China Trip Journal
Well, I'm sitting in Delta's Crown Room in the Cincinnati airport (in KY for those that weren't aware). $50 for a one-day pass isn't hard to swallow when you have a 10 hour layover in San Francisco. That's my next stop. Anyway, everything has been relatively smooth so far. I met Stacey at the Hill house and she drove me here to the airport since Martha is student teaching. I got my boarding pass for the San Fran leg, but I apparently have to get my other boarding passes from Asiana Air when I get to San Fran. When I went through security, they were scrutinizing my carry-on bag and ended up opening it up and checking every nook and cranny. However, they actually put everything right back in its place. They had a little trouble putting stuff back, but did end up figuring it out. It was just the way I had packed it. They did a great job. What a surprise! That’s definitely a great way to start the trip. Well, I'm going to start reading one of the numerous guides I bought for the trip. I bought a Fodor's guide, a Lonely Planet guide, and one by National Geographic. I also brought the Forbidden City book that I bought after visiting the exhibit in Chicago's Field Museum. It looks like there is a lot of interesting history. I guess that might seem like a lot of books, but I'm going to need them as a distraction since I don't have my computer. J
20040903-1900-SFO (San Francisco)
What a great investment. Free snacks & drinks, TVs, couches, internet access, copy machine, etc. When I arrived here in San Fran, I came up here and checked email, made copies of my passport (including Visa page), and then went looking for the ticket counters for Asiana Air. After a 10 or 15 minute hike across the airport, I found the ticket counters, but Asiana Air's doesn't open until 10pm. After checking in with Martha, I sat down for what will probably be my last American meal for two weeks - a cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake. I can't say I'll be too disappointed. It sure does sit heavy in your stomach. Between that and the quality glass of Cabernet that I'm sipping, I don't know how I'll stay awake for another 6 hours. The plan is to stay up until my flight gets under way at 1am Pacific/4am Eastern in order to offset the jet lag.
Back in the Crown Room after dinner, I have been reviewing the guide books. After thoroughly reading up on our Beijing and Chengdu plans in Lonely Planet's guide to China, I started looking for more information about Chengdu in Fodor's China guide, as well as National Geographic's Traveler China. Neither had more than a paragraph or so on two of the planned destinations - Emei Shan and Leshan (home of Da Fo, the Grand Buddha). I'm not sure how useful the Fodor's guide is, but at least the National Geographic guide has lots of pictures, something both Fodor's and Lonely Planet lack. The National Geographic guide is more of a teaser than anything else. A short overview of all the popular sites, complete with pictures. It would be best used for choosing destinations and then left at home. The Lonely Planet guide, on the other hand, lists places to eat, places to stay, and how to get there, even for such smaller destinations as Emei Shan and Leshan (both about a 3 hour drive south of Chengdu). Actually, the reason I was looking at these two destinations in particular is that our group is taking a two-day trip out there from Chengdu. Unfortunately, since I must depart early, I must miss the Emei Shan hike on day two. I was trying to figure out if there might be a way to at least make the trip to see the Grand Buddha on the first day of the trip. I would have to take my own transportation back to Chengdu, but it would probably be worth a decent chunk of change to do so. Anyway, I'll have to talk that over with Prof. Gales when I have the chance.
Well, I guess I can see what the other two guides have to say about Beijing. Our tourist destinations there will include visiting one of the stretches of the great wall, visiting the Ming Tombs, and of course the Forbidden City.
What an eventful trip from San Francisco to Seoul. It started off really well. I fell asleep almost immediately and although I woke up a few times, I managed to catch about 8 hours of sleep. When I awoke, I killed some time by watching Ladykillers with Tom Hanks. This was my second movie overall, having watched Raising Helen on the CVG-SFO leg. Anyway, "killing time" is probably an insensitive and very poor metaphor considering what happened during the final few minutes of the movie. Some commotion behind me caught my attention. A gentleman was being eased into the aisle and onto the floor. He apparently was having or had a seizure. I think there were more than two hours remaining before we were scheduled to touch down. Luckily a doctor responded to the flight attendant's plea over the PA system and was able to stabilize the 78 year old turban-topped gentleman. In need of more space, a few guys carried the gentleman to the space in front of my emergency exit row window seat, where I helped to gently lower him to the floor. I gave up my seat for the remainder of the flight and took the gentleman's seat while the doctor and flight attendants attended to the him with an IV drip, an oxygen mask, and a tongue depressor, in case of another seizure. When we finally touched down, everyone remained seated while the emergency crew carried the man to the awaiting ambulance. When we finally exited the plane, the 30 minute wait to pass through security (and on to our next gate) seemed no trouble at all. Watching such a life threatening experience has a tendency to put things in perspective. In any case, the flight attendants and the young doctor did a fabulous job.
I am now in Beijing and the day has thankfully not finished as eventful as it started. In Seoul, after passing through security, I made my way to gate 12, where my next flight would depart, just as the sun was rising. Although not too impressive, I did join some other travelers in capturing the moment on film (digital of course). Luckily I had already snapped a few shots before the security guard came over and told us "no pictures". Tourists taking pictures of the sunrise is quite suspicious behavior, don’t you think? J
Anyway, most of the other folks there at the time were part of a tour group. I later found out they were some kind of a disparate group of health professionals interested in alternative medicine. The lady who sat next to me on the plane was from this group and indicated that they were from all over North America. None of them seemed to know each other.
In any case, the leader was apparently familiar with the airport and I heard him mention to his group that there was free internet access on the second floor. So when he led the way, I followed as well. Although the menus were in Korean, I knew my way around Windows enough to open Internet Explorer and navigate to Hotmail. After cleaning out my mailbox and sending Martha an update on the morning's events, I headed back downstairs to spend the rest of my 4 hour layover catching up on more reading.
When it finally came time to board, a young American lady, about my age, joined me at the end of the line. A graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, she said that she had studied abroad in Beijing and liked it so much that she moved there after graduating. She had been living there for about five years. I'm guessing that would make her a 1999 grad, probably from a 4-yr program, which would make her a 1995 high school grad, like me. Anyway, having indicated my intimidation at traveling alone on this first trip, she graciously offered to help get me on my way in Beijing. I thanked her, but ended up making my own way. Come to think of it, I probably should have at least shared a cab with her and split the cost.
Speaking of cabs, after claiming my baggage, I headed for the Bank of China to get some more local currency. In English that I could barely understand, a gentleman asked me if I wanted a taxi. I thanked him "no" and changed my money. On the way out, however, he was standing in the doorway, so I asked him how much. He showed me his rate card, which indicated something like 385-425 or something like that for a trip into Beijing. I said that was too much, so he asked me how much. When I proposed 200, he shot all the way down to 250. Doh! I should have said 100. Maybe I could have bargained to 150 or 200. After rejecting his offer, he countered again with 230 and said he would cover the highway toll. I thought about it shortly and, feeling bad for not reciprocating his first concession, agreed. He took my suitcase and headed off at such a pace, I worried I might not see it again. However, I managed to catch up and followed him upstairs where a taxi was waiting. Oh yeah, that's where Prof. Gales had said the taxis were. He had warned us that they would try to take us for 400-500 on our way out of the baggage claim and that 150-200, or something like that, was more likely if we went to the curb. Anyway, I was satisfied with the deal, though still a bit nervous and untrusting.
During the 30 minute or so drive into Beijing and to the Novatel Peace Hotel, I chatted with the driver a little. His English was rough, but I was able to catch about 90% of what he said. At some point, we introduced ourselves and he seemed pleased with my attempt to repeat his name. However, I did not recall it 60 seconds later. I have no clue what I said. I was merely mimicking what I heard. That’s the difficulty of being a visual learner and having no idea how to spell what you’re hearing. Anyway, a resident of Beijing, he hadn't done any traveling, least of all to the US, though he indicated a desire to travel abroad later in life. He seemed proud of the many Olympic medals that China took home from Athens, but even more so of the fact that Beijing would host the 2008 games. Although I pointed out and he agreed that the games would be great for those in his line of work, there was not even a hint of self-interest. It seemed more honestly a matter of national pride.
When we neared the hotel, the driver pointed out a few of the neighboring buildings - hotels mostly - and indicated there was shopping down the street to the left. I had a hard time understanding his pronunciation of shopping. After the second time he said it, I said "ah, market" and he turned around and said "yes, market", his tone seeming to indicate that he was both surprised and pleased. Whether or not this was what he intended, it certainly had the effect of "giving face" - that is, boosting my confidence.
When we pulled in to the hotel, the driver pulled out his rate card and pointed to the same rate that the gentleman at the airport had indicated. I had been anticipating this regardless of whether or not the agreed rate had been communicated to the driver. I probably should have said something when I got in the car. When I told the driver that the other gentleman had agreed to RMB 230, including the highway toll, he looked a little surprised. However, when I indicated that I was giving him 250 (about $30), in addition to having already paid the toll of 10, he immediately agreed. I'm sure I overpaid a bit, but I would rather overpay than underpay.
