Adam Nelson 15′
My trip to China was sponsored by the Global Trade Mission, an annual conference held at the Macomb International School District building, where randomized groups are given the task of designing a product to solve some sort of issue in a foreign country. At the conference, we are given advice by business owners and entrepreneurs from Macomb County, and finally we present our ideas in front of a board of investors. After the competition, the Global Trade Mission announced they were going to be sending students across the world to do the activity in China, for a chance to seriously practice doing business on an international level. After the resumes and applications were reviewed, I was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in this remarkable adventure.
We pulled into Detroit Metro Airport’s International terminal, my nose pressed against my window watching plane after plane take off for it’s destination. I knew I would soon be on board my very own aircraft, heading to Beijing, China. Finally, we found our way to the correct door, exchanging our last goodbyes and pictures, and I said farewell to my parents for 18 days.
March 29th/30th – I dragged my 40 pound suitcase to the checked baggage line, passed through security, and finally received my golden ticket: a boarding pass for gate A-56. I met with the two girls from the International Academy, along about 25 students from L’anse Creuse and Fitzgerald who were going to meet with their sister schools. We had a very difficult time exiting Detroit, boarding the plane twice before being told we would have to spend another night here in Michigan. The next day we were able to lift off, a full 22 hours past our original departure time. For me, the plane ride was surprisingly relaxing, reading and watching movies made the 12 hour trip pass with ease. We touched down in Beijing a day later, easily passed through customs, and met with our tour guide, Ed, who was already in the country.
March 30th – Because of our delay, we didn’t have any time to waste and headed directly off to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple itself is a compound of religious buildings, encompassing a very large area. Walking through the initial gate, we noticed concentric circles made of marble rose above us, forming a grand altar where the emperor would pray for good harvest. As we walked past the altar, a large spiral pagoda-like building made its grand appearance. This was the Temple itself, in all its splendour, standing above the residential skyline of Beijing. After we left the Temple, we wandered through a park outside of the compound. Because of the extremely small houses for people in the Beijing area, people had to come to public parks like this one to do any sort of activities. We saw people playing cards and checkers, singing and dancing, even a group playing hacky-sack. Thankfully, the Chinese were very accepting of foreigners and even allowed us to join in on their dancing. It was a surreal experience, being with people over 6000 miles away, and listening to music from a completely different culture, but being able to unite with a universal thing: dance. Boarding the bus and heading to the hotel, we drove on a large freeway heading into Beijing. This was the first time I saw their driving etiquette, or should I say lack thereof. The Chinese drivers went wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The only law of the land seemed to be size. If you were a bus, you were the king of the road. Cars watched out for buses, bikes watched out for cars, and people were left to fend for themselves. Blinkers were nonexistent, and lanes were a suggestion. People used one hand to steer and the other to honk their loud, shrill, obnoxious horn at whomever they pleased. We survived our first bus ride, and unpacked at the hotel. With only a few minutes of downtime, we were off to dinner, and yet another experience. I walked into dinner nervous and afraid, but was soon comforted with the taste of Coke and Sprite, the two most popular drinks in China. That was where the familiarity ended, and I was soon tasting exotic foods like tofu, dumplings, and even an entire fish fried completely whole, head and tail included. The first Chinese meal was a lot better than I expected, and I was satisfied with the night as I drifted off to sleep alone in my hotel room.
March 31st – We woke early for a Chinese/American breakfast, where either cuisine was available. Trying to take in the experience, I always ate as much Chinese food as I could, and always used chopsticks. Our method of transportation was going to be the subway, which intimidated most of us. Everyone has heard the rumors of Chinese subways, with employees pushing more and more people onto each car. We paid our fee, (less than 50 cents) and headed to the underground. Suprisingly, the subways weren’t any more crowded than our American counterparts, and the people onboard were much friendlier. The destination of the day was the Forbidden City, the home of the Emperor which also served as a makeshift Congress building for the Emperor’s advisers. It was a series of courtyards, temples, and squares, over and over for hundreds of yards. The complete Forbidden City itself is massive, and it took the better part of the day to wander through. Upon leaving the Forbidden City, we took rickshaws to a local hutong. The rickshaws were carts pulled by the locals, and they were even cheaper than the subway. We visited a local hutong, a small neighborhood with classic houses from hundreds of years ago. Although the buildings themselves were small and stone, they were worth millions of dollars. Here we met with an artist and his family, and we were lucky enough to purchase some of his wares. Our final locale for the day was the Water Cube, where the 2008 Beijing Olympic water events were held. A large waterpark now inhibits the desolate structure, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. We still toured the facility, seeing the high dives and a couple different pools. We came back to the hotel disappointed, but were hopeful on another great day to come.
