February 5, 2018, by Carla
My Summer in China with Huawei
By Lawrie Cate, final-year computer science student
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 the country itself.
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, they overtook Apple to become the second 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.
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, providing a slight break from the hustle of the rest of the city.
On 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 five 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… They do say the path to hell is paved with good intentions!
Unlocking the Chinese way of thinking
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 that would be difficult without the insight that 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.
The ‘Seeds of the Future’ programme
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 also found we had a lot in common.
Visiting Beijing was a fantastic experience. 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.
Exploring Chinese innovation in Shenzhen
Next up was Shenzhen. 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.
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 appears on the surface to be just a messaging platform, but it offers much more via a services platform. It is your Uber, Instagram, Deliveroo, PayPal, all in one. For example, in any restaurant, you could scan your table’s QR code with WeChat to pay the bill.
Again and again, we saw cases of not just products, but ideas made in China. Bike-sharing is a recent example offering cheap bike rental via internet-connected bikes that can be unlocked by scanning them with your phone. This a convenient way to get to work that will also decrease congestion and air pollution.
China’s own Silicon Valley?
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.
Would you like to jet off to Beijing this year? Huawei are offering UK undergraduates – studying STEM or related disciplines – the opportunity to travel to China on a four-week programme in August 2018.
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