CLO User 134's blog

Business Meetings

Business Meetings

Arranging and having meetings with Chinese counterparts can be a different process than you might see out West. The process is smoother if you already have a relationship with the people beforehand. If they aren't familiar with you or your company, it is best to provide as much background information as possible. This allows them to decide whether to have the meeting as well as who should take part. This is important, since it means the proper decision makers can attend. Unlike Western meetings, it is in your interest to bring up the subject of the meeting and all issues to be discussed beforehand, so that no surprises are brought up during the meeting. Once again, this allows the other party to prepare their own views in advance of the meeting itself. Not following this protocol may result in your proposals being received with silence, as time would then be needed to consider them in private.

You may find that Chinese meetings are often scheduled at the last minute. Even where a meeting is proposed by either side well in advance of a particular date, the details are still not usually confirmed until just before the meeting. This is done to avoid last minute changes or cancellations.

Once the meeting begins, it is best to arrive on time - not too early and certainly not too late. If you do end up late, be sure to apologize profusely to avoid the impression that there was any intent in your tardiness. When entering a meeting room, it is common for Chinese delegates to follow a rank order with the highest ranking official entering first (especially for meetings involving government officials). Since one on one meetings are usually rare, there may be an entourage of participants. Assume that those not introduced are not part of the decision process, but just present as witnesses or assistants.

Like in Western meetings, it is wise to engage in some small talk in the beginning to build up trust, especially when the parties don't know each other well. The Chinese prefer to do business with those they know, so it is worthwhile to cultivate this aspect first. You may notice that a few key individuals have been assigned to participate in the meeting, while the rest usually remain silent for the majority of the meeting. After the initial small talk, the host of the meeting will usually welcome the invitees and either present the topic at hand or invite the proposer of the meeting to do so.

The Chinese usually prefer to be on the defensive or receiving side of matters. This allows them to combine their preparation of the meeting beforehand, with time to react to the proposals brought forward by the other party. During the meeting, it is common for Chinese to use grunts or nods as signs of acknowledgment of what is being said during the meeting. Don't mistake this for acceptance, as it is just a tacid acknowledgment and doesn't necessarily suggest agreement. Unlike normal conversations, the dialogs in meetings tend to be more structured with each side taking turns. As a result, it is common to let the other party do the talking without interrupting until it is your turn, at which point you can go through their points one by one. During this portion, expect them to take detailed notes that may be referred to on later dates or shared with other parties who may have not attended the meeting. Like in all interactions with Chinese people, it is of crucial importance never to put them on the spot or allow them to lose face.

Towards the end of the meeting, it is best to summarize your understanding of the situation to make sure both parties are clear where things stand. At this point, you can set up a future meeting. The Chinese party's response here, will let you gauge their interest in continuing things.

Note: For more detailed descriptions of the points in this article, read "Chinese Business Etiquette" by Scott D. Seligman.

Differences Between Chinese and Western Thinking

Differences Between Chinese and Western Thinking

When it comes to etiquette and ways of doing things, there are some key differences between how the Chinese operate versus how Westerners do so. In the latter world, being polite makes you stand out from the crowd. In the Chinese world, politeness is part of a basic set of principles that has to be followed by all. Any deviation from these principles makes you stand out in a negative way. You can see this when you are offered a choice of drink before a meeting or when visiting someone's house. Even if you politely decline, you will still be offered tea as the default. As the guest, you are allowed to sit through the entire visit without even touching the cup, since the host was just doing his duty by offering it to you, despite your personal preference to decline.

During group meetings, a Westerner is more likely to bring up arguments or disagree with the topic at hand. Chinese values would require the person to keep his opinions to himself in such an environments. Any disagreements he may have with a speaker could be brought up later in a more private forum, giving the speaker face in the process. Understanding this nature within Chinese people is important, since it is easy to otherwise assume that their silence indicates agreement. In some cases, a third party may be used to convey negative news from one side to another, in order to avoid confrontations.

This same situation can also be observed in personal relationships between a Westerner and a Chinese, where the latter's silence on matters and propensity to not confront, could erroneously suggest to the former that all is well in the relationship, when that might not be the case. (Personal note: I have experienced this first hand, when a former girlfriend broke up with me out of the blue, when I thought all was well. When I asked for more details, she came up with a list of issues that she had never mentioned during the relationship, all out of a desire to not induce confrontation). Not being up front with your opinions and ideas might be considered rude in Western culture, whereas in Chinese culture it is considered polite, since by doing so they are allowing you to save face.

