Egypt Highlights

There are many things to see in Cairo – the pyramids, the museums, the mosques, etc. Here are a few highlights that mark the classics of Cairo:

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The Egyptian Museum is a must-see for anyone who visits Egypt for the first time. It exhibits more than 120,000 artifacts throughout history. The most impressive exhibition is the items from King Tut’s tomb, which is the most complete pharaonic tomb ever found. Through viewing the burial treasures, I got a glimpse of Egypt’s glorious ancient civilization. Continue reading

Chinese Tourists and Cars Abroad

When I traveled abroad ten or fifteen years ago, I hardly met any Chinese who were traveling as a tourist. Wherever I went, people would point to me and say: “Japanese! Japanese!”

Things are very different now. I have met many Chinese tourists in Egypt during my short stay in Cairo and Luxor. Our tour guide Ali told me, in the last two years, the number of Chinese travelers exploded. The Chinese tourists have become the second largest tourist group in Egypt, with approximately 400,000 to 500,000 people each year (Russia is the No. 1 with about 1 million tourists in Egypt last year). And this is just the beginning. As the affluent Chinese middle class grows, more and more people can afford to travel abroad. Now, wherever I go, people would greet me: “Ni Hao!”

Another interesting thing is that Chinese cars are becoming more and more popular in Egypt. According to an Egyptian newspaper, “20 Chinese auto companies have sold their vehicles in the Egyptian market since 2003.” Compared with the Western auto makers, Chinese cars have relatively lower prices, but also good quality. I have seen the tour buses made in China and labeled “Yutong” (??) running all over the tourist attraction spots in Cairo. I was also told that a Chinese-run travel agency “Solar Empire” (????) is gaining popularity in Egypt.

We visited the famous Khan al Kahlili in Cairo – the biggest bazaar (marketplace) in the Middle East. It sells souvenirs, jewelries, textiles, gold, silver, and many other things. Ali told me that all the souvenirs, scarves and shawls are made in China. But the Egyptian dealers changed labels to “Made in Egypt” to attract the tourists.

In addition to all the merchandises made in China, Chinese tourists and Chinese cars are the first signs I have witnessed of China’s rising presence in the world.

In Awe of the Pyramids

Before the time of time immemorial, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt built Pyramids as the tombs for their afterlife and the symbols of their majesty. After five thousand years, dynasties rise and fall, rulers come and go, but the Pyramids at Giza are still standing as the Nile forever flows.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Standing in front of The Great Pyramid, I am completely in awe. It is 455 feet tall, and was the highest building in the world until 19th century. It was built with more than 3 million blocks of stone, with the heaviest ones weighing 15 tons. It took more than 100,000 laborers for twenty years to finish. It is literally a manmade mountain.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Local Egyptians are very friendly. Sometimes they are too “friendly” – they try to trick you to buy souvenirs or ask for baksheesh (tipping). The children I met at the Great Pyramid flocked to me to say “hello,” and want their photos taken.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Riding a camel in the desert was absolutely a thrill and a lot of fun! It costs $4 for ten minute camel ride. Someone told me that it could be risky if you let the camel go too far into the desert, because the Egyptian guides could ask for as much as $100 (and if you don’t agree, they would threaten not to let the camel return).

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

In front of the second Pyramid is The Sphinx with a royal headdress and human face, faithfully guarding the Pyramids. Standing sixty-six feet tall, it’s tiny compared with the mighty pyramids around it. This is the oldest sphinx found in Egypt, dating back 2,500 BC.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Although I have seen the picture of the Sphinx many times, I was still astonished by its eminence. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was in a playful mood. So, with the right angle, I kissed the Sphinx!

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The evening’s Sound and Light show was really amazing. In about an hour, the five thousand years of Egypt’s history and ancient civilization were revealed as a grandstand play in front of my eyes, leaving me with much to wonder and ponder for the following days….

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Amsterdam – A City of Canals

We arrived in Amsterdam around noon of December. 10th. Since Netherland is so high in latitude, the sun was hanging low in the sky, shining powerlessly through clouds, making me feel it was 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I didn’t realize that Amsterdam is fifty feet below sea level. Back in the early thirteen century, the Dutch people started to build the dams on Amstel River to hold back waters from the North Sea. Hence, its name “Amsterdam,” meaning the dam built on the Amstel River, was born. Since then, canals after canals were built in the shape of a spider web spreading out from the center of the city – Dam Square, making Amsterdam a fascinating city of canals.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The Dutch people are at the front line of fighting global warming. Obvious, if Greenland melts, Amsterdam is the most vulnerable place on earth. Therefore, there are a lot of researches and projects that are already underway to address the water issues.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

We stayed at Hotel Pulitzer on the bank of canal with a room of canal view. I was a little shocked to see the water in the canals was a dark brown color – so dark that it’s almost black. The Hotel concierge told me that it’s because of stagnation of the streams and lack of oxygen in the water. I guess it is also because of centuries of the dirt at the bottom of the canals. However, I saw swans and ducks swimming in the canals!

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

There so many things to write about for Amsterdam – its architecture, history, art and industry, etc. The things that struck me the most are the canals and art. Here are some really nice paintings displayed at the hotel:

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The first day in Amsterdam, we strolled around the Jordaan – the neighborhood characterized with art galleries and boutique shops, and visited Anne Frank’s house – the thirteen-year-old girl who documented her experience hiding from the Nazis in her diary during the Second World War.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The next day, we went for a canal tour, which is a great way to see the city. And even better, the canal tour took us to Van Gogh Museum, which has the largest collection of works by Van Gogh with more than two hundred paintings including many famous masterpieces. Although I am not that big a Van Gogh fan, I discovered some paintings that I had not seen before that I really like.

Two Trends on Chinese Consumers

A recent McKinsey report “How half the world shops: Apparel in Brazil, China, and India” reveals some interesting patterns of consumer spending in these countries. Two things stand out for me on the Chinese consumers. I thought I would comment briefly here as the Chinese consumers are related to my upcoming book on the Chinese middle class:

First, the Chinese mass market consumers (defined as annual household income from $3,000 to $12,000) have relatively small, undifferentiated wardrobes – 40 percent of the Chinese women reportedly wear similar clothing at work, formal social occasions, and dates with friends or family.

This photo was taken at Vienna Cafe in Shanghai. The picture on the wall is Chairman Mao and his famous motto “Serve the People.”

I did notice, even in Shanghai, people are less sensitive as to what to wear for different occasions. For example, I met a girl friend, who was wearing a beautiful dress, for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. She used to be a marketing professional in a multinational and is now running her own PR firm. But the next day when I met her again in a totally different situation, I was surprised to see that she was still wearing the exact same dress as she wore the day before. However, as China continues opening up to the world, I would expect people will become more sophisticated in this area.

Another thing is that China’s urban youth (18 to 25 years old) is dramatically different from other consumer segments (see my previous post on China’s cyber-savvy and pragmatic youth). They favor international brands and are much more open to try on foreign products compared with the youth in other countries. This segment currently comprises about 15 million people.

This photo was taken in the Plaza 66 – the luxury mall in Shanghai

When I visited the Plaza 66 – the luxury mall in Shanghai, I was perplexed to see that most consumers in the mall were young people in their early twenties. I really wondered how on earth they could afford to buy Fendis and Luis Vuittons and where they got the money. My friend Shaun Rein, who studies the youth culture in China, explained: “It was the secretaries who are making 3,000 yuan a month who buy these luxury goods.” Well, if so, it’s hard to imagine this kind of consumption will sustain.