Confucius Temple, Luggage Shopping, Business and Negotiations
A full day in Shanghai. Our Shanghai guide, Katrina, met us in the hotel lobby early in the morning and off we went.
We had to make a minor modification to our plans, however. Lily, whom I had met on my way to China, had phoned and arraigned for me to meet the members of the company she was working as agent for this afternoon. A quick discussion resolved the timing with the tour - I'd go to the meeting while they went to the top of the same building (The Jin Mao building, which is apparently the tallest in Shanghai) for some sightseeing during it. If I was there too long, they'd just finish up the day without me. Perfect.
So, sightseeing in the morning, business in the afternoon - a good day in the big city :)
Our first stop was the Confucius Temple. Now, I'm a big fan of Confucius (most of the time) and even took an entire course in Confucianism during university, so this was very interesting to me. Apparently, "temple" is a bit of a misnomer, since Confucianism isn't really a religion - more of a philosophy. It's closer to a school.
Unfortunately, it was bombed during WWII, then the remainder destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, so it's more like a recreation of the original, rather than the original itself. But it's very beautiful. Almost all of the furnishings and artifacts were donated by locals during the rebuilding, which is very heartening.
The courtyard garden is gorgeous.
One of the more interesting views is that right across the street from the temple is a modern high school. Old and new schools teaching together - I like it.
After the temple, we went shopping in the Xiangyang Road Market. I thought that Nanjing Road was pretty good, but this place was incredible! It had a great "Chinese" look to it, and tons of stores. I was able to get some nice gifts for family and friends at some good prices.
After that, we had another tea ceremony, which was very nice, but by now I was starting to get all tea-ceremonied out. On the plus side, I can now do a tea ceremony perfectly. This one featured 2 interesting teas called "Romeo" and "Juliet". They consist of a ball of tea, that, when dropped into hot water, expand and unfold into a miniature bouquet -just beautiful.
After this, I loaned my camera to David and went to my appointment with the Shanghai Tiens Jinquan Investment Consulting Ltd. (http://www.tiens.com.cn/) who are apparently far larger than I originally thought they were. After discussions, it became clear that we both had very useful skills to bring to the table, so after some discussion, we signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).
This is not common in North America, but almost every deal I've put together in Asia has started with one. An MOU is simply a non-binding written expression of interest in working together. This is usually (hopefully) followed by negotiations and discussions that solidify the expectations of each party. Once this has been sorted out, the next step is a Letter of Intent, which is basically the non-binding, high level, bare bones of a contract.
Once the Letter of Intent is agreed to in principle by the Directors of all parties, the lawyers get to work and draft a Contract, which then usually goes through several revisions (my personal record was 23, with Samsung) before it's all finally done.
This is a fairly normal practice and procedure in China, Korea and Japan, at least in my personal experience. It's actually quite nice, since putting something, even non-binding, in writing is a good way to show that you are serious about proceeding, and not just saying you are interested to be polite or to save face.
Since this all took far longer than I expected, I missed the rest of the tour that day.
When I got back to the hotel, I found that Dave and Dale were also doing some business meetings, and Brooke was getting hungry. The two of us decided to go grab something to eat, and then went on the "Great Suitcase Hunt" (which will be a minor but continuing theme for a good portion of the rest of the blog about the tour).
Brooke, shopping machine that she is, decided she needed another suitcase to hold all the stuff she had bought. I'd feel smug and superior about this except I had deliberately arrived with an almost empty huge suitcase myself, which was now bursting at the seams and weighed enough to make the ticket agents want to bill me for another ticket. Any big city can get a little seedy at night, so I went along with her.
Nanjing Road is a very different animal at night. The normal shops close down and the street vendors and beggars move in. One of the first things I noticed was someone zipping down the road wearing some strap-on wheels on their shoes. My kids had specifically asked for these, and I'd been looking in vain up until this point, so I decided I wanted them. Big mistake.
The vendor (a kid, really) started off at 600RMB per skate. Nonsense, of course. We went back and forth for a bit, and finally, I decided that I was willing to pay around 50RMB each. After much haggling (with Brooke wisely insisting that I should hold out for less) I agreed to 175RMB for 3 pairs (58RMB each or about $7 each).
You know you have just made a bad deal when the vendor grabs your money, runs towards his friends, jumps in the air, kicks his heels and yells "Wahooo!"
No lie. He did that. Lesson learned: Never want something so much you are not willing to walk away from it, unless you are willing to pay the sellers price, rather than yours.
