We visit the Beijing Steel Company and take a tour of the facilities. As this was our first business visit on the trip we didn't know what to expect. I was a little disappointed that we didn't really learn anything about the operations or get to meet with any of the business leaders. We simply watched a movie, were led through a museum and took a tour of the facilities. I didn't really feel this was beneficial to me as an MBA in any way, but it was neat to see. The steel mill was so hot and dusty – I am amazed that people work in this environment all day long and can still breathe! After just 30 minutes in the mill my clothes were covered in a fine layer of soot and the dust was in my nose, ears and mouth. I also found the scenery interesting – it was a juxtaposition of serene pagodas with steam towers and steel refining machinery.
In the afternoon we are granted a few hours of free time. We left the hotel in a group of about 10 with the intention of going together for lunch. We walked through a street market and I literally gagged from the smell of rotting food. There were buckets of seafood sitting in the sun with no ice and rotting vegetables, as well as some very pungent cooked food, one of which I learned was fermented tofu – ick! Several of the tour mates were making snide comments about China, the food and the people and my hackles went up. I was so sad and frustrated that they would be dismissing the culture after a mere three days and would be taking about how KFC was the only decent place to eat in the city. Rather than saying anything Meredith and I simply took a cab to the Silk Road Market. Once there we ran into Alain and Steve and had a lovely meal – probably my favorite of the whole trip as there were fresh vegetables and the ability to choose our own dishes. The snow peas with cashews were divine!
After, we spent about 2 hours shopping and haggling with the merchants. I am usually not one to do a lot of bargaining but after a little bit I found it to be fun and made a bit of a game out of getting the best deal. I was also surprised by the boldness of the merchants – they would corner us in a shop or grab your arm trying to persuade you to look at their items or scream at you as you walked away. I managed to get some really odd art pieces, a messenger bag and a tee shirt. Wish I had more time.
For dinner we tried Peking Duck, which was delicious but very fatty and rich – I could only handle a few small pieces of the meat. We celebrated Zach's 19th birthday with a toast and some very light delicious cake. He was presented the duck heads as a special treat. Alain ate the cheeks and said they were divine. After the group dinner a few of us headed out for a night of drinking back in Hu Yung. We ended up in a basement club where a girl was dancing on a pole and we paid about $80 US for a bottle of Smirnoff vodka – yikes! We had fun but there were definitely some hurting people the next day on the bus!
At dinner David encouraged us to make some cultural observations – Which culture do you like better – US or China? Should we adapt, should they? Should we meet in the middle? I believe that America could learn much from an ancient culture like China – we are such a young country and are isolated in many ways. I think there are certainly things we have advantages over, but I enjoy both cultures. Overall, I would change little about the Chinese culture – I found the people to be incredibly warm and welcoming, and I appreciate the rich history and willingness/ability to continue to learn from it. I think that China is in a bit of a weird spot politically and we will probably see some major changes as the younger generation grows up and takes control. I hope that they do not lose touch with the culture and become completely Americanized – fast food, materialistic, arrogant, etc. Although, I really do think our toilets are better. ;) I also like to refer to the traffic in China as controlled chaos – there is little regard to the rules, with people driving against traffic signals, weaving around cars and taking turns whenever, but it somehow seems to flow and there are relatively few accidents.