Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Stanford Researches Builders of US Transcontinental Railroad: the Chinese

Dr. Fishkin discusses research
Last month, the director of the American Studies Program at Stanford, Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin, spoke at the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association to explain some special research: the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project.
Dr. Fishkin said that when she joined the University in 2003, she had heard that Chinese labor was the key to the fortune with which Leland Stanford founded Stanford University, and assumed she would find something in the library—a letter from one of the workers or a something.
There was nothing. 
She asked her colleague in the history department, Dr. Gordon H. Chang, where she might find something. He said, “Nowhere.”
Not a single letter or journal entry or remittance slip from the people who had done the most for the railroad…for the university, for the states, for the country.
Just as unbelievable—and heartbreaking-- was a collective national amnesia that the Chinese had even participated. During the 100th anniversary of the completion of the railroad in 1969, a celebration was held during which the role of the Chinese was attributed to non-Chinese.
“Who else but Americans can drill ten tunnels in mountains 30 feet deep in snow?” asked the orator officiating the ceremony, Secretary of Transportation John Volpe. “Who else but Americans could chisel through miles of solid granite? Who else but Americans could have laid ten miles of track in twelve hours?”
But, the people who performed all those engineering marvels hadn’t been Americans.
They had been Chinese.
(To Be Continued. Next: When West Was Far from East.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Not Enough Opportunities For Graduates

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.) However, a year later, when she was graduating, she managed to snag a job with GE Healthcare, something this woman was also connected with. (See post seven.) She spent several years with G.E. before deciding she needed an MBA to get ahead. This time she was accepted into a "tier one" school. She also stepped outside her "farmer's mindset" and applied for an IT position with Microsoft. (See post eight.). Microsoft hired her. Rather than sit around and wait to graduate and join the company, though, she spent as much of her time as she could traveling the world. (See post nine.) Mengping, as her time was short in the U.S., did not come against any major challenges. However, she did point out some unique challenges she saw in China, aside from pollution and corruption. She mentioned that Beijing residents are given top priority to Beijing University, sidelining the talented individuals who happen to be born in a different city. (see post ten.)
Another concern Mengping had is all of the college students. While the universities expanded enrollment, the result is a lot of disappointed graduates.
“The structure (of society) doesn’t’ support the expansion. The opportunity is not as much as the people need. So all these people (graduates) are overflowing.
In 2017, 8 million Chinese graduated from University, more than twice the number of U.S. graduates.
“They live in cramped conditions (4-8 people a room), just renting beds, as they try to be successful. They are called, 'ants.'" (see NYT article.)

This concludes --with gratitude to Mengping--our interview. Next: The Chinese Who Built the Future of the U.S. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Beijing Residents Receive Preference At Top Universities

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.) However, a year later, when she was graduating, she managed to snag a job with GE Healthcare, something this woman was also connected with. (See post seven.) She spent several years with G.E. before deciding she needed an MBA to get ahead. This time she was accepted into a "tier one" school. She also stepped outside her "farmer's mindset" and applied for an IT position with Microsoft. (See post eight.). Microsoft hired her. Rather than sit around and wait to graduate and join the company, though, she spent as much of her time as she could traveling the world. (See post nine.)
With Mengping at Stanford
I asked Mengping what challenges she saw facing the U.S. As she didn’t stay in the U.S. long (four months), she didn't have a strong opinion.
As for China, one of her big concerns--aside from the widely-held worry over pollution and corruption--was the severe competition in education. Getting into Beijing University is everyone’s priority.
 “If there is one student enrolled in Beijing University or Qinhua University from our county, the headmaster of the school and the head of that class will get a bonus.” But this is made almost impossible. Mengping’s best friend scored the highest on the college entrance exam in the entire county—but she still didn’t’ get into Beijing University.
"People who live in Beijing receive preference, and can get into the top universities with a lower admission score than students from outside the city. " (See article on subject by VOA.)


