Category Archives: China Business

Air China – A Lot to be Desired

Air China – The Confluence of Weirdness

On a recent flight on the most likely the flagship route in China – Beijing to Shanghai on Air China – I observed some of the weird discontinuities with large companies in China

Air China pride itself on being the premier carrier in the country.  It has created elaborate checkin facilities, special security entries at the Beijing Capital Airport, and overall trying to portray itself as a world class airline.

Except, the attempts are not bringing the desired (I think) effect.   Here is my experience on a recent Beijing to Shanghai trip.

The trip started with me trying to do an on-line check-in.   This was quite the disappointing experience.  I do have Premier 1K status on United.  So, I thought, surely I should be able to see seats that are allocated to premier flyers.   Wrong!  If there were any, they were not visible to me or Air China did not recognize my status — most likely the latter as I did not see anywhere in their on-line system a reference to me being Gold in the Air China / Star Alliance systems.  Why?  No idea – but certainly a big disconnect in the quality of service if you ask me…  I would have liked to select and reserve my seat several hours ahead of the flight, which I knew will be busy, but no option for me….Hm… Not happy!

The next option was to of course pick up my seat at the airport.  The problem is – when I came to the airport and went to the premier checkin counter I got the  statement “oh sorry, only middle seats left…”

Then came the irritating “…you Should have checked in on line …”    REALLY?!?!?!?!?!   What a major contradiction in terms….!!!   

This is where I decided to have a good conversation with the Air China team at the counter – first the checkin agent and then the counter manager.  As usual in China, this resulted in a long conversation with the initial comments from the first line manager who completely missed my point and tried to convince me that the on-line check-in process is beautiful (his words)….to the point that eventually he admitted that “No, he has never used it…”   Hm….isn’t that great

Eventually through some “magic” (read – there was too much embarrassment) an isle seat materialized, followed by quite a few red faces and apologies….

Then the “interesting” procedures continued.   It is often in China to have to get to the gate, walk towards the plane only to have to climb downstairs to a bus parked right next to the gate to take you to a plane that is actually not on the gate…..Yes, that happens very often here.   What was annoying is that the bus which is supposed to take the premier passengers (in China they love the term VIP) to the plane quickly, left only after picking up 8-10 people only — it was may be 20% occupied.   The agent at the ground yelled at the bus to stop but the driver just TOOK OFF…. Another agent with red face….Enough said!

So, yes, the Chinese airlines, and its supposed premier carrier, Air China, are very focused on status and premium products BUT the delivery of those is pretty bad!  No matter, whether the online system or physical product ….it lacks in multiple aspects….

On a separate and special note, Air China advertises itself as a “proud star alliance member….” except it does little to make that be true…

Oh, well…..

Sanya Trip: China Duty Free Mall – Yea or Nay

China Duty Free Mall

So you go to Sanya for a beach vacation, a place to enjoy the sun and waves – then you see tons of promotions for the China Duty Free Mall… You think – what is this all about?   Well, in a short answer – this is China’s insatiable desire for luxury and showing off.    This December, as part of our Christmas trip, we traveled to Sanya – here are some of the earlier postings on the topic.   We had really a great vacation and probably the only low point in it was the trip to the China Duty Free Mall.

China, Hainan Island, Sanya, China Duty Free Mall

Upon arrival in our hotel – there was a casual mention of it.  We quickly stated – “…but we live in China and upon departure from Sanya to go back home…we will fly to Shanghai and not leave the country.  How can we buy duty free?”

Turns out, the Chinese government has allotted Hainan and Sanya a special status – to stimulate the purchase of luxury foreign brand goods domestically tourists (non-living in Sanya) are allowed to purchase duty free goods up to the amount of RMB8000 twice a year.  And the Chinese consumer appetite for luxury goods is never too small (per Statista.com)

China, Hainan Island, Sanya, China Duty Free Mall
Sales of luxury goods in China from 2010 to 2020 (in billion euros)

So, we decided to check out the mall for ourselves.   The photo below is a snapshot of the map where the Mall is located in relationship to the Grand Hyatt hotel – in Haitang Bay area

China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay

Here is the summary of the experience:

  • Main verdict:  Don’t waste your time…!  Really…!  No need to leave the beach for this.

 Why?  Here are the many reasons:

  • Prices are incredibly high — even after duty free is considered.   If you have the ability to shop in the US or Europe – do that there
  • We compared real time on Amazon.com for the prices on Toblerone chocolates – in the store after 15% sale price discount, the prices of the same chocolates were about 25% lower price on Amazon.com vs in this Mall
  • The selection is limited 

But the Mall is a great place for people watching.   Really…and had a good Christmas tree…Here are some more photos from those observations.   

