Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shanghai

Transfer Day

At the departing gate in the Beijing airport and tracking the score of the Louisville/ND Big East semifinal game. ND up a couple early but boarding time interrupts…a 2hr flight later ND in Shanghai learns that ND in NY gave back a 14 pt second half lead and lost down the stretch…bummer. Silver lining – plenty of rest for the big dance. Everything goes surprisingly on schedule and we land in Shanghai Saturday afternoon (after a week in Beijing), find our tour guides, get our luggage (no lost baggage) and hop on the bus to the hotel (much better traveling with the group and translators). Beijing is the capital of China and has a history as an economic and cultural hub that dates back hundreds of years. Its size is significant – a population almost triple that of NYC and buildings separated by congested roadways for as far as the eye can see. Very charming in its undeniably strong roots to the Chinese culture but tough to wrap your arms around in just a week…and, aside from its ever-expanding waste line, nothing all that distinctive about the city’s physical appearance. On the bus ride from the Shanghai airport we immediately see some similarities and differences.

For starters, the fear of death as a passenger in a tour bus is just as poignant and the rules of the road are no less “liberal” than they were in Beijing…you quickly re-learn to only look out the side windows unless you find near collisions with nitrogen transporting trucks exciting. But the view from those side windows reveals a city with a unique and immediately recognizable skyline that projects a markedly more modern feel…and more modern it certainly is. Defined by huge buildings, new-age architecture and carefully planned infrastructure, its history will tell the story of a small fishing village turned major metropolis and financial center of the Eastern World. Its location is ideal for a booming international economy – on the eastern coast of the China Sea and the Yangtze River – and with the opening of the ports to foreign trade in the 1842 (as set forth in the treaty ending the First Opium War with Britain…more on this later), it was soon a major economic center. With the rise of the Communist Party in the middle part of the 20th century, the economic growth of the city was severely stunted and it wasn’t until the opening of the Chinese economy (post-Mao) in 1990 that it again emerged as an international hub…hence, the more modern feel. With skyscrapers and high rise hotels/apartments dotting the sky, the two most attention-grabbing structures are the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (a thick-poled, pointy, antennae-like thing with two big red sparkling balls splitting it into thirds…or, as the Chinese see it, “a picture of twin dragons playing with pearls “) and the Shanghai World Financial Center (101 stories boasting the highest observation deck and hotel in the world). Most of these building are no more than a couple years (WFC 2009) or decades old.

Our first day in the new city allowed for a couple hours of rest and familiarization with the hotel – a 6 month new Marriot Courtyard. Nice place; OK location not close (or far) from much. Later in the evening we had a group dinner at a restaurant in an older village with classic Chinese architecture and a bustling street market that overlooks a network of small ponds and streams. After dinner it’s off to the riverfront for a riverboat cruise to take in the sights of the city. The night was both clear and mild enough (and the beer affordable enough) to enjoy the views from the top deck…a nice way to get acquainted with the place. Before heading back to the hotel, the bus makes a stop at Xin Tian Di, the city’s bar district, to let off those looking for some night life. Great spot. We saddled up at an upstairs bar in the Paulaner (where the house brew is served in liters; not pints) and enjoyed some good ol’ German beer. Without responsibility until 10am the following morning, we had plenty of fun...

Day 2

Breakfast was lights out, again. Most anything you could want served on the buffet – a dangerous situation conducive to the development of glutinous habits (i.e. bread pudding topped with vanilla and chocolate sauce as the main course with sides of dumplings, donuts, and peanut butter stuffed crepes). 10 am and time for a bus tour of the city. We return to the same part of town (obviously a favorite for tourists) and take a guided walking tour through the beautiful YuYuan garden. The garden was built by an officer in Ming Dynasty – a place for his parents to live comfortably in old age (not too shabby of a retirement home…pays to have a son in with the Mings). Nice weather and peaceful afternoon. On the walk from the park to the bus we are constantly bombarded with more opportunity to burn our yuan – Mont Blanc pens, fake watches, etc. For the most part nothing of great interest. We are instructed that the best way to handle these pesky “street vendors” is a simple response in mandarin – “booyah” (translation - NO)...turned out to be too juicy not to be obnoxious. 52 of us walking through the park calling up our best late 90’s Stuart Scott – “Sir, Rolex Watch? Best Price. Just for you” hmmm…how about, “BOOOOOYAHHH!”.

