Friday, October 30, 2009

Some amusing signs & translations...

Seen just after exiting the Forbidden City:

I didn't have the courage to order the "stir-fried wikipedia" (either with or without the pimientos):

Instead, I ordered perch and also tried fried bees--dipped in honey--and some bullfrog stew.

They're serious about communications safety on the Great Wall:

No thanks, I'll pass:

Shop was closed, so this photo will have to serve as my brave man certification:

Little help here?

Unlikely this is a bad translation--but it sure is an interesting product name! luggage doesn't fit in my wallet!

All the best vampire parties are held here:

"Naughty Family"? Apparently, it's a pet company of some sort--boarding, veterinary care, etc.:

Various signs around the Shanghai Maglev train stations:

This might be my favorite sign in all of China:


Counterfeit? Ya'think?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall

Our first program day in Beijing started with an introductory lecture from our academic hosts, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), related to investing in China. It covered various categories of and legal frameworks for investment, as well as other big-picture items.

After the lecture, we set off on a tour of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. (Our hotel was located about two major city blocks from Tian'anmen.) Due to the ongoing 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Square was a sea of poeple and celebratory displays.

We set up for a class picture with the Forbidden City entrance as a backdrop, something that seemed wildly amusing to some of the tourists: they set up in a semicircle opposite us and starting taking pictures...and then we started taking pictures of them taking pictures of us. A camera duel ensued:

For some reason, this is one of my favorite pictures from the trip--a solider with Mao's picture and the entrance to the Forbidden City in the background:

The feeling of being surrounded by history is simply unbelievable within the forbidden city. These Fu Lions (Guardian Lions) are from the Ming Dynasty.

I'm surmising that the rating system I encountered in the Forbidden City is somewhat less historical:

After playing tourist for the afternoon, I decided to try a Chinese massage: 90 minutes for 160 Yuan (< $25). The foot massage (which started with an herbal foot soak) was quite good, but the rest of the massage was only so-so. So I decided to try another one the next day!

After the second day's lecture, "Globalization of Chinese Companies," from the dean of CKGSB, we headed to the north-western outskirts of Beijing, to the Great Wall.

More history-saturated coffee-drinking:

The best-timed rainbow I have encountered in my entire life. A sublime scene:

Dinner on the Great Wall, done good and proper. (No room on table for food!)

After returning from the Great Wall, I met up with the tailor who was making my suits in order to do a final fitting. Good progress on one, but the other wasn't yet ready for a fitting before I departed Beijing (it later turned out to need some tweaking, which will have to be performed here in the U.S.). I also took delivery of my $15 (!) custom-made dress shirts, all of which fit perfectly.

After the fitting, I tried another massage. This one was perfect--it took my neck and back a solid two days to recover from it. :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beijing: Summer Palace, Tian'anmen Square, and custom-made suits!

I started exploring Beijing on October 10th. First stop: the historic Summer Palace, in northwestern Beijing, with some Darden classmates (Sarita Chauhan, Mark Brown, and Alex Zoppos). The cab ride from downtown Beijing (we were staying at the Grand Hyatt, about two blocks from Tian'anmen Square) took nearly an hour...and cost us all of 58 Yuan (about $8.50).

At the front gate to the Palace, I grabbed a snack at McDonald's--ironically, the first time I'd eaten anything in a McDonald's in years! I got a spicy chicken sandwich, which was made of dark meat and quite tasty.

The Summer Palace is simply a beautiful place to walk (and climb) around and take pictures. At the front gate, I started my streak of being photographed drinking coffee in front of various historical sites around China:

Amusingly, taking pictures of the Buddhas inside the temples isn't allowed, though the signs warning against it are ambiguous (appearing to forbid only flash photography). This one got me yelled at by what I initially thought was a policeman:

Though visitors can't photograph the icons inside the temples, vendors are allowed to set up inside them to sell relics and culturally significant Kobe Bryant playing cards. :)

At the top of the Summer Palace hills sits the Tower of the Buddhist Incense (also known as the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha). This might well be the most beautiful building I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the below picture (taken with an iPhone 3G) doesn't come close to doing it justice:

(Some better pix.)

We took the subway back downtown from the Summer Palace (for 2 Yuan--about 30 cents). The Beijing subways are incredible--smooth, quiet, and amazingly clean. Due to the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Republic, the Tian'anmen Square subway station was complete bedlam (akin to DC on July 4th)--a Saturday-evening crush of people trying to exit through an insufficient number of turnstiles, police on bullhorns, the works. An obligatory "I was here" shot:

After dinner, a group of us headed out to a tailor shot to measure for some custom-made suits. We haggled our price down to $120 (!) per suit. (Mine were an extra $38 due to custom-made vests; I prefer three-piece suits.) We also got custom-made dress shirts for $15 each, and I returned the next day and had a beautiful cashmere topcoat custom-made for about $150. (I was unable to negotiate much off the topcoat price--I think the cost of the materials constrained my haggling margin.)

For pure entertainment, I also decided to see how cheaply I could obtain a knockoff Rolex on the street. I ended up haggling down to just under $3 per watch for a his/hers pair, though, amusingly, at that price the seller refused to throw in the packaging (a little pillow and a cardboard box).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting to Beijing

I departed Richmond, VA October 8th on Air Canada (I used AmEx points & scored a great deal on business-class tickets), connecting through Toronto, Ontario to Beijing. I hit the lottery in Richmond and was "invited" to pass through the new L3 full-body imaging scanner for the first time--huzzah for cheap thrills!

Had a great view of Niagara Falls on the way into Toronto--my first time flying into Toronto! (I've flown my own plane into Ottawa a couple of times.) There was a bit of drama boarding our 777 for Beijing: a passenger on the inbound flight on the aircraft had a medical emergency, and the resulting emergency response and stabilization of the passenger delayed our boarding by nearly an hour.

The flight from Toronto to Beijing went up over the polar icecap and then down over Siberia. Despite leaving Toronto around 4pm and flying "overnight" to Beijing, the sun never set during the flight. I arrived in Beijing completely mentally upside-down, having been subjected to sunlight for over 24 straight hours. (The great-circle route from RIC through YYZ to PEK.)

The portions of the Beijing airport I saw were absolutely gorgeous--very new and just downright immaculate:

The drive from the Beijing airport to the hotel downtown was surreal: we (myself, a travel-agency representative, and our driver) got caught up in a roadblock for approximately 15 minutes, during which time police blocked egress from the airport at an on-ramp crossing in order to allow a VIP motorcade to pass. After the motorcade had passed, we turned onto the same on-ramp and then proceeded to overtake the motorcade on the airport highway, peering into the three-car procession of Mercedes from our limo as we blew past them and their police escort. (Good to see ineffective but very showy and inconvenient security procedures are a growth industry worldwide!)

Some initial items of comparison and interest: the air quality in Beijing was just as horrid as I'd been led to expect, smoking was allowed nearly everywhere indoors, and passing through Chinese Customs was quicker than a typical pass through US Customs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

UVa-Darden MBA for Executives trip to China, October 2009

As a member of University of Virginia Darden School of Business MBA for Executives class of 2010, I accompanied my classmates on a trip to Beijing and Shanghai, China to attend classes at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB). I arrived in Beijing on October 9th, flew to Shanghai (together with my classmates) on October 14th, and departed Shanghai for home on October 19th. This was my first trip to China. It was incredible!

During my trip, I kept a small notepad in my pocket as a diary, jotting down various experiences, musings, to-do items, etc. Much of the content for my blog posts comes from this diary.


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Charlottesville, Virginia, United States