To rub salt in the wound, we were then hounded by more wheel vendors, each one offering the wheels at progressively lower prices. For reasons I can only describe as pure evil, one finally offered to sell 3 pairs of wheels for 15RMB (less than $1 each). I watched, ego shattered, as Brooke bought a pair "just because they were too cheap to pass up". I briefly considered beating her to death with a wheelie, but then settled for a session of self pity.
But we still didn't have the luggage. So we continued down the street until we were mobbed by a bunch of old ladies thrusting cute kids with roses at us. I made a mistake and gave one little tyke a couple RMB for a rose, and was rewarded by being hounded by the rest of them in an incredibly offensive and belligerent manner. I felt really sorry for those kids. We retreated.
On the way back, the kid who had sold me my overpriced wheelies tried to sell us some more. Brooke asked him if he had any luggage. To my astonishment, he said yes! Off his friends went to procure it, while we continued walking back. Near the end of the road, just before we were to turn towards the hotel, we saw that the group of them had disappeared down an alley. An alley which I noticed was not only dark, but adjacent to a luggage store.
A few minutes later, they came out with a few pieces of very nice luggage. By this time, I was very concerned we were buying stolen goods ("You need luggage?" *smash* "Here’s some. How much you pay?").
Further, Brooke, who I must admit is a much better bargainer than I, only wanted to pay 300RMB, not the 500RMB they wanted. They then offered to show us more luggage, though we would have to follow them down the dark alley. No way on that one.
By this time Brooke had also decided it was all too shady, and she wasn't about to support shoplifting, so we left without luggage, hoping maybe we could find some in Nanjing, which we were scheduled to go to by train tomorrow morning.
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Confucius Temple, Luggage Shopping, Business and Negotiations
Fly in, Nanjing Road Shopping, Acrobats, Night Lights
This morning we flew from Beijing to Shanghai. This is my first time in Shanghai, so I'm really looking forward to it.
The first thing I noticed was that it was noisy again. This was almost a relief after the almost eerie silence in Beijing. Come to think of it, that might have been a temporary effect just for the People's Conference. I'll have to check on my next trip.
Shanghai is VERY different from Beijing. Closer to "New York with Chinese Characteristics", I think. There is a palpable energy and vibe you get from being here - every one of the tour members could feel it. This is a place where both opportunities and business happen! It's also a lot warmer and greener than Beijing right now.
On the way into town, the high speed train passed us at around 230KM/h - which according to our new guide, Katrina (who met us at the airport) is apparently is not it's top speed, but is the fastest it gets in the short run between the city and the airport. To give you an idea, it took us 40 minutes to get from the airport to the city, and the train does it in 8. Nice. It went by too fast for me to get a photo.
Another interesting thing I saw on the way to the hotel was an ad for eBay on the back and side of a bus. Cool. I have a special place in my heart for eBay, as one of the founders, Jeff Skoll, is a fellow canuck.
Our hotel is not bad - pretty nice, actually. The best part is that it's walking distance from the second best shopping place in town, Nanjing Road (I thought it was pretty darn good, until I went to the Xiangyang Road Market the next day). Nanjing road is closed to traffic, and is basically a pedestrian road lined with some great shops.
Since it was clear that we all had totally different shopping agendas, we split up and agreed to meet in front of a McDonalds that happened to be in front of us when we made the decision.
Some of the shops are really interesting. One of them was a dedicated chopstick shop. That's right - they only sold chopsticks! If you need a $400 pair of chopsticks, this is the place to get it from. I wandered around for a while, and was approached by people on the street often enough that I started keeping count: 7 times by attractive young ladies who wanted to be my "friend", 4 times by "art students" who wanted to give me a "free tour", and 3 times by hawkers with menus in hand trying to entice me into going to the restaurant they worked for. I kept my hands on my wallet and walked by, but it was interesting nonetheless.
I finished up early and found myself standing in front of the McDonalds alone. After fending off several street hawkers, I decided I'd be safer inside. A long time ago, I put myself through university working as a manager at McDonalds. This has had several impressions on my life - 1) it really did help my management and people skills, 2) I really don't like french fries anymore, and avoid most other fast food unless I'm out with my kids, and 3) I'm fascinated by differences in the menus between countries and areas. Since McD's is very standardized, regional differences are well researched and reflect local tastes.