Checking in was easy and quick although the exchange of English was not very effective. I basically showed my passport, they found my reservation, and I provided my credit card for the deposit. I asked if the rest of my group would be in nearby rooms. The affirmative response was apparently due to a lack of understanding. I later found that none of my fellow travelers had a room near mine and we were scattered amongst many floors of the hotel. Anyway, after I found my way to my room on the 11th floor, my first challenge was figuring out how to get the lights to stay on. There was a slot for your room key next to the light switches just like the one on the door. I had no problem getting them to come on. I just swiped my card, just like you do for the door. No matter what I did, they seemed to go out after about 30 seconds. I figured I was doing something wrong, but I just opened the curtain a bit and settled in.
After getting situated and reviewing the service guides and other materials, I grabbed my prepaid international calling card and headed down to the second floor to check out the facilities and try the pay phone (rooms have a per-minute fee for local calls). The access number did not seem to work at the payphone, but I wasn't surprised. The ISIConnect web site had warned this would probably be the case. I tried to ask for help at the front desk and just wasn't being understood. I decided to just try from the room. The rate is only RMB .1 per minute, which equates to a little over a penny a minute. The rate on the phone card, of course, was not so meager. The primary number, which I coincidentally was not able to reach in the room either, was $0.96 per minute. The secondary number provided by ISIC cost $1.60 per minute and of course connected.
After awakening Martha at 1am EST for a brief 15-minute conversation, basically to let her know I arrived in one piece, I changed into my swim trunks and headed back down to the second floor. I had checked out the pool and exercise room while I was down trying out the pay phone and though I had no intent to exercise, I certainly intended to relax and enjoy the hot tub.
After enjoying the hot tub for a few minutes, I decided to join the one other person in the pool and swim a bit. After being in for a few minutes, the lady asked me how to float facing up. At least, that's what I understood between her thick Chinese accent and miming. Thinking she meant under water, I demonstrated. After embarrassing myself twice - once swimming under water, once laying face-up on the bottom - I finally understood that she was simply asking about floating on your back on top of the water. Talk about complicating a request. I briefly gave her some hints, miming the actions. She didn't try for herself while I was in the pool, but it sounded like she might have tried later. Anyway, after another few minutes in the hot tub, I showered and headed back to the room.
A bit exhausted by this time, I set my alarm and laid down for a nap. When the phone rang, I answered in a completely disoriented state. It took me a moment to wake up and realize that I was speaking to Prof. Gales and that I was late for dinner. Apparently, I didn't hear my alarm an hour earlier. I was lucky even to awake to the ringing of the phone.
I grabbed my stuff and headed to the lobby, still not quite awake. When I got to there, I didn't recognize anyone at first, even the group in the corner that must certainly be our group. As I walked that direction, I finally recognized Larry and apologized as I greeted him. He was not surprised at all that I had taken a nap and that it went longer than I anticipated. Such are the consequences of jet lag. We waited a few more minutes for one more straggler before heading down the street to dinner.
Though I knew none of the folks around me at the dinner table other than Prof. Gales, I was very much relieved to be joined up with the group. However, I did quickly identify the two classmates I had interacted with by email prior to the trip (they pretty much introduced themselves in roundabout ways) - Holly, the fellow P&Ger, and John, the gentleman I had emailed, thinking he shared my flight itinerary (turned out it had been a typo and I was flying completely alone).
Dinner was family style, with a Lazy Susan in the center of the table, facilitating the passing of the plates. The table settings were mostly familiar, with chopsticks instead of flatware. The chopsticks were removed from their paper by the waitress and retuned to their small prop - what looked like an upside-down ceramic bridge or arch.
Prof Gales ordered for all of us - lemon chicken, barbeque beef, fried pork strips, mixed vegetables, dumplings, cashew chicken, jumbo shrimp, a plate of white rice, and probably some items that have slipped my mind. Beverage orders were split quite evenly between beer and Sprite. First, however, came the tea. This was no ordinary tea. In the bottom of the cup was a mixture that looked like potpourri. The excitement was in the pouring, however. The gentleman had a metal teapot with a long, straight spout about a meter in length, which he held about 10cm from the cup the entire time he poured. It took probably five minutes before John asked the waitress how to drink the tea. I'm not sure that even Prof. Gales was sure. None of us had tried the tea until then, though it was probably too hot anyway. The waitress indicated to leave the lid on and simply slide it back slightly, such that the tea could be sipped through the small crack, thus preventing the ingestion of the objects now floating in the tea.
When the food began to arrive, a few dishes were place on the Lazy Susan and then the other dishes began to arrive one at a time, every several minutes. Nobody seemed to have trouble eating their share despite a late 3 o'clock lunch with Prof. Gales. As I understand it, only two of us had not gone to lunch, but a few still have not arrived or at least were not able to be located before dinner.
On the way back from dinner, I met a couple of the other folks. Greg Mast, who works in the Wayne Water Systems Division of Campbell-Hausfeld, did his undergrad at UC in Mechanical Engineering. He is about 2/3 of the way through the program at the Blue Ash campus. Matt O'Cull, with whom John traveled, works for David J. Joseph. Bill Womacks and Susan Yarab, both "Business Professionals", presumably in the executive education program, work for Senco and Gap, respectively. Although, we did not formally meet, I think the lady walking with Prof Gales was Ann Welsh, professor of management in UC's MBA program.
That brings me back to the room, sitting at the desk, writing this journal entry. Is it long enough yet? Although subsequent days will certainly be packed with at least as much excitement, I likely won't be spending two hours per night updating this journal.
My final comments for the day relate to the assigned readings. A few of the earliest assigned readings painted the picture of a corrupt economy, spinning out of control, where ethics seemed rare and troubles abound. The most recent reading, an excerpt of nearly 100 pages from a book, painted a more romantic picture of China. It gave the perfect bird's eye view of China's history and its impact on religion, politics, and the economy. It also hinted a slow shift of today's youth, from their traditional Eastern culture to a culture that is embracing many Western concepts and values. Every country has its troubles, especially ones growing as fast as China, but to truly understand the country, I'm sure a greater understanding of the greater context is necessary. Indeed, the readings as well as common knowledge all indicate the extremely important nature of context in China. I'm sure we will learn much more about this context throughout the trip.
Monday, September 6, 2004
Monday morning I awoke to a hazy Beijing. I wanted to get some pictures of the beautiful view from my hotel room, but the visibility was really poor. After a quick breakfast alone in the hotel restaurant, I joined the rest of our group in the lobby and waited to board the bus. On the way, I snapped some pictures of various Beijing sites, including the University gate as we pulled in.
At the University of Trade and Economics, we attended lectures by Zhengyu TIAN and Lihua LANG. Since our first lecturer was running late, I got to meet and talk to some more of the other members in our group. Mike Rusconi, from Senco, was the only other southpaw on the trip. Benson Wright, who looks a little like John Travolta, is the director of the Language Learning Center at UD. He has travelled far and wide. He got into the MBA program after deciding his degree in Spanish would probably not provide a secure job future. Ben Moore, of Batavia Transmission, is one of the relatively older guys on the trip. Christina Krabacher, a student in the evening program at the main campus, has just finished her first year. Anthony Florian, a fulltime student, was a late arrival, but will be staying an extra four days in China at the end of the trip. From what I gathered, he has studied Chinese in school and can speak and understand a good deal. Bryan Weng, the assistant director of Executive Education at UC, has been invaluable as one of the leaders on this trip. He speaks Chinese fluently. Rong (Rona) Fan, who works at IBM, also is Chinese. She has friends, and I think family, here in Beijing. She went out with them last night for dinner.
Our first lecturer finally arrived at about 9:20am. He reported that his normal two hour commute turned into a 3 hour and 20 minute drive due to bad traffic. His lecture topics included Potentials for Cooperation (between the US and PRC), Barriers to Mutual Trust, History of the Economy, Market Features, Taxation, Laws & Regulation, Labor Supply, Education, Business Types, Chinese Managers & Consumers, and Communication with the Chinese. He also gave us some web sites to check out. In all, I took almost four pages of notes. By lunch time, my hand was ready for a rest.
www.ccpit.org – China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (non-governmental)
mofcom.gov.cn – Ministry of Foreign Commerce of the People’s Republic of China
fmprc.gov.cn – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
moe.gov.cn – Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China
stats.gov.cn – National Bureau of Statistics of China
(lecture notes – to be scanned and linked)
For lunch, we joined other students in the cafeteria. I hear that Rona and Bryan were commenting that the food was true cafeteria quality, but obviously they have never been subject to American cafeterias. The food was pretty good, though I'm not sure what half of it was. As has been the case for every meal, the only utensils were chopsticks. The portions were not huge, but there were about five or six different things to eat, including plain yogurt (sipped through a straw), rice, some kind of egg and tomato concoction, as well as servings of meat and vegetables. All in all, I thought it was a large and quality lunch. The presentation was the only aspect I considered to be of typical cafeteria quality.
