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I have a beautiful granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. She has enough challenges to face in her life and I want to make sure that finding appropriately fitting clothes will not be one of them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

China May 2012

China May 2012
The trip:
Well, I headed off for another trip to China.  This time I have a very big agenda.  I am meeting with two new factories, plus spending time with my friend Andy.  As usual I had to get up about 2:30 am on Saturday morning to catch a 6:30 am flight.  The first plane takes me to Toronto, Canada, where I catch a huge 777 to Hong Kong. 
I arrive in Hong Kong Sunday afternoon about 1:15.  Then the crowds begin.  First I must go through customs and there are hundreds and hundreds in lines.  When I get through that line I head for the line at the taxi station.  I catch a taxi to the train station, hoping to make the 2:30 train to Guangzhou in time. 
I’m not able to sleep much on the plane, so I’m exhausted by this time.  When I get to the ticket booth at the train station, the 2:30 train if full.  OMG!  I can’t believe it.  Now I have to wait two more hours until the next train leaves.  I’m barely able to function so I find a place to sit down.  The train station is like a shopping mall but I’m too tired to walk around.  I try reading, but I can’t focus at all, so I wait.
Well, at last the train is boarding and I call Andy to tell him what time I’ll be arriving in Guangzhou.  He promises not to be late this time.  The trip should take only two hours, but for some reason, it’s running slower than usual and it takes two and half hours.  Go figure!  Then there are more lines at the customs entry in Guangzhou.  Once I get through all the processing, I finally head for the door.  To my relief, Andy is there waiting for me … on time!
So now we have to stand in another long line to catch a cab.  This ride takes an hour so I don’t get to the hotel until after 8:00 PM, maybe it was even closer to 9:00.  I’m so tired I can barely see straight.  After Andy and I have dinner, he heads home and I finally get some well needed rest.
Day 1
Well, the first order of business is to meet with Tim, the sales representative from one of the factories that made us a sample.  The picture he sent me of the sample before I left looked good.   I’m not completely comfortable with him as he seems pushy and I’m not sure if he is trustworthy.  So we agree to meet in the hotel lobby and he will give me the sample that he made for us.  This is the guy that charged me $120.00 for the sample, and then wanted me to pay another $55.00 to ship it to me.  I refused to pay the shipping fees and told him he could delivery it personally to me when I arrived in China. 
He arrived at the hotel about 10:00 am and the sample looked good and he seemed much nicer in person.  The owner of factory is with him and he asked if I wanted to go to the see the factory.  It’s wasn’t far from the hotel so I agreed to go; I don’t make any decisions without a full investigation.
So we drive to the factory and it’s really in a bad area; I’m not impressed at all.  We walk into their showroom and it’s just a disaster.  I know these factories are usually in disarray, but this one is really bad.  He asked if I wanted to see the factory itself and I told him no thanks.  I wanted to go back to the hotel right away.  After this visit, I had made up my mind I didn’t want to work with these people.
Later that afternoon, Andy came by to pick me up for lunch and brought his sister and brother-in-law along to join us.  Well, now is the time to test my Chinese that I have been studying for 6 months.  Neither of them speaks any English.  I manage to scrape out a little conversation but it’s really a struggle.  We enjoy a delicious lunch together and then we head back to my hotel.  I introduced them to some games on the IPad and IPhone and they’re all immediately engrossed.
Later that evening we head out to another restaurant for dinner.  We go to my favorite restaurant this time which is just around the corner from my hotel and have another delicious meal.  It’s hard to describe the food in China.  It’s nothing like we get in the United States.  I took pictures this time to show how different it is.  Each dish has a different taste and, it’s by far, the most delicious food I have eaten.  I have learned to love the food here.  It’s beyond my imagination how they come up with so many different flavors and ways to prepare different meats and vegetables. 
We head back to my hotel and I say good night.  I have plans to meet another representative the next day.
Day 2
My next appointment on Day 2 (Tuesday) is with a young man named Joey.  We had been communicating a lot and I had a good sense that this was the person I wanted to do business.  The first sample he sent me was perfect.  It looked and fit the model just like it was supposed to.   I was really excited to meet with him.   He also had another sample waiting for me. 
