Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Propaganda

I enjoyed our trip to Beijing very much and I found the trip to TopNew industries to be very interesting, they make clothing for H*M and Columbia, they are a Govt owned factory and our tour was arranged by the Govt. The first thing you notice upon arriving at the factory is that the entire complex is surrounded by a fence and there is a guard at the front gate restricting access or is he really restricting workers from leaving? The plant is a very drab set of buildings built in the old Soviet Style and mostly run down. The conditions in the factory were very hot and the w. orkers looked like they were worked very hard although we were told that they only worked an 8 hour day, I am not so sure I believe that! We also toured there lunchroom which looked more like a prison cafeteria then a cafe we would be used to. The dorms were very interesting in that 8 young women shared a room with not much in it more then 4 sets of bunk beds with very thin mattresses, there were sinks and squat toilets down the end of the hall. While the conditions were poor, they were probably better then where these workers were living six months before and quite honestly the conditions were not that much worse then the Barracks I lived in at Fort Bragg. I found the plant manager very nice or at least he appeared that way, I did wonder how he interacted with the workers. I also thought the firm brochure written in Chinklish quite amusing along with the photos of the workers on trips to the great wall and to amusement parks. I highly doubt many of the workers at the plant get to go on such trips.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lasting memories

I had reservations about our class trip to Beijing, but I must admit it was one of the most powerful life experiences I’ve had in my 25+ years. I have traveled to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and even Europe but nothing amounts to this trip. I could write about many memories but I find myself relating to a few on a weekly basis; the people of China, environmental factors, business and traffic.
Based on my observations, the Chinese have a much different concept of personal space than Americans. I found myself apologizing to strangers on the street every time I bumped into someone or I got an elbow for a greeting. However, it didn’t take me long to adjust to the culture by not acknowledging my rude behavior according to the American way. I assume Darwin visited China before developing his theory on survival of the fittest.
Another lesson learned from our trip is the environment challenges in China. Every morning when I take my dog, Bailey, for a walk I am grateful for the fresh air and EPA. It may not be the cleanest country in the world; but it is a wonderful place to live. I often take a deep breath and just stare at the blue sky and wonder what people from Beijing would think of our clean skies and water.
A daily observation of mine is how our two countries operate their businesses. In PBBI – US, every promotion, new hire or transferred employee is expected to sign non-compete and confidentiality agreements but in our office in China employees receive one document when they are first hired. Both countries have a similarity in that the businesses are having a difficult time keeping employees engaged and loyal to their company.
In addition to the many business lessons learned, I now know why Walt Disney does not have a theme park in China, you can experience enough of a thrill driving on the roads. Riding in the heart of Beijing is definitely enough of a thrill ride for any tourists. If it wasn’t for Mervet’s wonderful advice on looking out the side window I would never survived the cab ride. I couldn’t imagine getting stuck in a 10 day traffic jam.
Thank you all for helping make such great memories.

experience,understand and grow

Going to China was a remarkable experience. In the beginning I was apprehensive about going, in the end it was an experience that offered growth. All the business trips offered learning experiences. The one company trip that made me wonder more about the country was the visit to B & Q. This is a store very much like a Home Depot or Lowels. During the tour, the speaker Mr. Howard Xia explained that the department that was showing the most growth was the design department. He explained further that the reason for the growth was because that the Chinese people were not able to design a room with color and furniture that were complimentary and compatible together. This amazed me, we as Americans just assume that creativity would be a part of every ones development. Another thought provoking observation in the store was the very large bathroom fixture section in the store. Outside the hotel most of the bathrooms were eastern style toilets. There were toilets being sold that allowed air conditioning, seat warmers and I-pod plug ins for your listening enjoyment!
That observation I could relate to the country. Just like the contrast in the bathroom fixtures there were contrast in their way of life.
Ferrari dealerships and many bridal stores were around every corner, the very corner that had very depressed areas. I was moved by the poverty and the blatant begging that occurred on the streets. Blind men playing string instruments while a sighted person held out their hand. My heart went out to them. It opened my eyes that there are issues in all countries that need to be dealt with regardless of government.
So, on our last day, the sun came out for a little while from behind the smog and we climbed on the plane to start our journey back to America.
I learned to not judge but to try and understand. It was truly a moving experience.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Invaluable Experience

Going into our trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Having frequently traveled myself (due to parents who believed that exploring the world was really the only true way to learn life’s lessons), I had never been to China. Visiting the Great Wall had always been on my bucket list, but for some odd reason, I had never really thought about exploring the surrounding areas. When it was announced that we would be headed to Beijing, I was incredibly excited! A new city on the planet I had never been to and I was about to explore it on an entirely different level than any of my past travels.

The intensity of the schedule was something that I loved. The bus rides, not so much. I get motion sick easily. But the actual visits to each company were so eye opening. I was and still am grateful for such an opportunity to visit places like Topnew to get an inside look on how state owned factories are operated; Microsoft to get an insider’s perspective of patent and trademark laws in China; getting the perspective of a Chinese company looking to expand globally in Lenovo; and also going to BASF where Joerg Wuttke gave an incredibly candid view of his own experiences of doing business in China coming from the western world himself. The discussions that we had with William Baker and Jack Perkowski were insightful as well. To hear their take on doing business in China, both positive and negative, allowed me and I believe the entire class to really think for our self and allow us to come to our own conclusions. This entire trip was a true learning experience that allowed us to learn something that may have taken us 4 months to learn in a traditional classroom in a very quick 7 day trip. It was incredibly valuable and I have already taken back a few things to my company to implement as we look to expand to mainland China.

Another fun aspect of the trip that I didn’t really think about prior to going was the friendships that I ended up making on the trip. Bonding with some fellow cohorts made this trip that much more enjoyable. Having dinners at restaurants in different hutongs each night was like an episode of the “Amazing Race” for us as we went through dark alley ways to find GEMS hidden in restaurants that had some of the best food I had ever tasted! It was such a bonding experience each night that I walked away from this trip having made lifelong friends. You can’t beat that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

WEST MEETS EAST!


Mr. William Baker of Mahon Investments showed an interesting insight about the differences between how people from two different parts of the world behave. To name a few, westerners are more direct to the point as compared to people from the east. Easterners tend to “dance around” before telling what the matter is. Westerners like to go to tanning salon while easterns like to be fair, they use umbrella to protect their skin from getting dark. Westerners are on a first name basis with their boss, Easterners address their supervisor as Sir or Ma’am. And the list goes on…

I’ve been here in the states for over six years and I often asked myself, where do I belong now? Am I one of those who call the westerns the “rich and the damned” as one of my friends who worked at a call center back home told me? Or am I one of the snobs who dreaded going to the third world countries in the East? Or will I choose to see the beauty of both worlds, the magnificent Great Wall from the East and Grand Canyon from the West, the uniqueness of each culture, the variety of food- the delicious mushroom soup and the Peking duck from the east and the steaks with mashed potato on the side from the west, the richness of the arts – the kung-fu show and the Broadway musical? Don’t these equally magnificent things make life more exciting? They do, at least to me, and the visit we had in China makes it even better. The idea of globalization excites me! Will there be a day that the words east and west just pertain to direction? Nothing more nothing less!
And yet another personal note, I had a good time in China. I was able to hike the Great Wall (only in ChinaJ), ran around the Forbidden City (many thanks to Rich!), sang on a karaoke (even though I was warned by my Dad not to sing), got to know my classmates better, and had a soothing foot massage!!! Hopefully next time when I go back it will be a business trip and/or if not, I will be able to at least stop by to Philippines! So till next time. Also, I want to thank our professors, Paul and Janet, Don, Tara, Grace and Isabel for this wonderful experience. zai jian!










seeing beyond distractions

I believe Mao was a brutal dictator, and responsible for the deaths of between 50 to 70 million people. I saw the longest line of people of my life at Tiananmen Square waiting to view his tomb. I had trouble reconciling these events.

