Dispatches from China

Guest post: Tying the China trip together

Monday, June 4th, 2007

0000000000000001statues.JPGPaige Bromen, a junior on the U of M golf team who was kind enough to break up our slapstick comedy routine with regular dispatches from her trip to witness sports globalization in China, is here to wrap up her stay. Many thanks to Paige for all her hard work and for sharing her experiences. Here are her final words, as well as a picture of her with two bobblehead dolls of the brothers from the 80s band Nelson [that last part is more than likely not true, but that's what she gets for not telling us what they really are].

As my study abroad trip comes to an end, Rand thought it might be good to tie everything together and reflect on my trip … so here goes:

First Beijing. I have become certain of one thing during the past three weeks: China will host the Olympics and they will be spectacular. There are over 100,000 volunteers picked from 500,000 applicants, as well as mass amounts of resources invested into the development — the government is making it rain [RandBall note: Not in the Pacman Jones way. Sorry, Paige, proceed.] preceding the Olympics to cut down on pollution and plans to shut down factories for weeks to ensure healthy looking skies. It is a fact that China, and especially Beijing, will look like a Utopian community.

Next up, Shanghai. Shanghai in general has definitely been the favorite part of my trip. In contrast to Beijing, the city boasts a more entrepreneurial mindset and is less concerned with the political happenings of the party. I could definitely live and work in Shanghai, but I’m afraid you would have to pay me a lot of money to live in Beijing. Maybe it’s the fact that some of the Minnesota Club members play golf every Saturday and softball on Sundays, or that the city has actually acquired suburb-like areas where you can see green grass everyday. I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems like a much more livable city.

Best adventure in China: It’s tough to pick one thing during this experience that was my favorite. I really enjoyed all of the speakers, especially Gordon Fairclough and the Minnesota Club members. But if I had to choose, I think I would have to go with my world’s longest charades game … er … my golf outing in Beijing. It was so much fun to see the similarities and contrasts in the game’s style, and it was one of the only times in my life where I had no idea how to make small talk (back home I learned from the best; we call my dad the Ambassador because he can’t leave a gathering without talking to every person for at least 10 minutes).

OK, so that’s my trip in a nutshell. I have leaned a lot in three weeks, but I am by no means an expert.  I have seen a glimpse of the globalization and culture in China, but there is no way I can grasp the entire thing and proclaim I get it.

Special thanks to my editor/roommate, Molly Watters, who I forced to listen to every entry and without whose comments, although sometimes cynical, added a lot of value to these entries.

Guest post: Another double shot of China

Friday, June 1st, 2007

000000000000000001planning_museum.JPGPaige Bromen, a junior on the U of M golf team and special guest blogger, takes us through more of her whirlwind tour of China. Her time there studying the globalization of sports is nearing a close.

This morning our group traveled to the Shanghai Planning Museum.  The Museum is put on by the central government as a means of showing their implementation strategies. The exhibits were interesting and impressive; however, the question I keep asking myself is, where’s the money coming from?  Or, as my friend Chanda put it, “have they heard of fiscal responsibility?” I have to question the government’s motives a bit when I hear about the disparities between the rich and poor and how the gap seems to be ever increasing.

After a quick lunch, we headed to Ager Company, a landscape architecture firm owned by Minnesota graduate, Ma Xiaowei.  The 70-strong firm handles projects dealing with urban greenscapes, resorts, and golf courses.  After a quick 20 minute presentation by the owner, associate Thomas Payne, a 55 year-old native of Boston, continued the talk and gave us a tour.  Overall, the meeting had little to do with sports and centered mostly on how the company aims to make the world more sustainable and aesthetic at the same time.  The buzz words thrown out multiple times were that, “the world is flat;” and that we should “only connect.”  Payne wanted to drive home the point that China is where the money is and if we were smart, each of us would use the trip as a springboard for future business opportunities.

