Final Thoughts: Those things that interest you more than the touristy places…

As our team wraps up the project and leaves tomorrow for Columbus, I feel the need to pen down my final thoughts about this city – this country – these people.

I love walking around a city, or taking its public transport. I feel its the best way to get to know a city better. You come across so many interesting things, sights, people, events etc. around you. Its the best way to get to the soul of a city. That’s what I always told people about Mumbai (where I was born and raised) – you want to feel the soul of this city? Just walk around.

Yes we walked, and we walked, and walked. Sometimes with a fixed destination in mind, or sometimes just bumping into places (even better). The photos in the previous blog, are all the touristy places that we went TO, whereas what you see now, are the observations along the way, or let’s just say, those things that interest you more than the touristy places:

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The spices of Chongqing 
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A Chinese astrologer reading (deciding?) someone’s future

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An old man selling some meat skewers

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A street food scene

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Chinese DIY

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 A young lady on the ipad, at a local tea store

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The traditional way of serving tea. The hospitality you experience at a local tea house is simply humbling.

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A fruit seller with his carrying pole. This is the local way of transferring small goods here. 

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IMG_5171Walking down the lane…

IMG_5460Shoot and win

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Two women selling heads/teeth of actual dog carcass. From what I got to know, it is supposed to ward off evil. 

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 You see them everywhere. Good luck charms? Jewelry?

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Women gambling

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 Everywhere I went, I saw so many spots where people would just sit and gamble.

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 Chinese dominoes?

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Loved listening to their music

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He was singing a Chinese song. We praised his music. And then he starts singing ‘Unchained Melody’!

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 These little dogs are EVERYWHERE in Chongging

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Pet dog of a dye maker. I’m serious

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Three wheelers. A very common sight.
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 Check out the video

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Curious kid

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Grumpy kid

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Smiley kid

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Funky kid

IMG_5602Everything has a meaning!
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I asked her if could take her photo. She said very sweetly, “Yes you can'” I told her that her English is very good (For a moment I went back to the ‘Stuff’ Indians are asked article on Buzzfeed – sigh). She smiled, removed this book from her bag, and said, “This, is my English book!”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Crazy infrastructure
  2. Just interacting with people here can be a very humbling experience
  3. Dictionary/Translation app can do wonders
  4. You get mangoes in China. Your life is awesome.
  5. Chongqing is very green
  6. Surprisingly good traffic scenario despite the busyness of the city
  7. Pandas are funny
  8. China and India are a LOT similar
  9. Tea houses are the best
  10. Sichuan Opera would be the only other thing I would give up visiting a tea house for
  11. It helps enormously to have a local friend who can help you deal with a lot of things. We are very grateful to many people we came across here, some of whom we hope to keep in touch with
  12. Chongqing is INDEED the ‘mountain city’ or the ‘crane city’
  13. Chinese kids are the cutest
  14. Bullet trains are impressive
  15. Sichuanese cuisine is INDEED spicy. Been there, done that.
  16. Mayo and Nega are the two most commonly used (or heard by me) words

Cya China!

 

The Tourists of Chongqing

We, the tourists of Chongqing, and all the touristy places in this sprawling city.

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Leaving a mark – at Great Hall of the People, Chongqing.

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Hongya Cave

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The People’s Liberation Monument (and Gucci), at Jiefangbei

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Jiefangbei! Our home!

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The Three Gorges Museum

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Chongqing Guotai Arts Center

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A string of 60 Chinese kites – at Chaotianmen Square

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Arhat (Luohan) Temple. That’s Chongqing for you, Constructions, skyrises, and a temple – all in one frame.

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The beautiful Eling Park

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Chongqing Skyline – View from the Yangtze River cable car ride

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Skyline – by the night

Chengdu Trip – Sichuan Opera and Le Shan Grand Buddha

All right folks – so after seeing the adorable pandas, we headed off to Jinli Ancient Street in Chengdu, which basically is a bustling street where you can savor some delicious street food and also shop in small stores for several traditional items Later in the evening, I decided to go watch the Sichuan Opera, and I’m VERY GLAD that I made this decision. The Opera was FANTASTIC featuring some incredible acts and traditional performances. Take a look at the pictures:

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Following are photos of The Costume and Face Changing Acts. These performers changed their masks/costumes in split seconds!

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The next day, I was all excited to go to The Grand Buddha site, at Le Shan, near Chengdu. I was particularly interested in this visit since I was very intrigued by the fact the mighty Buddha(233 ft) was built several years ago in 713, and was carved out of a cliff (in those days! How challenging would that be?). The following pictures speak volumes about the mightiness of the holy Buddha.

