William Fung, drunken shrimp, midnight karaoke, rows of empty glasses of Chivas & green tea, and venture capitalists – what do these all have in common? These were just a few of the highlights of this year’s China Trek. For nine days, starting in Beijing and progressing south to Shanghai before culminating in Hong Kong, trekkers were treated like imperial royalty as they partied at the hottest nightspots, feasted on amazing (and at times, exotic) culinary treasures, and gained exclusive access to senior corporate executives and well-connected local financiers.
In Beijing, the seat of China’s political power, we witnessed the massive transformation of the city in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. Touring the city not only gave students a peek into the rapid pace of economic development but also allowed for an appreciation of the cultural wonders of China. We were mesmerized by the breathtaking views from atop the Great Wall and were captivated by the sheer size of the Forbidden City. Changing from warm fleeces into cleanroom scrubs, we were treated like corporate VIPs as we were given an exclusive tour of Lenovo’s computer manufacturing plant. Executives from Motorola, real estate developers, and local investment banks also courted HBS students as they explained career opportunities in China. As for the food, Beijing is probably most known for its Peking duck, but have you tried its drunken shrimp? (And you thought MBAs were the only drunk ones on this trip!) And to cap off the Beijing trip, we rang in the New Year with midnight karaoke and clubbing until sunrise at the hottest nightclubs in town.
Making a mid-tour stop in Shanghai – the commercial capital of China – we were awestruck by the dizzying pace of construction. We soon witnessed why the Shanghainese are considered the shrewdest businesspeople in China. Not to be outdone by the local merchants, we quickly learned some real-world negotiations tactics and bargained our way down to 80 percent discounts off most purchases! Shanghai also offered us opportunities to meet with local venture capitalists, who explained the unique challenges and the significant rewards of investing in China. By night, trekkers traded in the “belly-burning” bai jiu (tastes like paint thinner) from Beijing for the smooth and refined taste of Chivas and green tea and partied at Shanghai’s hotspots, Xin Tian Di and Park 97.
The trek culminated in Hong Kong – the land of Louis Vuitton stores and bright psychedelic neon lights. The trekkers quickly became regulars in Hong Kong’s entertainment district, Lan Kwai Fong, where some had more “star power” than local superstars Andy Lau or Faye Wong! Beyond the nightlife, the Cantonese cuisine is enough reason to visit Hong Kong. The trekkers tasted the best dim sum in the world and dined on the freshest catch of the day on Lamma Island. And, as a capstone to the networking portion of the trek, William Fung (HBS ’72, Section B), group managing director of Li & Fung (of TOM fame) hosted the HBS students for two hours and shared his candor and wisdom about working in China and creating a successful life and career.