Our hotel was comfortable, modern, and clean, and the service at the hotel was excellent. However, we could not safely drink the tap water. I also had trouble reconciling these facts.

Within a few blocks of our hotel we could visit car dealerships for some of the world's most expensive cars. When I left the main street, and wandered into some urban neighborhoods, I viewed abject poverty. These extremes made me uncomfortable, and a little puzzled.

My first impression was that these enigmas and contrasts were unique to China, and unlike anything else in the world. Upon reflection, I came to believe this was not true. I think all civilizations are replete with puzzles and irreconcilable extremes. China may be a work in process, but this is true of all civilizations. We do not need to travel beyond our own U.S. cities to view the wide spectrum of the human condition. It is possible to be distracted by the unique characteristics of each civilization, and obsess on the unfamiliar, but the similarities between civilizations are much more common. Weeks after seeing the Kung Fu show in Beijing, I attended a performance of KA by Cirque du Soleil at the MGM casino in Las Vegas. The two shows were amazingly similar. KA was a larger production, and it incorporated more engineering and technology, but the substance and style was very close to the Kung Fu show in Beijing.

One of my favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard said, "People commonly travel the world over to see rivers and mountains, new stars, garish birds, freak fish, grotesque breeds of human; they fall into an animal stupor that gapes at existence and they think they have seen something." I believe that if we are mindful of what we see, we will be less distracted by the oddities, and more able to observe and appreciate how the fundamental elements of our lives are not reinvented as we cross political boundaries. I believe that doing business in China demands a respect for what is different in China, but is this very different from business-as-usual? As we do business with our own vendors and customers, shouldn't we respect their differences? I believe the fundamentals that serve you well in business in the U.S. will serve you equally well in China if you don't become too distracted by the differences.


The thing about China...

...it's full of Chinese people!

When people ask me about my trip I always start with that line. It's great to see people's bright and expectant face transition into a patronizing mocking look that just screams "Oh, Erik. Of course it is." Then I give them a little anecdote: NYC gets 36 million tourists every year. That's a lot of people, and people love NYC right? Beijing gets 504 million tourists every year. And 500 million of them are Chinese. The vast majority of which live in their village all year long working on their family's farm, or toiling away in factories in the coastal cities. And once a year they pack into buses and visit Tiananmen square, the Forbidden City, The Template of Heaven, and the city's various other sites.

That little tidbit usually shuts them up. To actually understand China you really need to go there and see it for yourself. It operates at a scale that even Americans, in the third largest country in the world, cannot comprehend. Beijing has a permanent population of 16 million people, but the officials don't even know what the actual population is! There are between 4 and 6 million migrant workers living temporarily in China at any given time--that's almost the entire population of NYC moving in and out of the city every year.

The streets are choked with people, bikes and cars. We didn't even see the sun for 11 days because of the smog. The entire country truly is a world unto itself and you cannot comprehend it just by reading the drivel produced by the Western news media. And certainly not the Western business media. If you believed the Wall St Journal or CNBC you'd think that China had already "won" and everyone is driving around in a new car talking on their iPhone. The reality is that 2/3 of the population still lives on about $800 per year. They are fouling their air and their water in the name of economic growth. They then take their paychecks and lend it back to us so we can buy more of their stuff.

My first significant experience with China happened on the flight from JFK to Beijing. I sat in the last row of the Air China 747 in the middle row aisle seat, with two empty seats between myself and a Chinese woman. The doors closed and I quickly realized I'd hit the jackpot: a 13 hour flight in a four seat row with just two people. As soon as this realization hit me the woman to my right had proceeded to stretch herself out, taking up both empty seats and securing herself almost a full sized bed for the duration of the flight. I'd read that the Chinese are aggressive, and seek to fill the rare empty spaces that they find in their cities, but this was too funny. If the plane had been headed to Frankfurt I feel confident that a glance and an unspoken nod, exchanged with the polite German to my right, would have been all that would be required to negotiate the splitting of the seats between the two of us. Not so with this particular Chinese woman. I was too slow to react and she took full advantage of it. Perhaps I am over generalizing, but I see an interesting analogy with the state of the world today. The developed world is fairly static: America, the UK, Germany, Australia, and the rest of the world all have their established roles. We know how Germany fits in to it, we know how the US fits in to it. Where does China fit in? We don't know how China's role in the world will develop, and I'm convinced that China doesn't know either -- yet.

After the trip the incident was given context: China isn't playing by the rules that have been established by the developed world because China is still very much a developing country. 800 million people live on less than $800 a year. Their cities and countryside are polluted and no one, not even the Chinese, can drink the water. But everyone is excited about China these days and no more so than the Chinese.

For every factory being set up by a Western multi-national it seems that there are three being setup by a Chinese company, doing the same thing, with an even lower cost structure. Jack Perkowski sums it best: A Westerner in China looks at a 100 Yuan bill and sees $14; a Chinese looks at that same bill and sees $100. That perception, while simple, colors how both sides do business in China.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our trip to China: Where to begin? I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life. To be honest, I was nervous to go to a country so far away and so different from the United States. The 13.5 hour flight, the huge population, not knowing the language, the stories about what to avoid, the advice on what precautionary items to bring, and the unfamiliar city and food were only some of the factors that made this trip intimidating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I truly believe that the one thing that made this trip so successful and amazing was the fact that we were all in it together – roughly 30 classmates, professors and faculty who have grown to be good friends. They were brave, they were familiar, they were supportive, they were extremely fun and they were what made this trip outstanding.

On July 9th we arrived at the SUNY Albany campus to meet our bus waiting patiently to drive us under blue skies to the airport. These two things, the driving and the blue skies, were where I noticed an immediate difference between the United States and China. I was looking out the window of our plane, anxiously waiting for us to break through the clouds so that I could get my first glimpse of Beijing, but the clouds didn’t seem to break during our descent. The combination of overcast and pollution created a fog like atmosphere that surrounded us the entire trip. This was my first realization of actually how populated China is and brought the related challenges into perspective.


