Sierra in Asia

Sierra, a senior majoring in marketing and member of SMU’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams, is participating this summer in SMU-in-Australia-and-Asia. The group will spend three weeks traveling in China to cities including Shanghai and Beijing, and then will spend three weeks in Western Australia.

Independence Day in China

Rach and I rolled out of bed at about 7am to go for our long run in the park again. We enjoyed running through herds of people doing Tai Chi.

Every time we have run here we can’t help but make strange observations. However after choking on pollution and fighting the enormous heat/humidity factor here, I would say we are well prepared for Dallas heat in the fall.

Aside from dodging a bunch of “tai-chi’ers” in the park, I found myself ducking a few times just to avoid getting hit by birdies flying through the air. Badminton is a big sport here. We were also surprised to find a guy running with us for a little while before he eventually dropped back. Usually people just stop and stare or start yelling at us, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re cursing at us, laughing at us or just cheering us on; either way it’s funny not knowing.

Another odd thing I noticed was a lot of people just randomly walking backward. Maybe it’s supposed to be therapeutic because they do it a lot here. If that’s not odd enough, most all of the guys here walk around with their shirts off. It’s funny what people will do when it is so hot outside.

We also had a bit of a bathroom experience. Rachael needed to use the restroom. So after running around the huge soccer stadium nearby realizing that you can’t go for free, we finally thought we would just casually sneak into one un-noticed. Right when we thought we were winners and almost got through the door, some lady started yelling at us from around the corner. She demanded that we pay to use the “hole” in the ground she called a restroom. Well, after convincing her of the fact that we had no money on us and our pleading with her to just let us go for free, she finally, yet reluctantly, let Rach go. We got out of there as quickly as we could.

Trip to Fudan U
That was just the beginning. Our day started with a trip to Fudan University, where we had the opportunity to speak with some of the professors and students. It was cool to be able to get their insight into a lot of the issues we have raised through our research and study through China.

We asked them about the one-child policy and learned from teachers about their personal experience during the Cultural Revolution. It was interesting to hear from them about their current views on Confucianism as well. We asked the students what their thoughts were about its influence on child-rearing in modern China. Derived from the early Chinese philosopher Confucius, it has been a part of Chinese culture for over 2,000 years. It is primarily an ethical system to which rituals at important times during one’s lifetime have been added.

They said that Western methods have begun to displace Confucianism. Currently leadership in China is not a big deal at all and people think that emperors are more fit to be the country’s symbol of power. As the younger generation starts to rise, though, more people will be taking leadership positions. After our long and fruitful discussion, we went to lunch with our friends at a nearby restaurant.

Shopping “secrets”
Afterward we headed for downtown to shop around. The only cheap places in this area are in the shops behind “secret” doors, as I will explain in a second. Tash, Rach, and I went for a walk along some of the shops. I was not expecting everything to be as modern as it was. The city is very built up, and the architecture was incredible.

Immediately as we entered the main shopping square, our first “peddler,” being very pushy, brought us to his store, which was out of the main square, of course. The government is beginning to clamp down on these people selling imitation branded products. These high-end products, such as Gucci, D&G, LV, Coach, and various others, are all being sold as imitations behind these closed walls. Often, if caught, the cops will just be bribed away with extra cash in their pocket.

So we went to a couple of these shops and some of them made us a little nervous. For instance, what seemed like a normal store on the outside was something entirely different behind the closed bookcase, up the creepy stairwell, and behind the locked door.

After that “dodgy” (as the Aussies would call it) experience we went to an Australian Chamber of Commerce network event. It was a party for Australians living and working in the city. It was in the most beautiful hotel overlooking the city on the top level. It was cool to be able to network with some of these people and meet a few fellow Americans as well.

july-4-giving-birthday-cake-sm.jpg It was also Chris’ birthday today, so after singing happy birthday and throwing cake in his face, we took off for what we thought was another celebration, but this time for Americans celebrating our Independence Day. We found some kids on the street to give the leftover birthday cake to. They were thrilled! It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, so we didn’t hang around long. Eventually we left and spent the rest of the night hopping around the city.

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Final project stress syndrome

We had rehearsals in the morning and then spent the rest of the time further preparing for the final presentation in the afternoon.

Technical challenges
Due to technical difficulties of practically every kind, it was a rather stressful couple days leading up to this. My computer screen has been damaged, which has really slowed my progress. Until I get it fixed, hopefully in Australia, I have been using some of the others’ computers.

On top of that, having consistent Internet has been a challenge as well. Sometimes it doesn’t work and that has impacted all of our ability to do research. Even when we have had Internet, we found it difficult to do particular research. For instance, if I googled anything having to do with “Tiananmen Massacre” and then pressed on the link, my connection would just mysteriously time out. We found this to be due to the web being highly censored by the government.

