Monday, July 04, 2016

Subject Matter Specialist

Subject Matter Specialist – Strategy Meets Execution

Delivering ROI. Building win-win relationships.

Focused on business development and entrepreneurship.

Breaking down sales and operational silos.

35+ years of experience in innovative leadership and organizational development, delivering on business plans through strategic planning and execution.

Motivating and managing diverse teams for greatest impact and effectiveness.

• Strategic Market Planning | New Business Development | Manufacturing & Distribution
• Strategic Communication | Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Data Analysis and Management
• Bleeding Edge Marketing Technologist | Brand Development | Product Development
• Customer Relationships | Key Stakeholder Management & Customer Retention
• Budgeting & Expense Control | Contract & Price Negotiation | Purchasing Management
• Government Contracting | Legislative Monitoring | Community Outreach & Public Affairs
• Manage Technology, Food Service, Automotive, Retail, Nonprofits (Trade and Human Services)


xTuple  World's #1 Open Source ERP, February 2012 – present –
Vice President of Marketing: Driving revenue in collaboration with sales and operations teams. Member of management team responsible for strategic planning, company vision, leadership and execution. Tightly connected to arts, economic development, startup and entrepreneurial communities – both locally in southeastern Virginia and nationally.
• Direct buyer persona (target lifecycle development), lead generation, customer conversions
• Manage company's global user conference, all inbound and outbound communication, including sales campaigns, content creation and syndication, websites and external digital properties, social media, public relations and value-added reseller/ channel partnerships
• Interface and guide user experience (UX) development with application engineers
• Influence new business management software development for key customers in manufacturing and distribution, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce.

Hampton Roads Partnership, September 2008 – February 2012
(Nonprofit economic development trade association dissolved September 2013, assumed by Hampton Roads Community Foundation)
Vice President of Strategic Communication and Marketing: Moving key stakeholders and citizens to action. Pursuing competitiveness in a global economy by facilitating regional collaboration and action among business, academia, defense, nonprofit, government and citizens. Devise and implement comprehensive internal (membership) and external (public) communication strategy and outreach plan to extend the impact of regional programs. Develop regional Legislative Agenda. Develop public participation component of region’s first comprehensive economic development strategy, "Vision Hampton Roads" and create all communication for “Innovate Hampton Roads.” Archived at

Innovation Gardening, May 2007 – February 2012
Chief Innovation Officer/Marketing Ambassador: Award-winning sales and marketing, business development, communication and event planning. Networked within government, business and nonprofits supporting regional economic “gardening” efforts, i.e., economic growth from within local markets.
• Director of Communications and Marketing (contract) for CASE, LLC, part of Chenega Corporation; Develop government proposals, especially past performance reviews, all in support of Business Development
• Technology Hampton Roads “Pentagon South”: Website design and outbound communication for Defense and Homeland Security Consortium, a technology community initiative
• Grassroots video campaign: Hampton Roads Partnership’s “Beat The Gridlock” transportation initiative, including collaboration with Port of Virginia
• Hampton Roads Chapter of American Marketing Association: Website design

Friendship Industries, Inc., September 2001 – June 2007
Director of Sales and Marketing: Human services organization empowering persons with disabilities with training and employment opportunities in integrated work environments. Built new position from existing base of customers.
• Coordinated feasibility and marketing studies to seek and grow new business opportunities
• Grew business from $1.5M to $4M, operating 90% of time as road warrior
• Contributed to and implemented Strategic Plan and created first Sales and Marketing Plan as part of Executive Management Team
• Managed customer relationships and trained and managed internal customer service
• Negotiated and maintained sales contracts, including estimating and pricing
• Added profitable new business divisions in Contract Manufacturing and Importing
• Achieved first government contract for U.S. Air Forc at $9M as sole source mandatory purchase with AbilityOne
• Developed and launched company's first interactive website:

ASC-Automatic Service Company, Edinburg/Lynchburg VA, Jan 1992 – Jun 2001
Divisional Company Manager, 1995-2001: Managed multi-million dollar Food Service Operation, including events, location development and design, sales/marketing, budget/forecast, personnel, purchasing, financials, cash handling; and directed staff of 90 employees and supervisors in over 50 client locations.
Virginia Sales and Marketing Manager, 1992 – 1995: Operated as sales, marketing and customer service force of one. Created and implemented sales plans, goals and objectives and designed all Business and Industrial (B&I) employee Food Services.
• Increased sales by $.5M in first year
• Added $2.0M in second year, more than doubling Edinburg Division’s size
• Created all collateral marketing materials, print and direct mail

Grubbs Chevrolet, Inc. (, Woodstock VA, Dec 1985 – Jan 1992
Sales and Marketing Manager: Developed first marketing calendar and budget, utilizing Chevrolet co-op available, emphasizing the family-ownership brand.
• Researched, established and operated first Rental/Leasing Department
• Researched, created and implemented first Credit & Collection Policies and Procedures
• Graduated Chevrolet’s Professional Sales School, earning recognition as #1 Sales Specialist