Our fantastic tour guides, Isabel and Grace, led us to our bus where we met, who I consider, the most talented bus driver in the world! It takes sheer skill and nerves of steel to drive a car, let alone a bus, through the populated streets of Beijing. It’s everybody’s right-of-way. Pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses and trucks all own the road. On one of our trips an elderly woman bravely walked out in front of our giant bus, put her hand up – as if stopping the bus all on her own, and walked calmly across the busy intersection. One of our driver’s most impressive moments was turning the massive bus around in the jam-packed parking lot of B&Q (the business our group introduced). B&Q was very similar to a Home Depot here in the states, except the cultural differences create challenges that Home Depot doesn’t necessarily have to deal with. The home improvement and construction mindset for most Americans is “do it yourself”, which is much different than in China. The Chinese would most likely hire a builder to take care of home improvement items. This obviously changes their marketing strategy, product sales, etc.

One of my favorite presenters was Jack Perkowski, founder of JFP Holdings. Mr. Perkowski had great success on Wall Street, but then saw an opportunity and made the move to China. His vision and entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring and truly made the world seem a lot smaller in my eyes. I thought of China as this far off land and never expected to have theopportunity to travel there. Mr. Perkowski, on the other hand, saw a business need and made it happen. Possibilities are endless if you truly put your mind to it. His presentation made me think of my own capabilities. Am I looking at things from every angle? Am I living up to my full potential? What are my ultimate goals and how do I make them happen?

Our trip to China was extremely educational and motivating. It helped me better understand both the Chinese and American cultures. I have a stronger appreciation for the United States, and I have a newly found appreciation for what the World has to offer. We climbed the Great Wall, toured the Forbidden City, visited the Temple of Heaven, negotiated at the silk market, met with inspirational business professionals, had a ton of fun, and much more. Amazing trip – I’ll remember it always, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to travel with.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The two faces of China

My morning of July 9, 2010 was an exciting one. It was the day my MBA classmates and I embarked on our highly anticipated trip to China. For months we had all been talking about it and it was clear that we all had different expectations and even some fears. It was a long day of flying west half way around the globe and over the North Pole. We saw the sun shine for twenty four consecutive hours and arrived in Beijing early evening the next day on July 10th.

Beijing’s new airport was built for the Summer Olympics of 2008. It’s a modern airport with wide open architecture and spotless, clean marble floors serving as the gate for the rest of the world to the capital city of China. The forty minute bus ride to the hotel took us through some of the modern neighborhoods of Beijing, where tall buildings covered in neon lights illuminated the early night sky.

The Novotel Peace is a French chain hotel decorated in a modern western style. If it had not been for the Chinese personnel that in a very efficient way checked us in with the expert direction of our tour guides, I would not have felt that I had arrived to China yet. A short walk in the immediate neighborhood that night helped me set my mind in the right place and time.

I have had the good fortune of traveling extensively not only in my own country of Mexico but in many European countries as well. I have to say that I really never had an interest in visiting China or any of its Asian neighbors. I must now confess that this trip changed my mind. Being in China, seeing its people smiling at us, and experiencing their culture, opened my mind to the desire of knowing more about whom they are, and the place where they come from.

Ten days in China is certainly not a lot of time but I was determined to make every minute count. After all, I did not think that I would ever go back but this thought had vanished by the end of the journey.

Two companies I enjoyed visiting were Topnew which provided us with a one hundred percent Chinese business experience; and BASF where I learned that, for the most part, to succeed in business today, whether in China or elsewhere, a global perspective with local knowledge is required.

In the evenings I enjoyed dining out with friends trying different restaurants and regional cuisines. Venturing into the city’s hutongs at night was quite an experience.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was traveling to the Jinshanling section of the Ming Great Wall. Initially, we were disappointed that it was a rainy day. Once we got there we climbed the mountain under what felt like a monsoon. Ascending steep slopes that had become muddy streams we finally got to the top and reached the wall. This section of The Great Wall is eleven kilometers (seven miles) long and has sixty seven watchtowers. On a better day we would have walked for four hours to reach the Mutianyu Great Wall where a zip line would have taken us to the bottom of the mountain to meet our driver. But the weather and the fact that this last section was closed for visitors shortened our adventure to two and a half hours. At the end, we were thankful for the rain. If it had been 90 degrees, humid and sunny we probably would not have enjoyed it nearly as much as we did.

The second amazing experience was traveling to Xi’an with Mervet and Chris. Our purpose was to visit the Terracotta Army built by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to watch over his tomb. The statues date from 210 BC. Estimates indicate that in the three pits that contain the Army there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. It was a pleasant surprise that Xi’an had much more to offer than just this famous place. Xi’an is a walled city. The wall is very well preserved, can be enjoyed by walking or cycling and offers a great view of both the inner and outer parts of the city. Xi’an’s Shaanxi History Museum has amazing artifacts and offers a glimpse into the history of some of the most important Dynasties. Other sites we visited included The Great Mosque, The Drum Tower and The Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

Recently I met an interesting Chinese couple. Her American name is Corrine and her Chinese name is Chin Ai which means “True Love”. There is a story behind her name: when her mother was pregnant with her she already had a daughter and her grandfather wanted a boy. Because she was a girl grandpa did not want her and grandma decided that she would keep her and take care of her with true love. The gentleman’s American name is Daniel and his Chinese name is Fook Ang which means prosperity and peace.

China has an amazing culture and history, and after decades of isolation China has emerged as a worldwide economic powerhouse. The government has made many efforts to show a new face to the rest of the world, that of a modern and dynamic society that can and has shaped the world that we know today. However it is hard not to recognize that deep in their society they still cherish their philosophy which calls for a constant pursuit of balance in body and mind and this governs everything that they do, including the way that they do business locally and globally.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pam's China Lessons

