Student Blog: The China Ten - Business Study Tour of China
Beijing in a Nutshell
by Brad Ross '09
The city of Beijing was the last stop for Catawba College's China Ten and their tour of the country. In order to experience the numerous sights the city had to offer, we were given four whole days to get a feel for the growing metropolis.
Along with getting to see the famous tourist locales such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and The Great Wall, we were given the opportunity to sit down with a high ranking CEO of the steel company, Shougoung Inc., to discuss how business is performed in China. During the Q & A session, the Catawba China Ten represented themselves very well with a volley of questions ranging from work conditions to eco-friendly efforts. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chime in and ask a question regarding Shougoung's involvement with the 2008 Beijing Olympics and if they have had any association with the construction of the Bird's Nest Stadium. Through our tour guide Xian acting as an interpreter, the CEO's response confirmed their direct involvement with the construction of not only the stadium, but they also helped build a small-scale model of the Bird's Nest in order for Olympic organizers to coordinate the opening ceremonies. Dr. Green also took this opportunity to ask a few key questions to further expand on his wealth of business knowledge. One interesting question he asked pertained to the wage gap between worker and CEO and if there was a substantial difference between the two. The man calmly answered the question by stating that there is a gap, but not as significant as some in U.S. businesses. He further elaborated by saying that his salary is around seven times more then a normal floor worker, but noted that one must take into consideration that Chinese workers are paid far less then U.S. workers. Overall, I was very impressed with the CEO's answers and grateful that we had such a golden opportunity.
The following day after our meeting at Shougoung Inc., we proceeded to partake in the tourist sightseeing. Because our hotel was in close proximity to the Forbidden City, Xian decided it was best just to walk there. The Forbidden City has two entrances, the back side where we entered, and the front side that drops you right in front of Tiananmen Square. The architectural design and sheer size of the Forbidden City was enough to take anyone's breath away. Also once outside in Tiananmen Square, it was hard to fathom that less then twenty years ago, students of my age or younger led an uprising against the Chinese Government. While admiring the breathtaking view of the square, I noticed that each light post in the surrounding area not only had the Chinese flag waving high, but the South Korean flag was also present. Out of curiosity, I asked our local Beijing tour guide Erin why the Korean flag was being displayed. With a sense of excitement, he answered by explaining that the South Korean government had sent representatives to Beijing to further discuss the restart of the six-nation negotiations over North Korea's nuclear activities. This was a very big step for both governments because it shows intent to maintain peace with the instable country of North Korea. The flags of South Korea waving in Tiananmen Square acted as a sign of respect and welcome to the visiting representatives. Because I was originally born in South Korea, seeing the colors of my birth country dancing in the wind gave me a sense of honor and pride in my heritage.
During our stay in Beijing, the majority of the China Ten were beginning to tire of eating Chinese cuisine day in and day out. But with me being the culinary adventurist, I continued exploring my palate until the very last meal. One memorable dinner we had in Beijing was the traditional Chinese Peking duck feast. Hand carved right in front of us, the whole duck was perfectly bronze in color with a moist dark center. Upon first bite, the crunchy outer skin accentuated the tender meat that lay beneath it. Accompanied by various sauces and garnishes, the Peking duck could be doctored up to meet anyone's taste buds. After the duck was reduced to a pile of bones, we thought that there was nothing left to salvage. But of course we were in China, and nothing goes to waste, which included the untouched duck head that was staring at us. Demanding that I further expand my culinary boundaries, I took the decapitated head and began digging around for the coveted duck brain. After a little surgical precision with my chopsticks, I removed the little lump of grey matter from the temple and showed my nearby diners. With a glass of Chinese beer nearby, I popped the little morsel in my mouth and analyzed the flavor before sending it down the hatch. Overall it was very bland in flavor and resembled the texture of a hard-boiled egg yolk. Though I preferred the savory taste of the breast meat, the experience of trying duck brains will forever stay with me…and my stomach!