Despite all these challenges, I think it’s been a good lesson in patience. It’s also helped to give me a better understanding of what it can be like doing business in a foreign country. Sometimes hurdles like these are inevitable and you just have to roll with the circumstances.

Our case study
Everyone did a good job and we all were very relieved to finally be finished. David Horlock was our included honorary guest among our “panel of judges.” He is the Vice President of New Services Development for Bureau Veritas.

One important aspect to managing China’s product quality can be seen through the newly implemented REACH program (Europe’s new chemical regulations). This process is meant to protect the environment and human health by controlling risks that rise from the usage of toxic chemicals in products. By keeping the manufacturer completely aware of the substances used in the product, this ensures full “transparency” if the ingredients were ever requested. Distrust and a bad reputation are among a company’s greatest fear.

To prevent this from happening, Mr. Horlock’s job is to consult, train, and provide companies with an important checklist to ensure they are complying with these regulations. He flew in to listen to our presentations as well as offer further insight from his perspective of our case study. We were fortunate to be able to further discuss our findings over dinner with him following our presentations. It was a fun evening as we celebrated all the hard work that went into this case study.

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A bit of this and bit of that

We spent most all day researching in preparation for the final presentation. For lunch, Ricky, Chris, Rach and I went on a goose hunt for Subway. Yesterday, we saw one as were driving, so we knew that they exist here. We asked Sally, our guide, to give us directions, so after about 30 minutes we get to the spot she told us to go. Little did we know what she was referring to.

We finally looked up and walla, there was the “subway” … on rails! So walking back we just had to laugh at ourselves. We found a fast-food Chinese restaurant instead. The food was good; the mystery drink they gave us, on the other hand, was not so good, but so it goes.

Baosteel-sm.jpg135 million refrigerators
Later that day we went to Baosteel, the largest steel company in China. This ties right in with our overall case study. We used the analogy of 135 million refrigerators to show the impact that China’s middle-class growth will have as they begin to demand more “basic durable” products such as this.

Once disposable income becomes more available to this growing population, the pressure will be on the steel industry; since steel is the major material used to produce these products. The issue then becomes focused on what is being done to combat the environmental and ecological implications that arise. Many measures are being taken to promote more efficiency and less waste, as we saw at this manufacturer.

Although China has a major pollution problem, I have noticed they are far better at recycling and conserving energy than we are in the U.S. For example, there are recycle bins everywhere, and all the buildings and hotels have timers on the light switches.

Sierra-steel%20making.jpg At Baosteel, we walked into what felt like a 150-degree oven. It was cool to watch the steel being made (photo right). We watched it as it went through various different chambers and came out looking like lava!

Experiments in laundry and fried foods
Washing clothes in the sink has been getting a little tiring. So our guide took us to this hole in the wall laundry place, literally (photo below).

Sierra-Laundry%20mat%20shanghai.jpgAt first glance we were all a little apprehensive, but the owners were so nice to us. Plus we were a bit desperate for some clean clothes. Their daughter practiced speaking English with us while we were there.

Sierra-dumplings%20shanghai.jpg While waiting I bought the best dumplings I have had yet in China (photo right). Not to mention it was only fifty cents. On that note, the food in the restaurants seems to be consistently getting more “experimental”: more slimy, more greasy, and more random surprises inside the fried crust. “Food,” like jellyfish, fried corn and peas with mayo and sprinkles, fried goose liver, fried fat, fried dough, fried turtle, frog and other weird food combinations, only highlight the eating experiences we have had so far.

I think this is when I actually look forward to the stale cereal we often get in the morning. We have had fun with it, though, and trying different foods in these countries has been a good experience for all of us.

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A lot of researching and a little fun

TaiChi-1-sm.jpgTai Chi is very popular here, and so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go try it ourselves. Our morning was free so we woke up very early and caught a cab to a famous park nearby. We had many different types of groups to join, some being fast while others being slow.

We warmed up with the slower stuff and casually stepped in hoping no one would notice. With our foreign demeanor though, that was entirely impossible. We had a great time laughing at ourselves. I think the locals enjoyed it more because our amazing moves started to draw a crowd. First they would laugh at us, then give us a smile as if to say, “you need help.”

TaiChi-Sierra-sm.jpgSeeing that I like to move around so much, I think learning Tai Chi was good therapy. It’s challenging because you’re moving in slow motion for 15 minutes straight while having to maintain complete control of your muscles the entire time. Ricky and Tash got a thumbs up … but I think only because they have blue eyes. Haha – I am just kidding, they were good. But the people here do seem to gravitate toward anyone with blonde hair and/or blue eyes so maybe that gives them some advantage 😉

Finally, after we made fools of ourselves, a few of the “pro’s” stepped in to offer us some pointers. They were all so eager to help us; which certainly made for a great time this morning.