• Even though China has a large percentage of poor, particularly in the rural areas, it is important due to enormity of the population in sheer numbers.
• As of last week, China has surpassed Japan and is now the second largest economy in the world behind USA!
• The opportunities for new business ventures are endless as made clear by speakers from Mahon China and JFP Holdings. Anything is possible but not necessarily easy.
• Though urbanization is creating a growing middle class that in Beijing looked much like the American counterparts in terms of style and dress, there is a great difference in cultural value of money verses actual value.
• As Americans visiting China, we took great pride in our “negotiation skills” that are a given in the Chinese culture. We most often failed to understand that we were often negotiating literally over the equivalent of pennies.
• One of our speakers, Jack Perkowski, presented our group with the concept of a "cultural" equivalent of $100 vs. 100RMB. That 100RMB is valued to Chinese as much as our $100 is to us, even though it's real equivalent was only $14.74.
• A lot of items really are very cheap in China!
• The one child family rules are very acceptable to the Chinese. They feel they cannot afford more children, thus more than one would be a financial burden.
• Young couples that BOTH come from a single child family are allowed to have two children. I had the impression that Isabella was disappointed that her husband had a brother thus only one child allowed. It seemed in direct conflict with her earlier statement that one child was acceptable due to expense.
• China has a huge population, however, the one child rule has created this 4 grandparent, 2 parent, 1 child population that over time will dramatically reduce the population over the next generation
• Health care delivery in China is very inefficient with such large populations outside of city areas; they are often hard to reach. The rural populations also are less literate, and have less money.
• Due to the many poor, particularly in the rural areas, I came to understand why "good enough" quality needs to be considered even though we see it as “bad” quality. It makes goods available that the poor can afford.
• Cities like Beijing and Shanghai are international cities and thus may not reflect the overall Chinese population. For example, it was quite a surprise to see a Rolls Royce and a Maserati car dealership along with stores like Chanel and Louis Vuitton along the avenues. However, as we took advantage of services on the same street, foot massages, we got a little different story. The young masseuse told us he worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, and had no time to go home and visit his family who lived hours away.
• I was fascinated by the multinational company speakers, American and European, who were in China for a very long time. For foreigners whose earnings reflect their home countries, the lifestyle in China seems to be very appealing.
• Topnew, the government owned textile company, offered some interesting points for consideration. Many of us felt that there was a lack of transparency throughout much of the presentation. The factory was impeccably clean and seemingly efficient. It was a clear example of Chinese efficiency with limited expensive technology offset by inexpensive labor, as it seemed like endless rows of employees at sewing machines. I couldn't help but wonder if it typically looked that orderly or if it was cleaned up for visitors. Were the workers usually that focused and with little interaction with each other?
• The dormitories, at first seemed a little disconcerting for many of us, but when you consider how little the factory workers earned each month, you can also appreciate that they were also housed and fed, thus having little or no expenses.
• Factory workers came from rural areas for short stints to make enough money to bring home and survive until the next time they were in need. This makes for a pretty young and/or ever changing employee population. I wonder how it affects loyalty and commitment to the employer. Do these temporary workers go back to the same factories?
• B&Q looked very similar in many ways to our Home Depot and Lowe's home improvement stores. They do a much greater business in a complete installation vs. "do-it-yourself". They say this is due to apartments bought only as 4 walls and everything from kitchen to bathroom must be purchased. Because the buyers must work and labor is cheap, it has great value to hire the installation. This confuses me a bit. If labor in general is cheap, how are they earning enough money to pay for the labor? Another contradiction...only fancy western style toilets, but there were predominately eastern toilets used everywhere we went.
• Guanxi not only is very important, but must be successfully developed if a company is to be profitable in China. Most interesting to me is that there are a diverse number of ways that it can be cultivated. Joint ventures or partnering with a Chinese organization is helpful. Developing relationships with appropriate government officials can also create a “partnership” that allows the government to have some say if the company provides some important good or service that helps the government with its goals. Bribery too, can be an acceptable form of quanxi. In a nutshell, you must find the right Chinese “support” for your particular company or industry to make it all work.
• Microsoft seems to have lacked in guanxi in its first years in China. My interpretation of what was presented to us is that Microsoft was very Unsuccessful in China for the 15 years due to what may be seen as American arrogance. It seems that they are “giving away” their operating system to saturate the market and hope to profit by that later.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A NEW NORMAL back in the States!!
It’s been 5 weeks since returning from Beijing and I think my body has finally adjusted! My first trip to Asia was certainly exciting, eye opening, physically challenging and educationally fulfilling. Upon arriving in Beijing I was overwhelmed with the size of the airport (and lack of people?) and it’s modern features. I couldn’t help thinking how busy and exciting the facility must have been during the Olympics of 2008. The lack of people did not last long however. The traffic and density of the buildings started just outside the airport and seemed to grow as we moved toward the center of the city and our hotel.
The hotel was in an amazing location, just a few minutes’ walk from the Forbidden City and many upscale store fronts (so much for cheap deals! That would have to come later.) My first morning started with a 3 mile run around and through the Forbidden City with Rich and Linda (thanks for taking it easy on me) followed by more formal tours of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. That was followed by visits to a Kung Fu show, many interesting and sometimes tasty/terrifying lunches and dinners as well as an amazing visit to the Great Wall. The cultural experiences of China were truly once in a life time and it really gives you a great perspective on just how much the Chinese people have endured throughout time. Change has been ever present in China and we just happen to be witness to the newest chapter in a long story of social and business triumphs and tragedies for this nation.
From a business and educational standpoint, our trip provided me with a new perspective on what is and will be a formidable nation for many years to come. The commitment to math, science and technology was brought up many times by several of our speakers and the fruits of that commitment could be seen all around Beijing. From the sky scrapers and architecturally stunning buildings, to the impressive business parks surrounding the Lenovo headquarters and the Microsoft complex the city was booming with new business. While clearly the communist government was in full control of this growth it was also interesting to see what a struggle it must be at times to maintain the control of central government with so many business and entrepreneurs looking to stake their claim in what looks like a modern day Wild West!
The highlight of the trip for me was Mr. Joerg Wuttke from BASF. Not only was he a captivating speaker, but it was clear he had an immense library of knowledge on China and Asia as a whole. He was candid about the business and political environment for not just BASF, but for any business trying to enter or operate within China. It was evident right from the beginning why he was stationed in Beijing and interestingly both Adam and I saw him on the BBC news the following day meeting with the German Chancellor upon her arrival at the Beijing airport. Mr. Wuttke gave us great perspective about where China was in her economic growth cycle, as well as the positions of the EU, U.S.A and the world economy. While the current cycle is in their favor, they too have much to work on, just like the U.S. and Europe and it is clear that we all depend deeply on each other’s success.
This trip was a great end to the 1st year of what has been a tough and fulfilling MBA program. It solidified for me what a great group of people I am sharing this experience with and just how much I am learning from my new friends as well as the classes and programs we are sharing together.

Post China blog - a little foggy

First I must say, the whole experience seems like it is/ was a dream (I actually had a dream during the flight that I was recently in China, LOL). Good thing I took some notes in a journal when I had the time as my memories are a little vague. There was so much to take in and process (good thing pictures were taken and shared online). When I returned home, China left me in a bit of a fog mentally. This was not too much different than the “fog” we encountered during all but the last two days of the trip. I was excited on Friday @ noon when I had a shadow. I even took a picture, as it was my first shadow (from the sun) in China.


This trip has been an exciting experience. I met truly captivating people, from the first presenter Mr. Baker (Mahon Investments) to the last Mr. Perkowski (JFP Holdings), and many in between. One of the most interesting facts is that B&Q (Home Depot type chain store) is the market leader, but captures only 2% of the market share! This gave some insight on how local things are in China. The stall markets are very important in this segment. This emphasized one of the themes I have seen recurring. To do business successfully in China, one needs to think global, and act local. This applies when hiring local managers, to having/ finding the right guanxi (social connection and business networks).

China’s market is HUGE. We learned this from JFP holdings using the automobile industry as an example. A large pyramid represents personal transportation, where only the top third would be automobiles, and the remainder being bicycles, scooters, etc.

The real automobile market is thus much larger due to substitution effects, and the fact that China is a developing nation, where people will be trading up to buy automobiles. Many Chinese in the cities buy something just for the look/ image of having a specific brand. Buying a car, just to own one for instance, and not necessarily having a need for one is somewhat common. As, a result, there is a large discrepancy in the quality (price) of vehicles. This also applies to all other manufactured products.

One car may typically only last 2-3 years but for a cheaper price meets many lower income users purpose of owning a car. Owning a car is very important, as they do not own their homes or apartments, but have to lease from the government. There are little to no real property rights in a communist nation, and a car is something that gives them expression of freedom, and ownership in my view. One cheap low quality car may last a family many years as a result not being driven often and thus suites their needs of “owning a car.”