I liked both of the take home messages provided, but I have to admit, I wish Mr. Payne could have spoken a little more about their golf course development projects.  I’m afraid these days I have little more than a one-track mind (I resorted to buying a Golf Digest in Mandarin at the Beijing Airport just so I could look at the pictures).


What a day!  Everyone in the group had the morning off, but since I’m only in China once, I resisted the urge to sleep in.  I’m pretty sure I found the perfect gift for my parents by word of mouth, but unfortunately I had no address for the shop that sold them.  After about an hour of searching, I found the place with a little more luck than skill.

Rushing from the store, I hopped in a taxi to meet the rest of the group for a luncheon with The Wall Street Journal beat reporter, Gordon Fairclough.  The lunch was absolutely the highlight of my trip.  Mr. Fairclough had a wide base of knowledge and didn’t sidestep any of the hard questions. My interest focused mainly on the global marketing schemes of sports powerhouses like Nike and Adidas.  According to the speaker, two avenues are being used to break into the Chinese market.  One strategy is to localize the product by sponsoring leagues and local courts.  Another is to continue its original ad campaigns as if you are not in a different country.  Nike has opted for option number one, with billboards boasting mostly non-superstars in Chinese costume and by sponsoring basketball courts like the ones I played on in Beijing — another reason for this approach might be that Yao Ming looks like Igor from the Adams Family to most Chinese women (Fairclough’s words, not mine).  Dissimilarly, Adidas has brought their “Impossible is Nothing,” campaign to the table.  Each option has its pros and cons, but it always comes down to cost-benefit ratios and how much a company is willing to invest.

Mr. Fairclough answered my next question just as succinctly.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am trying to figure out how the government funds its projects and why everyone seems so health conscientious yet smokes a pack a day.   Well, let’s just say there is little separation between the state and the commodity.  More specifically, cigarette manufacturing itself is owned by the central government AND imposes taxes on the product.  This revenue makes up 8%-50% of funding, and leaves no doubt why anti-smoking ads haven’t hit the streets.

After lunch, some of us took a quick walk through the French Concession and then made our way back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, one of the gifts I bought for my mom and dad got ruined along the way.  I tried to fix it a bit, but being the daughter of a perfectionist means I will most likely trek over to the Yuyuan Gardens again and replace it (sigh).

Guest post: Dispatches from China — golf in Beijing

Friday, May 25th, 2007

000000000000000001golf.JPG000000000000000000012golf.JPGPaige Bromen, a junior on the U of M women’s golf team, is exploring the globalization of sports in China as the country prepares for the 2008 Olympics. She checks in with Part V of her report:
Today, I was treated to one of the best golf experiences of my life. This morning, a retired Naval officer took me to Grandeur South Golf and Country Club just outside of Beijing. I had no idea what to expect and when we pulled into the front entrance, I practically had to remind myself not to gasp. The place was massive!

After changing into my golf shoes and perusing the locker room — there was a twenty person Jacuzzi near the showers — we left the clubhouse and headed to the first tee. The golf course itself was a fusion between a Minnesotan and Floridian loop. Almost every hole was lined with water hazards, sand bunkers, and an array of different types of trees. But the most impressive part of the course was the meticulously condition in which it was kept. I couldn’t find a divot that wasn’t filled with sand or a ball mark on the green that wasn’t repaired. I think this can be attributed to everyone having a caddie and the cheap price of labor in China. The round was rather pitiful on my part, but I pulled it together a little on the back nine … let’s just say I had five birdie opportunities and only converted one. On an aside, the golf etiquette was largely similar to the States’ code of conduct; however, talking on your cell phones during the round is permitted and after you are done putting, you leave the green — as a general rule a person does not need to wait for their playing partners to putt out.

The round was fantastic and I was actually relieved not to have to worry about my performance for once. One thing I did forget to mention above though is that neither my playing partner nor our caddies spoke English. The round had a different twist to it as a lot of hand gestures took the places of words and a lot of time lagged between conversations. But what an experience!

OK, that’s about it. Tonight a bunch of us are going to meet up with the Beijing Sports University students again for dinner. Tomorrow, we are playing softball with the Beijing University baseball team; it should be another great day in Beijing!

