Today was quite a bizarre day, and I think I need to blog about it
just to help me digest the information. And if it helps me digest
some of the Chinese food that's currently gurgling around my stomach,
so much the better.
But first, the mundane. The day started with not one, not two, but
THREE case studies. For those of you who aren't familiar with this
standard business school teaching tool, a case study is like a
combination of a story that doesn't have an ending, with a problem
that doesn't have an answer. My tolerance for case studies is pretty
limited (about two per week is my maximum allowable dose) which is
probably why I spent a good deal of the morning staring straight ahead
into space, feeling my mental gears grinding. Thankfully by the end
of the lecture, the gears meshed and I gained a firm grasp of the
obvious. By stating the same in a thoughtful way, I notched my
participation credit for the day. To my delight, the lecture ended
with the staple of business school diagrams: a box divided into
quadrants with non-quantitative axises. As a scientist, it always
strikes me that while there's something useful about organizing
information this way, it is also deeply silly. For your enjoyment
I've prepared an example chart:
Anyway, on to bigger and better things. Our next stop was the
Guangzhou Children and Women's Hospital, located here in the city.
Whatever you are imagining about what a hospital in China might look
like, this was NOT it. Brand new. Spotless. State of the art. I was
blown away. Other than the fact that we were the only white people in
the facility (moving in a clumsy, chattering pack, much to the dismay
of the nurses) you would swear you were in the United States. Also,
babies are cute in any country. Since no one would put up with them
if they weren't, I suppose it is a cross-cultural necessity. Here's
me kissing a particularly large one:
The hospital tour combined with observations of their state of the art
public transit, sparkling and utterly smooth new freeways, and
innumerable skyscrapers being simultaneously erected brought home a
depressing point for me today: China is kicking our butts.
Seriously, when's the last time a large new building went up in
Portland? What major upgrades are we doing for our infrastructure?
Where will our scientists and engineers for the next 50 years come
from, as the number of home grown graduates in those fields continues
to diminish? Sigh.... Maybe I should have enrolled Daphne in a
Mandarin immersion school.
Bleak musings aside, the hospital president was a friend of our trip
facilitator, Linda, and he invited us to eat dinner at his expense
after the tour was complete. I can honestly say that it was the best
cafeteria-style Chinese meal I've ever eaten in the basement of a
children's hospital, regardless of the continent. It was pretty good,
actually, though I ate far too many "Li-Chees" (a grapish fruit with a
hard spiky red shell).
Finally, the president of the hospital invited us to a concert at the
Guangzhou symphony hall, again on his dime. Always suckers for free
entertainment, we of course obliged. Oddly (cool-ly?) our seats were
BEHIND the orchestra, giving us a unique vantage point on the music.
Though Guangzhou may be kicking our butts in construction and
infrastructure, I'm happy to report that they still haven't caught up
to the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Many of the players (maybe as
high as 30%) looked to be just kids, 25 or younger. While they
certainly were not bad, there were obvious problems with both pitch
and time throughout, which really surprised me. Also, I saw something
that I have never seen before outside of a kids piano recital. The
conductor, a pompous and spastic chap of 30 years, was openly peeved
when a small child started crying and had to be removed from the
audience. His response? He stopped the orchestra (maybe 90 seconds
into the song), and stared at the now empty exit where the shamed
parent and offspring had fled. After satisfying himself that the
offending child would not return, he gave a disdainful and showy shake
of the head and RESTARTED the song from the beginning. What makes
this especially distasteful is the fact that the entire concert was a
charity fund raiser to support medical treatment of...
wait for it...
small children! Nice job Mr. Epileptic Conductor Guy, I hope you felt
proud of yourself.
The next performer on the agenda was solo pianist, MR. OBAMA! Ok, it
was Mark Obama the president's half brother who lives in Shenzen, a
region close to Guangzhou and Hong Kong. This did not stop him from
carrying himself in quite a presidential if awkward way, possibly due
to the fact that in all of his promotional material and in person he
is never seen without a jaunty half-bandana around his head. He was
quite a good piano player, and pounded through several really
hard-sounding Rachmaninoff sonatas in a competent if somewhat choppy
fashion, but the whole thing was a little weird. Is he a celebrity?
If so, was he famous in this region before his half-brother ascension
to the throne of American politics?
The final performer of the night was a truly world class piano player
from Shanghai who's command of the instrument was mesmerizing, if
uninteresting to report. I can't find his name at the moment
unfortunately, but he did win the international piano competition put
on every year by Julliard, and has been a guest soloist with the New
York Philharmonic among other things.
Anyway, after the concert, due to our connection with the hospital
president, we got to meet Mr. Obama, who advised us somberly to "learn
the language of these people, and perhaps do some volunteer work,"
which he then followed up with "AND VISIT MY WEBSITE! IF YOU WRITE ME
AN EMAIL, I'LL GET BACK TO YOU SOON!" The whole thing was... just
very weird. I haven't quite put my finger on it but there was
something that I wasn't quite grasping about the situation something
perhaps unseemly about the way the Chinese were kowtowing to him,
hoping for influence in the white house or something. Or maybe we
just don't have enough social protocol built up around how to treat
Oh, and one more thing. Before the concert I'm about 95% sure we saw
a severed human hand in the river.
Good night everyone!