This is an exact copy of the report I had written as a synopsis of the personal reflections during the International Business Experience tour to China during my MBA in 2009. Just sharing this report here as it raised some poignant questions on our view to society…
Scenario-1 Day-1 in China, at the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, Shanghai
The Chinese guide explaining in her inept and deeply-accented English the history of Shanghai and the upcoming Expo 2010 to her entourage from Cranfield. Not many understood everything, but a number of us stated smiling derisively, some aloud. People marvelled at the miniature architecture, but not the guide for the showing us around – the mechanical way of speaking without much personal touch was considered, to the least, cold.
Scenario-2 Same Day, at McDonald’s restaurant
We had difficulty in placing an order for the vegetarian menu, as would happen anywhere in the world. The conversation between my colleague and the lady managing the till was like this:
Colleague: “Do you speak English?”…Lady: “No English”… Co: “Does anyone understand English here?”…No reply… Co: “ENGLISH! ENGLISH!”… After much toil when we are seated, my colleague commented: “Oh hell, no one speaks English here, we are far better off in India”. I’m still struggling to find the link between being an Anglophone and being better off in life.
Scenario-3 Day-3, Yuyuan garden commercial centre, the silk factory
Our tour guide for the day, Marie, showed me around the area, and I purchased some raw-silk items. On our way back, she excused herself to register some information about visitors at the counter. Afterwards, I asked her blatantly about the amount of commission she gets. She informed that it’s something they have to do for the municipality. In that unfamiliar situation, I tried to make assumptions drawing from my Indian context.
Scenario-4 Day-7, Beijing Chaoyang theatre acrobatic centre
The entry pass to the acrobatic show mentioned that the guests must enter before the time of the show; else they’ll have to wait until the intermission. Yet, some entered the hall even after 30 minutes from the start. Most of the people in the hall were foreigners. The ticket said, “no photo or video during the show”. The trapeze artists were performing a frightening game of balancing on a 30 feet high wheel, without any safety rope. Yet, the majority of the visitors clicked their cameras indiscriminately – most of them with a flash. The temptation of capturing some memento on a foreign land contained the risk of life-threatening injury. But why bother! “The security didn’t prevent us!”
I tried to provide a few snapshots of some of the situations I encountered on the China trip, but as a whole, it reminded me of the lectures we had during OBPPD and People Management, especially about doing business with completely different national cultures. Although IBE meant to enhance the business experience, and with visits to the numerous companies from different industry sector and size, the learning was exceptional, to me, the best learning was the cultural exposure, to watch and be a part of the transactions among people with geographical, cultural and linguistic diversities.
The key learning was when realised that it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing and judging other cultures from one’s cultural mindset. It is easy and dangerous because once a false image about a person is created; it almost always gets more distorted following different form of ‘ladder of influence’. It might seem difficult to interact with people from a completely unknown cultural values and contexts, but I realised from this trip that it only takes the willingness to learn and accept the contrasts, to bridge the gap. Kudos to the MBA curriculum to have stressed on the people aspect so much – it is ABSOLUTELY important to do business internationally.
To this point, I’d try to turn to the theme of this report. The IBE experience: visits to the companies, made us captivated within the glossy façade of cityscapes, which is expectable in most of the South-East Asian places. I wanted to see, as Jeanne-Marie Gescher mentioned – ‘the Invisibles’ of China. In Shanghai, the contrast in living standards was visible, unlike in Beijing. I wanted to interact with people to have a better insight into people’s lives; our two tour guides – Marie and Matthew provided helped me a lot on this. However, in the concluding section, I’ll talk about two other experiences, that will lead to another crucial learning from this tour.
Scenario-5 Day-6, Wangfujing shopping district
I arrived at the wrong time, as most of the shops were getting closed. A young woman approached me and asked if I speak English. Then she asked that she wanted to talk, and we talked about the place I’m from, what did I see etc. After about 5 minutes she asked whether I’d accompany her for a massage. On my denial she asked me to go for a coffee; I agreed on the condition that I chose the café. We talked for about 15 minutes, and she told me how the local police, despite prostitution being illegal in China, keep silent and extort illegal sex workers by threatening prosecution. I also, learned that tens of thousands of women, from neighbouring provinces (she was from Hebei), come to Beijing willingly or by force.
Scenario-6 Same day, same area, China foreign language book shop
I wanted to buy a book on ‘learning Chinese’. The bookseller showed me an unabridged language learning pack, with speech modulation tools etc. I kept on mentioning that I’m looking for a basic book, but she wanted me to try and learn some words in Chinese, how the accented words are pronounced etc. Only after 15 minutes of the demonstration did she mention that it’s a great language pack and it will only cost Rmb 499.
The key point that emerges from these two scenarios, confirmed by Rob Hughes of Linde, that business in China is all about relationships. Establishing a workable relationship or communication is a prerequisite, before even making a business proposition.
To conclude, the China IBE added new dimensions to my lines of thought – to understand, interact and do business with people from the diverse cultural setting, which will enrich me and my values in the long-run.