UTA EMBA China Trip 2009 Rotating Header Image

Jetlag from China: Expect a week or more of misery

We were warned.

They told us it would take at minimum a week to recover from jetlag when we returned to the States. They weren’t exaggerating. In fact it took me closer to two weeks to feel relatively normal after moving my body clock forward 13 hours, getting used to that and then turning the clock back.  Two rough, sleepless weeks.

If you haven’t traveled to a place so many time zones away, you might ask what the big deal is. It’s just jetlag. A little drowsiness. What’s the big deal? But the jetlag you experience after traveling to, say, Europe is nothing compared to this. Let me describe it.

During the night, your body is thoroughly exhausted, but you are wide awake and your mind is racing, and the more you can’t sleep, the more frustrated you get, and the more frustrated you get, the more you can’t sleep. Mornings are foggy and grumpy.

During the day, operating on zero sleep, you feel like you have to concentrate all your energy to hold yourself together in one piece. One moment you feel like you are about to collapse into a puddle of jelly, the next you feel like you’re about to throw up. You bump into furniture and walls walking around the house. You say, and do, stupid things. You mumble sentences that make no sense. You lose your thought halfway through a sentence. You send email messages to the wrong person.

Your body desperately wants to sleep, but you know if you don’t change your internal clock, you will be awake all night, so you try to fight it. Caffeine is not as much help as you might think. In fact, I remember drinking many cups of coffee that had absolutely no noticeable effect. Until twelve hours later, when I was trying to sleep and was bouncing off the walls.

This is not a good time to make strategic business decisions.

I took two extra days off so I wouldn’t have to go back to work until the Wednesday after our return. I thought that would be enough time to get me ready to go back to work.

A week would have been better, but three consecutive weeks off is not possible for most of us. I would peg two extra days as the absolute minimum. If you are able to delay your return to work until Thursday, that would be even better. Whatever happens, do not go back to the office on Monday or Tuesday unless you’re at risk of losing your job if you don’t go in.  At the very least, you’ll be opening yourself up to ridicule by your co-workers for the goofy things you say. And at worst, you’ll make business decisions you really regret later.

In the evenings for the first several days you will notice that you hit a wall around 8:30 or 9 p.m. If at all possible, go to bed when this happens. Take advantage of the fact that your body wants to sleep. If you force yourself to stay awake through this and stay up too late, you will not be going to sleep that night.

A summary of this trip to China

Toward the beginning of our time in China I quickly began to form what would become my lasting impression of this country. A sunrise jog provided an opportunity to witness the people who calmly walked the streets this time of morning. The majority of them were over fifty and dressed in rather simple and drab clothing. Their morning activities involved walking, practicing Tai Chi, or sitting in small groups for quiet conversation. Few, if any, smoked, carried cell phones, or spoke English. All appeared to have a dull look in their dark eyes. They also had an air of submission where most would not look you directly in the face. What struck me the most was not the somber appearance of this crowd, but rather the considerable contrast between it and the one that walked the same streets the night before. Just twelve hours previous the streets were filled with young people who moved at a pace that was dizzying. Their clothes were with strong western influence, being short skirts and branded with logos. As they hurried around, sometimes pushing right past you, it did not take long to notice that most only slowed as they arrived at a coffee shop or hip restaurant to socialize with friends. Very active crowds could also be seen around kiosks where information was being transferred to cell phones, that all the young carried.

When taking together these two different groups of people and their country, China seems an economic monster that might be losing its bite. Allow me to explain. In a country where Confucianism provided 2,500 years of social, morale, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious influence, China is a perfect chalkboard for the implementation and propagation of socialism, but only if in isolation. In fact, this influence was noted many years previous by Napoleon Bonaparte as he was known for the statement, “When the sleeping dragon awakes, the world will quake.” He was of course speaking about China some 200 years ago, and China has since existed without autonomy. Today, and two centuries later, with 60 years of communist rule and recent economic reforms the dragon appears to have awoken indeed. However, while Napoleon’s statement still stands true today, it does not reflect the character of the people who are required to give this dragon its teeth (more than 1.3 billion people in fact) and the impact of western culture that dominates their rapid social change. Like a slumbering and often beaten dog that is starved and days from expiring, the countries aged are far from providing anything close to sharp teeth. And while they might attempt to bite, it seems these people would only do so if backed far into a deep dark corner. When contrasted with the nights crowds, people who are more concerned about western influence and goods than mangy old dogs, they too are far from providing teeth for this dragon. The youth in fact are more like sheep, being a highly impressionable population of future and ever growing consumers who would rather be lead to more of what they are now becoming entitled to. My point is simple. This country and its people are moving out of phase with one another, if not already. From these observations I get the feeling that this country and its government are unlikely to successfully manage the pace of social change that will occur within the next 20 to 50 years. The dragon may indeed be awake, but its teeth are likely to be rotten from age or from the sweets of western influence, respectively. This is decay that the government cannot manage over the long-term without risking considerable social upheaval, something still quite common to this country.

