All entries for March 2007

March 13, 2007

2 weeks in China – Frustration, Friendship and Flying

Home at last, my flight arrived on time at Heathrow this morning and by 6:45 am I was at my parents having a cup of coffee. I got back to Birmingham around 9:30 and have been doing my washing and relaxing since then – what a contrast to the last 2 weeks.

My last post was rather brief as, if you recall, I left my power adaptor in Chongqing and my batteries were flagging. So, let me fill in some of the details.

Thursday (8th March), Shanghai: Since my last visit over 7 years ago like all cities in China (especially the first tier ones) it has grown, upwards. Before, there was just the Pearl Tower – a futuristic looking TV tower with a large sphere like structure half way up – think Flash Gordon and you’ve got it. Anyway, when I last saw it, it was sitting on its own on the East bank of the Huangpo river. Now it is just one of many in the Pudong district, a huge area that strectches to the sea around 30km to the East of downtown.
Pudong (East Bank of the Huangpo river)

As I mentioned previously I was given a tour in the morning, and lunch in the YuYuan old town area which, rather disappointingly in some ways, is actually a facade: behind the carved wooden exteriors lie buildings of steel reinforced concrete – you could blame the Japanese but it didn’t have to be reconstructed in this manner. In the afternoon we visited some agents, the best of which was a guy called Colin who actually has offices in the UK. Nice bloke but we turned down his offer of a meal and ate instead in the trendy Xintiandi district. Now, normally I hate the fat on meat and like a pansy have always cut it off, much to my mothers dismay. I hope she is not reading this because Grandma’s Braised Pork Stew was fantastic and the fat, of which there was a lot, was firm, almost rubbery but absolutely delicious. We grabbed a cab back to the hotel afterwards, the female driver was listening to rock music, was small and dressed in a way that made me think of Blade Runner. In fact, Shanghai conjours up many images of Blade Runner in my mind; at night the roof details of the many skyscrapers are really futuristic.

Wuhan, Friday/Saturday: Arriving in Wuhan wasn’t quite a shock but the contrast between this second tier city and Beijing, Shanghai or even Chongqing was quite obvious… things are generally shabbier, businesses spilling onto the street, more bicycles. Nevertheless Wuhan is still a big city, you could easily fit Birmingham inside it. The exhibition was very well attended and for once Warwick had a good position and the stand had busy trade all day. As has been the case however, so many of the prospective want Business and Finance and the engineers we saw were few and far between. For some reason there were quite a few materials science peeps.
Central Wuhan is off to the right on the far bank of the Yangtze

We were late getting to the restaurant on Friday evening and so had to queue – we’d been warned but couldn’t avoid the traffic jams. After waiting for around 40 minutes we decided to leave… we were a few paces down the road when one of the floor managers (in a long black skirt and elegant hat) caught up with us and showed us to a side entrance where we were told we could have the next table. There are some advantages to being a ‘Ghost’ even though it did mean that I am still feeling a little guilty about being a queue jumper (well, not that much). Amongst the various dishes were and amazing sweet and sour fish and a surprise vegetable dish: crispy shredded potato, or…...french fries.
Crispy Shredded Potato

The restaurant….
The restaurant in Wuhan

Back in Hong Kong on Sunday evening Wing and Euphemia took me out for a hot pot. I must remember the place and go there with a colleague next time I’m in HK.

On Monday evening I presented a seminar at the British Council on Hong Kong, by now I was prepared for the relatively low turnout.
The prospective students that turned up all seemed nice and had engineering backgrounds. I hope we get to see a few of them in October. I caught a train out to the airport around 10pm, had enough time to down a pint in the Sports Bar before getting on the ‘Lump’ and flying home. Oh Yes - my power adaptor/charger did make it to HK! – 2 weeks in China – Frustration, Friendship and Flying

March 10, 2007

my charger will arrive in HK on Monday

Its now 11:30pm , just arrived in Hong Kong after a flight from Wuhan that nearly didn’t happen and a drive from Shenzhen via two very slow border controls.

Today’s recruitment exhibition in Wuhan was really busy. Its a shame that a great many of the potential students won’t be able to afford the cost. Thanks to Alan and Shirley from the International Office (China staff) and of course to Euphemia who deserves more money, more time off and more of everything.

Going back in time to my last posting … Friday was a flight from Shanghai (Pudong airport is a ridiculous distance from downtown and is served by a super fast, super expensive MAGLEV that doesn’t go anywhere useful, so isn’t used – Taxi is the only option but the roads are incredible congested so you should allow over an hour to be on the safe side…. In the afternoon visited some agents and in the evening went to a popular Wuhan restaurant – more to come in a later post.

