Monday, August 25, 2008

The Great Wall at Badaling

One of the places I most wanted to visit while we are in China is the Great Wall, and I was thrilled that we would have the time to fit it into our schedule. Our guides told us that average Chinese people are fascinated by the way the rest of the world is fascinated by the Great Wall. To many Chinese, the Great Wall represents bad memories of repressive leaders, from ancient times when being sent to work on the Wall was not only a punishment, but a virtual death sentence. To tourists like us, it is one of the Wonders of the World, an incredible achievement.

We visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall, the section most visited by tourists because of its proximity to Beijing, the Capital city. Badaling is approximately a one hour drive from Beijing. We climbed toward the Wall with numerous other cars and trucks on a busy highway.

There are many ways to reach the Great Wall, and our hosts recommended that we climb some steep stairs to a cable car station, then take the cable car to the base of the Wall. It sounded like a great suggestion to us, considering the time we had and our collective physical condition. It is possible to hike, bike and run up the mountain to the base of the Wall, but we had neither the time nor inclination. As you may recall, I was recovering from a broken leg that happened about 2 months before the trip. The picture on the right shows our group waiting for the next cable car, with our two escorts.

Contrary to my understanding that the top of the Great Wall was flat, there are great inclines and declines along the top of the wall. And in some places there are stairs. The pictures on the left and right illustrate my point.

Lucille is the figure with the blue shirt and light green bag in the pictures on the left and above. The figure in navy blue in the picture on the right is one of our escorts. If you are planning to visit the Great Wall, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

The picture on the left below shows the four of us that walked on the Great Wall that day. Jinshui decided to stay behind and work. He told us he had visited the Wall many times with other delegations, and that we would be in good hands with our escorts. He was right.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing: Day One

We left Tianjin in a thunderstorm and saw thunder and lightning for nearly half the trip to Beijing. Once we cleared the storm, the ride was sleep-inducing, with steady and heavy rain falling from dark skies and the hypnotic thrum of the windshield wipers. Everyone on the bus was quiet during the trip, perhaps because of the storm or the cumulative fatigue of travel or the knowledge that Beijing was out last stop before heading home. We saw more farmland and farmers residences than industrial scenes as we approached the city from the eastern side, certainly more than we saw as we neared Tianjin.

Our in-country travel coordinator booked us into the Rosedale Hotel in the international embassy district of Beijing. The Chaoyang District (facing the sun) is in the rapidly expanding eastern part of the city. It is the largest and most populous in the city. The hotel is near two beautiful parks in a thriving neighborhood, and is just 15-20 minutes from the new Bejiing Capital International airport. I think the hotel is located between the city's 2nd and 3rd ring roads.

The Rosedale Hotel is a nice older hotel, with a large lobby that features a tea bar along with a cocktail bar. We spent a good deal of time waiting in the lobby waiting for our rooms, and when meeting each other for activities. The lobby also featured four foot tall figurines of the Olympic mascots, which a few of us used as a backdrop for photos. One of the stores in the lobby carried many Olympic-themed products.

The first rooms assigned to Lucille and me were nice, but in close proximity to part of the hotel that was undergoing remodeling. There was an intense unpleasant chemical smell in the air, and we could feel headaches developing before we were in our rooms for 10 minutes. Lucille called Jinshui, who was able to secure rooms on another floor. The new rooms were very nice and thankfully far enough from the remodeling work that we could not smell anything.

I discovered an interesting feature with the guest rooms. The key card that opened the door also enabled the power to the room. Once you opened the door to the room and entered, you had to insert the card into the appropriate slot on the wall near the door.

That night we had dinner in a neighborhood restaurant just a few minutes walk from the hotel. It was the first meal we had that was not in a private room. We ate in one of the restaurant's open dining areas and the noise level was tremendous! Michelle, one of our travel coordinators, and Mr. Tang. a wood importer, ordered dishes that we recognized from Chinese restaurants at home - chicken & cashews, pepper steak, and so on. They were much better than the versions we'd sampled back in the US. The picture on the left shows one of our Beijing escorts leaving the neighborhood restaurant.

After dinner, Lucille and I decided to walk around the neighborhood. There were a lot of people out walking. Along the way we discovered a few hotels, more restaurants, and a small shopping mall attached to a Holiday Inn. We also saw a man walking a golden retriever - the biggest dog we saw since we landed in China. While in Beijing we would see several dogs, most of them Pekinese.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Other Experiences in Tianjin

Our last night in Tianjin found us atop one of the TEDA's best hotels dining in a revolving restaurant. The views were stunning, in spite of the overcast. On the left and right are two of the things we saw from our sky-scraping private dining room. On the left is one of the many monuments we saw in our drives around the city. On the right is one of the many Friendship stores - the Chinese version of WalMart?
We enjoyed dinner with a local businessman in import and export, who was interested in talking to John and Mark about timber and very interested to see the photo album of pictures from the wood lot. We enjoyed the food very much, and watched a soccer game on a field near the restaurant. During the course of dinner, the restaurant moved full circle, facing the southwest once again when watermelon and other fruit were served to end the meal.