Another big difference in thinking between Chinese and Western societies is the difference between "friends" and "strangers." Assistance between Chinese parties is only given to those in the "inner circle" which is why the concept of guanxi is so important. This is also why it is so important to keep making contacts in order to enter the circles of others. The flip side of this, is that help is rarely given to strangers or people without any relationship. You rarely see beggars on the streets in Chinese communities, and those you do see are usually seen approaching foreigners, whome they are more likely to get assistance from. It is also common for people to not stop and help others during vehicle accidents, so as not to get involved with people they don't know.

Where a Chinese person does assist one of his friends (whether directly or indirectly), this assistance is noted by both sides. An equivalent payback of some sorts is then expected in the future. During weddings and occasions where red envelopes are exchanged, the amounts of money given and the donors are duly noted since the same amount would be expected to be paid back at future events. Chinese New Year (which is coming up soon) is useful for clearing "debts" among friends in this manner.

The conclusion from all of this, when comparing Chinese versus their Western counterparts, is that the former are more likely to go out of their way to help friends and people in their circle of influence, whereas the latter are more likely to go out and help strangers. Understanding this culture is very valuable in determining where assistance should be given to others, as well as what is expected of you if you receive it. When rejecting others' offers or requests of help, it is best to do so with a polite excuse rather than a flat out refusal, in order to maintain the dignity of the relationship.

Learning Chinese through Setting Goals

Navigating the long road ahead

When I first came to Taiwan, I assumed I would pick up Chinese without much effort. After all, I was constantly exposed to it everywhere I went, so even if I didn't want to, I would automatically learn, right? A year later, feeling like I hadn't learned much, I realized that things didn't quite work this way. I actually had to put in effort to learn the language. To make things easier on myself, I decided to focus on listening and speaking only. Learning to read and write characters just seemed like too much for me.

Three years later, while I don't consider myself fluent by any means, I have learned a lot about the learning process, especially through creating the CLO course and communicating with listeners. Through this process, I have tried to create the tools that would have helped me the most, were I to start learning again from the start. Like anything else you want to accomplish in life, it can be highly beneficial to set goals for yourself when you have a long, arduous task in front of you. When you begin, it may look like a long road ahead from the start to the day you consider yourself fluent. However, with some due diligence you can find that the goal isn't as far off as you think.

Many people "want" to learn Chinese, but give up early when they realize how many characters they would have to learn to be literate. Constantly being bombarded with new vocabulary, while easily forgetting old words can also make it easy to give up. What I have found is that having a system of learning greatly reduces the complexity of this process. This system can be broken down into 4 steps.

  1. Determine where you are
  2. Determine where you want to be
  3. Set a time frame to reach your goals
  4. Allocate the time necessary to reach your goals

So for example, if your goal is to be able to write characters, set a goal of how many characters you want to know. Looking at our course, you need to know about 500 characters to get through level 1 and level 2. A moderate pace would take you a year to finish two levels (you can adjust this pace for yourself). This means you would need to learn 1.36 characters a day to achieve your goal. All of a sudden that doesn't sound so hard, does it?

Learning to write characters usually involves writing it over and over again. You can practice using the worksheets we've created for you here along with our new character introductions. For me personally, I have a habit of writing 50 characters (half the worksheet) each day. This is a combination of new characters and reviewing old characters.

It is important to note that this process is MUCH harder up front. Of those 500 characters, over a hundred are introduced in the first ten lessons. This means a lot of time will be spent up front where it seems like you aren't making progress. However, once you've made it past those ten lessons, all of a sudden things become much easier. New characters will be easier to learn since they will mostly be based on characters or elements you already know. Plus you will find yourself spending less time on stroke order since it will now be more natural to you. A similar process can be used for learning new words with the new memorization mode on our flashcard program. Choose a range of lessons and learn the vocabulary associated with them by logging in once a day.

By dividing up the chore of learning into daily, manageable steps, you will find the process much easier, as you will actually be learning something new each day. The above steps add about 30 minutes to my daily routine, but the results have been much better than the haphazard, plan-less program I was using previously. The way I look at it, another year will pass whether I put in daily effort or not. This way though, I know exactly where I will be a year from now, rather than just hoping I have improved.

