I am currently in the Helsinki airport, returning from a great trip to China. One of the books that I read during my visit was China Shakes the World, by James Kynge. I had been to China three times previously and could sense the scope of what is happening there, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I felt like I got a good macro-picture idea of the forces inside China and interacting between China the rest of the world.
As soon as I get back to Joensuu, I want to briefly summarize some of the thoughts and my reactions regarding the following four topics:
The size and scope of industry in China
The strengths of China
The weak spots of China
The challenges and questions in the future for all of us
(Me at Chongqing, on the Yangtze River – city talked about in Chapter 2 of the book. Perhaps in the coming decade Chongqing might become the largest city on earth, with nearly 32 million people currently in the immediate municipality)
I had never heard of it before a few weeks ago, and I was one of only a handful of Caucasians that I saw during my 4 days there. I do not think many people from the West have ever heard of it, even my friends working at the US Embassy in Shanghai were not familiar with it. But it is a place that most Chinese hope to go to one day – and now I know why. A combination of the colorful and warm spirit of the local people who live there (Qian and Tibetan), the delicious Si Chuan food, and the stunning beauty of the natural wonder makes this area in the mountains of western China unforgettable. Here are only a few of so many wonderful memories from Jiuzhaigou.
It is true that with 1/5th the world’s population (1.3 billion people), an exploding industrial economy, and sketchy national restrictions – there is cause for concern over China’s environmental policy. Recently walking the streets of Shanghai, however, I came across a new experimental initiative to increase recycling (see picture).
So if you have any extra cash sitting around the house, resist the temptation to throw it away. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
And as a friendly public service announcement when you travel the subway…
Don’t “send money to the thief” …please recycle it instead.
I presented yesterday at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University E-Learning Lab, and was impressed by what they are doing. Although it is not the only thing they do, I quite simply have not seen anyone as advanced in mobile learning functionality – and I think it is because they have a nice combination of (#1) idea generation (hosting conferences and visiting with other scholars), (#2) technical expertise in developing the ideas (with the base of dozens of computer science students working right there), and (#3) the resources to make it all happen (including funding from Intel, China Telecom, BT, etc…).
Prof Shen showed me how students can view a live class room experience from their cell phone, toggling back between views of the teacher, the presentation material (if any), the live class, and at the same time send an SMS to the teacher in real time. I toured one of the “Smart Natural Classrooms” that make this possible. Immediately after each class session, they are archived and available for retrieval at any time, with students even being able to make calls to a call center for additional support as needed. The messages sent by email or SMS are first scanned with a natural language processor that extracts the meaning of the question and sends an automated response based on similar answers to previous questions. If that answer is not adequate, then the student can contact the teacher. The main idea behind it all is to have the class-room experience that people are already familiar with, but simply to extend the audience through mobile learning functionality.
The main current limitations seem to be that only one type of phone is currently compatible with the system (at least it is a Nokia :), but they are already working on extending the options of phones that will work. On the other hand, these lectures are a part of is a premium degree-granting program, so students are willing to pay more to be a part of the university, etc. The desire in China to have a degree from a top university probably can not be overstated. Also, my personal (admittedly somewhat biased) opinion is that they should be using technology not simply to mimic and extend existing class-room experiences, but also leverage the opportunity for student’s to engage in more web 2.0 kinds of learning and teaching experiences. Not just consuming content, but also creating, synthesizing, sharing…
My presentation to the lab today was in two parts: (1) Web 2.0 Paradigms & Platforms for Harnessing Collective Intelligence (with case: Agillix BrainHoney), and (2) Web Analytics and Decision Automation in E-Commerce and E-Learning Contexts (with case: Omniture/ Touch Clarity).
Afterwards – Dr. Minjuan Wang and I toured a part of old town Shanghai – enjoying ice cream bars – the treat in the center being sweet green peas (although Minjuan’s was sugar free, of course).
As a part of the IMPDET Cross-Cultural Research Group, we have started a “Reflection Wiki” that allows us to post situations in cross-cultural interactions that we wish we had more perspective on – to check if our initial interpretations of the situation were accurate or misleading.
The hypothesis behind it is this: In most interactions we probably make too many assumptions about the meaning behind what people say or do. Cross-cultural interactions magnify this. So the hypothesis is that perhaps more meta-communication tools can help us learn more about what others really mean, and also more about ourselves.
I wanted to cross-post one of my first entries here, in case anyone else reading it (especially anyone from Finland) might have some insight into the phenomenon I describe.
In Finland I notice how no one really smiles at each other in public places. On the street, on the bus, in the halls of the University – quite often people don’t even make eye contact, much less smile at me or say hi. My Finnish friends are extremely welcoming, kind, hospitable and friendly, but it is just strangers and new acquaintances that are more stand-offish than I am used to.
I didn’t even realize I had this expectation, but I guess from growing up in the US I did have the expectation that if people are nice and friendly then they smile and say hi, even to strangers. (My subliminal expectation: nice + friendly = smile at others, or at least acknowledge their presence with a nod or something)
My gut level interpretation and emotional reaction is that, in general, people are not as friendly, nice, happy, etc… with strangers here, and that they are less interested (at least initially) in becoming friends with me or letting me get to know them. But cognitively I tell myself that might be more of my emotional reaction, when I don’t really know what is going on in their minds, or what the meaning is behind the unwritten rules of public conduct.
I talk less to strangers than I otherwise would.
To anyone else who has been to Finland – Did you feel the same when you first spent time in Finland, or is it more like what you are used to in South Africa, Sweeden, Spain, etc.?
How did you see it? How did you respond?
To anyone from Finland – From the Finnish point of view, what do you think might be the deeper meaning/reasons why behavior is like this in public in Finland? What might I be missing in my gut-level interpretation from my cultural expectations?
To anyone – Any other insightful thoughts (or funny comments)?
I went to an official Finnish university ceremony today. I found out that, first of all, there is no college graduation ceremony in Finland – you just kind of get your degree and that’s it (although every four years after that there is a “promotion” ceremony). But instead of getting a robe and a hood (like happens in the US), you get a hat (that looks like a velvety top hat – somehow it is a symbol of freedom) and at one of the promotion ceremonies you get a sword (a symbol of the sword of knowledge, I believe). Feel free to correct me, if I am wrong about any of this.
The sword part is pretty cool, huh?
Much better than New Zealand at least, where a man from there said all they get is a bright red floppy hat, that I kind of imagine looks like a wimpy pirate hat. But I guess New Zealand has so much else good going for it, that PhD apparel probably isn’t a big concern of theirs.
The ceremony today was very somber, no smiling really even, and the woman who was translating for me said she thinks the somberness comes from the Finish Lutheran tradition of putting off this life so that you could have a much better after-life. She was funny and told me that she thought most people endured the ceremony for the refreshments, but I think that is typical of most countries 🙂 I wondered if part of the somberness was because you were afraid someone was going to whip out their sword.
Actually, maybe the PhD sword is how the professors keep order in the Finnish classrooms? I should check into that…
Rome, Georgia – that is. (notice the American flag in the picture).
I was here on a two and a half day stop over before Europe, attending a conference at the beautiful Berry College. I took this picture on my run this morning, mainly because it had columns and looked like the most Italian-like building I saw (which probably tells you how much I know). I wish I would have taken more pictures though – what a beautiful place!