Ms Feihang Wu and Ms. Cai Hui, two of our hosts, knew we would enjoy a brief shopping expedition, so they arranged an outing to an old town shopping district during our tour of the city on our last day. It was a great way to spend a few hours, soaking in the music, sights and ambiance of ancient China. There was a large courtyard with a raised platform for performers and we listened to several traditional songs by solo performers and groups of singers. Across the courtyard from the performers stage, there was a temple - an example of "historical and stylistic architecture" with a lyrical name - The Queen of Heaven Palace, which according to the sign, was provided very important protection.

There were vendors selling everything from embroidered paintings to clay figurines to silk scarves and carved wood items. I found a lovely cane with a dragon head and flowers carved along its length. Lucille, who is posing in the picture on the right, found a lovely traditional teapot and a couple of chess sets for family members. John and Mark made similar discoveries in some of the small shops along the street. We only had time to visit about a quarter of the shops in the old town; we could have spent an entire day there. I was taken with some of the tea carts spaced strategically along the way, a few of which had lovely dragon tea pots.

On our drives around TEDA, we saw many people doing what I would call green work - planting trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers in preparation for all the visitors during the Beijing Olympics. This area is planning to see many of the millions of visitors to Beijing, especially because of its proximity to the capital city - and with the new high speed train.

Our hosts from TEDA decided to make our last stop in their city at a very special place - a traditional dumpling house.The atmosphere and food at the restaurant, which was celebrating its 150th year in operation, were great. In one of the pictures below, Jinshui poses with a plate that commemorates the anniversary of the restaurant.

Partway through the meal, a chef rolled a cart into our room and showed us first-hand how to make dumplings. It was a memorable meal, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness of our hosts (hostesses) in this city, as we have in all the cities we've visited. The meal ended with watermelon, as so many meals have on this trip, in another spectacular presentation of fruit, as you can see from the picture below.

The table in the restaurant was a good demonstration of the use of napkins to show where the most important people at the table should sit. Look at the napkins in the picture below. Jinshui is sitting in the place of honor, behind the elaborately folded napkin. Our server was very impressed with Lucille and my use of chopsticks and presented us with chopstick holders similar to the ones on the table for our meal - white porcelain dogs.

A New York Company in TEDA

One of the highlights of our trip to TEDA was a factory tour at Gorbel, a Rochester company that, with SBDC assistance, opened a facility in TEDA in 2006. The company, which makes workstation bridge cranes, or ergonomic lifting solutions, as you can see in the picture on the left and below, shares its tech park neighborhood with Motorola, Volkswagen, and the most successful noodle manufacturer in China. Good company, indeed!

The staff at Gorbel welcomed us warmly, with cans of American soda and bottled water on the meeting room table. After a brief conversation, we donned safety glasses and walked through the facility. It was fairly quiet the day we were there, but as you can see from the pictures we walked through most of the open factory space.

The General Manager, Baoshun Guo, and the International Project Manager, WeiLoon Leong, demonstrated the operation of one of the cranes and introduced us to Gorbel Tianjin's facility.

I got the following from the Gorbel website:

Gorbel Tianjin currently manufactures enclosed track workstation cranes, jib cranes, and gantry cranes to serve the China and Asia market. These products carry the same 5 year warranty that is offered on products in the USA. Gorbel® products are manufactured at state-of-the-art facilities in New York and Alabama and sold through an extensive dealer network.

Friday, August 22, 2008

90 Miles from Beijing

Tianjin is a big city -with a port, big city landscapes, skyscrapers, monuments, billboards, narrow side streets, loads of small storefronts - and an estimated 11 million people (at the end of 2007). Tianjin is just a 90 minute drive from Beijing, depending on traffic. Soon there will be an even more convenient way to travel between the two cities. In July, about a month after our visit the central government will launch high speed train service to link Tianjin to Beijing, just in time for the Olympics. This is confirmation the Tianjin-Binhai area is increasingly important to the national economy.

