A Student Perspective on Beijing, Part 3

Entry 3 for CIBER/CEI Blog – Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

“Classes and Business”

I thought about this the other day: My good friend once advised me against submitting to a routine. He said, “If you do the same thing everyday…you lose your character after a while.” That goes to say that you or I should always strive to uphold a certain whimsicality in life. In retrospect…whimsicality has me all the way here in the Motherland. Maybe a better word for it is drive, but either way you get the point. Ironically, I found myself in class last week from 10 to 5:30, everyday. Chinese class, econ class, culture class, etc. It all seemed sort of redundant – at least on Monday. As the week unfolded, I was once again reminded of the bigger picture.

 I most appreciated the practicality of the Chinese class Jing, Christie, and I sat through. The CET director along with student studying for her doctorate in teaching Chinese taught us everything from ordering food, to asking/giving directions, to reciting family history, to asking a girl out (probably the most useful ; ). Between an act of skits and thoughtful questions, losing ourselves in translation coupled with a strong blend of American humor, got us to about 3:00 each day. Note: On the subject of Chinese, my speaking is tons better now. I’ve probably recited my family history – i.e. where my parents are from, where I was born, raised etc. at least 200 times to strangers and acquaintances. It’s tradition but I realize everyone’s also genuinely curious about everyone else over here. Chinese people are so direct as they have no problem asking what kind of salary my parents might make or talking/gossiping about others. They’d rather talk about each other and others rather than worldly events – which makes sense because you ought to know someone before trading radical opinions on arguably touchy subjects.

Economics class with UNC Prof. Master Boone Turchi was the most insightful. He covered a lot of the big historical things that shed light on the Chinese economic situation as is prevalent today. Turchi spoke on the discrimination of rural vs. city residents and the absence of slums due to strict urban migration rules, the devastation of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and the forethought on the One-child Policy. I caught him after class one day and posed to him a radical question: The Chinese realized their inherent problem of over-population early on, and forcefully implemented a one-child rule via forced abortions and heavy taxes. Yet with fewer kids in 5-10 years, who is to support retirement benefits for the Chinese elderly? How to solve this? Turchi proposed that the retirement age be extended to about 65 or even 70– if on average people die before retirement, who is there to support? – Radical and morbid but true. Thus, I saw my business-health studies come into play – in 5 years, a solid insurance plan will be needed here to ensure the consistent economic progress that China has upheld so strongly. I’ll be there.

The first night we went to a super nice restaurant for Peking duck – the chef was a master craftsman and basically cut the bird up, de-boned it, then put the thing back together, reconstructed on a plate. The lazy Susan served us as pieces were dipped in plum sauce and wrapped along with onions. Delicious. Later that week we also went for Hunan food with Econ Profs. John Aitken, Buck Goldstein, and study abroad Dir. Dan Gold who were here for the week. Hunan is known for the notoriously and dangerously spicy food from Southwestern China. Everything from pineapple rice, odd spices and mint salads were devoured.

Another night, Kyle, Shivani, Lauren and I were invited to hear James Dean, Dean of UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School come do a greeting and thanks at the Hyatt. He successfully partnered UNC’s Business School with Tsinghua (China’s Harvard) Industrial Engineering program to create this international EMBA graduate degree. Dean is quiet a character with abundant subtle jokes that any American would find funny. The tough crowd that night was predominantly Chinese and with the modest Chinese translation, many things were funny when not meant to be and many weren’t when they were – classic example of international business I thought. It was a good networking session as many cards were exchanged with both hands.

Later that week, we all met up with our internship hosts at this nice American restaurant - Blue Frog in the Americanized Sanlitun district of Beijing. Most of us were just happy to have hamburgers at last, and amongst genuine and pretentious greets, I found myself wandering and talking. My internship host Kathy Jia had been away on business in Shanghai and couldn’t make it. Instead I spent a good bit of time speaking with Phil Colby, VP for Liberty Global. He is awaiting contracts and permission from within the hassles and red-tape of the Chinese government to allow internet and calling through cable. He said that there are two media factions of the government (whose extensive acronyms I forget now) that are currently fighting over ownership of the media. I told him it was bold that he should get in the middle of that. He smiled and offered me to contact him in helping him on his endeavors later down the road. For the second time this trip, I said of course… More mind-blowing is that such a large country as China does not have cable or high speed internet. No wonder – everywhere the networks are so slow (not to mention the hassle of the Youtube / Facebook ban).

That was me being businessman, anthropologist, economist…haha the many sides. This was a righteous week, I’m pretty tired. We’ll keep in touch concerning my travels to the great wall and my internship the past couple days. Man zou! (walk slow/take care!)

-Matthew Lee