Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Office Pictures

Well I finally got some pictures posted. The first picture is of me at my desk. There are no cubicles with high sides here, you can hear people's phone conversations from all over but the workers don't seem to mind.

The other pictures are around the office in different areas. It was designed to have a very traditional Chinese style with a carp pond and fancy paintings. It is really a treat to be able to work in such a unique place. The ponds have a small waterfall into them and fish swimming around.

In the second and third pictures you can see the tea drinking area. I have been told that this is where they can take important clients to talk business but I haven't seen it used yet. I want to try it before I go! The very small tea cups are on the table and the pads around the table are where you sit. Also notice the stepping stones to get out to the deck.

The last picture is of the top of the stairs, there are two huge fake trees that act as pillars. They are pretty lifelike so it feels like you are working outside!

Home Decorating Fair

So why do you come to the Guangdong province? All of the great manufacturers! Before coming to China I had hoped that I could have some interaction with the companies to learn about the different products they make and strategies they use to provide competitive products.

My friend from Kimward (a partner with the logistics company I am working for) invited me to go along thinking that I could make some contacts with foreign importers and could offer them our logistics services. We took the subway to the large complex located near the Pearl River. We got to the entrance and found out that the tickets were 20 Yuan (not quite 3 dollars). However in China there is always a second way to do things, so one of our collogues bought 3 second hand passes from people next to the subway exit! They were only 4 Yuan a piece (less than a dollar), and you could sell them when you were done with them for 2 Yuan!

Inside were hundreds and hundreds of manufacturers selling things like sinks, faucets, flooring, hinges, doors, locks, etc. My friend from the export office was going to find new products to export to different countries. I was going just to learn and observe what it was like but I got far more attention! Since I do not look Chinese they frequently came up to me to hand me their contact information and brochures.

I was surprised at how few foreigners were actually there, it seemed like most of them were domestic buyers. I have heard that during the main Canton Fair the place is filled with buyers from all over the world.

Even though I am not a buyer I think I might contact some companies to see if I can get a tour of their facility.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pleas revert to me ASAP, Tks&B. Rgds.

Are you a little confused what that sentence means? It is a good example of what I have seen in e-mails from people who don’t speak English as their first language (this example for the record did not come from a Chinese person) Many of the e-mails that we get have very bad grammar and you have to just guess what the meaning is. I am very poor at spelling so I can relate to the difficulties people have. Most of the time you can understand what they are trying to say, but they just used an incorrect word. Many people also use abbreviations in their letters (our business writing professors would have something to say about this!). Like Pls for “please” or tks for “thanks.”

I have sent e-mails to contacts in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe. I even got to call someone on the phone in Belgium. International communication isn’t as difficult as I thought; you just have to keep your English simple.

You also have to be aware of the time difference when sending e-mails and calling people. The workers always make sure to answer every e-mail each day because if they don’t it may be 2 days before someone hears from them. I have also heard of some workers waking up early to send a few e-mails in hopes of catching people in western continents before they leave work.

Working in a country that has a different government, and therefore different allies than us is quite interesting. H&T is the agent and good partner with IRISL- which is an Iranian shipping company. I find it quite interesting that if I was in America I would never have shipments coming from Iran to a port near me! I think it would be interesting if I were at H&T if things got worse with America and Iran. How would you like it if one of your partners was suddenly not able to get shipments to you because their country was in a war?

You mean I get to sleep and watch TV at work?

Many people say that Americans are overworked in their lives and jobs. This internship in China has me thinking that this is true! I though that working in China would be filled with long stressful days and demanding schedules. This has been the exact opposite!
People without and education in China may have long hours but so far the office workers I talk to have about the same schedule.

People at my office work 9 am to 6 pm with a 1.5 hour lunch break! They also don’t show up early for work. I have come to work at 8:30-8:45 because of the bus schedule and often I am the first one to show up in my department. People say “Oh you are so early!”

