Student Blog: The China Ten - Business Study Tour of China
Goodbye Shenzhen, Hello Shanghai!
by Brad Ross '09
Our 5 a,m, wake-up call came earlier then any of us wanted it to, but it was critical for us to not be late for our 7 a.m. flight to Shanghai. The Shenzhen airport was an experience everybody in our group would not mind forgetting. When we arrived at the airport, the place was flooded with Chinese locals running about trying to check bags and get to their gates. Amongst all the chaos, we had to stay close and wait for our tour guide Xian to check all of our bags in and clear any sort of security guidelines.
The airport restrictions in terms of baggage are very similar to the ones we abide by in the U.S. The only major differences between the two sets of guidelines are that you are only allowed one carry-on bag (there is no such thing as a personal bag) and that there can be no sort of liquids whatsoever carried onto the plane. While I was waiting in line to pass through the security checkpoint to enter the main airport, my eye caught a glimpse of a very amusing poster. The image portrayed a disappointed security guard holding up a dead chicken that a passenger was trying to carry onto the plane. Though the entire poster was written in Chinese, it was very obvious as to what the general message was. Though I was not planning to carry any deceased poultry onto the flight, I made sure that my carry-on abided by all of the regulations. Once inside the airport, we had to rush to our departing gate in order to catch the bus that taxied us to the waiting plane.
I felt extremely relieved once we were up in the air. After all the hustling around the airport, I was quite exhausted, so I dozed off for the majority of the flight. But just as I was getting comfortable, we touched down into Shanghai. We wasted no time getting our luggage and leaving the airport because we had to still grab some lunch and later attend a guided tour of the Shanghai Volkswagen plant. But before leaving the airport, we were introduced to our local tour guide Micco, who would help us with any questions throughout our stay in Shanghai. Lunch was very similar to the large group meals we had in the past, so nothing we were not familiar with.
After a short drive from the restaurant, we arrived at the Volkswagen plant located on the outskirts of Shanghai. The plant had a very contemporary look to it, instituting a tasteful use of glass accents and a large coil-like fountain located in front of the main entrance. The inside boasted the same contemporary style of décor, white marble floors with skylight ceilings and plenty of open space. We began our tour with watching a brief video about the history and past achievements of Shanghai Volkswagen. The company's target market for their automobiles is throughout the country of China and has little influence in foreign markets. Unlike the Volkswagen cars we see on our streets, Shanghai VW has many different models that are not available to U.S. customers. For example, SVW (Shanghai Volkswagen) manufactures our version of the Jetta, but has been named the Polo. The Polo is available in not only the four-door sedan body type, but also in an SUV/Sedan crossover appropriately named the Polo Cross.
After learning some of the general knowledge about the company, we boarded electric trams to take a tour of the manufacturing plant. We followed the creation of a VW car from frame assembly all the way to quality assurance testing. The factory still institutes the use of many hired workers in order to perform certain steps in the creation of the vehicle. This is very different from the many high yield automobile factories around the world. Fellow group member and Catawba Alumni George Johnson attended a similar tour of a Toyota plant where the entire assembly of the cars is performed solely by robotic technology. He explained that the streamline method of production that Toyota institutes not only reduced the number of manufacturing defects, but also significantly increased the output. But due to crowded streets and expensive gas prices that China experiences, driving and owning a car is a luxury that only the wealthier Chinese can afford. So the demand for automobiles throughout the country is significantly less then in the United States, meaning they have no need for increasing their production output. But nonetheless, the Shanghai Volkswagen plant was a great learning experience for me and the rest of the China Ten.
As it was getting later in the evening, Xian and Micco took us back into the city of Shanghai on our way to check into our hotel. While driving, we took in the many sights that the busy streets of this growing city had to offer. Just like Hong Kong, Shanghai fills its blocks with high rises and a dazzling cornucopia of neon advertisements. Our hotel, called The Magnificent, was located in the heart of the city, only short taxi cab rides away from the shopping districts and night clubs.
Curious about the Shanghai nightlife, I asked our local tour guide Micco where the popular hang out spots were. With very little hesitation, she pulled out a business card and jotted down the name of a place on the underside. It was called "The New World" and it was a small strip of bars and nightclubs where many local Chinese youth went to dance and drink. Micco explained that it was only a quick taxi ride away and it was pretty safe for westerners to visit. After thanking her, I wasted no time in gathering a group of people that were down for a night in Shanghai. Following a quick dinner in the hotel, me and the group got ready and met up in the front of The Magnificent to catch a cab. Making sure that we had enough money for the cab ride and drinks, we converted some more of our greenbacks for Chinese currency at the front desk. Because we were no longer in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong dollar cannot be used in mainland China. Instead the Renminbi, literally meaning "the people's money," is the official monetary unit. Fortunately, the value of the HKD and the RMB are equal, so the exchange rate for the dollar didn't change. So after securing a substantial amount of RMB, we hailed a cab and made our way to The New World.
The first thing we noticed as the cab pulled up to the strip was the enormous crowd that had gathered for the night. After paying the taxi driver 11 RMB, or about $1.50, we stepped onto the street and passed through the entranceway of the plaza. There was every sort of bar inside the complex, ranging from the brightly lit karaoke bars to the wine and cigar lounges. We decided to walk the whole entire strip before making a decision as to where we were going to get drinks. About midway down the strip, we came across a karaoke bar called Rendezvous that was drawing a pretty large crowd. After little debate, we went in and ordered drinks at the bar. The place was extremely crowded with both Chinese locals and foreigners, most of whom were tearing it up on the dance floor to popular artists like Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani. The drinking age in China is 18, so there were many young Chinese teenagers there hanging out at the bar or waiting in line for their shot at the karaoke mic. Once we were done with our drinks, it was decided that it was way too crowded for us to enjoy ourselves, so we left Rendezvous and continued exploring The New World.
Towards the main entrance of the strip, we decided to give another karaoke bar a try. The place was named Luna and it had a more tolerable crowd present inside. We managed to get a table fairly close to the karaoke stage and dance floor. Almost immediately I noticed that the crowd inside Luna was very different from what we experienced in Rendezvous. The bar seemed to appeal more towards the older audiences through the music selection, the drink menu and overall décor. But after adjusting to our surroundings, everybody in our group seemed to enjoy the vibe that Luna was emitting. The bar provided our table with a generous selection of creative cocktails, while the karaoke band kept pumping out tunes by classic rock artists like Pink Floyd and Bon Jovi. Many of our group members decided to get up and dance when their favorite song was played over the floor speakers. By about 2 a.m., we all decided it was time to conclude our Shanghai nightlife experience, so we piled into a taxi bound for our hotel. So after a long day of Volkswagens and karaoke bars, I decided that I really enjoyed my first day/night in Shanghai and was very anxious to see what the city had to offer me the following day.
PHOTOS: The China Ten: Business Study Tour of China