After lunch, we killed some time basically watching the minutes tick away in the courtyard. The lunch hour was actually two hours and we made small talk until it was time to head on up to the sixth floor for our second lecture. Although it was warming up outside, the tall, skinny, standalone air conditioning unit in the front corner of the room kept us cool. Thankfully, the day's rain came during our lecture. Although it was a minor distraction, we were not subjected to the rain at all while we were outside.
Our second lecture was given by Lihua LANG, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics. She gave a PowerPoint presentation on Population, Economic Areas, Future Problems, and Foreign Trade.
(lecture notes – to be scanned and linked)
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
I ought to try to catch up in the evenings, but I've been falling asleep about 9pm. Anyway, Tuesday was a lighter day. We travelled back to the university, where we were given a lecture by Xuewei (Ian) WANG. He was quite the animated storyteller and told us mostly about families, the population, and language. Every answer to our questions was incredibly long-winded, but informative and entertaining. He also taught us a little Chinese, phrases like “húo dào lǎo xúe dào lǎo” (never too old to learn), “zǎo shǎng hao” (good morning), and “pān jīa yuánr” (a flee market/weekend market).
(lecture notes – to be scanned and linked)
For lunch, we headed out to the Four Seasons Restaurant at the Sports Inn. Once again, the cuisine was fabulous and we were all quite full by the end of lunch. Of course you wouldn't know it by the look of the plates, which were still quite full. As has been the case with every meal so far, we ate entirely with chopsticks off of a small plate about 6 inches in diameter. Therefore, the Lazy Susan was in almost constant motion.
After lunch, we took the bus to the clothing market, where some of the group wanted to shop. From there, a few others in the group took a cab to the antiques market and Stephanie took a group of six of us to the Forbidden City. Mark and Steve Lippert, Greg, Ann, and I had all missed the trip on Sunday to the FC. Susan was the only one that had gone, but the last leg had been closed when they went.
To get to the Forbidden City from the clothing market, Stephanie flagged a taxi for Ann, Susan, and I and then took Mark, Steve, and Greg in a separate cab. When we got there, we arrived at a different gate than Stephanie, but she found us shortly and brought us around to the South entrance. We entered there at a fee of about ¥60. I will let the 80 or so pictures tell the story of the first leg of the tour. The one thing I will mention is the construction you will see in some of the pictures. In some places, shingles and other building materials were stacked neatly. In others, all you could see were sheets of green covering the recovery efforts. Most of the work seemed to be on the west side of the City.
Stephanie kept us moving so we could make it to the hill, where we paid another ¥2 to go up the hill into Jingshan Park. I'm not sure why this leg was so much cheaper, as it afforded us the most magnificent view of the city yet – probably because it was a public park or something. At the top was a small building with a Buddha that stood about 3 meters tall. I got yelled at for trying to snap photograph. Oops. We enjoyed the view for probably 20 minutes and had another tourist take our picture with Stephanie before heading back down the hill.
We returned to the clothing market the same way we travelled to the city - via two cabs. I think we paid ¥40 round trip per cab. This seemed very cheap for a 20 minute drive or so. At the clothing market, two of the groups boarded the bus and headed to the theater, where we were joined by the antique market shoppers.
The acrobatics we saw at the theater were fantastic. For probably 45 minutes, the performers completed feats of balance, contortion, synchronized bicycling, etc. Unfortunately, I don't think my pictures in there turned out very well due to the low light and fast action. This was the first time that I felt like I needed a camera upgrade. Especially after Benson showed us the 60 second or so video capture he took on his camera. It was great.
After the acrobatics performance, we went to another Sichuan restaurant for dinner. This one was apparently quite difficult to find, as the driver, Stephanie, and Michael were a little frantic during the last few minutes. Finally, after a few phone calls and some fancy driving, we found our target restaurant, one of six locations of this restaurant in the area.
For the first time, there was flatware on the tables. However, none of us dared use it. Even those not quite as skilled with the chopsticks insisted on continuing to practice. There wasn't really anything different about this meal than any other. However, I did break out my chopsticks toward the end of dinner after claiming that the skinny-ended sticks were easier to use than the fat ones.
I think it was about 8:30 by the time we finished dinner, but it felt really late. When we got back to the hotel, I joined about 4 others on a walk just down the street to buy some bottled water for the next day's trip. We paid ¥5 for two 600 mL bottles. At about 80 cents, that's much less than what we pay in the US, at least at ball parks and such. It later occurred to me that while “mountain spring water” is the selling point in the US, the selling point in China seems to just be “purified water”, probably the near equivalent of tap water back home.
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Despite getting to bed around 11pm, I awoke around 4am. Thankfully I was able to get back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 6:30, I turned it off and apparently fell back asleep. Thankfully, I awoke again at 7:35 with just enough time to shower, dress, and get out the door.
Our first stop today is the Jade Museum. It will take about 1.5 hours to get there. After a quick tour, we'll head to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Our final stop will be the Summer Palace. Unfortunately, Stephanie was unable to join us today. Apparently, her tour company had some VIPs coming in and pulled her off this job to lead their tour. Michael will lead us today and his assistant is a young lady named Kiki.
The Beijing Long Di Jade Carving Factory and Superior Jade Gallery were something else. Upon entering the establishment, we were able to watch some jade carving in action, as a few men were sitting at carving machines, working shapes out of fist-sized stones. We then passed through three or four rooms that appeared to be used for display, as well as educational purposes. In addition to intricate display pieces, there were explanations about the different types of jade as well as the carving. No doubt they were intended to build you up for purchasing some of the items in the vast warehouse of the store. The pieces ranged in size from tiny earrings to a ship that stood maybe three meters high and stretched maybe five or six meters long. None of the items were cheap by any means. I was told by one salesperson that this was a government owned store so the prices were very competitive. However, ¥80 for a pair of jade chopsticks seems a bit steep. Although signs everywhere indicated no bargaining, Anthony paid about 50-60% of asking price on the souvenir that he bought. Since I had no such luck on the chopsticks, I kept my money in my pockets. (I shouldn’t have taken the picture of the necklace. Martha socked me for not buying it for her. Looking back, I really should have bought it, but I had hoped to find better prices elsewhere.)
Our next stop was Juyong Guan or Juyong Pass, one piece of the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Lonely Planet had the following to say. "Originally constructed in the 5th century and rebuilt by the Ming, this section of the wall was considered one of the most strategically important because of its position as a link to Beijing. However, this section has been thoroughly renovated to the point where you don't feel as if you're walking on a piece of history. Still, if you're in a hurry, it's the closest section of the wall to Beijing. You can do the steep and somewhat strenuous circuit in less than two hours."
Indeed, we were in a bit of a hurry, as we only had three days in Beijing. While the wall was quite obviously renovated, I still felt very much like I was walking on a piece of history. Greg, Anthony, Holly, and I were first to the top. Only about half of the group made it to the top at all. The view was breathtaking and we met many other travelers while we rested - travelers from Australia, England, Sweden, and many from other areas of China. I can't wait to see how the 360 degrees of photos turned out.
Once we had completed our descent back to the base of the wall, I browsed the souvenirs. They had some wonderful stone carvings that had been coated with a ceramic glaze. One that especially caught my eye was a red and black dragon. Though heavy, I couldn't pass it up at ¥25 (barely three US dollars). I also purchased a few plums as a snack to hold me over until lunch. I think they only cost me about ¥5. They were as ripe as ripe could be. They practically melted in your mouth. The third one unfortunately was overripe, but two out of three isn't bad, especially for that price.
On the bus ride to our lunch destination, we took what seemed like back roads for about 30 minutes, avoiding the stop and go traffic on the highway. The Yulong Restaurant was aptly dubbed the Chinese Cracker Barrel by one member of our group. When we arrived, there were mostly tour buses in the parking lot. As we walked inside, we had to pass through a huge store in order to get to the restaurant upstairs.
Bryan later explained the situation as follows. The tour companies keep their prices low by earning commission from places they take their groups. It would be difficult to track the spending of a group, so the commission is simply based on head count. A destination combining lunch and shops will make more money and therefore the tour companies will get more kick-back. Sounds like quite an operation.
This lunch was typical of our meals thus far - a variety of Chinese dishes, shared via Lazy Susan. After sitting next to each other twice in a row, Matt and I ended up two seats apart this time. That meant that the wheel was in almost constant motion as we made our mark on the dishes. Dessert was watermelon, as always, but I also bought a scoop of ice cream on the way out. For ¥10, I got a few refreshing bites of wild cherry. It was no Graeter’s, but it was good.
On the drive to Summer Palace, we dropped Larry and Bryan off to go to the US Embassy. Meanwhile, Ben and I talked with Kiki, the girl who took Stephanie's place for the day. She was quite a little sweetheart and her colored contact lenses were quite cute. She was apparently a very good friend of Stephanie’s.
