BLOG- Peng Jin learned a lot from traveling back to his Chinese roots

Quest is an international transfer program which connects Arcadians from all over the world. Quest is sponsored by the Lovinklaan Foundation. Every week we are highlighting one of the stories our employees who went on an exchange. In this blog post we cover the Quest story of Peng Jin who traveled from Newtown, Pennsylvania (USA) back to his roots to Shanghai, China.

Day 1 – Arrival and First Impression

To be honest, even though I was back in my country and hometown, I was still pretty nervous for the first day of Quest, especially after traveling and not sleeping for more than 24 hours and dealing with a strong jet lag. However, all the nerves went away as soon as I saw the Arcadis sign.

I was not aware that there were so many Arcadis offices around China (19 to be specific!), and luckily enough, there was one in my hometown, Xi’an, which is one of the oldest cities in China. However, the site evaluation and remediation (SER) group is still relatively young and growing, which is consistent with remediation regulations and market status. This means huge opportunities, and of course, enormous challenges. It’s especially challenging for a global company with headquarters not situated in China.

Day 2 – Wandering in Shanghai

On the second day, I explored some more of the city. Air travel is one of the primary transportation methods in China, as it is everywhere in the world. However, there is an important, and likely for a lot of people, preferred alternative – high-speed rail train. You don’t need to get to the airport 2 hours in advance, wait in line for 1 hour for security screening, or sit at the boarding gates for hours due to a mechanical issue or weather delay. If your ticket says arrival at 11:00 AM, the train won’t be there at 11:01 AM or 10:59 AM, even for long distance travels and during thunder storms. You know what you can expect from the train.

Even so, things almost took a turn for the worse when I arrived at the train station at 11:00 PM in Shanghai. It seems people in Shanghai don’t sleep! There were two lines of people waiting for taxis, each of which was about 200 meters long (approximately 650 feet)! I was lucky to find a private transportation service provider to send me to the hotel around midnight. Don’t ask me how I did it.

You might have known that Shanghai is one of the most advanced new global centers for the new world, which is definitely a combination of eastern and western cultures. Next to a traditional Chinese district, you can find a completely westernized “civilization.” There are endless high-rising buildings with all type of western restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and sometimes a few foreigners jogging around in the middle of a day. I was not sure if they worked or not. I saw two Americans standing in a street exchanging WeChat (Chinese version of Instagram) contacts.

In the morning, I met my host Grant Sprick, the Head of Environmental in Asia, who toured me around the huge office of more than 400 fellow Arcadians. I spoke with a few folks in water/wastewater and construction departments, but I was lucky enough that Grant was the only one in the SER department in the office that day. Everyone else has been traveling all over the country or working at job sites. This is the reality of business in China: fast pace, ever changing and demanding schedule, and stretching to any place with client’s needs. I was blessed to have a chance for a deep discussion with Grant on environmental business and markets in China, especially in the SER. I also joined in a conversion with a data management company who was eager to enter China’s market and seeking collaboration with Arcadis.

At the end of day, I hopped on a high-speed train to Nanjing, a historical city which is about 180 miles from Shanghai, to have dinner with a former Arcadian (Xin Song). Xin returned to China a few years ago to pursue her academic dreams and has received high recognation in soil and groundwater remediation since. We had a good conversation on past and potential future collaboration between her group and Arcadis. Meanwhile,  a fish was swimming in one of the plates (not as a dish) on the dinner table. Imagine that!

Day 3 – Gearing Up Quest Experiences

The next day, I hopped on a high-speed train again in the early morning and traveled from Nanjing to Shanghai, met Grant at the People’s Square, and visited a competing/potential collaborating company in their office. It was a little weird to me, but that seems to be normal how companies work together in China. It’s beneficial to see how others do business and learn from them to ensure the best understanding of the market and make ourselves more competitive.

