Saturday, May 03, 2008

Staving off hunger in Shanghai

(Detailing some of the events of March 24th)
Although I slept like a baby, I was rearing to go for our first day in Shanghai. I felt like I had to check everything out -- the campus facilities, the hotel buffet, the hotel gift shop. My anticipation for the trip and the international seminar was running high.

I was pleasantly surprised by the buffet breakfast. In my experience, complimentary U.S. hotel breakfasts usually equals pastries and cold cereal. In Europe it is more typical to have hard rolls and tea. In Taiwan it means some white rolls with porridge (eggs and pork sung if you are lucky).

Our hotel, however, was more like a Vegas buffet and was I ever excited by it. They had hot food (noodles, sausage, bacon, eggs, etc), pastries (chocolate croissants), an omelet station, a won ton soup station, hot soy milk, smoked salmon a full assortment of fruits and juices. I was now confident that no matter what we were served during lunch and dinner -- no one in our group would go hungry. There was too much good stuff to eat at breakfast. (Editor's note: yes, I hate pretty much the same thing everyday and I never missed breakfast -- no matter how tired or hung over. It was that good).

After breakfast I made my way up to the Cheung Kong campus, which was literally two levels above the restaurant where breakfast was served. They had been kind enough to create name cards for us and I brought up my computer to make sure that we had internet access from the classroom. Because Sprint doesn't have service in China this was my chance to get connected to the Internet. I was plugged in and ready to go for our lectures.

Our first lecture was was a discussion of marketing in China and was very well received. The professor had spent time teaching at Rutgers University and did a great job in outlining the market conditions for large Chinese multinational companies (Huawei, Lenovo). He also addressed the growing "wealthy" class of Chinese citizens and their growing consumer demands. It was great for us to get a sense of the challenges that packaged goods companies are facing in China.

After lecture we had about 45 minutes to get lunch before our bus was to leave for our first company visit. I had become a little tired of the "group" dynamics of finding restaurants and making food decisions (yes, this is day one of the trip) so I deviated from the group and picked up lunch in the hotel lobby.

I purchased a cup of dry noodles for twelve yuan ($1.50) and was good to go. In my room, I used the water kettle (essential in China) to prepare the noodles and ate while watching a Warren Buffett special on CNBC Asia. The noodles took a little longer than I liked (I had to boil a fresh pot of water) but I got to save some Yuan and relax in the room a little longer.

Lunch of Champions
The lunch of champions

The bus ride to our first visit to Metro gave us a chance to see Shanghai during the day. We got to experience the "free" flow of traffic and the congestion that fills the highways. The bus ride also gave us a chance to meet classmates which is always a benefit of long bus rides.

Metro is an European based cash-and-carry company that provides supplies (food and non-food) local businesses. This was the first business of its kind in China and served an important need -- it allowed small businesses/grocers/restaurants to source all of their goods from one place - instead of working with multiple vendors and making multiple stops to buy inventory. After a substantial question and answer session with the store's general manager we got a chance to walk the floor. It was a mix of Costco and Wal-Mart with apparel and electronics rows away from produce and live animals (the frogs and eels were especially popular among the Haas contingent). After a little while, we decided that we should probably stock up on goods while we were at Metro and a mini-shopping trip spontaneously developed. Several bottles of wine were purchased (for tour bus consumption) and the prices at Metro were right.

I picked up the following: one liter of bottled water (1.8Y), a box of coffee soy milk (14Y), some rice cake snacks (8Y) and a power converter for my room (21Y). I guess I splurged -- I spent five whole dollars. Nice.

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