Saturday, June 12, 2010
A few students had left us in New Jersey, and the majority had already gone their own ways, as I described yesterday. By the final leg of the trip there were only eight of us left, squished onto a tiny Bombardier propeller plane that stayed fairly low to the ground through the entire flight. We were greeted by a few devoted friends and family who had waited the extra 45 minutes to help us with our bags and take us home.
Thus ends my responsibility to keep this blog. I'd like to congratulate all of the students for completing this challenging and demanding program; thank you for not getting too lost or injured or sick. For those of you who are still traveling, I hope you make it home safely. Good luck to all of you in whatever you decide to do. For those of you returning to China, you are more than welcome to contact me. Maybe I'll see you there.
Congratulations also to Professor Dong and Song Hui for surviving the incredible demands placed on them by such a program. Thank you to Professors Gilmartin and Cai for their help in Beijing and Nanjing respectively. Finally, thank you to everyone who followed this blog. I hope that you enjoyed it, and that it helped you better understand just what your Dialoguer was doing for the last six weeks.
Friday, June 11, 2010
I am currently in the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, waiting with a small group of students for our plane back to the States. Many have already left for other cities in China: Shenzhen, Xi'an, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Taipei. Others are staying in Shanghai for a few extra days. A few are continuing on to international destinations such as Singapore and Thailand. The 2010 Dialoge of Civilizations, China, Summer I language intensive program, is over.
Yesterday, the last day of the program, was recorded for you by student Andrea Mascarenhas:
Our last day in China looked no different from the rest when I glanced at the itinerary. We had two lectures followed by lunch and a site visit. However, the mood was slightly different than other days, as people really wrap their minds around the fact that it is our last day in China, after 6 long weeks of spending every second together. While we are tired and ready to go back home, we have become so used to our lifestyle in China and we hate to see all of our friends go off in separate directions.
We kicked off the day with a presentation from Joseph Constanty, the CEO and founder of NextStepDirectory.com. As a successful entrepreneur, he shared with us his experiences living and working in China and the many struggles he overcame before finally reaching success. It all came down to his success with networking. Then, we heard from Frank Inkamp, CEO of the Asian Division of Lapp Group. His presentation was particularly interesting because he not only mentioned the importance of business in China, but also other major east Asian countries, like Japan, India, and Singapore. He taught us that it is essential to learn the culture and the history of the people, in addition to the language. We then split up to visit Unitown Designs Inc., an architect firm in Shanghai where students learned about the changes in landscape and construction. The other half of the group visited UltiZen Games inc., a game developer company that rapidly became one of the leaders in the gaming industry with high profile clients like EA Games. The last day was especially informative and really served as a great wrap up of all the themes we have seen in Chinese businesses.
Our favorite part of the day was our lovely dinner cruise organized as a surprise last supper together. We took a private boat on a two hour ride on the Bund River right after sunset. The Shanghai skyline was an incredible backdrop to great food, great company, and a lot of laughs as we talked about the highlights of the trip. After presenting our thank you gifts, we were offered comic relief by our classmates Shams, Kevin B, and Nikhil who compiled a list of superlatives for each person. They ranged from Best Laugh, Best Hair to Most Likely to be Late and Most Likely to be Photographed a million times by the Chinese tourists. I was given "Group Mom," a joke that has been as flattering as it has been annoying, yet a title I probably deserve!
It is quite unbelievable how fast 6 weeks can fly, considering we squeezed every second out of each one of those days. Our dialogue has been nothing short of a whirlwind that kept us on our toes the entire time. From physical adventures to stimulating discussions, and interactions with so many new people, we really feel like we have grown tremendously into more cultured and open-minded students. I'm not sure what other dialogue can say that they have met with over 10 multinational corporations, heard lectures from over 20 successful businessmen, been to three of the most exciting cities in the country, and visited the World Expo! None of this could be possible without the leadership and expertise of our extraordinary dialogue leaders, Dong Laoshi, Alex and Song Laoshi. These three have spent countless hours, losing sleep, to plan every single detail of our days. When I say every detail, I mean the little slips of paper that have the directions in Chinese so we can just hand it over to the cab driver, and the awesome hookup with the USA Expo team and the Canadian team that landed us VIP reservations, and all the yummy meals we have had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.. most of which were pre-ordered for us. Our group leaders kept us motivated, active and most importantly, alive! Traveling with 36 foreign students is no easy task, and we did not make it any easier! Dong Laoshi, Alex and Song Laoshi were there to bring us medicine when we were sick, take us the bank, help us arrange other travel plans, find vegetarian food when needed, all on top of the work they had to do on a daily basis. All of us are eternally grateful to them for the outcome of the trip. All we can say is 你们辛苦了！ It makes leaving China twice as hard!
