China in Photos: Maglev – Levitating Train of the Future

30 01 2012

China’s rail network is quite impressive. With over 90,000km of rail across the country, it is one of the most cheap and convenient ways for people to travel. In fact, rail travel plays such an important role, that the Chinese government just approved a $292 billion investment into the network to take place over the next 10 years.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that China is also paving the way with some of the most unique trains in the world. While many of them are already high-speed trains, reaching a cruising speed of 300km per hour, some of them are taking it even further with magnetic levitation trains capable of doing 430km hour (about half the speed of a Boeing 747).

The magnetic levitation trains don’t go on rails, but rather they float above ground and are pushed forward by electrical magnets. One of these trains is located in Shanghai, connecting the downtown area with the airport on the outskirts of town.

Take a look – train arriving into the station. Certainly feels like something out of the future!

Train on the approach to the station

Clocked 430km/hour!

China in Photos: Some Food is Best Served on a Stick

29 01 2012

One thing that the Chinese are known for is not letting any food go to waste. An admirable quality, indeed, it does lend to some interesting food choices.

Hidden in the alleys of Beijing, near the Tiananmen Square, there are a few streets that are known, quite simply, as Snack Streets. During the day and night, people flock to them for a snack and a bite to eat.

And, of course, vendors happily cater to the crowds with choices of their best dishes – generally, all served on a stick for your convenience (and to think that the best we’ve come up with in the U.S. in that regards is a corn dog!).


Tarantula. Fried.

Not sure what this is, but I know that when I see one in my house, I get a slipper ready.


No comment.

Snakes. Make for a great soup.

Grasshoppers, I presume!

More scorpions.

I'll let you know what this is, as soon as I sort out where the head and the rear are...


Bat up close and personal.

90% chance that this is a Gecko. Just basing it off what I've seen in the Geico commercials.

Starfish and sea horses.


One for the road!

China Off-The-Beaten Path: The Loneliest Mall in the World

28 01 2012

It was supposed to be the largest mall in the world – three times as large as the Mall of America in Minnesota (currently the largest in the U.S.). Scheduled for launch in 2005, in a Southern city of Dongguan, the New South China Mall was going to set a new “benchmark in the mall grandiosity” with space for over 2,300 stores catering to over 70,000 shoppers each day.

2005 came and went. The mall was built and launched. However, the stores and shoppers never quite materialized as projected. As of now, there are just under two dozen stores occupying the total area of 9.6 million square feet – putting the vacancy rate at over 99%! And even then, most of them are Western food chains like McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut who got the locations near the entrances.

The mall – designed to target the Chinese growing middle class who are getting more and more used to Western-style shopping – was certainly an ambitious undertaking. It was funded by a millionaire who made his fortune selling instant noodles in China. His team traveled the world for 2 years in search of ideas to make the mall unique. The end result was a mammoth of a mall that includes, among other things, a 25 metre replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a replica of Venice’s St Mark’s bell tower, a 2.1 kilometres canal with gondolas, and a 553-meter indoor-outdoor roller coaster as a part of an amusement park designed to keep the kids busy while the parents shop.

The developers still have a very positive outlook and are currently actively working on expanding it even further.

Inside Look

For lease signs hanging from the ceilings

Escalators are temporarily suspended

One of the thousands empty, never-used storefronts

A bicycle parked next to an escalator

Empty shopping floor - devoid of shops or visitors

One of the few storefronts that is apparently getting ready for the busy season.

A security guard making his rounds.

Floors upon floors of retail space.

Somehow, the photo and the caption just doesn't quite match.


The Mall Outdoors

Gondolas are parked, waiting for their riders.

A Venice-style canal was built to provide a European feel for the shoppers.

Sinister-looking statues line the entire way of the canal.


Valet parking. Next to an empty Lexus dealership.

View from the above.

I don't know what's more amazing. The fact that the construction is still going on to add extra space or that the entire thing is done using bamboo.

For the Kids

The largest indoor family entertainment center in China with unlimited excitation at any circumstance. I am sold!

Indoor-outdoor roller coaster. Running absolutely empty.

For all of that unlimited excitement at any circumstances, I didn't see a lot of people taking advantage of it.

Probably the most creepy part in the entire mall!

Somebody converted a floor of a parking lot into a Go-Kart racing track.

Heading Off to the Middle Kingdom

5 01 2012

Bicycle in Guangzhou

About half a year ago, somewhere on a dusty road in Ethiopia, I was driving our trusty, 30-year old Land Rover across Africa and pondering about the line of work that I’d get into when I come back into the U.S. Although different ideas were starting to float around at that point, I didn’t quite know exactly what it would be just yet.

I just knew that it would have to be another startup, that it should do make a contribution to the society and people around us, and that it should offer plenty of opportunities to learn about things I know nothing about.

Ironically, things actually worked out just that way. About a month later, I was back in New York where my brother introduced me to the concept of electric bikes that were taking over China and Europe by the storm.

As a huge fan of cycling – and pretty much anything else on two wheels – I was intrigued immediately, and then completely sold on the idea when I saw how happy people got when they used an e-bike.

Fast forward a little further and we are now working on a company that will produce and bring high-end electric bikes into the U.S. with the goal to get more people cycling and commuting by bike.

Four months passed since we started and we are both sitting on a 16-hour Delta flight, headed towards Guangzhou, China. There are a few things we’ve set out to do on this trip. We want to meet and evaluate several plants with whom we’ve been communicating for the last few months, establish a relationship with at least one of them and negotiate the terms, and get our production off to a running start.

Moreover, we want to see firsthand how things operate in China! From the limited research and experience we’ve had over the last few months, we have no doubts that China will prove to be a completely different animal that we’re used to dealing with – as far as business goes.

Rules of the game that work in the U.S. will not apply here. Learning to deal with culture where one can never risk “losing face” in front of the other to the fact that there are 3 possible answers to every question, such as “Yes, No, and Yeaaahmm (a.k.a. I don’t know, but can’t really say that) and the fact that all the logic is based on Confucius – it will all pose a steep learning curve.

With all that in mind, it will be incredibly interesting to navigate this new environment – and learn first—hand about Chinese life and culture, what it means to do business in China from the perspective of  Western entrepreneurs, and seeing how electric bikes have transformed transportation across the country.

Over the next 1 to 2 months, I’ll be based primarily around Guangzhou (where our suppliers are located) and will be writing about all aspects of the trip on the blog. Next post is coming up shortly! – 22,000km Expedition from South Africa to London

9 04 2011

The Latest Adventure:

In April 2011, a group of Russian-Americans set out on a 22,000km trans-continental expedition to cross from South Africa to London in a 1980 Land Rover.

Follow our adventure here.