May 19, 2008 - Written by Ryan Arthur
Ring Ring…Ni Hao. Well if you didn't believe in language barriers, after today you would have seen or heard that they indeed do exist. Today was our real immersion into the Chinese culture sans tourist stops.
Our morning began with a presentation from Cory Grenier, Marketing Project Manager at Lenovo. Lenovo is attempting to become the first Chinese company to be successful in the global market. And from touring their facility it is clear to see they have the capabilities of achieving this goal. With an extremely impressive automated warehouse, computerized inventory monitors, and computer aided manufacturing lines, Lenovo has an excellent infrastructure established that is similar to its non-Chinese competitors. What sets Lenovo apart from its Western competitors is their management style. In Western Management, the employee review process is kept private. Employees are reviewed by their supervisor behind closed doors so that employees are not embarrassed by poor performance. However, Lenovo implements a public review system. The Grape system, as referred to by our guides, allows for all employees to see how each employee is doing in relation to their fellow employees on a daily basis. This system coupled with Lenovo's new product line was an interesting view to the way businesses grow in China.
Lenovo was a mere amuse-boush for the flavorings of today's cultural misadventures. After our meeting with Lenovo, we had a couple of hours to check out of the Prime Hotel and to fend for ourselves for lunch. After a quick "costume change", I attempted to purchase a phone card from the conwenience store next door to the hotel. John was nice enough to purchase our first cards for us, but I wanted to attempt a solo purchase as a mini adventure. And apparently, I have made one convenient store operator feel that Americans are crazy. After my polite greeting of "Ni Hao" I proceeded to use my hand as a telephone in an attempt to convey to the clerk that I needed something related to a telephone. Sadly, she did not understand. After fervently moving my head back and forth to locate a phone behind the counter (which to a bystander may have looked like I was having a light seizure), I returned to my previous method of explanation, but expanded my pantomime with sound effects. "Ring Ring Ni Hao". As a sign that this lady wanted nothing to do with me, she quickly grabbed for the things in the next person's hands and went on about her day as if I had never entered the store. (Sadly, I would never obtain another phone card, although thanks to great kindess from my roommate, Jamie, I was able to borrow his to contact America).
And to add insult to injury, lunch was yet another humorous encounter with non-English speaking inhabitants of the area around the Prime Hotel. John recommended a restaurant close to the hotel called The Theater Restaurant. Unfortunately, since we didn't know its Chinese name, and John gave directions in minutes rather than distances, we were unable to find the restaurant. And due to time constraints, the group split to two different restaurants. One group went to a restaurant with a Chinglish name, while the other group went to the restaurant next to the convenience store. You would think that the prior group would have had better luck finding Chinese food catering to American tastes. However, after the Dog in Hot Pot feature on the menu, you would have been proven otherwise. The latter group, the group I was in, had tame Chinese dishes to choose from, but the menu was so poorly translated that we had to result to pointing at our selections on the dry erase marker board in the front window. One by one we took a waitress to the board outside and pointed to our selected dish. Each time they giggled at the crazy Americans. Before the end of our meal, we would discover the manager spoke English and had apparently missed the entire episode. I guess next time we go to China, we should learn to say, "English speaking manager, please?" in Chinese.
Probably one of the more touching parts of our trip came after we said our last goodbyes to the Prime Hotel. Upon arrival at the BN Vocational School, Brian Chowles, greeted us and gave us a tour of this amazing school. The children that attend this school have been given an incredible opportunity to make a better life form themselves, that others from similar situations could only dream of. With the skills they learn from BNVS, these children graduate with a 3 year contract with one of the sponsoring companies and the chance at a life they never knew they could have. One introduction to these children and the infectious nature of their smiles immediately overcome you. After some one-on-one time with these incredible young adults, and some Belmont branded gift giving, the children of the Service class sang us their school song. The lyrics were incredibly moving. There is such pride in their school and their own work. Most amazingly is that this kind of charity is a new idea in the Chinese culture. BNVS was first thought to be some sort of scam from the lack of charitable organizations in China. It will be amazing to see how future generations of Chinese will be affected by the notion of charity.
To top off our adventures in another culture, China Sense planned a supply procurement excursion to the Beijing neighborhood Walmart Supercenter. Like the Walmarts in America, anything you could ever want is
at the Walmart, however, the Chinese want very different things than Americans do. One walk through the seafood department, or the "aquarium" as lovingly referred to by the group proves this fact. Although there are
similarities between what American MBA students want and Chinese Walmart shoppers want; bread, peanut butter, and water. And nothing says Walmart like low prices; CD's for $4, DVD's for $1. Oddly though flat screen TV's were still the same price. Go figure.
After our shopping expedition in the wilds of Wal-Mart, we had to bid a somewhat tearful farewell to our Beijing tour guide John, and our 3rd best Chinese Bus Driver, Jack. John and Jack will forever remain in our hearts,
but especially John, as many of us are still wondering how much kick back John gets for being the middle man in the Chinese watch market. We said goodbye to Beijing as we hopped on an overnight train to Shanghai. Many
thanks to Dean Raines for the soft-sleeper addition to the trip.
The Olympic Room at Lenovo by Ruth Hall (the company designed the Olympic torch for the Beijing Olympics)
Exploring the products at Lenovo by Ron Stinson
A Student BN Vocational School Project by Charlie Canon
The poultry department at the Beijing Wal-Mart by Ron Stinson