It should be noted that just about anyone can book a trip to China and go and visit Shanghai, Suzhou, Beijing or Xi’an or Chengdu. There are limitless possibilities for exploration of this amazing country. But nearly all of these trips will peg you to a strictly tourist schedule or leave you relying on 4 star hotels and canned tour guides for your understanding and experience.
If you are a game publisher you can easily visit a factory or two in China as well, though you’ll be relying on that factory’s agenda and schedule and won’t really get off the reservation or be able to visit other factories without risking offending your existing factories. It makes it all the more difficult to tour around China at the same time since you aren’t coming with a tour group. Navigating China can be daunting if you don’t speak the language or know what to see and do. So how do you see China “like a boss” if you’re a publisher? Certainly for a few publishers at a time, Seth might just be able to help you out.
This idea all started with a simple desire to get Ryan (check out his China post here!), Mayday’s President, over to China for a visit. As the owner of Mayday Games, I have spent the last five years living in Suzhou China and working directly with Chinese factories. I also got pretty good at Mandarin and learned a lot of insider tricks to traveling around China and picking the right food for the western palette. I have my Chinese Driver’s license, own a mini-van and have a residence permit so I can invite others into China so that they can get their 10-year tourist visa without a hitch. I have been sharing food photos/videos and factory visit information with Ryan for years but he had just never gotten out to China for a visit. We had planned to have him come out in the fall of 2016 but my family and I unexpectedly returned to the USA in July of that year due to some family medical issues. That left Ryan without a trip to China and me desperately missing the Middle Kingdom and all the friends, food and fun of this amazing country.
Ryan and I started planning a quick trip to China to have him visit several factories and see some sights and get to know China, not as a tourist or in some canned, group-package experience, but with a private tour by me, and from a board game publisher’s perspective. We started planning this trip for January 2017 and as it got closer we started thinking that while Ryan and I would have a great time, that others could benefit from such a trip too. We reached out to some other publishers and the response was overwhelming. We had to turn some people away as a group of more than 8-10 people would be tough to travel with and we wanted to keep it small. My idea was this: have the publishes pitch in some money for the trip and have the factories pitch in some to bring these prospective clients over. I asked the factories I have been working the most closely with to help out with expenses, but still let us retain control of the schedule and our travel plans.
Throughout the fall of 2016 I finalized plans, made reservations and provided the documents necessary for each publisher to get their Chinese visas. I bought the train tickets and paid for the hotels and arranged for Jerwin, a Chinese guy who is a good friend of mine, to help us with the trip since we would need an additional van for transportation. Everything finally came together and our epic journey began on January 8 as publishers departed from Indianapolis, Vancouver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Boston and Detroit, all landing in Shanghai within a few hours of one another. Here is a summary of our grand adventure:
Jan 9 – All but two of the 10 of us arrived in Shanghai, China. Two guys had flight delays and ended up coming in the evening of Jan 10. We arrived in the evening and after shuttling people to the hotel most of us went for some noodles at a 24-hour noodle shop late in the evening. A couple of us went to KTV (karaoke) after that and stayed up way too late.
Jan 10 – Got up early and had some hotel breakfast and then went to Factory #1. We toured the facilities and met with the factory before going to lunch with them. We swapped off tours and private meeting time so each publisher got time to talk one-on-one with the factory about their needs. Then we headed to Shanghai Disneyland and partied there from 2-8 PM. The Tron Ride, totally redone Pirates of the Caribbean Ride and a very well-done live stunt show were some of the highlights. The last two guys joined us for the last hour in the park. We went back to the hotel tired and Jeremy Faust met up with us that night for a late dinner and to meet everyone. Jeremy is an American that has been living in Xiamen China for the last 16 years and runs a distribution and logistics company for board games and most of us have done business with him, so it was great to catch up with him. A few of us got massages while the rest of us went to bed tired and full.
Jan 11 – Got up early and grabbed some KFC for breakfast (“its not that bad”) and then went to Factory #2. We got there a bit later than we wanted but had an amazing time touring the factory and meeting with them, with time for meetings with everyone too. We had an amazing lunch and then went to their 2nd location to visit and have more meetings. We had planned on touring around Shanghai in the afternoon but we ended up spending so much time at the factory that there wasn’t time, so about 5 PM we left Shanghai and drove about 2 hours up to near Factory #3. We were met by the factory owner to help check us into the hotel and then we went to dinner (hot pot) with him. It was amazing and was followed by massages for all who could still keep their eyes open. Chinese massages are about $15 for 90 minutes so you have to fit them in where you can.
Jan 12 – Went to factory #3 in the morning and toured it and had some meetings. We got pizza hut delivered in and we had to admit the taste of home with some unique Chinese spin on pizza was pretty great. We ended up running later than we had hoped and got a late start driving the 2 hours down to Suzhou, where I had spent the last 5 years living. In the evening some of us went to dinner with Factory #3 owner while some of us split off to go for drinks at a dance club for an hour or so before meeting up for a 10 PM showing of Star Wars at the largest permanent 35mm cinema screen in the world. It measures 34.6 m (113.5 ft) in length and 26.8 m (87.9 ft) in height. Yeah, that is big!
