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Local chamber members visit China

Posted: January 7, 2009 7:20 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2009 11:30 a.m.

Melissa Verna, Carlo Pietrosanti, Jenny and Tim Ketchepaw at the end of the Great Wall of China, after hiking about an hour up the side of a large mountain. The group travelled with about 140 locals on a site-seeing and business trip to the country, hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in early November.

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Local business owner, B.J. Atkins, can scratch "climb the Great Wall of China" off his list of life goals.

Atkins, owner of Atkins Environmental H.E.L.P., Inc., in Valencia, was one of about 140 people who recently travelled to China with Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce members.

Atkins and others agreed the trip was worth more than the $1,599 price tag.

Chamber officials planned the tour for the first time as a way to give its members a first-hand look at the rapidly developing nation and experience its many popular attractions.

"It was everything I think we hoped it would be," said Larry Mankin, chamber president.
Some days began as early as 4 a.m. and lasted as late as 9 p.m., Mankin said.

The entire trip was jam-packed with site-seeing, eating, smelling, hiking and exploring.

"That's all we did, everyday," Mankin said. "We saw an unbelievable amount of ancient history."

The trip began in Beijing where members spent a few days "oohing" and "aahing" over such sites as Tian An Men Square, the Forbidden City, the Ming tombs, the Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace and The Great Wall.

"It was life-changing. Climbing the Great Wall and being with great people," said Jenny Ketchepaw of Telesis Community Credit Union. "I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."
Ketchepaw and Atkins said seeing the 2008 Olympic venues, like the Beijing National Stadium or the "Bird's Nest," was also a highlight.

"Obviously, we'd all been watching the Olympics," Ketchepaw said. "So it was neat to see where it had all just happened."

From Beijing, the visitors made their way to Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai to explore the Lingering Garden, the Longjing Green Tea Plantation, the centuries-old Lingyin Temple, famous waterfront park - The Bund, the Yu Garden and more.

Atkins said he wasn't prepared for how fulfilling it was to be on a boat in the "Venice of the Orient" in Suzhou.

"We were able to get off the boat that was taking us through the canals where all these people live," he said.

Just a few hundred feet from the dock there was an open-air market, Atkins said.

"They had chickens, ducks, turtles, frogs and eels. And all this stuff was live and you picked what you wanted. We had to endure the smell of this wonderful bakery," Atkins said. "We couldn't resist, they looked different than what we were used to but it sure smelled good and they tasted great."

Atkins remembers the faces his group members made as they tried to eat scorpion in Shanghai.
"It was hilarious," he said. "Picture someone trying to put a scorpion in their mouth. That's what travelling is about -- trying something you've never experienced, pushing through your fears and having memories as a result."

Beyond experiencing China, visitors said the social opportunity to build relationships with one another was invaluable.

"What I experienced was networking," Ketchepaw said. "Here we were travelling with business professionals, but at the same time we were networking without even realizing it and cultivating relationships. It was neat to travel with these people and spend a lot of time together with people we're now doing business with."

The trip was not designed for members to make significant business contacts in China, but it certainly opened their eyes concerning the growth of free enterprise, Mankin said.

"The point was to take away some fear involved of wanting or needing to do business in China and I think it did just that," he said. "(We) found out, in fact, Chinese do like Americans."

Mankin said his hope is for future business relationships between China business leaders and SCV business leaders.

Participants represented industries ranging from retail to financial services to public relations and more.

"There were a lot of people getting to know each other on a social basis and that was kind of refreshing," Mankin said. "That's how business is done in the Santa Clarita Valley."
The next chamber trip is Oct. 6.

mgasca@the-sginal.com

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