I have been working with paper engineering students for several years and have visited many paper mills with them, but in March 2011 I was in for a totally different experience with the fourth-year students. I was invited to explore Hong Kong with them.
For 27 years, the graduating paper engineers from Tampere have created a publication presenting each one of them and important topics related to the industry. The process of finding sponsorship, writing articles, taking photographs is all done by the students as part of a course. Part of the group looks into possible places to visit and do their last bit of learning as students. Ms Merja Hanhimäki supported the students in their efforts guiding and passing on tacit knowledge. Merja, however, was unable to leave for Hong Kong and so I stepped in.
I had never been to Asia and Hong Kong proved to be a good first place to explore. Having been a British colony it was a gentle step into things Chinese. The layout of the city was British, there was much English, yet it was clear that we were in China and ruled by Beijing. Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative areas, but now definitely part of mainland China.
The pleasures during the trip included Cantonese cooking (obsessed with fresh ingredients), easy public transport e.g. the cute trams, interesting museums, many pretty parks and the wild outdoors outside Hong Kong City. – The most challenging thing was the bad atmosphere the cleaning of which is not a priority for the city fathers.
I felt glad that the students had this opportunity to learn about business in Asia, to test food, and to make mistakes that at this point did not matter. It will be a different story when they will travel as representatives of their future employers. I, too, was on a steep learning curve, wondering why the hotel had no real lobby – the price of the land, mate!, handing my credit card over with one hand, making a mess of eating with chopsticks and opening doors myself when there were two members of staff waiting to do it for me.
I joined a team of students who had organized the excursion. There is no paper production in Hong Kong so our excursions were about business. They took place in hotel meeting rooms. We listened to Asians working for Scandinavian companies and to Europeans who have lived and worked in Asia. Anybody doing business in Asia would be advised to start liking the food, noodles and pig’s ears and such. Eating plays a big part in negotiations. And the rule of not making others lose face is one to follow. But, one of our hosts said that everywhere people want to be healthy and happy and their children to thrive, you get far by understanding that they just do it in a different way from us.
In Hong Kong University we saw learning environments similar to TAMK and had a chance to talk to a Finnish students of politics. He had an interesting view of China: they are keen to be part in world politics to look after their own nations, but they do not have a need to promote any particular ideology. This might be so, but if there is one thing I learned during the visit to Hong Kong it is that China matters. Such a huge nation getting wealthier will soon be telling us all what is what.