Enter the Dragon

Excitement is building for the upcoming international class trips to China and Brazil. I was lucky enough to visit China a number of years ago at the end of a round-the-world backpacking trip with my wife, though it was a very different experience to the one that awaits us in March.

After 5 continents, 16 countries and 6 months of travel, the nomadic lifestyle had left me looking rather unkempt and quite different to my passport photograph.When we arrived from Hong Kong into Shanghai it took 20 minutes of suspicious examination and a second opinion from another border control official to convince them that I was in fact the person in the passport photo. By that stage of the trip my beard had me looking like a cross between Confucius and confused. Beards must be unusual in China as literally hundreds of people took my photo wherever we went– this really took some getting used to!

The Shanghai maglev train took us 30km into the city in a mere 7 minutes; it was a strange feeling to be travelling at 430 km/h on land.Shanghai is a very modern and impressive city. We had the pleasure of sharing hostel rooms with Chinese people which was a good way to learn more about their fascinating culture. After a great week there we left China to spend two weeks in Japan before finally returning to Beijing for the final leg of our trip.

Beijing is a sightseer’s paradise. Some of its highlights are the famous Tiananmen Square, the incredible Forbidden City, the amazing Great Wall and the quirky Tiantan Park, where locals enjoy everything from tai-chi to tango dance classes to taking their birds for a walk in their bird cages. Beijing is also a shopper’s paradise. For 6 months my wife and I had upheld a strict ban on shopping, partly because of our shoestring budget and partly because we needed to travel light. As Beijing was the last leg of our trip, we finally lifted that shopping ban.My wife drew her credit card like a samurai sword and charged at the shops with a crazed look in her eyes. I found her 10 hours later collapsed in exhaustion in a fitting room on Xiushui Street.

Last time we were backpacking on a shoestring budget and it was certainly a different experience. This time we will have 5 star hotels, a fantastic itinerary and a great crew of MBAs. This time we will be digging deep into Chinese business to learn what powers this country’s economic engine. This time we will be there for Paddy’s Day. This time it’s the year of the dragon. Bring it on!

– Dave Byrne, FT MBA 2011/2012