Monday, July 20, 2015

Bello! From Shanghai.

I am in Shanghai and it never cease to amaze me how this city keeps building new and taller buildings everyday.

The Skyline of Shanghai at the Bund is very pretty and on the other side of the shore at Pudong, you get a treat of the old and the new Shanghai that is being built.

Walking down Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, you get to see miles of malls on both sides. The streets are packed with people and even Shinjuku in Tokyo cannot compare with the crush of humans during rush hour. Its almost like every evening is like the countdown on Times Square during New Years.

Police are there to do traffic control or people will die from the crush of human. (People Mountain People Sea, 人山人海 ) will be an apt description.

Everything here is just done in such a large scale. Talking to businesses and startups, they raise Billions of dollars in RMB for this companies to expand. Every simple idea is very scalable with just local market.

Chinese Taxi App is easily more than US$6B after the merger and clearly size matters in China as they are backed up by TenCent and Alibaba. However, such large scale businesses have a lot of power to transform the transportation system to make transportation more efficient as carpooling services and other related services start to appear.

A lot of innovation and great ideas can be seen in China and there is also much funding to back them up. Even with the bad news of the financial crash weeks ago, investor's confidence is not down and consumers are still on the streets shopping.

Obviously, there are many things done right in China. How it transformed itself from a developing Nation just 20 years ago till today is certainly fascinating. There are a lot of lessons to learn from China in that perspective and of course nothing is perfect.

I was at the 2010 World Expo Site to find out what happened 5 years after, and the China Pavilion had been transformed into a Museum and the others -- ALL DESTROYED. If you have been to the site, this area is massive and to see how much resources is put in and used to build such construction and destroyed in such a short period of time is certainly heartbreaking.

Many of the nice new buildings are large and majestic, many of them can be considered marvels in the architecture world, but upon closer inspection, the workman ship of these billion dollar construction is far from acceptable. The floors are not even and flat, wood badly cut and pieced together, screws visible and sticking out of the walls and ground... (Near Mercedes Benz Arena in Pudong)

I guess it is easy to have money, but certainly, many people do not have the right mindset. People spit on the streets, litter and pee on walls even though the toilet is less than a minute away. Visitors to historic sites allow their children to climb on monuments and take photos. I've witnessed a Ferrari owner stopping beside a restaurant and peeing on their wall outside. (The restaurant was open and the toilets are clean)

Many students like the idea of volunteering and sustainability, however, when asked to volunteer, they will claim to have no time. It is always other people's responsibility.


I really like the progress of China and Shanghai seemed like a place full of opportunities, There are so many positive things and all the global brands are attracted to Shanghai and you can get everything you want here.

It seemed like a nice place, however, the cost is pretty high if you don't want to live like local Chinese. To get access to Google, Facebook, Youtube and more, you need to pay $$$ for VPN and it is slow.

In the pretty malls, everything is expensive, and relatively unaffordable to the locals. It is weird to see that in most malls, the retail stores are only those of foreign brands. Products which I can get in any country which has a mall.

In the other smaller malls where you can actually find Chinese products, like the copy products you hear about overseas, you get shady merchants who touts their products and over charge you for everything, even though you can clearly find the price online and they will charge you easily double the price online.

It is also weird that the cost of food and products is highly elastic as well. Having a steak from a nice restaurant can cost anywhere between US$8 - $100 in the same mall. The worst part is that the pricing does not really depend on location as the city where you expect high rents can be much cheaper than the suburban areas.

Having drinks and chilling in pubs have much varying costs as well. Beer can cost anywhere from US$2 to US$15. So looking at the menu and pricing becomes very important and you cannot judge a place on how it looks or the location.


I do feel strongly that China is still a work in progress. Many things can be improved and the mindsets of the locals have to change. From the pedestrians blocking your way when they stand at doorways or below escalators talking on their phones, to the impatient people who are constantly pushing even when there is no more space to move.

Like Singapore, the "me first" mentality is prevalent, and sadly, the "others failing make my success look better" mentality is common here too.


For the same reasons I dislike about Singapore, I can see them in Shanghai as well, however, I do feel that in terms of scale, Shanghai easily beats Singapore.

Nonetheless, I did meet a lot of people in Shanghai who are change makers that believe China can change for the better. And these inspiring people will probably take the lead in social innovation to make things better a step at a time.

-- Robin Low

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Nepal - Still open for business?

I recently visited Nepal to do disaster recovery, and realized that although Nepal suffered 2 earthquakes, the popular tourist locations are already cleaned up for visiting.

After talking to several business owners, they informed me that their businesses is badly affected even though they have rebuilt from the earthquake. There is simply a lack of tourist. 

The big question remains, "Is this Nepal great to visit?"

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Most of the UNESCO sites are not damaged by the earthquake, so it is still a great place to visit.

Budget wise, hotels are relatively cheap in Kathmandu.

Guest houses range from US$8 and up (Whole room to yourself)

Hyatt costs about US$135 and Shangri-La costs under US$100 a night.

Meals costs about US$1 per meal (Dumplings), Beer in restaurants cost about US$3.

Transportation is rather cheap as well. Taxis start at US$0.25, and usually cost about US$1.50 - US$2.50 within Kathmandu. However, at night or when it rains, the Taxis will all have faulty meters, and the fares are usually US$5.

Even in the most touristy parts of the city, the gifts are relatively cheap and affordable.

The buildings are rather quirky and the roads small are rather bad. However, the temples and Stupa are unique to the region. It both combines South Asia and North Asia with Hindu temples and Tibetan Prayer wheels.

With the Himalayas just a stone throw away, you can also easily get to places to catch a view of the tallest peaks in the world.

Airfares are relatively cheap from Asia as well. A return Malindo Air Flight from Kuala Lumpur costs US$210...

With the disaster in mind, a good way to support Nepal is to Visit Nepal... Showing solidarity through tourism is a win-win situation: you get a cheap holiday in a beautiful country; Nepal gets a much-needed injection of cash for economic recovery.

-- Robin Low