Michael guided our group through the east gate at the Summer Palace and told us many stories and facts about the location. He tried to get us a boat tour, but the boat was apparently not running due to low water levels.
While waiting for the bus outside the gate of the Summer Palace, Kiki gave me a note from Stephanie. She was just watching out for Kiki, asking me to take good care of her. It was quite a coincidence that Kiki had taken a seat with Ben, across the aisle from me, when she first joined us in the morning. Ben and I had been taking good care of her.
Anyway, back to the Summer Palace. We were waiting for the bus and Michael called the driver to find out where he was. Apparently he was parked just across the street, so we headed over. As we were just about to get on he bus, Michael asked if any of us were interested in the Pearl Market, which was just around the corner. Everyone was tired and hungry and we declined. However, we didn't realize that dinner was here. We weren't getting on the bus anyway.
Everyone felt a little funny about what was going on. We didn't think this was where we were supposed to be eating dinner. When we entered the restaurant, we were disappointed to find mostly American and other non-Chinese dishes at the buffet. Everything but the fine Chinese cuisine we had enjoyed thus far. It was no surprise that we were the only customers. We wondered what Larry and Bryan would think when they arrived, especially Bryan, who was critical of the meals already. In any case, we tried to make the most of it and reflected on our trip thus far.
By the time we exited the eatery, it was quite dark outside. It was light outside when we went in around 5:30, so the sun must have set quickly. We were only in the restaurant about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. The weather had been beautiful all day. A bit hot at the wall, probably around 85 or 90º F, the temperature cooled off to probably 75 or so, cool and breezy.
The ride back to the hotel seemed short. Ben and I exchanged contact information with Kiki and Michael promised to give his to Larry, to be shared with all of us. At the hotel, I paid for 30 more minutes of internet access, emailing a quick update to family and cleaning out my inbox. I can't wait to share stories, in addition to the pictures, when I get home. Hopefully folks will want to hear them. I know that when I shared my South Africa pictures, I would sometimes ramble on for a couple of hours. That was only a one-week trip. Watch out guys.
Thursday, September 9, 2004
In the morning, my 5:30 wakeup call left just enough time to shower and pack. I was just a couple minutes late downstairs, but that meant no breakfast - again. Doh! When we boarded the bus, Michael and Stephanie greeted us with warm smiles. On the bus, Stephanie collected more emails and insisted that Steve write "happy" as his middle name. She insisted that he had a perpetual smile. She must have taken quite a liking to our group since she briefly lost her composure and cried a little, saying she would really miss us. She joked that her next trip to the US would be to visit us in Cincinnati.
At the airport, Michael and Stephanie led us to the group check-in and got all of our boarding passes for us. It was after they said their goodbyes and we headed for our gate that Ben passed along a gift from Stephanie. I peeked inside the box to find a painted bowl and a stone snake. As soon as I saw the snake, I understood why she had asked me a second time if I was born in the year of the snake. On Monday, she had been looking up the years in which many of us were born and she was telling us what animal corresponded to that year. What a thoughtful gift.
At the gate, security was very interesting. My shoes did NOT set off the metal detector, but my passport was collected and information entered into a computer as they opened all my water bottles and smelled them. Bryan explained that record was kept of anyone bringing water through security. I am curious to know more of the details surrounding this procedure. It seemed quite odd to me. Anyway, we finally made it to the gate with about 30 minutes to spare (before boarding).
The Guangzhou airport was really nice and not too crowded when we arrived. Bryan informed us that it had just been finished in 2004 and the contemporary architecture reflected this fact. Our bus was a small 22-seater, with no additional storage area below like the larger buses. Therefore, we packed all 18 people and 19 bags into this tiny space. After we had filed in and filled even the fold down aisle seats, the luggage was stacked in front of us.
The ride from the airport was also quite different than in Beijing. Although the highways in both places reminded me of Dallas, with no dirt under the ramps, the tollbooths were distinctively modern unlike Beijing's beautiful, ornate toll stops. The buildings were also not so nice. Although modern, they were significantly worn and many were in quite a state of disrepair. Bars were quite common, even on the upper floors of high rises. Bryan said that crime is a big problem here. That's comforting. J
At the hotel, we checked in, dropped off our bags, and hopped back on the bus to head to the Alcanta University of Foreign Languages. There, we were lectured by two professors (Boming and Chai, or something like that). The first professor talked about the current economy, reasons for change, characteristics of US companies in China, laws & regulations, and investment incentives. The second professor talked about values and characteristics of Chinese culture and its impact on the economy.
(lecture notes – to be scanned and linked)
We also had a couple of other lecturers, whose names I did not catch. Afterward, we were given a tour of campus. It was quite busy. Students were out on the basketball courts, tennis courts, playing soccer on the track, etc. I guess a campus with 100% on-campus living is a little more lively than a commuter campus like UC.
Dinner was held at a place called the Village or something like that, a nice restaurant tucked into a hill in White Cloud Mountain Park. The faculty of AUFL joined us and taught us the bottoms up toast – dombai or something to that effect. I have no clue how it’s spelled, but I do know that wine wasn’t made for shots. Good thing our table was mild. The other table was toasting up a storm. Oh well. How often do you get taxied around by a bus all day? Might as well drink up, right? Actually, everyone could still walk a straight line by the end of the night, so it really wasn’t bad. It did help us to loosen up a bit around the dean and the rest of the faculty.
At the hotel after dinner, I decided to charge my camera batteries and Palm. That meant first figuring out the new hotel room. Extra outlets seemed to be the three-round-pronged configuration rather than the standard two-round-pronged European configuration. I didn’t seem to have one of those adapters, so I broke out the extension cord and splitter and plugged into the shaver outlet in the bathroom.
I also figured out Stephanie’s gift. The bowl was an ink pad and the snake had a stamp on the bottom. The stamp had two Chinese characters with my English name below them. Just to double-check, I copied them down separately and asked Rona what they meant. Without hesitation, she said “Kevin.” She also told me what the two characters loosely represented, but I have already forgotten. It is basically a phonetic translation using positive characters.
Anyway, I was getting pretty tired and I skipped journaling once again in favor of sleep. While the bed-side light console that controlled every light in the room was nice, it did little to offset the fact that my mattress was rock-hard. However, I somehow managed to sleep like a baby and I had no trouble getting up in the morning. Maybe the jetlag is subsiding.
Friday, September 10, 2004
In the morning, I had a bit of an upset stomach and had to visit the restroom three times during the hour before I went downstairs. I’m not sure what didn’t agree with me, but my upset stomach was sore through morning lecture as well. I took a couple of Pepto Bismol chewable tablets at around 7am and couple more around 8, before reading the instructions on the Cipro, which said no antacids two hours before and six hours after. I will definitely take a dose as soon as I can (2pm).
This morning’s lecture was very interesting. Associate Professor John WB Zhang from the Department of English spoke to us about Human Resource Management. He cited many popular Chinese books, such as The Book of Changes: Strategic Management, The Art of Wars, The Book of Three Kingdoms, and The Book of Greenwood Heroes. He also talked about three main stages in the modern human management period: from 1949-1965, the planned economy, a Soviet model; from 1966-1976, the cultural revolutionary period; and from 1976 to present, the reform period.
For lunch on Friday, we stopped at a little local restaurant that appeared to have no English name. We made our way past the book stand out front and up to the second floor. This lunch was pretty typical once again – a variety of dishes, turned on a Lazy Susan. This time, though, I didn't have a whole lot to eat since I was not feeling so well. By the time I had taken the Cipro, I must have become dehydrated. Although my stomach felt better, I had a bad headache and felt feverish. I was ready for an afternoon nap, though I never got one.
After lunch, we wandered around downstairs through the garden. There was a little pond below with fish and a waterfall. I wandered a little further back and around the corner and found a small lake that was surrounded by more restaurants. The roads and traffic are so crazy that you probably would never see this from the street.
We killed some more time by stopping at the Friendship Store - a small, but upscale mall. The prices seemed fixed and were by no means a bargain. Not many purchases were made here by our group.
Upon our arrival at the office of the American Chamber of Commerce, we were a little confused to be walking into a 5-star hotel – the Guangdong International Hotel. Apparently, the Chamber holds meetings in a conference room there. The setup looked temporary. A banner was displayed outside the room and the waiting area had a small sign and some business cards. Timlin Shaver, Executive Director of the AmCham, gave us an informal, but very fine presentation on the background and workings of the Chamber. He also explained to us his illegal residency and the fact that this Chamber office has no business license. Apparently, Chinese law dictates that there must only be one Chamber of Commerce per country in China. The official one is in Beijing. Nevertheless, the office apparently has a great relationship with the Guangdong Provincial Government – enough so that the 2005 meeting of the American Chambers of Commerce in Asia was approved by the government to be held in Guangzhou.