One cool thing about H&T’s office is that they play a short song to begin work, end work, and for your lunch break times. The song in the morning almost motivates you to work and the song at the end of the day sounds light and joyous because you are done with work! There however is no music that is playing throughout the day like in some offices in America.

At noon all of the workers start their lunch breaks. They commonly bring noodles and rice from home and eat it at their desks. Then nap time comes! From about 12:45 to 1:30 almost all of the workers take out a small pillow and put their head on their desks! They even turn off the lights! This nap is part of Chinese culture and you can see people everywhere taking naps. I have seen people in clothing stores, restaurants, and on the street getting a nice afternoon nap. One day the guy next to me was in such a deep sleep that he didn’t wake up to the music so one of the supervisors had to come and tap him on the shoulder!

When 1:30 rolls around the “lunch is over” song plays over the speakers and it is back to work! The Chinese respect their break times more that Americans do also. I think if Americans are really busy they would work right through lunch, but I don’t think this is true here. My manager says that she is really busy but I still see her watching videos online during her break. She is not lazy it is just the culture here that you get a definite break/nap time that is not to be interfered with.

Many of the workers who speak English will watch American TV shows on their break. My department, which is all female, likes Desperate Housewives and I Prison Break.


I am convinced that Asians handle distractions better that Americans. I think that they are used to constant annoyances because they live in such crowded cities and in small spaces.

In my office because you have no dividers or cubicles you can hear the phone conversations and chatting of others from many desks away. I am lucky because they are speaking in a dialect of Chinese that I do not understand so I can just ignore it as if it were other noise. However I have noticed that there can be a very loud phone call behind someone and they continue with their task as if nothing was happening.

If you look at magazines or advertisements in China you will almost have a hard time deciding what to look at because they cram so many pictures and information on one page.

I have plenty of fish and pig legs; all I need is more tea!

I have been very lucky so far in my stay here. I have been invited out to eat on many occasions with co-workers and friends here at Jinan University where I live. Going out to eat at a nice restaurant is a very important experience in Chinese culture and basic understanding of the procedures will allow you to fit in and impress your friends. There are many aspects to a meal so this will be a long post!

Some of the restaurants I have been to have private rooms for the groups but most just have large tables in one lively and noisy common room. Once again the respect for your leader comes into play when ordering. The most important person at the table will order many dishes for the whole group, usually without much input from others.

In China you do not wait for all the dishes to be done before you bring them out; when one dish is ready it is immediately brought to the table. In Guangzhou the first dish is usually a chicken broth that you pour into a bowl (In other parts of China this is the last dish). Then one-by-one all of the other food that your host ordered comes to the table.

I have the mentality that I will eat absolutely anything put in front of me and so far I have been very pleased with the outcome. I have had more traditional dishes like chicken, duck, rice, and egg dishes but I have also had some more exotic things. The first time I saw a whole fish (and by whole I mean scales, head, fins and all!) I was a little intimidated but I was surprised that I really liked it! You just take your chopsticks and grab pieces off the belly and put them on your plate. I have also had pigs legs (mostly skin), chicken feet, and countless other things that I have not idea what they were. Many people ask me “How do you call this dish in English?” and my most common reply is “I don’t know I have never seen it before!”

Another important aspect of the meal is the tea. You will be given a tea cup (awkwardly small- about 2-3 ounces by my guesses). Naturally you will need to fill up your cup many times throughout the meal. You always pour tea for others at your table, standing up and walking around if necessary. You will top off others cups even if it looks full and never pour tea for yourself first! When someone else pours tea for you to say “thank you” you tap your fingers on the table next to your cup. Tap one finger if you are single and two if you have a girlfriend or wife.

In special occasions you will also drink alcohol. You don’t drink it on your own but rather toast something or someone. These cups are also extremely small so you don’t have to worry about having too much, even if your meal last two hours.

The hosts always order way too much food so you will never clean your plate. I hate wasting food so it is hard for me to walk away at the end of a meal! When your mother told you to finish your plate because there are hungry children in China she may have been right about some areas but the well to do in China have food to spare!

