I just returned from a week-long trip to China, where I participated in a conference on Legal, Security, and Privacy Issues in Information Technology. (See www.lspi.net for more on the conference.) We had the pleasure of meeting many fine people from Beijing, and we learned much from the experience.
Here are a few quick observations:
(1) Beijing is a growing city with sprawling dimensions. I cannot recall ever seeing so many building cranes constructing new multi-story structures in one place. This building boom is undoubtedly fueling their economy. Hopefully it is responding to real demands for new space.
(2) Preparations for the Olympic games next summer are well underway. With such a large city, transportation issues will undoubtedly be presented. Traffic was often congested. My small unscientific survey revealed that U.S. nameplates are few and far between. (I saw one Buick and a couple of Jeep Cherokees -- that's it.) This burgeoning market from middle class citizens with cars seems not to be penetrated by U.S. automakers. Japan, Korea, and Germany seem to be making headway, though.
(3) Language barriers continue to exist. Of course, that was our problem, as we were guests in their country who should make an effort to learn their language. However, there is a practical need to communicate with all of those prospective Olympic visitors. We often found it necessary to rely on Chinese friends and hotel employees to draw characters for us in order to reach our intended destinations. Query whether this will change in time for the Olympics -- I doubt it will be possible in such a short time frame. Thus, perhaps buying a Rosetta Stone would be a good idea.
(4) Market economics are being learned and applied there, often with great effectiveness. We shopped in markets where bargaining was common and expected -- those merchants clearly understand supply and demand, including price elasticity!
(5) China attracts some interesting people who are interested in meeting the needs of a growing middle class. I was told that the market potential for middle class citizens with sufficient disposable income to purchase "luxury" goods (including beef) may now total 250 million. We especially enjoyed visiting with two investors we met in the airport who were operating a cattle feeding operation in Mongolia. (Yes, there really is Mongolian beef, but some of it is being raised by Americans who "cowboy up" in that cold country.)
(6) Technology is bridging gaps. It was wonderful to ride down the streets of Beijing reading the New York Times on my blackberry. I could e-mail my Chinese contacts and call them on my cell phone, with the benefit of Verizon's global phone service. Many Chinese had cell phones and were using them regularly -- even when driving on their sometimes frenetic roadways.
More to come on this topic.