Never has a name of a place been more appropriate, “The Great Wall, was certainly that.  4,000 miles long and built almost 2,000 years ago, it was a stunner.  Just like Machu Picchu, no matter how much you read about it or how many pictures you see, the real thing is just mind-boggling.  We got there late on a clear, crisp November day and just stood around and tried to take in the view.  Steep enough that parts of it are tough to climb, how the heck did they build it?  Just one of the many wonders of China.


This is the story of our run through five Asian cities in 14 days that we just did.  It’s a story of two distinct, yet ever connected, experiences as I spent the majority of time in meetings (23 to be exact) and KR got an appetizer-sized taste of each city we visited: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and a suburb of Tokyo. I suspect this format will serve as the template for future travels as we continue to combine business and pleasure in fast paced trips hunting for partners.

The trip’s purpose was to continue building LACI’s Global Innovation Network (GIN) linking innovation centers in key markets around the world. We’re attempting to knit together key cleantech markets in order to create a global ecosystem in which companies, technologies, mentors, capital and best practices can easily flow from one to another.  After this trip we have over 16 GIN members in the U.S., Mexico, Germany, Italy, Finland, China and Japan.

We were part of an official government delegation as LA’s Mayor and 85 Los Angeles business, academic and government leaders paraded through Asia. While we had our own itinerary, we intersected with the official group at each city and stayed at the same hotels. All in all, it’s a good thing to be part of the Mayor of the Second Largest City in the U.S.  The timing couldn’t have been better as the week before we were in China the President and the Chinese leader signed an historic green house gas agreement that put clean technology and their commercial opportunities front and center of attention.

KR has never been to Asia and I’d only been to Shanghai and Beijing this summer, so we were newbies. KR had the same lack of interest before visiting as I, but that quickly dissolved as we got closer and closer to take-off time.  By the time we boarded for the 14-hour trip to Hong Kong, KR had four guide books with lots of pages earmarked.  I was looking forward to the 14 hour no-interruptions keyboard time.

Here’s the trip’s itinerary:

  • November 14th:  LAX to Hong Kong. Fourteen-hour flight and a lost day means we spend November 15th in the air.  Get into Hong Kong late the 15th.
  • November 16/17/18: Hong Kong. FW does five meetings, KR checks out the Occupy Hong Kong protest site.
  • November 18: Late night flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai. Spend 30 minutes trying to explain the address of the hotel in English to Chinese-only speaking taxi drivers at the airport. We get lost and arrive at the hotel late.  But its worth the wait.
  • November 19:  Shanghai. By far and away the best hotel. FW has a slow day of only two meetings. We go to our first official reception that night.
  • November 20: Early morning flight from Shanghai to Beijing, then six meetings that afternoon and dinner with a Beijing friend that night.
  • November 21/22/23:  Beijing. This is the Big Day for GIN as we have an official MOU signing ceremony and five meetings. KR gets a guide to see the Forbidden City and we see the Great Wall on the 22nd.  Wow!
  • November 23: Beijing to Seoul in the afternoon and a long ride from the airport to our hotel in downtown Seoul. KR and I notice immediately there’s a good vibe to Seoul.  This is by far and away the most expensive hotel we’ve stayed.  I make the mistake of having a coffee in the lobby and almost choke on the $14.00 cost.
  • November 24/25:  Seoul. FW meets with big Korean companies and for the first time doesn’t come away with a GIN partner. We have a great night out in Seoul.  We wander the streets in a neighborhood we don’t know, nor do we know where it is.  Our kind of experience.
  • November 25:  Late night flight to Tokyo and a 1 ½ hr drive to a technology park in a Tokyo suburb.  Get there really late, but just before the bar closes.  FW has three beers before dinner:)
  • November 26: Tokyo. Meetings and tours in the morning, catch a taxi to the airport late that day. We never make Tokyo proper.
  • November 26: Tokyo to Honk Kong to LA. Arrive LA the night of the 26th.

By the end of the trip, KR and I are a well-oiled, well-used travel machine.  We got our hop, skip and jump groove-on. We didn’t lose one thing (although FW came close, leaving his computer in a hotel in Hong Kong) and never had any real problems beyond occasionally not knowing what airport we were in and not being able to remember the previous day’s activities.

There is no quick way to show some pictures, so here’s the long photographic journal of our trip.



There is only one Cathay Pacific. American, Korea Air, China Eastern, Dragon Air and Shanghai Air don’t compare. We went on the black market to buy frequent flyer miles to afford business class tickets.


International trade is the reason EVERYONE is interested in China.


Despite the recent slowdown in China’s GDP growth, its still a bullet train compared to the US and Europe’s growth.



First night in Hong Kong and there’s a party going on at dockside.   This is on the Kow Loon side, looking towards Hong Kong island.