During the afternoon we were offered an optional cultural event. Today’s event: a tour of a water village on the outskirts of the city where the Chinese gondola navigates windy, narrow waterways in an old fishing community. It promised to be the Venice of China. Great marketing. Six to a boat and a Chinese man pushing from the back…the water tour lasted all of about 15 minutes and covered maybe a quarter of a mile. Venice it wasn’t but quaint and enjoyable? Sure. The water was lined with restaurants, shops, and food stands. It was its own little mini-economy fueled by the rows of tourist buses parked in the parking lot (each, I’m sure, selling “Venice of China”). Despite feeling a little ripped off, we enjoyed the opportunity to relax and buy some cheap souvenirs for friends and family at home. After 2 hours of making our own little contribution to local business, we met back at the dock for a walk to the buses. A handful of little old ladies (LOL’s) pushing yet another product. No taller than 4’3 with grey hair, lots of wrinkles and the smile of a grandma, these LOL’s would approach each of us holding two handfuls of bags filled halfway with water and live goldfish…speaking only Chinese. It was clear they were “selling” these fish but we couldn’t understand…what were a bunch of tourists going to do with a goldfish in a bag out on the outskirts of Shanghai? The LOL’s, handicapped by the language barrier, acted out what exactly it was they are selling. The pitch was to buy the fish only to then set them free in the river beneath the dock on which they were conducting their business. Soooo, let me get this straight – All you LOL’s sit here throughout the day catching these goldfish…you then imprison them in a jail of plastic and go about selling them to animal-obsessed American tourists who purchase their freedom….well, temporary freedom anyway, before releasing them back into the very same river that you’ve caught them from and plan to soon catch again in hopes of selling to the next group of suckers??? OK, got it… An MBA-style lesson in effective use of “renewable natural resources”.

Day 3

Company visit in the morning to Ford in the financial district. Brand new building in a business park of other brand new buildings and right across the street from the Shanghai Stock Exchange. We heard from the CFO of Ford’s China operations (an American expat). A refreshing presentation that left out the sales pitch and company overview (rightfully assuming his audience to understand that Ford manufactures and finances cars) and instead focused on the differences of actually doing business in China. The opportunities, the struggles, the interplay with a controlling government. A common theme heard throughout the two weeks was the emphasis on joint ventures in the placement of foreign investment. Each industry seems to have its own idiosyncrasies but generally speaking, capital investment by foreign companies is mandated to be done so via a joint venture and then restricted such that a foreign company can have no more than 50% ownership and must share at least 50% with Chinese partners. Our presenter talked about their process for seeking out these important partnerships and subsequently structuring the deals in a way that it makes sense for all involved (board control, management concessions, etc.). Good presentation and a short bus ride followed by an afternoon off. With rain threatening, we visited the well-respected (or so they say) Shanghai Aquarium. It was…eh, it was alright. Nothing exotic enough to warrant a visit on a day with any sun. Nice walk through town from the financial district to the aquarium. Not one piece of trash on the ground…the cleanest city I’ve ever seen.

Best part of Day 3 was the post-dinner entertainment. A trip to the Shanghai Acrobat Show… what incredible athletes. Impossible to put into words. What would we do without youtube? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Yi5EUcnuYs .

