Dec - 12 - 2017

Wuhan Travel Log

Introduction

The conclusion of the OU Integrated MBA probram involves leaving the country and completing a consulting engagement with a non-US firm. The OU MBA class of 2010/2011 was fortunate enough to be assigned to go to the city of Wuhan in the People's Republic of China. This is a log of my activities and experienses on that trip.

June 26th, 2011

I have been buying some appropriate clothing (shorts and short-sleeved shirts) for the trip. A number of the other students have already left for China or surrounding areas and we will all meet in Wuhan on June 1st. I have a bit of packing to do, as well as preparing a computer for the trip. I am excited to go, but it feels unreal that it is so close. I guess at some point during the 16+ hour plane flight I will seem quite real.

June 29, 2011 through July 1st, 2011

The trip from Athens to Wuhan was an adventure. Ann and I got up at 5:00 AM and left the house around 5:30. She dropped me off at the Columbus airport around 7:20 AM. My travel partners, Co-MBAs Ryan and Eva, showed up at the gate around 7:40. The transit through security was efficient and uneventful. After waiting for a while, our flight from Columbus to Chicago left on time at 9:25 AM. We were on a regional jet for this hop. When we arrived at Chicago O'Hare we had a short layover until we boarded the 777/300 for the flight to Shanghai. This was a 14.5 hour flight. I watched movies, ate, snacked, watched more movies, read, tried (unsuccessfully) to nap, and repeated the cycle. This went on for about 10 hours. After that, it was simply mind-numbing boredom. I was definitely cabin crazy by the time we landed in Shanghai. Near the end of the flight, Eva was chatting with a very nice Chinese woman that provided some written translations to help us on our journey. In particular, she made a sheet with questions, written in both English and Chinese, to help us find the bus station, train stations, and ticket booths. This turned out to be extremely important. After customs, she even helped us get on the correct bus.

Customs into China was as smooth and efficient as can be imagined. It was no more trouble than going into a European country, and was completed within seconds after making it to the head of the line. Of course the line took 20 minutes, but that's just the way it is.

We took a city bus from the Shanghai airport to the Shanghai Train Station. It was raining. When we asked for help finding a train to Wuhan, a man with an apparent interest in getting us on a bus to Wuhan was insistent and a bit of a pain. We finally made it clear to him that we were going to take the train no matter what he said, and he left us alone. Getting train tickets turned out to be somewhat difficult. The problem was that no one spoke English. This made finding the correct ticket booth and teller a problem. This is when the handy paper provided by the nice woman on the airplane was critical. One quick show of the paper and a non-English-speaking person pointed us to the correct line. We purchased "Soft Sleeper" tickets for the train from Shanghai to the Wuchang district of Wuhan. The tickets were 400 Yuan each (about $60). The problem was that the train to Wuchang did not depart from this station; we needed to get to Shanghai Train Station South. Another person helped us get on the Metro and explained which stop would put us at the correct station. The metro cost trip cost 4 Yuan (about 60 cents).

When we arrived at Shanghai Train Station South, we had to wait about 4 hours before the train's departure time at 9:46PM. By this time, disregarding the fitful half-sleep on the plane, we had been awake for almost 36 hours. We were hot, sweaty, dirty, tired, and starting to become frazzled. When we boarded the train for Wuchang, we all were able to fall asleep almost instantly.

I love travel by night-train. The gentle rocking helps you stay asleep and the bunks are so much more comfortable than trying to sleep in an upright airplane seat. When we awoke it was around 6:30 AM, and we spent about an hour watching the countryside slide by as we finished the trip to Wuhan. There is so much construction going on around Wuhan. There are acres of high-rise apartment buildings, many concrete plants, and lots of old construction being demolished in preparation for more apartments. It seems that they are expecting a migration from the rural areas into the cities in the foreseeable future.

Upon arrival at the Wuhan train station, we exited the platform and got our first bit of food in over 18 hours. We ate at McDonald's. The menu was in Chinese, but there were pictures and we had no problem ordering or paying. From McDonald's, we exited the station and found ourselves in a slight difficulty.

Wuhan is not a very "Westernized" city and there were few English speakers. When we tried to get a taxi to take us to the university (Huazhong University of Science & Technology (HUST)) where we will be doing our consulting project, we were accosted by the usual set of fake taxi drivers. It took persistence, rudeness, and the help of strangers before we were able to identify a reliable ride to HUST. Because of University rules, outside vehicles are not allowed on the campus, so another helpful person provided the needed guidance to get us on the shuttle to the Academic Exchange Center (hotel) where we will be staying.