Individual Versus Group

Individual versus Group

One big difference between Chinese society and Western society is the concept of individualism. While out West, we are encouraged to be our own person, and develop our own ways of thinking, this concept isn't as pronounced in Chinese culture, which lean towards Confucian principles. Testing in schools is usually based around exams with only a single, right answer for each question. How students fare in these tests tends to dictate what classroom they might be placed in, what level of school they can attend and possibly what jobs might be available for them when they graduate. As a result, parents tend to encourage their children to excel in subjects that require more linear thinking, as opposed to ones that require creativity.

Interactions between people is often governed by the relationship that defines them. An interaction between a boss and his employee would follow defined principles, as would one between a father and son, husband and wife or two friends. Status is accorded to elders or those with authority. One can build up their status through loyalty and giving face where appropriate. While Western culture might reward qualities such as creativity, innovation and aggression, Chinese society instead promotes modesty, loyalty and conciliation.

The lack of individualism can also be found in the tendency for Chinese people to keep their expressions to themselves and not be emotional in public situations. This is a trait that is taught from when children are young, which is why they often find novelty in the expressive nature of foreigners. People are encouraged to keep their opinions and expressions to themselves and not be too overt. When matters are being discussed in meetings, decisions are usually made by consensus, which have to followed afterwards, regardless of whether personal beliefs differ.

Individuals in China are also used to managing with much less personal space. Much of this is a direct result of living in highly populated areas, as well as in a tropical climate. Doors tend to be left open, even during classes or important meetings. When standing in line, you are expected to lean right up to the person in front of you to maintain your position. When parking a vehicle, a much smaller gap is left between vehicles than you might see out West. As it is common for multiple generations of family members to live together, there is also much more closeness and interest in each others' affairs. Neighbors tend to be a lot more "nosier" so expect a keen interest from others on where you happen to be going and coming from each day. Some of this lack of privacy is a direct result of strict government controls in mainland China. Everyone from security personnel and service attendants to the general public is taught to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and report it to the relevant authorities.

While Chinese society is certainly a lot more open in present day than it was in the past, a lot of these characteristics have ingrained themselves as part of culture. The increase in the numbers of foreign companies now operating in China has created more exposure among local Chinese to foreign methods and ways of thinking. However, those wanting to better integrate themselves into Chinese society can do well by understanding the roots and appreciating the values that govern people today.

Addressing People

Addressing People

While we've talked about names in Chinese before, it is important to know how to address people using the proper titles. While Westerners can generally be forgiving for not knowing the local customs, those that are able to follow the proper conventions correctly can receive a big edge when developing relationships.

Unlike English, the Chinese equivalents to "Mr" and "Mrs" - xiānshēng and tàitai follow the person's last name. These two terms can also be used to refer to one's husband and wife respectively. In Southern parts of China and Taiwan, these terms can also be used to address service people such as waiters, clerks and taxi drivers. In Northern parts of China, the term shīfu meaning "specialist" is used instead.

Where possible, it is advisable to find the person's position and use it instead. Addressing someone as Wáng lǎoshī for "Teacher Wang" or Lǐ jīnglǐ for "Manager Li" shows them a lot more respect than a standard "Mr" or "Mrs." It is also common practice to refer to someone with a definite position in the third person, using just their title and nothing else. If you're shopping for goods, and are hoping for a good deal from the shop owner, referring to him as lǎobǎn for "boss" may gain you some favors.

Family relationship titles can be quite complicated. Traditionally, it was common for several generations of family members to live together, which meant it was important to accurately address each other. Family members are addressed differently based on whether they are older or younger than you, as well as whether the relationship is a paternal or maternal one. Close friends can also address each other as if they were in the same family. So a friend might refer to another friend as his older brother. This can also extend to a close friend's family - where you address his relatives as if they were your own. This is similar to Western culture where a couple might affectionately be called Auntie and Uncle by younger generations.

Nicknames are also quite popular in Chinese culture. Two brothers surnamed Chén might be identified among friends as Lǎo Chén and Xiǎo Chén to indicate "younger Chen" and "older Chen" respectively. While in Western culture, it may be considered rude to directly refer to someone as old, in Chinese culture it is considered a sign of respect and refers more to the person's wisdom and maturity than to their specific age.