Day 4

A day with two scheduled company visits that saw plenty of time on the bus. GE in the morning and Microsoft in the afternoon separated by a Dim Sum lunch featuring the Fun Zing Yu (deep fried smoked fish) – a Shanghainese specialty. Not bad…still tough to get used to bones in everything. It is perfectly acceptable per the local culture to spit the bones out on the table …just too unnatural for most of us. Following lunch we take a ride out to Microsoft’s China HQ’s…as we approach we notice a big corporate office building home to a company called Wicresoft….Wicresoft? I guess that whole knock-off thing knows no bounds, huh? We later come to learn Wicre was a joint venture with Micro and recently spun off as its own.

Last night for lots of folks in Shanghai and it just so happens to be Emily’s birthday. A big group out to celebrate at a Mexican joint – a special on tequila and Corona. Some USC undergrads come in some time around 11ish…too many dudes dancing on the bar…it was getting a little weird. No complaints when they leave. The night ends across the street at a karaoke bar. Bad music. Good times. Cheap transportation - 20 minute cab ride home = 30 yuan or about $4.50…a guy could get used to THAT!

Day 5

A program wrap-up in the morning followed by a group lunch and then dismissal. The educational aspect of the trip was punctuated by a panel discussion with a Hungarian consultant, an Australian investment banker, and a former Chinese diplomat turned Fortune 10 company president. Thoughtful and engaging discussion with each presenting a unique perspective on business in China and its evolution during the last two decades. Final thoughts from our faculty/professor leaders and it’s then back to the buffet line for the second time in as many hours.

With our afternoon free and a flight to Hong Kong not leaving until the next morning, we visited the World Financial Center and wanted to see for ourselves what the view looked like from 1,600 ft. Before stepping onto the elevator, there was a quick video showing changes to the Shanghai skyline over the last 100 years juxtaposed alongside those of NYC and Tokyo. For the first 80 years Tokyo and NYC show gradual growth stretching higher and higher while Shanghai remains relatively undeveloped in comparison…in the final 20 years, Shanghai finds the magic beanstalk beans and catches up very quickly to the other two. Evidence to the fact that with a country of 1.4B people, when they set their mind to doing something, China can really get it done and get it done fast. We take a ridiculously short 94 floor elevator ride and step out to a fully enclosed lower deck before taking an escalator and another short elevator ride up to the 97th and 100th floors. Magnificent views from the peak…and a window through the floor that allows a birds-eye view straight to the ground…it was enough to make even those with the mildest fear of heights get a little (or a lot) dizzy. Standing atop this, the second largest building in the world protruding out from the skyline of a city below that represents tremendous wealth and opportunity for so many, it was hard not to think of it as a target...a feeling that’s hard to explain and admittedly comes without much thought; it just kinda hits you all of a sudden…I suppose it’s the scars of a uniquely American wound that just won’t ever fully heal nor be forgotten. Having never visited the top floors of the WTC, I now find myself at the top of a modern day WTC of the East trying to shake the thought of a plane someday flying into the side of this tremendous building…thoughts that I soon dismiss as those of an imagination run wild. We ride back down to the 1st floor, ears popping along the way, and hail a taxi to our hotel to pack and get some rest for the early morning ahead. Emily turns to me in the cab and asks something to the effect of, “Any idea who China’s fiercest enemies are?” and it’s clear that the feeling up there was more palpable than I thought. I answer that I have no idea and we discuss the words of a panelist from the morning who briefly commented that the focus of the Chinese government has always been and continues to be largely internal. Our quick answer – or rather hypothesis – to her question is that by not confronting world issues (say, in the Middle East, for example) in the same way that the States have, the threats that Americans feel on a regular basis are just not the same here. A thought soon to be reinforced days later when the UN approves a No Fly Zone in the airspace over Libya as China publically “expresses regret over military actions in Libya”, citing its respect for Libya’s sovereignty. Clearly, a different approach to foreign policy…stand by and watch while the bully beats up the little kid for his lunch money or step in and do something about it albeit after a couple of haymakers have been thrown…better late than never.

Low-key night. Flight to Hong Kong in the morning.

