Sunday, May 11, 2008

With just two days left in the semester (the summer to-do list)

I think this is going to be my most productive summer ever! I only have two days left of class before my "summer vacation" begins and I think I will be more productive if I document this list for all the world to see.

Back up and organize my computers and assorted digital media: I'm long overdue to index and clean up my files. If I don't do it now I'm just asking for trouble.

Purge and reduce my "footprint": Do I really need my notes and homework assignments from high school & college. No, I don't. I may scan some of the more interesting stuff but the rest needs to be recycled. I'll find a way to give away my old books (, anyone?) and read the stuff that has been piling up.

Ebay, Ebay, Ebay: I've got a ton of stuff that I've been waiting to sell. This is the time to get rid of my old clothes, equipment, and junk that I've collected over the years. This is my chance for a fresh start!

Get some projects off the ground: Professor's Aaker shared some insights about how doing work that we're passionate about can bring us fulfillment. I'm going to test that by starting in earnest some 'pet projects' that I've been interested in. (And putting it down here and writing about progress updates is additional incentive)

Twice a day: I already take my vitamins and brush my teeth (at least) twice a day. It is an ambitious goal but hopefully I'll be at the gym twice a day during the summer.

Ok, that the first draft of the list. I'll be adding new things and revising it as I go. Unfortunately, I've still got two days to complete before we can tackle this list!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shanghai hustle (my mastery of the two-step)

After the Cheung Kong mixer, the group decided to head down to the Bund, the famous riverside area of Shanghai. As was typically the case it was quite a trial to get enough cabs for our group. Of course, the standard way of travelling anywhere via cab was by showing the cab driver the guide book (the Chinese characters specifically) or having the hotel staff write up the address where we wanted to go. (The key here is not getting your cards mixed up but that's a different story for a different day)

We decided to meet at a historic spot named Bund 18. The landmark bar, Bar Rouge, was under construction so we went to Lounge 18 instead. The place was very impressive and clearly designed for an expat crowd. The walls were all marble and the walls were impressively upholstered. The drinks were about $10 US and seemed a little rich for my blood. I was more interested in walking the Bund and exploring rather than a mellow lounge scene (that was mostly empty).

Adjacent to the Bund is Nanjing Lu, a busy street with shopping and neon lights reminiscent of Times Square. Some classmates and I headed down the street but I grew impatient with waiting for them after the first two blocks. I knew that I wanted to see some specific stores (Li Ning, Nike vendors) and that they shops would be closing soon so I started to distance myself from the pack.

Because I've spend some time in Asia, what happened next wasn't a terrible surprise. I started to get approached by vendors of every shape and size. Vendors selling toys, vendors armed with little cards with watches/purses on them, and finally vendors offering 'beautiful girls'. Now I wouldn't recommend walking alone by yourself in a shady area but I felt comfortable to walk through one of the busiest areas in Shanghai on my own.

I was now in a situation where every male on the street who was "hanging out" was now offering me 'girls'. What was worst was their persistence. Even though I was ignoring them they continued to walk next to me for 2 minutes a piece sharing whatever English they had learned to convince me to join them. I knew that this was a good opportunity to think outside the box.

I started to observe that they would always approach from the side and then pursue in a 'chase' position walking directly alongside. I decided to use some basketball skill and begin to walk directly towards the tout.

The first tout that I approached was clearly unsure how to walk with me and started to backpedal as I got closer. Right before reaching him I took a sharp step to the side leaving him moving in the wrong direction. It was a beautiful thing. Time after time I was giving them the two-step and reducing my time with the touts from minutes to seconds. A couple of them were clearly annoyed with my tactic but I didn't care.
I was able to see the Nanjing Road and the Bund with minimal disruption after that.

My uncle says your laundry is ready

On the agenda after our trip to Metro was a mixer with the current Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business students (CKGSB) that took place in a building adjacent to the hotel called appropriately enough, the White House.

The room itself was kind of funky with furniture that didn't quite fit and was hard to move around but the company was good. CKGSB is unique from many other Chinese business programs in two ways, first, it is a one-year intensive program and second, all of the classes are taught in English. The CK students who attended were eager to engage us about our backgrounds and expertise in the U.S. I think they were also interested in engaging with native English speakers.

Like my CK peers I wanted to practice my language skills -- but this meant speaking in Mandarin. I did my best to have cross-language conversations with a couple of students and it was a great exercise. Obviously, their English skills were better than my Chinese but I think my language skills were beginning to improve (the Tiger beer could not have hurt). A lot of the students were applying to an exchange program to Berkeley and were very excited about the prospects of studying in the U.S.

