SHANGHAI – I climbed a section of the Great Wall earlier this week, something I’d always thought I would do when I visited China. Pretty much everything else has been a surprise, an unanticipated experience.
I travelled to China, along with seven other reporters from across Canada, on a Media Fellowship with the Canada China Business Council.
In the coming weeks, Huddle will publish stories on my experiences in China and Maritime companies doing business there. You’ll read how local businesses are succeeding and growing by catering to China’s emerging middle class, which numbers 400 million people and counting.
And there will be pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. In the meantime here are seven of them that changed the way I see China:
1) The size of China’s cities is staggering
Our tour included stops in four megacities: Shanghai (24.2 million people), Beijing (21.73 million), Tianjin (15.62 million) and Nanjing (8.33 million). That’s almost 60 million people, nearly twice the population of Canada. China’s cities are enormous, and they’re only going to get bigger. The government is executing a plan to create 19 megacities, some of which could top 100 million people.
2) The Chinese are fitter than I am – even the 90-year-olds
Early morning in a park in Beijing hundreds of people (mostly seniors) do rigorous exercises on gymnastics-like equipment. This 90-year-old did a routine on this rope swing that required an amazing amount of balance and core strength. He said he wished he was a lot stronger. I witnessed this emphasis on health and fitness in other Chinese cities too.
3) The local food movement is catching on in China too
SHI Jing started a small farm in Beijing more than a decade ago because she was concerned about the safety of the food she was feeding her children from grocery stores. She now operates Lin Lin’s Farm (named after her daughter), which sells meat and produce from local farmers. She also operates this restaurant in Beijing that serves food cooked from the farms. In the coming weeks, you’ll read more about this story in Huddle.
4) There’s a digital revolution going on in China’s hospitals
We visited the Bejing Friendship Hospital and had met with medical staff administrators. The Chinese health system is implementing digital solutions to cut down on wait times and make the process of getting care more efficient for patients and hospital staff. Patient records are all digital now and shared between hospitals and physicians, and available to patients themselves online. People can still book appointments the old-fashioned ways, but they can also book online through WeChat, the most popular social media platform and communications network in the country.
5) There’s a digital revolution going on in the grocery and retail sectors
We visited the corporate offices of Suning, a retail, grocery, finance, sports and entertainment giant that employs 240,000 people and has 300 million customers that make purchases through its online platform and bricks-and-mortar stores. The cosmetics display (top left) is an example of a shopping kiosk that could be in a public place like a train station. You can make purchases at this unstaffed, electronic kiosk and have the products delivered to your home. The products in this produce display (top right) can be scanned so you can learn things like country origin and health benefits. JD.com, one of Suning’s competitors, uses facial recognition software for payment in stores and off-site vending machines, and does deliveries by drone in rural areas.
The final two aren’t things that I learned about China. They’re things China taught me:
6) Ice Cream can taste just as good with half the sugar
Four years ago Frank Zhou, a Chinese immigrant to Canada, opened a Cow’s ice cream shop in Beijing. The Chinese don’t have the same taste for sugar that we do, many of the flavours in the Beijing store contain half the sugar. And I can tell you they taste just as good as the ones you get in P.E.I.
7) You can eat lobster with chopsticks
The 7Fresh grocery store in Beijing sells lobster from New Brunswick (in the coming weeks you’ll read more about this story in Huddle). We ate a meal there earlier this week. I’ve struggled mightily with chopsticks since I arrived but discovered they work well with lobster.
Mark Leger is the editor of Huddle. Look for more stories on his trip to China in the coming weeks.