Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Old Horse and Great God Having Dinner

Start of a brand new day (in the mountains in the back you can see what is probably the Great Wall) 

Yesterday I met my good friend Lao Ma (translated 'old horse'). Old horse and I met two years ago when I taught the subject of intercultural communication at the International School of Humanities and Social Sciences (ISHSS) in Amsterdam. We had dinner together and it turned out to be that his dormitory room at the Beijing Daxue (University of Beijing) is only a 20 minute walk from my place.

Lao Ma at Beijing University 

Over our five hour dinner we discussed many things. Along them our names. Old horse told me my second name in Chinese (Da Wei = David) means something like 'great God'. Here I use my second name because so many foreigners in China already use my first name Ma Ke (Marc). Therefore, my teachers will call me Da Wei. Well, I guess I picked out the right name then!

Old man in Mao suit 

Tommorrow I will tell you about my first class. CU!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The First Five Days in Beijing

A dazzling five days have passed since my arrival here. Haidian district, the place where I now live, is the place where most universities are, including the university I attend. A lot of ‘liu xuesheng’ (foreign students) are to be found here. Before turning to the city life a brief description of what happened to me the last six days.

Day 1
Arrival at Beijing Airport. Feeling okay. Essentially, this was a telephone day. Because I had to meet some of my colleagues who already traveled to China two weeks earlier, I tried to phone them. Which seems very convenient at first, I have my own telephone at my apartment, turned out to be a nuisance. Every 1 I dialed was interpreted as a 2, so that didn’t work. Thus, I went to a public telephone and tried to use my IP card, I just got from the WorldLink Education Office. I didn’t work. No problem, for I have some experience in China, I knew that virtually every shop in town has a telephone. I visited several shops but in vain. The phones only could dial numbers within Beijing and I needed to call a mobile phone number. It was already getting late in the afternoon, so I went to do some essential shopping. After that I tried to call the Education Office but the staff already got home. Next day, after sleeping less then four hours (because of the jetlag), I instantly went to the office to use the phone over there. Finally, I was able to call Tom. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, my colleagues of the Empowerment Foundation where about to leave for the airport. I thought they would travel back a day later.

My Chinese Mobile 

Day 2: Orientation Day
At 11 am we were welcomed by the staff of WorldLink Education and took a tour at the BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University). After lunch I met Tom. It was great to see Tom. We had dinner together and ordered the famous Peking duck with Er Guo Tou (56-65% liquor).

Day 3: To Get to Know the Area
I desperately needed to do some shopping and get my internet connection. Without speaking the language properly, this can be quite a complex thing to do. It took me almost a day to find a supermarket where I tried to buy some noodles but returned with spaghetti instead. Because this area has so many universities, there is a rather big foreign community as well. When walking on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice because most of the foreigners are either Koreans, Japanese and overseas Chinese. The amount of Westerners is much smaller but (of course) easy to recognize. It was snowing and the city looked beautiful. Prior to the shopping I had a placement test. I know some two hundred characters of which I am rather proud, but the test proved to be a disaster for my ego. Out of the 200 words I had to translate I was able to translate only four of them. I recognized many characters, but because they were accompanied by another character I only was able to translate them half. For those who are not into the Chinese language (which constitutes a bigger part of our world population), for example, the word ‘xuesheng’. ‘Xue’ has to do something with learning. ‘Sheng’ has to do something with the word new. Literally translated you could say the word means ‘new learning’ but that is entirely not right. Xuesheng means student. And there were many of this kind of words. Moreover, because of another night with little sleep, jetlag related again, my brains weren’t function properly. Really frustrating but it also motivates me to do much better during the actual classes.

Day 4: Recovery Day
The first good night rest!! With new energy I continued to search for a supermarket and found one. I may sound stupid but I was really happy! Did a lot of shopping, basis needs and bought shoes (I’ve taken too little cloths with me and my shoes turned out to be leaking when walking in the snow the other day). At night I had dinner with my German neighbor and his doll-like Chinese girlfriend in a Japanese restaurant. After that we had (too many) shots of the Er Guo Tou liquor to end up in a Western like bar-dancing stuffed with classy looking Chinese dressed by the latest fashion, dancing on Afro-American hip hop and consuming Heineken and Bacardi breezers. Funny… this is a China I’ve never seen before. Of course, I knew of its existence but it stroke me al together.