Beijing

Arrival

The phrase “culture shock” takes on a whole new meaning after stepping off a 14 hour flight from Chicago to Beijing…and though it wasn’t immediately evident, it did not take long to realize that the Far East is more than just a geographical descriptor; it’s also about as far from everyday life that it can get in one of the world’s largest cities. Customs was a breeze. Luggage claim, no problem. Emily and I were arriving a day earlier than our classmates and we had clear instructions to accept no less than 200 RMB/Yuan (~$30) for a taxi ride to our hotel. After collecting our bags in and among a crowd of other English speaking fellow Americans, we walk briskly to the taxi stand and wait in an orderly and fast-moving line before receiving a nod from the uniformed attendant controlling what seemed like an unending flow of yellow & green Hyundai Elantra’s. We take to the cab assigned and ask our driver if he speaks English…a na├»ve question; he looks utterly confused. Em points to the printed address of the hotel but all we get in reply is a shaking head and a smile. Okayyyy. We try a different cab but same outcome. Three cabbies looking at our printout shaking their heads and talking amongst themselves….Uhhhh, maybe we should’ve just come with the rest of the group a day later. Then, out of nowhere, an English speaking driver comes up and says, “Yea, I know that. No problem. 400 Yuan” No way. 200. ”300” OK, 250. Upon hearing the OK, he immediately grabs a bag at starts racing off to the dark garage. What the hell? Where is he going? Where’s his taxi cab? And why is he running off with our luggage?!?! Something just seems off here. With two good legs, Em runs him down, snatches back the suitcase and we’re back where we started - standing still with luggage at our sides in a sea of yellow and green Elantra’s whizzing by. Finnnnally, we tracked down a guy who knew where to go and accepted our offer of 200 Yuan…which, as it turned out was likely a very generous offer for local standards but still a relatively cheap 30 minute cab ride to the hotel. After an 18 hr door-to-door trip with limited sleep, we were both beat and fought back the sleep to get some overpriced average food from a corner restaurant. Not exactly an inspiring first impression but no matter, the subtleties were lost on these weary travelers anyway.

After some rest, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet replete with both Asian and American breakfast favorites – scrambled eggs, omelets built to order, sausage/bacon, dumplings, fried rice, meat on a stick, watermelon, pastries, etc…finally, a great meal…and one that has since become daily routine at each stop along the way. The Chinese know how to do breakfast. Day 2 we transferred to the Novotel Hotel down the street where the rest of the group would join us later in the day. We took a self-guided tour of the local surroundings, found a great lunch and started to absorb some of the culture. At a local street market we saw all kinds of “delicacies” – Fried scorpion & spider (a whole new kind of meat-on-a-stick) and bottled “snake wine” (dead venomous snakes submerged in white wine to offer added flavor…smelled more like cheap tequila than anything in the wine family). We noticed other differences too – some subtle; some not so much. In the States, our pedestrians have certain rights – even in NYC, the most aggressive drivers yield to pedestrians possessing the right-of-way. In the cities of China, I’m convinced the hospitals have a Pedestrian Ward that keeps the patient flow constant. In the States the lines on the road carry some meaning and a car’s blinker is typically used as intended. In China, despite a similar network of broken and solid white lines, it’s a total free-for-all; signals optional, horns necessary. In the States, our toddlers wear diapers; in Mainland China, the tykes run around with giant holes in their pants (a street corner for the unexpected). In the States, staring is rude and might get you beat up. In China, a blonde haired blue eyed Westerner with a giant boot on his foot = rubber-necking delay. It’s just a little different…

Day 3

The MBA group visits a power technology company in the morning – ABB – to hear a presentation from a Finnish expat and take a tour of the factory. Nothing earth-shattering; a mild intro to business in China. A 2hr bus ride in the afternoon takes us to the outskirts of Beijing where we have a chance to experience the greatness of a very popular wall…you might have heard of it…very cool. The most current version of the wall (it’s been built and rebuilt by various dynasties during the past 2k+ years) stretches over 5,000 miles with a height close to 30 ft tall. The Ming dynasty invested years to construct it during the late 1500’s to early 1600’s, sacrificing over 1M workers (now buried beneath the wall) along the way. Built to ward off the invading Mongolians from the North, the wall now doubles as a common tourist attraction and, apparently, site for late night teenage raves. For as impressive as the sight of the physical structure was and as interesting as the history behind it is, the best part of the day had to be the toboggan ride from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Video documentation complements of Nick Schubert - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfliHTFGi5Y. A lot of fun.