Overall, it took us 50 grueling hours of travel to get from Athens to our hotel in Wuhan. So, what did I learn during the travel?

First, I learned that China is an amazing country that is industrializing very quickly. I also learned that sometimes the kindness of strangers is the most important thing in the world. Many people gave freely of their time and effort to help us along our way. One of them explained that when she had travelled abroad as a student many strangers had helped her, so he always makes the effort to help strangers in a strange land. This idea of owing gratitude to strangers in the future for help provided by different strangers in the past is perhaps the most amazing thing about being human; this idea of repaying (and perhaps over-paying) a debt of gratitude is a common yet wonderful trait exhibited by people regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, or any other attribute. It is the recognition that we are all in this together.

At the end of the day, we went out for dinner. The food was amazing and I am going to have to work through all of the cafeteria menu options.

July 2nd, 2011

This morning we had our first meeting with our Chinese teammates that will be working with  us on our projects. They are very smart and professional and we are looking forward to working together.

After the orientation and student meeting, several of us went to lunch. The food was amazing as usual (so far). After lunch I left and headed back to the hotel for a nap and trip-log update. On the way back I took a couple of photos. HUST is a beautiful university. This picture shows a typical street scene as I was walking back from lunch.

 

July 3rd, 2011

Today was a fairly relaxing day. We met with our team mates and planned our questions for tomorrow. After that, we had the opening banquet for the project and met our clients. The banquet was at the Ramada Optics Valley Hotel. It was a fantastic experience and we met the students on other teams. I am going to bed early because we are having our business meeting with our client tomorrow.

July 4th, 2011

Today was the business meeting with Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Company. We learned a lot about the client issues and even more about the intricacies of the iron and steel supply chain. Our client took us to lunch in the most amazing 2-story restaurant. There are no superlatives to describe this meal and the conversation. After lunch our conversations went on and the meeting lasted all day. It is wonderful that the WISCO executives have given us so much time, and been very patient as they explain the steel industry to us. We are spending this evening doing research for our meeting tomorrow. We will meet in the morning, and then tour one of the steel mills. I will post photos if we are allowed to take them.

July 5th, 2011

Today we had our second meeting with the client. The WISCO executives and personnel have been very generous with their time and answered all of our questions. This is a fine company that is well managed by excellent business people. After our meeting they arranged a tour of the mill. This is a photograph of one of the hot-rolling machines transforming a steel ingot into a 100 meter train rail for use on the many high-speed rail lines that provide passenger service throughout China.

 

 

In addition to the rolling mills, there were many other amazing sights as we travelled the mill. This is an huge facility. During this part of our tour I met the materials deformation engineer that designs the rollers that shape the steel into various products such as train rails. He was generous with his time, spoke excellent English, and explained the process of making rolled steel products, the detailed operation of each piece of equipment, and the many considerations that go into creating the products.

July 6th through 8th, 2011

These days were spent in team meetings and researching information for our client. We spent time chatting with our Chinese team mates, reviewing information with our faculty, and experiencing HUST. Tonight (the 8th) we are going out to a top-floor restaurant (in the Wuhan Ramada) that revolves and lets us see the city while we enjoy our meal. I'll post photos.

Ok, I'm back from the restaurant. The following image is taken from the restaurant and looking out towards Wuhan.

 

 

Wuhan is a gigantic city that extends very far in all directions and is still under construction. As the restaurant revolved I kept a rough count of tower cranes that were building new buildings. From the restaurant I counted over 30 tower cranes. There is a tremendous amount of construction taking place in Wuhan.

July 9th, 2011

Even though today is Saturday, I decided to stay at HUST and work on our project. I did a bunch of research, ate at the cafeteria and the fake McDonald's, and generally stayed "home." It's funny; just as I typed that I realized that "Fake McDonald's" is not the name of the fast food restaurant where I ate lunch. However, that is how everyone (including the Chinese students) refers to it. The actual name is Yu Yuan Can Ting (Google translate had no idea how to translate it), and it is almost a clone of McDonald's. There are fewer items on the menu, but the "Big Mac" and the double cheeseburger are both near-perfect copies. There are also some other items that seem more "Chinese" in nature. The Big Mac even comes in a box just like McDonald's. This is a picture of the packaging. (we marketing people are always interested in "packaging").

 

 

This is a composite image; the red section in the lower left is a clip from the bottom of the Coca-Cola cup. I like the [propaganda] message. Also, in case the Chinese students are feeling cut-off from the rest of the world and deprived of cheap/crappy food, the note on the Fries box lets them know that they too are getting real "Western Fast Food."

