Monday, November 17, 2008

China Update

It's been awhile since I've written a post on the old blog. I've been a bit busier lately, but I also am just a bit lazy sometimes. A lot of things have been changing, but some things have stayed the same. I'm still looking for a full-time position in the clean tech or renewable energy industry, but have taken a few part-time jobs to either make money or to get involved in clean tech, even if it is only a marginal role. Teaching English is by far the most common position for foreigners, at least in Hangzhou, and there are plenty of positions available. I had several people offer me some part-time roles, but avoided teaching for a long time. However, I finally decided to get a few hours a week, at least to pay for some of my living expenses and also to meet some Chinese people. The first teaching position I got was at a company. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to teach English, but I figured that it was most likely at a school or teaching someone one-on-one. However, I found out that it was at a company called Webex, which is owned by Cisco Systems, a large American Information Technology company. It was pretty coincidental that it was an American company that specializes in an area that is similar to my own background. The Hangzhou office of Webex has around 300 people and is almost idential in appearance to most IT departments I saw during my days at Deloitte. At Webex, I teach some small conversational classes with younger employees, as well as have one-on-one conversation sessions with the Hangzhou office manager. I especially enjoy meeting with the office manager. His English is already pretty good, but he wants someone to discuss higher-level topics with in English. He's a very frank, smart guy who doesn't mind telling the situation in China whether it is good or bad. We normally talk about economics and politics and it is very interesting to get the Chinese opinion on some of these issues. I have learned a lot through these sessions and would probably do them for free, but since they're offering to pay me money, I might as well take it right? My second English teaching job is at Web International School, which has a name suspiciously close to Webex, but I can assure that I do work at two different places. My roommate helped me get a part-time position at this school because he works there. Web is mainly for older people, so we get a lot of businessmen or adults looking to learn something new. At Web, I do pretty much the same thing as at Webex, which is teach English corners. Basically, an English corner is conversational practice about a specific topic for one hour. I normally just choose a topic I'm already familiar with so I don't have to do any preparation. I've done corners about the NBA, movies, the US election, and, by request, even about American Weddings, which bothered me because I had to research the topic. By far the most popular class I've done was one devoted to American slang, by which I mean more idioms such as "ballpark figure" or "take a rain check". I'm considering having an advanced slang class where I discuss ebonics, but that might be too difficult. After my initial hesitation to teach English, I am really glad that I am teaching because I enjoy it a lot more than I thought. At times it can be difficult, but mostly the Chinese students are very eager to learn and ask a lot of questions, so it makes my job easy. It has also improved my public speaking skills by having to basically give impromptu speeches for one hour at a time. However, as a former consultant, I'm considering making some decks (Powerpoint presentations) to more clearly illustrate the concepts I am trying to teach. What can I say, it's the only way I know how to work. My third part-time job is writing some business cases for this corporate responsibility group in Shanghai. They normally write about clean tech topics, so it's right up my alley. Basically, I just choose a topic from a list they have and write a 5-10 page business case about it. For example, the first case I have started on is about the Rural Energy Development Program, which is a program in China that allows businesses to get subsidies if they develop clean energy sources, e.g. wind farms, solar farms, or micro-hydro power, in rural areas in China. I haven't done too much work for this yet, but if I get anything published to their website, I will share the link on this blog. So, with my part-time jobs and my personal Chinese tutoring and study, my days are getting a lot busier, hence the lack of blog posts. I would have to say that my schedule is getting scarily close to a normal work week and that I am pretty upset at this fact. Despite the part-time jobs, I have to admit that things haven't been going as quickly as I would have hoped on the full-time job search front. My initial approach to the job search seems to have been somewhat ineffective. I had mostly been applying to jobs on websites or through email and I think that it is very difficult to get quality contacts or people reading your resume through that method. After several months of this method, I realized I needed to try something new. It reminds me of an Einstein quote: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Just because I had stopped shaving my beard and had let my fingernails grow long doesn't mean I was becoming crazy, but a change is always good. My new approach focuses on meeting people in-person. This sounds eerily like "networking", a practice I previously abhorred and sometimes associated with brown-nosing, but I have realized that it isn't all that bad if it connects two people who have similar interests and can help each other. My opinion of networking will probably change back after I have found a job, though. I figured that the best way to meet people interested in clean tech would be to attend some forums about the topic. There are several forums or conferences these days in clean tech as it is a growing field here in China and the government puts a lot of emphasis in this area. Last weekend, there was an expo in Hangzhou called the "2008 China International Sustainable Economy Industrialization Expo" in the typically verbose Chinese fashion. Basically, the expo provided an opportunity for companies to show businesses, governments, and the public their products or services for sustainable development. As such, there were a lot of clean tech companies.
Hangzhou World Trade Center and Sustainability Expo
On Saturday, I attended a forum at the expo on renewable energy, where business leaders and government officials spoke about current technologies and solutions. They had interpreters for English and Chinese, so depending on what language the speaker was using, you could put on a headset and tune in to a channel with English. It was pretty cool and I felt pretty important with my headset on, making sure to squint with extreme concentration to prove that I was paying attention to the speaker.
Speaker at Renewable Energy Forum
Notice the Headphones on Whitey
After the speeches, I was able to talk to a few of the speakers and "network". The process bore fruit and I got some of their business cards. One of the guys was the president of an American solar company and another one was a high-up economic minister from Austria. I'm not sure if either will lead to a job, but both of them mentioned they might have something when I said I was searching for a job in China. Even though things are still a little uncertain about jobs here, attending the forum rekindled my interest in staying here in China and pursuing a job in clean tech or renewable energy. It seems there are a lot of opportunities, I just need to find a way to get involved. As nerdy as it sounds, learning more about clean technology and its market possibilities is very exciting and interesting to me. Then again, I believe I high-fived my friend Ross when we got our 32-bit Full-Adder working at 4 am the night before it was due in our VLSI class (did this happen Ross or am I imagining it?), so I don't have a good track record in not being nerdy. There is another conference I am going to be involved with in Shanghai in early December, so I will have another chance to meet people then, if I haven't already found a job. Anyway, I will hopefully post more on the blog now. I think in the future I am going to shift more to topical posts, since I will probably be doing less traveling now that it is winter time. Hopefully, I can come up with some interesting and funny cultural observations about China or different things going on here. Besides, people were probably getting tired of my posts that followed the formula: "I went to x, and it was pretty sweet. After that, I went to y, and it was pretty sweet, too. Below are pictures of aforementioned sweet things."