• B.S. cum laude – Dept. of Home Economics – Merchandising and Marketing (now School of Business); Minor – Business Administration, James Madison University (, Harrisonburg VA

• Tidewater Community College CED Certificate – Navigating Business with the Federal Government, Virginia Beach VA,
• General Services Administration (GSA) Expo Certificate-Selling to the Federal Government, Advertising and Integrated Marketing Solutions with GSA/Federal Supply Service
• NISH Business Development Certificate and JWOD University Graduate (Now AbilityOne)

• MS Office Power User-Access, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, industry-specific software, Adobe Creative Suite, HTML, web-publishing, xTuple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Corporate/Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

NOTE-confidential and proprietary materials, such as solicitations and proposals, are not archived or available for review.

• Startup Marketing or How to Market Your Venture with Little to No Money - HatchConf 2012
• American Planning Association (Virginia Chapter) Annual Conference – "Placemaking: Building a Regional Community of Communities," 2010 • Opportunity, Inc. Board of Directors – "Vision Hampton Roads, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy," 2010
• Various city and county governments in Hampton Roads – "Presentation of the Hampton Roads Partnership Annual Impact," 2009
• Tidewater Community College’s Academy of Nonprofit Excellence – “Discovering and Navigating Niche Markets, Resources for the Nonprofit Marketer,” 2008
• Virginia Association of Community Rehabilitation Programs (vaACCSES) – “Building Brand Loyalty from the Inside Out – Creating Ambassadors Within Your Organization,” 2006
• American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Marketing & Membership Conference – “Creating Passion is an Inside Job — The Why and How of Building a Great Staff Culture for Your Organization’s Success,” 2006
• Small Business Development Center – “Direct Mail and Me or Mailing: By the Numbers: Direct Mail 101," 2005

• 2007 NISH National Community Outreach Award for creative use of print materials, press releases, and other media to educate the community
• 2007 USPS Professional Certificates–Nonprofit Mail and Targeted Mail Marketing
• Numerous Employee of the Month Awards

• American Advertising Federation's Hampton Roads VA Chapter, past
• American Marketing Association’s Hampton Roads VA Chapter, past VP-Marketing/current member
• ASAE, American Society of Association Executives, past Vendor Member
• Downtown Norfolk Council, board member
• DMAW, Direct Marketing Association of Washington, past
• Technology Hampton Roads, past – Defense and Homeland Security Consortium, Marketing Sub-Committee Head, Website Admin (now unpublished)
• National Speakers Association of Virginia, past
• Public Relations Society of America, Hampton Roads VA Chapter, current member
• Tidewater Association of Service Contractors, past
• Town Point Club, Norfolk VA
• UXPA Norfolk, user experience
• WHRO, Public Media for Hampton Roads, Leadership Circle Member

Sunday, November 01, 2015


#mediarelease #PR

xTuple - World's #1 Open Source ERP

Website built for the Customer Journey
(click above for larger, full view)

Hampton Roads Partnership, a public-private consortium convening regional leaders among business, education, defense, technology, government and citizens, facilitating regional collaboration and action, pursuing global economic competitiveness, benefiting citizens of Hampton Roads; website designer and admin; blogger (unpublished); author of Hampton Roads e-News; editor and communication for "Vision Hampton Roads"

Defense and Homeland Security Consortium, a Community within Hampton Roads Technology Council (HRTC), marketing lead, website designer and admin (unpublished)

Viral campaign for Hampton Roads Partnership (HRP) in anticipation of Virginia's General Assembly Summer ’08 Special Session on Transportation (unpublished)

Hampton Roads Chapter of the American Marketing Association and launched first Hampton Roads AMA blog

Personal and Professional Blog, includes my entire portfolio and/or links to all archived materials (see links on right-hand sidebar)
and graphics

My YouTube Videos

My SlideShows, PowerPoint Presentations, etc.

Friendship Industries, Inc. – Media Information including Press Releases, Articles, Newsletters (archive by current owner)

Social Marketing On the Web: (a few of my favorite places, past and present)

*NOTE-confidential and proprietary materials are not archived or available for review

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Breaking News about global innovations

An oldie but still a good example of combining live action, voiceover, graphics and animation in video. I produced this in 2011 for the Hampton Roads Partnership during the Vision Hampton Roads kick-off for their Innovate!HamptonRoads™ program, aimed at regional economic diversification by connecting entrepreneurs, ideas and investment.

Vision Hampton Roads (website archived by Hampton Roads Community Foundation) was the first region-wide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to serve as the region’s roadmap to help navigate its course to the future. Direct YouTube video link.

"We have Breaking News about global innovations discovered right here in America's First Region."

"Hampton Roads is in the heart of the Mid Atlantic in Coastal Southeastern Virginia ... an 'innovation hotspot' on a global scale."