Guest post: Dispatches from China, Part IV

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

000000000000001plaza.jpgPaige Bromen, a junior on the U of M golf team, is in China studying the globalization of sports in conjunction with the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She checks in with Part IV of her odyssey:

After a week in Beijing, our professors sent us off to fend for ourselves. Of course, just exploring wouldn’t be enough; we made it into a competition. The actual prize was small — a meal at McDonald’s — but the ramifications of bragging rights could last for years. As my roommate, Molly Watters stated when we learned of the prize, “I don’t even like McDonald’s; I’m playing for pride.” Groups of three were chosen by our professors breaking up roommates and Chinese speakers to make it as fair as possible. Then, each group was assigned 12 tasks to be completed by 4 p.m. The tasks ranged from who could eat the most authentic Beijing meal to who could find the best example of Olympic spirit within the Hutongs (alleyways) of the city.

To make things a little more interesting, my teammates, Meghan Anderson, Tommie Ng, and I decided to rent bikes. After all, how boring would it be to just walk? We scoured the streets looking for the most interesting things and the best photos. Near the end, we stumbled upon the “International Plaza.” The complex plays host to athletes of all ages training in an attempt to make their respective Olympics teams. At the track (pictured), we saw 6-8 year olds running 400 meter laps and 50 meter sprints. The rest of my groupmates were awestruck, but I definitely remember running wind sprints on the soccer field by the time I was in 2nd grade. On a more reflective side, the differences between the Hutongs and the International Plaza were immense. In the Hutongs, the living conditions were, at least by Westerner standards, decrepit at best; in the Plaza, many of the rooms overlooked an atrium full of plants and fish-filled ponds. I don’t quite know how the living conditions can be so disparate and how it seems like some parts of the city can just be forgotten by the government. But for now, I just hope that the athletes appreciate the gift they have been given.

Tonight I’m off for a little shopping and dinner. Afterwards some of the group might go play basketball again, although I might stay back and tune up for the thing I’ve been looking forward to the most, a round of golf! Sad, I know, that I’m in China yet the number one thing on my list to do is something I do everyday at home. I guess over the last 10 years, golf has become such a part of my life that not playing it feels wrong.

Guest post: Paddles and baseball in China

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

00000000001paddles.JPG00000000000001baseball.jpgPaige Bromen, a junior on the U of M women’s golf team, checks in with Part III of her report from China, where she is studying Sports Globalization in conjunction with the upcoming Olympics.

First thing this morning our study-abroad group headed off to the Temple of Heaven, the Emperor’s former palace used to pray for good harvests. The site is now open to the public and is widely used by locals as a place for exercise. Walking around we witnessed all kinds of sports participation; from hackysack to tai chi, hundreds of people congregated to stay fit and socialize in mostly non-competitive games. One sport, imported from Korea, is a combination of lacrosse and catch played with leather paddles. My friends and I were invited to play, and we jumped at the opportunity (pictured). We had a suspicion that the invitation was just a clever sales tactic; you see, rarely has anyone been overly-friendly to us in the “touristy areas” without having ulterior motives. Nevertheless, the game was fun (I did end up buying it) and overall, the varying forms of exercise and the amount of people participating in them was fun to see. Something like that would never have occurred in the United States.

In the afternoon, Dai Peiyou, a local expert on baseball, teamwork and business, took our group to watch the Beijing Tigers Professional Baseball team practice. The Tigers are one of six professional teams in China and boast eight players from the Chinese National team. While watching batting practice, one of the players, Gil Kim, gave the group an insider’s perspective on the team’s season and training habits. The former Vanderbilt second baseman compared the skill level of the team to a rookie league squad in the U.S., saying, “There are some really talented guys here, but they just don’t have the experience and background to compete at a higher level yet.” With many players beginning their baseball careers around middle school, as they are recruited from other sports to play, and only a 30-game season, development is often slow. I guess just like baseball in the United States, there is no substitute for competitive experience.