May 23rd, 2007 | Uncategorized

Day Eight: Yalies descend on Shanghai

Wednesday was the much-awaited day of (relative) freedom in Shanghai, without any planned activities after lunch.

But the day began early with a 7:30 breakfast with Shanghai-based Yale alums, at which a professor and two students discussed their experience on the trip so far.

History of art professor Sandy Isenstadt mused on the connections that have sprung up between various Yalies on the trip, which he said will enable intercultural connections to continue beyond the end of the trip.

“When we go to New Haven, we will have China,” he said.

He also joked about the selection process for the trip, which excluded those who had already visited China. This was the first time he was ever qualified for something by virtue of his failure to do something else, he said.

“When I think of all the things I haven’t done in my life, I see a great number of opportunities in front of me,” he said.

After the breakfast event, we split into groups to visit various Shanghai institutions: the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Pudong New District Government, and GM China.

With visions of the New York Stock Exchange dancing in our heads, many of us expected the Shanghai exchange to be an exciting place to visit and observe live trading. But when we were shown into the large on-site trading room, with hundreds of computer workstations and a vast electronic display, it was eerily silent. We first established that it was in fact a trading day — confirmed by the blinking changes to the market data displayed on the screen — and then learned that although the facility was built in 1997 to accommodate on-site trading, 99 percent of business on the exchange is now conducted remotely. Just a few traders wearing numbered red vests were present in the event of a problem with the network, surrounded by a sea of old and unused computers.

SSE

Most of the workstations at the Shanghai Stock Exchange were empty Wednesday, now that 99 percent of trades on the exchange are done online. (Michael Blank/YDN)

We then had a meeting with officials of the exchange, who discussed the emergence of a capital market in China and the future of the Chinese economy. 895 companies are now listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, we were told, and the exchange has a market cap of 1.36 trillion RMB.

The officials fielded questions ranging from the growth of mutual funds and pension plans in China to the access rural investors have to the markets. One Chinese student asked about the rapid increase in the number of investors and the quantity of investment in the Chinese capital market. While the officials said they are not seriously worried about the possibility of a crash, they did acknowledge that the market might be “a little bit overheated.”

Profs at SSE

Professors Tian Xu and Alvin Klevorick read literature on the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning. (Michael Blank/YDN)

The visit was of particular interest because Yale is the only foreign institution allowed to invest directly in A shares of Chinese stocks; other foreign institutions are restricted to purchasing B shares or investing indirectly in the companies.

After the Stock Exchange visit, we headed to another hotel for lunch and then broke into small groups for the first free time of the trip. While a number of professors and a few students headed to museums and other cultural sites, shopping was the order of the day for many in the group.

Nine of us — including one incredibly tolerant translator and two prefrosh from Shanghai — headed out in search of luggage to replace someone’s broken bag and another to hold one student’s various purchases and swag acquired during the trip. We had gotten directions to a mall, but we should have realized our mistake when the two prefrosh told us they had never been to this neighborhood before.

As our cabs pulled up to our destination, more than a dozen men swarmed around us, showing pictures of their wares and even grabbing onto our arms and trying to pull us toward their shops. Whether or not we displayed interest in their offers of “watch, bag,” they continued to surround us, even following us as we went into the mall in search of luggage. It was the closest thing I have felt to a threatening experience in China, although we never seemed in danger so much as seriously annoyed.

Eventually, when the two students found bags to their satisfaction — and despite the fact that the negotiations were carried out by three Chinese speakers — they couldn’t get a “fair price.” So all of the non-Chinese students headed for the KFC to try to convince the bag vendors that the purchases weren’t for foreigners. An hour and a half later, mission (finally, and uncomfortably) accomplished, we headed away from the neighborhood for a little more shopping.

Tomorrow is the last day of the trip, and we’ll be returning to serious programming: a visit to Fudan University, a tour of a new Pudong skyscraper and then a final boat cruise.