Back further… on Wednesday in Shanghai was given a tour by a nice lady called Jaimey and in the afternoon.. guess what?..... agents. Finished up in a restaurant in the chic eating dining/bar area.

Must finsih now as my battery is fading fast. Hopefully my charger will arrive in HK on Monday

March 07, 2007

Shanghai – ROEWE Brand

Quite a day. I met with Wing over breakfast, Euphemia having already set out on her travels around agents in Chongqing, does she never stop? Anyway, we went on a mad drive (they are all mad drives in Chongqing) to the North side of the city and had a high-powered meeting that could lead to some really interesting and possibly exciting work.

Another mad dash across town (lanes? what lanes? What do the arrows on the carriageway mean? Not which direction to go that’s for sure) back to the hotel for lunch with a senior guy from the British Council, more interesting stuff to take in.

Another mad dash back north – Euphemia having told the driver we were in a hurry … WHAT? you mean those other drives were normal… Oh Yes. We did at least stop once for a red light. I gave a presentation to some industry people and also a large group of students at the back. One of them is planning to come to us next year to study E2BM. In the rush to get back to the airport I seem to have left my recharger there.

Flight to Shanghai, managed to mark two more of my ES3A7 scripts on the plane (now only 4 more to do) and then finished Knots and Crosses, the first of the Rhebus books. I’ll review it when I’ve worked out what I think as I’m not sure yet. It hasn’t appealed to me as much as Steven Saylor’s Gordianus books.

Tomorrow I am being taken around SH by a lady called Jaimey from the office of the guy who arranged todays power-meeting. Then interviewing some students.

Euphemia said she will take me to a good restaurant in the evening (she needs a more delicately flavoured meal than the HOT HOT HOT Sichuan style meal we had last night).

If I can get my notepad charged then I’ll post again, Oh yes, one final thing for Mark (sorry couldn’t find a more informative image)

ROEWE (Modified grill of Rover75 made by SAIC)

But try out this link to the Shanghai – ROEWE Brand

March 06, 2007

Meet you in Wuhan – now seems quite normal

Another posting? Two in one day! Well, I’ve got to make use of the 100RMB charge for 24 hours of internet access and I’ve just got back from the evening meal.

Five of us got into two taxis and hared across the city (think City of London then multiply by at least 5 times), across the Yangtze to a Sichuan restaurant on the far bank. The views back across the river to the forest of skyscrapers rising up on the hills to the South, decked in neon and fairy lights is quite spectacular.
Chongqing centre from across the Yangtze

Traditionally one eats in a private room, so we did. I asked not to be informed of what we were eating but in the end needn’t have worried. We had snake, eel, fish, pork, all kinds of things – I did my best despite my poor chop-stick technique. But seriously, the food was tasty and the company pleasant. Does that sound too ‘nice’, too English? I enjoyed myself.

I normally drink TsingTao beer but Shirley suggested we had the local beer, I can’t remember its name but we discussed at some length the validity of having draught beer in bottles (an increasingly common thing in China but not something I’ve come across before). We finished off with “meet you in Wuhan” – which now seems quite normal

Chongqing Girls… na, na, na, na, na…Chongqing Girls

Apologies, I can’t tell you too much about Chongqing as I haven’t left the hotel today, yet. It is just coming up to 6pm and I’ve just finished helping out at the Warwick stand of the Chongqing recruitment fair. Once again we were placed in the arse-end of the stands because of our unfortunate capital letter (see my earlier post). Still we did see quite a few students and there were two in particular that I hope we will be able to convert into applications. The acid-test will be if they turn up to the seminar I am giving tomorrow afternoon.

Euphemia suggested on the plane last night that Chongqing girls were supposed to be the prettiest in China. She related a Chinese proverb that discussses what men wish for when they visit three major cities in China – when they come to Chongqing they wish they hadn’t married so early. I can’t say whether this is true or not as MDW might be reading but the view from my window is quite pleasant.

My colleague from Hong Kong (Wing for those that know him) is arriving in a few hours and I’m sure he will have an opinion formed by more sustained analysis. Chongqing Girls… na, na, na, na, na…Chongqing Girls (to the tune of Girls on Film)

March 05, 2007

Books I Read in China 2007

MDW (see my blog) bought me this for my birthday – don’t ask, a Gentleman never tells – I’m trying to become a half decent archer you see AND I am now in China, so it seemed an appropriate book to bring. It has the added advantage for the traveller of being small/short at only 100 pages. I just finished it this morning in Beijing.

