Personal Blog


Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Aug 19, 2006 @ 01:08 AM

Our third stop was Kunming, in Yunnan Province, southwest China.  Closer to the Tibetan border than to Beijing or Shanghai, it wasn't really the rural environment I had imagined it would be – the metro area has about 2 million people.  The city is more cosmopolitan than one would expect for a variety of reasons. Known as the “city of eternal spring” it was the location of the Empress Dowager’s Summer Palace.  In the early 1900’s, it was a city to which many political “undesirables” were banished.  It was the base for the US’ Flying Tigers for nearly a decade during World War II.  And, it is now home to eleven colleges and universities. 


Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, though, there were some seams showing.  A question about the cost of hiring a programmer prompted a vocal debate between a government official and a local businessman.  The “five star” hotel did not have the same customer service we experienced in the first two cities.  There were exchanges with hotel staff that, due to cultural or language differences, could have been straight out of Monty Python.  In one, a hotel clerk insisted that I needed to talk to the concierge, pointed me around the corner of the check-in counter, and then turned to face me as the concierge when I had walked there.  In another, the business office attendant who was arranging to ship things, repeatedly handed back select items, announcing “You can carry this.” 


On the other hand, their impression of the US has its seams too.  Yunnan University business school faculty members often come to MIT for training, so there’s a close relationship there.  We were greeted very warmly at the school with a large banner, a reception, a group photo, and gifts.  When we came back to town on Sunday (read about the weekend soon), a number of us went out with a number of the MBA students.  It was an invigorating evening of conversation, in which it turned out that they had very similar business ideas to ours.  But, it turns out that they get “Sex in the City” and I had to explain that women lawyers in New York (which I had been) did not generally live, dress, or behave like the women on the show!




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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Kunming

Shanghai - WOW!

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Jul 29, 2006 @ 14:07 PM

I admit it.  I was taken by Shanghai.  I would move there in a minute.  (Anyone wanting to make me a job offer there should write immediately!)

For me, Shanghai is one of the fabulous places where East meets West and it comes out just right.  As I understand it, Shanghai existed as a Chinese village for centuries.  Since the 1800's, though, it has been a major trade center and attracted people from around the world.  So, it has long been a very cosmopolitan city.

I love big cities, and Shanghai is big (more than 2,000 square miles and about 20 million people).  It's full of movement and sounds and smells and sights like all major cities of the world.  I was only there briefly but I was smitten.  Along the banks of the river at night, the city is magical; I think of it as New York meets Las Vegas -- skyscrapers in every direction decorated in lights. 

For tourists, there is shopping for every pocketbook.  Along Nanjing Road, I saw the largest mall I've ever seen, an interesting Asian Disney store, and elegant boutiques.  There were restaurants of every cuisine and the familiar-feeling old buildings renovated into new tony streetlife at Xin Tian Di.  There are also the beautiful pagoda pavilions, reflecting pools, and twinkling lights of Yuyuan (which offers shopping, a 400 year old garden, and a terrific Shanghinese restaurant from the 1800’s where I tried eel, lotus root, and a number of other exciting new things).

Another delight is the Shanghai Museum.  It’s a ten year-young building right in People’s Square and houses the greatest collection of Chinese art I’ve ever seen.  (I’m a reasonably big fan of such materials and have been to a lot of museums).  I had a limited amount of time but did get to spend some time looking at the bronzes and ceramics. 


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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Shanghai

First Stop - Beijing

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Wed, Jul 19, 2006 @ 22:07 PM
This was my first trip to Asia.  Our first stop was Beijing.  We got off the plane into a modern, world class airport.  My first impressions were of lots of glass and light, people movers, and the feeling that things were clean and fresh.  The next thing I noticed was the amount of English.  Signs for baggage claim and billboards had Chinese and English messages. 

I was curious to see what Customs and Immigration would be like.  In fact, it looked pretty much the same as in any country.  The first room was a huge space with counters and extra forms off to one side.  There was a bit of a challenge at this stage because our airplane had not had enough forms in English and there were none in the racks.  Luckily, I had taken a form with the questions in Chinese and was able to find out a partially filled out English form in the trash.  I read those questions and made my answers on the Chinese language form, hoping that the questions were the same! 

The lines moved pretty quickly, luggage came nearly right away, and currency exchange was easy to find.  We road by bus for an hour or so into Beijing.  The highway looked like a major highway in Europe or the US.  It appeared well-maintained, also had signs in Chinese and English, and had a landscaped border.  I was surprised to see that license plates use "arabic" numerals rather than the Chinese characters. 

