24.11.08

China Outsourcing - Days One and Two

6829 miles to destination.  That picture, taken off the in-flight TV on the tarmac at Idlewild, pretty much sums up Day One of my trip to this summit.

Six.  Thousand.  Eight.  Hundred.  Twenty.  Nine.  (Expletive deleted).  Miles.

And that's just one of the three legs of my trip.  It's the long flight, the one that goes over the North pole into Asia, but still only one of three.  This is an inescapable fact of China Inc., and of choosing China as your sourcing destination.  It is, quite literally, on the other side of the planet.  In a way that makes India seem close by comparison.
  
This long flight, coupled with the fact that I flew West across the international date line means that Day Two is also summed up with the same 4-digit number.  6829 miles to destination.

This might be a good time to bring up jet lag, but of all that has been written on the topic, there seem to be no truths, no stratagems, no approaches that actually do anything to help me.  So we won't speak of it, except to say that every trip I've ever done more than 6 hours off my home time zone has passed in a haze of sleep deprivation and vertigo.  Flying to China of necessity puts Americans, and to a lesser extent Europeans, well off their circadian rhythms. 

Instead, I'll dwell on the brutal and simple duration of this travel.  It seldom gets scrutinized as one of the hidden costs of outsourcing, but if you plan on setting up shop in China, you can also plan on spending about three to four percent of your effective work year on airplanes.  Two days going, and one day coming back, for each trip.  It's not an argument against sourcing in China, or against outsourcing in general, but it is something that should get real scrutiny when planning the financials of an outsourcing deal.

I was lucky enough in this trip to fly business-class, on China Air.  CA's business-class seats are not the best in the world.  The particular 747 that flies the Beijing / JFK route is old and tired, and the seats are not quite up to the "modern" standard set by BA and Virgin Atlantic.  But even old business-class seats that don't let you lay down flat are better than coach seats.

I've written about this before, a few years ago, but this might be a good time to reiterate my opinions about business-class travel.

That flight leg from JFK to Beijing took about 14 hours in the air. Make that 15 hours if you count all the runway time.  Try to sit in a coach seat for 15 hours.  I just dare you.  If you're over 30, it's a guaranteed trip to the chiropractor.  There's a reason "Business Traveler" magazine exists, and why it devotes most of its editorial content to reports about which airline has the best lie-flat seats. At 15 hours, this is a flight that could kill you.  The slow painful way, via deep vein thrombosis.  

Business-class, in addition to the free drinks, allows you to get up and move around, to shift seating postures, and to really try to rest.  It would be a pretty tough travel policy that didn't allow upgrades to business on legs over about 8 hours.  But it isn't cheap.  The summit paid for my travel (the fare for which was no doubt heavily subsidized by Air China, since more outsourcing in China will mean more people on that JFK-PEK flight...), but when I priced out a similar itinerary for reference just now, it comes to around $10,000 US, any way you fly it. Do that three times a year and you've suddenly added a significant amount of travel budget to your sourcing program.  

This is obvious, but a lot of people forget to budget for this when they start their outsourcing search.  To make outsourcing work, you have to travel, and the travel is both expensive and time consuming.

On that note, I'll briefly describe the play-by-play of my trip.  

I started my day at 07:30, well, 05:30 to be honest, when the alarm went off.  

I was nervous about this trip in a way I haven't been in a long time.  I've been to Asia a dozen times by now, but never China.  I talked with my wife about what was making me nervous.  It came down to, well, China.  People's Republic of.  

Suffice to say their reputation precedes them.  I already decided not to try to post any blog entries while I was there.  I already decided not to write a script to do NSLookups of all the domain names in the world to see what hostnames resolved as in China.  I just didn't want to invite any scrutiny that could result in my laptop being confiscated or searched, or me being detained for questioning. In planning for this trip, I was reminded of the apocryphal Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times, and come to the attention of those in authority. I guess my guiding principle on this trip was that I didn't wish to come to the attention of those in authority.

The first leg of travel was uneventful, and the only issue with the transfer to the last leg was an apparent incompatibility in the ticketing mechanics between China Air's JFK desk, and their Beijing hub.  But after 25 hours in airplanes and airports, I was in the air over mainland China, on my way to Chengdu.    Oh, and in what I suspect is a common mistake, my ticket was entered under the name Mr. Hickman Thomas.  In China, the family name comes first, the given name last.  So, I think it's a common mistake for Chinese travel agents to make.  The only airport that had a problem with this was Boston's Logan.

The staff of China Air, and through all the airports I traveled have nearly perfect English language skills.  My car ride from the Chengdu airport to the Shangri-la hotel was an uneventful 20 minutes in a VW Passat.  The only impression I had of China that first night in-country was that the cars weren't interesting (mostly European and American brands), and that I'd never be able to drive there myself unless I learned some Mandarin (the signs have only cursory English language translations).  Aside from that, Chengdu, with its wide streets and multi-lane highways, could be any European capital.  It's that big, it's that clean, it's that nice.

Bentley dealership, Jinjiang Dong Road, Chengdu

My day ended at about midnight local time with a seamless check-in at the Shangri-la, in a nice non-smoking room and a comfortable bed, in which I failed entirely to sleep for the next 7 hours.

27.5 arduous but uneventful hours door to door.  And I am, for the first but probably not the last time, in China.

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