Friday, August 10, 2012

Final chapter

It's been a while now since the semester did finish and I moved back to Finland. It was truly an awesome experience I won't forget and I'm glad I chose China and especially Shanghai as my go-to-place. As anywhere else, you face some difficulties when moving to a foreign country but all in all my almost 6 months stay went pretty smoothly. For the future expats going to Shanghai, I'd recommend using the services of a western based company that helps you to find a flat and organizing all the other necessary amenities such as internet, water and gas. Our partner university suggested us to use a local company, but now that I know the possibilities I would've done otherwise. The level of service in the Chinese standards is - let's say - not that high compared to the western standards. 
Our exchange program consisted of 6 courses we had to execute and they all dealt with the Asian business environment focusing mostly on marketing and supply chain operations in China. The courses were
- Asian business research project
- Consumer behavior in the Asian market
- Cross cultural management and negotiation
- Asian economy and geopolitics
- Fashion sourcing (not sure why this was part of the program :))
- Chinese language course
Compared to i.e. the difficulty and workload of my previous courses in my home university in Finland, these courses were quite easy and not so work-intensive, but we learned many great aspects about doing business in China that are helpful in the future if I happen to work with some Chinese people/companies etc. 

Now I've been over a month and a half back home in Finland and soon it's time for me to start doing my master's thesis, so thanks a lot for following my exchange time and this blog! 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hong Kong

After Singapore our next destination was Hong Kong. We flew with Tiger Airways and I really like these cheap airlines in Asia. In Singapore they have an own ‘Budget Terminal’ which is perfect for these operators. It’s a simple and small terminal right next to the International Airport, but it has everything you need (without the luxury brand shops). There were some nice café’s and restaurants and everything from check-in to the actual boarding worked really smoothly.
But let’s talk a bit about Hong Kong. We had booked our hostel on Hong Kong Island, not too far away from the centrum and close to the metro station called Fortress Hill. Compared to other place where we’ve stayed, the hostel prices in Hong Kong are a bit more expensive but you can find reasonably prices places too. One pretty famous building is the Chun King Mansion, which is located on the Kowloon side of the city. It’s full of hostels (very cheap ones) but it’s mainly full of Indian and Pakistan people, some of them are actually living in the dorms there so it could be a wiser decision to pay some extra dollars and stay somewhere else. During our first day in HK we walked around the central districts, visited a traditional temple on Hollywood Road, walked through the Hong Kong Park, visited the Zoological and Botanical Garden and ended the evening on the Kowloon side looking over the bay at the HK skyline (on a clear day or eve the view is very nice) and walking through the Avenue of Stars. During the second day we travelled around Kowloon. Some places we saw were for example the flower market street, bird market street and fish market street. Close to those streets is also the neighborhood of Mong Kok that has the highest population density in the world according to Guinness records and it’s not hard to believe that. It was impossible to walk normally there because all the streets are so full of people.

One must see spot for every tourist in HK is the Peak. As our second day was really bright and sunny we wanted to go up to the Peak in the early evening.. Let’s say it so that we weren’t the only ones who had that plan. The queue for the Peak tram was quite long and we had to wait about one hour. After a while on the Peak the queue down was about the same size but never mind, the view was worth it! 

In the late evening we visited the bar street of Hong Kong, called Lan Kwai Fong. There are 80 bars and restaurant spread around the pretty short street and it was full of people, mostly westerners. As you probably already know, HK is one of the best places in the world to go shopping. As back packers with a student budget we surely weren’t the best shopping tourists but the city is full of very nice shopping malls, as well as smaller shops you don’t find anywhere else. The best areas for shopping are of course around Central (every luxury brand has its flagship store there), the IFC Mall next to the Hong Kong station, the area around Causeway Bay three stops east from Central and the whole district around Tsim Sha Tsui in the Kowloon side. At least compared to Shanghai, the prices are a lot cheaper (thanks to the high import taxes in China). 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pulao Tioman & Singapore

After getting back to Shanghai from our trip, we had one bigger assignment to do that kept me from updating my blog for a while (but now I’ve time to write a few posts before leaving China and move back to Finland). So after the 4 days in KL we took a night bus to Mesring, a city on the east coast of Malaysia, where we arrived at 4.30am. We’d heard that the ferries don’t really have a schedule but luckily for us the next ferry was about to leave at 5am so we just made it on time for that one (the next one would’ve left at 2pm). The ferry did last about 2 hours and we arrived at the Tioman Islands at 7am and went straight to look for a bungalow to stay in for the next days. We found two 3-bed bungalows for us pretty easily.
After a short nap, we spent the first day on the beach enjoying the hot weather, sunshine and clear South-China Sea water. The Tioman Islands are listed as one of the paradise islands and the village where we stayed was very small and there weren’t that many tourists (which was a nice thing). We actually planned to stay there 3 nights but we delayed our stay by one night because we felt like staying there longer in stead of Singapore. During the days on the Island we did some snorkeling, canoeing, laying on the beach, swimming, eating really tasty barbeque and just relaxing. The weather was really gorgeous the whole time and the first raindrops fell in the morning we left the island for Singapore. Below are some pics.

