China Business Tour, June 2009

Jul 17, 2009

A Kettering University professor and seven students traveled to China to learn more about the country and its culture, and to explore opportunities for educational and cultural exchange.

Editor’s Note: 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 first installment of his travel journal, Irish recounts some of the interesting events that he and his students experienced.  

The China Business Tour sponsored by the Department of Business was a tremendous opportunity to learn more of China, a highly influential country of 1.3 billion people. We were able to see firsthand a few of the diverse landscapes and groups of people in this land, and to realize the gains made by this totalitarian government, which in recent years has embraced a limited form of capitalism. While one can gain a great deal of information from a recent documentary TV broadcast such as CNBC’s “China: A Republic of Profit,” until one experiences the pleasant picturesque surroundings and communicates with these friendly, dedicated people of China firsthand, it’s difficult to grasp the change taking place there. As Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked in 1803, “Let China sleep. For when she wakes, she will shake the world.” The hope is that this journal will enlighten others and encourage them to engage in similar global awareness experiences.

Thursday, June 18

Seven Kettering students and I left Thursday, June 18, at 3:10 pm. on a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.  After transferring planes in Tokyo, we arrived in Beijing, China, at approximately 10:30 p.m. June 19, loosing 12 hours in time zone crossings.  One of our students was quarantined for the night and released 24 hours later due to a slight fever. The medical team at the Beijing Airport was concerned about the swine flu pandemic and therefore required him to undergo testing.  While at the airport, we met the other university tour groups that would join us. There were 11 from Marylhurst University in Oregon and 10 from South Carolina State University. In total we were 24 undergraduate and graduate students, four faculty, one faculty member’s young son and Zhau Liang (Simon), our tour guide.

Saturday June 20

Saturday was our first full day in China. The day was spent in Beijing, a population center of 18 million. The name of the city means “North Capital.” We began our tour at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City/Emperor’s Palace.  The name Tiananmen Square means “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” and reminds one of the capital mall in Washington DC, which runs from the Capital Building to the Lincoln Memorial. Although some have claimed that Tiananmen Square is the largest square in the world, it is not as elegant as the one in Washington, because it doesn’t have reflecting pools and a green lawn, but instead a huge cement, expansive surface. Some of the prominent buildings were the Great Hall of the People where governmental officials meet and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where people lined up to view their revolutionary hero’s embalmed body.  

Next to Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City, which at one time had nine gates leading to and from the Emperor’s Throne and private quarters during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Of particular note is the beautiful pagoda architecture on some of these buildings that includes detailed ornamentation and multiple colors.  In addition, there are totem poles comparable to the Indians of the Northwest United States, including winged eagles and carved reliefs.  This palace was built between 1406 and 1420 and has been marvelously maintained.  It includes quarters not only for the Emperor, but separate quarters for the empress, his concubines and children.  A total of 24 emperors lived here in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  We also toured the inner private grounds of the Emperor’s quarters, which include beautiful gardens, trees and a lake.  One highlight is a long covered boardwalk with ornate paintings and carvings on the north shore of the private lake and in front of a Buddhist Temple.  

Sunday, June 21,

We took an hour bus ride north from the city to the Badaling Section of the Great Wall.  We spent a good hour walking uphill through three sections of the Great Wall to the highest point in the area to view the surrounding landscape.  The wall was built two millennia ago to keep marauding hordes of Mongols from invading the now unified China.  The Great Wall was started in the 5th century B.C. and runs along the crest of the mountains, splitting at various points and rejoining as it meanders for 3,000 miles to the west. In fact, just recently new sections have been discovered in some of the remotest areas.  Another 45 minutes was spent descending from our observation point and another half hour to rest from the 95 degree temperatures and high humidity.  Upon reflection, it was a wonder that invasions were a concern because of the naturally difficult terrain.

The bus then took us to the Olympic Center where the 2008 Olympics took place.  We were able to view the Birds Nest (which housed the opening ceremonies and the track and field events), the swimming facilities and several modern architectural buildings.  Again, many gorgeous gardens were interspersed throughout the grounds. Of note were the architectural contrasts between some of the older heavy, reinforced concrete buildings versus the modern western glass facade structures.

After the Olympic Center tour we had a tea ceremony where we tried three different types and flavors of teas.

That evening we all took a rickshaw ride through Hutong District, which is a poorer section of Beijing with many alleyways between residences and small businesses.  We stopped at one individual’s home, which was comprised of four separate rooms around a plaza.  Each room was adjacent to someone else’s building on its back wall.  Although the owner had no bathroom or washing facilities, they were very proud of their multi-generational residence.  Through the translation of our guide, we understood the Chinese characters the owner wrote with water on the plaza floor indicating a hope for good relationship between China and the United States.  

The evening was spent in downtown Beijing noting the modern commercial district.  Of special interest was one street blocked off for customers to walk by at least thirty vendor stalls supplying customers with everything to eat from seahorse to lamb’s kidneys, to snakes, to scorpions, to fried ice cream.  

Our hotel rooms were quite nice and would have cost well over $100 a night.  From my hotel room in Beijing I could see older styled, plain looking concrete apartment complexes and office buildings interspersed now with western style skyscrapers.  A dozen construction cranes were easily visible from my window indicating a massive construction emphasis in this capital city. However, right beneath my window one could see a ghetto area sectioned off by bill boards, denying commercial traffic from viewing this slum area.

Written by Dr. Norm Irish, visiting professor of Management. A second installment of this travel journal will appear on the News and Information Website in the near future.

See the conclusion of the China Tour Journal.