China Business Tour continued

Jul 30, 2009

In June, Dr. Norman Irish, a visiting professor of Management at Kettering University, took seven students on a business trip sponsored by the Business Dept. to China to learn more about the country and its people. In this last installment of his journal, Irish describes the interesting events and sights that he and his students experienced on the last few days of their visit.

The China Business Tour sponsored by the Department of Business was a tremendous opportunity to learn more of China and network with professionals from a different country. As noted in the first installment of this journal, we saw beautiful landscapes and met many people, and came to further appreciate the gains made by the government, which in recent years has embraced a limited form of capitalism.

Monday, June 22

We visited a steel mill and saw six inch by ten inch by 40 feet long bars of molten metal forged into one inch diameter reinforcement rods for the city’s construction projects.  While the tour was of real interest to many students, it was a dirty and unsafe foundry facility that would never pass OSHA inspection and thus allow for tourists to visit the site. The afternoon comprised free time to explore the city and take in some sites of personal interest, like shopping for souvenirs. 

Tuesday, June 23

We flew two hours west to Xian, where we toured museums and received lessons in Chinese calligraphy. We were shown four different theatric masks: a white one in particular was known for “duplicity”. This caused one to reflect on the past relationships this culture may have had with Caucasians as Silk Road traders, as well as the Westerner colonizing and opium introduction experiences in their history.  

Xian was famous as an early dynasty capital and represented the eastern end of the Silk Road that for two millennia ran all the way west to the Mediterranean Sea.  Here we viewed temples and the archeological digs known as the Emperor’s Terra Cotta Warriors.  For centuries it was well known that a nearby mound was the burial ground of an earlier emperor. However, it was not until 1974 that a farmer, cleaning his well, discovered chards of earthen figurines.  The government has since built stadium-sized structures over archeological digs that have to date discovered more than 6,000 examples of these life size warrior figurines representing infantry, archer, and cavalry soldiers.  This subterranean army apparently was intended to join the emperor in his afterlife.  “National Geographic” presented a documentary a few years ago on these findings.  These figurines were remarkable in their detail and uniqueness.  

Wednesday, June 24

On this day we toured a Pharmaceutical company.  The main products of this company include various cleansing agents, including everything from laundry soaps to hand lotions. They displayed their diversity statements that included gender, the unemployed and a couple other categories, but nothing about race. The Han people group is by far the largest, with several smaller minority groups like the Cantonese and Di. In the afternoon we flew from Xian in the west to Guilin in the south of China.

Thursday, June 25.

We took a four hour cruise down the river Li from Guilin to Yangshuo.  Of special interest was the fact that this river ran along the floor of a remarkable limestone canyon.  If one could imagine some of the canyons of the American west and southwest, rather than being dry and arid, but instead being covered by jungle, one would have a little perspective as to this experience.  The local populace came out to our cruise vessel standing on bamboo logs lashed together as rafts and attempted to sell us their souvenir wares.  The culture here is in stark contrast from those in the cities of Beijing and Xian. 

Here were poor fishermen and rice paddy farmers scraping out a livelihood. The fisherman would use a duck sized diving bird to actually catch their fish in their mouths and fly back to their owner’s. These birds are unable to swallow their catch due to string wrapped around their necks. However, they were able to swallow small minnows. Numerous water buffalo roamed the area and worked the fields for planting.

Rice farmers showed us how they prepared and irrigated their fields on a continuous basis.  It was known that while one farmer would have difficulty surviving on their own, working in a communal environment would guarantee enough for them and a little left over to sell to others.  It was also interesting to note that although the appearance was of an impoverished community, many of those who had left this area for jobs in major cities had returned to these fields because they were unable to survive on minimum wage scales because of the associated expenses of housing and daily transportation.  The topography in this region with the acres of growing rice paddies and limestone outcroppings covered by jungle were a unique scene and duly imprinted on some Chinese currency.  

