Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last Day

I am sitting at the Beijing airport waiting to board my flight. Most of my classmates upgraded to business class (only $639, which isn’t too bad) but I’m being thrifty and saving money for my house. So I’ve got a long ride in coach coming up….

I have been thinking today about everything I’ve learned about China that I haven’t written in the blog. For example, I forgot to mention that Jonathan at Wal-Mart told us they used to sell dog meat, but they stopped because the expats and other non-Chinese people didn’t like the image. He said he wished they still sold it because Wal-Mart’s goal should be to satisfy the Chinese consumer. Yesterday, our tour guide told us that he would tell us about Tian’anmen Square and what happened in 1989. Then, he basically proceeded to say (relatively quickly) that students had been protesting, they had a meeting with government officials that didn’t go well, the government warned people not to come out that night but they did anyway, and then the “incident” happened. He said they don’t talk about the incident in China. That was it. I also asked one of our tour guides if she read the book “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang, which is an amazing read and apparently a pretty accurate description of events during the Cultural Revolution in China. She said that she had read it, but that the book was not translated into Chinese. She had a friend send the English version to her from Hong Kong. I asked if she would feel comfortable reading it on a public bus, and she said no. Finally, it was interesting to observe the effects of the “one child” policy. There was an article in the China daily saying that only 36% of people in China observe the one child policy because of various exemptions (such as an exemption for farmers). But in the cities, I definitely noticed that almost all parents who were walking with children only had one each with them. They also seemed very protective and affectionate with their children.

Also yesterday, I went shoe shopping at a little Chinese mall. I told the saleswoman that I had big feet and asked her if she had any size 41 (metric, of course). She said “Ah, yes, big feet. I’ll be right back.” She returned with some shoes marked size 41. They felt a little snug, but I figured I just needed to stretch them out. So I wore them to the closing dinner. When I got home after the dinner and took off the shoes, the little size 41 stickers had worn off and revealed that they were size 39s! Sounds like she could have made just about any size I needed.

Today a group of 11 of us went to the Great Wall. What an incredible trip. We only had a few hours because we arrived at about 7:45 a.m. and our flight left at 4:20 p.m., but we got to soak up plenty. It is clear to me why the Great Wall has recently been voted number one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s just incredible to imagine that they built that structure hundreds and hundreds of years ago. We hiked around for a couple of hours, got a good workout and got nice and sweaty for our flight home.

Once again, my favorite part of this trip was that we were total rock stars. Seriously, the groups of children touring the Great Wall from some of the smaller cities in China act like they were seeing Michael Jordan or Brittany Spears whenever we walked by. For the first hour or so of our walk, we were the only Westerners in sight. We got asked to take our picture with the kids so many times it was unbelievable. I seemed to be particularly intriguing to them, probably because of the red hair and pasty skin. The kids also like to practice their English. We must have had 100 kids say “Hello” and then when we say “How are you?” they all say the exact same phrase: “Fine, thank you.” After our walk, Steve and I gave away some Notre Dame gear. The kids were pretty fired up. Before we left, there were 2 mini Notre Dame footballs flying around the Great Wall. I gave a few kids each a leprechaun magnet, and they clearly had no idea what they were. There was a tour guide that spoke a little English, but I don’t think that “University mascot” or “magnet” translated well.

That’s all for now. I’ll try to post a summary of my trip to China soon, but I need to go catch my flight…. Thanks for reading the blog!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Saturday (Day 8?)

We had an incredible day today exploring Beijing. We started by walking through Tian'anmen Square, which was pretty awesome. There were a ton of people - mostly Chinese tour groups -and it was amazing just to imagine all of the history that has taken place there. The huge picture of Chairman Mao really struck me. It was a great experience.

I mostly wandered around alone today, which created a good atmoshpere for people watching. For the first time in China, I really noticed several Chinese people staring at me. Some were laughing and pointing, others just staring. Three groups of Chinese people asked if they could take my picture. Maybe it is the red hair? Several other members of our group also had their pictures taken. They are obviously pretty fascinated by Western folks like us.

Many of the toursists were school groups. There was one particular group that I bonded with. A few of the girls - probably 9 to 12 years old - tapped me on the shoulder and said "hello." It turns out they could speak a few words of English, and probably wanted to practice. We exchanged the basics, such as "what is your name?" "where are you from?" and "do you like basketball?" (that was my question, of course - I'm told everyone in China at least knows Yao Ming). Anyway.... they asked if they could take a picture with me and they took several. I had a bunch of small Notre Dame gear in my bag - mini nerf footballs, magnets, pens, pencils and little notebooks. I started handing them out to the girls that I was talking to and they went nuts. They were literally jumping around and hugging me. It was a really neat moment.

