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In the Nexus: Extended Answers

by Steve Charles
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Wabash men living and working in Asia have gained plenty of insights from their experiences there. Unfortunately, we were not able to include all of them in the print edition.

The following are some of the extended answers we did not have space to include, along with some additional questions and answers that did not make it to print:

Why should Wabash be vested in Asia?

Kai Chin ’71: In a decade or so, the biggest economy in the world will be China, and the second will be the U.S. You have to look at what’s the world’s population—about three billion of them live in Asia. If you go to Walmart or someplace else, all the products are made in Asia! That’s where the growth is. The economy is there because they have critical mass.

I’m on the board of trustees of the boarding school I attended. When I was there, there was a very small population of minorities. Now, over half the school is Asian kids. They are coming from China, Korea, and Taiwan. They are all full paying students. It’s $50,000 a year and we can’t find enough American kids who can afford it. Parents are looking at it and saying, am I going to spend $50,000 to send my kid to boarding school or am I going to spend $50,000 to send my kid to college. Given the economy and what’s going on these days, parents are going to say, $50,000 for a private college.

The Asian kids don’t mind studying—they don’t mind the isolation [of Crawfordsville]. They are coming from Asia—Asia is overpopulated. It’s confined. You come to a school like Wabash and it’s ideal—it’s beautiful, professors are accessible, the classes are small. This is something they’ll never experience in their life.

If Wabash doesn’t go after these students, the other schools will.

Seth Ditchcreek ’04: Wabash needs to be involved in China, as this is where things are happening. There is no greater place for students of economics and political science to study what happens when a communist government tries its hand at a controlled 'free market,’ not to mention that China has a great deal of history and religion that can be studied.

China has a lot to offer the world; I think this is the place where new advances will be made in the future. Wabash needs to make the right connections here and show China that it is a quality institution that educates men for great futures.

Michael Kelley ’70: The foreseeable future for business and science is in Asia, a triangle from India to Indonesia to Korea, with China in the middle.  Europe is in a long, demographic decline which will not reverse. While I encourage any and all international travel for students, there are so many cultural treasures in the Old World including the touchstones of western civilization, Wabash students will need to understand Asia to best successfully function during their careers.

Khurram Tahir ’01: Just from the size and scale åof China, it’s really hard to ignore at this point. It’s going to be such a major part of the global economy. Just because of its shear economic power it’s going to be a very major part of driving social and cultural trends around the world. The more confidence it acquires the more it will speak up on a global stage. The role of China internationally is only going to grow. In order to be successful business wise and be able to capture some of the opportunities that come about as a result of the big change globally, we need to know more about and understand China.”

Peter Kennedy ’68: There are no flashes in the pan, no boy wonders, nothing the Chinese haven’t seen before. They can smell commitment and sincerity. So the most important qualities that a Wabash man needs to remember are those very qualities that cause them to excel at the College – commitment, sincerity, not giving up. The principles of the College are commutable. They aren’t given to change. That appeals to the Chinese who look back over many centuries of their heritage. The College has never in my view, had a habit of patting itself on the back all the time, look how good I am. The Chinese respect that conservative way of life because they can assess for themselves how good the College is and will.”


What was your most memorable experience in China?

Peter Kennedy: Most memorable meal was ten courses of snake, but that’s probably not worth remembering. Probably cost $1000 per head.

I suppose my most memorable experience was receiving approval of the bank at the time to make its first loan ever to a mainland-controlled business entity which happened to be constructing an office tower in Hong Kong. This required virtually the head of the bank’s approval at the time.. This was the first loan syndicated in Hong Kong which the banks were willing to lend to a mainland controlled business entity. Pretty hard to perfect an interest in their equity if the legal entity was owned by the Communist party.

That opened up a lot of other business. It was a risk. But it opened up a lot of other business.

What are some of the most interesting things you discovered during your time in China?

Khurram Tahir: One of the things I loved about living there was just discovering some the cultural things about China that you don’t necessarily get outside of China. For example, in the U.S., what constitutes Chinese food is very different than what the Chinese consider to be Chinese food.

In China you have many, many distinct styles of cooking, that vary by province or by the ethnicity of the people who live in certain parts of China. So being able to discover, and have a chance at tasting some of those things was just incredible. Had I not lived there I would have never learned the difference between food from Sechzhan and Fudan and the other parts of China. Here you get sort of this generic sort of food that’s really not all that Chinese.

My favorite Chinese food is from a province called Yunnan. It’s just something that had you fed it to me before I went to China I would have said it’s not Chinese at all but more sort of southeast-Asian, but I saw the same style cooking in China. I think food, as culturally different across provinces was the biggest discovery.

We think of China as one sort of giant monolithic entity. We don’t necessarily appreciate the cultural differences between food and cultural practices that even exist within China from province to province. In general we tend to think of the US as being very ethnically, and linguistically, and culturally diverse and maybe a place like China as being more homogenous while on a certain level that might be true, once you actually dive deeper into the culture you realize it’s a lot more diverse than you think. That to me was probably the biggest and the most fun learning I had for the two years living there. Actually first discovering that and then compare it across —diving deeper and learning more was the most fun part.

I was blown away. I would have Chinese friends take me to a certain restaurant and they’d be like okay, what do you think. I’d be like Wow! I’ve never had this before and they would explain the background. I spent so much time in Beijing going out and eating and doing different things that after about a year or so, a lot of my Chinese friends and colleagues would come to me for suggestions for where to eat and where to go out with their friends! They came to me for suggestions because my first year there I made such and effort to—even after my friends were going to bed I was going out to explore because I knew if I was only going to be there for two years I wanted to soak it all up.

Being the sort of numbers and analytical person that I am, one day I spent a half an hour making a spreadsheet of all the different places to eat in Beijing by the type of cuisine— and it became a very popular list among both my colleagues and friends.

Who at Wabash first interested you in Asia?

Peter Kennedy: My favorite professor at Wabash was George Lipsky in the political science department. He taught a course for upperclassmen on Geo-politics—this dates back to 1967. The course was fascinating. Dr. Lipsky was a brilliant man. Students loved him.

Dr. Lipsky consulted with the State Department. His course on geopolitics began with some intriguing questions. One of which was: Please identify the five largest economies of the world? The first was easy, we happen to be living in the US, then Germany, then Japan, then England—the fifth largest was the Chinese economy.

Of course everyone in the class, including me, had never heard of that. What do you mean overseas Chinese economy? That began our discussion about the Asian part of geopolitics and how the Chinese through immigration and through their family structure had come to dominate every single economy in each of the east Asian countries.

That’s the first recollection I had about ever being interested in China.


Photo by Mark Brouwer