Thank you all for an incredibly memorable trip! I cannot wait to relive those inside jokes with you all and stalk the huge inflow of facebook pictures! I know all of us will experience reverse-culture shock as we once again try to use forks and knives instead of chopsticks, look at USD prices and wish they were RMB instead, and try to live life without a weekly itinerary. Safe travels everyone, and I can't wait to see you all back in the States for a reunion!
- Andrea Mascarenhas
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
We are nearing the end of our stay in Shanghai as well as the entire trip. With just two days left we were anxious to learn more about business in Shanghai. We woke up early at 8AM to travel to a company called BASF. They are a German chemical company. BASF refer to themselves as "The Chemical Company." During this talk Dr. Mao explained to us what BASF does and also more about the differences between working in China and the abroad. From Dr. Mao we learned a lot about how there have been such huge and rapid developments in China which result in a lot of differences in business practices and methods. China is developing so fast that its laws, regulations, and government can't keep up with the economy; therefore there are certain business practices that have to operate in the "gray area" as we call it. This is one big difference in business practice China has with the U.S. which operates mostly in "black and white." Dr. Mao also explained how foreign companies in China tend to create joint ventures with businesses that already exist in China. This is one of the ways that foreign companies can become more successful because the local partners know more about local business practices, cultures, and "guan xi" or relations. During the discussion we touched on many more topics regarding businesses, governments, and the Chinese economy.
The second destination we went to is an extremely well known American company, General Electric. GE was an extremely unique experience because GE like no other company is so linked to the U.S. economy and government, as well as China's government. At the GE sight, we were able to see the exhibits that were created for the Beijing Olympics. These exhibits explained how GE was helping improve sustainability and environment friendliness. GE helped become greener by improving wind turbines, cleaner coal consumption, developing biogas uses, and many more. During the presentation we learned a lot about how GE operates in China. We learned about GE's involvement with making the U.S. pavilion in the Shanghai Expo possible. They were a major contributor and leading advocate of making sure there was a U.S. pavilion in the Expo. This also brought them together with the Chinese government which went to GE to ask them to help encourage the U.S. and their larger companies to help make an U.S. pavilion possible. This showed me how GE was such an important mediator between the U.S. and China. We also learned about GE's strategy and how they planned to continuously grown in China.
Our last event for the night was a discussion session with Chinese MBA candidates at Antai College of Economics & Management Shanghai JiaoTong University. During our discussion we discussed about topics relating to finance, the market, business in China, foreign relations, politics, and much more. We started off in small groups which we were able to discuss a lot and understand their views and opinions. We learned about their views on topics such as the financial crisis, business culture in foreign companies versus state owned companies, the reason U.S. went to Iraq and many more topics. After discussing these topics is our small groups, we were pulled into a larger group where all of us spoke together. This however was less eventful because the Chinese students were unable to express their opinions in English. Their English was extremely good considering a lot of them picked up the language themselves. However, it was extremely difficult for them to convey their opinions and a lot of times even intimidating. Also our students spoke extremely fast in English so it was difficult for them also to catch a lot of the points we were trying to convey. Nevertheless the discussion went on. It consisted mostly of Northeastern students discussing many topics amongst ourselves and at times speaking for the Chinese MBA candidates. There was however a few brave Chinese MBA candidates that ventured outside their comfort zone and expressed their opinions. The discussion lasted a few hours and touched many sensitive issues. It was very useful however because it helped us see a lot of issues from different sides. We were able to see how Chinese people viewed topics such as our invasion of Iraq, the financial crisis and other situations. This enlightened me and helped me see things in a different light.
Today was definitely an extremely eventful day which consisted of three dialogue programs that helped us learn a lot about business in China as well as Chinese views about different issues. It is extremely sad knowing that we only have two days left in Shanghai and that our trip is coming to an end. However, this trip has definitely taught me a lot and helped me learn a lot about the Chinese culture and also business in China.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Today was another busy day for everyone on the dialogue. After breakfast we had two guest speakers, Alvin Wang and Joey He. Joey was a representative from Habitat for Humanity in China and Alvin is the founder and CEO of MInfo, a mobile internet answer service. Both were interesting and engaging speakers, Joey giving the group details about the differences and similarities between Habitat for Humanity in China and the U.S., while Alvin talked about start ups and entrepreneurs in China.