When in Tianjin, I felt the same buzz of excitement I feel in NYC or any large city in the US. We saw lots of cars and other motorized vehicles, lots of people, and a typical cityscape. There is mix of wide boulevards with narrow city streets. Yes, we did see many people on bicycles, pedalling mini-cabs, and similar vehicles also. Some areas have lots of trees and green pocket parks while others are all brick, concrete, metal, and so on. It was a sharp contrast to the agricultural and industrial scenes we passed on the highway and into the city itself.

TEDA was our host in Tianjin, so the first order of business was a meeting at the Headquarters building, which we were told was designed by a US architect. The first floor space had the open space of a galleria, with some retail and professional offices lining an indoor courtyard. Adding to the feeling of being in a mall was a set of escalators leading to a mezzanine level - and the trees. The picture to the right captures some of the first floor atmosphere of the TEDA HQ building.

We had a formal meeting with He Shu Shan, the Chairman of TEDA's Administrative Commission. The Chairman gave us a concise overview of the history of TEDA, its accomplishments, ongoing initiatives, and future plans. TEDA employees are happy to describe the work done to reclaim the land from salt marches and point to the planned mix of residential, professional, commercial and recreational spaces within TEDA. The picture on the left is the formal picture taken by the TEDA photographer.

After that meeting, and after we posed for pictures in front of the TEDA HQ, we attempted to visit the port, purportedly one of the busiest ports in the world. Unfortunately, the closer we got to the port, the more congested the roads. Eventually, traffic ground to a halt a little over a mile from the port. We gave up our quest to see the port and went back to our hotel. We had to agree that from our perspective, it was a busy place.

After lunch at our hotel, the Renaissance Tianjin, we boarded the minibus to see more of the city on our way to a meeting with official from the Tianjin Binhai new Area, part of the Bohai Rim.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Enterprise Zones are Promising

Our next stop was Tianjin and TEDA, the Tianjin Economic-technological Development Area. TEDA is about 40 minutes from downtown Tianjian, and about 33 kilometers square. TEDA encompasses a port, business buildings, urban residential areas, and an extensive transportation network - and room for continuing development. The Tianjin harbor is a comprehensive port with a capacity ranking it sixth in the world. It is located on Bohai Bay, which leads to the Bohai Sea, and the Yellow Sea.

Our program, the New York State Small Business Development Center, has a special relationship with TEDA. We are work to find trade opportunities for New York small businesses there and TEDA works to find businesses to locate within its borders. It is a win-win situation for everyone.

The Chinese version of the word TEDA is two words , which is pronounced in roughly the same way as its English counterpart. Its first word means "peace", and the second word means "prosperity". The picture on the left shows our delegation outside TEDA's headquarters. The picture on the right shows some very modern structures just around the corner from TEDA's main office.

On our first night in TEDA, we met Mr. Ni, Vice Chair of TEDA, and Mr. Ji, Director of TEDA's Foreign Affairs Bureau, for dinner at the best hotel in TEDA, the TEDA International Hotel of Tianjin. Mr. Ni welcomed us warmly to TEDA and throughout dinner told us about the history of TEDA and gave us a preview of plans for the future. He was a jovial host, generous and charming.

Most of the land designated as the TEDA was recovered from salt marsh and salt ponds. The developed sections feature modern buildings with lots of green spaces. Those who live and work in TEDA are still inspired by a quote from Deng Xiaoping when he visited the area in 1986 and said "development zones are very promising." The picture on the left shows Jinshui in front of Deng's words. The picture on the right features a large portrait of Deng standing on the land by the sea that would become TEDA. The portrait hangs in Tianjin's exhibition space at TEDA headquarters.

Don't Try Fatigue Driving! Keep Space!

Between Deyue Lake and Tianjin, we passed farms large and small - rice paddies, tree farms, vegetable fields, and other agricultural land. It seems as if a lot of trees along the highway had been recently planted. As we neared the city, we saw more industrial complexes, complete with smokestacks and large power lines. We also saw more residential skyscrapers and the usual cityscape.

The highway was modern and well marked, and we might have been in any country, except for the language on the road signs, which were in Chinese and English. Some of the driving instructions, such as the ones in the title of this post, were a bit mangled in the translation. There were toll plazas, just like home, though the structures over the plazas were generally much more elaborate than the ones at home. The picture on the right shows the Xianghe Toll Gate on the Jingshen Expressway in Hebei Province.

On our trip to Tianjin, we shared the road with numerous trucks and luxury cars. We noticed that the cars, usually traveling at high speed, often rode on the shoulders and weaved in and out of the columns of slow-moving trucks to achieve maximum forward progress. Driving on the road's shoulder was actually a risky undertaking since the shoulder seemed to be the emergency breakdown lane. The recurring scene was reminiscent of highways at home, especially those approaching big cities. The picture in the middle below is a panoramic view of Tianjin, from the south and west.