West meets East: Whirlwind trip reveals China’s delicate balance

By Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber CEO

  • Wednesday, April 23, 2008 12:00am
  • Business

By Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber CEO

Last month, the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce embarked on a nine-day tour of China.

Nine days in China is like 45 minutes at Disney World: “C’mon gang, only 7.5 minutes to tour Epcot before the bus leaves for The Magic Kingdom!” It’s daunting.

With that in mind, 60 of my closest friends, colleagues and I gladly took on an agenda that had us traveling at break-neck speed from Beijing to Shanghai, balancing historical and economic points of interest along the way.

We began at the future home of the 2008 Summer Olympics — Beijing, population 15 million. China’s third-largest city appeared clean albeit highly congested with traffic. The city’s $17 billion spent on anti-pollution efforts seemed to be paying off with hardly a trace of the infamous smog-like toxic haze that has plagued Beijing in the past.

Beijing is a rich mix of old and new, and our whirlwind tour reflected this. Visits to the ancient Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the Great Wall and Ming Tombs were counter-balanced with tours of a pearl and jade factory, as well as a very modern business conference where we mingled with industry leaders.

We then flew to Shanghai, where we immediately set off on buses to Suzhou, population 2 million. Known as the Venice of China, 42 percent of this city is covered by water, including a vast number of ponds and streams. Built in 514 B.C., this ancient city is considered by locals to be “paradise on Earth,” and it’s hard to argue the point once you’ve experienced the beautiful stone-worked bridges, pagodas and intricate gardens.

With 6 million new people to visit with, we traveled to Hangzhou, one of China’s most prosperous and beautiful cities.

A visit to a tea plantation had us tasting “Dragon Well” green tea before heading to West Lake to see the Lingyin Temple. Loosely translated, “The temple of the soul’s retreat” is a 1,600-year wonder and one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in China.

Finally, we arrived back in Shanghai — this time for a visit. The second-largest city in China hosts 17 million people, dwarfing Seattle’s own 600,000 current occupancy rate. Where Beijing is its cultural and political epicenter, Shanghai is largely considered the center of finance and trade in mainland China.

We rode the Shanghai Maglev, or bullet train, that travels up to 431 kilometers per hour — talk about light-rail transit! We toured the Bund, a world-famous waterfront park, then traveled to the Yu Gardens before a visit to the Pudong Economic Development Zone for another look at the Chinese business world.

We learned that for a country that makes up about a fifth of the world’s population, China consumes more than half of the world’s pork and cement, a third of the world’s steel, and over a quarter of its aluminum. This illustrates China’s massive industrial and urban growth (and love of pork products).

China’s potential appears boundless. Based on this observation, several of our travelers are already planning to learn the Chinese language and return to leverage business opportunities and further explore the beauties of its culture and landscapes.

Our maiden voyage to the original Magic Kingdom, from Beijing to Shanghai, proved unforgettable. It’s almost impossible to describe the experience, but I’ll try. China is a very delicate balance of honoring rich ancestral traditions with the title of world’s fastest emerging superpower. The result of this mass economic reform and growth in a country with an ancient blueprint is an exciting, exotic fusion of modern traditionalism.

China is a must-see. For information on our trip, including day blogs and pictures, visit our Web site www.federalwaychamber.com and click on “Visit China.”

Tom Pierson is CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Contact: tomp@federalwaychamber.com or (253) 838-2605. Also visit www.voiceofsouthsound.com.

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