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Tourists praying by the feet of the Grand Buddha.

Kneeling at the feet to pray, and then looking up, gazing at the Grand Buddha – this moment has been etched in my memory forever.

Another memorable experience for me was visiting the ancient temple near the Grand Buddha, and the conversations about various religions with my guide/friend. She gave me some great insights into Chinese Buddhism, and while conversing with her, and through observations, I noticed commonalities between Chinese Buddhism and Hinduism. She also explained to me the various symbols around the temple (I loveeeeeeee symbolism!)  This got us talking about Buddhism in China, Tibet, and India, Hinduism, and Taoism. We spoke at length throughout the trip, and I ended my day, feeling a deep sense of joy from exploring Chengdu, and meeting its people. To me, more than the touristy places, it is the little observations made by walking around a city, and the people you come across, that make the journey worthwhile.

Photos of the ancient temple:
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That’s it on Chengdu. I will blog further about our ‘Walks’ around Chongqing and key takeaways on China – the experience :)

Chengdu Trip – Pandas!

So, JT, JP, and I headed out to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province (and a city that has impressed me in terms of its size, infrastructure, tourism, and people), to go see some PANDAS!

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Yes, we were at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center, Chengdu. We did learn several interesting facts about the endangered Pandas while we were there, but for me, it was super funny to just watch these pandas either 1. Eat 2. Sleep 3. Eat 4. Sleep! Oh and if that life was not awesome enough, they also don’t have to bother much about taking a bath since frequent bathing can adversely affect their body temperature. *Like a boss*

These pictures can tell you about  the Panda Lifestyle: (BTW, we got to see some baby pandas, teenage pandas, giant pandas, and red pandas!)

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1. Eating Panda

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2. Sleeping Panda

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3. Eating AND Sleeping Panda

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4. More Sleeping Panda…
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5. And More Eating Panda…

 

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6. And finally – this one was class – ‘Rubbing Butt Against the Tree Panda’

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7. No wonder toilets at this breeding center are hi-tech with options such as ‘Massage’

Oh, and the highlight of the trip for us – getting our photographs clicked with this  adorable! celebrity! baby panda!

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Quiz (not Economist) Night

We went for a quiz night.

Amidst the international restaurants at the Cave (refer previous post), is an American bar called Cliff’s, which by the way, also happens to host quiz nights every week(and that we had no idea about). We headed to this place, and once there, decided to join some students from the Chongqing University who were there after class. Upon chatting with them we found out that the entire place was mostly filled with students from all over the world (Sweden, England, Canada, Belarus, Italy, California etc.) who had come all the way to China to learn Mandarin at the Chongqing University. I was curious to know what made them take such a decision, and the most common response was that learning a foreign language, in this case Mandarin, helped get lucrative jobs. Oh and once again, yet again, once more! We came across folks from Ohio! They were employees of the Ford Motor Company in Ohio and had come to Chongqing on a work assignment.

Anyway, moving on to the quiz.

There were multiple rounds in this quiz and one of the rounds was on ‘automotives’. Annnnnd one of the questions in this round was this – Which Indian company purchased the Land Rover brand from Ford Motor Company? The answer? It’s obvious – The Tata Motors.

While chatting, one of the girls we met there asked us, “So how did you guys know about the Tata Motors question?” We told her that (not entirely applicable to me since I’m from India anyway) you cannot NOT know about the Tata Group if you are in b-school. Unfortunately, nothing was asked on the Lincoln Electrics, the Zaras, and the Southwests, else we could be first – who knows.

We eventually came second in the quiz and got two rounds of free drinks for the night!

Ending the post with some ‘exhibits’ to make you nostalgic.

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The Cave :)

Yesterday, we headed out to the famous ‘Hongya Cave’ in Chongqing, which is basically a tourist attraction by the riverside and one of my favorite spots here to hang out. This place houses various restaurants – both local and international, live music by some really interesting talents, and markets to buy local Chinese food items, souvenirs etc. Overall, the Hongya Cave brings together some great cultural, entertainment, and dining experiences for tourists. However, this is not what appeals the most to me about the Cave. I love such bustling places but what I really like about this one is its silent beauty and aesthetic appeal among all the hustle and bustle. The sheer ambience here is beautiful, with hundreds of brightly lit red Chinese lamps and so is the architecture,  as the entire place is built on wooden stilts. You also get some serene views of the intersection of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, and the Chongqing skyline.

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The Cave – built on wooden stilts by the riverside

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Beautiful red Chinese lamps, riverside view, and a glimpse of the skyline

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International restaurants lined up at the cave

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Brightly lit!

