Day 19 – Community Service workshop at the Xiamen Institute of Software Technology

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Today we conducted the workshop to help students in their future career path in a smarter way. This time we got all approvals from government to proceed! Our South-African colleague Ryan did an outstanding job in the preparation and in the moderation of the speakers. At arrival we had the usual local paparazzi taking pictures, followed by the mandatory group photo session. The workshop itself went as planned. Of great interest were in particular the sessions when talking about corporate culture, building your own brand, and the interview role play. For the role play we asked our intern Cecily to be the candidate during a job candidate interview. She did a great job, although I couldn’t understand her Chinese, she left a great impression. The interaction with the audience was very good, in particular knowing the language obstacle as everything was translated from English to Chinese. At then end we had a question and answers session, followed by a face-to-face possibility to ask questions. During the face-to-face interaction the same question came over and over again: ‘can I take a photo with you?’. I think our photos are now spread all over QQ, WeChat, Facebook, etc. It’s getting late, enjoy the photos.

#ibmcsc chinapaparazzi

Local paparazzi awaiting for us at arrival

Day 18 – Driving habits in China versus driving at home

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Since two weeks we are being using drivers and taxis to get us around towards client meetings and other appointments. I tried to understand the traffic rules, and it took me some time to understand them. Driving is China is quite different compared to what we are used to in Europe and Northern America. I don’t know the precise rules, how they are applied, but at least ten of my observations so far:

1. “Turn on red and don’t look”. I knew the turn on red from driving around in the US, but when approaching the crossing you slow down and turn only when you’re sure the road is clear. Seems that in china you just turn on red, regardless of other traffic or pedestrians crossing. In particular as pedestrian you better watch out, if your light turns green to cross the street it does mean nothing.

2. “Do not pay attention to pedestrians”. Seems that pedestrians are not part of traffic.

3. “Cut the corner”. When turning left make sure you cut the corner totally off. So, on large crossings you really drive on the lanes from those turning right.

4. “Overtake and squeeze”. Seems when overtaking another vehicle you can squeeze you back into the lane once you passed the other vehicle for half the length of your own car. Of course, the other car has to brake and will use his horn.

5. “Driving lanes are for indication only”. Seems driving lanes suggest how to use the road, but actually you can drive in the middle of two lanes or drive with three cars next to each other on two lanes, in particular at crossings.

#ibmcsc chinaXiamen Botanical Garden

Make your way

6. “Overtake and use your horn”. Whenever you overtake another car, use the horn. No idea why, but seems a habit, in particular when squeezing back into the lane to other car will us his horn to reply.

7. “Don’t pay attention to police presence”. When driving on the road our driver overtook a police car and crossed a double solid white line painted on the road, this he was driving on the opposite lanes. No reaction from the police.

8. “Load whatever you can”. No matter the load your vehicle can charge, load all you need till it cracks down. If you hardly move forward, don’t worry about traffic. You can even put up to five people on a simple motorbike.

9. “Don’t were helmets”. Motorbikes don’t were helmets, with a few exceptions such as police officers with some kind of helmet (not sure about the precise purpose).

10. “Bikes can drive on the left side of the road”. Even on busy roads bikes can drive against traffic, even when fully loaded.

But you know what? It works !

Day 17 – Attempt to revitalize in the Xiamen Botanic Garden

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Yesterdays’ trip to the Fujian Tulou site knocked me down, to many things came together. I decided to make it a calmer day. In the morning I went to the local drugstore which sells western brands to buy a new face moisturizer, when walking outside you definitely need it. I found my favorite brand, but was feeling ripped off paying 50% more than at home. No other choice, as I didn’t trust the local brands and even unable to read what I would buy.

In the afternoon I took a cab to the Botanic Gardens. It’s a great site, very large, many different gardens, nice temples, unfortunate very noisy. I expected a moment of silence and peace, finding a way to revitalize a bit. But noise of people, surrounding traffic, and construction workers decreased the quality of my experience. Nevertheless I really highly recommend a visit to the Botanic Gardens. I walked several miles and being totally sweaty I need to return to the hotel, jump under the shower and change clothes before joining the team’s BBQ. The BBQ was not my piece of cake, but don’t mind, the live music afterwards was great fun even it knocked me down again.