Admittedly most of us ended up falling asleep during the movie, but it was still worth it!
Jan 13 – In the morning some of us rushed off to downtown Suzhou to see the famous “walking street” there and to get some custom tailored clothes made. I had 6 custom French-cut shirts made for 200 RMB ($29 USD) each and others got suits and overcoats too. Several of us stayed closer to the hotel and walked over the epic bridges near Jin Ji Lake and had some more one-on-one time with the factory owner from Factory #3 since some of us missed out the day before. Then we jumped in some taxis to head for the Suzhou North Train station. We then took the 300 KM/Hour (180
Mile/hour) train for 4.5 hours from Suzhou to Beijing for some fun!
We jumped off the train and onto the Beijing metro system to the BeiHai North station and walked about 700 meters into the quickly disappearing HuTong area of Beijing, the traditional alleyways that retains much of the historical flavor of this ancient city. I played up the remote feel of the walk and pretended to be lost while muttering things about “only 6 people to a room” and “I think they have hot water” until we arrived at our really amazing hotel there in a great location in the heart of Beijing. The hotel was amazing as always. I’ve stayed at this place at least 6 times previously and love it for its atmosphere and proximity to so many of the best things of Beijing.
Most of us couldn’t resist the chance to see some of Beijing so we walked the 10-15 minutes to a major nightlife section of Beijing for a late meal where we made some local friends and several of us stayed even later to take in some more of the nightlife. The food and drink were amazing!
Jan 14 – we got out pretty early and got to the bus station that takes you up to the BaiDaLing Great Wall section. It was pretty cold but I was in shock at how clean the air was today. I have been to the Great Wall 10+ times and NEVER had I seen a day as gorgeous as this. It was cold but as we climbed the wall we heated up pretty quickly so it was actually really nice to be climbing in the cold. There was also no snow yet, a minor miracle that meant the wall was still open to the public. We stayed up on the wall hiking several hours before getting back to the buses about 3 PM. We got back to Beijing about 5 PM and then went over to Mr. Shi’s Dumplings, one of my favorite joints in Beijing. The food there is always exceptional and we were all starving.
Afterwards we walked back to the hotel for the 8 PM Chinese puppet show that the hotel puts on 3 nights per week. Some of us painted our own Chinese dragon puppets on specially treated leather that looked/felt more like hard plastic, while some others went to bed and a few even headed back out to the nightlife area from the night before for some more drinks and fun.
Jan 15 – We got up later than we wanted and had some trouble getting oriented and into the high-security area of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We saw the mausoleum of Chairman Mao and walked around that historic square for a while before going into the Forbidden City. We toured there for a few hours before coming out on the north end and making the hike up into JingShan Park which has an amazing Buddist temple at the top and a commanding view of the Forbidden City. We were lucky that the air quality was still quite good and we could gaze out across most of Beijing from there.
Then we hiked down the east side of the park and split into several groups that took taxis and small tuk-tuk vehicles over to Din Tai Feng, a famous Taiwanese based restaurant chain that specializes in xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings). For you foodies, It was named one of the top ten restaurants in the world by The New York Times on January 17, 1993. In November 2009, the restaurant’s first Hong Kong branch at Tsim Sha Tsui, Silvercord Branch (新港店), was awarded one Michelin star by the Hong Kong and Macau 2010 edition of the Michelin Guide. In December 2010, the restaurant’s second branch in Hong Kong at Causeway Bay, Yee Wo Branch (怡和店), was also awarded one Michelin star. Sufficeth to say, it is really, really yummy. You can find lots of amazing Youtube videos of this place, including this one of Tom Cruise visiting a branch in Hong Kong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYOpi-aJdu8
After this amazing meal we jumped on the metro and headed to the famous Pearl Market, a four-story super center of haggling and souvenir goodness. We only had about 90 minutes to shop and most of us went away wishing we had more time there. In the evening we made our way back to the hotel and of course some of us went off for drinks while a bunch of us went off for another epic massage experience. The place we finally found for the massage felt more like an opium den than a spa, but the service was top notch and boy are those massages cheap! What a great way to unwind.
Jan 16 – We headed back to the South Train station and took a train back to Shanghai, a 5 hour trip. We made our way to the East Nanjing Road area of downtown Shanghai about 5 PM where we checked into our final hotel and wandered this famous area for a while and then headed over to the Bund for a few minutes before going to dinner at Grandmother’s Restaurant on FuZhou Road, just off the Bund. I love this restaurant and had been looking forward to taking everyone there this whole trip. After dinner we had some more time on the Bund and then several of us went out for massages or drinks.
Jan 17 – The two guys who missed factory #1 went over to meet there while most of the rest of us either headed to the airport or spent a few more hours seeing some of Shanghai’s sights before going to the airport.
We packed in a ton of stuff for just 8 days, I wish we had more but Chinese New Year was closing in on the back end of our trip and we just couldn’t get everyone’s schedules to work before Christmas/New Years. I hope to do another trip like this later this year for other publishers, it was a really rewarding experience and I know it was fun and beneficial for all of us. If you’d like contact information for any of the factories we visited or to talk to Seth about a future trip, please email to email@example.com.