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Flying west, high over the Pacific, on my to the East.  Rarely have I felt as much trepidation about a trip as this one.  I suppose having to turn back three hours over the ocean because of mechanical problems didn’t help.  But that wasn’t really it.  No, I was worried because China was going to be so…. foreign.  And somehow I needed to figure it out quickly as I wasn’t flying half way around the world for the fun of it.

 

China has never been high on my list of places to visit.  Crazy perhaps, but if I can’t ride my bike there it’s not a priority.  Not a particularly helpful attitude, however,  if one’s building an international network of cleantech organizations given that China is a huge  market. We’d already found Global Innovation Network (GIN) partners in Finland, Germany, Italy, and Mexico; now it was time to look toward China.   So I flew to China for a week to expand GIN’s small footprint on to Asia.

Our usual approach to a trip wasn’t going to cut it for this trip.  KR and I never plan where we’re going, leaving most of the specifics to the wind and chance.  Planning for this trip was different;  I spent a month trying to pack as many meetings into five days as possible.  I was fortunate enough to make contact with some folks in China (thank you Diane , Tony and John!) that took pity on me and helped arrange 12 meetings in both cities. Preparations included getting a Visa (China wins the contest for easiest and fastest visa ever – three days for a six month visa), getting GIN documents translated to Mandarin, reading every “How to do business in China” article I could find, and arranging the logistics of a schedule that had me arriving in Shanghai on a Sunday night and leaving Beijing the following Saturday night.

I was actually looking forward to the 11 hour flight there, chilling out while hitting the keyboard is a real treat (no comments, please).  I could read and get some work done in peace and quiet.  I might even find the time to read a book, something I can never seem to finish.  So, I settled into my seat at 3PM on a Saturday, waved goodbye to LA, and got to work, expecting to land in Shanghai the next night 11 hours later.

Three hours over the Pacific the plane icon on the flight path tracker started heading in the wrong direction — back to LA, not China.   Must be a glitch in the system, it was a 777 after all.  Wrong. Long story short, the pilot finally informed us that we had an electrical issue and we were going back to LA.  This started a series of events that included rebooting the trip for the following day, cutting my stay in Shanghai a day short while lengthening my stay in Beijing an extra day.

One of the results of the one day delay was that I was switched from American Airlines to Cathay Pacific.   For those of you thinking about going to China, write this down:  Cathay Pacific is one great airline experience.  It makes you wonder what the f__ happened to US carriers?

It’s impossible to get an accurate impression of a 1.2 billion person country in just six days, but its also impossible not have lots of impressions from such a different experience, whether accurate or not.  So, here are my net takeaways, which I reserve the right to change after more investigation:

  • Shanghai and Beijing, huge cities of 20+MM people each, are both very similar to other large cities and very different.  Different language, style of dress, cultural heritage, history, race, forms of transportation, and of course a totally different system of governing.   Yet, they’re full of people just like you and me, hustling to get somewhere, stuck in mega traffic, everyone reading their smart phones, lots of stores we’d recognize, and more people willing to smile than scowl.
  • China isn’t as “foreign” a culture as say, Nepal, or some parts of South America.  Everyone pretty much stays in their lanes while driving in China, except using the right or left shoulder is a congestion-beating technique widely practiced.  Try driving in Kathmandu or Arequipa, Peru to experience the thrill of anything-goes-anywhere-cut-and-thrust traffic.  Shanghai and Beijing may be in a developing nation, but these cities look and feel prosperous and grooving.  Pretty much everything works like electrical grids, subways, etc.
  • China has a huge middle class (by number of people, not by % of the total population) that seem pretty happy.  While business customs are a bit different, business is business.  Kids wear weird outfits.  Commutes, kid’s education, electronic toys are all subjects of conversation.  Things seem pretty normal.
  • The presence of a controlling government is everywhere, but subtle, and its a “given” to the Chinese.  Want to get on Google or Facebook?  Nope.  Lots and lots and lots of security check points in public places.  Pretty much only good news reported in the newspapers.  Government is business in China.  Freedom of speech, thought and protest are only missed when you realize that most other folks in the world don’t have them.
  • What’s not normal is the scale of things.  Massive office and government buildings for as far as you can see or as long as you drive.  Parks are big and jammed with people.  Roads are six lanes.  Beijing has 24M people, 6 million cars, and 15 subway lines.  No one lives in houses so there are high rise apartment buildings everywhere.
  • International airports, no matter where, are all the same.  Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing airports are all modern and pretty well run.   Most signage is in Mandarin, but there’s enough English to get by.  Starbucks, Apple, Armani, McDonalds, et. al are all there, pretty much recognizable.  Chinese airports are also remarkably fast in the security and immigration processing department.  In fact, one pretty quickly  realizes that China has systems that move lots of people very efficiently (not counting street traffic) in most areas.
  • Waiting in line is a contact sport.  Don’t take offense, its just part of everyday life as  you’re as likely to be elbowed aside by a 70 year old grand mother as a 16 year old.
  • To state the obvious, air quality is appalling, affecting everyone, everywhere, all the time.   It’s just always grey and overcast unless it rains, in which case its only overcast.  Everyone knows this and the Chinese will I’m sure attack this problem with the force and scale that they’ve build a new industrial economy.

