Our last stop was Beijing, the current capital city of China.  At this point in the trip all our business visits were complete, so we had 3 days of cultural visits.  We visited the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall.



Facial recognition software in the bathroom to dispense toilet paper




Hong Kong

After our tour of the Walmart DC, we hopped back on the bus and headed to the port to catch a ferry to Hong Kong. It was one of the longer bus rides on the trip so most everyone had a nice nap!



Rachel looking like a movie star taking a nap on the Dragon Bus


Travel by ferry was pretty easy.  We showed up with our bags and tickets, put them through a scanner and were on our way.  Interestingly enough because Hong Kong isn’t considered part of main land China we had to go through customs and received a stamp in our passport for “leaving” China.  The ferry was a lot of fun especially when we hit a few waves!




One of China’s many coal power plants


A container ship heading out of Hong Kong’s port (we will be getting a tour later in the week)


First glimpse of Hong Kong…kinda…it is actually Kowloon which is across the water from Hong Kong Island


Found it a bit ironic that this was Samsung’s commercial in Hong Kong where there are no government-imposed restrictions on information.

Once we docked in Hong Kong we had to go through immigration again.  I was kind of disappointed that instead of getting a stamp we just got a small piece of paper to carry around in our passport.

Navigating in Hong Kong is much easier than on the mainland.  After the Opium Wars Hong Kong became a British Colony so the majority of the street names are English; for example, our Hotel (the BP International Hotel) was on Nathan Street. The only difficulty was that cars drive on the opposite side of the street, another byproduct of colonization, so make sure you look the right way before crossing!  Luckily most of the roads at crossing had arrows with signs saying “look right.”

Besides driving on the “wrong” side of the road Hong Kong felt much more like a typical European city than any of the other big cities we had been in thus far.  It was still crowded, but people didn’t shove nearly as much, and while the street hawkers were still aggressive people seemed altogether more aware of personal space.   Another thing similar to a British city was the prices.  Everything in Hong Kong is expensive! It was a bit of a shock after being on the main land where most everything is cheap, but Hong Kong’s prices are much more comparable to that of the USA and Europe.


Walmart DC

On our last day in Shenzhen, we got up early to tour a Walmart Distribution Center. Once again, unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but it is one of the few Walmart DCs that still sorts incoming trucks by hand. They have a large cross-dock warehouse where trucks are unloaded and a large middle section of the floor is dedicated to each of the stores that the DC services.  So when products come off the trucks pickers get a message from a headset with an “order” for each store.  They then walk around the DC putting the correct number of each item at each “store location”. Then once a pallet is full it is moved to the other side of the warehouse and loaded onto trucks going to various stores. It was fascinating to watch, and surprisingly still quite efficient.


Shenzhen – BYD

On our second day in Shenzhen, we were able to tour BYD which is a large car manufacturer in China.  BYD stands for “Build Your Dreams.”  BYD was founded in 1995 and started their business by manufacturing rechargeable batteries, then in 2003, they ventured into the market for hybrid and electric cars.  Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures within the factory and were mainly shown empty warehouses.  The only employees I saw were our tour guides.  That being said it was still an informative trip. We learned that BYD has over 200,000 employees and that many of them are migrant workers that live on the BYD campus.  After entering the main gate the BYD campus was kind of like its own little self-sufficient city.  There were small shops and lots of employee housing.




After being shown various “rooms” for crash testing, noise, and electromagnetic interference we were taken to their showroom.  Here we learned about their new maglev train system they are developing.  Currently, they are building a prototype on the BYD campus. The construction costs for one of these trains is five times cheaper than a traditional subway.


Lastly, we were shown a car showroom.  It shouldn’t have surprised me but all of the buttons in the car are in Chinese.


As a side note…we were introduced to the Dragon Bus in Shenzhen…



Shenzhen is in some senses the gateway from Hong Kong to the mainland.  A booming economic hub on its own, the city has flourished once it became a special economic trade zone. Getting to Shenzhen was quite the adventure, after leaving the hotel and arriving at the airport we made it to our gate with about an hour and a half to spare, and then we waited and waited and waited.  We never got a reason why but all the flights from Shanghai to Shenzhen were delayed for the day.  So we had to make camp on the airport floor because there weren’t any seats open. Being delayed at the airport is never fun but I couldn’t choose a better group to be delayed with.  We passed the time by napping and playing card games. Finally, after a three-hour delay, we were on our way.