I noticed 2 things right away. First, it was dirt cheap. $1 for a cheeseburger combo!. Second, they offered taro root pie, instead of the usual berry flavored one. That was too much to pass up. I bought a combo and a pie, while taking the opportunity to change one of my 100RMB notes into smaller change for some shopping later on. The pie was unusual, but very good.
Shortly afterward, everyone else showed up and we went out to a show. This one was really well done, and for $10 extra we scored front row center tickets, so I got some great shots. There were all sorts of acrobatics and juggling. One thing I noticed was that the performers were quite young (though obviously enthusiastic) and occasionally dropped plates and so forth. Rather than ruining it, this made it more interesting for me, as it made the skill necessary more obvious. But it was a big concern when they brought out the motorcycles.
Now I had seen this in Las Vegas. It's basically a cage about 15 feet in diameter, and you drive a motorcycle into it. You can then drive around at high speeds, including upside down. What makes it even more dangerous is that they will sometimes put more than one motorcycle in the cage at the same time! In Las Vegas, I saw the record, 4. It was one of the most dangerous things I've ever seen, but quite thrilling.
So the first guy goes in, and spins around, including riding with no hands upside down. Very cool. Then they bring out the second guy. Now it gets more interesting. At this point, I whispered to the person next to me (I think it was Brooke) that I'd seen this in Vegas but they had actually had 4 at a time. She whispered back there was no way they'd do that many here, and I agreed. It's just too hard, and these performers are young. Heck they kept dropping plates! Can you imagine making a mistake in a 15 foot cage at 60 MPH with 3 other cycles?
After many death defying stunts, out came motorcycle number 3. Now this was exciting! Especially when they started going in opposite directions. That 3rd cycle really made things cramped in that cage.
Then out came number 4.
Unbelievable. You had to be there. Very cool.
After the show, we walked back to the hotel, as it was a very nice night, and the lights of the city are quite beautiful.
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Great Wall, Jade Factory, Traditional Village, Dinner Show
This is Day 3 of the tour, and a Monday - the first day we could actually meet anyone. We have a meeting for supper later, but for now we have another mission - to scale the Great Wall of China.
The Chinese have a saying that you are not a real man unless you've climbed the Great Wall, so it's a popular tourist attraction for them. The vast majority of the visitors today are Chinese. It's chilly out (5C, or about 40F) but we are all excited. It's been 10 years since I've last been to the Wall, and Brooke and Dale have never seen it. I'm also on a mission - the last time I was here, I got my photo taken on a camel, complete with warrior garb and a sword. The picture was later lost. I'm hoping to retake it, if they still have the camels.
Simon, our guide, stays with the van at the bottom and we agree to meet him there when we get back down, and off we go. There have been several changes since I was last here. For one, it doesn't smell like a toilet anymore, for another, the steps are even and much easier to climb. There are also handrails. It's a much more pleasant trip. We were at the Badaling point (the wall is very long, so there are many places to visit it along it, some better than others).
But it's a LOT of stairs. I knew I was out of shape (and if I didn't, the Chinese would have made sure I knew it - at every single tea ceremony we went to, the server at some point mentioned that tea was good for weight control and then looked pointedly at me) so I was huffing and puffing early on. This wall is very good exercise.
About halfway up, I saw the camel ride I remembered from before and took the group on a quick detour for some pictures. I was able to retake the pic I had lost.
Then we finished the climb to the first top, where there is, of all things, a roller coaster! It's actually intended as a nice easy ride back down. Since I was horribly out of shape, I whimped out at this point, but Dale and Brooke continued up to the second (taller) hill, agreeing to meet us at the bottom.
If I was hoping to give my heart some rest by taking the ride, it didn't work. It's creaky and you can smell the burning of the rubber on the brakes all the way down the hill. It's quite an experience. I'm sure my kids would love it.
At the bottom, we waited (aka shopped) a few minutes until Dale and Brooke came down, then we walked towards the van. On the way, there was an exhibit of some bears (known as "blind bears") that were kind of cute. Brooke found a tray of apple slices and started throwing them to one of them (which was fine - you are supposed to) but didn't realize you had to pay for them - the vendor chased her down - too funny.
The next stop was the jade factory, one of my favorites. Jade is wonderful stuff, and the factory is breathtaking. I strongly recommend a visit. As usual, I got so engrossed in shopping that the others had to track me down and nearly drag me out.
