As part of our MBA program here at Goizueta, we have the opportunity of attending mid-semester international lead week module in spring. This year we had Dubai and Cairo, Brazil or China as options. And because my love for Asian food, Jackie Chan and long flights, I chose the latter. Around 30-ish of my classmates and I left Atlanta on the morning of 26th February to embark on this 16 day trip, and
landed at the Pudong Airport in Shanghai next day. The flight was long and boring; however, I carefully chose an exit row seat and hence was spared by any inconvenience generally caused by fitting a 6’3″ body into an airline coach class seat. We had a lot of fun on the flight, but after hours and hours of chatting, watching movies (btw, I happened to see two Hindi movies on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Shanghai. Is Bollywood so popular now days, or was it the Slumdog effect) and playing poker (my friends and I are prepping up from Macau), we were happy to finally get back on the ground.
From the first minute in Shanghai, we started to see why everyone was so excited about the country. Shaghai has become one of the most modern and advanced cities in the world, and one doesn’t need to go far to discover that. The airport is connected to the city by MagLev – the magnetically elevated train that reaches the top speed of 431 kmph, and covers a distance of about 30Km in 7 mins and 10 seconds. The ride was obviously short, but very exciting.
We finally managed to check in to our hotel at about 5PM local time i; the hotel was right in middle of the commercial district. The surrounding places were very bustling and there was a lot to see in and around that area. There were loads of departmental stores, and other interesting stuff, and a popular nightlife destination, The Bund, is a few minute’s walk away. We had our dinner in a local Chinese restaurant, and the food was, let’s see how I put it kindly…, Interesting.
The next day we started our tour with a visit to the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in the world open for business. The design of the building is unique and the visit to the top floor was very entertaining as well. As you wait for the elevator to go up, the height at which the elevator is currently, is shown on the ceiling. And the floor is lit up with dancing lights. It was really catchy, and there were short light n music effects while you spend about a minute to travel 470m up in the air. Unfortunately, the view from the top wasn’t that great because of the fog and clouds. But, one could still see the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Jin Mao building, and the skyline of Shanghai looked very impressive.
Our guide, Allan, told us that everything around the old town was built within the last 20 years or so, which makes this development even more impressive. The city also has an urban planning museum, where a 2000sqm futuristic model of the city which reflects the government’s vision for this port city.
In the afternoon we headed towards the Yuyuan Garden and the old city. The place is right in the middle of the city, and it’s hard to imagine how authorities have managed to save the ancient architecture and old look of the buildings with so much of modern development going on all around it. In fact the local authorities constructed some old fashioned buildings around the garden just to preserve the look of the place.
See the above picture and guess which building was built earlier. you’d be surprised to know that the one in the background is an older one!
And then we went to a place called French Concessions, a nice little neighborhood with European architecture and pretty good bars. We bar hopped for some time, played roulette when it came to paying checks (and I learned that game the hard way, by winning it, and therefore ended up paying first one). I tell you, it was not a lot of fun winning the game.
For the night we had a very interesting pub in mind. Bar Rouge is an amalgam of European and Asian feel. Loud Euro music, expensive drinks and a lot of people dancing till wee-hours in the morning is exactly what we had hoped for, and we enjoyed every bit of our night there. I remember coming back to the hotel around 4am, but that is just a guess. The next morning we had Ted Hornbein from Richco speak to us about the way business is done is China and the challenges American firms face. One of the most exciting points he presented was about notion of China as a low cost manufacturing destination, and how that is no longer true. He also talked about some recent trends in China, and how the government now wants to move the country from an assembly model to a more high skilled design and production hub, and what are the challenges in achieving these long term goals.
Later we visited the Shanghai Port, located at about 2 hrs drive from our hotel. The port is built on a reclaimed island, connected to the city by a 31.5 KM long bridge, 3rd longest in the world. And it is HUGE. We spent some time understanding how the port works and how efficient it is. It is amazing how quickly the port was developed, the land was acquired about 5 years ago, and now it’s one of the world’s modern engineering marvels.
Then we flew to Hong Kong for our trip to the south end of the country, and I was expecting a lot of fun and excitement from our four day stop visiting HK & Macau. I felt HK was much more like Mumbai; on the water, crowded, always on the move, and “happening”. There are loads of people everywhere, and due to the colonial history of this city, the mix of people is more diverse as compared to any other Chinese city. The first night we tried some local food in a restaurant called Jade Garden, easily one of my best meals on this trip. And after the dinner and couple of stops at random bars, we finally stopped to my favorite place in town, a classic British bar “Bulldog’s” on the Kowloon Island. As a big fan of live music, I really enjoyed my time, often singing with the band, and most of the times requesting songs that the band didn’t knew (most of them were classic rock hits that I thought they should know). In fact I so wanted to listen to one of the songs, that I sang it on stage with the band. And somehow everyone seemed to like it. So Oasis’s Wonderwall became my karaoke song for the rest of the trip.
The next day, we visited the American Chamber of Commerce in the heart of business district in HK, and met representatives from AmCham and US Commercial Services. The speakers talked about how the two associations are helping US businesses get acquainted with the Chinese government, culture and markets. It was very interesting to know that any exporter from US could walk in to a USCS office in America, and make use of the services provided by the office and start doing business in China. Of course it sounds easier than it actually is, but it is good to know that even small and medium business can take help from these associations to grow globally.
One of the most exciting visits on our tour was the visit to The Venetian, in Macau. The presentation was hosted by the Strategic Marketing Department of the casino, and we were given some insights into how they manage their resources to become more cost effective without compromising on the customer experience. It was a very unique experience to understand the cultural differences when it comes to gambling, and how the casino has adapted to the market needs. The presentation ended with a tour of the casino, and later, some gambling enthusiasts tried their luck in the casino.
Our final destination on the trip was Beijing, the capital city of China. After a nervy take-off, and long and boring 4 hour flight, we finally reached the hotel, which had definitely the best rooms on the whole trip. The recommendations from the lonely planet guide, and Frommer’s proved to be really helpful, and hence we tried some more local hangouts mentioned in the tour guides, and they didn’t disappoint. “Serve the People” is one of the best restaurants in town serving Thai food, and was another “must-go-to” restaurant in our list.
Our sightseeing tour in Beijing started with the Forbidden City, the Olympic Sites and Hutong. Beijing was different from either Shanghai or Hong Kong in a sense that it was more spread out and definitely more diverse. The next day we visited the local Home Depot store in Beijing. The management team was very excited to have us at the premises, and after a brief tour of the store, we were given a presentation about the many differences in the business model for China as compared to US, and the market dynamics. The business model for Home Depot, Do It Yourself or DIY, is no more applicable in China. Instead, it is now “Do It For Me”, or DIFM. Since the labor costs are so low in China, it makes more sense for people to just hire laborers to get the work done. Hence, HD is adapting to the needs of the local markets to grow, and the going hasn’t been that easy. However, now the management is aware that the learning curve is steeper than they initially thought, and hence are studying the market in more detail before taking their next steps.
In the tail end of our trip, we visited the Great Wall. For me, this was the most exciting day of the trip. We were amazed by the vast spread of the wall through the mainland, and spent most of the day walking on the wall. Equally exciting was the slide on the way down, which made our day even more fun.
Finally, we flew back to Atlanta via Shanghai on Friday, the 13th (ominous no?). To make our return journey more interesting, the entertainment units in the flight chose not to work. Thankfully my exit row seats came in handy; I made the best use of it, and slept through the flight. All in all, I’m so glad I went on the trip, and I am certainly looking forward to another trip to China in the future!