(Author’s Note: I wrote pieces here and here about my first exposure to China.)

Shanghai Pudong Int’l Airport; Feb. 12, 2017

View from Shanghai Tower

2,000′ above the Huang Pu River, Shanghai, Pudong, looking east and north, just past where the river turns east and eventually meanders up into the mouth of the Yangtze River, just before it meets the Yellow Sea.

I packed 2  of the bags that I used to travel to Afghanistan to the absolute weight limits, plus carry-ons; and I knew I was still going to have to spend money to buy things. I was slated to be in mainland China (People’s Republic of) for almost all of the next three months, with a brief foray into Hong Kong in April to “reset the clock” on my 60 day business visa. That’s an eternity away though, because I’ve just landed and didn’t get an overseas sim card or activate my out of country cell plan before I got on the plane. And so now I’m trying to figure out how to get through customs and immigration and the sea of humanity at Shanghai Pudong, as well as meet my ride, the guy who I’m going to be working with here in China. Our mission? Set up a U.S. corporate subsidiary for CF, Inc. in the people’s Republic of China. No “local Chinese partner” or part ownership – this will be the subsidiary of another entity, but all ultimately owned by a U.S. company. Which is to say that my colleague and I will be going up against a civilization whose bureaucracy was so vast and complex it gave rise to the slang “mandarin,” rivaled in etymology by perhaps only the Ottoman Empire’s “byzantine” functionaries (red meat for comments). But at that moment I couldn’t even get a signal on my cell phone and he had emailed me instructions for contacting him. Fortunately, being as unmistakably caucasian as I am in the sea of Chinese people made me easy to identify by my colleague.

In no time at all we were navigating the parking garage, loading my bags, and driving west away from Shanghai, the teeming lights and energy of 40 million (or so) people slowly giving way to more exurban areas that led into smaller cities as we sped west along China’s toll road. My companion was amiable, thankfully, and with a strong command of English. One of his ancillary duties was translating a whole trove of foundational CrossFit documents into Mandarin, including the training guides for both Level I and Level II courses. He spoke English with a measured cadence, as if he were translating from Mandarin and measuring each word, like a baker, to ensure the proper content of the underlying idea. I had experience with interpreters and found easy common ground with them everywhere I’d ever traveled; we shared a love of languages.

