Cheng Du to Hong Kong

Five and a half restless hours of Bollywood chick flicks and hindi pop. I’m headed back to Delhi with Air India. Not the best of airlines, in fact the worst, but there is the novelty value of being the only non-Indian on the plane. A little disquiet about leaving China and Hong Kong. I could so easily have cancelled my flights and stayed in HK to pursue something new. But that would have been too easy. I have an Indian adventure to resume.

So a quick update on our exploits since Cheng Du. We arrived in Chongqing in the early hours of Monday morning. A few hours sleep before breakfast. After breakfast we were met by a representative of Omei Media Group, the leading billboard advertising agent in Chongqing. She drove us to the company office where we met with the chairman and discussed her company, what sustainability means to her, and Chinese innovation. In the afternoon the company took us to lunch at a nearby restaurant and we were treated to riverside views over the municipality. The place is an incredible feat of human development. 32 million people… and I thought Beijing was impressive (17 million). I’d been trying to figure out the population count all day. The lady that met us in the morning uttered various numbers in her non-native English; 3,200… 32,000… I came to rest on 3.2 million. But 32 million? Herein lies the most significant of drivers underpinning China’s economic growth, urbanization on a monumental scale.

Monday evening we were back on the sleeper train to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. Our local co-ordinator and driver picked us up at the station around 9. We spent a fascinating day at Broard Town, a huge industrial campus for the greentech air conditioning company, Broad Air Conditioning. We were taken on a tour of their facilities, from factory to offices to residences and guest houses. The place really is a town of its own and most of the employees live in the same complex. It was quite a sight sitting in the company canteen when hundreds of manufacturing workers wearing blue jumpsuits started pouring into the hall for lunch.

Broad are doing some great things for clean air conditioning technology. We were shown a variety of domesticated units, but most significantly these huge industrial “chillers” that recycle heat for power and consume only a small amount of electricity with minimal CO2 emissions. The technology is brilliant and it makes absolute commercial sense for any business. They are serving major companies such as DLF, an Indian real estate company that I am very familiar with considering that they own the part of Gurgaon I live and work in (“DLF Cybercity”). This is the model I advocate for getting ourselves out of the mess of climate change. Market-driven, profit maximising innovation that simply makes good common business sense.

Tuesday evening we had dinner with the local coordinator and her parents. The restaurant was good and we were given a private room with views over the city. The table ornament, a bird carved out of a piece of carrot, caused much amusement. We went out in the town after dinner. Wednesday morning we were taken to the Hunan Provincial Museum which exhibits the excavated remains of an ancient tomb, including a corpse that is circa 2,000 years old and extraordinarily well preserved due to the way it was buried. In the afternoon we visited the historic Yuelu Academy situated on the scenic Yuelu Mountain. Some interesting tourist spots. Time for a late afternoon tea in a teahouse, dinner and onto our final sleeper train to Shenzhen.

We arrived in Shenzhen Thursday morning, only to find that the tour company had forgotten to book the hotel. Some time wasted sorting out the issue and we moved hotels. I hadn’t realised how big Shenzhen really is. We didn’t have time to see a great deal but I got a good feel for the kind of commercial hub it has become, the most successful of China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs), a legacy of the great Deng Xiaoping and his economic reforms.

After a light lunch we met with a professor working with the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology. He and his colleague showed us around the campus. The institute was setup as a R&D centre with the aim of developing new technologies, creating IPR for emerging industries in China and commercialising the technology. In it’s short life it has already had some success stories. The campus was huge, equivalent to walking around a small university. There were numerous teams of people undertaking experiments and scientific research. It was startling to learn that the building had only become inhabitable a mere five months before. This is a subject that has been discussed a lot recently amongst the expeditioners, how China appears to be incredibly good at reproducing technology and making it cheaper, but incredibly weak at innovating its own technology. Here, if anywhere, is a signal that China is beginning to think seriously about innovation and how to translate academic research into commercial enterprise.

Late afternoon we met the chairman of Motong Capital, a private equity firm channeling investment into green technology and initiatives. Some interesting conversation ensued, much of it lost in translation but a valuable insight all the same. He took us to a Japanese restaurant for dinner where the conversation continued. Topics included the remodeling of China’s education system, British politics and the contrasting concerns for businesses in Britain and China. He is interested in opening up an office in London to access the European capital market. After dinner we got a lift to the hotel and retired to bed soon after. Friday morning we packed up and checked out of the hotel. Chester and Charlie stayed the day exploring the infamous markets for cheap electronics and fake clothes. I jumped on the metro with Leon to cross the border into Hong Kong.

Arriving in Hong Kong was like returning home. Seven months since I was last there, it felt no more than a fortnight. It’s something quite special to have such affinity with a place that you feel comfortable enough to call it a home. I may only have stopped by for four days, but it was like catching up with an old acquaintance.

Friday night I met a friend in Festival Walk, the shopping centre in Kowloon Tong that I often frequented. Dinner and a stroll in Tsim Sha Tsui, catching up in a late night coffee shop. Saturday was conference day and we rolled up at the Jockey Club just in time for registration in the morning. A very successful event, with an audience of a hundred. A good quality audience too, many professionals from various fields. We had enough high quality speakers to fill the morning so I saved the audience from my CSR dribble and focused instead on conversations that ensued in the intervals. Saturday evening kicked off with drinks with the guys in Causeway Bay, followed by another evening in TST with a friend before meeting the guys in Lan Kwai Fong to rediscover my favorite watering holes.

Sunday morning I met a friend in Central and we got a bus to Stanley on the south side of the island. Nothing much there but a small market for tourists, the only major attraction I could think of that I haven’t yet seen so it seemed an appropriate way to spend the afternoon. Back to Causeway Bay for dinner and a film in TST, just like the old days. Met the guys again in a bar back in CWB to finish the night.

This morning I was up early again to meet another friend for breakfast in Festival Walk. Great to catch up with old acquaintances and a lemon tea in the University canteen was just like old times. I took advantage of a haircut in the salon (in dire need, and I’m dreading the backstreet barbers of Gurgaon) and met another couple of friends for lunch. Back to the hotel to pick up my bags and a cab to the bus stop to take me to the airport.

Such a brief stopover, but long enough to say hello to old friends and remind the city that I’m still alive. A great way to complete the expedition. I’ve come full circle; Beijing two years ago and Hong Kong last year. Now I can say I’ve done everything (well, some) in between; Xi’an, Chengdu, Chongqing, Changsha and Shenzhen. Fun times, lasting memories, comedy moments. I will take a lot from this trip, even if it wasn’t quite what was expected. A chance to meet new people, listen to new ideas and rethink my own. China, sustainability; they are becoming common themes. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I find myself engaging with these topics.

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