My mind has been officially and completely blown. 

I spent two weeks in a country whose language I could not speak, read, or write.  The people there, in various degrees, were able to speak and read my language.  It was nice in a way to be able to tune out and not understand EVERY conversation going on around me or feel the need to read every sign.

I also found that much of our communication as human beings is universal.  Pointing and pantomiming go a long way; as do smiling, having patience, and simply making an effort to understand something before passing judgment.  I am grateful to all those I encountered in China who had patience with me and welcomed me to their country.

From a tourism perspective, guides in Beijing are very inexpensive it would seem.  I had a driver, guide, meals and attraction tickets included for 800 RMB (about $130) all day.  However, if this is appealing, I would recommend skipping the “tour of a silk factory”, “tour of a cloisonné factory”, “tea restaurant”, and the infamous “Nephew of the Last Emperor’s Calligraphy Studio” at the Forbidden City.  This is where the guide will steer you and where they get kickbacks from stuff that you buy.

Initially, it seems like there are great deals on things.  They won’t haggle, stating that “this is a government shop and the prices are fixed”.  Just walk away.  You can find the same stuff elsewhere, like the Qiamen district in Beijing or Nanjin Road in Shanghai and other areas around the Bund and Yuyuan Gardens.

Prior to spending time in Beijing, the most polluted air quality I had seen was in Milan.  I have heard Mexico City is also very bad.  I haven’t been there.  The locals in Beijing aren’t naïve.  They are all well aware of the pollution situation.  On one particular day, we couldn’t see the buildings just across the street, which was about 30 meters (about 100 feet).

They are also well aware of the population situation.  I hadn’t seen that magnitude of population density… ever.  I mean, sure, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Rome, etc. there are times during the day when the streets are crowded; the morning rush, lunch time, the evening rush, special events, holidays.  However in China, it is like perpetual rush hour.

On a Friday at actual rush hour, my friend and I were taking a cab back to my hotel from the training venue.  We spent about an hour traveling 1.25 miles.  We were stopped dead on 103 National Road (the Jingtong Expressway).  It was like being on the 5 or 95 freeways.  

After about 10-15 minutes of sitting there, watching others get out of their cars, chatting to one another, my friend said something to the driver, paid him, opened the door and said “Let’s go.”  The driver was pissed.  However, there at the side of the road I could see the Dawanglu subway station.  I had to laugh out loud as I wheeled my rollerboard full of training supplies down the freeway in between the parked cars… It was a scene right out of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.

We were back to my hotel in about 10 minutes.  I asked what the driver was on about and my friend said that he didn’t want to be stuck alone in traffic with no one to talk to.  (I suspect he was also mad he wasn’t getting paid to be there anymore either.)

In visiting the various attractions, I was amazed by the history, traditions, and balance between opulence and poverty, complexity and simplicity, self and community, and various other characteristics; some in harmony, others in sharp discord.

By far, the thing that amazed me the most was how inaccurate all of my preconceived notions of China were.  In America, we generally don’t pay much attention to anything that doesn’t directly involve ourselves or is not touted in the media.  Because I firmly believe that most media is sensationalistic, what we get is a caricature of China, not reality.  I am sure they get the same distorted view of the U.S. from their media.

Meanwhile, the good citizens of both countries are trying to eke out an existence however we can, caring for our families and other loved ones, making friends, celebrating life and reflecting on the condition of humanity.

I am not naïve either.  It is well known that the government is continually watching and monitoring the people (… in both countries.)  It is well known that corruption is rampant (…in both countries.)  There are the rules and then what people actually do to make things work (…in both countries.)  So, what’s different?

Quite a bit, and yet, not so much.  I continually found myself wondering what life in the US might be like with 1 Billion more people and a homogenous culture reaching back 2000-3000 years.  Probably even closer still to that of China.

One of the main reasons I was in China was for the Regional Scrum Gathering, which was a huge success.  Shining Hsiong, Bob Jiang, and all of the others who volunteered did a PHENOMENAL job!!  I know first hand how difficult it is to organize a Scrum Gathering, and they didn’t have a great events firm like Elastic to rely on for logistics.  Kudos to the whole team and speakers!!

China is ready to move forward with Agility.  

It has already been happening.  It will take time.  There will be some resistance.  Old traditions in business will be difficult to change.  Centuries of focus on theory x and Taylor model management are not abandoned easily.  Elaborately hierarchical organizations do not become flat over night. 

But which country am I really speaking of now???  These things could easily be said about ALL countries and organizations around the world when first considering Agile adoption.  Looking at how the society functions in China, from my limited exposure, it seems right on the edge of chaos; doing only what’s necessary, deciding at the last responsible moment, following the rules as a set of guidelines not absolutes, etc.

There are establishments emerging which are uber-focused on customer service and delight, like the renown Haidilao restaurant where the servers are able to exercise complete control over delivering the best experience possible.  

The CSM classes I taught received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  I was surprised.  I thought that the fact that they were primarily in English would have sealed my fate.  The attendees were excited about Scrum, Agile values and principles, and eager to hear more.  It would have been great to have more time for discussion and more examples but that’s the case with every class.  We made the most of the time we had.

Overall, I must say 谢谢! (THANK YOU!) to everyone whom I met and came in contact with during the 2.5 weeks while I was in China: the random people I encountered while exploring the sights, the Gathering attendees and organizers, the attendees in my classes, and everyone else whom I might have missed mentioning.  I was amazed at how friendly and hospitable everyone was.  It gave me hope for the world of work and the world in general.  I felt very welcome and well-cared for.  What’s more, I felt safe.  I wish I could say the same for walking around alone in downtown Detroit or L.A. or NYC or even Philly.  

I have made some great friends during my stay and I hope we can keep in touch.  I look forward to the next opportunity I have to visit and the adventures that await…