The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Random round-up

So, with a project running somewhere around 105%, an old and patient client that predates my current employment waiting for some updates, Global Financial Management requiring that I figure out the combined beta of two companies about to merge, Foundations of Strategy expecting a transaction cost analysis Saturday morning, and an overwhelming anticipation of seeing Diane and Parker tomorrow after almost two weeks, I find myself completely out of creativity. Heaven bless my winter office (probably, now that the pizzeria around the corner has left, simply "my remote office").

Fortunately, other people on the Intertubes have plenty of it. Creativity, I mean. Here is a quorum, mostly pinched from Sullivan:

  • The Washington Post has a list of twelve things to toss out this spring, as written by Elizabeth Warren, Karl Rove, and Onion editor Joe Randazzo. (The last is an indictment of Internet memes.) There's also a bit on virginity.
  • Writer Andrea Donderi posits a dichotomy between Asker and Guesser cultures. In Cultures, Civilization, and Leadership (one of the CCMBA's core classes) we'd look at this in terms of ICE profiles, which I would explain if I could find the link. (See above re: being overloaded.) This comes via The Guardian, who have the distinction this week of having endorsed for prime minister the guy who became deputy PM. By the way, this kind of embarassment (two guys running against each other only to have to work together as #1 and #2) hasn't happened in the US since 1800. But that's not important right now.
  • While on the subject, it's a little daunting that we haven't had our midterms yet and I've made no progress on the video, but there are only 50 days until our next residency starts. (See above re: being really overloaded.)
  • Finally, Sam Harris has a new demolition of the Catholic Church Good line near the top: "This scandal was one of the most spectacular 'own goals' in the history of religion, and there seems to be no need to deride faith at its most vulnerable and self-abased." (I would explain that my views are probably more moderate than Harris's, and yet I enjoy his writing, but see above re: being really monster raving loony overloaded.)

Shannon has brought my last drink and my check, my teammate KW is busy compiling all of our notes for Strategy, and Parker, I expect, is getting a relaxing belly-scratch from Diane 1,000 km away. I think we're all OK with this, but Parker has the best deal.

Also, for those of you watching in real time, yes: I posted this blasted entry five times in quick succession, because I kept finding typos. This should come as great news to the people currently engaged in Scrabble games with me on Facebook.

Postcards and Books

Before going to Shanghai, I picked up James Fallows's Postcards from Tomorrow Square, a collection of his essays from living there 2006-2009. (Yes, he lived in the building that houses the hotel where our CCMBA cohort stayed.)

First, I'd like to call attention to page 76:

The easier America makes it for talented foreigners to work and study there, the richer, more powerful, and more respected America will be. America's ability to absorb the world's talent is the crucial advantage no other culture can match—as long as America doesn't forfeit this advantage with visa rules written mainly out of fear.

Second, the book should be required of CCMBA students visiting Shanghai to complement Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which we had to read for our Global Markets and Institutions (GMI) class. In the essay "China Makes, the World Takes" (available at The Atlantic.com in shorter form), Fallows looks at the Chinese side of Livoli's traveling t-shirt. Computer accessories, for instance:

The other facility that intrigued me, one of Liam Casey’s in Shenzhen, handled online orders for a different well-known American company. I was there around dawn, which was crunch time. Because of the 12-hour time difference from the U.S. East Coast, orders Americans place in the late afternoon arrive in China in the dead of night. As I watched, a customer in Palatine, Illinois, perhaps shopping from his office, clicked on the American company’s Web site to order two $25 accessories. A few seconds later, the order appeared on the screen 12,500 km away in Shenzhen. It automatically generated a packing and address slip and several bar-code labels. One young woman put the address label on a brown cardboard shipping box and the packing slip inside. The box moved down a conveyer belt to another woman working a “pick to light” system: She stood in front of a kind of cupboard with a separate open-fronted bin for each item customers might order from the Web site; a light turned on over each bin holding a part specified in the latest order. She picked the item out of that bin, ran it past a scanner that checked its number (and signaled the light to go off), and put it in the box. More check-weighing and rescanning followed, and when the box was sealed, young men added it to a shipping pallet.

By the time the night shift was ready to leave—8 a.m. China time, 7 p.m. in Palatine, 8 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast—the volume of orders from America was tapering off. More important, the FedEx pickup time was drawing near. At 9 a.m. couriers would arrive and rush the pallets to the Hong Kong airport. The FedEx flight to Anchorage would leave by 6 p.m., and when it got there, the goods on this company’s pallets would be combined with other Chinese exports and re-sorted for destinations in America. Forty-eight hours after the man in Palatine clicked “Buy it now!” on his computer, the item showed up at his door. Its return address was a company warehouse in the United States; a small Made in China label was on the bottom of the box.

Finally, a bleg: what book or books do you think, dear reader, should be required reading for visitors to your city? For example, I'd say Nelson Algren's prose-poem City on the Make and Mike Royko's Boss for Chicago. Thoughts?

Shanghai cultural disconnect

For some reason, the Cultural Disconnect I just wrote for the Shanghai residency was the hardest. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Full text follows:


Cultural connect?

