When thinking about some of the things that impressed me most about China there’s one thing that stands out most, the sheer scale of everything. It’s hard to comprehend a country with a population of 1.3 billion and cities with over 20 million people like Beijing and Shanghai. Shanghai impressed me most with its unending skyscrapers, especially in the Pudong district across from the Bund. Considering the rapid growth China has undergone particularly the cities I feel that there is so much potential for China going forward. Even their slowing GDP growth rate of around 6.5% is still strong. With Chinese manufacturing’s switch from cheap labor oriented to automation and lean focus China’s economy is on its way to a new level. Looking at the country’s overall shift from manufacturing dominant to services oriented and the country’s rapidly growing middle class and developing massive consumer base it’s hard not to be optimistic about China’s future. The country’s economy is on its way to supporting itself through its own consumer base and its evident in the companies we visited. The large majority of them were not export base, but instead focused on manufacturing for sale within China. As an American I feel we have our work cut out for us in order to remain the world’s largest economy going forward in the future.
Our month has finally come to an end. We’re currently sitting in the airport waiting for our flight to Dallas. Looking back on this trip there were a lot of different things that surprised me and my idea of China has shifted in a lot of ways. I now realize that I really hardly had any idea of what China is actually like. One big thing that I didn’t realize coming into this interim is that I was continuously amazed at the number of people here. There were massive skyscrapers everywhere and buildings bigger than in Grand Rapids everywhere, and most were residential! Even trying to walk in the street was hard at times with how many people there were. A big thing I learned is that the east coast of china is the only place where people can actually make a really good living. This makes it so people from all over china flock to the east coast for better opportunity which explains the massive volume of people in these cities. Another big thing that I learned a lot about was the culture here. Everyone cares about other people here and there’s a much stronger sense of community throughout all of china than I have seen in the US. People eat family style dinner everywhere and almost everything is made benefit the whole not the individual which I found very interesting. The last big thing that I thought was interesting was seeing Christianity working in china. I didn’t realize how open with their faith many of the high up employees at the companies we visited would be. It was very interesting to hear from all of them what it was like being a Christian in this setting and seeing the different ways it played out with different people. Nonetheless it was very cool to see that Christianity is existent in china and people can live out their Christian lives even openly in the workplace and that was awesome to see.
Random side observation: we were all very tall over here and people were fascinated with our group. I thought it was really funny to see some of the looks we got along with all sorts of people asking to take pictures with us.
As I sit back in the Shanghai Airport waiting to head home, I’m thinking about how much of a whirlwind these last 3 weeks were. It feels like so long ago that we were stepping off of the plane into smoggy Beijing, even though in actuality it wasn’t that long ago. We’ve constantly been learning throughout the trip — about business, culture, food, infrastructure, etc. — and it seems crazy that all of this has happened in such a small window of time. This experience has been incredible and the things that I learned throughout the trip are definitely things that I will cherish for a long time, even if I can’t fully pick out many of the things.
One of the biggest things that I will think about as I reflect on this trip is how China is actually ahead of the US in some things. My western bias often makes me think that the US is superior in everything and that China just manufactures goods for us cheaply, but I could not have been more wrong on this. One of the biggest things that stands out to me is China’s superior use of technology in a lot of cases. I noticed how almost everyone pays for goods with their phones, whether this is by using WeChat, AliPay, or ApplePay. This is a direction that I think the US is going, but China is fully immersed in this technology and almost every vendor has these capabilities. They also seem to have actually figured out how to effectively utilize QR codes, which is something that the US has explored but has never been able to fully get to catch on. We were also able to see how advanced China is in some of the factories, notably Nexteer, where the factory was clearly world class.
The trip provided us with many incredible experiences, and some that I especially loved included seeing the the Shanghai skyline at night for the first time, seeing a sunset at and biking around West Lake, and climbing the snowy Great Wall. I’m sure as I reflect more I will be able to think of many more great times and things that I learned about China, but for now I know that the country impressed me tremendously right now, and it is pretty clear to me from the direction that it is taking that in 20 years it will be even more impressive.
As I await our ride back to America in the Shanghai Pudong Airport, I’m able to work at collecting all the thoughts and ideas that have swirled in my mind the past three weeks. I experienced a brand new way of doing life from business to dining. The collective culture of 1.4 billion people that we witnessed has introduced me to a whole new idea of community. Everything that the Chinese people is a group effort and there never seemed to be anyone that was in it for themselves. This starts at the governmental level where they have their hands in everything from foreign business to the man employed to pick up trash on the streets. From a business perspective, I experienced a new way to look at the way China does business specifically foreigners have companies here. The Chinese market has turned away from foreign companies coming here for the cheap labor workforce and now are focused on innovation and selling product here domestically. The government wants their country to be a global player in everything they do so making sure they are autonomous in the way they innovated and do business is very important. For example, any automaker that wants to do business here must be a joint venture with a Chinese company usually partly owned by the government. Overall my experience here in the city and in the industrial parks has been eye opening and truly beneficial for my future life in America and the business program at Calvin.
