My First Venture into Business

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Two years ago, my family passed a small farm while driving through the rural hills of Teipe, not far from Beijing. Enticed by a small handmade sign, we stopped to buy strawberries. As we were leaving, a little girl of nine or ten dashed towards me. “Jiejie (sister)" she gasped. "Would you like to buy this straw hat? It’s only three Yuan (US$0.40).” Looking at the hand-made straw hats and bags on the shoulders of this tiny girl, I was amazed by the delicate patterns and beautiful designs. I bought them all.

Sensing our discomfort in the July heat, the little girl invited us into the house for some ice tea. We sat around the kitchen table, surrounded by bundles of straw and piles of finished straw bags and hats. When she learned I was a high school student, the girl exclaimed, “Oh, my brother is also in high school.

He is very smart! We all work hard to support him. My sisters and I weave these hats all day long. But, but very few people pass by and buy them.” I fell silent. Her words and her sunburnt face haunted me throughout the following week.

I had an idea. Always the entrepreneur, I wanted to market these beautiful, handmade straw items. I called my uncle in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his trucks to park in downtown BeiJing. He agreed, but warned me that getting permission would be impossible. The mayor's office only granted parking permits for the downtown area to construction firms and production companies shooting full-length films. I thought, "That’s great!" That evening, I cajoled my cousin, a director in a small local filming company. The next day, I received a permit to shoot a full-length film entitled, “The Story of a Teipe...