At this point, deep into third semester and all the group project work it brings, my blogging has pretty much trailed off. I’ve loved writing about our experience in Asia and all that I’ve learned in the months since our trip! But time is scarce and most of my attention now is turned forward to the business plan competition that serves as the capstone project of the EMBA program.
If you’re interested in learning about how the international trip fits into the Executive MBA curriculum here at the McColl School, I hope you’ll start at the beginning of the blog. Happy travels!
Check out this terrific article in the most recent edition of the WSJ Magazine: The Shock of the Old.
It’s about preservationists within China trying to hold on to the architecture, art, music and philosphy of their ancient culture that’s being swept away by the avalanche of modernism.
A guy named Johnson Chang, interestingly enough a leader in the contemporary Chinese art movement, has started to fund and build an “ancient” pastoral village in the outskirts of Shanghai in a canal district called Jinze. Jinze is known for its beautiful bridges (I suspect it’s the neighborhood featured in the third Mission Impossible movie but I’m not sure). Chang has been working for years to bring together scholars and artisans and craftspeople to recreate a real, working village with inhabitants who embrace the ancient arts and pass them on to a new generation.
The WSJ reports on a growing trend of parents taking a sabbatical year–with their kids–in places like China and Singapore to help their children learn Mandarin. One said “This is going to be the century of China, so we’re preparing them.”
These parents believe that learning Mandarin will differentiate their kids when they enter the job market. A senior recruiter with Korn Ferry said “When it comes to Mandarin speakers, we don’t have them in the U.S.. Does it give you a competitive advantage to have it? The answer is yes.”
Our son goes to a Spanish language immersion school so I understand the thinking. Our neighbors, who have children in the same school, are planning a year in Spain when their girls get a little older.
We considered Mandarin at Smith Academy, another language immersion school within the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system, but decided against it. We just couldn’t imagine not being able to help him with his homework or other school projects. Now that I know more about Asia I’m not sure we got that right…
My husband and I continue to marinate on all we saw and learned in China.
Shanghai really blew my mind: just the sheer size and scale of it was awe-inspiring. While Singapore’s growth felt measured and steady in a “master plan” sort of way, Shanghai’s growth felt organic and spontaneous… and maybe even a little out of control.
China is like kudzu, the fast-growing vine that envelops and devours everything in its path. Our accounting instructor told us that the top 25 percent of China’s population–as measured by education, income and professional success–is larger in number than the entire population of the U.S. Ouch, that’s a lot of smart people. When you throw India in the mix it’s clear we’re outnumbered.
Before our travels I understood China in a sort of intellectual, clinical way. I read the papers and watch the news: China is big and growing. It wants a bigger spot on the world stage. Got it.
But until I saw it firsthand I didn’t really get it, not in my gut. China is a force to be reckoned with. Most Americans believe our place at the top of the world food chain is pre-ordained. We take our power and our position for granted; we’re America after all! Our tenacity and Yankee ingenuity and rampant individualism will carry the day.
But now I’m not so certain. If we don’t start attacking some of our challenges–particularly those around education–we will find ourselves getting lapped. It won’t happen tomorrow or next year or even in the next ten years. But 50 years from now? The world could look a lot different.
I’ve noticed in the weeks since our return from Asia that Singapore gets a lot of exposure in the U.S. press, particularly The Wall Street Journal. Why is that, I’ve been wondering? Singapore certainly has grown in economic clout but the country is the size of St. Louis for Pete’s sake. It’s too small to ever become a world power, politically or millitarily speaking.
But there’s so much that’s right about Singapore. They plan for the long term. They’re investing in infrastructure, they’re working to diversify their economy, and they’ve accomplished a 100% literacy rate. You can see the intersection of economic, social and political systems everywhere you look. It’s clear they’ve got a master plan in which each leg of the stool is critical in and of itself, and also critical as part of the bigger picture.
