Six days in China can really blow your mind.
From the power and scale of 150,000 people at one factory campus who are building most of the world’s PCs … to the amazing skylines of Shanghai and Hong Kong … to sea cucumber + chicken feet … to the warmth and hospitality of co-workers and guides who looked out for us everywhere we went… our minds were blown. China showed us how focus and energy can transform a land and people. And we never made it to Beijing or Xian or anywhere in the west. Future trips beckon!
Suzhou and the Microsoft/Pegatron Factory
We started our trip in Suzhou—2 hours drive west of Shanghai, and the home of many of China’s significant factories. An important and historic city, we were treated to AMAZING hospitality by the Microsoft and Pegatron teams in Suzhou, who showed us first their city and then the factories. We had a terrific lunch together, visited the famous “Humble Administrator’s Garden” highlighting the differences between historic ornate Chinese architecture and the more straightforward (and often younger) Japanese gardens. Suzhou is sometimes referred to as China’s Venice… whose canals not only are ornate and tranquil on a snowy evening like ours—but also have provided a key transportation mechanism from city to city for hundreds of years.
After a great evening– the next day was all about visiting the factory. Awesome in its operational excellence, the factory has tens-of-thousands of Pegatron employees building our Surface products on very-well-conceived factory lines. The factory is nearly spotless, with great thought having been applied to each step, the length-of-time-involved, the training and well being of the operators, and the quality control on each part of the device to ensure our customers get hardware that works (and looks) just perfect.
The team also spent time showing us a bit about the factory workers’ lives… dormitory rooms are provided free of charge as so many people seek these jobs from rural West China .. and after a few months or a year most move into more permanent housing in the city. Meals are provided, and the campus has facilities for sports/working out, basic shopping needs, and restaurants.
It was gratifying to see folks I knew years ago from Redmond software teams now located in China and working with Pegatron to engineer the factory to efficiency and quality. The kinds of problems they are solving—micron precision in matching parts for the Surface Book hinge, 6-degree-movement robotics with complex optics systems to verify Hololens—are incredibly difficult and they are applying the right deep and no-compromises engineering that makes you shake your head… I was proud to be a Microsoft employee when I left the factory that day!
Having visited Bejing and Hong Kong before, I was REALLY excited to see Shanghai! I had high expectations of the blend of modernity and history… and I was so not disappointed. During our visit, we:
- Toured the Shanghai history museum and walked the Bund, Old Shanghai and other important historic areas, learning how the British, French and other Western countries first came into Shanghai .. and then later were replaced by Chinese government. It’s cool how the blend of archecture, signage, attitudes remain and have evolved.
- Took in the awe-inspiring skyline, from below and above. We went on a boat cruise– hosted by our friends at Pegatron– down the city’s central river on a beautiful evening, with the lights of all the buildings dancing on the water. The second-tallest building in the world is part of the Shanghai skyline—with its elegant curved shape providing some contrast to a lot of the harder trapezoidal buildings. We had the chance to visit the world’s highest observation deck for the top-down view as well.
- Watched Shanghai Circus World performers, ate delicious (and sometimes challenging) foods… congratulations to Kristina who—as she put it—put on her big-girl pants and ate sea cucumber, jellyfish and other exotic foods! And she wasn’t alone with the twins and Alexander jumping on the bandwagon as well.
We spent the majority of our time in the cities above, so our stop in Hong Kong was a short day-and-a-half. We had a “fancy night out” in the big city, showing our kids the view from the incredible Ritz-Carlton hotel bar (no, we didn’t stay there!) and then taking them to Kowloon’s Hu Tong for dinner and the nightly light show (Kristina and I have been to Hu Tong before and is one of our favorite restaurants—thanks for the referral, Colin Bryar!)
And of course we went to the top of The Peak and walked down, winding our way through the city, riding the Ding Ding, taking the Star Ferry across the harbor and then heading back to the ship. We had lovely weather… finally starting to warm up… and we were aboard the MV World Odyssey by 4pm.
On to Vietnam!
We hit our first snafu of the voyage as we were leaving Hong Kong… the Dean called a shipboard meeting to announce that the ship would hold in the harbor overnight since there were gale-force winds in the South China Sea. This would mean getting to Vietnam a day later—and for us the late arrival ruined our plan to visit Cambodia. L Of course, we are rolling with the changes… and in return for the extra time in Hong Kong’s harbor… we got an amazing sunset and view of the city’s light show from the ship.
It turns out there’s no T-Mobile free mobile internet service in Vietnam and we’re taking a trip up to Da Nang and to the beaches… where I’ll likely avoid bringing a laptop. So .. it might be quite a while until you hear from us again. After Vietnam we’re 5-6 days at sea until we arrive in Myanmar. Wish us good weather!