While these rules about relationships may seem confusing on the outside, the best way to prepare yourself from uneasy situations is to observe others in action, and see what terms they use to address each other. To ensure that you use the right titles, it is also advisable to ask the opinions of others to make sure that you use the appropriate term.

Initial Chinese Interactions

Making Chinese Friends

One of the reasons many Westerners come to Asia, is their inherent curiosity in seeing Chinese people living and working in their native environment. Thankfully, this curiosity is also reciprocated with Chinese people being quite enthusiastic and friendly towards foreigners in general. The interest from locals is easily recognized by the stares you may get for being "foreign." The farther away from big cities you go, the more attention you tend to get for being foreign.

Unless you happen to run into an outgoing type, the extent of your contact with most locals might be limited to stares. Knowing that there will be a communication gap is enough to keep most people from approaching you, so if you are interested in starting a conversation, being able to blurt out a few words in Chinese is very useful to break the ice and initiate contact.

Those of you who can speak some Chinese, may at times be disheartened to hear people reply to you in English, even when you address them in Chinese. While your initial reaction might be to construe this as a sign that your Chinese isn't good enough, realize that just as you are using every opportunity you can find to practice what Chinese you know, they are using the same opportunity to practice their English. In general though, unless the situation is quite casual, it is best to stick to the language that allows the conversation to flow the smoothest.

If you do happen to enter a tough crowd, it is helpful to cite some common ground or a common acquaintance to elevate you from "stranger" status. Handshakes are accepted forms of greeting. You may also notice a slight bow of the head when greeting others. Where possible, try and carry business cards with you. When handing out a business card, use both hands to grasp the corners of the card and hand it so that the face can be read as it is being received. Depending on the nature of your business, it may be wise to have a bilingual version of your business card with the Chinese version on one side and the English version on the other.

During the initial small talk, apart from the obligatory "where do you come from?" you are likely to get questions regarding your experiences and impressions of China. This is because most locals within China tend to know very little about the world outside their borders (a phenomenon common in most countries), so their questioning tends to look for common ground with you, which is usually based within China. Because of this, their interest in you tends to be more as a result of your being "foreign" than because of your specific nationality.

During this interaction, it isn't uncommon to be asked questions that you might deem to be quite personal, such as your age, marital status or even salary! If you choose not to answer these questions, be sure to do so in a way that doesn't embarrass the person doing the asking. You can use the question topics brought up as a guideline for what questions you are allowed to ask in return. In general, the only major topic that should be avoided is politics, as that tends to be a sensitive issue for many. If you receive praise of any form, it is best to display outright modesty. This same phenomenon can be observed in their response, when you pay a compliment.

The safest way to manage these initial interactions is to spend a lot of time observing what others do, and how others respond. Notice their body language and try to mimic them when appropriate. While as a foreigner, you can be forgiven in most cases for not following traditional Chinese protocol, what efforts you do make to follow local customs can take you a long way towards developing proper contacts and relationships.

Confucian Culture

Confucian Culture

It is true that China is a much different place than it was a few decades ago. Advancements in communication and infrastructure have drawn China a lot closer to the Western world today, than in the past. As a result, one would expect Chinese people today to be a lot more tolerant towards Western attitudes and ideals, than they might have been in the past. While this is true, there are still patterns in daily Chinese behavior that can be traced back to centuries of ideology, that still form a significant basis in Chinese culture today. Understanding these ideals and perspective can go a long way towards improving your interactions with Chinese people.

Unlike in the West, where there is more of an emphasis towards individuality and creativity in expressing one's self, in Chinese society there tends to be more emphasis towards conforming to society's norms and traditions. These behaviors can be traced back to the days of Confucius, whose teachings and philosophy on social behavior have been compiled into written records, that have greatly influenced thought, even in modern times. As a result, since everyone is educated in his teachings which is used in society, there is a general pattern of what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable behavior when dealing with people.

This is why when traveling and meeting Chinese, you are rarely given choices as a guest. When eating out at a dinner in your honor, expect to see course after course being served on your plate without any regard for what your taste preference might be. Rather than you being treated as an individual, there is more reverence towards your position, which in this case is the guest. Similarly, expect to see designated seating around the table for the persons of most importance, based on their titles and positions within the gathering.

