Last week two of us from HQ embarked on a whistle stop tour of China and Indonesia to catch up with a few suppliers and we took the opportunity to take a decent camera and make a photo journal as we went so that our colleagues back in Blighty could enjoy a taste of the Orient too.   

Being despatched on a jet for a week sounds exciting and in many ways quite attractive.  Of course the reality is that it is a bit of a slog with so much energy zapping travel: with six flights in nine days it was always going to be tough.  With your brain still on UK time and with very little quality sleep under your belt, one can feel a tad punch drunk as your mind and body try to recalibrate to the new schedule.  Hotels start to merge into one and trying to remember your room number on that day becomes more and more difficult.

Our tour started in the Shandong province in North Eastern China and we made our way west each day by car, heading further and further away from our creature comforts and into higher and higher humidity.  Indonesia didn’t disappoint in this area either.  The further we travelled, the more of a rare breed we became and very quickly you start to feel like explorers of unchartered territory.

Our supplier factories range from very big to very small artisans but something they all have in common is the ability and resourcefulness to deliver almost any product that is asked of them, within their own areas of expertise.  Each factory had a sample making room with weird and wonderful items to be found in every nook and cranny.  One such room looked very much as you would expect Santa’s workshop to be with sketches all over the table with small hammers and gifted hands working on the next curiosity.

You cannot beat a good old fashioned factory visit to understand limitations of any given set of workers and a very warm welcome is always given when they are told who you are.  This is of course flattering but a smile crosses every language barrier and meeting the workers and seeing them happily going about their day whether it be weaving, snipping, carving or colouring is always reassuring to see.

Aside from the obvious geographical distance between us and the hard working and skilled workforces of the Far East, we are also culturally a world apart.  However, one thing this trip has affirmed to us is that business is all about the people and, after a tour like this, factories stop being just a name at the top of another PO and instead are brought to life with personalities which we hope somehow shine through in our production selection.

 

In terms of giving our colleagues a taste of the Orient, we sadly were unable to bring back any local delicacies - I’m not sure how we would have explained a suitcase full of “Scorpion King” to UK Customs officials.  Joking aside, the food was nothing short of outstanding and the daily offering was a real treat for the senses.  There is certainly no shortage of spice (or crunch) in the local diet but our colleagues will just have to enjoy the photos of our feasting rather than the real thing.