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1st Impressions Of China

QINGDAO, CHINA 5:45 AM Thursday morning

After false starts a couple of years ago I’ve finally made my first visit to China. I’m here covering the Consumer Electronics Association delegation’s visit to SinoCES, the country’s major CE show that begins today.

So I should not complain (and I’m not) that from my front door back home to the door of my guest room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Qingdao it took me 23 hours. (That’s two hours more than scheduled due to delays back home at JFK which made me miss my connecting flight in Beijing.)

When my flight landed in Beijing Tuesday night I felt like we were landing in London. Fog hung over the airport. Since our flight was around two hours late I tried to make a 9:00 pm flight to Qingdao. I found out that fog or no fog the Chinese are very punctual in all scheduling matters. I might have made it on a U.S. domestic flight, but in China the flight was gone and I settled in to wait for the next one at 10:40 pm.

The airport in Beijing seemed massive. From what I’ve been told by veteran travelers to China that much of it is brand new for the Summer Olympics which begins in Beijing, Qingdao and other cities in here starting in August.

A local joke that we heard shows how much new building is going on for the Summer Olympics is that new official bird of China is the crane… that’s in construction cranes. (Rim-shot please.)

As I mentioned in the story about the Suning store, on my first full day in Qingdao the weather was muggy and foggy which didn’t let this first-time visitor to this major port city see all of its architecture in its best light.

The city is the host for the Summer Olympics Sailing Regatta and, as with all Olympics, a major last minute glitch has occurred. An algae bloom has formed on the lake where the competition will be held and the local government has put everyone to work on the project to clean it up before the sailors are ready August 9.

One senses in meetings with Jiang Yaoping, vice minister of the Ministry of Commerce for the People’s Republic Of China, Cai Limin, vice governor of Shandong Province, and members of the China Electronic Chamber of Commerce and other dignitaries that there is a great deal of pride in being host of the Olympics. And a great deal of anxiety as they await the athletes, tourists and world media scrutiny from nations around the globe.

The Olympics for China seem to symbolize its “coming out party” as a major economic power, 30 years after it opened up its economy to the rest of the world.

Based on economic reports for consumer electronics alone given by Chinese officials and Darrel Ching of the U.S. Embassy double-digit growth rates across the board continue to be the norm.

Still there is nervousness about how China will be received (and reviewed) by the international community during and after the Olympics.

And the fog here in Qingdao (which out my window is mixing with rain this morning) could be a metaphor for the economy both here and worldwide in the second half with energy and commodity costs rising. Can China continue double-digit growth during a worldwide economic downturn?

Chinese manufacturers, and in this case CE manufacturers, do not live in an economic bubble. We’ll see if we can find out more about that as this trip continues.