China - Fast Food + Surprise Canadians Edition (New Oriental and Lenovo)


This is embarrassing.

So the morning of our last day in Beijing, my room mate Jen and I got up (always a good start). It's dark, because the curtains are closed. Lights, camera, slight action. Mainly from Jen's side of the room. I've given up and have just started to use her as my alarm clock, mainly because she does this weird thing where she gets up about an hour before completely necessary. We get ready, a bit late, head out of hotel room, walk past the window in the hallway, stop dead in my tracks. Literally stared out the window, dumbfounded, for 30 seconds.

What. The. Frak. 

I take it all back, Beijing, all the nasty things I said before. Thank you for letting me see you all shiny on my last day in you. 

This was our first day with two company visits, so I suppose when the exhaustion all began. We all looked dashing again, but this time in sunlight. 

Hi, George.

Happy snaps on our way to the first company. Legit happy, because actual colour this time around. Beijing is now a normal city in Summer instead, of thick yellow pollution cloud of doom. 

Billboards! Because marketing. Also, this one's for the company we'd see later that afternoon, it was like my day had its own hidden easter egg:

Arrived at a fancy business area.

So our first visit was to a wholly Chinese company called New Oriental, a private education institution  providing tuition to everyone from preschoolers to adults, outside the rather dodgy Chinese public education system. They also have partnerships with dozens of international universities, so all the Chinese students in Australia? It's likely a lot are there because of this company. 

Talking to this company was of interest because everybody knows how important education is for the Chinese people, and New Oriental will be one of the only local companies we'd get to see; it'll be a case of investigating China from the inside as opposed to a Western organisation looking in. 


Forever love China's clash of old and new.

Breaktime. Everyone's beverage was terrible. All 23 of us. Sorry, Costa.


We met our presenter, Mr Qingrong (Victor) He, the Education and Technology Group Director at New Oriental. He was a vibrant, intelligent and inspirational guy who left us all wanting to work for his organisation. We left a lot of companies with the same feeling, so I suppose that means they're all really, really good at their jobs.

We had a bit of a tour of the building - more or less a university campus, in a way. With an enrolment desk, library and classrooms etc. the library, in case the books didn't clue you in.

There are books here to teach you everything from basic French, how to do well in US college entrance exams, in depth guides to pass the bar and to how shitty Western romantic fiction is.

I promise, China, the English language is so much better than this.

This incorporating-actual-study-into-my-blog thing is still a work in progress, and I'm thinking last time was a bit over the top; no one comes on here to read my bloody assignment. So I'll just write a few points of what I hope to be general interest for each company instead. 

Look at me understanding and positioning myself for my audience, look at me. 

So, New Oriental:
  • Founded in 1993 by a Michael Yu, who was inspired to educate Chinese students incorporating both Western and Eastern elements, humour and stories, working towards students' self actualisation.
  • Michael Yu travels around China selling his brand to high schools and university; his speeches fill stadiums, with kids literally hanging in through the windows and sitting on roofs, hanging on every word. He's inspiring, and makes them laugh.
  • They make people want to learn, focussing on making it fun and convenient. Taking classes from your mobile phone? Done.
  • They've had to deal with what's called the One Child Policy generation. They're spoiled, sensitive and egotistical. Their parents are hard and pushy; but if you think about it, they only have one chance now to bring success to their family.
  • There's a reason for the smart-Chinese-student stereotype; the importance of education is instilled in Chinese children from a very young age. This is another factoid that again comes back to the sheer number of people there are in China; superior academic success is the primary way for people to stand out, because really, how do you stand out to employers amongst literally tens of millions of people just like you?
    • sub fun fact: the number of new enrolments each year is equivalent to the entire population of university students in Japan.
  • Social responsibility is an important part of their business; they've donated millions to establishing schools, giving out grants, disaster relief, free lessons to impoverished students and have trained teachers in remote locations.
  • Victor mentioned how the company is learning more from the West than the other way around; there was a nice kind of honesty with how he said this. I find that the Chinese have little qualms with acknowledging someone's better at something than they are and they're ready to learn from them. In contrast, can you really see an American, for example, openly saying, "Yes, we're pretty bad at this, but we're looking at how these guys do it who do it really well, and we're going to improve."
  • Their motto is from Martin Luther King Jnr: "Hew a stone of hope from the mountain of despair and you will have a splendid life."

Kim and Joanna

Lunch time! Which is always an adventure in and of itself. Today we found a very interesting place; take away Chinese. As in...McDonalds or Hungry Jacks or KFC...but with Chinese food. So you know how in all those places there's the metal shelf thing behind the counter where they slide the burgers down? Exactly like that, but with little pots of Chinese dishes and rice. 

It was very strange to see.

Bit of a drive to the next company. But still such a lovely day, so it's okay.