I reviewed my ICE profile and the regional Cultural Dimensions the week before arriving in China. What interactions should I worry about? Where would the disconnections come from? China has high in-group collectivism, high power distance, and relatively low uncertainty avoidance, contra the U.S. My ICE profile spells out a hybrid Midwestern-East Coast sensibility, being across-the-board direct in the relationship context, having a mixed direct-expressive communication style, and an almost completely reserved space context. (My time context is all over the place, but that’s a different essay.)

I expected China would bang away on my communication style and space contexts especially. From everything I’d read about them, I expected Chinese people to be much more reserved in communication style but much more expressive in space context than I am. I looked forward to being trampled by the teeming masses in the Metro and engaging in indirect negotiations that never quite began, and never quite ended.[1]

As soon as I got onto the China Eastern airplane at Narita (as alien a place to me as I had ever experienced, at least since leaving O’Hare a few hours earlier), I started looking for Cultural Disconnects. OK: there’s a sullen-looking Chinese person already sitting in my seat on the plane! That’s because of the expressive...because the attitude towards...because she just didn’t know that A is the window and B is the aisle? Point, point, shrug, shrug, we’re in our correct seats. It differed from similar interactions I’ve had on American Airlines only because I can usually communicate orally in the U.S., even though pointing and shrugging politely and with good humor works just as well as saying “I’m sorry, you seem to be in my seat.”

Next opportunity: Passport control. OK, looks a little different than the U.S. Much better run than Miami, less crowded than O’Hare...short, orderly lines...signs in English. Huh. The immigration officer and I had a brief conversation in English, she stamped my passport, and I left. In the annals of culturally distinctive immigration experiences, this rated somewhere between Dublin and Schiphol.[2]

Next: navigating Pudong Airport to find the Maglev. Huh. More signs in English. Many of them say “Maglev” with arrows pointing to, I found out, the Maglev station. That the signs also had Chinese characters on them doesn’t really have ICE or CD significance, does it? It looked cool, though.

Buying a Maglev ticket: with the RMB I’d bought at an offensive markup in the terminal (again, pretty common in airports world-wide), I whipped out my Mandarin phrase-book and walked up to the ticket counter. “One way or return?” she asked, in perfect English, before I’d even opened the book. She could have been selling tickets at Penn Station, except that no train leaving Penn Station has ever got up to 430 km/h. Security screening to get on the train: now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve never had my bags X-Rayed before getting on a train, let alone a Metro. But does this fit into the definition of “cultural disconnect?” It’s a different trade-off between security and convenience than we make in Chicago, sure. But Shanghai was just a week from opening the World Expo, so heightened “security theater” should be expected. The police at least looked at the X-Ray monitor, unlike in Dubai where one screener was actually asleep when I put my bags through.

Getting out of the Metro at People’s Square, I got accosted by a pimp. Cultural disconnect? I could argue that my expressive “avoid disagreement” and “avoid conflict/tension” communication styles, not to mention my direct “ambiguity in communication” style, explains my clearly disagreeable, tense, unambiguous response; and maybe it was his in-group collectivism (I wasn’t “one of us” and therefore a target) that made him follow me halfway to the hotel even after I’d told him where he should go instead. But no, I think he was just a pimp harassing a traveler and got told off. I’ve spent nearly my entire life in the three largest cities in the U.S.; I can assure doubters that his was not culturally-distinctive behavior, nor was my response.

Next day: a nice-looking young couple “on vacation” chatted me up “to practice their English” and, inevitably, invited me to a tea ceremony. How droll. Again: where there are tourists, there are scammers, only this time I told them “I am afraid it will not be possible to go with you at this time” instead of what I told the pimp. (Ah, but how did I know they were scammers? Could my wariness have been a cultural disconnect? Or might I have read about the “tea ceremony” scam in the Lonely Planet guide on the flight over?)

On and on it went for 10 days. Cultural disconnects just didn’t seem to happen. Of course, I’m sure I had dozens of them—but I wasn’t aware of them. I think, instead, that consciously looking for cultural disconnects dissipated them before they could start. I anticipated things being radically different in China, so maybe I kept looking for big disconnects like I had in Dubai and Delhi and missed the countless little ones in Shanghai. Or maybe I should have gotten farther away from Shanghai than Zhouzhuang.

The last is the most likely. And there are compelling historical reasons for this. Shanghai has had an openness to foreigners (not, of course, entirely voluntarily) for centuries. Western interests in particular dominated Shanghai from the 1800s until the Japanese turfed them out in the 1930s. Flash forward to the more open economic policies of Deng Xiaoping starting in the 1980s continuing through Hu Jintao’s today: China’s desire to prove itself equal to the West, and Shanghai’s historical Western orientation (occidation?), led to a conscious effort to develop Pudong as a modern city center. Puxi, with its Victorian and Third Republic architecture, benefitted as well. Shanghai’s growing reputation as a Chinese city with Western sensibilities encouraged more Western visitors to Shanghai, which made it a more Western-feeling place. In short, a virtuous cycle.