All girl band was pretty good despite their lack of stage presence


Overlooking the city from Hong Kong Island.  Hong Kong is the most vertically dense city on earth and on this day was beautiful.   Our hotel was across the water toward the right side.  This view point is called The Peak, for good reason.


Karen went in search of the real Hong Kong while I took in some real meetings.  Here, a potential customer looks over what bird he wants on a street that only sells birds.


This is what the birds are fed — with chop sticks one worm at a time.


Fish are considered good luck in Hong Kong, hence another street sells only fish.



We braved the subway, which was very easy to use.  Trains feel very long partly because there are no doors between cars.


You’d be pissed off too if all you did all day was pound metal into flat trays.


One of the protest barriers in Hong Kong.  During the day the barriers are largely empty as kids go to school:)  One week after this picture and the Occupy group at this Mong Kok area was taken down and 180+ people were arrested.


Protesting ANYTHING in China, even in the “One State, Two Systems,”  Hong Kong is risky business.  The students are protesting that the Mainland government essentially wants to pre-screen all election candidates for Hong Kong elections, thus voiding the one man, one vote principle that was part of the 1997 deal to hand over HK to the Chinese.  As with any deal, the devil is in the small print as China is now saying that sovereignty trumps democracy.


Street in Kow Loon part of the City.


One of two technology parks I visited in HK, this one is called Cyberport.  All the buildings in the foreground house technology companies.  The park is funded by renting the apartments in the background.


A larger park on the other side of the city, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park was amazing in scale, design, facilities and vision.  The football shaped building is a conference center.


I think the Park employs 10,000 people in five technology clusters.  It’s a beautiful, if a bit sterile, place.  They’ve recently started to focus on clean technology, thus will become a GIN member as will Cyberport.


HKSTP still isn’t big enough. This is the Fourth Phase under construction.

Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman, founder of Priceline among others, flies around the world giving his “how to be an entrepreneur” talk.  He kicked off the Hong Kong Entrepreneur Week event.


On the ferry, exactly like the one pictured, as we crossed the Bay.  Building in the background is the tallest in HK.



One of the many good thing about being part of the Mayor’s Asian Delegation is that they have bargaining power to get great rates at places we can’t normally afford.  The Four Seasons Shanghai was a fabulous hotel and the best of the trip.  This is a shot out the window of the private dining room on the 23rd floor.  I had breakfast with Bob Iger, Disney CEO.  Well, at least we were having breakfast at the same time in the same place:)


KR in our suite before one of the evening events.  She loved the room. I loved the


desk:)  Now this was a hotel room desk fit for the CEO of Disney.


Shanghai skyline from the 35th floor hotel spa.


Slightly more ground level view in the French Concession part of Shanghai.  When Shanghai and much of China was ruled by European colonists, each country had a self-contained “Concession,” which is why much of the older center of Shanghai looks like a traditional European city.  Colonialism, even decades later, leaves its scars.  China will never again be conquered by outsiders.


Shanghai Fire Engine.  Good luck with that.


Karen took lots of pictures of bars and cafes.  This one has an impressive display of beers.


Main building of the Fudan University campus in the Pudang district of Shanghai.


Taking pictures with visitors is a tradition.  The two gentlemen on each end run the Shanghai government agency that operates 10 incubators with 5000 companies.  Expression on the guy on the left says it all — not too impressed with an American incubator that has 30 companies:)


This is called “hot space,”  which is desk space that is open for temporary usage.


When you’re building the tallest skyscraper west of the Miss in LA, you get an official visit from the Deputy Mayor (center).  Greenland is a huge Chinese development company whose stated goal is to own the tallest building in every Chinese city.  They’re well on their way.


There is an evening “Discover LA” reception at each city.  Format is pretty much the same.  Mayor invites the attending Councilmembers up to the stage to share the spotlight, then gives pretty much the same speech tuned to each City.  He does a great job each time.


International Man of Mystery.  KR says I look like I’m a prisoner of war, but better dressed.



At the Adults Table, but barely.  My big event was in Beijing in which we held an MOU signing ceremony.  This is the head table in a room of about 200 people.  Mayor is in the center, yours truly is way on the left.


Guy sitting next to me on the left is the Chairman of a very large Chinese business association, guy on the right is another partner.  What you can’t see in this picture is what we’re facing —  a wall of 50 photographers.  Now I know how Kim and Kahne must feel.


Another city, another university, this one Peking University, where we went to the


Stanford Center (yes, that Stanford) to hear the US Ambassador assess the current relationship.  Very interesting talk.


Perhaps the most productive and certainly the most unique meeting of the trip was with Don Ye, a Chinese venture capitalist/private equity guy, in his tea room.    Room was furnished with yellow benches in the shape of a square and a very large table in the center teas.