I personally liked the Kung-Fu show, and was a little disappointed at the trip to the Great Wall. It was good, but I had very high expectations as it is THE GREAT WALL. Part of the let down was that it was foggy, and limited any great captivating views or picture opportunities. It was neat being at spot where there were padlocks on a chain up and down the wall. I think it was shown on one of the reality shows… here is the best picture/ view from my photos.

I feel China is interesting, complicated, and boy, do they matter. Orlando touched on the haves and have nots. If the have nots move up the pyramid, China will more than matter (that is a lot of people with a lot of potential).

Thank you to all.
-Chris Steinke

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Through the Lens of Others.....


My classmates have shared many of the details from our international trip to Beijing and shared all of our interesting experiences from the trip. Specifically the people we met, what we ate, where we toured, our modes of transportation and the interesting business leaders we met. While we all look through a different lens, I do echo many of their perspectives.

That said, as I think about my time in China, the image that stands out in my mind is that of a guard that I took at The Great Wall of China. I recall this image and wonder if this soldier understands that there is a whole world out there beyond The Great Wall or is he unaware. If I go back in 20 years, will he still be there protecting the Wall or will he be part of the history that China is making as a global force? I wonder.

I did get the feeling that we were not in the land of the free anymore. We learned that our bus driver worked for the State, our guide worked for the State, and our translator worked for the State. Additionally, we learned that the minimum wage is $300 USD/month for entry level jobs, $1,000 USD/ month for someone with a Bachelor Degree and $2,000USD/month for a Masters Degree graduate. A starter home in the heart of Beijing costs the equivalent of $750,000 USD for essentially a concrete shell with nothing inside. What I found more disturbing is that the $750,000 is only for the right to live in the concrete box for 70 years, you never actually own your residence, it is owned by the State. The numbers just don't work and it seems almost impossible for anyone to be able to afford housing and survive. Our guide shared with us that there is a very high suicide rate among young males in China from all of the pressure they feel to provide for their family. They also have a challenge of finding a spouse as there is an 8:1 male to female ratio.

Another vivd memory I have is from our visit to Topnew Corporation. We toured the clothing factory and saw hundreds of young women sewing away with their heads down. Next we had a tour of the dormitory where the workers live. The living conditions were disturbing. Eight workers rooming together in each small room with bunk beds, no door knobs, no showers, and the emergency exits chained shut as you can see in the photo. Perhaps working in the factory is an improvement from the village they arrived from but it is unlike anything many of us have ever seen. We learned that the average female works there for approximately 3 years and then returns to her native village to get married and settle down after having saved enough money. These girls earning $300/month and there is enough left to save. Really?? I didn't see a television, a computer, or a radio in the dormitory. Again, I have to wonder if they know about all of the opportunities out there in this world.

As students, we were encouraged to go into this experience with an open mind and ready to learn about one of the oldest cultures in the world that is making every effort to emerge as a global super power. While we all observed China through different lens', we were left with a better understanding of the potential China has as well as the challenges they face.

As a group, we met global leaders, we experienced the Chinese cuisine, we visited places of historical significance, and yet what I found most rewarding about my trip to China was leaving NY as classmates and returning as friends.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What an experience!

This was my first international trip and I was a little nervous to say the least. I didn’t really know what to expect from my travels. First off, I’m not a huge fan of flying and the thought of a 13.5 hour flight was less than appealing to me. However, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a horrible flight. The plane was very spacious and the flight crew was very accommodating. I’ve never been on a plane where you can hang out in the kitchen and help yourself. Once in Beijing, I thought the streets would be insanely crowded, as seen on TV…for the most part, that wasn’t the case. I thought the traffic would be chaos…that lived up to my expectations. I thought there would be a police/military presence everywhere…not so. I’m relieved to say that my first international experience was a very positive one!
Upon arrival into Beijing Capital International Airport, I was surprised to see how few people were there. We arrived around 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday and there was hardly a person around. What a complete opposite from JFK Airport 13.5 hours earlier! Navigating through the airport to luggage and ultimately our bus was very easy.
The hotel was beautiful! Our rooms were very spacious and modern…something else I was not expecting. Like others, the whole key in the switch to get power was a bit confusing…would probably have been standing in the dark if my roommate hadn’t figured it out…thanks Brenda! Sleeping the first not was not a successful event. Needless to say, I think I was still on eastern daylight time!
Sunday’s trip to the Forbidden City was great. This is where the “as seen on TV” crowds came into play. I’m not great with crowds, or heat, but I think I did great! Not one frustration the whole time. It was amazing to see how the Chinese people were fascinated with us. We were told on the bus that they will probably want to take pictures with/of us. Until it actually started happening I had no idea how true that was! We were just as fascinated with them as they were with us. At the Temple of Heaven when we all took pictures of the local people dancing or playing cards or whatever it was they were doing to “enjoy their lives”, they must have been feeling what we were feeling when people were watching us and taking our pictures. I enjoyed seeing the military playing basketball at the Forbidden City. I was amazed at how young a lot of the military we did see seemed.
My favorite site visit was probably the tour of Lenovo’s assembly plant. I figured it would be mostly machine driven. However, I was wrong. The storage facility was all machine driven…and huge! The assembly floor was filled with people putting their particular part of the computer together. It was very interesting to see an assembly line in action.
The eye opening site visit for me was to Topnew. Again, an assembly line setting but vastly different than Lenovo! Whenever I tell people of the site visits, these are the two that I talk about most. Specifically how, according to US standards, the living conditions at Topnew are not up to par. Eight people to a small room, in most of the US, would be unheard of. And this is considered a good job for these girls! It made me realize just how easy/good most of us have it. These young girls come from the farms in rural China and leave their families for years to work and earn enough to bring back home. Talk about dedication to family!
The only part of the trip that wasn’t so enjoyable for me was the food. I’m not an adventurous eater so I knew going in that that would be a hurdle. Every time I told someone I was going to Beijing, their first question to me was “what are you going to eat?” I did try the Peking Duck dinner. I also had the traditional Beijing lunch which was delicious. That was pretty much the extent of my Chinese food experience in Beijing. McDonald’s tastes exactly the same as home. However, grilled cheese sandwiches are completely different! Cold cheese between two sliced of toasted bread. But it was still better than the alternative for that day 
Ultimately, I am very thankful I had the opportunity to participate in this trip. It was very interesting to see how a country half way around the world conducts business. The “made in China” tag in products in the US have a whole new meaning now!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Education of Orlando

To be honest, I wasn’t very excited about this trip to China. My initial impressions of China were that of inadequate accommodations, anti-western sentiments and radical. So you can imagine my angst as I prepared for this trip. I was anticipating encounters of poor quality food, being sick, adapting to poor housing, and a discordant exchange of business ideas.

Upon arriving and entering the international terminal my impression of China were transformed by the modern architecture, technology, monorails and the ease in which were able to disembark and get on our way. Exiting the airport on our way to the hotel, Beijing begins to leaves it’s impression on you. The most apparent  are the extensive and often times imposingly buildings huddled in webs of busy streets and highways  frequently littered with giant Time Square type ads. This is China? Luxury name brands from western designers are the most obvious and abundant, even more surprising for a country considered Communist with a developing economy.