Next, we walked to the Forbidden City and toured around there for awhile. Again, I admit to doing more people watching then checking out the history... but it was beautiful. We walked to a delicious lunch nearby (my favorite tofu of the trip!).

After lunch, we went to the Olympic grounds. Not surprisingly, China has plans to build incredible facilities and infrastructure surrounding the Olympic grounds. We went to a building (I'm sure it has a name, but I'm not sure what it was....) that had pictures and models and other depictions of what the Olympic grounds will look like. Apparently, we were one of the first groups to see the exhibit. The Olympics will be quite an undertaking for China - I will definitely watch the events with a different appreciation having seen what we did today. There was a humorous moment when they loaded us back on the bus for a "bird's eye view" of the Olympic grounds. For some reason... I was picturing that we would be quite elevated for this view. However, when we got there, it turns out to be about a 4' high platform in the middle of construction area.

Tonight, we had a closing dinner at the Great Hall of the People right on Tian'anmen Square, which is a facility used for state dinners and other important events. It's hard to describe... but it was amazing. The music, service, and food were excellent. The location was once-in-a-lifetime. Everyone was looking their best - suits and dresses. We took a ton of pictures.

So now I'm in the hotel preparing for a power trip to the Great Wall tomorrow. We are taking a bus at 6:00 a.m. and our flight leaves at 4:30 p.m..... so we won't be able to explore much. But I have to go check it out as long as I'm here! I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Hello –

I haven’t posted for awhile because I didn’t have Internet connection in Beijing … so let me do a little catch up.

We had a great time on a scenic river cruise on Wednesday night, and then a group of us went back to the Paulaner for some more German beer. The same Thai band was playing, and we got a warm welcome from them.

Thursday we got up bright and early and boarded our buses and went to the train station. We caught the high-speed train to the airport. The train was awesome – we went 301 km/hour (which is apparently 188 mph, as calculated by Jason and Dr. Bob). Most importantly, the train operated smoothly and did not need to be repaired with rope this time. Travel from Shanghai was easy. We caught a flight to Beijing on China Air, and I pretty much slept the whole flight (again). It was about a two hour flight. When we landed in Beijing… we had to walk a long way to our buses. Unfortunately, we lost Van. Somehow he got separated from the group. His cell phone didn’t work, and he had no idea where our buses or hotel were. Luckily, he was resourceful enough to get some help with the pay phone and call one of the emergency numbers.

We went straight to a manufacturer of Eastern medicine called Tong Ren Tang for a tour. After that, we went to Lenovo for a presentation and tour. The tour guide was great – one of the best on our trip. It was interesting, especially because we are using the Lenovo/IBM Think Pads at Notre Dame now. They talked a lot about branding the Lenovo (sports-related marketing is a big part of what they do), and their attempt to become more of a global name.

[Random note: The highways here are extremely dangerous. We have had several near misses, and we have seen quite a few accidents with injuries and even what appeared to be a fatality or two. I am writing this on the bus now, and we just got cut off by a car that was crossing multiple lanes of traffic and then proceeded to back up on the freeway! That was like the easiset question on my driver's test: "True or False, If you miss your exit you can back up on the freeway."]

Dinner was at a Tea House called Laoshe. We had a speaker named Anna Sophie, an American woman doing a spoof on “Sex in the City” here in Beijing. It’s called “Sexy Beijing.” She and her partner Luke spoke briefly to our group and played some sample “Sexy Beijing” videos for us. I thought they were pretty amusing, probably in large part because I’m such a big “Sex in the City” fan. The entertainment then took quite a turn and we had a traditional Chinese performance that included a shadow play, various acrobatic routines, an act called “Man Juggling a Flower Vase” and lots of others that I can’t even begin to describe. It was really cool to watch. I remembered my camera for the first time on this trip, and then took 4 pictures before the battery died….