We knew it would be a pretty long journey to Singapore, but it was surprisingly long. First we had to take the ferry back to Mesring and that took us over 3 hours this time for some reason. In Mesring we had to wait for about one hour for the bus to Singapore. We were told that it would be a 3-hour ride but after three hours we had to change busses in the last town on the Malaysian side. Before actually arriving in some random bus station in Singapore we had changed the bus twice again due to the border registration activities. Finally in Singapore, we had no clue where we were actually and no Singaporean dollars, so we started walking hoping to find a ATM somewhere to be able to get a taxi to our hostel.
In the first evening we headed to Clarke Quay, a riverside area full of restaurants and bars. One place there happened to have a Maifest-party (a German festival that takes place in May). The next days we spent walking around different areas of the city. We visited Little India and its super big shopping mall Mustafa, Chinatown (maybe we missed Shanghai already so much that we had to experience some China again J), the main shopping area of the city around Orchard Road and went to movies in Raffles City (yeah, the Avengers was really entertaining). Some other must-see places definitely were the Merlion statue, the whole neighborhood around Raffles Place with all the skyscrapers and 5-star hotels, as well as the Parliament and other governmental buildings. One evening we planned to go the Singapore Flyer but we were a little bit late and they didn’t take anymore people on board. However, we had a spectacular view of the city in the rooftop bar in Marina Bay Sands (that really tops the view from the Flyer). I’d also strongly recommend visiting the restaurant called Marche’s in Somerset! It’s a Swiss restaurant and the food is delicious. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to go to Sentosa (but maybe next time). One funny coincidence was the Changing of the Guard ceremony we just happened to walk by and stopped to watch it. It takes place only once a month at the main entrance of Istana.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Batu Caves & City sightseeing in KL

 In total we spent 3 days in KL, though the first day was a bit affected by the arrival in the middle of the night. Before going to KL I’d heard from several people that you don’t need to spend many days there because there is not that much to see – and it was true. I’d say that 3 to 4 days are enough. In the first morning we planned to leave quite early but we all felt so tired that we didn’t manage to get up as planned. After we finally got up, we took the train to Batu Caves which is a monkey park with some bat caves. There were quite many tourists besides us. You could feed the monkeys there and they were completely free to play and jump around the area. After a tour in the monkey park, we took a 45-minute guided tour in the ‘Black Cave’ that was the biggest of the caves. The tour did cost 35 RMY (ca. 9€). The guide explained us about the cave’s history, bates living there and the very rare spider species you can find there too.

In the early evening we got back to KL and we went to take a look at the Petronas Towers. If you want to go to the observation area and visit the towers, you have to be there at 8.00am as they allow only a maximum of 1.000 people to visit the towers daily. However, to have a better view at the city I’d recommend to go to the KL Tower which is higher and provides a nice view at the Petronas Towers and the rest of the city.
On our last day we visited Chinatown shopping street called Petaling Street. It was funny since knowing the markets in Shanghai, they had pretty much exactly the same items on display in KL too.. And it seems to be in every Chinatown  market the same issue that if you want to buy something, you have to bargain unless you want to pay way too much. After eating in Chinatown we continued by walking to the Merdeka Square. On the way there wo shortly stopped at one Temple we had already walked by the other day but it was closed then. Around the square there are many of governmental buildings and on the one end of the square there was probably the world’s highest flagpole. We also visited the KL museum where you can see some pictures and stories of the city’s development. Before returning to the hostel, we walked across Little India. It was actually quite big in KL and had many small shops and restaurants. We spent our last evening at the hostel before taking the night bus to Mersing to catch the ferry to Tioman Islands. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Trip to Malaysia via Hong Kong

We’re having a 2-week break from the school and the five of us planned to spend the holidays in Malaysia and Singapore. The first plan was to visit a friend of us who is studying in Kuala Lumpur so we flew there first via Hong Kong. The flight from Shanghai to KL started without any problems but the closer we got to HK, the worse the weather got and we had to circle around the Hong Kong International for about 30 minutes before getting the permission to land. According to the flight schedule we should‘ve had 2 hours time in HK before the flight to KL. Due to the thunderstorms our flight was delayed and we didn’t get any information about the estimated departure time. About one hour after the scheduled time we finally got the information from which gate we’re supposed to board, so we walked to the gate. Once at the gate, it was already time to board. However, after getting into the plane nothing happened in the next two hours. Finally after over 3 hours of delay in total our flight took of. The turbulence was really hard in the first 30 minutes but after that it fortunately calmed down.

