Friday, November 7, 2008

10-23-08 – Tour of Incubator and XPEC, Lunch, Tour of Metallurgy Factory, Wal-Mart, and Pizza Hut

Hooray! I slept until 5am this morning and probably would have slept more but Ann got up to use the bathroom and her stirring woke me. I feel pretty good today, hungry for the first time in ages, so I ate a really nice breakfast. I think that I may have lost a tiny amount of weight, my stomach seems to fill up a lot faster with a lot less food than I am used to eating.

We came back to the room to brush our teeth and I decided to call my husband. He told me that my Grandfather, who has been in the hospital for about 6 weeks, had given up the fight and passed away. I cried for a little bit, but decided that I did not want anyone else knowing about this. I did not want anyone to pity me or give me those sympathetic looks that would make me feel like crying all over again. I know that my Grandfather was in so much pain and is now free of all the chains of his broken down body. I know that he would want me to enjoy my trip and now, perhaps, he is looking down on me, holding hands with my Grandmother, watching me have this once in a lifetime experience. I have lost so much this year, first my Grandmother is June, then the baby in September and now my Grandfather in October.

The day was full of visits to Beijing companies. We started with a tour of a local Incubator, which is a business that helps launch other businesses. The incubator helps start-ups by providing low rent and pooling administrative and payroll services among other things.

The businesses stay there for 3-5 years and there is government money to help these little businesses grow and develop. This particular incubator focuses on the field of IT, and works to help develop the creative side of China.

We visited a company within the incubator called XPEC and they develop video games. They are very proud that they partnered with DreamWorks to develop Kung Fu Panda. The lady that talked to us was so animated about her job, their products, having us there and everything.

We all had a really good time talking with her and meeting some of the other workers there. Sean in our group met a worker also named Sean, so that was lots of fun and everyone took pictures and laughed and generally had a great time. After that we took some pictures with the Kung Fu Panda sign and some of the people who worked there. Ms. How was so little and cute and her assistant, who was the English translator told us that she graduated from Virginia Tech so everyone loved talking with her.

When we were leaving, everyone waved to us and walked the bus down the drive waving the whole time. I have never met such a totally friendly people before. We have not met one person who was unfriendly or unwilling to talk with us.

We next met up with Dr. Wong who took us to a restaurant for lunch. I sat at a table with people I have not really sat with before, which was good, because I didn’t want to fall into a pattern here, I wanted to talk with all different people while here, and that includes our own students! This was actually the first meal since the first night where it has just been us without other Chinese students, but we found things to talk about. I was surprised that my table went through about 6 bottles of beer during lunch, with myself and Ann not drinking, that was about a bottle per person. I guess that most people hold alcohol better than I do, because that last thing that I would want in a foreign country would be to be drunk or feeling sick due to drinking.

After lunch we drove about an hour to a plant that takes various chemicals and turns them into Cobalt Chloride used to make the rechargeable batteries for electronics like computers.
They talked to us about their company a bit, the language barrier made it difficult to get the whole picture, but basically they are the third largest producer in the world of this product and they have only been producing it for about 6-8 years while the number one company has been producing for about 70 years. Our hosts took us in groups around their facility and we had to wear paper hats and little booties over our shoes. Each time we changed processes we changed booties. I was told later to shower really well that night because all the little particles could get imbedded in your skin and also not to eat anything until our hands were washed really well with lots of soap, and these metals could cause heavy metal poisoning. Several people, including myself, had really dry lips the rest of the day and for the rest of the trip.

I was really impressed with a couple of things regarding this plant, first of all, they take powdered chemicals and wet them and mix them and dry them into a powder, then bake the powder and crush the powder and perhaps mixed with something else for more baking and more crushing and finally package all these powdered chemicals for shipping and their facility is so clean you can hardly believe it possible. The place I work does not make anything in our warehouse, just pick, pack, and ship and it is the filthiest place ever. I was really impressed that they are so concerned with and able to keep such a clean facility.

Also, I was really impressed with our tour guide. He really took the time to show us each process and answer all our questions, again his English was not great, but he patiently kept trying to make us understand without getting frustrated when we did not get something he was trying to say. I can just imagine how difficult it would be for me to try to explain the whole shipping process at my company in another language, and having people talking at me in this other language. I am constantly impressed with the Chinese people’s patience and ability to work through the language barrier to have meaningful discussions with us.

I was unimpressed however, with some of the snide and sarcastic remarks made by some of the members of my group. I guess that they weren’t feeling like this visit was all that interesting for them and I sincerely hope that our Chinese guide did not catch the tone of these comments and took them as sincere, because I would be very embarrassed if the impression that we left on the Chinese people, who have been so kind and gracious to us was that of this kind of snide comments and sarcastic remarks.

After leaving the factory we drove to the Chinese Wal-Mart and man, is it different!!
We only had an hour to look around, but found that the prices were really good and the selection of products wasn’t anything close to what is offered at a Wal-Mart in the US. Ann found 8G memory cards for her camera for a lot less than what she could buy them for in the US. We also went in together to get a stuffed animal for Lei’s little girl as a thank you gift. We feel that he has been so great to us throughout this whole trip and we wanted to make sure that he knew how much we appreciated him.

Lei seemed really touched by the gesture. I know that everyone is going to tip him and I will too, but I bet that everyone does that and I wanted him to know that our group really, really appreciated all that he has done and continues to do for us on this trip. He has helped out in everyway possible even helping me find a Catholic church where I can attend an English mass on Sunday. I think that there are about 6 of us planning on going, but I just want to light a candle and spend some time close to my Grandparents and mass will be just the place for some inner reflection of this trip and how I feel about all the loss I have experienced this summer. It has been a hard summer for me, but I have and will continue to survive.

After we got back to the hotel, Ann and I went walking to find something for dinner. We decided that we wanted to get something to go and eat in the hotel room, as it was really cold out and we wanted to be able to eat, shower and totally relax and unwind. We ended up walking all the way back to the Silk Market before deciding on Pizza. I think that we both are feeling a little homesick and wanted to have a taste of home. The food was really good, almost better tasting than at home, which may just be that we were so anxious and so excited for something familiar, it only seemed like it was better. I really scoffed when reading someone else’s journal from a past trip when they sought out American food, but now I totally understand, it is not really about the food, but about feeling closer to home.

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