Day 4

Company visits to Lenovo and TopNew in the morning and afternoon. Lenovo is a big time PC manufacturer who bought out IBM’s PC business a couple of years back. Though a Chinese company, very much a western feel. A light tour of a factory with very favorable working conditions followed by a presentation from a smooth-talking, high-rising, verrrry self-assured and relatively young American born VP. It felt like an investor presentation full of aggressive revenue projections, subtle competitor bashing, and a barrage of rhetorical questions – “How long do you think I’ve been in China? Siiixxx years.” “Who has the largest market share in PC’s in China? (pause for effect) That’s right, Lenovo does”. “ Who’s the coolest, smartest dude working for the best company in the world? Yep, I am.” Ok, I made the last one up…but you get the point. After lunch, we head to TopNew, an apparel manufacturing company on the outskirts of the city. THIS is the kind of factory that you typically imagine when you think Chinese manufacturing. We sat through a 20 minute commercial in Chinese with English subtitles that bragged about, among other things, TopNew’s superiority in clothing manufacturing and the compliments from Mao Zedong decades ago, “Chairman Mao commends the TopNew comrades for their quality and flatness of product”. We are then led on a tour by the plant manager where we see an assembly line of women cutting, dyeing, sewing, and stitching fabric. Then on to stamping logos and ironing the finished product before folding and storing for shipment. Their focus is unbroken even by 60 strangers touring their facility and snapping photos all along the way – we learn they are paid by piece and thus any distraction is a lost opportunity. Difficult for us all to imagine making a career in this way. The last stop on the tour is the living quarters. An old dormitory that sleeps 8 to a room. Privacy - a notion foreign to any of these girls. Following the tour, an opportunity for Q&A with the plant manager via a translator. Easy ones to start: “How do you compete internationally?” “Who are your customers?” Then some tougher ones, “How much do the factory workers make?” “How many hours do they work?” The answers just didn’t add up. Wages above the Beijing average. 8-5 workdays with an hour lunch. You could hear muffled responses of disbelief throughout the room (ahem-bullshit). Feeling the rising temperature, the plant manager looks at the watch and communicates through the translator that time is up for questions…an interesting and eye-opening experience all around. According to our local guide, TopNew is a factory with some of the very best working conditions in China. It is where the government officials allow foreign visitors to tour... as the guide put it, a 10-out-of-10 for relative factory conditions. Though hard to relate to these migrant girls’ experiences and living conditions, China is a manufacturing country and these jobs are filled under whatever the conditions may be for a reason – it is still a better option than the poverty of the rural villages from which they’ve come.

Day 5

Group visit to a school set up and run by an NGO established by a couple of charitable local Chinese businessmen. The school is called the Fuping Development Institute and is designed to recruit women from the poor and rural countryside looking for better wages in the city…aspirations that typically find other migrant workers in a factory similar to TopNew (or, more likely, drastically worse). The school trains these women to be nannies for the well-heeled of Beijing. Ages range from 16 to 40+ years old. We toured their training facilities and saw their schooling in action – practice with the ironing board, practice in the kitchen, practice with raising young kids. The plan is to train these women for 9-12 months and then set them up with families in the city looking for live-in help. It appeared to be a far more favorable situation to the conditions observed the day before and by and large the girls/women all looked to be genuinely happy and excited about their opportunity. In the afternoon, we were commissioned to provide some consultative services and offer ideas to help recruit more women from the poorest provinces and establish a greater sense of identity for the almuns of the program. We were then asked to step out to the playground for a couple rounds of “eagle and the hens” (I’d have to show you) and “duck, duck, goose”…a bit strange, but kinda fun.

