Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Today it is one of the busiest streets in the world, but when I visited many years ago it was still quiet – it was unempty until at least noon, and you’d have to struggle to meet any foreigners there at all.

Interestingly, while visiting Shanghai as I scientist I was followed on at least two occasions by the Chinese secret police (actually, nothing unexpected since I had a background in nuclear physics, and the Chinese goverment made no secrets about following nuclear physicists whenever possible). And (as many, many people over the years have asked me) this is where my path first crossed with a man I only know as Mr. Tradecraft.

This was back in the days before China was open to the west: for example, all incoming flights had to stop in Beijing, where the passengers would get out and pass through immigration, before re-boarding and heading to Shanghai.

Another interesting story is that I shared a train cabin with a team of business leaders from Motorola, who at the time had no footprint in China and were considering opening their first factory there. So unknowingly I may have helped contribute to their business decision!

High tech Hainan watertower

Thomas Friedman wrote, if you haven’t visited a megacity in the last year, then you really haven’t seen it.

Hainan, an island off the southern coast of China is certainly not a megacity. Nevertheless, the exceptionally high tech nature of Chinese cities slaps you in the face when you step outside the airport and see this watertower, sporting a huge and bright digital display:

WeChat and the Great IT Divide between East and West

First things first: this is my WeChat QR code:

If you’re like I was until recently, you’ve probably never heard of WeChat. And that is the AMAZING part – that you’ve never heard of it.  Because it is the top social networking service in China, and it is used by around ONE BILLION PEOPLE!

In fact, as I travelled around the southern Chinese island of Hainan, I was impressed that just about every store, and every product in every store, sported a QR code.

This points to the real crux of the situation: a MASSIVE amount of IT in the West, and a MASSIVE amount of IT in the East, and yet despite all this, two huge universes with much little exchange between them than you might think.

I first learned about WeChat on a recent business trip to China.  All my Chinese IT colleagues and IT business partners were eager that we connect.  In fact, even in formal business meetings, instead of the initial round of swapping business cards, we spent the time scanning each other’s WeChat QR codes.

WeChat is a lot more than just instant messaging: it is online payment, email, and a host of other services rolled into one.

And . . . all content and communication with WeChat is strictly controlled by the Chinese government.  All posts and chats are filtered, and any words or topics that do not meet government standards are filtered out.

Final thought: a fabulous website shows the statistics about the number of languages that comprise the Internet:

China is cleaner than Zurich!

The first reaction of most people who’ve never been to Switzerland’s city of Zürich when they come here: how can a place be so clean?!

And of course, most people who’ve been to big Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing have a similar reaction: how can a place be so dirty?

Well . . . if you think China is dirty, think again!  The tourist island of Hainan is at least 10 to 15 times cleaner than the cleanest city in Europe!

Here is a view of downtown Hainan from the city park, with the Hilton Hotel framed between the trees:

And here’s another view of dowtown Hainan, taken from a beautiful park built along the north coast of the island:

Why is Hainan so clean?  The government has mandated this: strict fines for pollution, a huge staff of people to keep it clean.  And the amazing part: only electric vehicles are allowed in some areas of the city, as you can see from the electric scooters here:

It probably also helps that Hainan is a small tropical island, to the rains and winds keep the air clean.


School discipline in Hainan

I took this photo of schoolchildren, lined up outside their school, in Hainan, China. The temperature was 35 C, and the children stood in this organized manner for 2 hours, without moving. Here’s what it looked like from my hotel room on the 55th floor:

And here is a blow-up of the children in the school yard – amazing.