Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Goodbye China

On our final day in China, Saturday, we started off by going to a Water Village, the Zhujiajiao Water Village.  According to our local coordinator, this water village is less commercialized than some other water villages.  There are several water villages outside of Shanghai, also known as “China’s Venice”.  We took a boat tour, just like in Venice, pushed by a long stick, and travelled on the canal passing a few bridges connecting the houses from one side of the canal to the other.  At the end of the boat tour we had a bit of time to do some souvenir shopping.  At first it was pleasant to look at all the small shops and see the local souvenirs.  But an hour later it got so crowded in the small alleys that I couldn’t even move or squeeze by people.
On our way back from the water village, we stopped by the Bund, which is the walkway opposite to the financial center where the pearl tower and all the skyscrapers are.  Then, we returned to the hotel and were free for the rest of the afternoon.  I packed my suitcase because I was leaving the hotel very early the next morning and then I went out to walk around some more.  At 7pm we left for our farewell dinner.  Again a very nice restaurant, but this time I loved every single dishes served.  After dinner we went back to the hotel and I finished packing my bags for my 6am hotel pick-up the next morning.
Good night and Goodbye.

Last day of site visits

Friday was our last educational day.  First we went to UPS, at their facilities by the international airport.  We had a presentation about UPS’ logistics in China: how they sort packages for imports and exports.  Then we visited their warehouse where the packages come in, are sorted, and are shipped back out.  It was very interesting to learn about all their logistics systems and see where the action happens.  Unfortunately, most of the action happens in the middle of the night, so we didn’t see packages moving around, but we did see an airplane pulling in towards the warehouse.
After UPS, we had lunch at a sort of outdoor mall, but with restaurants only.  Then we went on our last site visit at Honeywell.  We had a short demo of their video security systems, which was pretty advanced in my opinion, but I’m not very familiar with security.  Then they presented their business strategies in China.  It was quite different to hear that they are not measured on specific targets, but rather how close they are from the Chinese competition.  Their goal is to stay right up there with the Chinese competition.
After Honeywell, we went back to the hotel and were free for the rest of the night.  I explored the streets around the hotel and shopped a little bit at a department store.  I was interested in seeing what their fashion look like out there and what kind of prices and quality they had.  I was surprised to find the clothing at a nice department store to be priced at around the same level as in the U.S.  And I wouldn’t say that the quality was better either.  I was also expecting to see more Japanese-type fashion, but a lot of it was European inspired.
For dinner, the same group from the previous day’s dinner adventure, decided to finally go to that nice Italian restaurant in the Financial Center.  It was very lovely and delicious.  And the setting was gorgeous: on the waterside overlooking Shanghai.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Change of minds

Thursday, we started the day with a couple speakers in the hotel conference room.  The first speaker was Jon Anderson from Kyosay Global.  He was interesting, but saying the same thing we already heard many times.  One thing I found interesting, being a demand planner, is that the Chinese companies have a difficulty with demand planning because in the past companies were told by the government exactly how much to produce.  Now that they have the freedom to produce whatever quantity they want, they don’t have the skills and knowledge to forecast the demand.  The second speaker, Lufeng Gu from Hill & Knowlton, was a bit of fresh air.  He spoke about media in China.  Most Chinese companies are not aware of public relations, only the top tier companies are.  He showed us newspapers from the same day, same event, but reported differently from the state owned newspapers and the tabloid newspapers.  The example he showed was from a speed train derailment last year.  The tabloid newspapers put it as it is with a picture of the train accident.  The state owned newspapers preferred to focus on the people being rescued rather than showing the actual accident.
Then we had the rest of the afternoon free for sightseeing.  Before we left for China, we watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation show in class and he went to a soup dumpling place that he really enjoyed, so I wanted to go there too.  I went with a few other people; it was back in the market around the YuYuan Garden.  We had some regular size soup dumplings and we also had their famous large soup dumpling that you drink with a straw.  It was really good!  Afterwards we shopped in the market for a little while and we took a cab to get back to the hotel.  Over 45 minute cab ride for maybe a couple miles: that’s Shanghai traffic for you.  Walking would have been faster.  After we got back to the hotel, a group of us had planned to go eat at an Italian restaurant – little too much Chinese food.  So we left the hotel around 4:30 because we had to be back at the hotel at 6:30 for the acrobatic show.  We got a restaurant address from the hotel, which was a walking distance.  But that restaurant didn’t open until 6pm, which was too late.  We walked around a bit to try to find a hotel to go ask for recommendations and we stumbled upon the Waldorf Astoria.  The concierge printed out an address of a restaurant, which said it was only a mile away, but we took a cab anyway to try to save time.  So we got on the cab and showed him the address.  Then suddenly we’re in a tunnel.  We’re going across the river to the financial center.  Oups… that’s way too far to eat and make our way back to the hotel in a little over an hour.  When we saw the traffic going the opposite direction in the tunnel, we panicked a bit.  So we tried to tell the driver we didn’t want to go to that restaurant anymore, but instead we wanted to be taken back to the hotel.  Yeah, I’m sure we sounded like complete idiots in his head because we couldn’t explain why we wanted to go back.  Back at the hotel, we had exactly half an hour to eat.  We ran into Pizza Hut and told them we had to be out in 30 minutes, if they understood anything.  It actually ended up being pretty fast.  We all ordered soda, but the waitress brought soda in glasses with ice, so we explained that we didn’t want ice.  While she was away changing our glasses, we realized that we shouldn’t even be drinking fountain soda anyway.  So she brought back our ice-less glasses, which we didn’t touch.  Poor lady, she must have thought we were idiots too.
At 6:30 we left for the acrobatic show.  Like I said earlier about my previous experience with an acrobatic show in China, I didn’t have very high expectation.  But, the Chinese surprised me again.  It was very entertaining. And dangerous.  The show ended with one of those sphere motorcycle cage number.  Not something you would see in the U.S.  Not because the act itself is dangerous, but because the motorcycles actually drove around the theater seating area and spun around the sphere for a good 10-15 minutes with gas engines.  After about 2 minutes, the theater was filled with gas fumes.  All I was thinking was if they collide, the whole thing will explode.  At one point there were 8 motorcycles in there.  After the show, we went back to the hotel and I stayed in for the rest of the evening.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The real China