Apparently this was one of the sets for MIB or something? May have misheard that. I dunno.

Company #2 was Lenovo, a wholly Chinese computer technology company, out in the outskirts of Beijing, but where all the fancy companies have all their fancy campuses. 

Officially welcomed by the neon sign! #Chester

Our host and speaker was Leo Curtis - a Canadian! Which, he told us, meant we were all free to make fun of Americans during out visit.

Gave a us a only a brief walk through the lovely grounds, because damn Beijing, you're still so hot. 

"Why don't you come on over, Maaalloryyy..." I'm sorry that's the first and last time I'll make that joke I'm sorry.
Leo said that the first winter he worked here, they froze this pond thing, because "He's Canadian! Canadians skate! Yes!" but then someone fell off the end down the stairs so they didn't do that again.

So, Lenovo:

Extra fancy board rooms.

  • I'd kind of vaguely heard of it before, but not really. So you're forgiven if you hadn't either. 
  • They're actually a really interesting, clever and innovative company; they own more patents than any other PC company worldwide. They invented cloud technology, the first kind of T9 text tool that's used now, and developed how to write the Chinese language from the American keyboard.
  • Their aim has always been to build a computer from the Chinese people, for the Chinese people.
  • Had some very interesting things to say about the PC industry:
    • The PC isn't dead, it just has to adapt. IBM etc. haven't acknowledged this, which is why they're slowly dying.
    • 97% of all future world population growth is going to be in developing countries - this usually means the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Keep an eye on those ones, kids. America is no longer making the decisions on how business is done.
    • Tablets are about content consumption, whereas a notebook is for product creation (I've never thought of it in that way, but it's true) - that's why the tablet > PC phase won't go on forever.
  • True innovation today is based on necessity, not desire: while Lenovo are now targeting the younger generation, trying to be "cool" they're also going the opposite away, targeting tier 5 and 6 cities. How do you sell computers to people with the most basic housing and no electricity? Lenovo has developed a PC that runs on the battery that also powers these people's scooters; they'll ride to work, charge the battery, ride home, and instead of it sitting there overnight, it'll be used to power the computer. Kids can do their homework, families can have access to information they otherwise wouldn't. And, as a bonus for Lenovo, when these families and their cities develop into higher tiered cities and can buy their own computers again, which brand do you think they'll trust and buy? Ehhh? Clever. 

Egi and Wei Di. #Chester


Around the board room was a gallery of all the history of Lenovo's products: from the clunkiest 80s computers to tabletop family tablets and 3D TVs. 


As a last add-on - here's a video of me not dying in Beijing traffic on the way to dinner with Whitney and Joanna that night. I'm pretty proud. Plus a bit of taking the Lord's name in vein. 


I feel I should leave some parting comments - I haven't made many in depth observations, when I should've. Because assignment.

I actually kind of liked Beijing, overall. Considering it's covered by a thick yellow cloud of polluted doom at least 80% of the time and is humid as hell, this is quite an achievement. I felt safer than in LA, and the people are nicer than in LA too. LA shall now be the standard of city crappiness for every future city I visit. 

I feel I may have confused everyone with my mention of tiered cities earlier; Chinese cities are segmented into tiers, from 1 to 6c. This is basically done with population, with 1 being more than about 18 million (hahahahaha), tier 2 more than about 12, down to 6c with more than 300 000. The only tier 1 cities are Beijing, Shanghai and Guanzhou and Shenzhen, with over 170 having more than 1 million residents. Beijing as about 23 million; as Tim said when we arrived, "Welcome to Australia".  Well then.

The Chinese people are, in general, lovely. Not that I expected them not to be, but I feel it deserves a mention. They're willing to help you out -we were never rejected whenever we asked for directions- and are always smiling. The children are adorable, and if you make faces at them, they'll giggle back. If you're white, the adults think you're the coolest; I've taken lots of photos with complete strangers, and they've never been anything but courteous and I've never felt unsafe.

Chinese/Asian men are gentlemen; maybe it's just the guys in our group, but they'll always let a woman walk through the door first, bring up the rear of the party and refuse to let anyone go back to the hotel by themselves. Chivalry isn't dead, chivalry's in China.

I think China is the best place in the world to go people watching. I know that's a serious hobby for some people, to the extent that they make up personal histories for the oddities they see; not for me, but I could definitely sit in Tiananmen Square for a while and just look at their very eclectic dress sense, their interpersonal reactions, the types of families you see around and the always present bizarre amalgamation of things old and new. China is like a kid that's dealt with a lot of family drama very short space of time, and I think it'll never cease to be interesting how they've grown up. 

It was nice to meet you, Beijing. But next: Shanghai.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait for you being in Shanghai! I loved loved loved the city.