Swimming in the Deep End
Today’s adventure took us to Yangshan Deep Water Port, the world’s biggest container port. On the bus ride to the port, speaker Mac Sullivan works as the Greater China Trade Lane Manager (Transpacific) for Toll Global Forwarding, a logistics company that deals with international freight forwarding and supply chain management. At first, I feared that the port and the discussion on logistics would be painfully uninteresting, but today’s programming ended up being one of my favorite professional activities of the trip. The introduction and detailed explanations regarding the logistics and shipping industries on the way to the port and afterwards on the way to lunch served as fantastic context for the port visit and for supply chain operations.
To preface what we learned, a logistics company for shipments is largely involved in deciding the shipment routes, the means of transportation, and the companies contracted to physically ship or store the product. Basically, a freight forwarding logistics company is the brains behind getting stuff shipped from one place to another.
Mac proposed a scenario – shipping ketchup for Heinz from China to Pittsburgh – and extrapolated it in order to exemplify the points he discussed. Mac gave each of us a handout that touched upon everything from the types of transportation, terms of sale, units of measurement for cargo containers, entities involved in the logistics supply chain, opportunities and trends in logistics, and his personal tips for success. Not only did he mention each of these topics as well as their subtopics, but he also dredged out the ins and outs of the logistics industry and all sorts of variables and factors that might be involved in a shipment. Mac even listed the materials that the logistics customer needs to prepare so that they can have a quote and mode of transportation processed in addition to what the freight forwarder looks at when deciding what modes of transportation will best convey the shipment.
Since this lecture covered a very different aspect of commerce in China, I decorated Mac’s double-sided handout in purple notes. Mac even worked in an exercise to get us thinking about how smartphones could be utilized in freight forwarding and logistics (think: tracking container shipments). I would share a lot of what I learned, but there is so much information here that also ties in with other pieces that it would likely require many words and much time to explain. I will, however, talk a little more about the ketchup scenario to give you an idea of what I learned. Based on my personal observations, ketchup can be stored unopened at room temperature for a while. Thus, in some given circumstance, ocean transport would cost less for long distance shipping versus air transport, but it will require more time in transit. To maximize the volume of ketchup shipped by sea, opting for full container load (FCL) makes the most sense because you would be shipping only ketchup in bulk. This shipment could either be sailed to Los Angeles or to New York City. Shipping to Los Angeles will need less time and will probably cost less, but then the overland transportation to Pittsburgh will be farther and will be more expensive than from New York. The progression of the ketchup scenario illustrates a lot of the considerations that go into planning freight shipments, but I found this scenario and Mac’s lecture to be very educational overall.
Arriving at the port, we had to pass over one of the world’s longest bridges, which links mainland China to an offshore island where the port is located. Approaching our stop at Yangshan Port after crossing the bridge, Mac pointed out the new port development site. In two months’ time earlier this year, the Chinese government had added a fairly large extension to the port. In Pittsburgh, two months’ time might yield a torn-up road with part of a foundation laid. The astoundingly fast construction project in China raised the idea of emphasis on efficiency in China. In several ways, from this construction project to the widespread use of mobile payments, China runs more efficiently than the United States, although it is critical to keep in mind that each country has different modes and methods of operation and that each exhibits varying levels of certain characteristics in a range of contexts; what I mean by this is that the countries’ differences can factor significantly into how each place operates.
I’ve never seen a port in person – at least, not that I remember – but it was massive. The port stretched so far down the shoreline that I couldn’t see a discernable end. Twenty foot containers (teu – twenty-foot equivalent unit) and forty foot containers (feu – forty-foot equivalent unit) sat in stacks all down the strip of the port. Right along the water stood tall crane structures; from the white boxes capping the structure, workers manning the crane could load and unload containers from cargo ships. As we scoped and scanned the port from an observation deck positioned atop a slope, I could watch as workers loaded a resting ship. Mac said that in one day, a ship could be loaded and sent on its way.
To prepare for a ship bringing cargo or awaiting a cargo load, a customs clearance process must be undertaken. In response to my question, Mac explained that the customs clearance process can be very complicated; logistics personnel, countries involved in the route, and companies must consider the reputations of the shipping company and of the product’s company, what is being shipped, where it’s going, and where it’s coming from. For example, the US has blacklisted countries and so must ensure that ships coming into port have not had any affiliation with a blacklisted country on their routes. Another interesting but concerning point is that the sheer number of containers at a port makes it very hard to check and account for the contents in every one of them in spite of the product’s company’s report on what it is the company is shipping.
I learned that China imports quite a bit of food, baby food, makeup, and health and safety products from places like the United States. Several years ago, some bad baby food produced in China killed a number of small children, which made the Chinese people very wary and drove them to import baby food. Amusingly, China likes imported goods to the point of “U-turn shipments.” In a U-turn shipment, the Chinese will load a ship and send it on its way, only to have it turn around and come back to port so that the goods can be processed as imports.
