It Ends

November 29, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Like any great story, the ending breaks your heart.

I have had the great fortune to experience this…this trip, this place, these people at this time and place in my life…these three weeks before that seminal date marking the third decade of my time on this planet. It has broken me. It has strengthened me. It has changed my mind while it has also reaffirmed what I am and that which I believe. 

I repeat now what a great man has said once before: people have phenomenal capacity. I have met in this group, this infinitesimally small subset of our vast population, those that have cheated death, those that have mastered the art of business and the art of war, those that have taken the uncertain leap of entrepreneurship, and those that strive to succeed in their chosen fields beyond all expectations and evidence otherwise.

This world and its future are in good hands.

Xie xie.

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Greatest American Heroes

November 29, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Faster, Better, Cheaper

Our first business meeting in Shanghai was with Covidien, an American company that had spun off from Tycho Healthcare a few years back. They exist in China to develop local sourcing contracts for their global business and accelerate material cost out opportunities. 

They described their strategy and their progress to us in detail; they are closing and relocating factories to China over a time frame of ninety days. Anyone that has ever attempted to execute a manufacturing transfer of work will read that last sentence with nothing short of holy reverence. 

They went on to explain how they had refocused all of their engineering and R&D dollars into the development of new product and new product alone. They are not focusing any time or energy towards product redesigns with the intent to take cost out of existing products.

I actually had to ask the speaker to repeat this.

The idea is so antithetical to how my company does business that they might as well have been telling us that they had built a distribution strategy around leprechauns and monkeys.

Breaking Ground

Our next meeting was with Diageo, a company focused on the marketing of a variety of international alcohol brands to the burgeoning Chinese market. They described their research, their strategy, and their methods, but perhaps what struck me most was the description of their problem.

They are attempting to market Smirnoff Vodka to a country that is not only unfamiliar with the Smirnoff brand, but also the type of alcohol it even represents. Their customers don’t understand what vodka is. 

It’s almost as if they are attempting to market a Buick to a country that hasn’t yet invented the wheel. I honestly can’t think of anything more exhilarating.

Comforts of Home

I had the opportunity, in the evening, to have dinner with a few ex-pat’s from my company. I honestly didn’t know, until this moment, how much I missed being around the people I worked with.

After seven years with a company, you develop a language, a speech pattern, and a frame of reference that is honestly not available to you outside of the bounds of those whom work there with you. Session C. Session M. TOW. PSI. PLP. NPI. PCTO. CLP.

Ahhhh. Like sweet nectar to a bee. I fear for the day I have to leave the bosom of this great company.

Crazy Hat Party

Our last real night in Shanghai brought with it a sense of release that had been absent throughout the rest of the trip. 

I don’t really have much to say. There was a cover charge. Admittance came with the condition that you would wear this crazy hat. Chinese men danced about on stilts. It all seemed to make sense at the time.

Crazy Hat Fun Time

Journey to the Center of the Earth

November 29, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Heavy Truck Fail

On our last day in Jinan, we visited a heavy truck assembly factory. This company, responsible for the manufacture of an absurd amount of heavy trucks (read: big) in the world, was a study of manufacturing inefficiency. 

Twelve to fifteen workers in a cell. Ball peen hammers applied to metal assemblies. An utter lack of worker protection or process. Metal on metal, controlled chaos, unfathomable quantities. It was, in a word, China. An obscene amount of labor thrown at any and every problem in an attempt to solve for a variable that remains unknown.

Yesterday and tomorrow meeting in a maelstrom that produces what this country calls today.

Gap Gap Gap Banana Gap

They are all selling the same thing.

I just don’t know how they are producing the revenue required to justify their existence. At any given time, you will walk down a street with shops on either side, abutting and facing, that are selling the same wares are products. How these people make their buying decisions must be haunting the nights of retailers and brand marketers across the world.

The Plane Lands

We arrived in Shanghai late in the evening, or, rather, Shanghai arrived on us. 