After the jade factory, we had a quick lunch and headed back to Beijing. Once there, we stopped by the side of the road to take a few pics of the Olympic stadium they are building. It will resemble a birds nest when complete. Our next scheduled stop was a silk factory, but since we had already seen on on our day off, we changed the plans and decided to go check out the traditional village, instead.
This is Beijings equivalent of a "pioneer village" in western Canada or the US, and is intended to show off traditional and historic lifestyles. Each exhibit features homes and artifacts that were carefully taken apart from their local area and rebuilt here in this village. Also, the people stationed at each exhibit belonged to the area where the exhibition was from. One girl we talked to had only been in Beijing for 2 days, and it was the first big city she'd ever seen. I noticed that she'd already gone shopping, as all her clothes were warm and brand new (she had come from a group far to the south and was not used to the cold).
There are 56 ethnic groups in China. The majority Han make up about 95% of the population, leaving the remaining 5% divided up between the remaining 55 ethnic groups. This is a concern to the government, so if you are a member of one of the ethnic groups, you can have 2 children instead of the usual one, and several other benefits. Some of the ethnic groups have as little as 20,000 members in them. When I came back home, I asked and it turns out that my wife's family is from one of groups. Small world.
It's hard to tell the difference between the ethnic groups visually - it's more to do with language and culture. The closest analogy I can think of is the differences between the Native American Indian tribes - each with it's own history, language, dress and culture, but generally considered one people.
The village was fascinating. We arrived just in time for a show featuring dancers and singers, followed by a demonstration of some traditional Chinese games. One of them is a type of yo-yo that we saw several times throughout our trip. You can do some amazing tricks with it. Another was a metal hoop and stick, similar to what children in the west in the 1800's would play with, another was, for lack of a better word, tandem skis. You'd have to see the picture. Finally, there were some stilts that were deceptively difficult to use (at least, that's my story - Dale seemed to pick them up pretty easily).
The village was really interesting, and it was very cool to see all of these different places all in one spot. 2 highlights were a home and temple from a Muslim minority, and a cottage that I swear would not look out of place in the English countryside, if not for the red door and the lions out front.
There was also a giant totem pole obviously intended for some sort of fertility rite, and I'm sure is an interesting attraction for the village.
After this, we went for dinner and me up with Stephen Noton (a fellow speaker, and from Adverted), Michael the Mun Wai (of GME Tech), and the guest of honor, Xu ZuZhe, the Secretary General of the Beijing Information Industry Association and the author of the book "Leaping over the Information" (Chinese).
Turns out Mr. Xu also created his own Chinese character input method for his computer, but I was unable to get many details, since the technical jargon rapidly outstripped the vocabulary of our poor interpreters. I got the basic gist though. After dinner, he presented me and David with copies of his book (and signed them for us), then we went for tea.
In this case, it was more of a tea and a show. There were some great acts (and some that would only make sense to a native speaker) but the 2 that stood out for me was first, a couple of impressionists that did some amazing birdcalls and sound effects (including a train) and second, a demonstration of the famous Sichuan Opera style, where actors change masks so quickly that you can't tell how they are doing it even if you know what to look for and are looking closely. It's really amazing and should be a definite item on any China tour "things to see list".
After this, we went back to the hotel, where our guide Simon had arranged for a very relaxing and professional massage for anyone on the tour who wanted one. Mine including a foot soak in tea of all things, which was surprisingly relaxing. An excellent end to a busy day. Tomorrow, we go to Shanghai.
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Free Day - Shopping, BeiHai Park and Belly Dancing?!
Today is Sunday, and our guide, Simon has the day off. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’d leave anyone high and dry, so we met with Ivan Yi of WebPlus Inc (Beijing) (http://www.webplus.com.cn/) and Star Mu of Pacific Net (http://www.pacificnet.com/) and his wife (whose card I didn’t get).
We went to the HongQiao Market, which is not too far from the hotel, near the Temple of Heaven.
Now THIS is shopping! The market is how I remember “Silk Street” from back in the 90’s, except it’s far cleaner, is inside, and the quality of goods is much higher. 5 floors of shopping mayhem. Clothing, electronics, jewely, trinkets and almost everything else you can think of are present, and it’s one of the places where former President Clinton and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and many others shopped during their respective visits (there are pictures of them all over the mall).
The lower levels are basically the cheaper stuff (and the knockoffs) with the top two levels reserved for high end pearls, jade, amber, sapphire and other precious jewelry. I bought my wife a set of beautiful pearl earrings with a matching necklace from the world famous Yong Hong Pearl (aka “Sharons Store” - http://www.sharonpearl.com/ ) at the top level, and some tea and CD-R’s at the lower levels. I also wanted a belt, and the result was a very interesting experience in Chinese market negotiation.