Back at the hotel, we took a 30 minute break before boarding the bus to head out for dinner. After one right turn and then another and then another, we realized we were practically right back where we started. The Seafood Restaurant was right next to our hotel. We're not sure if the driver knew where he was going or not. Our guess is that he was just following some crazy directions. Indeed, as Bryan said, the streets are quite crazy in Guangzhou. He said that urban planning here was the laughing stock of China. In fact, traffic here seemed 10 times worse than in Beijing, compounded by the higher ratio of cars to bikes. Actually, my best guess is that he had to drive us in order to make commission for the connection.
Anyway, as we entered the Guang Zhou Dong Jiang Seafood Restaurant, we saw display upon display of live fish, crab, and other soon-to-be foods. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures there, but I know that my fellow travelers took not only pictures, but also video footage of the attraction. After being seated, Bryan and a few of the others went back downstairs and apparently picked out our dinner. The shear size of this restaurant was impressive. While the first floor was reserved for the food, there must have been about 4 floors of dining or more. I think we were on the 5th floor. This certainly supported Bryan's claim that this restaurant, though not well-known to tourists, was a local favorite.
After dinner, our guide led us down the street a few blocks where we boarded a riverboat for an evening cruise on the Pearl River. We must have traveled about 30 minutes up river before turning around and then went back another 30 minutes past our starting point before returning to port. In total, we were on the river for almost 1.5 hours. What really stood out were all the neon lights and the various styles of architecture that we saw in the buildings along the river.
Back at the hotel, I basically crashed again, without working on my journal or anything. I did check email quickly in the business center. Despite free broadband access in the rooms, the internet fee in the business center was the same as in Beijing – ¥2 per minute. However, here they only billed in 15 minute increments. Therefore, I made sure to finish before I passed the 15 minute mark.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
On Saturday morning, we got to sleep in. However, despite about 9 hours of sleep, I still had trouble getting up in the morning. Breakfast was at 9am and we all met on the 3rd floor. This was the only meal we had in the hotel. The highlight of this meal for me was the little bread ball that had a filling tasting like cream cheese. It was like a cream cheese Danish – finally, something sweet. Though I still had a bit of a headache, I was feeling much better. I was also drinking lots of tea and bottled water in an attempt to re-hydrate.
After breakfast, we traveled by bus to the Chan Clan Temple. Here, members of the Chan family received advanced schooling to prepare them for some sort of civil service exam. Bryan indicated that passing this exam was more prestigious than a college degree. In fact, just to get in, an entrance exam had to be passed. Typically, students would complete about 10 years of study before attending this school.
This temple might just as well have been a museum. There were display cases everywhere and everything in sight was something spectacular to behold. I took no shortage of pictures here. Though not a very large place, an hour and a half was barely sufficient to properly appreciate everything there was to see here. The gift shop was also quite nice. After a good deal of browsing, Anthony helped me bargain on a nice calligraphy set. Though the sticker asked for ¥150, I got it for 100. I also picked up a set of chopsticks for another 180, though originally tagged at 250. Both pieces appeared as though they might be antiques. Bryan said the "4 elements for the study room", as it said on the calligraphy box, might be 100 years old or more. You never know. The chopsticks were probably newer. Each is stamped with the inscription "happy family" and the set of 8 pairs came in a beautiful mahogany box engraved with a phoenix, a sign of longevity and good luck.
Our next stop was the Western Han Dynasty Museum, right across from what Bryan understood to be a P&G office (marketing and finance, across from the China Hotel, a Marriott hotel). We started off watching a short video giving background on the site. The museum was actually built on the site of the excavated tombs. After the video, we got to go down into the tomb, which was almost completely bare. All the artifacts were on display in the museum. Walking through the rest of the museum was like any other museum – artifacts encased in glass displays, with plaques describing the artifact in both English and Chinese. No pictures were allowed in here, so you’ve been spared about 50 or so. J
For lunch, we stopped at the TeeMall, a gigantic shopping center. Mike, Matt, Anthony, Bill, and I ate at a little sit-down restaurant in the 6th floor food court called Chalen. We were given a private room in the back and I wondered if we would be charged extra. We weren't, though our meals averaged ¥50 per person compared to the ¥15 per person that many others apparently paid for lunch, including those who ate at KFC. Although I had a traditional Chinese dish, I did enjoy a strawberry shake with my meal.
After a short break back at the hotel, four of us departed for the electronics market while the rest of the group headed across the street to a general gift market. Benson, Larry, and I were guided through the electronics market by Bryan. It was incredible – if you’re into that kind of thing. There were cameras, MP3 players, video and sound systems, and much, much more. Prices after negotiation seemed to weigh in at about a 25% reduction on the best prices to be found in the US. We spent about an hour just browsing the little shops, which were probably only about 10 square meters in size. It's a miracle that I got out of there without buying anything, but I had no clue what appropriate prices were and I didn’t really intend to spend so much money.
We did end up making it back in time to shop a little in the general gifts market. However, most of the merchandise there did not really give me the impression of China. Rather it gave me the impression of Made in China. As some of the others said, we could get that at Wal-Mart or just about anywhere in the US for that matter. Nevertheless, I did find a few trinkets in addition to a wedding gift for Luke. Bryan and I saw some great place settings - placemats with chopsticks - on the way in, but didn't pull the trigger. Unfortunately, we were unable to find them again on the way out. All the shops were closing.
By the time the market closed up, we had just enough time to get back to the hotel, clean up, and head to dinner. We returned again to the Seafood Restaurant around the corner, but this time we walked. At the restaurant, it was simply more of the same. I've been getting a little bored with the food, especially since I haven't taken a particular liking to the food in Guangzhou. Not that it is bad. Indeed, it is very good. However, it is all rather bland. I look forward to the spicy Sichuan food in Chengdu that everyone has been talking about.
After dinner, Steve and Benson and I headed a few doors down the street to the Internet Cafe to check our email. As soon as we walked in, the lady asked "Internet?" I guess three Americans in a Chinese coffee shop are easy to predict. Anyway, I asked how much and I thought she said ¥6 for an hour. We decided it was possible she was meaning to say ¥60, but that would still be half the cost of the hotel business center. About one hour later, we logged off and got our check. It was ¥61 for the 3 of us and that included Benson's ¥30 beer. It must have been about ¥6 per hour. What a deal!
Back at the hotel, I packed up, showered, and shaved, knowing I would not get up early enough in the morning to do so. I also figured out the bed situation after someone else mentioned having a softer mattress in their room. In fact, the mattress I had been sleeping on was like a stone slab. I tried the other one and it was much more comfortable. Oops. I guess I never thought to check the other bed. I guess it must not have bothered me that much. Anyway, even with an alarm and a wake up call, I almost didn't make it out of bed in time. I finally got out of bed at about 6:05am and we were to meet in the lobby at 6:15. Believe it or not, I made it on time.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
At the airport this morning, we cut it a little close. We were all checked in by about 7:30am, but the flight was supposed to leave at 8:00. We hadn't been too concerned during check-in because the screen reported that the flight was delayed and on schedule for an 8:45 departure. However, the person at the counter said the flight was not delayed, so we hurried through the security gate to our gate of departure, leaving only about 5 or 10 minutes to spare before the flight’s scheduled departure. Normally they close the doors 10 minutes before takeoff. In fact, the flight was delayed and there was not even a plane at the gate yet. That meant that we had time for a quick breakfast and most of the group took advantage. I used the time to start catching up on my journal. After we finally did board, I did some more catching up on the flight. Enough to fill up the entire two hour flight, aside from the break for the airline breakfast.
Our arrival to Chengdu brought with it a couple of interesting twists. First, we were let off the plane to the ground and caught a bus back to the terminal. This actually wasn't bad for us since we had mostly the back two rows and they let us out the back. After picking up our luggage at baggage claim, Holly had to get help having the belt turned back on because she had missed her bag and it had gone back behind the wall again. Outside, we had the same type of small bus that we had in Guangzhou. However, this driver was not willing to stack/stuff the suitcases on the bus. He called for another vehicle and we waited about 20 more minutes for it to arrive. After the van had been loaded with our bags, we set out on the 45 minute or so drive to the hotel.
Chengdu is much different than Guangzhou and Beijing. Although not as ornate as Beijing, it was not nearly so run down and dirty as was Guangzhou. There did not seem to be so many high rises and the roads seemed less haphazard than in Guangzhou. The landmarks that stood out most were the ocean-liner-like building, the statue of Mao, and the soccer stadium. In fact, most of us have a great view of the soccer stadium from our rooms. Most of the group has room 07 on one floor or another. Mine is 1707. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be the best view or was the least popular and last available. I’m guessing the former. In any case, it was very interesting to me since 7 is my favorite number.