Update: After talking with one of our team mates (who is an "advanced English" student) I learned more about the name of the restaurant. There is an important building in this area of the HUST campus and the building is named "Yu Yuan." It is a proper noun, so it does not have a "meaning." Because of the importance of the building, this area of campus is known as the Yu Yuan area (near Yu Yuan). The "Can Ting" part means "restaurant" (or canteen). So, "Yu Yuan Can Ting" means 'Restaurant in the Yu Yuan area.' Logical, simple, and very much to the point; very Chinese. Also, the message on the Coca-Cola cup, if properly translated, would be "Keep the city clean and the people healthy." The advanced English student noted that she encounters mistranslations very frequently, and that as part of her English classes they take field trips to museums and cultural centers and have contests to see which student can identify the largest number of bad translations. I think it is interesting (and impressive) that they see such humour in the issue.

July 10th through 12th, 2011

These last couple of days (Sunday and Monday) were spent working on our presentation. We are required to do a preview presentation for our faculty so that they can provide constructive feedback and help us deliver maximum value to our clients. The presentation went well, and our faculty provided much valuable feedback that we are incorporating into our presentation.

While the details of the report are confidential, I can share one important point of cultural learning. I built a spreadsheet providing some financial analysis of certain decisions, and I used Excel's conditional formatting to highlight the better choices in green, and the less attractive choices in red. Very western, as green means go, red means stop, and on the stock market we highlight a stock using green or the red depending on if it's moving up or down. This is not correct for China. In Chinese financial matters such as their stock exchange, positive movement is highlighted in red and negative movement is in green. My highlighting had the exact opposite meaning for a Chinese audience! I did not see that coming.

This has been a challenging project but I think we will deliver good value to our client. We were up late (actually early) into Tuesday morning, and did the presentation at 8:30AM. Now we are all tired and planning to nap before incorporating the feedback.

July 13th, 2011

We spent the day working on our presentation. Starting at 8:30AM the we did a work-eat-work-eat cycle until 11:00PM, at which point we declared it "done." and went to bed.

July 14th, 2011

Today the WISCO teams (there are two WISCO teams working on two different assignments) boarded the bus at 8:30AM, did our presentations, ate lunch in the WISCO cafeteria, and returned to HUST about 1:00PM. The presentations went well. Next we have to write a summary of our finding and turn them in to our professors. This assignment is the last assignment of the MBA program, and of my college career. It's nice to be done.

July 15th, 2011

This is the originally scheduled presentation day, and the non-WISCO teams are making their presentations this morning. The WISCO teams slept in, and then spend a leisurely morning and afternoon hanging out at HUST. I sent for a walk in the campus garden and photographed the lotus pond. In classic 'Bobcat style', we are all going out to the clubs tonight to celebrate the end of the program and, for many of the younger students, the beginning of non-school life.The following image is taken from the lotus garden near our hotel.

 

July 16th and 17th, 2011

I'm writing this on the morning on the 17th. The night at the clubs (Vox and Favor Club) were fun. Vox is a downscale techno club that was featuring the band "Eat Alien's Brain." The Favor Club was fairly upscale with good drinks a professional singer covering international electro-pop. We had a great time; there were some casualties. We were all tired on the morning of the 16th because we did not get to bed until between 3:00AM and 4:00AM. Most of us got up around 7:00 to get on the bus to the airport. I have been traveling with two friends (Eva and Ryan) and our plane to he U.S. does not leave until the afternoon of the 18th. When we planned the trip (in March) we expected to take a train from Wuhan to Shanghai so we left an extra day to allow for train-travel issues without missing our flight back. However, in Wuhan we picked up plane tickets to Shanghai that were cheaper than the train. Since we no longer had a ten-hour train ride we booked a hotel. When you enter "Shanghai Airport Hotel" into Expedia, sort by price, and book the lowest nightly rate, you get what you deserve, and it will not be in the best part of town.

We asked the taxi drive to take us to the hotel and he had never heard of it. We gave him the address on a sheet of paper, and he started driving. When we got there, the address belonged to a muffler shop at the front-end of what looked like a low-end self-storage converted into a permanent flea market. After much yelling we got out of the cab, paid, and hoped for the best. It felt a little like the first scene of a horror movie and, as it turns out, that feeling was not too far off of the mark.