More about innovation, entrepreneurship and education in Hampton Roads (direct video link to presentation I created for HRP):

Sunday, August 03, 2014

WHRO Downtown Abbey - Masterpiece Trip Itinerary

Bert & I dressed up for a
 Downton Abbey-inspired
garden party at Hermitage Museum,
Norfolk, Virginia (USA)
What a joy it has been following the lifestyles of the Edwardian-era upper class and their servants in the PBS TV series Downton Abbey. From the sinking of the Titanic, through foxhunts and fairs, birth and death, taxes and tea parties, not to mention the unpleasantness of being a woman in this time period, the land of my forefathers is quite entertaining, to say the least.
We're experiencing the real Downton Abbey this Fall 2014! My hubby Bert Schmidt, President/CEO of WHRO, and I lead a group of anglophiles on a tour of merry old England, the Masterpiece Theater way. We'll visit Buckingham Palace, enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour and private dining at the real Downtown Abby - Highclere Castle, and stroll through the villages and taverns we’ve seen in the TV show, and much, much more.
Here's our itinerary:
Saturday, September 20
Bert and I arrive a day ahead of the rest of our group. Our flight brings us into Heathrow Airport on Saturday morning...and if all goes well with our travels, we plan to spend the evening with an "Eye" outing, that is, on the giant London Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames!

Sunday, September 21
Day One: WHRO group arrives, meeting at our hotel, The Rubens at the Palace, 39 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1W 0PS London, United Kingdom. (read more)
Monday, September 22
Day Two: Downton Touring #1 in the village of Bampton, Devon. (read more)
Tuesday, September 23
Day Three: London Touring starting with the Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ London, United Kingdom. (read more)

Wednesday, September 24
Day Four: Downton Touring #2 at Highclere Castle, Highclere Park, RG20 9RN Newbury, Berkshire. (read more)
Thursday, September 25 - Sunday, September 28
The WHRO portion of the trip is at an end, while Bert and I continue on to Paris through the Chunnel (English Channel Tunnel) via the Eurostar rail line and plan to explore Paris on our own, from our headquarters at Radisson Blu Champs-elysees.

WHRO Downtown Abbey Trip 2014 - Day One

Sunday, September 21
Day One: WHRO group arrives in London.
The Rubens at the Palace, 39 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1W 0PS London, United Kingdom
  • Our group meets at Heathrow Airport for transfer to Rubens at the Palace, the majestic 4-star luxury hotel which recalls the magnificence and splendor of a bygone age, yet with the latest in modern comforts and technology. From the windows of the Rubens, we can watch the comings-and-goings of Buckingham Palace guardsmen in the Royal Mews, or step outside to share in the unforgettable daily pageant of the Changing of the Guard.
  • Check-in and enjoy lunch on our own, then meet our guide and take a relaxing panoramic tour of London by boat on the River Thames.
  • This evening, a private cocktail reception and dinner will be held at the hotel, where we will screen the first episode of Downton Abbey Season 5 (subject to scheduling, not available in the U.S. until January 2015).

WHRO Downtown Abbey Trip 2014 - Day Two

Monday, September 22
Day Two: Downton Touring #1
Village of Bampton, Devon
Today, we meet our private driver and guide for a full day of exploring:
  • An early morning visit of Buckingham Palace State Rooms, which are only open to the public for a few months each year.
  • Drive to the picturesque village of Bampton, used for all external village scenes in Downton Abbey.
  • Enjoy a lovely lunch at The Swan, the pub where a very key Downton Abbey storyline was filmed. [spoiler alert]
  • Return to our hotel for a leisurely evening.

WHRO Downtown Abbey Trip 2014 - Day Three

Tuesday, September 23
Day Three: London Touring
Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ London, United Kingdom
We meet our private driver and guide for a full day of exploring in the city:
  • Visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his cabinet members worked underground throughout the expected air raids on London, directing England through World War II until the lights were finally switched off in August 1945.
  • Enjoy lunch at our leisure and spend the afternoon shopping or taking in London’s highlights on our own.
  • We're considering another Masterpiece visit, this one to Mr. Selfridges.
  • Evening at leisure.

WHRO Downtown Abbey Trip 2014 - Day Four

Wednesday, September 24
Day Four: Downton Touring #2
Highclere Castle, Highclere Park, RG20 9RN Newbury, Berkshire
Departing London, we'll be on our way for the once-in-a-lifetime, private visit to Highclere Castle, the centerpiece of the PBS show we all know and love, Masterpiece's Downton Abbey, a dramatic exploration of the British relationship between upper and lower classes.
  • By special permission of Lady Carnavon, we've been granted exclusive access to Highclere Castle's State Rooms, grounds and Egyptian exhibition.
  • Enjoy lunch in the Castle's beautiful State Dining Room, the very dining room featured in "Downton" itself. Lady Carnarvon herself may join us to personally host part of the day.
  • During its summer public season, Highclere Castle welcomes nearly 1,500 people every day through its doors, so this is a truly unique opportunity to have Downton Abbey all to ourselves for the day!
  • Our driver and guide will return us to the Rubens at the end of this very special day, so we may enjoy our evening at leisure.

