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.