On one of our last nights in Shanghai, two program mates and I ventured to Xintiandi for dinner and to explore the area. We found a place playing live music and decided to spend our evening there. We noticed a man sort of lingering, as if he wanted to say something but didn’t know what to say. Finally, through some nonverbal cues and pointing at our cell phones, we realized that he wanted to take a picture with us. This was not uncommon throughout the trip, so we obliged not thinking much of it. The man departed and the music continued.
A few minutes later, the man returned and beckoned us to come with him to another part of the restaurant. We followed reluctantly, not sure what he wanted to show us. When we arrived at our destination, there was a group of his friends all smiling and waving, welcoming us to their table! One of the women at the table pulled out her smartphone, keyed in something, and turned the screen to us, revealing that she had used a translator app to write in English. The message said “Very nice to meet you :)” I quickly downloaded a translator app on my smartphone, and we returned the greeting. We spent the rest of the evening laughing and conversing by swapping messages using our translator apps. The group was incredibly generous, insisting on buying us drinks so we could all clink our glasses and say “Cheers!” Eventually we said our goodbyes, wishing each other well, and expressing hopes that we might all meet again one day.
This is one of my favorite memories from DBIC because I believe it was really representative of the Program’s mission. One could easily learn about Chinese business using the wealth of information available on the Internet today, but actually doing business in China requires an understanding of the country’s people, and the subtle nuances of Chinese culture that make it distinct. On the night we made our new friends and on many other occasions, we were completely immersed in the cities we visited, doing the same daily shuffle, eating and shopping at the same places, and leveraging the same technologies that the locals did. We participated in Chinese life, and that has made us all the more capable of connecting with the Chinese people in both a business and social context.
Who knows if we’ll ever encounter our new friends again, but I will always have the memories of not only world class Peking University lectures, but also times like Xintiandi when cultural immersion was organic and genuine.