After lunch, I jumped on a subway with Grant to a facility of one of Arcadis’ global clients to introduce Arcadis and seek potential opportunities to work with them by asking what their needs are. Thanks to Tina Armstrong, one of the two co-leads of Arcadis’ Product Stewardship Solutions Community of Practice, for providing this opportunity to promote client development and engagement in China, which made my Quest experience juicier. Surprisingly, the clients were even not aware of the presence of Arcadis’ Shanghai office. This meeting achieved some immediate project opportunities to support their short-term needs and potential long-term engagement. While listening to Grant’s presentation to the client on Arcadis, our services, and capabilities, I sensed strong passion and determination from Grant and Arcadis for contributing to environmental protection efforts in China.

“I was greatly moved and appreciated Arcadis and Arcadis US efforts to help my country! “

At the end of the day, I sat down and relaxed in a western style bar to enjoy a glass of local beer and chatted with Grant about my trip. As I looked around the streets outside of the window, the modern shopping mall, the western restaurants, and all the “strangers” (I guessed a lot of them were from US and Europe), I recognized Shanghai as a door into China (not just a window). The door is now open with all kinds of opportunities, and “strangers” from all over the world are welcomed. Should you come, you won’t lose anything, but you will start a whole new experience of life journey.

Day 4 – Experiencing The Speed – China Speed

Day 4 was a traveling day! I went from Shanghai to Shenyang (a city located in the industrial providences in the northeastern China) for a site visit. There, I had some unique experiences on how field work is done in China. Fortunately, there was no issue with the flight (just a half hour delay). The only concern was sitting in a taxi, as the driver was driving like an F1 driver on the highway, while it’s raining. You might understand why you don’t want to drive in China now.

However, it was still a fun day because of the Maglev I took on the way to the Shanghai Pudong Airport. Trust me, if you like speed, you have to sit in one of those sometime.

Day 5 – Field Trip

On the 5th day, I went to Shenyang for a site visit. This gave me first hand experience on how projects were implemented in the field, and I got to know the folks who made it happen.

As China is still a developing country with a fast pace of economic development, health and safety awareness and practices are still improving, as I observed during the day-to-day operation at the site. Arcadis’ involvement definitely brought a positive influence on health and safety culture out there.

Under the unique circumstances in China, due to the government as the dominant investor for the SER practices and lack of regulations to promote soil and groundwater remediation, Arcadis involvement is still limited. Arcadis is more focused on supporting our global clients mainly on Phases I and II site evaluation and assessment. However, with the new draft regulation on soil and groundwater protection and remediation, which was recently published for soliciting public opinions and comments in July 2017, Arcadis is geared up and in a good position as our clients may start to engage more in remediation, instead of just performing evaluation and monitoring. As one of the global leaders in the SER business, we need to reach out aggressively to broadcast our services and capabilities and be prepared when opportunities arise.

Day 6 – Unexpected Expectations

While I was in China, an opportunity arose for a meeting with a local environmental group in my hometown (Xi’an) to discuss and share experiences between both companies and talk about potential future collaboration. This company was aware of Arcadis’ construction services but not familiar with our environmental services, especially soil and groundwater remediation.

This meeting helped to refine my understanding of the challenges and opportunities that Arcadis, as a consulting firm, is facing under the current market status in China. Specifically:

  • There are still challenges and lack of mature business models to get a foreign company involved in any markets with government dominated investment.
  • China still has a long way to go to accept or pay for consulting services. A service that provides short-term, if not immediate, achievements, such as purchasing/importing advanced equipment/instrument and introducing patented technologies, are better perceived now.
  • Soil and groundwater remediation and the needed investment are primarily driven by land values. For instance, contaminated land with a high value for business development and construction (e.g., located in fast developing regions) is most likely to receive investment for remediation than other lands that lack near future development values (e.g., located in slowly developing regions).
  • The soil and groundwater remediation industry is still new and in its initial stage in China. The market is more focused on selecting technologies resulting in short-term effectiveness rather than a cost effective remedial strategy to achieve eventual site closure. This is what Arcadis is excellent at and can help to improve.

Day 7 – Closing

What a short and busy trip! It was an extraordinary experience traveling across the world.

Thanks to the Lovinklaan Foundation and all the kind folks who made my Quest happen. Can’t appreciate it more!


The international transfer program Quest, which connects Arcadians from all over the world, is sponsored by the Lovinklaan Foundation.

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