Pulling into our hotel certainly but all my misconceptions to rest, it was advance, accommodating and modern. It even took me a few minutes to figure out how to keep my room lights on (you had to stick you room key in a slot when in the room and take the key when you leave, which turns off all the electricity). Hotel staff were courteous and the accommodations could rival any four star Vegas hotel (well that’s an exaggeration Vegas is always over the top).

My first night in China was an easy one but most people won’t say that as Beijing is 12 hours ahead of the eastern United States. I slept like a baby.  The next morning I took a walk around the hotel just to understand my surroundings before we took the Forbidden City tour. If you every wanted to know what it’s like to live in a country with 1.3 billion people, go to the Forbidden City on a Sunday.  

But, do not let my statement take away from the cultural experiences of the Forbidden City, Temple of Haven or the Great Wall.  They left their impression, and also an appreciation of the countries culture and historic past.  There is definitely more to see with reference to China’s culture and history but what we saw left me curious to do so on my own  or with my friends and family.  

As we began to learn more about China you learn fairly quickly that there a two general economic populations in China, the “haves” and the “have not’s” often referred to as the “common people”. I heard this term often and often from Chinese nationals. You begin to slowly understand this distinction when you look behind the alley ways and lanes of local neighborhoods that are connected to the main roads.  As China advances and grows it has developed a new upper class, but China’s majority is still considered working class. This is China’s current major advantage, an overabundance of working class individuals, which keeps salaries low. Providing China with a competitive international advantage for labor intensive industries like manufacturing and explains the “made in China” phenomena taking over the US. This was the purpose of our trip, understanding how business strife in this unique market.

I learned a few things on this trip. The most important was my classmates, and the importance of building a very strong Alumni relationship with them and others before and after them. We met Alums doing business in China and whose successes were interrelated with each other. All of which made me realize the real strength behind my degree from such a large and diverse University and also my class.

The other lesson was on China itself. China has over 1.3 billion people but it’s divided into two very distinct markets. The most obvious market is the 400 million, referred to as the international market.  These are the upper middle income Chinese who can afford to buy the Western products and services. This market is highly competitive as the majority of the international business offerings are targeting this segment of China’s population.  The other market is the 900 million people considered working class. This market is typically local, high fragmented and business is usually done on a very personal level with intense negotiations on price. This is the market with the most potential in China as it’s usually ignored by most of the international business entering the Chinese market place.  My final lesson, always keep an open mind to new experiences  this trip was certainly worth it in every way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get your picture taken with an American

Where to start...? I learned a tremendous amount during our week abroad, but I suppose my preconceived notions of what to expect prior to the trip would be a good place to begin.

Before leaving for China: I envisioned a lot of people, weird and tasty food, smog, and some interesting old buildings with historic significance.

What I learned in China: There's a lot of people, the food is great (in moderation), smog does exist, and foot massages rule!

Kidding. The learning experience commenced as soon as we stepped off the plane in the incredible Beijing Airport. As we scampered through customs an interesting sign greeted us and served as a friendly reminder that we were "not in Kansas anymore".


Shortly after arriving in the hotel a small group of us ventured out to sample the local cuisine. We first came to the street with all of those "snacks", but we kept walking. Charles found a great place and we had a terrific meal that Saturday night. Sunday was also enjoyable with all of the sight seeing.

Monday's presentations went well, but I still hadn't gained an understanding of the real differences in doing business in China versus the US. For me that moment came during our discussion on the bus ride back from the B&Q store. In that discussion it became so clear to me that retail in China is nothing like retail in the US.

  • Store Design: A two-story home improvement store? This is unheard of in the US...and apparently it wasn't working well in China either.

  • Transportation: "I don't think this refrigerator will fit in the basket I have on my bike...do you offer delivery?"

  • Staffing: It might be fair to say that there were more employees than customers in the store that Tuesday morning when we were there. US stores tend to have far fewer people out on the floor.

  • Pricing: "You mean you won't knock 30% off of the sticker price? I'm out of here..."

  • Products: Don't even try to start a business selling ovens in Asia...they don't bake, period!

In all seriousness, these were excellent observations by the class because it showed such a direct link between culture and business. These observations don't just apply to B&Q, or even retail in general, they apply to all businesses. I came away from this discussion with a new appreciation and understanding of how culture dictates how businesses function (or is it vice-versa?). I recall this as the most educational portion of the trip.

The most interesting visit of the trip for me, however, was the presentation by Joerg Wuttke of BASF. During the hour-long discussion I managed to fill four complete notebook pages! I believe most of the class was impressed with his level of knowledge about economics in China and the World, and what the future holds. What an excellent presentation for a group of MBA students to experience.

The last visit I'd like to highlight is the trip to the Lenovo manufacturing site. Working in manufacturing for my whole career, I was immediately struck by how many employees they had working in such a small space. In the US, businesses simply cannot operate this way because labor is far to costly...a PC would cost $10K! Instead, we implement more and more automation to reduce head count. This observation prompted a question that I posed to Jack Perkowski during his presentation. I asked what he would recommend to a US company opening a manufacturing operation in China. Specifically, should a US manufacturer with lean operations and a high level of automation use the same approach in China. Jack's response was that he would not recommend that, but rather conduct the operation the way the Chinese would (more people, less machines). His answer shocked me...I would never even imagined that this concept would be one that could influence the success of a new business in China.

All in all, I firmly believe the trip was successful in meeting its objectives. Regardless of what was listed on the syllabus my take is that we were expected to experience and learn the culture, understand the differences in doing business in other parts of the world, and continue to build relationships within the group (make friends). I'm 100% satisfied in all of those aspects, especially the making friends part (karaoke anyone?).

Beijing - 2010 - An Evolving City



For most Chinese citizens, a visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City is a once in a lifetime experience. It is a pilgrimage of sorts to a place that was shut off to the common citizen. I have had the privilege of visiting Beijing twice now, and saw some interesting changes in just the four years between trips. On the first visit in 2006, Beijing was preparing for the Olympics and there was a buzz in the air as construction cranes were to be seen everywhere, a gigantic countdown clock for the Olympics was running in Tiananmen Square, and massive change was sweeping across China as the economy was exploding. In 2010, it seemed that Beijing was exhaling, both from the after-effects of the Olympic Games and the slowdown of the economy. The hotels were more modern and prepared for foreigners, transportation had shifted (less bicycles, more car traffic), and the smog was worse. There were still people everywhere, but not as intense.

The main business lesson that I learned from Beijing was that doing business in China is not easy, but once a successful relationship has been built, the opportunities are far-reaching. From the challenges of IP infringement to learning how to “localize,” China throws at you many obstacles that a successful foreign venture needs to navigate. From all of the talks by guest speakers, the two that I enjoyed the most were our initial speaker, William Baker, from Mahon China Investment Management, Inc. and Joerg Wutttke from BASF. Both of these speakers brought great insight into the future possibilities in China, the challenges that foreigners face globally, and some down-home humor to boot. They had both “been there, done that.” Foreign entry is still possible in China, but it takes patience, trust and a whole lot of “guanxi.” A little Baijiu doesn’t hurt either, or maybe it does?

