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.


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.

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