He arrived at the hotel about 10:00 AM and brought me the newest sample.  We measured it and it was spot on.  We talked for about 2 hours and agreed to meet again the next day.  Then he would take me to the factory that his family owned.  He told me his father had been in this industry since he was 14 years old.  He became a patterner at a young age and, in China, this is the highest position in the clothing business.  Then about ten years ago, his father started his own jeans factory and it has become a very successful business.  His wife and daughter-in-law are the sample makers and his older son is in charge of production.  So Joey and I say our goodbye’s and agree to meet again the next day when he will take me to meet his father and tour their factory.
Later in the afternoon, Andy came by and our plans are to go to the denim stores and the accessory stores.  I have to pick fabric for our teen styles and I also want to look at some heavy duty elastic for the waistbands.  The weather is very hot and muggy and we walk everywhere.  So off we go to that part of town.  Because we are in the jeans capital of the world, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of denim shops, there is an entire district just designated for denim.  Then there is another district, just for accessories.  All of these shops are within walking distance, but the heat is unbearable.  This is not my favorite part for sure.  But we accomplish our goals and head back to the hotel.
He’s invited me to dinner with his family tonight, so this will be my first home-cooked meal.  I’m not sure what to expect, so I’m a little nervous.  Andy now has his own apartment and his sister, brother-in-law and father are now living with him. 
So we catch a taxi about 7:00 pm and head to his apartment.  I’m immediately surprised at the location.  He’s living in a beautiful high-rise, gated apartment complex.  The grounds are covered in trees and shrubs and it’s very beautiful.  This is not what I am used to seeing at all.  I’m so happy to see him living in a nice environment.
Once inside his apartment, I find it very austere.  He lives a very simple life and seems so happy.  I meet his father for the first time.  He’s a small man that looks like he has had a hard life, but when he smiles I like him immediately.  No one, of course, speaks any English and my Chinese is a struggle.  But we manage to communicate is some small way.
We sit down for dinner and I’m really surprised.  It’s delicious and I really enjoy the food.  It looks nothing like the food I have eaten in the restaurants, but the flavors are very tasty.  After dinner we sit out on his balcony and enjoy the cool breeze.  His apartment overlooks a very busy street, so the traffic noise seems a bit loud, but it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.  About 11:00 pm, he calls a taxi for me so I can return to the hotel, and, of course, the gentlemen that he is, he rides back with me and makes sure I get to my hotel safe and sound.  Today was a really good day and I got a lot accomplished.

Day 3
Joey shows up about 10:00 AM.  Our plans today are to meet with his father and tour his factory.  It’s about a 15 minute ride and I am immediately impressed.  It’s so far the nicest looking factory yet.  He takes me to his father’s office which was well decorated and Joey introduces me to everyone.  None of them speak English but Joey, so Joey must interpret every word.  I show his father photos of people with Down syndrome and explain the difficulties they have finding clothes that fit them.  I tell him of my plans to create a clothing line for these people and after a good talk, he sees my intentions very clearly.   I show him pictures of people with Down syndrome and what a problem finding clothes is for them.  I explain that I cannot give him large quantity orders right now and that I will need his cooperation to make small minimum orders.   I explain that because we are not sure how our styles will fit the population until we begin to sell them, I cannot order larger amounts to start.  Most factories will not make small orders so this is one of the difficulties in finding a factory to cooperate.
To my joy, he sees my situation and says he will help me out and work with me any way he can.  I asked him to please feel free to make suggestions if he sees a better way to make something.  I tell him how much I respect his experience would appreciate any input from him.  So he agrees to make a minimum order of 250 pcs per style (which is unheard of) and help me with our patterns if he can.
I can’t believe this, what luck to have met Joey and his family and their willingness to cooperate with me.  I know they see the potential in Downs Designs as well, and realize that if they work with me now, then larger orders will come later.  If I had not been there personally to talk with this man, I know the outcome would not have been good.  These trips to China are crucial and meeting these people face-to-face is so important.  For me, seeing what the factories look like is vital.  I don’t want to assume anything or base my opinion on rumors.  I like knowing firsthand where our clothes are being made and who is making them. 
A trip to the mountains
For the next two days, Andy thought it would be nice to have a little downtime, so he made plans to take me to a beautiful park in the mountains.  He makes arrangements for us to get a hotel as it may take two days to cover the grounds.  He invites his family as well and we’re off for a little site seeing.  The heat is overwhelming and we all pile into one small taxi for a two and half hour ride.  Well, guess what?  The taxi’s air conditioner was broken!  Phew, it was a long ride.  But I must admit, once we got out of the city, the scenery was beautiful and the air was clean.
