Friday, February 29, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Over the Pacific Ocean

What’s worse than being stuck on a 11+ hour Trans-Pacific flight is having a broken TV screen in front of you. So instead of my usual routine of half-hour naps in between movies, it’s half-hour naps in between staring at the seat in front of me for two hours. Unlike the flight from LAX to HKG two weeks ago, this plane still has the older seats and the flight is completely full. Right now we’re about two hours from LAX; I’m typing this up in MS Word to copy/paste when I get home.

My second week in Chengdu has been a blur, partly because I’ve been hit with stomach problems during the last few days. We had spicy hot pot for dinner Monday night and even though I ate from the non-spicy pot, the combination of breathing spicy oil fumes and eating funky ingredients probably got me.

Spicy hot pot... I think we were the only table with the non-spicy middle pot.

Excuse me, who ordered the pig brains?

I've also been eating at local hole-in-the-wall places so that probably is not helping. At lunchtime, the places are packed and stools are placed on the sidewalk for people to sit and eat. This is outside a noodle place; I went back and got a bigger bowl of mustard green noodles for RMB6.

Lunchtime crowd

It’s also been more and more difficult for me to breathe as well; each breath burns my nose and throat. I guess I’ve reached my limit on smog and cigarette smoke. I think visiting for a week at a time is fine but I’m not sure if I can ever live here long-term. The worst is probably the cigarette smoke. Anywhere you go, there are people smoking, even in elevators, right under the “No Smoking” sign. Living in California, you just don’t see that many smokers in public anymore.

"Hey Mr. taxi driver, can you focus on driving instead of reading the newspaper?" Since I'm not staying at the university hotel, I have to take a taxi across town (~5km) to catch the ride into the office.

On Tuesday, we went to take a look at PMI’s new factory. It’s coming along quite well, even with the month-long delay due to Chinese New Year and power outages. The building structure is pretty much complete and the workers are just painting the outside and finishing the interior. Our first piece of heavy equipment, a 400 ton hot press, is scheduled to arrive in April.

PMI’s three-storey factory

Space for large furnaces

Building construction… a family business! Actually, all the workers live on-site in temporary shacks. I'm sure this violates all sorts of OSHA rules.

Chinese broom: a stick and some twigs tied together

We haven’t decided whether to put solar panels or a basketball court on the roof

Worker finishing up the concrete roof

Just to the north of our site is Motorola's software development center in Chengdu. Leon said that we won't need such a large parking lot.

On Wednesday, Leon gave me the day off which was good since my stomach started having problems. I did get to take a look at Wenshu Temple and went with a friend to sing KTV at night. We had the room from 8pm to 2am and after discounts, it was only RMB128. I still need a lot more practice since I couldn’t read a lot of the Chinese song lyrics. Interestingly, since the KTV place we went to was run by Taiwanese people, many videos were from Taiwan and had traditional Chinese lyrics. My friend’s friends were local so they only knew simplified Chinese and couldn’t read some of the characters. I blame the Commies.

Street vendors inside the Wenshu Temple complex

How much for that Rolex?

Thursday morning my stomach was feeling a bit better so I attended a PMI meeting and even showed them my financial models. However, after lunch, I got worse so they had to drive me home in the older car. It’s a small “meinbao” car since it’s shaped like a loaf of bread. Leon said it didn’t cost them that much (less than $10K US) and they put a lot of miles on it. Usually cars are more expensive compared to the US. The president of our main vendor just bought a Lexus LS460 for ~RMB1.2M which is more than twice what the car costs in the US. PMI’s driver, Mr. Lin, is really in to cars. He was impressed when I told him that I have a 350Z back home. The only one I ever saw in Chengdu was in the Nissan dealer showroom. Evidently, they cost ~RMB500k in Chengdu.

Lexus dealer. I also saw Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche dealers. Leon said that there is also a Ferrari dealership in Chengdu.

My last day in Chengdu is a long travel day. This time I’m traveling back with Leon although I can get into Cathay’s business lounge in Hong Kong by myself now (oneworld Sapphire!). Our CTU-HKG Dragonair flight didn’t get a gate on arrival so we had to take a shuttle bus from near the air control tower to the terminal. It was kind of odd since there were many free gates (HKIA has 80 gates). I hope our luggage transferred okay; we’ll know in about 90 minutes. During our six hour layover, we took the Airport Express train into Hong Kong Island to meet with a couple PMI investors over dinner. We ended up at a French restaurant in the IFC mall so it wasn’t cheap. I told Leon he can eat at Broadcom’s cafeteria all next month to save money.

Close up of the HKIA control tower

747 with three missing engines parked at the airport. I got yelled at by Dragonair crew for taking pictures.

Kowloon skyline. The better view would have been the other way, looking at Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.

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