After a couple hours of practicing our very “strenuous” Tai Chi moves, we went back to the hotel and started working on our final case study we will be presenting in a couple days.

For lunch, Chris and I went on a hunt for food. Finding anything not Chinese was a bit of a challenge however. I never thought I would stoop this low, but we eventually just settled for McDonald’s. After that, I think I realized Chinese was better.

At 4 we went to the T.V. tower; the third tallest building in the world. If there wasn’t so much smog that evening, I think the view would have been incredible. However, it was cool being on the 265th floor!

That evening we had a change of pace as we went to a great Brazilian barbecue. Afterward, Rach and I went for a run and then called it a day.

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A country haunted by its past

Sierra-Nanjing.jpgWe left in the morning and flew to Nanjing to see the famous museum where we learned about the Nanjing massacre of 1937-8.

Prior to today, I didn’t know anything about this tragedy. It was absolutely incredible to see this museum. Walking through it reminded me of the time I traveled to Austria and saw a concentration camp.

The Japanese were gaining control of much of China and moved in on Nanjing. Here the Japanese went into complete hysteria after gaining control over many cities in China. Their undefeated army had a controlling mindset of “kill all, destroy all.”

What followed was a devastating six weeks of rape, murder, and torture that’s hard to even imagine. In this short time period, more than 300,000 Chinese citizens and officials were killed. This is considered the flashpoint between China and Japan. The horrors of this grave history struck me in the same way the Nazi camps did; it’s the reality of seeing what man is capable of doing.

For lunch we went to a fancy Chinese restaurant. All of us about went tone deaf after listening to the same song repeat itself for 90 minutes straight. I think Benjie, our musician in the group, was about to go crazy from this single melodious elevator music.

So finally after that long “tuneful” lunch, we drove to Shanghai. We stopped at this little rest stop along the way to get some interesting snacks. Of course we couldn’t read any of the labels so every taste was a bit of a surprise. We finally arrived around 10pm, just early enough for some dinner. I was too tired to even eat, though; after so much traveling all I wanted was a bed.

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Terracotta Warriors

SierraWarriors.jpgOur guide Jo, who fortunately speaks very good English, took us to see the Terracotta Warriors, which is now considered the Eighth Wonder of the world.

In the year 210B.C, around 7,500 clay figures were buried for the purpose of protecting the Qin emperor, the first declared emperor of China. In fact the very name of “China” is derived form that of the Qin. He was also the first emperor to try to unite China through a series of battles. He believed that this terracotta army of warriors would protect him after he died. Emperor Qin eventually died at the young age of 50 but spent most of his life preparing for a majestic burial and “second life.” Meanwhile he ordered his workers to discover an elixir of life, and so he spent a great amount of resources in an unsuccessful attempt to discover it.

When he died, thousands of officials and craftsmen were buried alive with him in order to keep this tomb a secret. The construction of this massive tomb created precedent for the emperors to follow. Two thousand years later, some farmers were digging a well and ended up making the biggest archaeological discovery of the 20th century. One of the farmers was actually at the museum signing autographs, so it was kind of neat to see him in person.

Afterward we went straight to lunch and then did some shopping. I am getting better at bargaining, but I am not nearly as good as Daniel. He doesn’t only cut the stated price in half but starts off at 10 percent of that price. The crazy thing is half the time it actually works. I am glad we have some good bargainers on this trip because it keeps me from getting taken. I give in too quickly, but I am learning to just walk away and that always seems to work. After that bargaining episode we went to a Buddhist Temple and walked around. It was an incredibly hot day today, ranging in the temperature of 110 degrees.

SierraBike.jpgOn our way back to the hotel we stopped to climb the Xi’an wall, which surrounds the city. Built to protect the city from foreign invaders, it is a total of nine miles round. Rachael and I wanted to run it but probably would have had a heat stroke if we tried. While the others decided to walk around on the wall, Benjie and I thought it would be cool to rent a two-seater bike. We had 30 minutes so we had to bolt, but we made it on time. Now we can say that we were able to see the whole city in 30 minutes!

We got back just on time and then found out they were not going to give us our deposit because they said we “broke” the bike. We were finally able to convince them that rust doesn’t just appear in 30 minutes so the “damage” was not from us. The language barrier just made it that much more difficult but after about 15 minutes of that little dispute they finally let us go. Note to self: no more renting antique bikes from sketchy vendors.