See, it’s common for Chinese companies to make a “good, better, best” quality array of goods, where the goods appear almost identical but the quality differences can be dramatic. My old belt was wearing out, so I stopped by a stall to see about getting a new one. The first belt offered (at the outrageous price of 600 Yuan - $75 USD) was a cheap Hugo Boos knockoff. I think it might have even been pure vinyl. Very often, market negotiators will start with something totally crazy, on the off chance you might be stupid enough to actually take it. Myself, I’d have been embarrassed to offer it. First step, focus on quality, then negotiate price. Otherwise, if you get down to a low enough price, you’ll never even be shown “the best stuff”. She had a bag of what looked like totally identical belts, yet the first one was a cheap vinyl one, the second offering was real leather (though only as a razor thin layer on top of vinyl – you can check by looking at the belt holes – you want to see pure leather all the way through, never any layers of material). The third one was real leather, but had a cheap belt buckle, and finally, with great reluctance (and me about to walk away, since, as I was able to show her, I already had a belt and really didn’t “need” another, so I didn’t care) she brought out a real belt – good quality stitching, real leather, good buckle, the whole works. Finally. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, it’s almost certain you won’t get it, here.
Then we negotiated price. Naturally, she started at 600RMB again, claiming that she could not move on it, since my excellent negotiating had put her in a bad position. Yeah, right. Rule number one – they will NEVER agree to a break-even or money losing price, so be ruthless – you won’t be taking advantage of them, since they won’t let you. Unless you have counterfeit money, the only person in danger of getting a bad deal here is the buyer.
I knew that this belt was worth between $45-$60 in the US, so I set my sights on around $20. Since we had already eliminated the crappy quality stuff, there were limits to how low you can go, at this point. But they are usually lower than you might think. I started with $10, and we haggled for a while, with the invaluable help of Ivan, Star and his wife. The final price was $18. Nice.
While waiting for Brooke to finish her shopping (the lady is a shopping machine) we discussed e-commerce in China (Ivan works for a Chinese friendly shopping cart company) Since shoppers rarely have credit cards, there are obviously several challenges. Turns out there are some very interesting tactics you can use with cell phones, debit cards (which are more popular) and, of all things, C.O.D!
Afterward, we went to a local restaurant across the street that serves fairly authentic Beijing food. I’ve experimented a lot with food in Asia and I had not seen half of these dishes. One looked like un-hardened cement, but tasted delicious.
After this, we broke up into two groups – Brooke and I in one and David, Ivan and Star in the other. Brooke suggested seeing BeiHai Park (right near the Forbidden City) so off the two of us went.
Unfortunately, the park, like the Forbidden City, is under renovations for the Olympics right now, though there are a number of interesting sights, nooks and crannies. They drained half of the lake, and we watched workers loading dirt onto a pickup truck that must have been 50 years old. Afterward, we had some tea (you can almost always find a teahouse nearby). It was very cold, just above freezing, so the tea was very welcome.
By this time it was getting late, and I had my eyes set on a dinner show. The hotel apparently has a very nice dinner show, so we hurried back. Unfortunately, the show was not on that night, which was a disappointment, since dinner shows in China are a lot of fun. Asking the guy at the desk, we found out that the most famous dinner show (A Fun Ti) in Beijing still had space, so we booked a reservation and went.
Belly dancing in Beijing. Will wonders never cease. The show also included China’s only male belly dancer (very popular with the ladies), a very pretty female belly dancer, some female Chinese dancers in more modest clothing, and two musicians. The show was in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, which was nice.
Anyway, the show was a lot of fun, and family friendly. There were even several couples with their spoiled rotten kids in the audience. One kid kept wondering up on stage, and apparently the parents thought nothing of it. These kids are in for a big surprise when it comes time for them to deal with the real world later on. In China, due to the one-child rule, kids are often spoiled, and usually referred to as “Little Emperors”. Every one I’ve seen so far this trip was also ill-behaved and severely overweight. Fortunately, it didn’t detract from the show (Personally, I think it added an interesting Chinese touch to the otherwise very middle-eastern experience). The lamb-kabobs were very tasty.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel for some sleep – tomorrow is the Great Wall trip, and you want to be fully awake for that one.
