Canton Fair “Need to Know” from Experience
I have been a regular attendee of the Canton Fair since 2003 and have seen it flourish beyond recognition over these years. Now that I’m an Ex-pat living in Guangzhou I have the luxury of having the experience of being on both sides of the proverbial transaction table. So from experience, here are some of things I feel you should know if you’re planning on attending the Canton Fair. You see, knowing is half the battle and how rich your experience at the Canton Fair will depend on how much you are willing to stand for.
Are We There Yet?
Just getting to the Canton Fair will certainly test your patience and you will need a lot of it. No matter how you get to Guangzhou you will have to pass that thousand mile road and yes, be prepared to stand in line and wait and wait. After all, Chinese isn’t the world’s most spoken language for nothing, according to (SIL) Ethnologue Survey (1999). And that’s due to population not geography. Please remember that when you are going though the China’s Inspection and Customs please remember to be polite and calm and have all your documents ready. I see too many foreigners thinking “what I don’t know” by arguing with the customs officers only to have their travel time further delayed.
Have your hotel reservations confirmed and know exactly how you will get there before you arrive. The Guangzhou hotel industry has sprouted expeditiously over the years because it makes its yearly operational expense (and then some) on the two times per year when the Canton fair is held. The rest of the year is pure gravy. The reason for this is because they can charge anywhere from 10%~1000% more for that room. I do hear about people winging it and try to find a room after getting here, but that’s like getting a tattoo when you’re drunk. Also, ask if the hotel has a direct shuttle to the Canton Fair, having one will save you much money and headache. Because getting there is not the problem, getting back is a whole another story.
The best is to have your money in your Visa or Debit card, The Canton fair has a Bank of China right inside and several other bank ATM’s accepting all major credit cards, JETCO, PLUS, MAESTRO, etc. You can have your currency exchanged in Hong Kong before arriving or you can get better (negotiable) rates if you go to the “Black Market” exchange stalls right at the LuoHu port entrance in Shenzhen (Right outside after Customs Inspection). However, as with anything that deals with money be careful. Keep your surroundings in check, after exchanging your money put it away in your money belt. Since LuoHu is a prime foreigner shopping site full of wonderful items such as gifts, souvenirs, foot massages, manicure/pedicures and most famously the knock offs, thus bringing opportunists of all types. Here are some dos and don’ts:
• Don’t let anyone follow you, especially after the currency exchange booth.
• Don’t let any peddler carry your luggage for a fee.
• Don’t purchase from peddlers outside the shopping area.
• Don’t give money to the beggars no matter how sad they make you feel. There are some groups in China that kidnaps, maims, and then throws them into an organized beggars circle. The only way to stop this is by not giving.
• Don’t accept solicitation for prostitution at the LuoHu area, you’re asking for trouble if you do. There are better alternatives. (I’ll write a segment on this later)
• Especially purchasing something or taking a taxi; memorize at least the last four digits of the 50 or 100 RMB bill that you hand over. If the clerk or driver hands back a bill and says, “This is fake do you have another one”, for heaven’s sake don’t touch the bill because you’re being swindled. They will hand you a fake bill instead, so don’t get your fingerprints on it. Most of the time if you mention the last four digits they will simply apologize and say, “Oh, I made a mistake” and go on with the transaction. If it starts to get ugly then remember “110” is the public emergency line, even threatening to call should get you results.
• Do try the delicious food, but ask what it is before ordering.
• Do get a massage or oil rub down, but don’t opt for the special; you might not want to pay the ridiculous fee.
• Don’t tip; China isn’t a tipping society, besides a service charge has probably already been added to the bill. Use your discretion.
• And by all means haggle. It’s your money, your worked hard for it, you decide how much to give.
Getting to the Canton Fair:
Coming from Shenzhen:
• Bus: Shenzhen to Guangzhou: 3/hour without traffic/58rmb
• Shenzhen Taxi: 1.5/hour without traffic, negotiable 300rmb~500rmb
• Guangzhou Return Trip Taxi: 1.5/hour without traffic, negotiable about 150rmb
• Train: Shenzhen to Guangzhou East Railway Station Train: About 50min/ 80rmb, once there go down one floor for the Metro station. Taxi line-up is directly outside of the train station or adjacent is the bus station. The train, bus, Metro stations are all at the same area. Further down the street (about 10 minutes walking distance) is the US-Consulate Generals office next to IKEA.
• Coming from the Airport by Bus, airport shuttle to your hotel, 50min/ 38rmb
• Coming from the Airport by Taxi, minimum 40min/ 170rmb
Once you are in Guangzhou you will need to get to Panyu, which is the city next to Guangzhou where the Canton Fair is held.