While I was taking meetings, Karen was going to the  traditional neighborhoods of Beijing called hutongs.  This is the house that the street sweepers live in.


Taking in the sun


Looks like Mexican construction, no?


Afternoon meal in the street.  KR was invited to sit down for lunch, but chickened out.


My favorite past time in Beijing;  going to a hidden-in-the-basement shop that sells really high quality fake merchandise.  Here the proprietress and I haggle over the price of a watch.  She keeps telling me that I’m getting the “friends” price and I’m telling her to give me the “non friends” price.


Architecture in China is really interesting and experimental, if not all that tasteful. This is my favorite building, in Beijing, which houses a media company. Not sure the picture captures its size, but its pretty massive.


No visit to Beijing would be complete without a visit to the Forbidden City, which KR did with the help of our guide, Wang.

The Great Walls was ....great

The Great Walls was ….great!  Frankly, the trip to China was worth it to just see the GW.  We lucked out again weather wise as it was sunny (a rarity anywhere close to Beijing) and not freezing…


But nippy none the less.  This was the Full Boat of clothing that I brought along.


Way off in the background are more wall towers, which stretches for 4000 miles.  Truly spectacular.


This part of the Wall was in great shape, having been rebuilt and maintained really well.  Still, I’m not sure the pictures capture how steep the wall is.


This is the story of how a dinner party can go awry.  After visiting the wall, a group from the Mayor’s Delegation had dinner in a converted school house in the little village at the base of the mountain.  This is a “before” shot.  Before, say…


Karen and friends go Commie with the hats


And before the stories start flowing.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much and this hard.  The funniest story was from one of LACI’s portfolio company’s management team, who got lost on the way to the wall.  Well, you had to be there.


Everyone was jealous of our MOU Signing Ceremony, so we created a new MOU on the restaurant’s dinner mat.


A food fight ensued while making noodles, of course.  Now, this would be interesting enough as we were part of the official delegation and one would hope that we should show some degree of decorum.  The most interesting part of this shot is that these two guys are the heads of the largest real estate company in the Western US and the head of the largest architectural firm.




Another city and another business lunch, this one hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul.  This how-to-understand-the-Korean-culture montage was pretty interesting.  I responded to the mice type in the lower left corner.  My kind of country.


We made the most of our one night in Seoul by taking a taxi to somewhere in downtown Seoul to a Korean BBQ restaurant recommended by a guy I met earlier in the day.   Getting into taxis with the intended destination written in the native language was the only way to get around in most Asian cities.  One result is that you never know where you are, so we couldn’t find this restaurant again for all the tea in….


Afterwards, we just walked the streets till late at night.   We like Seoul  a lot.  There’s a something good about its vibe that both KR and I recognized, but couldn’t quite figure out why.  Maybe it was because it reminded us of New York.  Or maybe it felt more lively because South Korea is a free country vs.  China where there’s always a feeling of Big Brother lurking about.


Here I’m shopping for some new roosters to replace the ones in our neighborhood in PV.  I’m thinking they look great and they’re quiet too.


While i was in meetings, KR went looking for the “real” Seoul.


My kind of art, entitled “Kiss my ass”


KR about to go into a Buddhist temple in Seoul.


This was a strange sight outside the LG building… its a bunch of guys taking a cigarette break.  No girls allowed.


KR looking her normal beautiful self before going to our last official event in Seoul


Fall has hit Seoul too.


KR insisted on getting a picture with the Mayor.    We traveled 5000+ miles to stand in front of the Hollywood sign:)




We visited a technology park outside Tokyo for a 1/2 day.  This is the model of the development, which is about 1 hour outside Tokyo by train.


The future, today in Kashiwa no ha.  Here one of my hosts is rushing to turn off the displays before I can get a picture. No pictures allowed:)  This is the command center for this Smart City, which monitors and manages the production and consumption of energy across the community.  Very very cool.


A makers lab in their incubator.


The model apartment in this high end development. You’re looking at the kitchen, living room and bedroom combo.  My hosts said this is a typical Japanese apartment…


After a coffee-fueled white board session with my hosts on where GIN is now and where its going.


Not surprisingly, we started with two bags and have accumulated a few more:)



The morning after getting back, KR is packing up everything we bought in Asia to take down to Puerto Vallarta. No rest for the weary.


Fitting end to this saga is catching the train to pick up the Bullet, which has been at the Jaguar doctor for two weeks. The patient lived, but it was an expensive operation.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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…


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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.


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


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


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


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?


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:)


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.


And another


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


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


Chinese division of Walmart


Boulevard in Beijing.


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


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


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


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


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?


Beijing Convention Center is located across from the Olympic Park.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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


Leaning against the outside wall of the Forbidden City.


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.


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


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.


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


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 🙂


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.