Beyond making observations of the people, our time in Shanghai, along with bus rides to the Yangshan Port and Suzhou, provided many opportunities to witness the vast infrastructure development underway in China. This was analogous to the wild west being much like the movement the US experienced some 200 years ago. But in place of gold mines and cattle yards, large industrial parks are the business in play. Skylines change here on a monthly basis and new building complexes spring up in open fields over night. It is often said that China’s country bird is now the industrial crane, and these ‘birds’ can be seen flocked together along skylines marking the locations of future high-rise building complexes. Being planned by the government, much of this development is done with a ‘build it and they will come’ or ‘build it now and it will be used at some point’ approach. However, this type of investing cannot provide a 100% successful rate of return. A mental image of western ghost towns comes to mind and I wonder if vast landscapes of empty and dilapidated buildings will capture the majority of future skylines in China. In support, Yangshan port is currently operating at less than 30% capacity, much due to the recent and global economic downturn. Faced with this reality, China took this as an opportunity to increase port capacity by adding another terminal. This will make them the largest deep-water port in the world by the end of the year, surpassing Singapore. However, much will remain unused until, or unless, the global economy regains strength. This investment coupled with China’s plans to expand domestic consumption beg the question, “Will this additional deep-water port capacity ever be needed as global shipping transitions to domestic consumption.”

In summary, and while there is so much more that could be discussed, I still stand by the position that China is truly an economic powerhouse. No doubt. With strict control of natural resources and core industries, this is most likely the way the government intends to continue to attempt to steer the development of this behemoth. However, a dragon without teeth is nevertheless still a dragon that cannot feed itself. Size, whether in the form of foreign monetary holdings or consumption potential does not always facilitate successful economic growth. As the people of this country continue to transition from more traditional Chinese social norms to those of western origin, the teeth are undeniably going to fall from the mouth of this dragon and this is the China that I fear the most.

Day 13 and 14 – The last day and travel home

10/22/09-10/23/09:

Our last full day in China was spent first in the classroom. We had an early start and sat for two lectures in our hotel. The second half of the day was spent wrapping things up. Most were frantically shopping so that gifts could be readied or when we all returned home. Many also realized that the luggage capacity they started the trip with was no longer adequate and needed to buy luggage. Good deals can be had on luggage, so this was not a big deal. Our last night was a free night and many went their separate ways for dinners of choice.

The next mornings started early. We departed Beijing airport at 8:50 AM local after leaving the hotel at 5 AM and flew S then turned ESE with a heading over Seoul Korea and then on to Tokyo Japan. We approached Tokyo Airport from the S. Our flight was at 37000ft with an airspeed of 645 mph and an outside temp of -50 F with a flight time of approximately 2 hrs and 50 min. Our layover in Tokyo was long at 6 hrs. This was spent unfortunately in the airport though there is a good bit to do there.

We departed Tokyo at 6:40 PM local and flew ENE out over the S Pacific and eventually over the N rim of the Mariana Trench. Our flight was at 35,000 ft with an airspeed of 728 mph and an outside temp of -48 F with a flight time of approximately 9 hrs and 20 min. At approximately 7 hrs of flight time we crossed over the international dateline where we stepped back in time 24 hrs. Once arriving back in Dalllas our total travel time was just over 24 hrs. What a day, an what a trip!

Route home

Route home

More views of the Great Wall at Mutianyu

The best way to get custom-made clothing

Dr. Rasheed advised us to go to Sally’s Tailor shop at the Yashow Clothing Mart in Beijing to get suits, shirts or dresses made to our measurements. With Dr. Rasheed’s help, we were able to get suits made for 700 yuan (about $100) and dress shirts for 100 yuan (about $15).  I believe these prices are a good bit lower than what they would usually settle for, but even their regular prices would beat the competition back home by a mile.

Dr. Rasheed told us to request Jenny or Oscar when we got there. Fortunately, they were in the shop. We showed them our professor’s business card and they took care of us. Several of us had clothes made there, and the results were fantastic.  I got a couple of cotton dress shirts and the fit is excellent and the shirts are extremely well made. Some class members got suits, and a few had beautiful dresses made.

They needed 24 hours turnaround time on the shirts, and three days on the suits. So if you’re going to do this, head to the clothing mart on your first full day in Beijing.

Scorpion on a stick. Bon apetit!