While not technically a ‪#‎Masterpiece event, what trip to London would be complete without a show at The National? Bert and I have tickets for the Wednesday 9/24 performance at 7:30pm of "War Horse."
For more, subscribe to Lady Carnarvon's blog, a behind the scenes look at her life and home and anecdotes from everyday life at Highclere Castle. The world of Highclere still exists with its own community of Chefs, Gardeners and Housekeepers, Colin the Butler and Jo the Groom as well as all the other people who make the ‘Real Downton Abbey’ a welcoming place for visitors today.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Pierson-Schmidt Wedding in Taos, NM
Fabulous family wedding June 21, 2014, in Taos, New Mexico.
Groom = Mark Schmidt, younger brother of my hubby Bert.
Bride = Abby Pierson (his gorgeous "catch")

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I've been remiss in maintaining my personal blog since joining xTuple (February 1, 2012), the leading provider of commercial open source business management software for growing companies. Check out the xTuple website and the reason is clear...we are a fast-paced, growing company ourselves.

Headquartered in the “innovation corridor” of downtown Norfolk, Va., xTuple integrates all critical functional areas of a business in one software system: sales, accounting, and operations– including customer and supplier management, inventory control, manufacturing and distribution. As a commercial open source company, xTuple works with a global community of tens of thousands of professional users. xTuple gives customers the ability to tailor solutions with multi-platform support for Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile as well as flexible licensing and pricing options. Read more via the open source community and join the innovation conversation at

Follow us @xTuple || #ERP #CRM #accounting

About #xTupleCon14
Held in the downtown business district at the premier Norfolk Marriott Waterside Hotel and Conference Center, the annual xTupleCon brings together a global community of open source technologists and ERP users to learn, collaborate and innovate. For 2014, attendees experience two days of in-depth pre-conference hands-on workshops, a VIP welcome reception, awards dinner, door prizes, invaluable training, and more. xTupleCon14’s week-long events run Monday, October 13, through Saturday, October 18, 2014.

About xTuple, the world’s #1 open source ERP
Award-winning xTuple, makers of the world’s leading suite of open source accounting, Corporate Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), is supply chain management software for growing businesses to control their operations and profitability. xTuple integrates all critical functional areas in one modular system: sales, financials and operations — including customer and supplier management, inventory control, manufacturing and distribution — the powerful tools to Grow Your World®. CIO Review named xTuple a top company in the forefront of tackling Manufacturing Technology challenges and impacting today’s marketplace.

xTuple Supports Innovation
From blueprints to buildouts, xTuple helps foster startups in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic technology corridor between Research Triangle, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., as a committed, passionate member of the Norfolk/Virginia Beach tech community. Learn more at

Monday, December 05, 2011

Study: Sharing services among cities would save

Ten cities and seven counties govern most of the 1.7 million people in Hampton Roads. Each has its own police, fire and public works departments.

And in the decade that ended in 2010, the region's population grew slowly, by about 6 percent.

Contrast that with the Charlotte, N.C., area, where half of the area's 1.8 million people reside in Mecklenburg County, a sprawling jurisdiction of 524 square miles that is larger than the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk combined.

Charlotte and Mecklenburg essentially act as one government, jointly providing everything from water service and police protection to the construction of a downtown sports arena. And the Charlotte metropolitan area's population grew by 32 percent - among the fastest in the nation - from 2000 until 2010.

The message in those statistics is clear to Virginia Beach City Councilman Glenn Davis - in order to thrive, Hampton Roads' largest cities should, where possible, begin sharing services.

"Either we truly become one region, or we will fall while the Charlottes and other cohesive regions rise," he said.

Davis said a critical step in achieving regional cooperation will come this afternoon, when the Beach and Norfolk city councils are to be briefed on a study by Hampton Roads Partnership on sharing services [Shared Services Project]. They will be told that the region's three largest cities could save between $11.5 million and $15.1 million per year by pooling services such as police and fire training and the use of heavy equipment.

If the cities and school divisions pool their employee health insurance plans, total savings could skyrocket by an additional $50 million.

A consultant hired by the partnership suggests moving slowly. Merging health insurance, for instance, likely would take years.

At least one suggestion wouldn't save a dime but would make the area more attractive to businesses: adopting a regional building permit.

The partnership organized the study late last year in response to a suggestion from Virginia Beach City Manager Jim Spore, said Dana Dickens, who heads the partnership.

Dickens will present the study today at 4 p.m. to the Beach council. City Manager Marcus Jones will present the study to the Norfolk council at 2.

The study was paid for in part by five of the region's largest corporations - Amerigroup, Dollar Tree, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Norfolk Southern and Smithfield Foods. The partnership hired Management Partners, an Ohio-based consulting firm, which helped a steering committee identify duplicate programs in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake, the region's three largest cities.

