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.