Lo­tus Blos­soms & Sil­i­con Chips

Hangzhou has flow­ered into a tech mecca – with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its charm

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENT - By Kathryn B. Creedy

Hangzhou was thrust onto the world stage in Septem­ber as world lead­ers and le­gions of press gath­ered for the 11th G20 sum­mit like the con­quer­ing hordes out of Mon­go­lia. Hangzhou, how­ever, was not com­pletely un­known be­fore the sum­mit and if by chance you don’t know it, you should.

An im­por­tant cen­ter for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tion since the sixth cen­tury, the city traces its roots back seven mil­len­nia. It achieved renown when Marco Polo called it“the finest and most splen­did city in the world.”But even Polo was a rel­a­tive new­comer to the in­flu­ence of this an­cient me­trop­o­lis.

As a tes­ta­ment to its im­por­tance, its 2,000-year-old, 1,200-mile Grand Canal – longer than ei­ther Panama or Suez canals – was specif­i­cally de­signed to drive com­merce be­tween Bei­jing and Hangzhou, con­nect­ing the five rivers along the way to the two vi­tal eco­nomic cap­i­tals.

The canal also serves as a cen­tral spot from which to take in the splen­dors of the city. It rests on the banks of the Qiantang River at the head of Hangzhou Bay, which is book­ended to the northeast by tow­er­ing Shang­hai where the bay flows into the East China Sea.

To­day, Hangzhou is bet­ter known as Sil­i­con Val­ley in Par­adise for one sim­ple rea­son: It is the epi­cen­ter of China’s tech in­dus­try. It hosts the head­quar­ters of Alibaba, the e-com­merce gi­ant that Wired called“ev­ery tech com­pany rolled into one.” It in­cludes four of the top global In­ter­net com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Baidu, Google’s coun­ter­part in the Mid­dle King­dom.

Some 12,000 firms in Hangzhou have for­eign in­vestors. In­cluded among its cor­po­rate denizens are such global com­pa­nies such as GE,Volvo, Mor­gan Stan­ley and Cisco. Forbes has ranked it among the top busi­ness cities in Main­land China and the World Bank has ranked it num­ber one for its busi­ness in­vest­ment cli­mate. Its 21st cen­tury tech in­car­na­tion is just the latest link to its two an­cient in­dus­tries – silk and tea – that re­main a quin­tes­sen­tial part of its econ­omy and make a lit­tle tourist di­ver­sion a must.

With its tech ties and nine mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, it was lit­tle won­der that Hangzhou has at­tracted the only US non­stop air ser­vice when United in­au­gu­rated thrice weekly Boe­ing 787 flights from San Fran­cisco on July 13. United’s ser­vice di­rectly links this tech epi­cen­ter with its US coun­ter­part Sil­i­con Val­ley for the first time. The ser­vice is part of United’s strat­egy to go deeper into China serv­ing sec­ondary cities, which in ad­di­tion to Hangzhou, also in­cludes sea­sonal ser­vice to Xi’an, the home of the Ter­ra­cotta War­riors, and year-round ser­vice to Chengdu.

United is, in fact, mir­ror­ing moves by Chi­nese airlines, which con­nect sec­ondary Chi­nese cities to the top busi­ness and leisure des­ti­na­tions around the world. But United’s strat­egy is about more than mir­ror­ing its Chi­nese coun­ter­parts. It is about tap­ping the in­cred­i­ble pop­u­la­tion of th­ese teem­ing cities. In fact, ac­cord­ing to the Global Busi­ness Travel As­so­ci­a­tion, the Chi­nese busi­ness travel mar­ket has sur­passed the United States as the largest in the world.

One thing makes United’s strat­egy clear. The top 10 cities in the US range from San Jose at about half a mil­lion pop­u­la­tion to NewYork at eight mil­lion. China has 15 cities with pop­u­la­tions over five mil­lion and United serves six of them – Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shang­hai, Bei­jing, Hong Kong and Chengdu. The im­mense num­bers in th­ese gi­ant metropoli­tan ar­eas give new mean­ing to what cities can sus­tain in terms of air ser­vice. Hangzhou is also part of a re­laxed visa pro­gram in which vis­i­tors spend­ing no more than six days (144 hours) can visit Shang­hai, Jiangsu and Zhe­jiang prov­inces with­out a visa.

For United, the whole idea is to shave travel time – in this case, four pre­cious hours to Hangzhou. On top of that, its Busi­ness/First prod­uct pro­vides a hint of things to come when with its up­graded Po­laris prod­uct de­buts on the long-haul Boe­ing 777 be­gin­ning in De­cem­ber.

Wel­come to Lo­tus City

Per­haps the best ad­vice for do­ing busi­ness in Hangzhou – or China in gen­eral for that mat­ter – is pack your pa­tience along with your suits. Most vet­er­ans of busi­ness deal­ings in the Mid­dle King­dom will tell you that find­ing and thor­oughly vet­ting a Chi­nese part­ner is crit­i­cal to suc­cess.