Night of the Living Purple Lasagna
The end of our time at the port heralded lunchtime. The bus drove us to a mall where we dined at a restaurant overlooking the outskirts of Shanghai. Several of my classmates mentioned after lunch that they weren’t fans of the meal, including the “purple lasagna.” This meal wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed the purple lasagna. I think that the “purple” might have been a mash of taro, which is a starchy vegetable similar to a sweet potato, all topped with a layer of what I presumed was cheese. The purple lasagna delighted my eyes with its rich, abnormal color, and the taste pleased my taste buds.
At the end of lunch, my Plus3 group made its way back to the hotel. Here, my four-person group and I took a short break and convened in the bar lounge on some comfortable couches and seats. The four of us – Shreyas, Hayley, Eli, and I – resolved to research the key facets of a business plan and to review the requirements for our final project with the goal of thinking through, discerning, and typing up all of our information in a Word document before calling it a day on our work.
The Solo Saga
I didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon and evening, but as a more introverted person who’s been spending almost every waking hour with the whole Plus3 group or with the friend group, I needed some time to be alone, to reflect, and to refresh. To bide my time until I figured out how I was feeling and what I wanted to do, I ate a small Oreo cheesecake from the patisserie and worked on my blogs while sitting in the lobby.
Sophie decided that she, like me, didn’t feel like being with a big group of people today, so we opted to walk around the French concession and forage for a snack and possibly dinner. Another random observation that I’ve made as a compilation of multiple occasions is that the locals are very insistent on alerting you about an untied shoe. As Sophie and I crossed the street near the hotel, I noticed that my shoe was untied, but I wanted to wait until getting to the sidewalk before tying it. After I noticed this, someone beside me pointed and wagged her finger at my shoe, saying something that I couldn’t understand, until I smiled, nodded, and indicated that I was aware of my free-spirited shoelaces.
Anyways, Sophie and I discovered a little bakery not far down the block from the hotel. We entered to the sound of a worker greeting us with “good morning,” though the sun was beginning to descend. Selecting a pan au chocolat (chocolate croissant), a generously large corn muffin, and a juice drink for Sophie, we sat in a cozy, cushy corner of the tiny bakery and vented, chatted, and made jokes. The corn muffin imposter’s true identity was a delicious egg muffin. The muffin consequently startled me a bit at first, but the guest star crumbled into curiously sweet chunks of egg. The two of us determined that we would have to return to this bakery at least once before leaving China.
I didn’t exactly want to return to the hotel quite yet, but Sophie and I chose to meander back towards the hotel. We ended up walking in the opposite direction for several minutes but eventually circled back, enjoying the walk in the warm twilight and observing the businesses, restaurants, and residences that we passed. On our actual way back to the hotel, Sophie suggested that we stop for dinner instead of coming back out later, so we halted ourselves at a restaurant that served pizza and pasta among other items. I drank a refreshing ginger ale that tasted more like ginger and less like syrup. The Margherita pizza that we dined on was rather small but the portion that we wanted. The pizza crust reminded me almost of pita bread with some tomato sauce, delectable mozzarella, whole leaves of basil, and slices of raw tomato.
The Nightmare on Every Street I’ve Crossed in China
On the short trek back to our habitation, I had to endure the rogue traffic on the roads. I already don’t like crossing streets back home for some undetermined reason, so crossing streets in China provided my daily dose of stress. The intersections in Beijing were terrifying twelve-lane specimens for a pedestrian like me with few opportunities for respite in an overpass or underpass. The fortunate thing about the Shanghai city center was that overpasses and underpasses through metro stations exist in seemingly greater abundance than in Beijing and mostly definitely than in Xi’an, though the streets in Xi’an were not quite as fear-inducing to cross. I should mention that my dislike of crossing roads is not a crippling fear, but I don’t like to entertain the possibility that an unaware or aggressive driver’s car might burst my personal space bubble. It’s not an entirely irrational fear, especially because in the one street that lay before us on our way back, a bus barreled towards us with no sign of stopping as we traversed the crosswalk. I may or may not have crushed part of the water bottle in my hand as we sprinted the rest of the way across the street.
End of the Day Reflection
I had an exciting, educational, and refreshing day today. The port visit surprised me with its intensely intricate but interesting operations, and I learned a great deal about another side of business in China and in general. My evening in the French concession with Sophie was a greatly needed break from the hustle of our day-to-day programming and from the bustle of tagging along with a group day in and day out, surrounded by people in this heavily populated city. I miss the comfort of the small things at home in the United States, but I have been thrilled every single day to be in China and to have these fantastic chances to learn and grow socially, culturally, intellectually, and professionally. Tomorrow, we’ll continue our eye-opening professional study of China and of smartphones, business, and engineering here at two more company visits, one of which my four-person group researched for our pre-departure presentation.