At a busy little street market in Beijing, apparently mostly intended for tourists based on the abundance of souvenirs, we saw several concession stands selling some interesting snack items. Most notable: fried scorpions on a stick. And the scorpions were still moving. Several members of the group came back later in the week and tried the scorpions, myself included. Hard to describe. Not much taste. Crunchy, a little salty. Not nearly as gross as I expected it to be. One person compared it to burnt popcorn, which isn’t exactly right but close. If you’ve ever chewed up a pumpkin seed or a sunflower seed with the shell on it, it was sort of like that but softer. By the way, they remove the venom and the stinger before cooking.

The video shows the scorpions and then gives an overall view of the street market. Note: In a land of outrageous asking prices, prices for cheap trinkets in this market and places like it were truly absurd.

Day 12 – Huiyuan Juice Company and the Great Wall (Mutianyu site)

10/12/2009:

Today started off with a 5 mile run around the N of the Forbidden City and up to the top of the Temple N of the City gates. I carried my camera on this run so that a picture could be taken overlooking the Forbidden City (see below.) After breakfast we went over to the Huiyuan Juice Company and toured their facility, followed by a presentation. They have quite an impressive operation and were able to share many examples of how they have expanded operations and capabilities in concert and response with China’s economic expansion. They also have recent business developments with Coca Cola and Dannon that might be interesting to follow up on. In short, their potential for future growth is staggering and many international companies with an interest in the Chinese market are courting this company. We also had a quick lunch here before heading out for our afternoon activities.

Leaving Huiyuan we drove N for about an hour and change to the Mutianyu site of the Great Wall. This was an incredible afternoon. We walked up to a ski lift and were carried up to a final elevation of about 3,800 ft and spent the afternoon walking the Wall (I opted for another run though. When am I going to get another chance to run on the Great Wall at nearly 4,000 ft elevation?) The pictures speak for themselves, however a few things worth noting. You can get souvenir hats and shirts for 3 for one USD. They sell drinks up on the Wall but bring something from below because they will try to drill you for the highest price possible up top. Walk the wall. The views are worth it. Take the sled ride down, and try not to use the brakes. If you really want to go fast, let the person in front of you have adequate time to get ahead. You will not regret it.

Our ride back to the hotel allowed most to sleep and we all went out for dinners of our choice. Some of us started off with scorpions on a stick…Later we walked by the Catholic Church again and had the chance to take pictures of people writing prayers in Chinese in water all over the steps of the Church. They believed that as the prayers evaporated they would be carried up to heaven.

Day 10 – Nokia and Sinosteel

10/19/09:

This morning we started early, so no time for a run or workout in the gym. Just time for breakfast loading on to the bus. We headed out today for Nokia’s testing and QC facility. While we were not allowed to take pictures inside this facility, it was quite interesting to see just how rigorously the phones we buy are tested. We had the chance to see all kinds of equipment that performed various tests, including: drop tests, programming tests, functionality tests for opening and closing lids, button pushes, finish abrasion, etc. We later had a Q&A where they detailed the work they perform at this facility and answered many of our questions. This was an impressive facility and I wish you could see pictures.

After an incredible lunch at very nice menu restaurant, we headed over to Sinosteel where we learned just how controlled the natural resource industry is controlled by the Chinese government. While many of the people we met with from Sinosteel are UTA EMBA China alumns, there was an impression that they wanted to let us know how successful they were. From the time we entered the front door to the time we left, we were escorted around by numerous young ladies all dressed alike. We were invited to tour their museum area and were given a guide with translator (though I am sure the translator spoke better English then the translator) and then were escorted in to the conference room. Inside there were large floral displays on the table, elaborate tea mugs, nicely prepared briefing packages, name tags, warm towels on plates, etc. We were given a lengthy presentation on Sinosteel via translator (again, probably not required) and finally permitted to ask questions. However, each question we asked was answered with a thesis length reply. All told, time permitted only a handful of questions. Strange…but this is the second State-run company we visited and again we leave knowing very little more than before we arrived. At least this time the approach was different and someone was not sent forward as a sacrifice.

Our evening was spent at a Western Chinese restaurant that has considerable Kazakhstani influence. The music, food and people were all different than what are found in Eastern China. These people appeared to be a completely different culture. In fact, they looked and behaved as though they were more Middle Eastern than Chinese. Considering the fact that some in the class drank more than their share of beer, and many wound up dancing on stage and the tables, the rest of the night will be documented by me using only a select few pictures…

General advice

1) Do not exchange money at the airport unless you plan to leave the country from that same airport. There is a service charge for exchanging at the airports when most hotels will exchange for free. Also, most of us spent $500-700 during the course of the two week trip.