(To be continued. Next and final: Not Enough Opportunity for Graduates)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Taking Advantage of Each Day

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.) However, a year later, when she was graduating, she managed to snag a job with GE Healthcare, something this woman was also connected with. (See post seven.) She spent several years with G.E. before deciding she needed an MBA to get ahead. This time she was accepted into a "tier one" school. She also stepped outside her "farmer's mindset" and applied for an IT position with Microsoft. (See post eight.)
Microsoft was impressed enough by Mengping to fly her to Beijing for another round of interviewing. She had to give a ten-minute presentation.
“I kind of differentiated from others. Most of the MBA’s did a strategic analysis. But it’s only 10 minutes. So you cannot communicate all the information. So you need to sell yourself. “
They gave her the job. 
But before graduation, and before starting her new position, she continued to travel. 
“You cannot have such kind of time in your life.  No relationship, no worry about things.” 
Mengping in Cuba
She ventured to California for a couple of months (where we met her), then went off to visit Peru (where she helped those devastated by recent floods) and Cuba (“I recommend you to have a visit.”)  
Graduation Day
She returned home in time to graduate, attend a friend’s wedding, and begin her new job in Beijing.

(To be continued. Next: Beijing Residents Receive Preference at Top Universities)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Stepping Outside Farmer Mindset

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.) However, a year later, when she was graduating, she managed to snag a job with GE Healthcare, something this woman was also connected with. (See post seven.)
After three years with GE, Mengping decided she needed an MBA to get ahead.
“I didn’t have a career plan when I got my first job.  I think it’s time to stop and think more about my potential.”
This time she was accepted to the tier-one school in Shanghai CEIBS. In case you’re wondering how much MBA programs cost in China, they’re priced similar to the U.S. ($60-70,000 /year). This is expensive--yes, in the U.S. we think it's expensive. But, in China, where the average worker earns about $10,000/year rather than about $85,000/year (according to Forbes 2017), it's way more expensive. Mengping was offered half of the tuition as a stipend. The other half she was able to borrow from the bank at an interest rate of 5.5%.
“Because our school is one of the top schools, the bank would offer the loan.” 
In between quitting her job in April and beginning her MBA in August, Mengping continued to travel.
She went to Italy, France and Germany.
“I told people my plans, and asked if they had friends in those countries to introduce them, as it was my first time to travel abroad. This kind of experience broadened my horizons. I met really wonderful people.” 
In December, during school holiday, she travelled to Japan and Israel.  When the idea of an international semester was offered, she grabbed it.  It was in Austin, Texas. And it was in Austin—while she was at the library—that she saw Microsoft was hiring. The idea of IT was intimidating at first.
“I knew nothing about IT. I always have a farmer’s mindset. (i.e. ‘In the future I must meet a husband who can repair the computer for me.’) But, I realized this is silly and I should learn it. So she applied to Microsoft. 
(To be continued. Next: Taking Advantage of Each Day.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Travel Broadens Horizons

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.) However, a year later, when she was graduating, she managed to snag a job with GE Healthcare, something this woman was also connected with. (See post seven.)
Mengping not only started her new job with G.E. Healthcare, but she applied for her first passport and began to travel—inside China as well as abroad. In order to afford her trips, she started “couch surfing,” meaning that she went on the web and looked for places where she could sleep on someone’s couch for a night or two or three.  She warned against just going to anyone’s place—“When I used it, I always found families. I travelled alone for 2 weeks (in Taiwan) by myself.”
She also found SERVAS, an international club, which specializes in this kind of couch-surfing idea. All members need to be recommended, so there is less chance of chicanery.
“I traveled a lot of places. I did hitchhiking to one of the Tibetan areas. I lived in the Tibetan people’s house. They are Buddhist. They are very kind. I saw their pure eyes. “ She participated in a Sky Burial (where they throw the body to the eagles, hoping the birds will take the spirit closer to heaven.) Every chance, she travelled.
“It was a kind of education. To cherish my life. Now in China a lot of people are focused on their materials and their reputation. In China it’s all about responsibility. You have to work hard to support your parents, to have a family. You have to get married before you’re 25 or you’re left over (because Chinese men they like younger girls. They like ladies to worship them.) I cannot follow this.
“People have so many limits. They make those limits for themselves. All this traveling experience kind of teach me. “  
(To be continued. Next: Stepping Outside Farmer Mindset.)

