Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My First Day in China

Well, it is a beautiful morning here in Shanghai and crowds of nearly-identical brown-haired and beige-skinned people pass below my second-story window of the Charms Hotel in cars, bikes and mopeds. Just as our professor told us, there is English—-or attempts at English-—written all over the place, but there are still plenty of unintelligible signs that feature characters made up of dashes, lines and boxes with no translation at all. This is definitely the most "foreign" of any country I have visited.

There are twenty-two of us including my program director and international business professor. We travel on a chartered bus and remain fairly sheltered from the realities of this, the most populated city in the most over-populated country in the world. We arrived after an 11 hour flight from Paris, on Sunday morning and cleared customs around noon. The time change was six hours from France, but a more convenient 12 hours from EST. Monday morning, at our first company visit with US Commercial Services of our own Nat'l State Dept., our guest speaker told us that Shanghai's population of 20 million people was like fitting the population of Texas into the state of Delaware. He said that this is a problem that many non-Chinese companies have when they come here, that all they see is a bubble of untapped population or an open market of 1.3 billion potential consumers. They don't see the reality that over 3/4s of this giant population is living on around $1 a day. The savage need for survival overshadows the wants for the people of most of this subcontinent.

On that note, we enjoyed a quick lunch at McDonald's; Big Mac, fries, and Sprite for under $2.00, thanks to the PRC's valuation control of the RMB, keeping the Chinese currency's exchange rate artificially low. And MickeyD's proves its core-competency of reproducing consistent "quality" in every venue worldwide. I can attest that the sandwiches served up in cardboard boxes are just as bad in China as they are anywhere in the States.

Yesterday afternoon's schedule took us to a field trip of Shanghai Krupp Stainless Steel, a Joint-Venure of ThyssenKrupp and the Chinese government that manufactures flat-rolled stainless steel for all sorts of stuff, knives, pots, car exhaust systems... Their British GM gave us an overview of how the German company was sorting out issues with Chinese government regulations and the oddly over-priced yet inexpensive Chinese labor. They are some of the lowest paid nationals in the developed world, but they work a full week and require 3 times pay for overtime and holidays. It's definitely an interesting system.

It was during our tour of the pounding and thrumming steel presses on the factory floor at about 3:30pm local time that the earthquake hit. And being less than 100 miles away from the epicenter of a 7.8-measured earthquake, it is lame to report that we didn't feel a thing. The news told us that "Skyscrapers swayed in Shanghai," and there are skyscrapers a-plenty in this city, but we were not in one at the time of the quake. So, sorry, not much to report there. The tour did get exciting when they used an overhead crane to haul a two ton roll of steel past us to load it on the press. I thought, "Hmmm, Jeff might have really enjoyed this little tour." My friend in the program, Jaime LaTorre, a GT engineering grad., said he thought it was a great factory tour. I admit I was rather bored.

Last night, we went to dinner at another Chinese food place that served us stir-fried vegetables, pork and rice that tasted like anything I could have ordered up from any mall-chinese restaurant in the US, but I did drink a delicious lemon-watermelon juice with it. So how's that for exotic Far Eastern cuisine? I’ll have to push my little horizons a bit further for meals tomorrow. --Shawn Butler

The Pearl Tower in Pudong District and Shawn Butler at People's Square

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