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Hutong,Tea House, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Silk Factory
This was the first “real” day of the tour – being a weekend, it was basically a sightseeing day. After a nice breakfast (included with the tour) we met with Simon, our guide and got onto the tour bus. The first stop was a rickshaw tour of Hutong, which is a very “authentic historical” area of Beijing, at least for one that is currently being lived in.
The area is famous for its very narrow streets (more like alleys or walkways) and 400 year old architecture. Since Hutong is in the heart of the city, this run down, dilapidated area boasts some very expensive real estate, and it was not unusual to see a new Audi parked outside of these houses, with boards leaned against their tires to stop dogs from peeing on them.
The name Hutong comes from the sound water makes when being pumped from a well – the place was established by invading Mongols (ala Genghis Khan) and, due to the fact that they were horsemen, the first job of settlement they did was to dig wells for both the horses and themselves. The homes are made in a square, courtyard fashion, with 4 living areas all pointing inwards towards a well.
After this, we went for lunch – which was perfect timing because the chill had suddenly turned into a pretty good snowfall, much to the shock of Beijingers, since it’s unusual at this time of the year. Unfortunately, I felt right at home.
Lunch was very tasty, with one surprise being that halfway through it a large fish (About 18 inches long) jumped out of a tank and began to flop across the floor. In China, the food is often VERY fresh – the tank was not ornamental – it was where you choose what you wanted to eat!
After lunch, we went for tea. By this time the snow had turned into a flurry, though it was still melting as fast as it hit the ground. The Spring Tea Art House (Chun Lai Cha Yi Guan) is a very nice place, though of course in typical fashion it manages to blend a nice tourist experience with the opportunity to spend your money. We did a nice tea ceremony, and tried several types of tea (including monkey tea – so named because often monkeys are used to collect it form the difficult to reach places it grows in), then did some shopping. The snow stopped and the sun came out just was we finished – with no traces it had ever happened.
The next stop was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I won’t go into all the details (anyone who has ever been there knows that it’s breathtaking), but there were a couple of interesting things that happened. First, it turns out that the Forbidden City is getting a facelift in time for the Beijing Olympics – to the annoyance of many residents, who feel that historic artifacts should look old, rather than fresh painted, no mater how skillful. Someone mentioned it’s starting to look like a movie set rather than a historical site. The restored buildings do look very nice, but I hope they at least leave a few unrestored to show people what it looked like before. Several buildings in and around Tiananmen were also undergoing restoration, and were covered in scaffolding.
On a more personal note, near the North Gate there is a high quality museum/shop with some very nice art for sale. Also there is a fellow who does calligraphy, and also happens to be Chinese royalty – he is the nephew of the last Emperor of China. I could not pass this up.
For the equivalent of $200, he wrote a note and signed a very nice scroll for me. While he was doing it, one of my companions on the tour mentioned that I was the nephew (actually great-nephew) of Norman Bethune, the most famous Canadian in China (Mao wrote a very nice essay about self sacrifice on Bethune that was required reading in China for many years) he shook my hand and asked for a picture of our encounter. Very cool. That’s an experience you don’t get everyday…
The other interesting point for me was my shadow – an undercover police officer (I assume) posing as a Biejinger that stuck up a conversation with me as I was walking in the underpass towards the square, the followed me for a while in the square until it was painfully obvious I was just a tourist playing with his new camera. He was very polite and unobtrusive, but it was an interesting experience none the less. A good portion of the “tourists” you see in the square are undercover police, making sure there was no trouble. The “Peoples Congress” is going on right now, and is the one time of the year where the representatives of the people approve the policies of the Communist Party. It’s basically a rubber stamp session, though there are some changes and suggestions made and implemented. I imagine that explains the more obvious presence of the undercover police – normally they are less noticeable.
By the way, the story about Starbucks being in the Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square is a myth – though we did spot both a McDonalds and a KFC a couple blocks away. Trust me, it was very cold and we all had the finely honed SEM “hot coffee” detectors on full alert – nothing.
Next, we went to a silk factory and got a tour on how silk is made. I asked for (and was given) a raw cocoon as a souvenir – kind of cool. I recommend the tour – silk making is fascinating. After the tour (and requisite shopping experience – I got a very nice handmade silk shirt) we went for supper, during which a fairly lively discussion on the nofollow tag and the idea of the SMA-NA certifying SEO training programs was discussed, then off to bed.