Monday, August 28, 2017

One Connection Makes the Difference

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) While her colleagues were quick to judge customers and decide whether/not to engage, Mengping helped everyone. One impoverished-looking woman turned out to be quite wealthy and connected, and offered Mengping a job in an electronics company. Mengping turned this down.(See post six.)
Her senior year, she visited her best friend at the first-tier Sichuan University (about two hours away), and saw GE Healthcare advertising for employees.

“At that time, I had no idea what GE is. I just saw Healthcare. My personality characteristic is perfect for customer service.  Another good thing is you don’t need to do the online test. (And thus input school information that might automatically disqualify you.) You just pass the listening to the boss.”
Mengping did well on her first interview. And when she arrived home to her campus late that evening, she received a text to return the next morning by 8 am.  So off she went the two hours to Sichuan University the next day. The second interview was a group interview, and Mengping passed that. She was invited to a third interview. “I was so nervous. But I kept smiling.”
Then she was sent to HR. And this is where that connection she had made in the manicure shop--that dear woman with her cheap-looking bag-- came back around. 
“The HR woman said, ‘Oh, you used to work in Shekou?’
I shared the story about working and taking good care of this woman who came into the shop but didn’t have the right bag. 
“‘Hmm, “the H.R. woman paused. “The lady you mentioned. I knew her. She was my former colleague.’ “
To Mengping, this was a sign from the Gods that she was on the right path.
“I was so happy.”
(To Be Continued. Next: Travel Broadens Horizons)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Your Horizons Define Your Mindset

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.) While she had heard it would be impossible to find a job, coming from a 2nd-tier university, she thought she'd test the waters during a holiday break. Through persistence, she found a position promoting VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure salon. (See post five.) 
Most of the customers in the shop were either foreigners or rich Chinese women—managers and such from big companies. For the twenty days she worked there (the length of the spring festival holiday), Mengping worked and was given free housing, “in the slum of the Shekou district.”
“But for me it was good…I lived with two other girls who were also working in that shop.  We have one room and there’s a toilet inside the room.“ Mengping remembered her childhood apartment where she needed to walk down the hall to use a common facility. In the winter, that walk was cold.
“Everyday I was so happy. I was doing something I liked. I was exploring.“
Many of the assistants in the shop had become quick to judge potential customers…by the look of their handbags.
“They (the customers) used luxury brands from LV (Louis Vuitton), all those kinds of things. The price of one bag—200,000 RMB (approx. $30,000) you can buy a small house in the county.”
$34,000 dollar handbag
One Friday night, this woman walked in carrying a humble cloth bag filled with vegetables. The other assistants ignored her, (“She was not rich, so they didn’t show their interest.”) Mengping, however, showed her around the shop. Before the woman left, she passed Mengping her phone number. Mengping texted her. Six months later, the woman offered her an assistant managerial position in her electronics company.
That is how life opens up to Mengping. She is always finding connections.  
At the time that this woman made the offer, though, Mengping refused.  “I was so stupid at that time. She was working in the energy industry and I was in the health industry. So I kind of refused her. It should have been a good opportunity. I realized that your horizons define your mindset and your mindset defines how you make decisions.
At that time, I didn’t know how to make decisions.”
This wasn’t the end of the connection—or the opportunities. This woman would re-appear when Mengping least expected it.
(To be continued. Next: One Connection Makes the Difference.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Finding a Needle of Possibility in Haystack of Pessimism