China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
View of the CDF Mall from the road
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
The Mall is Big, so is the Food Court
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Sarah in Wonderland…Wait, wait, that was Alice, I think
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Tired of too much shopping…
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Weird Ad… I am NOT compelled to shop…
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Another tired soul – too much shopping…
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Matching Shoes make the world go round..
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
Security First…Menacing looking police truck
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
CDF-Mall…December…Christmas tree
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
CDF Mall – at least an interesting architecture to see
China, Hainan Island, Sanya, Haitang Bay, China Duty Free Mall
More of the CDF Mall architecture

At the end of the day – at least the architecture of the CDF Mall is interesting – something to experience… 

Shanghai Views: Pudong Liujiazui at Night

Liujiazui

Everyone (at least in Shanghai) knows Liujiazui as the financial district of the city (and may be of the country).  It is an impressive area of this fascinating city.

It is also somewhat of a symbolic aspect of the new, highly developed and powerful Shanghai.  Why is that?  Well, because of its location – Liujiazui is located directly across the river from the Old financial district of Shanghai – the Bund (Waitan) – which is where the famous Paris of the Orient was headquartered back in the day….

I like the area though for its innovative and aggressive architecture.   Most people coming to see Shanghai see it from a distance – from the Puxi area – as they go for the "mandatory" tour of fhe Bund.

In this posting I will give you a view and taste of it as you walk among the huge skyscrapers and see it also at night.

China, Shanghai, Pudong, Liujiazui
View of night Liujiazui
China, Shanghai, Pudong, Liujiazui
View of the Shanghai Tower as you approach the Liujiazui area
gallery

Enjoy the show – for more images from this fascinating place, check out the gallery published Travel Photo Blog – here is a link to the Liujiazui At Night gallery.


Cost of Living in Beijing – China Economics Series

Beijing-China-May-2016I have been a China observer for many years.  As you may have seen in some of my blog entries, my experience in China started as a student way, way back in 1987.  It seems like centuries ago.  In the years since then whether by living in the country or coming in on business and personal trips, I have been observing the great phenomenom of the country’s development.

There are many aspects of China’s development that are mind boggling – the pace of its growth has been very fast and of course, the changes it has brought are also impacting on the standards of living for both locals and expats alike.

In the last few years, car ownership has been growing on a very fast clip.  The local governments of Beijing, Shanghai, even smaller metro areas like Tianjin, are imposing all sort of financial barriers to rein in that rapid increase in vehicles.  The issues are multiple:

  • Huge congestion on city roads – all you need is to visit Beijing and get on the loop roads at some point in the day and you will know exactly what I mean
  • Hazy skies – you can find multiple references to that on my blog here

Beijing-China-May-2016

  • Overall cost of living imact due to high taxation to attempt to limit access to vehicles

So, what would you think is the cost of owning a car in Beijing or Shanghai?   Here are some bare bone statistics – which will make you appreciate your truck or sedan back at home even more…

  • Cost of acquiring the car itself…?  Well, even a relatively low-end (in my opinion) VW can run you in the range of RMB100K – divide this by 6.2 and you will get the price in US$…. I will let you do the math….

China-Car-Ad Advert from Beijing Airport

  • But wait, this is not everything…You have to acquire a license plate.  In Shanghai that will cost you!  What you may ask?   Only RMB80K….Again, please go ahead and divide by 6.2 to obtain the cost in US$

Amazing – isn’t it?  Of course the costs above are not all – you still need to add the annual road tax etc.

Then comes the gas bill.  Just for your reference, this week, the cost of regular unleaded in Beijing or Shanghai is around $3.60 for a gallon…

Happy Driving Everyone!   Oh, how about a bike ride to your next destination…?

Beijing Pollution – Not Getting Better

Greetings!   For all of you who need information on the weather and air quality in China and especially Beijing, here is an update – I was in Beijing this week – until earlier today.  Over the years I have spent a considerable amount of time – including 2 long term periods of living in the city as an expat.  The air quality has become an increasingly hot topic (in a negative way) and one of concern to a huge number of local residents and visitors from within China and abroad.

The city government has been trying (for years) to improve the situation.  Tons of measures have been taken:

  • Moving coal burning industries away from the city
  • Restricting the usage of bad quality coal for domestic purposes (although I still see the tricycles with stacks of coal being carted around the neighborhoods in the winter)
  • Heavily regulating the usages of cars – no cars from outside the city are allowed further inward in the city beyond the 3rd loop road;   The usage of motorcycles is also extremely restrictive
  • Cars with odd and even plates drive on different days of the week
  • and so on and so forth….