One of the best parts of the evening was meeting a student named Iris who had spent a lot of time in Guangdong, the province that my family is from. I was really interested in her background and experience as a tour guide as she was one of the few CK students who had been to the U.S. When she discovered that I spoke Cantonese we started our own sidebar conversation.

One of the gems was her assertion that all the people from my home village of Toishan are laundrymen. She asked me in a joking tone if my uncle had finished her laundry. She killed me with that comment as my grandfather did in fact own a laundry in San Francisco and that I have several uncles who made a living working as laundrymen. I told her that her laundry was ready for pickup and that we had lightly starched her shirts just like she requested. :)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Staving off hunger in Shanghai

(Detailing some of the events of March 24th)
Although I slept like a baby, I was rearing to go for our first day in Shanghai. I felt like I had to check everything out -- the campus facilities, the hotel buffet, the hotel gift shop. My anticipation for the trip and the international seminar was running high.

I was pleasantly surprised by the buffet breakfast. In my experience, complimentary U.S. hotel breakfasts usually equals pastries and cold cereal. In Europe it is more typical to have hard rolls and tea. In Taiwan it means some white rolls with porridge (eggs and pork sung if you are lucky).

Our hotel, however, was more like a Vegas buffet and was I ever excited by it. They had hot food (noodles, sausage, bacon, eggs, etc), pastries (chocolate croissants), an omelet station, a won ton soup station, hot soy milk, smoked salmon a full assortment of fruits and juices. I was now confident that no matter what we were served during lunch and dinner -- no one in our group would go hungry. There was too much good stuff to eat at breakfast. (Editor's note: yes, I hate pretty much the same thing everyday and I never missed breakfast -- no matter how tired or hung over. It was that good).

After breakfast I made my way up to the Cheung Kong campus, which was literally two levels above the restaurant where breakfast was served. They had been kind enough to create name cards for us and I brought up my computer to make sure that we had internet access from the classroom. Because Sprint doesn't have service in China this was my chance to get connected to the Internet. I was plugged in and ready to go for our lectures.

Our first lecture was was a discussion of marketing in China and was very well received. The professor had spent time teaching at Rutgers University and did a great job in outlining the market conditions for large Chinese multinational companies (Huawei, Lenovo). He also addressed the growing "wealthy" class of Chinese citizens and their growing consumer demands. It was great for us to get a sense of the challenges that packaged goods companies are facing in China.

After lecture we had about 45 minutes to get lunch before our bus was to leave for our first company visit. I had become a little tired of the "group" dynamics of finding restaurants and making food decisions (yes, this is day one of the trip) so I deviated from the group and picked up lunch in the hotel lobby.

I purchased a cup of dry noodles for twelve yuan ($1.50) and was good to go. In my room, I used the water kettle (essential in China) to prepare the noodles and ate while watching a Warren Buffett special on CNBC Asia. The noodles took a little longer than I liked (I had to boil a fresh pot of water) but I got to save some Yuan and relax in the room a little longer.

Lunch of Champions
The lunch of champions

The bus ride to our first visit to Metro gave us a chance to see Shanghai during the day. We got to experience the "free" flow of traffic and the congestion that fills the highways. The bus ride also gave us a chance to meet classmates which is always a benefit of long bus rides.

Metro is an European based cash-and-carry company that provides supplies (food and non-food) local businesses. This was the first business of its kind in China and served an important need -- it allowed small businesses/grocers/restaurants to source all of their goods from one place - instead of working with multiple vendors and making multiple stops to buy inventory. After a substantial question and answer session with the store's general manager we got a chance to walk the floor. It was a mix of Costco and Wal-Mart with apparel and electronics rows away from produce and live animals (the frogs and eels were especially popular among the Haas contingent). After a little while, we decided that we should probably stock up on goods while we were at Metro and a mini-shopping trip spontaneously developed. Several bottles of wine were purchased (for tour bus consumption) and the prices at Metro were right.

I picked up the following: one liter of bottled water (1.8Y), a box of coffee soy milk (14Y), some rice cake snacks (8Y) and a power converter for my room (21Y). I guess I splurged -- I spent five whole dollars. Nice.

So much for chewing gum (debunking intelligence ideas)

This month's Wired Magazine has a feature on Intelligence and methods of improving cognitive abilities. Among the "myths" that the article claims to debunk are that chewing gum doesn't help brain power by increasing blood flow to the brain and that games like Brain Age don't help sharpen the brain.

Talk about a buzz kill. Check out the issue on newsstands or this link to find out the "proven" ways of increasing your brain power and creativity.