Overall, my expectations and goals for this trip were different from my first trip. I wanted to explore Beijing more and find the real China hidden behind courtyard walls and mobs of cars and tourists. Some of my greatest memories from this trip are experiences we had on off-hours, whether it was the great dining nights at Nuage, the Dali Courtyard, and Source, or the trip to the Lama Temple and the hike along the Wall. This trip reminded me of the love of travel that is in my soul. The class-bonding from a trip like this will last a lifetime and I am grateful to have experienced all of this in Beijing again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

China Visit

I must say, I now have a new image of China that is nearly the opposite of the vision in my head prior to the week long stay in Beijing. I had this image that there would be military police on every corner, that Americana's were looked down on by the Chinese and that the country was way behind today's modern western culture. I found that what I experienced was just the opposite. The only two things I found to be accurate was the amount of pollution and the personal expectation that I wouldn't like the food. I didn't observe many military or police on the streets and I truly was impressed by how friendly the people were to all of us. One of the defining moments for me was when we were at the pearl store and the young clerk told me that she was only 21 years of age and that it is her dream to one day go to America. Her face glowed with a huge smile and her eyes widened when she spoke about her future plans to visit the big city in New York: Manhattan. At that point, I realized she wasn't the first person to ask for a picture or just wave to all of us and that the Chinese people do admire the people of the United States; Lady Gaga is the #1 most request artist in China! I left China thinking how fortunate I am to have grown up in the U.S. and that the Chinese people want the same things we all want; a better quality of life.

I found the trip to be very educational on every level. I learned not only about the culture of the country, but also about international business in general: what to expect from the local government, challenges faced by foreign companies, how important "guanxi" is to a successful business and gained an overall sense of the business environment. I recall some of the remarks from Joerg Wuttke, BASF Chemical Company, "that you should always verify the statistical data coming from the Chinese government". I appreciate his level of honesty and after we left his office I thought about the fact that he gave us some information that we may not have been able to learn about from any other source. If anyone is going to open a new business and be successful in this fast developing country, you need to have accurate data to make projections, budgets and sales quotas. Wuttke's presentation really clarified the difference between a political economy and a market economy on many levels.

The "Great Wall" was one of the most rewarding historical places to visit for me personally. When you think about the number of people who were forced to help build the wall, the number of those that never returned home and the stories of loved ones filled with sadness because their beloved never returned back to them, it brings so many things about life into perspective and how lucky we are to have the freedoms we have here at home. This Chinese landmark that's nearly 7000 miles long ( per the professor), represents so much about the old style of the communist government and the history of the country.

I can't end my blog with out mentioning about how people drive in China. I can tell you I shall not complain about NYC drivers or Connecticut drivers anytime in the near future. I am not sure that they have any traffic laws because it appeared to me they have an everyone for themselves policy and if you get in the way that's too bad. It would not be pretty if I had to drive in Beijing and I am sure the car would "not" be dent free for very long. I must say that the bus driver did an outstanding job and I hope he earns more than the .86 cents per hour minimal wage because he deserves it!

I did enjoy the international studies professionally and personally. I am confident saying I would never have visited China and now that I have I am ready to go back and visit other areas across the country. The culture experience and learning experience is something I will never forget and remember for many years to come.
The Asian culture is one in which I have never felt a particular affinity, thus I never felt a driving need to visit China, however, I am very glad that I did. Here in the United States it is easy to complain about "everything" being made in China and acknowledge how difficult to it is to accept our loss of manufacturing dominance and self reliance. Travel to China helps to develop the sense of a world economy and to realize that most of the Chinese are doing what we are, trying to make a living in a changing world and culture. The people were friendly, helpful and just trying to live their lives as best they knew how.

There were some surprises for me and the lack of government or state presence was one of them. I was expecting more police visibility and more show of state power and force and that really was not the case. It is a communist country and the power of the government is real, however in ways much more subtle and less intimidating than I expected.

One of the things that struck me was the joy the people seemed to take in their children. Looking back at a history of not valuing females (or more specifically, girl children) I was heartened to see that most of the children I saw, boys or girls, appeared to be happy and well loved. I, too, disagree with mandated family size but the Chinese seemed to enjoy what they have and to take great pleasure in their children, something that made my heart happy.

The traffic in China is something that will live in my mind forever. It took me three days in China to come up with an analogy for traffic patterns and it is this: dumping a huge bag of marbles of ALL sizes on a floor, then watching them scatter. For every car, truck or bus there are roughly 15 "something else's" and I truly mean something else's. There were silver metal somethings that looked like phone booths on wheels, mini mini-vans, miniature flat-bed trucks, bicycle contraptions, scooter contraptions and many other "modes of transportation" unlike anything seen in the US. The entire time I was in China I saw three helmets; I know because I counted in total fascination. Two people on a motorcycle and one on a scooter. I thought our bus driver should have been making a million dollars a day because that is roughly what it would take to prompt me to drive in Beijing. Observing the bicycles challenging the tour buses is something that will forever be imprinted in my "Believe it or Not" memory file.

Friday, August 6, 2010

China







The most intriguing aspect of visiting China was the people. Although I did not speak the language, I did not really feel out of place. The people were usually very welcoming and friendly. Some of us wondered about the ‘real’ Chinese life. In Beijing, all one had to do was venture outside of the immediate hotel vicinity, to see and experience some of the 'real' China. Those who stepped outside of these boundaries experienced a different culture, whether it was soldiers exercising in the early morning hours, or street vendors making Chinese breakfast pancakes, or ordinary people at the beginning of their day, trying to catch the bus on their way to work, or store vendors getting ready to open shop, or some grandparents practicing Tai Chi in a catholic church's courtyard.
Two of my colleagues and I went to Xi'an hoping to get a glimpse into the true Chinese culture. Superficially, things were not much different in Xi'an. Xi'an is a walled city which affords visitors a bird's eye view of the complex life that goes on both within and outside the wall. The wall is 14 km, which roughly equals 8.6 miles. We only walked about half way around, which was enough to give us a glimpse of the disparate conditions that exist between the 'haves' and 'have-nots', in China and in many parts of the world, including here in America. Seeing the desperate conditions that some people live in, is not only disheartening, but makes one feel quite guilty about much of what we have and take for granted. For many of us, visiting the textile factory in Beijing was an unsettling experience. Those of us who had never been in a factory before were taken aback by the process and conditions of work, even though the facility we visited appeared to be well operated, clean and organized. Some students were overwhelmed with feelings of guilt especially after viewing the living quarters for these workers, which were very basic rooms with bunk beds, accommodating eight people-too many people per room, according to our standards - with one commonly shared bathroom. However, some of the sites in Xi'an made these humble quarters appear like a 'four star hotel', to quote my traveling partner, Maria Elena. These poor, destitute quarters were only a few blocks away from what appeared to be clean, nice, middle class areas with paved roads and modern cars parked outside the dwellings.

