Sunday, November 21, 2010

Angels and Deamons - reflections from Prof. Rarick

The trip allowed us to look at China’s rise across a variety of industries – from traditional manufacturing to 21st Century tech services. Regardless of the industry, the message seemed to be the same – the future looks very bright for the People’s Republic of China. We can see rising incomes, more automobiles, better consumer products, more opportunities everywhere. China is certainly a country on the move and in an upward direction. The nagging question still remains concerning issues of freedom, human rights, and transparency. A few days ago a woman was sentenced to one year of hard labor for using twitter (prohibited) to criticize the government. International news is blocked when a segment airs concerning China which is considered negative. People may not carry the Little Red Book of Mao anymore, but one can feel the “groupthink” among the people of China. It will be interesting to see how this country with so much to offer the world balances continued economic growth and individual freedoms.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 6 – Two GREAT Business Visits, Jade Budda Temple and Silk Factory

Wow, this trip is really going quickly! We could easily stay here for a full two weeks – one week in Beijing and one week in Shanghai. Today was our last day of business visits and it didn’t disappoint.

Our first meeting of the day was with Mr. Alvin Wang Graylin a high tech entrepreneur who is the CEO and co-founder of mInfo a mobile search and advertising company. mInfo was the official mobile search provider for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Mr. Graylin had a very interesting perspective to share with us. He was born in Shanghai and then moved to the US and completed all of his education (elementary and high school, MIT undergraduate engineering degree and MBA) and the start of his career at Intel. He therefore has both a Chinese cultural background and a western economic framework that has helped to shape his perspective and enable his success.Here you can see the group with Mr. Graylin.

Mr. Graylin was refreshingly frank and we perceived that he told us about how business is “really” done in China. For instance, he emphasized how important it was to do things the local way rather than importing western business practices. You have to work the Chinese way. He explained that you have to know the rules, but also you need to bend the rules, find the grey area, and always find someone to actually cross that fine line for you. He also emphasized the importance of guanxi – or relationships. For those interested in starting a business in China he explained how important it was to make a lot of friends because friends do business with friends. He also said it is critical to know the Chinese language if you want to do business here.

Between visits we were able to make a quick stop at a local Starbucks. Luciano was VERY happy about this. It was also a terrific place to take pictures of the beautiful Oriental Pearl television tower.

Our next visit was to Magna where we met Mr. Fred Kao who is Vice President of Asia operations. Mr. Kao is a Toronto native who was asked by the CEO of the company to craft their China strategy. Magna has only been in China since 2003. At the beginning of his presentation he shared with us some “Chinglish” signs that he finds interesting – it was a good ice breaker. One of these was a sign that said “No Louding”. Another sign read “Full Bottom Massage.” Can you guess what these really mean? I think you can guess the first. The second actually was a sign for a foot massage…. NOT what you were thinking :). Mr. Kao was an excellent and enthusiastic speaker who was very knowledgeable about the really dramatic changes that have taken place in China and Shanghai in the past seven years. Here is a picture of the group at the Magna office.

Lunch was at the floating Hailong restaurant on the Huangpu river. I thought you might like to see some of the yummy food we are eating. This first picture is of bok choy and mushrooms. I have just loved all the different mushrooms we have had almost every day in China.  We also had a wonderful "vegetarian" beef dish and sweet and sour pork seems to be very common in Shanghai.  Also Vickie says in Shanghai it is common to have fried rice (w/o soy sauce) with the meal rather than plain rice.

After a quick stop in the “happy room” to change from our business clothes to our tourist clothes we were off to see the Jade Budda Temple. On the way we saw this man carrying an amazing number of bamboo chairs. Vickie said that as a Shanghai native she has seen many such vendors, but never one with quite so many chairs!

At the temple we learned that in 1882, an old temple was built to keep two jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Burma by a monk named Huigen. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately the Jade Buddha statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928. It was named the Jade Buddha Temple. Here you can see a portion of the temple. Those red ribbons contain wishes that visitors leave there in hopes of having them fulfilled.

