Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shanghai Auto Show

Yesterday, I and what seemed to be at least two  million of my new Chinese 朋友 (friends) visited the Shanghai auto show.  As  I did last week, I took the high speed train from Kunshan into Shanghai, and then got the subway from Shanghai Station to Longyang, where the expo facilities are.   I went in the morning, thinking it would be less crowded, and it was --but only by degrees.   By the time I got to People's Square to change subway lines, the crowd getting on the line that went to Longyang was already a herd. And when I left, the crowd coming to the expo hall was at least half again as large as it had been when I arrived.  

Arriving in Longyang, I basically followed the crowd, which proceeded about a quarter mile to the Expo Center.   The Expo Center is huge, with two large phalanxes of exhibit halls and some tented ones in the center that were occupied by hundreds of Chinese auto suppliers.  

My first stop was the VW and GM exhibits, which were in the same hall.  I later visited the Ford and Volvo areas as well.   They were all massively crowded, with people standing in front of the various models and having their pictures taken, getting in and out of the cars, and  inspecting the paint jobs.  You had to fight to get through from one exhibit to the other.  Although it's hard             to compare, the crowd at the GM exhibit seemed the largest, certainly more than at the Japanese ones --I even found some open space at the Toyota area.    There were a myriad of Chinese producers, as well---and their area likewise did not seem as crowded to me.  

If GM is able to convert even a fraction of their audience here into buyers, it may be the key to their survival.  Still, I suspect that many of the people who visited this show are not in the market for a car, at least not today.  When China was first opened to western trading, it used to be said in the  textile industry that "if only the Chinese would wear their undershirts an inch longer"  western textile mills would not run out of business for a century---yet that dream never materialized and China never became the source of much wealth.   
 The story is different today, of course---Chinese auto sales are exceeding those in the U.S., at least at the moment.  When I first came to China more than 25 years ago, there were far more bicycles than cars, and that's likely still true today judging from the number I still see---but there are also millions of cars on the road that were only a dream then (to buy a bicycle in 1984 could have been a year's wages or more for the average person).  Well before  the young fellow below, pictured in front of the Buick exhibit, is ready to drive, it's likely that China will indeed be the #1 market in the world by a long shot.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Paint, No Gain.....transition to Shanghai

Well, things may have loosened up a bit here on the Internet front and with Witopia to mask my IP address for the occasional blockout, I didn't have to get rid of Blogger.  So in order not to confuse things too much, I have decided to keep this blog going.  After all, life is full of transitions, right? And this is not likely to be my last, so the title should still hold....

I arrived in Shanghai on the 11th, and started work on the 13th.  I'm situated outside of the city, in a place called Kunshan.  It is the home of a famous type of Chinese opera, and the birthplace of Madame Sun Yat-sen.  There are some natural sites around, including some lakes, and it is on the way to Nanjing (better known in the west by its old name,  Nanking), and the often visited cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou, both of which I plan to travel to soon.

I spent the weekend in Shanghai proper.  From Kunshan, there is a fast train that takes only 18 minutes to Shanghai station, traveling at speeds up to 150 miles per hour.   I was very impressed by the train stations.   Everything is  well organized and orderly, if massively crowded.  

The trains are well marked, there are dedicated waiting rooms for blocks of trains, and everyone queues up, no pushing or shoving.  The subways in Shanghai are packed, especially on the weekends, but equally intuitive to get around.  
I was able to find a place to stay near the section of Shanghai called The Bund, which is a beautiful and at night, quite a magical place,  the old buildings dating from concession days lit up and the boats that traverse the Yangtze River, which divides the older city from Pudong, brightly decorated with colored lights.  There is a smallish classical Chinese garden called Yu Yuan nearby as well, which you can only get through by passing through a shopping mall, replete with a couple of Starbucks just so tourists don't feel too far from home. 
English here can be amusing, more similar to Japan than India.  I passed a girl on the way to Yu Yuan wearing a tee shirt that said, "No Paint, No Gain."    The hotel swimming pool in a place I looked at today that I may move to had a sign warning that the pool was off limits to "people who don't swim"  and "smashed people."  (It took a few seconds for the second one to sink in.....)    The Bund is busy with construction--looks like a new highway going through between the old buildings and the promenade.  But just to be sure people know things are still open during construction, there is a sign to that effect.....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last Post --I've been Shanghaied

This will be the last post for Transitions.  On Friday, I leave for Shanghai where I will be visiting for a few months on an extended business trip.   From what I understand, Blogger (the application I have been using for this blog and the previous one, Chennai Journal)  is blocked in China, so I am in the process of seeking out alternative arrangements for a new blog, yet to be named. Unfortunately, my first choice, Chabuduo, a quintessential Chinese word I learned years ago, was already taken.  Chabuduo, as explained to me, means "almost" or "nearly", but often in a kind of puckish way---as in  "the car almost runs."  The characters (which I haven't figured out how to import to Blogger) are identical to the Japanese meaning, although this is not a word that I've seen in that language.  Well, maybe using this as a name isn't such a good omen, after all, and a better one awaits--though Shanghai Journal was also not available.  

My first trip to China was almost exactly 25 years ago, in  1984.  I made two that year--one just about this time of year, to Beijing and Chengdu, deep in the Chinese interior in Sichuan Province (home of the famous panda bears), and the second a couple of months later.  Neither airport was yet modernized, and in Beijing we stayed in a hotel that was under construction--in fact, as I recall, pretty much everything was under construction.  I don't remember much about Beijing itself, other than going to Tiananmen Square (this was five years before the massacre) and then later to the Great Wall, but on the first trip we took a flight to Chengdu on an old Russian plane.  It was packed, and none of the overhead compartment doors  closed, mainly because they were overstuffed and/or broken from previous overstuffing.  All kinds of baggage, clothing, and produce was hanging out of them, and went flying as the plane took off.  The plane had not a single empty seat, so the stewardesses had to stand the whole time, including during takeoff.  It was nervewracking but we got there, and back.    

I have been back a few times since, most recently  a few years ago when I visited Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.  The change was amazing, at least in the infrastructure, and from what I understand every month  brings more.  Yet, despite the surface change, many things about China hadn't seemed to alter---which isn't at all surprising given what a blip in time 20 years is in the course of Chinese history.   It will be interesting to be on the ground for a little while and dig into things more, as well as to contrast China to my recent time in India.  Marty is also looking forward to visiting--fortunately, he likes Chinese food a lot better than he did south Indian.