Monday, August 31, 2009

Real Estate in China

This week’s edition features an insight into one of most important aspects about life in China…finding a place to live.

As many of you know I have been living in Shanghai, China for the past 2.5 years. Its been a great experience to live in a big city and I’m amazed at how much Shanghai has grown since when I first arrived. With over 20 million people living here, this city is the NYC of Asia, the country’s economic powerhouse and is quickly establishing itself as one of the premier cities in the world. The city’s reputation will be further enhanced next year, when Shanghai hosts the 2010 World Expo.

With a rapidly developing city and more and more people coming here to work, finding a place to live is an important decision for anyone living in Shanghai. For most people coming to China, renting an apartment is the easiest option. Unlike Western countries, one of best advantages to renting in China is most apartments come fully furnished with everything from beds, sofas, televisions, and kitchen appliances. It’s an ideal situation for someone leaving their home country and coming to a foreign land to live and work. For these past couple years I have lived in a furnished 2-bedroom apartment about 30-40 minutes from the downtown. Because of the lower cost of living here in China, my monthly rent is quite reasonable coming in at RMB 2,500 each month (about $365).

According to Chinese culture, one must first arrange some of life’s most important needs before they can settle down. Finding a home, purchasing an automobile, and finding a stable job are probably the three most important things someone can do before looking to settle down. Most Chinese value the purchase of a home as the single most important purchase one can make, so it’s with great honor that I am excited to announce I have taken that first step in Chinese culture and purchased a property here in Shanghai!

I’ve purchased in a rapidly developing part of the city called “Jiu Ting" pronounced “Geo Ting” in English. The property is very unique and I’ll share some interesting facts about the house. The previous owners come from the Northeast part of China that borders South Korea and speak Korean not Mandarin as their native tongue. Despite being Chinese the previous owners are quite partial to Korean culture and it is reflected in the remodeling of the house. One of the most interesting parts of the home is its hardwood flooring. The wood was imported from Korea and installed with a heating system since most people from that area prefer to sleep directly on the floor instead of on a bed.

The "Jiu Ting" area of Shanghai currently has about 200,000 people living there, a large city by Western standards but only a small part of a big city here in China. Located 15 minutes from my work, living here will make life easier with shorter commute and easy access into the downtown as the house is within walking distance to Shanghai's #9 Metro Line. It will take about 4-6 weeks to complete the transaction before I am able to move in but looking forward to moving into the house in mid-October. The next question is who is going to be the first person to come visit me and stay in the house? Here's a breakdown of the pictures:

#1 – Chairman Mao had his little red book, here’s my little green book, the key part in a Shanghai Real Estate deal

#2 – Outside of the compound with guarded security entrance into the property

#3 – Outside the building that’s soon to be called home

#4 – First look at the hardwood floors as seen from the kitchen

#5 – A look standing in the living room

#6 – Bathroom furnished with nice marble and a super deluxe Korean toilet, haha!

#7 – A look from outside the property with a view of the outdoor patio area

#8 – A look at some neighboring apartment buildings in the area

Monday, August 24, 2009

China’s Caddy System

This week’s edition will feature an inside look into one of the most interesting things about playing golf in China, the mandatory use of caddies. In golf, a caddy is someone who carries a player’s bag and gives advice on how to play the golf course. Caddies have had a long history with the game of golf and many professionals working in the golf industry today got their start by working as a caddy at their local club.

Caddies were once very popular at many private golf clubs throughout the United States. But with the advancement of golf carts and GPS systems, caddies are now considered a luxury and the market for caddies has all but disappeared. Nowadays only a handful of golf clubs in the US still offer caddy services.

It was not until I arrived in China, that I was able to play my first round of golf with a caddy. For anyone fortunate enough to play golf in Asia, they have experienced playing a round with their own personal caddy. I believe there are two main reasons that caddies are mandatory at all clubs in Asia. The first reason is job creation. In the greater Shanghai area there are over 35 golf courses with each facility having between 125-200 caddies available. That’s almost 5,000 jobs created for the local job market.

The second reason caddies are mandatory is it’s an economic win-win situation for both parties involved. The average cost of a caddie for a full round of golf in China is RMB100 about 14.60 USD. Compare this with the average cost of a caddie in America being $40-60. Because of China’s lower cost of living, golfers can enjoy using a caddy for almost ¼ of the price. This standard rate also provides the caddy with a good chance at earning money. Again China’s cost of living is much lower than Western countries and for a local Chinese earning this amount is a very acceptable pay for approximately 4 hours of work.

One interesting fact that’s worth mentioning is that 90% of the caddies in China are females between the ages of 18-28. Most of these young girls leave their hometowns and come to the big golf cities of China for a chance to find a good job. With over 1.3 billion people in China, finding good work can be challenging and caddying at a prestigious golf club provides a unique working environment and the ability to earn much more money than they could in their hometowns.