April 1st – Today was the day. Walking shoes tied, granola bars packed, we would need all our energy. Today was the day we would be climbing the Great Wall of China. After some morning fuel at breakfast, a long bus ride took us to a lonely jade store. The factory had a viewing area where we could watch as skilled craftsmen worked on the precious stone, and a sales representative told us the history of this prized possession. We were let loose to wander the store, but we could only afford small trinkets for our most beloved family members. After a half hour and hundreds of dollars, our group piled back into the bus for the rest of our trek to the Great Wall. It wasn’t far from the shop, and we began to see the outer portions almost immediately upon leaving. The Great Wall is actually a chain of walls, because there are some impassible sections of mountains where a wall couldn’t be built, nor would it be necessary. Finally the bus pulled up one more rocky, pothole ridden road, and came to a labored stop. We clamored out, and stared in awe at the wall in front of us. We didn’t have much time, and started immediately. With enthusiasm we sprinted up the first few flights of stairs, and arrived at the first watchtower with little difficulty. We tried to continue on, but it became harder and harder, the slippery uneven steps trying their best to trip us up. After almost 45 minutes of walking, we arrived at the very top, and were rewarded with a breathtaking view. Hundreds of feet below us, we saw thousands more people making their climb towards the apex. The journey down wasn’t much easier, our already sore calves working hard to slow the descent. Eventually we made it back down, and almost everyone slept on the bus ride back to our hotel. Shopping is bigger in China than it is in America, if you believe it. If anyone asks what they sell, the answer is everything. Everything is available in China, for the right price. What that price is comes down to your charisma. If you look at the price tag and pay, you overpaid at least 3x. Talking with the shop owner can net you huge savings, and some of us were even able to purchase a product for 15% of its original price. We emptied our wallets on fake Rolexes and Louis Vuitton belts, to which Ed told us a great quote. These products, obviously imposters of the original, “They aren’t fake, they are Chinese”.
April 2nd – The final day in Beijing was one of the most historically informative days of my entire life. We started at Tiananmen square, a place that has an aura of splendour around it, with thousands of people meandering between the various Congress buildings, Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, and the National Museum. This was where we were headed, and after a bag check and body scan we were allowed in. All of China’s history was told in this building, from the various dynasties to the Opium Wars, to the dozens of revolutions in the 1900s, and eventually Mao Zedong’s success in unifying the country. We went directly from here to the Beijing airport, for our inter-China flight to the city of Xi’an.
April 3rd – Our new hotel was even nicer than the first, and the meal was no exception. A delicious blend of cultures had something everyone liked. It also had something that almost everyone disliked – donkey. Yes, donkey. Several of us tried the dish, and only one said it was decent, while the rest of us openly disliked it. After this adventurous meal, we headed out to the Terracotta warriors, basically the one thing Xi’an had that put it on the map. An agricultural and industrial town, it was obvious the city was here for one reason. The amount of tourists that come to see these warriors is remarkable, and when we arrived, I could see why. Over 7,000 warriors standing in perfect lines, all looking the same direction, but with different looks on their faces. Each warrior was unique, some had horses, some were archers, some wore grins while others had scours. The grandeur of the warriors was their uniformity yet individuality. We spent more than a few hours in the pits, and took hundreds of pictures. This was truly one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever visited.