On the third day in Beijing, our trip came full circle with the experience of climbing the Great Wall. With the wall stretching over 4,000 miles in length, we only scaled a small portion of the mammoth structure. But with some areas of the wall reaching a 110-degree incline, this was no stroll through the park. In addition to the insanely steep inclines, the China Ten had to endure strong wind gusts and pushy crowds throughout the entire ascent. Unfortunately during the climb, my camera fell victim to the Great Wall. It was knocked from my hand by a rushing tourist and crushed on the stone walkway. So with little photographic remembrance of the Great Wall excursion, I can only reminisce in my mind about the experience. On a lighter note, every member of the China Ten seized the once in a lifetime opportunity and scaled the wall to one of the highest points of the fortification with zero casualties. For once I am at a loss of words in regards to elaborating on this experience, so I can only offer encouragement to my readers that when and if you get the chance, scale the wall and embrace the sights and sounds of this Wonder of the World.
No trip to Beijing would be complete without taking advantage of their booming shopping districts. So on the final full day in the city, the China Ten split up to unload their RMB at various shopping hot spots. By reading one of my travel books that I had purchased prior to leaving the States, I was informed that the Silk Street market was the place to go. So my trip-long shopping consultant Sheri Keithley and I hailed a taxi and commenced a long day of wheeling and dealing. The Silk Street market was a five-level complex that housed every piece of merchandise you could find throughout the country. The two specialties that the market prides itself on are its wide selection of high-grade copy merchandise, and its elite suit-tailoring service. Before embarking on the trip to China, I vowed to return from the country with a custom-tailored suit. So to fulfill this promise, I found free time earlier in the week to venture over to the market's tailors to negotiate price, choose fabric and to stand for measurements. On the day that Sheri and I returned to Silk Street for shopping, I was also scheduled to pickup my finished suit (only two days later!).
We spent about six hours inside the market buying merchandise ranging from Sheri's Fendi heels for 140 RMB ($20 USD) to my Tiffany & Co. cufflinks for 10 RMB ($2 USD). But by the end of the day, it was time to go pick up my much anticipated suit. After showing my receipt to the sales clerk, they led me back to the dressing rooms and revealed the finished product for a final fitting. The first thing a realized when slipping into the suit was how light the superior 180-thread count fabric felt against my skin. After walking around and viewing myself in the mirror, I was extremely satisfied with the craftsmanship invested into the garment. Everything about the suit fit my body perfectly from the perfect pant break on my shoes to the extra room in the jacket for my broad shoulders. I graciously thanked the tailor for his fine work and paid him the negotiated price of $160 USD. Even though this was the single biggest purchase I made on my China experience, it will be my most cherished because very few people can say that they own a custom-tailored suit straight from China!
In order to properly bid farewell to the city of Beijing, members of the China Ten mustered up whatever RMB they had left and hit the nightclubs for our last night in China. According to the hotel front desk, within a short taxi ride away there was a district which was home to a number of bars and dance clubs that lined the parameter of a small lake. In addition to convenience, one of the bars inside the complex was featured in National Geographic for their signature cocktail known as the "Flaming Lamborghini." So after little debate, we all agreed to head over to the lake to sample the exotic cocktail. Just for fun, the group decided to get fully dressed up for the occasion in our newly acquired suits and dresses. After arriving, we began the long walk around the lake in the hunt for the Flaming Lamborghini. On the way, we couldn't help but to stop and admire the karaoke artists at each bar as they performed their personal renditions of American pop music. After strolling halfway around the lake, we found the familiar bar that graced the pages of fellow traveler Angelica Frecia's National Geographic.
We hustled up the steps leading to the main entrance until we were met by the hostess who immediately sat us down at the bar. After getting the bartender's attention, I placed the order for the coveted cocktail and waited with much anticipation. After what seemed to be an eternity, the bartender brought over three various cocktails and arranged them into a triangular base and laid unlit sparklers across the glass rims. On top of the center of the drinks, he placed an empty Smirnoff bottle with an upside down shot glass covering the mouth. The bartender then proceeded to light a glass of Bacardi 151 on fire and once the flames were dancing on the liquor, poured the liquid fire over the bottle. The cascading flames flowed down along the length of the bottle and lit the sparklers on fire before resting inside the three cocktails at the base. Once the fiery 151 extinguished inside the cocktails, we each grabbed straws and sucked down the tasty beverages in record time. So with Beijing's Flaming Lamborghini cocktail conquered, the group finished the night by sitting back and enjoying each other's company while reminiscing about our times in China.
PHOTOS: The China Ten: Business Study Tour of China