Off to Shanghai!

We only lost one student on our way to China — Canada had spit Joy Joy out, but he was able to rejoin us days later. Other than that, our arrival in Shanghai went rather smoothly. My mental preparation for the trip comes from my experiences last CentreTerm with Dr. Haskett, who took me to, and brought me back from, India. The phrase “Because China!” became an explanation of the speed bumps on our trip so far, and probably will be used in the days to come too.
BundAfter our plane ride — purgatory 30,000 feet in the air — we met the Next Step China (NSC) crew outside the airport as we headed to Tongji University. Let me quickly say that Derek and (especially) Amy have done wonders to help us with our assimilation in Shanghai, so a big thanks to them. Our first stop was to grab some good old-fashioned street food. After over 20 hours of airplane food, no one complained. Besides we were ready to take our first bite of true Chinese cuisine. We finally settled on one of the many street vendors just off-campus — and a delicious meal it was!
My initial culture shock was disappointing this time around. I guess that India had prepared me for the worst of it. The streets of Shanghai were relatively clean. The first thing I noticed was the lack of beggars — the government cleans the streets in many ways. If you hide poverty, does it exist? Yes, yes it does.
One of the more fascinating things I discovered early on was in my own dorm hall. I live on floor 11/12 — yes I know, not the penthouse — I’m just as upset as you. But my fascination comes from the North Koreans dominating the seventh floor. They are very quiet, travel in one large pack, and can be easily spotted by the pin of Kim Jong-un on their shirts. Other than pleasantries, they are not allowed to converse with us. I caught them all in an elevator once and introduced myself but nothing came of it. I’ve been told they are all sons of high officials; I just can’t help but wonder what they think of when they see me. I’ll write more on that later.
Tongji is home to many international students, so being white isn’t as big of a deal as traveling elsewhere. But if you leave the campus grounds, the staring and the pictures ensue. All the grandmothers want you to say hello to their grandchildren and all the grandfathers stare at the pale beings walking among them.
Let me make a side note and explain one of the most baffling things about China to me economically and socially. BRAND NAMES — that’s what preoccupies this country. Putting aside the huge intellectual property theft occurring down every alley, people actually buy for the brand name (Nike, Adidas, A&F, CK, Gucci, etc.). It’s what dominates the crowds. I mention this now because when I say “the crowds” I include the grandfathers in Abercrombie and Fitch shirts. If you’re reading this and interested in marketing, buy your ticket to Shanghai now — PVG is a nice clean airport to fly into.
Cheap food, people watching, and an example of consumerism: I call my first night in Shanghai a success.
In the mornings I study Chinese and International Relations at Tongji, but in the afternoons I work downtown at a management-consulting firm, Tractus-Asia, as a Research Analyst. Tractus is a boutique-consulting firm that helps companies enter the Chinese market, provides consultation on foreign direct investments (FDI), and advises on M&A transactions, along with many other financial services. This job will help me greatly by giving me insights into the current Asian market, as well as giving me consulting and research analysis experience. For years, my goal has been to work as an investment banker. It’s a hard goal to achieve by any standard, but my hopes are high and my drive is strong — especially after my experiences at BMO Harris in Chicago this past summer and at Tractus now.
The first thing you really need to understand about working in China is that everything is based on relationships. Everything. It’s not about the bottom line; it’s whether or not the <insert decision maker here> has had dinner at your house and has met your family.
Also, I’ve learned a few nuances that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I really need to start writing them all down, but here are my top three:
1) Always answer your phone even in a meeting — it could be a business opportunity.
2) Everyone smokes…even if you don’t. When offered a cigarette, refuse it and take another from the pack — they always offer their best to you, so it’s polite to take another. Don’t forget to tap with your fingers to say thanks while they light it for you.
3) Never say you can outdrink a Chinese man — you just cannot.
Days before I left the U.S. I met with Dr. Roush, and he sent me off with some Roush-ian advice: Go! One word that encapsulates the drive that made him so successful and the drive he sees in many of us (students and faculty alike) who work so passionately for a better world. Every day we need to get up and go satisfy our itch for intellectual pursuit and success by working hard, cultivating relationships, and becoming a global citizen.
I need to end here for now — Joy Joy wants to head for a second dinner. I’ve enjoyed recounting my experiences so far. For future reference, my plans to travel are extensive including Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. The last three countries will be after fall term before returning for spring term, but I’m already looking forward to them!
by Ross Larson ’16

By |2014-09-18T17:00:55+00:00September 18th, 2014|Asian Studies blog|