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My Behringer-in-China Trip: Wednesday, 2/24/2010.

March 1, 2010

Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. As I ride into Hong Kong from the new Chek Lap Kok airport, on bus A21, a doubledecker with generous luggage racks, I have ample time to appreciate the steepness of the rugged mountains along the waterfront. From my window seat on the plane from Sydney I had been watching the approach to the landing, and marveled at the ease of it all. No more aerobatics, now that the approach takes pilots over the open waters. If you ever flew into the old Kai Tak airport, you knew why those landings, especially at night and in bad weather, used to count as bragging rights among commercial pilots. Not just mountains but also highrise buildings surrounded Kai Tak, and passengers could literally spy what families in those highrises watched on their television sets as the pilots had to sharply bank, at the last minute, to make the final approach. Whew!

The ride from Chek Lap Kok takes you along the uninhabited coast line, sparsely populated with industrial and maritime structures. The first stop comes after about 30 minutes of open freeway, at the Lantau freeway toll plaza. As we pull away, an official waves at the driver who stops the bus and lets the man climb aboard. That’s where the scrolling text on the ceiling-mounted display loses sync with reality, getting and stubbornly staying ahead by one stop. No wonder I don’t see the expected Eaton or Nathan hotels when I get off the bus in Kowloon. Nathan Road it is, so far so good, but in the 300s, not the 500s. With 40 minutes to go before meeting time, I dodge and weave my way speedily (what—speedily—on a Kowloon sidewalk?) through the crowd. Does my memory play tricks on me, or is there really far less signage in English than in the old days of Hong Kong, the former British Crown Colony? 

       

  Fat Kee, not Fat Free...

Nicely warm, high 20s, around 80 on the old scale, and humid, the Hong Kong air isn‘t too different from that in summery Sydney where I had been mixing business and pleasure for a week; just the way I like it, but the fierce air conditioning in my room at the Hotel Eaton has to be tamed, quickly; doing so is easy, modern technology being a source of pride in these parts. What a splendid hotel it is—with sweeping views from my room that I hardly have the time to enjoy. Hurry hurry, barely time to freshen up and go next door, across an alley, to meet my hosts on top of the Nathan hotel—the team from Behringer.

 

Let me hit fast rewind for a moment. Late last year, back at my editor's desk of Recording Magazine in Colorado, I received an invitation from the Seattle office of Behringer Group, to fly to Hong Kong, travel to the nearby mainland, visit the Behringer factories, and attend a yearly awards ceremony. This yearly event is called the Behringer Partner Event. A year earlier my colleague Mike Metlay had been on the guest list for the same trip and found the experience fascinating, as he reported in his blog (beginning at www.recordingmag.com/blogs/post/51.html).

At the risk of making parts of my report read like Déjà Vu All Over Again I encourage you to read his blog. His experiences and mine aren’t identical—to begin with, my flight was happy and uneventful, mostly consisting of uninterrupted napping for about six of the ten hours in the air. It helps to have an empty seat next to you when you have worn yourself out having too good a time with old friends...

Even though I use the present tense, I’m writing this in hindsight. Since returning home I’ve been asked at least as many questions about the trip itself as about Behringer in particular. Folks are interested in what Hong Kong and the mainland (at least the snippet we got to see) are like these days—one hears so many conflicting things. So I’ll try to convey a sense of that traveller’s reality as well as doing justice to the magnitude of the event staged by our host, Uli Behringer and his Behringer company.

About the photos: Except for a couple of pix that Gunnar Ollson from Sweden (www.manmade-music.com)

gave me (including this portrait of Gunnar the gourmet), all photos are mine. I apologize for the frequent haziness and tint—shooting through dirty and tinted bus windows at speed and through portholes on bouncing ferries can be tricky. Still, I hope the snapshots help to tell the story.

Back to Hong Kong. As I enter the patio on the top floor of the Nathan Hotel, on the dot at the appointed 17:30 hour (it’s the Swiss in me, about to meet another Swiss, so Swissness obliges, we can’t help it...), I’m greeted by the most gracious Uli Behringer who—contrary to his protestations—has not forgotten his Aargauer Swiss-German dialect. He introduces me to about a dozen jovial people who all turn out to work for the company. I also meet publicity maven Sarah Westbrook who is exactly one week into her new job with Behringer (based in Seattle), and already up and running, leaving a delightful welcome note for me at the hotel—nice touch, Sarah!

After exchanging pleasantries in the many languages coming at me from all sides, I quickly fall into a conversation I won’t soon forget, with Costa Lakoumentas who recently came on board, tasked to head up the Installed Sound division of Behringer, and who has a lucid, engaging way of explaining the task at hand, the industry ramifications, and also the way this whole Behringer-in-China enterprise works. Being Greek-Canadian, he has the international outlook that makes him a natural for this worldwide mission. We trade stories of cross-cultural experiences, he describes the labor situation in this very special part of China where Behringer operates, and compares it with other regions, including Beijing where he spends considerable time. I couldn’t have wished for a more instructive and more convivial opening half hour to this trip, all the while sipping wine and waiting for the rest of the arrivals to congregate. Little do I know that Costa will be my guardian angel the next day...

Suddenly there isn’t even standing room any more, and still they are trying to pile in... Turns out that the group is about 105-strong, with only a handful of press folk among them. Mostly it’s people who either work for Behringer, in branches and offices from all over the world, or for Behringer distributors, again from around the globe.

Soon we are being shepherded past tables where we get our name tags, down to waiting buses, and a slow trip through one of the several cross-town tunnels takes us to the R66 revolving restaurant in central Hong Kong. No formalities, no speeches, just good food, and lots of it, successfully executed recipes from the world over, and marvellous views that make me regret that I left the camera at the hotel, somehow having overlooked the “revolving” on the schedule.

I’m sitting next to Gunnar Ollson—we’ll be spending a bit more time together as it turns out, and he graciously allowed me to use this photo he took from the restaurant.

By the time we get dropped back to the hotels (the group is split among the Eaton and Nathan), on the open viewing deck of a doubledecker bus, it’s 2AM for my body clock, so I pass on the stroll to the nearby shopping street. My room has not one but two alarms—I set them both. Good night. 

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