I’m going back to China in November with the Mayor so I’m going to get a second chance to experience China.  It should be interesting to see the place after the initial shock has worn off.

Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures.

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If you’re going to spend 14 hours on a plane, this is will you want to do it:  Cathay Pacific Business Class.  First Class “seats” are bigger than many hotel rooms I’ve stayed in.

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Command Center.  Dozens and dozens of movies, a Barko lounger seat, always-on-call room service…

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I flew to Hong Kong, then Shanghai, then Beijing on the way there.  We’re taxing on the Hong Kong runway here.

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All big international airports are pretty much the same.  This is Hong Kong and notice  what the lady is doing while on the moving sidewalk:  reading her phone.

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Bullet train from Shanghai airport to downtown Shanghai.  301 kph = 180mph

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I was in Shanghai for about 24 hours.  This is the view of the skyscrapers along the Huang River at night between rain storms.

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Same area from my hotel .  No sun was seen during my 24 h0urs.

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This is the “Knowledge Community” technology park in Shanghai.  Very cool.

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CEO Richard Tan and I pose in front of a map of their nearby properties.  Each of those little green squares to the right of my head represent huge buildings — commercial, residential, academic and retail.

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Room at the Waldorf in Shanghai.  Nice, very nice.

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There’s something comforting about being greeted when you walk into the bathroom:  light automatically comes on and the toilet seat raises, beckoning one to the throne.

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Settle into the heated seat and peruse the cleansing options.  Seat’s heated, newspaper is delivered.  This is good.  Wait!  What’s that red “emergency button”?  What kind of emergency are we talking about here?  Less than confidence building…

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Starbucks are the same, except outlet is different and you need a local cell phone to get on the wi-fi.

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This is the biggest rent-a-bike stand I’ve seen so far.   Scale baby, scale.

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Parks are in fact used by everyone as central community gathering places with all kinds of groups activities; here its  Tai Chi.

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John Zane from the American Chamber of Commerce/Beijing took care of me and accompanied me to various meetings.

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My kind of conference room — the offices of Azure International are in a converted Chinese restaurant in the middle of a public park.

 

 

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Lobby of the Waldorf/Beijing.   I got the feeling that she was always watching me…

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Across the street from the hotel is the world’s largest Apple store.  Three+ floors.

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Because the Waldorf is located in the very center of Beijing, close to all  the tourist attractions, there were lots of malls and stores for Chinese and foreign tourists.  Best deal I found?  $32,000 U S Dollars for a pair of green shoes.  And no, they don’t come with a Hyundai.

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Shopping malls look pretty familiar, no matter where one is.  Jurassic Park anyone?

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Not far away from Tourist Central, one comes across an outdoor Chinese food court …

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With a full range of delicacies.   I wasn’t brave or hungry enough to sample the local fare.

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I did eat in a non-tourist restaurant a couple blocks away.  I know they don’t get many white guys dressed in a suit as everyone kept looking at me and then laughing.  I wonder at what?

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Menu had this popular dish.  Picture really helps.  No, I didn’t get this one, but did order something that I didn’t recognize and was pretty good.  Took me a while to eat, though, as only chop sticks were provided:)

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I literally only had a couple of hours to try and find the “real” Beijing.  This a narrow lane/alley called a Hutong.  Crossing guard was obviously on his lunch hour.

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And another

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Lots and lots of small electric bikes and motorcycles.  This one seems to have the optional luxurious passenger seat option.

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This is a typical traffic sign/signal in Beijing.  Go figure.

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Chinese division of Walmart

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Boulevard in Beijing.

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On the way into Tienanmen Square.  South Entrance to the Forbidden City is on the right.  This shot was on a Thursday afternoon.

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Tienanmen Square is the largest public square in China.  The world?  Lots of security at all entry points.

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One of the exquisite statues depicting the People’s struggle.

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This is a typical building in downtown Shanghai built by various European colonials. Inspiring, no?

