Engaging Asia Part III: Beijing

After drinking the China kool-aid in Shanghai we headed to explore our second Chinese destination: Beijing.  So far on this trip we have traveled by plane and automobile, why not add a train?  The coolest thing about this train is it is part of the high speed rail system and travels at 300km/hr (about 186 mph).  Therefore the 819 mile trip took just under 5 hours.  Makes we wish we had something like that in the States.  Once we completed our entertaining train ride, we finally arrived in Beijing and could feel the difference from Shanghai immediately.  First of all, the air quality wasn’t the greatest but it wasn’t the worse it had seen, there was a welcome lack of heat and humidity, and there was a different attitude detected (more to be explained later).  Since we arrived in the early afternoon, we had the rest of the day to check in to the hotel and begin exploring our surroundings.  One really cool thing about Beijing is its hutongs.  These are small pockets of traditional Chinese buildings and neighborhoods that often do not have electricity.  Going in these is like stepping back in time.  Our wonderful fellow student and Beijing native, Dupree, showed us a great authentic Chinese restaurant in a hutong close to our hotel.  He probably went there at least three time to help different groups order.  The food here was absolutely amazing.  Served family style, we tried beef, chicken, pork, and tofu dishes that definitely set the bar for the rest of the trip.

The next day we were the ultimate tourists with visits to the Great Wall and Forbidden City.  The wall was, well, a big wall with amazing scenery.  Since the wall was built along the ridgeline of the mountains, you could either walk up the hill or take a two person chairlift.  All of us elected the lift.  We were able to walk for a few hours along the wall.  The weather was great and it wasn’t too busy.  To get down, we got to ride an alpine slide.  The only problem with the slide is the fact that the Americans (or at least the MBA students) wanted to go fast and there were lots of other people who didn’t share our same enthusiasm or who got too distracted taking selfies. This led to a few collisions between ourselves.  Thankfully we avoided hitting other people!  After all, we don’t want to be “those people.”  We made it down from the wall and headed to the Forbidden City. We passed Tiananmen Square, where the “so called incident” happened and entered the multiple courtyards of the city.  It was much bigger than I expected.  Since it was a main tourist draw, there was an increased presence of police and military personnel, not seen in Shanghai.  One could definitely feel big brother watching, especially when it came to internet usage.  Even using the VPN, accessing many of our regularly used sites was a challenge.  Anyway, after making it through the city and hiking to the Buddha statue in the adjoining park, Kate and I decided that we wanted to go shopping.  And, if you hadn’t guessed, that meant taking the subway to a big market where you could test out your negotiation skills.  Even though we went to a tourist market, I felt Kate and I got some good deals on our souvenirs.  This was the one time where my indecisiveness in purchasing was an asset!  Beijing, while definitely having a more organic and historical aura, felt just as safe as Shanghai.  This was good when Kate and I misplaced ourselves.  Now, I know what you are thinking…”isn’t being misplaced the same as getting lost?”  No!  We knew exactly where we were but not quite where that was in relation to where we wanted to be aka the hotel.  But after walking an additional 4 kilometers more then we should have, we arrived back to the hotel and promptly rewarded ourselves at the bar.

Beijing was not all tourism, we also had some very interesting meetings as well.  Our academic schedule started with a meeting from the US Embassy with representatives from the Department of Energy and the Department of State.  While the meeting started off a little slow, it picked up once our speakers got excited about our questions.  Seeing China from a US government perspective was one we hadn’t had yet so it was great to add another layer.  The biggest take away for me was optimism will get you through working in China but balance it with a healthy dose of cynicism.  There are also a lot of joint ventures between the US and China which give me hope for environmental issues.  We also met with AECOM, an architecture and engineering firm, Deutsche Bank, and the Bank of Tokyo.  DB was interesting as we met with a German expat working in a German based company.  He was able to provide yet a new perspective about how to do business in China.  He highlighted differences even between doing business in Shanghai and Beijing.  Since Beijing is the seat of the Central Government, its presence is more prominently felt.  Our visit to the Bank of Tokyo was our last one before we split from the Warsaw group.  They headed to Singapore for the last leg of the trip while, the rest of us went to Hong Kong.  This trip had been amazing up to this point, and knowing we were headed to our last stop was both sad and welcome.  But, thanks to a three hour delay in the Beijing airport, we were able to stay on the mainland a little longer and fully soak up the feeling that is China.

Written by Jenny Palm

Jenny a current Oregon MBA and Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. When she is not busy exploring how she can change the world, you can find her outside doing almost anything...especially finding that secret stash of powder on her skis! She has hopes to either help develop an awesome outdoor-oriented start-up or flex her organizational prowess in ski resort event operations.