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Office of Global Affairs

November 19, 2015

UW dancers describe experiences at Alibaba, Lingyin Temple

Four UW dancers and Harry the Husky took part in the University’s events in China, courtesy of the Pac-12 Conference. Here Jordan French and Becca Love share some of their experiences at Alibaba headquarters and Lingyin Temple, both in Hangzhou.

Jordan French, senior, Olympia, WA

UW dancers and coach Sheila Sampatacos at Alibaba headquarters

Team captain Jordan French (center) with fellow UW dancers and coach Sheila Sampatacos at Alibaba headquarters the day before Singles Day, the biggest e-commerce day in the world

As a political economy major, I knew my week-long journey to China with the Pac-12 would be extremely interesting and educational. However, I never could have dreamed of what would be presented to me as we stepped on the Alibaba campus the day before the largest e-commerce day in the world.

When thinking about huge online shopping days, we usually think of Cyber Monday—the Monday after Black Friday. However, the sales made annually on that day do not even begin to compare to the amount of sales made through Alibaba on Singles Day, even though the company does not actually directly produce anything (similar to Amazon or eBay).

Singles Day is a holiday that has essentially become the opposite of Valentines Day in China—a day to celebrate being single. This holiday originated in the 1990s and has quickly become widely recognized all over the country. When choosing a day for this holiday, it seemed obvious the date should contain a lot of “1”s to represent the singleness encompassed in the entire spirit of the holiday. Thus, Singles Day — and, eventually (after Alibaba decided to take advantage of the day in 2009) the largest e-commerce day in the world — lands on 11/11 of every year.  Although the holiday was not originally e-commerce focused, the idea of treating ones self became more and more relevant, therefore making the day one of the largest e-spending days in the world.

Jack Ma poses with Larry Scott, Ana Mari Cauce, UW dancers and Harry the Husky at Alibaba headquarters

Jack Ma (center) poses with Larry Scott, Ana Mari Cauce, UW dancers and Harry the Husky at Alibaba headquarters

While listening to Alibaba co-founder Jane Jiang and Head of International Corporate Affairs Jim Wilkinson speak on behalf of their company, I could tell they were extremely prideful of what Alibaba does. They shared their experiences with the company and showed us how they have changed the world. As Americans, we think of online shopping as a luxury, but many people in rural Asia consider it an absolute necessity since the mobile age began. People often do not have the resources to drive all the way to a supermarket, and companies like Alibaba help them purchase their basic necessities, and even get them delivered within 72 hours anywhere in the world (only 24 hours in big Chinese cities).

Moreover, Alibaba changed the buying world by creating trust between buyers and sellers. Before Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, created Alipay, consumers were always skeptical of handing money over to a producer because the producer might just give them a fake item, or not send anything at all. Alipay created a middleman that keeps the money until the item is received and verified—promoting more trust and ultimately more e-commerce.  As of 2014, the average Alibaba customer buys 58 times a year, which proves that e-commerce at this scale is more than just a frivolous luxury, but rather a necessity for many people.

Overall, it was incredible to see how much impact one company could have on the world. Beyond the macro scope of things, it was amazing to see how much pride people took in being a part of the Alibaba Corporation. Employees were sleeping in tents at the headquarters before Singles Day this year just so they could get as much work done as possible, and everyone still seemed eager and excited for 11/11 to hit. The amount of dedication coming from Jack Ma throughout the years after starting Alibaba only two decades ago, has been passed down through the ranks of his employees, and it shows in the way they speak so highly of the company. I feel so incredibly lucky that I got the chance to hear about and witness first hand the type of work that goes into running a company like Alibaba, and the huge ways in which e-commerce has changed the world for the better.

 

Becca Love, freshman, Rancho Bernardo, CA

Becca Love, freshman dancer, at Lignyin Temple in Hangzhou, China

Becca Love at Lignyin Temple in Hangzhou, China

The Lingyin Temple, located in Hangzhou, is enclosed by picturesque forestry. This temple, also known as Temple of the Soul’s Retreat, is one of the largest and most visited Buddhist temples in China. Our wonderful guide, Cindy, began the tour by showing us one of the hills that surround the temple’s outskirts. This hill which is known as Feilai Peak, is covered in wooden Buddhist cave and rock carvings. As I was climbing up the hill, I was in awe at how incredibly detailed and unique each carving is. Feilai Peak’s tranquil and isolated environment created one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed and set the perfect tone for the rest of the tour.

After we explored Feilai Peak, Cindy gave each one of us incense that consisted of exactly three sticks, symbolizing abstinence from temptation, healing, and wealth. As a group, we lit our incense, faced the temple, and began the prayer ritual. Holding the incense with both hands high on our forehead, we bowed three times towards the temple, turned to the right, and repeated this pattern to the remaining three sides. The four sides represent a different prayer subject: good fortune, happiness, good health, and prosperity. After we finished praying, we placed our incense in a large, smoking, bathtub-like bucket. I immediately felt overwhelmed and caught myself grinning from ear to ear. When I saw my teammates and coach in the same fashion, I knew the peace and happiness I was experiencing was universal.

I walked away and onto the rest of the tour with a bittersweet feeling because I knew that partaking in that ritual in this special place was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, the rest of the temple continued to astonish me. Entering the main hall of the temple was surreal. Three huge, golden statues instantly grabbed my attention. The center statue, personifying Buddha as Shakyamuni, is the largest wooden statue in China. Watching people kneel and pray towards this statue was so powerful. This hall greatly differs from the last hall we entered, which houses 500 Arhats. Each Arhat is distinctive in various features, but the main focus of the hall points towards the four Bodhisattva statues at the center. These select statues represent great wisdom, great practice, great compassion, and realization of great vow. Everything throughout the entire temple is exceptionally ornate. It was difficult to peel my eyes away and leave the beautiful city of Hangzhou.

I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to see and engage in the culture at the Lingyin Temple. I will never forget this journey.