Interning in Shanghai’s French Concession

Exploring Shanghai’s French Concession after work at Rethink. Fall 2018

This past semester, I have been an intern at Rethink Manufacturing Solutions, an American owned Manufacturing Consultancy in Shanghai’s French Concession. Rethink is owned by two  young entrepreneurs from Portland, Oregon. Their objective is to connect American and European startups with Chinese manufacturers for their manufacturing needs. My supervisors were  amazing to work with and made my time in Shanghai a period of professional growth. As an intern, my jobs included creating and managing social media, writing articles about sustainability practices within China’s manufacturing industry, and developing was to ease the contact process between Rethink and their clients.

As an environmental studies major with great interest in entrepreneurship, I found this internship to be quite beneficial. Prior to accepting the offer, I was hesitant to agree to work with Rethink partially because of the bad press China’s manufacturing industry receives. This industry rightfully deserves such media coverage; China’s manufacturing industry is the main contributor for air and water pollution in the country, not to mention poor working conditions in many factories. However; during my time at Rethink, I learned that, while China is far from adopting better Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, some factories do exist in China that pride themselves on their sustainability practices and working conditions. Foreign manufacturing consultancies such as Rethink do their best to place their clients with such factories with high CSR values. While at this point in time it is impossible to always match American and European companies with factories with the best CSR values, in a decade, it is my belief that China will offer more factories for those that view sustainability as a paramount practice in their supply chain.

Interning with Rethink has inspired me to continue this path along the intersection of sustainability and manufacturing. While mainland China is a few years away from developing the political practices and framework ideal for a sustainable manufacturing industry, Taiwan is a place where I wish to explore their top-notch sustainability practices within their circular-economy based manufacturing industry and continue learning Mandarin.

While I grew much as a professional in the sustainability field as an intern at Rethink, I was also able to explore a part of Shanghai not easily accessible from Fudan University’s campus. Working in Shanghai’s French Concession, I had easy access to many amazing restaurants and cafes. It is important to realize that Shanghai’s French Concession is a bustling part of the city that is home to many foreigners wth a long history starting in the 19th century. For this reason, this area contains a diverse range of eateries from Tacolicious, a delicious Mexican restaurant, to Pain Chaud, a aromatic coffee shop; not to mention the many restaurants offering the best Shanghainese cuisine offered in the world. The French Concession represents the immense diversity and entrepreneurial spirit found in Shanghai. In this part of the city, I never felt out of place. I developed a sense of belonging that I never thought I would have experienced in China.

I anticipate returning to Shanghai over the summer as to learn more about this entrepreneurial spirit unique to Shanghai. During my return trip, I look forward to calling the French Concession home once again.

Temple of Confucius

To start our November on a high note, we visited Beijing’s Temple of Confucius on an aptly crisp, autumn afternoon.  The Temple of Confucius is a local where people paid homage to the great thinker educator during the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. It also served as a testing site for the imperial examination held prior to the end of the Qing Dynasty. The temple was built in 1302 and additions were made during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This temple in Beijing is the second largest temple in China constructed for Confucius.  Architecturally speaking, the temple consists of four courtyards each with similarly beautiful and exquisite carvings of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. The blue skies, yellow leaves, and blue birds of autumn accentuated the picturesque scene as we traversed the temple. What a beautiful place kept well preserved for hundreds of years. The dense history of the Temple of Confucius was palpable when approaching row upon row of 198 stone tablets each engraved with hundreds of names of Jinshi – the advanced scholars of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.  Exactly 51,624 names are showcased to this day, honoring the men who studied the ways of Confucius and achieved this high honor.

Watch Out! It’s the “Touch Evil Cypress.” – The Temple of Confucius 2018

Not far from these tablets stands a gnarled, ancient evergreen called the “Touch Evil Cypress.” It was explained by our tour guide  that the name of this 700 year old “Chujian Bai” is associated with an ancient legend: during the Ming Dynasty, an official by the name of Yan Song came to worship the cypress the when one the branches of the tree fell and almost crushed him. Since Yan Song was known to be corrupt, the tree seemed to know his fate. People came to believe that the ancient cypress could distinguish between those who are good and those who are evil; hence the name, “Touch Evil Cypress.”

To end our time at the Temple of Confucius, we had the opportunity to witness a dance performance inspired by the students of Confucius. Young men and women dressed in clothing of the Qing Dynasty danced to music of the time. Although the movements were simple, the uniform grace and style, not to mention the majesty of the dancer’s red and blue attire, made the five-minute performance quite a spectacle. As a modern dancer on campus, I have to say that I received some inspiration from the performance. It is clear that Confucius continues to teach and inspire to this day, even through the art of dance.

Zhongdian / Shangri-La

After visiting Tiger Leaping Gorge, we traveled to Zhongdian – better known as Shangri-La since 2002. Thanks to the guidance of our amazing Tibetan tour guide, we were able to indulge in delicious Tibetan cuisine, take part in local dances and explore the old town of Zhongdian all at an altitude of 10,000 feet!

When first arriving in Zhongdian, this high altitude was most apparent. It seemed the sky and the horizon were in much closer proximity than in the Shanghai or Kunming skyline; Pine trees of deep green and lush mountain tops lined the blue sky in stark contrast. But with the air so thin, at our arrival, many of us preferred the relaxing scenery of our hotel rooms than the outdoors. Prior resting after our long bus ride to Zhongdian, we were greeted in the lobby of the Le Fu Ge Dan Hotel with steaming cups of sweet ginger tea. “It tastes like Christmas!” one of us exclaims, inspiring us to start playing holiday spirited music while waiting for our room keys.

At last, settled in our respective rooms, we collectively sighed. Having been so busy the last week with back to back travel plans, it felt wonderful to rest, even if just for an hour or two. As the sun began to dip below the ever-closer horizon, we prepared ourselves for dinner at a local Tibetan restaurant. A feast including yak’s milk tea, potato pancakes, and yak

Blue skies in Zhongdian – Fall 2018

meat dumplings, everything tasted so foreign yet so delicious! Our meal gave us the energy to traverse Zhongdian’s old town, a winding maze of shops and cafes, restaurants and hotels while at the center of it all, a swirling mass of people dancing under the darkened sky.


Similar to the local dancing we encountered in Liming, this dancing circle was just as vibrant, just as inviting, and just as difficult to follow! The accompanying music rippled through the crowd, guiding them through a leg crossing, arm waving, graceful choreography that everyone seemed to know except the scattering of foreigners. It seemed we were just as satisfied stepping back to watch the swirling patterns of traditional dress, smiling faces, and stars in the                                                                                               Zhongdian sky.