- Joe Spoelhof
Believe it or not, Shanghai is no doubt a magic city, a city that contains various cultures, and a city that combines history. After 1843 when Shanghai was appointed to set up concessions for some foreign countries including UK, France, and the United States, Shanghai experienced rapid growth. Today, Shanghai is one of the biggest economic and financial centers in the world. On Jan 14 and 15, I had some chance to explore the west side and the east side of the Huangpu River with my friends.
The west band of the river is the Bund. It was completely late 1800s and early 1900s style. Regardless the busy streets filled with cars, you feel it that time seems to have been frozen here. The heavy metal gates are still standing at the front entrances of those magnificent bank buildings, as if they never left, still shining and well-polished.
The east side, the Pudong New District, was more modern and fancy. Lots of skyscrapers. Shanghai Tower, the world’s third-tallest megatall skyscraper, is 632 meters (2,073 ft) tall. However, we didn’t have an opportunity to get onto its observation deck on level 121 (561 meters) because it was closed by the time we arrived there.
Instead of going to the Shanghai Tower, we went to Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), the second tallest building in Shanghai. We managed to get onto level 87 which is a hotel’s lobby. The sight on level 87 was tremendous! Looking from the 87th floor, we could clearly see the river and the Bund lying in the dark. Standing in the building, The sight inspired me with some ambitions about my life and career.
The last picture was taken at the Bund by Isaac, my brother. I call it Time Machine, because the classic style of the Bund and the modern style of the Pudong New District are both displayed on this picture at the same time which gave me a feeling of travelling on a time machine.
I have seen many things and learned many things during this trip to China. I was able to come away with something unique from each city that we visited.
In Beijing, I saw (and inhaled) the air pollution and learned of its sources and health implications.
(In front of the forbidden city with a gray smog sky)
In Shanghai, I saw excellent examples of lean manufacturing and learned why it is crucial in industry.
(Students and Professors studying the steering system of a vintage car at GM Shanghai)
In Hangzhou, I saw a foreign company combining forces with the Chinese government and learned about the intricacies of joint ventures.
(Photo from our visit at Nokia in Hangzhou. Nokia is currently working with the Chinese government)
And finally, in Nanjing, I saw a mammoth Mausoleum and learned about China’s Revolution.
(Mausoleum of Chinese revolution leader Zhongshan)
Each city was unforgettable in its own way and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip.
As our journey in China comes to a close I’ve spent some time thinking about how different and unique China is compared to the United States. One of the biggest differences that I been able to appreciate is the collective culture of the Chinese people. To the Chinese, they are part of a family, a community, and a country; they do not work alone as individuals like Americans do. I was able to witness this in two distinct ways. The first was when a group of us rented bikes to ride around West Lake in Hangzhou. Josh’s bike chain fell off and by the time we had relayed the message to everyone and turned around, there was already a Chinese man helping Josh. Several people stopped to try to help the guys fix the bike, and many more slowed down to check that we were receiving help. In that instance, I really appreciated the collectiveness of the Chinese people because not many Americans would have stopped to help fix a bike chain. Another example of the unity of the Chinese people is in the way they eat. Chinese culture encourages meals to be family style, so instead of everyone ordering their own plate, everyone shares several dishes together. I’ve learned to really appreciate this style of eating because it helps encourage conversation and unity, along with wasting less food. There are many aspects of Chinese culture that I have enjoyed but none as much as the strong community of the Chinese people.
We started off Sunday by visiting Hangzhou International Christian Fellowship for Church in the morning. HICF is a Church for Christian foreigners in Hangzhou and the congregation was very diverse with people from all over the world. The service was held in the chapel area of a larger Chinese Church that met earlier in the morning. It was a long service, over 2 hours, mostly because of the enthusiasm of Pastor John and the worship team. The sermon was on commitment and what our commitments say about our priorities in life.
After Church a group of us spent a couple hours wandering the nearby market street exploring and picking up a few souvenirs on our last day in Hangzhou.
We returned after exploring to the hotel for some downtime before heading out for a group dinner. We enjoyed another good group dinner with the best dish in my opinion being some sort of frog soup. After a dinner of frogs we headed out towards West Lake to catch the nightly 8pm water fountain show which goes for roughly 10-15 minutes with lights and music. It was very impressive.
Today started off with saying goodbye to Hangzhou and hello to the train station! After waiting in the massive station for about an hour it was time to head to our train. This time around we were on a high-speed bullet train that has the capability of reaching up to 350 kilometers per hour! We had first class seats which were very comfy and made for an enjoyable hour and a half ride to Nanjing! Once we arrived we hopped on the bus and were off to the Purple Mountain. After we arrived we figured out that on Mondays the landmark is not open so we needed to improvise. So, we dipped into our Tuesday schedule and went to one of Nanjing’s many city wall gates. The wall surrounds the city and dates back to the Ming dynasty. Tomorrow we go to purple mountain and the massacre museum as they are open on Tuesday but not on Monday!