And now for the show…

May 15th, 2011

(videos coming soon)

The time had finally come for our grand opening and we wanted to make it a spectacle. Throughout China the work shift usually begins with some kind of motivational exercise–a group chant of the company slogan followed by a few Britney Spears style dance moves to get the blood flowing. As you cycle through the busy streets of Beijing you can see workers lined up in front of their place of employment, be it a restaurant, an electronics store or a factory, standing in large groups of 20 or more getting ready to start the work day.


In keeping with this Mao inspired tradition we drafted our own company slogan (written by HomeShop’s Xiao Ouyang) and began the grand ceremony with some song and dance.




As we ran rampant on the road to success


Mouth foaming, spirit invigorated



Once upon a time,


We were lost in the world


Blinded by education,  unable to see the radiance of the coins.



Today, things all changed.


The leader of our team has given us the power to create wealth.


In such process we learned to shape our spirit and thinking.



The sunshine of tomorrow is so brilliant,


We can’t help but sing songs of joy.



Journey West Travel Agency,  home of our souls.


Journey West Travel Agency, where our dream begins.



We henceforth swear under the emblem of our agency,


That we shall never give up our longing for material and power


Future is the empyrean in which we soar.




(more on the key to successful hiring and firing in next post)

My BFF Went to Beijing and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt

April 29th, 2011


As we continue to prepare for the grand opening of the travel agency we are learning many new things about big China. For example, in Chinese mythology, to travel “West” is to go to heaven. Could that be considered an analogy to the quest for the American Dream?


Or what about the realities of running a small (very small) business in China. Take retail stores for example. You need to sell a product. Yes, we are selling package tours at our store but if you can’t afford the tour (Paglen’s starts at $6k USD due to extreme outfitting, but no worries Wildman Brill’s is only $20 bucks) we’d hate to see you go home with existential angst. So our solution is to offer the “souvenir”–a remembrance of things past, even if it isn’t YOUR past. Through this small token, all your associations of a particular place (let’s say Hollywood for example) beginning with early childhood memories (probably from watching too much TV) up to the present moment (probably from other people describing their experiences living there) are conjoined with the actual, lived experience of you BUYING the souvenir. In that precious moment, past, present and future all collide and the souvenir (in this case our “Majesty of Parking Lots” Hollywood tour cell phone cover) is activated, becoming a powerful symbol of what you IMAGINE the place to be based on social constructions intertwined with the memories and associations of the place you were actually at when you purchased the souvenir such as who was with you, what the weather was like, were you hungry, yadda, yadda.


But let’s get back to the business aspect of running a small business such as a travel agency in an extremely touristy neighborhood in Beijing such as the hutong directly between the drum and bell towers–second most visited hot spot after the Tiananmen/Forbidden City package tour! To maintain a competitive business and keep the money rolling in, especially if you’re not having a good week selling tours, you need some chatchkas. Everyone loves a chatchka even if only for a few minutes and then they throw it out (remember Cracker Jacks?). And what better souvenir for a travel agency, than a snow globe! Yet if we go back to our business model, or rather a business model, a tiny store such as ours can only handle at most up to 50 items. And even if they sold like hot cakes, we probably wouldn’t sell 2000-3000 in a month. Well, in order to get custom snow globes manufactured in a factory in Fujian Province or Shenzhen you need to order 2000-3000 pieces, and that’s just for one design. So far we have 4 package tours, that’s almost 12,000 pieces!

 cell phone cover

Instead we have opted for the custom cell phone covers and portable mini fans (it’s hot in Beijing). It’s simple and easy. Just purchase as many items as you need at the neighborhood market (kind of like a Shanzhai Walmart) and customize them with your own personal stickers. We love them and we think you’ll love them too! We’re still working on the snow globe idea and have found some clear plastic containers that we might be able to get for under 500 pieces, but in the mean time we feel we are offering a quality product.

I Love a Man in Uniform

April 25th, 2011


“A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures” – Michael Eisner, former CEO Disney


“Experiences are as distinct from services as services are from goods.” – Joseph Pine & James Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage

The success of one’s business is in the branding. It must reside deep within the collective cultural psyche, as familiar as the back of one’s hand. Over the past several weeks we have dedicated many hours to developing The Journey West brand. We hope that you not only like it, but that it becomes the beginning of a longer conversation.


If Donald Trump can do it, so can I! Shopping for Real Estate in Beijing

April 15th, 2011

real estate2

The first step to any successful travel agency is an awesome office. As my Mandarin gets me about as far as Kung Pao Ji Din I needed a bilingual business partner to help me peruse the local real estate. Based at the HomeShop, an artist run space near the Yonghegong Lama Temple that has artist studios and co-working spaces, I met Qu Ge who is currently co-working as a translator in addition to his other roles as communal chef and courtyard farmer. Curious about what I was doing he volunteered to help me out.


I wanted a small storefront in a busy neighborhood. Real estate has sky rocketed in the past year and so prices were a lot higher than expected. The other issue was I only wanted to rent the space for a few months.


We set out to visit some of the realtors in the neighborhood. Each office was a bit different in, uh, aesthetic and style. Qu Ge would explain to the agent what I was looking for. There would be many long silences in the conversation and I couldn’t quite figure out if that meant it was time to move on to the next one. This happened continuously throughout the next several days as we pounded the dusty pavement for my dream store-cum-travel-agency.


The realtors didn’t quite work out so the next strategy was to check with some existing tour offices and see if I could share a desk. We decided to stop into the popular hutong tour office by the ancient Drum and Bell towers that offers bicycle rickshaw tours of “Old Beijing”. The office wasn’t much of an office but the owner was around and Qu Ge managed to pique his interest about our offer. Thinking we were going to have to spend the next hour in a dark dingy back office, I was surprised to be taken next door to the “Porcelain Museum”, a living museum of China’s ancient art, where we proceeded to spend the next hour in silent chit chat over a pot of weak tea served in beautiful reproduced ancient porcelain, of course.


Qu Ge translated to me the owner’s comments: you’ll never make any money selling tours of American and why don’t you just put an ad in the paper selling the tours. With that said, I concluded it was time to move on.


But as luck has it (and usually it doesn’t believe me), a few steps down the road was a teeny weeny little red storefront store EMPTY! And to make things even luckier, when we inquired about it, we found out the person renting it also runs the bar next door (called the Drum and Bell Towers Bar of course).


So there you have it. The Journey West has a home!