Thanks to these coincidences we arrived in KL shortly after 4am. We didn’t know exactly how to get from there to the city and first we thought the first train would be leaving at 5.30, but then we found out that it’d leave at 7.30. After eating breakfast at the airport we took a bus to the centrum because the taxis were really expensive. In KL we had to found our hostel in Chinatown area but after a while we found the place and it turned out to be a really nice one, though a bit expensive compared to many other hostels.
After a few hours of sleep we woke up in the middle of the protests. Tens of thousand people were protesting against the government and for clean elections to come during summer or fall. One of the main streets for the protestants was the street in front of our hostel which was full of policemen in the afternoon :) All the people were despite the protests very friendly and peaceful so it was safe to walk around the city. Two times we had to change our route since the police was shooting tear gas into the masses but otherwise it didn’t affect us that much. In the evening we visited some Finnish guys who lived in a very nice penthouse in top of one shopping mall and a hotel. There were in total 11 people living in the huge apartment. After a few hours chatting with them, we headed back to the hostel to rest. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shanghai F1 GP 13.-15.4.2012

We spent pretty much the whole last weekend on the Shanghai Circuit since the F1 circus was in town! Me and my roommate Ville booked our tickets quite a long time ago because we certainly didn’t want to miss this happening :) the cheapest tickets for the whole weekend were about 340rmb (ca. 40€) on the grass stand but we bought tickets for a bit better stand and those tickets cost 800rmb (ca. 90€) each. Once arrived at the stand, we realized that it certainly was worth paying the money because our seats were right at the end of the finish line with two big curves in front of us. So we actually could see quite a lot from the race and not just cars passing by with 370km/h like on the grandstand for example!

On Friday we didn’t go to watch the training session as we had mandatory lectures the whole day at school but on Saturday we went to the circuit early in the morning. The subway was surprisingly not that full on the way there yet. The circuit itself is pretty far from the city center since it’s the subway ride took almost 90 minutes to get there.. On Saturday’s schedule there was the last training session in the morning and in the afternoon the actual qualification for Sunday’s race. Around the circuit there was all kinds of activities for the visitors. VIP guests had a small circuit where they could test some AMG Mercedes cars, Porsche had a nice and big pavilion and many of the F1 teams had their own stands where they sold fan staff.

On Sunday we went to the circuit way before the actual race to watch the Porsche team cup race and spend some time around the circuit before the race. This was my first F1 race I’ve seen live so far and I really enjoyed it. Of course, you can follow the race much better on TV but it was cool to see and hear the cars. One big surprise for me were all the Chinese people (mostly female) supporting Kimi Räikkönen! The Finnish flag was by far the most popular one in the stands which felt pretty nice :) besides the massive amount of Chinese supporting Finland, there were quite a lot Finnish people too and we saw many of our friend from the Shanghai Finnish Community too.. One development proposal would be to install a bit bigger screens in front of the stands so that you could at least see the standings once a while in between because those what they had there now were really too small.. But otherwise I’m very pleased how everything was organized. Even the subway worked decently even though there were 40 to 50 thousand people leaving the area at the same time :) the Chinese had it, though, well organized and the queue proceeded nicely without any problems. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ancient water towns around Shanghai

I’ll continue writing about some hopefully useful topics for people coming to Shanghai either as tourists or maybe to live here and exploring various places around the city. So today’s post deals with few ancient water towns in Shanghai. I myself have been to two of them, to Qibao (七宝) and Nanxiang Guyi Garden (南翔古意园). Qibao is 360-meter long south-north boulevard running across the Qibao ancient town. It is easily accessible with the subway line 9 as there is a station called Qibao too. The street offers visitors all kind of different foods and drinks, whereas the area around the North Square has many shops offering local handicrafts and arts.

Just like Qibao, Nanxiang is also located about a 50-minute metro ride from the city center and it is on line 11. The Guyi Garden itself is regarded to be one of the most important classical gardens in Shanghai. There are many pavilions, ponds, twisted brooks and bridges. Compared to Qibao, in Nanxiang there were no shops for visitors and it was much less crowded. So if you want peacefully see some traditional Chinese gardens, Nanxiang is definitely a good choice and the ticket fee of 12rmb is not bad. Other recommendable water towns around Shanghai are Zhujiajiao (朱家角), Fengjing (风景), Nanxun (南浔), Xitang (西塘)and Tongli (同理). Maybe I’ll have time later during this spring to visit some of them too.