When you have the opportunity, it is worth noting some of the behaviors and habits that follow this philosophy. Introducing people to each other is key, since they form the start of relationships. If you lack a third party introduction, it is helpful to mention a common third party to elevate you from stranger status. Similarly, the questions asked of you during an initial conversation are usually used to form common ground between you. Unlike in Western culture, where people may become on first name basis after an initial meeting, in Chinese, a person's title is almost always used, based on their relation to you.

In future blog postings, expect to see more examples of such cultural patterns, to better educate you with Chinese society. Being able to recognize and even reproduce this behavior on your own, can take you a long way towards not only forming the relationships you'll need to make with Chinese people, but also to better equip you to understand why they do the things they do, in order to avoid potential mix ups.

Relationships and Face

Forming relationships is a key to Chinese business culture

When doing business in China, there are a couple of concepts worth noting that are extremely prevalent in Chinese culture. The first is guānxi, which is the art of building relationships. You will find after initially establishing contacts with people, that they will often go out of their way to help and provide you with whatever assistance you may need. This assistance forms a bond between people, which forms the basis for future relationships. Later, when ready to do business, it is common to use the network of relationships created from this process to begin.

These relationships are meant to be of mutual benefit and are useful for generating new business and clients, or as a source of knowledge and expertise. Examples may include one person getting another a job at his company, or a principal allowing someone's child entrance into a prestigious school. While this concept may seem obvious and isn't unique to Chinese culture, it's certainly more prevalent in Chinese society and has ingrained itself as part of daily life. Indeed the expression méi guānxi, which is used to say "That's okay" in response to an apology, is one of the most common phrases you might hear. The literal meaning can be thought of as meaning "this doesn't affect our relationship."

Closely related to guānxi is miànzi which is the concept of "face." Many business relationships begin by doing personal favors for each other. The person doing the favor gains face or status in the process, while the recipient has an implied obligation to return the favor at some point. Meeting these obligations allows you to build up your network of relationships by gaining face. Choosing not to help when given the opportunity to do so, creates the opposite effect, resulting in your losing face, which should be avoided at all costs.

While it is important to do your best to accumulate as much face and the resulting prestige accorded with it as you can, it is equally important not to put others in positions where they are forced to lose face. Examples of such include trying to embarrass others in public, or putting people in positions where they have no solutions. In such situations, it is best to give the other party a "face saving option" which in turn builds your character for having accorded them that respect. For example, choosing not to accept a dinner invitation should be accompanied with a suitable excuse (along with the requisite apology) that shows your interest in the other party, allowing them to keep face.

Knowledge of these concepts is important not only in business, but also in daily life in China. Unlike the West, where you might make a public scene to get what you want, doing so in China will ostracize you, resulting in the opposite effect. While the Chinese are increasingly more tolerant of Western mannerisms and traditions, respect of local etiquette is a great way to stand out from the crowd, by showing your willingness to do things their way.

Shortcuts to Reading Chinese

Shortcuts to Reading Chinese

Most learners of Chinese try to take shortcuts and I was no exception. Learning to read and write Chinese seemed impossible for me to do in a short time, so at first I didn't bother. When I eventually did decide to tackle this area, I decided to focus on reading rather than writing. It was one thing for me to be able to recognize a complex character at a glance, but it was another thing for me to actually be able to reproduce it on paper with all its minute nuances. I later found that when learning to read Chinese, there are other shortcuts that I could take to make the learning process seem much quicker than it actually was.

In English, it is possible for learners to read a paragraph of text out aloud without having any clue as to what they are reading. For new words, whose pronunciation isn't known, it is still possible to try and come up with an approximation of what the word should sound like by phonetically sounding it out, which is usually enough for a native English to understand. In Chinese, this process is of course a lot trickier, since you frequently come across characters that are completely unrecognizable, with no phonetic clues to help you out. Whenever I was at this point, I was usually stumped. No amount of prodding or encouragement from a teacher was going to help me since there were no clues at all on how to proceed.