#ibmcsc chinaXiamen Botanical Garden

Xiamen Botanical Garden

Day 16 – Going to the countryside visiting unique Fujian Tulou structures

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As the trip to Wuyi mountain was not going to happen we moved to plan B. I still feel very sorry for my colleagues, but hope the alternatives will bring them an enjoyable weekend. We have chosen to organize a daytrip to the most beautiful and oldest Fujian Tulou site, which is the Yongding Tulou. Half of our team and three interns decided to go for this plan B with a small bus. The other half of the team remained in town. It took a bit more then three hours getting there. The fist part of the trip was highway, but most of the journey was secondary roads. These housing structures were built in the eary 1700’s. It was a really nice place, a very unique architecture, and still unbelievable how people are used to live here. We visited a few of these structures on the same site. The largest Tulou we visited was the Chengqilou Tulou, this one has the nickname "the king of tulou". The place we visited is amazing and very unique, this was an exceptional daytrip, many thanks to my colleagues and inters who joined. I wrote most of this in the bus, but now back and sorry, don’t feel much on writing tonight. This will be a short blog. Enjoy the photos below to get an impression of the day. #ibmcsc china

Along the road

Along the road

Along the road

Along the road

Day 15 – Three lessons in ‘Nothing is easy’

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Today, we looked back on what our team did over the past two weeks and discussed how we could move forward. During the past week we had daily meetings with clients, so towards our clients we made great progress and keep on interacting with them. I asked our program manager Lesley to give these clients a call after two of our meeting to measure the client satisfaction. Actually, the feedback was that our meetings were greatly appreciated. A happy client is always great, but I’m still very concerned about our approach and our capability to complete the statement of work within the remaining timeframe with good quality. Conclusion so far, this is not going to be easy, but my great teammates will jump in for sure! Nothing is easy … but let us move forward in the right direction!
Last Sunday we planned with the team a visit for the upcoming weekend to the Wuyi Mountains. These are in the north of the province Fujian and known for the tall dolomite rocks rising out of the river with 9 bends. It looked all promising; Lesley from DOT and me on behalf of the team, with support of two translators, negotiated the contract with the official authorized local travel agent. It took hours to nail the contract down on Wednesday, making sure we didn’t make a mistake and we had everything in the price as we need it. But yesterday came a big surprise, the travel agent came back that he was not able to block enough seats to bring us there on Saturday. Actually, we had to advice him to renegotiate with the airline company and also to contact another company. Still weird we have to tell them what they could try to fix the problem. Whatever we tried, no real acceptable solution could be found. Finally, we fully blamed the agent and request a full refund of our down payment. The good thing is that each of us got his money back, but the promising weekend is gone. These kind of loose promises are a real pain for me and bad for my condition. It takes far too much time and energy to fix a simple thing like this. Everything cancelled, so today back to plan B. I hired a bus for tomorrow and half of the team will join to visit the Hakka houses. Nothing is easy … but let us see what tomorrow will bring.
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Elaine and Cecily

Elaine and Cecily helping us to survive through translation

I also ordered some stuff online and had it shipped to my hotel. Though it would be easy and delivered within a couple of days. Actually, it took a week and even one of the parcels was returned to the sender. Now I found out why, you have to provide your mobile phone number to the sender. He writes the mobile phone number on the parcel and at delivery they call this number. If they can not reach you, the package is returned. Nothing is easy … but first and second package delivered, third one is back at the sender and returned again to me. Again a lesson learned.

Late afternoon I decided to back to the Gu Lang Yu Island. Joined by Cecily and Elaine we took the ferry and walked along the shoreline. We enjoyed watching the raising city of Xiamen in the dark on the other side of the water. Talking with them was fun, and I had the impression they also enjoyed it.

