My Travels in China
Welcome to my study ablog! My name is Brendan Moran, and I am a 2010 graduate of St. John’s.
I just completed my sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame, where I am studying Finance and Theology. During the upcoming summer, I will be traveling to China to conduct research with a faculty member from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. I will be researching the role of emerging religions and their impact on the Chinese economy, and I will also be looking at private equity trends in China. Above all, as China becomes a global leader in so many senses of the term, I hope to more fully understand how and why they have become so dominant on a number of different fronts. I hope you enjoy reading about my travels and experiences! Go Prep!
With July comes blistering heat, and let me assure you that China’s summer has thus far been comparable to a typical New England summer. We’ve been experiencing sweltering days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, and from some e-mail conversations I have had with my Mom, it sounds like most of New England has been undergoing a similar heat wave.
A quick funny story from the past week. I had some issues checking out of my hotel on Friday morning, and the process was taking much longer than expected. After getting some help from a local Shanghai friend, I needed to catch a taxi if I wanted to make my 11:00 train to Beijing. I needed to be on this train; I had already purchased a ticket, and there was no guarantee that I would be able to get a seat on the next train departing for Beijing later that night. After spending a good five minutes flagging down a taxi (of course, when I needed one the most, there were in ‘shortage mode’), I hopped in the car and told him where I needed to go, yelling “kuai” (fast!) at the end of my sentence. He laughed. Well, it just so happened that I chose “Shanghai’s Most Conservative Taxi Driver.” I mean, this guy made my 94-year-old grandmother look like a daredevil behind the wheel. After a long 35-minute drive, we arrived at the train station with little time to spare. I thanked him graciously, and he started smiling and speaking in Chinese to me. I proceeded to grab my bags and run. I ended up making my train, but not by much. The joys of international travel.
After five weeks in Shanghai, I have safely settled into my surroundings in a new city. I have been in Beijing for about three days now, and I am excited to spend the next two weeks in China’s capital city. Beijing is full of so much culture and history; my hotel is located in an alley (affectionately called a hutong), surrounded by the walls of many courtyard houses. Formerly the homes of high-ranking officials and Beijing’s elite, most of these courtyard houses now belong to the state. For such a modern city, it’s very interesting to see the charm of ‘old Beijing’ in the hutongs that are quite easy to miss.
So what will I be doing in Beijing for the next two weeks? Well, I have some meetings set up to continue with my research, but I will also be doing all of the “tourist” trips. No plans to visit mainland China in the next couple of decades? Alas, you can live vicariously through me as I travel to Tian’an Men Square, the Forbidden City, the Olympic Village (home of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and even the Great Wall. I have a couple of Notre Dame contacts who are currently in Beijing, so we plan on doing day trips together to explore the historic city. I plan on taking lots of pictures, so have no fear!
Only about twelve more days in China! Looking forward to getting back home, but also hesitant to leave a country so different from our own. Talk to you soon! Go Prep!
Hi Everyone! I’ve been in Shanghai for a little over a month now, and I’ve become an expert on navigating my way around the subway system. Unfortunately, I leave for Beijing on Friday morning via high-speed train (which covers 819 miles in just under 5 hours!), and will thus have to learn all about a new and very different city. I’ve been learning about China’s capital city and all of its sights and attractions from the Notre Dame students, who have already spent two weeks there earlier in June.
The Notre Dame students left to go back home yesterday morning, so I am back to my old ways of “flying solo.” They were great to have around; I forged a lot of new friendships and learned from each and every one of them at one point during their short stay in Shanghai. More familiar faces on campus next fall (which I’m already getting very excited about – can anybody say football season?)! I really enjoyed taking the course with them; very intriguing and eye-opening. For the past week, we spent a lot of time discussing the role of Western business and its influence on the Chinese economy. It became quite evident that the concerns of Westerners regarding China do not necessarily align with the concerns of Chinese citizens.
During the course of our classroom discussion, I stumbled upon a paradox that I feel will be of great importance within the next decade or so in China: the role of a free-market economy in regards to authoritarian control by the Communist party. Now, one can easily see that the Chinese political situation has adopted democratic characteristics since the end of Mao Zedong’s tenure as Chairman of the PRC, but the fact remains that all of the important decisions regarding China’s future are made in Beijing by the Communist Party. What does this mean for the future of China? Will they reach a breaking point where they must choose one (a free-market economy versus authoritarian control) over the other? Will this curtail their “economic miracle?” Furthermore, what does this say about innovation? How hard will it be to bring about new, creative ways of doing business in the innovative landscape we find ourselves living in. Lastly, what does this mean for the next generation of Chinese leaders, namely my own generation. Having been used to authoritarian control for all of their lives, will they continue this trend, or will they opt for a more democratic society?
