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Beijing – A Visit to the Great Wall

Today was the last day of the programme and the course was officially over! For me, they saved the landmarks of China, Beijing, things not to be missed, for the last day which was a fantastic way to round off the programme! We visited the Great Wall in the morning followed by the Summer Palace in the afternoon.

For today, we had an official tour guide who was extremely informative and efficient! Learning about the Great Wall was exceptional! The history behind it, its purpose, its length and the time it took to build it is truly remarkable. We set off quite early in the morning which was tiring but very convenient since the wall began to get really busy as we were leaving. Once we got there, a group of us climbed the wall whilst others took the cable kart up! It was astonishing to see now high the wall was and walking, just to reach it, was a huge physical challenge. I didn’t expect it to be such a challenge but it also feels like an accomplishment as now I can say that I have climbed the Great Wall. With it being one of the 7 wonders of the word, we took a lot of pictures and the scenery was beautiful! They say that if you haven’t visited the Great Wall then you haven’t visited China – it really is a must and it did not disappoint!

Our trek of the Great Wall was followed by a visit to the Summer Palace. This was in the suburbs of Beijing and was also a place of great history and beauty. The tour guide made things easy and informative. The scenery really is a master class of landscape and design. Although there are a lot of artificial features – they are beautiful and harmonious. Some of the stories behind certain features were amazing! This was another amazing day and the perfect way to round of my time in China, 2015. Thank you CBL International for making this happen!

Chinese Calligraphy

Today we had classes on Chinese calligraphy. It was fascinating to see how this wasn’t any ordinary Art and it had a deep meaning and core values embedded into it. It was brilliant and strange to learn that the Chinese use calligraphy as mental, physical and social relaxers. We were taught by a leader in his field and had been to Harvard University to teach also! This is one of the best things about CBL International – the classes are short and succinct but they are delivered to leading experts in their respective fields. We were introduced into the theory, historical developments and meaning behind calligraphy and then wasted no time in practicing. We were shown the techniques and given model calligraphy sheets to replicate and the rest was down to us. It was really enjoyable to put the theory into practice. It was also true when we were told that calligraphy concentrates and calms you down!

In the afternoon we visited a law firm which has offices all over China and has recently expanded with an office overseas in Sydney. The firm was very different to firms in my home country and it was interesting to draw comparisons. We were given a general presentation about the firm in a client meeting room. This was followed by the opportunity to ask questions to a Trainee at the firm and learn about her daily tasks. It was a surprise to learn that she only works 7 hours per day rather than the perceived hours and hours you’d expect to hear from a Trainee lawyer. The view from the room was stunning and emphasised the beauty of Tianjin once again! We are also given goodies and freebies at the end which was a nice touch from the firm. This has definitely informed us on what working for a Chinese law firm would be like!

Taxation in China

Today was the best day of classes so far! We had a ‘taxation in China’ class in the morning followed by a ‘sustainable development in China’ class in the afternoon. They were really fun, interactive and informative!

The taxation class was delivered by a partner from a big Chinese law firm. This made it different from other classes so far as it was taught in a way as if we were about to put the skills we learnt into practice – which we did through case studies. We were given an introduction into taxation and its historical development in China which brought everyone to the same point. We were then shown the dual track system deployed in China and the exact percentages used for individuals in different industries. There were case studies integrated into the class and we had to work with different scenarios meaning we could put the theory and skills we learnt into practice.

We were also given a step by step guide on foreign entrepreneurship in China! This was very useful to a few of the delegates who would consider this in the future.

Sustainable development in China is also very interesting. Seeing the haze blur buildings which are very close to you is crazy! We were given a detailed account of pollution in China and the management strategies implemented to combat the problems. A lot of diagrams were also used to give a good visual representation of the areas most affected by haze. Other famous sustainable development issues in China such as its demographic problem were also analysed. We were told about the realities that came from the ‘One child policy’ and its successes and views from Chinese locals. This session was concluded with short individual presentations from us about a sustainable development issue in our own city which was really enjoyable and fun to learn about everyone’s own cities! I also embraced this part as a good opportunity to show off your skills!

Sunday 2 August 2015

Today was scheduled as a free day – it was a chance to have some time where you can do whatever you want. For me and my roommate, it begun with another chance to have some extra sleep and start the day later. This was really refreshing but we began to feel lazy. A few delegates and I decided to go to the local supermarket and experiment with some Chinese food. We tried some strange flavoured ready-made noodles and fruit. The fresh fruit was needed!

