The Grouch was searching through his massive archives of writing the other day and discovered one of his earliest writings, before a time when he had discovered the third person, about attending Chinese computer exhibitions.

However, The Grouch was also somewhat heartbroken to realize that six and a half years later, almost nothing has changed about what he wrote then. So, for those of you who failed to learn from history, He presents a look back–which may also end up being a look forward.

10 Rules To Attending A Chinese Computer Exhibition

By Steven Schwankert

September 25, 1998

China loves exhibitions. It gives the masses a chance to see what is, and perhaps more importantly, what may be. Although the bi-annual China International Auto Show in Beijing held in July was completely overshadowed by President Clinton's visit, it nevertheless drew tens of thousands of visitors, who are also attracted by tall Chinese women sprawled across motor vehicles. It also gave China a chance to bring in more visitors and continue hyping its

potential as a market, even though the likelihood of thousands of people suddenly becoming rich enough to import cars next year seems quite small. A general rule of thumb is to expect more show than substance.

In some ways, the same is true of computer exhibitions in China. The PC World exposition in Beijing held in early September was no exception. Spread across three halls and four days, the show was designed to promote China's computer hardware industry and market. It was also held in conjunction with a networking exhibition for the hardcore LAN people.

Having done this before, I strolled in, covered all three halls, and was out of the exhibition 60 minutes later. But how, you may ask, is it possible to be so efficient (or nonchalant) at an event with so many exhibitors, products, and people? It's simple. If I can do it, you can too. And now, here are 10 rules to attending a computer exhibition in China.

The rules:

1. Avoid the opening ceremony like the plague.

Unless your company is sponsoring the exhibition, find out what time the opening ceremony is and show up promptly 30 minutes after that. Unless speeches about mutual cooperation, understanding, and growing together excite you, the opening ceremony is no more than a fluff opening shot for local television stations. The opening ceremony is also like a starting gun; as soon as it's over, the gathered proletariat will rush to the doors to get inside the exhibition halls. Because unlike trade shows in other countries, goodies are limited and go quickly (see rule #4).

2. Expect the name to have little to do with who's exhibiting.

PC World 98 focused as much on networking equipment as it did on PCs and PC manufacturers. Many stand-alone exhibitions have merged with other events that have more of a marquee name than Local Area Cables & Switchers 98. Basically, it's a computer exhibition. But other than guaranteeing that there will be some computer stuff, nothing else is certain.

3. For the exhibitors: lose the models.

Hot cars and sexy babes may go well together. But the only models I want to see at a computer show are those just out of the beta lab. If I want to mix technology and sex, I'll surf the Net for porn on my own time and in the privacy of my own home.

4. Go early.

Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese tech companies don't give away a lot of freebies during exhibitions (unlike Apple, which estimated that it gave away over US$1 million worth of T-shirts in the early Macintosh days). So if you want the freebies and that includes brochures, key chains, and whatever the exhibitors are offering, go on the show's first day, just after the opening ceremony.

5. Don't go during lunch hour.

Lunch is like a daily national holiday in China. One would think that eating overcooked mystery meat out of a polystyrene box is a spiritual experience from the way it is anticipated and discussed. Lunch hour, unfortunately, leaves exhibition booths unmanned by guys who are more interested in stuffing rice into their mouth than explaining the product or promoting the company. Besides, shouldn't you be off having your own lunch as well?

The next five rules:

6. Avoid any booth with a big screen TV, a video game, or stereo speakers.

Before I walked into PC World 98, I said to myself, "No visiting booths showing Titanic, Michael Jackson, or Independence Day." These are cheap ways of getting Chinese consumers to visit a booth and it doesn't always mean that the vendor has a good product to show. Manufacturers who do this are usually not interested in building or selling a quality product. They're just trying to attract people with an electronic dog-and-pony show.

7. Hand your name cards out like confetti.

Before going to any trade show in China, make sure you have plenty of business cards in both Chinese and English. Then, hand them to every exhibitor whose booth you stopped by. If you're from a small firm, this method helps advertise the name. And it also gets you more freebies. If you're lucky, you may even get some email or snail mail on product information in the future. Besides, in China, without name cards, you don't have an identity. So don't leave home without them.

8. Follow the soldiers.

The average People's Liberation Army (PLA) engineer doesn't get leave on Tuesday mornings. And they aren't here to check out the latest games either. They're here to assist with upgrading the PLA's technology, so soldiers are looking for the best of what's around. They'll cut through the models and the Michael Jacksons. To see what's new in the industry, join the rank and file.

9. Watch the surfers.

Internet connections are becoming more prevalent with exhibitors, especially with telcos such as China Telecom who are pushing their online services. Stop, shut up, and watch the people using them. This is the place to find out which Web sites young, connected Chinese are really using because their connection at home is either too slow or too expensive. All the URLs will be in roman characters anyway, so take a notepad, jot them down, set your browser encoding for Simplified Chinese and go where they go.

10. Set a time limit.

I gave myself 90 minutes, and was out in 60 flat. I still emerged with two bags of freebies and brochures, including four new Chinese Internet magazines that have good content. If you spend your whole day there, you will get bored and tired. Focus is the key here.

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