Back from… China!

The Great WallIf one year ago you had asked me what is the most improbable place for me to visit in the near future, China would have definitely ranked top of my list. But yet, I never thought of living in Germany, so I am getting used to end up in improbable situations.

China is a remarkable country. Although I only had the opportunity of visiting a couple of cities -Shanghai and Beijing-, what I saw was enough to keep me thinking for a week. First of all, China is not afraid of heights. A typical taxi ride in Shanghai will lead you through a vast forest of skyscrapers, no matter whether you are in the financial district or in a residential area. How can so many people live in such a small area is for me still an enigma, but what strikes me even more is how traffic seems to accomodate so many cars without reaching the saturation level of Bogota, even though Shanghai’s 14 million inhabitants makes it twice as large..!

The next thing that struck me was Shanghai’s exquisite flair. Before embarking on this trip, China was a place where small people wearing hats spent their precious time collecting rice from the fields. Today’s China is in fact so different, that rice has virtually disappeared from most meals, allowing more high-end dishes to invade their daily nutrition (don’t get me wrong, I love rice, but Chinese think its only value is to fill you up quickly). Having said this, Shanghai’s night scene offers visitors and locals almost everything, from embracing patios like that of Zapata bar (Valentin didn’t believe me, but sitting there felt like looking out of a balcony in Barranquilla), to sophisticated lounges like Bar Rouge, with an spectacular view over the financial district’s skyline. In fact, you can see so many expats and tourists enjoying Shanghai’s nightlife on a Monday night, that you wonder whether it can actually get boring in this city. Believe it or not, if I got a good job there, I would seriously consider staying there for a while.

Beijing is a bit more conservative than Shanghai -maybe because it’s the capital, maybe because it lies further away from the coast-, so spotting the fun places from the street is a bit more difficult, but with the right guide, you can see also many interesting places. Allowing my creativity to speak up, Shanghai would be to Barcelona what Beijing is to Madrid – but much bigger. As a tourist, the best way to move around the city is by using a taxi. It’s fast (thanks to the five highway rings inscribed within the city) and cheap (prices are just like in Colombia). The only drawback is that you need to have the address written in Chinese, otherwise these people won’t take you anywhere..!

Reading these paragraphs you might think I was on vacation, but the truth is that I was actually on a field trip. ESMT decided it was a good idea for its MBA students to visit an emerging market and learn about the ways European companies do business there, so with that objective in mind -and 19 other students besides me- I spent 10 days visiting companies such as Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch and others, asking them about the particularities of doing business in China, their challenges and advantages, and so on. If you ask me, this trip has been definitely the highlight of the MBA so far, and neither reading dozens of market research reports nor spending hours in internet could have given me such a good idea of how it is to be there.

I wish I could write more, but the experience has been so intense that it’s impossible to summarize it in a few lines. Besides, I need to write a report on the trip, so I do not have the time either. But I hope that a couple of pictures help you understand what I went through…