Day 3: Building a Better Hillman

Another early morning wake-up, another delicious hotel breakfast. Some of the dishes had been rotated out, and one of the new additions was a delicious home fry dish. An NBA game was on TV during breakfast. I found this interesting because I didn’t know that the Chinese watched and enjoyed American professional sports. After breakfast, we got on the bus and set out for the Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE), located in the outskirts of Beijing. The drive to CUFE was very interesting. As we left the city center, the number of empty lots and the number of construction cranes increased. Huge new clusters of apartment buildings are being constructed in every direction as Beijing expands into the surrounding countryside. Hundreds of new high rises are under construction and the staggering number of empty plots of land reveals where construction will begin next. The road to CUFE ran parallel to a new elevated train line under construction. In the US, one new elevated train line would use up most of the resources of a transportation agency, but China is building an entire network.

CUFE’s campus seemed strangely isolated. It was far enough from the city I could almost see blue sky. There was a lot of greenery, way more than on Pitt’s campus. We walked past several impressive looking buildings and into a classroom where we got to listen to a lecture about big data and smartphones and e-commerce in China. China’s biggest online shopping day is 11/11, or Singles Day, as it is known in China. I was shocked to learn that Alibaba alone recorded sales of $25 billion on Singles Day in 2017, making it the largest shopping day in the world, 4 times larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday. China has also become the world’s biggest smartphone market. I never realized before just how powerful the collective Chinese consumer is. Despite having lower incomes than consumers in the West, the vast number of Chinese shoppers make them incredibly powerful. I also found it interesting that the lecturer seemed to dodge multiple questions about Chinese internet censorship as well as intellectual property violations committed by Chinese companies. This contrasted with tour guide Joe, who addressed seemingly controversial topics head on. We ate lunch in CUFE’s “cafeteria”, which seemed more like a restaurant than a dining hall. It was delicious, and seemed less American than lunch at the great wall the previous day. My favorite dish was a kind of fried dough thing called a Chinese pancake.

After lunch, we were treated to a tour of CUFE’s library. This 6-story structure was incredibly impressive in size and architecture and even featured an art gallery with traditional Chinese calligraphy and modern work, all created by students. This library made the Hillman Library look pitiful in comparison. Talking to students at the library, I learned about some differences in American and Chinese academic culture. First, CUFE is incredibly competitive. A student named Alan told us he needed to be in the top 0.1% of his province to be accepted. Second, Chinese students seem to take their studies much more seriously. The students told us they spend the vast majority of their time working in the library. In contrast, my friends and I may hunker down in the library before exams, but we don’t spend that much time there. In Hillman, there is a critical shortage of tables and outlets, so any seat unoccupied is fair game. Their library, on the other hand, had an electronic system where upon entering the library, students signed in and selected a seat which would be theirs until they signed out. They were even able to leave the library and take breaks while still saving their seats! Alana Dee and I worked on a project for ENGR 0716 where we investigated the possibility of implemented a similar system at Hillman, but we concluded it was not practical because students would not use the system properly or would ignore it to get a better seat. These are not problems in China because the culture and custom forbids stealing seats from people and willingly trying to beat the system. The students couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of stealing seats. After our library tour we played some games with the Chinese students. My group won honorable mention for our awful performance in human knot. Then we headed back to the hotel.

The main area of the library

A group of us decided to take a trip to the nearby supermarket to try and score some snacks. The store had some western products like Dove, Snickers, and Oreos, but most of the food was completely foreign to me. I had no idea what most of the things were. The aisles in the store were narrow and the carts were also much smaller than in American supermarkets. We picked some random snacks and then waited more than 20 minutes in line for check out, which is the norm apparently. We then had a food party, where we tried all the food we bought. Everything was delicious except for the shrimp flavored chips. Then, I got to experience what I had been waiting for, riding the Chinese subway. The Beijing subway was much more modern than subways in New York or DC. The stations were automated and had gates separating the platform from the tracks. Buying tickets was easy as the machine had an English option. The subway was packed, but was clean, fast and quiet. The loud Americans were the only people making noise, everyone else was on their phone. We took the subway to the Olympic village, which was a very impressive site. The Bird’s nest and Water Cube were beautiful and the plaza was just enormous. Interestingly, there seemed to be more tourists at the Olympic village than had been at the Great Wall the day before. After taking some pictures, we took the subway to a narrow alley called Nanluoguxiang. Nanluoguxiang had a lot of older architecture as well as a lot of restaurants, bars, and shops. I bought a soup dumpling, some fancy chocolates, and postcards. Today was a very busy day, and I’m looking forward to the first company visits tomorrow!

American food in a Chinese supermarket

The Olympic Stadium

Enjoying some soup dumplings

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