Saturday, October 15, 2005

Visit to Shanghai

I had a great visit to Shanghai over the last few days... I'll write a few notes on what I noticed:

Arrival: October 11, late at night.

Ben and Mei-Chih came to pick me up at the airport. My first impression of Shanghai was the view out the window as the plan was landing. There buildings on the ground were mostly dark. There were no bright porch lights and street that are common in the US. It almost looked like no one lived in these building at all. The one thing that lit up were disjointed sections of new superhighway intersections and bridges. They seemed scattered about the landscape.

Shanghai has a brand new flashy airport. The terminals are spacious with large glass windows. I picked up my luggage and passed through customs in about 10 minutes. We then drove about 30 minutes to Ben's apartment. On the way Ben explained to me that the buildings were dark because no one lives there! There were 10-20 story apartment/condo buildings and brand new roads along the road from the new airport to the city that were built with no immediate demand or customers. This is the only place in the world that I have seen that has such a combination of low cost of labor and ultra-high expectations of growth over the next few years. No developer in the US could afford to build empty buildings like this.

Day 2: October 12

Ben and started working on our research the moment we left the airport the night before. We woke up early in the morning to go to breakfast and head to his office. The apartment complex that he lives in is quite nice. There is a community of buildings with park / green areas in between them. The guards are quite friendly. I noticed immediately that the Chinese people tended to stare at me in wonder. It is easy to forget that China had only been open to the west for a couple of decades. Ben explained to me that there is still a sense of inferiority amongst the Chinese people when they interact with foreigners. They tend to act a little amazed/respectful when dealing with people from overseas. It was a strange feeling for me.

After breakfast we took a cab to the office. The radio was broadcasting a special report. The Chinese space agency has just successfully launched its second manned space flight. The Shanghai VI lifted off successfully that morning at 9:30 am. Ben translated the voice of the Chinese Premier congratulating the astronauts and the engineering team that made it possible. He proclaimed to the Chinese people that this event proved that China is just as advanced as the rest of the world. More on this later...

Ben is sharing an office with his sister, Grace Koo. She is starting a small company named Fei Yeo International. We spent the day working on our conference poster and paper until late at night. For lunch we went to a Shanghai-style BBQ restaurant. It was really nice. It's similar in concept to Korean BBQ, but with chinese flavorings. The side dishes definitely has a western influence to them, like a creamy salad dressing.

For dinner we went to a nice Shanghai-style restaurant named Jade Garden. The food was different from anything I have tasted before. This may be because Grace was trying to order things that Ben had never tried before. This means that there was no chance that I had tried them before.

That night we went to Jin Mao Tower, the tallest building in Shanghai (for now)

Day 3: October 13th, trip to Hangzhou
Ben decided to hire a car to take us to the city of Hang Zhou. This is about a 3 hour drive from Shanghai. This city is close to the area where Ben's family is originally from. We were able to keep working on the paper on the way.. However, I also used the time to catch up on some sorely needed, jet-lag related sleep.

In some ways, Hang Zhou looked a lot like Shanghai. There were many new buildings and crazy traffic moving about the city. There was a mixture of bikes, motor-bikes, and pedestrians moving about the city with great haste. There are giant flashy billboards encouraging the people to buy Canon, Honda, Sony, or LG. The driver dropped us off at a giant lake. It's called West Lake.

At the lake we hired a traditional boat from a local tour guide. It was a long boat which is powered by one giant oar. He offered to row us around the lake for 80 RMB/hour. (that's about $10). We explored a few of the islands in the middle of the lake. One of them sold pearls for outrageous prices. Who pays for these? There are a lot of people with a whole of money in China.

Later on that day we went to visit a large Buddhist temple. It was incredible. I'll post some pictures. There were many areas where I was not allowed to take photos.

That night we drove back to Shanghai and worked some more!

Day 4: October 14th, work, work work

We spent the whole day working on the paper and poster. It was very productive. The final product looks good. I'll post an official version soon.

This was my last day in Shanghai, so Ben and Grace wanted to show me a few things. We went to the Oriental Pearl Tower and a Lounge/Club called "The Door".

I'll write more later, and add some photos...


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