China: Day 5

On the itinerary today was something slightly different. Following a brief dawn walk around campus, I met the others at the economics building bright and early ready for our seminar. Today Prof. Sen Geng introduced us to Experimental Economics. Trust me, I’m as new to this as you are; I had never heard of this field. I had the same bemused look on my face as those that enquire about my field of study during daily life. So, naturally, I was keen to find out more. This was a contrast to some of the individuals I’ve encountered; those that shrug their shoulders, smirk, or laugh and claim that there is an ever-increasing pool of disciplines with no purpose. Of course, this blog stands to prove them wrong – and I’d like to think that this represents just a small example of my efforts to encourage those around me to think more openly.

I could continue, but this is not the appropriate blog post. To continue, the seminar was held in an impressive (yet slightly technologically dated) research lab. Prof. Sen Geng structured his seminar very well, in a way that kept us all engaged to the end. The majority consisted of a sort of ‘game’ as he called it. He tested our personalities for traits of gambling, risk-taking and trust (or the extent to which we afford others the benefit of the doubt). All of which was centred around economics. He based these ‘games’/experiments around those conducted by researchers at three different points in time, each game adding an additional layer of complexity to further explore our behaviour as ‘investors’. Prof. Sen Geng explained the relationship between these experiments and the ‘real world’ objectives. He told us that findings from earlier research had shown that in the state of Michigan, people are more trusting when it comes to investing money. More trusting that is, compared to us as a group of Southampton students. What does that tell you about us, I wonder? You may laugh at this point, but I think there is some reasoning behind this, despite the fact that we didn’t take these experiments as seriously as we could have.

After the very interactive seminar, we wondered the streets of Xiamen to find a new place to eat, before then heading back to campus to catch the bus. Our afternoon plans involved heading to Fujian’s only Coca-Cola plant, fortunately only a short drive away. We arrived in the parking lot of a very bland-looking and low-rise industrial building. It was a stark contrast to the many residential skyscrapers that surrounded it. As we disembarked we saw a few decorations on the lawn that made the building slightly more recognisably Coca-Cola – including polar bears and mock Coke bottles. But it was more subtle than I expected, considering the company’s bold, dominating nature.

Proceeding inside, we were confronted with a lavish reception but were hastily ushered upstairs to the assembly line viewing platform. Doors were held open for us at every opportunity, which was somewhat uncommon according to our experiences – acts of chivalry are rarely recognised here due to their scarcity (but some would say the same is true for the UK). Walking along the platform we watched thousands upon thousands of glass bottles being sorted, rinsed, filled and capped. It was so clear that efficiency was key in the factory. From the speed at which the machinery operated, to the ratio of staff to products being processed. Any downtime was minimised, and techniques were clearly optimised to reduce wasted time – employees took just seconds to rectify issues with the assembly line. After all, time is money. 

During the tour, we pressed the factory’s guide to clarify the accuracy of the sugar content of the drinks – one particular poster claimed that a single glass of Coke contained less sugar than a chocolate bar and even a large slice of watermelon. His perhaps rather convenient excuse: language. As much as we wanted to push towards controversial topics, it was clear that they were unlikely to go anywhere. One thing I made sure to ask him (using the translation skills of Tiefu) was about the environmental-friendly actions of this particular factory. His response was something along the lines of ‘there are a great deal of fundraising campaigns to raise money for foundations that protect the environment’. Of course, there are so many things wrong with this response but in the interests time and our reputation as ambassadors, we chose to probe no further.

The guide then showed us another section of the factory, centred on branding, and we learnt about the history of Coca-Cola and the variations in branding and packaging across time and geography. We then rested in a presentation room, naturally expecting a more formal company presentation, but were presented instead with freebies. The guide re-emerged with boxes full to the brim with adapted piggy banks – in the form of mock Coca-Cola/Fanta cans – and unlocked a fridge with plenty of chilled Coke’s to keep us greedy Brits satisfied.

So a rather mild tour but still worth it. Perhaps if I get the chance to return here, or to any of Coca-Cola’s franchises, without any connotations to the University, I may get the opportunity to probe and discover more.

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