When you are finally done with your meal a few hours later the host get the bill. Paying is only done by the host, so if someone invites you out for dinner you are guaranteed a free meal! It is not expected that the guests will try to offer money to be polite. After the bill is paid you commonly get a plate of fruit for desert. Treating others to meals is done with the expectation that you will return the favor later, but I have found that it isn’t so easy. I have tried to invite my friends out for a meal but they told me since I am a guest in China I will never be able to pay! They always tell me “next time” which never happens! There is also no tipping in China.

Good morning from the front row!

So far the communication between Chinese office workers is different than that in American offices. In the morning the workers do not chat about their lives or work they just get down to business. Since I sit in the front of the office I often don’t notice when they sneak in, when I look behind me I am sometimes surprised to see that they have all arrived!

On the phone the communication is very fast; I can’t understand what they are saying but I can tell that immediately after the “hello” they are off an running with their question and hardly stop to take a breath it seems, no “So how are you today?” to start things off!

Our office is arranged in a typical Asian layout. By that I mean that the important people sit in the back and the new comers are in the front. My desk is in the front row! The managers here do not get offices or their own cubical; their space is just as big as everyone else’s. As you can see from the picture the dividers are very low so you can see what others are doing.

Even though we can see all of our co-workers the Chinese don’t just shout across the room if they have a question. Everyone in the office has MSN messenger so they are constantly typing away to their friends asking questions about work and non-work related things. I was surprised to see people sitting about 5 feet from each other sending messages on the computer. If it were me I would just turn my head and ask them directly! I have heard from my co-workers that instant messaging is not allowed in other companies. Instant messaging may be used primarily by logistics companies.

I also think that the guidelines that the workers follow are a lot more open to interpretation. I have not seen a manager or worker layout what they wanted and the steps to achieve that goal. They just give a general idea and sometimes the end result is unclear! My manager asked me to do a task for her but I had to ask her many questions before I felt like I knew what she was asking me to do.

Now that you are here, what would you like to do?

The first full week of my internship was full of learning about how Chinese offices work. My manager has a very relaxed and hands-off style as far as I can tell so far. Planning here is also not done in advance; the course of action is usually decided right before you begin something. I wasn’t sat down and told what I should accomplish in my time as an intern but rather was asked the question “So what would you like to learn while you are here?” Very flexible! I think one reason they are flexible is because they have not had a foreign intern before. During the first week for a few hours each day one of the workers explained to me part of her job. I also had a lot of time to study things on my own.

I think one big difference between Americans and Chinese is their thoughts on planning and time. When doing business in America you say “Ok we will meet at 3:15 pm” and everyone should show up on time. I have noticed in my office that when people plan things they don’t use specific times, rather they say “Well lets meet this afternoon.” That may mean 2 or 4 pm depending on when they get around to things.

So what is the logistics business like in Southern China? Very competitive! Since this area is heavy in manufacturing the will naturally be many exports from the local ports. H&T is a freight forwarder which means they are the third party in the shipping business. They contact clients (sometimes manufacturers or exporters) and book spaces on the large ships that carry the containers around the world. They also handle all of the paperwork to make sure they customer in the final destination gets their goods.

So do all of the containers go straight to America and fill Wal-Mart’s warehouses? No! Many of the shipments that this company handles go to other countries like Japan, Malaysia, India, Chile, and Europe. H&T is the general agent for IRISL in Southern China. IRISL is an Iranian company which is interesting to me because in America we would not be doing business with this country. It is interesting to be in a different country that has different allies than America.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