The results however, are NOT great.   Here are the snapshots of today’s / current (as I write) Beijing weather:

Beijing-Pollution-Readings                               Pollution-Readings-Imcl-Austin

And then – there are the photos from my window and photos taken from Hangzhou on Monday:

China-Pollution Beijing Smog

So for all of you doubters – is China really that polluted – the answer is – “We do not know…” but it is most likely bad.

Hangzhou, by the way – which used to be incredibly nice to visit and less polluted, not has similar problems  Here is a photo from Monday of this week….

China-PollutionAll in all it is a scary situation.  The reality is that the city has been under the watch for a awhile

I see a number of photos in my collection that reflect the slipping situation in the City.

Long story, short, be careful to research your destination and put it in perspective and comparable readings/assessment of the likes published by AirVisual (one of many applications reporting the air quality around various global locations)

 

None of this listed above is something new for those who have a lot of travel or living experience in China.  I have done multiple updates over the years on the pollution situation in Beijing and China.  You can see it in a 2015 posting, then again in a 2014 one, and earlier in a 2013 posting, then several in 2007 (here and here, and yet another here);

Having said all this (above)  a trip and visit to China is still an awesome idea.   Just make sure to be well informed and well prepared.   Happy Travels!

Air Pollution in Beijing

Air pollution in Beijing is becoming almost a regular article in various news and media outlets.   The most recent article is in the Financial Times from…. YES, April 1st 2013!  I looked back through this blog and found that I am writing on the topic just about every year.

Here is the article from FT.com

Air pollution is driving expatriates out of Beijing and making it harder for companies to recruit international talent, according to anecdotal accounts from diplomats, senior executives and businesses.

No official figures are available on how many people are planning to leave after three months of the worst air pollution on record in the Chinese capital. But companies that mainly serve foreign residents are bracing for an exodus around the middle of the year when the school term ends.

—————————  More from this article here ——————————–

At the same time I have experienced enough of the challenging climate and its air surprises to believe that the issue being raised by FT.com is real — folks are seriously considering their options on how to move to a different location.  The article states the opinion / experience of some of the expats — that their kids cannot go outside without face masks.  Yes, that is the case — I recall our daughter and her classmates not being allowed outisde during recess…..

Here is a photo from the area near the Astronomy Observatry in Central Beijing — you can judge for your self — this photo from late winter — February timeframe.

The Air Pollution in Beijing

So, you be the judge…!

“Cheaper cars for officials” – says People’s Daily On-Line — But is it REALLY?!?!

All of you who have spent any prolonged time in China, especially in Beijing, know that the Audi-A6 is the proverbial mighty party / government / military / police official vehicle. Why? No one really knows…But you won't be wrong if you were to see a black Audi approaching and you guessed it is an official's vehicle…. Why is this then important to write about? After all – every old China hand knows this….! Well, the reason is a new article in the November 20th issue of People's Daily Online — Cheaper Cars for Officials

According to the article gov't officials from now on wll be allowed to spend only 180K RMB for a vehicle (which by the way is not to exceed 1.8L engine size).   The article continues to state that until now the price limit was apparently 200K RMB !!!!

Well, I guess, judging by the number of black Audi A6 limousines prowling the neighborhoods of Beijing (and other cities) — many officials DID NOT get the previous memo — the one that asked them not to spend more than 200K RMB

Last I knew a Audi-A6 (not to speak of a Mercedez-Bench S Class or E-class) cost in the range of US$40K-$45K in China — i.e. well above the 200K RMB limit…..

Go figure — like everything else in China — there are rules and then there are rules…..

All of us should expect to see the number of those A6s dwindle in the coming year — right!?!?! As they get replaced by Chery QQs 🙂

Hm….  I wonder…..

Other publications have caught the trend too… Here is a quote from a taxi driver in Beijing, China (from The New York Times article):

“Audi is still the de facto car for government officials,” said Wang Zhi, a Beijing taxi driver who has been plying the capital’s gridlocked streets for 18 years. “It’s always best to yield to an Audi — you never know who you’re messing with, but chances are it’s someone self-important.”

What do you think….?

 

Fluency in the Chinese Language and Chinese Experience

Recently one of the well read blogs www.lostlaowai.com published an article which I thought was interesting and made me think…. They were questioning the notion of Chinese language proficiency.   I myself have been asked many times the same question "Are you fluent in Chinese?"   — which is a very tough one.   So here / below are some thoughts on the subject….

Do you care to comment?

