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2 Playing the Waiting Game
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39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
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45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
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49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
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59 Rural Shanghai
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62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
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67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
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76 Master Class
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78 Yes We Can!
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Bread vans

cayenne....JPG
Luxury SUV car of the year... 2006 and 2007

Did you know that the Beijing-Shenzhen-Beijing round-trip is 2,416 air miles – which is actually one dozen miles further than the distance a London-based crow would have to fly to check out the delights of Timbuktu? So, what’s the point of this somewhat laboured – not to mention gratuitous – analogy, you may well be wondering (assuming you have got this far to wonder it).    

   I am, for the benefit of those who haven’t suffered it, simply trying to paint a picture of just how extreme an undertaking a day trip from Beijing to Shenzhen really is.   I hit the big 50 a few days ago and, on the flight back, as my watched ticked on past midnight, I can honestly say that I was feeling every day of my age.  The 30 minute wait for a taxi at 2am in the morning at Beijing’s showcase terminal three, did nothing to improve my well-being score.           

   But, although the day was exhausting, there had been a number of comforting positives.  As I waited for my nocturnal taxi in one of Beijing’s more disorderly queues, I reflected that the day could have been much, much worse:          

   I had arrived at Shenzhen airport at 11.30 that morning.  The driver, who had been kindly sent by the company who had invited me to Shenzhen to speak at at their global marketing conference, was there to meet me at the gate.   

   We shook hands.  “Where’s your luggage?” he asked.  “I only have my computer and camera,” I explained.  “But you’ve come from Beijing… won’t you be staying the night?”  I told him that I was booked on the last flight back, and that I would have to make a sharp exit from the conference hall as soon as I had finished my bit.  Mr Wei laughed, “It’s a long flight to Beijing, you’ll be tired”. 

   I followed Mr Wei to the car park.   

   I saw it when I turned the corner.   

   No!  It couldn’t be... 

   ...We were walking straight to it and there was nothing else in sight.  How would I be able to live this down?   Generally, I really don’t mind what car I ride in.  I say generally, because there are a few exceptions.  On top of the small list of cars I would prefer not to be seen in – let alone pull into the headquarters of a major corporation in – is the Porche Cayenne. I have disliked the car – if it really is a car – since I first saw it in China (there were two of them, in fact, parked outside neighbouring houses in one of Shanghai’s swankiest parts of town).   

   Don’t get me wrong, I do quite like Porsches – proper ones that is, the ones that look, sound, and handle like sports cars.  But, this thing?   What were they thinking? 

   Jeremy Clarkson, the writer and presenter on Britain’s number one (in fact, only) series about cars and driving, Top Gear, was so under-impressed with its looks that he was moved to say, “Honestly, I have seen more attractive gangrenous wounds than this. It has the sex appeal of a camel with gingivitis.”  Mr Clarkson then went on, in his Sunday Times column, to describe it as the the car that had drowned in “Lake Ugly”.

   Okay, I know it’s been successful – particularly so in China, where the majority of Porsches sold are Cayennes – but that doesn’t make it any less… now what word would I pick…. yes, any less crass.

   Crassus, the latin parent of the word, adds that bit more to the description: thick, dense, fat, heavy.  Students of Roman history (as well as those, like me, who bothered to look him up in Wikipedia) will know that Marcus Licinius Crassus was the wealthiest man in the Empire.  He impressed people (most famously, Julius Ceasar) with his colossal political 'donations', but not with his taste. 

   Crassus was wealthier than any mortal being,  but his lack of refinement and sophistication made him, well, a bit of a laughing stock among those who knew a priceless Roman urn from a cheap Greek one. 

   Taste in luxury products among those who can afford them has moved on a lot since 2005, when “unskilled rich” property tychoons were known to travel from Shenzhen to Hong Kong to buy the most expensive items in the shops – without knowing anything much about the brands they were buying.  Vertu, the draw-droppingly expensive, and some would say ridiculous-looking diamond-studded mobile phone, was (and for some still is) high up on the list of luxuries to carry back to Shenzhen. 

   In 2006, the first year that the Luxury SUV (sports utility vehicle) category was included in the Hurun survey of the “best of the best” (luxury brands), the Porsche Cayenne claimed top spot.  The people from Porsche were invited to deliver another acceptance speech the following year for the same range of vehicles. 

   However, in 2008, the tide turned.  The luxury-category influencers who were surveyed by Hurun, voted instead for the BMW X, which also carried off the title in 2009.  In 2010, it was the Audi Q7 that won the respondents’ vote.   Cayenne sales have continued to increase year after year, but in recent years the rise has as not been as fast as category sales.  

   The important driver, if you’ll forgive the pun, is that the Audi Q7 stands for “new wealth” and “new ideas about how to enjoy your wealth”, which has struck a chord with the New Wave of China’s rich (and also those among the waves gone by who are keen to go with the flow of the changing tide).   

   The New Wave (the biggest, most powerful wave yet) prefer the refinement and understatement of the Audi Q7 to the in-yer-face brooding presence of the Porsche Cayenne.  The extent of the swing, instigated by the influencers – those on the crest of the New Wave – is such that full-year 2010 sales of the Q7 are likely to exceed that of the Cayenne. Back in the car park, I stared at the grotesque Cayenne and resignedly shook my head. 

   But, just as I was working out how to explain my hypocrisy to my friends, Mr Wei ran ahead of me and seemed to disappear behind the Cayenne, from where I heard a door being manually unlocked.   

   I was delighted to discover that, hidden behind the Cayenne, was a white van.  And it was not just any white van… it was a mianbao che ['bread van'] no less.   A 'bread van' my not be my first choice of chauffeur-driven transportation.  But, given a choice of it, a Beijing taxi, an Audi Q7, or a Porsche Cayenne, the bread van would certainly be my second-pick every time. 

   And, in case you are wondering, the Beijing taxi would take third spot... even if I had to wait 30 minutes for it at two in the morning.

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Diamond-studded luxury in Shenzhen