Not only do they tolerate their multi-cultural identity, they protect and celebrate it. The quality of life in Singapore is remarkable: it’s free from crime and drugs, it’s clean and beautiful, unemployment is low, and there are plenty of sporting and cultural events to enrich peoples’ lives. Everything they’ve done makes Singapore an attractive place to live and do business.
Sure, there are trade-offs. The price of this life includes fewer individual freedoms, more rules and restrictions, and a press corp controlled by the government. But the Singaporeans we talked to (both native and ex pat) seem happy enough with that bargain.
Perhaps the stories about illegal gum chewing and caning live so large in our imaginations because they’re the only chinks in the armor we can find?
Earlier this month China’s central bankers shaved a quarter of a percent off its benchmark interest rate (like our Fed Funds rate here in the U.S. I gather). That may not seem like a lot but the lower interest rate is meant to stimulate lending and investment in the business sector.
They also lowered the benchmark deposit rate by 25 basis points which seems like it would hurt savers, but they countered that with a rule that allows banks to pay up to 10% more than the new 3.25% rate. This means savers will actually be able to earn a little more on their savings than they had been. This was meant to stimulate household spending and consumption, which China needs to fuel its growing economy.
There’s another issue in the news that demonstrates the tension between Singapore’s order-loving government and the rising tide of creative expression.
It’s about the Sticker Lady, a young woman who posts stickers on traffic signals and other public spaces. Her messages are lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek… nothing anarchist about her. She was arrested recently (and then released) which inspired all kinds of copycats and a petition with more than 14,000 signatures.
The question: is it vandalism (which the government hates) or legitimate street art?
According to the WSJ, “Critics say the rules and other efforts to limit self-expression squelch creativity and make Singapore sterile, which in the long run could make it less appealing to both residents and businesses looking for innovative workers.”
I understand and appreciate the efforts to keep Singapore clean and safe, but I have to side with the critics on this one. Vive le Sticker Lady!
There was a great story in the WSJ about Singapore making a go in fashion.
Some say Singapore’s squeeky clean image and tight governmental control aren’t conducive to creative pursuits like fashion, but a growing number of firms are proving otherwise.
The ladies in our class had heard about Charles and Keith–a Singapore-based shoe retailer–before we even got there. They make affordable, greal looking shoes and accessories that people all over Asia travel to Singapore to buy.
They’re looking to move into the US, which is great news for shoe lovers! Evidently they struggle a bit with designing items like boots, because people don’t ever wear boots in Southeast Asia. Too hot! Obviously they’ve got some challenges to work out but I say watch out, Nine West!
Hong Kong-based Shanghai Tang is the gold standard among Asian brands going global. I fell in love with the store in Shanghai and ended up buying a gorgeous silk dress.
Amazing–that about sums it up. And steeper than I would have thought!
Dani and Greg in a rare "quiet" moment on the Great Wall
We ended up posing with native Chinese at several points along the Wall. It seems that Caucasians are still a novelty for Chinese tourists from the more rural parts of China. They loved us!
Matt with two of his admirers
Mike and I opted out of one of the group tour options and made our own way to Tiananmen Square. It was a beautiful, mild morning and we thought we might beat the crowds (ha ha, beating the crowds probably means getting there at 6am).
The square is massive and wide open. It reminds me of the Mall in Washington, DC, but without the trees and lawn. Now that I’ve seen it I can understand how millions of people can gather there.
At one end of the square is the Forbidden City, which we opted to skip due to the massive lines and crowds. Instead we headed out to the Summer Palace, the enormous “country” compound that the emperors would retreat to during the summer. It’s about 10 minutes outside of Beijing.
The Summer Palace is stunning, with a huge lake and lovely meandering paths overlooking pavilions, bridges, ancient buildings, gardens and water.
We took a long walk around the lake and noticed that the snack of choice among the locals was either a cucumber or a cob of corn on a stick. Imagine that: Americans drink Big Gulps and gobble supersized burgers while the Chinese eat cucumbers on a stick. No wonder they don’t have our weight problems.