2) Pack light enough to be able to handle moving your luggage on your own. Don’t go over the airline weight limits for luggage because the charges are steep. Further, if you have a multiple leg trip the charges will continue to add up. If you do find yourself over the limit, be sure to check your bags all the way through to your final destination so that you only need to pay one penalty charge (for those of you planning to do a lot of shopping while in China, remember this advice.)

3) Don’t worry about plug converters and hairdryers. They can be obtained at all the hotels.

4) All hotels are rather modern and quite nice. If what you need is not in your room, ask the front desk. They will have just about whatever you need. However, do not be surprised if you ask for something and they end up walking you down the street to help you purchase it. Customer service is on a whole different level in China (perhaps due to labor costs?) However, you may see some odd things in a westernized hotel like a fuseball table in the hotel gym…?

5) You can get a massage at every hotel and prices are negotiable. However, be careful of the massage therapists that insist on coming to your hotel room. Not all services in China are as they appear on the surface.

6) Drugs to bring in case of an emergency: tamiflu (just in case you catch a virus), an wide spectrum antibiotic (for intestinal or sinus/respiratory infections), perhaps a sleep aid (to help you adjust to local times), pain killer (for headaches etc.) Also, it might be worth while for someone in the group to bring a small medical kit. Searching for band-aids when your bleeding is no fun.

7) Drycleaning advice. If you bring limited dress clothes and want to use drycleaning services, Suzhou was the least expensive (considerably), followed by Shanghai, with Beijing being the most expensive.

8) Taking the subways in Shanghai and Beijing are experiences that you all should have. In fact, using them when you can in place of taxis will save you a considerable amount of money (25 cents vs $3-5.) just make sure to grab a map from the hotel and ask the concierge for advice. If you get confused while in a subway system, ask a young person for directions. Chances are better that a twenty-somethng speaks english when compared to someone older.

9) Make sure to try the local cuisine. When you grow tired of it (chances are good) then search out a Japanese restaurant or some of the western chains (In Shanghai and Beijing you can find McDonalds, KFC, Subway, and Pizza Hut and other pizza places.) We were able to find a Chilis in Suzhou.

10) Starbucks and other coffee shops can be found all over eastern China. However, Starbucks was everywhere in Shanghai, but scarce in Suzhou and Beijing.

11) Try to make it to the top of the SWFC building in the Pu Dong area of Shanghai. Once at the ground floor of the building the tour will take about an hour.

12) Keep track of your buddy and have a method to check in each morning just to make sure the days schedule for the entire group is not thrown off by someone oversleeping etc.

13) Don’t buy much in your first city. Wait for your last stop so that you do not need to cart everything around (and so that you are not over weight limits for airlines.) You can find plenty of good shopping areas in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing.

14) Take lots of pictures and make sure your batteries are full every morning and your storage drives empty (if applies.) Also, make sure to set up a system for sharing of photos. What you missed, someone else captured, including candid pictures of yourself while sleeping, shopping, eating, etc.

Day 8 – Yaxiu market, 2008 Olympics venue tour, WuMart, and UTA alumni reception

10/17/2009:

Another run and workout this morning before breakfast. Latter we all headed out to visit the Yaxiu Market. The market was similar to a low end mall filled with booths full of clothes (mostly knockoffs) and other goods. In here you could buy an entire set of Ping clubs for around $100 USD (no promises that the head won’t travel further than the ball on your first swing.) You can also get tailored suits made for less than $100 USD. The fabric selections were limited but still an option for some. Most of us stuck to the knockoff purses and jackets. I was able to buy a three quarters length semi-casual Polo jacket for around $30 USD and a Tommy Hilfiger sweater for $11 USD. Note that sizes are often for the avergae Chinese person, so you may be wearing a size XXL even if you are a large in the US.

 

Later we went over to the 2008 Olympic facilities. There were large crowds in this area of Beijing and many street vendors. Our time there was limited, but the pictures were beautiful. The grounds are still well maintained and definitely a good tourist attraction. Afterward we toured a WuMart (yes, Wu) and met with Dehong Yang, a general manager from Wincor management. Wincor is a company that services WuMart for IT needs helping them to manage their stocking, purchasing, shipping, and inventory needs including optimization. The tour of WuMart was interesting as many Chinese people were rummaging through shelves and shelves of low cost items for sale. Worth noting were the numerous sales people standing ready to help on the store floor. The majority of them are not WuMart employees, but rather employees of the companies that are selling items through WuMart stores. To provide an example, I wanted to buy new headphones for my blackberry and had three people from one company helping me for a few minutes until they decided they had nothing that would work, then had another two sales people begin to help. Talk about customer service…with a language barrier of course.

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