Our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing would be a five star hotel anywhere.  Some
noticeable differences between this level of US and Chinese hotel were the significantly higher number of staff (presumably due to the lower cost of labor but equivalent room rates) and the broader range of food choices (I was very happy with mis-matched dim sum, tea egg, and bacon breakfasts).  It is located within a short walk of the Forbidden City and Tienamen Square and is just around the corner from the deluxe shopping of Wangfujing.

I did have a chance to do a little shopping and discovered another significant difference between the US and China.  In China, clerks show you goods and then hold them after you make your selection.  They give you a mult-carbon slip to take to a cashier.  After you pay, you bring the receipt back to the clerk, who gives you a wrapped package.  Although I wondered if there would be any bait-and-switch problems, I had none and heard of none. In Beijing, I bought the obligatory Beijing Olympics souvenirs, a Yixing teapot and many yards of traditional silk (from a company I today discovered has been in business for 120 years) for a quilt I'll make someday.  I admit that much of the reason for shopping was simply to try out the small Chinese vocabulary I'd learned before traveling.  Although I'm sure my tones were not always correct, most Chinese were able to figure out what I was saying and were quite good natured about helping me muddle through.

Some of the other joys of Beijing were: the discovery that a small ivory turtle-dragon I've owned for years is a Chinese mythical symbol for longevity (I saw this one at the Forbidden City); the surprised faces and giggling whispers of groups of old men whom I greeted with "ni hao" or "zao"; the street performance of a group of waitresses who appeared to be soliciting customers; the barbeque delicacy of scorpions on a stick; and the man who wiggled his girlfriend's foot at me in a universal explanation for why he was carrying her on his back.

I had the opportunity to take quite a few walks in the city, generally in the early morning hours.  My favorite walks were through the long garden to the east of the Forbidden City and in the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven.  The former is behind a high brick wall that runs along the street (Dongchang'an Jie) and I think most visitors miss it.  It's a peaceful traditional garden with a meandering brook, arched bridges, a water lily pond, and large scholars stones.  What I'll remember most about the Temple of Heaven is the primal yells in the early morning fog, known as kiap or ki-hop and used to focus the chi while performing tai chi.  To me, it was reminiscent of the coyote calls at home.
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, Beijing

China/India - The Big Picture

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Mon, Jul 17, 2006 @ 23:07 PM
As previously mentioned, I've recently been on a whirlwind tour of China and India.  I only touched on a half dozen cities, so I'm aware that my perceptions are skewed, but here's what I saw.

In the major cities in China, I was struck by the fast growth of infrastructure - roads, power, subways, buildings, etc.  I wish I had counted, but I think a highway merge I was on in Beijing had more than 20 lanes in each direction.  In 16 years, the rice fields of Pudong across the Bund have been replaced by skyscrapers rivaling Shanghai on the opposite side.  The theory in China appears to be that if you have sufficient infrastructure, the businesses will have a foundation on which to grow and, as a result, expand the economy.

And, I was doubly struck by the amount of English.  There was English on all major highway signs, street signs, at least 1/3 of the billboards, and subway maps, making it relatively easy for me to navigate.  I think this is a very intelligent way to attract international business.  I remember my friends traveling to Japan for business in the 1980's and early 90's and being completely unable to navigate without assistance because they could not read the characters.  I've had the same experience traveling a little in Russia and the Ukraine, where at least I could carry a copy of the cyrillic alphabet that I've reordered to correspond with the English alphabet so that I can sound out words.  In China, I discovered that a little bit of strategically placed English goes a long way towards making one feel comfortable and more likely to return.

In India, I saw a different model.  Rather than big government infrastructure projects, I saw individual enterprises building regions of infrastructure.  A single company will build a campus with offices, housing, recreation, etc. as well as its own power generation and water filtration systems.  The process here appears to be that as Indian companies capture outsourcing dollars from the rest of the world, the money will trickle down through the economy. For example, if the successful IT professional buys a car, then he is willing to pay people who will put gas in the car, service the car, and wash the car.

In the major cities in both countries there is a tremendous amount of confidence among people that their countries are in the ascendancy.  Taxi drivers, hotel workers, store clerks, when asked, will talk about the increasing opportunities for education and advancement for their children.  Business and government officials talk readily about the increasing competition for qualified professionals and the rapid escalation of salaries. (Perhaps it is a bit like the US during the heady early days of the space race and nuclear power?) Over the next ten years, it will be interesting to see whether one of these two models prevails. 
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Topics: MIT - Sloan Fellows, China, India, public policy