Well the truth is, there were clues, but they were just in different places. Most words in Chinese are formed from two or more characters, so usually when reading, knowing what one of the characters is, is enough to give you a clue as to what the word is or might be. For example, when looking at a menu, I would look for key characters. 肉 was a good one since by studying the characters around it, I was able to figure out what kind of meat was in the dish. I'd recognize 羊肉 as lamb since the 羊 resembled the horns on a sheep. Beef also featured similar characters. I found that by setting the context this way, I was much further ahead than having to sheepishly stare (pun intended) at the menu with no clue as to where to look. Similarly, I was able to spot 茶, so I knew I was dealing with tea. I also knew that 红 meant "red." So with that, I knew that I was dealing with a type of red tea. At the end of the day, it was much easier to ask the waiter "what kind of red tea is this?" than to simply ask "what's on this menu?"

Once you get your brain used to looking for clues in this way, you will find your brain automatically scanning texts for characters you know and figuring out the rest from context. I found myself being able to write tests in Chinese despite not being able to recognize many of the characters on the test paper. Here was a typical scenario:

I would see the following sentence: 冬天很冷,可是夏天很热。 At first glance, the only characters I could pick out were ...tiān hěn ..., kěshì ... tiān hěn ... My typical thought process was as follows:

"Hmm, I see two 天s there so we might be talking about days. Jīntian? Míngtiān? Zuótiān? No, I know those ones so it can't be days, so it must be seasons! There are two seasons there - "one is very... but the other is very..." The 冬 character there looks similar to 多. Duōtiān? That sounds similar to dōngtiān - winter?!? If that's winter, then perhaps 夏天 is summer. So perhaps we are talking about winter and summer. So winter is very... but summer is very... hot and cold?? I remember the character for hot looks a little like boiling water so that must be 热 which would make 冷 cold. I choose answer B: Winter is cold, but summer is hot. As long as the teacher wasn't deliberately trying to trick you, it was usually possible to determine the right answer this way.

This technique actually works quite well in Chinese because many vocabulary items tend to be grouped neatly. For example all the seasons end in 天, all transportation on land ends in 车, all meat ends in 肉 and so on. You don't even have to be perfect with it. For example if you looked at the characters for 年,车 and 牛 individually, it would be very easy to confuse them. But that usually isn't a problem since the characters are usually shown within some context. I would know that 牛肉 was beef since I was unlikely to see the 牛 mixed up with cars or dates.

Obviously the more characters you are able to recognize, the more accurate this technique becomes. Depending on how you look at it, the result of this and some of the listening techniques I've talked about previously is that you can either seem a lot smarter than you really are, or that you can learn a lot quicker than you originally thought.

The Truth About Spoken Chinese

Most Mandarin is learned in class

Most people regard "Chinese" as being a single language, as did I while growing up in Canada. My first interest in learning Chinese began about 10 years ago as a result of my having many Chinese associates. I was very curious about the language they used to speak to each other, so I picked up my first Chinese textbook and tried to practice what I was learning with them. I soon found out that what I was studying and what they were speaking were two different languages. That was when I learned that the Chinese you hear out West can usually be classified into either Cantonese or Mandarin. At the time, the vast majority of what "Chinese speakers" spoke outside of China was Cantonese. This confused me as I now had to decide whether to learn the official language of China or learn what people on the street were actually speaking.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I first landed in Taiwan and began to seriously learn Chinese. Surely, living in a Chinese speaking country and constantly hearing what I was studying would greatly speed up the learning the process? I made a new discovery. While people could understand what I was saying and I could understand them when they were speaking to me, I couldn't understand them when they were speaking to each other! (Deja vu!) After more research, I learned that what most people in China learn and speak at home isn't Mandarin! Every province or region has its own "dialect" that people use to speak to each other, that are as different as English and French or Italian and German. In total there are about 50 distinct dialects across China and overseas Chinese communities, not counting regional variations between them.

This leads to an interesting situation for foreigners learning Chinese and wanting to communicate with Chinese people. A great analogy I heard is to imagine yourself walking into a party dressed up while everyone else is dressed casually. You might hear "Wow, you look great!" or "Nice outfit!" and while it feels great to be complimented, you can't help feeling left out for being the only "non casual person."

The prospects aren't gloomy though. All media is broadcast in Mandarin as that is the official form. Similarly, for business transactions or formal occasions, you can expect Mandarin to be used. It is also the language used when traveling or when strangers meet, so it is definitely the language to learn. The only time local dialects are used is when locals speak with other locals from the same region. For most learners, I would recommend keeping your focus on the big picture (Mandarin), although you can win yourself some points by learning a few key phrases in the local dialect to show respect.

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