We finally arrived at our hotel (the Swissotel) at about 10:00 p.m. after a long day. A small group of people (including Todd, John K., Jason, Tom K., Bill, Jim and our spectacular EMBA student services manager, Amber) went to meet with a tailor to have some suits made at a 5-story shopping center. This story is hearsay, by the way – I was home in bed! Anyway, about 10 people from our group jumped in an (Otis) elevator. I believe they exceeded the weight limit by a large margin. Anyway… they pressed the button to go to the 5th floor and the alarm went off. The elevator started up, then jolted about 3 times, and then dropped a bit. It was stuck between 1st and 2nd floors. Apparently, our crew was packed into the elevator like sardines. Jason took control – he removed light bulbs and the ceiling to try to find an exit strategy. The two Chinese guys in the elevator pushed the emergency button, but it was useless. According to the legend (and Jason!), Jason said “forget about it - we’re getting out of here,” then opened the doors and jumped down about 4 feet. The others followed and they made it out safely. Needless to say, I’m glad I don’t wear suits!

Today (Friday the 13th) we rode the bus for what seemed like 12 hours, but I think it was actually only 11.5! We went to the Tianjin Economic Development Association (TEDA) in Tianjin and heard several presentations about various business topics. How is that for informative? I know this is an EMBA blog, but I won’t drone on about the details. We then split into two groups – half of the class went to Motorola and half to a company called Novozymes. I went to Novozymes and learned more about enzymes than I’ll ever need to know to practice law!

Lunch fit in there at some point, and was pretty good. It was our first meal (other than pizza) that did not involve a big wheel full of dozens of dishes. This one was a “set meal,” which means everyone got their own individual plate. Our tour guide, Jamie, told us before lunch that the wait staff wouldn’t understand English and then she taught us the signs to use to let them know what we wanted. She was clearly setting us up to make asses of ourselves, and she was successful! It was amusing to see classmates flapping their arms like chickens. By the way, Jamie is amazing. She is full of great information about China – I’ve learned a ton about life in China from listening to her talk.

I just returned from dinner at the Da Dong Roast Duck restaurant in Beijing. A vegetarian’s delight! Regardless, it was a fun dinner, and I hear that the duck was very tasty. Anne amused us during dinner with such gems as misinterpreting the dinner menu that said “Beijing snakes” and saying “Oh good, we are having Beijing snacks.” We were also talking about what food we were going to eat when we got back to the US, and believe it or not, Bob Evans was raised. I said “Did Bob Evans just die?” and Anne responded “I don’t know, but someone did.” Very insightful, Anne!

I’m off to either the beer garden or bed…. I can’t decide. Tomorrow looks great – we’re going to tour the Forbidden City. More soon!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Day Five

Hello -

It's 4:45 p.m. and we have some rare free time before dinner on a river cruise. First, some random thoughts and facts about China:

* There are 18-20 million people in Shanghai and it's not even close to being the largest city in China

* My Chinese name (as given by a member of our host group) is Ji Li, which means good luck

* To give you an idea of how fast Shanghai is growing, Mike Cloonan said this morning when introducing our speaker "He works in the tallest building in Shanghai; at least it was as of this morning."

* Frank Braeken, a Vice President from Unilever, summed up China well when he told us today "Change is so big, so fast and so much at the same time."

* My favorite quote from yesterday, as the Chinese patients laughed and pointed at my classmates who took pictures of anything and everything at the local hospital: Jill to Jennifer "I wonder what they are saying about us." Jennifer to Jill: "I think it loosely translates to 'look at those giants taking pictures of our walls'"

Anyway, today (Wednesday) has been a great day. We got to sleep in, and then we had some outstanding speakers here at the hotel. First was a panel discussion about the changing Chinese consumer, and second was a Notre Dame Law grad named Michael Chiang. He graduated in 1995, which means he graduated with my sister Julie (he said he remembers you!). Mike talked to us about the legal ramifications of doing business in China.

After a quick lunch at the hotel (I got to sit with a lawyer from Mike's firm), we were off to Wal-Mart. The speaker was one of the best we've had here so far. His name was Jonathan, and he was very honest and informative about Wal-Mart in China. He said that Wal-Mart has it's problems in the US, but is seen as a great company and employer in China. There was an "associate meeting" going on in the room next door. The associates did indeed seem like a happy group, and it was a total party atmosphere in the room. They were breaking out into serious song and chants. When members of our group peeked in the room, they were treated like rock starts and greeted with a major outburst of excitement.

We shopped at Wal-Mart a bit. I bought a sweet skirt to wear to our formal dinner later this week. It was $5.00 US. The grocery section was unbelievable: tons of live fish, seafood and other creatures. Customers were picking out the fish with nets.