Habitat for Humanity in China was particularly interesting because it operates by giving out micro finance loans, as well as charitable donations to people in need. This is preferable to many impoverished Chinese as it allows them a sense of honor through working to pay back the loans as opposed to just receiving aid. The six branches in China are located in Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In 2009, 800 houses were built in China, 402 of which were placed in Sichuan to help offset the devastating effects of the 2008 earthquake. Most of those houses were built in 7 days with the help of 240 volunteers. This inspiring effort was recognized by former president of the United States Jimmy Carter. As Habitat for Humanity continues to grow in China some of the challenges it faces include government opposition to NGO support, sustaining local public awareness for the cause and keeping donors and partners happy.
Alvin Wang is an entrepreneur that was born in China but moved to the United States when he was nine years old. He has obtained an MBA from MIT and is fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The first part of his presentation was about his company and the challenges that he personally faced while setting it up, the second part was spent addressing questions posed by the students about general business in China and problems that businesses face when entering the Asian market. His company, MInfo, is a company that answers questions asked by subscribers through SMS messages on their mobile phones. It is comparable to KGB in America, and is growing quickly by marketing to the 800 million mobile phone users in China. Some of the problems faced by companies in China include a top down management style that puts pressure on the managers and limits their ability to delegate tasks.
After listening to the speakers, Professor Dong took the students to an animal and antique market a few blocks from the hotel. The animal market included many of the same animals available in American pet shops such as puppies, kittens, fish, hamsters and birds. But it also featured a few more interesting creatures such as fighting crickets, chinchillas, squirrels, meal worms, and crabs. The Antique market may not have deserved the name as we found no real antiques, but was still really interesting. It is a series of blocks dedicated to outdoor stands full of all kinds of objects. Things such as Buddhas, Mao Zedong memorabilia, word and metal crafts and Chinese style clothing were common although it was not impossible to find swords and other out of the ordinary pieces.
After this trip the students had the choice of going to either Next Step Connections or Chinesepod. Next Step is a recently founded and quickly growing company that helps students from all over the world find internships and housing in China. In its first year Next Step placed around 25 students. This year they hope to find internships for over 150 students, only three years after their founding. Chinesepod is a business that teaches Chinese language through podcasts and Skype language lessons. They do this in a more open manner that focuses on what is important to the students.
Today was spent at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. Endlessly interesting and entertaining, but also hot and crowded, one could spend many, many days exploring (and waiting in lines for) all the 200+ pavilions – though not more than one or two days at a time. Even after one day in the Expo Park, our feet hurt and we were generally exhausted. Still, we felt lucky to have had the opportunity to see such an important event. The following is a contribution by student Jerome Zhang:
With the start of another new day, we eagerly awaited the anticipated event – one of the primary reasons for our visit to Shanghai: The 2010 World Expo. The air was filled with buzzes of curiosity and anxiety. We have each heard many stories of the countless hours visitors had to wait in line in order to see an exhibit. Not forgetting to mention the humidity and heat that they must endure in order to get in.
Upon arrival, we were blown away by the vast expanse of land dedicated to the expo. The Chinese were certainly not taking the expo lightly. The skyline included various buildings of all shapes and sizes. The building that without a doubt symbolizes the Expo - the Chinese pavilion - towered above the rest. It was an upside down pyramid with red and yellow patterns that reminisced of the ancient and the grandeur of Chinese civilization. Naturally, our curiosity got the best of us and we all began to make destination plans for the remainder of the day.
The expo is separated into multiple sections. Most of the corporate and smaller scale exhibits are located in the area we first entered. The pavilions – in other words the main attractions - that host different countries were located across the Huangpu River. We decided to take the ferry across the river. In a one of a kind experience, we were swept up by a sea of impatient – not forgetting to mention sweaty and sticky – people into the small ferry boat that embarked as soon as it reached capacity.
Our first stop of the day was the U.S.A. Pavilion. We were all expecting the exhibit to be astounding and representative of the many accomplishments and creativity that our nation has. Instead of being astounded, we were in for grave disappointment. The movie inside was very idealistic and monotonous – it had little significance. To give it some credit, it did display our diversity and multiculturalism as a nation – though falsified in many ways. Overall the pavilion lacked the innovation that we expected from the American nation we all call home.
