Day 4: The Wonder Store

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A tragedy occurred at breakfast this morning. The hotel replaced the amazing pork buns with far inferior seaweed buns. I was determined not to let this sad and unfortunate start not spoil the first day of company visits. The first company, Sunshine Insurance, certainly knew how to make a first impression. Their offices were in a large, sprawling campus reminiscent of colonial-era American universities, like Princeton. The architecture was very European and seemed strange for an insurance company. When we arrived, we were led to a large auditorium and then shown the strangest video I’ve watched. The video, which explained the history and mission of Sunshine Insurance, gave off very strange, almost cultish vibes. The entire thing had the feel of a propaganda video establishing a cult of personality around the chairman of the company, who seemed to be revered for the personal sacrifices he made to start the company. I thought this was strange because he wasn’t starting a charity or any other selfless organization, he was starting an insurance company with the sole intention of making a lot of money. After the video, we weren’t given the opportunity to ask questions. The strangeness continued as they took us into a museum that displayed the history of the company. In the museum, they displayed the sofa the chairman sat on whilst establishing the company as well as a scale model of their campus which was neat, but unsettling.

Sunshine Insurance

We were then treated to a ride on a very fancy golf cart to go to lunch. The cart was luxurious and had free Fiji water! On the ride, I thought it was strange there were no employees around enjoying the lovely courtyard. Lunch was buffet style instead of family style, a pleasant change, and more importantly, there were pork buns! They also served small cakes, the first deserts I had seen at any of these meals. After eating, we bid goodbye to Sunshine and headed to Xiaomi, a cell phone company. I was excited because as an engineer, electronics were more my speed than insurance. The Xiaomi presentation was very good and informative, focusing on the company’s supply chain as well as their design process. Xiaomi only designs and assembles phones; all their components are provided by suppliers. This means the company does not have to spend money creating their own chips or displays and focus purely on the handset. Their design process, from idea to finished assembly, takes at most 6 months. This short design timeline allows the company to quickly react to changes in the market. I thought the company’s localization process was very interesting. Xiaomi adapts the designs of the products to meet demands of local markets. For example, the presenter said Chinese consumers care greatly about the inner camera for selfies, but Indonesian consumers don’t care about selfies as much. After the presentation we visited a Xiaomi retail store in a nearby mall. I’m still amazed about the shopping malls in China. There are so many of them and they are all high end and modern. The Xiaomi store quickly became my favorite place in the world. The front of the store was basically an Apple store, selling phones and computers, but the store also sold TVs, security cameras, pens, toothbrushes, electric razors, suitcases, and even rice cookers! Everything was reasonably priced. What a store!

Fiji Water!!

One part of China I was excited to experience was bargaining culture, so after visiting Xiaomi, a small group of us decided to visit the Silk Market. I was expected a crowed and chaotic outdoor market, but in reality, the Silk Market was basically a shopping mall. Every floor was full of very nice-looking stores selling “100% real” products, even though they were obviously knockoffs. Alana bought a “100% authentic Chinese silk” for me, bartering it down from 300 yuan to 40. The shopkeepers could be aggressive at times. Someone in our group tried to barter a souvenir down too low, and washed chased away by an angry woman with a stick. Satisfied with our purchases, we took the subway, which we were now masters of, back to the hotel. For dinner we went to a vegetarian restaurant nearby the hotel and ate delicious okra, vegetarian dumplings, and some spicy dish served with dough. Unlike hotpot, ordering was very easy. We just pointed at the food on the menu and they served it to us. Then, deciding we wanted to explore Beijing, we took the subway on a very long ride to the 798 Art Zone, supposedly a center of art and architecture. We couldn’t find it. Instead, we found a business park full of skyscrapers and the offices of Alibaba. Very cool. Unfortunately, we were so impressed with the skyscrapers we missed the last train. We tried in vain to hail a taxi for almost an hour. None of the taxis would stop for us and the ones that were stopped wouldn’t let us in. Thankfully, we found a nice man who spoke English. He explained that it is difficult to find a cab as they are all already booked. He used to phone to call one for us and we made it back to the hotel. This adventure taught me several things. It isn’t a great idea to wander off in Beijing with only a faint idea of where you’re going. Second, living in China without speaking the language and without working cell phones and internet access is very difficult. I went to sleep tired but excited to see The Forbidden City tomorrow.

Silk Market Souveniers

The Alibaba Whale

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