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A local market

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The wooden stilts are representative of the traditional Bayu architecture which is known for the stilt houses or diajiaolou built along the hillsides. The Bayu culture originated in the mountainous regions of Chongqing in the Sichuan province of southwest China and the Ba people are known to be very brave and valiant in nature, having faced rough conditions on the mountains.

Overall, the Chongqing municipality is unique in that the entire city is built on mountains, and has a topography comprising of rivers, mountains, and a lottttttt of greenery(It rains a lot and the climate is mostly humid)! I was indeed surprised to see the amount of natural greenery around me despite the large amount of constructions going on in this city. As I mentioned before, Chongqing is the world’s fastest developing city (and also one of the five major cities in China) and so it is very common to see construction cranes EVERYWHERE you go in the main urban area!! So much so that we joked that this should be named the ‘crane city’ and not the mountain city. Being surrounded by mountains on all sides, with the Yangtze river flowing throughout from west to east, Chongqing is also a city where several tourists come to cruise the breathtaking Three Gorges, formed as the Yangtze cuts through the Wu mountains. More later as I dig deep into the city in the upcoming posts.

All said and done, my favourite cave would still be – The Bat Cave

Err…off-topic.

Doing Business in China

From all the experiences we have had so far in working for our client, conducting interviews, and collaborating with different people for work, I have observed some interesting business etiquette followed in China.

1. Formal Dinner:

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Check that out – we had the opportunity to indulge in some really lavish formal Chinese dinner/lunch experiences with the client. I really liked the way the tables were laid out, and also the special arrangements to place chopsticks on the side. (Note: only chopsticks and spoons – no forks and knives). I also thought it was interesting that we were served unpeeled peaches and bananas and roasted peanuts as snacks in a ‘formal’ dinner. Oh and the best thing learnt – the Chinese way to raise a toast. Believe it or not, but that night, every person on the table walked around and went up to every other person individually to raise a toast! So if there are five people at a dinner, you raise a toast individually a total of 20 times! (do the math). This style was also a good way to exchange business cards, I realized. After every toast or ‘ganbei’ (meaning: bottoms up), our glasses were refilled with the liquor, so basically we had a continuous supply of liquor (and ganbei) throughout the meal. Respecting hierarchies, the seating arrangement around the table is also as per everyone’s position and title.

Amazing local Chinese red wine

Amazing local Chinese red wine

2. Business Cards:

Business cards are indeed exchanged by holding the card with ‘both hands’. @Prof. Roush: Yes, we made sure that we accepted the cards politely with both hands, took a few seconds to read the cards, and DID NOT place the cards in the wallets in the back pockets.

3. Conducting Meetings:

I have to say, that every meeting we attended, was well organized, coordinated, timely, and with set agendas. Business cards were exchanged before every meeting. We had interpreters to facilitate effective communication between parties, since meetings were conducted in Mandarin. Having interpreters around and attending business meetings being conducted in Mandarin was a very unique experience and a different challenge in itself.  Also, all attendees were constantly served Chinese tea during meetings.

4. Building Relationships:

The Chinese attach a lot of significance to developing and nurturing business relationships and so make proactive efforts towards building them. Also, it is always good practice to develop an intermediary contact to overcome challenges in business dealings.

I am glad to be experiencing a different business culture.  More on lessons learnt and lessons taught – in the next post.

 

Party with Pitbull (Chinese Version)

Meet Pitbull a.k.a Chinese Pitbull. How did we happen to meet him? Well, a couple of us just decided to check out a local bar/lounge, chill, and we just happened to discover some excellent nightclubs along the way! No cover charge of any sort, and so we ended up going on a nightclub crawl. My favorite: Club MUSE – I was blown away by their music! They had some really cool electro/techno tracks playing and then all of a sudden, Chinese Pitbull got the crowd going with his electrifying performance! All in all, we discovered that the Jiefangbei area (a major commercial area in Chongqing) has a vibrant nightlife scene.

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JP with Pitbull…

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Me with Pitbull…

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The electrifying performance…

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More performances…

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More poses…

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One of the clubs during the crawl – Club One

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Nightlife at Jiefangbei

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This was the lounge we initially headed out to. Had a nice time with the team, with some excellent service and drinks. In the picture you can see our friendly waiter who also introduced us to a couple of American and French tourists who happened to be his good friends. And before you know it, while conversing with the tourist from America, we found out that she is from Cleveland, OH! Small world – we travel all the way to the other side of the hemisphere and meet someone who hails from a city just a few miles away from ours :)

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We noticed that this hairstyle was very popular among the young Chinese men who were all decked up to go clubbing around the Jiefangbei area. There were some really fashionable young men and women!