Lunch on Sunday was another of these tourist traps. We thought we were eating in the hotel, so most of the group wasn't prepared to go out. In fact, even Larry had been unaware of the plans that the tour company sprung on us. That left at least a few of us skeptical again. As we pulled in, there were only a couple cars and a few tour buses. Indeed, nobody occupied the upper floor, where we had adjoining private rooms. To our pleasant surprise, however, the food turned out to be very good. Furthermore, I found this Sichuan food more to my liking. There were a couple of spicy and delicious plates - one was Kung Pao Chicken and the other was some sort of pork dish. We could have used another plate of each, but best not to overdo it, I guess.
After lunch, six of us stopped and toured a temple - Bryan, Holly, Christine, Greg, Rona, and I. I think many of the others would have gone if we had stopped back at the hotel first. We weren't really prepared for another activity after lunch. Anyway, those of us that went ended up spending over two hours at the temple. I was just a little bit more selective with the pictures since I had left two of my three camera batteries in the room to charge during lunch. In addition to a few pictures, I also came away with another gift. It is a frame with five masks representing characters from the story The Three Kingdoms. Since Martha had expressed an interest in masks, I thought this might be appropriate. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any books or other explanation of the masks or the ceremonies.
Back at the hotel, we have had about a two hour break, most of which I have spent updating this log. We will leave in about 40 minutes for dinner.
For dinner last night, the tour company took us to another local establishment. I'm guessing not many foreigners go there since there was no English name at all. I think it might have been a hotel restaurant though. It was typical of all the meals we've had so far, though the food rivaled that of the first night in China. There were a couple slightly spicy dishes that were great. One thing I did notice here was a very heavy duty Lazy Susan. I would love to find a place to order such a nice one for home.
After dinner, I went to check email and folks from our group were using both computers. So I went upstairs and gave Martha a call. We used up 24 of the 27 minutes or so left on the card. I used the last 3 this morning to wish my mom a happy birthday and to let her know I'm doing well.
Monday, September 13, 2004
I believe today's agenda is relatively light again. We will visit Southwest University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) where the topic of discussion will be Opportunities for Investment in West China. Then we’ll visit a joint venture company.
Our morning lecture at the Southwest University of Finance and Economics (SWUFE) was basically about characteristics and development of western China and specifically the Sichuan province. The professor lectured from about 9am until noon. The campus was very nice. The building we were in was nicer than any of the university buildings we have seen yet. The meeting room was quite big and the professor sat at a table up front with a microphone and an interpreter at his side. The interpreter was the first person I have heard here with a British accent to her English. Apparently she studied in the UK for some time. In fact, I think she had just recently returned. The professor joked that they were very lucky that she came back to them. He said that only about 10% of young adults that leave Chengdu to study elsewhere come back after their studies are complete.
Lunch was held in a series of three connected private rooms above the cafeteria. We had assigned seats such that the local faculty and students were mixed in with our group. They also provided us very nice gifts. The meal was probably larger than any meal we have had thus far. It seemed like they might never stop putting food on the tables. The presentation of the food here was quite striking as well. I think there was even a sugar sculpture of a stork or some such bird on one of the trays.
After lunch, we visited Chengdu Joint-Wit Pharmaceutical Company, LTD. They are a 14 million dollar a year company that manufactures herbal medicines and health foods. After a short PowerPoint introduction translated by our escort from SWUFE, we actually got to tour their facilities. We saw some testing labs, the stock rooms, the manufacturing lines, and packaging lines. Afterward, we reconvened in the conference room for about 30 more minutes of questions and answers, a process that is a bit slower when working through a translator.
Dinner tonight was by far the best meal, aside from the ride. I think this driver is a little off his rocker. Before we even got a block away from the hotel, he was backing up and turning around in the middle of the street. Anyway, as we pulled up to the place, which was on the left hand side, he was trying to make the turn from the right hand lane of a one-way four lane road. Then he scoots past the turn a bit for some reason and pretty much has to do a U-turn to make the turn. What an adventure.
Anyway, we ate at a Sichuan hot pot restaurant called Shunfengfei Mu, I think. At least that’s what the big sign says in my pictures. Hot pot basically consists of a boiling pot of slightly spicy Sichuan broth, into which raw meat is dipped. After cooking the meat in the boiling broth, it is dipped into a thin soy sauce based liquid, which cools as well as flavors. We were asked whether we wanted spicy or regular and my whole table (all guys) ordered spicy. It actually didn't end up being too spicy. I’d rate it maybe a 3 out of 10. The beef that was intended to be eaten raw, however, had a sauce that looked deceptively like a soy sauce. Rather, it tasted more like wasabi. I think I took the first bite at the table. As soon as I stuck the food in my mouth, I immediately felt the burn in my sinuses. That was really powerful stuff. Hopefully it wasn't too hard on my stomach or it will be a long bus ride tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow morning, we will take a two hour ride to Mianyang, where we will visit Changhong Limited Corporation. We will have lunch at the Changhong Hotel and I think visit the Giant Panda Breeding Center before a buffet dinner at the California Garden Hotel, followed by the Sichuan Opera at the Shunxing Old Teahouse. So says our updated schedule.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Although I got to sleep last night at about 10pm, I still had trouble getting up in the morning. I think I ended up getting out of bed at about 7:30am. After showering and getting dressed, I had just enough time to grab a danish and a roll from the buffet for breakfast before we boarded the bus for Mianyang. Thankfully, we have a much larger bus today.
The scenery on the trip to MianYang was mostly rice fields. However, it offered great insight into the agricultural customs of the local rice farmers as all stages of the harvest were visible somewhere along the way. Fields were sectioned off with small ridges in order to hold water. Trenches then fed water to these sections. The rice stalks are grown in little bundles that are evenly spaced. Upon harvest, the rice is bundled into larger and larger piles as it dries. Then, the farmers beat the stalks into a large box, shaking loose the rice. Some of the stocks are kept as feed, just like hay. Some are burned in the field. Generally speaking, no machinery is used in the process. Just hand tools like garden hoes. Oxen appeared to be used for plowing and on rare occasions, you might see a tractor or even a small portable machine used to separate the rice from the stalks. It really looks like back breaking work. I even saw a woman in one of the fields with a baby carrier on her back. Other common sights on the farms were goats and ducks.
Changhong seems to be a big part of Mianyang. It has 8 sites on one huge industrial park and boasts its own hotel. It would be kind of like P&G’s Cincinnati sites consolidated into one area. Upon our arrival, we were shown a short video and then led on a tour through the company "museum" - a tribute to the history and the product line of Changhong. Toward the end of the product line tour, word spread quickly that there would be no tour of the production facilities. This was quite a disappointment and no doubt soured the mood a bit. Apparently it had to do with US litigation against Changhong with regards to anti-dumping regulations. Our tour ended in a conference room where we were served tea and our host gave some background on the anti-dumping issue by way of our interpreter from SWUFE. Actually, Bryan did most of the translating here, as she was not very comfortable with much of the business lingo and was understandably tired. Translating takes a lot out of you.
Our host indicated that Changhong was facing anti-dumping charges from the EU as well as the US. His claim was that this was actually a political issue since the US is not even manufacturing TVs any more. While a lot of US policy doesn't make sense, I'm sure there's more to it, especially if the EU is taking a similar position.
I also noticed during our host's introduction toward the very beginning of the tour that he held both a high position with the company AND with the government. Seems like a conflict of interests to me. Maybe Changhong would be more successful internationally if they broke these ties. Maybe, however, their 25% market share in the Chinese color television market would then suffer. One final interesting point was the stock valuation history given in response to a question from our group. In 1994, the IPO went for $2 US per share. By 1997 or so, shares were up to about $9 US. Today, however, a share of stock in Changhong is worth less than $1 US.
Follow-up note: I imagine we don’t hear much in the US about the concept of dumping because it just doesn’t make sense for our companies. Any company that tried to sell below the production cost would soon find itself too far in the red to recover. However, with ties to its government, a foreign company like Changhong might survive indefinitely through subsidy and forgiven debt. Whether this is actually the case, I do not know. Larry explained that varying and debatable methods for calculating the cost of production complicate the concept of dumping. It certainly is not an area that I know enough about to criticize.
After our conversation in the meeting room, we went to the company hotel restaurant for lunch. This was quite a treat and may have been one of our best meals yet. My only regret was a red pepper that I popped in my mouth carelessly. It was probably not far below a habanero in steam factor. My face turned quite red and my eyes began to water. It took about 10 minutes and a lot of water before my mouth finally cooled off and my nose stopped running. Of course it didn’t much interrupt my eating.