The two precious jade Buddhist statues are rare cultural relics and also porcelain artworks. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are carved from whole white jade – each from a single piece of jade. Pictures of the jade buddhas are not allowed so please Google them for pictures.

The temple offers a tea ceremony and we were pleased to be able to experience this. Did you know that you should wash tea leaves before you actually use them for making tea? We tried a number of herbal teas which had a variety of medicinal uses.

The silk factory was our next stop. We had an interesting tour and learned that the life of a silkworm is 45 days – FYI the silkworm lifecycle is a very typical science project for Chinese children. We also saw how thin silk strands are that come from the actual worm. They are usually grouped into ten strands to make them stronger and functional. We got to see how silk can be stretched out – see us helping! Silk comforters are a very common wedding present. They are non-allergenic and very light – cool in summer and warm in winter.

After dinner some of the group went on a Huangpu river cruise to see the beautiful buildings lit up on both sides of the river. Here you can see us in front of the Oriental Pearl television tower and you can also see the skyline in this next picture.

Day 6 - Steve's Observations of the Silk Market

We had another meeting related to the automotive industry in China today. The projected growth of that market seems to be tied to the annual GDP growth rate that the central government tries to control. GDP is expected to grow at about 8-10% and the auto growth is looking at a conservative 7.6% growth over the next 5 years.
We went to the silk market and saw how silk is converted from cocoon to thread and finally into a blanket. Interesting process. EVERYTHING is ultimately used. After the silkworm grows and finally spits out the silk the pupa is harvested and sold as a deep fried "treat". It was likened to a peanut; not sure I agree with the peanut comparison. The group translator said in China everything is eaten. You can see Luciano's new silk hat in this picture.

Here are a few random pictures from today too.

Day 5 - The 18 Hour Day!

Our travelers are all troopers. Today we were on the bus at 6:00 am to head off to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. We were all in our business clothes since we had a company visit as soon as we arrived. The flight to Shanghai was uneventful and – compared to a similar 2-hour flight on a US airline – we were actually served a nice breakfast including yogurt, a salad of celery corn and 1,000 year old egg, black rice congee, and a ham sandwich.

In Shanghai, all of our luggage arrived amazingly quickly and we were met by our Shanghai guide Vickie Chen. Not long into our bus ride from the airport, we realized that Shanghai is a very different city from Beijing. It is said that as Beijing is to our Washington, DC Shanghai is to New York. There are SO many skyscrapers in Shanghai – and SO many people. The current population is between 20 and 21 million – about SEVEN times the population of Chicago. The architecture here is amazing from the new Oriental Pearl TV tower to the “bottle opener” building to the older gorgeous buildings on the Bund.

We are quickly learning more Chinese words. One of the first we learned from Vickie is “lingalina” which means wonderful. Vickie also has a charming phrase for asking us if we need to use the washroom. She asks if we want to visit the “happy room.”

Our business visit today was to Lear Automotive in the Pudong area of the city. Lear is one of the major suppliers of automotive seats to the major car manufacturers. We were first met by Mr. Mathew Ma, vice president, who gave us a tour of the showroom, explained the innovations Lear brought to the market, and answered our many questions. In this picture, you can see a picture of Mr. Ma with a seat using foam made from soy bean oil.

We were most fortunate at this visit to speak not only with Mr. Ma, but also with Charles Chang, Vice President & Managing Director China, Mike Shanlikian, Asia Electrical & Electronics Finance Director (and recent Michigan State EMBA graduate), and Dr. Tom Tang who is the President of Asia Pacific. Dr. Tang gave us an excellent presentation and then we had a Q&A session with the other three gentlemen.

After this we were happy to go check into our new hotel – the Howard Johnson Business Club Hotel – unpack and rest for a little while. This is a new, very modern hotel. The rooms are lovely but quite small – real estate is VERY expensive here!