If you are interested in mysticism, Tai Chi or in Buddhist philosophy, or would like to know how to improve your sporting concentration and performance than this could be for you. Suprisingly for me, the book was written by a German, between the wars, and translated into English in 1953.

If you are an archer looking for some practical tips then you may find this frustrating. However, when I think about some of the top archers I’ve seen/know then perhaps there is something in it, even though they may not recognise the lessons of Herr Doktor Herrigel’s Zen Master, they do practice some of the art.

Beijing is really BIG

I just arrived at the InterContinental hotel in Chongqing after a flight from Beijing. There was a ROEWE on display at Beijing International Airport – thats the Chinese owned and built old Rover 75 with some styling mods and a new badge – Euphemia said she didn’t really like it. Its 1am so everything is pretty quiet, I’ll find out tomorrow what Chongqing is like and report.

Well, the meal on Sunday evening was delicious, a Cantonese style meal at Lei Garden Restaurant Dongcheng District.
Lei Garden (Beijing)
Lei Garden is a chain with outlets in Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Canton) and Singapore. If these outlets are anywhere near as good as the Beijing one then I can recommend them, not cheap perhaps but worth it. Afterwards we took a walk – it was FREEEEEZING. It was FREEEZING again this morning when I took a short walk.

Most important things I’ve learnt about Beijing
  1. Its Big;
  2. No, you’re not reading closely enough, its really big;
  3. No, I mean MASSIVE;
  4. About 80 million people live there;
  5. Don’t try and count the number of high rise building sites
  6. about half the World’s tower cranes live here
  7. the other half are on their way
  8. When its cold, its FREEEZING
  9. When the air is clear you can see the mountains to the North
  10. China only has one Great Wall
  11. It might pis* a Chinese person off if you mention that the UK has two
  12. Did I mention that Beijing is really big?

I learnt yet more about the agency situation in China, are you ready to be informed?

  • Most prospective students wishing to study overseas use an agent who helps them with their application forms, checks out the entry requirement, identifies suitable universities, colleges and schools (in the English speaking World) and organises visas.
  • Agents earn their money by getting a commission from the target universities – this can be between 10 and 20% of the fees. They used to charge the students but severe competition means that students now often get the service for free.
  • Only the top universities don’t use agents (Oxbridge and Ivy League) those that don’t give a commission, suprise, suprise, don’t get many referrals.
  • Guess how much Warwick pays per student (CLUE: anything divided by infinity). Why? ‘cos we are deluded about our worth in the eyes of students and don’t understand their point of view.
  • These agents aren’t small scale operations. The one I visited today occupies two floors of an office block, is stuffed full of people answering phones, teaching English for IELTS, processing applications. The shelves are stacked with prospectusses from hundreds of institutions. They are commercially aware, not patsies and the larger ones have offices in many cities.
  • If you don’t find a way to engage an agent on your behalf, then don’t expect a lot of Chinese students.
  • Most Chinese students aren’t ready or willing to apply direct (on-line) so it is not easy to bypass the agency system. If you think that your on-line applications rate is good, don’t be fooled, there are a lot more students out there that you just ain’t seeing.

*PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL *- Don’t be proud, the incremental cost of each student is minimal compared with the fixed costs of running an academic department (unless you have high lab costs). It is better to pay an agency fee than forego the revenue, unless you are a deluded moron, a greedy central administration, or have some nefarious ulterior motive (work it out).

Finally, did I mention that Beijing is really BIG ?

March 04, 2007

Snowing in Beijing

Back in my room at the Traders after another long day at the recruitment exhibition here in Beijing, thankfully the last here in Beijing but not the last of the trip.

Fewer people than yesterday but that was expected, nevertheless we still were there until 4:30pm. I’m now feeling a lot more knowldgeable about the options students have, the range of eductaion establishments at all levels and in all kinds of places that are involved in getting students to our door.

Last night I was treated to a proper Chinese meal Beijing-style. I now know what Beijing Duck should look and taste like – the ‘crackling’ was absolutely delicious. Not something you can do at home really, the duck is cooked over a wood-smoke fire. I also had the same green beans that I have in Kam Chuen Lau restaurant in Observatory Road, TST, Kowloon and can confirm that they are authentic. I don’t know where Euphemia will take me tonight but I’m sure it will be very nice.

Anyway, next stop is ChongQing in Sichuan province, as we packed up this afternoon there were shouts of “see you in Chongqing” from all around, it was quite strange, like saying “see you on Mars” for an ignorant European like me.