First Day on the Job

Hello everyone! Now that I am checked into my room it is time to start the internship! Vennie (the supervisor the overseas department) from H&T said I could come in the afternoon because she thought I would be tired from traveling. She also had meetings to attend. It was good to have the extra time so I could get a bank account opened and unpack more of my things.
I started to get ready for work after lunch by taking a shower. Showers here are necessary but about 1 hour after I take them I am really hot and sweaty again so it almost seems like I shouldn’t take them! I got to the bus stop where I would meet Vennie and then gave her a call. She sent one of the workers to meet me and we went to the office, what a place!
The whole office is decorated in very traditional Chinese style. The office is honestly unlike anything I have seen before; I didn’t know something this unique existed! You enter the building in a large entryway. Outside are two small ponds that continue inside the building, the entry path is like a bridge over the pond. To get to the work area you take one of two curved stairways. On the main office floor there is a stream along the perimeter with real fish, plants, and small bridges to other offices. My favorite area is a small pond where you can take stepping stones to a wooden deck in the corner that has a table where you can sit and drink tea. It really needs to bee seen in person to be appreciated!
Since it was my first day I though I should wear a suit so I would not be under dressed. I was definitely too dressed up though, the office culture here is to wear much more relaxed clothing. You see people wearing short sleeved dress shirts, polo shirts, and even jeans and a t-shirt. There is more emphasis on creating a comfortable work environment than being perceived as professional.
I get my own desk like the other workers and access to the internet. Since I was only in the office for the afternoon I was given an H&T handbook to study so I could learn more about the company.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jinan Check In

As I mentioned in my last entry I flew from Hangzhou (Near Shanghai) to Guangzhou (Near Hong Kong). I didn’t have any problems during the plane flight except for my luggage was overweight. I was packing extremely light by American airplane standards, but I was 14 Kilograms over for Shanghai Airlines. While I was at Eau Claire I had studied Chinese with a professor from Jinan University. He agreed to meet me at the airport and help me get checked into my dorm.

After picking me up from the airport we went to a really fancy Chinese restaurant in Guangzhou. The Cantonese really like to go out to eat, and they are good at it! I was really out of place because I was wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt but it didn’t seem to matter.

After eating we headed to the university to start checking in. I would have been in trouble if I didn’t have a friend to help me check in because of all the different procedures we had to go through. We went from building to building trying to sign all the forms, get a student ID card, etc.

My room and bed. I have a double room to my self right now so there are two beds. The water machine is necessary because I can’t drink the water. And yes that colored pad is what I sleep on, it is feeling more and more comfortable every day!

I am living in an “Overseas Chinese” dorm with students from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. (Foreign students are not allowed to live with Mainland Chinese students) I found out the hard way that Chinese students don’t like soft beds. The beds they provide are just wooden boards, many of the students buy thin pads; I bought a ¾ inch pad which I am getting used to! I have my own bathroom/shower which is nice. Showers here are different; there is a shower head on the wall and a drain in the floor, no separate stall so the bathroom basically is the shower. There is only hot water from 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm so I have to get used to taking night showers. This shouldn’t be a problem though because I am not used to the hot sticky weather so I am ready for a shower when bed time comes.

The view from my room/drying clothes on my balcony

I also have my own balcony; not because my dorm is luxurious but because there are no dryers here so everyone hangs their clothes outside. Many of the “Overseas Chinese” have washing machines but most of the “Mainland Chinese” students just wash their clothes in a bucket. I am cheap in America and even though I am in China I am still cheap so I will wash my clothes in a bucket for now. I may pick up a used washing machine for about $80 when the students graduate in a month though.

I have an air conditioner in my room which is nice but I also bought mosquito netting for my bed if I choose to sleep with the balcony doors open. After we got the room ready we went out to eat again! This time with another professor, we ate more good authentic Chinese food. I am learning a lot about Chinese culture through eating which I will talk about in later posts. After dinner I unpacked more things and then went to bed because I was exhausted!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Arriving In China and First Impressions of Chinese Industry

Hello everyone I am now settled into my routine here in China and I need to give you an update! I have done so many things over these 3 + weeks so I will start from the beginning to fill you in.

My adventure began when I flew from Minneapolis to Shanghai with a stop in Chicago. I flew into Shanghai so I could visit MEGTEC (A company that paid for my plane ticket!) and also visit some relatives in a nearby town, Hangzhou. From Chicago to Shanghai it was about a 14 hour plane ride but I got bumped up to business class! I have never been in anything other than coach so it was a fun ride.