After lunch, we stopped in the hotel store, where our tour guide informed us that he had arranged for a discount if we wanted to buy anything. There were a lot of nice gift items there and I ended up buying three masks. The lady was asking ¥220 for the large mask and ¥80 for each of the two smaller ones (¥380 total). She offered them to me for 300. I asked for 250 and she laughed, but she did end up selling them to me for 280. I think they would have been cheaper in South Africa and they were similar to the ones I saw there. I doubt they even had as much significance here. They probably were just a souvenir item. Anyway, Martha is interested in masks and masks she will get. I haven't had a hard time shopping for her. I just need to stock up on some items for other folks. I did pick up one additional item on the way out. It is a box of about 6 or 8 mooncakes (traditional mid-autumn festival treat) and a small bottle of red wine. For ¥188, I was actually more interested in the box than the contents. It had a neat wooden roll-away lid.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was really neat. After seeing a couple big adult pandas napping in indoor enclosures, we got to see a tiny week-old baby. It was about 15 or 20 cm in length and probably weighed only one or two kg. The most entertaining site was that of the one year old cubs. They were quite active, chasing the lady with the food bowl and wrestling with each other. One was sitting in her chair and posing for many cute pictures. They also had a neat wooden structure to play on. While one was napping in the upper branches, another two were wrestling on the ground below. One would try to climb up and the other would grab his leg and pull him back down. They were quite entertaining. At one point, one of the cubs ventured near the edge of the enclosure toward our fence. There was a deep two meter or so moat between us, but it was empty and the cub inched his way near the edge. Finally he got just far enough that he began to slide head first down the steep, but grassy slope. At the bottom, he just propped himself against the wall and munched on some bamboo.
Back at the museum, I bought a brochure that most places would have given out with admission. However, I did only pay about 50 cents, so I couldn’t complain. Outside the park, I haggled for a couple of little backpacks for Celina and Brittne. I avoided the ones that made noise and also used those to bargain down the price of the ones that didn't. The lady was originally asking ¥25 for either. After pointing out that one made noise and the other didn't, she offered me the noiseless ones for ¥20 each. I offered 15 and she accepted. Shhhh, don't tell Solanna I paid less than $4 US total for the two gifts. Just kidding, she will probably read this anyway. J
Back at the hotel last night, I used my free time before dinner to have a read through the China Daily that was delivered to my room while I was gone. It was in English of course (or I wouldn’t have been able to read it). The stories were very similar to ones you would read in an American paper. For example, one story highlighted the new generation of Internet lingo. Even the Chinese youth have their shortcuts. Some are borrowed, like GF (girlfriend) and some are original, using sets of numbers that sound like common Chinese phrases.
Dinner was actually at the site of the opera we were seeing later, the Shunxing Old Teahouse. I’m not sure what happened to the California Garden Hotel. Anyway, the food was so-so, as was the service. We waited 20 minutes for refills on tea, asking on three occasions for refills. I finally got one just as we were leaving the table, but from the tour guide who had asked them the last time. They even ignored her, so she just picked up the pot and poured it for me herself. Oh well.
The highlight of the meal for most was probably the massage. Some gentlemen (or not so gentle men) came to the tables offering massages at ¥30 each. It was an extra 20 for an ear massage, which I’m told has similar significance to a foot massage – each part of the ear representing and area of the body. However, most of the guys reported that the massage was a little too rough. I passed on the massage for numerous reasons – because I was the first person solicited, because I am cheap, and because I was not comfortable getting massaged at the dinner table. That's a little too personal for me, especially since I only let Martha give me massages back home.
Anyway, after dinner, we piled into another room where we enjoyed the Sichuan Opera. It was sort of like a talent show and mostly involved dance, magic, and skits. It was interesting, but since it was mostly in Chinese, it was difficult to fully appreciate. The neatest part for me was the tea pouring show. The two guys were doing all kinds of tricks with their long-spouted teapots - behind the back, leaning over backward, spinning the pots and so on. It was quite entertaining. Again, the action was difficult to capture on film due to the low light and fast action. Sitting all the way in the back didn’t help either.
Back at the hotel, Bryan helped me make arrangements for a taxi on Thursday morning, as well as purchase another gift box of mooncakes. Neither transaction was particularly easy. I'm not sure I could have managed it without Bryan. Even he had trouble communicating with the bellhop/concierge for some reason. A quick Internet fix helped to make me feel at home again. I had emails from Dad, Martha, and Stephanie. I was disappointed to hear from Dad that Luke had chosen a 5pm rehearsal time, which I cannot make. I won't even arrive in Rochester until 5. Oh well, it is his wedding. J At least I'll be able to make it to the rehearsal dinner. Maybe I'll get a greeter/usher post and not have to do the stuff up in front of everyone as a zombie.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
This morning was a bit leisurely, as I was actually able to get up in time to shower, shave, AND have breakfast. On the way out, Larry helped clear up some confusion around my checkout. They were expecting me to check out with the rest of the group this morning, but Larry secured the room for another night and I didn’t have to move my luggage. Good thing since it was not packed. Hopefully I'm all set for my solo trip back tonight.
Our morning activity was a trip to the Chengdu Hi-Tech Development Zone. Our host was the Chengdu Quality Control Bureau. Larry has a student back at UC whose mother is a high-ranking official there. They took care of us better than any host so far. They even picked us up in company cars, as well as their own privately owned cars. I think we took a caravan of 4 vehicles in all to the training center.
The training center also serves as a resort for employees, when not being used for training. Indeed, the environment was very peaceful and serene. There were intricate waterways, waterfalls, and a river running alongside the property. The buildings were very open with full glass faces on many of the rooms. After a one hour session or so on quality control policy in China, we had lunch in one such room.
The lunch items were a little different and I had a little difficulty picking my way through the eel and duck tongue to find some tasty morsels. I think the nuts were my favorite - peanuts and cashews. My least favorite was actually the liquor that was served in tiny shot glasses, which it was customary to down every time a toast was made - and many were made. I only did two or three before switching to the Pepsi, along with Steve. The host at our table must have done quite a few, but I hear the host at the other table was just unstoppable. He was doing shots one-on-one with everyone at the table, in addition to the group toasts.
After lunch, we made what seemed to be an impromptu trip to a local manufacturer, which our hosts at CQI arranged for us. I imagine that someone may have informed them of our disappointing trip yesterday. The Chengdu Qianfeng Electronics Company made small water heaters and gas ranges and we actually got to walk right through their production line (though no pictures were permitted). It really was a labor intensive process. Metal was bent with a manual brake, welding was done by hand, assembly was done by hand. The most high tech equipment we saw was the testing equipment. The operators hung the units on the machine, hooked up all the proper pipes and wires and ran some tests on the units. I asked about cross-training and was informed that it was minimal. Workers would be trained to complete the tasks in a given station, where each worker might typically perform just one task on the line. They might be trained to perform a couple of tasks at their station.
Our next stop will be Leshan to see the Grand Buddha. Our hosts drove us back to their headquarters office, where we were met by our tour guide and bus to depart on the 1.5 hour or so journey. We were about 45 minutes behind schedule, which meant a later return than anticipated for me.
Driving to Leshan was quite bumpy. The roads out here are 4 lane divided highway, but they are probably relatively new and don't yet have a solid foundation. In any case, it just about shook your insides out.
Leshan itself was strikingly large. Most of us had this vision of a quaint little town out in the middle of nowhere. As we drove through the outskirts, it seemed quite urban. According to Lonely Planet, its population is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million. That’s not exactly small. J
The site of the Grand Buddha was quite crowded with tour buses. Our guide said that we would probably be lucky - most of the tourists were on their way out. The tourists appeared to be all Asian aside from our group, unlike many of the other tourist attractions. Yet there must have been more than 30 tour buses in the parking lot.
The climb to the top brings you around the back side of the Buddha, so it is quite amazing when it suddenly peeks into view. Looking down from the top, it is impressive, but not nearly so much as from the bottom. Traffic is one way down and another way back out. The steps are narrow and steep. The steel grate along the side that serves as a railing and safety mechanism also provides a bit of extra comfort to those of us acrophobes in the group.
Back at the top, all the gift shops and concessions had closed, though a few members of the group managed to talk a sympathetic shopkeeper into reopening the freezer for some ice cream. At least there was a little bit of souvenir shopping to be found back by the parking lot. I picked up a couple of bracelets that I thought June and Martha would like, as well as a set of 5 small Buddha’s.
Alas, it was time to say goodbyes. This time was much more difficult than on the return from South Africa. I felt like I connected with this group more. They were very warm, friendly, mature, and responsible. I regret that I am unable to join them for dinner and tomorrow's trip to Emei Shan. I'm sure it will be an enjoyable hike. I hope they get to see some monkeys - from a safe distance. Many members of the group are actually staying a few extra days. That must be nice.
I was able to catch the cab right from the parking lot. Our guides and Bryan made sure everything was taken care of before we headed out, including a discount on the fare. It should end up costing me only ¥280 for the two hour trip back to Chengdu. Can you imagine paying only $35 US for a taxi trip from Cincinnati to Columbus? To top it off, one of our tour guides is riding all the way to Chengdu with me. Although her English isn't great, it's incredible compared to the complete lack of English spoken by the driven. I don't know how to express my thanks, especially since she is putting up with this horrible air. It really stinks, much more so than on our way here.