April 4th – Our trip to Xi’an wasn’t long, but like I said, its only there for a couple reasons. Most cities in China had walls around them individually at one point, and Xi’an was one of the few left with it completely intact. We rented bikes and raced around the top. Although it did start raining, we still enjoyed ourselves as we traversed the 8 mile circuit. This completed our stay here, and we were off to another airport for a flight to Shanghai. The 90 minute flight was over before we knew it, and we arrived in the late afternoon. Our only activity was eating and walking the Bund, a riverside road where the old and new meet. When Britain was involved in China nearly 40 years prior, they enforced a law that prohibited building anything higher than their tallest building. On one side of the river, stone British buildings cover the skyline. On the other, Chinese side, skyscrapers litter the horizon, an almost “In your face” from the new China to the old Britain. The Oriental Pearl TV Building is the circular structure most famous when Shanghai is thought of.
April 5th – Our next day was spent at the Jade Buddha Temple, and we were lucky enough to go on a Buddhist tomb sweeping ceremony day. Hundreds of Buddhists flocked to their neighborhood temples to burn incense and remember their past families. The Jade Buddha Temple was literally that, an intricate temple with an enormous Buddha statue made of pure jade. Pictures weren’t allowed in the room, but the statue itself was captivating. A milky green color, the Buddha had an eerie grin on his face. The statue itself had been saved during the cultural revolution by vandals by placing it in a box with Chairman Mao’s picture. As much as the rebels wanted destruction, nobody dared to touch something that was “his possession”. This Jade Buddha is one of the oldest relics, dating before the cultural revolution. Later in the temple, we were able to try some Chinese teas. Most of the teas we tested were naturally sweetened, so sugar and artificial sweeteners were unnecessary. We purchased the teas of our choosing, some sweet some bitter, some for energy and some for rest. The third attraction of the day was a silk factory, much like the jade one, but a different product. We were shown the mills where the silk was stretched, patched, and covered, over and over. Over 20 layers were placed onto a single sheet, and that’s where the silk gets its strength. The Silk Factory was our last visit for the day, and we headed home for some well needed sleep.
April 6th – Another temple was on the agenda for today, but this was a very modern rendition. The main courtyard was occupied by an intimidating 30 foot black kettle, surrounded by excited Chinese throwing money into the top. It was some sort of good luck ritual, and everyone from our group participated. All Buddhist temples have some sort of Buddha statue, and this one was 40 feet and colored gold. It was a majestic looking statue, looking down at the courtyard with the kettle. Off from the temple, and onto People’s Park. An innocent sounding place, with an awkward purpose. Hundreds of parents “advertised” their children for marriage, reminding me of a pre-feudal society with arranged marriages. WIth pictures and descriptions, the parents watched the people passing to see if their son/daughter’s soul mate was there. The Urban Planning Museum had a complete full scale model of Shanghai, with every street, park, and skyscraper represented. Shanghai is the pride of New China, and they take these models very seriously. Just for fun, we took the Maglev Train from Shanghai to the airport and back. It stands for magnetic levitation, and uses magnetic technology to propel itself at very high speeds. Upwards of 250 mph, in fact. This train, although brilliant in its conception, is too expensive, and doesn’t serve enough customers to make it worth the money.
April 7th – The whole reason the Global Trade Mission sent us to China was to learn about the Chinese way of doing business, practice our international presentation skills, and work on our fake product we have designed to “sell” here. Today was the day we arrived at Shanghai University, where the first of our two presentations would take place. We cautiously followed Ed’s student friends, who led us to a classroom already prepared for us. Presenting in front of a Chinese audience was nerve-racking, but we were congratulated upon our completion. We toured the university with some very nice students, ate lunch, and saw the Chinese dorms. They were very similar to American dorms, tight spaced and messy. We then waited at a park with some of the students, and were able to experience their personalities. Although all seem shy at first, we had a blast playing traditional games with them. A robotics company from China who were looking to forward their operations to America was meeting with Ed, and we were able to sit in and see how they did business. The biggest difference was their lack of upfrontness, they beat around the bush on the issue and eventually never came to a decision. Ed told them us this is how all Chinese do business, very carefully, and he told them to call him when they figured out what they wanted.
