Day 6: Traveling to Hangzhou

Day 1 is here. The next two days were all about getting acclimated.

Days 2 & 3 are here. These days were pretty much spent as a tourist in Shanghai.

Days 4 & 5 are here. Lots of meetings with companies and other experts on Chinese business development.

Day 6 (January 7)

Thursday was largely a travel and cultural experience day. We had about a 2 hour bus ride to Haining China Leather City. The Chinese know how to build shopping malls. Haining Leather City is massive with about 2000 leather companies. All of the stores were selling leather or fur items. In the USA, it seems that malls will sometimes restrict the types of stores that are near each other so that competitors are at other malls, not across the hall. In China, the competitors are all grouped together. While it was jam packed, there were very few non-Chinese tourists here. Many in our group stocked up on coats, gloves, shoes, slippers, hand bags and luggage. There were many products that were crafted to look like well known American or European brands. The etiquette in this mall was quite different than I’m accustomed to in the US. Here stores throw their trash into the hallways of the mall as there are people who go around to collect the bits of trash. So it can be pretty surprising when you are standing in the hallway waiting for someone and the storekeeper comes and sweeps or throws trash at your shoes. Similarly, spitting is very common and men would simply spit onto the hall floors. Smoking is also pervasive; it was fairly common for shopkeepers to be smoking while trying to make a sale to you.

I’m not much of a shopper so that best thing about this leg of the trip was Chen Ji,  our host, talking about his experiences as a young man during the Cultural Revolution. From ages 17 to 25, he was sent away from his parents (University professors who’d done translations for Americans) to live in the country to be reeducated. While the conditions sounded fairly brutal and primitive, he spent a lot of time talking about the benefits of this experience to him personally and professionally. He also shared how the village he lived in, and China as a whole, have evolved since he had this experience in the 1960s and 1970s.

From Leather City it was another 2 hour bus ride to Hangzhou. The landscape became much more rural. The buildings were shorter with cultivated land and some farms. In many areas, old buildings had been turned to rubble with tall office towers being constructed in the background. They are also in the process of constructing a high speed train rail line (159 km) from Shanghai to Hangzhou.  All along the way the cement pillars had already been established and many crews were working to add the rail connecting them. The goal is to have this new line finished by 2011.

Hangzhou is a very rich city with many entrepreneurs. They even market it as such. This picture was taken at a screen (with a repeating marketing video) near Westlake just across the street from our hotel.

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Our hotel, the Sofitel, was in a very impressive neighborhood. There were BMW & Mini Cooper dealerships on the first floor of our hotel. On our drive over, we passed by dealerships for Bentley & Lamborghini. I did not expect to see these in China. There are many VWs and of course Buicks and Chevys, but in Hangzhou there are also many Audis, BMWs & Mercedes. Mostly the larger sedans as people who can afford such cars typically have drivers.

You never know what you’ll see in China. We passed the following sign and message “Excellence Pursuer, Prevail Forever” as we went through the toll to enter the city.

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Similar signs, with similar messages of optimism, perseverance and dominance are everywhere (and I’m only noticing the ones with English translations). I find myself wondering about the long term impact on the people being exposed to such messages daily and the lack of similar messaging in a meaningful way in the USA. Instead we now give trophies to youth for just showing up. Everyone is a winner. This concerned me before I came to China but I find my concern and worry about this American practice to grow more each day I am here. I’ll write more about this in the coming days as I find myself wondering how we as a nation will remain competitive in the future.

Posted in Education, Entrepreneurship, Travel