We got back to the hotel relatively early and took to the famous errr infamous “Silk Market” – a 6 story utopia for anyone who enjoys a bargain and loves to negotiate for it. A different set of goods on each floor. Level 1 – shoes, handbags, and luggage; 2 – coats and apparel; 3 – silk ties & scarves, custom suits; 4 – electronics; 5 – random trinkets; 6 – pearls, jewelry, sunglasses. Everything cheap knock-off’s. North Face jackets - $20. Louis Vutton handbags - $15. Silk ties - $2. Rolex Watches - $10. iPhones - $20. And these prices are not the listed prices….no, these are the average prices reported by the group. It’s all set up so that the consumer must walk through a path no wider than 10 feet and lined with booths on either side measuring about 10ft by 10ft – an intimate area for product evaluation and price negotiation. You see, in the states as consumers we are largely price takers – a price is given and we can then elect to purchase or not. In the Silk Market, the consumer is a price maker. A typical walk down level three will go something like this: The sales pitch from the booth attendant, “Hello. You look familiar. Yes, I remember you! You want coat? Come here, have a look. Best quality. Best price.”, First time here but OK, let me take a look. Yea, this one does look nice. Giorgio Armani? Hmmm… “What’s the price on this one?” As the woman reaches for her calculator (the medium through which EVERY negation is communicated), she starts with the complements, “You…you very handsome man. Very tall. Sexy man”. Well, thank you… “This coat, this quality, usually for 2500 Yuan (7-1 Yuan/Dollar conversion), but for you? Special price, 2200 Yuan ($300+)” as she types the number in the calculator. “2200? That’s way too much…nevermind” Hurriedly she counters by handing the calculator to you and asking for your price. After a handful of observations, you know to start low. You type 50 into the calculator. She sees and stops. Looks up to you with hands on hips and a “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me” look. She types in 2000. Now you react with the same look and counter with 75. She snatches back the calc and gets down to business, “Serious price now…Final offer. 1500” $225 bucks for a cheap, knock-off coat? No way. You shake your head and turn to walk away….3 steps later she grabs your arm and pulls you back in. “Ok, Ok, for you I go this price” 1000 ($150). You type 100. Her reply, “Come onnnn…You killin’ me!!!”. She types 800. You type 120. She gets frustrated and calls it off. You start to walk away. This time a bit further. 3 full steps out of the booth and down the aisle. “OK OK OK Come back….Final price” 400. Your response, “YOUUUU killin’ MEEE!!!” You type 150. She goes to 300. You go 175. She goes 280. You give up and walk away…this time for good. 5 booths away, you hear a familiar voice now shouting out, “FINE. It’s yours”. You go back and pay 175. Without fail, the same exercise is repeated – almost verbatim – each time you find something that may pique your interest. Thrilling and fun at first, you take the kill back to the group and compare prices. If you’re lower, you feel great. Higher by even 5 Yuan (about 80 cents) and you feel ripped off. By the second or third purchase, the novelty has worn off. A headache sets in and patience runs thin. Time to give it up. You take your purchases home and immediately notice the glaring defects previously unnoticed during the intense negotiations and quickly realize why a $300 real jacket cost you just $25. The lesson here – Negotiation is a part of the culture…it never hurts to try. Restaurants, bars, taxi cabs – more times than not, it’s worth a shot.

Day 6

No company visits. Just a tour of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Tiananmen Sq is the largest of its kind in the world with over 400k sq feet of open space…well, controlled open space anyway. The square is fenced off and all visitors must flow through two gates located on opposite sides with security checkpoints (gov’t has some serious control issues). It is surrounded by imposing government buildings on 3 sides and the outermost wall of Forbidden City on the 4th. Still used today as a place where the people congregate for celebrations and to hear government officials address the country. Google it someday and read about its history. It is also the infamous site of a seemingly contemporary trend – a 1989 peaceful protest turned terribly violent as the army opened fire killing 100’s of its own citizens. Just don’t Google it here. The internet will pretend as though there’s been a “connection failure”. Impressive in its sheer size alone.