The key is building face-to-face re­la­tion­ships, a vi­tal part of Chi­nese cul­ture that can­not be rushed. While Western busi­ness trav­el­ers may want to cut to the chase and get the deal, Chi­nese take their

time. In fact, it of­ten takes mul­ti­ple trips to get a deal and it helps to view all this as part of sa­vor­ing the Chi­nese cul­ture.

The good news is, if the sa­vor­ing has to be done any­where, Hangzhou hits the spot. That’s be­cause there’s far more to see in this an­cient trad­ing cen­ter than ho­tel and board rooms. Af­ter the first visit, you’ll un­der­stand why Hangzhou has charmed five dy­nas­ties of em­per­ors, painters, poets, 1.3 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors and, now, me.

Hangzhou may be a mag­net for tech but it is also a re­sort city pep­pered with lux­ury ho­tels sur­round­ing the Xixi Na­tional Wet­land Park and West Lake where the Chi­nese ver­sion of gon­do­liers ply the shal­low wa­ters. A UNESCO World Her­itage site, 12,000-acre West Lake is sprin­kled with tem­ples, pago­das and gar­dens. Its small is­lands, topped by tiny houses and tem­ple-like struc­tures, peek through their wil­low veils and seem to float on the sur­face. Ringed by green moun­tains, West Lake has two fa­mous pago­das, Leifeng and Baochu, which are des­ti­na­tions in them­selves. The me­an­der­ing walk­ways and cause­ways pro­vide charm­ing vis­tas of the lake and boats drift­ing lazily by the is­lands.

Hangzhou is the Lo­tus City, with vast floats of huge green leaves dot­ted with del­i­cate pink and white blos­soms sur­round­ing the West Lake shore­line, in the gar­dens through­out the city and the Xixi Na­tional Wet­lands Park. Ringed by lux­ury ho­tels such as the Banyan Tree Hangzhou, where I stayed, Xixi Na­tional Park is a rare ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, the first and only such park in the coun­try.

Banyan Tree’s 72 suites and vil­las are nes­tled amongst the wet­land’s canal sys­tem where ro­man­tic lights re­flect on the wa­ter be­low grace­ful bridges. Be­ing in a trop­i­cal delta, Hangzhou is nat­u­rally warm and hu­mid. Xixi is no ex­cep­tion, although our guide tempted me to come back for a spe­cial win­ter treat when a del­i­cate, pink cherry-like blos­som blooms only to be exquisitely scal­loped in fall­ing snow.

The Banyan Tree port­fo­lio in­cludes the Angsana, which also has a prop­erty at Xixi, and Dhawa and Cas­sia brands. While many want the fa­mil­iar­ity of Western ho­tel brands, stay­ing at a Chi­nese re­sort al­lows you to be imbed­ded in the cul­ture. The lux­ury of­fered by Banyan Tree in­cludes huge suites and vil­las with spa­cious bath­rooms, bed­rooms and nu­mer­ous sit­ting ar­eas for re­lax­ing, watch­ing tele­vi­sion or work­ing.

Of course, this was a work­ing trip for me. As I hunched over my com­puter be­fore dawn and late into the evening, the del­i­cate mu­sic pro­vided by a sound sys­tem nes­tled on a nearby cre­denza def­i­nitely lifted my mood and re­minded me to ap­pre­ci­ate my sur­round­ings.

One of the area’s unique ex­pe­ri­ences ties you to the an­cient tra­di­tions sur­round­ing tea, mak­ing a trip to the nearby Mei­ji­awu Vil­lage a must. A cen­ter for the pro­duc­tion of Longjing or Dragon Well green tea, Mei­ji­awu Vil­lage in the Xihu District near West Lake, is one of only a few sources of the best of green tea in the world, which is the bud­ding tea leaf, har­vested in spring and quite pricey at nearly $900 per kilo.

Nes­tled among hills striped with row upon row of tea plants, the vil­lage is where you will not only learn about the Vi­ta­min C, amino acids and pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dants that make green tea a pop­u­lar health drink, but heartily in­dulge in a sump­tu­ous mul­ti­course lunch served by a lo­cal tea farmer at his own house.

Th­ese are very well-to-do plan­ta­tion own­ers, har­vest­ing the frag­ile leaf buds and roast­ing them to per­fec­tion. One of the fun parts of the visit is the per­for­mance by tea sell­ers who make any late-night in­fomer­cial host look like a piker as they charm you with the in­tri­ca­cies of green tea.

While Hangzhou may be a vi­brant busi­ness des­ti­na­tion, it also pro­vides plenty of unique and re­lax­ing di­ver­sions to turn your busi­ness trip into a sparkling bleisure des­ti­na­tion. BT

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