January 17, 2018, by Jason Feehily

Guest Blog-Summer in China with Huawei

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Huawei is one of China’s most innovative businesses with significant investment in the UK. I am so pleased to see how Lawrie Cate, an Undergraduate student from Computer Sciences has found his participation in the Huawei Seeds For The Future programme has widened his horizons.

 

Here is Lawrie’s story…

 

Jason Feehily

Director Knowledge Exchange Asia

 

Summer in China with Huawei

 

As a computer science student, my life is all about dealing with technology, and China is at the forefront of the global tech picture now more than ever.  Made in China is the ubiquitous label on our electronics and gadgets.  Yet many people in the UK know little about China.  For this reason, I was excited to take part in a summer programme run by Huawei Technologies.  Huawei are a Chinese company on the vanguard of global expansion – few Chinese companies reach outside the Mainland but Huawei are thriving – this year overtaking Apple to become the 2nd biggest smartphone manufacturer.  So, with a group of sixty STEM students from across the UK and Ireland I landed in Beijing in late July.  As we sat down for dinner and started working out how to use chopsticks, it quickly became apparent that we were far from home.   When we woke early the next morning we toured around the vast Tiananmen Square and then through the Forbidden City – the most immense testament to the reach of the Ancient Chinese empire after the Great Wall.  Walking between the temples and palaces you could still gaze the glass and steel of skyscrapers shining in the distance.

 

Beijing is a mishmash of old and new; outside the walls of the old parks and palaces congested highways thread together a concrete jungle of offices and apartments.  I enjoyed exploring the hutong districts where traditional courtyard houses have remained unchanged and provide a slight break from the hustle of the rest of the city.  One of my most memorable nights we visited the beautiful Xihai lake and I even managed to order dinner in Mandarin.  Following up on that success we hailed a taxi to take us back to our hotel, and negotiated the cost.  Just seventy yuan was the reply – an excellent deal we thought.  But after 5 minutes of driving we quickly realised we were heading in the wrong direction, and upon arriving at a different Park Plaza hotel on the opposite side of town we quickly struggled to explain our problem.  After producing a business card from the right Park Plaza, the taxi driver made some loud, mostly indecipherable exclamations save for ‘get out’ (although that was guessable from the hand gestures alone).

 

Mandarin can certainly be intimidating to begin with, but learning it is a rewarding experience that allows you to unlock the Chinese way of thinking – something which would be difficult without the insight language knowledge provides.  When I wasn’t misdirecting cab drivers, I loved practicing my Chinese and surprising locals.  Haggling in markets was a prime opportunity to prove myself, although perhaps my British reserve held me back from getting the best of the entrepreneurial traders.  In the first week of the programme we studied Mandarin at the Beijing Languages and Culture University and got to know some Chinese students learning English as part of a cultural exchange workshop.  We enjoyed discussing the difference between traditions in China and the UK but found a lot in common.  We laughed talking about student life – about the differences between beers – it seemed funny to me that we could ever drink warm beer in the sweltering summer heat.

 

One of the places where West and East meet is the 798 Art District, a former factory park redeveloped by artists into a trendy district where galleries, cafes and record shops rub shoulders together; and Jack Johnson blares from ice cream trucks.  It was a surreal experience, but it was interesting to see how Chinese culture is fusing together its rich traditions with elements of western popular culture.   Visiting Beijing was a fantastic experience, and I hope to return one day to travel and perhaps to work.  My time there definitely proved to me that the West and China can break down barriers to work together, and build a brighter future.

 

Shenzhen: China’s technology gold rush

 

If Beijing is a tribute to China’s past, the city of Shenzhen in the southern Guangdong province is a vision of its future.  Shenzhen was just a fishing village until the economic reforms in the 1980s which have today transformed it into a boomtown of over 12 million people.  It was easy to find examples of the pace of change on the streets.  One morning I managed to get up early enough to go for a jog in the nearby park.  It was a wonderful morning despite the already baking heat.  I enjoyed watching the other early birds practising Tai Qi and walking their dogs as the sun rose.  Thirty minutes into the jog though we found the path cut off – the rest of the park literally being constructed before us.  The pace of change in China is something which has to be seen to be believed.

 

We visited several companies as part of the programme which exemplified China’s appetite for rapid transformation and a willingness to adapt new technologies.  One in particular was Tencent, China’s biggest internet media company.  Their platform Wechat / Weixin appears on the surface to be just a messaging platform, but it offers much more via a services platform which allow companies to add services into the app – so this is your Uber, Instagram, Deliveroo, PayPal and beyond.  In any restaurant, you could scan your table’s QR code with WeChat to pay the bill for example.

 

Again and again we saw cases of not just products but ideas made in China.  Bike sharing is a recent example – companies like Mobike that offer cheap bike rental via internet connected bikes that can be unlocked by scanning them with your phone – a convenient way to get to work that will also decrease congestion and air pollution.   While it is true China is still the ‘production line of the world’, in the future sources of innovation could increasingly be companies and start-ups in China.  Huawei is a company that has to innovate on the global level, for example developing 5G mobile technologies.  It was fascinating to see up close how Shenzhen is creating a new kind of Chinese business culture, and I think in the future they will definitely be giving Silicon Valley a run for their money.

 

 

(the Huawei/Seeds For The Future logo)

 

By Lawrie Cate @lawriecate

 

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