Friday, June 4, 2010

New Chinese Name

I now have a Chinese name—Mary Mulan. (My African name is Njoki, meaning “one who returns”).

During my stay in China we did a three-day trip to Shang Qui in the Hunan Province. This is where the Mulan Temple is and where that entire story originated. The story became famous worldwide in 1998 when Disney did an animated movie on Mulan.

Doking Foods’ factories are located in Shang Qui, a small Chinese city of 10 million people. Most people I have met in Shanghai have never heard of it—because it’s small by China standards. It also is the hub of agriculture output for China.

Doking was the primary financial sponsor of the Legacies Dinner for the Global Summit of Women dinner in Shanghai which honored the President of Finland. Mr. and Mrs. Liu, who are one of the most delightful couples I have ever met, started the business about 10 years ago.

What really astounded me about Doking is that they are introducing a new organic grain drink in their 92 stores across China. And an etching modeled after my photo is on the cup! They decided to make me the face of this health drink since I am a six-time cancer survivor, a former basketball player and coach and still pretty healthy despite all I’ve been through.

When our train pulled into the Shang Qui station, I was a little dazed after sleeping most of the five-hour trip. But I woke up quickly after stepping out on the platform. Mr. Liu was there with flowers for me and the other women in our group. A banner at least 10 feet long welcoming me to Shang Qui was on the platform and there were photographers everywhere. As we left the station, a lot of city, regional and province government officials were there to greet us, too.

We went to our hotel and I was given a suite. At that evening’s dinner I was honored with gifts and – more pictures were taken! And yes, we did a lot of “cheers” and drinking. The top woman official for the region was at the dinner, too.

The next day we went to the Doking Factory and toured the Shang Qui area. We were given a police escort everywhere so we would not be held up in traffic and yes, there were photographers at every stop.

Doking already had a brochure and video made that had photos and editorial mention of the Global Summit dinner, which had just been two days earlier. They are one of the few factories in China that do not allow smoking on the property.

Besides the Mulan Temple, we went to the Mulan Cultural Park, the city wall and old town and the “Fire House.” It was all very interesting and informative. And of course, that night we had another celebration dinner before leaving the next morning on the train.

Mulan was a warrior from somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries that went to war disguised as a man so her elderly father would not have to go. Of course, she was one of China’s greatest warriors for the next 10 years and not until her service was over did she reveal that she was a woman.

To be compared to the “most famous and strongest” woman in Chinese history is quite an honor. And at first I was embarrassed by it. But I know it is in fun—and I decided, why not? I have been working for many years to help further the status of women throughout the world. In the last few years, my main focus in this area has been for women in developing countries.

The woman that heads the women’s association in the Hunan Province was at the Mulan Temple to greet us as well. This is not just a group for businesswomen, but for all women. She said that the association helps women with personal issues as well as business issues. She said that many women want to start businesses. I asked her what is the biggest issue overall. I expected something like child care, domestic violence, health care services – something more on the personal front. Her quick answer was “getting capital.” It’s amazing that no matter how different things are, they are still the same. That is probably the primary obstacle for women business owners in the US, as well.

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