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.) She had thoughts about getting a higher degree, but decided instead to try to find a job. (See post four.)
Winter vacation of her Junior year, she headed down to Shenzhen to test the waters and see what opportunities were available for the holidays. Most of the other students were studying for upcoming exams.
“But for me, the final goal is you need a job. Not only pass the exam. So, I was one of three students who was looking for a job at that time.”
But she was one of a gazillion headed for Shenzhen.
“It’s the springtime holiday and it’s really crowded. (On the train) it’s hard to even move to the toilet."
Mengping had a cousin in Shenzhen whom she had met only once when they were infants. Mengping lugged smelly pork in that crowded train as a gift. And when she arrived—although her cousin was pleased with the delicacy—the woman was not very encouraging about employment opportunities.  ‘“It’s impossible for you to find a job at this time.’”
Rather than believe her naysaying cousin, Mengping went to the local job fair. “Most of it was for electronics, because Shenzhen is famous for electronics.”
That wasn’t up Mengping’s alley.
But she figured since she was there, she would do something—she got a job passing out pamphlets for the duration of the fair. Then she headed for the train station and got lunch. She had never tried Cantonese food.  As she was eating, she saw a bus going go Shekou.
“Shekou is the district where most of the foreigners are located in Shenzhen.“ Thinking it would be a good spot to practice English, and she might find a job as a translator, she hopped on that bus. When she arrived, she stopped at every shop in the area. Most of them said they didn’t need help—“It’s spring holiday.” 
But, true to Mengping’s character, she finally found a person she connected with. On her third day of looking, she found a job selling VIP cards at a manicure/pedicure shop where the owner was also from Mengping’s hometown in Sichuan.
(To Be Continued. Next: Your Horizons Define Your Mindset.) 

Monday, August 14, 2017

985 Project Weeds Out Job Applicants from 2nd-Tier Universities

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.) The realization that she held the reins regarding her future lit a fire in her soul, and she began exploring as she never had before. (See post three.)
Initially –after a trip to Shanghai Jiaotung University the fall of her junior year--she was not impressed with the prospect of continuing on to do graduate studies.
“After I observed them (the students), I realized that the Chinese graduate education is not the cake for me.  In China the graduate school-- it’s not purely research--it has to do with your relationship with your mentor. You need to solicit funds from the government to do the research. It’s not just pure do-the-research."
So instead of applying for grad school, she began looking for a job. “I had no confidence to apply to a Fortune Five-hundred company.”
She explained that these companies required online applications/tests, and one way they filtered people was by university.  The government has ranked the universities in a project code-named 985. (“China has a tendency to name national projects by numbers.”)
“If you are ranked in the 985 project, those are the best universities in China." And you have the best chance of getting a job. “If you’re not from this list, it’s difficult."
(To be continued.  Next: Discovering a Needle of Possibility in a Haystack of Pessimism.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Element of Control Sparks Enthusiasm

Mengping Li, originally from a small town in Sichuan Province, was prepping for her college entrance exam when the disastrous earthquake of 2008 occurred. Although surrounded by misery, the testing went forward.  Mengping ended up being accepted at Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine. (See post one.) She soon discovered that this second-tier university did not have all she needed, and went about finding ways to make the experience better. (See post two.
The realization that she could affect her destiny lit a fire in Mengping’s soul. This young woman who had hardly ventured from her doorstep before college began to really explore. She traveled to Sichuan University (a first-tier institution) where she could meet foreigners and practice her English skills. (She has amazing English skills.) 
She began working as an English tutor for primary school students for 100RB/hour (About $15/hour, more than the average person earned in a day.) She earned enough to travel to Shanghai one year, Beijing the next, to see what her peers were doing in those top-tier universities, and if she should apply for graduate school.
A true product of the internet age, Mengping made connections with students through a website called renren
“It’s kind of like Facebook, but target customer is college students. I found people from the same city and asked for help. ‘Can you find me a dormitory? Or, ‘Can I stay with you?’ In the beginning, I was not that pro-active, but I learned from every trip that I can do better.”
(To be continued. Next: China's 985 Project Weeds Out Job Applicants from 2nd-Tier Universities.)