The real trick will be tomorrow morning when I will have to catch a taxi by myself to the airport and then try to check in by myself. To top it all off, I will have about 1 hour to collect my baggage in Beijing and check in with Asiana for my trip back to Cincinnati (via Los Angeles). I'm a little worried about that transfer, but what can I do? It would be unfortunate if I missed any flights, causing me to miss Luke's rehearsal dinner or even the wedding, especially after missing the trip to Emei Shan. I'll keep my fingers crossed and leave it in the hands of God.
Last night at the hotel, I ordered room service and ate as I packed. I had some sort of spicy chicken meal. Something in it made my tongue start to go numb and caused me to salivate profusely. I immediately stopped eating. I vaguely recall someone talking about a Sichuan food that was illegal in the US and had such properties. It was later suggested to me that it was probably Sichuan Pepper Corn. I do recall pepper corn in the food. Man was that stuff potent.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
This morning, I made it to the airport just fine. I caught my taxi as scheduled at 6am. Now I'm just waiting to check in since I arrived about 2.5 hours early. They don't start ticketing my flight until 7:30 (90 minutes before departure). Now I just have to wait.
Well, I'm in Beijing, aboard flight OZ334 - not my originally scheduled flight. In Chengdu, I actually recovered my baggage quite quickly and made it through all the checkpoints quickly as well. I had about 30 minutes to spare when I reached the ticket counter, but the lines were already empty and they had already reassigned my ticket to someone on stand-bye. The gentleman in front of me had the same problem and he had arrived 20 minutes earlier than I. Apparently Asiana has a problem with overbooking and they give your tickets away a little quicker than American airlines do. I tried a few times to figure out how to contact them in advance, but I guess I should have tried harder. The lady at the check-in counter indicated that I could fly standby for the next Asiana departure at 3:55pm. I just had to go around the corner and get on the list.
At the ticketing counter, I was given the number 3 position on the standby list. This caused me quite a bit of worry, given the poor chances of catching a flight on standby in the US. I bought an international calling card and tried calling Asiana and Delta, but could not connect. I finally just called Martha to let her know the situation. I promised to let her know as soon as I had any news. So at 3am Cincinnati time, I woke her up to let her know I got a ticket and was at least going to make it to Los Angeles. From there, I will have to fly standby again. Yikes, I hope the rest of the group doesn't have as much trouble. Hopefully I am able to make it in time to catch the Friday flight to Rochester. As of now, I am scheduled to arrive at the Greater Cincinnati airport at 6am tomorrow morning and leave for Rochester at 3pm.
20040916-1830-LAX (Los Angeles)
I'm in LA and it's not looking too good to make this 10:55pm flight to Cincinnati. However, I had Martha double-check the internet for all available flights and she found a $156 flight via Air Tran, leaving at 11:55pm and transferring early tomorrow morning in Atlanta. I talked to a Delta agent and she suggested I call Air Tran to put a 24-hr hold on the ticket and see what happens with the Delta flight before making a decision. I did call Air Tran and put a hold on the ticket, but the special rate was not available by phone. Instead, it would cost $289. So worst case scenario I pay the $289 and make it to Cincinnati by 9:30am tomorrow morning. Best case scenario, I make the Delta flight, which puts me in Cincinnati at 6am. Another possibility would be to try to get Asiana to book the Air Tran flight for me at no cost to me. I'm not confident in that option, but it's worth a try. Anyway, my luggage will get to Rochester with or without me, as they were able to check that without a seat assignment.
What a day! To make matters worse, I was feeling terrible during most of the 10-hour flight from Seoul to LA. It felt like the same major indigestion I had earlier in China. I went ahead and took another Cipro pill and I figure I better stay on it until they're gone this time, like the package suggests.
In the meantime, I'm having breakfast at Starbucks by my gate. Wish me luck.
Well, 10 days later I am finally finishing up my journal. I have spent all weekend copying it from my Palm to my laptop and formatting/editing/updating it. Apparently, file size limitations on the Memo pad prevented them from being copied over in their entirety. I had already had to split the log into three journal entries, having run into file length limitations during the trip. To make matters worse, the copy/paste buffer is severely limited in the Memo pad. Therefore, I spent an hour or so cutting and pasting into a Word-To-Go document that would transfer over to my computer.
Anyway, I finally made it through the whole thing and now I have the opportunity to provide an update as well as further reflection on the trip.
I had called Asiana and they indicated they could not book or reimburse fare expenses for another carrier. If I didn’t make the Delta flight I would be on my own for the Air Tran flight, for which I had placed a 24-hr hold. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. About 5 minutes after the gates had been scheduled to close the flight, I got too nervous to wait any longer. The couple just ahead of me on the stand-by list had just been called. I waited at the counter for my turn and overheard the lady indicate to the two passengers that they might have just been assigned the last two seats. I said “oh no, don’t say that” and told her I was next on the list. In fact, she had been about to print mine earlier when she had run out of ticket paper and become sidetracked. I DID MAKE IT! Although I stuck in a middle seat between two big guys for 4 four hours, I couldn’t have been happier. I called Martha to tell her the good news and then passed some time by getting a jump on reading for my autumn quarter Product Development course that was to start on Thursday.
In Cincinnati, Martha met me at the closest point possible – just outside security. It was so good to see her. We collected my backpack at the baggage claim and headed straight home. The rest of my luggage was probably already waiting for me in Rochester. After a shower and a change of clothes, we headed back downtown and I actually went to a department meeting for work. I couldn’t stand to miss it. However, rather than reactions of “that’s dedication”, most questioned whether I was just plain “stupid.” Oh well.
We had no trouble making the 3:25pm flight. We took only carryon luggage since the rest of mine would be waiting for us in Rochester. We even made it in time for the wedding rehearsal since they were running a bit behind. In fact, two of the guys arrived later than Martha and I. Although the remnants of hurricane Ivan resulted in rain through the entire rehearsal, the weather for the wedding on Saturday was great. The wedding itself was great.
Back in Cincinnati, I had a difficult time adjusting to the food. I had even tried green tea and it was just as I had remembered all American tea – YUCK! J So I decided to head out to Jungle Jim’s and see what their Chinese selection looked like. I found packets of Kung Pao Spicy Chicken mix, frozen dumplings, baby Bok Choy, Jasmine Tea, and other goodies I recognized from China. In all I spent about $100. I made a batch of the Kung Pao chicken that night for Martha and I and it was quite tasty. I was proud to give her a taste of the wonderful food I had in China. The tea was also wonderful. This tin was full of the same dried Jasmine flower or whatever that they put in the bottom of our tea cups in China. Steeped in hot water for a few minutes, it tasted just as I remembered it. Suddenly I felt as though I were right back in China.
After another round of the same on Wednesday night, I got tired of cutting the chicken into tiny strips and decided to try something else. When Martha and I went to TGI Friday’s on Friday night, I saw the Jade Buffet across the street and decided to check that out on Saturday night. It was even more of a throw back. Two lions stood out front. I bet Martha that the one on the left had a baby under its paw. When she asked how I knew, I told her of all the similar statues we had seen in China.
When we walked inside, all the waitresses were dressed in the same familiar red pattern that the waitresses in China had worn. I was tempted to greet them “ni hao” (hello), but I chickened out. When we were sat by our waitress, I managed a quiet “xie xie” (thank you). When she came back later, she asked if I spoke Chinese. My head started to swell, but I admitted I pretty much only knew hello and thank you.
The major difference with this experience was the lack of Lazy Susans. However, as the name implies, the serving style was buffet and was probably more appropriate for smaller parties. At the buffet, everything looked familiar. Only a few things were missing. I was not disappointed by the lack of silk work larvae or duck tongue, but I was surprised not to see watermelon on the dessert table. Instead, I tried the rice pudding (for my third course). The green tea was also good here, so I kept one of the labels from the tea bag so I can look for that brand.
The waitress complimented us once more, this time on our use of chopsticks. She asked if we had been to Chinese restaurants before. Of course we had, but by this time I was worrying our heads wouldn’t fit through the door on the way out. I mentioned to Martha that this seemed to be a common custom when we were in China as well – the concept of giving face. Similar to the concepts of saving face and losing face, giving face is basically stroking someone else’s ego or making them look good or feel good, complimenting them basically. I could do a better job of this myself, though in the work place we tend to call it brown-nosing.
I was excited to hear that there are already plans in the works for trips to China next June and September. While I’m not sure I can afford a trip back in the near future, I’m keeping an open mind and I will do everything I can to help out, including lining up P&G visits/contacts, if I can. For some reason, this trip struck a chord in my heart even greater than the South Africa trip. Although I’m very happy with what I currently do, I can’t help but think that much more travel is in my future if I’m going to reach self-fulfillment or career nirvana. For those of you who made it this far through my journal, I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to email me any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kevin@KevinAndMartha.com. Take care and God bless.