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.

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