Ok, that's it for now. I'm off to relax before the river cruise! Talk to you all later -


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day Four

Hi all,

It's 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday. What a day. We met in the lobby at 6:00 a.m. to head for the high-speed train to Wuxi. Unfortunately, our train became a "no speed" train because we had some technical malfunctions .... and our high-speed train broke down. We stood on the platform for what seemed like hours (it was actually only about an hour). We were welcome to stay on the train during this delay, but it was about 130 degrees on the train so we opted for the platform. The air was so bad on the platform that Van (a non-smoker) said: "I'm craving cigarette smoke. It's the best smelling air on this platform." Brad's wife Tiffany is the most brilliant person ever because she carries a little bottle of mint oil to rub under the nostrils. She let me use some and it was a life saver!

Our day improved substantially from here. We went to a city called Wuxi, and split into groups for various tours. I went to a tour of Little Swan, which makes washing machines and other household appliances. The tour of the plant floor was pretty interesting - we basically wandered around among the line workers and observed what they were doing. We then had a Q&A session with some management employees. Little Swan is a state-owned enterprise, and the employees we talked to had very positive things to say about the company and how they treat their employees, the importance of the washing machine to the Chinese consumer, joint ventures with GE and other US companies, etc.... When asked "how many of your employees can afford one of your washing machines?" the speaker sort of laughed/smiled and said "100%."

I thought lunch was pretty good. More tofu and beer for me!

After lunch was the highlight of my day. Again, we split up, hopped on our buses and went off for various tours. I went with a group to a relatively small local hospital. They were apparently expecting 8 of us and they got 30+ of us instead. The staff was wonderful and accommodating. We basically wandered freely through the hospital, starting with a physical/occupational therapy building and proceeding to the main hosptial building. We wandered through a physical therapy room and watched patients doing rehab, through the ER, and even got to see the operating rooms. We were quite the novelty during the tour. Many Chinese people were coming out of their rooms to watch us. The tour was led by the Chief Operating Officer, head of nursing and a doctor. The doctors and hospital administrators in our group had some great interaction with the hospital staff.

Next we went to the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which was really incredible. There was an awesome hands-on display of the various technology being produced at SIP and another sweet virtual tour - this one complete with giant comfortable moving chairs with pillows and seatbelts. The technology and plans for innovation are really incredible. They are creating entire high-tech cities in what seems like just a few months.

Not much more to report from today - half the group went to a noodle restaurant for dinner and half of us went straight back to the hotel (that sounds like it happened quickly but it was actually a 2+ hour return bus trip). We went to Pizza Hut for dinner. No tofu for me this meal!

One more random thought from today: we experienced several interesting bathrooms. I had my first experience with an Eastern-style toilet. Other bathrooms have either been Western or have allowed a choice (the signs say "sitter" or "squatter"). Needless to say, I have so far elected the "sitter" option. Today we had no such choice at a few of our stops. I'll spare you the details.... but it did not go well. It is difficult to manage the entire process, especially while holding my breath.... It didn't help that I (a) set my purse on top of the burning incense on the floor of the stall and (b) was dripped on from above quite heavily (let's assume it was water rather than the 4th floor bathroom as John suggested!). When we got to SIP, Jennifer came running up to me and said "chug your water now - these bathrooms are amazing!" The guys did not far much better. Van and Tim thought they might have to be admitted to the hospital after using the bathrooms there.

Off to bed. Tomorrow looks like a good day. I look forward to telling you about it! Good night -


Monday, July 9, 2007

Day Three

I have just had a major breakthrough. I discovered how to operate my blog website in English! I think part of my previous technical difficulties had to do with the fact that the blog was in Chinese. This is a beautiful thing.

It's about 11:00 p.m. on Monday night. Before I tell you about today.... let me offer some general observations on Shanghai. It is hot and humid. Like sometimes I'm sure that it's raining out but it's really just that I'm pretty much standing in water-filled air and soaking in my own sweat. Also, the air really is tough to breath. Picture standing about 10 yards behind a bus and inhaling its fumes.... constantly. But enough about the negative. Shanghai is beautiful and huge. It's like 10 large US cities put together, and it's obviously still growing. It's really hard to believe that much of the city did not exist 10 years ago. I had pictured in my mind that Shanghai would be constantly full of crowds - like a permanent Taste of Chicago. To my surprise, it hasn't seemed like that. This afternoon at 5:00 was the first time I really felt that crowds and the hustle and bustle.