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JP looking outside the window and greeting NiHao to every passerby (mostly women)

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Oh and speaking of women, I am pleased to announce that a local person has given Jeff Skiles the title of the ‘Expert on Asian Women’ after being completely shocked by how much he knew about whether women in Asia drink or not.

More later on our experiences with the business culture in China and and the Sichuanese cuisine.

Travel around, know the world, surprise yourself :)

Take care.

Snippets from a weekend in Chongqing!

Using Prof. Matta’s Marketing 2 approach, let me give you some ‘snippets’ from our weekend adventures:

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Tada! Kate Wagoner all excited to try out a fish eyeball!

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Our language expert (and savior) Jeff Skiles uses his ‘expertise’ in Mandarin to order some food at a local Chinese restaurant, while Jeff Theado gives the clueless look. As I mentioned in my previous post, around 4-5 waiters gathered around our table, trying their best to overcome the language barrier and helping us decide the order.

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After all the confusion around what to order, finally the food arrives – Chongqing style spicy hotpot. Our next confusion – trying to figure out what exactly we ordered! And if that alone wasn’t enough – trying to figure out how to eat all this with…err…chopsticks.

And lastly, on the snippets: we are doing much better now on the language front. Jeff Prescott has successfully learnt a whopping 7 words in Mandarin mostly through observation (and that is a very commendable feat), and also by bombarding the oh-so-patient Jeff Skiles with tons of questions. Some of these words are ‘Exit’, ‘Mountain’, ‘Chongqing’, and more :D. I have learnt ‘Is this vegetarian?’ and ‘How much does this cost :P?’ apart from the Chinese Numbers 101 that Jeff Skiles taught the entire team.

Each member of our team has also started bringing various expertise to the team.

Jeff Theado has become our direction expert in the city (and a proud owner of an authentic Chinese sword!), Jeff Prescott is  our social expert (finding surprising routes through emergency exits all the way to rooftops), Kate Wagoner and Jeff Skiles are the language experts (even if we split into subgroups, we ensure there’s one language expert per team), I am the blogging and photography expert (finding every possible opportunity to sneak out, capture some cool shots, come back to the hotel and write ridiculous posts such as this one), and Praveen Kumar brings forth his 15 years of work experience expertise to the team!

Coming up next: Encounters with ‘Asian women’, a trip to the ancient town of Ciqikou, and one of the most memorable experiences of my stay here in China: the visit to China’s biggest Cloud Computing Industrial Park. 

Rea-Ching Chong-Qing! – Part 2

ANDDDD we reach Chongqing! It’s a city that we all had never heard of before, a city that we were all waiting to visit, and a city that we had been researching on for the past seven weeks! Did you know? – Chongqing is the fastest growing city in the world (and yes we could see that in the crazy development and infrastructure and tons of construction sites in the city)! Its GDP grew by a whopping 12.3% in the first half of 2013, more than the national average. This is primarily due to the government’s efforts in encouraging manufacturers to build facilities and take advantage of the cheaper production costs in the inner areas compared to the coastal areas such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing.

We took a cab from the airport to our hotel, and during the cab ride, we experienced the thrill of what they call – organized chaos! 😀 I felt like I went back to India, and my fellow American friend felt that he had the best 20 mins of his life. After checking in at the hotel and some much needed break, we headed out for some dinner at a local restaurant to get some HOTPOT! Read on to find out more about hotpot and our local food experiences.

Food:

There is only one word that comes to my mind when I think of the food here in Chongqing – SPICY!!! And be warned – this is the type of spicy food that can make your voice go weak, your face go red, your eyes water, and your stomach burn. On our first day, we ordered a hotpot, which is basically a. We are so lucky to have teammates who know basic Mandarin and so could communicate to the waiters and place the food order. Almost 5-6 waiters gathered around our table trying to help out ‘us confused foreigners’.

Chongqing Food Collage!

 The spicy street food experience in Chongqing.

Communicating! (for those who do NOT know Mandarin)

The rule is simple: If you do not know Mandarin…..well, LEARN MANDARIN! (at least basic). Else get ready to mime your way to communicate your thoughts. The entire broken communication process that I had to go through just to explain the word ‘make-up remover’ while eventually successfully buying one was a memorable experience for me. Similarly, I noticed that every time I asked (through gestures) the attendants at the malls to explain the various discounts and schemes, they would either signal some numbers or even better, pick up a calculator, do some math and give me the final amount.

Downtown Chongqing:

 

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Chongqing Downtown Collage

Yangtze River:

Yangtze River Skyline Collage