Er Guo Tou in my kitchen 

Day 5: The Hangover
Not really have had the time to fully recover from my jetlag and going out, drinking a little too much, the next day I really felt bad. We were about to meet our foreign-language-exchange-partners at the foreign-language-exchange-partner-meeting (the Chinese like these long names). I suffered from noisiness and didn’t eat in the morning. When arriving at the place where we were going to meet our partners I felt a little better. My partner is a shy 20 year old girl, named Huang Guo Ying, studying History of Arts, and barely speaking English. I could have been her father! In China, 20 year old students are much more childlike then, for example, in the Netherlands. During prior visits I’ve met hundreds of these shy childlike boys and girls trying to have a conversation in English. Sometimes very tiring, a situation that has to be encountered with patience. But well, I like these kind of situations. It’s the innocence that I like. Thus, I’m not expecting to have philosophical discussion with her (especially not with our poor levels of consequently English and Mandarin). The great thing, however, was that she is from the Shandong province. The same province all my Chinese friends come from. Another great thing was that we had lunch together and I got really hungry.

I got a really nice night sleep. I slept in till 10.30 am and am writing this story. Outside the Chinese enjoy their only day off (Sunday) and another friend (from Shandong province) of mine just sent me an e-mail. I probably meet him today as he works at the Beijing Daxue (University of Beijing) and lives in the same district as I do.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


At the moment I am sitting behind my desk suffering from a huge jetlag. I didn't sleep well tonight, but well, that's life. It will pass by eventually. Below you will find some pictures taken in and from my appartement. That will be it for today because I get this overwhelming urge to sleep, my brains react slow, so not much inspiration today. I will come back though, just be patient.

Ci le ma? Did you eat yet? Common Chinese expression 

My appartment 

View from my window 

6 o'clock am, snow is covering Beijing 

Monday, February 14, 2005

Surviving the roads...

A driving license is a great thing to have! Eveline and I rented a car and drove 363 km (225 miles) this weekend. Not much but virtually everything I have learned the past year, has been put in practice. I really enjoy the freedom it gives! I never thought I would be infected by this 'boys-toys' thing, but I am.

Driving in my (rented) car 

And about China... 7 days to go!

CU, Marc

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Online Publication

Hi there! For those who speak, read and... understand Dutch, or wish to take a crash course Dutch, an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago has been published at a Dutch China-site. The address is http://www.geledraak.nl/columns/default_marcdb.html. The page you'll get is the introduction page. If you want to read the story, the address is http://www.geledraak.nl/columns/col1_mdbfeb05.html

One down

Yes!!!!! Just got my driving license... One down!! China, here I come.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Thirteen Days

Thirteen days to go and so much to do... I thought I was well prepared for China. And in a certain way I am. However, just before leaving the Netherlands, a lot of other things come up. For example, tommorrow I have my driving exams. After being 18* for twelve years, I decided to take driving lessons (*age to start driving lessons in Europe). Now, a year later, the time has come to do the thing I have to do and I am not really looking forward to that. Well, I guess that's life and so many others having to undergo this ritual. But I feel like a schoolkid again. Yeah, it's been a while but I still recognize the feeling.

Another thing that happened in these last days before my departure is the fact that blogspot.com is blocked in China! Probably because it is a website that supports free speech and free speech is something that gives the Chinese government headaches. I am still thinking of transferring this site to a, in China visible, site provided by my internet provider in the Netherlands. The blog will be the same, but I just started to get a nice amount of readers and hesitate to give up this account. If I will transfer the site I will let you all know in advance.

Three colleagues of mine of the Empowerment Foundation, that is the group of entrepreneurs that wish to contribute to the development of disadvantaged people (see last contri) have left for China five days ago. In China they will visit minority communities who live in the vicinity of Guizhou, a province in the South-West of China bordering Sichuan and Yunnan. If you click on the map you will find its capital city, Guiyang, on the bottom-left. There they will visit another private school operating along the same principles as the Better Life School of my friend Tom. On February 14th they will visit him too. I was really sorry I couldn't reschedule because they will visit some of the most beautiful places in China (I have never been, till so far). Fortunately, during the 1st of May I have a small holiday and planning to visit Guizhou then. On February 22nd we, that is my three colleagues, Tom and I will meet in Beijing.

My time will come though... and very soon. For the moment I should concentrate on the things that have to be done. Though the coming two weekends should be fun, because I will have two farewell dinners with family and friends respectively. That's worth while staying a little bit longer, isn't it?

Last but not least, I probably most will miss my wife and want to thank her here with the whole world (except China) watching. She so greatly supports me, even though we won't see each other for a long time! Thank you! Below you find a photo of me and Eveline, my wife, taken recently. See you next time!


At Amsterdam Sloterdijk station 

Friday, February 04, 2005


One of the children to attend the school (read below). Dongping, June 2004 

Within 17 days I will head for China for the fifth time in my life. I will enroll in a language course for 4.5 months at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). Really looking forward to that!

The last few months I have been bussy making all sorts of preparations. Not that subscribing to the program took me a lot of effort, but it rather was the establishment of my consultancy that took a lot of time. The goal was to establish a full framework that can be utilized instantly when in China. In doing this, I met many other small entrepreneurs, most of them consultants as well, who were enthusiastic about my plans and with whom I will be cooperation in order to get things done.

