Friday, October 26, 2007
All flights until tomorrow evening are also fully booked, thanks to undercapacity on the Shanghai-Beijing route as well as general equality among customers. Whereas in the United States, people would get bumped or volunteer to be bumped and get compensated, China treats everyone the same. All well and good for social equality, but I would pay $1000 to get back to Shanghai right now to see my wife, and the farmer next to me who paid $40 for his ticket is going to go first. Capitalism without a doubt leads to more efficient outcomes than communism.
Update: News reports indicate the frequent heavy fog in Beijing is due to particulate matter, i.e. pollution.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
In Shanghai, it's less of an issue because the city charges outrageous amounts for a vehicle registration/license plates -- currently about $5,000 USD! In Beijing, the fee is less onerous and there are plenty of cars and taxis to go around.
For my latest project, I have the opportunity to look at the market for luxury autos in China. So far, I have been very impressed with the Chinese appetite for foreign cars. Imported cars made by companies like Volvo, Lexus and Mercedes cost about twice the amount they do in the United States. In China, a Mercedes S600 lists for more than 1.7 million RMB - $225k USD. Yet there are still over 10,000 people per year lining up to place an order.
Of course, cars in China are a bit different, especially those that cost more than $40k. Chinese consumers like big cars, particularly cars with large rear passenger compartments -- if you can afford a nice car, you probably aren't driving it yourself. Therefore, car buyers focus less on the controls upfront but rather the experience in the back as a passenger. Also, Chinese people don't drive fast - they never get far enough outside the city or away from traffic to go Autobahn speeds. So you can end up with some relatively underpowered engines in otherwise big cars. Unlike Germans, the Chinese consumer doesn't like to "feel" the road either. They want a soft ride that makes them feel like they're sitting on a cushion. That's all fine and dandy since they aren't making high speed turns anyway.
There are locally made versions of foreign cars for sure. Volkswagen and GM both make most of their cars for the Chinese market in China. Toyota is strong as well. But what about purely local cars like the Chery and Great Wall? They are cheap; you can pick up a Chery QQ for $4000. They certainly get the job done and are very popular in Beijing. In Shanghai, since the cost of the license plate will double the overall cost, most people opt for a VW, or no car at all.
Monday, October 22, 2007
For international flights, I have resorted to using Kayak at times, since it's less complicated than visiting a travel agent to browse flights. Even if I don't purchase the tickets through Kayak, it can at least tell me what flights are available. However, I was using it recently to check out flights from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur (I know it's not a very popular flight segment). Here was one of my suggested itineraries:
|Airfare||Taxes & Fees||Total Cost|
I'll do the math for you: 68 hours and 25 minutes to travel 2000 miles. That's an average of 29 miles per hour. I could probably rent a speedboat and get there faster. Surprisingly, it's also slower than the Taipei-Hong Kong-Shanghai route. Needless to say, I think I'll look elsewhere for a ticket.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I'm not expert in Chinese politics, but here is a brief backgrounder on Shanghai and its relations with the central government, which is of course based in Beijing. Shanghai (and East China) has always played a small role in defying the Communist party. The Nationalist government was based in Nanjing - just an hour's train ride away from Shanghai. Not until Jiang Zemin came to power in 1993 did Shanghai receive a little more attention from the national government. Notice the correlation between Jiang's promotion to head the country and Shanghai's recent rise to wealth and power.
Hu Jintao, who is of course not from Shanghai, is still trying to rid Jiang's influence from the party leadership and has been trying to get rid of people still loyal to Jiang. Chen Liangyu, the former party boss in Shanghai, did a good job in continuing Shanghai's economic development. In fact, he did "too good" of a job. The economy was overheating, driving real estate values and inflation up. Good for Chen, who was enriching himself with side deals, and good for the city, which was becoming a booming global center for commerce. But it was bad for Hu, since Chen defied central party leadership and allowed Shanghai to outshine Beijing. So, long story short, Chen was arrested for corruption and graft. Experts say that he is indeed guilty, but major party members participate in similarly illegal activities. It is only his disfavor with Hu that lead to his demise.
My Chinese tutor told me an interesting story about when she worked at the local newspaper a few years ago when Chen was arrested. Party officials came in and deleted all official photos of Chen. A coworker had given recorded speeches mentioning Chen and how the newspaper was doing great in following his guidance. The speeches were edited on tape to remove all references to Chen.
Living in Shanghai, it's sometimes easy to forget that China is still a totalitarian state. But it's times like these, when China tries to show it's "openness" and "democratic" ways that it really shows how far away it is from a truly free country.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
I volunteered to help our recruiting team a few weeks ago, and in gratitude, they gave me a "really nice" wallet. Truth be told, it's pretty good quality leather, has the firm name embossed on the front, and is a reasonable size. I had been thinking about using a vertically-oriented wallet since carrying around a substantial amount of cash gets difficult when you put it in a bifold (forget about trifold - you'll end up with a four inch thick lump.)