After, another delegate and I decided to have a haircut in China – this may seem basic but it was really interesting for us. The process of having our hair washed and then cut in a Chinese way was fascinating and it paid off because we were really happy with the end result! We got back to the hotel and decided to wander around and found a gym which was a relief. It was nice to have a session and also have little contests and challenges with my friends. The gym also had a massage machine which was seriously luxury.

I then decided to have some alone time and watch a movie in my hotel room. I was really relaxed at this point and I was feeling satisfied that I was making the most of the one free day I had. I was then assigned the assessment I was expecting by email and began to prepare for it but I was feeling motivated to do well. I also decided to get my Chinese language and culture class materials out and practice a little more. At this I was feeling content all-round and began reflecting on my overall China CBL International experience so far – it really has been everything I expected and much more. I headed out for dinner with the delegates and closed the day there.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Saturday still had a structured day in store although it was more relaxed than the other days and very enjoyable! This was the chance to get a little bit of extra sleep than normal which allowed us to recharge midway through the programme. We joined up with several students from Nankai University and had the opportunity to spend the day with them. This was very interesting as it showed us what Chinese students do in their leisure time and a view of Tianjin’s must-see places from a student’s point of view. We compromised with the students on which parts of Tianjin we wanted to visit. A lot of us wanted to do a little bit of shopping and there was the chance to divert into separate groups if we wanted to do different things.

The Chinese students were very good at English, outgoing and we shared a similar sense of humour. It was another chance to interact with native speakers, practice and learn Chinese in everyday terms. Their expertise was very useful as they took us to the main street of Tianjin where we could buy some souvenirs. This was followed by a street market which had more traditional hand- made souvenirs etc. Many of us made the most of this opportunity buying weird and wonderful things namely Chinese hand fans and carved wooden animal pens. This was followed by lunch with the students. We delegates recommended the restaurant and it was nice to see the Nankai University students enjoy something they wouldn’t enjoy regularly.

The evening had a boat cruise and dinner in store. This was with the programme director and was fantastic! It was extremely relaxing and a chance to see all the amazing buildings of Tianjin. It was, again, a chance to take pictures and absorb the beauty of China. A great Saturday!

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Law in China is very interesting! I didn’t know what Intellectual Property law was, even as a Law student, however learning about this in China was great. Classes started off with a definition of Intellectual Property which almost clarified any queries I initially had. It is about protecting non-physical property (ie original business ideas) and clamping down and copyright and piracy. The whole class took notice with interest immediately since copyright and ‘fake’ branded products are all over the place in China – especially now that we have had a firsthand experience of this.

The teaching was delivered by a leader in his field which gave a detailed and honest perspective on the matter. We also learnt quite amazing facts, for example, it costs around $6 to make Nike or Adidas trainers in China. Topics and subtopics also linked with each other nicely too making it easy to follow, understand and put into context through real examples. It was truly fascinating to see China’s efforts to clamp down on this copyright issue and learning that children as young as 6 years old begin to learn this law.

The last bit of the class was something I will take away with me for life. My perception that China is going to top the world in 20-30 years was challenged a little bit. The professor reinforced that China is still a poor country and many people will knowingly buy fake products. The session ended with final questions to the professor which always draws out information on various matters. It really was a brilliant day of classes. Fun, relevant and delivered well!

In the evening, most of us delegates decided to meet up and find a place to hang out. This turned out to be on a 50th floor which was accentuated with a wonderful view of Tianjin. There was a pool table and live Chinese music which was really good – to the point where I recorded a few of the songs.

Yet again another really exciting day!

Tianjin by night

The seventh day

Another early day, but since we were able to catch up on some sleep last night we have renewed energy for a new week in China. Nankai university has a beautiful campus with ponds filled with lotus flowers and typical Chinese bridges. My roommate goes running every morning and she tells me the sights of the campus grounds make her run more enjoyable.

After our typical Chinese noodle breakfast we go to our new classroom for the next few days. Our first lecture at Nankai university was on the judicial system in China with special focus on the recent judicial reform. It’s difficult sometimes to understand the Chinese judicial system because it differs very much from most European systems. During lunch my colleagues and I got together to work on our business plan. We did some online research on possible competition and Chinese suppliers. In the afternoon we had a second lecture on food safety and health regulations in China. The classes usually end at 17.30h but tonight we have a surprise waiting for us. But of course no work, no play and we first finish up our research for our business plan.

