Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day Nine Shanghai

We have our first free morning, but only a few hours. We go to a local market to do some shopping and have a quick lunch before reconvening at the hotel to head to Jin Mao tower. We meet a few junior high boys that help us to find the market we were looking for, and they were very cute with their giggling and trying to speak English. It was nice that people seemed to go out of their way to help us.

At the tower a group of kids come marching out of the building on some sort of tour, and they wave and yell “Hello” to us all. Beyond cute! We take the 30 second ride to the 88th floor of the tower and have 360 degree views of the city. It's pretty smoggy so hard to see but it's clearly a huge sprawling city full of high-rises. The tops of the residential areas are painted red and blue, but I don't get a clear answer why from Simon. We get a free pearl at the gift shop.

Next we are shuttled to the EF / English First offices as a substitute for our scheduled visit with an auto manufacturing firm. At this point, everyone is cranky and the joke of the day is that they are going to try to sell us another trip. Instead, they give us a presentation that ends with a slide that says “Buy a Franchise” and I think the entire room groaned. After this we are encouraged to speak with some of the students at the office, and I feel like we are simply there to offer free English practices to the students which is frustrating. After being scolded for being too loud, a couple of us escape and wander across the street to the mall. I feel guilty for not being more interested in the students, but I am thrilled to have a moment in the real city.

The mall is not anything like the markets, and is a huge commercial place completely packed with people. It's literally difficult to move around the giant mall through the throngs of people. Near the food court there is a bottle neck at a row of computer screens. We discovered that it's an automated ordering kiosk for the food court shops – the customers select their meals and snacks and pay there, then pick up their food at the counter. Very efficient.

We have a very short break after this trip for free time, which we use to get foot massages at a small parlor. The proprietors do not speak of lick of English so it’s comical to communicate. The woman asks us if we are French and when we tell her we are American she exclaims “Obama!” and then points to one of the guys and says “Chinese Obama.” On the way out she shakes my hand and says “Thank you very, very much.” Again, I am delighted by the warmth of the locals.

We meet with Alain's friend Tim who discusses life in Shanghai. He seems to genuinely love the country and the city of Shanghai and talks a little about the daily life, the political challenges and the challenges as a manager. I wish that we had more time for this visit and had not wasted time at EF – I felt like I actually learned something about the business culture in China. All the business visits were basic at best and offered little in the way of learning. Listening to Tim actually made me want to move to China!! It’s unfortunate that the most relevant learning experiences we had were on our own and not part of our tour.

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