Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last day in Shanghai

Our last full day in Shanghai concluded with a manufacturing facility visit, where we heard from two groups of speakers. First up was David Williams, Managing Partner at Asentio Design. David took us through several case studies and showed how innovation and design is being done in China. Where most of these firms have traditionally been located in the US and Europe, now the shift is causing many of these design firms to be housed closer to the manufacturers in China. A few key take aways included learning more about how China is no longer just a manufacturing nation; now much more innovation and design is moving to this region.

After a short coffee break, we heard from Russ Schroader and Cao Wei who are the founders of Far East Sourcing, a manufacturing company where we conducted our discussion. After their talk, we toured the facilities and watched Dell computers being manufactured. This was a great complement to our trip because we were able to see first hand how production is conducted in China.

Overall, I have taken a lot out of this China trip to Beijing and Shanghai. It has opened my eyes to how much China is changing, and how there is still so much opportunity in this nation. Not everything is perfect, there is still a lot of progress to be made, but overall, China is accelerating, and I feel that we have a better understanding of what that acceleration looks like.

This concludes this blog. It has been a pleasure keeping you up-to-date with our journey, and if you have any questions about this trip, please feel free to contact me at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

At 8 o'clock in the morning we boarded the buses and made our way back over to the Pudong district of Shanghai for our meeting at the Shanghai International Convention Center. The day's list of speakers included Bryan Stiles from HSB, Mark Lavalle (ND alum) from KPMG, Michael Askew from the Chinese bank UCB and Thorsten Giehler from the German Development Cooperation. The four speakers covered a range of topics from banking in China to micro financing as a means for poverty alleviation and providing loans. The major themes of the discussions included the unique structure of China's national banks, which dominate the banking market, the growing presence of international banks, even though they only have roughly 2% market share in the country and the unique challenges of implementing micro financing solutions for much of China's population. Having just finished a banking course at ND, I was interested in seeing much of the same criteria for issuing loans being used in China. However, I was a little surprise by many of the speaker's uncertainty of the Chinese banking markets, stating that when implementing new branches there are a lot of unknowns when penetrating into new markets. It was interesting to learn that the Chinese government has a lot of say with the international banks that are in China, where the government limits the number of new cities the international banks are able to expand to each year. Many times, the government allows the international banks to pick one city and then the government chooses the other city that the bank is allowed to expand into.

After a morning session of financial speakers, we had the entire afternoon and evening to ourselves. Some students stayed on the Pudong side of Shanghai to explore more of the city, including taking up the elevator into the Pearl Tower.

About ten of us decided we wanted to see Suzhou, China, which is known as the Venice of China. So we hired a driver for the day and made our hour and a half journey to this region of the country, joined by one of our guides from Shanghai. On our way we could see how China is growing, with new construction being built along the highway for many miles.

Once in Suzhou, we went to the Suzhou Gardens which are famous in China. Many of the typical Chinese buildings could be found in this garden, along with ponds and lotus plants. It was peaceful to walk around the grounds and take pictures.

After our journey through the gardens, we walked toward the canals and hired two boats to take us through the canal system of Suzhou. What started off to be a peaceful journey down the canal changed when two Chinese school children thought it would be funny to throw rocks and splash our boat. I took a picture of these kids and posted it on the blog's picture section. If you visit Suzhou, be sure to stay away from these two because they are trouble!

We then walked through the streets of Suzhou and admired the developed parts of the city. During many of our presentations, we have heard about Tier 2 cities, which are those that are smaller than the Beijing/ Shanghai cities of China. Suzhou falls under this Tier 2 category, therefore is listed as one of the smaller cities, but the amazing thing is the city is still home to over 6 million people!

The day ended with our ride back to the hotel, where we split up for various dinners and excursions around Shanghai.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Today's topic was sustainability and our group traveled by bus to the other side of Shanghai for our meeing at the Aurora Plaza in the Pudong area (the financial district of the city).

First to speak was Rich Brubaker who is the Founder and Managing Partner of China Strategic Development Partners, based in Shanghai. Rich gave an overview on a range of topics, speaking to the environmental impacts of China's rapid expansion to how the country is experiencing a shift in mindset toward how the environment should be better protected. Rich used examples, such as a lake in the region that has experienced algae blooms due to the chemicals running into the water supply, to highlight how pollution is directly impacting the livelihood of those in China. These events, Rich mentioned, have caused the Chinese population to demand better standards. Even though some improvements have been made, Rich mentioned there is still a long way to go.