Davis, Norfolk City Councilman Barclay C. Winn and Chesapeake City Councilman Rick West served on the steering committee, as did the three city managers.

Davis acknowledged the study may be a tough sell to some members of the Beach City Council.

"I have some people on my council who don't like the word 'regionalism,' " he said. "But gone are the days when you live, eat and work in just one city. This is one region."

West said the timing is right for such a study because of the sluggish economy.

"Every city in the region just went through the difficult process of balancing their budgets," he said. "We all have scarce resources."

However, he said some proposals, such as pooling health insurance, may prove controversial. He said many workers are drawn to city government because benefits traditionally have been more generous than in the private sector.

When you start tinkering with those benefits, employees may react angrily, he said. So the cities need to proceed cautiously.

Winn agreed but said regional cooperation has to occur.

"There's no need for Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to all have their own police firing ranges," he said. "Do we need a SWAT team or a riot squad in every city? Maybe, but in this economic climate, these are the kinds of questions we should be asking."

Jim Hixon, an executive vice president for Norfolk Southern, said the corporate community has long urged the cities to pool services just as the private sector has.

"Everything they're doing here," he said, referring to the partnership study, "we've already done."

Chesapeake City Council will be briefed on the study when it meets next week. All three city councils will then be asked to pass resolutions endorsing the study.

The three city managers would then be charged with initiating piecemeal changes, such as the cooperative hiring of private companies to do elevator inspections and coming up with a regional building permit.

The city managers would be asked to include more ambitious cost savings, such as public safety training and the provision of human services, for the city budgets to be adopted next spring.

Davis said this is an opportunity the cities can't afford to fumble.

"If we don't follow up on this, I fear we won't have another chance for a long time," he said.

By Harry Minium, The Virginian-Pilot

Sunday, October 10, 2010

China - a View from the back of the bus - Travel Notes

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Travel notes, in no particular order:

  1. Chinese Safety: Brochure provided in hotel advises against prostitution, porn articles, drugs and using hotel rooms for “other purposes.” Also, no fighting or gambling and “follow no strangers to the fun places.” The pictograms were even better than the Chinese-English translations! I saved it!
  2. Business cards: You never know whom you will meet in your travels. Always carry cards and keep ‘em handy.
  3. Medicines: The Transderm-Scopolamine patch provided by my physician was the bees-knees! I’ve suffered motion sickness for years while flying and tried Dramamine, Vodka, you-name-it. The patch rocks! A small round band-aid like patch behind the ear, and I was good to go. Also used a homeopathic “jet lag prevention” from Magellan’s Travel, a pleasant-tasting chewable tablet every few hours while flying, coming and going. Changing my watch to get on the destination time as soon as I boarded the place was a great help, too. NO JET LAG! Rarely needed the first aid kit but glad to have it with me; the sinus meds came in handy due to rainforest-like conditions in some places.

  4. Ground transportation: Next time, I’d fly to JFK. The bus trip to/from was exhausting. Going to NY only took 7 hours, but the trip home was pushing 10 hours. Ugh.
  5. Flights: ALWAYS ensure we’re in our final departure city before last flight to U.S. Unfortunately, our itinerary had us flying from Shanghai, early in the morning (a domestic flight/different terminal and different security procedures), to Beijing where we would catch our flight (an international flight!) – the only one of the day – back to JFK in New York. ALSO get up and move around as much as you can; I made the mistake of sleeping way too long on the flight home and my feet and ankles swelled, taking more than two days to reduce to normal again.
  6. The tour company: Citslinc International, Inc., the Chamber’s Chinese partner, took care of all ticket purchases, including flights, as well as the required Chinese Visa. Very helpful. This is not a trip we would have attempted on our own. If you don’t speak Chinese, you’re out of luck.
  7. Pricing: The price for this trip was, in a word, cheap! I paid almost as much for airfare to Japan over seven years ago. We very soon realized the trip was underwritten by the many government-owned factory stores to which we were shuttled every day. While the lectures provided at the beginning of each tour was interesting, we were a bit irritated with all the selling. It was difficult to separate from the group, so we ended up waiting in the bus often. However, all of our bus-mates were in shopping heaven, making deals. So, we chalked up all of the shopping to keeping our trip price low. We didn’t make any factory store purchases (other than my Green Tea); we felt we supported the country by our many “Made in China” purchases in the U.S.
  8. Shopping: You will stop at several "factory tours" or other selling venues such as “China Town in Shanghai” every day. Capitalism is alive and well in China including street vendors in every tourist stop and restaurant, gift shops, and the "stuff" sold on our bus by our guides from custom-made suits to in-room massages to duffle bags to playing cards and postcards to special group photos and a DVD to loose leaf tea mugs (yes, I bought two). Thankfully, bottled water (2 for $1 USD) was available daily on the bus. Warm or not, it was needed.
  9. Food: Meals were often at the "factory tour" restaurant, served in family-sized bowls “Lazy Susan” style, with our entire group sitting together in a large room with other tour groups. We rarely saw locals eating in these places and assumed we were eating “Westernized” Chinese food. It began to be very repetitious with nearly the same dishes served at every stop, lunch or dinner. We’re on Chinese food-overload and will avoid it here in the U.S. Breakfast is the most “Western” and plentiful meal of the day. Enjoy and make the most of it. Also, if you crave a certain seasoning, be sure to carry packets with you to use. I carried Splenda to sweeten my tea; rarely finding even sugar to use other than in the hotels. Wish I had carried crushed red pepper as much of the food was bland; only during our last two meals were we offered soy or hot sauce.
  10. Clothing: Wish I had taken my waterproofed walking sandals, cargo shorts (with pockets) and more light-weight, loose-fitting tops. It was SO hot and humid that Hampton Roads feels cool in comparison. SO glad I carried my lightweight traveler’s rain jacket! When they say “China is a casual place,” they mean it. Don’t waste space carrying anything too nice. It rained almost constantly in Beijing, and the other cities were overly hot. China does have air conditioning in the form of upright units placed sporadically in select areas. But their idea of a cool temperature and mine are very different, including the temperature of drinks served. But we adapted.
  11. Personal hygiene: Take plenty of tissue packets and personal wet-wipes. You will need them in most, if not all, public toilets. Even some Western-style toilets were without paper for wiping or cleansing either end. Don’t be surprised by the Asian hole-in-the-floor toilet in the ladies room, and don’t be shocked if the locals don’t close the stall door and insist on using the stall with no door. No modesty in China when nature calls. Also, don’t hold up lines by waiting for the occasional handicapped stall with Western toilet and perhaps even rails for holding on. Suck it up and go native. And, most important of all, ladies and gentlemen: do NOT flush the paper in the toilet. All paper goes in the trash can provided in the stalls. I know, gross. I carried a hand sanitizer spray, too.