April 8th – Yachts are apparently a large industry in China, which came as a surprise to the three of us. The image of wealth is becoming more and more important, as the economy becomes less communist and more mixed. We went to a yacht company and helped them with international research. Although it was quiet and awkward, the nice ladies took us out to lunch at a very traditional restaurant, where we were served chicken soup with a full chicken in the broth.
April 9th – Unfortunately for us, one of the businesswomen we were going to meet with had an overseas meeting in Malaysia that she didn’t know about until we arrived, so were had a day with no activities in Shanghai. We cherished the extra sleep it gave us, and decided to head over to the Shanghai Zoo. It was a long subway ride, but we were soon walking inside the arched gates. We wandered around, starting at the monkeys, and headed to the large plains animals. It was ironic, the animals they had in enclosures here were some that we took for granted, like deer, horses, and antelope. Most of the zoo was stereotypical as expected, with elephants and hippos roaming the grounds. The special part of this zoo was the Giant Panda, one of the most iconic animals of China. He was content in his glass cage, eating bamboo for most of the day. It was incredible to see so many people drawn to one animal in one cage, so entranced by its rarity. We spent hours at the zoo, and traveled home for a relaxing night in Shanghai.
April 10th – Another university was on the schedule for April 10th, this time Jiao Tong university. We presented in front of engineering students, who mostly asked questions about the science of the product. Again touring the university, we were informed on a joint degree program taking place between Jiao Tong and the University of Michigan. Spending two years at both colleges, a student is able to achieve a joint engineering degree from both institutions, and saving about $50,000 in the process. We toured the campus, and visited one of the largest libraries I’ve ever seen. It was 7 stories, each story containing books from different cultures and languages. The entire campus was beautiful, a large sprawling garden in full bloom just in time for spring. Luckily we had pizza for dinner, one of the foods I missed the most. Never failing to disappoint, the Chinese cuisine left us satisfied and stuffed.
April 11th – When Michigan companies are thinking about going global, into China more specifically, almost all receive assistance from the Michigan Office. Literally called the Michigan Office, this organization was established to help companies gain a foothold in China. This is easier said than done, as Chinese business is full of red tape. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are needed to start a company, with signatures, forms, fees and restrictions all hindering the process. If successful, a company has access to the fastest growing consumer market in the world, so the work is well worth it. The Michigan Office representative told us that he believes China will soon be not only the largest producing country in the world, but also the most consuming nation as well. We also met with Russell Scoular, the regional manager for Ford in its Asia/Pacific region. He discussed the differences with Ford when it came to China, how compact cars are so much more popular than larger ones, and how some models like the Edge aren’t even existent. Some vehicles have different names, to connect with the Chinese culture. It was remarkable how much flex a company can have when it switches to a different region of the world, a company will go through complete changes just to be able to market to a different population.
April 12th – One of Ed’s friends was kind enough to allow us into his home, and we spent the day with his family. His wife and son were excited to see us as we walked into their surprisingly spacious apartment. He told us he bought the apartment 10 years ago, for $150,000. Because of the increase in population, the lack of housing in the Shanghai area, and the general increase in land value, the same apartment was now worth up to $6,000,000. We played Xbox Kinect Baseball with his son, a poor replacement for real baseball. His father said because of the apartments, there really wasn’t room for a field, and the schools there don’t have sports teams. Although his son loved baseball, the closest he could get to the diamond was the TV. After the pummeling from his son, we were off to his favorite restaurant. Here they sold pork sandwiches, another reminder of the American food I was craving. This was by far one of the best meals on the trip, even offering ox legs, similar to how we would eat a chicken leg. The monstrosity was very intimidating, but delicious.
April 13th – After checking out of the hotel, we went shopping one last time before heading to the airport. It was late at night by the time we arrived, and didn’t board until 10 p.m. With how time zones switch, the 12 hour plane ride home only took us 2 hours. We landed at midnight, and rushed through security to meet our eager families. Hugging and reminiscing, we started the drive home. My internal sleep clock was messed up for a long time after the trip, sleeping that morning from 4 a.m. to noon. The next day was no better, as I stayed up until 5 a.m. on a school night. Eventually that fixed itself, and my life began to return itself to normal.