At the end of my Trainee Programme, which I spent in units connected with planning car production, I received another great opportunity–to go to the Chinese People’s Republic for a two-month internship. June was about expectations and vaccinations. After getting everything ready in mid-July, I just packed my things and set off from Žamberk, a tiny town of 6,000 inhabitants, to Shanghai, a city of up to 30 million at peak times.
After an eleven-hour long Boeing flight I finally landed on the gigantic airport of Pudong–with time shifting six hours onwards, temperature in the shade rising to 41 degree Celsius and humidity reaching 60%. Very soon I got surrounded by ubiquitous Chinese holding their smartphones. At first I couldn’t understand what they were doing on these phones given the fact that you can’t officially access Facebook or anything related to Google. However, as I would later discover, it wasn’t just Chinese social networks. Their life is greatly influenced and facilitated by dozens or hundreds of apps (very difficult or impossible for foreigners to install) that can do anything from paying in restaurants and shops over transferring money among friends to borrowing shared street bikes. When you are legally allowed to have a smart chip injected under your skin, people in Shanghai will stand in queues of several kilometres to get it.
Apart from renting yellow bikes, the best mode of transport is the underground. Although each entrance is guarded by at least three Chinese police officers carrying out x-ray security checks of your backpack, the incredible 364 stations, combined with the bike rentals, offer an ideal way of sightseeing the modern city centre. Walking through the downtown Shanghai, you come across incredibly huge underground facilities as well as countless sky-scrapers, underlying the contrast between life under and over ground. The highest building in China and second-tallest in the world is the Shanghai Tower, rising to the height of 632 metres. Its elevator is the fastest in the world, reaching speeds of 20 metres per second. Ask my stomach to find out what experience it was to use this elevator. A sight in the city centre can also be you. Chinese teenage girls barely get to see someone with blue eyes, so a selfie is a must to feed their social network. But let’s not speak only about the first weekend...
Tight schedule full of work challenges
After two days in Shanghai, I moved 200 kilometres to the south to a hotel near Ningbo, a town of almost seven million inhabitants and a base for commuting to the SAIC Volkswagen plant, my main workplace. What you need to know is that the foundation stone of this brand-new factory built on greenfield land in line with all VW GROUP standards was laid on 07/01/2017. March 2013 already saw the manufacturing of the first car, followed by 108 thousand units a year later. In 2016 the factory produced more than 290 thousand units and this year this figure is supposed to hit 355 thousand, underlying the unbelievably steep growth curve. In this plant, Volkswagen produces VW Lamando and VW Teramont, an SUV, while Škoda manufactures various versions of Octavia, its most popular model (over 155 thousand units per year), and starts producing its new SUV, Karoq, in November.
My work was planned for each day, giving me the opportunity to get to know all the activities related to the launch of Karoq. My days were divided among the departments of quality, production, production planning, pilot halls, and launch management. Everyday meetings, audits, and factory inspections, accompanied by explanations by experts from each department, turned out to be priceless experience. What proved to be a real challenge was cooperation in a group of Chinese, which is different from our way of work in almost every aspect. Before the production of Karoq was approved for launch, Mladá Boleslav sent its process auditors. I spent two weeks right in the headquarters of SAIC VW in Shanghai. One of my tasks during the two-month internship in China was to draft a comprehensive logistics concept for a future plant in China together with a fellow trainee. All of this meant that hours, days and weeks were going by very fast. On working days, we simply did not have time to do anything but work. I was grateful for such exceptions like relaxing at the hotel pool, playing badminton in the evening or sitting with friends at the street grill.
That is why we lived at full throttle at the weekends. I spent the first ones in Shaghai, tasting Chinese culinary specialties, walking down Bund, the famous Nanjing street full of shops, visiting the Yu Garden, Xintiandi, the French Concession, the Museum of Science and Technology, the Fake Market or gardens and water canals of the adjacent ten-million city of Suzhou. However, after a couple of weeks, your excitement over the life in a huge city wears off, with so much constant traffic noise, polluted air and thousands of people on every square inch.
On the following weekends I left the city for nature to recharge. One adventure that I will never forget in my life started in a high-speed train and went on mainly on buses going through local villages to nature around the town of Ninghai. On another occasion, I joined a group of travelers for a hike through a bamboo forest and a mountain bike tour in the Moganshan National Park. However, my greatest travelling experience comes from the Yellow Mountains. I set off on Friday night, taking bus to my destination. There I spent the following two days in both good and bad ways (in rain and heat) on steps winding through the Xihai Great Canyon up to Tiand Du Feng, the Celestial Capital Peak. While most Chinese will probably disagree, neither a shopping mall nor a skyscraper can be as magnificent.
To wrap it up, these two months were full of priceless experience, both in personal and professional terms. Working and living in such a different environment is certainly something I would recommend to everyone. Last but not least, I would also like to thank all of my supervisors and colleagues in the Czech Republic and China who made this adventure of mine possible, allowing me to learn about the car production as well as a different culture on the other side of the world.
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