Return to Main Page

Go back to March 7

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Today is my last day in Beijing!  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been away from home for almost a week.

I awoke early in the morning, and went to the hotel fitness center for awhile.  Then I had to pack and drop my checked baggage off in the lobby.  Leon was going to take it to the airport for us. 

After breakfast, we set out for our final Beijing company visit.  For each of these company visits, one student has been assigned to research the firm ahead of time, and kind of lead the Q&A.  Then they give a “debrief” of their key takeaways from the meeting when we return to the bus.  Today was my turn to be the debriefer.

The company we were visiting is called CMEC.  I had checked out their website ahead of time.  Basically, they export equipment and heavy machinery from China to other countries.  The website detailed a couple of projects they had worked on.  They had actually exported a few entire power plants – they provided all of the equipment and trained the personnel and set up the plants in foreign countries.  

CMEC’s office was in a large high rise building.  I was surprised to see a lot of people in the office wearing jeans.  This was the first time I’d seen any business people wearing anything other than a suit and tie in China.  We were led into a multi-purpose room for the presentation.  It had a kitchen, a TV, some video games, a bunch of chairs set up theater-style, and a projector screen.  We were seated in the chairs, and a young Chinese woman introduced herself as some kind of VP and then started the presentation.

The woman’s English was not very good.  I don’t fault her for that.  I do fault her for her lousy presentation.  I am so sick and tired of our over-reliance on crappy Power Point presentations.  All of her slides stated things like mission statements and company visions.  “To leverage our strengths to become one of the top firms in the nation…”  blah, blah, blah.  I hate having to sit through that kind of crap.  I think that most mission and vision statements are so broad that they are practically meaningless.  I also think that most of the ideas set forth in these statements should be a given – yeah, no kidding you want to leverage your strengths – now cut to the chase and tell me something interesting about your company. 

We went through about 20 slides while the woman read them slowly in broken English.  They were all high and lofty statements about what a fabulous company they were building at CMEC.  It was excruciating.  The presentation did not give us any clue as to what the company actually did.

After she finished, she opened the floor to questions.  No one had any, probably because no one had figured out what business this company was actually in.  I started asking some open-ended, leading questions based on what I’d learned from their website earlier.  I kept trying to get her to expand upon some of the projects I’d seen on the web.  She really didn’t bite on that.  She really didn’t give us any interesting information. 

We got back to the bus and I gave my debrief.  Most of the others students’ debriefs have been a quick re-hashing of the basic facts, and then highlighting of what they found most interesting, followed by a little discussion of the implications of what we’d learned. 

Since we really didn’t receive any facts at this meeting, I took a slightly different approach to my debrief.  I started out by explaining what this company actually does based on my web research.  Then I gave a nice little monologue on how much I detest these over generalized presentations.  If I had to guess, I would have said that this crappy way of doing presentations was an American phenomenon.  I found it interesting that we saw the same thing happening in China.  

After the company visit, we returned to the hotel to finish packing.  We checked out and piled onto the bus to head to the airport for our flight to Bangkok.  I watched the city through the window as we drove through the streets of Beijing for the last time.  I was sad to leave.  I had really gotten to like this city.  When we had first arrived, everything had seemed so strange – all I saw were the differences.  Now it was just another city.  Not so very different from what I had always known.  I loved the Chinese people.  Everyone was so friendly and helpful, and they all seemed to love Americans.

As we neared the airport, Erica stood up at the front of the bus to say good bye to Leon.  She didn’t make it through her first sentence before she burst into tears.  She sobbed and sobbed.  She told us how Leon was such a good friend, and she couldn’t stand to leave.  Erica is kind of a drama queen. 

Leon passed out his business cards to everyone on the bus.  They had his email address, mobile phone number, and then simply said, “Leon Liao:  A Friend in Beijing.”  Sweet.

The airport was a zoo.  We made it through the initial customs screening pretty quickly.  Then we had to wait in line at the Thai Airways counter to check it.  Thai Airways does not do e-tickets.  Above the ticked counter were monitors that were counting down the time left until check-in started.  Meanwhile, the line was growing.  We noticed that a bunch of Thai employees were lined up against the wall at the side of the room.  At the moment the countdown reached zero, they all moved behind the counter and started checking us in.  I wonder if there is a law that they can’t start before the appointed time.  Bizarre. 

The security screening was quick and easy, and we reached the gate with more than an hour to spare.  I hadn’t had any lunch, so I went to find something to eat.  There wasn’t much.  There wasn’t even a convenience store or newsstand type place.  I ended up at Starbucks and got some coffee and a Danish.

We boarded the plane exactly on time.  It was a huge plane.  Nine seats across in the economy section, and it had an upstairs.  The flight attendants were all Thai, and they were wearing traditional Thai clothes:  long silk skirts, blouses, and sashes over their shoulders.  That was a nice touch.  They all spoke very good English.  Before we left the gate, they came around and gave each of us a hot, damp wash cloth.  Then they collected the cloths and gave us each a little bottle of water.  And this was in coach!  I can only imagine the treatment that the First Class passengers received.  They did it all with a smile and a pleasant demeanor.  This was miles away from any service I’ve received on any domestic airline.  And it really didn’t cost the airline anything extra.  The US airlines could take a lesson from this.  Even just having stewardesses who didn’t seem to hate thei lives would go a long way. 

I slept for most of the 6 hour flight.  I did wake up briefly for the meal, and it was fantastic.  It was spicy Thai beef and rice.  Nothing special, but it actually tasted good!  The stewardesses took very good care of us for the entire flight. 

When we landed in Bangkok, there was not jetway; we had to walk down the stairs onto the tarmac.  The heat hit me like a brick.  It was 10 at night, but it must have been 85 degrees with high humidity. 

We cleared immigration in no time, picked up our bags, and piled onto a bus.  We were whisked quickly to the Amari Watergate Hotel.  The hotel was just as beautiful as the Tianlun Dynasty in Beijing.  There was a bit of a snafu with the rooms.  They had given many of us rooms with a single bed instead of two beds, but they quickly remedied the situation.

I collapsed into bed and fell asleep.

Go to March 9