November 13 2013
CHINA – Crossroads of modern civilization – Sumaya Shakir
En route to San Francisco after an amazing trip to China, images of sky high Shanghai buildings, beautiful architecture, never ending shops/vendors, stylish malls with famous fashion houses, people of all walks of life, futurist infrastructure of railway/metro system, granite public benches across Nanjing road, aroma of Chinese street food and people performing Tai Chi on public squares are now playing like a movie on repeat in my mind. This was far from what I had expected before boarding my flight to China. China is the cradle of cross culture modern civilization of the traditional east and modern west.
The first impression was of shock and awe. Shocked, because I did not expect China to be so advanced. The first impression was at the airport itself which was so modern and had all facilities and modern architecture in sharp contrast to the unkempt Seattle international airport where I boarded my flight to China. More than anything the cleanliness of the city was impressive. For a country with the size of 1.2 billion population and which went through numerous revolts and revolution up until half a century ago, China has done a great job in moving ahead with owning the world's market. It has reformed and is competing with first world countries. The second jaw dropping moment came in while driving to the hotel from the airport, aside from the traffic, the huge brand named stores and malls that lined the roads was a real sight to see. Even Silicon Valley where many of the world’s millionaires live do not have the brand name stores that Beijing has. Definitely there is excess of wealth and first class millionaires in Shanghai and Beijing. The new expensive cars, clean streets, maintenance of law and order, efficient subway system are some of the other highlights that I was impressed with. The real impression came when we visited the village near the Great Wall where there was solar technology used to provide power to the villagers and the large school. The village school was much better looking than some of the schools in Silicon Valley.
What the world has done, it can be replicated in China, the ‘Made In China” stamp is one that is immortal. Along the way to visit Agilent, there were almost every single high tech company buildings lining the main road. From Apple, HP, Cisco, etc, every tech giant has established presence in China after all that’s were their bread and butter is made.
China’s open markets is definitely one of its attractions with hundreds of vendors selling almost replica of everything with a price that can be bargained 1000% lower. Fake Monte Blanc pens, Dr.Beats headsets, luxury handbags, etc . The store owners are creative about selling in black market by having hidden store/back rooms and luring the customers with catalogs on the street. One can pick the latest Alexander McQueen design and the tailor can make it in less than one hour. This showed how much the regular worker was willing to put himself just to earn his living. Yes, the Chinese are industrious even if it means stealing intellectual rights. When there is a population of 1.2 billion to feed, intellectual rights does not seem like a big ethical issue. It is obvious the government has not done much to prevent pirated and fake goods to be sold in open markets.
It was interesting to see how successful companies had to change their strategy to do business in China and those who did not clearly failed The tour to Walmart and Carrefour was a better illustration of this. To thrive in China, you have to think , breathe, live and thrive like how a Chinese would.
Witnessing the haves and the have-nots of China, it is no different than the rich and poor in the United States except that for such huge population, the number of have-nots is more and is definitely more obvious. It was also interesting to learn during one of the company visits as to how the government was stepping in to provide services for its senior citizens but at the same how the government can maintain law and order and a stable government that changes only once in 10 years is interesting. I could not gauge the level of corruption but reading a few stories I know it exists. I was even angry at how much the Chinese government controls individuals life in the name of communism. Chinese government restricts the freedoms of speech, movement, excess internet censorship and religion of Chinese citizens.
Cost of living is definitely higher in Beijing/Shanghai compared to United States for the same grocery products. I am assuming it could be because the products are capitalizing on the brand and the elite Chinese or expats. Likewise the below average chain stores in the US like McDonalds, Pizza Hut are all glorified restaurants in China.
China with its excess human capital has transformed itself to a super economic power in the last few decades. Language and culture barrier has not stopped China from doing business with the rest of the world. It is quickly changing its image from just being the communist manufacturing hub of the world to being a land of opportunity for innovation. Already the rest of the world is adapting on how to deal with China’s customs and traditions in order to do business in China.
In closing thoughts, China, from my eyes definitely is an eye candy for someone looking to experience a myriad of culture and make a remarkable career or even start out as an entrepreneur. China is transforming at a faster rate; if it implements its strategy well, very soon the world will need to catch up with China. Given the opportunity to work and live in China I would definitely consider it atleast as an expat but now I will keep the memories of my early morning jog on Nanjing road as a memory before it fades into oblivion.