  12. Daily schedule: This is firm. It is not easy to leave the tour to go out on your own. Plan to go on "optional" tours offered as it is not convenient to NOT go on the optional tour. Your only option is usually to wait on the bus.
  13. Walking around money: The price of the trip can be kept to a minimum if you have the will-power to withstand the many shopping opportunities. We took only $1000 total made up of U.S. Dollars and Chinese Yuan and returned with change despite buying American food, a few gifts for the kids and all of the offered cash-only “optional” tours. Only used the credit card once for my $200 tea purchase.
  14. Fatigue: This is not your typical vacation. You will be tired every night and upon your return. With that said, we would never consider touring China without a group tour such as this. And, with the length of time and distance it takes to get to China, why not pack in all that you can? Schedule at least a long weekend to recuperate and get on a “regular” schedule again.
  15. Final thought: Don’t let our or anyone else’s experience dissuade you from taking this trip if it fits your time and budget. Definitely worth every penny. Just do it.

Slideshow on Flickr

Read the series...

China - a View from the back of the bus - Day Eight

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Day Eight (the end, almost)
Ah, the early morning bus-ride to the airport. You’d think one would become accustomed. Nope.

Getting back to the States was an adventure itself. We had to fly to Shanghai to get back to Beijing for the only flight of the day back to NYC. Not a good idea on any overseas trip, we now know. Be in your final departure city the night before! We sat on the plane in Shanghai for a long time before Air China finally decided the plane had a mechanical problem that could not be fixed, and they didn’t have another plane. Better to find out on the ground, I say.

We had a very short connection window for the Beijing flight. We’d never make it, even if we could find another flight to get us out of Shanghai. At this point, I’m envisioning sleeping on the floor of the airport. No worries, I had a pillow and blanket with me.

Now, Bert and I are at the back of the plane. By the time we had got through the jet way, the Chinese, other travelers and our group had crowded the gate ten or more people-deep. It brought to mind the craziness of New York Stock Exchange traders, so I stepped back and put in my iPod’s ear buds. After some harried negotiation via mobile phone between the President of the Hampton Roads Chamber, Jack Hornbeck, and the tour company, our group was divided up and given boarding passes to three different flights to Beijing. Run. They were ready to go. Luckily, our Chamber group was so large, the Beijing to NYC flight was held up for us to arrive.

So, after arriving in JFK several hours later than expected, we flew through U.S. Customs with ease despite what appeared to be a very long line, then boarded the bus – the last one I hope to ride on for a while – for the final trip home.

Our driver took us through New York’s Chinatown as we left JFK for the trip which would take us down the Eastern Shore. The entire bus chuckled. We’d just left that all behind. The driver seemed to take forever. He was Chinese and told us he couldn’t drive in China anymore. Too fast for him.

While Bert enjoyed taking pictures of me wearing my mask on the plane, I was the ONLY person on the bus ride home NOT hacking and coughing the entire way. We arrived home in Norfolk at 2:30am on Thursday. I slept, was showered and back to work by 11:30am, swollen feet and all. Bert took a long weekend.