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If I were an architect, I’d want to design buildings in China.  Every possible weird, wild and wonderful shape populates Beijing and Shanghai’s skyline.  Bold. Big, Outrageous.  This is just a one example.  Makes one wonder how come our skylines are so damn dull?

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Beijing Convention Center is located across from the Olympic Park.

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I attended a two day conference, “The 5th Global Green Economy Prosperity Forum” in Beijing.

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How often do you go to a conference and you have a seat at the front with your name on it?

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Literally band starts playing when the VIP speakers march in. While their style of delivery was forehead-on-the-table dull, the content of their speeches were pretty impressive. Some of these guys could get elected in California with their environmental policies.

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The park surrounding the Temple of Heaven was filled with group activities this Sunday morning.  Square dancing anyone?

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Or perhaps listening to traditional Chinese opera, which sounded wonderful.

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Dozens of domino or card games took every available space on the temple railings

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In front of the Temple of Heaven. It rained the night before and the day’s sky was pretty clear and actually a color of blue rather than its normal gray.

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Despite it being 7AM on a Sunday morning, there’s still a crowd just out of sight of the previous picture.

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A couple of hundred year old painted ceiling, just for KR.

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Leaning against the outside wall of the Forbidden City.

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The Forbidden City was built to house the royalty of numerous dynasties hundreds of years ago.  Once again, the scale of the place is hard to grasp.  This is one of numerous squares in front of another palace.

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ONE MILLION men worked on the Forbidden City over a 14 year time frame.  There are 9,999 1/2 rooms.

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One of the inner palaces.  Keep moving or you’ll be swept away.  Despite the crowds, the place was pretty interesting and I’d like to go back when I have more time than an hour.

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This was my shopping highlight.   Best store I visited is in this underground parking lot, through that unmarked door across this parking lot.

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Walk in and there are famous brands of watches, gold flubs, purses, luggage, shoes — whatever.  I was in the mood for a watch, so I bought a $50,000 watch for $400.  Looks pretty good from 5 feet away and is “guaranteed” to run for a whole year.  Comes with the highest quality battery too 🙂

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Flying back was another all day affair.  Spent over 16 hours in the air plus endless hours waiting in airports.  Flew into Shanghai for a connection just in time to experience an airport-closing thunderstorm.  At least I was able to have dinner on the plane while waiting on the runway.  It was good to be home, but I’m ready for China Two Dot Ohh in November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 replies
  1. Caryn Goldsmith says:

    Thanks for the share!! Looks like a great trip (except for the plane ride there…part i). Only question: does Karen want to go?

  2. chuck bachrach says:

    You should have felt very much at home…you’re the same height as they are! Have any egg rolls??? Happy Labor Day too.

    CB of Vegas

  3. JUDI says:

    GREAT PICTURES. I AM GOING TO SHARE THIS WITH A FRIEND WHO HAS BEEN GOING TO CHINA ON BUSINESS FOR MANY YEARS. HE MIGHT EVEN HAVE SOME SUGGESTIONS…..HIS NAME IS BRAD.

  4. Bill Barclift says:

    Fred – Thanks for sharing another fun trip! I went to China for 2 weeks in April, it wasn’t high on my list either, but I’d definitely go back. It is a great place to visit for those who have not been there.
    Bill

  5. Tony says:

    Hi Fred, it was great to see you in Shanghai. Looks like you got a lot more done in Beijing. The photos are great, I really like the one at the temple of heaven, my favorite spot in Beijing!:)

  6. Jimmy Lauria says:

    Hi Fred
    On the Mechanical problem with the Boeing 777 plane, why wouldn’t the pilot go to the nearest airport to resolve the mechanical problem, rather than traveling back to LAX?

  7. Jimmy Lauria says:

    OMG Fred That is scary! I can’t help ask were you nervous or just knocking out work on your laptop/tablet? 🙂

  8. Ron says:

    Thanks for the fascinating trip report. I can totally sympathize with your pre-arrival anticipation. I was so keyed up the first time I went to Hong Kong that I was awake for three nights straight (although maybe traveling coach had something to do with it, too!). Thought your observations were excellent.

  9. Greg Baer says:

    Time for a rant…

    Accurate comments about American Airlines (AA)and Cathay Pacific. Sadly, the US carriers and crew just don’t measure up to many foreign carriers.

    I have a beef with the World Bank, IMF and United Nations still providing “development” aid to China — their economy is sufficient and shouldn’t qualify for funding.

    And finally, our airports need a major rehabilitation. These are the first impression that visitors to the US get and it is a poor one.

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