Wednesday, we all had to get up early to leave the hotel by 7am to take the speed train again, but this time to Shanghai, 5 hours away.  I had downloaded some TV shows on my computer to watch on the train.  I was told I was very lucky to have had my headphones on and missed some interesting conversations going on!  Oh the beauties of travelling in a group! 
Once in Shanghai, we went straight to sightseeing.  All I have to say, well not actually all, is NOW I feel like I’m in China.  Shanghai is much more “Asian” looking than Beijing.  Other than the historical sites in Beijing, it didn’t feel very Asian.  Shanghai, on the other hand, has more people, more bikes, more action, more China character!  First we stopped by the Jade Buddha, which was in a Temple looking building, in the middle of the city, again very Asian.  Must have been here before, don’t remember.  After we made our way to the YuYuan Garden, set in the center of a market.  That was very pretty and luckily it was a gorgeous day outside.  But we were in a rush to get back to the hotel, not quite understanding why we needed to go back to rest after a 5 hours train ride of resting time, so we didn’t have time to stop for the shops in the market.  Also because we rushed back to the hotel, we skipped the stop at the Bund, which is the walkway across the river from the Financial Center, where the Pearl Tower and all the skyscrapers are.  And that was the only nice weather we were going to have here in Shanghai.  Oh well I don’t want to argue with the opinionated voices.  So we got back to the hotel and checked-in.  I decided I wanted to go to the hotel hot tub because I had seen on the hotel website a room with three large hot tubs.  So I put my bathing suit on, put a robe on, and walk barefoot down to the amenities floor.  I try to ask for the hot tub, but not sure that they call them here.  I try spa, but that’s their actual spa treatment.  Then I try sauna, thinking it might lead me in the right directions, so they point to the women’s locker room.  In there I see the sauna, but no hot tub.  I look through another door and find someone to ask.  I try a couple variation of hot tub: Jacuzzi, pool with hot water.  Until they tell me: “only for men!”  REALLY??? WHY???  They can’t explain of course!  So I go back to my room and hang out until we leave for another meet and greet / happy hour, this time with Rutgers Shanghai.  Same idea, different city.  Well, guess what? I met another Canadian.  A Chinese-born Canadian who teaches at the University of Shanghai, but lived in Vancouver and thought at the University of British Columbia for several years.  Such a big country in a small world. 
After dinner most of the group went to a club, for which we only had the address written down once.  We had to take several cabs and miraculously managed to all make it there.  I’m still impressed by that.  In my cab, our driver ended up having to call someone that spoke a little bit of English to have one of us try to explain where we wanted to go.  And we made it there.  The club was very interesting.  It was a club like any other club, but it was filled with stylish Asian people…obviously…but it was still funny to look at.  At some point in the night, there was a mini show: three girls lip-synching (everything is fake in China!) to Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque song.  Then later in the night, two Lady Gaga singing with two S&M-looking guys.  Several of us left the club at the same time and somehow, the cabs all dropped us off at the hotel across the street from ours, even though we showed them the hotel card.  Kind of a weird coincidence, almost makes me think that there’s a mistake on the small map on the hotel card.  Anything is possible in China!