A roof with a view

 
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I’ve been back in Beijing for six months now.

Russia was fantastic. I don’t know that I will fully review my time there in this forum, but during the fifteen months that I lived in St. Petersburg, I met some great people, and truly value being able to see the world – at least to some extent – through Russian eyes. St. Petersburg itself is a beautiful city, and I really don’t feel that I’ve done it justice; there’s so much there that I wasn’t able to explore. Working as an English teacher means extremely antisocial hours, and not a great deal of money; I feel I have a lot of unfinished business in Piter but, if (when) I go back, it’ll be on a different basis.

So, here I am in China once more.

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The art of war and the science of victory

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One reason for taking my MBA in Singapore was that most of my fellow-students would be coming from India, China, and south-east Asia; I would be learning from them all kinds of invaluable cultural experiences and insights. That also happened in the classroom: as well as the normal MBA fodder taught in every business school everywhere, Nanyang Business School offered a course in Sun Zi’s Art of Strategy, taught brilliantly by Professor Wee Chow Hou, an authority on the application of Sun Zi’s insights to business strategy and management.

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Globalisation no more

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One of my professional areas of interest is strategic analysis, which I’ve taught to undergraduates and postgraduates in universities in China and the UK.

The tools of strategic management can also be used by individuals, to help plan career directions, and to make significant life choices in an informed way. This is becoming essential; powerful forces of change are overtaking us, and we should all be planning and preparing.

The main issue is that the globalisation of the world economy, a process that’s been underway for almost thirty years now, has reached its limits. Indeed, it’s going into reverse, which is likely to have unpredictable and unpalatable consequences for its biggest beneficiaries: those of us who live in the West.

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Weekly retrospective 04-05-2014

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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

Another delayed post, this time due to having visitors. It’s been great to have been exploring St. Petersburg for a few days, and getting to see some areas and sights that were new to me. It’s been a week in which I learned a lot of things that astonished me, some of which inspire me, and others which appall me.

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Weekly retrospective 27-04-2014

The weather has been gorgeous recently in St. Petersburg. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun is brighter and warmer for longer every day. The temperature ranges from pleasantly cool to deliciously warm, though the breezes in the evenings can still be a bit chilly.

In my apartment complex, the trees are laden with big fluffy catkins, and leaf buds are swelling everywhere; a few trees are now in full leaf. Sparrows, pigeons, and other birds are singing enthusiastically, and fluttering low overhead as they pursue their courtships.

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Weekly retrospective 20-04-2014

A slightly delayed post, due to Easter!

Spring has finally arrived in St. Petersburg. Yesterday and today had temperatures of 20 degrees celsius, clear blue skies, and bright, bright sunshine. It’s wonderful after the cold and darkness of winter. Patches of green grass are appearing, and the buds are swelling on some of the bushes and the trees. The pastel colours of the city centre, which looked faded and drab in the faint light of winter, now glow intensely in the late afternoon sunlight. It’s light now until just after 10pm, compared to 4pm when I arrived; soon, the sun won’t set and the famous White Nights will be here – that’ll be interesting!

Looking back, it’s been a very busy week, both personally and globally.

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Weekly retrospective 13-04-2014

A highlight of the past week was a reunion with an old friend from Beijing. To protect her identity, when I was blogging from China I always referred to her as the Siberian Rose; I’ll continue that here. A native of Omsk, she was in St. Petersburg for a seminar and we managed to catch up on two separate evenings. She’s been based for the last few years in Luoyang, where she works as a Chinese-Russian interpreter for Sinopec, the Chinese state-owned oil company. Her work takes her a lot to Kazakhstan, and it was interesting to hear her stories about that, as well as how she’s getting on generally. It’s been nearly four years since we last met in person.

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Scotland’s Game of Thrones

If Scotland decides to dissolve the Act of Union and become an independent nation, who inherits the UK’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council?

I don’t watch TV much, especially now that I live in Russia. Even so, HBO’s Game of Thrones is such a cultural phenomenon that I feel I know it quite well, simply through reading reviews such as this (which is a great piece of writing, btw). It’s made me think about the struggle for power as a bloody and merciless process. Just such a process is underway right now, in Scotland.

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Siege mentalities (and why you need to have one)

Last Sunday I went into central St Petersburg with the aim of going to the Defence of Leningrad Museum. It was the day before the anniversary of the German blockade being lifted, and it seemed like a good time to see the exhibits of life in a modern city under siege conditions.

It turned out that I didn’t need to get to the museum – the exhibits had come to the people! One of the central streets, a couple of blocks away from Nevsky Prospect, had been turned into a siege re-enactment. Tank traps sealed the street off; wooden barn doors were leaned against building walls to protect some windows, while others had sandbags stacked up against them. The barn doors were covered with posters, exhorting the citizens to maintain their defence efforts, as well as with hand-scrawled messages. Trucks, trams, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft guns from the period were parked here and there, monitored by museum staff and volunteers dressed in period Red Army costumes – and who were fighting a losing battle, trying to stop crowds of hyper-excited small children from clambering onto the vehicles!

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Networks of gifts and obligations

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I wrote in my last post about my apartment here in St. Petersburg, which very likely would originally have been shared by multiple generations of the same family, despite seeming to me to be only big enough for a single person – or at most a childless couple – by contemporary western standards.

Of course, it was never designed for so many people. However, under the Soviet Union, resources such as apartments could not be built, bought or sold privately. Everything was done by the State, and allocation was supposedly done in order, according to where your name was on the relevant list. Unfortunately, of course, the State was incredibly inefficient and slow, so it would hardly be unusual to wait ten or even more years for your name to come up. Until then, you shared.

When I mentioned that, under these conditions, people got things done through personal networks instead of official channels, a friend commented on Facebook: “Isn’t any system e.g. blat, guanxi, enchufe in Spain, that is subverting the sanctioned system better known as corruption?”. It’s an excellent question, getting right to the point I wanted to talk about this week, because it brings us straight to the underlying assumption that the “sanctioned system” is itself fair. This is rarely the case, much as we might wish it to be so.

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