Happy Year of the Snake!

SBE alumnus Max Lamberts has been living for a year now in Beijing, China. He works for the German company SAP, where he is responsible for the consumer product and retail industry. He manages a team of 21 Chinese employees and has daily contacts with Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and Private Enterprises (PEs). 

As the Chinese are getting ready to celebrate the traditional Chinese New Year (Nian Hui) on Saturday 10 February, Max shares some observations on this year’s festivities.

The fight against corruption now being one of the main goals of the new government, several restaurants have gone into bankruptcy.  This has also set new marks for Chinese companies organizing their Nian Hui parties.

What have I seen or heard? According to our realtor, luxury chains are seeing a decline in revenue and profit and some officials have sold their second house.

Colleagues mentioned that Embassy officials said that they received less invitations for big celebrations than in previous years.

SAP’s New Pear party was less extravagant, the hotel quality was lower (still 4 stars) and there were less gifts than in previous years.

I even heard my colleagues saying that they heard business people say that the prostitutes of Beijing have less clients (mostly government officials). There have been remarks posted on Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) that people have had their New Year party at Pizza Hut.

Nian Hui is also the biggest migration on earth. Over 150 million people are expected to travel to visit their family, mostly in the country side. For most of them it’s the only time of the year that they will see their family. So packing, preparing and getting train tickets is a job in itself. See the documentary: Last Train Home, 2009, by Lixin Fan: my Ayi (old aunty, or maid) confirmed that it is a good representation of her life.

Hong Bao and Dumplings

It is an old tradition to give children a red envelope with some pocket money in it. Nowadays the tradition has expanded. On the evening of the Chinese New Year, parents give family members  a red envelope after dinner and just before the fireworks (traditionally three big bangs at night and three big bangs before breakfast), children are expected to kneel before receiving this gift.

Not long ago this was the only time of the year that children would get new clothes.  For my Ayi and driver, Nian Hui means a month’s salary and it is important to give fresh, not used money.

For all the other people who fulfill a role in our daily life – the receptionist, the bike repair man, the swimming teacher, the fitness club trainer, the guard in the compound, the chef of my favourite restaurant – a Hong Bao (hong = red) is appreciated (100 ¥, or 15$) and will improve my relationship with them.

I had invited my team  for a dinner celebration and gave them something personal from my home town Amsterdam, before we went KTV (karaoke).

The dumplings were the dinner treat. They are only served on the occasion of the Chinese New Year and only in the north of China.

It is very important to make sure that there is enough or actually an abundance of food, to demonstrate prosperity.

I wish everyone a great Year of the Snake!

By Max Lamberts

Max Lamberts writes a blog on private and business matters at www.luuklamberts.com.


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