SierraPuppy.jpgThat night we went to a legendary dumpling restaurant right off the main square. We tried a grand total of 15 different types of dumplings that night! After our dumpling feast we decided to explore some of downtown before heading back to the hotel. Right outside the restaurant there were these adorable little puppies for sale. We all took turns holding them. We then walked around, did some go-cart racing on the sidewalk, shopped for a little while, and then split ways with some of the group. While a few stayed longer, Chris, Ricky, Rachael, and I all had fun riding a little motorized tuck-tucks back to our hotel.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Nanjing to see the museum then drive 4 and a half hrs to Shanghai, where we will be for the next five days. Hopefully we will have Internet access, which has been very difficult for us to get ahold of lately.

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The Three Gorges Dam Project

This morning was a bit rough. I woke up with a raging fever and a bad cough. Rachael is sick too, so that makes two of us a little under par. It’s a good thing we have our “walking pharmacy,” aka Ricky, with us. So not to worry, we are getting better.

We visited the Three Gorges Dam Project today, the largest engineering project in the history of the world. The dam will supply 17 percent of China’s clean energy. Just over 1 million residents were resettled for this massive project. The dam is located on Zhongbao Island at Sandouping town in Yichang, Hubei. That evening we left for X’ian and arrived at the beautiful four-star New World Hotel.

Tomorrow we get to see one of the most famous discoveries in China, the Terracotta Warriors. Timing is also drawing near for our presentations, so we met with our individual groups again in the evening to outline our presentation.

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In transit …

This morning came real fast. In fact, it came too fast. Rach and I missed our wake-up call and woke up 10 minutes before we had to leave. Considering none of my things were packed and clothes still wet from washing them in the sink the night before, it was a little overwhelming, but we made it on time.

So we left for the hotel and once we arrived, we had another group meeting for a recap on what we have done so far and what we will be doing tomorrow – visiting the largest water control project in the world today.

Rachael and I didn’t start our run until about 8pm, so it got dark rather fast. We ran along the Yangtze river, and the streets were very congested with people. We saw the locals dancing in the streets and wanted to join, but I think we already stood out enough trying to dodge these crowds of people.

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n18809562_33229760_185.jpgWe were finally able to catch up on some much needed rest last night. After having our usual morning banquet, we drove to the headquarters of Haier to speak with some of the managers about the effects that the increase in the price of steel has had on their product. We also enjoyed an extensive tour around three levels of Haier’s products on display and a stirring, dramatic movie about the development of the company. Next we had the opportunity to ask some questions to a number of higher Haier employees – we mostly learned about the supply chain and Haier’s plans to expand into the global market.

This ties directly in with our case study and final presentation in Shanghai in a week. We will be exploring the effects of, “What happens when 135 million Chinese people want a refrigerator?” For instance, what are the economic and social implications of this huge increase in demand for steal? Haier is the world’s fourth largest white goods manufacturer and one of China’s Top 100 IT companies.

SierraDinner.jpgWhen we returned to the hotel Rachael and I immediately went for a run, along with Tash, Ricky, and Benji, who decided to join us for another jaunt along the waterfront. Immediately following our run, we raced to the showers and then off to dinner at a fancy Korean (Qingdao is on a peninsular jutting out close to Korea) barbeque restaurant, which connected to our hotel, the four star Grand Regency. This was a pleasant change of pace for all of us, considering every day has been the same food since we first arrived in China. We invited a few of the Haier employees to join us for dinner as a means of thanking them for their time.

Later that evening we went out with our new-found friends from Haier and explored some of the city. It was nice to have some locals show us around. After doing a little shopping, lighting candle lanterns in the sky, and lots of walking, we parted ways. Ricky, Dan, Benji, Rach, Tash and I decided to walk back to our hotel about a mile away. On our way back Benji was having “drummer withdrawals.” He is a drummer for a band in Sweden and thought it would be fun to go to a night club, pretend it was his 25th birthday, and somehow manage to be asked to play the drums. So next thing we know, we are sitting at Club New York in Qing Dao rocking out to Benji playing the drums on stage.

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Qing Dao

Today wasn’t quite so busy, which was nice. When we arrived, we drove to the famous Tsingtao Brewery. While walking through the museum, we learned about some of the history of the company. Of the 600 breweries operating in China, Tsingtao has always been the largest and most prestigious of them all. Tsingtao is also the number one branded consumer product exported from China. I tried very hard to be interested but it was somewhat of a struggle 😉

So finally after that little bit of beer history, we went to the hotel, where Rachael and I immediately took off for a run and did a little exploring ourselves. We found this great pathway that stretched along the beach of a nearby bay. I have noticed a trend while running here. Everywhere we run people don’t move out of the way – in fact they stand in the same place and stare at you without blinking an eye. If we could have a staring contest they would win hands down.

Afterward we walked to dinner and once again had some more Chinese food. There are so many options when it comes to our “buffet banquets.” You get to choose between deep fried tomatoes, deep fried bacon, deep fried dough, deep fried green beans, deep fried fish, deep fried chicken, deep fried eggplant, etc, … yes you get the idea – so many deep fried options.

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