Final thing, woke up this morning, the official eve of Spring, and it was snowing in Beijing !

March 03, 2007

AAAWarwick University

I’m now in Beijing, having arrived on a flight from Hong Kong yesterday evening.

Today I’ve been helping man the Warwick stand at the international student recruitment fair in Beijing. We are located within the British Council enclave which, as in previous years apparently, is stuffed away in the far corner of the exhibition hall (think 2 halls at the NEC). I think the general view was that better and cheaper pitches were available if you didn’t elect to be under the BC umberalla, I reckon about a third of the ‘top’ UK universities at the fair chose to go independent – Warwick should perhaps consider this.

In order of best position (by enclave):
  1. Ireland (note: they are quite prepared to drop the Eire nonsense here)
  2. Australia – probably had the best impact and highest footfall
  3. Holland
  4. New Zealand
  5. Canada & US (central but upstairs, and almost no top Universities)
  6. New Zealand
  7. UK
    France was there as well but in a pretty minor way and anyway we don’t mention them (Duck!), a bit more prescence than Germany. The Nordic countries, Spain and Italy might as well not have bothered.

Of course Warwick also suffers from being at the end of the alphabet so we were in the furthest corner of the furthest corner, UK stand 47 of about 49. Perhaps we should change the name to AAAWarwick University – or would that cause too many problems with the CI?

Anyway its a real eye-opener and one that I guess fewer than 1% of academic staff (or us low-lifes, the academic related ones) ever see. I now know something of what the International Office do – thanks to Danni, and also our agents. Also about where we fit in the greater scheme of things – which is not as high as I think some of our leaders aspire to. Like all marketing I guess, the sellers desire and even performance is of secondary importance to the customers’ perception.

Now that I’ve been here for 24 hours I am an instant expert on China. Well, if not quite that, here are some observations based on a comparison with my last visit which was to Shanghai about 7 years ago.
  • Young Chinese people are far more assertive
  • No one wears blue overalls
  • lots are quite stylishly dressed or as ‘casual’ as Western students
  • The pace of transition is similar in my experience to that in Eastern Europe and you now see a good mix of Socialist Realism and Glass & Steel.
  • Chinese people don’t seem to speak as loudly as they used to.
  • More cars, lots more cars, someone said I think, 4,000 new registrations per month, or was that 40,000.
  • Shopping malls filled with designer stores – admitted we are staying in a central business district.
  • I reckon that in less than 10 years it won’t be cheap, just like I can’t afford to eat in the best restaurants in Warsaw anymore.

Tomorrow is another day on the pitch,as I said earlier perhaps we should change the name to AAAWarwick University

March 02, 2007

Skol is clearly having a promotion

Well, I got here (Hong Kong) eventually… all ready to go at Heathrow, Cathay Pacific CX250 ‘Main engines are “Go” for throttle up’…trundle, trundle, thunder, thunder… thump, break, break, break… dawdle, turn off runway and taxi to a halt, “Bugger”.

Anyway, after a three hour delay sitting on the tarmac with no refreshments and still another 12 hours sitting in cattle class Oooh, the University is such a thoughtful employer we finally got going after an engineer traced the fault and replaced a switch. Engineers are the salt of the Earth don’t you agree?

Uneventful flight, The Departed was showing, not a film worthy of all the Oscar plaudits, why didn’t they just come clean and say “Martin we are sorry for being such ass-holes over the years, please take this gong for your lifetime achievement” or even give him some sort of ‘posthumous’ Oscar for say Goodfellas or Taxi Driver. I also watched a bit of the Fastest Indian – you know the story about the old Kiwi who rides an old bike to glory at the Bonneville Speed Week. Actually, it wasn’t that bad even though Hopkins’ accent was very strange, perhaps that’s how they speak in Invercargill (two l’s as I don’t have to save the ink, I guess it must have some Scottish connection).

Oh yes, this was the first time I’ve flown on Cathay for about 10 years and I have to say I think the service has gone down a bit, at least from what I recollect. KLM is a bit better I think: more frequent refreshments and better AV.

I’ve been here for 2 hours now and done my usual evening constitutional: A Big Mac meal; a stroll along the Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui promenade; a ponder as I walk past some of the restaurants: shouldn’t I really eat properly… on my own- what a sad drag; in to Park ‘n Shop for some snacks and some cheap Tsingtao beer; then back to my room. Good point – there was a complimentary beer for me when I got back: Skol is clearly having a promotion.

March 2007

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