Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shanghai Stock Exchange and Nielsen

Our Thursday started with a less-than-favorable breakfast in the Charms Hotel, which we anticipated based on online reviews of the hotel. The selection was limited to fried foods (fried potatoes, fried dumplings, fried noodles, fried eggs, spring rolls) and a variety of stale breads.

At 9:00 am, we hailed taxis outside the hotel and headed to the Pudong Financial District to visit the Shanghai Stock Exchange. After going through two security checkpoints, neither of which seemed particularly stringent or secure, we stood outside a wall of glass overlooking the trading floor. The room below was almost completely empty, a sign of the times considering most trading is done electronically and not on-site. The visit was, alas, not so impressive since there was such little action to see inside the facility.

Our guide suggested we look at captioned photographs in an adjoining room, but the room was dark and no lights were turned on so that we could more easily read the captions. The room was also full of obscure models of various building projects, among them models that were in states of decay and disarray. Perhaps these observations simply reflect the changes that the stock exchange has undergone in recent times and the decreasing relevance of the actual facility.

Once this visit finished, the group rested at a nearby Starbucks before venturing on to the nearby subway station. It was our first adventure on the city's subway system, and it was surprisingly easy to find our way around. The stations and trains were immaculate, and all card kiosks and announcements had understandable English translations.

After a brief break for lunch, we prepared to walk a short distance to China Pod. It became quickly apparent that the company's headquarters was going to be a challenge to locate. First, a cab driver simply dropped us off at a nearby intersection and pointed down a closed street indicating that she couldn't take us any further. So with that we expected to walk a couple of blocks past the construction to get to the building. We still were not sure where their building was located, so we called our contact at China Pod. She indicated we were only three minutes from their building. Two of our staff members then ventured down the street for about 15 minutes and discovered that the neighborhood was horribly impoverished and definitely not the area where China Pod was located. Upon their return, one of our students approached a Chinese man inside a business who spoke English. He told us that China Pod was at least 25 minutes away, and by that point we were late to our appointment. After a group discussion about what to do, we decided to cancel our China Pod visit. This definitely taught the group a lesson about the difficulties of traveling in a large city where even the taxi drivers don't know how to get you to places or will outright refuse to take you to a location unless ou can provide detailed directions or show them on a map where to take you.

When that dramatic moment came to a close, we hailed taxis and went on another driving adventure, this time to Nielsen. Although we had the address written out in Chinese, most of the taxi drivers didn't know how to get us there. Nielsen, by the way, is located on one of the major streets in Shanghai. The Lonely Planet travel guide for the city had warned about this; many drivers come from other regions and have little or no experience with the city itself. Thus travelers should know where they need to go and how to get there. A map is a necessity.

Once we made it to Nielsen, we were treated to a phenomenal presentation by Oliver Rust, a staff member who has worked in the Shanghai office for many years. His knowledge of the Chinese market was quite impressive, and he went into great detail about the changing demographics of the country and the impact of changing consumer behavior on marketing approaches by both international and domestic companies. The students asked a series of great questions, and Oliver graciously answered all of them. Nielsen gave each of us a nice pen and notebook set.

The group had the rest of the evening free to explore the city or to simply rest after a very long day of traveling and walking around Shanghai. Tomorrow we'll be doing more of the same.

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