This hotel is situated between an elevated highway, a muffler shop, and an area of Shanghai that looks like the photographs of the Vietnamese city of Hue circa February '68. The front desk personnel pretend to speak English, but after a few minutes of talking with them about "where is a good place to eat" you find yourself in a circular conversation. Expect to get a lot of "yes" answers to non-yes-no questions. It's a bit like how I would imagine an interview with Slingblade's retarded little brother. There is no hot water. The view from the room window is of a courtyard whose bottom is the roof of the first floor, and which is surrounded by the windows of other rooms. We have not seen any other guests. We tried to find the restaurant which was noted to be on the 7th floor. We got in the elevator and noticed that the highest number was 6. After much circular conversation, the front-desk lady led us up the elevator to the 6th floor, then up the emergency exit stairs to the 7th which, as it turns out, is the roof. This is where the restaurant is located. It is in a large (for a roof) structure and it actually pretty nice. To be fair, the circular conversations are probably as frustrating for the hotel personnel as they are for us.

When we walked into the restaurant the staff was sitting around the bar chatting. They looked startled that anyone walked through the door, and I don't think they have seen white people before. Imagine trying to order a "Jim Beam and Coke" by communicating through charades. I do have to give them this: When you ask for a little Jim they pour half of a glass. I hope to stay drunk so that when the natives come to murder us I will be able to see the humour in it. We ordered the spaghetti. The sauce had a funny taste, and the noodles had a greenish cast. I remember thinking "Soylent Green is People," but deciding that I'll take my chances eating the food inside the hotel instead of becoming the food outside the hotel. In 24 hours we should be on the plane home. It's sad when you are looking forward to airplane food.

We went for a walk on the surrounding streets and everyone was looking at us the way a Rottweiler looks at a pork-chop. I thought Atlanta had no-go neighbourhoods, but this is beyond my experience. I was starting to think I had the word "pay-day" tattooed to my forehead. I became paranoid and returned to the hotel.

We have decided to hole-up in our rooms and live on Oreos and room-service Soylent-green spaghetti until the armoured personnel carrier comes to take us to the Airport. "Weapons? We don't need weapons, we need evacuation."

I kid you not; we awoke this morning to what sounded like a mixture of gunfire and a dump truck load of gravel being dropped into a dumpster from the roof. The noise went on for about 10 minutes. At first I thought either the building was collapsing or we really were under attack. It turns out that there was an 11:30AM firecracker festival in the parking lot. What a way to wake up in the DMZ. I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning... I was wondering if this is the signal to the zombies that there is fresh meat in the hotel.

Later on the 17th.

In a move fit for the bronze star, Ryan went out for a walk. He had been gone for over an hour and Eva and I were wondering to what to do if he was not back by dinner. I'm not sure of the etiquette around getting on an airplane minus one member of your travel party. Eva and I agreed that we will talk with Slingblade's little brother about contacting the police if he does not show up, but we are leaving tomorrow Ryan or not.

Ryan showed up about 90 minutes after he left. He had all of his parts and a bag of (real!) McDonald's food. After a couple of drinks he led us out to shop in Hue and the surrounding area. Once we got past the "bad area" and into civilization (about a 10 minute walk) Shanghai is pretty nice as large cities go. We saw a lot of stuff, people, restaurants, shops, and the sorts of things you see in a large city. It was difficult to balance the useless paranoia of being in a strange place and the useful paranoia regarding the real issues of being in a large city (on any continent).

I did not mention this in the HUST section above, but at the school there were many (as in bunches) of electric motor scooters. In fact, most of the vehicles on the campus were electric. I assumed that this was unique to the university, but that is not the case. Now that we are in Shanghai I am seeing even more electric vehicles. The following photograph shows a typical scene in front of the KFC where we ate dinner.

 

Almost every one of these scooters is electric. You can tell from the large "hub motor" in the center of the back wheel. If there is a hub motor and no chain then it is electric. Also, the small three-wheeled bicycle taxi (the purple vehicle to the left) is also electric with peddle assist. At any given moment in China you can see more electric vehicles than I have ever seen in the U.S. Try this Google link for more info. They are way ahead on this!

On the way back to our hotel, I stopped in one of the shops in the "bad area" and bought some tea cups as gifts for my wife and a friend. As for this morning's firecracker party, it looks like there was a wedding reception or something like that. The following photograph documents the amount of fire-cracker paper left over by the morning 'attack.'

 

There were no zombies, and the 'bad part' of town turns out to be livable. We went into a store for groceries. The store did not have lights so the shopkeeper followed us around with a flashlight and shined it wherever we looked. It made reading the prices and identifying the food much easier than fumbling around in the dark, but it was strange to shop in an unlighted grocery store.

We are leaving in the morning and will head back to the U.S. I really will miss China when I get back to the states. China is a great country with wonderful people, and I would be happy to return again in the future. This was also an excellent and exciting way to finish my MBA. I have to hand it to OU COB; they sure know how to put the cherry on top.


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