July 8 by Tatsuya Hidano

After a comfortable 30-minute bullet train ride from Beijing to Tianjin, Mr. Kevin Chen, Section Chief of Aviation Industry Development Center (AIDC), and Bombardier Facilities Development director Mr. Joel Davis greeted us there.

Quickly headed to lunch from there, our exchange of casual greetings turned into another conversation about businesses and its operations in Tianjin. Most of them quite technical to the details, I thought, slightly indifferent here and there, and more interested in the dishes lining up around the center on a Chinese turn table in front of us, I just kept filling up my mouth.

Then when asked about what he thinks is important and crucial to remember in doing international businesses, Mr. Davis shared one word with us over the meal: flexibility.

According to Merriam-Webster, being “flexible” means: capable of bending or being bent; easily changed; able to change or to do different things; willing to change or to try different things.

Seeing all the yet-evolving metropolitan landscape in Beijing and visiting parts of the country’s engine for all things business that are driving behind it, Government, we sense such an aspect within its climate as Friends University Graduate School Dean Dr. David Hofmeister’s comment: “In China, everything is possible but nothing is easy.”

Rigid Governmental influences and censorship everywhere were among many things with rather negative connotations I had in mind, before what has turned out to be a series of practical, if not necessarily positive to many of those outside the country, efforts it encourages its people to be part of, quite the opposite of what I had in mind for the business environment in China.

That day, our visit to the Airbus Final Assembly line in Tianjin and Tianjin Airport Economic Area finished up with a presentation by Mr. Chen about the city and its business effort in the aviation industry.

Just as we were exchanging some casual thank-yous and goodbyes and exiting the building, Mr. Chen fast approached me and said, “You look Japanese.”

A bit surprised, totally aware of this never ending political tension between China and Japan, and ready to apologize, which I as a native Japanese often would do, I said, “Yes, I’m from Japan.”

“Can we talk in Japanese?” asked Mr. Chen, slightly lit up.

“Of course,” I replied in Japanese.

It was a brief, casual and rather rushed conversation, while Mr. Wen glanced at his wrist watch constantly. But now smiling cheek to cheek Mr. Chen said he was happy he got to speak in Japanese, his second language since high school.

It turned out we were the same age.

Before our group boarded our bus back to the train station, I asked out of curiosity.

“… so why Japanese?”

“Well you remember when we – Mr. Chen and I in this case – were graduating from college in late 90s, it was the Japanese language you needed to learn if you wanted a job in Asia?” answered Mr. Chen shrugging.

Probably more than 99 percent of our conversations with Mr. Chen, group and individual, was in English. He answered all the technical and complex business-oriented questions in English, his third language. It was a typical broken Chinese English, but clearly showcased the vast knowledge he has in what he does now in this third language, which he had to learn on his job and now speaks out of necessity.

I bowed to him when he said in Japanese, “Hey, email me when you get a chance, and stay in touch.”

I boarded the bus in awe to his flexibility.

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Tat Hidano