Oh Canada, our home, and native land. Tears came to our eyes seeing the iconic flag and little piece of home. Welcome to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing where hockey night is still much alive. We were welcomed warmly by Winston Kan by the Managing Director of the Alberta Beijing Office. Cindy Termorshuizen, the Deputy Head of Mission, who was also a diplomat in Kabul previously also shared some of her experiences. Ling Wang gave a presentation on the Evolution of the Chinese Economy. Finally, Christopher MacLean was the final presentation on the Challenges and Opportunities of Doing Business in China. Everyone had great stories and interesting things to say. The room was alive with thoughts of partnerships and potential business ventures. There is something special to MBA and business students about flag pins, business statistics, and hockey talk in the morning.
We were so glad to see our alumnus Li Da has founded such a successful company in Beijing. Deyatech’s business has even expanded to Dubai and London. Da grew up in Edmonton and finished his Bachelor of Business Commerce from the University of Alberta. He is very generous in sharing his experience about doing business in China and his understanding of entrepreneurship, which is very impressive for us. It was a hot day, and everyone was sweating. But nobody would like to leave because he had excellent presentation skills and we all learned something from his leadership style.
The director of Ali Cloud, Yunlu Liu, introduced Alibaba’s history and there are many different business operations under the Alibaba Group, such as Tmall, Taobao, Alimama, Ali Cloud, and Juhuasuan. To keep such a huge business organization running smoothly and efficiently, they created a very strong corporate culture. Yunlu talked about Alibaba’s culture from 6 aspects: customer first, integrity, teamwork, passion, embrace change, and commitment. Also, Alibaba has a specific focus on developing a company that will last at least their 102 years, and we all believe that they can grow and thrive by following their strategic plans.
Lunch on Day 2 was at Xinjiang Restaurant this restaurant showed the ethnic diversity of Beijing. The meals served were significantly different form the Chinese cuisine I experienced the day before, but it was still very enjoyable. The food served seemed to have middle eastern influences with spicy chicken and lamb kababs, and a chili potato stew called “Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken” being the highlights of the experience.
After our company visits were done, we headed over to the pearl market! We walked into the store and we were quickly overwhelmed by a sea of pearls of all sizes and colors. Green, pink, blue, red, black, brown, and every other color imaginable. You could buy strands of pearls, individual pearls, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The best part? You could buy pearl necklaces for as little as 20 yuan! At first it was difficult to distinguish good quality pearls from bad quality pearls; however, the sales representatives explained more expensive pearls were rounder, larger, and had a noticeable lustre. We quickly became pearl connoisseurs (in actuality, we probably had no idea what we were doing) and began sifting through buckets of pearls to find those with the best quality. With Mother’s Day coming up, many of us ended up buying beautiful pearl necklaces to take home to our mothers. We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the Pearl Market- Eddy wasted no time adorning himself with the most expensive pearls.
The Houhai Incident
We had been forewarned, but emboldened by the prospect of adventure and an embattled drive to experienced everything Beijing had to offer so we forged ahead. With a group possessing no Mandarin or Cantonese language skills, we called a pair of taxis and began our journey.
The experience was beautiful; live Chinese music performed by fabulous emerging talent. The drums howled, bass screamed, the beer flowed freely and the locals were friendly.
We decided that a meal was in order. Left to our own devices we settled on the restaurant with the largest menu. The décor played out like an old kung fu movie; wooden beams and warm yellow light emanated from lanterns throughout. Much like the rest of Beijing, we found comfort in the organised chaos. We were led upstairs to the open air patio and immediately requested jam-bae. We poured over the menu for minutes, fighting hunger and wishing we hadn’t left our Mandarin-speaking compatriots behind but with much pointing and grunting, our meals were soon on their way (Pro Tip: Don’t make the mistake we made. Order from the Chinese menu, the pictures are the same but the prices are cheaper. If it looks tasty, it probably is).
The food was as expected: delicious. It was so relaxing to sit on the rooftop overlooking the man-made lake and just chill with friends. After a few good stories and a lot of laughs it was time to call it a night. So lets just call a cab, right?
We were on foot patrol for about 20 minutes when we finally realised that we were in trouble. After snaking through intersections and doubling back twice we decided that our best bet was to try at the main entrance of hauhai. The unmarked taxis had a field day. By Canadian standards the rate they requested was dirt cheap, but Edy the bear convinced us we wanted a deal. 100 Yuan? No thanks. But tide soon shifted and our once enjoyed buyers market delved deeply in the sellers favour. We bravely pushed on, but as our wits frayed and our logic devolved we became desperate. Who has a phone? I’ve got 12%, he’s got 8%, and those guys don’t have data. Perfect. Innovation prevails and our benevolent problem solver took the helm. Contacting the hotel he managed to wrangle two black cabs, hand picked and prepaid. With much back and fourth between hotel, drivers and stranded passengers we watched the juice on our friend’s phone plummet. 8%. 4%. 2%. I’m over this, said the funny one.
Long story short we made it back to the hotel, paid a little bit more but gained a lot of experience. Moral of the story? Always keep hotel info on you, know how to pronounce the name of the hotel, carry a map and don’t watch Hostel before hailing a cab.
Written by China Study Tour participants Matthew Kingston, Norman Nesbeth, Kirby Chong, Brian Hill and Zack Shivji.