Whether walking by the poorer areas or more developed ones, the greeting was the same - a friendly smile and wave, eagerness and willingness to pose for our photos, whether in the streets below or on the rooftops. Observing some of these 'less fortunate', by our western standards, made me feel desperate to help them and provide for them, until I looked a little closer and realized that they have something we all strive for: contentment. On our first walk in Xi'an, there was an elderly gentleman riding his bicycle and posing for pictures, proud to show me his friends and point for me to also take their picture, with their little pot on the street corner; or a group of senior citizens sitting on the side walk, playing games, socializing, laughing and enjoying each other's company. Yet, when you look outside of the wall, on the other side, it appeared to be uniformly well developed with elaborate canals and parks. While the surroundings may have been more modern, the human element was similar. People gathered with families and friends, singing songs, playing instruments or games, ping pong, or just strolling in the park.
Chinese society has a reputation of being centered around the family. This became quite evident from visiting both Beijing and Xi'an. China has an impressive abundance of well groomed parks that are family friendly (all ages from grandchildren to grandparents), with plenty to do for everyone.
Lastly, I would like to note how humbling it was to be in the presence of people who did not expect, want or know anything about tipping. It was refreshing to observe the innocence of the people about something that has been around probably since the beginning of time. These moments exposed the true reality of how much this society had been sheltered from the outside world, yet, in spite of that, how far it has come in such a short period, and how much further it will go in the future. One can only hope the Chinese society will be able to balance the inevitable winds of change with the traditional family and Confucius values and therefore be able to have the best of both worlds.
Mervet

Incredible Journey













I found China amazing in every way! Absolutely loved everything about it! The culture, the people, the food, and the cities (especially Shanghai, more on that later!). Once you immerse yourself in the country and forget everything about where you come from, you are at home. I see China as everything the West is not. The comparison is like night and day. China has one culture, while in the U.S., many cultures exist simultaneously. There is no distinct culture here. As Cat stated in a prior post, there is no anger. I spent nearly 2 weeks in China and not once did I see an individual show anger. Just happiness. The Chinese are very placid and happy at the same time. What I found very interesting is that the Chinese people wanted to be photographed with us everywhere we went. When photographed with us, they always showed a peace sign. Not sure if that comes from the Nixon era or they just want to show they adore you. While at the Olympic site, a group of young children ran up to me and held me, laughed and just wanted to be in my presence. It was an incredible feeling!


What is truly amazing is that you are able to visit many sites that are older than our own country. When you consider the craftmanship of these sites built centuries ago, you cannot help but be in awe. We visited the Temple of Heaven on one of our free days. The structure was built with no nails, just interlocking post and beam. I was told that many US architects have tried to replicate this technique without success. Of course, the great wall is remarkable. Built to protect China from the enemy. When looking at the landscape surrounding the great wall, you cannot imagine that an enemy would attempt to conquer the country. Everywhere we went, the architecture was unique and differs from anything I have ever seen at home.




I found the food to be remarkable. The variety, the quantity, the presentation, and the difference in preparation were all absolutely wonderful. I'm not sure what I ate all the time, but I found little that I did not enjoy. I was especially fond of the hot pot lunch. I sampled everything I could, from jellyfish to frogs, and enjoyed it all...even the turtle. No ovens in China meant no baked goods..no breads, cakes, pies, cookies, etc. The diet is more healthy because of more fruits, lean meats, vegetables, and fish; all without flavor enhancements or corn starch. The diet fits my own personal preferences well. When I got home, my first meal of American food did not sit very well.

The cities are crowded beyond anything I have ever experienced in the U.S. or Europe. The air in Beijing was so dirty, we could not even see the sun, but the city streets were clean. There were many workers who continuously swept and cleaned the streets with hand brooms. I never saw any bags of garbage anywhere, unlike NYC where garbage is an ever present part of the landscape. In Beijing I saw few flowers and no birds, probably because of the terrible air quality.



Following the group trip to Beijing, I went on to Shanghai for several days. The cityscape was completely different than the grey concrete that dominates Beijing. Shanghai has an international flavor, and is a city with character, and sunshine! Gardens, trees, flowers, birds, and the cleanest subway that you will ever see, and air conditioned too. (Most of the days on this trip were close to 100 degrees) I felt safe and comfortable in the city, and wandered throughout without fear. I walked miles and miles, my feet did not fail me! People were helpful and friendly. The city had so many interesting things to see and experience, the only regret I have is that I did not stay far longer.





Change is the theme in Chinese cities. Temples, traditional residences (hutongs), and other historic buildings are surrounded and being replaced by modernistic skyscrapers to accomodate the country's rapid urbanization. The contrast between old and new highlights the rapid growth and evolution of China's culture. Several of the speakers we heard on company visits commented on the fact that the upcoming twenty-something generation is the first generation of Chinese to have grown up in the open economy that is modern China. They predict that this new generation will drive future change in the country, and will be responsible for even faster and more expansive future changes to the culture and economy.

My trip to China will be a part of my thoughts and memories forever. It changed many of my ideas and opinions of people, attitudes and the quality of life in US. I will try to be a better person because of my exposure to this fantastic culture and its people. China is a country to be aware of in the future of the world economy as well. We cannot ignore Chinese perseverence, hard working attitude, and lifestyle.






















Thursday, August 5, 2010


People, people everywhere! You always hear about the amount of people in China, but you truly have to experience it to appreciate it. On our first full day there, we played our role as tourists and took in the sites: Tieneanman Square, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven. I literally have 100s of pictures from that day alone, and each one is like the attached - full of people!

Once you get over the feeling of claustrophobia, though, you have to appreciate the fact that all of these people live and work together. The sense of community is amazing. Yes, you had to watch your purse, and there were beggars asking for money (we were in a big city), but overall people were there to help, and they wanted to make sure we felt welcome. There were groups of people who wanted to take our picture, or get a picture with us, but there was also the young man who helped us find a restaurant (a McDonalds nonetheless) on our first night when we were obviously lost. There we were, six women staring at a map on the corner of the street, and he popped his head in to see what we were looking in. It didn't matter that he didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Chinese, we were able to point at the map and he was able to point us in the right direction. Maybe it isn't so bad having that many people around!

I don't think that many people would work, though, if they didn't have the sense of community that the Chinese do. They truly wanted to make sure we were comfortable while we were there. This was also obvious when we were at restaurants. The food just kept on coming, and they were all eager to tell us why the dishes were special. Although I am not the most adventurous eater, it is hard not
to at least try the fish that you were just told was specially prepared. This picture is of a birthday tradition. There are very few baked goods in China, so a birthday isn't celebrated with cake, but with this noodle dish which represents a long, prosperous life. (I celebrated my birthday while I was there, and our guide arranged me to have this dish, and sang to me in Chinese!)

So what is the business lesson here? For me, it was to remember that you are a guest when travelling to another country, whether you are bringing business there or just being a tourist. The Chinese culture is one that does not involve confrontation, so you need to be extra careful to respect their way of life and to honor their traditions. There are people everywhere, and China is a force to be reckoned with, and we cannot ignore it. Still, if we embrace the culture, and the people, it could be beneficial for everyone involved.

Overall, what an experience! There were times I wasn't comfortable, but I was also totally out of my element, so taht is expected. Travelling with awesome people to a place that I would probably not have gone to on my own, while also learning a lot, made this trip amazing. I'll never forget it - or the people!