At the end of part two, I was seated at the table with 30 other people. Soon, I would know if this was a contract signing meeting or a negotiation meeting.

There were no introductions. I communicated with a man named Chen, who I had met at our Grant Prideco facilities tour in Houston. He would speak in Chinese and then the translator repeated it in English. I would respond in English and the translator relayed my words in Chinese. This went on for about an hour. The discussion was a test to see what I knew and, I am sure, to judge my honesty. Toward the end of this first session, they told me they would split the order between my company and a Chinese company. That hurt. Their main concern appeared to be delivery time, making me think my quoted price was in the ballpark.

They announced a break. A driver took me back to the hotel so I could call the factory for better availability. After about an hour, they took me back to my meeting. I had good news on the availability, but still fell short of their full request. The meeting restarted and I relayed the shortening of the lead time. It was still not good enough.

In an unexpected turn, Chen asked me to quote a different drill pipe: one with an HT55 (HT is high torque) connection — and they specified a particular radius at the back of the upset. The HT was a Grant Prideco proprietary connection, I told them, adding that I doubt it would improve the availability. I agreed to confer with the factory for pricing and lead time. They took me to an office to use a phone. I called to get a new quotation and find out about the radius. They would check it out, they told me, and I could call back. I was taken back to my hotel to work on it. I figure my hosts held the meeting after hours so as to make it convenient for me to call the factory in Texas during their normal U.S. working hours. While I was back at the hotel, they were probably meeting with other vendors.

I worked on pricing wishing the hotel had food service. They wanted the price based on a cost per ton. I had a cost per foot, so I hoped the weight per foot I had was accurate. After about 30 minutes back at the hotel, I got a call from the factory and had the information I needed. About 10 p.m., the driver returned and drove me back to the meeting.

I presented the pricing on the HT55 drill pipe and told them their radius request was no problem. The conversation went to lead time. We originally quoted a six- to eight-month lead time, which I had shortened to five to six. They said they needed it shipped in four months. I explained that the factory needed time to get the tubes and tool joint forgings, and that the factory had a backlog.

I found talking through a translator awkward. I wondered how many people at the table spoke English and if I was losing anything in translation. During this session, I made a bit of a joke and I noted which people laughed or smiled before the translation. I also noted that Chen spoke as the leader but the older gent beside him, modestly dressed, appeared to have the true power.

Around 11 p.m., they drove me back to the hotel to phone the States and try to better the lead time. The best commitment I could get from the factory was five to six months, with added effort to improve on that — but improvement had no guarantee.

About 1 a.m., I was back at the conference room. Were they trying to beat me down? To them, it was the middle of the night. To me, it was the middle of the afternoon. My nose ran and my lack of sleep and food the past couple of days showed. I presented the best availability I could. They insisted I present better.

I grew frustrated — maybe a combination of the cold and lack of sleep. I stood up to make my point: I could tell them what they wanted to hear, but the true availability would not change. I thanked them for the opportunity to offer our quote and for the invitation to their country. I added that they might as well take me back to the hotel, since I could not supply what they wanted. This was my last ploy to force them to accept our availability or not.

With that, I went back to my room around 3 a.m. and tried to get some sleep, worn out from negotiations, phone calls, shuttling back and forth, and a cold I still couldn’t shake.