Before I tell you something about what kind of work I will be doing in China, let me first share some observations with you considering small entrepreneurs. The Netherlands, so I've heard, is the second most densely populated country as it comes to consultancy. Only the US has more small sized consultancy companies. At the moment, because of meager economic activity, this sector got some heavy blows. In a way, consultancy is a luxury, and when economy fails to deliver fat profits, the first budget costs are on hiring consultancy offices. Almost everybody I told about me setting up a consultancy, asked me if this was a wise descision. I know it is a wise descision for I will not operate in the Netherlands but in China. China's economy is still booming. Secondly, many Dutch investors acknowledge entering the Chinese market is a long term investment that needs to be prepared well. Hiring a consultancy specialized in the Chinese market therefore becomes an integral part of this long term investment. Another interesting observation is that a lot of freelance and small sized consultancy offices are looking beyond our border for international opportunities. Of course, they are more or less forced by the current economic developments. A lot of these small entrepreneurs have turned their eyes on China.

Originally, it was the idea to further develop my consulting activities when in China. But in the past few months I met so many others withs plans to do consultancy and other projects in China, that I am now way ahead of my original planning.

At the university I tought the subject of globalization. An important part of globalizations is the emergence of the network organization, as described by Castells (1996: pp. 151-168) and others, such as Gipouloux (in: Chan Kwok Bun (ed.) 2000: pp. 57-70). The theory, in short, is about companies increasingly cooperate with each other in order to be flexible and costsaving to operate efficiently on the global market. Small and medium sized companies (SME), such as DuoArts Consultancy, the company I recently established, have the advantage to operate flexible becaus of the size. The complete lack of bureaucracy in SME's, which disables quick descision making and actions, enables this. This advantage, however, incorporates a disadvantage as well. Large organizations possess every kind of specialization: managers, technical staff, administration, accountants, internal consultants and lawyers, to name just a few. A one man company impossibly can be an expert on all these fields and therefore has to cooperate with other SME's that possess these capacities. As a consequence, small entrepreneurs mainly operate within networks, especially in the sector in which I am active, namely consultancy.

As I found out, these networks are highly flexible, lack formal procedures, indeed one might even say that many small entrepreneurs have an aversy against formal (bureaucratic) procedures. This makes the environment much more uncertain than is true in the bigger organizations, but at the same time much more exiting as well. My company now is part of a few networks that have been developing the last five months.

Market in Dongping, nearby school (read below), June 2004 

The first network DuoArts in part of, is a cooperation between my company and a consultancy company specialized in human resource management. The owner of this one (wo)man enterprise accompanied a trade mission to China in January last year. There she signed a memorandum of mutual understanding, a kind of basic agreement to cooperate with the Chinese in some kind of commercial project. The project is about sending Dutch interim managers to Chinese state-owned enterprises in the Southern province of Guandong. Many state-owned enterprises lack behind current developments of professionalization in China and therefore the Guandong government is actively involved in this project. Besides the Chinese government the network consists of the following players: both the Dutch Ministeries of Foreign and Economic affairs, a Amsterdam based MBA educational institute, several interim (freelance) and human resource managers. Two China-experts are involved, including me.

Staff of Better Life School. Dongping, June 2004 

Another network I am involved in, is quite different, although it still has to do with China. Although China's economy is growing and more people enjoy (almost) the same welfare level as in the West, the bigger part of the 1.3 billion Chinese (estimated at 1.1 billion people) still lives in poor conditions and lacking any opportunity to benefit from China's development. What gets little attention in Dutch newspapers and magazines is that, especially in rural areas, the situation many times becomes that explosive that social unrest and small scale rebellions are the consequence. Of course, the Chinese government doesn't want the rest of the world to know and they actually do a rather good job in keeping this kind of news to themselves. At the same time, the Chinese government is not just supressing these rebellions, but also tries to involve the poorer regions into the economic growth. In theory it looks good but in practice it turns out to be much more difficult, unfortunately. In order to use my knowledge not just for commercial purposes, I have joined a group of small entrepreneurs that engage in developmental and empowerment projects. The first succesful project has been done in Ruanda, where a restaurant has been opened to help women to become financially independent. The next project will take place in China and mainly concentrates on educating disadvantaged children, that is, children from minority groups within China, children from underdeveloped rural areas and children of migrant workers in the big Chinese cities, that lack any formal status. A future project will be an intercultural exchange project aiming at upcoming artists in both the Netherlands and China. Another player in this network is Tom, who has set up a school by himself last year and which I opened officially.

Yes, I guess I will be extremely bussy when in China. But that's no problem. These kinds of activities rather gives me energy than that it takes.

The pictures throughout this text are photos taken during the opening of Tom's school.

Front of the 'Better Life' School in Dongping, June 2004