Probably my favorite activity in Shenzhen was the Walmart store walk. The entire store was underground!IMG_4100IMG_4103IMG_4105IMG_4111IMG_4112IMG_4113IMG_4117IMG_4128

Walking through the store it seemed to have similar departments. There were aisles for dishwashing soap, home and beauty, meat, produce, candy (matcha flavored everything!), and frozen goods, however, there were fewer options available.  There were only 3 or 4 brands of laundry soap, and each brand had 3 or 4 options so that the entire section took up about one-half of one aisle, whereas in the States laundry detergent takes up an entire aisle and sometimes more. Another difference was that the aisles themselves are narrower.  In the States, the aisles are wide enough for three carts to squeeze past one another, but in China, there was room enough for two people with baskets to comfortably walk past one another.

Probably the most interesting section of the store was the meat department.  American’s like their meat, and it is included in many meals.  In the States, you can go to the meat counter and buy some fresh meat, or you can go to the deli and get cooked meat, you can also get some frozen meat. China, however, takes the meat section to a whole other level.  The meat section had the typical frozen fish, with additions of frozen squid, octopus, etc. and there was also a section for freshly caught fish.  But that is where the similarities ended.  There were tanks along the back wall with live fish that the customer can “catch” and have killed, there are cured meats hanging from the wall that aren’t packaged in any way, but most surprising was the raw and unpackaged chicken and duck parts.  They were out in the open only sitting on a bed of ice.  The customer then can pick up tongues and bag their own meat.

In the “western world” Walmart’s competition is well known.  In the states it is Target, Costco, more recently Amazon (especially with their recent purchase of Whole Foods), and in Europe, it is Aldi’s and Carrefour.  In China, however, these competitors are not as clear cut.  Because the competitors for Walmart in the States are well known they can be discussed at meetings with outsiders, however, because Walmart’s competitors in China are not as well-known you can’t talk about them.  So at the Walmart business visit when one of the presenters went to click to the slide he had prepared on Walmart’s competition the slide wasn’t there and it was explained that it didn’t make it through the censorship process.  Originally, I thought it was a government mandated thing, but Anna explained that it had to do with the less established Walmart in China.


Jade Buddha Temple

We had a free afternoon after the Walmart visit so Anna and I braved the rain to visit the Jade Buddha Temple which was 2 or 3 stops from our hotel in Shanghai.  The taxi driver dropped us off at the back side of the temple so we had to walk around.  But as we got out of the taxi I was able to snap this picture.


It was a mix of old and new.  I don’t know why but it was just so striking to see this monk out in the rain holding an electric fan.  The man on the scooter was an added bonus. This was a working temple, meaning the monks still live there, so as we were wondering around we walked past their cafeteria where they were all having lunch.



Something that I found really interesting about China is that while the Han make up the majority of Chinese citizens, it actually has 50 different ethnic groups.  One of the lesser known minorities is the Yugur.  According to the 2010 census, there are only 14,373 in China. They are mainly Chinese Muslim, and in past years have been facing discrimination in China. Below is my favorite restaurant in Shanghai; it is a Yugur restaurant.  It is literally a hole in the wall where every time I have been I have been the only westerner.  When you walk in you point to a picture on the wall of what you want.  They then make the hand pulled noodles and pass them to the man in the picture who cooks them.  Lunch for two this particular trip cost a total of 30 RMB ($8.80).


A few extra pictures from Shanghai



Shanghai Business Visits

On our first full day in Shanghai, we had our first tow business visits – Unilever and YTO Express. The Unilever offices are located in the west side of Shanghai and as we were on the bus to the offices our tour guide explained that the west of Shanghai is seen as superior to the east side of Shanghai. The reason being that the West Shanghai has thousands of years of history while East Shanghai is still relatively new (600 years) and is seen as where the nouveau riche live.  Our tour guide even went as far as to say “better a bed in the west than a house in the east.” I found this distinction interesting because even with the rising middle class and the top 1% outstripping everyone else there is still the distinction between new and old money even if that new has 600 years of history.

The Unilever offices we visited were their insights lab, and they mean business.  We started the visit with a presentation on Unilever’s growth in the Chinese market, even though currently they are going through a difficult economic period.


Photo credit: Brandon Rush

Afterward, they walked us through a typical day of one of their Chinese shoppers, and in doing so shared with us their vision for the future of retail.  The tech they have already is amazing, but their future is moving towards the virtual.  Currently, they have programs where when hooked up to an instrument it can track a viewer as they watch a commercial.  It can track eye motion, heart rate, and they say even emotions like happiness, anger, etc.  Another prototype they have tracks customers as they walk through a store.  They have only had one trial run, but because the store had poor wifi the study was rather disappointing.  But basically what it does is there is a camera placed in the ceiling and a pad on the floor that together can track where a customer looks, what items they touch, and can aggregate it throughout the day.