After dinner we went to the ERA acrobatic show. This is a cross between a traditional Chinese acrobatics show and Cirque du Soleil. Everyone loved this performance. Here you can see the group just before the show. We had wonderful seats in the 4th and 5th rows. By consensus, our favorite acts were the motorcycles in a huge metal ball – there were 8 in the ball at one time – and the Chinese “Romeo and Juliet” act in which a boy and a girl flew through the air suspended only by ribbons.

After this, as you can imagine, we went back to the hotel and collapsed. From getting up in Beijing at 4:30 am to going to bed in Shanghai at 10:00 pm – it was a long day. However, Steve reminds me that the students have been doing this for a year...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 4 - Steve's Recap on Meetings and Dinner

Ogilvy & Mather "Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating" one of the things their business model is based on.

UPS Excellent presentation. Mr. Ran gave great examples in both his explanation of where UPS is going and in his answers to our questions.

Dinner at a local mall food court. The language barrier is huge (sorry for pointing out the obvious) but Google Translator does a great job of getting us the thongs we need i.e. a fork instead if chop sticks. After dinner we went to the local street market and was tempted by all the offerings such as: silk worms, crickets, grasshoppers, snake, octopus, cow stomach, scorpion, sea mushrooms, star fish, sea horse. Too bad we just finished dinner!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 4 - Ma ma hu hu, Smog, and Rickshaw Races

It was another jam packed, educational (in so many ways) and fascinating day in Beijing. Finally the weather is getting warmer and we are not shivering every time we go outside. It is a very dry cold here in Beijing so it feels colder than it actually is.

As I looked out of my window this morning – and overlooked the Imperial Palace – I noticed that it was quite foggy out. I assumed that it would burn off as the sun came up. To my surprise, it never burned off and it was not fog, but rather SMOG. It stayed with us all day and I was able to feel it when I breathed.

Frank has taught us a number of Chinese words, but my favorite so far is ma ma hu hu. This makes me smile whenever I hear it or say it. Literally it means horse horse tiger tiger. Figuratively it means “so so” as in how good is our soccer team this year – ma ma hu hu.

It was a pleasure to be able to sleep in today. Our first business meeting was at 11:00 with Ogilvy & Mather – Asia. Our speaker told us that marketing, advertising, and PR is very new in China. O&M (one of the largest ad agencies in the world) has only been in China since 1998. He talked a lot about the role that O&M played in the 2008 Olympics and what they did for their clients at that time. He patiently answered our questions about the use of social media and differences between Chinese and American consumers.

Lunch was a surprise today. We had pizza (and French fries) in Beijing at The Black Kro. The pizza was surprisingly good even for us who are all used to great Chicago pizza. It was also the first time we had all sat at one table and that was a pleasure.

To be continued….

Day 1 - Kelly's Observations

First day I arrived the weather was great! A little chilly, but bearable. As the group gathered in the airport we met Frank, our tour guide. What a great guy! Frank speaks English very well and is very knowegable about Beijing. After we checked into our beautiful hotel, Grand Hotel Beijing, the group took a stroll down to one of the most popular shopping areas in Beijing. The lights of the shopping area are very spectacular; big screen billboards and flashing lights of all colors. As we walked the wind was blowing the cold air in our faces and it was a struggle to stay warm.

Then we came upon the Night Market, a whole block of food vendors with anything you could imagine to eat! There was squid, star fish, sea horse, lamb penis, centipede, etc. I could go on and on about the food they were selling.
None of it looked very appetizing, but I will try some, just not that night I didn't. It was time to return to the hotel, I was exhausted and achey.

Second day in Beijing, we visited the Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and The Great Wall. I will continue later about our second day in Beijing....

Day 3 - Steve's Take on the Peking Opera and Taxi Etiquette

Today we visited two local businesses and the Peking Opera. Operating in a state dominated country has its challenges but it seems once you come to terms with it, understanding it will not be changed might make coping with it a little easier. There are just some things you can’t compete with and it seems that may be what makes the private, non state owned companies a success. They have figured out how to work around the restrictions.