Obviously, I have done a good amount of thinking on this particular subject, and I think this is a question that will greatly impact the future for China and the rest of the world. Of course, it is quite dangerous to view China from a Westerner’s perspective. China will never become like the West. Their culture and ways of everyday life are too different to conform to Western principles. And who is to say that a Westerner’s way of life is better or more efficient or more productive than a Chinese way of life?
Sorry to bombard you all with questions. Really getting inside my head with this post. If you have any thoughts or comments regarding any of the questions posed, please feel free to drop a line in the Comments section of the blog. I’d be more than happy to enter into dialogue with you!
Take care, and Go Prep!
Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers out there. It’s always tough to not be with my family for major holidays, but it’s something that I’ve come to terms with. Fortunately, I was able to Skype my Father on Sunday and wish him a Happy Father’s Day from Shanghai.
I’ve been in Shanghai for a little over three weeks now, and I am starting to love the city more and more each day. Having the other Notre Dame students around has been great; I’ve been able to explore more of the city due to their presence.
The classes have also been very eye-opening as well. During the first week of class, we discussed important issues and obstacles facing China’s economy, including environmental challenges, income inequality, and corruption issues. We’ve also been looking at the reform efforts of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese politician who led the People’s Republic of China for 14 years (1978-1992). He basically was the leader who had to deal with the mess that Mao Zedong had created. Through his efforts, China moved towards a socialist market economy that encouraged foreign investment and market liberalization.
Another issue that we’ve been discussing heavily in class has been China’s ‘carbon footprint,’ if you will. These environmental issues are estimated to cost China between 8 and 12 percent of their GDP annually. Coal emission is drastically affecting the air quality in major cities; China has 16 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities. Moreover, domestic companies and factories aren’t listening to the laws and regulations that the government is enacting. Social discontent is rising, and something needs to be done in order to combat these challenges.
Aside from classroom time, the course also allows students to engage in company and site visits in the afternoon. So far, we’ve visited a coffee manufacturer (illycaffe), an office furniture manufacturer (Haworth), and China’s most profitable bank (ICBC), to name a few. All of these visits have been incredibly interesting for me; I think it has been fascinating to learn about how business is conducted in China.
The course has also been a considerable amount of work. It’s been good to get back in ‘school mode.’ Maybe that means that I won’t be so rusty when August rolls around. Time will tell! Take care, and I’ll talk to you next week!
To my millions of readers! I wanted to apologize for the latency of this post. My primary Notre Dame e-mail account suffered a security breach over the weekend, and I was unable to upload my most recent post at the end of the weekend like I have been doing. After talking to Notre Dame’s Office of Information Technology, everything is back to normal, and here I am!
This past week was very productive and efficient if I do say so myself. I visited a number of private equity firms and private equity fund managers in the Shanghai area in order to better understand the current state of the Chinese economy. The biggest thing that I got out of the meetings: China is trying to focus less on international exports and more on domestic consumption to fuel the growth of their economy. Huge economic reforms have occurred within the last 30 years or so, a period that began with the death of Communist leader Mao Zedong and led to the appointment of Deng Xiaoping, a politician who firmly believed in a free-market economy. However, because of some questionable policies within the last couple of decades, many experts believe that China’s economy is quite unstable. Thus, the need to focus on domestic consumption, an activity that will decrease unemployment levels, increase average household consumption, and lower the trade surplus, all of which will raise the national GDP. This trend is very important for a number of reasons, and especially for the private equity industry, an asset class that is expected to experience huge levels of growth within the next couple of decades.
Aside from all of these meetings, I was also able to get a good amount of work done in regards to my research. I have been visiting a local Starbucks, which has proved to be a great place for getting work done. One of the baristas even knows my name by now. Free Wi-Fi, a hot vanilla latte, and a room full of sunlight and soft tunes, what more could one ask for? It’s funny how much work you can get done when you just focus in on what you’re doing and get in a rhythm.
Another reason why I’ve been able to get so much work done is because of the language barrier that exists between the locals and I. I fully understood what I was putting myself into, having never taken a semester of Mandarin at all. Thus, I have become illiterate. However, even the illiterate possess their thoughts. And this is quite powerful. Never before have I been able to think on my own, not having to worry about being distracted by the hustle-bustle around me. Perhaps this is why the transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, etc.) were able to ponder about life’s most difficult questions. They were alone with their thoughts. I remember reading some of their writings in my Junior year English class with Ms. Burridge. I guess I didn’t really come to appreciate their knowledge and genius and writing skills until now. They were totally alone, cut off from the world, yet able to clearly and effectively think about some tough issues. So, I urge you to take 30 minutes or an hour out of your day to be alone. With your thoughts. And maybe some paper and a pen. You will be amazed.