Anyways, when I actually tried to use it, I realized the design is terrible. Like many Chinese-designed products, it's not quite there.
First off, the pocket for cash is difficult to use. The wallet is designed like a traditional bifold, but twice the height. As a result, the pocket for cash is actually just a big pocket, about 8x6 inches. How do you put money in it? Like a traditional bifold, in which case half the pocket is empty, or as two unseparated vertical pockets, in which case the money slides back and forth? Also, if you notice in the picture, the pocket is actually about 1 centimeter too short for Chinese bills (it's even worse for american bills). Am I supposed to use it with money sticking out the side?
Okay, no worries, there are plenty of slots to carry my multitude of VIP cards, prepaid dry cleaning and massage cards, airline membership cards, etc. But yet again, it's just slightly too small. I managed to squeeze my bank card in, but you'll see in the picture that business cards don't fit.
Also, what's the deal with the strap? Are the designers worried that they've made the pockets too big and the cards will slide out? Or did they try to come up with a way to use all the extra leather that they saved from making the other dimensions 10% too small?
Just another example of Chinese design. It can look good, but it's like no one bothered to try using it before making a few thousand and dumping it on the market. For now, it's going to go up on the shelf next to my Chinese stapler that is 1 inch long and holds 15 staples.
Monday, October 8, 2007
One of the many reasons Chinese air travel sucks is that the food is uniformly bad in the airports. There isn't even a random McDonald's or food court to take away the monotony of rice and noodle places that all have different names but identical menus. In Shanghai, though, a branch of the Italian Bricco Cafe chain was recently opened by an American. At least, I assume he was American because the guy was wearing a Yankees hat and was speaking to his Italian partner in English.
God bless globalization. Now if only Beijing Capital Airport could add a Starbucks.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Sights to see
Overall, I have to admit that
The Maglev – If you fly in or out of Pudong airport, be sure to take the Maglev at least once. I doubt you will ever go so fast so close to the ground.
The Bund – A must-see destination, but don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s essentially just a photo opportunity. This is the riverbank where old
Xin Tian Di – Good place to wander for an afternoon, especially if you are into real estate development. Should be a case study on how you can change people’s conception of retail and dining.
Grand Hyatt – Another example of how
Places to shop
Yu Yuan Bazaar – Souvenirs and jewelry make this a good place to get all your gifts for friends back home.
Fabric Market – Don’t leave town without getting a few shirts or a suit made. I have never heard of someone complaining about the overall value of a custom fit $10 shirt. Even if it’s not designer, the fit will be better than any off the rack shirt.
Tea shop – I went with my friends to a tea mall for the first time. Even if you don’t want to buy tea, go for the experience. The vendors will take the time to pour you a whole bunch of different teas for tasting.
Fake market – If you don’t want to go to
Places to eat
If you’re in
New Jishi – Homestyle Shanghainese food at reasonable, but not really cheap prices. They have a location in XinTianDi that is perfect to contrast old
Hot pot – I prefer Dollar Shop because it offers individual soup bowls to cook your food in. That way if people like the traditional spicy hot pot they can get it, but others don’t have to suffer. This meal takes a while to eat, so don’t go if you are in a rush, but I think Westerners like the experience of cooking their own food and also knowing exactly what they are eating.
Din Tai Feng – Yes, it’s originally from
Sheng Jian Bao – I personally like a place just south of the
Saturday, October 6, 2007
I’m on my way down to
Coincidentally, as I was waiting in the Dragonair lounge, I picked up a copy of Time Style & Design which features a story on the luxury markets in the emerging markets of
Stereotypes hold true. Russians seem to love to flaunt their wealth with extravagant items like helicopters, bejeweled pencils and gold baby bottles. The best known luxury brands are flashy designer labels like Versace, Armani, Dolce & Gabana, and Dior. They want to be smelled as well as seen; “75% of affluent Russians bought one or two new fragrances in the past six months.”
The country continues to take one step towards the west while remaining distinctively Indian. The three best-known luxury brands in
The middle kingdom is already the battleground for luxury brands.
Well, count me in. While Rolex is a little flashy for me, I too want to be able to wear a watch that is hand crafted and assembled in
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
It's not that I have not enjoyed my time out here, but anybody who lives out here for a little while will understand when I say that I am looking forward to being back in United States. If presented with the right opportunity to return (this time with Katie), I would definitely consider it; China is going to be powering global economic growth for a number of years to come. However, it will not be an easy decision, because China still has so much room to develop on a social level.
Needless to say, though, I'll be home before the year of the Pig turns to the year of Rat.