The second stop was Canada. The décor and the presentation of the Pavilion were already better than the USA pavilion. There was soothing music accompanying the various movie slideshows that were being played in the main lobby. The building formed a giant C with a courtyard in the middle dedicated to mingling. Various members of the Cirque du Soleil circus were present – an odd bunch dressed in all sorts of uncanny attire. There was a man dress inside a tree costume with war face paint, who walked around in stilts.
The rest of the day was given to us to explore on our own. Many groups went to the various other areas and sectors of the expo. Some went to explore the African Pavilion which hosted exhibits from various African nations. Others went to see the Belgium – European Union Pavilion which contained chocolate samples and information. The day was certainly an illustrious adventure to the various corners of the world. It was an adventure that few could say they have experienced and one that many would want to embark on. The World Expo: Shanghai 2010 is a place that is not to be missed: The sights, the sounds, and the vibrant culture surrounding it has left impressing memories within our minds, memories that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.- Jerome Zhang
Sunday, June 6, 2010
My errands brought me around People's Square, East Nanjing Road, and the Bund, which really make up the heart - from a tourist's point of view, at least - of this city. A lot has changed since I was last here even just a year ago: the city is noticeably cleaner, the sky bluer, and the infrastructure newer. There are more neon lights than ever before on every tall building, bridge, and boat. The few old neighborhoods that are left in this part of town have gotten smaller (though I'm happy to say that at least one of my favorite small, "dirty" alleyways with amazing food and without rich tourists is still alive and kicking).
This is obviously the face that China wants to present to the world, and it's working. Even though we've been here for barely 24 hours, many students have remarked that this is their favorite of the cities we have visited - in the same breath exclaiming that it's "not like China," which raises a number of interesting questions in itself. The government has done wonders with this city; now they just have to keep our attention here, and not on the vast majority of the country.
Yes, personally, I am biased. Shanghai is without question a beautiful, impressive, international city with a bright future - to be fair, all the things the government says it is. But I am adamant that it be seen in the greater context of the entire country's past, present, and future. Otherwise it is just a bubble, an integral part of China, perhaps, but not yet representative of the country. Too many foreigners have come to live here with no interest in Chinese language, history, or culture, and I don't want that to happen to our students.
OK, I'm done venting. The rest of the week should be filled with students' impressions, starting with our day at the World Expo tomorrow.
Photo: My favorite street in Shanghai (Wufu Lane, just off Nanjing Dong Lu)
Saturday, June 5, 2010
We said goodbye to Nanjing University at 9 am as a coach bus took us to Nanjing Railway Station on the far side of Xuanwu Lake. A relatively small station, it didn't take us long to get through security and into our waiting hall. Thankfully, the understanding staff allowed us to enter the platform via a back entrance, so we were only caught up in the massive crowd of people for a couple minutes.
The trains between Nanjing and Shanghai are generally very nice; clean, quiet, and fast, reaching over 200km/h. However, at stations, the doors open and close automatically, sometimes leaving people stranded on the platform without warning. In fact, this happened to an unfortunate group of Dialogue students last year, Professor Dong reminisced joyfully. No such luck this year – we are still 39 in number.
About two and a half hours later we were in Shanghai. Our hotel is just southeast of People's Square, the center of the city. From the hotel, People's Square (the city center), East Nanjing Road (a famous shopping district), and the Bund riverside promenade are all about 20 minutes' walk in different directions.
After checking in, we walked to People's Square. There we visited the Urban Planning Exhibition Center, which boasts a model layout of the city that takes up an entire floor. There is also a 360-degree panoramic 3-D flyover of the city, swooping over the pavilions of the Expo, past the Oriental Pearl Tower, World Financial Center, and other famous landmarks. Exhibits discuss Shanghai's growth and transformation since its beginnings, which help to explain why Shanghai is such a unique city, not just for China, but for the whole world.
We left the Exhibition Center just in time for dinner, which was held for the whole group at a nearby restaurant. We were joined by long-time friend of the China Dialogue program Jessie Parker. Mr. Parker has been in China for decades, and has been very successful here as an investment banker and venture capitalist. Mr. Parker spoke to us about living and working in China as a foreigner. Because of the nature of the industry, Mr. Parker is especially knowledgeable about the current business climate in China and Shanghai specifically. His optimistic look at China as a blossoming market excited many of us, though he stressed the importance of learning the language before doing business here. He is always a wonderful resource, and has always made himself available to help students get their bearings if they are interested in working in Shanghai.
Tired, many returned to the hotel. However, tomorrow is entirely free, which may have given some students cause to celebrate. We'll see.