Still, I think Shanghai was simultaneously too alien and too similar for me to experience differences as disconnects. Alien, because forget it, Jake, it’s China.[3] In Shanghai, the thick language barrier prevented me from taking any communications for granted, and kept me so focused on the instant conversation that I forgot about the larger cultural context. Cultural disconnects disappeared from my forebrain when I had trouble saying “forty five” without it sounding like “death decade company.”

Similar, because for innumerable reasons, Shanghai felt like Chicago—except when it felt like New York. Sure, people do things differently in Shanghai than we do here, but people do things differently everywhere. But people in large, cosmopolitan cities have ways of behaving that are more similar than not. I’m not really joking when I say Raleigh sometimes feels more alien to me than Shanghai did. My disconnects in North Carolina come not from my direct-expressive communication style and time context smacking into their reserved Southern counterparts, but rather from thinking, because we’re all from the same country, we should all act the same, and then being surprised when we don’t. That was not a possibility in China.

 

[1] Most of my cultural priming came from James Fallows’ Postcards from Tomorrow Square. Fallows spent three years in Shanghai as the Atlantic’s Asia correspondent. The book collects and extends the columns he wrote about living in China for the magazine.

[2] In fact, my two most unusual interactions were at a land crossing into Canada, where I had my car searched, and at De Gaulle, where the immigration officers had to deal with simultaneously arriving flights from Boston and Nigeria. The solution in the latter case was to shout, in perfect English, “Americans, British, Canadians, EU, this way please” and then shoo the European-looking folks past the counters without a second glance or even a look at our passports. I will leave to the reader to sort out what may they may have been thinking, and if this is really the way we want cops to behave.

[3] Cf. Nicholson, Polanski, et al., 1972.

Vroom — I mean, vroom

The video doesn't do the experience justice. I have to say, moving on land at 430 km/h on a public conveyance was a lot of fun. That's better than twice the cruising speed of the Cessna airplanes I fly (195 km/h).

More photos later today.

Pick a peck of pickled packets (Shanghai residency day 9)

The Internet experience at Pudong International Airport differs markedly from the experience at our hotel. I've noticed a pattern, whereby unencrypted data, like The Daily Parker, seems to move about an order of magnitude faster than encrypted data, like the HTTPS connection I've got going with my mail server. The interesting part is that both sites are going through the same router back in Chicago. So, either the Web terminal I'm using has a particularly hard time with secure websites, or something is slowing down the mail packets. Hmmm...can't think what that might be...

Compounding my Internet woes, my laptop's hard drive corrupted its boot sector Saturday afternoon. I have no idea how this happened. The Bitlocker recovery key no longer works. I expect tomorrow I'm going to have to install a new hard drive and then install all my software again. This does not make me happy. On the other hand, I have two episodes of Lost to catch up on before Tuesday.

This, anyway, explains why I didn't post anything yesterday, and why the video clip of the world's fastest land vehicle will have to wait until later today. (Because of the International Date Line, even though I have a 13-hour overnight flight, I arrive at O'Hare 30 minutes after I leave Shanghai.)

Two hours until my flight home. Maybe my email will finish downloading by then?

Shanghai at night (Residency day 7)

One of my teammates has Extra Special Super-Duper status with Marriott Hotels, giving him access to the ESSD Lounge atop the building. Two flights up from that the hotel has an observation deck. I have a camera. The result:

I should mention the reason we're on the 59th floor: we've got a paper due tomorrow afternoon. So, the last night of the residency, we're surrounding ourselves with top-floor views, free booze, and Foundations of Strategy binders. Yes, we're that exciting.

Cultural tour to Zhouzhuang (Shanghai residency day 6)

Given the option of touring a corporate office building or going to a culturally-significant place to run around and talk to real people, of course I would put on a tie and head straight for the PowerPoint deck.

Right. I'm actually 1-for-4 with corporate tours now, the one being Indira Gandhi Airport. That tour was cool.

Today's cultural tour took us to Zhouzhuang, a lake village about 72 km west of Shànghăi. Before I run to a lecture on the financial crisis, here are two photos from the place; more when I get another free moment, possibly Saturday:

Another:

I'm not dead (Shanghai residency day 4)

This is the point in the residency when I see how much work I have to do by Saturday afternoon and wonder if I should have taken the bar exam instead.

And as much as I love Chinese and Indian food, I'm ready for a Whole Foods salad about now.

Before resuming my Strategy reading, I'd like to draw the reader's attention to this front-page story in the Shanghai Daily News:

Dense fog affected Shanghai yesterday, blocking dozens of ships and ferry boats and delaying at least 150 flights.

At least 400 ships changed their sailing schedules and the 180 commuter ferries for Chongming Island and on the Huangpu River in the city's suburban areas stopped running in the morning, said the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration.

Other front-page stories included a test run at the Expo site and the announcement of an official day of mourning tomorrow in remembrance of the Qinghai earthquake victims.

I contrast this with the front page of the New York Times, which included stories about the $3.6bn Goldman Sachs bonus payments, the mislaid iPod prototype, and back in Chicago, the shocking, didn't-see-that-one-coming, whocodanode news that Rahm Emanuel wants to be mayor.

It's a slow news day everywhere, but somehow, the Shanghai paper just didn't feel like a paper. More to think about; possibly a cultural disconnect.