Today, we traversed more of the vast expanse that is the city of Beijing. On the way, I noticed that the buildings in this city aren’t a continuous line along the street like in many places of the United States. Some of the buildings are set in from the street, while some of their neighbors might not be. I suppose the distinction between individual buildings gives me the impression of space. Chloe, Sophie, and I noted that many of the buildings are different from each other, instead of chunks of uniform buildings in a line. We also observed that there aren’t really any houses or townhouses in the city; instead, there are clusters of high rises poking up behind shops, complexes, and other buildings.
The end of the hour and a half bus ride dropped us at the Central University for Finance and Economics (CUFE), the 12th best school in the Chinese nation. The organizer, a very friendly lady, welcomed us and showed us into a lecture room in one the university’s halls. I immediately remarked in my mind the difference in the desks. In place of individual desks, there were three sections in the hall with long tables stretching across each section, and the room sloped upward to create tiered seating. Directly behind each table were folding seats that extended to the length of the table. Thus, if someone in the middle seat wanted to exit, everyone on one side of that person would have to get up and file out of the row. I also saw that the rooms were not very decorated. Each classroom that I saw was equipped with projectors, projecting screens, chalkboards, and a podium, with white, scuffed walls as well as windows.
Commerce in the Smartphone Age
In this classroom, we heard two speakers. The first, Dr. Kai Yao, presented on the “Smartphone Business and E-Commerce in China.” He introduced China’s smartphone business, discussed the supply chain, compared the traditional markets of the United States and China, talked about the growth and prevalence of e-commerce in China, and touched upon personalized marketing online.
From this lecture, I found out some interesting and surprising information. The number of Internet users and of mobile phone users in China has grown extensively, almost to the point where the two categories are on par in numbers. A significant portion (55%) of Chinese Internet users utilize mobile payments, compared to 19% among Americans. Apparently, in China, smartphones are much more common and useful than PCs and laptops, and the Internet is better serviced and more robustly employed on smartphones.
Huawei, a mobile phone company in China that is similar to Samsung and Apple iPhone, manufactures a lot of their product in China, but their supply chain shows that they source the majority of their supplies abroad, with the US at 32% (largest supplier) and China at 30% (domestic supplies).
The supermarkets in China have more narrow aisles, smaller shopping carts, and more frequent use of baskets. The Chinese don’t typically purchase a lot at supermarkets, certainly not on the stockpile scale of the American shopper. This is because the family size in China is usually around three people, because there are fewer cars per 1000 people – meaning that there aren’t as many cars to drive to the market as there are people going, not to mention the abysmal traffic from the sheer number of people who do have cars – and the supermarkets are usually located in the centers of cities where they are accessible by other means of transportation that would consequently limit how much can be carried home.
Additionally, e-commerce in China is booming. As Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, said, e-commerce in China is a “lifestyle.” The number of Internet users has exploded, and given the large, dense population, having purchases – including groceries – delivered to your door is convenient and much easier. What got me was that people even buy milk online. E-commerce in the United States is nowhere near the scale as in China.
With the spike in e-commerce, online retailers are using personalized marketing to provide Internet users with one-on-one advertisements based on their own observed preferences.
The Foreigner’s Guide to China
Next up, an American who has been living and teaching in China gave us his foreigner’s guide to China. He talked about points from the more consistent cellular service in China, since there is one major service provider, to the intimate dynamic of smaller cities where everyone knows you and your business, to jobs for Chinese in America versus Americans in China due to the differences in perceived educational prestige. On the last point, the speaker explained that in America, the Chinese take jobs that Americans don’t want, but in China, Americans take the jobs that the Chinese can’t get because of the disparities in skills and the nature of university degrees in each country.
Dining Hall Deluxe: Food and Friends
We had another lazy Susan style lunch, this time with the speakers, the university coordinator for our program today, and students from the university. I talked with one of the students, who was sitting next to me, and we discussed a variety of topics. He told me about the different kinds of mushrooms in our lunch because I was asking what the different foods were, and we compared music and sports. He frequently used his phone to look up pictures to show me, especially when I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. I found it interesting that he thought that the ideal, handsome male body type was that of the American football player. He also told me that there isn’t much of a party culture in China and essentially that the university kids are very studious. He noted that the lifestyle of the American student is “more attractive” than the lifestyle of a Chinese student. He wishes that he could have more freedom like American students because he feels that the university and parents give warnings and mandates to students in China, but he believes that he is capable of taking care of himself because he’s an adult who understands what to and not to do.
The Lay of the Land
After lunch, we took a tour of campus. We first stopped at the library, which was marvelous and equipped with machines that enable students to reserve seats in the library and ones that serve as book check out and return stations. The library was spacious and looked polished with the metal and glass, but comfortable and inviting with the wooden bookshelves and paneling.
We continued to walk around the campus and came across the exercise facilities. Many students were on the soccer fields, track, and in the streets practicing sports and martial arts, presumably for their physical education class. Many in our group tried out some of the purple and yellow exercise equipment in the one area, which reminded me more of children’s play equipment in a park since it was brightly colored and looked like fun.
The Jump Rope of My Childhood
Turning a corner and walking a little farther, we came to a stretch of road where we set down our bags and prepared to jump rope with the students. Even Dr. Li jumped in! We played several jumping games, and it was a blast to end a fun and eye-opening day at CUFE.
Broadcasting After Today’s Featured Programming
The bus brought us back to hotel, but a group of us, with Dr. Li, Frances, and William, went to a nearby shop that sold all sorts of candy. I bought a bag of candy and some green tea. Back at the hotel, I tried some candy, most of which had some sort of gummy or chewy quality. I’ll have to try some more before I decide how I feel about it.
For dinner, we ate as a group at another restaurant in the mall. It served food in a large quantity of small plates. There was a lot of pork, which I don’t eat, but I was still able to eat the vegetables and fruits as well as a little bit of duck and fish. I very much enjoyed the dessert, a flaky shortbread-type of mound with sesame seeds on top and peanut butter in the middle.
In the evening, Hanna, Lauren, Robert, Justin, Shaymi, and I attempted to buy a ticket and ride the subway, as per the guidance of Frances. We stopped at Qianmen Street, a beautifully lighted street filled with brightly lit and colored shops, restaurants, and other spots like Madame Tussaud’s and which commenced at an archway with golden lights.
The street pulled us in, but after many minutes of distraction and window-shopping, we made our way towards Laoshe Teahouse. We first misguidedly ventured down a side street, which gave a view through the back door of Beijing into the lives and livelihoods of people off of the main roads. So far, we’ve seen many stray dogs, especially on that road in particular. The locals walking down the street didn’t appear to take pictures of us foreigners with the frequency and veracity of the people in the shops and on the main streets.
One U-turn and more walking later, the group of us arrived at the teahouse. The décor was done in a traditional style, and the private tea rooms edging an adjoining indoor courtyard were gorgeous. The decorations featured a birdbath-style pond with fish and hanging birdcages with pretty little tweeting birds. A woman played what I think is a Chinese Zither (Guzheng) at the other end of the small courtyard. The green tea that we selected was steeped and served in individual cups and was quite good until it steeped too much and became bitter. The teahouse was surprisingly more expensive than we had expected, but the relaxation, camaraderie, and tea made for a worthwhile experience.
End of the Day Note
Today was the day that I finally had the opportunity to explore Beijing outside of Plus3 hours, and the programming for the day, as well as our evening excursion, augmented the knowledge and experience that I have acquired back at home over the years and on site in China so far. The in-country encounters have been eye-opening and thought-provoking, and at this rate, I am certain that the Plus3 China trip to come will be valuable in my cultural and professional development.