Random Thoughts – China Travel Edition
I am on the sixth day of a sixteen-day Asia work trip as I write this. So far, I have spent time in Beijing and Shanghai. It’s hard to believe that there are ten more days to go and four more cities to visit for this trip.
Spending sixteen days in Asia means I get to spend two weekends in different cities. I spent the first weekend in Shanghai, my first time in this international city. I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed by Shanghai. It is a really beautiful city, safe, and extremely international.
Here are some random thoughts from my travels so far:
- I first visited Beijing back in 2011. Beijing was a huge city back then but it is even bigger now. Traffic was absolutely horrendous due to drivers not obeying traffic laws (i.e. cutting in and out of traffic, changing lanes, etc) and way too many cars. The ride from Beijing Capital Airport to my hotel, ~29 km (18 miles) took me 1.5 hours. One day when we visited a customer, it took us over two hours to get back to the hotel. We only had to travel 34 km (21 miles). Crazy!
- Air quality in Beijing was quite bad (air quality index was consistently over 150). My throat immediately got irritated by the air on the first day. Shanghai’s air quality was a little bit better but not by much. The first day I arrived in Shanghai, the air quality index was at 130. In comparison, Vancouver International Airport was around 50, North Vancouver was around 25, and LA was around 75.
- I found Shanghai extremely walkable. One night I walked around 6 km, walking from the hotel to The Bund, to Yu Garden, then back to the hotel. On my last day in Shanghai, I walked over 28 km and over 40,000 steps. Instead of taking the subway or taxi, walking allowed me to see various areas of Shanghai I wouldn’t have otherwise.
- The Bund was absolutely stunning at night. It’s very similar to Hong Kong Victoria Harbour but prettier, in my opinion. Walking along The Bund was really neat too.
- KFC’s (and Pizza Huts) were literally everywhere in Beijing and Shanghai and the KFC stores I saw seemed to be packed with hungry customers. Being an investor at heart, seeing this quickly made me wonder whether Yum! brands is a good investment or not. After all, if KFC is popular in Beijing and Shanghai, maybe it is popular in other major China cities too. And last time I checked, there are a lot of people in China! However, a quick glance at the stock information didn’t excite me at all – a P/E ratio of 27.5 a Price to Book (P/B) ratio of -3.789, a Price to Sales (P/S) ratio of 5.7, and a quarterly YoY earnings growth of -43.80%. These parameters indicate that the company has some problems that need to be sorted out.
- I also happen to notice that there are a lot of Starbucks in both Beijing and Shanghai. Interestingly, compared to North American cities like Vancouver for example, I didn’t think Starbucks store locations are as saturated in Shanghai and Beijing. Especially considering the population of both cities. For example, when I was at Beijing Capital Airport, the domestic terminal had no Starbucks at all (not sure if there’s one in the international terminal. There was a Starbucks in the Shanghai domestic terminal and it was packed with people). Furthermore, all the stores I walked by in both cities were jammed packed. I’d like to believe that there are still a lot of growths in China for Starbucks. As a Starbucks investor, I think that’s good news.
- Paying via WeChat is extremely popular in China. Most of my co-workers in China don’t even carry cash anymore. Some co-workers were mentioned that their kids no longer have any concept of what money is due to paying everything through WeChat. I was extremely surprised that vendors at a few food courts I went to wouldn’t take cash (you pay via WeChat)! Although I had WeChat, I couldn’t load cash on it (some rules & restrictions). So I needed to go to the help counter to get a special card and loan money on it in order to purchase food. What a hassle, so I went somewhere else. Also, not too many stores accept foreign credit cards (I always had to ask first). I suppose China remains to be a market that the likes of Visa and Mastercard haven’t cracked fully.
- A lot of people smoke in China and not everyone follows the “No Smoking” rule. One day while riding a taxi, our taxi driver started smoking even though there are no smoking signs in the car (he ended up smoke two cigarettes in a 30-minute taxi ride). In a restaurant where I was having lunch with my co-workers, people sitting at the table behind us were smoking, even though there was a no smoking sign (with the fine amount listed) right above their table. Even in Marriott, one of the fancier hotels in Shanghai, I found cigarette ashes in the men’s bathroom. I suppose I need to be fair though, as it only takes a few bad apples to create a bad impression. Also, I guess if you invest in a tobacco company, you might like this observation. I’m assuming people are smoking Chinese branded cigarettes rather than ones from Philip Morris.
- Google, Facebook, and Twitter are still blocked in China, which made it extremely inconvenient (my Google Pixel was basically unusable in China). You can bypass this if you roam on a foreign phone (because of the APN on the phone doesn’t belong to China). For the most part, I had roaming turned off but I had to turn on roaming a number of times, so I could check Google Maps. For some reason, I was able to access Google using my Shanghai hotel’s Wi-Fi but Facebook and Twitter didn’t work. Weird!
- Finally, there are a lot of scooters around in both Beijing and Shanghai. I did not see anyone wearing a helmet while riding a scooter. Also, the scooters all seemed to be electric.
That’s all for now folks. Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Taipei, ready for not, here I come!