I spent my first 5 days in China at the Dragon Hotel in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, an absolute gem of a city. It’s famous for being the home of global tech giant Ali Baba, as well its world heritage/historical site at West Lake, an ancient and venerated lake internal to the city. It sits between Shanghai and Ningbo and has enjoyed a place of prominence in China’s history because of its proximity to Shanghai and its ports, as well as being the head/terminus of the Grand Canal, the world’s longest canal (at just over 1100 miles), that connects southern ports all the way to the northern capital of Beijing. (Try to imagine the building of an artificial river from roughly New Orleans to Minneapolis… with ca. 621 AD technology… and labor).
Describing the city now makes me miss it. I acquired my fondness for it from my companion, who loved his city and was infectious about its many wonders. We saw a helluva lot of it over my 20+ months there. I didn’t learn until more than a year later that the area had been at the center of Buddhism’s spread from India into China since the 6th century AD (IIRC).
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Date: Feb. 17, 2017, 9:45 AM
From: Ozy
Bcc: Friends and Family List
Subj: First of Ozy’s China Dispatches
…and truly, the language is daunting. It doesn’t have an alphabet and makes Arabic seem almost pedestrian by comparison. Arabic (at least) has an alphabet and it only took me a few weeks to be able to read and pronounce every sound it has to offer. The challenge in Arabic is that it uses glottal stops and that’s just a physical exercise in getting your throat and tongue to learn how to properly make the correct noises. Mandarin, on the other hand, has (they say) 4 tones… but of course they’re lying because there’s also a neutral tone… in addition to high-pitched flat, rising, falling then rising, and falling. And then there’s the issue of my crappy handwriting…in English! And I need to learn how to write Chinese characters, which is essentially a calligraphy course in and of itself. There are conventions on stroke order and location, etc. And I’ll just say that I don’t know if handwriting is inherited, but my bears an uncanny resemblance to someone else’s scrawl who’s just up the family tree a bit… <cough>it’snotmom;it’sdad<cough>
The good news is that I have set up a DropBox folder with pictures in it and you will all shortly get an invite to that folder where I will drop some pictures of my adventures here in China. And here’s a teaser – I’m in Beijing now and visiting The Great Wall on Tuesday and The Forbidden City and Tianamen Square on Wednesday. I’ll try to drop some pics on Instagram now and again, but social media is actually blocked here by law: no Facebook, no google services at all (meaning no Gmail and no Youtube), no Twitter, and no Instagram. It’s never enforced……..unless you start running your mouth about the government. That could get you arrested in the middle of the night. No joke.
Now, don’t get all worried. I’m not here for politics and I feel freer than I do in the United States, which is a great place to start the substance of……
<cue the Star Wars Theme music, please!>
I arrived in China last Sunday afternoon and was picked up by a young man – 35 – named Liang Kong. I mention his name because if you should ever hear from him, things have either gone horribly awry, or he may need something. While I have only known him for a few months (I first met him on my last trip here in early December), we have developed a fast friendship, not unlike some of the ones with some of you very people on this email. Liang was a Chinese National Police officer for 10 years, 2 years of which were as a “public security officer” – basically like a state trooper on a 40km stretch of road. He saw 17 fatalities, I think he told me. (I will return to this subject in more detail below). He managed to take a test and move into immigration – handling visas and passport issues, largely – until he found CF. He left his job in the National Police Force, a rather secure and respectable job, but which was sucking his soul out of him… to the weeping and disappointment of his parents…. in order to open a CF Affiliate in his hometown. This was no small thing he did – he took a HUGE ASS leap of Faith  after he became a trainer – and then opened a gym. He also applied and was accepted to our Seminar Staff and he travels each week around China and teaches 30-40 people who are attending our courses here. We do one each weekend, sometimes two.
The people are peaceful, almost docile, one might say. It’s very much a part of the culture. They have a Taoist saying that sounds very close to Christ’s “if a man strikes you, turn the other cheek.” Unlike most Christians in America, however, the Chinese have genuinely embraced it.
Notwithstanding that, holy shit they cannot drive. Some of you have already heard this, but I truly can’t get over how bad they drive. Nothing in the States comes close. Not the worst NY/LA/Boston/Atlanta traffic, or even RI’s infamously bad rotaries and “fake-left-blinker-go-right” moves compare. They kill 200,000 people annually here in car accidents – and a big chunk of those are pedestrians, including an estimated 5,000-10,000 children. These people cannot drive for shit. (I know, I know, it’s like a terrible racial stereotype, but I don’t know what else to say! They suck, and…well… it’s pretty much the lot of them).
The scooters are the worst, however, and it’s not simply because of their complete disregard for their own or anyone else’s safety – it’s because they’re all electric and you can’t hear them coming. There’s no motor noise. They just… materialize instantly next to you at night, like someone beamed them down in live motion from the Starship Enterprise’s transporter room. I nearly jumped out of my clothes when one hit a bump about a foot and a half behind me while I was on the sidewalk. I hadn’t heard a thing. I wasn’t close to being hit or anything, but I was close to crapping my pants. And the old woman on the thing blew by like she was in turn 3 at Talladega.
All of the traffic rules are essentially suggestions and everyone is also on their cell phone – even while riding said scooters!
Notwithstanding all of this, I’m having the time of my life!! There are over 100 people or so like Liang, who have become Affiliates here in the last three years and they are filling up the seminars every weekend… And if history with the prior 14K gyms we have around the world is any indication… well, it should be a busy year.
Which brings me to the near end of this first installment. I have little to report except that most of my stuff is in my apartment in Hangzhou – rented under Liang’s name – and our mission will take us the length and breadth of China. We have Affiliates spread all over the country, including in some of the most remote regions of China. I was speaking with Liang on the 4 hour train ride up from Hangzhou – a joyously comfortable glide along the high-speed rails at 300km/hr (185 mph) – about this mission and we couldn’t come up with anyone in human history who has likely had this opportunity. Marco Polo didn’t have the benefit of modern rail, plane, etc. – nor a wonderfully generous boss and corporate infrastructure that is paying the freight – that I do, and it may well be we’re doing something unique and historic. I’m not sure it matters, but I am certainly going to do what I can to spread the word and to support these folks.
They are entrepreneurs in a communist country (!!). In some cases, they are wonderful souls like Liang, who have taken a chance on a company that I’ve been a part of for 9 years now, from when there were only a few hundred gyms in the states and one or two other countries, to where it is now. They’ve taken a huge chance and I’m here to let them know we care and we’re committed to protecting their investment in our name. In short, I’m here to earn their trust and show them our commitment by being here, not simply talk about our commitment from the other side of the globe.
Cheers from the Edge of the Empire,
The perfect way to speed through traffic!

What could possibly go wrong while transporting propane gas w/ complete disregard for signs, rules of the road, and human life?