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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

China photos

Sorry for the lack of posts -- I just returned from China, where blogging had to contend with the Great Firewall and a busy schedule. Below are some pictures from the trip -- click for larger versions.

Our "expedition" was led by a world famous Harvard mathematician, and included professors of economics, statistics, computer science and physics. The opportunity: to create a social science institute to observe and model the Chinese economy in real time using massive electronic data sets.

Hyatt Regency in Hangzhou:

Alibaba Group Headquarters in Hangzhou. I'm under NDA so I can't say too much, but the Alibaba Group is an impressive set of companies. The transaction volume on their Taobao (EBay-like) C2C site is estimated at around 2 percent of all retail sales in China this year, and should reach 5 percent within a few years. There are roughly 150 million users and 400 million items listed! All of the university students we met were Taobao users and many said it was their preferred method of shopping.

[I had some other photos of Alibaba headquarters here originally, but I guess I violated some corporate policies and they asked me to take them down! Below are some official photos of their building.]

Beijing: Wenjin Hotel in Tsinghua University Science Park -- next to Google China and Microsoft Research. If you squint you can see the Google logo in the picture below.

It was cold and windy in Beijing, but as a consequence we had sunny days with little noticeable air pollution. (See here for an air quality Twitter feed from the US embassy in Beijing. We did indeed have good air during our visit.) Traffic is, however, horrendous!

Our hotel was in Zhongguancun, the Silicon Valley of China, which includes the top two universities: Beijing University (Beida) and Tsinghua University. The leader of our expedition presided over the opening ceremony of the Tsinghua Institute of Mathematical Sciences. The hotel was crawling with world class mathematicians!

Below is a picture taken in the immense consumer electronics market in Zhongguancun, about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. Enter any of the buildings in this area and you'll be confronted with an army of salespeople trying to sell you laptops, cellphones, etc.

Ministry of Commerce. This meeting took place in a less affluent region of south Beijing where locals still burn coal for heat. For this reason, and because the region is in a slight valley, they tend to have a few bad air days a week, including the day of our visit. I could smell a distinct sulfurous odor in the air, and my eyes stung. The air quality provided a jarring contrast to the opulent surroundings at the ministry.

During a night off from lavish banquets and dinners in private dining rooms, I managed to meet with blogger maoxian, an expat Beijinger with a lot of insight about life and business in China.

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