Day 14 – Seems everything can be eaten in China, as long as it doesn’t harm you

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The food culture is quite different compared to what we are used to in western countries. From the previous visits to the food market I learned that almost every animal and plant can be eaten, seems the only criteria is that it shouldn’t make you sick or let you die. Frogs, stingray, manatee, snails, ants, and bees … name it and you find it. If you eat it, then you eat everything, this includes chicken-heads, chicken-feet, all kind of abdominals, cow stomach, fish-skin, fish eyes, etc.
I am quite anxious when it’s about food and drinks. Not because of my dietary requirements, but primary to reduce the risk of getting sick. Most dishes are served in many small plates and being shared, which makes its easier in being selective in what I eat. I think that the steamed vegetables, steamed fish, rice, noodles, and the great tasting fresh fruits are safe. The meat is always a bit challenging, as the meat is cut into peaces regardless of the presence of bones, so most pieces contain smaller or larger splinters of bones. Eating those with chopsticks can become a mess; alternatively you take it into your mouth and spit those splinters and bones out. Think my orthodontist wouldn’t agree putting this stuff between my teeth. The same for fish, as the fish is served as a whole. A lot of stuff is also fried, which I avoid before feeling bad from the high amount of fat. The intensive use of fish-oil makes most stuff has anyway a light fishy flavor. One of the great things is that Sushi is widely available in many flavors, including the thin slices of raw fish. I could convince Christy to try eating raw slices of salmon with soy sauce and wasabi for the first time in her life.
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Notes in Chinese

Frogs

During lunch today our table looked a bit weird, three Chinese eating with fork and knife, en three the non-Chinese eating with chopsticks. Most of them are anyway very surprised on how well we can eat with chopsticks. Its fun and we show we adapt to the local habits, except today. It was a very good buffet, with delicious deserts.

Day 13 – The barrier of the Chinese language

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Cecily and Christy did a lot of translations the previous days, frequently till early in the morning. They did a great job and I start feeling ashamed pushing so much work to them. Today we gave them less work, hope they can recover a bit. The translation work is quite difficult, and I start nowadays to understand why through the discussions with them. The wording we use in English is related to the context and synonyms with a slightly different meaning are translated into the same Chinese word. To get around this issue they have to go to a more descriptive mode. Therefore they keep coming back with questions as they need to understand the words used in a phrase in the given context in this in full detail. Also, several words simply don’t exist; most probably as the words are introduced recently in their language history. For example, this morning during breakfast we still discussed the difference between ‘participative’ and ‘contributive’. So, explaining the same message again and again in different ways is the best thing that can be done to ensure the message is passed along.

My own Chinese is not improving, despite all efforts and support from Cecily and Christy. Today I started some trials in writing, I start to pickup some simple characters, but the few I know makes it useless.

#ibmcsc china
Notes in Chinese

Taking notes during the meeting, and practicing Chinese

Day 12 – Feeling the air pollution in Xiamen, experiencing myself the urgent need to make cities smarter and more sustainable

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It is hard to believe being here since 12 days. This morning I woke up (of course, had no other option) and suffered more for allergy reactions compared to the previous days. Those carpets and curtains in hotel rooms are always a pain to me, but the outdoor air quality isn’t the best neither. I expected a cleaner air after the rain of last Sunday, but I have the impression it is even getting worst. The air pollution must remain quite high, although the proximity to the sea. The direction of the wind must have an influence. Could also be that my lungs are getting saturated with one or the other pollutant. I now understand why people suffer seriously in large industrializes areas and run around with mouth masks. Actually this feeling confirms the urgent need of handling mobility in cities in much smarter way. A mixture of two drugs against allergies in the morning rescued my day, but made me a bit lethargic during the morning.

During the meeting at the customer we had a break and went outside the building down the street to the local Starbucks. I hadn’t a descend coffee since a few days, which made tasting the grande Americano even better. Best idea of the day! The client meeting itself was quite interesting, but still seeking which would be the best approach for them. This case requires a bit more brain twisting. Mid afternoon we returned to the hotel to work on the customer cases. As most other teams we also gather in one of our rooms. We had a smooth and quite start, but heading to the evening my room was getting crowded, too noisy, and too many discussions in parallel. Was happy as it all ended up past 20:00 and very graceful my colleague Megan will finish the presentation and pass it along to for translation. I walked down the street to a weird bakery shop just around the corner to get and try out one of these sweet cookies.

