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.


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?


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.

Made In China

November 25, 2008 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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Stress Test    

We started our third day in Beijing with a vistit to Lenovo, the Chinese company that bought IBM’s PC division several years ago. It was an interesting trip, which included a walk through their corporate training center and was capped with a tour through their product display room. As a Product Manager, this last part was particuarly interesting; I’m not quite sure that I could generate the same excitement from a crowd with an electrical switchboard reveal.

We also got to take a look at some of their upcoming products; take a look at the wall below. It’s meant to represent the different market segments they are targeting with their products. You’ll see business men, mothers, etc. Then take a look a the picture meant to reperesent “gamers.” Yeah. The only guy sporting dreadlocks and a five-o-clock shadow. Even the Chinese have no respect for my hobby.




Finally, we got a demonstration of one of their new products meant to compete with Panasonic’s “Toughbook” line. Here’s a tip: if you are going to ask one of the giant Americans to jump up and down on your laptop to show how tough it is, maybe don’t do it on a tile floor. Yes. We broke the Lenovo headquarters. So sorries.

A Fragrant Bouqet

Next up was a trip to a local Chinese winery named Dragon Seal. The fact that they kept referring to it as a wine factory instead of a vineyard should have prepared us for what was to come next. They too walked us through a tour area meant to display their great history making wine. Allow me to boil it down for you: in the early 1900’s there was a French guy with a church who made small batches of wine. Sometime in the 1950’s, the government took over the winery and began producing bottles en masse.

Choosing quantity over quality has led to, predictably, some unpleasant side effects. These days they produce a few blends of wines. The first batch they offered us seemed to be a rather tasty blend of vinegar and fruit punch. The second? Motor oil and dirt. Had to be.

I witnessed a classmate purchasing three bottles to take home. Why?They’re for my family. Did they…did they abuse you?

Great Indeed

November 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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I Never Inhaled   

Shocking as it may be, the pollution  problems that we all read so much about during the 2008 Olympic games were, in fact, grossly understated. Our professors informed us that the air quality today was the worst that they had ever seen during their many trips to Beijing. I’m not sure that it’s adequately captured in the shots below; all I can say is this: that is not fog.


Throughout the morning there were complaints of shortness of breath and sore throats among the group; we have all fallen victim to a condition that we have coined “black boogie syndrome.” I think you can discern it’s symptoms from it’s rather eponymous name. I cannot fathom how these people exist in this environment on a daily basis. I try to remind myself that New York in the 1900’s or London in the 1860’s had similar problems with coal pollution, but actually wandering through these free floating particulate clouds yourself brings a whole new color to those stories. 

This is a national crisis that will soon develop into a global one. This problem will need to be addressed in the near future, and when it is, the solutions have to go beyond CFL’s and windmills. This will require amassive cultural shift. When the time comes, and I hope it will come soon, I’m just not sure that Captain Planet cartoons and Al Gore documentaries get it done over here.

Had a Great Fall

The fact that this country constructed a monument where the ability to be viewed from space was an unplanned, ancillary benefit, speaks volumes about the scale in which these people think. The Great Wall lived up to its name in every regard, and was a welcome relief to the crowded, polluted streets of Beijing. We split into two groups, the more adventurous of the two choosing to tackle the steeper, more aggressive section of the wall.

This turned out to be a better idea at the beginning of the hike than at the end, but an ultimately satisfying one nonetheless. We managed to make it to the “finale” of the section we were exploring, where, after having braved walls, winds, and inclines, we were turned back by a very polite little sign. No Visitors. 

We also made the decision to abandon the dragon motif of yesterday and instead focused on capturing recreations of famous album covers. This began with “Abby Road” but ultimately degenerated into various stagings of mock boy band covers. We are all clearly very pensive yet very distracted at the same time. By the by – behavior like this in a foreign country will eventually gain you quite the following. At the end of the affair we weren’t even posing for our own cameras anymore. I guess the truly bizarre part is that we kept doing it.


Everyday Low Prices

We visited one of the new Beijing Wal-Marts as part of an assignment / contests between our teams. 


Black Friday – that singular day, that retail extravaganza that American businesses look forward to all year? That’s basically a Tuesday here. It is shoulder to shoulder people spread out over three floors of the most bizarre groupings of products you have ever seen. As the store is full of brands that are all only a few years old in this country, companies have resorted to more of a “ground game” than you are likely to experience in the states. 

Every single aisle end-cap had a woman doing product demonstrations on everything from the very banal to the outlandishly obscene. I actually witnessed a young lady offering up sample of Cheerios not three feet away from a different woman teaching a crowd of people how to remove a turtle from its shell. Using live samples. I kindly offered up my advice to one woman that I thought the Cheerios to be a better choice for breakfast.

I don’t quite know if this video does the experience justice; I have tried to capture the noise and the pandemonium but will admit to being slightly unqualified for such a task. Asking me to express the full breadth of this to you with a three year old digital camera is a bit like asking James Cameron to re-shoot Jurasic Park with a pack of matches and some sock puppets.

A Connecticut Yankee in Tianamen Square

November 22, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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First things first – China hates WordPress. It could have been my communism posts the other day. So here I am on blogger; I will attempt to get sneaky and get this migrated to my Wordpress blog via my in-state people. 


Where to start…

Your Ad Here

Had I been blindfolded and dropped into the Beijing airport, I would have assumed that I had just arrived in the country of General Electric. I have never, in my whole life, seen more advertising per capita than in this city. This is virgin territory for the marketers of the world: a nation of 1.3 billion who have yet to form a brand preference. If you are a multi-national company, there is nothing but upside to be had here. They are advertising on billboards. They are advertising on buses. They are advertising on people.



In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

In the late 1990’s, Beijing decided that they would like a subway. So they built one. One hundred and eighty miles of new subway tunnels in less than ten years time. To put that in perspective: the city of New York started work on their subway system in the early 1900’s; they’ve got about 220 miles. Buildings and industries are springing forth from the earth here at a rate unprecedented in the world to date. This is an engine of production that, when focused, designs, assigns, and completes projects in the blink of an eye. 

It has not happened yet, but I am sure that there will soon come a day when China begins to export cars to the United States. They will focus this power of production, these numbers, this ambition, on our consumers. This will happen, and when it does, make no mistake – the Chinese will not enter the American auto market, they will devour it.

In contrast, a story of the last Emperor of China: at the close of the communist revolution, he was expelled from the Forbidden City. This man, this living symbol of a nation, spent his later years back in the Forbidden City – as a gardener. A more noble pursuit, methinks, than the cookbooks, late night talk show appearances, and memoirs that our deposed leaders spew forth on the nation in their retirement years.

Strike a Pose

There are several universal truths about traveling Americans. One of them: if you are a nation with ancient statues and monuments of immense cultural significance, I assure you this: Americans will hump them. They will straddle them, mount them, and do things to that dog statue that evoke a particularly related style. We, sirs and madams, are a classy bunch.

In this vein, while touring the Forbidden City, we learned that the Emperor had four favorite things: the number nine, the color yellow, women, and dragons. With this last one in mind, we decided to pay tribute.


We have shown him great honor.

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