In the evening we went to the city centre of Tianjin. Courtesy of CBL we went on a river cruise through Tianjin. There aren’t many foreigners in Tianjin, or I least I don’t think so. Everywhere we went there were Chinese people taking pictures of us. As a foreigner in China, you do really feel like you’re a famous moviestar. People stare at you and ask if they can take a picture with you. I think a lot of us are now trending on the Chinese facebook, weibo.

I don’t know if anyone actually paid attention to the sights on the river banks since we pretty much turned the boat into a photo shoot. Group pictures, selfies, normal pictures, panorama pictures…every kind of photo option was used to capture the sights of Tianjin by night.  All selfies aside the centre of Tianjin is very modern and clean. The river banks are coloured by traditional Chinese lampion lights and skyscrapers’ neon lighting. On a bridge in the middle of the river there’s also a huge ferris wheel like the London Eye. The fast growth of Chinese architecture and engineering is present in the ingenuity of the new urban landscape. There’s a famous cube shaped skyscraper with a square of about 30-35 meters cut out in the centre of it.

After the cruise we enjoyed a free evening. Since Tianjin is also known for its multicultural dining opportunities the entire group decided to go to the European street or Italian town. Here you can find high quality German, French and Italian restaurants. My friends and I had an amazing dinner at an Italian restaurant. Because the warm weather was softened by the river breeze we almost felt like we were on vacation. The others went to a German restaurant and were singing German songs all night. It’s was a beautiful day and a an even better night.


Foodies in China

The sixth day

Today we’re travelling to Tianjin by bullet train. The seduction of the Shanghai nightlife has proven to be too great to resist. Most of the students went out clubbing at the famous M1nt club or watched the Belgian and Dutch football match in the World Cup. Tired and distraught faces colour the bus to the train station. We all soon discover that Chinese train seats were not made for sleeping. Also Chinese trains are very noisy since Chinese people talk very loud and they have no problem with children singing and shouting in public. All of this does not a comfortable sleeping environment make. However you can buy nice food trays on the train and the speed of the bullet train is unmatched. The train ride took only about 5 to 6 hours to cross a distance of about 1200 km. So you can see why they call it a bullet train.

In the afternoon we arrive in Tianjin and the heat falls upon us. Although there is a sea breeze the heat in Tianjin is much more present and harder to bear than in Shanghai. There you have a more humid atmosphere. So be prepared for this kind of weather. Bring enough water, sunglasses and some cool nerves.

Instantly we notice the differences between Shanghai and Tianjin. Even though Tianjin is inhabited by about 12 million people it’s not as fast passed a Shanghai. It does have a lot of residential skyscrapers but you immediately sense that it’s not buzzing like a metropolis. You do hear a lot of cicades (day and night!). They reside in the treetops on the Nankai university campus. Nankai is considered to be the new up and coming university of China. At the campus we’re introduced to students from Nankai. They have prepared a welcoming activity for us. We’re going to make our own Chinese dumplings.

Dumplings are little bags of dough filled with minced meat which has been prepared. The stuffing mainly consists of minced lamb meat, oils, seeds, carrots, peppers and spices. It’s temping no to sneak a taste already. The students are divided into 5 groups and are assigned a table with all the necessary ingredients. Then it’s our turn to roll the dough into thin round shaped slices, fill them up and knead them into nice dumplings. I’m proud to say that my fellow students and I were the first team to finish. The students from Nankai and their professors are very welcoming. Which is greatly appreciated. We get to enjoy a traditional Chinese dinner of Tianjin specialities, including our student made dumplings. It was the best food we’ve had since I landed in China. It’s an entirely different kitchen from the Shanghai cuisine. Shanghai cuisine is more oily and uses different spices, while the Tianjin cuisine is more sweet. Especially typical for Tiajin cuisine are the Goubuli Bao zi or stuffed meatbuns. They’re very nice and taste like dough covered meatballs. You can’t visit Tianjin without ordering some of these.

Shanghai sights

The fifth day:

Time for some real tourist sightseeing in Shanghai. We’ve received tickets from CBL that allow us to take the Big Bus rides all throughout Shanghai for 24 hours. They works with the hop on/hop off system, which means that the busses drive by monuments and tourist attractions in Shanghai and at each stop you can get off or on the bus with the same ticket. You can very much compare them with the big red busses you see in London.