The pollution cleared, the sky opened, and the light of the world shone upon us. This city is astonishing.

Gone are the third world streets and the poverty stricken vendors. Absent is the sense of shame and progress presented in the same breath, replaced instead with the sense that these people are, in fact, capable of anything.

We have, I fear, already lost..but seeing what I see tonight, I think that the world may be better for it. It is that amazing.

Jinanigans

November 29, 2008 at 8:03 am | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

On our second day in Jinan, we visited a Software development park and a solar panel factory. The first was a bit boring – looking at static display boards written entirely in Chinese gets old rather quickly. 

The solar panel factory was interesting, and provided a ray of hope regarding China’s pollution problems. Unfortunately, the “gray matter,” the term that the Chinese use to describe the pollution that settles on everything around here, renders the solar panels ineffective. This is heartbreaking, if you think about it, as the very problem that they are trying to solve is rendering the solution ineffective.

Foreign Exchange

Next up was a visit to Shandong University, UConn’s “sister school” in China. We met with a group of their MBA students to discuss cultural issues and share our experiences. Of interesting note was that each of them had very specific undergraduate degrees. While Americans tend to get degrees in Engineering, English, or other broad topics, they get their degrees in Lighting. Or Air Conditioning. 

There was a bit of a language barrier, so for a few hours we resorted to a crude form of pictionary to communicate. It worked for the most part, and it was amusing to see that regardless of culture, male middle-aged graduate students have essentially four topics of conversation: wives, dogs, sports, and the stock market. That last topic led to a lot of pictures of arrows pointing way down.

One last note: I will never make a disparaging comment about UConn’s facilities again. I’m pretty sure that in America this building would have been condemned.

Jinanny-nanny Boo-boo

November 27, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Posted in Travel | 2 Comments
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Alert the Media

We left the bustle of Beijing on Monday evening to fly to one of China’s smaller, interior cities: Jinan. Having only a population of nine million, it’s a bit more quaint. The first thing that we noticed was the fact that we were kind of a big deal here. Beijing was overflowing with Western tourists; I haven’t seen a single non-Chinese person in Jinan, outside of our group, since we arrived.

On the way up to my hotel room, two Chinese men turned around and stared at me for a solid fifteen seconds. They then conferred for a moment and stammered, “America?” Yes, I said, I am from America. “NBA?” they asked. Hmmm. Yes. Yes I’m in the NBA. Lots of hobbit sized Americans pursue this line of work.

We visited the Please water factory and were greeted by a giant banner and the local news media. They followed us around for about an hour and then proceeded to interview us about our experience in China. It’s a little bizarre thinking a few UConn students are going to be broadcast over the airwaves to 1.4 billion people this evening.


Doggy Bag

We spent the remainder of the day visiting the 1,000 Buddha Mountain and doing some exploring on our own. The Mountain was breathtaking and provided an opportunity to view the pollution from outside of the pollution, which was nice.

Just a thought, though. Perhaps when your entire religious culture is based around burning things and pumping smoke into the air, this little problem shouldn’t have been that hard to see coming.

I also met a small doggy at the 1,000 Buddha mountain. Not much to say there, except that Chinese doggies are almost as cool as American doggies. She nibbled on my finger, so I may be rabid now, but it was very sweet otherwise.

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Nouveau Cuisine

My group of friends and I ventured into the city for the evening for some local Jinan cuisine. The restaurant we chose didn’t have anything written in English, so we attempted to communicate with the waiter for information (fail) until we ultimately just pointed at a few items on the menu and hoped for the best.

When the second dish arrived, we all sampled it and agreed that we couldn’t quite place it. Chicken? Mushrooms? We weren’t sure, and so called the waiter to the table. We drew a simple picture and pointed to the bowl. Mushrooms?

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Ha ha, said the waitress, and drew us a picture of her own. Of a duck.

That little circle is where she kept tapping the marker. She tapped furiously for a few moments before managing, in broken english, some clarification.

Not outside, inside.

Of the duck.

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