Fluency is something which is very much situation dependent.  I have lived in China for many years (I came to the country as a foreign student in the Fall of 1987) — and have gone through the HSK tests (in July 1988) studied in Chinese University, got my diploma actually in the US (was an exchange student), spent years working in China and the US but with a lot of interactions with China and Taiwan and STILL find it difficult to claim fluency….(eventhough I handle business meetings in Chinese)
Wny ?  Because there are plenty of situations when I will not be proficient enough to make it as a fluent speaker

Chinese is very specialized language.  Being able to handle deep technical conversation and negotiations in a subject in Chinese does not mean you can handle a hospital visit with the same proficiency!  
If you disagree — speak up, but having been in all those situations I can attest to that.

Like the comment someone said — "Some people go to China for a week and write a book, others spent a month and write an article, many of us lived in China for years and don't know what to say…"

Is She Fluent in Chinese or is the Forbidden City Police Guard ???

China and Chinese are a complex culture, language and as such expertise and fluency are difficult to define as well.
 

What brings Chinese Language (and culture) proficiency...?

What do you think ?

 

What to pay attention to in planning a trip across China-Hong Kong Border for the cases when your time is short

Here is the follow up summary to the experience I had recently in crossing the Shenzhen to Hong Kong border crossing. If you are planning to take a flight from Hong Kong airport and you need to get there from Shenzhen, keep the following in mind:

* Saturdays at the border crossing are crazy — lots of people going to Hong Kong for the weekend — keep that in mind as the time needed to make it to Hong Kong increases exponentially
* The advice the hotel gives you is NOT necessarily correct. A two hour max trip can easily become a three hour one
* If you are caught at the border in one of the shuttle / minivans (e.g. the Sky Limo ones) and you are running late for your flight you can try to talk to the Hong Kong border control officers to let you (and minivan) through one of the special channels — once you cross the border you still have at least 35 minutes drive to the Lantau island / Hong Kong airport


Crossing from Shenzhen into Hong Kong for a Flight from Hong Kong Airport

This week I had to take a flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, CA. This was after a several day stay in Shenzhen. On Friday night after all business was done, I checked with the hotel I was staying for the schedule for the shuttle — the Sky Limo — which I usually take for my trip to the Hong Kong airport. Once again the hotel staff informed me that I would not need any longer than a 2 hour slot to make it to the airport. My flight was at 1pm so a shuttle leaving at 9:35 am seemed like a plenty safe choice 🙂

Well, little that I know! When the shuttle did not show up at 9:35 at the Westin hotel (the Westin Nanshan) I was only slightly concerned. The concierge started apologizing and in a typical way of predicting time and schedule started telling every 5 minutes that the shuttle was 2-3 minutes away 🙂 You get the picture right….

Finally around 10am the shuttle arrived. As usual it took me to the transfer depot where we had to change to a Hong Kong licensed minivan (nothing new here). I will talk about the issue with that in a separate “How To” posting later today or tomorrow.

Once we were in the Hong Kong minivan I thought “No worries — we have plenty of time…” — Again, I may be repeating myself, but here it comes — an ominous “Little that I know”

Once at the border we saw a big queue of cars and minivans. I thought — well, that has been the case on other crossings, so I should not be worried. My opinion changed once I timed the first car in the queue in our lane — it stayed waiting to enter the inspection area for about 15min. I quickly calculated — 8 cars in front of us — if each takes 10-15minutes we are in BIG TROUBLE. At 11am we were the forth van in the queue……I asked the driver for any reason that this crossing was so slow…as I had been here (on that border crossing) previously on at least 2 occasions both Saturday crossings.

Side note: Why is Saturday crossing different? Well, because tons of Shenzhen people go to Hong Kong for the weekend to do shopping, go to Disneyland, etc.

The driver shrugged and said — “well it is just slow”. But he had a good idea — once we cross the China side of the border, I should try to talk to any Hong Kong official and see if they can let us through a special channel and reduce the wait….

Well, at 11:45 am or so (for my 1pm flight) we crossed the Chinese border. At that point I rushed out of the minivan to the Hong Kong border booths carrying a laptop with my itinerary. One of the border guard guys rushed out of a booth as I was running across a concrete expanse that was all the lanes for cars crossing the border. He managed to yell at me to stop, which I did and explained to him in Chinese that I had a really short time till my flight and after some debates inside one of the booths, he stepped out and told me to bring the van into one of the empty channels…..By 11:50am we crossed finally the Hong Kong border and the driver sped for the airport on Lantau island.

Finally, I was able to get to the airport by 12:30pm — and believe it or not was able to make the flight leaving Hong Kong at 1:05pm !!!

Next, I will share some advice for you for those situations. Stay tuned…