by Becca McAfee ‘13
First thing in the morning, we scrambled out of bed in order to begin our day of factory visits and our bus ride to Urumqi. Snow capped mountains in the middle of the desert greeted our eyes as we drove out of Turpan. The rapid change in terrain never ceased to amaze us. We drove in the middle of a beautiful valley headed towards our first visit, a wind farm. The last thirty minutes of our bus ride could have been a ride from an amusement park. Blaring horns, large pot holes, and random ups and downs in the road made our stomachs jump. Sitting in the back seat, Martin, Eric, Fazal, and I watched everyone’s heads bounce up and down just as if we were experiencing extreme turbulence on a plane. It was highly amusing.
When we finally reached the wind farm, everyone gladly stumbled off the bus. Imposing wind turbines surrounded us as we walked into the company’s headquarters. Inside the building, we immediately barraged the young manager with questions. Even though most of us don’t know much about wind farms, we were determined to learn and understand the company. Eric helped us understand the technical aspects of the answers we received by giving us a quick “Wind and Electricity for Dummies” lecture. This helped us to debate as to whether or not China’s ”Send West Electricity East” campaign made the best of a bad situation or was a verifiably efficient project. We also debated China’s best options for energy and how they could move from a predominately coal-dependent society to a more green energy-based society. Urumqi epitomized China’s reliance on coal and coal’s negative ramifications. Jake pointed out a car-sized piece of coal on the side of the street while the rest of us stared at the dirty snow and black smoke spewing out of the chimneys.
Back tracking a little, before we made it to Urumqi we visited a Coca Cola bottling plant. The Coke plant might as well have been located in Disney’s Epcot – “the amusement park for nerds” as Professor Brown would say. The Coke Factory visit paralleled our visit to the VW Factory. In both, I felt as if we were in the midst of some marketing ploy. Although I would have liked to see more than just one of the production lines, the marketing was enjoyable. They had Dance Dance Revolution for the elementary and middle school visits. When the students played they would give the kids a Coke Zero linking Coke Zero to exercise and fun – a smart marketing tool. Fazal was able to see how many Coke cans tall he is and Jean Jacques played virtual basketball. Another marketing ploy is that they localize the products in China. For example, in Xinjiang, the bottles are written in Chinese and Uygher, and Sprite is available with a green tea flavor. The average Coke consumption in Xinjiang is eleven bottles per year, which is why they are marketing so heavily. For whatever reason, the locals much prefer Sprite to Coke. As part of the tour, we were all given a free Coke or two. We all agreed that the taste differed from what we are used to and that the after taste “tasted like cardboard boxes,” according to Fazal. However, this Coke factory used real sugar unlike the high fructose corn syrup used in the United States, which Fazal and I like.
The bus ride after the factory again brought several intense discussions. What is the ratio of marketing to production? Why was the Coke factory set up for tours? Why were the employees dressed as if they were going to go party? Personally, I think our discussions after we visit factories are just as interesting, or more interesting, than what we just experienced. They require us to apply the knowledge we just learned and think critically…which is something that at the Chinese school we visited said that Chinese students had trouble doing.
The Xinjiang Colored Cotton Production Factory, unfortunately, was also set up for visits. However, the visit was still very informative. The cotton is naturally colored and they currently produce one half of the world’s colored cotton, 8% of the world’s cotton, and 95% of China’s colored cotton. The factory we visited had part of their research center, which illustrated that they were trying to expand into other parts of the cotton market outside of naturally colored cotton. After the visit we discussed the differences in the market and which parts of the market they are trying to capture.
Back to our evening in Urumqi: Downtown Urumqi sat in a nest of fog. But even so, the ostentatious lights from the large department stores, movie theatre, five star hotels, and other signs of wealth shined brightly through the dense fog. These signs of wealth serve as a sign of the intense economic development that is occurring in Urumqi. Our hotel happened to be “swanky,” as Brad says, a five-star place. Flower petals were artistically thrown into our toilet and they left Kit-Kats on the beds and rubber duckies in the bath tubs. But most excitingly, the beds were soft!
Urumqi is predominately Han Chinese (80%), but we visited the Uygher section, which makes up 10% of the city’s population. A cornucopia of aroma’s enticed our noses once we neared the market. Lamb, walnuts, raisins, breads, and a plethora of other exotic foods enticed our stomachs to growl. Vendors sold music, food, rugs, knives and many other goods. Sadly, we reached the market at the tail end when all the vendors were beginning to close. Nevertheless, we were all excited for a local dinner. The food was delicious – similar to Greek food, as Chih says about almost all the local dishes we’ve had in Xinjiang. By group consensus, the bread (made with yeast, unlike in the rest of China) was our favorite.
After a long day, we went back to the hotel to maybe go bowling in the hotel, play cards, watch CNN (in my case because we almost never have access to the news), and crash for the night.