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Arrival in Beijing, China – March 9, 2006
It’s 3AM Beijing time as I write this, but my body, convinced it’s noon, has decided that I am being lazy and that I should be awake now. Note that since this blog is hosted by Blogger, it will not be available to people in China – which is a real shame, and one of the first, most obvious internet related issues I’ve run into here. I haven't been banned personally, it's the entire IP range for most major blog systems.
While brewing some tea to (hopefully) lull me to sleep, I picked up the local Yellow Pages (http://www.bjall.com/) and leafed through it.
It’s common for me to do this in a new territory – the two things (aside from just talking to people) that can help you get a current feel for a city the fastest from a travelers perspective are the local newspaper, (especially the letters to the editor section) and the yellow pages (the business listings phonebook). Try it sometime.
You can get a real feel for a cities culture by looking at what businesses are doing, and a phonebook can be a very nice bellwether for the local business environment. Not only do they usually have lots of helpful tips, maps and information at the front, but a savvy traveler can infer a lot from the numbers and specialties of lawyers, manufacturers, entertainment, restaurants and associations.
Some interesting tidbits include a page intended for new drivers and new car owners (Beijing has a very rapidly increasing population of new drivers). Apparently, local cars are sold with a speed limiter attached to them (can’t exceed 100km/hr (60mph)) and owners of foreign cars are warned that these usually don’t have this. There is no mention of seatbelts, but the manual felt a need to warn the drivers:
6. Change gears when necessary. If your car has a manual transmission, don’t remain in one gear for all speeds.
Sage advice, but surprising that it needed to be spelled out!
Speaking of cars, the last time I was in Beijing was 1997, and there have been several major changes since then. The most shocking was the car horns, or lack thereof. In my last trip, the car horns were used almost constantly by everyone on the road all the time, but not in the aggressive “screw you!” manner westerners tend to use, but rather in a “I’m here, look out” manner, which at the time, I found very comforting and refreshing, since I was usually in the back of a little red cab, exhaust from the engine spewing directly into the cab, careening along crowded streets with a blithe disregard to human life and limb. I remember thinking that letting people know that “you are here” was a good thing. I would have hyperventilated at the driving antics of the cabbies, except then the exhaust and carbon monoxide poisoning probably would have killed me.
This time, although horns are used, it almost seems sparing. I was almost comforted by the fact that not one knew where our hotel or the Beijing Hard Rock Café was – I was starting to get a little worried I was in the wrong country…
Aside from the familiar, carbon-monoxide spewing red cabs I was familiar with, there was a large change on the roads from before. New green and beige cabs (sans carbon monoxide poisoning) abound, and the vehicles on the road appear much newer and in better shape.
But almost no horns – what the heck is up with that? It must be a law or something. If Beijing has decided to take aim against noise pollution, they have certainly achieved that goal. I don’t even hear police sirens – they just drive by with lights flashing. This is now the quietest major city at night I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot. It will be interesting to see if Shanghai is the same way.
Looking around the city, I also noticed that the skyline full of cranes (the construction crane is pretty much the national “bird” of China) was gone. Oh, there were a lot of cranes, but nowhere near 1997 levels.
I then had to deal with some currency issues for a few of the members (note: NEVER go to China without notifying your credit card company first. Their fraud detection systems will often put a stop on your card as soon as you attempt to use it, under the impression that it’s been stolen).
I flew in on Air Canada (but had a nice flight in spite of that – the flight crew was actually helpful and courteous) and had spent the flight sitting beside a nice lady named Lily, whom I discovered was doing work for a fellow she called “The Professor”, who is apparently a well connected businessman and academic whom is trying to secure patents and know-how from the west to manufacture in China. After I got off at the airport, she introduced me (he was waiting for her at the airport) and we agreed to attempt to meet in Shanghai.
I met with David and we had a quick beer each and some nuts (161 RMB = about $20) in the lounge while waiting for Brooke to arrive, then decided to go out. David’s facility with Chinese is excellent, and he’s very engaging – the people at the hotel that talked to him were surprised and very open talking to him once they found out that the foreigner spoke Mandarin. We finally decided to go to the Hard Rock Café (HRC), since pretty much everything else we thought of was closed. They make you buy a beer as admission at the door (100RMB = $12.50). The drive to and from the Hard Rock was in cabs (red one going there, and a green and yellow one on the way back), and prompted the comments above.