The Forbidden City. “A vast complex of halls, temples and housing, which make up the former residence of the ancient emperors…the Imperial palace is said to contain 9,999 rooms” (from our guide book). Some nice digs, dude. Close to 1,000 different buildings. Built in just 14 years in the early 1400’s by the Ming dynasty and then occupied by the Qing dynasty, this is where the emperor both lived and governed (in two separate buildings separated by enormous inner walls, of course). Our guide, Michael, takes us through the history and stories of life within these walls hundreds of years ago. A giant square within the walls for which to pay daily respect to the ruling emperor – a side for officials; a side for the army. Very strict rules. Should you, by chance, wake up a little groggy and end up on the wrong side, a sign of disrespect punishable by beheading (10 weeks of class in the same room and I still occasionally walk into the wrong door interrupting an ongoing lecture…wouldn’t have lasted 1 day in Imperial China). Michael then sheds some light on why there are so many damn rooms. Sure, the Emperor allowed his wife to live in his home…she just had to share the place with 3,000 other concubines (sex slaves) and they all needed a room to live in. He then pointed out that what with the concubines and rice wine (85% alcohol) and all, an emperor’s life span averaged just about 35 years. Wow, talk about hard to relate to…how long ago did you say this was? The Qing dynasty was finally kicked out in 1912? Holy crap, that’s just 100 years ago!!! An unending labyrinth of hallways, rooms and corridors each possessing their own story. Lots of pictures.

In the afternoon, Emily and I took a self-guided tour of the Temple of Heaven. Located not far from T Square and the Forbidden City in the southeastern part of central Beijing, this equally impressive site was built as part of the same project in the early 1400’s by the Ming dynasty. For the most part, it’s a giant temple with a pair of halls on either side settled at the top of a hill with great views of the city. It served as a place for the “Son of Heaven” (as the emperors liked to think of themselves) to take care of earthly matters such as offering up sacrifices and praying to the gods for plentiful harvests. Again, really interesting stuff all around. Next day - transfer to Shanghai.

A Fish Out of Water

As an introduction (or disclaimer as the case may be), the following couple of entries are a travelogue of sorts from China recapping our many different experiences and some thoughts along the way. We learned a ton and had a lot of fun. An album of pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=539793243206&set=a.539793153386.2048055.35501894#!/album.php?fbid=539793153386&id=35501894&aid=2048055 (if you're not already friends with her, just befriend Emily to view for yourselves). Those patient enough to endure the length, we hope you enjoy sharing parts of our trip. -Em & Brian

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Long Time No Chat

Sooooo....ahhh….yeaaa….I guess it’s been a little while since I’ve been seen out here in the ol’ blogosphere…3 months and 9 days to be exact….a “dark period” of over a quarter of the year where I’ve failed to deliver on the intention of this little writing experiment – to document a unique experience that (for better or worse) comes with a finite shelf life. There’s really no good excuse for the inactivity and I’ve found myself regretting not staying on top of it...I think part of it has to do with growing far too accustomed to life in South Bend and absorbing the daily/weekly cycle as old hat – something a Management professor from last semester would refer to as “running scripts”...a form of complacency rooted in a sense of comfort and life’s predictability that has somehow subconsciously helped me slip out of the blogging habit… scripts are boring…scripts inhibit creativity…scripts need breaking. Breaking the scripts of routine can happen through one of two ways – proactively changing things up orrrr reactively responding to a new stimulus. And so it is, with some combination of the two, that I now return to the “Diary” with a renewed commitment to pick up where I left off back in November…