The pinnacle of the visit, however, was their virtual store.


Photo Credit: Anna Cunningham 

After a free afternoon, we had our visit to YTO Express which is essentially the Chinese equivalent of FedEx.  YTO has been growing rapidly in the last decade as e-commerce has boomed. We were given a tour of their sorting factory as things began to ramp up for the night shift.  The facility is completely cross dock with trucks coming from various pickup locations the packages being sorted and then loaded onto trucks waiting inside the warehouse.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos inside the sorting facility.


The following morning we met with David Shen the VP of Strategic Sourcing at MacDonalds China.


He was quite knowledgeable about food safety in China, and how MacDonalds has had to change to improve the transparency in their supply chain when it comes to sourcing. One example he gave was the MacDonald’s french fry. When MacDonald’s first came to China they were importing their french fries but has since found a local supplier when their American source started using genetically modified potatoes.

Another topic Shen brought up was how MacDonald’s has had to modify its menu for Chinese tastes. In China beef is expensive so patties are smaller (to keep prices down), and chicken is super popular so the menu boasts several types of chicken sandwiches. This adaptation of the menu holds true for Walmart Global, as in India there is no beef on the menu, and in France you can get a sandwich on a baguette and I believe that it shows that the giant has learned to adapt.  But in China, they face further battles.

The best analogy I can give is that many multinational companies feel like they have been told to go into a fight with one hand tied behind their back.  The Chinese consumer wants and respects foreign brands, but the Beijing central government is also more strict with those multinational foreign companies, and any time there is a small breach of regulation it is brought to the media. Just in 2015, their french fry supplier in China was fined by the government for pollution downstream of their factories.



Shanghai and the Expats

After checking into our hotel our group met up with my cousin, Eric who lives in Shanghai.  Eric is a University of Arkansas Graduate and has lived in Shanghai for the last six years working as an architect and industrial interior designer.  We met up with Eric to get some insight on what it was like to live and work in China.

According to Eric the expat community in Shanghai is pretty close knit, and tend to hang around the same areas. So to give us a true expat experience we went to Porky’s bar and grill which is owned by an American expat and is a local hub for American’s living in Shangai.  After having only Chinese (and Korean) food for the last week the barbecue was a nice reprieve.


Photo credit: Eric McCourt


Photo: Credit Eric McCcourt

Shanghai has about 21,000 American expats, but only 8,000-10,000 live there long term. One reason for this is that people will come over for one or two year stints meaning to stay longer but they get the two year itch and wind up going back home. Eric talked about how hard it is to overcome language and cultural barriers, and that especially as a Westerner moving to Asia can be harder than if you were moving somewhere in Europe.  He also mentioned how isolating it can be, for example, the majority of people where my cousin works don’t speak English.  The only people who are fluent are his boss and one of his coworkers.  Many of the others speak broken English but are too embarrassed to use it despite my cousin explaining that their English is better than his Chinese.

After lunch, my cousin took a small group of the UARK students to Tianzifang located in the old French Consession of Shanghai.  Tianzifang at its most generalized is a shopping area, but in reality, it is so much more.  The shopping area has a central entrance that leads to a labyrinth of small narrow streets filled with unique shops. The area was converted from a traditional Shanghai residential area, so the majority of the shops have two or three levels.





Tianzifung has over 200 small shops including tea houses and cafes, art galleries, fan shops, bars, silk shops, craft stores, and design houses to name a few. One shop we went to was dedicated to making and designing music boxes (unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a picture).

After wandering and shopping to our heart’s content Anna, Eric, and I went to my favorite bar in Shanghai – Vue Bar which is very appropriately named as the view is stunning.  We sat on the rooftop bar and watched the sun set across the river in Lujiazui.


I think this is the perfect example of China’s development. Lujiazui (the financial district showed above) is across the river from the Bund in Shanghai.  The Bund lies a little north of the old walled city of Shanghai and was once a Brittish settlement, so there are many historical buildings, but when you look across to Lujiazui literally every building that you can see was built in the last 26 years.  The Pearl Tower was the first building and construction began in 1991. China has become a powerhouse, and this is only further proof.