As soon as the cab stopped at the HRC, we were assaulted by a beggar child of about 6. I use “assaulted” because he was extremely aggressive for a beggar, much less a 6 year old. David gave him some money so he would go away. It’s a difficult issue because the kids are wearing ragged clothing and of course anyone with a heart wants to help them, but I also knew that he was most likely working for a begging gang, and would never see any of the money he was given, which goes instead to the people exploiting them. On the other hand, maybe he was just really poor. Tough call – are you helping them, or contributing to their exploitation?
After we spent some time in the HRC, we all got tired and decided to go back to the hotel, with involved another encounter with the kid (no parents or anyone else apparently in the area) and yet another interesting cab ride.
That reminds me – we stayed at the Days Inn Hotel and Suites Beijing – owned by the folks that bring you the Days Inn hotels/motels in the US and Canada. When I originally found that out, I thought I’d been ripped off (I think of the Days Inn line as inexpensive travelers motels, mostly), since I was told it was a 5 star hotel we were staying at. Turns out, it is!
This hotel was built only 3 years ago, and is very nice. I recommend staying here for future trips. The staff is helpful, the rooms clean, and the facilities complete. It has a few “Chinese characteristics” that remind you that you are “not in Kansas” anymore – the beds are very low, and the mattresses, though quite comfortable, are also fairly hard. The bathrooms have a separate tap for drinking water (I boiled it anyway, out of habit – I’m not THAT adventurous!) and the rooms have all the usual amenities, plus some nice touches. It’s very nice, and the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Beijing.
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Well, I'm back from China. Over the next little while, I'll be uploading pictures and posting blog entries about the tour and SES China.
For now, I'm still trying to recover from the trip (I almost always get sick on the way back from an intercontinental trip) and will spend most of tomorrow sleeping and taking medication, just like today.
Well, I'm on the way out the door (on yet another Air Canada flight) to China. I'll be there for the China Search Marketing Tour, followed by SES Nanjing. It should be both fun and highly educational.
I've just discovered that I lost my powercord for my laptop yesterday (at the Calgary Zoo, of all places...) so it's iffy that I'll be in touch between now (March 9) and March 20.
Baidu, a search engine based in China that Google is currently playing second fiddle to, has it's own spider. I've recently added it to my free robots.txt generator, in honor of my upcoming trip to the middle kingdom.
My good friend Jill asked me to pass this on, and it's a heck of a deal:
The High Rankings® Search Engine Marketing Seminar
Thursday March 30 and Friday March 31, 2006 The Holiday Inn Walnut Creek, CA
Registration before March 15th is $1195.
After March 15th, it is $1395
The agenda and registration can be found here:
PS: If you use the discount code "MCANERIN" you'll get a 25% Discount! What are you waiting for? Sign up now!
So I was flying back from SES NYC yesterday and had an interesting near death experience I'd like to share.
I flew in from NY, landed at Pearson in Toronto, and was in the process of switching to my final flight to Calgary. I got onto my plane, sat down, buckled up my seat belt, and waited....
After a REALLY long time, the captains voice came on.
"Folks, this is your Captain speaking. There appears to be a fuel truck that has flipped over on the runway behind us. We'll need to wait here for a while".
As I sat there, thinking about the fact that I was on a jet aircraft, and how jets are really hot and fiery, and any fuel truck, flipped or not, should try to avoid being behind one, the captain came back on the intercom. Apparently he agreed with my assessment.
"Folks, I think it would be best if we offloaded the plane. Please take your belongings and exit in an orderly manner"
Once we were off, I went and took the picture you see below from my cellphone camera (that's why the quality is so bad - my prized Canon Digital Rebel XT is tucked in the cargo hold of the plane you are looking at.)
Looking into the centre, you can see a yellow fuel truck slightly to the left. Slightly to the right, an identical one is lying on it's side. I don't know if you can see it, but there is a siphon hose between the two, and the good truck is pumping fuel out of the flipped one. You can click on the picture to get a larger picture.
Underneath, you can see the HUGE pool of fuel, and the stuff they have dumped on it to help soak it up!
Now look at the jet to the right and front. That's where I was sitting (seat 19A, actually). Now look at where the jet engines are pointing.
Ouch. I'm very lucky to be here typing this right now, as opposed to being the center of attention at a cremation...
Speaking of which, how the HELL do you flip and dump an airport fuel truck!?!?!?!
You'd think they would have a low CofG and maybe even some safety valves, etc. Maybe they let one of the idiots they use for baggage manhandling drive. Oh, and my luggage came back with my tags missing... Again.
Oh, the joys of flying Air Canada....