Switching to the complete opposite side of loneliness, additional Notre Dame students arrived today. I will be joining up with them to take classes taught by a Professor from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. There are about nineteen students, and it has been great to have them around so far (and it’s only been a day!). So, although being alone is great and all, being with friends and family is essential for happiness. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks with them.
That’s all for now. I’ll talk to you all soon! Go Thunder! (ABL – Anybody But LeBron!) and Go Prep! Brendan
Hello Everyone! I’ve been in China for about a week now, and I’ve already begun to notice some drastic differences between here and the U.S. For instance, I briefly commented on the taxi system in last week’s post. It really is ridiculous at how many fare-seeking cabs there are; in all honesty, I am surprised that half of the cab drivers in Shanghai are able to make a profit! Also, I have already observed various forms of business enterprises. Of course, you have the immense shopping malls and restaurants with American brand-name stores such as Nike, Calvin Klein, Mercedes-Benz, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (apparently the Chinese like the bearded image of Colonel Sanders – no joke). At the same time, there are hundreds of street vendors and convenience stores who have been operated by the same family for the past fifty years. And in most cases, these street vendors are able to earn much better gross margins than the big multi-national corporations that we are all used to seeing every day. Maybe that says something in it of itself regarding the Chinese economy.
Public transportation is very popular here in Shanghai. You have the metro (subway) system, buses and ferries, just to name a few. It is considered the “Chinese dream” to earn enough money to purchase a car. However, my Professor told me that if every Shanghai family had one car, the streets would become inoperable and would permanently shut down. Thus, the need for public transportation. Furthermore, Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010 and put a lot of money into their metro system to ensure that visitors would be able to move around the city easily. I have explored the metro system a bit, and I have one word to summarize it: expansive (now that I think of it, I am sure that it was also very, very expensive as well). Some lines are elevated (which offer a nice view of the city), others are underground. Some lines stretch well out into the countryside, while others take you straight to the heart of downtown Shanghai.
So what exactly have I been doing over the past week? Besides acclimating my body with the 12-hour time difference, I have been taking classes, doing research, and exploring the city. My Professor teaches an “Ethics in Finance” course to Chinese MBA students at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on the last week of the course. Some topics the course covered over the past week includes the following: corporate responsibility, the ethics of “off-shoring,” the financial crisis of 2008, and Apple’s relationship with its Chinese suppliers, including the Foxconn plant suicide scandal back in 2010. Over the past two years or so, I have developed an interest in learning more about the 2008 financial crisis. I would consider myself a bit of a “history buff” due to some of my favorite history teachers I had at the Prep (I’m looking at you Mr. Mathison and D-Smith). There is so much that can be learned about finance, accounting, ethics, and life in general from studying the crisis. One could study the crisis for a decade and learn something new every day. I recently just finished a wonderful documentary on the crisis and financial regulation, “Inside Job.” I recommend it highly. Mostly nonpartisan with a bit of liberalism here and there. It is critical of financial de-regulation and academic economics. Plus, Boston’s own Matt Damon narrates the film; what more could one ask for?
Since the “Ethics in Finance” course is only held in the morning, I am left with ample time to do some research and explore the city. I have begun the initial stages of my research, which focuses on the state of the Chinese economy and private equity trends. I’ve been doing lots of reading and have been engaging in rather lengthy discussions with my Professor on a number of different topics related to my research. I have a couple of meetings lined up for next week in Lujiazui, the financial district of Shanghai.
Shanghai is often referred to as the “Paris of the East” or the “New York of China.” Very Westernized, very industrialized and lots of consumerism. I met a Notre Dame friend for dinner one night this past week, and after dinner we walked down East Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai’s most famous shopping streets. It was just beginning to get dark, and all of the stores on the street had bright, eye-catching signs to attract visitors. I thought I was in Las Vegas. Then I was brought back down to Earth when I noticed the throngs of Chinese natives staring at me, one of the only Americans in sight.
As you can tell, I’ve kept myself very busy during my first week here in Shanghai. Lots more to come in future posts! Go Celtics (I’ve been able to watch via online pixilated streams) and go Prep!
Ni-hao from Shanghai!
I have safely arrived in Shanghai after a very long travel day. Like always, I saved most of my packing for the night before I departed. Thus, I did not get very much sleep on Thursday night, which made matters ever worse when I had to wake up at 5:30 to drive to Logan Airport. The flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport was relatively uneventful and very brief in comparison to the next leg.
