A Student Perspective on Beijing 2010
Entry 1 – Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
As I stood resolutely in the Newark airport, I couldn’t help but think I was already in China. A myriad of Chinese people stood around me, speckled with a few Americans in eager anticipation of their flight, many homebound or on short business trips, vacations… not me. I was going for the self-preservation of my own heritage of which I knew little about. I’m Matthew Lee and I have never been to China. My mother is from Taiwan and my dad, Hong Kong and though I was raised in an Asian household, I have never fully known or much less experienced what my heritage or root-culture is truly about. Thus beyond the internship and business knowledge, I am going to China to rekindle a spirit and experiential knowledge of China that has long eluded the pretense of my own identity. And as I neared the passport-check desk with mixed emotions of excitement and finality, I realized it was my last moment on US soil for a very long time.
I jolt awoke me in my reclined seat as the stewardess asked me whether I’d like my third meal noodles and lobster…not hungry whatsoever, I thought what the heck and said “of course!”, I might as well travel with style. Note to self: procrastination is not always bad, proof of which was my upgrade to first class as they had already given away my seat due to my lateness in checking in. Nice! My first note on business is about Laurie, my friendly American, Johnson & Johnson exec that was seated next to me. She was going to Beijing for a week-long mission to convince the FDA otherwise of the unnecessary testing of her recent product - blood vessel stints. What she had to say was very interesting as my main interest and focus of study is health-related business. Her product is stints or little tubes that keep major blood vessels open and devoid of clots so as to prevent cardiac arrest and other major heart/circulation problems. She explained to me her market and the strategies she employed concerning spread of her product to China. She also told me that certain business such as hers with China’s FDA required a certain personal finesse. She said the Chinese were hard to persuade, I smiled and nodded my head. Thirteen hours later, I bade her good luck and found my way to a taxi.
My Chinese is rusty and broken at best, but I was able to communicate with the cab driver the address of a hotel near Beijing Capital Normal University. Amongst gesture-aided conversation, he told me that yesterday and the next couple days is a no-work, no-school holiday for China. I asked him why, and he responded – Chinese people love their food, each day is dedicated to a certain food. Today was to Zhongzi, the Chinese tamale of sticky rice with peanuts and pork wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Tomorrow is to moon cakes. I thought yum, left him, and checked into my hotel no problem where I passed out on my hard bed for more than a half day - jet lag.
I walked down the street this stifling, humid morning to change US dollars to Chinese Yuan which they call Reminbi. China Construction Bank, the equivalent partner of Bank of America gave me roughly 1 USD to 6.8 RMB plus a 3% conversion tax, so basically one to seven. This is beneficial to the American traveler as everything is significantly cheaper from food to hotels. Note: my filling meal of congee and dumplings was only 2 USD and my nice hotel is 20 USD a night. This is some life, I could get used to this! One notable thing about Beijing is the pollution. Tall apartment buildings fade out in the smog not 10 blocks away. Oblivious to this, people mill about on streets with every importance of another day ahead of them, bustling and yelling on their phones. Beijing drivers let go of any stress behind their wheels, paying no attention to lane lines or pedestrians. The energy here in Beijing is electric. I nearly lost myself in reality today.
As for now I am catching up on some reading with the book – “A Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China” by James McGregor which I recommend with my greatest enthusiasm. It recounts the history as well as gives a play by play on major American-Chinese business deals to date, as well as how each situation brings into reflection business tips for the potential foreign businessman in China. Tomorrow I am supposed to check in at the university and get situated with the program. Tonight, I am considering a taste of the nightlife in Houhai or Sanlitun. I’ll keep you updated – till’ then take care.