The Peking Opera was different. For those of you who do not know me, let’s just say I am not an opera kind of guy. They do have electronic marquees on the side providing sub-titles but apparently something is lost in the translation.

Many of the locals speak some English, going to the shops is like being thrown into a shark tank and tourists are the chum. Chinese retailers are persistent to say the least. You get a false sense of security have a tour guide that speaks fluent English. Try a cab ride with nothing more than a card from the hotel that tells the cabbie where you want to go. You are quickly reminded that we are in a HUGE city (population of 20+ million) and country where most of the signs make you feel illiterate. However google provides a decent translator, just don’t type it and show it to the driver while he is driving – sorry Popsy, Curtis and Kelly.

Day 2 - Steve's Reflections

We started the day off by visiting Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest square. “World’s largest” is something we have heard a lot in the short time we are here. The square leads to the gate of the Forbidden City, an ancient but again massive undertaking.

After lunch it was time for the great wall (a.k.a. the great stair case) we visited a section in the mountains. Climbing this was enough work on its own but building this and moving the brick is one thing. All that stone had to come from somewhere and be cut, carried, placed… The wall is a truly amazing feat of engineering and manpower.

Day 1 - Steve's Observations

My flight touched down around 11:00 p.m. and the airport was nearly empty. Going through it without thousands of other people around allows you to take in the size of the structure – it is massive. Fortunately the flight in was uneventful as flights are supposed to be. We were met at the airport by Frank our tour guide. He has proven to be a wealth of knowledge pointing out many things as we drive by that would otherwise go unnoticed. One item would be his explanation of unemployment in China for example. The government gives a conservative number of about 10%; he says it is likely in excess of 20% (doing the math 20% of 1.4 billion which is approaching the entire population of the USA).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 3 - Reflections from Professor Rarick

After a full day of cultural sightseeing yesterday, we had the opportunity to hear from an interesting entrepreneur in the Chinese film industry. It was interesting to learn that China restricts the import of foreign films to just 20 per year, which helps to develop the domestic industry. It doesn’t do so much good for American film makers and our trade deficit though. We also heard from a very experienced American working in China, and his associate, who discussed issues pertaining to human resource management and talent recruitment. As the Chinese economy continues to develop, the need for world-class managerial talent increases. With a necessary stop at a Carrefour for soda and other supplies, the day is almost complete, except for the much anticipated Peking Opera tonight. Hope everyone brings their ear protection as it is generally very, very loud.

Day 2 Update - Cultural Immersion

Today was a very long day. We got an early start and were at Tiananmen Square at 8:00 am on a very cold and windy November Beijing day. Frank, our guide, told us that we got rock star parking since we were there so early. Frank carefully and patiently explained how large the square was and all of the buildings surrounding the square. He pointed out the special memorial building to Mao that is similar to our presidential memorials in Washington. We took lots of pictures, particularly in front of the Gate of Heaven with Mao’s picture on the front. I’ve tried to search on Yahoo for more information to share with you about the square, but it appears that such information is blocked by the government.

Because it was SO cold, the street vendors did a brisk business selling hats and gloves to our group. So outfitted, we were much more cheerful and went on to the Imperial Palace by means of an underground walkway (which was out of the wind and warmer).

We entered the Imperial Palace by the front gate – the Gate of Heaven. Frank told us that the Imperial Palace has 9,999 rooms – enough that a baby who slept in a different room from the day of birth would be 27 years old by the time he slept in all the rooms. The Palace compound is an amazing space. Except for in the Imperial Gardens, there are no trees – the emperors were afraid that someone might hide in them at night and become a threat. A total of 24 emperors lived in the Imperial Palace.

There are many rooms dedicated to government policy and strategy. The emperor’s personal rooms are a much smaller part of the compound than you might think. There is a large area reserved for the concubines – there were more than 3000 of them at any one time.

My favorite part of the Imperial Palace was the Imperial Garden. It is a peaceful place with beautiful, ornate stone walkways, manicured gardens, and very interesting large stones that look a bit like sponges.

