property and come over to set up business in United States.
So my quick thought is you have to identify win-wins. In other words, take Harley, for example, who are the winner. We have Harley corporate winner, right? Say motorcycle. We have a winner for local tourism board, right? And also we have winner for exporting, they’re importing because they’re buying the lifestyle, they’re buying the clothes. So for me, it would be come across a scenario situation and to see how can we put the winner set together by both parties? So that’s a thing that bothers me drives me and I’m sure Ken have a lot to share on this end.
Ken: Yeah. I agree with Jeff. Some of the things that we really push upon with our clients is helping them to define and refine their goals and objectives who may take a very raw idea that they may have come to the United States or to go to China and will spend a good amount of time working with them to refine that idea where it fulfills a corporate objective, a financial objective, and also it fulfills some type of social objective in the audience that they’re trying to reach because we have to be able to translate what they’re trying to do and create a message and a story that resonates with the, if we’re going to China, it has to resonate with the local government and with the potential clientele they’re trying to reach.
In the United States. It has to have that social objective and be able to resonate with the local business influencers here that we would need to build support around it to make sure that it would work in the United States. So we try to make sure that our clients are thinking along the lines of, what their true goals and objectives may be and try to keep it simple, not make it too overly complicated because that’s where you lose a lot of things and that’s where mistakes can be made. So we try to keep it simple so that people can relate to it and understand it better.
Jeff: I want to commend the USCBC about their teamwork, about what they do, in China, there’s a term called the shared or common prosperity right. You analyze it, you convert, you have to learn these things.
Chris: Right. So certainly thank the USCBC for their role in this The China Project as well, put in the chat, thrive The China Project access, which is where I get all my information from. So really totally recommend that newsletter and other products.
And I just want to thank you, Ken and Jeff so much for sharing all of your stories, what I took away from this, and I saw value hearing from people that are on the ground like yourself, is that there are so many different bridges that can be built between China and the U.S. and having things like common interest, be it Harley-Davidson motorcycles, or playing badminton or riding dragon boats, or you mentioned wine. These are things in ways to actually get common interest and not only bring our people together, but also as you mentioned, all great platforms for building businesses and connecting on commerce too.
So thank you both really very much for joining us today on China Corner Office.
Ken: Thanks Chris.
Jeff: Thank you, Chris.