Since I play most of my golf in China now, I’ve now become accustomed to having my own caddy for every round of golf I play. I always enjoy playing golf with a caddy as its great fun to interact with them on the course. All of our caddies have gone through extensive training and are all very good at their jobs. They really do an excellent job of enhancing your experience at the golf course, especially if it’s your first time playing that course. Hope you enjoyed that insight into China’s Caddy System, here is a breakdown of the photos:

#1 – Saturday Morning at Sheshan Golf Club. Hanging out with the caddies as they line up preparing to go on the golf course.

#2 – A peak inside the Caddie Room, this picture was taken around 12:30pm as the caddies were all taking a rest, getting ready to hit the course again that afternoon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Church in China

This week I want to give a glimpse into something, which for many, is a complete unknown in China, the presence of open religion. Unfortunately in today’s society China receives a lot of criticism. Much of which comes from people who have never even visited the country. The media portrays China as a dangerous country in which its citizens live a sheltered life, are controlled by a strict government, and are denied the basic freedoms that we have become accustomed to in a country like America.

Yes its true that the government controls the Internet, blocking certain websites from the public sector. It’s also true that there are problems of food shortage, sweatshops, child abduction, and poverty here in China. Unfortunately these problems exist over the entire world, even in the great nation of America. Since the founding of the communist party sixty years ago, the Chinese government has maintained a national status as an “atheist” country. I view this as the ultimate definition of separation between church and state. The government has no official stance on religion but rather allows its citizens to choose for themselves what religion, if any, they want to practice. Buddhism is by far the most popular religion in China, but others such as Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Judaism, and Christianity are all openly practiced throughout the country.

This past week I was able to visit one of the most famous Christian sites in all of China, the “Our Lady of She Shan” Cathedral. The cathedral’s history dates back to the 1860’s when the area was first used as a religious site. In 1925, a Portuguese Jesuit started building the current cathedral. Built in the shape of a cross, the project took over ten years to finish and upon completion served as the most famous Catholic building in the Far East. Visitors to the cathedral start at the base of the 100m “She Shan” hill and walk up a zigzag route to the top. This path to the top of hill represents the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “The Way of Suffering”), which is the path Christ took on his way to his crucifixion. About halfway up the mountain is a modern mid-level church where mass is celebrated daily. Also located on the hill is the Sheshan Seminary where future priests from the six eastern provinces in China and Shanghai City are currently being trained.

During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the cathedral was severely damaged, and all the stained glass windows completely destroyed. In 1981 the Chinese government oversaw a complete renovation of the church restoring it to its original condition. The Sheshan Cathedral currently serves as the only active pilgrimage site in all of China. During the month of May, hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics from all over China come to visit the cathedral.

The Sheshan Cathedral is an important part of Shanghai’s history and interesting enough is only a few kilometers from my golf club. It’s a great symbol of Christianity in China and one that I get to see everyday while at work. Another interesting fact is the church has been coordinated into our golf club’s logo, branding Shanghai’s top golf club with the city’s oldest symbol of religion.

Hopefully this post shines some light onto one aspect of life here in China. Over my last 2½ years of living in China, I’ve been able to observe a lot of interesting things and I personally find China to be more similar than different to America when it comes to issues such personal freedoms. Some people might disagree with me on that statement, but hopefully they’ve had a chance to come and visit China and gain their own perspective. What do you guys think?

Here's a breakdown on the pictures:

#1 - The view of She Shan hill and the Catholic Church as seen from the motorway
#2 - At the base of the hill, the start of the "Via Dolorosa"
#3 - The mid-level church where daily mass is celebrated
#4 - A beautiful sight here in China, locals gathering for a Sunday mass at the local cathedral
#5 - The exterior view of the Sheshan Cathedral
#6 - The alter of the Sheshan Cathedral, featuring the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus
#7 - The beautiful interior of the Sheshan Cathedral
#8 - The Sheshan Golf Club logo, featuring the famous Sheshan Cathedral
#9 - Another church here in Shanghai, the "Xu Jia Hui" cathedral is one of the best-preserved cathedrals in Shanghai and is located directly in the heart of Shanghai's largest shopping districts. Notice the striking contrast between the church, built in 1910, and the modern high-rise apartment building in the background.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sheshan Golf Club

This week I will profile the golf course I have been working at for the last six months, giving you all an inside look into one of China’s top courses, the Sheshan International Golf Club.

Located 23km southeast of the Shanghai city center, Sheshan Golf Club was built directly next to a 100m hill called “佘山” pronounced “She Shan” in Chinese. The hill is not large by Western standards, but in the flat topography of Shanghai, this small hill stands out as one of the higher spots in the city. The Sheshan hill is a recreational area that is maintained by the Chinese government, and is a popular place for locals to travel to on the weekends. Sitting atop the Sheshan hill is the oldest Catholic Cathedral in Shanghai. Both the Sheshan hill and cathedral are visible when playing the golf course, with the most dramatic views coming from 15th tee and as a beautiful backdrop on the 18th hole.