On our way back to the bus, we saw the huge moat that surrounds the palace. Since Beijing has no natural water source, this was a way to bring water to the palace, but also a means of defense.
We were very excited to see the bus – it meant a chance to warm up J. From there we went to lunch at Baguobuyi – Dianmen. I was really proud to see every member of the group using chopsticks and using them well! The lunch was delicious. There were more dishes than we could count and the vegetables were especially wonderful.
Following lunch we drove to the Juyongguan Pass. This pass was one of the most strategically important parts of the Great Wall. It was originally built during the fifth century. It is really an amazing sight to see. We all set off to see how much of this section of the wall we could climb. Jacinda was very glad that she chose gym shoes today! Curtin and Shannon were the fastest of the group to get up and down and they got a special prize from Frank. Legend says that Chairman Mao proclaimed that any person who wanted to be a real hero must climb the Great Wall. We certainly were heroes! Chuck has a hero card to prove it! Climbing the wall is a strenuous aerobic activity. The incline is very steep in places and the steps are uneven. We took it step by step – literally – and a good number of us made it all the way up! I’ll tell you, we certainly weren’t cold after that workout!

Our next stop for the day was at the jade factory market where we were given a tour that showed us how jade is carved and told us all about the different kinds of jade. We saw this amazing ship that was carved from a single piece of jade – just amazing! It was a nice shopping opportunity and we made good use of this time.

Our last stop for the night was at the Xiao Wang Fu Restaurant where we were treated to a dinner of Peking Duck. Our trip to the restaurant was an adventure. There was an exceptional amount of traffic so once we got close, Frank told us to hop out and we walked the remaining way. We walked through traffic, dodging the slow moving cars, and finally arrived at the restaurant which is the middle of the beautiful Ritan Park.

After this very long day, we came back and went to sleep – thankful that we didn’t need to be on the bus until 8:45 am the next day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 1 - Popsy's Observations

Wow the Beijing airport is huge and uncluttered. If this were in America it would be packed to overflowing with shops of some sort! On our first day, we are mostly traveling but two things strike me about Beijing. First, how quiet it is relative to American cities a fraction of it's size. There are lots of people milling about but there’s an odd stillness that makes me feel like I should keep my voice down. Secondly, growing up in a young country like the US, I find myself marveling at the visual contrast between the very old and the very new that is Beijing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We've arrived!

Ni hao!  We have arrived and are settled in chilly China.  Luckily it looks like the chill will last only one more day and then we will have nice weather.

Our flight was uneventful, but long.  Some smart travelers in our party upgraded to economy plus.  Others of us were back in regular old coach. 

This post will be short and sweet, because I am having trouble accessing (a google site)diretly from within China.  To write this, I had to VPN into my office computer and then access Blogger.  Alas, it is very slow this way.  I can not access Blogger, Google, or Facebook directly from within China here.  I will keep trying....

Upon our arrival, we were met by Frank Wang our guide here in Beijing.  On the bus ride to the hotel - in a LOT of traffic - Frank shared some interesting facts.  Beijing's population is at about 19 million.  Shanghai has about 22 million residents, and the largest city in China - Chongching - has 33 million residents.  It's amazing to put that in the perspective of the population of Chicago at 3 million...

According to Frank, China is facing three major problems at this time.  1) polution, 2) unemployement, and 3) an increasing gap between rich and poor.

After checking in, some of the group went out for a walk on Wangfujing street - a pedestrian shopping street.  We had dinner and then explored the very interesting items for sale at the night market.  The night market is a several block long stretch of street food vendors.  And such interesting food it was!  We saw sarfish, seahorses, lamb kidneys, and snake - and more. 

Since we are all exhausted from the long flight and lack of sleep, we came back to get a good night sleep in preparation for our visits tomorrow to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Jade Market.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And we're off!

In just more than 72 hours we are leaving for China!  We will document all of our adventures  - both business and cultural.  We hope you check in often to see pictures and to follow what we are learning.