After this trip, I think there are two Chinas. One is the China of my grade school history books with ornate gardens, pagodas and pavilions, gates and walls, farmland growing tea, dynasties and privileged emperors. The other is the China of today, fused somewhere between capitalism and communism, a people ready to embrace the dream of middle-class and to throw open the national doors to invite in shoppers of all race, color and creed. While I may never go back, I am certainly glad we did go. Not because the trip was not memorable. It was that, and more. I am glad I traveled to Japan first. I may have never gone, if not, based on this Asian experience. Just proves that one cannot judge an entire continent by one country, or even one city or person. We’re all different.

And there are just so many more places Bert and I want to explore. Suggestions?

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China - a View from the back of the bus - Day Seven

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Day Seven
Our last full day in China, so we decided to stay with the group only until the Maglev train ride. Shanghai’s silk carpet factory was our first stop. They were just too picture-perfect and beautiful – and expensive (in the tens of thousands for a small hanging) – to consider walking on. Again, only a few artisans were on display weaving in the factory, and our factory guide attributed this to the cottage industry of China. Most of her artisans had looms at home, she said. Some of the high quality carpets could take months, even years, to complete. The more knots per square inch, the more expensive, and the more exquisite and detailed. Many of our fellow travelers made big ticket purchases.

Where does most of the artisans' work actually occur? Only a few craftsmen were at work at any of the government-owned factory stores to which we were shuttled. We were told that most work is a “cottage industry” occurring within the person’s home. I wonder? True or third-world factory conditions somewhere out of the view of Westerners intolerant of such things?

Our favorite part of the carpet factory, though, was the accountant labeled “budget computing”… using an ancient abacus as his computer… while listening to his MP3 player.

We thought we were in for a special treat at a Mongolian BBQ for lunch. We enjoy these in the U.S. At first glance, the set-up was very similar: with bowl in hand, go down a buffet line and choose your ingredients, then deliver o a short order cook who grills on a common circular cook top. A few differences. The choices included goat meat, and the grill cooks threw the food around so much that our all meals tended to look alike.

As part of my job at the Hampton Roads Partnership, I monitor transportation efforts and simply had to ride on the world’s only commercial Maglev train ( These trains are powered by electromagnetism and suspended in air above the track on a magnetic cushion.

It did not disappoint as we ran from Shanghai’s Longyang Road station to Pudong International Airport as part of the metro system. Reaching a top speed of 431 kilometers per hour (just under 277 miles per hour), it is much faster than the bullet trains in Japan I enjoyed during my visit there. The entire round trip only took about 15 minutes. The rushing whoomp felt on the return trip when passing the other train was exhilarating. If you blinked, you missed seeing it altogether.

We were fortunate to meet Jerry Roper, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and his wife on the train. Chicago is a Shanghai Sister City, and the Chamber along with Chicago Mayor Daley had been visiting at the same time we were in China.

After the Maglev trip, we bailed on our travel mates and skipped the last shopping experience of our trip, the Yu Garden Bazaar or Shanghai’s “China Town” and the circus later that night. Before catching our first non-rickshaw Chinese cab, we stopped at the train station’s McDonalds for a taste of home. That Micky D’s cheeseburger tasted just like the good ole’ U.S. of A, but the French fries had a very distinctive Chinese food oily taste. Looking around the fast food restaurant, we could have easily been at home based on the patrons, many speaking English and all dressed on modern Western garb. The décor, including the bathroom and the Café McD, were exactly like home!

We had obtained a business card at the hotel with both English and Chinese information and also asked Capt. Jack to write down where we wanted to go in Chinese. Despite a false start with a cabbie who couldn’t understand his Chinese character, we asked a guard at the taxi stop. He understood our destination: the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower ( which we had seen from The Bund the night before.

The OPT, as the English-speaking Chinese referred to it, was once the tallest structure in China (1,535 feet high). Although it is still the tallest TV tower in China and third tallest TV tower in the world, at least as of the date we visited. Bert, TV guy, needed to get up in that tower as high as he could, so we took the cramped – Chinese know no personal space limitations – elevator up.

The 360-degree view was extraordinary. We could see forever, or as far as the smog would allow, on both sides of the Huang Pu River. It was almost as if one had “photoshopped” the Manhattan skyline over and over and over. We walked around the glass-enclosed observation deck noting the city we faced stenciled in English and Chinese on the window.

We’d heard there was a glass floored observation deck somewhere, so we stood in line for the elevator only to find we needed to pay more Yuan to go up. These were some of the best pictures of the trip; we even captured the shadow of the OPT and another group of teenagers who certainly looked no different than Bert’s daughter Jillian and her pals.

As we were the only Western faces in the crowd, we’d become the tourist attraction in the OPT. Chinese tourists cozied up to us, and their guide explained they’d like to have their pictures taken with us. We felt like rockstars!