Some things are controllable. Some things are not. Honoring the commitment to play in an intramural basketball game? Controllable. The ability to walk to your car after the game? Not controllable. The risk of injury is something that athletes of all ages and skill level have to live with…and let me tell you that when it comes to a Grad/Faculty/Staff league, the spectrum for both skill and age is far and wide …For the most part, it’s a risk with remote enough of a chance that we learn to be comfortable accepting the terms…in fact, sometimes we can forget such risk even exists. For a guy as prone to boneheaded forgetfulness as any (“Dude, where’s my wallet?”), I suppose somebody somewhere with divine powers is doing their best to make sure I don’t forget just how fragile the joint connecting leg to foot can be…and the latest reminder comes with a quick little story. Former presidential candidate and NBA star Bill Bradley is famous for conducting many an interview on the pickup basketball court where he believes that a lot can be learned about someone by the way they play the game. It took all of about two possessions in last week’s game to know that the med-school student (mind you, ND has no Med School) that I was matched up with was NOT someone who I would ever hire…bitching about every call, making a point of initiating unnecessary contact, getting on his teammates about not finding him when he’s open… the dude was someone you like playing against and looove to beat…preferably by a lot while shutting him down and not engaging in any chirping…let’s just say things didn’t go as you might “prefer” them to. As the story goes (apparently it’s now being told second-hand in the greater Phila area), it was at some point during the second half while we had the Meds on the ropes and down by double digits, that my unhireable opponent gathered a long rebound and took off in the other direction for the open basket. As the only one with a legitimate shot at contesting his attempt (and with those preferences in mind), I lined up what I thought would be a clean and humbling block…he jumps…I jump…he jumps higher than I expected...I make contact…he handles contact…I land…he lands…my ankle turns and I fall to the ground as the ball goes through the net…first thought: “tough shot” …it’s a fleeting one; attention immediately turned to intense pain coming from the ankle…wait, this idiot’s still here…He’s standing over me leading with his chest as he looks down emphatically offering, “And One!”…a blatant show of disrespect…second thought: “No he’s not really doing this...”... third thought (now verbalized): “____ you, Mother ____er”…a brief departure from my typically mild-manored self… whistle - double technical…nice, way to not engage…fourth thought: “Why doesn’t my foot look right?”…instinctively, I pound my dislocated foot to the floor and put things back in their rightful place…fifth and final thought: “Never done that before…not good”. This little episode has since served as a “script breaker” so to speak…one of the reactive variety…

Some things are uncontrollable. Some things are not. The timing of a mobility-limiting injury? Uncontrollable. Attitude for dealing with it? Not uncontrollable. Being injured sucks but it’s not the end of the world. Yea, I gotta give a little more thought to everyday stuff like taking a shower or getting some lunch or getting to and from class…but it’s not the first time on crutches (nor will it likely be the last) and in due time, full autonomy will be mine again. In the interim, the injured get to enjoy a few decent little perks (yes, painkillers are one). Primo seating at basketball game can be had simply by showing up at tipoff…plus, if by chance, you mysteriously lose your season ticket booklet between the on-campus bar and the arena (a distance no greater than 200 yards), the security guard is more likely to take pity on the dopey kid with crutches and let you in anyway (I’m not saying that this happened or anything…). Barring anything unusual in the schedule, an injury like this is really nothing more than a bump in the road that shouldn’t change much at all. Howwwwever, a usual schedule during the next 3 weeks I have not. With a 12:48pm flight scheduled for Friday from O’Hare to Beijing kicking off a 15 day Chinese cultural immersion (as the MBA program markets it), a swollen and immobile ankle can be a little bit of an issue. Despite some initial nervousness about still being able to pull it off, all signs point to following through on a “script breaker” of my own choosing – a trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong that anyone would be crazy not be excited about…the injury continues to heal with each day that passes and though surgery looks to be an inevitable reality at some point on the return, I’ve got a Great Wall to scale in the meantime...and a blog to write about it all in.

I’ll be back soon and more often as things wind down through the rest of the spring...