Bus trip to Shanghai, and Pollution in China

Today we headed to Shanghai, and it was my turn to give a bus talk. One of the assignments we had for the Study Abroad “class” was to choose a topic of interest (in China) and write a paper, and then give a 15-minute talk on one of the numerous bus rides.  Since my background is in Chemistry and Environmental Studies the topic I chose was the pollution in China and the countermeasures its citizens and government were taking. While I was in China I was surprised by a number of measures I was able to physically see.  I was expecting to hear about the topic some in the business meetings but was resigned to researching further to suss out what was being done, I was, however, pleasantly surprised.

While I was in China I was surprised by a number of measures I was able to physically see.  I was expecting to hear about the topic some in the business meetings but was resigned to researching further to suss out what was being done; I was, however, pleasantly surprised.

The first action that stood out was rows and rows passive solar water heaters on the roofs of homes and apartments in the cities.  As cold water runs through the tubes on the roof the sun heats the water; once the water is hot and has run through all the tubing it goes to a storage tank in the home/apartment.  This system is not as efficient as active solar heaters (i.e. using solar panels to generate energy to heat water), but they are cheaper to install, more reliable and often will last longer which is appealing to the mass Chinese market.


In my pre-trip research, I came across an article discussing the number of nuclear power plants in China and found it to be a relatively low number (36) considering the size of China, but while traveling I found that most of those plants are centralized around the big cities. On our one hour train ride from Suzhou to Nanjing we passed four nuclear power plants, and on our drive to Shanghai we passed at least two more (I am fairly certain that there are four plants surrounding Shanghai)


A less visible action is the limiting of cars in big cities.  This doesn’t appear apparent at all as traffic in all the tier 1 cities is absolutely abysmal, unlike any other city or country I have ever visited.  However, one of the professors at Soochow University explained that the cities were taking various measures to decrease the number of cars on the road.  In both Beijing and Shanghai only certain license plate numbers are allowed on the main roads on certain days (e.g. even numbers can drive MWF, and the odd numbers the other days).  In addition to limiting driving days, it is not easy to obtain a license plate.  In Shanghai, it may cost $20,000 to purchase a license plate and in Beijing, there is a lottery system. I am sure this is influencing and lowering carbon emissions, however, as stated it is not immediately visible.

As for the bus ride itself other than standing with a microphone on a moving bus was pretty uneventful.  After the few talks, most everyone took a nap until we got to the outskirts of Shanghai.  More about Shanghai adventures later.

Day Trip to Nanjing

Yesterday we took a day trip to Nanjing which is one of the old capital cities of China. Traveling by train in my experience has always been relatively easy, so when I heard we were getting to Nanjing by high-speed train I wasn’t expecting much fanfare, but due to the Chinese government keeping track of how people move throughout the country (especially foreigners) getting a train ticket is almost as complex as purchasing a plane ticket. As a foreigner to get a train ticket you have to go to the train station in advance, stand in line, show the ticket office your passport (even for in-country travel) before you can purchase your ticket. The reason you have to go through this ordeal is that all Chinese citizens are required to carry around a national ID and they can use that to purchase tickets either online or at a machine at the train station. We, however, have to stand in line and show our passports.  Because we had a 9:00 am train we went to the train station the day before to pick up our tickets.


Photo Credit: Anna Cunningham 

Traveling by train gave us a chance to see more of the “countryside.”  I put countryside in quotes because even though we were leaving the city there were never any large expanses of open land. At any point in time off in the distance, you could see a city.  After arriving at the train station in Nanjing we met up with my friend Sutton.  Sutton had been living in Shanghai but had recently moved back to Nanjing (her hometown) so that she could get a visa to live in Canada.  Apparently as a Chinese citizen if you are applying for a visa it must be done from your hometown.


After meeting up with Sutton we took the subway into town and had lunch at a traditional Nanjing restaurant. Lunch was once again served family style. After lunch, we walked to an older part of the city where some old government buildings were.  My favorite was probably the Confucius temple. The temple was constructed in 1034 and has since been turned partially into a museum.



The exterior of the Confucius Temple



Old painted scroll of Confusious 




Inside the temple, there are 38 panels of carved jade and other stones that depict the course of Confucius’s life.

You could buy charms for about 30 RMB ($4.40) and write your wish one them.  You could also ring the giant bell for 2 RMB (30¢) – both Dr. Alloysius and I rang the bell.

Inside the museum portion of the temple, there were various pieces of artwork and government documents from various dynasties.  Some of my favorites were a letter of financial aid, a math problem, and a pair of “cheat socks.”




After exploring the old town area we took the train back to Suzhou to begin packing for the next leg of our trip…Shanghai!