We went to the GM plant today. Although it was interesting to see a car plant, the tour was a little bizarre. A GM representative read a few powerpoint slides, then we looked around a showroom with some new cars (my favorite part), and then we were basically set free to follow some arrows through the plant. The arrows eventually led to the bus. No one talked to us, or explained anything. It brought a whole new meaning to "self guided tour." I suspect there is a happy medium between the last tour I took (of historic homes in Savannah, where the tour guides explained every detail such as what year each toilet was purchased and what fabric the pillows were made of) and this tour where we were abandoned. The arrows took us through the employee cafeteria, which included a big sign that said "Chinese Food." That kind of made me laugh. Anyway... a few observations: the factory was clean and pretty quiet. I only saw one female working. I was surprised how automated the manufacturing was.

Lunch was full of interesting food, including some fish scales, tiny riblets (no one asked from what animal the ribs came), and a plate of cubed fat pleasantly presented over some lettuce. Luckily, there was good rice and tofu, and Mike K. was kind enough to give me his protein bar to supplement my tofu! As usual, the beer was flowing.

A group of us finished eating early and walked over to Starbucks and McDonalds. The Chinese people surely thought we were nuts when we gathered around Ronald McDonald for several pictures.

My favorite part of Shanghai so far was the Urban Planning Museum. They have the most incredible model city that really brought home how huge Shanghai is. Then we went into a virtual tour of Shanghai, which really felt like we were in a little spaceship cruising through the streets and skies of Shanghai. It was even better than virtual kayaking at Dave & Busters!

After a lecture from Dr. Harvey Chen, we went for dinner on our own. My team and Bumni and her husband went across the street to a cool mall and had an authentic Chinese meal: Papa John's. Nothing like a little cheese pizza to cure my food issues! The mall was just like something you would see in a big city in the US, except there was no Panda Express or Auntie Anne's pretzels. In fact, the food court was quite interesting. Tom suggested that he felt like he was walking through the setting of Hello Kitty (which is an interesting thing for a grown man to say out of the blue, but he was actually right on!). Just then, we stumbled upon an entire Hello Kitty store. Very nice.

After dinner, we went to a Chinese Acrobatic show, which was pretty incredible. I confess to taking a short nap during the show, but that is not surprising seeing as I napped during Wicked, Mamma Mia and every other live performance (non-sporting event category) that I've ever been to in my life.

Ok, tomorrow we wake up at 5:15 (or at least we're supposed to, which means I'll wake up at 5:50) for a 6:00 a.m. departure to another city. So I better get to bed. Good night!

Day Two

Hi all,

I am having some technical difficulties, so I haven't been able to post as often as I would like. I got back to the hotel last night and wrote a nice, long entry and then it somehow disappeared....

We've had a very full couple of days. Yesterday (Sunday), we started with some information sessions at the hotel about Chinese culture and history. We learned lots of details about social etiquette in China - such as where to sit in the car if you are riding with business colleagues and where to sit at a dinner table. I have not had an opportunity to use my new skills. I sit wherever I want on the bus and wherever the vegetarian food is at the table. Anyway, I'm sure the information will come in handy some day.

We ate lunch at a restaurant called South Beauty that I liked a lot. There were good vegetarian dishes like asparagus and tofu. One nice feature of meals here that I hope to continue in the US is that we drink beer with every lunch. In fact, I haven't had anything to drink in China other than beer and bottled water.

Then we were off to a bank building for a lecture on the future of China. We each got a sweet t-shirt that says "It Is Glorious To Be Rich," which pretty much sums up the future goals of Shanghai.

We went to an outdoor market called Temple Market that was quite an experience. I have not endured aggressive begging like I did at Temple Market since a gypsy woman handed me her baby and spit on me in Rome 15 years ago in an effort to steal my wallet. In addition to beggars, dozens of people try to sell fake stuff - mostly watches and purses. The big attractions at the market were pearls and silk. After claiming multiple times that I was not in shopping mode.... I did eventually buy a little silk for some pillows for the new house.

We had dinner at a place that would not make my list of favorites. I ate several lima beans, which brought back memories of my youth when they were the only vegetable that I ate.

Some of us then took the bus to an area called Xin Tian Di (or something like that) for a little night life. It was a really beautiful area; lots of very nice outdoor restaurants. However, sitting outside in heat and humidity with air that is tough to breathe was not attractive so we settled indoors at a little bar called Luna. There was a Chinese band playing mostly 1980s American love ballads. Kumar entertained us with his sweet dance moves.

That's it for Sunday.... back soon with an update on Monday's activities.