Metro: Line 2 to Pazhou Station, once at the station you’ll see entrances to A/B and C Buildings. If you haven’t registered then go to Building A/B exit or even better yet get off one station before Pazhou (Xinggang-Donglu) Station. The Canton Fair is over 1.1 million m2 separated into three sections. It’s very large so bring good walking shoes.
At the Fair:
If you haven’t registered then you’ll need to do so. Be prepared to wait in line for a minimum of 2/hours for this process. You’ll need:
• Your E-Invitation letter that you’ve pre-registered online.
• Your Passport.
• 2 x passport (1”x 1”) photos for the entry badge. You can take a picture there but it set you back around 58rmb.
• Your Business Card.
• Summit a registration form.
• Admission is free for foreign passport holders.
• Because Chinese nationals are not allowed in the Canton Fair (excluding exhibitors and staff) you must pay an additional 400rmb (Chinese/English) per day for an interpreter. However, this must have been pre-ordered through the Canton Fair. There are always several freelance interpreters outside soliciting for work for about 300~500rmb per day. However, I was told that outside interpreters were not allowed for the 105th/106th Canton Fair so I’m presuming that the Canton Fair Organizers would want to continue milking this cash cow for this 107th Canton fair.
• Though Chinese regulation stipulates that foreigners must have their passports with them at all times, it would behoove you to make a scanned copy of your passport and printout a color copy of it and carry with you instead. Unless of course you haven’t registered for the Canton Fair or want to open a bank account, etc… Other than to use your passport for official capacity, keep your passports in your hotel-room safe because loosing it will make your life a living hell in China.
Word of advice: pre-arrange a taxi or car if you don’t have a hotel shuttle. You will thank me for this because when there are a few thousand people wanting to get out all at the same time and all are tired and hungry this makes for great drama. There is only one taxi line up at the Canton Fair between Buildings A/B. The police will not allow other vehicles and Non-Canton Fair registered taxis to come in. If you go out on the street to find a taxi you will pay more than what you’ve bargained for. If you want to wait for a taxi, again be prepared to wait and wait and wait.
Food at the fair:
There are a few good places to eat at the fair however, due to expediting service most of the food establishments have opt for the package system. Meaning if you go to McDonald’s you only get to choose a set menu A, B, C or D (about 40rmb). Same with Papa John’s pizza, one size with soft drink (98rmb). If you’re a coffee drinker, don’t buy the coffee at the sandwich/drink stands. They use a push-button automated coffee dispenser that tastes like mud-water, one size x-small (50rmb). Thank god there is a Starbucks Verti/Grande (33/36rmb). Seattle Coffee large (38rmb). If you’re really hungry then try the business buffet, all you can eat (100rmb). I have been seeing more and more establishments catering exclusively Muslim foods, deducing that there must be more business in that sector.
Doing Business at Fair:
Bring more business cards, you’ll surely run out. Exhibitors paying a minimum of $5000USD for a small space and up to $100,000USD for large spaces at the fair and not to mention the cost of printing catalogs, booth decorations, carpet, electricity, water, employees, etc…will want a business card from you to take a catalog. A little trick is to print out some sticky labels with your information on it then stick it to the exhibitors notebook, simple and effective or simply effective and takes up less space.
Unless you plan to travel back home with a suitcase full of catalogs without your belongings in it, ask for CD catalogs from the exhibitors or bring an extra empty suitcase. If they don’t have CD’s then many new style compact cameras have macro functions these days. Just take the Catalogs you need, Chinese manufacturers seems to outdo themselves each year by creating bigger and thicker catalogs. If they say they will email it to you, well…they won’t. Be Eco-friendly people.
I’ve noticed in some cases, exhibitors will be less receptive to attendees of the Asian descent. Simply because the exhibitors fear intellectual property infringement as much as anyone else, even more so I’d say. So if you’re Asian, simply start speaking English to reverse this stereotype.
Lastly, if you come on the second to the last day (each phase) you could take home some great sample for a fraction of the cost. I purchased a high-end mountain bike for $50USD, a very cool 250cc super-sport motorcycle $500USD, stainless-steel espresso machine $10USD to just name a few. The reason for this is because for some of the exhibitors it would cheaper to sell off their samples at the show than having them shipped back to the factory. And in some cases even make money. Coming on the last day wouldn’t be wise since you wouldn’t have enough time to haggle and most of the bargains would have already been sold. Also, most exhibitors will want to start tearing down and get out before the rush, the problem will rise if they all think that and create a rush before the rush (I’ve seen it happen).
If you have a specific question asks in the comments. I will answer, if I don’t know then I will find out.
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