Our guide took us to the home of a grandmother in a local village who had three separate mud block buildings for her kitchen, barn, and living quarters.  Although living in an apparent impoverished state with hand-operated grindstones to make her tofu and a small garden for her soy beans and long yellow wax beans seemed challenging, she did have a color television and small dishwasher within her living quarters.  She prominently displayed her pictures of Chairman Mao and Premiere Zhau En Lai, and her grandchild’s certificates of accomplishment from school.  She was very gracious in providing orange slices to all of us on the tour, while the dog being butchered in the backyard was neither offered nor desired.

Friday, June 26

We left Yangshuo and traveled by bus back to Guilin.  On the way we stopped to view Reed Flute limestone caverns, which included multi-colored light displays.  If one has seen such caves as MammothCave in Kentucky, one can visualize this experience. 

That afternoon we flew from Guilin to Shanghai.  In the evening, we walked along a district known for its British Bund District showing the old colonial impact in the buildings representing nineteenth century British, Dutch, German and American influence.  Directly across the river from this was the brand new financial district of Shanghai and China as a whole, represented by modern sky scrapers outlined in multi-colored lights.  

Saturday, June 27

We visited a Jade Buddha Temple and gardens.  We also took a trip outside the city to Shanghai Lixin University of Commerce.  Our students enjoyed the one-on-one discussions with their university counterparts.  This university has approximately the same enrollment size as Kettering. Since they moved the university within the last 20 years, they had all modern buildings, including a library reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum in its architecture.  One of the highlights of the experience was a cross-cultural team building exercise which had all of the students making Chinese dumplings that were subsequently cooked and eaten together.  

Later that afternoon we visited a silk factory.  It was amazing to see how silk was gathered from silk worm cocoons and assembled into a variety of commercial products such as ties, scarves, sheets and pillowcases.   That evening we saw an entertaining gymnastic performance in a local theatre.

Sunday, June 28

We went to the aforementioned financial district and ascended to the 88th floor observation deck of the JinMaoTower to view the surrounding city of Shanghai.  Again, of interest was the many brand new sky scrapers intermingled with huge massive apartment complexes.  The population of Shanghai has been estimated to be over 22 million and they are eagerly preparing for World Expo 2010.

That afternoon we visited the local headquarters of efTours, our tour organizer and employer of our guide.  Again, our students were able to spend time in dialogue with many of the Chinese students in this English language training facility.  Later that afternoon we toured a personal estate. Many years ago a former wealthy financial consultant to the city had created this beautiful setting for his parents’ retirement as well as his own. However, his son lost it all gambling. Fortunately, the city has acquired the property and maintained its elegance.

We also interviewed the vice president of Procurement for Trane Air Conditioning manufacturing.  This executive shared his experiences of being an American expatriate in China for the last ten years.  It was interesting to hear from this American, raised in Detroit and educated at Arizona and Thunderbird universities, and how much he appreciates the work ethic and life style of the Chinese, as well as his acclimation to this life style. 

Monday, June 29

By 7AM we were at the ShanghaiAirport for our 9:50 a.m. flight to Tokyo, Minneapolis and Detroit.  We arrived home at approximately 6 p.m. the same day, but having gained the time we had lost before by passing through the same twelve time zones. 

Concluding Thoughts

Every day was enlightening on our China Business Tour. We were well guided around the sites of interest and had enjoyable lunch and dinner meals at various restaurants.  The hotel accommodations were really quite nice and all transportation means worked efficiently (although heart stopping in some congested situations.) efTours and their guide Simon made the tour successful and cost effective.  A more detailed critique of our learning experiences and recommendations for further Global Business Tours by the Department of Business is currently under development.

The Kettering University China Tour Group Members where:

Richard Cochran
Steven Handloser
Norman Irish
Deana Johnson
Zachary Paruk
Albert Petties
Nicholas Pidek
Julie Reno

See the first installment of the China Tour Journal.