No rest for the wicked! Our first day started early with breakfast at 07:30 (for most of us anyway). We all soon discovered that the Chinese idea of breakfast is very different to ours, and following yesterday’s plane food, the rest of the group were running on empty. There was certainly no Weetabix, Cornflakes, porridge or even fresh fruit in sight! Nevertheless one by one we became slightly more adventurous and tried the local creations.
[Despite my flight delays yesterday, as soon as I got back to campus, Tiefu – our aiport-collector, luggage reclaimer, resident food & drink critic, Chinese life coach, translator, some have described him as a saviour, a Saint even – kindly showed me Xiamen’s infamous student bar: Phoebe’s. I soon discovered that it was nothing like Stag’s at Southampton, ‘no smoking’ restrictions don’t apply in China, the drinks were tuppence and there was no shortage of choice, and the food was actually edible, but a great night nonetheless!].
After breakfast we attended a short welcome presentation by the Head of Exchange Administration (Prof. Chen Yan) and the Dean of the School of Economics (name tbc.). They gave us some history of the University – founded in 1921, explained the structure of the school and gave us some friendly advice. This was all hosted in a small student cafe in the Economics building, which felt far more executive than any other ‘student’ cafe I’ve been in! Then we went straight from the welcome talk into our first seminar.
Prof. Shaolian Liao based the seminar on Chinese Business Culture. Now when we first heard the title of this talk, we expected the Prof. Liao would be running out of ideas just 20 minutes in. But no! How naive we were to assume that business would be conducted in the same way as the Western world. From big barriers such as language, to the finer details such as ettiquette; shaking hands, keeping ‘low key’, dining etiquette, and the importance of giving and receiving ‘face’ (which, in its most basic form, means ‘reputation’), all matter when it comes to conducting business in China. If we had all relied on our assumptions, we wouldn’t get very far at all!
After the seminar we met some of the Xiamen student helpers. They gave us a tour of the campus – which by the way has a beach on the southern perimeter – but because we were out in the midday sun, we had to keep returning to the campus bank as they had the best air conditioning! Then the student helpers led us to our next seminar venue. Prof. Jiaming Mao talked to us about Globalisation and Wage Inequality in China. We learnt that globalisation is having far-reaching consequences for the manufacturing industry in China, its people, and its policy-makers. Easing the transition has clearly been the most difficult of the challenges, especially as little research has been done on the numerical aspect of this ‘adjustment’ in terms of identifying just how much it affects people’s lives and how long it would take entire regions to change their industry. There’s an idea for anyone currently thinking of a dissertation topic!
Despite most of our class falling victim to the sun’s heat (and jet lag) during this seminar, we all emerged having learnt something at least. At this point it was clear that we all needed some tea, and fortunately, we were told by our Xiamen host (Ying Huang) that our teatime event was about to begin – and it was to be hosted in the same posh cafe that we visited earlier! Here we met more students from Xiamen; I met Venny and Qiqi. They were fantastic company and it turns out that Qiqi’s boyfriend is from the same city (in Canada) that I will be studying in for part of my final year!
Then we were treated to a welcome banquet by the Head of Exchange Administration. And you guessed it: more unfamiliar foods, but there was no way I was going to resist trying them! I’ve decided to adopt a ‘no regrets’, or perhaps ‘no fear’ is more appropriate, attitude when it comes to the food here, as I know that I cannot return home having not tried something that was offered to me. But, as it turns out, more interesting food awaits as our week progresses…