This theme was continued by Jim McIlvenny, President, Asia Pacific & Greater China for The Dow Chemical Company. Jim echoed many of the same topics Rich discussed, but was able to show how business is not as usual for new developments in manufacturing and chemical processing plants. Jim said that the Chinese government is now demanding much more stringent regulations on where plants can be built and is enforcing some regulations now. However, again Jim mentioned that this is still much more room for improvement. One of the benefits of Jim's talk was he provided insight on what Dow is doing to ensure that is contributing to sustainable practices in China. Their new factory being designed is targeted to have zero discharge in its operations. Though they still have some more work to do to achieve this goal, Jim used this as an example to show that much progress is being made by muti-nationals that are operating in China.

The afternoon session was on our own and a group of us ate lunch at a local Chinese restaurant right across the street from our hotel. It was fun to have everyone order a dish or two and then be able to sample all the different foods. If you have ever seen the opening scene to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there is a scene where Indiana Jones is at a nightclub sitting around a table that has a spinning circle in the middle. Most of the Chinese restaurants we have dined at have this same spinning circle, which makes it easy to pass around the different dishes. Overall, it had great food and we found ourselves eating at this restaurant again for dinner.

After lunch, we walked to the Shanghai Museum, which houses Chinese art and artifacts. Many of the artifacts dated back over a thousand years, so it really put in perspective how long the Chinese culture has been developing. The walk through the museum also provided us the opportunity to see many of the traditional masks, which were housed at the museum.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

This morning started off with a light breakfast at our hotel. We had the traditional bacon, eggs and toast available, as well as several chinese dishes, including fried pumpkin, which is very popular around Shanghai.

Being Sunday, the Unversity of Notre Dame arranged for a trip to mass service at the Dong Jia Du Catholic Church, which provides an English-language service. Those that went were greeted by the priest who provided a special acknowledgement for the Notre Dame students during the mass.

My roommate and I decided that we would get some shirts and suits made. After flagging down a taxi and a daring ride through the narrow streets of Shanghai, we found ourselves at a fabric market, that was three or four stories high, packed with tailors that could make any garment you can think of. After about 10 min of negoiating, I was able to settle on a great price for 10 custom-made shirts, a suit and a pair of tailor-made pants. The price on these was amazing, and I got the entire package for less than I would have paid for one custom-made shirt in the US!

Arriving back at the hotel, we a few moments to get ready for our trip to the YuYuan Garden, which was near a market that sold all types of trinkets. The garden itself was nice and was calming to walk through. Lots of traditional chinese architecture and several small ponds that made for a nice setting.

Tonight we had one of the best experiences of the trip, which was a river cruise on the Huangpu River, the main river that runs through Shanghai. We had a group dinner on the boat, where we were able to sample all types of chinese dishes. After dinner, the boat set out on the river and we were provided with some spectacular views of the city, including the Pearl Tower, the Bund (which includes a lot of British architecture and the world's thrid largest building, nicknamed the Bottle Opener for its distinctive shape). I've provided a bunch of pictures on the blog to help capture how neat of an experience this was.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shanghai Arrival

This morning we were greeted to an early wake-up call for our bus ride over to the airport. After a quick breakfast, we loaded up our two buses and were on our way.

The flight from Beijing to Shanghai was close to two hours, so not too bad of a trip. Once we landed in Shanghai, we could notice a big difference from what we had seen in Beijing. Wheras Beijing has been built up a lot for the Olympics, and much of the infrastructure was brand new, Shanghai had more of an older look to it, mixed in with many new skyscrapers that line the center of the city.

Our bus ride from the Shanghai airport was great; our tour guide for the week was a former chinese opera star and acted as if he were on stage the whole ride to the hotel (this week is shaping up to be pretty entertaining). Wheras we were in a brand new hotel in Beijing, the Shanghai one is a little bit older, but overall good for a hotel its size. The location is great; we are within walking distance to many of the main parts of town (however we learned that Shanghai land wise is the size of the state of Deleware and has the population of the state of Texas, so there is a lot to this city!).

After dropping off our bags, we meet up with Francis 'Chip' Peters, Commercial Officer, United States Consulate General Shanghai. Mr. Peters presentation focused on the US Commerce Department, and how they are involved with aiding companies with business operations in China. Mr. Peters covered a range of topics; everything from the import/exports business to the manufacturing facilities lining the cities around Shanghai. Having worked in the intermodal side of a freight railroad in the US, I was very interested in this discussion, because Chip Peters brought up many topics (such as how the port of Shanghai is one of the largest in the world) that I had been hearing about for years.