Jim said...

Good afternoon. My name is Jim Caldwell and I am an american researcher. I have been doing a project on American companies that have at least 50% of their R&D staff in China. Webex is one of those companies. I noticed you mentioned Hangzhou's has about 300 employees. Do you know how many are in Hefei and Suzhou? I know Hefei had about 300 in 2005. My research is trying to determine if the economic advantage is solely wages or if there is a methodology or management practice, layer difference? Would you know how many managers manage the 300 engineers? if possible I would love to perhaps exchange emails with you and possibly the plant manager. I look forward to speaking with you.
Jim Caldwell

Phil Dawsey said...

Are you including "brown-nosing" in your american slang class? haha. Things do sound like they're looking up though! I say you get a high ranking job and bring me in as a consultant on some little known process.

Jim said...

No brown nosing here just doing a job looking for answers. I would love the high paying job myself as it has been a long time since the tech bubble burst and some of my opportunities with it. Just trying to get the job done these days. Do you have any insight on the questions I posed?

steve said...

Funny that you mention webex... we used them a bit at my last project; seems like there is a big competitive market out there for that sort of stuff.

I kindof want to start writing about my travels here in India, but theres not much to see in Hyderabad. My hotel has a great view of the desolate urbanization and a security checkpoint... fascinating stuff, eh?