Beijing Business Trip

May 26 2014

I just got back from a business trip to Beijing to see some prospective AWS customers. I was in Beijing for about a week (with a short trip to Hangzhou) and got some nice time with my extended family in Beijing near the end of the trip.

First of all, I need to comment on the smog and the pollution. Our first day in, the skies were blue and sunny, and it didn’t seem like there was anything to worry about.

Sunny skies and a very well-defined skyline from my hotel room on the first day...

Unfortunately, the second day quickly destroyed that perception. Here is almost the exact same view, at the same time in the morning, from my same hotel room. The skyline has completed disappeared.

...and this on the second day

My colleague started coughing on the third day. I fared a little better but still started coughing on the sixth day. It really is quite rough, and I do wonder if this is a place I would willingly live even for a few years.

I won’t talk specifically about the customer conversations, but I will talk about one interesting trend I saw. There is a big emphasis on “how does Company X do it?”. I think in the US, when I speak with AWS customers, they typically ask about the best practices and about what’s new that they might be able to use. The focus is very much on self-evaluation: give me some info, and then I’ll go and decide how to use it. However, the focus is a little flipped here because the customers generally start by asking specifically about the big US customers and how they use AWS.

I spent less than 24 hours total in Hangzhou, but it still seemed like a much different city compared to Beijing. It was much cleaner and much less dense. In Beijing, you always feel like you’re going to bump into someone or something because it’s so crowded everywhere (Manhattan is like this too). In Hangzhou, there’s definitely more room to just breathe (and the air seems cleaner as well).

Finally, I got to spend some time with my grandparents and family on my wife’s side. My grandparents are still doing well but have recently hired someone to help them out full time in the house. Amazingly, my grandmother still made me zha mantou (translation would be fried buns) for breakfast and it was wonderful.

Plenty of oil and not exactly healthy, but very tasty!

With my cousin-in-law, I went to a Shanghai-cuisine restaurant in the heart of Sanlitun (the international district of Beijing). They had something called a sheng jian, which was a dumpling fried upside down and containing soup broth inside. It was amazing, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

More unhealthy eating, but still yummy!

My final day, I went to Lake Roma on the outskirts of Beijing (it’s in the Shunyi district and specifically Houshayu town). It was a nice man-made lake with a strip of new restaurants and bars.

The man-made Lake Roma

We went to a place that serves fresh fish soup boiled through wood fire. Amazingly, we got to select the specific fish, and they even come and light the wood oven. The fish was so tender (I think it’s because the wood fire causes a slow boil…the soup cooked for about 30 minutes) and tasty.

The raw fish before we started cooking...

...and the finished product

Finally, we did a quick walk around the lake, and then the sun was setting. I flew out the next morning. AWS has a summit in Beijing in September, and hopefully, I’ll have another chance to come back. Pollution not withstanding, Beijing is an interesting city with many wonderful opportunities.

Until next time...

Topics: Trips

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