After the OPT, we hailed a cab and handed him our hotel card. After a bit of shoulder shrugging, he finally called the hotel, we’re assuming to get directions. After what seemed like an eternal cab ride (and cheap!) which took us through an amazing tunnel system under the Huang Pu River, we arrived back in older Shanghai. The cab gave us a much closer perspective of Chinese life – and driving – than did the back of the bus. We saw a woman using a foot-pump sewing machine under an umbrella on the street, a city wall whose top was embedded with glass shards, and the hustle, bustle of everyday people living everyday lives.

The best part of the harrowing cab trip happened while we were stopped in traffic. I glimpsed a small Chinese boy looking at me from the back of his cab. He shrank down into the seat when he saw that I had seen him, timidly cradling himself under his mother’s arm. Then, as he peeked back at me, I waved to him. He waved back with the biggest little boy smile. Some things transcend cultures.

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China - a View from the back of the bus - Day Six

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Day Six
We checked out of our Hangzhou hotel and enjoyed the usual American hotel breakfast which consists of Western fare, such as eggs to order, pancakes and/or waffles, pastries, fried potatoes, bacon, dry cereals, etc. Add to that some Chinese staples of eggs hard-boiled in tea and the usual Lazy Susan dishes for lunch and dinner, etc. A strange assortment, to say the least, but a hardy meal to get us started for our travel-packed days.

Neither Hangzhou nor Suzhou has subways, like Shanghai or Beijing. Capt. Jack proudly told us his city of Suzhou would have a system built within five years, though. Bikes were much more visible. Of course, no bike helmets or knee pads or safety lights as in America. It was nothing to see a rider carrying an umbrella in one hand while steering the bike with the other or transporting a baby in a sling or a truck-sized pile of Styrofoam packing materials or broken wood pallets.

The drive from the city of Hangzhou into the villages reminded me of the dichotomy of architecture which is China. Everywhere, centuries old historic buildings share the landscape with the modern.

Our first stop was the Dragon Well Green Tea Farm in Meijiawu village (, as Jack joked, where we would see all the tea in China.

I made the only purchase of the trip here: premium tea from the very tender first spring shoots of the tea bushes grown on tiered hillsides and dried by hand. Our lecturer was the lovely lady, Plum Ling; first name “Ling” and surname “Plum” whose family had owned and worked the farm for many generations. The tea was fantastic and with the promise of quality green tea encouraging weight loss, how could I resist?

The gentleman drying the tea leaves by hand in the giant heated caldron had been trained, as was the custom, from the early age of 12 developing his hands into hard, smooth alabaster with no sweat glands. Our guides talked a lot about lost arts. No wonder. Tough gig.

Next stop, Lingyin Temple (, a 1600-year old Buddhist temple where monks still lived and worshipers burned incense and bowed heads in prayer. Tall rock pagodas and rock wall carvings of the many faces of Buddha lined the path to the temple proper. One hall enclosed five hundred different statues of the many interpretations of Buddha. Not sure why this wasn’t on the World Heritage list, although I think the buildings may have been rebuilt many times since the monastery's founding.

The boat cruise on West Lake after Lingyin Temple was a welcome relief with a bit of breeze blowing off the water. No one attempted to give us tour info, though. While we saw various boats and structures in the water and on the shore and islands, we still have no idea what we were experiencing. Took lots of pictures, though. The lake was smooth as glass. Really no need for the pre-cautionary Dramamine I took. It did afford us a great photo opp of the skyline of the city of Hangzhou.

The drive to Shanghai took about 2 hours or so. We stayed semi-awake, especially to enjoy the “rest stop” along the highway. Hoping to enjoy some American fast food, we were instead faced with extremely blackened, mystery to-go foods similar to the market in Suzhou. Back to snacks we brought from home.

Capt. Jack also told us about Chinese porta-potties, used before the advent of such rest areas and still today by some. Pull over, open four umbrellas, and lay on ground to form a square; then squat. Innovative, those Chinese.

The long drive back to Shanghai brought us more urban traffic experiences. I enjoyed taking pictures of traffic and the multi-levels of roads. All in appreciation of the little traffic we actually have in Hampton Roads despite daily complaints. After fighting through traffic, dinner. Every restaurant served my favorite drink for lunch and dinner, beer. For medicinal purposes, of course.

For a short time after dinner, we toured The Bund (, an elevated walkway facing the Huang Pu River waterfront. Behind us were historic buildings and across the river, the Pudong District, the “Wall Street of the East” as it is known. Bert and I were intrigued and decided we would finally break free of the tour the next day and venture to Pudong on our own.

We stayed at probably the most beautiful of the hotels on our trip, the Renaissance Shanghai Putuo ( So much is squeezed into the day that we just had no energy to venture out after dinner to explore the cities on our own. When I mentioned this to our guide, he said it was really not a good idea anyway after to go out after dark, which stopped me in my tracks. We attempted to do the metropolitan thing and have cocktails in the lounge. After being denied entrance to the penthouse bar (I’m sure we looked dreadful), we opted for the lobby bar where we watched the nightly news and ordered drinks … while dozing off. Crashed after a long day again.

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