Opening in 2004, Sheshan Golf Club quickly established itself as the premier course in China with being the home course of Asia’s largest golf tournament, the HSBC Champions. Starting in 2005, the HSBC Champions has experienced tremendous success attracting some of the world’s best golfers. Tiger Woods has played the tournament twice, finishing second both times in 2005 and 2006. Past champions also include Phil Mickelson (2007) and Sergio Garcia (2008). Now celebrating its 5th year, the 2009 HSBC Champions promises to be even better as the tournament has been upgraded to a World Golf Championship (WGC) event. WGC events are regarded as golf’s most important tournaments and Sheshan Golf Club is the first club outside the United States to host one. Sheshan currently holds Golf Digest’s #1 ranking for all golf courses in China and was recently ranked as the #68 golf course worldwide for all courses outside the United States.

One of the many beautiful things about Sheshan is the club’s incredible landscape and atmosphere. Upon entering the club, you feel as if you have left China and been transplanted to a European country. Built in an Italian Tuscany design, the clubhouse and surrounding residential properties are truly a one of a kind concept in China. The golf course’s signature holes are the 16th and 17th holes built directly around a natural rock quarry. I’ve had the privilege of playing the course many times now, and it certainly my favorite course in Shanghai. My favorite things about playing at Sheshan are its peaceful environment and beautiful natural surroundings. The overall Sheshan experience is an excellent one and it’s been a pleasure to have the opportunity to work here. Now less than 3 months away from the 2009 HSBC Champions, we will all continue to work hard, excitingly awaiting the arrival of Tiger and company this November.

Here is a breakdown of the photos:

#1 – View of Sheshan's gorgeous clubhouse from the 9th fairway
#2 – View from the 15th tee with the Sheshan hill and cathedral in the distance
#3 – Playing the 17th hole, shooting over a natural rock quarry with the club’s clock tower in the backdrop.
#4 – Overlooking the Par 5 second hole, a relatively short par 5 surrounded by water.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Student Profile - Part I

This week I would like to introduce you to one of my students, a man by the name of Henryk Mazur. Originally from Poland, Henryk has lived and worked in a variety of countries all over the world and is currently based in South Korea. Henryk is one of the most interesting people I have ever met and his story is one I would like to share with you.

I first meet Henryk in the lobby of our golf club’s hotel. He had just arrived on his flight from Korea. His reason for coming to Shanghai was threefold. He wanted to learn how to play golf, lose weight, and educate himself on living a healthy lifestyle. It was an unusual request to hear from a student, but I saw this as an excellent opportunity to help Henryk achieve something special. Weeks before his arrival, I had prepared an extensive program that we would follow during his visit in Shanghai. Henryk was like a small child on Christmas morning, filled with excitement as I revealed the week long plan I had prepared for him.

Later that evening, I took Henryk to enjoy a wonderful dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. This might sound like the worst decision for someone wanting to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle, but I quickly pointed out that the key for success is establishing balance, and sometimes there are reasons to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate the start of a good week together, and the start of our friendship. We allowed ourselves to indulge that first night, knowing that when we woke the next day, it was time to get to work.

For the next week our routine was very consistent. We started early in the morning with a workout at the club’s gym, followed by a healthy breakfast and a few hours of golf instruction. After breaking for lunch, we then went back to the range for more lessons. Finishing in the late afternoon, we then ventured into the city for dinner. Our evening meal varied each night, sometimes eating Western food and sometimes Chinese, but we focused on our goal of eating healthy fresh meals. After the end of each action-packed day we rewarded ourselves with a full body massage at the local studio. Costing a mere 60RMB (about 8.75USD) for a full hour, it’s almost a sin not to take advantage of this while visiting China.

After finishing his week training, Henryk was feeling healthier, achieved a life-long goal of learning to play golf, and lost 3kg in the process. He returned to Korea with a new level of self-confidence and maintained his healthy lifestyle back in Korea. Just three weeks ago, Henryk came back to Shanghai for a second visit. Having lost an additional 7kg, Henryk was looking great and wanted to learn more golf and get ready for his first 18 hole round on the course.

During his two visits to Shanghai, I was able to teach Henryk a lot of things about living a healthy lifestyle and in return I was able to learn a lot from Henryk’s vast experiences in Asia. Henryk’s work as an engineer is very specialized as he travels around the world completing 3-6 months contracts at various facilities. The result is he has lived and worked in nearly every Asian country at some point over the last 20 years. I loved hearing his stories and learned a lot from his experiences. Henryk further enhanced my knowledge and taught me a lot about dealing with Asian cultures. Despite not being able to speak any oriental languages, Henryk has a wonderful way of communicating through his vibrant expressions and unchanging positive attitude. This was something I realized I wasn’t doing, as sometimes the frustrations of China would result in me getting irritated and losing my temper. Henryk pointed this out to me and after spending a week with him, my experiences in dealing with the Chinese improved tremendously.

Despite only knowing each other a few months, Henryk and I already have a great friendship. We've helped each other out and serve as a source of motivation for one another. On Henryk’s final day in Shanghai, I took him to play his first 18 holes of golf. He played great for a first-timer and was there when I made the double eagle “2” on the Par 5. It was a special day for the both of us, and we both agreed it was destiny that I hit that rare shot during his first round of golf. Afterwards I invited Henryk out to dinner to celebrate my “Double Eagle”. We went back to where it all started enjoying a bottle of red wine and steaks at the Brazilian restaurant, a truly fitting ending to his second visit to Shanghai.