Depending on the earlier night activity students start the tour at a different time. Considering all nationalities play at a different hours of the day during the world cup, sometimes the amount of sleep can get limited. Especially when your own team wins. You have the possibility to choose between 3 bus lines, which show you a different part of Shanghai. Under the guidance of one student who has been living in China for a year now, a couple of students went to see the Lunghua temple. It’s this beautiful traditional Buddhist temple in Shanghai. It’s still being used until this day and even has its own wishing tree where you can wish for good health or good fortune ( or for your team to win the World Cup). The Lunghua temple isn’t one of the stops on the bus schedule, but you can take a taxi or the metro. Seeing the beautiful pictures my friends took, I am convinced to visit the temple when we get back to Shanghai next week. Since tomorrow we will be leaving for Tianjing.

The first thing you notice on your bus ride through Shanghai is that it doesn’t look anything like the stereotype you see in the movies. Except maybe in the latest James Bond movie Skyfall, where Shanghai is depicted as a modern metropolis full of skyscrapers.  The traditional Chinese elements we usually see in the movies with gold dragons and red sashes are limited. Of course you do have some beautiful traditional Chinese monuments such as Yuyuan Garden and fashion district, Jade temple, Chinese parks, … However these are rather exceptional. Shanghai is a modern city like any other which mainly consist of new office buildings, hotels, shops, etc. In that sense Shanghai can easily be compared to New York.

The bus tour nonetheless is a must do. It offers you an easy way to visit all the nice spots in Shanghai without having to rely on a taxi. It’s also provides you with an audio guide which talks about the sights you’re seeing while riding the bus.

After the bus tour my friends convinced me to go to the tailor market with them. Even though I have no intention of buying anything I’m curious to see what the tailor market is like and how they go about it. The market is located in a shopping mall and consists of many little shops thrown together. Every shop has stacks of different fabrics from which you can choose. A shirt will cost you about 80 RMB, a pair of pants about 200 RMB and whole suit about 700 RMB. Of course there no shopping in China without bargaining. Considering the prices, buying at the tailor market is in itself also a bargain.


German interests in Shanghai

Fourth day:

Today we’re visiting the German centre in Zhangjian Hi-tech park. As if it was meant to be, Germany is playing against France in the World cup on the same day. We’ve been invited by the general manager of the German centre to come watch the game on a big screen and enjoy some German snacks, beer and of course a German victory. There are many soccer enthusiasts amongst the students. I feel that within the group most students are cheering for Germany to win or at least do so to thank the Germans for their gracious hospitality towards us in Shanghai.

An encounter with typical traffic jams in Shanghai starts off the day. In Shanghai, there seem to be no clearly defined traffic rules. Every one, no matter what vehicle they’re driving, just tries to rush through traffic on their own rules. It took us about an hour or more to cross a distance which normally takes about 20 minutes.

The German centre itself is like coming home for most students. To be in a clean, air-conditioned building with normal toilets and Western style food is like heaven. It’s almost a European island in the city of Shanghai. Our first lecture was an introduction on the main purposes of the German centre for industry and trade. It was followed by a lecture on the protection of intellectual property rights in China. This was very interesting. Through the protection of IP rights Western countries hope to stay ahead of newly developing countries who try to copy Western knowhow or counterfeit Western products.

After this we all enjoyed a tasty lunch at the German centre restaurant. During which many students discussed their ideas for their business plans of essays. Each student had the option of taking part in a business plan or/ and writing an essay in which they need to incorporate the knowledge they acquired about doing business in China during the lectures of the CBL programme. By the end of the 3 weeks these assignments need to be handed in and presented, after which they will be graded. Of each assignment you will receive a certificate. Which is good motivator for students. Being in the German centre also offers the unique opportunity, for those students participating in a business plan, to ask questions in English to  expats and local who work there.

In the afternoon there were two more lectures; one on health and safety in China and on what it’s means to migrate to china and work there. By the end of the day the World cup bug had gotten to most students and they were itching to get back to the centre to watch the game. All dressed up in their best attire or/and German colours the girls stood out in the crowd, which was mostly comprised of men. Not that any of the men seemed to mind. After the first half without goals tensions started to rise. Mats Hummels released the Germans from their pain in the second half and scored the only goal of the evening and kick-started the party in the German centre with beer and hotdogs richly available. Auf wiedersehen!

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