We finally arrived at our destination and walk through the entrance of the park.  We stop for lunch at a restaurant just inside the park before we begin our adventure.  For our first stop, we take a short boat ride to an island full of peacocks.  I take a few photos and then the boat driver drops us back at the dock and we begin our walk through the park.  We walk for miles and miles enjoying the mountain paths along the way.  By evening we’re exhausted and decide to head for the hotel.
When we get back to entrance of park, we find that there is no taxi service available.  The hotel is not too far we’re told so we start walking.  OMG, we walk for miles.  I don’t mind the walk though because I get to see how people live in this part of the country.  It’s much different from the city dwellers.  The poverty is much worse and the housing is indescribable.  I’ve never seen this much poverty since I’ve been coming to China.  I want to take pictures but I felt I might insult someone.  Words could not describe what I saw, but I felt it best not to take my camera out.
At last, we arrive at the hotel.  I must admit, I’m a little nervous about the accommodations after the village we just walked through, but the entrance is quite beautiful.  Once inside my room though, I realize I’m not at the Holiday Inn.  The room is clean, but not at all what I am used to.  Needless to say, I’m a little concerned about the bug population.  I tear the bed apart, looking for any activity, but to my relief I see nothing.  I still don’t feel comfortable in my surroundings, so I sit in the chair for hours.  Andy and his family are across the hall and I hear them having a good time playing cards.
I’m lucky to have my computer with me and the hotel has Wi-Fi.  I make a few Skype calls to home and check my emails.  But the hours pass very slowly and I still feel too nervous to lie down.  About 2:00 AM, I make a trip to the bathroom and when I come out, I notice at the foot of the bed is a spider as big as a tarantula.  I can tell you this, I’ve never been so afraid in all my life.  I’m paralyzed with fear and don’t know what to do.  I sit in the chair with my feet up and keep my eye on this creature.  It eventually crawls back under the bed and after a while, it crawls out onto the floor.  It makes its way into the bathroom.  If you look at this photo, he is walking on a 4" tile.  It’s now about 3:00 AM I hear noises from across the hall…to my surprise they are still up playing cards.  I pound on the door and drag them to my room.  I show them this monster spider and they all start laughing.  Andy tells me it’s not poisonous, as if this makes me feel any better.  Andy’s dad heads to the bathroom and then I hear a thump, thump…he killed it.  I can barely speak.  They must have thought I was crazy to be so afraid but all I want to do is go back to the hotel in the city.
They all head back to their room and I’m still in shock over this experience.  I’m so exhausted but, of course, there’s not a change in Hell, I’m getting any sleep now.  I don’t know what else may be lurking under the bed.
Dawn finally comes and I feel a little better.  I get a shower and try to compose myself for the day.  The rest of the family is sound asleep, so I sit and wait for everyone to wake up.  About 10:00 AM I hear stirring across the hall and, at last, we’re ready to check out.  It’s been raining cats and dogs for hours so I joyfully assume we won’t be able to continue with our site seeing.  I just wanted to go back to my hotel.
Wrong again!  By the time Andy calls a taxi the weather clears up.  Our next stop is another mountain park, a mountain of flowers we’re told.  So another hour drive up a mountain side and we arrive at the entrance of another park.  The taxi driver agrees to drive us around the park thank God.  There would have been no way we could have walked.  We drive and drive around the side of the mountain and finally come to the flower gardens.  But there only a few flowers in bloom!  And besides that disappointment, the fog is so thick, we can barely see. 
We head back down the mountain now and the fog starts lifting.  At the base of the mountain, we stop at a a very scenic area along a riverbank.  Here, there are four wedding parties taking wedding photos.  It’s a beautiful place for photos and I really enjoyed this part of the park.  Seeing the different wedding outfits was very interesting as well.
So the day is over and our taxi heads back to the city with a carload of very tired passengers.  It’s about a 2 hours car ride and we haven’t eaten all day, so our first stop is dinner.  After an enjoyable meal, we say our good byes and I go to my room to pack for my trip back home the next day.  I am so glad to be back in my room, where I feel safe and free from any little “creatures” crawling around.
Heading Home
My trip home was a long one this time.  From the time I left the hotel, until I got to my home in Mentor, it took 35 hours.  Unfortunately, my regular flight was not available when I made the reservations so I had to take a different flight home which had a 7 hour layover in Vancouver.  But, I was so glad to be going home.
The trip was very productive and I was so glad I met the people from the new factory.  Even though they are exhausting, the time spent there is worth it.  My next trip is scheduled for September of this year.

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