My flight left Toronto at 1 PM EST on Friday afternoon and arrived in Shanghai at 3:15 PM local time on Saturday afternoon. The gate-to-gate time was a little over 14 hours; needless to say, it was the longest flight that I’ve ever been on! Surprisingly, though, the flight went pretty quickly. We were fed often, and each seat had plenty of leg room and miniature TVs built into the seatbacks for our viewing pleasure. Along the way, I watched a few Hollywood hits, tried to sleep as much as I could, did some reading, and prepared for my arrival in Shanghai.
Upon arriving at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I went through customs, exchanged my US dollars into Chinese Remnibi (or yuan), grabbed my luggage, and went through luggage customs. My Professor surprised me at the airport, which came as a big relief for me; I had been thinking that I was going to have to navigate to my hotel all by myself! We proceeded to take the Maglev railway, a 7-minute ride that hit a top speed of 435 km/hour along the way! We then hopped into a cab and we were on our way to the hotel.
To put it simply, driving is insane in China. I learned this firsthand during our 45-minute ride to the hotel. Our taxi driver was weaving in and out of the highway lanes, beeping his horn every time someone came near him, and was making lane shifts that cut it close. He wasn’t the only driver making these risky twists and turns; it seemed as if every car, taxi, truck, and even bus were all acting like daredevils!
I arrived at the hotel, which is very nice, at around 5:30 PM. I started to unpack a little bit, and soon grew very tired. Since I flew westward, I had not seen the night sky since Thursday night back home. Consequently, I quickly passed out around 7:30 PM, and slept until about 5:30 AM. Once I woke up, I tried to figure out all of the different things going on in the room. For example, the Chinese use different outlet than Americans, and so I needed to go rent an outlet converter at the front desk in order to be able to charge my computer. Internet connection was also something that did not come easy to me. In fact, I still do not have proper connection (which is why no pictures are included in this message; I would attached an awesome picture of a Chinese outlet for your viewing pleasure!). I am able to work my e-mail and Skype, but am surprisingly unable to visit any websites of any sort. I am having dinner with my Professor tonight, and I have a list of questions that I need to ask him.
For the most part, I am just laying low today. My Professor from Notre Dame teaches courses to local MBA students, and he has informed me that I will be able to sit in on them, which I am very excited about. I am reaching out to my contacts in Shanghai right now, and am trying to figure out when I can visit them and whatnot.
I look forward to talking to you all in about a week, with more interesting stories from my first week in China! Go Prep!
It's Friday, May 18, and I depart for China a week from today. My planning and preparation for this trip started back in September of 2011. Although it can be somewhat intimidating to tackle a project that seems so far in the future, I would absolutely recommend getting started early. If you are interested in international research (or domestic, for that matter), I have a couple of useful tips:
- Talk to as many upperclassmen as you can. Gaining knowledge from fellow students who are better acclimated to a particular university is very valuable. They are the ones who know about the various centers and institutes on campus that sponsor summer programs. They know people who did service in Bangladesh last summer, or whose parents are heavily involved with Partners in Health. Whatever it is, use them as an invaluable resource.
- Once you have identified an area of research that you would like to learn more about, start by reaching out to various faculty members, including Professors, at your school. Aside from other students, they are the most important people you should be talking to. They are very well-versed in their particular subject matter, and they will have countless numbers of contacts for you.
- Network, network, network. Often overlooked, yet highly important, networking can get your foot in the door at a lot of places. Don’t be afraid to send a cold e-mail to a Professor you’ve never met before. In fact, that is how my upcoming research experience began.
After you have narrowed down the logistics of whatever you will be doing, some of you will need to figure out your travel and lodging arrangements. Most colleges have a campus travel agent that can be of the utmost importance. They can help out with renewing passports, applying for visas (which can be very annoying), and providing you with valuable information about the area that you will be visiting, especially if it is an international destination. Figuring out housing is another separate process, and most programs have long-standing relationships with nearby universities, hostels, villages, or hotels that you are able to coordinate with.
Perhaps the most important aspect of preparing for international travel is taking the proper medical precautionary measures. Depending on where you will be traveling and what you will be doing, you may need various immunizations and prescriptions, which can easily be given to you at your University Health Center. Most health centers have a travel nurse that can be very valuable in telling you about all of the things to look out for once you arrive at your destination.
Although a lot of this information may sound vague and somewhat trite, they are nonetheless very important to keep in mind when planning a summer experience.
In the next couple of weeks, I hope to provide you all with more detail-oriented accounts of the work that I will be doing in China, and I hope to incorporate some forms of multimedia (pictures, videos, etc.) into these posts to make them more fun and interactive.
Thanks for taking the time to read what I promise will be the most boring post of the series, and have a great day! I will talk to you all in about a week.