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Xiamen

Xiamen City

Day 11 – Unexpected hick-up

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Translation took our interns till 03:15 in the morning … we met back at 07:30 for breakfast to get the bilingual version of our presentation. Megan and I worked during breakfast to do the final cleansing of the presentation. Just in time, to meet the client Lizhou at 08:30! It was perfect teamwork and a perfect timing. I was still very nervous, as it was unclear how our preparation was going to meet the client expectations. We prepared primarily on how to improve the management of the sales process and how to engage in trade shows. The session with the client happened in an enjoyable atmosphere and we left with a positive feeling. Unfortunately we could not complete the entire session. We were running out of time and had to get back to prepare two sessions for tomorrow, a work session with another client and a lecture at the local school. We will continue the work next Wednesday.
For the preparation of the lecture sessions we were meeting with the other team back at the hotel. We spent a lot of time on the preparation, but half away an unexpected surprise popped up. We were informed by the DOT program manager that the school did not obtain the approval duly on time from the local government to run the session, which means we had to postpone the session and squeeze it someway into our agenda for next week. It was totally new to us that approval was required for a voluntary lecture session. Having no other option the team worked on a proposition to merge the lecture with the one scheduled for next week.

It took far more time then expected to complete that part of the preparation work. Amit, Megan and I continued afterwards with the preparation of tomorrow’s client meeting. The precise expectations of that meeting were still not clear to us. We knew some of the issues that rose during the previous session on partner and channel management, but not enough to start working on the engagement. So, based on the little information we had we started to prepare a draft high level view on best practices in partner and channel management. We completed around 20:00, dropped the presentation for translation to Cecily and Christy and went for dinner. Hanging around in the area around the hotel we passed several small restaurants. We found a nice looking place with a lot of people inside and decided to give it a trial. Ordering wasn’t easy, we picked according to the photos on the menu and the waiter kept asking us persistently something back. I couldn’t understand what he was meaning. He showed us something on paper with nice looking Chinese characters, no clue what he kept asking for. I called Christy and we passed the phone to the waiter, we found out that his question was if we want our food served ‘hot’ or ‘not hot’ … problem solved. It was Japanese restaurant with live cooking at the table. I enjoyed a quite pleasant dinner, feeling relaxed! After dinner time to get back, fixed the last questions on the translations.

 

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Xiamen

Gathering around a table with colleagues with laptops and a few bottles of water to prepare the community workshop.

Day 10 – Sunday in Xiamen, actually Rainday and catching up work

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It took me a while to memorize the nickname given to me by our Chinese interns. Last night I could finally remember the pronunciation and looked it up on the internet. They call me Bart Fēixíngyuán! Thank you Cecily mèimei and Christy mèimei!

Today was a rainy day. Yes, it also rains in Fujian. The big difference compared to home is the outside temperature remaining high even during rain. Actually, a big difference, you just get wet without feeling chilly. Getting out was not the plan anyway, so time in the morning to put some work on the presentation for tomorrow.

We agreed with the team to go and visit during the day the local hot springs and pools. Multiple small hot springs, going from cold to very hot, and one fish bowl to sit in with little fish sucking on your skin. I tried a few hot springs but moved quickly to the large 50 pool. The pool itself looks like an industrial steel construction covering the large pool. Along the pool people sitting at small tables, playing cards, smoking cigarettes, and making their own tea. I was quite strange for me. I jumped in but was thrown out, swimming cap was mandatory. Luckily the local shop could provide me one. Back to the pool I got a lane all for myself. Being the only foreigner in the pool, seems all Chinese avoided swimming into my private lane. I could swim relaxed and was supervised closely by several safety guards. I completed 34 laps until Alia came to remind me that time was up and we had to leave, jumping back on the bus to the hotel. It was a nice stretch and a good idea to take a break.

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Entrance

Entrance to the hot springs and pools

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