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   The Magazine / August-September / Robert Ploeger
The Extraordinary Life of a Regular Joe
by Rosanna Duff

It is not often you meet a successful businessman who still finds time to enjoy a variety of frivolous hobbies - ping pong, motor biking and 'foosy' (table soccer) to name but a few - but Robert Ploeger is a man that lives life to the fullest in Dalian, as I found out when I met him for the first time a few weeks ago.

Robert has lived in China since 2004, but has been working here for the last 15 years. He arrived in Dalian in 2009, taking up the position of General Manager for DKIA; a well-established company that makes car parts. Robert speaks very fondly of Dalian. He enjoys the international community, and appreciates that Dalian people have many Western influences and a good knowledge of the rest of the world. He particularly loves the city’s scenic location, often making trips to Lvshun on his motorbike, naming the Bin Hai Lu (Dalian’s beautiful ocean-side stretch of road), as one of his all-time favourite routes.

Although Robert, originally from Holland, is extremely well-travelled, having lived in no fewer than 26 cities around the world, he believes that he has never been a tourist. Unlike many foreigners, he makes it his priority to join local clubs and become part of the community. Robert used to live in ChangChun and he is still a dedicated member of the ChangChun Ligon motorbike club; which comprises both foreigners and local people. Twice a year – in the May and October holidays - the club goes on a 10-day tour. This October they will visit Chang Bei Shan. The group take tents, knives and coal and live off the land.

Robert has an impressive collection of four motorbikes. One of the bikes with him in Dalian is a unique Harley/Yamaha Dragster, a custom-made hybrid, bought from the owner of the Knight Ryder Motorbike Club next to Peace Plaza at XingHai Square. The bike was originally a custom-made Yamaha Dragster. Other than the fuel tank, engine and crankshaft, all are original Harley parts, and the sound is 100% Harley, impressing everybody, including Robert who decided to buy it on the spot! Robert also brought over his Range Rover from Germany so he can take to the snowy mountains and as many back-roads as possible in the winter!

Another passion of Robert’s is ‘foosy’ (table soccer). He believes it to be a fun, ‘social instrument’ that brings people together. To this end he has organised several competitions and even helped arrange funding for young Chinese competitors to play in a World-cup tournament in Shanghai last April. Practice takes place in a bar called Utopia near Xinghai Park (Zhong Shan Lu Gong Yuan) and Robert is on the look-out for new competitors! Near the end of July Utopia will host the Dalian Foosy Open, organized by the Chinese Table Soccer Federation.

As a self-taught lecturer at the Dalian University of Finance and Economy, Jilin University Automotive Engineering College and the Chang Chun American International School (Diploma Course), Robert teaches his students to ‘think outside of the box’, “trying to open their minds, teach them to answer questions of themselves and of others.” He asks students at the beginning of the course what they believe are the ten most important things in life. With Chinese students, the results are very similar: take care of their parents, have a family, house and career. After the students begin to understand the western way of thinking (which is more self-centric), their answers begin to change, to include their personal dreams and ambitions. He feels it is important for students to be aware of their own potential, and the huge potential China now has in relation to the rest of the world. The students instantly take to Robert as he is the only lecturer to arrive at classes on a motorbike!

Robert sees that students here want to learn, they are attentive and trusting, which he finds rewarding. This was partly what made him decide to write a book entitled 80 Topics of Business, Spoken English (complete with MP4 disc); he believes this useful phrasebook will help guide Chinese students in their working lives. He believes he has led an interesting and privileged life and owes much of this to his boss and mentor Dr Wolfgang Kohler¬; a charismatic man and a much respected business leader. Robert says: “People always gave me a chance; this is my way of advising my students to invest in their future and consider the long-term outcome.” He believes that teamwork, sustainability and relationships are the most important aspects to his teaching. He truly feels that his work has made him who he is: “Work is not work for me, it is a hobby, and it is 24 hours a day.” However, he can also see that work can be dangerous, that there are pitfalls to business; he warns his students to be aware of this. As a foreigner doing business in China, two completely different ways of thinking must be compatible: hope and good intentions form a large part of getting the deal done. In his everyday life, Robert maintains his sense of humour and a fun-loving lifestyle. He says: “In China you learn to speak two languages at the same time; verbally and in your body language.”

To conclude, Robert lives by his father’s advice: “wherever you go, you bring yourself,” and I believe he has certainly lived by this example. Robert really has ‘brought himself’ to Dalian, and succeeded in finding the right balance between business and pleasure. Robert says that people are and always will be the key to a company’s success. He believes that all he has achieved in China is due the hard work and loyalty of his workers, and good friendships with the locals, which helped make both companies in ChangChun and Dalian so successful.

If you are interested in playing Foosy in Dalian, contact Robert at: robert_ploeger@email.de

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