When I touched down in Shanghai I took a train to a subway station and from there I went to my hostel. My first impression was that it was really hot and humid (not like the Minnesota/Wisconsin weather I had just left) and of course there were lots of people! It was a little intimidating to be in a city the size of Shanghai by myself but I had no problems getting where I needed to go. I checked into my hostel put my things in a locker and then headed out for some excitement on the more popular streets in Shanghai, East Nanjing Road. I really wanted to see the Shanghai skyline at night because I had seen pictures of it, and it lived up to my expectations. I didn’t know what time the subway stopped (I had tried to ask in my limited Chinese but was still unsure) so I decided to head home and get a good night’s sleep.

The next day I went to visit MEGTEC which was outside the city center. I took a subway to my stop and then got off. I was instructed to get in a taxi from there but I didn’t see one, there were a bunch of guys on motorcycles waving me over to them so I decided to give it a try! I hoped on the back of one and away we went. We eventually got to the factory and the ride only cost a little over a dollar (I realize now though that he overcharged me!)

I got a tour of the plant and saw the two types of machines that they make. I don’t know exact details but I can tell you that one of them is a splicer used for large printers. About 150 hours go into one machine and it is all done my hand with some tools, no automation. I was very surprised to find out that a factory in China…well looks like a factory in Wisconsin. I have been on many tours of factories in the Chippewa Valley with APICS (a management club on campus) and besides the fact that the workers didn’t speak my language the place looked normal. I was expecting that they would work long hours in not the best conditions but it was exactly opposite.

I was also able to sit down with one of the operations managers and the purchasing manager. They told me about the different production strategies they use (all the same as the one’s we learn in class) like Lean, Kanban, 6 Sigma, MRP, etc. A lot of their suppliers are in China also but they mentioned that for some components it is actually cheaper to get them from America! It is cheaper because they get them direct from another MEGTEC in Wisconsin, but still interesting. It is also faster to get them from America than China also because parts from America come by air where as parts from Chinese suppliers come by rail or truck. The lead times for some Chinese components were a month or more!

After my visit to MEGTEC I went to my relatives in Hangzhou and then to Guangzhou where my internship is.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm going to China!

Hello everyone! Let me introduce myself and give a brief introduction to what I am going to be writing about in this blog. The UWEC College of business received a grant to internationalize the curriculum and provide for international opportunities for students and faculty. Part of this initiative is an international internship. Dr. Rama Yelkur visited many companies in China to build relationships. During this trip she arranged an internship at H & T International Logistics LTD. in Guangzhou (Near Hong Kong in the Guangdong province -and no, not close to the earthquakes!). I am extremely excited to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope to learn more about business culture in China, international logistics, and how I can use this experience to start a career in international business.

I am writing this first entry only a few hours before I get on my plane bound for China. I will first fly into Shanghai to visit Megtec, which makes products for the printing and flexible packaging industries. Megtec’s has generously paid for my plane ticket so I thought I would visit their company to say thanks! Their world headquarters is located in De Pere, WI but they have operations in many different countries.

After visiting Megtec I will stop by Hangzhou to visit some relatives for a few days who are teaching English at a University.

The next leg of my journey will take me to Guangzhou. A Jinan University Professor will meet me at the airport and then take me to the main campus. I will stay there for the summer while I work at H & T, which is only 20 minutes away by bus.

I have studied and traveled in Asia before but I have don’t know what to expect when I get to China. China has fascinated me for quite some time; I will try to learn as much as I can about the language, culture, politics, and business while I am here. I will be immersed in Chinese daily life by working at a Chinese company and living with Chinese students. I will even get to do some socializing- on Thursdays the whole office plays ping-pong after work! I should have been practicing so I don’t get embarrassed!

So, check back for more updates and send me any questions you have! This experience will be very interesting and I hope I can share some of it with you!

Eric Becker