Greetings From the City of Bengbu

By: Justin Gordon 

We JUST departed Bengbu, China, and it is my pleasure to blog about this portion of our trip. We departed Shanghai early from the brand new Hongqiao High Speed Rail Station bound for the central coast of China. The High Speed Rail was an experience in itself. Honqiao Station reminded me more of an airport than a train station. That is no coincidence; it is collocated in Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai’s domestic airport. This combination made for an impressive inter-modal transportation hub the likes of which are rarely seen in the U.S. The train journey itself is essentially identical to a trip on the Japanese “Bullet Train”, except in China the trains are known as “Harmony”. At an impressive speed of 300 km/h (roughly 190 mph) we whisked towards Bengbu.

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It was a bit hazy with light drizzle as we arrived. We immediately traveled by bus to Anhui University of Finance & Economics. We were treated to yet another wonderful authentic Chinese buffet.  During the meal we had the opportunity to dine with a number of undergraduate students studying various business disciplines. Using their impressive English skills they provided us insight into what it’s like to study at a Chinese university. They also discussed what they hope to do in the business world upon graduation. I think the sense in the U.S. is that China is lagging the West in gender equality in the workplace. I thought it was interesting that the female students said they anticipate having just as many opportunities in the job market after graduation as their male peers.

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After a quick stop at our hotel, a 4-star Howard Johnson (I’m not kidding), we traveled to the Bengbu-High Tech Development Zone. Our visit began with a conversation with representatives of the Anhui University Business School as well as members of the local business community. We had an insightful conversation about entrepreneurship. It quickly became clear that our Chinese counterparts were hoping to use our visit as an opportunity to form a partnership with UMD going forward: it was exciting to see that the University of Maryland brand carries weight as far afield as a small city in China. At the conclusion of the meeting Phillip Webster and I were provided an opportunity to practice our business venture pitch to our Bengbu hosts. Next we hopped on our bus and drove around the Development Zone to look at a couple of factories. I have some experience in workplace safety and was interested to see how well Chinese factories’ safety practices would compare to similar facilities in the U.S. I am happy to report that what I saw would be consistent with safety practices and procedures in the West.

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Our evening concluded with a formal dinner. Attendees included faculty and students from Anhui University, the Development Zone, and even the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Bengbu! Our meal consisted of traditional Chinese food, which was both tasty and abundant. Our hosts treated us to excellent wine from Bordeaux, France as well as a Chinese liquor. We learned that toasts are an import part of Chinese culture. I quickly discovered it is wise to never have more than a little bit of wine in my glass at any time. This is important because if someone proposes a toast everyone is expected to drink as much or as little as the person proposing the toast; if the proposer drinks his/her entire glass, everyone else participating is expected to do the same. While I thoroughly enjoyed the wine, the Chinese liquor was not my favorite. Luckily the beverage was clear and I was able to replace it with water without my Chinese hosts noticing.

Overall, I think Bengbu was one of the highlights of the trip. In terms of hospitality, our hosts truly rolled out the proverbial red carpet. We even had a camera crew follow us throughout our visit; we were even told that we would be featured on the local news. Shanghai was amazing, but it is very much an international city and has been for a century. Our visit to Bengbu provided us with an opportunity to see what a small Chinese city looks like and how it is leveraging its resources to compete on the global market.

As we speed north towards Beijing aboard Harmony I can tell everyone in our group is excited about the upcoming competition!

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Justin Gordon is a first year MBA candidate who was born in Oak Harbor, WA but grew up the son of a Navy pilot and moved quite a bit. His other “hometowns” include Honolulu, HI; Brunssum, The Netherlands; Burke, VA; and Leavenworth, KS. He attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Government in 2004. Justin then went to helicopter flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL, where he earned his “wings of gold” in 2006. His tours of duty included four years at Coast Guard Air Station Miami, FL and four years at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, NJ. At Smith, he has been active in the Armed Forces Association and Smith Pride Alliance. Following graduation, he will return to the Coast Guard in a budgetary position.

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