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, 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! 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:)
KASHIWA-NO-HA (SUBURB OF TOKYO)
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 END AND ANOTHER BEGINNING
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.