The afternoon was on our own, and we wandered the streets of Shanghai to see the sites. Again, I could see a big difference in this city compared to Beijing. It feels more like China here, with much more of the traditional shops and alleys that one associates with China. Even though I had been hearing that Shanghai is much more international than Beijing, I still get the sense that the Olympics propelled Beijing to the point that it is much more inviting to Westerners. It is still early in the trip, so it will be interesting to see if my view of the city changes as the week goes on.

I am heading out to dinner with a group of students, so I am looking foward to seeing the Shanghai night life.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Free-Day in Beijing

Today was our last full day in Beijing, and we had the entire day to ourselves. Some chose to do an organized tour of either the Great Wall, biking in the countryside or a shopping/massage excursion, however I chose to revisit some of the city sites and go to the last remaining temples that I had not yet visited.

After sleeping in and a nice long breakfast, I jumped on the subway (which has a stop about 25 yards from our hotel) and rode it over with a couple of friends to the Forbidden City. When we first visited this site, we were on a time crunch, so we didn't have much opportunity to learn about the history and really see all of the grounds. So this time, my buddies and I hired a tour guide named Charlie and went to each of the buildings and went in depth to the particular meanings and history of each. Our tour guide was great and told us he was a former professor that is retired and now gives tours of the major sites in Beijing. I was impressed with how he was able to talior the tour around our interests, and brought in a lot of US history and described how events in the US and the rest of the world impacted China and the goverment structure throughout history. Overall, I was glad we came back because now I feel that I have a much better appreciation for this historic site, and really enjoyed having Charlie show us around.

After our 2 hour tour, we jumped in a taxi and went to the Lama Temple, which houses the largest Buddha statue that was carved from a single tree. It was enormous, and must have been at least 5 stories high. This was the first time I've ever been to a place like this where I could see people worshiping at the various temples, and I could see the Buddhist monks chanting and mointoring the religous sites.

For our last dinner in Beijing we went to a very authentic resturant...The Hard Rock Cafe! A group of us wanted to have an American dinner, so the Hard Rock hit the spot. There was a live band and it made for a great atmosphere.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The morning theme was the media, where we had the opportunity to meet with Alan Paul, who writes "The Expat Life" column for the Wall Street Journal, and Maureen Fan, the Beijing Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. Both provided insight to their experiences covering news events in China for the American press. They were able to describe recent events, such as the earthquake that happened back in May, the Olympics and the recent milk scare, and both provided a unique outlook on how the stories were covered locally and in the American press. Some of the key take aways included how the chinese media is controlled by the government, and how the majority of censorship occurs with the local and national media, not so much with the foreign media correspondents. In addition to their professional experiences, Alan and Maureen were able to talk more about what it is like to live in China, Alan which described his experiences raising a family and Maureen spoke about how she has had a unique experience being a Chinese-American without having ever learned the chinese language growing up. This was a great way for us to learn more about how information is distributed in China and it was a neat opportunity to meet with those that are on the front lines covering the news events out of China.

The discussion took place at Xin Dong Chen Contemporary Art Space in an area called Factory 798. After the presentation, we were able to have some free time to explore the area, which is one of the major art districts of Beijing. As we sat at a cafe for lunch, we could see in the street next to us a group filming a scene in a movie. So if you see a big blockbuster come out of China in the next year, look for us in the background sitting at the cafe!

After lunch we boarded the buses and went to the Olympic Green, where we were able to take pictures of the Birds Nest Stadium and the Water Cube. Both were as impressive up close as they were on TV, and it was neat being able to see where the various events had taken place.

The afternoon tour included a stop at the Summer Palace, which is a must see if you ever visit Beijing. This was the get-away residence for the emperor, and is situated next to a lake. The entire area was great to walk around and we must have spent two hours enjoying the grounds and sitting near the lake. Off in the distance we could see the dragon boats that were shuttling people back and forth across the lake. For me, this was the best "Old Beijing" site that we have seen so far.

This evening a group of us went to see an acrobat show that was about a ten min walk from our hotel. One of our guides told us that the acrobats we watched were some of the most talented in Beijing, and had been training in the art since a very young age. The show was fun, and it was impressive some of the stunts and acrobats that we viewed.

For me, this week has been packed with activities, so I am looking forward to the free day that we have tomorrow. I think I'll visit some of the last sites that I have not seen yet, but not sure what the exact plan will be. The one thing I know is that I'll be sleeping in tomorrow to get caught up on some needed rest!