Off to Work – Cheetah Mobile and Microsoft: Day 4

“Make the World Smarter”

Today was our first day of company visits. First, we boarded our beloved bus and drove across Beijing to Cheetah Mobile, an app software company. Cheetah Mobile produces cell phone utility apps, games, and other content apps. Upon our arrival, we saw a fairly modern building with a sizable lawn sprinkled with patios, waterways, and large, cute, vaguely cartoon-like cheetahs. Several employees and our hosts welcomed us into their workplace, a meshing of wood, metal, and orange colors. We convened in a conference room, where we were offered small snacks and treats as well as beverages from the company café. A little version of the big cheetahs on the lawn awaited us as plushy gifts from the company.

The representatives from Cheetah Mobile introduced us to their company vision and aim with two dramatic but artistic videos. Next, the CEO of the China branch of Cheetah explained the company and its products with both quantitative and qualitative information. I learned quite a lot about multinational apps companies, the ensuing market competition, and the need to be continuously developing products.

At the conclusion of the CEO’s speech, several representatives from the company gave us a tour of their work facilities. They called it a “factory tour,” which took me by surprise because the facilities don’t resemble the stereotypical factory. Instead, clusters of long tables throughout the building with office space for each employee comprised the “factory;” I had honestly envisioned China as a big Industrial Revolution-type factory, but the visit to this company proved otherwise. Cheetah Mobile, in the tour, focused a lot on showing us elements of their work environment and other pieces of life represented in their working quarters. For example, they had an in-house gym, supermarket, cat room, and karaoke room, among other amenities.

Cheetah Mobile gave me the impression of a young, millennial workforce largely composed of the tech type – engineers and computer science (60% of 2000 employees in the Beijing center) – although they do employ business people in marketing and other areas.

“Inspire, Innovate, Envision”

After having lunch at a restaurant tucked into an enormous mall, our group toured the China headquarters of Microsoft. The cool technology wowed me; our host demonstrated and explained the company’s products and their intended function in real world applications. We viewed Microsoft Translator, a primitive iteration of Microsoft Surface, Microsoft Office, HoloLens, and Azure, which is a supercomputer platform. I had the opportunity to try out the HoloLens, which was quite fun.

Microsoft impressed me with their software technology and the polish and distinction with which they presented who the company is and what their vision for the future is. One tidbit that I learned about was the competition of the domestic Chinese market. Although Microsoft approached us with a very sleek and technological pitch, I had some trouble imagining where some of their products fit in the scheme of everyday life and the average user. I could understand how HoloLens might be useful in adding interactive depth in industry, particularly for engineers, but I didn’t comprehend how it would be incorporated effectively into the average person’s daily routine. Additionally, using Beijing traffic and air quality illustrated how a super-computing cloud like Azure could analyze and synthesize big data to facilitate valuable interaction with the data, but I would have liked to have seen more examples of the capabilities and utility of Azure.

“I say no, you say no, so I give you this price”

Shortly following our return from the Microsoft visit, most of our group accompanied Jordan, William, and Dr. Li to the Silk Market. When people had talked about the markets, I imagined an outdoor flea market with stall after stall selling the fake versions of designer items as well as tourist souvenirs and trinkets. Instead, it was a tall indoor market with about five floors, though each floor wasn’t very expansive. I sought after some Beijing t-shirts and put my bartering skills to the test. I arguably failed. The vendor offered me three shirts for about $100 US dollars, but I was eventually able to bring him down to just under $30 USD for two. I very well could have dropped the price further, but I messed up my strategy.

Sabrina’s Helpful Hints for Bargaining in Chinese Markets:

  1. The first price that the vendor offers will most likely be outrageously high. As a courtesy of Dr. Li, your counteroffer should be insultingly low. This is where I messed up. In my first time bargaining, my first counteroffer was the price that I wanted to pay, so I had prematurely condemned myself to pay a higher price than I desired. After the initial offer and counteroffer, you and the vendor go back and forth until you land on a price that you both can agree on.
  2. If you can’t find a price that you agree on, make the move to walk out of the store. It’s probable that the vendor will relent and offer a lower price because they want your money.
  3. Don’t let the vendors see how much money you’re carrying. I kept my wallet close to me and upright when fishing for money to pay, only removing what I needed.
  4. As Jordan advised us, you shouldn’t wear or bring anything that implies that you have money because, as a foreigner, it’s already more likely that the vendors will hike up the prices for you.

Food Adventures

Feeling the sting of disappointment in my bargaining, we returned to the block housing the hotel. Chloe, Angeline, Sophie, and I embarked on an adventure to a nearby 7-Eleven to pick up snacks and food. I bought some green tea chocolate and a Hershey’s chocolate bar, both of which I have not yet tried. I did try a Snickers bar on the first day, and it seemed to have less caramel, not as much sweet sugar, and more peanut butter, which I found appealing.

I realized that throughout the day, although lunch was absolutely delicious, I was beginning to crave familiar food. I couldn’t bring myself to eat another meal of Chinese food because all I wanted was to taste something American for dinner. To solve the problem, we stopped by KFC. I split a chicken bucket with Sophie and ordered a red bean pie from KFC and a taro pie from McDonald’s. I also got a pineapple pie at McDonald’s, but I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to eat it. The chicken bucket was a surprising specimen. I expected to see a large bucket of fried chicken in our take-out bag, but what we received was a small bucket with two chicken wings, several chicken nuggets, a smattering of popcorn chicken, and a handful of unsalted, if not lightly salted, fries. The food was satisfying as the taste of chicken and fries reminded me of home, and the general lack of salt was a welcome change from the over-salted palette of America.

End of the Day Reflections

The company visits provided me with an idea of commerce, engineering, and practical industry in China. The multinational aspects of Cheetah Mobile and Microsoft attested to different qualities in each company. For Cheetah Mobile, going international was a result of a potential market abroad outside of the fierce competition in China. At Microsoft, setting up a headquarters in China was a consequence of attaining status as a multinational company that could compete and take advantage of the markets, intellectual capital, and resources in China.

Riding on the professional and cultural observations that I made through company visits and food today, I’m looking forward to more cultural site visits tomorrow.

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